Title: [poems from: Three Stories and Ten Poems]
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Reviewing Hemingway’s Paris chapbook Three Stories and Ten Poems (published in Paris in late summer 1823) for The Dial in October 1924, Edmund Wilson is said to have dismissed the poems as negligible. Having tracked them down and read them myself, I too was at first inclined to ignore them.
They are, however, a significant element of the story of Hemingway, and so should not be so casually disregarded. I’m aware of poems of his printed as early as May and June 1922 in the New Orleans magazine The Double-Dealer, and they continued to be published at least as late as 1925 in the German art and literary magazine Der Querschnitt. At least in these early years Hemingway fancied himself a competent poet. By the time in our time saw its Paris publication in 1924 (and in expanded form in the United States, called In Our Time, in 1925), Hemingway was still quite experimental in the approaches he took to writing as we’ll see later, even if his classic style was already prominent. But in these first few years Hemingway clearly saw himself as a writer, an artiste, and not yet as a prose-writer.
Under the title “Wanderings,” six of the poems published in Three Stories and Ten Poems had previously been published in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry in January 1923. These were: “Mitrailliatrice,” “Oily Weather,” “Roosevelt,” “Riparto d’Assalto,” “Champs d’Honneur” and “Chapter Heading.” Of the four later added, two had been written in Chicago ― “Oklahoma” and “Captives” ― and two more appear to have been written in Paris ― “Montparnasse” and “Along with Youth.”
“Mitrailliatrice”: Hemingway longing to transform his typewriter into a weapon.
“Oklahoma”: It could be a Neil Young song, and not a very good one, seeing Native Americans blurred out in time. But ends with a great image of an arrow wound, “Pounding it throbs in the night ― (or is it the gonorrhea)”.
“Oily Weather”: And this poem carries forward the throbbing motif in a crone of an ocean longing for the sexually-pulsating and throbbing long, deep hulls of ships. So . . . Okay, there’s that. Joyce too liked to squeeze in as much innuendo with a reasonably straight face as he could get away with, which was rather a lot.
“Roosevelt”: A paean to TR, who died in 1919, inevitably always one of Hemingway’s role models. Interesting how here Hemingway separates and distinguishes the divine myth of a man from the lesser truth of a mortal man.
“Captives”: I think these few lines are concerned with the breaking of the spirit of enslaved Africans brought to America.
“Champs d’Honneur”: A little rhyme about unheroic death in WWI trenches.
“Riparto d’Assalto”: The most interesting poem in this collection, a little picture recounting Hemingway’s WWI adventures. Driving an ambulance full of Italian stormtroopers (Adrati) up the Grappa side of Monte Grappa near Bassano, and the final devastating line: “At Asalone, where the truck-load died.” Of course Hemingway will mine the Italian campaigns much more in subsequent, more substantial texts.
“Montparnasse”: How one’s friends in Paris, if they do attempt suicide, are rescued, and are back in the cafés as usual by afternoon.
“Along with Youth”: How the past passes away and is unrecoverable and falls into irrelevancy.
“Chapter Heading”: The gulf between who we want to believe we are and who we are.
One of my favorite movies of all time. Those of you you who don’t get it: well, perhaps I just don’t get you.
Title: My Old Man
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Two distinctive ways of interpreting this story about an adult maturity being prematurely imposed on a young boy are possible, although one of those readings has been accepted as the traditional interpretation.
“My Old Man” is told in the voice of a very young man who is remembering events from when he was probably about nine to twelve years old. During that time Joe Butler lived with his widower father, a jockey, in the north of Italy, especially around Milan and Torino, with frequent short trips made to nearby racetracks. Later the pair relocates in Paris and environs.
As a young boy Joe inhabits two worlds. There is an ideal and beautiful world in which he admires the purity and beauty of horses and the mountains and the woods and the visceral excitement of the races, and in which he engages in wholesale father-worship, but there is also a darker world of which he is slowly becoming aware, a world of human power and corruption and the compromises made by adults who inhabit that world.
With the story written in first-person, Hemingway compels himself to keep the focus strictly on the boy Joe, and to find ways to reveal truths which the immature boy’s mind may not consciously understand; thus we have another case of the reader having a Hemingway story whose nuanced meanings must be sieved out from between the lines. This is not so difficult to do in this case. Hemingway uses a few noticeable techniques to remind us that the story being reported is that seen through the eyes of a young boy. Early on he creates long compound sentences joined by “and’s” in the way that children sometimes talk and write. He also gives young Joe a few verbal tics such as the use of words like “swell” and using the interjection “say” to open sentences. We also see a few examples of Hemingway’s repetition of words to concretize a word-picture, as early on when describing his father jumping rope Hemingway uses the word “rope” seven times in two paragraphs.
More importantly, young Joe characteristically uses the word “funny” to indicate the intrusion of discord from the adult world, when corruption seeps in to taint his ideal world of childhood. This kind of funniness intrudes at two particularly critical points in the story. The first is when Joe’s father is being browbeat by a couple of thugs in a Milan café. Most of the conversation between the three men presumably takes place when the father sends Joe away to buy a newspaper. When Joe returns:
My old man sat there and sort of smiled at me, but his face was white and he looked sick as hell and I was scared and felt sick inside because I knew something had happened and I didn’t see how anybody could call my old man a son of a bitch, and get away with it . . . He said: ‘You got to take a lot of things in this world, Joe.’
Whatever disagreement the three men have had results in Joe and his father soon leaving Italy for Paris. As with the rest of the story, we have a lot of descriptions or references to places the father and son go, something amounting to a minor travel brochure. It becomes clear that the father’s enemies in Italy are flexing their muscle to keep him from landing jobs as a jockey even in France. Then we reach the second critical point, at a race at St Cloud. Joe accompanies his father into the jockey’s dressing room. There the jockey who will be riding the favorite horse indicates to Joe’s father which horse is actually slated to win. Joe’s father bets accordingly and wins a great deal of money.
“Wasn’t it a swell race, Dad?” I said to him.
He looked at me sort of funny with his derby on the back of his head. “George Gardner’s a swell jockey, all right,” he said. “It sure took a great jock to keep that Kzar horse from winning.”
Of course I knew it was funny all the time. But my old man saying that right out like that sure took the kick all out of it for me and I didn’t get the real kick back again ever. . .
At the end of the story young Joe overhears some men at the track making some disparaging remarks about his father and his dishonesty, and here’s where the two possible interpretations come in. The traditional explanation is that Joe discovers that his father has been just as tainted as everyone else in the adult world, that he has also been involved in throwing races, and that this is why he was forced out of Italy and has been all-but-excluded from racing. Certainly Joe himself appears to believe this at the end of the story, and so we have a tale of a boy accepting that the father-image he imagined had feet of clay all along as he, Joe, prepares to enter the adult world himself. But the alternative explanation is that Joe’s father was forced into his predicament because he declined to participate in throwing races, that he resisted corruption and so was cast out.
But a third possibility is to believe neither of these interpretations; or rather, to embrace them both at once. Perhaps Joe’s father did all he could to resist corruption ― his remark to Joe about how it takes a great jockey to successfully lose a race on purpose appears to be a bitter confirmation of this opinion and to hint at his own ethics ― but he nevertheless made the compromises he had to make in order to survive, for himself and his son. In such a reading, the indeterminism is itself the point of the story. That is the insight that Joe, still very young when he recounts this story, does not yet grasp.
Title: Out of Season
Author: Ernest Hemingway
In “Out of Season” we find Hemingway using a written foil of a story to stand in for a deeper mystery we are to solve. It is the sort of literary algebra problem he so liked to pose. This one foreshadows “Hills Like White Elephants” in that the conflict is between a man (“the young gentleman”) and a woman (the gentleman’s wife; he calls her Tiny). A parallel between this story and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is also evident, although that one ended more favorably for the male lead than this one does. Hemingway has clearly put the woman in a position more powerful than that held by her husband. Hemingway has reversed the apparent importance of all the characters in the story. A supporting character, a disreputable Italian handyman named Peduzzi, has the most active role of all three, the wife, Tiny, apparently has the most minor role to play, and Tiny’s husband is caught in the middle.
The young gentleman and his wife are vacationing in the small town of Cortina in the Italian Alps. Peduzzi, we discover gradually, is something of an opportunist and a parasite who is not much loved in his own town. Besides a few cryptic opening paragraphs which initially leave us clueless, we soon discover that much of this story is written in a kind of inverted syntax which is used to convey the confusion and irregularity of being submerged in a foreign language and culture, and the mental and psychological effects that being in a foreign country imposes on one’s thinking. The opening sentence, a series of unanchored clauses finally crowned by subject and verb, establishes the distorted mood: “On the four lire Peduzzi had earned by spading the hotel garden he got quite drunk.” All in this story is at least a little bit confused, which provides one interpretation for the title of the story: it is as if the confusion is being compared to awakening to find the seasons have changed overnight. Superficially the title applies to a fishing trip that Peduzzi is to lead the foreign couple on, although trout fishing is currently illegal, it being out of season.
Probably the young gentleman came to this town specifically to fish for trout, only to discover that the trout season is over. After some quarrel with his wife (often described as sullen), he has an encounter with Peduzzi, who offers to conduct him to a place to fish. They set out on this dubious excursion, originally having the wife follow behind them at a short distance, since she carries the fishing rods and they seek a little plausible deniability. A few times on this short trip Peduzzi will successfully wheedle out money from the young gentlemen. The wife joins with the two men for a while before giving up on the charade and returning back to town. Discovering they lack the necessary lead to use as sinkers (hinting at the young gentleman’s masculine inadequacy), both men return to town, each going his separate way. The fishing trip to Cortina has been a bust.
Triumphant in the ordeal has been the wife, as her husband belatedly comes to realize. Peduzzi no doubt has recognized this but cares little, his only true interest being taking whatever money and wine he can chisel out of these strangers. So Peduzzi has also been successful, and the weak husband has been defeated by both: truly he is out of his element, or out of season.
What then was the quarrel between the husband and wife about? The central clue appears to be that she accuses him of cowardice. Never does the husband take charge in this story. He knowingly overpays Peduzzi and recognizes that he’s been had. It appears, then, that the husband’s defective masculinity is his crime in this story, and his various half-hearted actions only further contribute to his own humiliation.
Title: “Up in Michigan”
Author: Ernest Hemingway
“Up in Michigan” is a story about what in modern times would be called nonconsensual sex, or rape, although doubtlessly Hemingway would have begged to differ, perhaps arguing something along the line that Liz Coates simultaneously wanted to have sex while her superego rebelled against her true desire. In any event Jim Gilmore does have sex with Liz, or he does rape her, depending on the century in which you read this story. Obviously many would object to the allowance that the meaning of consensual sex might be capable of changing over time. Many now do not like Hemingway specifically for his machismo and sexism. I do not intend to either reject the validity of, or engage in, such discussions. I’m more interested in how Hemingway writes than I am in matters of his sexism.
The story is set in the five-building town of Hortons Bay, Michigan, probably about the year 1876, as the story references the men-folk talking about the Republican Party and James G Blaine, who ran for president that year. It’s notable that in this his first short story, Hemingway’s voice already rings through loud and clear. The repetition of certain words is conspicuous; for example, in a list of Jim’s physical attributes that Liz “likes,” and Hemingway’s repeated emphasis on “sandy” roads, using that single tag to paint concrete and instantly-familiar word-pictures. He also occasionally uses the word “very” to add emphasis to a feeling which a character experiences, a familiar Hemingway trait. I’m also struck by how caviler Hemingway is with point of view in this story, which is told mostly from Liz’s perspective, but which sometimes drifts sideways to lodge momentarily in Jim’s thoughts.
Speaking of machismo, we get a hunting trip in this story, too, although it takes place offstage. The males go into the woods to kill deer and to drink whiskey. The females remain at home to cook and clear the tables and await the return of the men.
“Up in Michigan” portrays physical attraction in an unsentimental and animalistic fashion. In Hemingway’s hands, it’s less that either Jim or Liz behaves brutishly than that each of their more rational aspects succumbs to primitive biological drives. At the end Liz sees the sleeping Jim as an unconscious animal, asleep in the cold, but she does cover him up before she goes by herself into the warm house, confirming her compassion for him. We are left with the impression that this is the way that normal humans do, indeed, behave.