To HAVE AND HAVE NOTErnest HemingwayScribners ($2.50)
In the eyes of the polite world, Ernest Hemingway has much to answer for. Armed with the hardest-hitting prose of the century, he has used his skill and power to smash rose-colored spectacles right & left, to knock many a genteel pretence into a sprawling grotesque. Detractors have called him a bullying bravo, have pointed out that smashing spectacles and pushing over a pushover are not brave things to do. As the "lost generation" he named* have grown greyer and more garrulous, so his own invariably disillusioned but Spartan books have begun to seem a little dated; until it began to be bruited that Hemingway was just another case of veteran with arrested development and total recall.
But among the more conscientious watchers of U. S. letters, the question still smouldered: What's to happen to Hemingway? On the twin assumptions that (1) once an author had chosen a given field he could not depart from it, and hence (2) once he had exhausted that field or the public had tired of it, he was through as a writer, Hemingway was through. He had made himself the principal spokesman of the violence, aimlessness, brutality of war and the wartime generation. Violence, aimlessness, brutality were pretty well washed up as literary material. Ergo, Hemingway too was washed upunless he scurried around quick and found some new stream in which to pan his gold.
Hemingway himself did little to encourage any other attitude. With The Sun Also Rises (1926), Men Without Women (1927) and Farewell to Arms (1929), he had found himself in the unique position of being not only a best-seller but also a writer whom first-line critics intensely admired and respected. Younger writers all imitated him. Wielder of a style of unmatched clarity and precision, master of the art of conveying emotions, particularly violent ones, with an effect almost of first-hand experience, he seemed to have established himself as the most powerful direct influence on contemporary literature. After these three books, however, came the slump. Apart from Win, er Take Nothing (1933), a volume of short stories, the eight succeeding years saw only two books, both failures. To most readers Death in the Afternoon (1932) was an impossibly verbose testimonial to the author's enthusiasm for the spectacle of bullfighting. Green Hills of Africa (1935) was an exhaustive and exhausting account of a month's big-game shooting, marred by the ill-temper of its gibing digressions on critics and fellow writers. The first had been letdown enough, but in the second it seemed that Hemingway had definitely given over his precise eloquence to ignoble usesthat, carried away by his peculiar gifts, he had turned from the deeper study of the human tragedy to revel in the mere shock and suddenness of wanton killing. War was already too much in the air to make such an attitude agreeable. It was a time too of increasing political and economic strain, when the pressure was great, both from the Right and the Left, on every writer to stand and declare himself. Since he stubbornly refused to do so, the consensus* was that Author Hemingway was rapidly becoming as dead as his subject matter.