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The Culture Vulture

About cultural things: music, dance, literature and theatre.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY– journalist, writer and taurophile
Wednesday, February 23, 2022 @ 8:49 AM

Ernest Hemingway is fourth on The Culture Vulture’s list of top 5 writers about Spain. Here he tells us more about the man and his books.

The journalist turned novelist wrote two first-class books about bullfighting, The Sun Also Rises (published as Fiesta in England), a novel, and Death in the Afternoon, a non-fiction work. He also wrote a novel about the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and his only play The Fifth Column.

Bullfighting was Hemingway’s passion. He would go to the bull-running and bullfights at the Fiesta de San Fermín in Pamplona (Navarra) every July, and he spent a lot of time in Ronda, the birthplace of bullfighting on foot, and has a street in the Andalusian town named after him, Paseo de Hemingway, which runs round the back of the Parador.

I was recovering in hospital in Germany from an appendix operation, aged 21, when I was introduced to Hemingway. His books about bullfighting kindled an interest in bullfighting which remains with me to this day.

After Germany I subsequently went to San Fermín in Pamplona two years running in the early 1970s. It was there that I saw the young Paquirri for the first time. He went on to become the top torero of his generation, but sadly died in the ring at the end of his career.

When I ended up living in Ronda some 35 years later I got the opportunity to follow in Hemingway's footsteps, so to speak.



Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and sportsman. His economical and understated style—which he termed the iceberg theory—had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his adventurous lifestyle and his public image brought him admiration from later generations.

Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and he was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature. He published seven novels, six short-story collections, and two non-fiction works. Three of his novels, four short-story collections, and three nonfiction works were published posthumously.

Hemingway was raised in Illinois, USA. After high school, he was a reporter for a few months for The Kansas City Star before leaving for the Italian Front to enlist as an ambulance driver in World War I.

In 1918, he was seriously wounded and returned home.

In 1921, he married Hadley Richardson, the first of four wives. They moved to Paris where he worked as a foreign correspondent and fell under the influence of the modernist writers and artists of the 1920s' "Lost Generation" expatriate community.

Hemingway's debut novel The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926.

In 1927 he divorced Richardson, and married Pauline Pfeiffer. They divorced after he returned from the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), which he covered as a journalist and which was the basis for his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

Martha Gellhorn became his third wife in 1940. He and Gellhorn separated after he met Mary Welsh in London during World War II.

He almost died in 1954 after plane crashes on successive days, with injuries leaving him in pain and ill health for much of the rest of his life.

In 1959 he committed suicide.


Spanish Civil War

In 1937, Hemingway left for Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA).

Hemingway was joined in Spain by journalist and writer Martha Gellhorn, who he had met in Key West a year earlier.

Late in 1937, while in Madrid with Martha, Hemingway wrote his only play, The Fifth Column, as the city was being bombarded by Francoist forces. He returned to Key West for a few months, then back to Spain twice in 1938, where he was present at the Battle of the Ebro, the last republican stand, and he was among the British and American journalists who were some of the last to leave the battle as they crossed the river.


The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises, first published in 1926, and titled Fiesta in England, the novel captures the moods, feelings, and attitudes of a hard-drinking, fast-living group of disillusioned expatriates in post-war France and Spain.

The novel follows a group of young American and British expatriates as they wander through Europe in the mid-1920s. They are all members of the cynical and disillusioned Lost Generation, who came of age during World War I (1914–18).

Two of the novel’s main characters, Lady Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes, typify the Lost Generation. Jake, the novel’s narrator, is a journalist and World War I veteran. During the war Jake suffered an injury that rendered him impotent. (The title of the novel obliquely references Jake’s injury and what no longer rises because of it.)

After the war Jake moved to Paris, where he lives near his friend, the Jewish author Robert Cohn.

Jake’s former lover, Brett, also lives in Paris. Jake and Brett met and fell in love during the war, when Brett, a volunteer nurse, helped treat Jake’s injuries. Although it is not said explicitly, it is implied that they are not together because Jake is impotent and Brett unwilling to give up sex.

When Cohn confesses his romantic interest in Brett to Jake, Jake cautions him against pursuing a relationship with Brett, who is engaged to be married to Mike Campbell, a Scottish war veteran. Both Brett and Cohn eventually leave Paris: Brett sets off for San Sebastian, a beach resort in the Spanish Basque country, and Cohn for the countryside.

A few weeks after their departure, the writer Bill Gorton (another of Jake’s friends) arrives in Paris. Together, Jake and Bill decide to go to Spain to attend the Fiesta de San Fermín in Pamplona to see the running of the bulls and the bullfights.

Before they leave, Jake and Bill run into Brett, who has recently returned from Spain, and her fiancé, Mike. Brett and Mike ask to accompany Jake and Bill to Pamplona. In private Brett reveals to Jake that she spent the last few weeks in Spain with Cohn.

Bill and Jake take a train to the south of France, where they meet Cohn. Bill, Jake, and Cohn travel together to Pamplona, where they are eventually joined by Brett and Mike. They stay at a local hotel owned by a man named Montoya.

Montoya is a bullfighting enthusiast, and he is eager to introduce the foreigners to the sport. Brett and Jake are especially captivated by the bullfights, and Brett is captivated by a 19-year-old bullfighter named Pedro Romero. While Mike, Cohn, and, incidentally, Jake spar over Brett, Brett runs off to Madrid with Romero.

After the festival ends, Jake, Mike, and Bill leave Pamplona. After a night in the south of France, Jake decides to return to Spain. He soon receives a telegram from Brett asking for help in Madrid. Jake immediately goes to Madrid, where he learns that Brett sent Romero away for fear of corrupting him.

The novel ends unspectacularly, with Jake and Brett talking in a taxi in Madrid. In the final lines of the novel, Brett tells Jake she thinks they could have had a wonderful time together. Jake replies, “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Hemingway renders the disorientation and distractedness of the Lost Generation in sparing prose, devoid of sentimentality and flowery language. In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway barely develops the interior lives of his main characters. By withholding key details about their mental and emotional states, Hemingway conveys the fundamental emptiness of the expatriates’ lives.

The Sun Also Rises established Hemingway as one of the great writers of the 20th century. Today it is considered one of Hemingway’s masterpieces and a classic work of literature.


Death in the Afternoon

Published in 1932, this nonfiction work by Hemingway is the classic exploration of the history and pageantry of bullfighting, and the deeper themes of cowardice, bravery, sport and tragedy that it inspires.

Still considered one of the best books ever written about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon reflects Hemingway's belief that bullfighting was more than mere sport. Here he describes and explains the technical aspects of this dangerous ritual, and "the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet serge draped on a stick."

Seen through his eyes, bullfighting becomes an art, a richly choreographed ballet, with performers who range from awkward amateurs to masters of great grace and cunning.

Death in the Afternoon is also a deeper contemplation on the nature of cowardice and bravery, sport and tragedy, and is enlivened throughout by Hemingway's pungent commentary on life and literature.

Hemingway became a bullfighting aficionado after visiting the Fiesta de San Fermín in Pamplona in the 1920s. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway explores the metaphysics of bullfighting—the ritualized, almost religious practice—that he considered analogous to the writer's search for meaning and the essence of life. In bullfighting, he found the elemental nature of life and death.

In his writings on Spain, Hemingway was influenced by the Spanish master Pío Baroja. When Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, he traveled to see Baroja, then on his death bed, specifically to tell him he thought Baroja deserved the prize more than he.


For Whom the Bell Tolls

In 1937 Hemingway travelled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from "the good fight," For Whom the Bell Tolls. 

The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal.

In his portrayal of Jordan's love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo's last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway created a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving and wise.

"If the function of a writer is to reveal reality," Maxwell Perkins wrote to Hemingway after reading the manuscript, "no one ever so completely performed it."

Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author's previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time. 


The Fifth Column

The Fifth Column is autobiographical drama. Philip Rawlings, its leading man and a Loyalist agent, justified his apparently dissolute existence as a "third-rate newspaperman" on the ground that he is really a "second-rate cop."

So Hemingway justified what Rawlings's mistress calls "this absolutely utter playboy business" on the grounds that he was turning it to literature. Except for her unbelievable stupidity, Dorothy, the mistress, is an accurate portrait of fellow journalist and later third wife Martha Gellhorn.

As elsewhere, the author gets good comic mileage out of the speech of those for whom English is not their native tongue. The hotel manager is hilarious. Actually all of the horseplay is amusing. But the utterly serious business depends for its impact on our believing in the hero's romantic political convictions.

In the play, Philip nobly renounces Dorothy for the cause; in life Hemingway married her.

At one point, Philip mentions to his mistress people who have "done such things that it would break your damn heart if I tried to tell you about it."


So, Ernest Hemingway comes in at number four on my list of the top five writers about Spain. I’ve read all his books about Spain apart from the play, The Fifth Column, and four short stories. Coincidentally, last week I stumbled across a tattered copy of the play and the short stories in one volume. I shall start to read it as soon as I’ve finished Sacred Sierra by Jason Webster [also on my top five list at number two].




Encyclopedia Britannica



Further reading

Pelea y guisqui

Remembering Paquirri

Top 5 Writers on Spain

Laurie Lee

Jason Webster

Chris Stewart

Like 2


lenox said:
Wednesday, February 23, 2022 @ 11:22 AM

I think that his book For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of the great novels of the 20 century. It is so well written and yet so hard to read (in a good way). Fabulous.

PablodeRonda said:
Thursday, February 24, 2022 @ 4:53 AM

A friend asked on Facebook why Gerald Brenan wasn't in my top five writers about Spain. The truth is, I don't really know, for he wrote some great books.
You could say the same about Alastair Boyd or George Orwell. And what about Washington Irving, George Borrow and Hugh Thomas.
That comes to 10. Maybe I just need to expand my list to a top ten. Watch this space.....

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