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Studies in American Fiction123 Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: Univ. ofAlabama Press, 2001. 192 pp. Paper: $19.95. Ronald Berman dilates the work of two canonical modern writers by expounding upon the intellectual issues and cultural climate of the 1920s. He wishes to demonstrate that these authors swam in the pool of contemporary thought to a far greater degree than has been acknowledged in the existing criticism, that their fictions reveal two men well up on the new ideas and intellectual developments . The study is comprised of nine essays, which Professor Berman himself describes, too self-effacingly, as loosely inter-related by this general history-of-ideas approach. The ideas he breaks into three main categories of exploration: "dogma, both religious and secular, the new and old ideas of selfhood; and, especially in the case ofHemingway, the way we understand, explain, and transmit experience" (2). Berman declares that Fitzgerald's and Hemingway's "fiction connected to [contemporary ideas], as it usually does, not through the structures of philosophical form but through intuitions and allusions carried by the winds of doctrine. Fitzgerald and Hemingway read many books, and they were alert to intellectual currents, especially to the contradictions of ideas and ideologies" (10). This statement is consistent with the book's main method, which has little to do with "influence studies" and rather more with New Historicism. A typical essay will spend a great deal of time laying out certain aspects of the intellectual climate before these ideas are brought to bear upon the fictions: in some cases half the essay or more will pass before attention is focused on the work of Fitzgerald or Hemingway, which will likely occasion a certain amount ofimpatience in some readers. Berman is authoritative in summaries of the Anglo-American intellectual milieu of the modernist period; he commands a wide range of pertinent texts and deploys apt quotation after apt quotation. He draws upon philosophers , public intellectuals and belleletrists alike: William James, Whitehead, Dewey, Santayana, Wells, Mencken, Brooks, Wilson, Wittgenstein, Eliot (in all his guises: critic, poet, erstwhile philosopher ), even on the relatively more forgotten figure of Walter Lippman. The intellectual context that is limned in the course of the several essays is predominantly sad and negative: disintegration and drift are key metaphors. Cogent as the discussion ofintellectual history may be, the more intriguing portion of each piece is usually to be found when the literary texts are opened up to new readings, which Berman manages to make stimulating and fresh. He has not lost sight of aes- 124Reviews thetic concerns in his pursuit of the cultural context for the works, a weakness one often finds in New Historical studies of the thesisgrinding sort. This general method as well as the cast of intellectual characters will be familiar to those who have read Berman's previous studies of Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby and Modern Times (1994) and The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald's World ofIdeas (1997). These works have earned Berman the reputation as one of our foremost Fitzgerald critics, and they demonstrated his ability to turn his expertise in intellectual history to energetic literary-critical account. It is no small feat to formulate enlivening remarks on such a well-worked-over novel as Gatsby. Along these lines, it is the Hemingway essays in the book that stake the claim to breaking the most new ground. Berman's examination of "The Killers " in light of vaudevillian techniques and values, while clever in places, shows the potential for pratfall with the heavily contextual approach. The amount of intellectual baggage laid on the story amounts to overkill and the reading eventually proves to be strained and repetitious. On the other hand, "Protestant, Catholic, Jew: The Sun Also Rises" takes up the familiar question of anti-Semitism in a deep and considered fashion. Here the initial engagement of Wells and Belloc on the question of antiSemitism is proportionate and plausible, and Berman draws sagely upon current literary scholarship to help him place Hemingway's first novel decidedly inside the 1920s debate on the religious and ethnic bases of value and style. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties occasionally overstates its case. One wants to acknowledge the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 123-124
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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