Conrad's Reviews > The Short Stories

The Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
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's review
Nov 26, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, read-in-high-school

The conventional wisdom is that Hemingway wrote short, choppy sentences and was fundamentally a bloodthirsty person, possibly as a consequence of insecurity about his masculinity. I don't think either is quite true.

As for the first point, I just don't find it to be anything but a stereotype perpetuated by people who haven't read him very carefully. Hemingway wrote a lot of sentences the length of which would have made Faulkner envious (though Faulkner was fond of the short, choppy sentences people usually give Papa Ernest credit for... but I digress). One of his favorite tricks (particularly when writing about Africa) was to go from a landscape to a single person and back again in the context of a single sentence. Not really the habit of a devout minimalist.

As for the second point, I can understand people's misgivings about Hemingway's hypermasculine posing, but ask yourself this: why would an unquestioning misogynist write "Hills Like White Elephants?" Would there be much of a point (if that was your worldview) in going on and on about what castrating shitheels women can be? He did write some terrible female characters, but he also explored the corrosive effects of isolation from women on the male psyche (I'm thinking here of the story about Nick Adams' wartime experiences.) As for the violence, in Hemingway's short fiction it usually consists of exhilaration alloyed with horror. People also occasionally portray him as an opportunistic war tourist, but it was no small feat joining the Lincoln Brigades during the Spanish civil war, and he should get a lot of credit for having done so.

[Oops. After having written this I had this nagging sense of having been wrong, and I was: Hemingway was an ambulance driver in WWI before having been a writer, and was wounded; he was then a reporter during the Spanish Civil War, and World War II and was wounded more than once in each.]

In (I think) "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber" one of the macho characters Hemingway was widely noted for says something like, "When you jaw things up too much, they lose their meaning." And yet it's a long and fairly verbose story. Hemingway's writing was at war with itself, and I think he should be given the benefit of the doubt, particularly in his early short fiction, before he settled into his tics. Short works mercifully deprive him of the chance to underinterpret female motive, and I think his best stories are sometimes the snapshot-like vignettes.

Anyway, this collection of shorts is exemplary and worth reading, even if it's not everyone's cup of tea. Can't remember how many of the Nick Adams stories are in here, but those are my favorites, alongside "Hills", "Kilimanjaro", "Macomber", and this great one about a child watching his father attempt to deliver a baby. There's a lot of peevishness that goes around about Hemingway, and it's a shame - at the same time as he reified masculinity he also detested the burdens it placed on him, the same way he both enjoyed the perils of warfare and recoiled at its reality. That attitude might be a cliche now, but it wasn't when Ernest invented it.
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