- A Geometry of His Own:Hemingway's "Out of Season"
Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.—Henry James, Preface to Roderick Hudson
The Appropriation of an Author's Intention, the assumption that the reader knows better than the author what a work "means," is a common offense in literary criticism. More often than not, this fault is the result of confusing an author's biography with his fiction, of treating a work of imagination as if it were merely artful reportage. Ernest Hemingway's stories have been vulnerable to this misappropriation because many of them have close biographical analogues, and as a result his critics have often confused his work with his life. It is still a popular misconception that the "Hemingway hero" is a thinly veiled self-portrait, that his stories are fragments of unintentional autobiography, and, as Philip Young has declared, "that even a reasonable separation of the man from his writing never will in this case be possible" (263). By confusing Hemingway's [End Page 171] life with his fiction, his critics have ignored what he himself knew: that language—not event—was his subject. Of course, he had "real" subjects, too, and these were often derived from actual events, but it is the storytelling beneath the storytelling that is his real concern. By treating Hemingway's fiction as "real," his critics have ignored the means by which he makes it appear to be so.
The predisposition to confuse Hemingway's art with his life is particularly apparent in the way commentators have considered or, more precisely, have failed to consider "Out of Season," an early story that was suggested by an event in Hemingway's life. Mired in biographical analogies, critics have either misread the story or ignored it altogether. Young, for example, dismisses it as a reflection of "the breakup of Hemingway's first marriage" (197), a story "concerned with everything going wrong with a marriage in a quiet and unexcited way" (178).1 Carlos Baker is more ambiguous: although he declares the story has "considerable distinction" and constitutes "a kind of gateway to the best writing of [Hemingway's] career," he nonetheless calls it "almost straight autobiography" (109), a view shared by more recent psychoanalytical interpretations that confuse Hemingway and his characters.2 Yet despite critical misapprehension, "Out of Season" is one of Hemingway's most important stories: it was his first treatment of the theme of anomie that was to appear in much of his subsequent fiction, and, closely related to this theme, it was his first use of a disjunctive point of view, the narrative technique he was to use thereafter in some of his best stories.
Hemingway himself attached special importance to "Out of Season." It was, he declared, the first story he had "been able to write . . . after losing everything" in what was to become the best-known event of his life, the theft at the Gare de Lyon in 1922 of a suitcase containing the manuscripts of virtually all of his unfinished stories. That catastrophe forced him to start afresh with what he was later to call a "new theory [of composition] that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood" (Moveable Feast 75).
"Out of Season," which demonstrates the theory, has a deceptively simple plot: a "young gentleman" and his wife, Tiny, are on holiday in Cortina in the Italian Alps. Before the story begins, the husband has [End Page 172] engaged Peduzzi, a local reprobate, to lead them to a fishing site on the river that runs past the town, despite the fact that Peduzzi is not a guide and it is "out of season" for fishing. On the morning of the day appointed, the couple has quarreled, and when the story begins, they are not yet reconciled. On the way to the river, the trio stops at a cantina to buy wine for Peduzzi...