Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Word Or Three On Hemingway’s Prose In A Farewell To Arms

Me to R:

In all seriousness, I *am* now reading A Farewell To Arms. I don’t think I ever read it before. I just started in and have read in my slow way about six chapters.

I know all the cliches about H’s prose but a few things among others strike me in what I’ve so far read.

No one in a creative writing class would instruct anyone to write, “The town was very nice” or “The nurse was very beautiful” or “The evening was very pleasant.” You’d be urged to avoid vague generalizations and give particulars to make your writing concrete and specific. But in Hemingway it absolutely works. 

I think it works because in reading him we get converted into his way of seeing things: he doesn’t trust intellectualizing or interiority or complexity of thought generally; he in effect says people operate in basic ways; they like things or they don’t; things are beautiful or pretty or nice or they’re not; food and wine tastes good or it doesn’t: and so on like that. And that’s how they talk to each other. If someone says a woman is very beautiful and maybe provides a detail like she is tall and thin and long blonde hair, we actually do get and can see pretty fully what we’re told. So the simplicity of his language conveys that, reflects it.

Still there’s (at least to me) a strange paragraph in which Henry all of a sudden describing the way his ambulance unit is set up starts using a lot of three and more syllable words like “functionality” and “operationally” and others too. I found that kind of language use all of a sudden striking and maybe meant to reflect a little the technical, mechanical, functioning  side of what Henry and his colleagues do. But in the extensive and repeated descriptions of the settings or in the way he has most of the people conversing, there are only simple, primarily one, occasionally two, syllable words.

I love Hemingway’s writing by the way. 

Sent from my iPad

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