MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Literary Love Triangle: The Making of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway was busy in 1926. He’d just written his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, based on a trip to Spain he’d taken the year before. His new pal F. Scott Fitzgerald loved it, and was working on getting it published by Scribner’s, the same house that had published Fitzgerald’s breakout work, The Great Gatsby. But Fitzgerald wanted Hemingway to cut the opening of the book, which would produce a major shift in tone. Fitzgerald had to broach this subject lightly, as Hemingway took criticism like a spoiled six-year-old.

First chapter aside, they also had to figure out how to get Hemingway out of a previous commitment he’d made to another publisher. They managed to do this by offering them a mean-spirited satirical novel called The Torrents of Spring which they knew would be rejected, thus freeing Hemingway to seek publication elsewhere. Scribner’s was willing to buy the satirical novel just so they could get Sun. Hemingway vacationed with his wife and little son in Schruns, Austria, then went to New York to sign with Scribner’s. On his way back to Austria, he stopped off in Paris to see Pauline Pfeiffer, with whom he was having an affair. He may or may not have fallen in love with Pauline because she might have been the only one who thought Torrents of Spring was any good.

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As Mary V. Dearborn tells it in her new biography of Hemingway, the affair with Pfeiffer was no casual thing. Hemingway’s gotten a reputation as a womanizer because it seems to fit the image of him as a macho, swaggering, marlin-catching, rhino-shooting man’s man. In fact, Hemingway was tortured by his love for Pauline, and wanted desperately to figure things out. Not that he had a mature way of working through it: when his wife Hadley confronted him about it, he flew into a rage, blaming her for even bringing it up.

Today being Hemingway’s birthday, I’ve been reading Dearborn’s book and found the events around the time of the writing and publication of The Sun Also Rises ripe for a graphic interpretation. I don’t know if Hemingway liked comics, but fans can consider this a posthumous birthday gift for Papa, who was born today in 1899.

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