Years pass, sometimes decades, in which nothing of lasting interest is published.
First came Winnie-the-Pooh.
Then came a radically original first novel by a young Midwesterner living in Paris. Among American novels of the past century, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises remains uniquely influential.
There is no better time to appreciate Hemingway’s clipped, terse language than during the rhetorical bloat of an American election year, with Niagaras of twaddle and cliché tumbling into an oceanic puddle of verbiage.
“Zounds!” a Shakespeare character laments, “I was never so bethumped with words.”
It was Hemingway’s insight that English had grown genteel, formulaic, and glib; that mechanically chosen words and phrases, sliding easily onto the page, falsified experience and faked emotion. Shunning sentimentality and drama, genuine passion wastes no words.
“The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence,” his contemporary Marianne Moore observed: “Not in silence but restraint.”
The Sun Also Rises, like most Hemingway novels, is set in Europe.
An American journalist working in Paris, Jake the narrator loves an English femme fatale, Brett.
“Can’t we just live together?” he pleads.
“Not with my own true love,” she replies. For Jake has been emasculated by a war wound, they cannot consummate their love, and the highly sexed Brett has no aptitude for platonic friendship.
“And there’s not a damn thing we could do,” Jake says.
Their dilemma defies happy resolution.
What language to express a world without hope or illusion?
For five years Hemingway rose early, walked to a chilly rented room over a Parisian sawmill, and worked to find the answer. Slowly he developed his voice, reminding himself when discouraged that “all you have to do is write one true sentence.”
Ah yes. One True Sentence. Easier said than done.
Best to all, Christine