Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises (UK: Fiesta)
This novel owes some of its fame to its (for that time) daring portrait of expatriate Americans in Paris. Indeed, as one of the earlier novels of this kind, it set something of a trend. While Hemingway did not coin the term The Lost Generation, he certainly helped publicize it with this novel, whose epigraph is You are all a lost generation. He also caused something of a scandal as many of the characters were based on real people. Harold Loeb, the model for Cohn, even later wrote a book refuting Hemingway’s portrait.
The novel is narrated by Jake Barnes, an expatriate American who was wounded in World War I and has been left impotent. He is in love with Lady Brett Ashley and she is in love with him but his impotence is obviously a problem for them. Moreover, she is engaged to Mike. Barnes introduces us to Robert Cohn. Cohn is a Jewish writer who, back in the USA took up boxing to toughen himself up. He moved to California where he met Frances Clyne. They travelled to Europe, where he wrote his first novel. When Barnes introduces Cohn to Lady Brett, Cohn falls in love with her and Cohn and Lady Brett travel to San Sebastián together. However, when they return, she dumps him but he still tries to chase her. When Jake’s friend Bill Gorton arrives from the USA, the group – Gorton, Brett and Mike, Barnes and Cohn – decide to go to Pamplona for the running of the bulls. Things are complicated enough, before Brett falls for a young bullfighter, Pedro Romero. Barnes arranges a meeting for Brett and Romero and is called a pimp by Cohn who beats up first Barnes and then Romero. Brett runs off with Romero but then calls on Barnes to help because Romero wants her to be a traditional wife and she is anything but. Barnes and Brett end up as the novel had begun – together.
While this is interesting as a roman à clef, as portrait of a generation and as depicting changing social mores, it is still an interesting novel in its own right and definitely, in my view, the best of Hemingway’s novels. Jake Barnes’ search for some meaning in is life is, of course, reflective of many of his compatriots who came to Paris for just that reason but Hemingway shows it well. It is also excellently coupled with Brett, the”new” woman, independent and relatively free, yet still looking for love everywhere and ending up back where she started. The whole generation is adrift and Hemingway shows this better than his contemporaries (Faulkner, perhaps, excepted) till, of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald came along.
First published 1926 by Scribner