Ernest Hemingway A to Z: The Essential Reference to the Life and Work

Ernest Hemingway A to Z: The Essential Reference to the Life and Work

Svoboda, Frederic

Ernest Hemingway A to Z: The Essential Reference to the Life and Work. By Charles M. Oliver. New York: Checkmark Books, an imprint of Facts on File, 1999. 452 pp. Cloth $50. Paper $17.95.

This guide is a large-format paperback printed on acid-free paper and available from sources such as for incredibly low prices around $15 (it lists at $17.95). It also is available in a library binding for about $50.

Charles “Tod” Oliver is of course well-qualified to compile such a reference, having long been active in Hemingway studies and having served for a number of years as editor of The Hemingway Review.

In his introduction to the book, Tod Oliver characterizes it as “…a guide to the life and work…especially, for those who are discovering Hemingway for the first time, for whom it may serve as a comprehensive introduction and guide to study” (xi). Thus it is very distinct in intent and scope from reference works such as Miriam Mandel’s Reading Hemingway: The Facts in the Fiction, her very detailed work-in-progress examining toreo in Death in the Afternoon, or even Paul Smith’s A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. All of these seem to me to aim more at specialists in Hemingway.

To begin to evaluate the guide, I took one novel I often teach (The Sun Also Rises) and compared the questions undergraduates most often ask about the novel to the information available. Their most urgent four questions usually cover the Lost Generation, Jake Barnes’ wound, Brett Ashley’s sexual motivations, and the role of the bullfight in the novel.

“The Lost Generation” entry rated about half a page and included information on Gertrude Stein’s discovering of the phrase and Hemingway’s use of it in his epigraph to the novel. The entry. also noted expatriation, the censorship of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the use of the term “Lost Generation” in A Moveable Feast, and the term’s becoming a part of the English language. It listed six other authors associated with the term and cited Malcolm Cowley’s The Lost Generation as a source for additional information. A two page entry on “World War I” provided additional context.

Jake’s wound is covered in three and a half paragraphs of the three quarter page entry “Jake Barnes.” These give us an explanation of the wound’s likely nature (and of Hemingway’s likely reasons for limiting the reader’s knowledge of it). The wound’s role in plot, characterization, and theme also is succinctly discussed.

Brett Ashley and her sexuality rate half a page. The bullfight is covered in the entries “aficionado” and “bullfight” as well as a number of brief entries on technical terms of the corrida de toros.

The roman a clef aspects of the novel are not-covered. (I often find myself commenting on them in explaining the genesis of the novel.) However, even such very minor characters as Bill Gorton’s girlfriend Edna rate individual entries.

The main entry on the novel covers more than two pages, including a summary judgment of the book’s critical reputation, discussion of its epigraphs, a detailed plot analysis and brief examination of the novel’s time scheme, composition and initial publication. Even an estimate of the current value of a first edition with dust jacket ($20,000) is included. All in all, students and general readers will find what they will need for an initial appreciation of the novel well-glossed in Oliver’s book.

I chose a representative important story, “Snows of Kilimanjaro,” and found that it was similarly treated, rating about a page of coverage (roughly 1,000 words), with five cross-references. This entry is largely devoted to plot analysis in accord with Tod Oliver’s professed intent to “avoid critical interpretation as far as possible” (xi-xii).

Like all good reviewers, I looked hard for a flaw to lend balance to this evaluation and perhaps finally found it in a minor entry regarding a less important novel: “Quesada, Pete. Unidentified in Across the River and into the Trees except as a military officer Richard Cantwell thought was good with ground support during the Allied advance toward Germany in World War II” (274). In fact, it would be useful for the reader to know that General Elwood “Pete” Quesada invented and supervised the system of close air support so important to U.S. success after the initial invasion of Normandy. He was a fiery character and-like Cantwell-was forced out of the army after the war. In Quesada’s case this was because of friction with political higherups intent on establishing a separate Air Force and caring less about support of the common soldier. Thus, Quesada is a clear parallel to Cantwell, an- other honest officer unjustly treated. Still, this amount of information is more than needed by those first coming to Hemingway’s work. I also found that other historical officers mentioned in Across the River and into the Trees were more completely identified.

The book includes about fifty photographs, mostly reproduced from the collection of the John F. Kennedy Library and covering important moments, places, and figures from Hemingway’s life. About half of these would be familiar to those who have studied Hemingway, the other half either previously unpublished or lesser-known. Reproduction is good although sometimes limited by the quality of the originals, some of which are snapshots.

Appendices to the guide include an excellent map of the “At Sea” section of Islands in the Stream. (One wishes for more maps that might help explain the life and works of this most-traveled American author, although I suspect that an “Atlas of Hemingway” would result.) A four generation Hemingway family tree also is included.

Likely to be of particular interest to students is a five column timeline that parallels (1) events of Hemingway’s personal life, (2) his writings, (3) other literary events, (4) the name of each year’s Nobel Laureate in literature, and (5) important historical events. This is a major effort in itself, covering twenty-seven pages. Any year after Hemingway’s mid-teens contains more detail than could be quoted in a review such as this. (For example, the year 1915 includes three biographical events, five other literary events and four historical events; 1924 covers half a page of eight-point type.)

Adaptations of Hemingway’s work (and works about him) in other media (film, stage, television, radio) also are listed. A bibliography of Hemingway’s works is included, as is a selected bibliography of works about him in English. The book is extensively indexed.

To sum up, this is a wonderful resource at an exceptional price. While it is well-aimed at those coming to Hemingway for the first time, it is the sort of concise reference that all those interested in the author and his work should have on their shelves.

Copyright The Hemingway Review Spring 2000

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.