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8 Pursuit Remembered Experience, Memory, and Invention in Green Hills of Africa Lawrence H. Martin • OneofthegreatstrengthsofErnestHemingway’smodeofwritingishisevocative development of memory. The technique is pervasive in his work, and powerful examples can readily be found in the two-page opening chapter of A Farewell to Arms,withitsdarkmoodoftragedy,allinthepasttenseofrecoveredexperience, setting the tone for the entire novel; in the first line of “In Another Country,” conveying resignation in terms of dark and cold, and the sight of dead game animals in the market; or in the old man Santiago’s proud reminiscence of his youth. Sometimes, as in Colonel Cantwell’s maudlin egotism, memory fails as a literary device. And often—A Moveable Feast is a charming if frequently malicious illustration—facts and events that can be otherwise verified are retold in such a way as to create an effect different from literal history. Green Hills of Africa, however, a book that appears superficially to be an account of Hemingway’s 1933–34 safari, is a special case in the Hemingway canon. The writer suggests somewhat ambiguously and disingenuously in the well-known foreword that the book isn’t fiction (and therefore must be something else, perhaps autobiography or a travelogue). While it is perfectly clear that Green Hills of Africa is largely an autobiographical memoir, it is also self-evident that Hemingway manipulated the memories in the retelling. The result is a book that, fortunately, is more art than history, and the foundation of fact supports a new construction and reinterpretation of memories. Because it fits no conventional genre, Green Hills has been something of a puzzle for reviewers and critics since the beginning. Its interpreters, from the 97 Cirino & Ott.indb 97 3/23/10 9:34:42 AM 98 lawrence h. martin critics who reviewed the book when it was published in 1935 to recent biographers , have commented pointedly on what this Depression-era book did not do and especially on how it reflected badly on an important author who failed to take a political position and refused to face contemporary social problems. The longviewofhistory,ofcourse,revealsthattheseattitudesmirrorthemomentary agenda of the critics who passed over the book’s innovations and lasting values. Itsvirtuesdrewscantpraise,asidefromsomemildadmirationofitsdescriptions of landscape and its realistic depiction of hunting. But what went unrecognized was a strong central motif that unifies and clarifies the story and transforms it from a mere travel report into a narrative projection of the modern romantic personality. What the politically energized critics wanted was topical appeal— laborunrest,theplightoftheworkingclass,politicaldoctrine,importantsubjects all—but what Hemingway gave them was not topical but universal: a pastoral Homo ludens re-created from the memory of experience, refined through the literary imagination, and set down in an engaging, convincing tale of a month’s action,asHemingwaysays.AlthoughHemingwaywasdrawingonthetraditions of safari books by the genre’s best writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (he owned an impressive library of the type), as well as on his own fresh memories of the trip, the book is a conscious and intentional modification of experiences into a meditation on man and nature. But the critics of the day were interested in matters that expressed the intellectual and political concerns of the mid-1930s. What appeared to be a sporting book wasn’t to their taste at all. Green Hills of Africa, said Granville Hicks in his 1935 New Masses review, “is the dullest book I have read since Anthony Adverse.” Hicks conceded that “there are perhaps ten pages that are interesting” but went on to say that “the rest of the book is just plain dull.” The reason, he proposed, is that “hunting is probably exciting to do; it is not exciting to read about” (23). Hicks’s review of Green Hills, like other reviews of what seemed to be partly a safari book and partly a writer’s musing on his art, found fault with Hemingway not only for what he did but particularly for what he failed to do: namely, to take up an important issue by adopting a fashionably leftish stance. Hicks did not hesitate to specify exactly what Hemingway should have been doing in the thirties: “I should like Hemingway to write a novel about a strike” (23), he demanded, forgetting for the moment the necessary kinship of experience, memory, and truthful invention. (Hemingway had seen war and revolution but not domestic labor unrest of the kind Hicks evidently had in mind.) His rationale, archly patronizing, was that a labor topic would “do something to Hemingway” (23)—presumably reform...


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