There are some writers whose work is timeless, but Ernest Hemingway’s writing was so contemporary to the first half of the Twentieth Century, that its main relevance is in its depiction of events around World War I and the period between the Wars.
Apart from “The Old Man and the Sea” for which Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, his work seems to be extremely journalistic rather than literary. He was proud of that style and was praised for it, but I find it unimaginative, especially in the dialogue sections.
Perhaps it’s because I can’t relate to Hemingway’s pseudo macho personality which could be the result of his mother insisting on calling him “Ernestine”. Reminds of the Johnny Cash song, “A boy named Sue.” Poor Ernie spent his entire life trying to prove he wasn’t Ernestine.
His is a simple, unadorned style perfectly suited to stories about shooting and drinking. And he is very keen on using the good old conjunction, “and.” I counted thirteen “ands” in the short opening paragraph of “A Farewell to Arms”, which is today’s pick for our Book Club assignment.
This novel deals with the fighting in World War I and the action was based on Hemingway’s personal experiences as a volunteer ambulance serviceman in Italy in 1918. The hero of “A Farewell to Arms” travels around the war scene, talking to Italian doctors and soldiers in a rather bravado way that is reminiscent of the early American black and white movies in which the soldiers were brash and gung-ho. He is never afraid and doesn’t even take his injuries very seriously. I can’t help thinking that this is fantasy stuff for Hemingway.
Soldiers lose limbs and lives and nurses are so terribly terribly brave. The hero’s beloved is a nurse who speaks in a ridiculously “Brief Encounters” way. They make love and it was grand, she says. The day was lovely. The hero says that she is lovely and sweet and she says that she has been a good girl. “I have been a good girl, haven’t I?” And oh dear she went and got herself pregnant to him and so she has to apologise to our hero. “I couldn’t help it,” she tells him. She’ll try and not make trouble for him cause she’s been a good girl until now.
When Hemingway’s hero talks to a woman intimately the result is very disappointing. I felt myself cringe when the lovers had a conversation. He kept on telling her everything is all right and she sounded like some simpering twit. One really has to wonder what was so lovely about her.
And as for creating “a love story of immense drama and passion”, I remain unconvinced. One can’t help thinking that Hemingway’s aler ego is much more comfortable having a night out with the boys.
As for his real passion, I’m sure that he enjoyed drinking more than loving.
The problem with any book about the horrors of World War I is that those horrors sound pretty tame when compared with what is going on today. In those days, soldiers fought soldiers and there was even a sort of code of behaviour.
Nowadays, however, the most vicious fighters are not soldiers, but rather, fanatics who are prepared to use young children and women as decoys and bait. I am sure that these Muslim fanatics would rip apart the oh so macho Mr Hemingway in the blink of an eye. Watching those sickening Muslims behead their captives on TV and proudly swing the bleeding heads like a trophy makes “A Farewell to Arms” read like a Boys’ Own adventure book.
Having been exposed to the vilest behaviour day in and day out by fanatical Muslims since 9/11 it is not surprising that I am unmoved by “A Farewell to Arms”. Compared with the Holocaust and events of 9/11 it’s just a novel about a rambo-like drunk who is trying to convince himself that he is attracted to women.