BOOK (1926)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am

The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway

To understand The Sun Also Rises, you could look at Boardwalk Empire. The characters, their behaviour, Ernest Hemingway's psychology, and the time, all mirror key ideas explored in Terence Winter's TV show.

Hemingway considered his characters to be part of a lost generation, and that was actually the working title for the book. They are people damaged by war. But they revel in newfound riches and freedom as America's economic power accelerates. They are a strong and resilient breed until the Great Depression turns everything into smouldering ruins.

The characters are rich American and British expatriates who have exported their values to Paris, where they are part of the famed 1920s cafe society. Prohibition is happening back in the US, and in New York copies of James Joyce's Ulysses are being burned by outraged moral puritans. The artists and writers seek the greater freedoms that bohemian Paris can offer. A favourable exchange rate doesn't hurt, either.

As in Boardwalk Empire, the novel's characters spend much of their time marinating in booze. This can be seen as a comment on the counterproductive consequences of Prohibition. Take, for instance, our protagonist, Jake Barnes, an American journalist. One day, while attempting to douse the flames of his unrequited affection for the prodigiously well-sexed Lady Brett Ashley, he knocks off three Martinis before lunch and has three bottles of wine with them.

The characters are partial to a bit of casual violence. Robert Cohn fights Jake and two other men who are competing for Brett's love. The central part of the novel is set against a backdrop of bullfighting.

Then there's the depiction of Brett. Divorced twice, she is presented as a sexually enlightened and empowered woman. She wants sex without love. Jake, who's impotent because of a war wound, wants it the other way around.

Hemingway's prudish mother disapproved of such licentiousness - 'It is a doubtful honour to produce one of the filthiest books of the year,' she wrote in a letter to her son.

But Brett proved a hit with female fans, inspiring them to cut their hair short and wear sweater sets, as well as adopt some of her strong-willed behaviour.

It is Hemingway's writing style that marks this as a truly great work. His prose is deliberately understated, his sentences are simple and declarative and shorn of any extraneous detail. Much is left tantalisingly unsaid.

As one contemporary reviewer mentioned, the author 'writes as if he had never read anybody's writing, as if he had fashioned the art of writing himself'. The book made Hemingway famous.



Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

BOOK (1926)

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to: SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive