Hemingway on War.
Edited by the author's grandson Sean, Hemingway on War collects the short stories, novel excerpts; and war correspondence comprising Hemingway's account of modern war and its aftermath in the first half of the 20th century. The book includes portions of his war novels, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Across the River and into the Trees, as well as his only play, The Fifth Column, interspersed with short stories spanning his career. Although the collection emphasizes fiction, it also includes decades of war correspondence. A foreword by Hemingway's son Patrick contains memories of the author, while Sean Hemingway's introduction provides biographical context.
On the front of the dust-jacket there are four photos of Ernest Hemingway in conflict situations. Hemingway holds field glasses, sits in uniform in a motorcycle side-car, talks with a Spanish Loyalist soldier, gazes out at a rubble-strewn street. On the back, there is another photograph: Hemingway at work writing. The encoded message is clear: war is experienced, and then recorded.
Yet it will no longer do, as Michael Reynolds pointed out in Hemingway's First War: The Making of A Farewell to Arms (1976) (Reynolds 136, quoted by Sean Hemingway in his Introduction), to say of Hemingway "he simply went out and lived his experiences, thought about them, and then wrote them down' Particularly when the subject is war, experience and imagination have a more complex relation with representation, as this collection usefully reveals.
In none of the "conflict" photographs on the front cover is Hemingway shown actually fighting. The epigraph to the collection concerns courage: how brave was he? In World War I, he volunteered to drive an ambulance and was seriously wounded. He reported on the Greco-Turkish war for the Toronto Star. He was a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance and others during the Spanish Civil War, and was also involved in the making of Joris Ivens's film, The Spanish Earth (it is good to see a quotation from his commentary to it here). In World War II, after U-boat hunting aboard the Pilaf, he reported for Collier's magazine. He famously led a band of French irregulars, notably in the defence of Rambouillet, and as a consequence was summoned for interrogation by the Inspector-General of the Third Army. But, as "something of a national treasure" (Sean Hemingway's words), he was "not allowed to land with the infantry at Normandy.'" During what Sean Hemingway rightly calls the 'brutal Battle of Hurtgenwald' (xxvii), he led the defence of a command post. Patrick Hemingway and his wife, as the former notes in his Foreword to this volume, were lucky not to be thrown out of the Finca Vigia for suggesting that he might like to go to Korea. It is just as well then, that this collection is entitled Hemingway on War, as opposed to Hemingway at War.
But even if he lacked actual combatant status, war experience certainly mattered to Ernest Hemingway. Those without it incurred his mocking opprobrium. This collection reproduces an article he wrote for the Toronto Star, "Popular in Peace--Slacker in War," which criticizes those Canadians who spent World War I "exposing [themselves] to the dangers of the munitions works" in the United States rather than fighting in Flanders, and suggests various ruses by which they might pass themselves off as veterans. ("The irony of this," noted Michael Reynolds in Hemingway's First War, "is that Hemingway gives the impression that he fought on the western front which he had not" .) As the pieces in this collection, as well as its paratextual clues, make clear, Hemingway was preoccupied with presence at conflict--and not just with the mere fact of presence but with precise proximity to and distance from the action. This is evident in his painstaking attention to topographical detail, which in turn contributes to the strings of prepositions and conjunctions of which his prose is woven. "In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains," begins A Farewell to Arms (1929) (a passage absent from this volume), and the following description appears in "The Mercenaries" (which is included), a story dating from 1919: "Hills terraced [...] and streams on the hills, and streams with wide dry pebbly beds cutting down to the sea" (Hemingway on War 9).
In any Hemingway piece, the protagonist's exact location in relation to battle is registered, In "Night Before Battle," a short story about filming the Spanish Civil War, the narrator repeats twice on the first page that they were "too far" from the action to film well. "Being there" therefore has consequences for representational validity--and Hemingway frequently stated that his objective was to tell the "truth."
Truth is at a premium in the confused conditions of war, and war writing, like no other genre, is subject to the test of authenticity. The requirement is stated clearly by Colonel Cantwell in Across the River and into the Trees: "Professional writers who had jobs that prevented them from fighting wrote of combat that they could not understand, as though they had been there. I do not know what category of sin that comes under" (Hemingway on War 218).
It is, at the legist, ironic that the writer of this had a job that prevented him from fighting (Hemingway, as a correspondent, was precluded under the Geneva Convention from participating in armed combat--hence his interrogation by the Third Army) and nonetheless went on to write about it. But it is not the only instance in which empirical validation is lacking. As Michael Reynolds has shown, A Farewell to Arms derives primarily from research, "all the more remarkable for [the writer's] never having experienced the time and never having seen the place" (Hemingway's First War 93). "On the Quai at Smyrna" was not written from personal experience either, though Sean Hemingway calls the description of the Greeks drowning their mules "graphic" (xxix). (It is not "graphic": it simply says, "they just broke their legs and dumped them in the shallow water," but it is certainly shocking and memorable.)
Indeed, many of the stories and articles in this collection are not about combat, but concern what might be termed "parapolemics"--phenomena such as eve-of-battle scenes, preparation, waiting and recovery, that form the temporal and spatial borders of war. "In Another Country," parapolemical from the start--"In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more"--is about rehabilitative therapy. "Now I Lay Me" is about trying to get to sleep. The first section is not about war, but peace. The interviews with Mussolini and the political commentaries also lie outside the battlefield. Many of Hemingway's protagonists are essentially non-combatants. The narrator of "The Butterfly and the Tank" is a reporter. Philip Rawlings in The Fifth Column describes himself as "a sort of Second-rate cop pretending to be a third-rate newspaperman" (Hemingway on War 127). Like their author, the pieces occupy an ambivalent space between true engagement and detachment.
Writing about war without direct empirical experience of it has, of course, a distinguished forebear in American letters. In his Introduction to his own anthology, Men at War (1942), Hemingway praised Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage as "truer to how war is than any war the boy who wrote it would ever live to see" (MAW 11). Engagement with conflict can, as this indicates, be imaginative, and in the same Introduction (quoted by Sean Hemingway in his), Hemingway wrote:
A writer's job is to tell the truth. His standard of fidelity to the truth should he so high that his invention, out of his experience, should produce a truer account than anything factual can be. For facts can be observed badly; but when a good writer is creating something, he has time and scope to make of it an absolute truth. (Hemingway on War xxiv)
"Invention," therefore, may be "truer" than fact--and in the light of this Sean Hemingway's division of Hemingway on War into fiction and journalism seems artificial. This was, after all, the high point of the 1930s' "New Reportage," a movement whose hybridization of genres anticipated today's "infotainment" or "docudrama." There is a stronger case for dividing the material according to conflict. Not only would this have avoided the awkwardness of returning abruptly to pre- World War I journalism after Second World War fiction, but it would have respected the fact that each war, due to the peculiarities of its conditions, ordnance, etc., has its own poesis.
If being at war is the key to writing about it, it was also the key to another fictional invention--perhaps Hemingway's greatest--"Ernest Hemingway, Fighting-Man." At the basis of this creation is a legend, or myth, of tough machismo. That it was--and remains (vide the lookalike competitions; the Hemingway shoots and safaris; the Hemingway-themed hotels; this anthology and its predecessors, Hemingway on Fishing, Hemingway on Hunting)--an artificial construction has been felt by various commentators. "Nobody would ever let papa just be human," said his son Gregory (Papa: A Personal Memoir  90). Experience of conflict was an essential building block in the assemblage, but it would be wrong to overlook another ingredient--humor--represented in the glorious late Collier's dispatches included in this collection. Beautifully ironic and not a little self-mocking, these pieces are Ernest Hemingway constructing "Ernest Hemingway" at his best.
On his return from World War II, Hemingway was awarded the Bronze Star. It was, as the citation helpfully quoted by Sean Hemingway shows, awarded for writing, not fighting. This anthology perpetuates the paradox of experience versus imagination. War inspired Hemingway to his greatest inventions and this collection is a showcase. Let the myth-making continue!--Kate McLoughlin, Oxford University
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|Publication:||The Hemingway Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
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