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Ernest Hemingway in Context ed. by Debra Moddelmog and Suzanne del Gizzo (review)

From: The Hemingway Review
Volume 33, Number 1, Fall 2013
pp. 110-113 | 10.1353/hem.2013.0026

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What kind of music did Ernest Hemingway listen to? What were the dominant attitudes toward animals in Hemingway’s milieu? Politics? How did he feel about the various people, movements, and influences of the Modernist period? Ernest Hemingway in Context, edited by Debra A. Moddelmog and Suzanne del Gizzo, collects three generations of Hemingway expertise to answer these questions and more. Through forty-four chapters and over 400 pages, we find many aspects of Hemingway’s life and career contextualized within the author’s world. Some of the chapters cover topics familiar to any reader or teacher of Hemingway’s work. But the vast majority of the selections in this volume either engage parts of Hemingway’s life that are difficult to contextualize or expand the thinking already in place. These chapters provide muchneeded insight into the cultural influences that shaped a writer who was very much a product of his historical moment, and who in turn helped shape the literature of the 20th century.

First, Moddelmog and del Gizzo must be commended for the sheer scope and breadth of their selections. Ernest Hemingway in Context is a one-volume comprehensive exam that distills hundreds of pages of scholarship and decades of research into easy-to-manage, ten-page chapters. The 44 different selections are divided into six categories: “Biography and Life,” “Representations: In His Time,” “Representations: In Our Time,” “Intellectual and Artistic Movements,” “Popular, Cultural, and Historical Contexts,” and “Resources.” The “Contexts” section contains over half of the volume’s chapters and is the most significant section of the text. From hunting and war to sex and religion, Moddelmog, del Gizzo, and their contributors have covered a massive amount of material—and clearly not without effort. The uniform ten-page length of each chapter hints at the difficulty for both editors and contributors of limiting the content included in the volume. Occasionally, you can sense the amount of material that had to be removed to accommodate length requirements. There is only so much that can be said in ten pages; on a topic like “Sex, Sexuality, and Marriage,” ten pages only scratches the surface.

With the various guides, introductions, and biographies currently in circulation, another volume purporting to “explain” the author can seem redundant. But Ernest Hemingway in Context rarely sounds derivative, partly because some of the topics discussed are relatively new to the critical conversation. The most surprising and enjoyable aspect of this volume is the way it expands Ernest Hemingway’s cultural context. Recently, the author has been examined through the lenses of animal studies, environmental studies, studies of masculinity, and with a renewed interest in the author’s “hobbies,” like bullfighting, hunting, and fishing. Each of these topics finds a chapter in this volume, and the contributors do an excellent job showing how the author’s attitudes develop over time. The chapters on “Animals” and “Hunting” struck me as illustrative in tracing just how tangled Hemingway’s ideas can be even on “established” themes. If anything, this volume shows that there are certainly no absolutes with regard to the author’s beliefs.

A particularly progressive feature of Hemingway in Context is the treatment the editors give “Race and Ethnicity.” The subject is taken up in five separate chapters, detailing the author’s relationship with African Americans, Africans, Native Americans, Cubans, and Jews. Only in the last few years have scholars begun to reexamine Hemingway’s conception of race, and this volume is an important contribution to this long overdue evaluation. Had this text been organized ten or fifteen years ago, race and ethnic context might have been dealt with in only a single chapter. Instead, these five chapters indicate how far our understanding of Hemingway and race has come. The “Race and Ethnicity” selections are among the strongest in the book precisely because this aspect of the writer’s career has generally lacked strong context. The “Africans” and “Cubans” chapters, especially, are important to understanding a part of Hemingway’s life that has been misunderstood and under-examined in the criticism of earlier decades.

This volume is most interesting when expanding where previous criticism has failed to fully contextualize Hemingway. For example, David M. Earle’s...



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