- Hemingway's Wars: Public and Private Battles by Linda Wagner-Martin
Among the collection of Carlos Baker papers at the Princeton University Library, one folder includes correspondence between Baker and C. T. "Buck" Lanham, whom Hemingway had met in World War II and had continued to befriend for many years afterward. As the papers in the collection indicate, Baker had asked Lanham to review drafts of chapters Baker had written for his 1969 biography, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, especially those sections concerning Hemingway's involvement in the Second World War. After Lanham provided notes on the sections covering the war years, he agreed to read more, so Baker sent Lanham additional chapters covering periods in Hemingway's life that preceded Lanham's friendship with the author. Even though Lanham had learned much about Hemingway during and after the war, Lanham noted that the biography had completely altered the way in which he understood his friend. For Lanham, discovering in the pages of Baker's drafts a new sense of the complexity of Hemingway's life and work had been at turns enlightening, perplexing, and even quite moving.
For readers who are already well-versed in the details of Hemingway's life and work as told in Baker's biography or any of the many informative volumes that since followed it, Linda Wagner-Martin's Hemingway's Wars: Public and Private Battles might affect them in ways similar to Lanham's reaction to reading Baker. Hemingway's Wars not only provides new insights about an author with whom they might already be well familiar, but sections in this engaging and highly readable volume are also unexpectedly moving. For the novice reader of Hemingway's life story, Hemingway's Wars provides a relatively concise and perceptive account of key events in the writer's life, the essence of his approach to his craft, and, as the subtitle indicates, the battles that left their indelible marks on the writer's body, mind, spirit, and art.
Wagner-Martin introduces the ten chapters in the volume with a discussion of "Wars and Their Omnipresence," which describes the intersection of the key milestones and literary accomplishments in Hemingway's life and work with the major wars of the twentieth century: Hemingway came of age when the United States entered World War I and joined the American Red Cross in Italy where he not only witnessed the Great War firsthand but also received his "red badge of courage" while working at the frontlines; he covered [End Page 149] the Spanish Civil War and World War II as a journalist; and, of course, many of his major literary works deal centrally with these global conflicts, especially their aftermath. Even more, though, Hemingway was a serious student of such hostilities. As Wagner-Martin puts it, "Hemingway saw himself as a diligent scholar of whatever subject he chose," and "the field of study that he considered his primary province, from his eighteenth year on, was the international science of war" (7). Accordingly, other than his personal involvement as a Red Cross volunteer and journalist, reading was a significant source of information for Hemingway's study of "the goddam sad science of war," as he boldly put it in Lillian Ross's 1949 New Yorker interview (qtd. in Wagner-Martin 5).
In addition to investigating Hemingway's response to human conflict on a global scale, subsequent chapters likewise explore more localized "public and private battles" that increasingly came to affect the famous author and his work. Besides the more obvious physical and psychological wounds Hemingway incurred after his injuries in World War I, Wagner-Martin discusses the emotional trauma after the "dear John" letter Hemingway received from Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky along with the effects of quarrelling with his parents during the summer of his twenty-first birthday: "In Hemingway's consciousness," as Wagner-Martin explains, "all three of the events were the result of war" (30). Later discussions expand upon these notions of trauma. Other than the recurrent painful reminders from the physical wounds...