25 March 2008

So what do you do all that time?*

Begin With Finn As The Water Rises

The assertion that ”Robert seems to get all his ideas from books” that H.R. Stoneback makes in his discussion on [1] “life all the way up” on page 25 of Reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises conjures immediate and appropriate associations to Tom Sawyer in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the book Hemingway famously went on record as calling the “best book we’ve had,” the one from which “all American writing comes from” and which “there has been nothing as good since” (Green Hills of Africa). If Huck Finn lives “life all the way up,” sharing real friendship and having real adventures not just for the sake of having adventures, making a pilgrimage on what Eliot, in his essay on the novel, called the River God, he may be seen as a parallel character to Jake, where Robert is the parallel character to Tom, the character who does not how to grow up and recognize the seriousness of a situation when necessary. Huck accuses Tom of getting all his ideas—especially his ideas of adventure—from books. As Huck matures and Tom stays the same, he wearies of Tom’s artificial sense of adventure.
Eliot’s notion of the River God seems particularly important in light of what Stoneback discusses as some of the major motifs and themes of The Sun Also Rises, particularly pilgrimage, which is invaluably discussed as part of the annotations for all of the suggested places of travel Jake raises at l’Avenue’s (or Lavenue) with Robert and Frances. Eliot says of Twain’s novel, “A river, a very big and powerful river, is the only natural force that can wholly determine the course of human peregrination” (classiclit.com). Water and peregrination meet most meaningfully at [2] Saint Odile, or, more correctly, “mont Sainte-Odile” (Stoneback 15). The springs of this holy site are believed to cure blindness. Blindness, spiritual and physical, is one of literature’s oldest and most valued tropes. As Eliot’s The Waste Land pervades The Sun Also Rises (Stoneback 57), it should come as no surprise that Teiresias stands as a spectre behind this work. The description of “the standard iconographic representation of Saint Odile” is particularly useful; she is typically shown “holding an open book, with the open pages turned outward, facing the viewer: one large piercing eye gazes from each open page” (Stoneback 17).
Other place references are just as useful, simultaneously providing deep background knowledge of place names that otherwise would have gone by, only leaving the faint lingering air of European worldliness, and keying us into the novel’s deepest concerns, themes, and tropes. [3] Bruges as a pilgrimage destination containing sacred blood and [4] Ardennes as the location of Saint Hubert’s vision of the great stag, where he heard the injunction ring out, “‘Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell’” (Stoneback 18), provide rich insight into the novel’s concerns with “blood ritual” (18) and the debauchery and squander of “the lost generation.”
As profoundly illuminating as these annotation-explication hybrids are, the close reading hints, such as the [5] married by and [6] she led him notes, concisely cue us into the establishment of character through subtle uses of syntax and diction. In Robert Cohn’s case, this involves using passive voice to reveal that Robert is a passive man, one who does not take control of his life, an anti-exemplary trait (Stoneback 12, 19). Such uxuriousness as he displays near Frances—as in the highly revealing scene where he [7] kicks Jake underneath the table twice because Jake mentions there being a girl he knows in Strasbourg who could show them around, a classic Hemingway moment of “rendered action […] reveal[ing] character” (Stoneback 17)—places Cohn in a host of other such Hemingway characters as Dr. Adams and Francis Macomber.
As the code of the Hemingway hero is one of the first theories a student learns when introduced to Hemingway’s works, Stoneback’s more nuanced discussions of this alive, dymamic entity are of particular interest. (I had a wonderful American literature teacher in high school, who first introduced me to Ernest Hemingway via A Farewel to Arms. While she sparked passion for almost every single other classic American author, her clunky, didactic presentations on the iceberg theory and the code of the Hemingway hero especially left me utterly cold; I did not like Ernest Hemingway until *SPOILER* Catherine Barkley died and Frederic Henry walked alone in the rain, in the dark on the final page,*SPOILER OVER* Blur's "Caramel" ringing in my ears, and even then, it was more a shocked, raw ambivalence and amazement than a warm liking.) The entry on [8] graceful exits points out that “codified behavior doesn’t work with Robert because he doesn’t get the code” (Stoneback 25), an observation that is as simple as it is profound.
While a comment such as the one on [9] dirt does not place one in touch with one of the novel’s major veins, it is the kind of exciting 'trivial' fact that both inspires a love for the Oxford English Dictionary and an excitement about Hemingway’s work; it attests to his pioneering, modern spirit. Though a book such as The Sun Also Rises or In Our Time is nearly a century old now, it can still seem fresh and relevant. The word’s appearance in Chapter 2 is the first recorded occurrence of “dirt” meaning “gossip” in the English language (Stoneback 23).

18: 23 British East Africa to shoot: The part of Africa containing a presence of British Imperialist Forces at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, British East Africa had excellent hunting. In his1909 book on the subject, Hunting in British East Africa, Percy C. Madeira states that “Big game hunting in British East Africa is undoubtedly unequalled in any part of the world, and for the sportsman who is fond of a rifle it is a paradise” (7). Madeira’s book is full of stories of his own conquests and adventures in what he considers the greatest hunting terrain of the world. If Jake truly wanted to convince the fantasy-oriented, book-inspired Robert to go to British East Africa to shoot, he should have recommended the book Havash!, a memoir of hunting and adventure by Brevet-Major W. Lloyd-Jones, D.S.O. that was first published in 1925. On the opening pages of the book, the author complains of the monotony of being an English officer at home and recalls advice from a fellow officer in 1908 when he had spoke of wanting to go to India. “‘Go to Africa, my boy,’” the officer had said. “‘India is settled and civilised. Africa is still in the making, and there you will get all the adventure you want’” (Lloyd-Jones 18). Lion, jaguar, oryx, hartebeest, wildebeest, warthogs, hyaenas, rhinoceros, and buffalo—the sport that transforms Francis Macomber later in Hemingway’s canon—were all available for the shooting there in the early twentieth century, and the author gives detail of his conquests. Lloyd-Jones gives a vivid description of an encounter with a rhino on pages 103-105. After a couple of his shots have brought down a rhino without killing it, the following “adventure” is described:

[The rhino] tumbled to his knees, and I was about to approach to give the coup de gråce, when Tekla Silas touched my elbow and said:
“Shoot again quickly, he may charge yet.”
It was well to do so, for as I raised my rifle to fire the stricken beast struggled to his knees and made a gallant effort to charge home. This time he went down for good, but he had stopped four well-placed heavy bullets, any of which should have been fatal. The Maraquet hunters now appeared and wished to begin on the meat, but first my orderlies cut off the horn and some strips of hide to be used for the making of whips. There followed a horrible orgy. The Maraquet gathered around and, cutting into the body, ate the flesh raw. My last view of the scene was of a small boy dripping with blood right inside the carcass hacking away with a sword to obtain, I suppose, some particulalry tasty portion. The hide is extraordinarily thick and tough. Though my expensive Sheffield steel hunting knife made little impression, the hide seemed to yield to the soft native-made spears and swords (104-105).

Madeira tells a similar story of when he shot a hippopotamus, which by contrast, was easy and dull. “I cannot describe the condition into which the men got while they were securing the meat, of which they are very fond. Some of them actually crawled inside the animal’s stomach, and all were covered with blood from head to foot” (105).
Adventure, indeed. (Would it be too forced a reading to draw an analogy between the way the men crawl inside the body and skin of their prey, the subject of their work, and the way Hemingway as writer crawls completely inside the body and skin of his protagonists, the subject of his work? Maybe, but the idea is nonetheless compelling.) While it would be difficult to make a convincing connection between these bloody passages from sensationalistic memoirs and the “blood ritual” that is such an important part of the novel, their presence is certainly part of the iceberg.
It seems that accounts of big game hunting and strange sights seen were popular at the turn of the century. There are several first editions of these books in the SUNY New Paltz Library alone. One, Five Months’ Sport in Somali Land, by Lord Wolverton, contains a grand fold-out map showing the portion of East Africa to the west and south of the Gulf of Aden, including all of Somali and some of Abyssinia, where Havash! takes place. In the southwest corner of the map, a little over 200 miles in from the coast of the Indian Ocean is Mount Kilimanjaro, the site (sight) of ultimate pilgrimage for a later Hemingway character, the place where his soul ascends to heaven. At the risk of anachronism, Jake is referencing a place of a different kind of pilgrimage than the Saints’ locations throughout Europe when he suggests British East Africa to Robert. It should appeal to Cohn the reader of adventure and romance in foreign lands, yearning for a non-European, non-American experience, because of its many ephemeral books, but it is also a place of importance to the soul, where death can be confronted and life lived all the way up. As Stoneback rightly points out, though, they don’t need to go to Mt. Kilimanjaro or Abyssinia to do this; Paris is a fine place and, as Emerson says, “the soul is no traveller,”

Travelling is a fool’s paradise. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern Fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces, I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant is with me wherever I go” (46).

Wherever one watches as the sun rises, one’s problems, one’s sadness, and for some, one’s narcissism are all still present. It is in this reading (11:26-32 Listen, Robert) of Robert’s travel lust that Stoneback dismisses Huck Finn as another failed American traveller, “lighting out for the territory” (26). Whether Huckleberry Finn is living life "all the way up" in his bildungsroman adventures or whether he is futilely seeking escape from his problems in the American tradition of pioneering and hitting the road (or the river in his case) is the subject of another literary argument entirely.

Works Cited

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Volume II: Essays: First Series. Introduction and notes by Joseph Slater. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard
University Press, 1979.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 1926, 1954.

Lloyd-Jones, Brevet-Major W. Havash!. London: Arrowsmith, 1925.

Madeira, Percy C. Hunting in British East Africa. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1909.

Stoneback, H.R. Reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: Glossary and Commentary. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2007

Wolverton, Lord. Five Months’ Sport in Somali Land. London: Chapman & Hall,

*When not in aggravating meetings.

2 Days work. Copyright 2008 Kevin Larkin Angioli