Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Ciasullo, Ann M.
Pub Date: 01/01/2006
Publication: Name: Cultural Analysis Publisher: Cultural Analysis Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 Cultural Analysis ISSN: 1537-7873
Issue: Date: Annual, 2006 Source Volume: 5
Topic: NamedWork: Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Broer, Lawrence R.; Holland, Gloria
Accession Number: 171539691
Full Text: Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice. Edited by Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland. (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 2002. Pp. xiv + 353, introduction, notes, works cited, index.)

As any scholar even vaguely familiar with the critical dialogue on Ernest Hemingway's life and work knows, "Papa's" relationship with and literary treatment of women has, for decades now, been fraught with controversy. His biography reveals a man who, despite four marriages and numerous affairs, found neither stability nor lasting satisfaction in his relationships with women. His short stories and novels likewise reveal an ambivalence toward and distrust of women--sentiments so intensely expressed in some of his works that they have long been considered proof of the author's sexism. Indeed, from Brett Ashley to Catherine Bourne, the "Hemingway Bitch" has become a literary icon, read by some feminist critics as both an embodiment of Papa's misogyny and a reinforcement of the negative female stereotypes that have been perpetuated for centuries. Given Hemingway's seeming inability to portray women as independent, strong, and sympathetic, as well as his iconic status as the quintessential "man's man," why should women continue to read, teach, and write about his work? Why, if at all, should we pay attention to Papa and his patriarchal ways?

The answers to these questions can be found in Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice, edited by Lawrence A. Broer and Gloria Holland. Broer and Holland have assembled an impressive array of seventeen critical essays--all authored, as the title suggests, by female critics--that intervene in "forty years of often superficial or misguided interpretations of Hemingway's treatment of women and gender" (ix). Rather than dismissing both Hemingway and his work as sexist, interpreting his female characters as one-dimensional and unsympathetic, or deeming the author undeserving of a female readership and critical base, the scholars included in this volume recognize, address, and grapple with the complexity of Hemingway's relationship with women, both real and fictional. Indeed, by "argu[ing] cogently for the central role of women in the Hemingway canon," the essays in this collection "expand and deepen our appreciation of gender issues in Hemingway's novels and stories, and in his life as a whole" (xiii). It is worth noting, however, that the authors' "appreciation" of Hemingway only rarely borders on adoration; this collection is not an unequivocal, uncritical celebration of Papa. As Broer and Holland note in their introduction, "these scholars do not speak in a single voice with equal sympathy for Hemingway's treatment of women nor do they respond with like readings of Hemingway's life and work" (xiii). What the scholars included in this collection do share is a common aim: to reveal how the conflicts in Hemingway's short stories, novels, and personal relationships--familial, romantic, and professional--"revolve around questions of gender ... and that understanding these complicated gender dynamics offers vital new ways of interpreting Hemingway's fiction as a whole" (xiv).

Broer and Holland have divided the book into two sections, the first of which, "Heroines and Heroes, the Female Presence," features essays that fall into three groupings. The first grouping explores the role, characterization, and significance of Hemingway's fictional women. By examining major characters such as Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms, and Maria and Pilar in For Whom the Bell Tolls, as well as minor characters such Nick Adams' sister, Littless, in "The Last Good Country" and the wife in "Cat in the Rain," these scholars provide us with new ways of seeing how, as Gail D. Sinclair insists in her essay "Revisiting the Code: Female Foundations and 'The Undiscovered Country' in For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Hemingway's iceberg principle applies to [these female characters] as profoundly as it does to any other character or novel in the canon" (94).

Sinclair further demonstrates how Maria and Pilar, characters who have been largely overlooked in critical commentary on Hemingway's women, are "not easily reducible, nor should they be, to the traditional polemic extremes critically assigned to Hemingway's fiction" (108). She argues, in fact, that these two women collectively embody the Hemingway code--"living simply within the confines of one's circumstances, but acting courageously under those constraints" (97)--a code heretofore understood as almost exclusively male. Similarly, Kathy G. Willingham, in "The Sun Hasn't Set Yet: Brett Ashley and the Code Hero Debate," asserts that Hemingway's most famous female character "provides a model no less significant, important, or romantic than any of the male code heroes who have inspired or influenced countless readers" (34). Several other essays in this section likewise re-read Hemingway's fictional women, demonstrating how the heroism, depth, and complexity so often attributed to Hemingway's male protagonists and so often interpreted as the exclusive province of men, are traits shared by many of his female characters. In short, these critics reveal not only how Hemingway deals with the matter of women, but also how the women matter in Hemingway's oeuvre.

Part 1 also features essays that interrogate both Hemingway's relationship to the feminine and the female reader's relationship to Hemingway's work. In the most convincing and impressively researched essay in the volume, "Santiago and the Eternal Feminine: Gendering La Mar in The Old Man and the Sea," Susan F. Beegel offers a stunning interdisciplinary essay in which she establishes the centrality of the "Eternal Feminine" in Hemingway's novella. Drawing from a remarkable array of sources--mythology, religion, folklore, marine history, and literature--Beegel argues that the sea itself, "gender[ed] as feminine throughout the text" (132), is "a protagonist on an equal footing with Santiago" (131). In "On Defiling Eden: The Search for Eve in the Garden of Sorrows," Ann Putnam similarly explores the presence of the feminine in the most unlikely of places: stories such as "Big Two-Hearted River" and Green Hills of Africa, which feature "a solitary hero journeying across ... paradisal landscapes" (111). Putnam's desire to elicit the feminine in Hemingway's oeuvre stems from a crucial question that has long haunted female Hemingway scholars: "how do female readers who have always been moved by Hemingway's works ... negotiate theories that insist upon the exclusionary quality of the Hemingway world?" (110). This critical tension that Putnam identifies--a tension which underlies many of the essays in this volume--is most eloquently and compellingly addressed in Linda Patterson Miller's "In Love with Papa." Combining personal reflection on Hemingway's work with critical analysis of his female characters, Miller acknowledges that "any lover of Hemingway's art who surveys his biography feels a bit betrayed by the man" (40), but ultimately explains that her love of Hemingway stems from "the emotional complexity of his art and of his heroines.... His women embody the 7/ 8 of the iceberg that is down under and carry much of the work's emotional weight accordingly" (6)

Finally, several essays in "Heroines and Heroes, the Female Presence" examine the politics of gender, sexuality, and desire that characterize Papa's work, drawing attention to how his narratives often blur rather than reinscribe boundaries between male and female, masculine and feminine, straight and gay. Nancy R. Comley and Rose Marie Burwell specifically address how these blurrings have been suppressed in Hemingway's posthumous publications. In "The Light from Hemingway's Garden: Regendering Papa," Comley discusses how The Garden of Eden challenges the longstanding image of Hemingway as the representative of machismo, yet argues that the edited, published version of the book--particularly its characterization of Catherine--belies the complexity of the novel and the author alike. Burwell, in "West of Everything: The High Cost of Making Men in Islands in the Stream," voices a similar concern regarding the editing of Islands in the Stream, noting how those involved in the publication process "ignore[d] the complex musings on the problems of gender and creativity that are embodied in the deleted episodes" of the novel (172). Debra A. Moddelmog and Linda Wagner-Martin draw attention to how Hemingway's published narratives--even those posthumously published--often reveal his abiding interest in configurations of gender and sexuality that fall outside the "norm" of society. In "Queer Families in Hemingway's Fiction," Moddelmog maintains that "Hemingway's works are rife with alternative families" (174)--or what she calls "queer" families--which "reconfigure the bonds of belonging ... [and] target various norms of [the traditional] family--especially norms of sexuality and power" (175). Finally, Martin's "The Romance of Desire in Hemingway's Fiction" examines how Papa's works reflect the sexual ethos of their historical and cultural contexts--"times ... marked with a nearly obsessive interest in sexuality and erotica" (54). Martin provocatively argues that "Hemingway's real subject was eroticism. And the form he needed to tell that story, to entice the general reader, was the romance" (55).

Thirteen of the seventeen essays in Hemingway and Women appear in Part 1; by comparison, Part 2, "Mothers, Wives, Sisters," is somewhat sparse. The four essays in this second section focus on historical and biographical contexts of Hemingway's work and connect these contexts to his representations of women. Of particular note are the last two essays in this section--Sandra Whipple Spanier's "Rivalry, Romance, and War Reporters: Martha Gellhorn's Love Goes to Press and the Collier's Files" and Rena Sanderson's "Hemingway's Literary Sisters: The Author through the Eyes of Women Writers"--which offer fascinating accounts of Hemingway's relationship with women who were his professional equals: his third wife, reporter Martha Gellhorn, and his literary peers, Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman. Spanier and Sanderson adeptly illustrate Hemingway's complicated relationship with these women--as well as his indebtedness to them. As Sanderson succinctly concludes: "Whether they were adoring (Parker), critical (Hellman), or begrudging (like Gellhorn), they helped to identify and advertise Hemingway's message, style, method, and persona" (294).

Clearly, the range of essays in Hemingway and Women is impressive; Broer and Holland have done an admirable job of selecting works that examine Hemingway's work and life from a myriad of critical angles. Like any other collection of essays, however, some of the selections are decidedly stronger than others. In particular, the essays by Beegel, Miller, Moddelmog, Spanier, and Sanderson--whether by virtue of their writing style, their interdisciplinary rigor, or their extensive knowledge of Hemingway's life, work, and historical and cultural contexts--were much more compelling and original than the others. Despite the relative unevenness of the selections, Hemingway and Women is an engaging and important book. By enlisting female critics who are invested in the man, the myth, and the literature--and whose insightful analyses broaden the scope of the field of Hemingway studies--this book offers an invaluable service to Hemingway scholars and feminist literary critics alike.

Ann M. Ciasullo

Spokane Falls Community College, USA
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.