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The Torments of Spring:
Jake Barnes’s Phantom Limb in The Sun Also Rises

While critics recently have found The Sun Also Rises a fruitful text for reexamining issues of gender and sexuality in Hemingway’s work, a significant aspect of Jake Barnes’s genital wounding has been overlooked. At least from the time of the American Civil War, a diverse body of medical literature has documented the psychosomatic reality of phantom genitalia in traumatically injured men. Revisiting the novel from this perspective—imagining that Jake Barnes is haunted by a penile ghost—allows us to see this character as something more than a victim of disability. Instead, we might think of Jake’s material self as figuratively masculine but accidentally transgendered: a body that others can desire and that still can choose, or not, to reciprocate sexual feeling.

Here I must admonish the young Chirurgion that hee be not deceived concerning the losse or privation of the sense of the part for I know very many deceived as thus; the patients pricked on that part would say they felt much paine there. But that feeling is oft deceiptful, as that which proceeds rather from the strong apprehension of great paine which formerly reigned in the part, than from any facultie of feeling as yet remaining. A most clear and manifest argument of this false and deceiptful sense appears after the amputation of the member; for a long while after they will complaine of the part which is cut away. … But seeing the case stands so that the Patients imagine they have their members yet entire … we must indeavour to give remedy to this symptom.

—Ambroise Paré (1575)1

As every one knows, Paris is a very romantic place. Spring in Paris is a very happy and romantic time.

—Ernest Hemingway (c. 1926)2

In chapter seventeen of The Sun Also Rises, the expatriate journalist Jake Barnes receives three sharp blows to the head when his friend Robert Cohn erupts in a jealous rage at the Café Suizo, demanding to know the whereabouts of Brett Ashley, a woman who wants to be in love with Jake but has allowed herself to be seduced by Cohn. Cohn (a former boxing champion at Princeton) takes some swings at others who are present, but he targets Jake for the most severe punishment and knocks him out cold. When he comes to, Jake characteristically tries to brush off the injury and insists on walking back to his hotel alone. But the traumatic injury he has just suffered—almost certainly [End Page 52] a concussion—induces a lapse of memory. Pamplona now seems unfamiliar: “everything looked new and changed.”3 Jake’s mind drifts back in time to a night when he was coming home from an out-of-town football game, during which he had been kicked in the head. “I was carrying a suitcase with my football things in it,” he recalls, walking down a tree-lined street of his hometown; but then, too, a sense of unreality overcomes him: “everything seemed to come from a long way off, and I could hear my feet walking a great distance away. … It was like that crossing the square. It was like that going up the stairs in the hotel. Going up the stairs took a long time, and I had the feeling that I was carrying my suitcase” (196–97).

On the way up Jake is met by Bill Gorton, who tells him that Cohn wants to see him (presumably to apologize). Reluctantly, Jake consents. “It was just a matter of climbing more stairs,” he mentally observes. “I went on up the stairs carrying my phantom suitcase” (196–97). Jake’s trauma induces a peculiar phantom sensation—weighing him down, slowing his tread, and confusing his memory. Getting KO’d by Robert Cohn isn’t the only traumatic injury that Jake Barnes has had to endure. And the psychological baggage he still carries from his other wounding—in the First World War—is just as heavy as that phantom suitcase.

One of the sadder commonplaces in the history of medicine is that many of the most significant advances in our understanding of the human body have come in the wake of war, occasions for unspeakable physical carnage. At least since the time of the American Civil War—which generated such an appalling number of casualties—the theater of modern armed conflict might even be conceived as a vast bloody waiting room, filled with victims whose wounds would give military doctors and surgeons innumerable opportunities for clinical observation and experimental treatment. After Lee’s surrender, the work of compiling analytical and statistical data about the dead and wounded fell to the U.S. Army’s Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph K. Barnes, under whose direction the monumental Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, 1861–1865 was published in six volumes from 1870 to 1888. Included in its pages were numerous reports concerning pelvic wounds, which, up until that time, were almost always considered mortal, because the concentration of vascular tissue in that part of the body typically resulted in uncontrollable hemorrhaging if the lower abdomen was struck by bullets or shrapnel. According to one medical historian, “Despite this grim conventional wisdom, military surgeons learned how to treat destructive injuries of the kidneys, [End Page 53] bladder, urethra, and genitalia during the Civil War, and each year of the war saw improved survival and better recovery.”4 Within this category of casualties, Barnes’s medical opus documented more than 300 shot wounds to the penis (“ranging from mostly minor wounds of the prepuce or shaft to partial or total amputation”), the most severe consequences of which often were psychological.5 Anyone familiar with the case history of another J. Barnes—the narrator-protagonist of The Sun Also Rises—would not be surprised by that finding. Beginning at least with Philip Young’s ground-breaking 1952 study of the psychological consequences of the author’s repeated encounters with violence, the wound—and the occasion of wounding—have been a consistent focus of Hemingway criticism. Yet modern readings of The Sun Also Rises have only glanced at the medical, physiological, and neurological implications of Jake Barnes’s genital injury, even though, as Linda Wagner-Martin acknowledges, “his wound permeates everyone’s awareness” throughout the book.6 No one has yet entertained the possibility that Barnes is shadowed by a phantom limb—a penile ghost—the presence (and effect) of which necessarily complicates our understanding of his conflicted sexuality.

Given the extraordinary number of soldiers whose condition required amputation of legs, arms, and other body parts, another legacy of the Civil War was a new and deeper understanding of the neurological and psychological after-effects of such traumatic injury. Probably the most startling and perplexing of these was the victims’ actual sense of feeling in or relation to a body part now gone—a phenomenon observed in medical literature at least since the sixteenth century (as the epigraph to this essay documents), but not more clinically described until Silas Weir Mitchell gave it a name in his 1872 treatise on Injuries of the Nerves and their Consequences. “Nearly every man who loses a limb carries about with him a constant or inconstant phantom of the missing member,” Mitchell observed, “a sensory ghost of that much of himself, and sometimes a most inconvenient presence, faintly felt at times, but ready to be called up to his perception by a blow, a touch, or a change of wind.”7 Mitchell based his findings almost entirely on his experience treating wounded veterans at a military hospital in Philadelphia, where he had hundreds of cases under his purview. The vast majority of his patients had suffered the loss of one or more extremities, but he was also aware of more unusual circumstances, including penile amputation.8

Curiously enough, Mitchell’s first report of the phenomenon of phantom limbs came not in a medical journal but through the medium [End Page 54] of fiction, in a short story he published anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly in 1866: “The Case of George Dedlow.” The eponymous narrator of the tale is a medical student who has signed up for service to the Union, but who quickly has become a casualty of the war. After losing one arm (and the use of the other), the recuperated Dedlow returns to his regiment, only to be gravely wounded again. This time both his legs are amputated at the thigh, but Dedlow begins to experience sharp cramps in a limb no longer present. “‘Just rub my left calf,’” he pleads to an orderly.

“Calf?” said he, “you ain’t none, pardner. It’s took off.”“I know better,” said I. “I have pain in both legs.”“Wall, I never!” said he. “You ain’t got nary leg.”9

When gangrene attacks his remaining arm, it too is hacked off, reducing Dedlow to “a useless torso.”10 He is then sent off to the gracelessly named “Stump Hospital” in Philadelphia, where he is surrounded by other amputees, almost all of whom experience sensations of pain in members no longer attached to their bodies, and whose empirical testimony encourages the helpless physician to generalize about the phenomenon. “This pain keeps the brain ever mindful of the missing part,” he concludes, “and, imperfectly at least, preserves to the man a consciousness of possessing that which he has not.”11

Modern neurological research—based on the case histories of many more victims—has reaffirmed many of Mitchell’s early hypotheses.12 As one pair of physicians has noted, “The vividness of phantoms appears to depend on … the subjective vividness of that part in one’s body image prior to amputation (which would explain why phantoms occur more often following a traumatic loss, or after a painful appendage has been removed, than after a planned amputation of a non-painful limb).”13 Another expert has confirmed that “[p]hantom sensations are more likely to persist for longer periods after the loss of the limb by accident than by surgical amputation,” a conclusion verified by the preponderance of long-term symptoms among “battle casualties.”14 More recent studies also have reiterated the fact that adverse psychological side-effects are more prevalent among amputees who experience phantom limb sensation, making them more likely to suffer “a greater degree of despair, more symptoms of depression, less satisfaction with social relations, and poorer quality of life.”15 Jake Barnes’s testimony would not controvert these findings. “To hell with people,” he says bitterly to himself one night: “The Catholic Church had an awfully good way [End Page 55] of handling all that. Good advice, anyway. Not to think about it. Oh, it was swell advice. Try and take it sometime. Try and take it” (39).

Thinking about “it,” of course, is what Jake Barnes cannot stop doing, not least because the body part he is missing may not be altogether gone, psychosomatically. Even though the text of the novel is notoriously elliptical about the nature of Barnes’s war-time wound, the protagonist’s sardonic comments (and other contextual evidence) allow us to infer that his penis has been severed but that the rest of his genital organs are intact.16 Looking at his undressed body in the bedside mirror of his Paris apartment, Jake sees the joke between his legs: “Of all the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny” (38). The joke isn’t lost, either, on the liaison colonel at the hospital in Milan where Barnes is sent after suffering his injury. “You, a foreigner,” the Italian exclaims, “have given more than your life. … Che mala fortuna! Che mala fortuna!” “What a speech!” Jake self-deprecatingly recalls; “I would like to have it illuminated to hang in the office.”17

All of these memories are brought back after Barnes has spent a frustrating night on the town, trying to feel (heterosexually) “normal”—even picking up a prostitute whom he will pay fifty francs not to have sex with—but always being reminded of his disability and psychosexual difference. Encountering Brett Ashley, the Englishwoman with whom he is supposed to be in love, and who turns “all to jelly” when he touches her, only makes matters worse (34). Their passionate kisses—“Our lips were tight together” (33)—and piteous confessions—“there’s not a damn thing we could do”(34)—allow the reader to sense the emotional dead-end at which Jake Barnes has arrived. Incapable of satisfying her (at least in terms of penile-vaginal penetration), he is obliged to leave Lady Ashley in the rowdy company of some of her other bar-room chaps and return to his flat alone. There, the sleep he wants and needs eludes him; instead, his head starts “to work”: “The old grievance,” he reflects (38).

I lay awake thinking and my mind jumping around. Then I couldn’t keep away from it, and I started to think about Brett and all the rest of it went away. I was thinking about Brett and my mind stopped jumping around and started to go in sort of smooth waves. Then all of a sudden I started to cry. Then after a while it was better and I lay in bed and listened to the heavy trams go by and way down the street, and then I went to sleep.

(39) [End Page 56]

Explicating this passage is far from simple, especially in the absence of more specific pronominal antecedents—again, what exactly is “it”? and how distinguishable from “all the rest of it”?—and because of Hemingway’s use of other ambiguous constructions. What does it mean for Jake’s mind to be “jumping around,” as opposed to going “in sort of smooth waves”? Why does he cry? And what makes “it” “better,” finally allowing him to fall asleep?

Revisiting these questions from a neurological perspective provides answers different from those most critics have offered.18 Has Jake here achieved some form of sexual release? Such a conclusion is not unwarranted if one admits the possibility that “it” may refer to the psychological memory of his phantom limb, his absent penis.19 Clinicians have confirmed that “phantom sensations from the genitalia may include erections, pleasure, orgasm, or pain. Patients lacking organs will often perceive the organ as present and attempt to urinate or ejaculate.”20 A survey of the clinical literature reveals that in most of these cases the phantom organ has been felt in a state of erection.21 That, focusing on Brett, Jake’s mind starts to go “in sort of smooth waves” might further suggest that, at this moment he has begun to dream; and modern research has shown that “an amputee usually dreams of himself as normal and able to execute acts which he is now incapable of performing.”22 Is this, then, why Jake awakens with tears in his eyes?

If one imagines that Jake Barnes is capable of experiencing phantom erections (and even, perhaps, physical orgasm), not just this curious episode but many others in The Sun Also Rises can been viewed in new—or more emphatically psychosexual—ways. To engage in such speculative interpretation is neither arbitrary nor capricious, but rather to acknowledge (as Nancy Comley and Robert Scholes insisted some time ago) that “the Hemingway Text often extends beyond the words on the page and requires the active participation of a reader who is not afraid to extrapolate from hints” (134). These same critics have noted that at the moment when Brett Ashley enters the text of the novel (at the bal musette) escorted by a group of young gay men, Jake focuses upon them, not her, dismembering them into parts—“I saw white hands, wavy hair, white faces” (28)—which he equates, synechdochically, with effeminate queerness. “The sexually fragmented Jake is thus linked to men he perceives in fragments as unmanly because he has himself been unmanned.”23 This gloss is grammatically clever, but perhaps Jake’s anger and discomfort in the presence of openly gay men is provoked by the psychosomatic reminder of his fragment, [End Page 57] his phantom limb, which might at that moment be responding to them? Leaving the bal musette would be one sure way of relieving the embarrassment of phantom sensations Jake can neither help nor explain away. When, later, his sexually aroused mind starts “jumping around,” one object of his imagined desire clearly is Brett. But who are the unnamed others—the “all the rest of it”—that he suppresses?

Recently, some critics have suggested that Jake’s (or Hemingway’s) homophobically stereotypical representation of queerness should be read as a kind of defensive camouflage, a verbal screen intended to obscure the rather vexing question of Barnes’s sexual orientation. When Jake returns to the Bal, he is introduced to Robert Prentiss, “a rising new novelist” (“from New York by way of Chicago”), who sports “some sort of an English accent” (28). Rather impulsively, Jake offers to buy this new acquaintance a drink. “‘I’ve just had one,’” Prentiss answers. “‘Have another,’” Jake insists (28). But then, when the young writer’s affected speech betrays him as effeminate, Jake realizes his own misstep. “I was a little drunk,” he tells us. “Not drunk in any positive sense but just enough to be careless.” Letting himself get “all worked up over something” (as even the usually imperceptive Robert Cohn can see) brings Jake to the brink of unwanted disclosure, so he retreats to the safety of a conventionally masculine response. “This whole show makes me sick is all,” he explains, concealing a moment of homosexual panic behind a clichéd form of social nausea (29). While it is possible to read Jake’s anger in terms of a conventional sexual binary, as Arnold and Cathy Davidson have done (“at least his desire is in the right place,” they assert), the ambiguity of Hemingway’s text suggests that the protagonist’s desire(s) might be in different places at the same time.24

Some critics have scoffed at Kenneth Lynn’s provocative suggestion that Hemingway uses ellipsis in The Sun Also Rises to disguise a sexual interlude, but if one allows for the possibility that Jake’s phantom member remains susceptible to stimulation, the implications of the elision go even farther than Lynn imagined. Repeating the cycle of frustration, the day after his conflicted night on the town, Jake is stood up by Brett when she fails to meet him for a drink at the Hotel Crillon. Later that evening, back at his apartment, he steps out of the shower to answer the door-pull and finds Brett in the company of wealthy Count Mippipopolous, the elderly bon vivant with whom she has been carousing. Sensing Jake’s defeated jealousy, Brett sends the Count out to get champagne and then joins her would-be lover in his bedroom. [End Page 58]

“Poor old darling.” She stroked my head.

“What did you say to him?” I was lying with my face away from her. I did not want to see her.

“Sent him for champagne. He loves to go for champagne.”

Then later: “Do you feel better, darling? Is the head any better?”

“It’s better.”


Lynn supplies what Hemingway has elided during the lapse of time suggested by “Then later.” He asserts that “the implication is fairly clear that, while the full extent of his injury is unspecified, Jake remains capable of achieving a degree of satisfaction through oral sex, and that Brett has been a most willing mangeuse.”25 Lynn supposes that Jake has performed cunnilingus (a form of love-making “often associated with lesbian as well as heterosexual intercourse”), but should the range of implied sexual activity or stimulation be restricted to that?26 Jake’s phantom limb might just as easily be aroused by other kinds of stroking. Perhaps it is Brett who performs anilingus? (Jake is fresh from the shower we know.) Or even sodomy? From the verbal patterning of the novel, we can at least infer that Jake’s feeling “better” presupposes sexual climax, however arrived at.27

Wounded in his funny way, but still susceptible to phantom genital sensation, Jake Barnes acutely experiences a kind of gender trouble long before that phrase became a critical commonplace. Like many other soldiers, whose military service (and prolonged isolation from the company of women) encouraged intense new kinds of masculine intimacy, Hemingway’s protagonist takes great comfort in familiar rituals of male bonding—playing sports, skinny-dipping, drinking to excess, indulging in locker-room humor.28 But unlike most other veterans, who returned from the front with their sexual organs intact, Jake cannot easily reassimilate into the ranks of the heteronormative. Deprived of a phallus, but haunted by its phantom presence, Jake hovers in a kind of bisexual limbo: his inability to satisfy Brett Ashley occasionally torments him, but he also seems to have accepted a redefined (and culturally relaxed) masculinity for himself, less hostile to the possibility of same-sex attraction. If he was once, conceivably, a top, he is now, inevitably, a bottom—or, as one concise critic has phrased it, “a queer heterosexual.”29 To fill in one of Hemingway’s other pregnant ellipses, Jake might still be “crazy ’bout [his] cherry pie” (as the black drummer at Zelli’s presumably intones), but, if the lyrics have it right, he’s also been a two-timing man—and not just with other women.30 [End Page 59]

Since a number of biographies began turning the tables on the author’s masque of machismo, recent criticism has embraced the impulse almost like a fetish, and The Sun Also Rises has provided much evidence for demythologizing the hairy-chested Hemingway hero.31 With the running of the bulls at Pamplona and the riveting spectacle of the bullfight as its dramatic locus, his first serious novel enabled Hemingway “to explore aspects of manliness, including male desire directed toward other males, to an extent that no other cultural context available to him could have provided.”32 Once Jake and his travelling companions arrive for the Fiesta, all eyes are on Pedro Romero, the young matador in whom the aficionados have discovered the real thing. Standing face to face for the first time, Jake is almost breathlessly struck by Romero’s physical beauty—“He was the best-looking boy I have ever seen,” he privately narrates (167)—a judgment he later repeats openly to others several times. Like everyone else, Jake can’t take his eyes off Romero’s crotch, a fact that his blunt phallic humor only reaffirms. “Pipe down,” Jake tells Mike Campbell, when Lady Ashley’s drunken fiancé twice blurts out, “Tell him Brett is dying to know how he can get into those pants” (180). Getting into Romero’s pants becomes the running joke of a very rowdy evening. “My God! he’s a lovely boy,” Brett exclaims. “And how I would love to see him get into those clothes. He must use a shoe-horn” (181).

By this point in the novel, readers will recognize that Hemingway relies on phallic double-entendres and other kinds of bawdy humor both to generate and (nominally) to diffuse sexual tension, especially between men. The hilarious morning scene at the country inn at Burguete, in which Jake and (a nude) Bill Gorton trade non sequiturs as they get ready to head out fishing, is riddled with sexually suggestive language—

“Come on,” I said. “Get up.”“What? Get up? I never get up.”He climbed into bed and pulled the sheet up to his chin.“Try and argue me into getting up.”I went on looking for the tackle and putting it all together in thetackle-bag.“Aren’t you interested?” Bill asked.


—and culminates with Bill’s open testament of male affection: “‘Listen. You’re a hell of a good guy, and I’m fonder of you than anybody on earth. I couldn’t tell you that in New York. It’d mean I was a faggot’” [End Page 60] (121). Further to shield himself from that implication, Bill gives Jake a condensed, and perverse, lesson in American history—“‘Abraham Lincoln was a faggot. He was in love with General Grant. So was Jefferson Davis’” (121)—the transparent idiocy of which is meant to dissipate the reality of same-sex feeling or attraction.33

Despite such disclaimers or retractions, the novel repeatedly emphasizes Jake’s intrinsic ability to inspire affectionate regard in others, especially other men. Robert Cohn stubbornly yearns for Jake’s approval throughout the book—“You’re really about the best friend I have,” he admits (47). But many other incidental male characters also respond to him with instinctive camaraderie—the policeman who gives him a knowing smile at the bal musette, the Count who brings him a huge bouquet of roses, the numerous barmen around Paris with whom he is on a first-name basis.34 Just as remarkable is the bridge-playing Englishman, Wilson-Harris, whom Jake and Bill accidentally meet up with at Burguete and who accompanies them twice to go fishing. When the two Americans tell him they must leave for Pamplona, Harris (as they have called him), besides buying them bottles of wine, expresses his regret in almost mawkish reiterations: “‘I say. You don’t know what it’s meant to me to have you chaps up here’ … ‘Really you don’t know how much it means’ … ‘I wish you’d let me pay for it. It does give me pleasure, you know’ … ‘I say, Barnes. You don’t know what this all means to me’ … ‘Barnes. Really, Barnes, you can’t know. That’s all’” (134). As Jake and Bill get on the bus to depart, Harris hands each man an envelope, almost a souvenir-valentine. “I opened mine,” Jake reveals, “and there were a dozen flies in it. Harris had tied them himself. He tied all his own flies” (134). A few rubbers of three-handed bridge hardly would have inspired such a sentimental display of affection.

Even more intense is the homosocial world of real aficionados that Jake rejoins when he arrives at Pamplona. The innkeeper Montoya gives the first sign when he puts his hand on Jake’s shoulder: “He smiled again. He always smiled as though bull-fighting were a very special secret between the two of us; a rather shocking but really very deep secret that we knew about. He always smiled as though there were something lewd about the secret to outsiders, but that it was something that we understood. It would not do to expose it to people who would not understand” (136). Unlike the outlandishly conspicuous gay world of Montmartre with its theatrical “grimacing, gesturing, talking” (28), the clubby insiders of aficion communicate through a more subdued—but even more physical—code.35 “[T]here [End Page 61] was no password,” Jake confides, “no set questions that could bring it out, rather it was a sort of oral spiritual examination with the questions always a little on the defensive and never apparent, there was this same embarrassed putting the hand on the shoulder, or a ‘Buen hombre.’ But nearly always there was the actual touching. It seemed as though they wanted to touch you to make it certain” (137).

As others have noted, the novel minutely describes the violence of the arena as if the matador and his brute victim were engaged in intercourse—a ritual of prolonged foreplay and arousal before the penetration of the bull’s body—and one critic suggests that “in celebrating and responding to this eroticized spectacle of masculine prowess,” Jake unconsciously expresses “his repressed sexual urges.”36 Repression is a key social antidote in the intensely homosocial world of aficion—in the hotel room that Romero shares with his sword-handler, Jake observes that the two beds are “separated by a monastic partition” (166)—but the Fiesta’s irrepressible gaiety, lubricated by copious quantities of wine and anis del toro, erodes its power. Brett finally does get into Romero’s pants, with a little help from Jake, who very well might have wanted to get in them, too.37

Jake Barnes rather prides himself on his knowledge of others’ social (and sexual) histories—“I have a rotten habit of picturing the bedroom scenes of my friends,” he confesses (21)—but he is careful to keep much of his own past hidden from view. Apart from hearing that he hails from Kansas City, was wounded on the Italian front in World War I, met Brett during his recuperation in England, and has been working as a journalist in Paris for a number of years, we know relatively little about him. Still, eventually we learn that he has been coming to the Fiesta for “several years”—always stopping at Montoya’s hotel (137); that he knows how many servings of luncheon there are on the train out of Paris—“two … and always plenty of places for both of them” (90); that a motor ride from Bayonne to San Sebastian shouldn’t cost thirty-five pesetas (235); that a bottle of wine—especially a Château Margaux—can be a good dinner companion (236). Jake seems to have learned these lessons in cosmopolitanism by himself. It seems right to infer that on his previous trips to Spain he has travelled alone, but this Fiesta is going to be different. Even Montoya uncomfortably senses the change, when so many others, breaking with custom, arrive at his hotel before his favored guest. “He smiled,” Jake notices, “as though there were something I would hear about” (135). The invasion of so many (inebriated) strangers signals trouble. [End Page 62]

Jake, however, is no stranger to the world of the Fiesta, even though he can remain an anonymous presence in it. He has internalized its rhythms and customs; he recognizes the riau-riau music as soon as the fifes begin to play. He needs no map or guidebook to find his way about Pamplona; the narrow streets and corner cafes are all familiar to him. The choreography of the bullfight he knows by heart. Surrounded and pressured by his friends, Jake lets himself get swept along (like a man in the crush of the encierro) in their drunken pleasure-seeking, sometimes waking up in a bedroom not his own. When Robert Cohn begins to take off his clothes, after finding (an undressed) Jake in his room, he has to close the shutters “because the people on the balcony of the house just across the street were looking in” (164). What, one might ask, were they expecting to see? Just how familiar a sight is Jake Barnes in Pamplona? In one way or another, he is recognized, and his presence often seems to attract certain kinds of attention, especially from other men.

Everywhere Jake goes in Pamplona, men he claims not to know buy him drinks—or offer to. When the Fiesta kicks into high gear, a crowd of partiers in the street form a dancing circle around Brett, as if she were the object of pagan worship. But she is not the only one to attract physical attention; some of the men grab Jake and Bill by the arms and make them part of the human chain. When the carousing group rushes into a wine-shop, still singing at full pitch, Jake puts some money down on the counter for a drink, but one of the men picks it up and puts it back in his pocket—presumably his pants pocket (159). While this might simply be an act of spontaneous generosity, the charged atmosphere of pleasure-seeking—in which, as Jake reflects, “it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences” (158)—invites us to consider a more sexually suggestive motive behind the anonymous gesture. Jake then goes down the street to buy a pair of wine-skins (anatomical metonyms for the male genitals); but when he returns to the wine-shop to have them filled, the same thing happens again.38 “Some one at the counter, that I had never seen before, tried to pay for the wine, but I finally paid for it myself,” he tells us. The stranger then insists on buying him a drink and, in return, asks to squeeze wine from Jake’s big five-liter bag, raising it high and tipping it greedily “so the wine hissed against the back of his throat” (161). No street-wise policeman is standing in the doorway to give us a knowing smile, but the inference seems clear that something about Jake Barnes elicits suggestively forward displays of masculine affection. If Jake’s presence provokes them now, in the novel’s immediate [End Page 63] chronological frame, what reason is there to think that it hasn’t many times before, in the implied foreground to the story—all those earlier visits to the Fiesta, when he was travelling more freely, alone?

Calling attention to these details does not require us to label Barnes (or picture his bedroom scenes). But careful consideration of their implications should encourage us to think of Jake as something other than a victim of disability. If, indeed, he still is shadowed by a penile ghost, a phantom limb that responds to sexual stimuli, the interior reach of his character deepens and the range of his possible desire(s) opens up. Instead of thinking (as Ira Elliott does) that “Jake’s body stands, as it were, between himself and his desires,” we might reimagine that body as still figuratively masculine but accidentally transgendered: a body that others can desire and that still can choose, or not, to reciprocate sexual feeling.39

Michael Anesko

Michael Anesko is Professor of English and American Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of several books, the most recent of which is Monopolizing the Master: Henry James and the Politics of Modern Literary Scholarship (Stanford, 2012). He is also a General Editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Complete Fiction of Henry James, the first volumes of which will be appearing later this year.


1. Les Oeuvres de M. Ambroise Paré Conseiller, Et Premier Chirurgien Du Roy was published in France in 1575; the epigraph is taken from the first English translation (1634), 456, 461.

2. Opening lines of The Sun Also Rises, later cut from the galley-proofs, reprinted in Svoboda, 131.

3. Hemingway, Sun Also Rises, 196. Further page references to the novel will be cited parenthetically in the text.

5. Ibid., 96. Summarizing the data, Herr concludes that “[t]raumatic injury of the genitals presaged depression, and many pensioners were noted to have melancholy thoughts and suicidal tendencies. More than a hundred cases with ‘loss of virile power’ or ‘impotence’ were mentioned in association with injuries of the testis or penis” (98).

8. The awareness of mental sensation was “not confined to lost limbs or parts of limbs,” according to Mitchell. “The amputated breast is often felt as if present,” he reported, “and the lost penis is subject to erections, of which Dr. Ruschenberger, U. S. N., has related to me a remarkable example” (Injuries, 350n). Another early student of this phenomenon was William James, who explained the mysterious persistence of symptoms as a consequence of the brain’s habit of bodily memory. “The environment does not correct such a phantasm for any odd course it may get into,” James wrote. “If it slips away altogether, the environment lets it go, and doesn’t call it back. If it happen ‘by accident’ to harden itself in a fixed position, or shorten itself, or to dissolve connection with its ancestral associates in the way of muscular feeling, the accident is not repaired; and experience, which through the rest of our mental life puts prompt bounds to too great eccentricity, here lets it luxuriate unrebuked” (“Consciousness,” 257).

9. Mitchell, “Case,” 5. [End Page 64]

10. Though probably a coincidence, we might recall that in The Torrents of Spring Hemingway offers grotesque comic relief through a diminutive Native American veteran of the Great War, who “got both arms and both legs shot off at Ypres.” Accordingly, his pool game has suffered (“Me not so good since the war”), but he still manages to beat Yogi Johnson out of four dollars and thirty cents when they pick up the cues (94).

11. Mitchell, “Case,” 5, 6. With a Gothic flourish, Dedlow later confirms his findings by consulting a medium who, in sympathy with his phantom sensations, raps out the exact catalogue numbers of the vats at the Army Medical Museum where his severed limbs have been preserved. “‘Good gracious!’ said I, ‘they are my legs! my legs!’” (11).

12. As Joanna Bourke has observed, “The First World War led to amputations on a scale never seen before, or since” (Dismembering, 33). More sardonically, Jake Barnes recalls that at the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan, there were so many other amputees in his ward that “we were going to form a society. It had a funny name in Italian” (38).

16. Many years after the novel was published, Hemingway described more explicitly what he imagined Barnes’s physical trauma to have been. The “whole genesis” of the novel, he claimed,

came from a personal experience in that when I had been wounded at one time there had been an infection from pieces of wool cloth being driven into the scrotum. Because of this I got to know other kids who had genito urinary wounds and I wondered what a man’s life would have been like after that if his penis had been lost and his testicles and spermatic cord remained intact. I had known a boy that had happened to. So I took him and made him into a foreign correspondent in Paris and, inventing, tried to find out what his problems would be when he was in love with someone who was in love with him and there was nothing that they could do about it.

Later, when asked about Barnes’s supposed emasculation, Hemingway scoffed at the notion, maintaining that “his testicles were intact and not damaged. Thus he was capable of all normal feelings as a man but incapable of consummating them. The important distinction is that his wound was physical and not psychological and that he was not emasculated” (quoted in Plimpton, 29). Immediately after the book was in press, Hemingway more bluntly told F. Scott Fitzgerald that when the novel had run through eight printings, he would insist that Scribner’s add a new subtitle to subsequent editions, so that the title page then would read: “THE SUN ALSO RISES (LIKE YOUR COCK IF YOU HAVE ONE)” (Hemingway to Fitzgerald, 24 November 1926, Selected Letters, 231).

17. Hemingway, Sun Also Rises, 39. Joking about his own wounding on the Italian front, Hemingway told his sister Marcelline that “to appreciate my scars it would be necessary for me to wear no pants” (Hemingway to Marcelline Hemingway [8 August 1918], The Letters, 127–28). Some of the writer’s other letters home reveal a fairly sophisticated medical understanding of his condition (he tells his sisters that when he walks “it looks like I had a locomotor ataxia”); they also document that he received neurological therapy (“Electrical treatments”) for his injuries (Ibid., 142, 144).

18. One recent exception is Elizabeth Klaver, who insists that, instead of regarding Barnes’s “injury as a signal of something else,” we see “the portrayal of the injury as real, anatomical, and physical” (91). Although she does not consider the possibility that Barnes may experience phantom limb sensation, she posits that [End Page 65] if his injury “is real, not a sex-based fantasy or ‘all in his head,’ … his psychological and relational problems thereby follow” (93).

19. Dana Fore does not consider the phenomenon of phantom limb sensation, but he usefully has suggested that “[c]ritics have barely considered the idea that Jake could achieve sexual satisfaction in nontraditional ways” (“Life Unworthy,” 80). A more commonly held position is that advanced by Debra A. Moddelmog, who claims that Barnes “is a sexual invalid and, as a consequence, sexually in-valid” (Reading Desire, 96).

21. In one patient, over a period of two decades, “despite the absence of his male organ, phantom erections regularly occurred especially with erotic stimulation. … The phantom seemed to be of normal size, configuration and alignment, and was accompanied by a normal sexual feeling. So real was the experience that even after 20 years, the subject was still periodically obliged to check on the situation, tactually and visually” (Fisher, “Phantom Erection,” 54). Another clinician records the case of a seventy-year-old amputee who remained “intermittently aware of a painless but always erect penile ghost. … The reality, if you will, of this ghost was attested to by the patient’s description of its size, shape and posture, by his embarrassed recognition of the impropriety of its tumid state, and by his sheepishly confessed practice of often peeping under the bed-clothes for visual assurance that the organ was, in truth, immaterial” (Heusner, “Phantom Genitalia,” 129).

26. Ibid.

27. In a later novel, To Have and Have Not (1937), Harry Morgan’s disability is represented as having almost aphrodisiacal potency. Morgan’s wife Marie seems to be especially aroused when he uses his truncated arm to fondle her labia: “‘Put the stump there,’” she urges him. “‘Hold it now. Hold it’” (114). Since the posthumous publication of The Garden of Eden in 1986, which revealed the author’s familiarity with heterodox sexual practices (and in which the protagonist, David Bourne, is sodomized by his wife), gender-bending in Hemingway criticism has become almost commonplace. See, for example, Fantina, “Hemingway’s Masochism, Sodomy, and the Dominant Woman.”

28. Adams extensively documents the various ways in which prolonged wartime activity encouraged the development of new kinds of “intense male companionship” (Great Adventure, 109). Even though Bourke dissents from some of his findings, she nevertheless affirms that it “is axiomatic in the history of the First World War that servicemen ‘bonded’ together, united by the gender-specific experiences of warfare” (Dismembering, 126).

29. Bak, Homo Americanus, 68. Expatriation also contributes to the relaxation or reorientation of Jake’s sexuality. “In Europe,” as Bak notes, Barnes “discovers a social climate more tolerant and flexible, or at least less rigid, toward gender constructs outside of the sexual norm than in America, one that provides him with ample gender space in which to grow with his injury” (96–97).

30. At the end of Book 1, Jake and Brett try to dance to the music of “The Cherry Picking Blues,” written and recorded in 1924 by Ida Cox. Hemingway’s text incorporates just a snippet from the song: “The drummer shouted: ‘You can’t two time——’” (70), and then employs extended ellipses (strings of seven periods: . … …) instead of quoting the lyrics verbatim:

I know you’re crazy ’bout your cherry pie but you can’t two-time meI’ve got my trunk all packed and I’m going to leave this townI’ve got my trunk all packed and I’m going to leave this town [End Page 66] Goodbye little papa, another man has cut your cherry tree down.(http://blueslyrics.tripod.com/lyrics/ida_cox/cherry_picking_blues.htm; accessed 24 November 2013)

In context, the missing lyrics deepen the irony of their mutual infidelity, since Brett is about to leave for San Sebastian with Robert Cohn and Jake will soon be packing his trunk for more homosocial adventures in Burguete and Pamplona. They also curiously foreshadow the “phantom suitcase” that Jake will imagine himself carrying after being pummeled by Cohn later in the novel.

31. Besides Lynn’s 1987 volume, other works that have strenuously interrogated Hemingway’s masculinity include Meyers, Mellow, and Reynolds.

32. Comley and Scholes, Hemingway’s Genders, 109. Significantly, qualities like the unpredictable—but artfully controlled—violence of the arena and the perpetual threat of personal injury facing the matador invariably led Hemingway to think of the bullring as a field of war. “It’s a great tragedy,” he told one friend, “and the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and takes more guts and skill and guts again than anything possibly could. It’s just like having a ringside seat at the war with nothing going to happen to you” (Hemingway to William D. Horne, 17–18 July 1923, Selected Letters, 88).

33. As first written, the scene was even more suggestive; but Hemingway chose to cut out dialogue in which Bill filled Jake in about his past months in New York: “I’m crazy. Also I’m supposed to be crazy to get married. Would marry anybody at any time. Then I’m tight. And I get all my best stuff from Alice in Wonderland. Since Charley Gordon and I had an apartment together last winter, I suppose I’m a fairy. That probably explains everything” (quoted in Mellow, 312). Deleted, too, was an earlier passage from which the reader might infer that Mike Campbell also had homosexual tendencies—“various habits,” Jake narrates, “that Brett felt sorry for, did not think a man should have, and cured by constant watchfulness and the exercise of her then strong will” (quoted in Svoboda, 101).

34. Curiously, as Jake kneels in the cathedral at Pamplona, his thoughts return to Count Mippipopolous: “I started wondering about where he was, and regretting I hadn’t seen him since that night in Montmartre, and about something funny Brett told me about him” (103).

35. As one critic colorfully has suggested, “Because they were the most richly plumed birds in the gay aviary, the fairies threw all its other inhabitants—queers, trade, wolves, punks—into the shadows” (Nissen, “Outing,” 49).

37. When Jake introduces Brett to Romero, the matador’s body again arrests his gaze. “I noticed his skin,” Jake says to himself. “It was clear and smooth and very brown. There was a triangular scar on his cheek-bone. I saw he was watching Brett” (189). As Moddelmog puts it, “Although Jake is physically and phallically absent from Pedro and Brett’s ‘honeymoon,’ his desire is multiply and symbolically present” (Reading Desire, 98–99).

38. As suggested by Raabe, 160.


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