"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Birthday Today - Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was born today in 1899.   Hemingway was undoubtedly my favorite writer when I was a young man, and was a big influence on me in terms of how I thought about literature.   Having said that, in the fullness of time I tend to think of him as a young man's writer who wrote essentially romantic small fictions about an idealized "manly" life in a prose style that too often slipped into self-parody.   ("It was a good fish.   It tasted good.   We wiped our hands on our pants and went back to camp."  Etc.)  As a grown-up I much prefer the novels of writers like John Marquand or James Gould Cozzens, who write about adult, professional men dealing with the crises of ordinary life.   Less existential perhaps, but ultimately deeper and truer.  

But there was a time when I really loved passages like this from the Hemingway short story, "The End of Something":
They sat on the blanket without touching each other and watched the moon rise.

"You don't have to talk silly," Marjorie said. "What's really the matter?"

"I don't know."

"Of course you know."

"No I don't."

"Go on and say it."

Nick looked on at the moon, coming up over the hills.

"It isn't fun any more."

He was afraid to look at Marjorie. Then he looked at her. She sat there with her back toward him. He looked at her back. "It isn't fun any more. Not any of it."

She didn't say anything. He went on. "I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me. I don't know, Marge. I don't know what to say."

He looked on at her back.

"Isn't love any fun?" Marjorie said.

"No," Nick said. Marjorie stood up. Nick sat there, his head in his hands.

"I'm going to take the boat," Marjorie called to him. "You can walk back around the point."

"All right," Nick said. "I'll push the boat off for you."

"You don't need to," she said. She was afloat in the boat on the water with the moonlight on it. Nick went back and lay down with his face in the blanket by the fire. He could hear Marjorie rowing on the water.

He lay there for a long time. He lay there while he heard Bill come into the clearing walking around through the woods. He felt Bill coming up to the fire. Bill didn't touch him, either.

"Did she go all right?" Bill said.

"Yes," Nick said, lying, his face on the blanket.

"Have a scene?"

"No, there wasn't any scene."

"How do you feel?"

"Oh, go away, Bill! Go away for a while."

Bill selected a sandwich from the lunch basket and walked over to have a look at the rods.

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