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A N N P U T N A M University of Puget Sound “Wine of Wyoming”and Hemingway’s Hidden West i It is twenty-five years since Hemingway’s death in Ketchum, Idaho, his last and perhaps best home, and time now, a quarter of a century later, to lay claim to the Hemingway who was also a westerner.1 It is time to reassess not only what the West came to mean to Hemingway, but how he was able to use it in the making of his art. Leslie Fiedler maintains that Hemingway was always writing Westerns: stories where protagonists “light out for the territories”—to the mountains of Spain, or the plains of Africa, or certain rivers in Michigan—when the pressures of civilization become too threatening. The trick of his argument rests upon the notion that “the Western understood in this way, does not even need an American setting. . . .”2An intriguing insight, no doubt, but what about the “Ameri­ can setting”? What about the American West, both as fictional subject and actual place? Hemingway has never been considered a regionalist in any sense of the term, for the settings of his works are remarkable for their diversity, not continuity. Yet it becomes clear that if any region of America domin­ ates his imagination, it is the West, in concept if not always in fact. For Hemingway was drawn to the West again and again, to hunt and fish, and finally to live, when he made his last, and perhaps best home, in sight of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. But Hemingway also came West to write. It was in the West, for example, that Hemingway worked on drafts not only of A Farewell to Arms, but Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Toils, and A Moveable Feast.3We can recognize a western presence in Hemingway’s fiction in a scattering of his works—in the Michigan land­ scapes of “The Last Good Country” and “Big Two-Hearted River” ; in the 18 Western American Literature images of the West the dying writer creates in “The Snows of Kiliman­ jaro” ; in the longing of the father and son for the West as they travel through an eastern landscape in the story “Fathers and Sons” ; in the surreal westward movement played out on a night radio by Mr. Frazer in “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” ; and as content itself in the story “Wine of Wyoming.” But the issue this recognition immediately raises is, why wasn’t there more? Why didn’t Hemingway exploit the West as fictional subject to the extent one would expect of a man who became almost irresistibly drawn to it? This is a difficult question to answer because Hemingway’s attitude toward the West, as it was toward any place, was contradictory and complex. What finally emerges is a whole construct of feelings Hemingway possessed, not only about the West, but about place itself. This ambivalence toward place in general and the West in particular can be seen most specifically in the story “Wine of Wyoming.” It is an important work because the West not only functions as setting, but becomes the verystory itself;thus it isabout the West in ways the other stories are not. The story is autobiographical. After living six years in France, Ernest Hemingway came home to America.4The year was 1928. In the late sum­ mer of that same year, Hemingway traveled west to Sheridan, Wyoming, to work on the -final drafts of a book he was going to call A Farewell to Arms. So when he met an immigrant couple from France who were having difficulties adjusting to life in the New World, Hemingway was under­ standably drawn to them. Two years later, he made fictional use of their dilemma in a rarely read story called “Wine of Wyoming.” In one of the few studies of the story, Kenneth Johnston suggests that the West came to emblemize not only the greater failure of America itself, but also the enor­ mous sense of disillusionment Hemingway felt because of it.5Perhaps this accounts for Hemingway’s failure to realize the artistic potential in the West he came...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 17-32
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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