Notes on Hemingway’s Birthday

Joseph Coulson, President, Great Books Foundation

  • Using terse, understated language—a plainspoken precision that was also rapturous and heartbreaking—Hemingway made the novel modern in both style and sensibility.

  • He’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as, say, Flaubert, Conrad, Joyce, and Woolf, but Hemingway is an undeniable member of this experimental group, advancing in his best work a profound minimalism that points the way for later experiments in compression and fragmentation. I’d call him an early master of flash fiction, even micro-fiction.
  • Ridiculed for his masculine exploits and attacked for his literary indulgences, Hemingway has been willfully misread for the last thirty years—enough so that he now plays no part or only a supporting role in most college curriculums. Backlash against uncommon success is all too common and is, ironically, a profound register of cultural influence.
  • I found Hemingway when I was a young reader and then left him briefly while I was in graduate school, but these days he calls to me with an almost hypnotic power, especially the short stories that seem to gain greater and greater weight despite their brevity and deceptive accessibility.
  • If you want to remember why Hemingway is important, then go back and read “Indian Camp,” “The End of Something,” “Soldier’s Home,” “In Another Country,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” These alone argue for his place in the literary firmament, but if you’re on a roll, then go back to The Sun Also Rises.

 

 

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