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Spotlight on Ernest Hemingway

By Megan Powell, Hannah Spruce, Michael Calder and Lucy Carr

In celebration of what would have been Ernest Hemingway’s 123rd birthday on the 21 July, the Classics team have decided to explore the impact and influence of this modernist American writer. Hemingway’s works established “The Iceberg Theory,” an act of subtlety and simplicity whereby the literary meaning was found under the surface of the text. By extension, the reader can evaluate and question the source which gives them a more immersive role. This minimalist writing style set the tone and inspired many writers who followed him to adopt a similar method. Having served in both World Wars, the theme of displacement and longing for a sense of place are interwoven into many of his works. Some critics consider the root of his literature to be a reaction to war, as he evaluates the companionships gained and lost, war’s futility and the pain felt as the world navigates an ever-changed society. His simplistic and limited vocabulary was influenced by his study and appreciation of the romance languages and with this style he formed narration without contextualisation. Consequently, Hemingway forces us to become an active and intelligent reader, and his candour and appreciation for the language has undoubtedly changed the literary sphere for the better.

A Farewell to Arms

Published during 1929, A Farewell to Arms solidified the novelist as a staple of twentieth century literature. His uniquely omissive, journalistic, and succinct style, coupled with introspective narratives, became synonymous with the prosaic movements amongst his peers, and his extensive contribution to the literary landscape was recognised during 1959 when he received a Nobel Prize for Literature with the publication of The Old Man and the Sea.

Fundamentally based upon Hemingway’s personal experience serving on the Italian Front during World War I, A Farewell to Arms depicts the brutality of literature’s most prominent themes; conflict and love, the tragic nature of reality against the idealised glories of each, and the complicit nature of the two seemingly opposed concepts.

Hemingway’s chosen protagonist, Lieutenant Frederic Henry serves within the Italian Ambulance core, mimicking the author’s experience. However, unlike the author, while serving in the war effort, Henry encounters Catherine Barkley, and the pair quickly descend into playful teasing, shaken intimacy, and uncertain interest as Catherine attempts to distract from the grief of losing her fiancé. Born from indecision and circumstance, the two develop an intense emotional connection destined for tragedy.

Within this tale of two entangled souls, Hemingway posits the notion that love, especially intense, uncontrollable manifestations, cannot last forever, and, in its absence, only conflict and pain can arise.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Published in 1940, For Whom the Bell Tolls was a significant novel and like many other examples of his work has proven to be one of the greats. Hemingway uses his personal experience during the Spanish Civil War as an American Reporter to depict the thoughts of the protagonist during this fight.

The plot is set during the Spanish Civil War and follows Robert Jordan, a dynamiter, fighting against Franco’s forces. He is tasked with destroying the bridge to significantly damage the fascists ability to react to the Republican offensive. Robert is led to a hidden camp (guerrilla), where Pablo demonstrates opposition to the idea, fearing the safety of the camp, while Robert senses a deeper, potentially sabotaging nature behind his concerns.

While in the camp, Robert falls in love with Maria, who along with her parents, was a victim of the brutality of the war, as her parents were executed. The love he has for Maria collides with his duty and the potential risks blowing up the bridge would cause for the guerrilla camp. However, the mission is challenged as Pablo removes the explosives as a reaction to being replaced as the leader of the camp. Robert has to create a new plan to ensure the mission is successful.

A Moveable Feast

According to Mary Hemingway’s prefatory note to the first edition of A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway started writing his aforementioned memoir in Cuba, 1957. In the following years, Hemingway continued to write notes and eventually created a manuscript for A Moveable Feast, which was on the verge of being completed before his death in 1961. As a result, Mary, his fourth wife and widow, copy-edited the final manuscript so his final work could be published posthumously in 1964.

A Moveable Feast is one of Hemingway’s most acclaimed and beloved works. It recounts, in lively, quick-witted prose, his life as an unknown journalist and writer in Paris, between 1921 and 1926. The stories he relays are deeply personal, and his descriptions of the city and the journey to finding his vocation are both romantic and honest. Hemingway reflects on his friendships with other famous writers, like F. Scott Fitzgerland, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, and other seminal experiences; from navigating poverty and hunger, to nurturing his passion by writing in cafés across Paris. This is a memoir imbued with magic, giving the reader a profound insight into one of America’s most prolific novelists.



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