- Hemingway's Neglected Short Fiction
The most famous of Hemingway's short stories—for example, "Big Two-Hearted River," "The Killers," "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"—have hardly suffered from neglect. Indeed, one might argue that these stories have acquired the dubious distinction of critical saturation, or at least of critical overkill. But as Beegel persuasively argues, this is not the case for other Hemingway stories such as "Mr. and Mrs. Eliot," "Homage to Switzerland," or "Out of Season." Indeed, she says that "a surprisingly large number of Hemingway's short stories are neglected. This volume contains 25 new essays treating more than 30 individual works, or about one-quarter of the author's entire output of short fiction, which Jackson Benson has estimated at 109 stories." The reasons critics offer up by way of "explanation" include the fact that some Hemingway stories remain unpublished, others have been uncollected, and efforts to provide scholars with an authoritative text of his complete short stories continue to be problematic. And, too, there is a widespread reluctance in academic circles to give the short story sustained, and serious, attention. Indeed, one need look no farther than the recent Columbia Literary History of the United States to realize that its surveying chapters include "poetry, drama, criticism, and the novel," but not so much as a by-your-leave about the genre of the short story.
In Hemingway's case, the situation was also exacerbated by efforts to link his reputation with efforts to cast him as life-affirming and morally correct. Hence, "Hemingway's great theme was courage, an existential courage emphasizing the importance of living with dignity in the face of a hostile or indifferent universe, of taking responsibility for one's smallest actions, and of 'holding tight' in the face of death." Given this consciously created, semi-official Hemingway, it is hardly surprising that critics would fasten on certain stories at the expense of others. But as Beegel points out, Hemingway's reputation is now so secure that virtually anything he wrote can be published—no matter how unorthodox, unfinished, or unrevised. Granted, not all Hemingway critics have been pleased with Scribner's efforts to milk its cash cow, but, as Beegle points out, in the case of Garden of Eden, "the inaccrochable is no longer inaccrochable; in fact, it is rather fashionable." Moreover: "the posthumous Garden of Eden has forced critics to confront for the first time themes of homosexuality, perversion, and androgyny present throughout Hemingway's career in short stories like "Mr. and Mrs. Elliot," "A Simple Enquiry," "The Sea Change," and "The Mother of a Queen," widely available for at least 50 years." [End Page 468]
Beegel has assembled a lively group of critics—from those who look at Hemingway's neglected stories through the "more conventional approaches of biographical, textual, contextual, theme and source study" to those out to apply the latest techniques of Continental linguistics, Marxism, deconstruction, metafiction, psychoanalysis, and semiotics. Given contributors such as Scott Donaldson, Gary Brenner, James Nagel, and Michael S. Reynolds, the results are precisely what one might expect—namely a book that is as useful as it is clearly important.