"We Didn't Come Here to Talk about Sunsets, Kiddo": "Pauline Snow" and the Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway
Robinson, Daniel, The Hemingway Review
EVEN WITH THE WEALTH of biographical and critical information on Ernest Hemingway, it remains a mystery how he learned to write in his famous distinctive style. Hemingway did not just sit down one afternoon, his muse perched close to his ear or seated at a table near the window while he sipped coffee at the Cafe du Dome composing those early stories found in In Our Time. He had greatly ironic luck (Smith, "An Address")-- much of his earliest work was rejected by the Saturday Evening Post or stolen from the train to Lausanne, forcing him to develop and focus his own artistic vision. He had mentors, certainly--Anderson, Pound, Stein, and others--who could offer insight into what was working and what was not and why. He had the wars and loves of his own life, a prodigious memory, and an insightful eye into the world around him. And he had his own sense of artistry and dedication. Without any of these elements, as well as a number of others, we might never have had reason to celebrate this man's art and life.
Ernest Hemingway was certainly not an artistic tabula rasa when he and Hadley walked to their first Paris apartment in December 1921. As Michael Reynolds writes, "Paris had much to teach a young writer, but not how to observe detail. He had arrived with that skill sharply honed" (Paris Years 8-9). While his distinctive style had yet to bloom, Hemingway's early writing shows that he arrived in Paris with "sharply honed" skills of narration as well as observation. Hemingway's crisp, declarative style with its colloquial voice, precise diction, and understanding of the power of things not stated are already evident in his "Crossroads" sketches of 1919.
The strongest of these sketches, "Pauline Snow," illustrates many of the elements of craft that are praised as part of the distinctive Hemingway style, a style often erroneously attributed to his apprenticeships with writers such as Anderson, Stein, and Pound. In his A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, Paul Smith briefly introduces the five pieces comprising the Collection as important for what they may have foreshadowed:
They were brief, colloquial vignettes told in the local voice of the region around Horton Bay. Some of them, however, were more than imitations of [E.W.] Howe, for in them Hemingway found for a moment his first true style, which he perfected in the in our time chapters. Here, too, he discovered the rich vein of his Michigan stories: the portrait "Pauline Snow" was a promising sample that led to "Up in Michigan" in the fall of 1921. (xxvii)
Written in the Petoskey autumn of 1919, "Crossroads--An Anthology" was a series of short sketches about the people Hemingway knew in Horton Bay. He shared them with Bill Smith, who was working on a similar series of sketches. The sketches were intentionally patterned after E.W. Howe's popular series in The Saturday Evening Post, "Anthology of Another Town," which Michael Reynolds describes as "a nostalgic collection of small-town characters whose otherwise dull lives were sometimes punctuated by a remarkable experience" (Young Hemingway 96). While never published during his lifetime, Hemingway's sketches--"Billy Gilbert," "Old Man Hurd and Mrs. Hurd," "Bob White," "Ed Paige," and "Pauline Snow" (the longest and strongest of the sketches)--were eventually published in The New York Times Magazine (18 August 1985, 19-20) and re-published in Peter Griffin's biography, Along With Youth (124-7). They, and especially "Pauline Snow," provide a tangible link between the apprentice writer before his introduction to the Paris circle of literary Modernists and the accomplished artist whose works have cast long shadows across the generations of writers who have followed him.
Hemingway's development as a writer, however, also owes itself to the world he came of age in--the rural environs of northern Michigan, the hypocritical moralities of Oak Park, and the hollow abstractions of World War I. These elements, so prevalent in his later published stories, are also explored to various degrees of depth and success in the "Crossroads" sketches. Nancy Comley and Robert Scholes emphasize Hemingway's choice of setting as especially influential in his development: "The particular importance of this area of northern Michigan as a stimulus to Hemingway's imagination is evident not only in his early fiction, but also in his return to that landscape near the end of his writing career" (92). The locus of northern Michigan offers a sense of place in Hemingway's stories if not always a place of sense for his characters.
Hemingway combines the beauty of a northern Michigan setting with the informing principle of social hypocrisy he first witnessed in Oak Park. Reynolds makes clear the importance to Hemingway of Oak Park's prohibitions on alcohol and "sexual information" (Young Hemingway 93, 122-23). Discussing "Summer People," written in 1926, Reynolds details how Nick Adams and Kate Smith, "making love beneath the stars," join "a long list of Hemingway lovers" who choose the good earth as their bed, including Nick and Trudy Gilby in "Fathers and Sons," Liz Coates and Jim Gilmore in "Up in Michigan," and Robert Jordan and Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls (Young Hemingway 124). Fronting that list, however, are Pauline Snow and Art Simons from "Pauline Snow."
The influence of World War I on the young …
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Publication information: Article title: "We Didn't Come Here to Talk about Sunsets, Kiddo": "Pauline Snow" and the Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway. Contributors: Robinson, Daniel - Author. Journal title: The Hemingway Review. Volume: 19. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2000. Page number: 88. © 1999 Ernest Hemingway Foundation. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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