Archive for the ‘Hemingway’ Category

I’ve been reading Julian of Norwich lately, and although she’s a slow read she’s worth every minute. In honor of Good Friday I’ve included part of her description of the dying of Christ on the cross.

Lady Julian, or Dame Julian (not quite Saint Julian), wrote her Showings (orJulian of Norwich cat & hazelnut “Shewynges”) in the late 14th century England. She was an anchoress (not quite a nun) at the church of St. Julian in Norwich. Not much is known about her outside of her writings, not even her name. She is called Julian after her church.

At age 30, probably in 1373, she became deathly ill and began to receive visions, revelations, or “showings” that she believed came from God. She wrote them down immediately and developed them years later into a longer text, which became a volume of 86 chapters. It’s humbly written, simple and powerful, and uncannily orthodox as far as I’ve read. Her perspective on matters such as creation, the Trinity, Christ’s death and God’s love appears to come from a different angle—and I suppose it would, if it comes from God. Her level of education is not known and was likely not very high; nevertheless she is known as the first woman published in the English language.

She wrote in a dialect of Middle English that resembles our language more than does Chaucer’s Middle English of the same period. But then, Chaucer wrote poetry and liked to show off.

I’ve taken this excerpt from Julian’s revelation VIII, last paragraph in chapter 16 and the first in chapter 17. I have modernized the spelling, even though the editor of my copy had already cleaned it up a bit. Not only does Julian’s spelling differ greatly from ours, it differs from her own. She couldn’t seem to spell a word the same way twice. To see what you’re missing, here are the first two lines in the selection, unchanged:

“Thus I saw the swete flessch dry in my syght, parte after perte dryeing with mervelous payne. And as long as any spryte had lyffe in Cristes flessch, so longe sufferede he.”

A few observations on Julian’s writings; and owing to her style I’ll list them in threes:

—The First, that this stuff is way better as a Christian devotional than just about any of the crud written for the mass market today.

—The Second, that Julian’s showings offer at least one good reason not to swallow a belief in the cessation of the apostolic gifts. And no, I’m not Pentecostal.

—The Third, that Julian’s style vaguely reminds me of Hemingway, and I don’t suppose I can help that. But sadly, Hemingway never wrote anything about creation likened to a hazelnut.

Here’s the Good Friday excerpt, and remember that we have to get through this to make any sense out of Easter:

Thus I saw the sweet flesh dry in my sight, part after part drying with marvelous pain. And as long as any spirit had life in Christ’s flesh, so long suffered he. This long pain seemed to me as if he had been sevennight dead, dying, at the point of out passing, always suffering the great pain. And there I say it seemed as he had been sevennight dead, it specifieth that the sweet body was so discoloured , so dry, so clinging, so deadly, and so piteous as he had been sevennight dead, continually dying. And me thought the drying of Christ’s flesh was the most pain and the last of his passion.

And in this drying was brought to my mind this word that Christ said, “I thirst.” For I saw in Christ a double thirst, one bodily and another ghostly. This word was showed for the bodily thirst, and for the ghostly thirst was showed as I shall say after. And I understood by the bodily thirst that the body had feeling of moisture, for the blessed flesh and bones was left all alone without blood and moisture. The blessed body dried all a lone long time with wringing of the nails and weight of the body. For I understood that for tenderness of the sweet hands and the sweet feet by the great hardness and grievous of the nails the wounds waxed wide and the body saddled for weight, by long time hanging and piercing and raising of the head and binding of the crown all baking with dry blood, with the sweet hair clinging the dry flesh to the thorns and the thorns to the flesh drying.

Denise N. Baker, ed., The Showings of Julian of Norwich. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. pp. 27-28

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Super Bowl XLVI

Ernest Hemingway: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Some of you will be cheering for the Giants this evening, others the Patriots (around here it’s Patriots or nothing, except when it’s Red Sox or Bruins).  You may find yourselves cheering opposite teams in front of the same flat-screen TV (from opposite sides of the living room) because New York and New England overlap and you can’t do anything about the geography.

William Faulkner: “Hemingway has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

As far as I’m concerned you can have the Super Bowl and whichever team you like.  Me, I choose up sides between Hemingway and Faulkner (as if one needed to choose) and it’s Hemingway all the way. 

I’ve just been informed that Daughter Number Three has succumbed to the William Faulkner bug as her mother did years ago, and has enrolled in a seminar toward her thesis as an English major (you know—you try to raise up your child in the best way you can, you pray for them, you pay for them, you send them to a good school—and you never know which direction they’ll go).  What went wrong? 

Her studying Faulkner could be like somebody around these parts cheering the Giants this evening.  In her parents’ living room.  On their TV.   

A person shouldn’t have to choose sides between great authors, you say; why not enjoy them both?  But that seems to be how it shakes down between Hemingway and Faulkner.  Either you like one and not the other or you just haven’t read them both.  Sort of like me with football.  I had to do an internet search even to find out who was playing, so why all the fuss?    

Part of the contest among literary fans may stem from the alleged feud between the authors themselves.  If they couldn’t get along, can we expect ourselves to?  Of course not; no more than you football fans can.  So enjoy the fight and be satisfied that the Patriots are the best.  Unless you’re from New York, God help you.

To help you choose up sides in this clash of titans, read these opening lines from a selection of each.  I’ll start with William Faulkner, from the last chapter of The Sound and the Fury (entitled “Dilsey” in my wife’s Portable Faulkner): 

The day dawned bleak and chill, a moving wall of gray light out of the northeast which, instead of dissolving into moisture, seemed to disintegrate into minute and venomous particles like dust that, when Dilsey opened the door of the cabin and emerged, needled laterally into her flesh, precipitating not so much a moisture as a substance partaking of the quality of thin, not quite congealed oil.  She wore a stiff black straw hat perched upon her turban, and a maroon velvet cape with a border of mangy and anonymous fur above a dress of purple silk, and she stood in the door for a while with her myriad and sunken face lifted to the weather, and one gaunt hand flac-soled as the belly of a fish, then she moved the cape aside and examined the bosom of her gown.”

And Ernest Hemingway, the opening lines of his short story Cat in the Rain:

There were only two Americans stopping at the hotel. They did not know any of the people they passed on the stairs on their way to and from their room. Their room was on the second floor facing the sea. It also faced the public garden and the war monument. There were big palms and green benches in the public garden.  In the good weather there was always an artist with his easel. Artists liked the way the palms grew and the bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea.  Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the café a waiter stood looking out at the empty square. 

The American wife stood at the window looking out.  Outside right under their window a cat was crouched under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on. 

‘I’m going down and get that kitty,’ the American wife said.”

You’ll either get this or you won’t.  Never mind.  Enjoy the game.


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She loved to fish.  She loved to fish with Nick.”

Ernest Hemingway wrote that line as the epitaph to a love affair.  The story hinges on it.  And the following line nearly became the epitaph to this blog post:

“Dad!  You’ve got to blog about something besides Hemingway!”

Daughter Number One caught me doing an internet search on Hemingway last August and thought she’d put a stop to the madness.  I had dedicated my first Hemingway post to her earlier in the summer while she was in Africa and under the shadow of snow-capped Kilimanjaro.   Then I got inspired and posted on In Another Country, and then Hills Like White Elephants.  But the fourth installment got derailed by a daughter’s indignation.  I felt shamed into putting it down.

However!  As it turns out, blogs like WordPress have a “schedule” function!  One can write something and then set it to post at any month, day and hour.  I should have continued, and scheduled it to post safely after she had gone back to school. 

Hills Like White Elephants, the previous and my favorite of all Hemingway’s stories (and I think the most economical story ever written) shows a relationship headed toward a cliff.  The man and the woman both have seen the wreckage coming, yet are trapped—in a co-dependent affair, a surprise pregnancy, and somewhere along a railroad line in Spain.  The story ends (or does not end) with a bitter taste—as if they hate each other—while proclaiming their love.  The reader isn’t fooled.

I said at the end of the post on Hills that it would lead into another strained relationship, one that would break up before the end of the story.  The characters in these two stories are very different; their settings very different, and in the case of this one (aptly called The End of Something) the ending surprises the reader as it does Marjorie, the woman jilted. 

Nick is a jerk.  Let’s get that out first.  He shows up in many stories, collectively known (naturally) as “The Nick Adams Stories”.  Unlike other male characters in Hemingway’s stories, Nick has no dynamic personality.  He seems more generic, a flat character, indifferent to his Michigan surroundings and, also unlike other Hemingway stories, Nick reveals nothing of the mind and personality of the author, evident when Hemingway writes about Africa, or Cuba, or Central Europe, or Spain (with exception of Hills).  Not Nick.  Other than the way he treats his women, Nick is no offspring of Hemingway. 

Nick ditches Marjorie, a good woman who loves him, for no reason that he can think of but boredom.  There doesn’t even appear to be another woman!  Some stories have no ending, and Hemingway proves this in Hills Like White Elephants as well as The End of Something.

Note the similarities between the two stories:  the dialogue, the tension, the descriptions of their gazing at the hills.  Although the characters are very different, these may have been sketches for a larger idea of the author’s.

Why do I bother with Hemingway?  (My wife always wants to know.)

It’s because no matter how ugly the story, no matter how much I dislike the character, Hemingway tells it so well.  There.  That’s all there is to it.  The story is in the telling.  

An excerpt— the end of The End of Something

They ate without talking, and watched the two rods and the firelight in the water.

“There’s going to be a moon tonight,” said Nick. He looked across the bay to the hills that were beginning to sharpen against the sky. Beyond the hills he knew the moon was coming up.

“I know it,” Marjorie said happily.

“You know everything,” Nick said.

“Oh, Nick, please cut it out! Please, please don’t be that way!”

“I can’t help it,” Nick said. “You do. You know everything. That’s the trouble. You know you do.”

Marjorie did not say anything.

“I’ve taught you everything. You know you do. What don’t you know, anyway?”

“Oh, shut up,” Marjorie said. “There comes the moon.”

They sat on the blanket without touching each other and watched the moon rise.

“You don’t have to talk silly,” Marjorie said; “what’s really the matter?”

“I don’t know.”

“Of course you know.”

“No I don’t.”

“Go on and say it.”

Nick looked on at the moon, coming up over the hills.

“It isn’t fun any more.”

He was afraid to look at Marjorie. Then he looked at her. She sat there with her back toward him. He looked at her back. “It isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.”

She didn’t say anything. He went on. “I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me. I don’t know, Marge. I don’t know what to say.”

He looked on at her back.

“Isn’t love any fun?” Marjorie said.

“No,” Nick said. Marjorie stood up. Nick sat there, his head in his hands.

“I’m going to take the boat,” Marjorie called to him. “You can walk back around the point.”

“All right,” Nick said. “I’ll push the boat off for you.”

“You don’t need to,” she said. She was afloat in the boat on the water with the moonlight on it. Nick went back and lay down with his face in the blanket by the fire. He could hear Marjorie rowing on the water.

He lay there for a long time. He lay there while he heard Bill come into the clearing, walking around through the woods. He felt Bill coming up to the fire. Bill didn’t touch him, either.

“Did she go all right?” Bill said.

“Oh, yes.” Nick said, lying, his face on the blanket.

“Have a scene?”

“No, there wasn’t any scene.”

“How do you feel?”

“Oh, go away, Bill! Go away for a while.”

Bill selected a sandwich from the lunch basket and walked over to have a look at the rods.


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The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.”

I have probably read Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants about twenty times, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.  Thankfully, it’s only four pages.  The coffee barely cools off.

This is another of Hemingway’s stories within a story.  It begins in medias res, in the middle of things, and doesn’t really end.  We never learn the names of the characters, nor where they’ve been, nor really where they’re going.  They are identified only as “the American and the girl with him” (he also calls her Jig, but that doesn’t help much).  These are anonymous characters, the kind we’d meet briefly if on a trip ourselves, perhaps overhearing them at a table nearby.  And the male character doesn’t even appear to resemble the author, as many of Hemingway’s characters do.      

The setting is the café of a train station along the Ebro Valley in northeastern Spain.  We do know where they are headed (but not really where they’re going) because the train they await will come from Barcelona and go on to Madrid.

This story is a perfect lesson in tension—as well as conflict, a necessary ingredient—but tension even within that.  Something alarming has happened before the story begins, and something explosive awaits.  We never find out what—but we can surmise from the little we are told that the girl has discovered that she is pregnant, and the American wants to solve that.

The dialogue too gives a perfect lesson in the power of the simple pen.  Hemingway leaves out more than he includes, and this adds unexploded dynamite to the story.  The American wants to talk about terminating the problem; the girl does not.  He wants them to be happy again, he says.  She changes the subject; he presses her toward a solution.  She tells him “please” to stop talking.  He backtracks:  he doesn’t want her to go through with the operation if she feels that way—he says.      

“I’ll scream,” she says. 

They drink cool beers in the summer heat and try new drinks, waiting in a stalemate for the train.

What will happen?  What should happen?  Will they both board the train?  If so, will they part company in Madrid?  Will she maneuver to get him on the train and then disappear as it leaves the station (my preferred scenario)?  Whatever happens, this couple is poison together.    

‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.

‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.

‘Let’s drink beer.’

‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.

‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.

‘Yes. Two big ones.’

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.

‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.

‘No, you wouldn’t have.’

‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’”

I’ll leave it here at the beginning—the beginning of the end for this couple—a snapshot within a snapshot within a larger story that we’ll never know.  Find it in your local library, or google it on the web.  The closing line, however, sets up the two for a dysfunctional future, if they even make it out of the station:   

“‘I feel fine,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.’”

May you live happily ever after and may we all learn to write this well even if we can’t stand the subject.  In my next Hemingway installment I’ll post a scene from the end of a different relationship, unrelated and also leaving much to the imagination.

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In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it anymore.’’

So begins Hemingway’s short story In Another Country.

In many of his stories we see a story within.  Here we have a snapshot of two patients in a military hospital in Milan during World War I.  An American officer, wounded in the leg, narrates.  He is serving on the Italian side, presumably before U.S. entry into the war, and is befriended by an Italian major who is wounded in the hand.  Both men come frequently to the hospital for therapy, which is aided by experimental machines. 

The major’s relative patience teaching Italian grammar to the American contrasts with his unexpected outburst at the American’s talk of marriage.  This becomes explained later; his young wife has recently died of pneumonia, without warning, and the major doesn’t know how to handle his grief. 

The segment comes about three-fourths of the way through the story.

The major, who had been a great fencer, did not believe in bravery, and spent much time while we sat in the machines correcting my grammar. He had complimented me on how I spoke Italian, and we talked together very easily. One day I had said that Italian seemed such an easy language to me that I could not take a great interest in it; everything was so easy to say. ‘Ah, yes,’ the major said. ‘Why, then, do you not take up the use of grammar?’ So we took up the use of grammar, and soon Italian was such a difficult language that I was afraid to talk to him until I had the grammar straight in my mind.

The major came very regularly to the hospital. I do not think he ever missed a day, although I am sure he did not believe in the machines. There was a time when none of us believed in the machines, and one day the major said it was all nonsense. The machines were new then and it was we who were to prove them. It was an idiotic idea, he said, ‘a theory like another’. I had not learned my grammar, and he said I was a stupid impossible disgrace, and he was a fool to have bothered with me. He was a small man and he sat straight up in his chair with his right hand thrust into the machine and looked straight ahead at the wall while the straps thumbed up and down with his fingers in them.

‘What will you do when the war is over if it is over?’ he asked me. ‘Speak grammatically!’
“I will go to the States.’
‘Are you married?’
‘No, but I hope to be.’
‘The more a fool you are,’ he said. He seemed very angry. ‘A man must not marry.’
‘Why, Signor Maggiore?’
‘Don’t call me Signor Maggiore.’
‘Why must not a man marry?’
‘He cannot marry. He cannot marry,’ he said angrily. ‘If he is to lose everything, he should not place himself in a position to lose that. He should not place himself in a position to lose. He should find things he cannot lose.’
He spoke very angrily and bitterly, and looked straight ahead while he talked.
‘But why should he necessarily lose it?’
‘He’ll lose it,’ the major said. He was looking at the wall. Then he looked down at the machine and jerked his little hand out from between the straps and slapped it hard against his thigh. ‘He’ll lose it,’ he almost shouted. ‘Don’t argue with me!’ Then he called to the attendant who ran the machines. ‘Come and turn this damned thing off.'”

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Then they began to climb and they were going to the East it seemed, and then it darkened and they were in a storm, the rain so thick it seemed like flying through a waterfall, and then they were out and Compie turned his head and grinned and pointed and there, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.” —from The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Often I sit by the kitchen window with a cup of coffee and read a story by Ernest Hemingway, to remind myself that good short-story writing still exists—at least it did until 1961.  His sparse, direct style, known for what he left out as much as for what he included, holds my interest.  Some consider his work manly–whatever that means–and unlike the wordy, flowery prose of William Faulkner.  Either you like Faulkner or you like Hemingway, and for good reason:  they didn’t like each other; each gossiped in print about the other’s writing. 

Hemingway wrote about strong topics like death, or broken relationships.  His stories often included alcohol, or guns.  “You do know that he committed suicide?” my wife has said to me, more than once. 

My wife is a Faulkner fan.

The above quote from The Snows of Kilimanjaro can be found on the last page of the story, and describes the fevered delirium of a dying man in a cot, in a tent, stranded in the wilderness of Africa.  It takes a second reading of the page to discover when reality ends and when his death begins.  But in his mind it’s a happy ending as the rain and the snows cool his fever.

This diversion halfway around the world is brought to you on behalf of Daughter Number One, who is presently in Africa to visit two friends in the Peace Corps.  After an initial day with Rachel in Ethiopia (where the coffee is terrific, she said), she flew off to Jenny Beth in Tanzania and to rendezvous with a third friend, Natalie.  She’ll return to Ethiopia and stay with Rachel for a couple of weeks before coming home.  Here’s the full text of an e-mail from a week ago, and we haven’t heard a word since:

Subject line:  “I’m in Tanzania with Jenny Beth and Natalie.” 

Body of e-mail:  “That’s all.  The coffee isn’t as good here.  We are at Lake Victoria and will go to Kilimanjaro soon!”

When you get back to an internet cafe, tell me if the top is really square, Marya. 

Love, Daddy.

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