November 18, 2011

Don Ernesto: Hemingway's Novels in Spain

So if in the previous entry I gave us a rough introduction to what Hemingway actually saw in Spain, here I want to open a dialogue about Hemingway's literary vision of Spain. One book I've been reading on this subject is Edward Stanton, Hemingway en España (Editorial Castalia, 1989). (Admittedly probably not the best source, but one of the few available to me in Valencia's public library.) This is how I might sum up Stanton's characterization of Don Ernesto: he grew up loving the untamed wilderness of America (think fishing in Michigan with dad) and resenting his overly civilized mother (think forced music lessons). He left America with a deep dissatisfaction with the suburbanization of the West and the effete and insincere 1920s high society.

Spain, and bullfighting in particular, as Hemingway imagined it, was the opposite of these: a sincere, untamed, joyful (as in not cynical), manly (as in, not for "dandies"), humble world. Projecting this image onto the Spain he discovered, Hemingway described it as the place where he should have been born, the place of his spiritual rebirth. And thousands of others have flocked here (and elsewhere) chasing after the myth of this charismatic, adventurous visitor. I'm inclined to call it the "Hemingway Mystique," if you can pardon the pun on Betty Friedan's classic feminist treatise.

On the trail of a great writer, you can find this sign in Pamplona along the route
of the running of the bulls made famous by the Nobel Laureate.

For an excellent critique of Hemingway's vision of Spain, a perspective offered by a Spanish (Basque, no less) historian, Paco Pereda, check out an interview with him in its entirety at this blog. (Many thanks to The Hemingway Project for conducting this interview and posting it online. Your blog project is excellent!) I paste here a sample of the interview, which I think nicely summarizes the limitations of the Hemingway paradigm, even for explaining its central motif, the San Fermín festival and the bullfight:
"[I]t’s difficult for Americans to understand the meaning of bullfighting, but keep in mind that it’s also hard for the Spanish! For most Americans, Hemingway has been a good introduction to bullfighting, but at the same time, this has been problematic. Hemingway likes to exaggerate. He takes Spanish culture to be one huge party. Yes, there are great parties and immense enthusiasm during the bullfights, but the Spanish understand that it’s just an event. It’s not our real life. Well, the natives also tend to exaggerate; it’s normal for people to exaggerate about something they are famous for. The bullfighting situation is really not much different than the way people party and celebrate important sporting events all over the world. There is terrific enthusiasm during the event, but it’s still just a game."
It is my personal experience that these cautionary words apply equally well to all of you study abroad exchange students out there visiting Spain. (I was once one of you.) When you are living in Spain for just a year, your Spain is an extended vacation (culture = museums, travel = exotic locales and fiestas), very different from the reality that many Spaniards live (culture = evening TV and sports, travel = work commute). I think it is hugely suggestive that the title of Hemingway's first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was changed in the Spanish translation to Fiesta.

And the Pereda interview continues, offering some insight into the polemics surrounding bullfights and its politics:
"Over the last 100 years ago bullfighting has gone from a popular spectacle followed with devotion to something steeped in controversy and unacceptable to about half the population. Bullfighting has always belonged to the rural world, the conservative and the traditional peoples, the upper classes. Today Spanish society is complex, divided, postmodern, and highly urbanized. Its liberal values repudiate the mentality of risking death and bloody struggle which bullfighting is about. Bullfighting survives today thanks to the traditional sector of society and the tourists. (Hemingway has played a big role in this). Tourists come here in search of a traditional Spain that no longer exists but is prepared for them with nostalgia."
So outsiders should tread lightly when gushing about the cultural "authenticity" of witnessing a Spanish bullfight. Such claims about authenticity carry political implications for _whose_ Spain you subscribe to.

I put some of Hemingway's books to a crude test of central themes: Wordle, an online tool that generates word clouds from the most commonly used words in an inputted text. (Warning: this is a dangerously entertaining tool for us humanities scholars who publish or perish.) Don't worry, it automatically removes certain words like those favorite conjunctions "and" or "but." I've posted a few here for your entertainment.

A word frequency cloud or "wordle" generated by the text of The Sun Also Rises.
What's interesting is how little of Spain or the Hemingway paradigm comes through on this
wordle, until you peer more closely and spot: "bull", "bottle" (presumably wine), square
(presumably translated from plaza), and "fiesta".
This said, Hemingway's novels make for impressive prose, so much so that one could argue that they helped redefine Spain even for Spaniards. So here is a starter list of his major works which use Spain as the muse.

Major Works by Hemingway on Spain:

1926             The Sun Also Rises  – This novel is about a group of expats living in Paris,
                     who fit the profile of the "lost generation," that decide to visit Pamplona during
                     the festival of San Fermín. It is loosely autobiographical in that this is
                     precisely how Hemingway came to enjoy the July festivities in the early
                     twenties when he was stationed as a reporter in Paris.
1932             Death in the Afternoon – A nonfiction book about the art, ceremony, and
                     traditions of Spanish bullfighting, using the ritual as a deeper inquiry into 
                     human nature and fear and courage.
1938             The Fifth Column – A lesser known work, this play is set during the Spanish
                     Civil War. Its main significance is that it is a work about the war published
                     while the war was still going on, and the title helped popularize the term
                     "the fifth column," coined by one of Franco's generals Emilio Mola to refer to
                     any clandestine group of people who work from within to help an outside force
                     overthrow a besieged city (in this case the Siege of Madrid).
1940             For Whom the Bell Tolls – Perhaps his most famous work on Spain, this
                     novel is set during the Spanish Civil War, and is also loosely autobiographical
                     in how it tells the story of an American in the International Brigade. A film
                     adaptation, starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, came out in 1943 and
                     was a critical hit, helping to draw further attention to Hemingway's work and 
                     views on Spain.
1952             The Old Man and the Sea – Though not about Spain, the old man in this 
                     classic novel is of Spanish origin, and is likely at least in part inspired by 
                     Hemingway's early journalistic coverage of tuna fishing and Vigo fishermen.
1960 (1985)  The Dangerous Summer – A nonfiction series of articles on bullfighting and 
                     the Pamplona festivities written for Life Magazine, first published as a serial in
                     1960, and later republished as a book in 1985.

I also direct you to the following online materials and websites if you are interested in learning more about Hemingway from those more expert than I on the subject.

Some Official Sites on Hemingway and Biographical Materials:

• University of Delaware, Library: "Ernest Hemingway In His Time: An Exhibition":

• JFK Library, "The Ernest Hemingway Collection":

• The Hemingway Project (blog on the Hemingway mystique)

• New York Times page on Hemingway, including his famous Civil War dispatches

• The Hemingway Society:

• Enthusiast website on Ernest Hemingway:

• Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure:

• UT Austin Harry Ransom Center, "Ernest Hemingway" Archive Inventory:

• Hemingway's Official Page for his 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature (including his acceptance speech):

• The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum Website:

This word cloud for For Whom the Bell Tolls exhibits some more recognizable stereotype elements:
"gypsy", "horses", "primitivo", and "Don". Lest you worry that these clouds lose the core elements
of the novel's plot, the word "bridge" is sitting there right in the middle. Interesting to note how
the word "man" is twice the size (twice the frequency) as "woman".

Given the limits of my knowledge of Hemingway or his literature, I encourage Books on Spain, The Hemingway Project, and any others to please weigh in and let me know if there is anything I left out or mischaracterized here or in the previous entry.



Anonymous said...

Great! thanks for the share!

Shimyl Ahmed said...


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