I am perplexed as to why this is considered such a great work. I am myself ambivalent; didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. I’ve read other novels on my list that I disliked, but still understood how they are considered great, but this? I don’t understand. This is not a criticism. I think it is superbly written, and somewhat compelling. I just don’t know why it ranks so high.
My rating: 2 1/2 of 5 stars
The main character, Jake Barnes, is Hemingway, and the story is based on a
real-life experience Hemingway had with a group of friends in France and Spain. The rest of the characters are also mapped to real persons, but their true tales, aside from this brief glimpse, are unknown to me, so I will only refer to the characters. The main characters being Jake, his friend Robert Cohn, and Lady Brett Ashley. Jake loves Brett but because he was left impotent from a war wound, feels a relationship is hopeless. Brett professes to love Jake, who seems to be the only person that understands her, but she is impetuous, fickle, and promiscuous. The two are resigned to the belief that a true relationship is futile. Numerous failed relationships are implied and Brett is now engaged to an Englishman Mike Campbell. This doesn’t stop her from having a brief and meaningless affair with Cohn. Campbell knows of the affair, and others, and accepts them as part of Brett’s fervidity. Cohn however, is ridiculously in love with Brett, in spite of the fact that she does everything to discourage him.
The story culminates when Jake, Brett, Mike, Cohn, and another American Bill, travel via different groups and means, to meet at the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona Spain. It includes the famous running of the bulls, bullfights, a love quadrangle, interpersonal complexities of the group, and a lot of drinking.
As I understand it, Hemingway originally called the novel, The Lost Generation. I think it was a better title. What a mess these people were. If this was a glimpse of Hemingway’s life, I think it was a sad life, glorious adventurer persona notwithstanding. As I said though, it was superbly written. I especially like one account, not really important to the overall plot, of an older matador, Belmonte. He was once, one of the very best. His legend is still recognized, but the crowds have begun to express contempt for his lackluster performance. Hemingway did such a wonderful job describing him, I could feel his pain, and wounded pride.
For the record, I don’t condone bullfighting; it’s just the setting, and a real-life avocation of Hemingway’s.
Quotations: Really just one bit I liked. I like the writing, but also a peculiar notion of prayer and religion that Jake (and I presume, Hemingway) held. Jake steps into a church in San Fermin, and decides to pray.
I knelt and started to pray and prayed for everybody I thought of, Brett and Mike and Bill and Robert Cohn and myself, and all the bull-fighters, separately for the ones I liked, and lumpin all the rest, then I prayed for myself again, and while I was praying for myself I found I was getting sleepy, so I prayed that the bull-fights would be good, and that it would be a fine fiesta, and that we would get some fishing. I wondered if there was anything else I might pray for, and I thought I would like to have some money, so I prayed that I would make a lot of money, and then I started to think how I would make it, and thinking of money reminded me of the count, and I started wondering about where he was, and regretting I hadn’t seen him since that night in Montmartre, and about something funny Brett told me about him, and as all the time I was kneeling with my forehead on the wood in front of me, and was thinking of myself as praying, I was a little ashamed, and regretted that I was such a rotten Catholic, but realized there was nothing I could do about it, at least for a while, and maybe never, but that anyway it was a grand religion, and I only wished I felt religious and maybe I would next time…
Film Rendition: The 1957 film starring Tyrone Power as Jake, and Ava Gardner as Brett is a very good rendition. Gardner is especially good and appropriately beautiful as Lady Brett. Eddie Albert was an amusing choice for Bill, but he pulled it off. Errol Flynn played Mike Campbell, and Mel Ferrer as Robert Cohn was convincingly annoying.