Monday, April 28, 2008

More Travel Writing

Embedded early in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises is one of my favorite disclaimers in literature:

Then there was another thing. He [Robert Cohn] had been reading W. H. Hudson. That sounds like an innocent occupation, but Cohn had read and reread "The Purple Land." "The Purple Land" is a very sinister book if read too late in life. It recounts splendid imaginary amorous adventures of a perfect English gentleman in an intensely romantic land, the scenery of which is very well described. For a man to take it at thirty-four as a guide-book to what life holds is about as safe as it would be for a man of the same age to enter Wall Street direct from a French convent, equipped with a complete set of the more practical Alger books.

(Incidentally, not everyone recognizes the serious literary aspirations evinced by this meta-fictional gesture, or by the irony of the comma-less descriptors "splendid imaginary amorous." For them, Hemingway will always be about bulls and boats.)

I first had Hemingway administered to me by a simian hiking companion in Pennsylvania; he read to us from the last third of The Sun Also Rises--from Jake's and Bill's and Cohn's and Mike's and Brett's not-so-splendid quasi-amorous sort-of-imaginary adventures in Pamplona. I had never known that inebriation could be so literary.

But the part of TSAR that I return to most often now is Jake and Bill's fishing trip to the Irati River:

The road came out from the shadow of the woods into the hot sun. Ahead was the river-valley. Beyond the river was a steep hill. There was a field of buckwheat on the hill. We saw a white house under some trees on the hillside. It was very hot and we stopped under some trees beside a dam that crossed the river.

The land here is at once an empty page and a restorative balm; it is the only geography fit for the realization of a certain kind of relationship. Evoking both Don Quixote (see again the passage about the purple land) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway honors and undermines literary and military traditions of male camaraderie. (The entire section, which is not delineated by chapter headings, is about thirty pages.) Jake and Bill walk to river, fish, drink, make mock toasts, read, nap, and walk home. In the evenings they play three-handed bridge with an Englishman named Harris. It really is a lovely idyll between long descriptions of frenzied misunderstanding, manipulation, rupture, and release.

1 comment:

V. said...

Papa does the same thing in White Elephants. I love his treatment of landscape.