New York Times Review of The Old Man and The Sea: Sept 7, 1952

Please read the NYT review of Hemingway’s Masterpiece and how it was received in its Day. And the reviewer taught at my Alma Mater. Media added by me. Enjoy the analysis and thank you for reading and being interested in Hemingway 119 years after his birth and 57 years after his death. Best, Christine

 

September 7, 1952
Hemingway’s Tragic Fisherman
By ROBERT GORHAM DAVIS

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA
By Ernest Hemingway.

The “Old Man” is a Cuban, without money to buy proper gear or even food, and past the days of his greatest strength, when he was “El CampÈon” of the docks. He fishes for his living, far out in the Gulf Stream, in a skiff with patched sails. It is September, the month of hurricanes and of the biggest fish. After eighty-four luckless days a marlin strikes his bait a hundred fathoms below the boat. The old man, Santiago, is “fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of.” The ultimate is now demanded of the craft which a half-century of fishing has taught him.
It is a tale superbly told and in the telling Ernest Hemingway uses all the craft his hard, disciplined trying over so many years has given him. Both craft–writing and fishing–are clearly in mind when the old man Santiago thinks of the strangeness of his powers as fisherman. “The thousand times that he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past when he was doing it.” When the boy who took care of him asked if he was strong enough now for a truly big fish, he said, “I think so. And there are many tricks.”
In “Big Two-Hearted River,” one of the best and happiest of his early short stories, Hemingway sent a young man very like himself off alone on a fishing trip in completely deserted country in northern Michigan. They young man, Nick, needed to be alone and to control his thinking with physical tiredness and to get back to something in himself to which memories of fishing seemed to offer a clue.
The actual fishing was even better than his memories of it. He “felt all the old feeling.” The trip was a success because Nick, grateful for the purity of his pleasure, was able to set himself limits. He did not go into the deep water of the swamp where the biggest fish were, but where it might be impossible to land them. “In the fast deep water, in the half light, the fishing would be tragic. In the swamp fishing was a tragic adventure. Nick did not want it.” There was plenty of time for that kind of fishing in the days to come.
“The Old Man and the Sea” written more than twenty-five years later, in the maturity of Hemingway’s art, is a novella whose action is directly, cleanly and, as he would say, “truly” told. And in it Hemingway has described a fishing adventure which is tragic, or as close to tragedy as fishing may be. In “The Old Man and the Sea,” as in the early “Big Two-Hearted River,” the art and the truth come from a sense of limits. In the new story, however, a man exceeds the limits, and pays a price for it that is more than his own suffering.
The line of dramatic action in “The Old Man and the Sea” curves up and down with a classic purity of design to delight the makers of textbooks. But what Santiago brings back suggests something new about Hemingway himself, defines an attitude never so clearly present in his other work.
Hemingway’s heroes have nearly always been defeated, or have died, and have lost what they loved, even though the stories seemed at first to celebrate purely physical courage and prowess. The important thing was the code fought by, and keeping the right feeling toward what was fought for, and when something had been won, not to let the sharks have it.
Usually the hero has been alone in his defeat, like Lieutenant Henry in “Farewell to Arms,” walking back to his hotel in the rain, or Robert Jordan dying at the bridge in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” or Harry Morgan, also a Gulf fisherman, in “To Have and Have Not,” gasping out, with a bullet through his stomach, “One man alone ain’t got no bloody. . .chance.”
Often his people have been profoundly bitter in defeat, like Belmonte, the matador, in “The Sun Also Rises,” sick with a fistula, jeered at by the crowd, putting his head on the barrera, not seeing or hearing anything, just going through his pain, or the demoted Colonel Cantwell in “Across the River and into the Trees,” trying to find abusive enough epithets for Truman and the political generals and a writer whose face he doesn’t like. “Seems like when they get started they don’t leave a guy nothing,” the boy says at the end of “My Old Man.”
This is the nothingness, the “nada” of the famous parody of the Lord’s Prayer in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” This is the world of the non-religious existentialists like Heidegger and Sartre, a world of self-imposed codes and devotions sustained wholly by the courage and will of the individual, by his capacity for facing his own truths, for leading an “authentic” existence. If he fails, he encounters nothingness, meaninglessness, both in human society and the indifferent realm of nature.
In “The Old Man and the Sea,” it is all quite different. The old man has learned humility, which he knew “was not disgraceful, and carried no less of true pride.” Humility understands the limits of what a man can do alone, and knows how much his being, the worth and humanity of his being, depends on community with other men and with nature, which is here the sea. Santiago has the language to express this, as the American Harry Morgan did not. Santiago speaks in those formalized idioms from the Romance languages which in so many of Hemingway’s stories have served to express ideas of dignity, propriety and love. Santiago lives in a good town where he had been happy with his wife, and where there is now the boy. He had taught the boy fishing, and the boy loves him. “QuÈ va,” the boy says devotedly. “There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you.”
Hemingway we know was himself a champion, a great winner of boxing matches and game fishing contests at Key West and in the Bahamas in the Thirties. But in the later stories, in an uncomfortably personal way, it seemed not enough for the hero to know he was a champion. He needed adulation from those around him, from waiters, people of old families and especially sexually satisfied women who had so little being apart from him that they created none of the moral demands, the difficult ups and downs of any normal human relationship.
It is a little like this with Santiago and the boy, but the old man, to repeat, has humility, and the shared craft of fishing is a reality between them. What he brings back to the boy at the end of the story implies a human continuity and development that far transcends this individual relationship. When Santiago says “Man is not made for defeat,” he is not thinking primarily of the individual.
Even without the boy Santiago is not alone on a sea, which, with its creatures, he knows well and loves with discrimination. The sea is feminine for him, as it is not for the motorboat men. The Gulf Stream takes him out where he wants to go, and the trade winds bring him back, with lights of Havana to guide him. When the huge marlin strikes, he is bound in shared suffering with a fellow creature for whom he finds adjectives like “calm” and “beautiful” and “noble.” Santiago does not like to kill, and he does like to think, except about sin, which he is not sure he believes in.
Santiago’s simplicity together with the articulateness of his soliloquies sometimes makes him seem a personified attitude of his complex creator rather than a concrete personality in his own right. The action is wonderfully particularized, but not the man to whom it happens and who gives it meaning. The talk of baseball, of the “great DiMaggio” and the “Tigres” of Detroit does not help in this. And the references to sin inevitably recall that other American story of the pursuit of a big fish in which Melville went rather more deeply down among “the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea,” that dark invisible sphere formed “in fright” as well as love.
But these are simply the bounds rather than the faults of a short tale magnificently told. Like “Across the River and into the Trees,” “The Old Man and the Sea” (a September Book-of-the-Month dual choice) is an interruption in the long major work which has engaged Hemingway since the war. But it is not a disturbing interruption, as “Across the River” sometimes was in its moments of tastelessness and spleen. In his imagination of the fishing in “The Old Man and the Sea,” Hemingway has, like the young man in “Big Two-Hearted River,” got back to something good and true in himself, that has always been there. And with it are new indications of humility and maturity and a deeper sense of being at home in life which promise well for the novel in the making. Hemingway is still a great writer, with the strength and craft and courage to go far out, and perhaps even far down, for the truly big ones.
Mr. Davis, Professor of English at Smith College, writes frequently of the techniques of creative writing.

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Is This a Smart Move or Dumbing It all Down? (5 minutes after this see my next post)

Four classics so far have been made child friendly by KinderGuides: On The Road, by Jack Kerouac; Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote; Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The stories have been dramatically abbreviated and have large, colorful illustrations. Among the next four classics to be published by KinderGuides are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. Bear in mind, these are being read to 6 to 12-year olds. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, blessedly omits the drugs, prostitutes and wild parties.

Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
Spencer Tracy as Santiago
Spencer Tracy as Santiago

Forbes just published an article by Frank Miniter entitled “A Startling Example of How the Politically Correct Currents Pull Strongly Toward Mediocrity.” It starts out asking if Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, actually can be watered down for young readers, noting that the great dumbing down of the American mind isn’t just underway, but has become a parody of itself.

The Old Man and the Sea
The Old Man and the Sea

The KinderGuides’ version of The Old Man and the Sea begins with, “Santiago is an old fisherman who lives in a small village by the sea, on an island called Cuba. Every day he takes his boat far out into the ocean to catch fish. But after 84 days of trolling, he hasn’t caught any fish at all. He is sad.”

Frank Miniter’s article notes further that The Old Man and the Sea is a concise novella as it is, exploring man’s struggle, not just with a fish, but with his mortality. The prose in the original is hardly difficult. The real Hemingway begins, “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the gulfstream and he had gone eighty-four days now without a fish.” If the word ‘skiff’ is a new and challenging word, there is always the dictionary. At the Forbes article goes on to note, the theme of a man’s struggling, knowing his body is failing him and that inevitably he will be a tragic figure, but that nevertheless he must face his mortality with grace, regardless, is lost in the KinderGuides’ version.

Miniter writes, “Instead of raising children’s knowledge and understanding of these things, this is another example of watering down the education of our youth. Should great paintings also be simplified into cartoon characters? How about plays and music?”

This reminds me of the cartoons—which were designed to be ironic and funny—of condensing of Hemingway’s books into one-minute cartoons. I’ll repost A Farewell to Arms below. (IN FIFTEEN MINUTES SEE INSTAGRAM NOVEL.)

Do you think this is a smart way to introduce children to the classics or just plain ridiculous?

Best to all for the New Year!

Hem in Cuba
Hem in Cuba
Hem's living room in Cuba
Hem’s living room in Cuba

 

Love, Christine

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Visit To the Hemingway Collection in Boston Part 1

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Kennedy Library, home of the Hemingway Collection, Boston
Kennedy Library, home of the Hemingway Collection, Boston

I was in Boston for a few days and took the opportunity to visit the Hemingway collection at the JFK Library and Museum. It’s about 20 minutes depending on traffic from downtown in a cab but shuttle buses travel out there more inexpensively as well. It is right on the water and very modern as you can see.

The present exhibit at the Hemingway Collection is entitled Hemingway Between the Wars, which covers much if not most of his career. The Old Man and the Sea, The Dangerous Summer, A Moveable Feast, among others came after World War II, (some posthumously. Hem died in 1961 and A Moveable Feast came out in 1964, edited primarily by Hemingway’s surviving wife, Mary. Garden of Eden  was also posthumously published.) but The Sun Also Rises, Men Without Women, A Farewell to Arms, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many of the more famous short stories, i.e. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Green Hills of Africa, all were done between the wars.

Green hills of Africa
Green hills of Africa

Although Hemingway had his first great romance (with Agnes Von Kurowsky, his attending nurse after Hemingway was injured) during the war–not between the wars, the famous photo of her and Hemingway was in the exhibit. While I knew well that F. Scott Fitzgerald had done some serious editing on The Sun Also Rises and cut out the beginning and told Hemingway to start at a different place—and the rest is history—they had the actual letter Fitzgerald wrote to Hemingway expressing his disappointment at the beginning and making his suggestion to cut in strong terms. Uncharacteristically and probably because he was young and not yet confident, Hemingway did not resist and took Fitzgerald’s advice, much to the improvement of the book.

 1918 Nurse Agnes von Kurowsky and American Red Cross volunteer Ernest Hemingway, Milan, Italy. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
1918 Nurse Agnes von Kurowsky and American Red Cross volunteer Ernest Hemingway, Milan, Italy. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
Hem and Scott
Hem and Scott

 

There also was a list of titles that Hemingway considered for The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (1936). For those of you not familiar with this story, it is set in Africa and was published in September 1936 in Cosmopolitan Magazine concurrently with The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The story was eventually adapted to the screen as “The Macomber Affair” (1947).

The story deals with a dysfunctional marriage between Francis and Margot who are on a big game safari in Africa with a professional hunter Robert Wilson. On his first time out, Francis had panicked when a wounded lion charged him, which humiliated him in front of his wife who took far too much pleasure in mocking him about his act of cowardice. It is suggested that she sleeps with Robert Wilson. The next day the party hunt buffalo. Two are killed and one is wounded and retreats. It’s generally bad form, not to mention cruel all around, to leave a wounded animal as it is, and Francis and Wilson proceed to track him so that they can put him out of his misery. When they find the buffalo, it charges Francis Macomber. He stands his ground and fires, but his shots are too high. At the last second Macomber kills the buffalo with his last bullet and Margot fires a shot from her gun, which hits Macomber in the skull and kills him. Good times!

Hadley
Hadley

(Sorry, as a divorce lawyer I sometimes have a dark sense of humor on relationships.) Anyway, at the exhibit, there is a list of some of the alternate titles that Hemingway considered such as Marriage is a Dangerous Game, A Marriage has Terminated, The Cult of Violence, Marriage as a Bond.

Happy

HAPPY On the Sea

Fitzgerald's advice typed up so we can read it easily. Actual handwritten letter was in the display.

 

TO BE CONTINUED Next POST!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Even a NY Ranger reads Hemingway

NY Ranger who loves Hemingway
NY Ranger who loves Hemingway, Chris Kreider

#Hemingwayandsports

In this latest installment of CNBC’s summer reading series Chris Kreider, a forward with the New York Rangers, provides his top picks for the season. The Boxford, Mass., native and first- round draft pick in 2009, set career highs in the 2014-15 season in goals, assists and points.

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Was Hemingway Bi-polar?

FROM THE moment Ernest Hemingway saw Finca Vigia ( Lookout Farm) outside Havana in 1939, it became his home in the deepest sense.

The above article discusses Hemingway’s time in Cuba, self-medication perhaps with alcohol, and his love for his Cuban home. Very interesting. Best, Christine

 

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Hemingway and Cuba Opens Up

The old man and the seaIt appears that for the first time in decades, Cuba will be open to Americans and others around the world.  In reviewing some of the recommended sights to see in Cuba for those eager to take a look, the Finca Vigia is always prominently listed.  For those who followed earlier posts, you may recall that when Hemingway and his wife, Mary, were visiting in the U.S., they were abruptly advised by the FBI that they would not be allowed to return.

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
Drinking and working with cat
Drinking and working with cat

After Hemingway’s death, Mary was permitted by arrangement through the auspices of President Kennedy to return to the farm to pack up some critical items.  When she and Hemingway left, the phonograph still had the last record they played on it.  She took many papers, but furnishings remained.  Hemingway was devastated to leave his staff high and dry as he was close to most of them and he was devastated to lose his Cuban house.  He knew that something bad was coming as he saw the protests against America and did feel that probably his tenure there was not going to be very long.  However, the suddenness with no preparation was breathtaking.

 

Hemingway was on J. Edgar Hoover’s watch list for years because of his residence in Cuba.  Despite some claims to the contrary, Hemingway was far from close to Fidel Castro.  They met a few times.  I’ve read that they were “fishing” pals but everything else I’ve read does not suggest that that’s the case.  If anyone reading this knows more than I do on this point, feel free to correct me or throw some light on that point.

 

Hem writing standing in the Finca Vigia
Hem writing standing in the Finca Vigia
I love Cuba
I love Cuba

            The Cubans adore Hemingway.  They always have.  Hemingway’s house was in a small run-down town outside Havana, but he frequented Havana often.  He and Martha Gelhorn and later his fourth wife, Mary, renovated the house and made it lovely and comfortable.  It fell into disrepair after Hemingway left and only recently, through the auspices of Maxwell Perkins’ granddaughter, Jenny, have serious efforts been made to bring it back to its former loveliness.  It’s twelve acres on a Cuban hillside, with many rooms opening to patios or with large windows to let in the warm, humid air that he enjoyed.  I just read an article by Reed Johnson published in World News of The Wall Street Journal.  Mr. Reed noted “perhaps no work of art is more emblematic of the countries’ (U.S. and Cuba) tangled artistic affinities than Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitizer Prize winning 1952 novel “The Old Man in the Sea.”  In Hemingway’s taut masterpiece, Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman and a New York Yankees fan, engages in an epic battle with a giant marlin, with his spiritual idol, Joe DiMaggio, as his invisible first mate.  Hemingway’s portrait of the valiant Cuban is affectionate, respectful and intimately knowledgeable, qualities often lacking in U.S.-Cuban politics, but abundant in U.S.-Cuban art.”

 

All in all, I hope my own future holds a trip to Cuba and Finca Vigia.

 

Last several years
Hem and Castro
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