This was the second meeting of Writer Dave’s Classic Book Club. My four members, LLC, Tom, Linda, and Marla, were seated along with me, Writer Dave, in a semi circle around the fire in my lounge.
“We have read two books by Ernest Hemingway, “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Garden of Eden”. Tonight we will discuss them and the author Hemingway.”
“He was quite a character in real life, wasn’t he?” said LLC.
“Yes, he was. I’d call him “The Ultimate Artistic Personality.”
“And what does the “Artistic Personality” consist of?” said Tom.
“Well, Hemingway was a study in contrasts, and that’s what the artistic personality is, “conflicting and contrasting,” I commented.
“What are some of Hemingway’s contrasts?” said Marla.
“Well, over confidence alternating with shaky self- esteem is one. Another is, he had periods of sharp creative thinking alternating with confusion and apathy. He would seek out different types of people to be his friends then he would retreat into self-absorption. He also was very moody at times alternating with great levity.”
“Hemingway liked his pleasurable living and alcohol, didn’t he?” said Linda.
“That’s right, and he had a tendency toward extremes in his love life coupled with marital failure.”
I took a sip of my coffee and continued,
“What about his style of writing?”
It’s a simple, crisp, clipped, and very clean style,” said Marla.
“Right, he didn’t use many adjectives or adverbs. There are silences in his prose, that the reader has to fill in. This might help you understand the story more.”
“I always thought of Hemingway as the epitome of machismo,” said LLC.
“Yes, he was very macho, but, here’s the contrast again, he did have a soft, tearful side.”
Tom was smiling when he said, “Thinking about his heavy drinking, it reminds me of one of his quotes: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut!”
We all laughed.
“Who will give us a short summary of “The Sun Also Rises?”
“It’s an autobiographical account of an American journalist living in Paris. It’s about the character, Jake, who suffered a war wound that left him impotent, and his love for Brett, and their escapades as the “Lost Generation.”
“Very good, LLC. Now, what about the themes?”
“Well, the characters seemed truly lost and aimless. WW1 ended traditional notions of morality, justice and faith. Life seemed to have no meaning to them as they wandered Paris,” said Linda.
“So, there was the loss of the macho image after WW1. The prewar ideal of the brave soldier was gone after they huddled in trenches being bombarded. They were just lucky, not brave, to survive,” said Tom.
Marla spoke up, “The heavy drinking was also a theme. They drank to escape reality and to increase their excitement.”
“All very good comments. Now, what are some of the meanings we can take away from this story?”
“What I came away with was, “Live life to the fullest” even if you feel lost. It doesn’t matter much what you do, as long as you have had your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had,” said LLC.
“On the other hand, if you live your life flippantly, you have to pay the price. If we don’t value things, we have to pay for it,” said Tom.
We all took a break for coffee and biscuits.
Marla and Linda said they have dabbled in writing, so I spouted another Hemingway quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and BLEED!” Now days it is a word processor.”
“Now lets discuss the other book we’ve read. “The Garden of Eden”, published posthumously and unfinished by Hemingway. The book was edited. This book is EXPLOSIVE Hemingway! It is EROTIC Hemingway!’
I let that statement sink in, the members were silent for a moment.
“Who wants to give us a short summary?”
“This book is about female desire unleashed to control a man called David, and how he breaks free to take control of himself again through his writing.”
“Very good, Tom. Now, how does the woman, Catherine, control David?”
“She uses the “ménage a trois” as a way of control. This is a two women and one man living arrangement,” said LLC.
“Anything else?” I prompted.
“Yes, Catherine wanted to control David’s writing, which was his core being, by telling him only to write “their” story, their Garden of Eden. She tried to destroy him by burning “his” stories,” said Marla.
“Now, how did David break free?”
“He broke free by re-writing “his” stories of Africa. His boyhood adventure with his father was a story Catherine knew nothing about and she was jealous of “his” story,” said Linda.
“And lastly, what was the ending of the story?”
“David ends up with Marita, the other woman in the “ménage a trois”. She understands David and his writing. She becomes the “perfect writer’s wife”, a woman eager to please and to arrange his life seamlessly, and with no needs or desires of her own. No interference with his writing,” said LLC.
“Now, what did we learn from this story?”
“Well, we learnt about the tragic and darker sides of hedonism, the belief that pleasure is the most important thing in life,” said Tom.
Linda spoke up, “Catherine’s bisexual ménage a trois was a way to control David sexually and every other way, including his writing.”
I took a sip of my coffee and said:
“In summing up, another view of this novel would be the concerns and themes of the writer. It is about ART, about creating, and about the craft of writing and the struggle of the writer to be true to his art. David had to write “his” African life story to remake himself. He had to abandon the frivolous story that Catherine wanted him to write only about them.”
The members pondered that statement for a minute.
“I’m ending with a Hemingway quote that applies to the protagonist in this story.
“THE WORLD BREAKS EVERYONE, AND AFTERWARD, SOME ARE STRONG AT THE BROKEN PLACES.”
Before Linda left, she said, “I hope there are DVD’s of these two books, I would like to get them.”