Jan Bakker organizes his book around Hemingway's publications as they chronologically appeared. He summarizes most reviews, first Dutch and then American, and points out areas of agreement and of difference. He functions primarily as an editor, allowing critics to speak for themselves, rather than as an author with a particular point of view.
After Islands in the Stream (1970) Bakker lists "General and Miscellaneous Articles" concerning recent Hemingway criticism containing assessments of his work and personality in Dutch publications since 1970 and shares some critical responses to them. There are extensive notes and two annotated lists, the first of select Dutch periodicals and newspapers, and the second of Dutch reviewers and essayists. The book is also well indexed.
There are two tantalizing comments that all scholars have no doubt wondered about, comments that underline the intensely subjective nature of most criticism (surely Matthew Arnold dreamed in vain of disinterested criticism). The question becomes even more insistent as the reader hears major critics on both sides of the Atlantic line up to praise and blame virtually every text, offering in each case reasons for such judgments: "One can ask oneself again how it is possible that two sensitive critics should hold such completely opposite views. Could it be that the text of the novel lends itself without impunity to such opposite evaluations, or must one conclude that in the final analysis the private, subjective impulse remains the basic source of all criticism?" Again near the end of the volume, after surveying the whole field, Bakker restates the observation: "Remains the question, always puzzling, why some critics can praise the novel as Hemingway vintage, whereas others reject it in toto."
The book is highly readable, and it puts critical responses to most of Hemingway's work in a convenient single book. The researcher who wants complete reviews, based on the summaries, can easily move to the original texts, guided to them by the notes provided.
Conversations with Ernest Hemingway reprints forty articles published in the United States from 1919 through 1965, almost all of them interviews with Hemingway. Most of the articles are here newly available to scholars; a few, like George Plimpton's "The Art of Fiction: Ernest Hemingway" or Ralph Ingersoll's "Story of Ernest Hemingway's Far East Trip," have appeared elsewhere but are valuable enough to justify rounding out the collection. Bruccoli also included Hemingway's speech to the American Writer's Congress in New York on 4 June 1937 and his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1954.
The articles are on the whole laudatory. They document in part the emerging legend of the man of action who was at the same time a man dedicated to writing "truly." Bruccoli says in his Introduction that the articles are sometimes contradictory (and they are). He also alludes to Hemingway's tendency to lie about his life experiences while "aggrandizing himself," but justifies him to the extent [End Page 674] that he aggrandized reading and writing at the same time. Bruccoli calls attention to Hemingway's repeated claim to have completed novels "in the bank" to avoid excessive taxes and to provide for his family as simply not the case.
Most of the articles were written by reporters for newspapers and magazines. They were dazzled by the world figure they were dealing with, and they wrote accordingly. Only as we have gained some distance from the man, his work, and world events have we begun to see more clearly the differences between the legend and the facts. Early in these newspaper accounts, for example, Hemingway says he grew up in Venice "when he was a kid" and which he "loved as a young boy." Later he became more wary and preferred to write answers to questions, no doubt to avoid such obvious untruths. But the reporters simply wrote what they heard; they...