Paul Ashdown

Returning from an East African safari during the winter of 1933, Ernest Hemingway sat against a stone wall and watched grebes swimming in the Sea of Galilee. Capturing those moments of repose by the fisherman's sea in a postscript to Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway gives an important clue to a truth he expresses in much of his work. The Galilee fishermen Jesus selected as his first disciples knew the proper use of time. Whether mending nets on the shore or casting them into the sea, fishermen live by patient and careful observation of nature and attention to detail. A fisherman must not be rushed and must believe the bounty will be provided.

Hemingway's famous fishermen, Nick Adams in "Big Two-Hearted River" and Santiago (named for the Apostle James, a Galilee fisherman) in The Old Man and the Sea, know how to wait and, by waiting, learn something about the sanctification of time. Hemingway shows this deference to time early and often in his literary journalism. For example, in his dispatch "Fishing the Rhone Canal," which appeared in the Toronto Daily Star in 1922, Hemingway recalls catching a trout in the Swiss canal by carefully timing his cast in the afternoon shadows. He wraps the trout in a copy of the Daily Mail, which is filled with the ephemeral news of the day, none of which is as satisfying or timeless as the trout. By fishing slowly down the edge of the stream, he knows he sooner or later will catch a trout again. Walking near the stream on the road to Aigle, he thinks of French, Hunnish, and Roman armies passing along the road long before, wondering if they took time to fish in the same stream. Arriving at the train station near Aigle, he eats and drinks joyfully in a beautiful cafe, knowing that he has a long wait for the next train, and secretly wishing it will never come (1967a, 331-35).

The little grebes Hemingway watches on the Sea of Galilee live by fishing too. They are not mentioned in the Bible, he decides, because "those people were not naturalists." Biblical writers were not naturalists but had eyes sufficiently keen to identify twenty-seven species of birds. All creatures of the earth live in harmony with time, and, Hemingway seems to suggest, humankind prospers only to the extent that it shares in that harmony. Writers, especially, must make accommodation so that they see the world properly. Hemingway said in the Foreword to Green Hills of Africa that he tried to write it as "an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month's action can, if truly presented, compete with a work of the imagination." He wanted "to try to write something about the country and the animals and what it's like to someone who knows nothing about it" (1967b, 194). In order to do this, he enriches characters and dialogue with the techniques of the novel and uses dramatic time to advance the action. Rhetoric intrudes, occasionally, but is often masked as parody. Hemingway invents a campfire literary discussion ostensibly to show up "the lice who crawl on literature," at the same time effectively commenting on the book he is writing (1967b, 109).

The naturalist, Hemingway insists, must avoid rhetoric. He praises Melville for telling "how things, actual things, can be" but then condemns those who pay closer attention to Melville's rhetoric, "which is not important. They put a mystery in which is not there" (1967b, 20). True mysticism, he says in Death in the Afternoon, should never be

confused with incompetence in writing which seeks to mystify where there is no mystery but is really only the necessity to fake to cover lack of knowledge or the inability to state clearly. Mysticism implies a mystery and there are many mysteries; but incompetence is not one of them; nor is overwritten journalism made literature by the injection of a false epic quality. (1932, 54)

Hemingway says that he cannot read other naturalists like Thoreau unless they are being extremely accurate and not literary (1967b, 21). To get the kind of accuracy Hemingway wants takes time, and Green Hills of Africa is saturated with references to doing things slowly, carefully, and properly. Traveling through Masai country, which he thinks is the loveliest part o Africa, he objects to being forced to hunt rapidly. He dreams about coming back to "hunt that country slowly, living there and hunting out each day .. . and get[ting] to know it as I knew the country around the lake where we were brought up." He would "lie in the fallen leaves and watch the kudu feed" or "watch them on the hillside and see them long enough so they belonged to me forever" (282).

Difficulties arise on the safari when the hunters are rushed: I thought he'd do well off by himself with no one to hurry him or rattle him.. rattle him trying to get him to speed up" (63). "Something is always tricking him, the need to do things other than in regular order, or by an inexact command in which details are not specified, or to have to do it in front of people, or to be hurried" (131-32). Everything on the hunt and, by extension, in life in general, reminds us that time is terribly short, that we are always being caught by time, tripped up by time, forced by time to do things for which we are not ready.

Hemingway calls this "that most exciting perversion of life: the necessity of accomplishing something in less time than should truly be allowed for its doing" (12). The country is also a captive of time. Marveling at elephant tracks "sunk a foot deep in the loam of the forest floor," Hemingway reflects that mammoths traveled through the hills in southern Illinois "a long time ago" and made the same tracks, but now the biggest game in America is gone (249-50). America had been a good country, but now it is too late. "A continent ages quickly once we come.... Let the others come to America who did not know that they had come too late. Our people had seen it at its best and fought for it when it was worth fighting for. Now I would go somewhere else" (284-85).

He expresses something of the same sentiment in an Esquire magazine article he wrote at about the same time he was writing the Africa book. Recalling a visit to his hometown of Oak Park, Illinois, five years earlier, Hemingway laments that "the house where I was born was gone and they had cut down the oak trees.... So I was glad I went away from there as soon as I did. Because when you like to shoot and fish you have to move often and always further out and it doesn't make any difference what they do when you are gone" (1967a, 188).

Now, casting time as a central enemy to one's work, one's spirit, one's enjoyment of life, is an understandable prejudice for a journalist. As a newspaper reporter, Hemingway "told what happened and, with one trick and another, you communicated the emotion aided by the element of timelines which gives a certain emotion to any account of something that has happened that day" (1932, 2). The apparent urgency of the information swindles the reader into Imagining it, but a month later the time element is gone and the account is forgotten. "But if you make it up instead of describe it you can make it round and whole and solid and give it life" (1967a, 215-16). Then and only then is it worth remembering. Moreover, the constraints of time virtually ensure that a reporter might be able to learn what happened but seldom why it happened (Hotchner 1959, 10).

Hemingway's use of journalism as source material for his fiction and his achievements and limitations as both a novelist and a journalist have been thoroughly analyzed. 1 Some of the stories he wrote as a teenager for the Kansas City Star in 1917 and 1918 before he went to Europe with the Red Cross have been collected by Bruccoli in Ernest Hemingway, Cub Reporter. Although largely routine and unremarkable, these stories show a writer cautiously attempting to break out of the boundaries of conventional straight news reporting. Hemingway was always more comfortable with the literary feature approach to news writing. He developed this approach from 1920 to 1923 as a reporter and foreign correspondent with the Toronto Daily Star and the Toronto Star Weekly, and then continued it through most of his life by contract work for leading magazines, newspapers, and the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA). Anthony Burgess argues that the Hemingway of the Toronto papers "was a man who saw things sharply and sharply delivered what he saw, keeping himself discreetly in the background. When it was necessary for him to come forward and make a judgment, it was usually done with a flash of individuality wholly charming" (1978, 61).

Hemingway could always build a simple story around the purely sensual pleasures of life, usually by placing himself in the center of the story, and it is these shared celebrations of commonplace joys that many people remember most readily from his writing. The hard, cynical edge of his reporting was always ready to surrender to beauty. An early story, "Christmas on the Roof of the World," cabled to the Toronto Star Weekly in 1923, captured both the exhilaration of celebrating the Christmas season on a Swiss mountain and the poignancy of being homesick in Paris. The young Hemingway, his wife, and youthful companions rush into their clothes and tear down an icy road "in the glory of the blue-white glistening alpine morning." From the top of a mountain they "could look over the whole world, white, glistening in the powder snow, and ranges of mountains stretching off in every direction." After a seven-mile rush down the slope "in the dusk, past chalets that were a burst of lights and Christmas merriment in the dark," the skiers race into the black woods past chalets, "their windows alight with the candles from the Christmas trees," overshooting their own chalet, and then hiking back up the hill toward lights "very cheerful against the dark pines of the hill, and inside was a big Christmas tree and a real Christmas turkey dinner."

The narrative concludes with a scene that could come from Puccini's La Bohème:

Paris with the snow falling. Paris with the big charcoal braziers outside the cafes, glowing red.... Snow is never more beautiful than in the city. It is wonderful in Paris to stand on a bridge across the Seine looking up through the softly curtaining snow past the grey bulk of the Louvre, up the river spanned by many bridges bordered by the grey houses of old Paris to where Notre Dame squats in the dusk. It is very beautiful in Paris and very lonely at Christmas time.

Two lovers visiting the city walk up the Rue Bonaparte longing for their own homes (in a purely invented conversation, unless the lovers are the Hemingways themselves, or Hemingway had an extraordinary capacity for eavesdropping) and worrying about their future. After eating an unsatisfactory Christmas dinner in a lime restaurant, they return to the street, where "snow was still falling. And they walked out into the streets of old Paris that had known the prowling of wolves and the hunting of men and the tall old houses that had looked down on it all and were stark and unmoved by Christmas." The lovers are too homesick to enjoy themselves. The perfect Hemingway ending: a lesson learned in the losing of something, a clean, well-lighted place cast against a gathering darkness, reverberations of eternity, and the slow, steady lapping of time in its fullness against a remembered shore (1967a, 124-31).

Hemingway distinguished between "writing against deadlines, writing to make stuff timely rather than permanent" and writing he produced on his own schedule. He told a bibliographer, "No one has the right to dig this stuff up and use it against the stuff you have written to write the best you can" (Cohn 1931, 112). Although Hemingway's journalism as a body of work has been placed "among the best newspaper and magazine reporting available in our troubled times," his Spanish Civil War reporting has been called everything from "meager, rambling and self- centered" to "abysmally bad.'' 2 Burgess argues that Hemingway's war correspondence is still very readable only because he treated it as a minor form of fiction-writing. He contends that Hemingway's journalistic patrons in effect subsidized his research for fictional books and had to "make do with second-best Hemingway" (1978, 79).

Robert O. Stephens takes a more balanced approach to Hemingway's journalism by placing it in the context of his entire nonfictional output. This "public voice"--including journalism, essays, prefaces, program notes on painting and sculpture exhibitions, self-edited interviews, scripts, works of literary journalism such as Death in the Afternoon and Green Hills of Africa--"constitutes an intermediate voice between the private and the masked voices" (1968, x). This gives a better sense of what Hemingway was doing as a man of letters and offers the nonfictional work as a parallel art to the fiction rather than a sort of subordinate dream landscape from which to mine the fictional archetypes.

As part of his "public voice," then, Hemingway's journalism might be seen as a rough draft for the "private voice" of fiction, or it might stand on its own merits. Stephens demonstrates how Hemingway practically transcribed portions of his journalism into fiction. The second draft--the fictional form--pushed beyond the boundaries of time not only in its more leisurely creation but also in expanding the interior life of the characters and the narrator's response to them. He evidently was not chary about fictionalizing portions of his journalism. His gift for inventing dialogue results in characters who could have stepped out of the pages of The Sun Also Rises. Did these people really say these things just this way? But, on the other hand, we may be willing to accept that what the stories lack in journalistic accuracy they gain in dramatic unity.

For example, a NANA dispatch, "A New Kind of War," cabled from Madrid in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, begins with a grainy film noir quality, suggesting Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart. Hemingway lies in bed in a dark room, listening through an open window to the rattle of gunfire and thinking, "It is a great thing to be in bed with your feet stretched out gradually warming the cold foot of the bed and not out there in University City or Carabanchel. A man is singing hardvoiced in the street below."

In the morning he is awakened by an exploding shell and looks out to see a man sprinting across the pavement. Downstairs in the lobby, he sees a woman, blood spurting from her abdomen, being carried into the hotel. Vapor rises from a broken gas main in the sidewalk, "looking like a heat mirage in the cold morning air."

One man has been killed by the explosion, but the "dead man wasn't you," so Hemingway goes to breakfast, passing a woman scrubbing blood off a marble floor. Conversations about the incident heighten the sense of fatalism. The awareness of the closeness and randomness of death becomes palpable. The correspondent finds that he can obtain a bigger room on the side of the hotel near the explosion and closer to the shelling for less than a dollar. Why not? "It wasn't me anymore."

Stopping at a hospital behind the front lines, Hemingway is told that a severely injured American named Jay Raven wants to see him. Raven tells Hemingway that he was blinded by a grenade after he helped rally retreating Republican soldiers and defeat some Fascist troops. But Hemingway does not believe the story because it was "the sort of way everyone would like to have been wounded." During World War I he had known that "men often lied about the manner of their wounding."

Nevertheless, he plays along with Raven, who "did not sound like the wreckage of a soldier somehow." A doctor tells Hemingway that Raven will recover but will be permanently maimed. Later Hemingway meets Raven's wounded commanding officer and learns that Raven's story is quite true. And as Hemingway already suspects, Raven is not really a soldier, but a social worker with no military training. "This is a strange new kind of war where you learn just as much as you are able to believe," he concludes. We are left with the sense that in this war and probably in the coming war we must not only believe that we will go on living, but we must have faith in order to believe anything at all. In this new kind of war, the possibility of bravery may be the only thing worth believing in (1967a, 272-64).

With only some minor adjustments, the dispatch could have been an perhaps should have been published as a short story. But there is a doule meaning for the reader, who, having every reason to believe that the dispatch is largely fiction, may fall into the same trap as Hemingway in the story, This brilliant technique--hardly second-rate Hemingway--creates a truly literary piece of journalism. The objection should be raised that the reader is entitled to know what is fact and what is invention. Burgess charges that Hemingway's fiction-writer's talent "impelled him to invent, organize into aesthetic patterns, cultivate the 'impressionism' which Ford Madox Ford encouraged writers to carry over from fiction to real life. Truth, according to Ford, was not facts but vision--a view which justified suppression and distortion of facts, what ordinary people call lying" (Burgess 1978, 79). But the literary journalist could respond that you take your knavery one way or another--either the trick of timeliness or the artifice of literary invention.

Especially in his war dispatches, as in his war fiction, Hemingway insists that the reader accept the hard reality of existence and not mix it up with rhetoric or propaganda. His writing is often a response to what passes as timely news in the press, and, as Stephens points out, "he wrote with a sound and sometimes cynical knowledge of the predilections of newspaper and magazine readers who were his major public" (1968, 324). In a graphic piece of commentary about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, "Wings Always over Africa: An Ornithological Letter," published in Esquire in 1936, he begins by citing a press dispatch that reported the passage through the Suez Canal of almost 10,000 Italian casualties. He points out that the dispatch did not say that the soldiers were being sent to hospital concentration camps on an Italian Island so that they would not depress the Italian enthusiasm for the war. He says that it is easy to be patriotic when you fail to know what really happens in a war. While the Italian planes are swooping down on the lightly armed Ethiopians, terrible carrion birds are swooping down on wounded Italian soldiers and eating them alive. Describing this ghastly process in some detail, he points out the need for the Fascists to conceal this aspect of war from the troops. He reflects on the consequences of World War I for the common people of Italy and denounces those who profited from the conflict. In this senseless war against Ethiopians, it is the poorest Italians who will suffer again. "Mussolini's sons are in the air where there are no enemy planes to shoot them down," he says. But poor men's sons are the foot soldiers, who will hear "the whish of wings when the birds come down," and will die never knowing their real enemy (1967a, 229-35).

This is effective literary journalism, building on the faulty and probably hasty press dispatch that fails to tell the whole story and then exploiting the analogy of the predatory birds and the Italian planes. Beginning as a commentary on the limitations of timely journalism, it continues in essay or editorial form to explicate the history, causes, and consequences of what Hemingway later called the "bullying, murderous, slovenly crime of war" (1948, x). Ultimately, Hemingway found that as a literary journalist he could not win either way. He had written of the Castilian sense of death in Death in the Afternoon:

They think a great deal about death and when they have a religion they have one which believes that life is much shorter than death. Having this feeling they take an intelligent interest in death and when they can see it being given, avoided, refused and accepted in the afternoon for a nominal price of admission they pay their money and go to the bull ring. (1932, 266)

When he returned to the subject in his last journalistic writing, published as "The Dangerous Summer" in Life magazine shortly before he died, he was criticized for writing journalism and not literature (L. Hemingway 1980, 280). But whatever labels could be attached to his writing, Hemingway's suicide in 1961 left a void in American letters that has never been filled. As Norman Mailer puts it: "Hemingway had given the power to believe you could still shout down the corridor of the hospital, live next to the breath of the beast, accept your portion of dread each day. Now the greatest living romantic is dead. Dread was loose" (1970, 14).


1. See, for example, Fenton 1954; Kobler 1984; Fishkin 1985.

2. See Hemingway 1967a, xiv; Shaber 1980, 421; Knightley 1975, 213.


Hemingway, Ernest. 1932. Death in the Afternoon. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

-----. 1948. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

-----. 1967a. By-Line: Ernest Hemingway. Ed. William White. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

-----. 1967b. Green Hills of Africa. New York: Collier Books. -----. 1970. Ernest Hemingway, Cub Reporter. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.


Burgess, Anthony. 1978. Ernest Hemingway and His World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Cohn, Louis Henry. 1931. A Bibliography of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Random House. Fenton, Charles A. 1954. The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Viking.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. 1985. From Fact to Fiction. New York: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hemingway, Leicester. 1980. My Brother, Ernest Hemingway. Miami Beach: Winchester House.

Hotchner, A. E. 1959, Oct. 18. "Ernest Hemingway Talks to American Youth." This Week.

Knightley, Philip. 1975. The First Casualty: From Guinea to Viet Nam: the War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth-Maker. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Kobler, J. F. 1984. Ernest Hemingway: Journalist and Artist. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press.

Mailer, Norman. 1970. Of a Fire on the Moon. Boston: Little, Brown.

Shaber, Sarah. 1980, Autumn. "Hemingway's Literary Journalism: The Spanish Civil War Dispatches." Journalism Quarterly.

Stephens, Robert O. 1968. Hemingway's Nonfiction: The Public Voice. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.