70 Days With Hemingway And Me

Every Novel, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Irony, Pity…and Shoegazers

June 21st, 2009 · No Comments · The Sun Also Rises

Will Reading on the Balcony

It was a perfect day for reading The Sun Also Rises – the sun was high, the sky was blue, the water was still, and the beer was cold. When the beer was gone, the gin and tonic was cold.

The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s second novel (published in 1926), features the same crisp writing that graces his first novel, The Torrents of Spring.

The story is about Jacob “Jake” Barnes, a newspaper man from Kansas City who now lives in Paris. His love interest — unrequited — is a party girl named Lady Brett Ashley, a twice-divorced drunk who flirts with him but plans to marry a man named Mike Campbell, who at the start of the book lives in Scotland.

A few noteworthy items, submitted for your approval:

1. Hemingway again mentioned Mencken, just as he did in The Torrents of Spring. According to Wiki, H. L. Mencken “was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, acerbic critic of American life and culture, and a student of American English. Mencken, known as the ‘Sage of Baltimore’, is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the 20th century.”

Will Reading on the Balcony2. Hemingway mentioned W.H. Hudson, author of a book called “The Purple Land.” According to Wiki, “William Henry Hudson (4 August 1841 – 18 August 1922) was an author, naturalist, and ornithologist.” His book, “‘The Purple Land,’ is a novel set in nineteenth century Uruguay by William Henry Hudson, first published in 1885 under the title The Purple Land that England Lost. Initially a commercial and critical failure, it was reissued in 1904 with the full title The Purple Land, Being One Richard Lamb’s Adventures in the Banda Orientál, in South America, as told by Himself.”

This is what Hemingway wrote about “The Purple Land”:

Cohn had read and reread “The Purple Land.” “The Purple Land” is a very sinister book if read too late in life. It recounts splendid imaginary amorous adventures of a perfect English gentleman in an intensely romantic land, the scenery of which is very well described. For a man to take it at thirty-four as a guide-book to what life holds is about as safe as it would be for a man of the same age to enter Wall Street direct from a French convent, equipped with a complete set of the more practical Alger books. (Chapter II, page 9)

3. Hemingway mentioned the Alexander Hamilton Institute, in conjunction with H.L. Mencken:

“I guess he’s all right,” I said. “I just can’t read him.”

“Oh, nobody reads him now,” Harvey said, “except the people that used to read the Alexander Hamilton Institute.” (Chapter IV, page 44)

As near as I can tell, the Alexander Hamilton Institute codified workplace knowledge into a sort of MBA in how to run a business. The 24-volume set can still be purchased, used, from Amazon Marketplace.

Apparently, the Institute is still around. This is what their web site says about them:

“The Alexander Hamilton Institute (AHI) has been helping executives manage their companies and their careers since 1909. Over the years, AHI has earned the reputation of being one of the most reliable providers of employment law information. Our products, publications and training courses provide employment law compliance information in a clear, concise, and practical manner that can effectively reduce the employment litigation risks at your company.”

Will Reading on the Balcony4. Hemingway mentioned absinthe, the “Green Fairy,” on page 14:

“Pernod is greenish imitation absinthe. When you add water it turns milky. It tastes like licorice and it has a good uplift, but it drops you just as far. We sat and drank it, and the girl looked sullen.” (Chapter III, page 14)

5. I love paragraphs like this: “We leaned on the wooden rail of the bridge and looked up the river to the lights of the big bridges. Below the water was smooth and black. It made no sound against the piles of the bridge. A man and a girl passed us. They were walking with their arms around each other.” (Chapter VIII, page 79) Such picturesque language! Yet, it’s not flowery or pretentious. It’s just an accurate description of something happening in the mind’s eye of the author.

6. I found this quite cool: “The Ledoux-Kid Francis fight was the night of the 20th of June.” (Chapter IX, page 83) I read that sentence on — you guessed it — June 20th.

Book I takes place in Paris. It’s the tale of drinking and partying.

Book II takes place on the road to Pamplona, Spain, to “get in some fishing and go to the fiesta in Pamplona.” It’s the tale of drinking and partying.

On one hand, The Sun Also Rises awakens a kind of Kerouacian wanderlust in me. The more I read, the more I want to join these rootless people, laughing, traveling, and drinking the days away.

Yet, on the other hand, if I’m perceptive (and honest) I have to admit that the conversations are superficial, meaningless, almost inane. It’s small talk, uttered by people who admit to being “tight” most of the time.

In short, The Sun Also Rises is a book with an undercurrent of meaninglessness and despair. It may be — at first blush — a book about expatriates in Paris. However, it’s actually a book about what people do to fill each day’s endless hours. It’s a book about drinking to cope.

The perfect music to play while sitting on a balcony under the sun, reading The Sun Also Rises, sipping gins and tonic, is The Innocence Mission’s Glow, The Sundays’ Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, and Ride’s Going Blank Again. The music from these “shoegazer” bands is dreamy, trance-like, and mesmerizing — perfectly in keeping with the characters in Hemingway’s novel, people who live in the gray world of perpetual inebriation.

P.S. I got a sunburn.

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