Fantina, Richard. Ernest Hemingway: Machismo and Masochism

By Strychacz, Thomas | Studies in the Novel, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Fantina, Richard. Ernest Hemingway: Machismo and Masochism


Strychacz, Thomas, Studies in the Novel


FANTINA, RICHARD. Ernest Hemingway: Machismo and Masochism (New York, NY: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2005). 206 pp. $65.00.

Richard Fantina's book is the latest offering in what has become something of a cottage industry: reassessments of Ernest Hemingway's narrative inscription of gender. It is hard to think of another modernist writer whose reputation in the past two decades has changed so dramatically and on so many fronts, with reconsiderations of Hemingway's impulse toward androgyny (Mark Spilka's Hemingway's Quarrel with Androgyny [1990]), his homoeroticism (Debra Moddelmog's Reading Desire: In Pursuit of Ernest Hemingway [1999]), his relationship to a variety of unconventional expressions of gender and sexuality (Nancy Comley and Robert Scholes's Hemingway's Genders [1994]), his fetishism (Carl Eby's Hemingway's Fetishism [1999]), and his sense of masculinity as a performance (my own Hemingway's Theaters of Masculinity [2003]).

Fantina's book is a worthy addition. It makes a convincing case that a structure of masochistic desire--understood broadly as a desire to submit to a dominant woman and recognized primarily through the sexual practice of sodomy--appears throughout Hemingway's work alongside a more obvious expression of tough masculinity. "Hemingway's machismo," as Fantina puts it, "coexists with an alternative, masochistic sexuality" (1). As with many successful new approaches, Fantina's book often seems strongest when reminding us of what we have always known but neglected to put together into a coherent pattern. Fantina points to biographical details suggesting Papa Hemingway's willingness to submit sexually to at least three of his wives (a revelatory moment in Mary Hemingway's diary has Papa professing sodomy as one of his favorite sports [79]). Better still, Fantina points to numerous episodes in Hemingway's work that imply a masochistic consciousness at work: Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms appears in what seems to be a "dominatrix outfit" (55); Jake Barnes of The Sun Also Rises wallows in his misery (59); and, still more interesting because the novel generally receives so little attention, Renata and the Colonel in Across the River and Into the Trees embody "several of the qualities of the dominatrix and her slave" (61). Fantina saves his most thorough and convincing analysis for the manuscript version of The Garden of Eden, that linchpin of so many recent forays into Hemingway's inscription of gender and sexuality, showing how Barbara and Nick (excised in the published version) replay the role reversals and masochism so startlingly clear in the relationship between David and Catherine Bourne.

Larger issues are never far from Fantina's analysis. Quite properly, Fantina spends some time examining the question of the progressive potential of Hemingway's brand of masochistic masculinity since, to scholars such as Gilles Deleuze and Kaja Silverman, "[m]ale masochism represents a clear threat to patriarchal notions of gender relations" (8). Fantina is ultimately content with a compromise: Hemingway's descriptions of male masochism counter his infamous macho pose, but they are tempered by his "simultaneous championship of so much that upholds and even exaggerates traditional masculinity" (161). "Hemingway's bedroom consciousness," as Fantina says, "does not readily translate into social ideology" (35). That same balanced approach also characterizes Fantina's later discussions of Hemingway's attitudes toward race and colonialism. Employing the notion of masochistic masculinity to counteract the rather one-sided analyses of Hemingway and race expressed by Toni Morrison (Playing in the Dark [1992]) and Susan Gubar (Racechanges [1997])--a forbidden sensuality, not a desire for "Africanization," lies behind David and Catherine's obsession with tanning themselves darker, he argues--Fantina nonetheless has to admit that in the end Hemingway cannot escape his own or his culture's sexual and racial imperialism. …

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