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Page 2

Concealments in Hemingway's Works

Gerry Brenner

Like any writer who continues to engage our
interest, compel our attention, and challenge
our understanding, Ernest Hemingway was
simultaneously blessed and cursed throughout
his life by an obsession. It is Professor Bren­
ner's opinion that that obsession—Heming­
way's relationship with the chief emotional
object of his life, his father—empowered all of
his writing, and that exploring it uncovers
previously unseen complexities in both the
man and his work.

Using the methods of New Criticism, ge­
neric criticism, classical Freudian theory, and
psychobiography, Dr. Brenner extracts from
Hemingway's deceptively "artless" works
their dynamic but hidden aims. When viewed
from these combined critical perspectives, the
justly acclaimed novels, the troublesome non­
fiction, and even stories dismissed as mediocre
take on dimensions of meaning and signifi­
cance that have previously gone undetected.

Professor Brenner's revisionary reading di­
vides Hemingway's mature writings into five
phases in order to trace Hemingway's obses­
sion and two related ideas: that until his last
phase, Hemingway's novels and books of non­
fiction were experimental—an intention he
tried rigorously to conceal—and that his aes­
thetic aim, during all phases of his career, was
to conceal his art and his cunning as an artist.

To the first phase, which he terms the The­
sis Phase, Brenner assigns A Farewell to
Arms and The Sun Also Rises; to the second,
the Aesthetic Phase, the nonfictional Death in
the Afternoon and Green Hills of Africa. The
third or Aristotelean Phase contains To Have
and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls,
conscious attempts to write, first, a classical
tragedy and, second, a classical epic. Across
the River and into the Trees belongs to the
Imitative Phase, Dante's Divine Comedy
being Hemingway's deliberate, concealed
model. The fifth and final phase—the Anti­

(Continued on back flap)

Page 152

136 / The Aristotelean Phase

that hidden, fragile epic may crack the novel's solid structure,
whether structure refers loosely to the plausibility of the novel as a
realistic story or refers literally to the novel's all-too-conscious
construction and architecture. Still, the detection leaves more
than nothing. It leaves a modern experiment in an ancient mode.
And that experiment will surely survive, if only as a rarity, a fas-
cinating museum piece.

Page 153


Maybe what prompted Hemingway to write the novels of this
phase was simply his need to keep rank as one of America's fore-
most novelists, some years having elapsed since A Farewell to
Arms was published. Maybe he was answering the call for fiction
with a social theme. Morgan's dying words and Jordan's actions
and beliefs heed it. Maybe Hemingway was trying to refute the
charge that he was a Johnny-one-note. Any truth in it would be
overwhelmed by the ancient literary modes orchestrating To
Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Maybe Hem-
ingway was hoping to restore for modern readers those classic
modes of tragedy and epic, just as he had hoped to restore the es-
thetic dimension of spectator sports and hunting. Maybe his con-
cern with esthetics in those two nonfiction books prodded him to
pursue esthetics in a disciplined way in these two novels. Aristo-
tle's Poetics is not an unlikely starting place for an autodidact like
Hemingway. Its interest in discerning those elements of a liter-
ary work that yield its distinct pleasures, after all, would appeal
to him, and because he loves concealing, omitting things, he
would enjoy putting to use knowledge that few readers or acquain-
tances would suspect he had. Perhaps Hemingway's remark
about studying Cezanne applies to Aristotle as well: "I was learn-
ing very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain
it to anyone. Besides, it was a secret" (Feast, 13). Or perhaps Hem-
ingway's interest in the rules, codes, strategies, and techniques of
sports and war led him to spend time acquainting himself with
some of the older rules, formulas, and conventions of the craft by
which he earned his living.

Maybe what prompted the two novels of this phase was Hem-
ingway's fear that his artistic vision and imagination had gone

Page 303

(Continued from front flap)
thetical—produced the rich but deeply flawed
The Old Man and the Sea, Islands in the
Stream, The Dangerous Summer, and A
Moveable Feast.

The writer who emerges in Professor Bren-
ner's incisive analysis is the same Hemingway
characterized by his biographer, Carlos
Baker, as "a man of many contradictions." A
masculine swagger and much publicized sexu-
ality mask a latent homoeroticism. The flam-
boyant exhibitionism of "Papa Sportif" hides
the self-disciplined, solitary, and secretive
craftsman. But beyond these contrarieties of
public persona and private self, Brenner finds
an artist who early in his career formed the
habit of concealing the techniques, models,
and sources for his work—the habit that later
on, in the middle of his career, led him to con-
ceal as well the literary formulas he used.

This cunning, craftiness, duplicity, and de-
viousness become, in Professor Brenner's
view, crucial, even necessary, but until now
ignored ingredients in our understanding of
Hemingway's artistry and his obsession with
his father—the figure whose inspiriting, tor-
menting, and unremitting influence was the
primary source of his son's aims and am-
bivalences, anxieties and desires: the figure
whose presence, company, certification, be-
lief, and "patient approving witness" Heming-
way sought through all of his life, and the
figure to whom the voice in his writing contin-
uously spoke.

Gerry Brenner is professor of English at the
University of Montana.

The photograph reproduced on the front
cover is from the John F. Kennedy Library,
Columbia Point, Boston, Massachusetts.

Designed by Harold M. Steve ns

Page 304

Other books of interest . . .

The Novel in Motion: An Approach to Modern Fiction,
by Richard Pearce $17.50
Structure and Theme: Don Quixote to James Joyce, by
Margaret Church $15.00
Samuel Beckett: Humanistic Perspectives, ed. Morris
Beja, S. E. Gontarski, and Pierre Astier $20.00
Approaches to Gravity's Rainbow, ed. Charles
Clerc $25.00
Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon, by
Molly Hite $17.50

Ohio State University Press
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Columbus, Ohio 43210

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