Thursday, January 19, 2006

In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway, and The Beautiful and Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I actually finished the Hemingway on the 16th and the Fitzgerald on the 19th, but I am putting them in a double entry because I think these two books have a lot in common.

The former is a collection of short stories that prefigure many of Hemingway's themes: fishing, bull-fighting, war. It also is the collection that introduced Hemingway, and his prose style, to the world. Some of the same characters recur throughout the collection, but it's disjointed overall, and important mainly because it's Hemingway, and he would go on to expand on these themes in his later, better works.

The latter is a novel with some autobiographical elements, about a rather disastrous marriage between two appalling people. The reader is, I gather, supposed to feel some sympathy for Anthony Patch, who lives off his inheritance and believes he's above doing any sort of work whatsoever. He knowingly marries a beautiful but very vain, self-centered, and spoiled girl. They drink a lot, fight a lot, and waste money. Oh, the tragedy of it all. Except, of course, not. This book is important mainly because it's Fitzgerald, and he would go on to expand this theme in The Great Gatsby, his later, better work.

In other words, no need to bother with either of these. They are important because they prefigure the books that you really should read: Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises (and probably For Whom The Bell Tolls although I've not yet read it). So feel free to skip them both, unless you want to study either author more in depth. In that case, you'll enjoy reading these earlier works.

"The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight. I do not know why they screamed at that time. We were in the harbor and they were all on the pier and at midnight they started screaming." (Hemingway)

"Poetry is dying first. It'll be absorbed into prose sooner or later. For instance, the beautiful word, the colored and glittering word, and the beautiful simile belong in prose now. To get attention poetry has got to strain for the unusual word, the harsh, earthy word that's never been beautiful before." (Fitzgerald)

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