Larry Bassett's Reviews > The Collected Stories

The Collected Stories by Ernest Hemingway
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's review
Oct 05, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: short-stories
Read from February 02 to 19, 2012 — I own a copy

As I begin this immense work, I feel as Philippe Petit must have felt as he began the high wire walk between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974: I know I can do it but it surely is a long way. But, as has been said many times, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” So I begin.

I am not a bull fighting kind of person. Watching a bull tortured and killed for the pleasure of the crowd is not my idea of a good time. "In Our Time" is an early story that includes bullfighting and bullfighters. If I am going to read much Hemingway, maybe I will have to learn something about men fighting bulls.

It is hard to admit it, but I do not remember ever reading any Hemingway in my 65 years. To run through the well known titles of some of his stories makes it even more amazing (or distressing). So to begin reading Hemingway with his Collected Stories might seem odd. My rationale is that I enjoy short stories and it seems one way to take Hemingway a little bit at a time. But I understand that there is a lot packed into even the shortest of his stories.

Sports play a role in many Hemingway stories: bullfighting, fishing, skiing, steeplechase, boxing, bicycle racing, big-game hunting. He usually has more to say about the participants than the sport itself. However, in the short story "Undefeated" (written in 1925-26) there are twenty-five pages of bloody bullfighting. You can watch some bullfighting on YouTube, but I don’t recommend it. Hemingway’s description of bullfighting here is just as unsettling to me as the video. On the other hand, his descriptions of the people associated with bullfighting are interesting to me. It is a negative factor to me that the author Hemingway has a love of bullfighting and that he presents it as something noble. I would say the same thing about his love of big-game hunting. Gross.

When Hemingway saw his first bullfight in Pamplona in 1923, he brought his wife Hadley along because he hoped the event would have a positive influence on the unborn son she then carried. The sport certainly affected the budding writer. It became one of the reigning passions of his life.

In 1932 Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon , a non-fiction book about bullfighting, was published. Bullfighting is also prominently featured in The Sun Also Rises .

This is not to say that I object to writers dealing with things I find abhorrent. Or even the graphic description of those things. But I do get to decide what I read. It is easy to decide to skip bullfighting.

Speaking of abhorrent, Hemingway has another topic that he loves: war. A “Natural History of the Dead” is an eight page short story that is somewhere between humor and horror. It is Jonathan Swift.

An interesting aspect of war, too, is that it is only there that the naturalist has an opportunity to observe the dead of mules. In twenty years of observation in civil life I had never seen a dead mule and had begun to entertain doubts as to whether these animals were really mortal.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, a phrase that those who know Hemingway are wont to send in his direction. He must have gotten very tired of this.

When you read the short story "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio," you are confronted with more Hemingway humor. It is a story about a Mexican who is shot and in a hospital. Doesn’t sound funny to you?

One morning the doctor wanted to show Mr. Frazer two pheasants that were out there in the snow, and pulling the bed toward the window, the reading light fell off the iron bedstead and hit Mr. Frazer on the head. This does not sound so funny now but it was very funny then.

Like Hemingway said, It was very funny then. You might find yourself laughing out loud! N.B. The radio has seven tubes in it. Does anyone remember when radios had tubes? So there it is: humor and nostalgia. It makes me smile just to think about it.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was first published in 1936 in Esquire magazine. I have known this title seemingly my entire life without knowing the story. Now I have finally read it. It is the story of a man on safari in Africa who is slowly dying from gangrene of a leg. He spars with death and with his wife, recalling events of his life and feeling that he has not managed to live his life as he intended.

The Spanish Civil War was from July 1936 through March 1939.
The Hemingway short stories that involved this war:

The Denunciation 1938
The Butterfly and the Tank 1938
Night before Battle 1939
Under the Ridge 1939

The war in a nutshell: The socialists clearly won an election in 1936 to govern Spain. The right wing Nationalists attempted to overthrow the elected government and was successful in taking over some cities where the government Civil Guard was not strong. Mussolini and Hitler aided the Nationalists; the Soviet Union supported the Republican government militia. International Brigades fought on the side of the Republicans. France provided some support, the British none. The Republican army was defeated in their strongholds of Barcelona, Catalonia, Valencia and Madrid by the end of March 1939. The right wing Nationalists had won and the Franco rein began.

Although some of the topics (bullfighting, boxing, big-game hunting) in this book were not to my liking, the writing shines through almost everywhere. I thought I would read some of the stories in The Collected Stories but now that I think about it I am not sure how I would have decided which stories to read. But it will be easier to go back one day and reread the ones I need to spend more time with: “The Strange Country” would have to be at the top of that list. But, then, the more I think about it, I could spend more time with any one of Hemingway’s short stories. And then there are always the many books about Hemingway. Much more about the author at .

I give The Collected Stories four stars. Many individual stories would rate five stars and none would be lower than three. The lower ratings are more due to the topics rather than the writing. I have to admit to being somewhat star struck by this most famous author whom I have never managed to read before this.
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Reading Progress

02/02/2012 page 1
0.0% "As I begin this immense work, I feel as Philippe Petit must have felt as he began the high wire walk between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974: I know I can do it but it surely is a long way. But, as has been said many times, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” So I begin."
02/06/2012 page 107
14.0% "Mundane repetition, thy name is Ernest Hemingway.Mundane repetition, thy name is Ernest Hemingway."
02/13/2012 page 327
41.0% "Titled "Homage to Switzerland," it seems of the Monty Python ilk. It is unlikely for Hemingway to foreshadow that band. Well, I'll be. Hemingway humorous!"
02/13/2012 page 372
47.0% "With a little distance between me and the bullfighting stories, and some humor, I am liking Hemingway more and looking forward to the second half of this massive book that has all his published short stories in chronological order." 2 comments
02/14/2012 page 395
50.0% ""Upstairs the matador who was ill was lying face down on his bed alone. The matador who was no longer a novelty was sitting looking out of his window preparatory to walking out to the cafe. The matador who was a coward had the older sister of Paco in his room with him and was trying to get her to do something which she was laughingly refusing to do.""
02/28/2016 marked as: read

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