Hemingway's Masochism, Sodomy, and the, Dominant Woman
Fantina, Richard, The Hemingway Review
Recent studies recognize the complexity of Hemingway's female characters. The devotion to these women reveals a submissive and masochistic sexuality in the male heroes that occasionally includes their participation in passive heterosexual sodomy. While some recent gender theorists seek to identify male masochism as a viable, alternative form of masculine sexuality, others see it as disguised form of sexism. This essay examines Hemingway's texts in light of these theories and explores how the novels and stories embody many of the subversive elements of masochism that undermine certain patriarchal values, even while their author upholds others.
Although many critics now readily dismiss the old Hemingway myth of machismo, few seem prepared to acknowledge the masochism that prevails in much of his work. The ideal Hemingway woman, revealed as early as The Sun Also Rises 0926), demonstrates power and a will to dominate. This becomes particularly apparent in the posthumous The Garden of Eden 0986), where Hemingway celebrates a woman who controls the sexual relationship with her husband, and who initiates female-on-male sodomy. Since its publication, the dominance of Catherine Bourne in that novel has led scholars to reappraise the foundations of Hemingway's machismo, which coexists with an alternative, masochistic sexuality.
Hemingway's work does not feature incidents of female domination in the sense of the woman with the whip who so intoxicated Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. But despite the absence of the dominatrix, submissive sexuality reveals itself more subtly and at times more dramatically than in the ritualized fantasies of Venus in Furs (1870). Although little attention has been devoted to its appearance in Hemingway's texts, male heterosexual masochism represents to some a legitimate, alternative form of masculine sexuality and has been the focus of study in recent gender theory. This essay seeks to locate Hemingway's work within this discourse. Although psychoanalysis necessarily informs this discussion, the purpose here is not to offer another psychoanalytic interpretation but to discuss Hemingway's work in the tradition of literary masochism and the critical responses to it.
Psychoanalysis has a long history of diagnosing masochism both as feminine and as misdirected homosexuality all the while trying to "cure" it. This attitude has been increasingly challenged in recent years. Carol Siegel writes of the tendency of psychoanalysis toward a "nonsensical conflation of male homosexuality with submissively expressed male heterosexuality and its touting of female masochism as essential femininity" (16). Gilles Deleuze's Coldness and Cruelty (1969) places masochism within a tradition of masculinity that had been denied or disparaged by psychoanalysis. Deleuze insists on masochism as an arena in which masculinity can assert itself. The avowal of masochism as a tenable masculine position allows for new interpretations of some classic literature. Elements in much of Hemingway's work indicate a masochistic sensibility coexisting with his cult of traditional masculinity. As an artist, Hemingway expresses an alternative masculinity that on the surface seems diametrically opposed to that which he publicly embraced, but both paradigms of masculinity (and others, including gay models) now have a more recognized validity despite a century-long tyranny imposed by the Victorians. Hemingway's embodiment of diverse models of masculinity may be his greatest legacy.
Traditionally, when critics comment on masochism in Hemingway they generally do so idiomatically, without touching on the sexual implications, by referring to the many physical wounds his characters suffer. Yet the wounded heroes exhibit a non-genital sexuality and occasionally submit to passive sodomy. Their general physical and psychological submission to women who alternately punish, humiliate, and nurture these suffering men, sufficiently demonstrates masochism. …