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Thank you!

  • Writer's pictureAlan Bray

The Sun Also Rises

“Kay, this week a new story, Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises.


Yes, best beloved, Hemingway’s first novel, highly acclaimed and in continuous print since its publication. Continuing the theme of exile, which we saw in much of Mavis Gallant’s work, Sun concerns a group of expatriates living in Paris. The narrator, a first-person narrator who is the central character in the story, is Jacob “Jake” Barnes, a guy who suffered a traumatic groin injury in World War 1, which has left him impotent (in later years, Hemingway said he thought of Jake’s injury as the amputation of his penis—ow!).

Another central character is Brett, Lady Ashley, an Englishwoman whom Jake is in love with, as she is with him, although they are unable to physically consummate their desire for one another.

Desire—yes, an important concept in this book. Wanting what you can’t have. We’ll be diving into desire, I promise you.

The cover image above is the original cover for the first edition and emphasizes ancient Greece and sex, which gives you a sense of how the novel was marketed.

Sun is a roman a clef (did he speak French to you?) meaning the characters and story are based on real people and events known by Hemingway. Roman a clef refers to a novel with a key. We’ll be talking about the story’s style, but at this point, let’s note that Hemingway was a journalist, a newspaper writer who admired tough, direct prose. After a riotous weekend spent in Spain at the bullfights, he planned to write a non-fiction book on bullfighting but decided he had enough material for a novel. It should also be noted that some of the real people the book’s characters were based on, were displeased. Donald Stewart, who appeared in the book's pages as "Bill Gorton," was astonished that Hemingway was calling the book fiction: it was, in Stewart's opinion, "nothing but a report on what happened … [it was] journalism."

The character of Brett was based on the real-life Duff Twysden (?) who was reportedly aghast by her portrait. In the years that followed, she called the novel "cruel" and added that Hemingway had played a nasty trick on her and the others. In her opinion, it was nothing more than an example of "cheap reporting." For her and the other people whose lives and misfortunes had been co-opted in the book, life could now be divided into two categories: "B.S." (Before Sun.) and "A.S." (After Sun).

‘Kay. I guess they stopped exchanging holiday cards.

The story begins after the title page with a dedication to Hemingway’s then ex-wife Hadley and their son John. Now, if you’ll indulge a little more gossip, during the writing of Sun, Hemingway left his wife and infant son to take up with a different gal. However, one can infer he felt some guilt over this as he insisted that Hadley receive a share of the royalties from the book and also, later, from the film version.

But no, Hadley is not a character in the book, Jake, the Hemingway surrogate, is unmarried.

Then we have two epigrams, the first from Gertrude Stein, “You are all a lost generation,” and the second a quotation from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, concerning the circular nature of life—the sun also ariseth, the sun also goeth down—that kind of thing. Hemingway originally wanted to call the novel Fiesta but switched to The Sun Also Rises to emphasize the theme of the recovery of the so-called lost generation, something he believed in. He did not believe the “lost generation” was lost.

Lost generation in this context refers to the "disoriented, wandering, directionless" spirit of many of the war's survivors in the early postwar period. Some of the idea here is that young people who survived the horrors of World War 1 were adrift, unable to recommit to “normal” life. They were writers, poets, exiles with commitment issues. The characters in Sun certainly seem to suffer from an aversion to commitment, but Hemingway believed there was a way out of this (I’m not sure he ever found it, though), that the so-called lost generation was actually resilient and strong.

In his memoir of living in Paris in the 1920s, A Moveable Feast, Hemingway expands on this theme:

“That’s what you are. That’s what you all are,” Miss Stein said. “All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”

“Really?” I said.

“You are,” she insisted. “You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death…”

“Have you ever seen me drunk?”

“No. But your friends are drunk.”

“I’ve been drunk,” I said. “But I don’t come here drunk.”

“Don’t argue with me, Hemingway,” Miss Stein said. “It does no good at all…”

“Later when I wrote my first novel, I tried to balance Miss Stein’s quotation…with one from Ecclesiastes. But that night walking home…I thought of Miss Stein…and egotism and mental laziness versus discipline and I thought, who is calling who a lost generation?…the hell with her lost generation talk and all the dirty, easy labels. When I got home and into the courtyard and upstairs and saw my wife and my son and his cat, F. Puss, all of them happy and a fire in the fireplace, I said to my wife, “You know, Gertrude is nice anyway.”

“Of course, Tatie.”

“But she does talk a lot of rot sometimes.”

“I never hear her,” my wife said. “I’m a wife. It’s her friend that talks to me.”


Not only a clear rejection by Hemingway of the lost generation concept, but a revealing glimpse chez Hemingway. Does anyone else think it’s odd that Hadley called her husband “Tatie?” Tatie is English slang for potato, but in French, it means auntie.

I’ll just say, I’m glad Dena doesn’t call me ‘Auntie.”

There’s plenty to get into in Sun. We’ll pick it up next time.

Till then.

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