Thursday, April 29, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Collected Stories of Ernest Hemingway

If you grew up in the Forties or Fifties it was impossible to imagine that the literary luster of Ernest Hemingway would ever dim. I've never known of a writer as imitated (usually badly) as ole Papa.

He loved it. He carefully crafted the public persona of adventurer and man's man the press and the people loved. Novels such as A Farewell To Arms and For Whom The Bell Tolls outsold the books of his contemporaries.

But time and taste caught up with him and we now see that Hemingway's novels weren't quite as good as we once thought. He certainly had no Gatsby to brag of nor even a Grapes of Wrath by the despised Steinbeck; Papa believed he was a terrible writer. For me the only novel of his worth reading now is The Sun Also Rises. It's not a great novel but it's fascinating one and much truer to the real Hemingway than the novels he wrote afterward.

But then there are the short stories. Back in the day his collected stories were referred to with great reverence as The First Forty-Nine. Many of them were reprinted dozens if not hundreds of times around the world, textbooks included. They still deserve the reverence paid them back then.

From his story of death and dying ("A Clean, Well-Lighted Place") to his sad and ironic tale of a soldier who came back from the First World War too late for the parades ("Soldier's Home:) to the stories set in Upper Michigan this is American literature at its finest. This was Hemingway before he became Papa--the confused boy-man who went to war and then set himself up in Paris to write.

In numerous stories here he proves himself the equal of Faulkner (whom he saw as his main competition--he'd already arrogantly written off his old friend (and the guy who got him his Scribner contract) Fitzgerald) in experimenting with point of view. The line, as several critics mentioned at the time, went from Stephen Crane to Mark Twain to Hemingway, that pure American voice. If you read Crane's The Blue Hotel before you reading Hemingway's Collected Stories you'll hear the echoes throughout start the book.

For readers and writers alike, this is one book that should be in every serious collection. There was no more vital and powerful voice than Hemingway's in his early stories (and I don't include The Old Man And The Sea which I never much liked; way too self-consciously Important). Today they're just as pure and perfect as they were when first published. All hail Hemingway.

I'd pick this up as soon as possible.


Chad Eagleton said...

I've always thought that "Hills Like White Elephants" is one of the most perfect short stories ever.

mybillcrider said...

I love THE SUN ALSO RISES. I'm also partial to the first half of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. And I've read those stories over and over, even homaging them a time or two just for run. Nobody would ever get the joke except me, though.

Cap'n Bob said...

I prefer the short stories to the few EH books I've read.

Anonymous said...

Pleased you mentioned "Soldier's Home," Ed. That was a terrific story.
Jon Breen

Stephen B. said...

I've owned paperbacks of at least five Hemingway books. And read one of them - THE SUN ALSO RISES. I think I need to get into a few other books/authors from that era and see what I've been missing.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Hi - I'm not shocked at your opinion of The Sun Also Rises - I love it and have just linked to your blog on my review.

Thanks for sharing