Ernest Hemingway is…problematic. Like most great writers he’s a severely fucked up person, that’s one of the reasons why he fitted into what his publicist Gertrude Stein referred to as the “Lost Generation” the Young Men and Women in America and Europe who became disillusioned with the world, morality and the structural order of things after witnessing first hand the horrors of the first world war.
Hemingway himself volunteered as an Ambulance Driver for the Italian Red Cross. The shit he saw undoubtedly fucked him up. Understand that before this War, fighting for your country, no matter the cause, was seen as a Great Honor and the Conflict was imagined as nothing less than Glorious. That may have been the case when everyone had bows and arrows or were better off stabbing their enemy to death with a musket rather than shooting them but this War in particular changed everything- because it combined new technology with old tactics.
There was no chivalry or grand display of courage, men dug holes in the ground and lived in filth- fighting from a Grave rather than a battle. I think that whole ordeal fucked up Hemingway, he’d been fed all this macho horseshit with boxing and hunting- but once he went to War he saw Grown men crying, shitting themselves- huddling up together for warmth and emotional support.
What do you think would be worse, seeing Horrors or imagining them? Because bear in mind Hemingway was an ambulance driver- there’s a good chance that he never had the stomach to turn around and actually see the wounded men he was carrying. A few officers could load the wounded in the car and Hemingway would drive off, keeping his eyes straight ahead. All the while he’s hearing these moans of pain from behind him, eventually the smell hits him- that morbid, repulsive warm stench- what’s worse is he’d have done this journey so many times that he’d know the road like the back of his hand. He’d know when the bumps in the road would occur, which would prove to be disastrous if there were an officer in the back trying to help the patient- but then that bump comes along and you just hear that scream of agony and it just washes over you.
A few weeks into the job he was walking down to his friends to hand them some chocolate and a mortar hit, Hemingway got a load of shrapnel in the knee. Spent a long time in the hospital afterwards. He met his first wife who was a nurse in his ward, his experiences paved the way for both A Farewell to Arms and the book we are currently discussing.
When the war was over he went back home and he just couldn’t stand it. His Parents kept berading him to go to College and get a proper job until he just couldn’t handle it anymore. So he moved to Europe and worked as a journalist, congregating with the likes of Gertrude Stein and the Lost Generation writers and artists.
Writers and Artists are a petty and theatrical crowd. Never break a musicians heart or they’ll immortalize you in song, that’s how Adele has a career. People like Hemingway are no different. So if you’re studying this, your notes will probably ramble on about the motifs and the themes and who represents what and all this pseudo-intellectual bullshit is utterly meaningless- so long as you understand this basic premise; Hemingway is a Petty Bastard.
This book is a Roman à Clef, French for “Novel with a Key” which means that this story is real, these people actually existed and these things actually happened. Only the names are fake.
In the mid 1920’s, Ernest Hemingway made an annual trip to the Fiesta in Pamplona, the running of the bulls and the fight that would commence afterwards. Hemingway loved Bullfighting, he had planned on writing a book on that very topic on his third trip to Spain- but that Fiesta became so eventful that it warranted it’s own novel.
Above you can see a group of American, British and Irish expatriates in Pamplona. In the centre of the picture is Hadley Richardson (Hemingway’s first wife, soon divorced after the book was published) beside her is a man named Donald Ogden Stewart (the inspiration for the character Bill Gorton) an American screenwriter. Beside him is Pat Guthrie, the lover/fiancé of Duff Twysden (woman on left) two British Socialites that inspired Mike Campbell and Brett Ashley. Behind Duff you can see a man wearing spectacles, that’s Harold Loeb, an American author and magazine editor who inspired Robert Cohn.
That cheeky bastard with the moustache? That’s Ernest Hemingway, he’s Jake Barnes.
The story opens up pretty peculiarly, with a retrospective narration of Jake Barnes describing the biography of Robert Cohn, a socially awkward man who is desperate to fit in and be accepted- even going so far as to become a boxing champion just to fit in at Princeton and overcome his shyness. But of course that didn’t work, just because you can’t punch real good doesn’t mean you suddenly become more charismatic.
It of course didn’t help that the people of Yale didn’t particularly care for Cohn because he was Jewish, in fact he came from a very well off family so a lot of people resented him. So that bullying and isolation meant that Cohn became super sensitive when he was insulted (which he often is) and the low self esteem meant that he literally married the first girl that was nice to him.
Of course she was only interested in the money and it was an unhappy relationship. But when Cohn finally built up the courage to ask for a divorce, his wife left him for a painter- leaving Cohn sidelined and heartbroken.
He lost most of his money, moved out to LA and became an editor for a magazine. It didn’t take long for another woman to manipulate him into marriage and forced him to move to Europe.
Now you might be thinking that this is a lot of information on this one character, but keep in mind he’s not the Protagonist- that is Jake Barnes, a man whom we know almost nothing about- outside of the fact that he’s an American Expatriate working in Paris as a journalist and is a War Veteran.
Jake never talks about himself, he never brings up his life story or anything like that. We’re only given glimpses at his character through his interaction with others. We’re first introduced to Jake when he’s attending dinner with Cohn and his wife Frances. He talks about going on a trip with Cohn to meet this girl he knows and Cohn kicks him under the table, later on Cohn confines that because they’d be meeting up with another woman his wife wouldn’t let him go.
At this stage of the game Cohn is well and truly whipped. He can’t even have dinner with a Woman who isn’t his wife, just like Mike Pence.
So Jake is hanging around this Cafe and picks up a Prostitute named Georgette. They have dinner and run into Jake’s friends, who then take him to a Ball where he meets up with Cohn once more. Jake isn’t very interested in the hooker, he just hung out with her because he wanted company and he seems not to be enjoying himself- that is up until Lady Brett Ashley comes in with a crowd of Gay guys (whom Jake is disgusted by) and they have a dance.
Now Brett Ashley is a very complicated character. She’s a divorcee, alcoholic, serial adulterer, sex addict who may be bi-polar or even possess a borderline personality disorder. Safe to say she is not the type of person you ought to be falling in love with. But of course Cohn does, because despite being thirty four years old he’s incredibly naive. Brett actually jokes about it with Jake, saying that “I think I’ve got another one” implying that Cohn isn’t the first, nor the last, man who’s gone head over heels for her.
It appears that Brett’s sex addiction seems to be a cry for attention, particularly attention from men. This may have resulted from her previous marriage with a sailor who was very abusive, but also there’s the fact that her true love died in the war- so she’s kind of an emotional wreck. I think she chases euphoria, she craves noise because if she’s alone and if it’s quiet- then the intrusive thoughts come to her. I think she wasn’t to avoid that at all costs.
I have a lot of difficulty reading good books because I always end up wanting to turn them into films, so if all I did was read books I’d never actually create my own films but just adapt books- I don’t really want to be that guy, y’know? But I couldn’t help imagining the process and I already got a part of the soundtrack. I recently discovered this British Soul Singer called Michael Kiwanuka.
At the start of the film, particularly during the nights out in Paris I’d play his song “The Final Frame” it adds a kind of drunken love and chaos to the mix. For the part in Pamplona I was thinking of maybe Hotel California by the Eagles, but I really like Michael’s song “Always Waiting” think it adds a sense of warmth and tragedy to it as well- and ten of course the ending I’m going full on depressing with his song “Worry Walks Beside Me” because everyone is just broken hearted- it’s a good mix, a lot of potential for a good film if I ever plan on making it.
Brett and Jake leave the party and get a cab. It’s revealed to us that Jake and Brett are in love with each other, but they can’t pursue a relationship because Jake is impotent due to a “wound” he got in the war. Hemingway never goes into detail about the injury, we don’t know if Jake got his dick and balls shot off or if he just got shot in the prostate or if he got hit in the balls really really hard and now his dick can’t work.
All we know is that he’s impotent, and although she loves him Brett can’t be with him because he couldn’t sexually satisfy her- and would of course result in her cheating on him all the time, she even tells this to him later on when he asks if she could just live with him. Personally I think it’s naive to assume that she would remain faithful even if Jake weren’t impotent, adultery simply seems to be in her nature.
They head out to a restaurant and bump into even more friends and a man by the name of Count Mippipopolous, who is this complete and utter legend and undoubtedly the most emotionally stable person throughout the entire book. Of course he becomes infatuated with Brett, but he deals with it healthily and isn’t a massive creep.
This count guy is really great, he says that he’s fought in seven wars and four revolutions, got arrow scars from his fighting in Abyssinia (Ethiopian Empire) and is just this really chill dude. Unlike the Lost Generation he has an upbeat and optimistic approach to life, claiming that because he has lived so much he has earned the right to enjoy life’s pleasures- he values love and friendship, pursuing it always.
We’re not told whether or not he and Bret fuck, but there’s a possibility they did. Of course Jake leaves the party and he and Bret don’t see each other for a long time. Over this period of time Jake kind of gets over Brett but mainly he just focuses on his work. He has diner with Cohn, who keeps pestering him with questions about Brett, Jake of course tells him she’s a drunk that’s going to marry Mike Campbell, a British commodities trader[?] (I can’t remember his actual job) who’s going to be rich someday.
He says that he met Brett during the War since she was a nurse in his ward, her true love died of dysentery during the war and she never really got over it. Cohn gets upset at Jake describing her so harshly (which he does only to distance himself from her) to which Jake tells him to go to hell, Cohn gets even more upset about that and Jake is forced to apologize. At this point Jake learns just how much he truly despises Robert Cohn.
You’ll never meet a man more ignorant of his own social position than Robert Cohn, and by God I’ve known so many Robert Cohns in my life- people who are nice but also awful, you hate them so much but you like them just enough to tolerate their friendship. They’re very clueless people, very pitiful creatures. I think everyone knows at least one Robert Cohn and if you don’t…well, I’m sorry to tell you- you are Robert Cohn.
And it doesn’t help that Cohn is a very depressing individual, in the book he visits Jake at his place of work to see if he’d like to go on this random trip to South America- solely because Cohn is afraid that his life is moving so fast and he’s not really living it (which to be fair, is completely true) Jake however says this;
“Going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.”
Jake eventually takes Cohn downstairs to the bar, explicitly so that they can have a drink and then he can say “Well, I have to get back to work” so that Cohn would essentially fuck off- but Cohn is so goddamn dense he doesn’t take the hint and he waits around the office for him, even falls asleep after like five hours.
Jake meets up with one of his friends at a Cafe, a Gambler named Harvey Stone- who’s severely broke and claims to have not eaten in five whole days. They run into Cohn again, Harvey calls him a Moron and then leaves. Cohn complains about how insulted he is, until his wife Frances shows up and asks to talk to Jake privately.
She tells him that she’s worried Cohn won’t marry her anymore, saying that he went off to New York and a few women were “nice to him” and now he thinks he’s hot shit and that he can do better- and sadly she believes that she has to marry Cohn because she got to old and she wouldn’t find another man to marry her because they’d think she was too old- so she’d desperate to marry him, mainly for the money but also because she has no one to turn to. She also complains that her previous divorce went over so quickly that she didn’t get alimony out of it and to top it all off no one will publish her writing, even though she says it’s not half bad- and Cohn’s own published work is terrible.
Now I suspect a lot of people, including Hemingway, hate the character of Frances. Seeing her as being overwhelmingly bossy and clingy, which is true- she is a very controlling person. But honestly I just pity her. I mean she and Cohn shouldn’t be together, she’s only there for the money- mainly because she is completely sure that she could never accomplish such a fortune on her own merit, meaning her life revolves around her physical appearance rather than her intellect- which is an incredibly depressing way to live considering once she moves past a certain age she’ll lose that physical attractiveness and in her own eyes she’ll have nothing.
It’s quite sad, in an ideal world she wouldn’t have to depend on men like Cohn but rather herself, if not as an author than as a woman with a proper job. She and Jake finish up their conversation and move back to Cohn- to which she goes on this completely brutal tirade about how she had to wrangle money out of Cohn so that she could visit her friends in England, for the sole purpose so that Cohn could get rid of her because he wants to have an affair. She completely dismantles this man and his personal life right in front of, what he perceives to be, his best friend- Jake.
It’s incredibly brutal- and he just sits there and takes it. That bothers Jake, he doesn’t understand why Cohn would put up with a woman treating him like that. The irony of course is that Jake has become the emotional crutch of Brett, after she goes off and has an affair she calls him up and he becomes the shoulder to cry on. You’ll see throughout the novel that when people are angry at Cohn and pester him with frustrated questions, they’re really angered and confused by themselves and what they have allowed their lives to become.
That of course transitions us a few weeks/months later. In which Jake meets up with his old friend Bill Gorton, an American War Veteran and severe alcoholic- but unlike Jake he is not an expatriate. He lives in America but he comes out to Europe for Holiday. He tells Jake he was in Budapest and Vienna, but he was too drunk to remember much. All he can recall is this fight in which a Black Frenchman beat the shit out of this local kid during a boxing match after he beat his opponent, which of course resulted in him not getting paid and being chased out of the city.
Now Hemingway has been accused of being Anti-Semitic, particularly with the way he portrays characters like Robert Cohn, which the other characters show a lot of contempt for due to him being both socially awkward, lacking of self awareness and undeniably the fact that he is Jewish. It’s kind of weird Hemingway would be an Anti-Semite since he hung around with Gertrude Stein, a Jewish Lesbian- but that relationship, like all of Hemingway’s relationships, would later dissolve mainly because Hemingway is a raging asshole.
I’ve yet to see people complain about the glaring Racism in the book, since all the characters refer to black people as “Niggers” and Hemingway literally described a black guitarist as “All Teeth and Lips” which, as you all know, is really fucked up.
His defendants would say that Hemingway was a product of his time and therefore we shouldn’t judge him with our modern standards- which to some degree is fair because as we all know people in the past were very stupid and believed in dumb racist bullshit like Eugenics- but to be perfectly honest I’m still going to judge him.
At least F.Scott Fitzgerald tried not to be Racist, mainly by having his Antagonist in the Great Gatsby be a Raging Racist Asshole who went on a weird rant at the start of the book, so that we could say “Ugh, look at this moron” but that point is later undermined by Fitzgerald who describes two black guys as “two bucks” and is very Anti-Semitic towards the Gangster character introduced in Chapter four. But that’s a review for another time.
Speaking of Fitzgerald, he used to hang out with Hemingway in Paris in the 1920’s. They were kind of like Frenemies, honestly these two people had almost nothing in common outside of their alcoholism and love of literature. In fact, if they went to the same high school I guarantee you Hemingway would have bullied Fitzgerald- Scott of curse would get his revenge by creating a despicable antagonist based on Hemingway in one of his novels. Thus immortalizing him in the greatest act of passive aggressiveness in the entirety of American Literature.
I mean when they first met they were perfectly friendly, but then of course Hemingway started talking about Zelda and how Fitzgerald should dump her (which he should have) and there was this rivalry between each other, and there was undoubtedly a Homosexual tension that they never addressed. I mean, just look at this extract;
“Zelda said that the way I was built I could never make any woman happy and that was what upset her originally. She said it was a matter of measurements. I have never felt the same since she said that and I have to know truly.”
“Come out to the office,” I said.
“Where is the office?”
“Le water,” I said.
We came back into the room and sat down at the table.
“You’re perfectly fine,” I said. “You are O.K. There’s nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.
“Those statues may not be accurate.”
“They are pretty good. Most people would settle for them.”
Yep, there’s nothing Gay about going into a bathroom for the sole purpose of checking out another man’s dick. Heck, that’s just being a good friend.
I was first introduced to Hemingway in the Woody Allen film; “Midnight in Paris” which is a great film and I highly recommend it. We only get a glimpse of the tow’s relationship but it’s not exactly as friendly as some people believe. Hemingway believes Fitzgerald to be a great writer that is being held back by Zelda, the two of them bickered constantly and overtime the relationship, like all of Hemingway’s relationships, eroded.
Also, just for relevance it’s important to recognize that Fitzgerald was one of the people to read the first draft of this book, his advice to Hemingway was to cut out the first thirty pages to make it more Modernist- it was well received advice. But I imagine it’s a bitch to work with Hemingway on anything. I mean, just look at how Hemingway responded Fitzgerald’s notes on his second Novel a Farewell to Arms;
Anyway, back to the book.
So Jake and Bill meet up with Brett and her fiance Mike, who when they meet is really drunk and says a lot of dumb stuff and then goes on about how bankrupt he has become- even telling a story about how his former business partner bought him a drink the other day.
They head out to a boxing match and then meet up the next day, in which they decide to go to Spain. For some fucking reason they decide to invite Cohn (who is in Spain) and Brett confesses to Jake that she and Cohn went to Spain together, which basically means they fucked and now Brett’s worried if it’d be weird if she were to invite him to go fishing and then to go to Pamplona.
Jake says it wouldn’t be awkward and that she might as well write a letter, thinking that Cohn would obviously not come. But of course Cohn is a fucking moron who doesn’t understand what meaningless sex is so he thinks he and Brett are madly in love so he decides to go to Pamplona with the rest of them.
So Bill and Jake decide to got to Spain ahead of Mike and Brett, who are always late to everything because they’re drunk and neurotic people, so the two of them head out to Spain. They go fishing before they head to the fiesta, there’s three or four chapters dedicated to just Bill and Jake travelling, drinking with the Basque people on a bus and fishing in the Spanish Countryside.
I have some issue with reading books this old, mainly because I struggle to imagine what the hell a bus or a road looked like in the 1920’s. I mean was it made of tarmac or was it just a dirt road? Here’s a picture of a bus from the 1920’s, helps create a picture at least.
I know it’s not Spanish, but I couldn’t find a Spanish Double-Decker bus from the 1920’s. I’m only human.
Now these chapters serve as the calm before the storm. I imagine some people would find this portion of the book to be boring, since not a lot happens. If this were a movie then critics would fault it with pacing issues. Which is a fair criticism, particularly in the book structure as a location can change in a sentence- it’s quite bizarre and it gives the reader a bit of whiplash.
This whole portion of the book with Jake fishing is made tolerable by none other than Bill Gorton. I fucking love this character, he’s what would refer to today as a “Shit Talker” or if he spent a large portion of his time online, a “Shit Poster“- basically he says the most ridiculous and fucked up things imaginable all for a laugh. He’s kind of a troll in that regards.
On the train the couldn’t get dinner because a bunch of priests had booked the entire cart, so when a priest walked past him he asked “When do us Protestants get to eat?” the priest is a little startled and doesn’t say much of importance, so Bill declares; “It’s enough to make a fella want to join the Klan” that actually mad me laugh. There’s hardly any humour in Hemingway’s writing, but once it shows up it’s fucking hilarious. Bill has the single best quote in the entire book;
“I’m fonder of you than anybody on earth. I couldn’t tell you that in New York. It’d mean I was a faggot. That was what the Civil War was about. Abraham Lincoln was a faggot. He was in love with General Grant. So was Jefferson Davis. Lincoln just freed the slaves on a bet.”
Now it’s obvious that Bill doesn’t believe that the Civil War was caused by Gay love, he just said it because it’s the most ridiculous and fucked up thing he could possibly say and therefore it’s funny. However this quote is important for a number of reasons, mainly because it touches upon one of the major themes of the book; Masculinity or the loss of Masculinity.
Over this little fishing holiday the two men bond, but when Bill declares how fond he is of Jake he has to brush it away with a joke- because he’s afraid of exposing his emotions, or even being misunderstood. There’s a lot of absurdity in Masculinity, there’s a sequence in the book in which Jake and Bill are fishing- Jake uses worms as bait while Bill uses flies. While both men catch a lot of fish, Bill shows how big his trouts are, while Jake refuses to show his and says that his biggest is the same size as Bills smallest. If that’s not a metaphor for dick measuring I don’t know what is.
There’s also the implication of Jake’s impotency here, where Jake refuses to show his fish because hes slightly embarrassed about his dick. Despite his claims that he rarely thinks about it, it undoubtedly affects him. At the start of the book he recalls a memory from the war, in which a Colonel visited him in hospital- saying how brave he is and that he “Sacrificed more than his life” which really bothered him.
Hell, it bothered me. All this talk about a fatal injury to your nether-regions…it makes a man uncomfortable, to say the least.
The comment bothered Jake because it implied that because of his impotency he was less of a man. But although Bill makes jokingly makes reference to it, he doesn’t consider him any less of man for being impotent. That’s why the friendship is good and healthy, unlike all of the other relationships in the novel- particularly between men and women.
They leave the Country Side, which greatly saddens this British guy they met called Harris- who is totally not gay- who really liked hanging out with them, since they’re all War Veterans, Fishermen and Alcoholics. When they leave Harris gives Jake a bag of flies, saying that the next time he fishes he can uses these flies so that he can “remember the good time we had” …yep, very platonic heterosexual behavior right there.
Jake, clueless, really liked this Harris guy. He asked him if he’d like to come up to Pamplona with them but he declined, saying he has to fish. The next chunk of the book takes place in Pamplona, with the fiesta and the running of the bulls;
Now Hemingway is a massive fan of bullfighting, so of course Jake would be a fan of bullfighting. In fact the Spanish refer to him as an “Aficionado” which is a very rare thing for a foreigner to referred to as. But Jake built this reputation with the Spaniards as an Aficionado because he talked a lot about Bullfighting with the Hotel Owner Montoya, the hotel of course is very classy and hosts bullfighters all from Spain. So at the start of the Fiesta Jake has the respect of all the bullfighters and Montoya, but of course he gradually loses it.
Bill and Jake meet up with Brett, Mike and Cohn- Cohn was supposed to go fishing with them, but he decided to wait in the town for Mike and Brett- who took three days to get there. So he would literally rather wait in a town by himself just to meet a woman he fucked once than go fishing with the lads who tolerate him. He becomes gradually more and more pathetic as time goes by.
Mike gets very drunk and berates Cohn with insults, telling him that he’s not wanted and that he should stop lusting after his fiancee- who constantly cheats on him. Mike is a tragic character, he’s almost constantly drunk for no other reason than that he is dying inside due to Brett’s adultery. She tells him about her affairs, but with Cohn being there it really rubs him the wrong way.
He lashes out with blatant Antisemitism later on, following it up with “Why can’t you tell you’re not wanted? I know when I’m not wanted” the tragedy of course is that he doesn’t. He can’t accept the fact that Brett will never settle down with him, she will always go out with other men but instead of confronting this uncomfortable truth- he drinks, and yells at a Jewish man.
The fiesta is wild, the characters are constantly drunk throughout the entire week. This festival in Pamplona s like St. Paddy’s day, but it’s a week long. People dance in the streets, people run away from bulls- some people get gored to death, and then of course there’s the bullfighting.
Bullfighting is a disgusting sport. It really is. I had a Spanish teacher once who went into full, graphic detail about the profession. How people raised these bulls, imported them into the city for this one day. How they stab them in the neck to make them angry, how they taunt them with the cloth, wearing them down with lashes from spears and finally- when the bull is getting tired- the bullfighter brings out a rapier and stabs it in the neck, and then kills it.
Rinse and repeat this barbaric act, six or seven times in a day. Afterwards there’s a huge line for the butchers, the meat from the bull is now on sale. Unlike the beef from Cows, bulls are pure muscle- so the meat is far better. Or so I’ve heard. It really is an ugly sport, honestly I always route for the bulls.
Over the course of the festival they head to the bullfights a number of time, Brett becomes infatuated with this nineteen year old Bullfighter named “Romero” who’s actually a fairly nice kid. He does his best to remain humble, but he has a passion for slaughtering innocent animals that is truly impressive.
Now it’s unlikely that Brett is actually in love with Romero, in reality she probably just saw a Spaniard with a nice ass and the rest was history. Jake actually ends up setting the two of them up, which is a remarkably painful situation to be in- being the Wingman for the Woman you Love.
Of course this upsets Cohn, who Brett told to fuck off earlier on, he demands to know where she is. Jake refuses to tell him, but Mike says that she’s off riding the Spaniard. Cohn get’s really angry and calls Jake a pimp, Jake throws a puch at him- Cohn dodges and knocks both him and Mike out- because he was a boxing champion at Princeton.
What happens next is weird. Cohn goes up to Brett’s room, barges in on her and Romero having sex and then proceeds to beat the shit out of Romero. Like he punches Romero to the ground, and each time he tries to get up he punches him again. Brett scolds him, he starts crying and asks for forgiveness. Romero gets up, Cohn tells him he can hit him as hard as he likes (cause he’s a Sportsman) and Romero obliges. But I imagine he didn’t hit him that hard because he just got punched in the face with full force fifteen times in the row, and when he did hit Cohn he collapsed to the ground.
Cohn says how much he loves Brett and She tells him to fuck off. Cohn does this weird thing where he tries to shake Romero’s hand in some weird excuse at regaining his honor, but Romero just hits him again and falls back to the ground. What a weird, pathetic man. A weird and pathetic man that beat the living shit out of three grown men- one of whom kills bulls for a living.
Jake comes to, with a concussion and heads up back to his room to sleep it off. Bill tells him to check on Cohn- which he really doesn’t want to do, but he has to anyway. He finds Cohn crying on his bed, he apologizes for hitting him. Jake tells him to go to hell, Cohn keeps crying and Jake reluctantly accepts the apology. They shake hands, awkwardly and Jake goes to bed.
He wakes to find the running of the bulls, a guy gets impaled and dies. We learn his name and backstory briefly. Jake is having a drink downstairs and a waiter talks to him about the whole barbarity of this festival, in which people willing die for some drunken pleasure. About how grotesque the act of bullfighting truly is. It’s very odd to see a harsh criticism of Bullfighting in a Hemingway book, it’s a rare example of self awareness.
Jake loses the respect of Montoya and the Bullfighters for introducing Brett to Romero. They’re a little xenophobic and believe that foreigners will corrupt Romero’s pure spirit. Montoya actually asked if he should allow Romero to have dinner with the American Ambassador, to which Jake said that he shouldn’t. But Jake would later go on to introduce Brett to Romero, so he kind of betrayed the trust of Montoya by doing something that he had waned against earlier.
Spain was one of Hemingway’s favourite nations in Europe. To him it was one of the only places that wasn’t affected by the War, their generation hadn’t become morally bankrupt- they were not lost. But they were flawed in their own ways. Sure, they weren’t lost- but they never moved, they never progressed. The idea of congregating with foreigners seemed absurd, as I imagine it would be- if you lived in a Fascist State.
Cohn left the following morning. Jake woke up, started drinking, went back to sleep and hung out with his friends. He saw the final bullfight on the last day of the Fiesta. He talked in detail about this Bullfighter named Belmonte, a legendary figure who came out of retirement. However the man failed to live up to the legend, when he fought his bull the people expected something greater- something he could never live up to. He left the stadium heartbroken.
Some people interpret Belmonte to represent the Lost Generation- He has no purpose in this current time and place, and his important accomplishments are behind him. He achieved great fame in his younger days, and many consider him among the greatest bullfighters. When he retired, the legends about his prowess and bravery grew. When he comes out of retirement, however, the same legends work against him. He can never live up to the image that has sprung up around him. Thus, the crowd turns on him, and he becomes bitter and indifferent in the ring.
Hemingway identifies with him because his plight parallels that of Jake and his circle of friends, people who all seem to be passing time until the ends of their lives rather than living with any sense of purpose. The Lost Generation feels a similar kind of bitterness and indifference for much the same reason—the same cultures and nations its members served in the World War I have now abandoned them.
Yes, that is Ernest Hemingway fighting a bull.
Romero fights after Belmonte. Despite being very injured, he fights and kills the bull. I actually expected his tale to end with him being gouged in the groin- it’s the obvious thing t do really. Jake introduces Romero to Brett, tarnishing his reputation as an Aficionado, Romero gets the shit kicked out of him because of Brett- the resulting injuries mean he is poorly suited to fight a bull, but he does it anyway because of his Pride. Romero get’s gouged in the genitals, which scares the shit out of Jake because the epitome of what he thinks a man should be has just been emasculated right in front of him- he begins to think about it and decides that Brett is too toxic for him- end of novel.
But of course none of that happens. Romero lives to kill again, he and Bret go off to fuck. Jake, depressed, get’s drunk with Bill and Mike falls asleep crying- drunk out of his mind. The following morning the fiesta is over. Jake, Mike and Bill leave. They have a few drinks and drop Mike off at a hotel, broke. Jake drops Bill off at the train station and then heads out to the country for some R&R.
That’s interrupted by a telegram from Brett, who’s in Madrid and needs help. Jake arrives at her hotel to find her in bed. She broke off the affair with Romero and now she’s back to using Jake an an emotional crutch. The novel ends with them in a taxi, thinking of what could have been.
Now there’s a lot to interpret in this book. You can write essays about the use of colour and tone and location. But none of that interests me, what interests me is what Ernest Hemingway thought when he wrote this down and published it.
As I said before, all the people and all the events in this book were real and actually happened. For the most part. The people who inspired Cohn and Brett (Loeb and Duff) did in fact have an affair, but it wasn’t just meaningless sex. Duff actually seemed to like Loeb, and Loeb wasn’t completely repulsive. But his affair with Duff did ruin his relationship with Hemingway and any chance at a friendship with the guy whom Mike is based off of, Pat Guthrie.
Though Pat’s friendship wouldn’t exactly be a pleasurable thing. Mike was bankrupt and in debt to everyone- he actually started a fight in a pub, claiming hat because he’s Scottish he hates English people and therefore a fight was required. But of course that was bullshit, Bill later clarified that the reason the fight started was that the English people recognized Mike- because he owed them money.
I refuse to refer to Mike as Scottish, so self respecting Scotsman would use the word “Chaps” that’s an English word, along with “Twat” – he’s British, like Brett- who is one of the lads. If only the lads didn’t want to fuck her, everyone would be happy.
At the bullfights Hemingway and Loeb taunted the bull during the amateur fights, on one occasion Loeb taunted it with a hotel towel. The bull charged at him, Loeb ditched the towel and instead of running he somehow jumped up and sat on the bulls head- right in between the horn. The bull threw him up and miraculously he landed on his feet- like he was a fucking acrobat.
The crowd went wild, Hemingway couldn’t tolerate that. For one thing Loeb didn’t even like Bullfighting and Hemingway was a notorious attention whore- if you wanted to get Ernest Hemingway to hate you, all you had to do was insult bullfighting and steal his spotlight.
Loeb done both, so now Hemingway felt obliged to wrestle the bull to the fucking ground- the crowd surrounded the bull and started picking at it. The people that worked at the stadium had to pull them away from the bull- for the bull’s safety.
Loeb was horrified, it seemed like they were actually going to tear the bulls limbs off.
A fistfight between Loeb and Hemingway was narrowly avoided. Hemingway had been berating him with insults, aided by a drunken Pat Guthrie. Loeb asked him to step outside for a fight. They went outside, Loeb was nervous because it was dark so he couldn’t see Hemingway’s eyes- he’d sparred with him before and he knew which way he was going to punch in the way his eyes moved. He took off his glasses and jacket, Hemingway said he’d hold his jacket if he’d want and Loeb said that he’d hold Hemingway’s jacket if he’d want- the two stared at each other and realized how pointless the whole thing was and went back inside.
Hemingway wrote a note to Loeb the following morning apologizing for his behavior. Loeb hoped that the two could remain friends, but he knew they couldn’t.
Cohn became the scapegoat for all of the characters own insecurities, simply because he was a Jew that wasn’t affected by the War- he wasn’t a member of the Lost Generation. Mike attacked him because he was insecure about his relationship with Brett and her serial adultery, Brett treated him as a commodity that simply helped her pass the time, Bill hated him because of his “Jewish Superiority” and the fact he never drank nor talked- but just sat there hovering around Brett. Jake hated him because he was jealous, that Cohn could have a relationship with Brett that he never could.
Not only did the book depict in painful detail events that had transpired in Pamplona and Paris, but vast swaths of their personal backgrounds had been blatantly used as the characters’ biographies. Hemingway generally declined to warn his characters’ real-life prototypes that they were about to star in his big literary coup.
But one evening he leaked the news to Kitty Cannell, the expat fashion writer who happened to be Loeb’s former girlfriend (and another one of the novel’s unwitting models). Back in Paris, some of the Pamplona crew gathered for dinner one night to make amends. Nerves were still raw from the fiesta, which had concluded nearly two months earlier.
After dinner, the group walked to a café. Hemingway and Cannell were strolling together when he suddenly made a startling admission. “I’m writing a book,” he told her. “Everybody’s in it. And I’m going to tear these two bastards apart,” he added, gesturing to Loeb and Smith, who were walking in front of them. Hemingway said, “that kike Loeb is the villain.”
That villain was introduced at the start as a weak and shy man, a man who in Hemingway’s eyes was barely a man. He was overtly sensitive, clueless and generally a bore- and yet he beat the shit out of three macho men, one of whom was a bullfighter- the archetype of Hemingway’s idea of what a man should be, a spoilt man beat the living shit out of him while simultaneously crying his heart out.
I don’t know if Hemingway intended that, but he may have shown more than he actually intended. Namely with making his own character quiet and impotent. He was quiet because Jake acted as the observer, but also because Hemingway couldn’t acknowledge the type of man he really was- a loudmouth asshole who suffered from serious issues with his own insecurity.
The impotency is interesting though. Many people interpret it to be a metaphor for the Lost Generation as a whole, how war has emasculated and broken them down, causing them to live without meaning. Personally I think it’s a little more vulgar than that. In the book the impotency is the one thing preventing Jake and Brett from being together, although they love each other emotionally they cannot connect physically. There is a barrier in between them.
I believe for Hemingway that barrier was Hadley Richardson, his Wife- who was present throughout all of this, Paris and Pamplona. There’s actually accounts of her attending dinners with Hemingway with Duff present, his wife would often end the evening in tears since it was clear Hemingway was in love with another woman. But instead of consoling her, Hemingway sent her home and kept drinking with Duff.
But Duff wouldn’t sleep with him, because although she is fine with her own adultery she can’t do it with a married man- especially if she knows his wife. The book portrays Jake as a man in everything but sex while Cohn is perceived to not be a man in everything but sex, Jake is a blank character. We know next to nothing compared to the sheer amount of information bombarded by the other characters- he lives vicariously through them.
I think that’s why the end is more powerful, as Jake returns to being an emotional crutch, Brett goes on about her affair with Romero- which causes Jake to drink more and more, Brett begs him not to get drunk, because she doesn’t want him to end up like Mike. It’s important to recognize that Mike hates Cohn, but not Jake- there’s two possibilities here. That due to his impotency Mike doesn’t consider Jake a threat or, more idealistically, Brett never told Mike about her love of Jake.
Because that’s the one thing keeping Mike there. He knows she’ll run off with another man, but she’ll always come back because, in his mind, she loves him. But if he were to discover that she loved Jake- he’d be gone. Or at least I hope he’d be gone. Brett can’t afford to admit her feelings for Jake.
I think the impotency shows just how Hemingway sees himself. He couldn’t write anything about his experiences in this book, none of his personal memories- he wasn’t ready to open up his soul to the world but he was more than comfortable to open up his friends souls, because the war fucked him up, and everyone he knew. Everyone outside of Cohn is an alcoholic drifting meaninglessly, that’s why he doesn’t fit in- because he isn’t lost. Not like they are.
Though Hemingway never considered himself lost, he thought he knew where he was going. That’s why he included a passage from Ecclesiasticals at the start of the book;
“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever… The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose… The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to its circuits… All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come thither they return again.”
Hemingway included this to balance out the previous quote from Gertrude Stein about the Lost Generation. It states that nature is a constant, while we humans are not. Generations come and go, but our measly lifespans are all insignificant compared to the eternal cycle of sunrise and sunset, the movement of rivers into the sea and back again, and the movement of the wind around the earth .It was a reminder that despite the melodrama in the novel, human lives don’t really matter. The Earth would abide.
Some have referred to Hemingway as a misogynist, which he kind of is. So far I’ve only read this book and half of “The Garden of Eden” it seems that Hemingway has a knack for writing depressed women with a lot of issues. Because that’s the kind of Women he revolved around, he was attracted to Broken Neurotic Women because he was a Broken Neurotic Man- who in the end woke up one early morning at the age of sixty one in a hot sweat, panicking and alone. Eventually, through a series of rapid murky thoughts, he took his own life.
Hemingway was…problematic. To say the least. He scourged friendships in the pursuit of fame and glory, spent his life pursuing women and macho activities because he felt metaphorically impotent. He was a bad father, a bad husband and ultimately, a bad man. But he teaches us one thing; you can be a Great Writer or a Good Person, but you can’t be both.
And if you ever get the choice between the two, I pray you take choose the latter.