Reviewer: Anne Hahn
Brief Summary of book: The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926 by American author Ernest Hemingway and is about a group of American and British expatriates living in Paris during the aftermath of WWI. Members of this group travel from Paris through Spain to the Festival of Fermin in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. As one of the early "modernist” novels, the book received mixed reviews upon publication, although some including Hemingway’s biographer, Jeffrey Meyers, considered it his most important work. Many view The Sun Also Rises as a classic of American literature, and it is read today in high school and college classes. It was a key novel of discussion when I studied American literature in college.
Like most of Hemingway’s novels, the book centers on the author’s real life experience and characters he knew; this book is based on the period he lived in Paris with his first wife, Hadley Richardson and his 1925 trip to Spain. Taking place in Paris and Spain during this period, the setting was unique and memorable, showing the decadent café life of these expatriots, the journey of the characters to Spain to the bullfight festival and stopover for a fishing trip in the Pyrenees. Like many of his works, we are introduced to Hemingway's sparse writing style, combined with his restrained use of description to ‘suggest’ characterizations and action.
The story is ostensibly a love story between the main character, Jake Barnes, and the promiscuous divorcée, Lady Brett Ashley. It revolves around this impossible love affair between this war-damaged (presumably impotent) American journalist (who is also the novel's narrator) and Brett, a former nurse at the hospital when Jake was recovering during the war. As the story progresses, we meet Jake’s friend and writer, Robert Cohn, who then has an affair with Brett. Jake and others focus, at times violently, on the character shortcomings of Cohn, and Jake eventually break off his friendship with Robert Cohn. The latter part of the novel describes their travels to Spain to watch the bullfights in Pamplona, and then centers on Brett’s seduction of the lead, 19-year-old matador, Romero. This event becomes public knowledge and, as a result, appears to diminish Jake’s reputation among his Spanish bull-fighting contacts.
In the novel, Hemingway seems to depict this group of artists, writers, and other members of the "Lost Generation" as degenerates in part because of the action and occurrence of World War I, yet as remaining strong and resilient. Additionally, the author, with his focus on their travels through Spain and especially with the discussions of the bullfights of Pamplona, explores the themes of death and the nature of masculinity.
Your thoughts on book: When I first read The Sun Also Rises years ago, I enjoyed it because of its focus on the expatriot movement in Paris, the travels of the characters to Spain, and the themed discussions of the bullfight, centering on the portrayal of these matador heroes and their courage to face violence and sometimes death. I do still think Heminway is a master at developing his characters and descriptions of events based on his real-life experiences, but when I reread the book this time I was somewhat disenchanted with the overall plot and purpose of this story. It seemed it was his intent to bring to light the vitality and commitment of this “Lost Generation,” its decadence yet the enduring creativity of member writers and artists after WWI. For me in the second read, there was too much focus on the comings and goings of its characters, and I was left with the emphasis on their individual shortcomings and could not draw value from their experiences, and the plot now seems a bit overstated and redundant. Definitely this time, Hemingway’s descriptions came across as dated and at times “over-macho”, with the focus on drinking, promiscuity, and the machismo of the bullfights.
Why book was once banned: The Sun Also Rises was banned in Boston, MA, in 1930, in Ireland in 1953, and in Riverside, CA in 1960. It was burned in Nazi bonfires of 1933. The book, like many others, was challenged and banned because of it language and use of profanity, and its central focus on sex, promiscuity and the overall decadence of its characters. One review noted that The Sun Also Rises and other Hemingway novels such as A Farewell to Arms were burned by the Nazis for being “too accurate” an account of war.
Conclusion: I think Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is an appropriate example in a banned books discussion. His tendency as an author to “evoke” rather than provide detailed descriptions of events and characters allowed him to talk indirectly about topics that some of his contemporaries were banned for addressing. This novel focuses primarily on promiscuity, and describes excessive drinking, profanity and also introduces homosexuality and prostitution. One reviewer noted that “Hemingway’s sparse prose allowed him to get these books published even in a climate of censorship.”