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Hemingway: So Far from Simple by Donald F. Bouchard (review)

From: The Hemingway Review
Volume 32, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 147-150 | 10.1353/hem.2013.0008

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Donald F. Bouchard’s recent work, Hemingway: So Far From Simple, guides the Hemingway reader to a deeper understanding of how the author’s seemingly simplistic language, when understood in its complicated context of contemporary literary criticism, politics, and artistic movements, reflects a complex, ever-changing writer. Bouchard closely examines both earlier works and those written after World War II in order to connect each story’s process with Hemingway’s writing career. Bouchard uses Hemingway’s published letters to indicate what influenced changes in the author’s work, and, while stressing that he does not seek to interpret, consults the philosophies of critics Michael Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Edward Said as guides for understanding Hemingway’s connection to the world around him and its relationship to his writing. Bouchard reminds the reader what Hemingway himself thought of some forms of literary criticism: “I think the way we are is how the world has been and these psychoanalytic versions or interpretations are far from accurate. About posterity: I think only about writing truly” (qtd. in Bouchard 19). Taking issue with those who judge Hemingway’s work as overly simplistic, Bouchard focuses on Hemingway’s preoccupation with his writing career, his experimentation with literary form, and his ability to reflect the changing times.

Hemingway’s World War I experiences and the need to “write truly” created a distinctive difference in his style. Disillusionment altered Hemingway’s relationship to his audience and ordinary language failed. Bouchard contends that Hemingway established his non-discursive individual style in two works: “Up in Michigan” and “Big Two-Hearted River.” The former, which Hemingway wanted to include in his collection In Our Time while his publisher disagreed, was erotic in nature, even labeled “pornographic” by some. The latter, the story that rounds out In Our Time, is a fishing tale on the surface, yet in the depths lie the inner struggles of Nick Adams, a returning war veteran. Hemingway establishes his laconic style in these two distinctive stories, which gravitate toward a powerful range of emotions. The power of sexuality and the horrors of war shut down normal language. Bouchard gives these two stories special precedence over others in the early oeuvre because both have been the topic of literary discussion and analysis since publication. In “Up in Michigan” and “Big Two-Hearted River” Hemingway establishes his ability to say everything without saying anything.

While Hemingway’s beginnings are entrenched in a self-reflexive style, The Sun Also Rises records a certain transformation, a blocking of romanticized visions by the impotence of Jake Barnes. Bouchard draws a connection between Bill Gorton’s anger with Robert Cohn’s superior actions and Hemingway’s break with Gertrude Stein. Bouchard contends that Hemingway was angered not by her lesbianism, but by her air of superiority. It was Stein who labeled Hemingway’s generation the “lost generation,” much to his dislike. Bouchard also touches on Hemingway’s The Torrents of Spring, a parody of Sherwood Anderson’s “loose, subjective thought and sentimental generalities” (56). While many scorned Hemingway for this biting criticism in the form of parody, Bouchard argues that he merely wanted to be distinguished from Anderson, to be appreciated in his own right.

In the same chapter, Bouchard expands on The Sun Also Rises, which he describes as a “limited achievement,” while spending limited time on A Farewell to Arms. Bouchard links the two works through an observation of their patterns: “An initial situation progressively exhausts itself, leaving Frederic Henry with nowhere to go at the end, much as Jake Barnes was faced with severely narrowed choices when he meets Brett in Madrid” (62–63). Bouchard interprets Catherine Barkley’s death at the end of the novel as the death of Hemingway’s attachments to European ideals. I was surprised that so little attention was given to a novel so many critics argue is the novel of World War I, but then again, Bouchard’s goal is to recognize works, such as Death in the Afternoon, which have been given less attention by critics.

After the 1932 publication of his nonfiction treatise on bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway once again found his work misunderstood and underappreciated by...


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