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Reviewed by:
Ronald Weber. Hemingway's Art of Non-fiction. New York: St. Martin's, 1990. 182 pp. $29.50.
Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin. Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast: The Making of a Myth. Boston: Northwestern UP, 1991. 261 pp. $35.00.

Nearly thirty years ago Charles A. Fenton advanced the theory that Hemingway's style was shaped by the newsrooms of Kansas City and Toronto rather than by the modernist aesthetics of Gertrude Stein or Ezra Pound. As often happens with Hemingway scholarship, Fenton's The Literary Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway (1954) called our attention to an important, albeit partial truth—for if Hemingway's style developed as it did "because" of journalism, an equally convincing case can be made that he became the author of nonfiction books such as Death in the Afternoon (1932), Green Hills of Africa (1935), or A Moveable Feast (1964) in spite of journalism. Weber's study—the first to focus exclusively on Hemingway's nonfiction—suggests the ways in which Hemingway grappled with the problem of journalism's short life span (today's news, however skillfully written, is destined to wrap tomorrow's fish) by bringing the same mingling of fact and fabrication, meditation and mythologizing, that characterizes his most enduring fictions.

Indeed, the line between fiction and nonfiction—always tenuous at best—becomes increasingly problematic if the writer in question happens to be Hemingway. The best of his nonfiction is not merely vivid and precisely accurate about, say, the "matter" of bullfighting but also is fully, richly imagined. Moreover, "invention" included everything from the arrangement of detail to the structure of the work itself. At the same time, however, nonfiction afforded Hemingway at least as many traps as opportunities; and when he pontificated—either about Life in general or about his academic critics in particular—one could not help but see the nastier side of his competitive nature.

Hemingway hoped, of course, that his nonfiction would stand as a permanent record, the "true gen" of what those times, those places, felt like, and were—whether it be Paris or Pamplona, Kenya or Key West. Weber's book provides the best accounting available thus far of how each book was occasioned, how it was made, and how it fared in the commercial/critical marketplace. [End Page 469]

By contrast, Tavernier-Courbin's study concentrates on A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's most popular book of nonfiction and arguably the one that most intrigues scholar-detectives. Indeed, everything about A Moveable Feast—from the tale of its origins in the Ritz Hotel papers to Mary Hemingway's claim that the published manuscript was entirely in her husband's words—raises as many scholarly questions as it does readers' eyebrows. For A Moveable Feast is not quite the book Hemingway claimed it to be (like the discovery of Boswell's journals, the story of how, in 1956, he retrieved two trunks of old papers from the basement of Paris's Ritz Hotel is longer on charm than truth), nor is the posthumously published book quite the manuscript Hemingway in fact wrote.

Granted, critics have long suspected that A Moveable Feast teeters somewhere between a self-serving nostalgia (only the fairly well off—as Hemingway surely was during the Twenties—fabricate romantic sagas of bohemian deprivation) and a mean-spirited effort to settle old scores with ghosts of the past like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ford Maddox Ford. But that said, only a careful study of the manuscript variants can confirm these hunches, and that is precisely what Tavernier-Courbin's book rigorously accomplishes.

Taken together, the two studies of Hemingway's nonfiction do much to demystify his efforts at self-mythologizing. At the same time, however, they make it clear that Hemingway was a more conscious and certainly a more complicated writer than many who took his "truth books" as the truth.

Sanford Pinsker
Franklin and Marshall College
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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 469-470
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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