The Expatriate Idyll
The Expatriate Idyll
The Sun Also Rises
Abstract and Keywords
A critique of American expatriates, mostly veterans of World War I, who turn Europe into a vast American playground. The alleged justification of their behaviour is their traumatic experiences of the Great War which has been over for ten years at the start of the novel. Robert Cohn’s character contrasts with that of his fellow expatriates and sheds light on their affections and sterility. He also represents the condition of post-war literature, severely tried by the realities of the war, but slowly re-establishing its strength and ability to comment meaningfully on the contemporary world.
It was in Paris … that Hemingway … staked out his theme … the old Jamesian theme of the American abroad.
Paris is the Mecca of the bluffers and fakers in every line of endeavor from music to prize fighting.
(Hemingway, cited in James Mellow, Hemingway, 162)
Cohn is potentially more interesting than we are likely to judge him.
Georges Duhamel (1884–1966) is largely forgotten today. Yet in the interwar period he was quite well known in his native France, winning the Prix Goncourt for Civilisation (1918) and eventually being elected to the Académie française. Civilisation is a fictionalization of Duhamel’s experiences as a field doctor during World War I; it consists of a series of vignettes that describe French soldiers in their heroism, misery, and fear. In no case is the poilu’s behavior, be it strong or weak, subject to second-guessing or scorn. Civilisation describes the various reactions of decent, ordinary men to a level of chaos and destruction the world had never witnessed, “ces Français dont le monde connaît trop mal et la grandeur d’âme, et l’indomptable intelligence et la touchante naïveté” (9). Their lives at the front had marked (p.99) them psychologically – “Leurs voix étaient celles de jeunes hommes, leur experience militaire celle de vieillards” (8) – while their wounds had left permanent physical scars that were sometimes the subject of macabre humor. To be assigned a bed in “La chambre de Revaud,” it was required to have “des choses curieuses extraordinaires, un petit boyau crevé, … ou la moelle épinière déboitée, ou encore un de ces cas ‘que le crâne est embouti ou que l’urine ne sort plus là où elle sortait avant c’te guerre’” (12–13; emphasis original). And, just as with Jake Barnes, the hero of The Sun Also Rises, there was a young soldier “que la mitraille l’avait cruellement frappé dans la virilité” (38).
World War I was first and foremost a shock – to the moral, political, and aesthetic values of those who participated.1 The initial jolt resulted from people just not expecting the war to be much different from its predecessors; many anticipated a brief, gentlemanly encounter where civilized Europe would be sure to put the upstart Huns in their place.2 But the Great War was simply not like the conflicts which preceded it. This war was international; for the first time, the United States moved outside of its isolationist enclave and onto a much larger stage. It was bigger, noisier, longer, more chaotic, and deadlier than any bloodletting in history. Paul Fussel once observed, “Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected” (7). If this is indeed the case, then the irony of World War I was very great and cruel.
The title of Robert Graves’s autobiographical Good-Bye to All That (1929) effectively conveys what the war turned out to be and how it affected the generation of 1914 as well as those who would follow. The young Graves marched enthusiastically off to battle, as if he were to engage in the greatest cricket match of his life,3 only to discover a reality he never dreamed possible. After the initial advances and retreats, both sides settled into a prolonged struggle featuring bloody encounters and often indecisive skirmishes, where one side or the other would emerge from trenches to gain or lose a little slice of ugly terrain. At the Battle of the Somme, Graves was so severely wounded that he was presumed dead, and his family was so informed. By the war’s end, he was radically different from the naïve young man who had believed he was off to France on a lark. Despite his subsequent literary successes, Graves remained permanently alienated from the complacent middle-class values he almost died defending and lived most of the rest of his life in a self-imposed exile from England.
Civilisation was published in 1918, in the immediate aftermath of the war, when the memories of the conflict were still vivid and the overt signs (p.100) of its physical consequence on bodies and the environment everywhere apparent. It is not a sophisticated literary work, nor is it particularly modern; the reliance on anecdotes that are never really woven together gives the book the feel of a very old-fashioned narrative, a series of vignettes related only by the common experience of war. Nevertheless, if it remains moving today, it is certainly because of the vivid descriptions of what these young men endured without really understanding what they were fighting for beyond the defense of some glorified notion of la France éternelle. Yet in Civilisation there is a strong sense that those who survived would struggle to put their lives and what was left of their bodies back together and attempt to reintegrate themselves into society.4
Civilisation describes the Great War in its immediacy; it details what French soldiers felt while they were recuperating from wounds as the war continued to rage. The Sun Also Rises is a very different work. It takes place in the postwar period and concentrates on a circle of individuals who seem to have discovered the secret of prolonged adolescence. Set in 1925, it deals with Anglophone (primarily American) expatriates who have chosen for the most part to live and carouse in Paris, with an occasional foray into another European country. This is a highly crafted novel replete with literary and religious allusions, a narrator bearing a horrendous war wound, a beginning that seems abrupt, and an ending which at first does not appear to be one. Gertrude Stein dubbed people like the characters in The Sun Also Rises “the Lost Generation,” a formulation Hemingway accorded a certain importance by using it as one of the epigraphs to his novel, along with a citation from Ecclesiastes.
If the notion of a “lost generation” adrift in one of the most beautiful cities in the world has had an appeal to successive generations of young people, most critics have tended to view Jake Barnes’s entourage, and even Jake himself, with a more jaundiced eye.5 For Michael Reynolds, the so-called lost generation was “never really lost … It was a generation which drank more than it should have because it was illegal to drink in the U.S. during Prohibition” (1). David Daiches questions just how lost Hemingway’s characters are: “It is not … that his characters do not know where they are going, but they do not go anywhere with the proper intensity or vitality. They seek to give a semblance of intensity to their living, through drink, travel, or by watching the intense life of others” (179). In “Death of Love in The Sun Also Rises,” Mark Spilka contends that Jake Barnes “has always been an emotional adolescent” (42).
(p.101) Of all the critics who keep their distance from the lost generation, the most psychologically probing has been the novelist James Farrell, who sees Hemingway’s characters essentially as immature poseurs, people who adopt an air of alienation allegedly based on some traumatic experiences but who, eight years after the armistice, have turned putative psychological damage into something of a fashion statement, a style of behavior wherein a disabused image possesses a certain social cachet:
Disillusionment with the war was more or less accepted [in The Sun Also Rises] … [as] a re-examination of the character of disillusionment [in the novel] … suggests. This mood had become a way of feeling and acting; in fact, a social habit … characters express their bitterness, their feelings of disenchantment, with calculated bravado … They act like people who have not fully grown up and who lack the self-awareness to realize this; in fact, they possess no desire to grow up. (3)6
H.R. Stoneback provides an apt summary of this influential strain of critical opinion that often stands in contrast with more fanciful readings of The Sun Also Rises:
It has not always been obvious to readers and commentators that Hemingway does not present Gertrude Stein’s “lost generation” proclamation as a slogan to be endorsed, but as fatuous grandiloquence to be undercut, not only by the wisdom reflected in the second paragraph, from Ecclesiastes, but also by the action and design of the novel. (4)
Jake and his entourage represent the disenchanted postwar generation in Paris during the 1920s. His immediate circle consists of two English people, Lady Brett Ashley and Mike Campbell, and a fellow American journalist and author, Bill Gorton. They have all been touched by World War I: the men directly as combatants and Brett indirectly. She lost her first love to the dysentery associated with the unsanitary conditions at the front and then was further scarred by an abusive relationship with another man. This group projects an air of disillusionment and alienation reflected most strikingly in their tendency to avoid the expression of strong emotions, except at sporting events such as in the bullfighting scenes, or (p.102) when dealing with one of their fellow expatriates, Robert Cohn, whom they mostly dislike. They delight in heavy drinking and other prototypical manly activities (fishing, boxing, bullfighting); they display a slight scorn for American tourists in Europe, and show little interest in returning to their homeland. While there can be no doubt that the war and its memories play a role in their behavior, with the passage of time this alienation has found its social expression in a form of affectation: a blasé, detached stance toward the world around them, and often to each other. The alienation of Jake and his entourage has become largely a pose, a calculated posturing which allows these expatriates to exploit their environment and the local inhabitants without having to assume any responsibility for their personal behavior.
Robert Cohn is something of an exception. He lingers on the periphery of the group, at times projecting a certain nobility and at others exemplifying his erstwhile friends’ loutish behavior. Yet he is in some striking ways different from them. These differences feed their dislike for him but also make him a very important character in the novel.
The most salient features of Robert Cohn are that he is Jewish, a father, whiney, and usually sober. For Jake’s entourage, these are just the beginnings of the problems they have with him. Cohn is a Jew in an ostensibly Christian environment, a parent in the company of the childless, a bundle of insecure energy in an atmosphere of cool detachment where an air of slight boredom is the norm, a man given to unmanly crying jags. Cohn is someone who drinks sparingly yet with melodramatic consequences; a man who has a fancy Ivy League education but finds himself in a milieu that appears to place a higher value on “street smarts.” He is a published novelist with literary ambitions in a world where ambition itself is viewed with suspicion and literature is a fleeting topic of conversation. As if this were not enough to make him marginal, according to Jake he does not even like Paris (48–49). Given all these perceived negatives, Michael Reynolds’s summation of Cohn’s importance seems quite just: “The novel’s initial view of him is so biased that the reader can never take him seriously” (23).
A common assumption among critics and general readers is that Cohn’s marginality is due not simply to his being Jewish, but also his lack of participation in the Great War.7 This lack of combat experience explains for some his lingering adherence to moribund chivalric and romantic attitudes which no longer have a place in the modern world. Mark Spilka makes the case nicely:
(p.103) Cohn’s romanticism explains his key position in the parable. He is the last chivalric hero, the last defender of an outworn faith, and his function is to illustrate its present folly – to show us, through the absurdity of his behavior, that romantic love is dead, that one of the guiding codes of the past no longer operates. (35)
Michael Reynolds reiterates this judgment: “Robert Cohn may still throb to the romantic values of an earlier era, but he has no place in modern times” (38).
Despite the critical tendency to dismiss Cohn, I think his role in The Sun Also Rises is central. Though he is similar to the other expatriates in sharing several of their faults, by virtue of his differences he also exposes their affectations and sterility. More importantly, the chivalric and romantic attitudes which Spilka and others associate with him, coupled with his activities as an author, suggest that that these proclivities in Cohn are not simply outdated personal quirks. These attitudes become allusions to an English literary tradition dating roughly from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. Cohn, by virtue of his ambition, and his personal shortcomings, becomes an embodiment of a literary heritage severely tried by the events of the Great War, one that is weakened but not dead. His foibles and often pathetic behavior are the physical correlative of this fragmented tradition, but his persistence is the persistence of literature itself, which will find a means of reasserting itself as it always has after the latest catastrophe that human beings have managed to inflict upon themselves.8
This is not to say that Cohn will be the great postwar novelist. Nothing suggests that Cohn will be the one to produce a significant work of art; in fact, the novel strongly intimates otherwise. One scene in The Sun Also Rises illustrates his basic weakness as a writer. There is only one mention of classical Greek literature in the text: Cohn’s reference to Brett as Circe, the demi-goddess able to turn men into pigs with a stroke of her magic wand: “He calls her Circe … He claims she turns men into swine” (148). Over time Circe became the image of women who were able to expose in men their swinish, sexually driven nature, and this is what Cohn’s words suggest. The trouble with this learned allusion is that it does not really make sense in the context of the novel. Whatever Brett’s faults, her insecurities, her willfulness, and her constant fluctuations with Jake hardly make her the equal of the much more clearly focused Circe. The classical reference thus (p.104) functions to illustrate Cohn’s tendency to respond to contemporary reality in a melodramatic fashion, using what in this context is an exaggerated literary allusion. The only artistic value in comparing Circe and Brett is to underscore the difference between the two.9 We know next to nothing about Brett’s sexual partners before the story begins. The novel reports that she has slept with three men. Mike is perpetually pickled and usually nasty; he needs nobody’s encouragement to behave like a pig.10 Neither before nor after his time with Brett is Pedro Romero anything like a swine, and the same can be said for Robert Cohn. The Circe reference highlights Cohn’s tendency to lose self-control and indulge in hyperbole, an emotional and artistic weakness that could adversely affect his literary sensibility and hamper his ability to complete a great work of art. What he will produce is the sort of literature he has already authored: second- or third-rate novels. Yet his very mediocrity speaks to his important role in Hemingway’s text; he will not be the great artist of the future for reasons of personal talent. However, his incapacity to create at a high level also reflects his function as the representative of an enfeebled, out of date literary tradition, too mired in the past to properly confront the present. In his person and his production, Robert Cohn incorporates the tattered condition of English literature, as well as the difficulty inherent in creating a truly modern art in the aftermath of the war.
What matters in The Sun Also Rises is not Cohn’s talent, but that he has the courage to attempt to live in the world and write serious fiction. His activities demonstrate that war or no war, trauma or no trauma, the effort to create fiction continues, despite periodic assertions that, for one reason or another, literature is no longer possible. World War I traumatized the human psyche with the use of weaponry the world had never seen (tanks, airplanes, bigger and longer-range cannons, poison gas), just as World War II would shake confidence in revered Enlightenment values through the introduction of industrialized genocide, terror bombing, and the deployment of atomic bombs. In the aftermath of these catastrophes, literature was initially under great duress, but would eventually reassert its strength. Yet the task would not be easy. In The Sun Also Rises, Robert Cohn is the pathetic symbol of the slow, failure-laden effort to renew literature after the war. His personal weaknesses and artistic limitations stand as illustrations of the extent to which confidence in the ability to articulate the postwar condition has eroded, but his dogged persistence speaks to the fact that while the fictional enterprise can be severely tried by historic (p.105) events, the desire to create a literature willing to confront the contemporary situation has never really disappeared.
Robert Cohn’s tumultuous relations with the other expatriates also has literary implications. His vitality not only contrasts with the lethargy of those around him, but it also represents in a different way literature’s latent strength and potential to renew itself despite the pressures weighing upon it. His differences from them, essentially his activity contrasted with their passivity, suggest attributes needed for artistic creation. At one point during the fiesta Jake remarks that “Brett saw how something that was beautiful done close to the bull was ridiculous if it were done a little way off” (171). To tinker with this description and apply it to Cohn, one could say that from a certain distance his comportment can readily appear overwrought and even silly, yet more closely observed, particularly in contrast with his friends’ behavior, it proves quite significant in the novel.
This is most apparent in Cohn’s willingness to try to express emotion and to acknowledge the intensity of his feelings. Despite his excesses in this area, he sincerely wants a deeper friendship with Jake, who does not respond to his overtures. He cries after fighting with Jake and Romero and after being rejected by Brett. If others in Jake’s entourage might have been content with a brief fling with Brett, Cohn wanted her love and was prepared, in a knightly fashion, “to do battle for his lady love” (182). The expatriates greet his outsized expressions of anger, love, and remorse with somewhat amused disdain; for them, Cohn is the embodiment of all that is unacceptable and unmanly.11 Yet, if the relationship between Jake and Brett were to be taken at all seriously, and Brett be considered something other than an allumeuse, they too would want love, passion, and a life together. This is what they imply in their conversations, albeit in a deliberately distanced language. Jake’s “Isn’t it pretty to think so” (250), the final sentence in the novel, and a response to Brett’s imagining of the life they might have had together, cloaks a sense of failure and futility in an ironic and blasé phrase.
The strength of Jake’s feelings for Brett, along with his frustration at not being able to act on them, emerge early in the novel. When Brett makes an unexpected appearance at a bal musette in the company of two homosexuals, Jake gets angry at the presence of the gay men, who will serve a variety of functions in the novel. He stalks out of the bar and goes to another one where the beer and cognac he drinks fail to calm him down. While Jake’s comportment might simply be explained as a (p.106) manifestation of homophobia, it could also be a displaced reaction to the unanticipated apparition of the woman he loves but can never have. Cohn is an often embarrassing personification of the feelings they can neither fully articulate or act upon. In Cohn’s very excess he nevertheless demonstrates that the desire for warmth, tenderness, and love, however unfashionable these emotions have become among the expatriates, very much continues to exist.
The oft-repeated cause of the alienation of Jake and his companions is the trauma of World War I. While there is obviously no time limit on the duration of mental and physical suffering, when the novel begins the war has been over for about eight years, and for most people life has moved on. Jake’s wound will, of course, never disappear since it remains part of him wherever he goes, but as James Farrell observes, “Jake Barnes … has more or less reconciled himself to his condition” (4). The rest of the bunch, including Brett, seem rather comfortable in their putative estrangement. They eat and drink well, essentially spend their time moving from one diversion to another, are perfectly integrated in their little world, and exhibit an indifference to the customs of those around them. They display no anxiety concerning the possibility of not belonging. Their disenchantment appears to be a feeling they can flaunt or forget at will.
This is not the case with Robert Cohn. As a Jew, he is the perennial outsider, destined by his ethnicity to linger at the edge of any social group other than one made up of his own people. If combatants in World War I were victimized by the complex political machinations12 that led to the war, and then by the war itself, this condition was nonetheless temporary. Those veterans lucky enough to survive at least had the possibility of being honored as war heroes and finding a comfortable niche in society. As a Jew, Cohn is forever the potential victim of events in which he plays a minor role or no role at all. If he is to some degree always alienated from society, it is not his choice. It is a visceral part of his identity. He may not have fought in the Great War on behalf of glorious, if half-articulated, ideals, but he has fought for a very practical goal: to preserve his dignity and freedom at Princeton University from well-educated racists.
It cannot be chance that Hemingway made Cohn a Princeton graduate: “Edward Slosson’s 1910 volume, Great American Universities, reported that anti-Semitism was ‘more dominant at Princeton than at any other ‘major’ university he studied. It was commonly said that ‘if the Jews once get in,’ they would ‘ruin Princeton as they have Columbia and Pennsylvania’” (p.107) (Stoneback 9). In the midst of a high-quality education Cohn discovered the reality of anti-Semitism, which he opposed in the ring with success. Yet his victory was temporary. Participants in World War I were actively engaged in combat within a delimited timeframe (1914–1918), whereas Cohn’s war, the necessity that at times he must struggle mentally as well as physically, risking psychological and corporal harm, is ongoing since his enemy, racism, knows neither geographical boundaries nor time constraints.
Another aspect of Cohn’s identity that demarcates him from the other is his profession. He is a novelist, a bad one as it happens, yet his occupation stands in marked contrast with Jake’s work as a journalist. While it is unquestionably true that an excellent newspaper article is better than a poor novel, in The Sun Also Rises, the distinction between the two forms reflects the difference between a search for depth and a satisfaction with surface. Ideally, a novel is an effort to delve into the intricacies of its subject, to move beyond immediate appearances, and uncover more complex meanings to the actions depicted. The Sun Also Rises provides a good example of such a novel. Newspapers report daily events, occasionally with great perspicacity, but the nature of journalism is such that the writer is always limited by time and space, as well as by the rapid development of stories being covered. As a result, what characterizes the best newspaper articles is a clear description of what happens along with a recapitulation of the more obvious causes leading up to the event. A brilliant newspaper piece may also provide trenchant insights, but the nature of the genre, and the need to meet deadlines, normally preclude extensive analyses.
In The Sun Also Rises this general contrast between fiction and reporting takes a somewhat more subtle form. Bill Gorton says to Jake, “you claim you want to be a writer … You’re only a newspaperman” (118). This suggests that both Bill and Jake consider writing, presumably fiction, a higher calling, one that Jake is unable to pursue. Of course one could ascribe his writer’s block to wartime experiences, but it could also be the result of laziness, lack of discipline, or immaturity: “Barnes … has always been an emotional adolescent” (Spilka, 42). In a broader sense, Jake’s inability to even begin the novel he aspires to write is the clearest indication that, despite appearances,13 he has a place among the Lost Generation.
Certainly, the possibility of exploring reality in depths not permitted in journalism is not excluded by either Bill or Jake. The postwar novel, great or otherwise, is not deemed impossible, it just hasn’t been written as yet, (p.108) partly because people like Jake are unwilling to make the effort, or others like Cohn lack the requisite talent.
Because Robert Cohn is a Jew who travels quite a bit, it might be tempting to associate him with the legend of the Wandering Jew. This would be quite misleading. The Wandering Jew’s movements have no purpose; they are part of his condemnation for having insulted Christ as he went up Golgotha. Cohn’s travels almost always have a goal. He goes to Spain in pursuit of Brett, just as he came to Paris to write a novel, which he did, but of late he no longer feels at home there. Since his recent success with publishers in New York, he seems more interested in returning to the city that appears to be a Mecca for ambitious Anglophone writers. Bill Gorton, who in addition to being a journalist has also written a play, will leave for New York toward the end of the novel (235). Paris in particular, and Europe in general (Gorton came to Paris from Vienna), do not seem to be sites that favor American creativity, at least among the Lost Generation.
The artistic problem with Paris, a problem Cohn senses, is not the city. Paris in the 1920s was perhaps the cultural center of the world in terms of music, dance, visual arts, and, to a slightly lesser degree, literature. In The Sun Also Rises, the great obstacle for an American writer living in Paris was not the city itself, but the climate of sterility created by the American expatriate community.
Jake’s war wound has rendered him physically impotent but, figuratively speaking, so are the other expatriates in his immediate entourage. They consume food and drink while talking incessantly; with the exception of Bill Gorton, they create nothing. Nor do any of them, except Cohn, have children. In the scene where Jake encounters Brett after an absence, he takes umbrage at the presence of homosexuals at her side. The function of the homosexuals in the novel is open to a variety of not necessarily contradictory interpretations, but in the present context these men add to a climate of sterility. As does the short-haired Brett dressed in male clothing, or for that matter the French prostitute with the dual-gendered name, Georgette, who dances with one of the gay guys and later proclaims, “Everybody’s sick. I’m sick too” (23). Her comment is not in reference to homosexuality but rather a reflection of the general sterility of the postwar era as experienced by the Lost Generation in Paris.
Robert Cohn is once again the exception to this widespread sense of unproductiveness. A father of three and a published novelist whose second book is about to appear, he is productive both physically and artistically. (p.109) He wants to leave Paris to escape the ambiance of jaded lethargy the Americans have created. Whether he goes to New York to improve his career prospects or makes a voyage to South America for undisclosed reasons, an important consideration is to avoid a growing sense that “my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it” (18).
Despite appearances, the Americans in The Sun Also Rises are very much in the tradition of Americans in Paris found in The Custom of the Country. Although Jake and his entourage are very different from the denizens of the hôtel Nouveau Luxe in terms of social class and comportment, their attitude to Europe in general, and Paris in particular, is remarkably similar to what one finds in Wharton’s novel. For both groups, Paris is a carefully demarcated playground, a backdrop for their pleasures, a reassurance of their sophistication, but certainly not a location for hard work or literary creation. In Wharton’s novel, this “imaginary Paris” extended from the Place Vendôme, across the Opéra to the grands boulevards, whereas the “Paris” of The Sun Also Rises is essentially the Latin Quarter and Montparnasse on the Left Bank. In both novels, the role for the native population is severely limited. Except for nameless waiters, a concierge, and a prostitute, there are even fewer French people in The Sun Also Rises than in The Custom of the Country, and unlike the Wharton novel, there is not a single French character of any significance in Hemingway’s text. In general, Hemingway’s expatriates exhibit an impressive indifference to the people in whose country they find themselves. The best example of this arrogance is provided by Robert Cohn. At one point in Spain, Cohn wonders, “Where are the foreigners?” (158). Bill has to remind him: “We’re the foreigners” (158).
Cohn’s comment is as instructive as it is stupid. As discussed in the Wharton chapter, Undine Spragg’s Paris did not really exist. It was a creation of American wealth and power, an alternate universe with fixed geographical boundaries where the rich could frolic without concern for the country they were nominally living in or for the sensibilities of the locals. The reality of Paris, the existence of actual French people, was of little interest to them. Hemingway’s Americans do not have the financial resources of Undine Spragg and her crowd, but they have enough money. They can enjoy Paris and Spain without taking either place particularly seriously, except as sources of amusement and diversion. Geographical locations provide a vaguely exotic setting for the bubble in which they float through Europe. All that matters to them is themselves, the satisfaction of their needs and an enhancement of their sense of being, in some (p.110) unexplained way, cosmopolitan. Cohn’s crass observation about foreigners provides an accurate example of a certain expatriate mentality.
Language skills are also an issue in both novels. The ability to communicate in a foreign language does appear more widespread among the expatriates in The Sun Also Rises than it does in The Custom of the Country. While there is the lady who “in the excitement of talking French was liable to have no idea what she was saying” (26), Jake can express himself in French and Spanish, Brett studied in Paris (248) so she must know the language, and the perpetually intoxicated Mike can speak Spanish. There is little indication about the linguistic abilities of Cohn and Bill Gorton. Perhaps the foreign language speakers in the group have only a functional level of communication, or perhaps they are quite fluent, yet clearly for them a knowledge of languages is not viewed as an inroad to a new culture or a tool which would allow them to discuss serious issues with the French or the Spanish. Whatever level of fluency they possess, they use their skills merely to facilitate dealing with the practical necessities of their daily lives, and, in any case, concerning serious matters, they expect a response in English from the locals.
In terms of the Franco-American paradigm, once again there are similarities between the Wharton and the Hemingway novels. First of all is the reversal of the initial dichotomy. In The Sun Also Rises, as in The Custom of the Country, American naivety has become American cynicism, and naivety, at least initially, has become a foreign affair. If in The American the images of the Other were unstable, subject to constant change, in both of these novels the foreign disillusionment with Americans, if slow in coming, has a permanence about it. The American vision of Europeans in The Sun Also Rises does retain an unstable element, but only because the expatriates think so little of and about these people. Rather than consider the French and Spanish as individuals with their own thoughts and feelings, they view them as facilitators who add local color and, by doing so, burnish the expatriates’ prestige. Georgette, with her disabused manner and decaying teeth (see note 17), appears to be more of a decoration than an object of sexual desire. For the expatriates she illustrates how cool and unconventional they are. In Spain, Montoya goes from liking the Americans to just wanting them out of his inn. This radical change has no effect on the expatriates, perhaps because they are indifferent, or perhaps because they never took him seriously in the first place. As in The Custom of the Country, Europeans in Hemingway’s book are either servants or props.
(p.111) In “Hemingway and Europe” John Aldridge observes that Hemingway’s characters “have little to do with Europe” (in Claridge, 9), and maintains that “one finds in his books very little portraiture of Europe and Europeans” (8). This is certainly true in The Sun Also Rises. Europe provides fun and games at low prices; it is a continent where the principal expatriate activity is to take. To the extent that Hemingway writes about “Americans in Paris” in this novel, the emphasis is clearly on “Americans.”
Cohn’s wondering aloud about life passing him by leads Jake to scoff at his anxiety, but he is perhaps not as different from Cohn as he thinks. When Brett asks him why he brought Georgette to the bal musette, he succinctly replies that he was “bored” (31). Boredom is the experience of being helpless before the passage of time, the inability to find something that will engage the mind, body, or both. It is the passive acceptance of life’s inexorable, purposeless movement that is precisely what Cohn fears, and which he seeks to defy through writing. Jake’s boredom is emblematic of his entourage. While the expatriates ply their bodies with food and drink, the constant drunkenness suggests that this activity is as much an escape as it is a supposed pleasure. They drink to excess because they do not know what to do with themselves. Jake at least has the merit of being able to state the issue clearly (boredom), but then he does little about it, and his inertia contrasts with the often-frenetic activity of Cohn. Although Cohn is usually the butt of sarcasm and laughter, he represents an effort to live his life as fully as he can. Yet, he is affected by the ambiance provided by the American community in Paris. If his self-confidence increased while he was in New York, it begins to desert him in Paris (52): “I’m sick of Paris and I’m sick of the Quarter” (19). His desire to leave the city is based on a healthy instinct to escape from an omnipresent malaise, which could ultimately hinder his artistic creativity. The problem, of course, is not Paris but the milieu he frequents there.
The boredom of the expatriates begs the question of why they choose to continue living in Paris. The most obvious explanation is that in the aftermath of World War I the dollar was indeed almighty, alcohol was relatively cheap, and Prohibition had made drinking in the States very expensive and somewhat dangerous. The expatriates stay away from the United States for what appear to be adolescent reasons. Life is so much more carefree and easier for them in Europe. They are in no sense dissidents; indeed, they do not seem to have serious issues with the United States. In fact, regarding American values, the expatriates demonstrate an adherence to some of the worst attitudes prevalent in their native country.
(p.112) These Americans living so far from their homeland display racist attitudes all too typical of mainstream America in the 1920s. Robert Cohn is first of all a “kike” who, according to Jake, “had a hard, Jewish, stubborn streak” (18), a judgment reiterated in a variety of ways throughout the novel by the other expatriates. When Bill Gorton was in Vienna he befriended a black boxer, a “wonderful nigger” (77). From Bill’s perspective there is nothing particularly pejorative in the language he uses; he does not think his words are potentially insulting to people of color, but then he never seems to wonder why the black fighter has chosen to live in Cologne with his wife and family rather than return to his homeland (77). Closely related to racism in the novel is homophobia. Jake is annoyed and angered by Brett’s arrival with two gay men, and Bill, in attempting to express his friendship to Jake admits that he could not say as much in New York because “It’d mean I was a faggot” (121). Bill’s comment is to a degree ironic, since it precedes some silly references to homosexuals, “Abraham Lincoln was a faggot. He was in love with General Grant. So was Jefferson Davis” (121). Nevertheless, his words reflect a dismissive, condescending view of homosexuals.
One might consider these racist and sexist remarks typical of the era and suggest that bringing attention to them is simply an example of contemporary political correctness. Yet these sorts of comments are made by people supposedly more sophisticated than the folks back home. They suggest that if expatriates are people who have chosen to stay abroad, this decision has almost nothing to do with an effort to think differently, to re-examine their values, and perhaps profit from new perspectives which may be available in Europe. In fact, they are little more than ordinary Americans who, for reasons initially beyond their control (the war), experienced a dramatic change in their geographical location. Rather than the new surroundings leading to different, conceivably broader perspectives, the expatriates have carried some of the least enlightened ideas of American society with them to Europe. The influence of Paris and Europe, along with the exposure to foreign cultures and peoples, has done nothing to alter their mindsets. They are as oblivious to the new viewpoints Europe might offer as they are content to exemplify some of the more unsavory aspects of American culture.
This can also be seen in their avoidance of contact with the local population and their tendency to stay together as a group. After World War I the United States tried, initially with some success, to return to (p.113) an isolationist stance, making immigration harder, rejecting adhesion to the League of Nations, and generally attempting to maintain a distance from Europe and its potentially nefarious influences. In a parodic form the expatriates do the same thing. They live in the midst of Europe but in an American, or at least Anglophone, enclave and, for the most part, demonstrate little haste or enthusiasm about admitting foreigners into their circle.
Finally, if the expatriates affect a somewhat free-spirited, bohemian air, it is because most of them have a source of income that comes from home. Jake and Bill are working journalists who are financially independent, but Cohn receives money from his wealthy mother in New York. Mike has managed to lose a fortune, but he too receives money from his family, and Brett has some sort of inheritance. Their existence on the fringes of European society is only possible because of the good will of people whose values and lifestyles they would most probably deride. From this perspective, Philip Young’s contention that “In Hemingway’s waste land, there is no hope” (cited in Knodt, 111) seems excessive. The expatriates do not inhabit a waste land, nor are they without hope, despite Brett’s occasional declaration that she is miserable (70); they move from one café or one country to another more anxious about the liquor supply at the next watering hole than the human condition. This group is essentially unaware of its social environment while perpetually in pursuit of the next diversion. When the dollar collapses in 1929, and they can no longer continue to live as they have, they will most certainly not despair. They will catch the next boat home and return to the land that in many respects they have never left.
Unlike Georges Duhamel’s straightforward narrative in Civilisation, The Sun Also Rises is a much more consciously literary work. An aspect of its complexity emerges in the frequent recourse to religious, historical, and literary allusions. Among the most significant are references to the Western Judeo-Christian tradition (Jacob and the Angel, pilgrimages to St. James of Compostela and Lourdes), to historical personages and events (Marshall Ney, the Battle of Roncevaux in 778), and to literature (Roland, Oliver, from The Song of Roland).
T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) employs a literary technique that Hemingway occasionally echoes in The Sun Also Rises. It involves using cultural and religious allusions drawn from the past, not to show similarities with their contemporary avatars, but to underscore the vast difference (p.114) between the heroic prototype and its current exemplar. In Eliot’s poem, the clerk with carbuncles is not even a remote equivalent of Anthony, Tristan, or the Earl of Leicester, but he is the representative of modern lovemaking in its most degraded form. An example, albeit less extreme, of this usage in The Sun Also Rises would be the juxtaposition of Jake Barnes with the Jacob who appears in the Hebrew Bible.
The Book of Genesis recounts Jacob’s heroic struggle with a representative of God, usually considered an angel. They battle to a draw but, impressed by Jacob’s strength, courage, and endurance, the mysterious stranger changes his adversary’s name to “Israel,” meaning “he who struggles with God.” In The Sun Also Rises, to the extent that there is an implicit comparison between Jacob and Jake Barnes, it is not very flattering to the latter. Jacob fought with confidence in God and with the firm belief that his effort was part of a divine plan. While he is injured in the thigh, he emerges from the battle with his sexual organs and faith intact; he will produce numerous progeny. We can assume that Jake too fought bravely, but his wound has rendered him impotent and left his trust in God shaken, if not destroyed. This is reflected quite clearly on his occasional visits to churches, where he proves disinterested in wrestling with God. In one instance, an attempt to pray for himself made him sleepy, so instead he “prayed that the bull-fights would be good … that it would be a fine fiesta, and that we would get some fishing” (103). To the extent that prayer has any significance for him, it resides in its potential to ensure diversions.14
In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway does not often juxtapose to stress dichotomies. Usually, he parallels the past and the present for different purposes. If, for Eliot, the past weighs heavily on the denizens of the present, the past is at best a discrete presence in Hemingway’s novel. The expatriates are either largely unaware of the potentially larger historical contexts surrounding their activities or blithely indifferent to them. Theirs is a world of a near-perpetual present with some infrequent nostalgia for the past. They may live encircled by culture, but they show little interest in it. With the occasional exception of Jake, for the expatriates the immediate pleasures Paris and Europe provide are infinitely more attractive than delving into the self or pondering the implications of a distinguished but wounded cultural heritage. If postwar Europe is in many ways a waste land, to think about this would simply be a waste of time for these people.
Hemingway’s cultural and literary allusions underscore the American indifference to their surroundings and what they might learn from (p.115) European culture, which is nominally their cultural heritage as well. Unlike Cohn’s direct comparison of Brett and Circe, Hemingway’s use of allusions is discrete; like the faraway Roncevaux that Jake points out to Bill, the references seem off in the distance, hinting at possible comparisons that the characters in the novel can choose to examine or avoid.
Jake and his friends spend a lot of time in the area of the rue Souffelot and the Panthéon. This is a part of Paris filled with small, winding streets. One of the longest and straightest of them is the rue Saint-Jacques. This street is frequented by Hemingway’s Americans because of the quantity of its cafés. It runs directly to the Tour Saint-Jacques, the only remnant of a thirteenth-century church, Saint-Jacques de la Boucherie. For centuries it was from this religious site that pilgrimages set out on the road to Saint James of Compostela in Spain. The pilgrim’s purposes could be quite varied, but they shared a certain consistency. Some sought miracles, some pursued divine forgiveness, while others undertook the hazardous trip simply to demonstrate and reinforce their religious beliefs. Yet what motivated them all, at least officially, was a faith in God, the certitude that however difficult the present life, trust in divine guidance would guarantee them a passage to a better one. Their lives, as trying as they might have been, made sense and had a purpose.15
For the expatriates, the quartier de Saint-Jacques is just another place to carouse. They demonstrate no metaphysical or spiritual crises in this or any other section of Paris. Nor do they demonstrate any real knowledge of where they are, except to know the names of some of the sites. The rue Saint-Jacques runs by the church of Val-de-Grâce, an edifice built by Anne of Austria to commemorate the birth of her son, the future Louis XIV. Eventually it intersects the boulevard de Port-Royal, the section of Paris that in the seventeenth-century housed a convent that was the center for the Jansenists, a religious faction ostensibly affiliated with the Catholic Church, but strongly influenced by Saint Augustine, and through him by John Calvin. Jansenism attracted some of the most brilliant minds of the era and constituted a serious challenge to Catholic religious practices. This section of Paris is replete with religious echoes; it is a neighborhood once frequented by people like Blaise Pascal and Antoine Arnaud, men obsessed with trying to follow the narrow path to God. These sorts of anxieties are foreign to the Americans. If they set off for Spain from this location, their goals have nothing in common with what motivated the pilgrims on the road to Saint James of Compostela.
(p.116) During an evening stroll, Jake and Bill pass the famous restaurant/café, the Closeries des Lilas and consider the statue of Marshal Ney, one of Napoleon’s greatest and bravest generals. Born in relatively modest circumstances, Ney rallied quickly to the French Revolution as a young man and then to Napoleon, in whose major campaigns he served with distinction. He was wounded on several occasions. When a defeated Napoleon was exiled to Elba, Ney chose to serve the restored monarchy of Louis XVIII. Yet at Napoleon’s return from the island, Ney deserted to the former emperor’s side and remained faithful to Napoleon until the end at Waterloo. Shortly thereafter he was executed as a traitor by the government of the Bourbon king. Jake’s reaction to the statue is “He looked fine. Marshal Ney in his top-boots, gesturing with his sword among the green new horse-chestnut leaves” (37). Jake may well know something about Ney’s story and its possible relevance to himself: idealism, courage, war wound, possible disillusionment at the end of the conflict, but he chooses to make no such connections. His Ney is just a dramatic figure in striking boots.
Shortly after Jake and Bill enter Spain, Jake points out the Roncevaux Pass off on the horizon. This is where a great battle was fought in 778 between the rearguard of Charlemagne’s army, commanded by Roland, who sought to defend the main body of French troops against Basque soldiers. Later in the ninth century this event was transformed into the Song of Roland, and the duplicitous Basques were replaced by wily Saracens. At the center of this chanson de geste were the heroic Roland and his faithful friend Oliver, both of whom fought bravely before going down to superior forces in glorious defeat. Afterwards, Charlemagne returns with his army, engages the Saracens, and wins the battle. The sacrifices of Roland, Oliver, and their soldiers were not in vain. Here again is a possible allusion to the war Jake and Bill experienced, as well as an affirmation of male friendship. Roncevaux is an invitation for the two veterans to see their wartime existence in a broader, more sublime context, one that might suggest that their struggles were ultimately more meaningful than they might have imagined. The sighting of the Roncevaux Pass with its allusions to a great battle and The Song of Roland are references Jake and Bill might well have profited from exploring, but which they prefer to ignore.
“We crossed the Spanish frontier” (98). In The Sun Also Rises, the passage from France to Spain involves more than exchanging one country for another. France is a cityscape represented by Paris, whereas Spain (p.117) is bucolic in its scenery and simple in its village life. France and much of Western Europe are areas ravished by war; they bear the scars of the modern world.16 Spain, however, did not participate directly in the Great War and was untouched by its destructiveness. France, then, is the present and Spain the past. France is jaded and Spain relatively innocent. The Americans’ wanton behavior and indifference to local traditions will contribute to the Spanish loss of innocence and, in the process, nudge Spain in the direction of modernity.
The corruption Jake and his friends bring to Spain is not some sort of philosophical disillusionment with the state of the world. It is much more banal.17 They do in Spain what they have done in France; they exploit the population and its resources in the interest of their own pleasures. When Jake and Bill arrive at the inn in Burguete, Jake initially dickers with the innkeeper over the price of her rooms but eventually agrees to pay what she asks since the wine is included. The two Americans then proceed to drink excessively: “We did not lose money on the wine” (116). Eventually, “The old woman [the innkeeper] looked in once and counted the empty bottles” (116). Jake records this scene and the woman’s reaction but does not draw any conclusions from it.
This pattern of straining the hospitality of their hosts will only accentuate during the duration of their stay in Spain. The Americans arrive, encounter an initial good will, and then slowly wear down the patience of the Spanish with their lack of self-control and obliviousness to the local customs. Montoya initially greets Jake as a friend but, once he sees the expatriates plying young Pedro Romero with cognac the evening before he enters the bull ring, his enthusiasm for the Americans begins to cool. After Romero’s fistfight with Cohn, Montoya loses all respect for his guests and barely acknowledges Jake by the end of the visit.
There are, however, two customs the Americans do honor: the fiesta and the bull fights. They like the fiesta in Pamplona, which occurs once a year, because it is the way they try to live every day. They like the bullfights even if, with the exception of Jake, they know little about them. What they admire is the manliness they witness in the bullring and the traditions surrounding the corrida, although Brett fails to appreciate the homage Romero accords her in presenting her with a bull’s ear. She just throws it in a drawer and promptly forgets about it (203). Principal among the activities associated with the bullfights which the Americans respect is the running of the bulls.
(p.118) In order to get the bulls from the crates in which they were shipped to Pamplona and into the ring, they must be run though the city streets. Keeping with the local tradition, young men seize this occasion to race in front of the animals, thereby displaying their courage by daring the bulls to impale them.18 In a novel where the expatriates demonstrate no interest in physical activity except in the trout fishing scene, this is the only moment where some of them actually get exercise. Yet, as a proof of manliness and courage, this is a silly and gratuitous activity. More importantly, the image of running away is a metaphor for what these men have been doing throughout their time in Europe, namely running away from life. By staying abroad, they are trying to escape from the sorts of obligations associated with the transition into an adult world.
A major presence in the Spanish portion of the novel is Pedro Romero. While Mark Spilka’s reference to him as “the real hero” (17) seems exaggerated, Romero’s role is certainly important; he is the last true representative of a code of comportment that championed honor, transparency, and discipline. Bullfighting for him and those who admire it is more than a sport or a profession; it is a primitive religion, a re-enactment of an enduring myth that pits man against adversity in the form of an animal. If man is to triumph, he must display intelligence, courage, guile, and respect for his adversary. These are qualities Romero possesses to an exceptional degree but which are becoming rarer in the modern version of bullfighting. As Jake explains, “Romero never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line” (171). This is not the case with the other bullfighters, who gesticulate wildly “to give a faked look of danger” (171). For Jake and Montoya, Romero “was a real one. There had not been a real one for a long time” (168). Romero’s dressing room, where he puts on his costume and prays before each fight, has the ambiance of a monastic cell, while the prayer and the bullfighter’s distinctive regalia suggest membership in a religious order. Romero’s dedication to his craft reflects a devotion to values that are not simply of this world, to principles which extend beyond the destruction of a large beast.
The central scene during the Spanish sequence in The Sun Also Rises concerns the fight between Cohn and Romero. The scene is silly enough in itself, the pride of both men making it impossible for either one to stop. Cohn must always defend himself when attacked, and Romero cannot yield before danger. Cohn is at his most ridiculous here, hitting Romero then wanting to shake his hand, and finally going off to his room to cry. (p.119) Romero is the more stalwart, even if his willingness to continue taking punishment provokes befuddlement as well as admiration. Yet as farcical as their actions appear, the scene involves more than a quarrel between two testosterone-laden young men; it brings into conflict two sets of values which actually have at least two salient points in common. Each man is an imperfect representative of ideals greater than himself, values that are associated with the past.
Cohn embodies literary values and techniques which have been sorely tested, and to some degree outmoded, by the Great War. Romero is a reminder of a bullfighting tradition becoming more and more out of date. At the same time, he is associated with religion (Catholicism), which is becoming increasingly irrelevant in this same world. There is considerable irony in these men being burdened with such associations. Cohn’s language and comportment may at times recall elements of early English literature, yet aside from an occasional turn of phrase, he is hardly a chivalric or romantic figure, and Romero’s fling with Brett undercuts the pristine values he otherwise embodies.
The point of contention between the two is Lady Brett Ashley, the most enigmatic character in the novel. The man she claims she wants, she cannot have and frequently abandons. Yet on occasion she gives the impression that she always wants to be with Jake, only to withdraw and disappear again for a time. She changes moods with quicksilver speed: flirtatious, depressed, contemplative, playful, open, opaque, amorous, bitchy. Besides Jake, only Cohn and Romero seek more than a transient relationship with Brett and appreciate that she is more than a beautiful woman. They seem to have sincere, deep feelings for her, yet she rejects them both.
Brett reaches a point where she simply cannot stand Cohn: “My God! I’m so sick of him … He depresses me so” (185). This scene occurs in Pamplona, shortly after she has spent time with him in San Sebastián. Romero’s desire that she allow her hair to grow provokes Brett’s break with him: “He wanted me to grow my hair out. Me, with long hair. I’d look so like hell” (246). Both Cohn and Romero are defenders of tradition, a secular one and a quasi-religious one. The world has become quite different, and in the end Cohn and Romero cannot accept this difference embodied in Brett; they want her to conform to what they think she is, but they cannot fathom who she really is. Cohn refuses to believe that his time with Brett at San Sebastián meant less to her than it did to him, while Romero cannot free himself from a stereotypical idea of a woman even if the absence of (p.120) stereotype is what drew him to Brett in the first place. The value sets that these two men represent were factors in drawing them to Brett; they helped them glimpse something special about her. These same values, anchored in the past and unable to accommodate themselves to the modern world, are figuratively what pushed Brett away from them.
The Sun Also Rises appears to have no conclusion. Rather than a veritable ending, the novel can seem to just stop. This is not the case, however. Hemingway has so carefully constructed the final scene that it strongly implies what is to come after the last page.
Brett has sent a telegram from Madrid to Jake. She has just broken up with Romero and is alone and depressed. He quickly joins her. They have their usual sort of monosyllabic conversation as they move idly around the city from bar to bar. What they have to say to each other is not much different from what they had said in the past:
“Barmen and jockeys are the only people who are polite anymore.”
“No matter how vulgar a hotel is, the bar is always nice.”
“It’s odd.” (248)
It is at this juncture that the epigraph from Ecclesiastes comes into play: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever … The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down …”
Hemingway’s citation of Gertrude Stein on the Lost Generation was meant ironically, and so also it would appear is the Biblical citation. Ecclesiastes’ noble cadences recount an eternal movement ordained by God. Human beings will live and die, seasons will change, and days and months will pass, but the world will continue. With this continuity comes the possibility of hope, the desire that sorrow will eventually yield to joy, that humanity’s lot might somehow improve over the passage of time.
The sun that rises over Jake and his friends is otherwise; it will shed light not on change, movement, or possible development, but on endless, purposeless repetition. Jake occasionally recognizes this: “I had the feeling as in a nightmare of it all being something repeated, something I have been through and now I must go through again” (71). Jake and his friends will experience over and over the same low-level unhappiness, the same forced gaiety, the same boredom; they will engage in the same largely aimless conversations and express in the same blasé tones the same vaguely articulated ambitions, which will never be realized. Jake’s last words, (p.121) which are also the last words of the novel, reflect this apprehension that things will always be this way. To Brett’s lament that their lives together could have been much better, he simply replies, “Isn’t it pretty to think so” (251). Nothing in the novel suggests that Brett and Jake had ever had better times with each other. What Brett thinks of as their past is merely an earlier moment of their unchanging, repetitive present. Jake, who met Brett while recovering from his war wound, never had her sexually and never will, just as the book he imagines writing will never be finished. If Brett were ever to find a man with whom she could be happy, it could never be Jake or someone from his entourage. To find another person she could love and be loved by, she would have to break out of the expatriate cocoon, something she cannot, and does not want, to do. Unhappy she may be, but more often than not she is comfortable in her unhappiness and not miserable enough to change the way she lives. This is why the novel ends with such seemingly arbitrary abruptness. The main characters will repeat on the next new day what they had done the day before. Time will pass and the next unwritten, but already known scene will be acted out in Paris, Rome, London, or some other major European city. The geographical location will make no difference. The general contours of the day will remain the same; a different setting, perhaps some new faces and cafés, but nothing will really change.
The Sun Also Rises is a successful postwar novel of the sort Cohn would have wanted to write but never could. It eschews bromides, “weighty” allusions, and confidence in a brighter future. It is modern in its ability to suggest the breakdown of certain Western cultural and religious values, a collapse whose preparation was long in the making but which was precipitated by the Great War. Yet once it has described what no longer works, the novel offers no happy alternative to the morass which humanity has created for itself, except in the deeply ironic sense of demonstrating human adaptability, the ability to exploit the most tragic of events. War trauma must indeed be terrible, but over time the expatriates in The Sun Also Rises manage to turn real shock into a fashionable social stance that permits their shirking of the responsibilities of adulthood and citizenship.
The novel isolates several symptoms of postwar existential malaise (the diminishing force of organized religion; the increasing sense of life as purposeless; the effort, aided by alcohol, to create an alternative universe in a foreign land where one can remain forever young and free of societal obligations). Yet it can neither provide nor propose the cure. At best, it can offer a bandage for the wound: literature. Without ever being able to (p.122) equal religion’s claim to make total sense out of the human condition, the literary text can, to a degree, offer people comfort, amusement, and at times the illusion of a better understanding of the world around them. The sun will rise, days will come and go in a continuous cycle broken only by death. Insofar as some dignity can be found in this otherwise meaningless passage, it will come from the artist’s ability to capture the ephemeral, the often banal pleasures and sorrows of daily life, and by doing so give the transient a certain aura of the eternal. Jake may well be literally impotent and his friends the same in a figurative sense, but literature, challenged by historical events, ill-served by many of its practitioners, and perhaps in a fallow period, will, like the sun, rise again.
(2) Paul Fussel, citing A.J.P. Taylor: “There had been no war between the Great Powers since 1871. No man in the prime of life knew what war was like. All imagined it would be an affair of great marches and great victories, quickly decided” (21).
(3) Fussel: “The first Christmas of the war saw an absolute deadlock in the trenches. Both British and German soldiers observed an informal, ad hoc, Christmas Day truce, meeting in No Man’s Land to exchange cigarettes and take snapshots” (10). An equally bizarre anecdote involved British soldiers’ kicking a soccer ball before them as they headed off to battle (Fussel, 27).
(4) In 1932, Céline published Voyage au bout de la nuit, which begins with vivid passages describing the war experience of his main character, Bardamu. If Civilisation stresses the human destruction caused by increasingly more sophisticated weaponry, Voyage insists that humanity’s greatest danger is human beings. The apparent need to kill and maim seems to have a life of its own. Bardamu maintains that the Germans, along with his French colonel, might know why men are killing one another, but he himself, “je ne savais pas” (11). For him, “la guerre … c’est tout ce qu’on comprenait pas … une immense, universelle moquerie” (12). Throughout these sections on the war, Céline compares the slaughter on the battlefield, “toutes ces viandes” (18), to what transpires in un abattoir, the implied difference being that the results of the latter can at least be eaten. The French officers are incompetent and indifferent to their soldiers’ lives (17), and the French civilians whom Bardamu encounters manage to find sententious reasons for not aiding their defenders (p.123) (35). Given these circumstances, the best le petit poilu can hope for is to be taken prisoner (37). Céline’s novel was published less than twenty years after Duhamel’s, but their reactions to the war are eons apart. It is not simply that Duhamel’s emphasis on firepower contrasts with Celine’s sense of human stupidity and callowness, the postwar lives of war veterans create another significant difference. One has the impression that Duhamel’s soldiers, despite their suffering and injuries, will attempt to reintegrate into French society, while Bardamu is long condemned to be an outsider, a wanderer whose rage at the ways of the world is primarily harmful and destructive to himself. Even at the end of Voyage, when he decides to finish his medical studies, it will be to become a doctor serving marginal people. The intensity and duration of his reaction to the war, but also his belated effort at some form of social reintegration with the idea of being of some use in society, contrasts radically with the complacent alienation of Hemingway’s expatriates.
(6) Hemingway offers a more uninhibited critique of people associated with the lost generation: “The scum of Greenwich Village, New York, have been skimmed off and deposited in large ladles on the section of Paris adjacent to the Café Rotonde” (Mellow, 162).
(7) There is no direct reference to Cohn’s lack of wartime participation, even though, according to H.R. Stoneback’s well-informed speculations, “it is likely that [Cohn] entered Princeton in 1909 and graduated in 1913” (8). If this were the case, he would have been the perfect age for military conscription. Stoneback strongly suggests that Cohn is based on the writer and editor, Harold Loeb, who was also an expatriate. Yet if Robert Cohn were indeed based on Harold Loeb, then Cohn, too would have been spared direct participation due to weak eyesight. In the novel, Cohn wears glasses.
(8) At an early stage in the creation of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway apparently gave some thought to giving an early version of Robert Cohn the main role: “Gerald Cohn is the hero” (Mellow, 308). He would, of course, discard this idea, but it is a measure of the importance Hemingway accorded Cohn that he has so many scenes with Jake. Cohn is also the first character to appear in the novel.
(9) Hemingway uses this technique, which consists of employing an analogy to stress the difference rather than similarities between two people or situations, to much greater effect later in the novel.
(10) Late in the novel, Brett refers to Mike’s boorish behavior: “he didn’t need to be a swine” (185).
(11) One of the most curious references to Cohn is Jake’s statement that “He probably loved to win [tennis] as much as Lenglen” (52). He is referring to (p.124) Suzanne Lenglen, one of the early giants of French tennis. In a long career (1914–1926), Lenglen won 241 titles, including Wimbledon every year from 1919 to 1925, with the exception of 1924. In the expatriate world, comparing a man to a woman is obviously demeaning, but Jake’s choice of Suzanne Lenglen is equally a reflection of the respect he has for Cohn’s abilities and achievements.
(12) Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2013) provides a detailed account of the intrigues, errors, stupidity, and greed which lurched Europe, and then the United States, into a major international conflict.
(13) Jake seems the most balanced person in his group. He gets along with people of different backgrounds and cultures, enjoys simple pleasures such as fishing and time in the countryside, and makes his best effort to be tolerant and open-minded. Yet, aside from his incapacity to make a start on the novel he wishes to write, a strong indication of his alienation from the world around him is his strange passivity in the face of events with potentially dire consequences. He does nothing to prevent his friends causing havoc in the Spanish town, nor does he do anything until it is too late to intervene in the quarrel between Cohn and Pedro.
(14) The relationship between religious tradition and its declining power in the modern world is even more pronounced in relation to Brett. Although she occasionally proclaims her unhappiness and provides a vague sense of some sort of existential anxiety, her efforts to find solace in religion do little except illustrate how small a role religious practices or tradition have played, and continue to play, in her life. At one point, she confides to Jake that she wanted to hear him go to confession (154). Of all the rites associate with the Catholic Church, the practice of confession is among the best known to non-Catholics. Confession is conducted between the penitent and the priest; no third party can be present. Later, when she says she feels like praying for Romero, she goes to a church with Jake where she lasts a few moments before wanting to leave as quickly as possible: “Come on … Let’s get out of here. Makes me damn nervous” (212). Brett considers herself “damned bad for a religious atmosphere … I’ve the wrong type of face” (212). Brett could never be subject to a religious crisis because her ignorance of religious practices is such that she would never recognize such a crisis. A comparable example of the deployment of religious imagery that ultimately plays no significant role is the use of water. Jake and especially Brett are often bathing. In a religious context, water can be a symbol of baptism, spiritual cleansing, and salvation. It has a more modest function in The Sun Also Rises. Water washes away the body’s exterior dirt. Just as Jake’s profession as a journalist suggests a certain limitation to surfaces, water in this novel has no deeper purpose than cleansing the skin.
(p.125) (15) The American tourists on a pilgrimage to Lourdes are a continuation of this tradition, albeit a somewhat parodied one, since Hubert and his family interrupt their religious journey for a few days on the beaches at Biarritz. Bill and Jake treat them with a mild condescension, Bill terming them “Pilgrims. Goddamn Puritans” (91). Nevertheless, however amusing this family from Dayton, Ohio may appear, their lives have a goal which is coherent, at least to them, whereas Jake and Bill are traveling for amusement and to pass the time.
(16) Hemingway personifies the postwar desolation of Europe and its history of constant carnage through two characters. The French prostitute Georgette, an attractive woman until she opens her mouth and reveals her rotting teeth, is France after the war, a country which still projects a lovely façade but whose inner core has been devastated. Georgette’s comment, “Everyone is sick” (23), is figurative, reflecting a much-weakened France still struggling with “the memory of France’s losses, which included 1.4 million dead, 3.5 million wounded, 600,000 widows, 750,000 orphans. The fall in the birth rate during the conflict coupled with the 1919 Spanish flu epidemic accelerated the phenomenon of France’s aging population” (Bouvet and Durozoi, 57). At one point Brett’s friend, Count Mippipopolous, strips off his shirt and reveals the scars on his back from “seven wars and four revolutions” (66). This is the recent history of European conflict and European colonialism imprinted on the living flesh of someone who participated. While H.R. Stanley attempts to identify the wars and revolutions (101–102), the exact names are less important than what they indicate about the constant strife in European history. The near ceaseless violence, of which World War I was only the latest and largest expression, had figuratively and literally scarred the inhabitants of the Old World.
(17) In 1936, Georges Duhamel published Scènes de la vie future, a strong, intelligent critique of the potentially nefarious influence which the United States was and would continue to exercise on Europe. Duhamel expressed his fear that the United States would be the future of Europe, due to its power, self-confidence, and money. The book was quite popular in France and evoked serious discussion. The negative American influence in Europe as depicted in The Sun Also Rises, which consists mostly of exploiting the local population’s food and drink, seems silly by comparison.
(18) With regard to this activity, I am a firm partisan of the bulls.