Tag: civil war

Hemingway, “On The Quai at Smyrna” (1930)

Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Like reading a Barnett Newman. It is mostly in what Hemingway doesn’t say, in the silences between glimpses of terror and cruelty: “The worst, he said, were the women with the dead babies. You couldn’t get the women to give up their dead babies.” They scream at midnight until the soldiers point searchlights at them. One woman dies and goes immediately stiff. They’re refugees of the Greek-Turkish war of 1922, seen by a seemingly dissociated narrator, either a British or American soldier in charge of managing the situation while Turks, a little too Paul Bowles-like summed- and smudged up in the person of one “Turk,” are portrayed as complicating the situation. But that narrator is either unnerving or maddening, or both. Or mad: “You remember the harbor. There were plenty of nice things floating around in it.” Who is he talking to? Why this reference to “plenty of nice things floating around” in the midst of horrors? What nice things ever float in a harbor? Ever? It’s throw-away details like that, that you know would never be throw-aways in Hemingway, that make you think he’s just throwing a line for effect rather than meaning/ Nothing wrong with that of course. Viz, Newman, his Vir Heroicus Sublimis (the “Heroic Sublime”), whom we just saw at MoMa. See my picture above. Maybe that’s a Turkish man wondering yet again why he’s being thrown under the big red bus and those “zips,” as Newman called those lines. I don’t know why the photo utility I just used dulled the reds as it did. Maybe Kazyo Shigara’s 1964 “Untitled” is more apt:

kazuo shiraga

Kazuo Shiraga’s Untitled,” 1964. (c FlaglerLive)

The two-page vignette was originally the introduction to In Our Time. He unfortunately renamed it, pretentiously, “On the Quai at Smyrna.”

Henry James, “The Story of a Year” (1865)

henry james the story of a year

Lizzie Crowe is often described as “shallow.” But it is Henry James’s story that better fits the description. Lizzie and Jack Ford promises themselves to each other just before Jack goes off to fight in the Civil War. Lizzie is the ward of Jack’s mother, the widowed and rigid, jealous Mrs. Ford who considers Lizzie “shallow” and no good for her son. The engagement is “an abasement incurred by John,” though again the way Lizzie is portrayed is more of an abasement projected by Henry James:

Mrs Ford sends Lizzie off to another town for a while, where Lizzie meets Bruce, an older man who immediately sets chase for her, and continues to do so even as Jack is dying nearby. Lizzie hears Jack is dying. She’s distraught. “Like most weak persons, she was glad to step out of the current of life, now that it had begun to quicken into action.” She is referred to as “this little girl.” It’s reminiscent of Updike referring to Janice as a “mutt” and “stupid.” Of Lizzie, James writes: “I do not mean to say that her sorrow was very poignant, although she fancied it was.” Such debasing of the character, amplified by James unnecessarily and haughtily plugging himself inw ith the first person. Imperious. And: “Her intellect was unequal to th stern logic of human events.” I’m not sure what James intends with this story, why he sets Lizzie up to be such a failure. It’s cruel and pointless, fictional torture. Worse: “Let us hope that her childish spirit was being tempered to some useful purpose.” She promises herself to Bruce. Jack recovers, is brought home. Bruce is persistent, sidles up to Lizzie again and again. Lizzie goes to Jack’s bedside, promises herself to him, he tells her he’s dying, and to marry Bruce. He does so with a brief, stupid soliloquy:

She goes on a long walk, returns, rejects Bruce, who’s of course at the gate–dying and mourning be damned–but he continues the chase. End of story. The goodreads analysis below is instructive.

From Goodreads’ Ronald Wendling:

The Misogyny Continues: “The Story of a Year” (1865) by Henry James

In this his second published novella Henry James, still in his early twenties, again reveals the misogyny in his first published but unsigned story, “A Tragedy of Error.” In this second, acknowledged story Lizzie Crowe is forced by the Civil War to forgo the presence not of a husband, as is Hortense Bernier in “A Tragedy of Error,” but of her fiancée. In both stories James appears to be imagining a woman he himself might marry and looking for reasons why he should not. We know from no less an authority than Leon Edel that James felt his masculinity threatened by the company of males who served, as he did not, in the Civil War. Here he imagines that he himself is the wounded veteran, Jack Ford, admired for his sense of duty but, from the perspective of most modern readers, clueless on the subject of women.

Jack, who has just proposed to Lizzie as James’s story begins, receives his military posting immediately after we overhear the couple talking over what their engagement means to each of them. Jack, along with Mrs. Ford (his widowed mother) and the narrator, all use the word “shallow” to characterize Lizzie whose own words and behavior bear out that description. A motherless young woman under Mrs. Ford’s guardianship, Lizzie has learned how simple, coy and merely “pretty” men wish women to be and decides to wear that obliging makeup. When Mrs. Ford calls Lizzie “shallow,” Jack not only agrees but says that is why he loves her. No mystery about her: he can see right through to those shallow depths.

I find only one place in the story where Lizzie indicates her awareness of how socially constructed that supposed shallowness is. She asks Jack directly if he thinks it horrid for a woman to act on reason and duty rather than sentiment and, not receiving a direct reply, says she plans to spend their unavoidable time away from each other educating herself practically on their future: “Women are such fools, Jack! I mean to learn to like boiled mutton and history and plain sewing and all that. Yet when a girl’s engaged, she’s not expected to do anything in particular.” To have acquired a man, in other words, is generally regarded as the pinnacle of female achievement.

In the one year they are apart, however, Lizzie lives up to her reputation for shallowness. While she does struggle a little toward fidelity to Jack, she can’t help romanticizing her forlorn situation, shying away from the ugly realities of Jack’s battlefield experience and her self-absorbed, if understandable need to find a man.

Lizzie remains, then, essentially fickle: nothing like the wife that the author of her character would need if he were to marry.

There was another obstacle to Jack’s (and Henry James’s) marrying a woman like Lizzie. Not only does Jack’s strong willed mother advise him against marrying her shallow guardian but connives with a friend to invite Lizzie to a visit where she not unexpectedly meets her second lover, the dashing but vaguely drawn character of Bruce. James’s own reluctance to marry might well have had at least part of its source, then, in the disapproval of his managerial mother.

But we might additionally look elsewhere in an effort to explain the unhappy fictional fate of Jack’s and Lizzie’s engagement to marry. Not only did James have real life doubts about his own masculinity and fears that his mother would reject his choice of a mate, but when he wrote this story he was still deciding whether to carry on his career as a writer. I think he considered that vocation as heroic in its way as Jack’s yearlong absence from Lizzie to serve in the military. But writing, especially as much of it as James was to do, would require absence from any wife far longer than the one described here in “The Story of a Year.”

Atlantic Monthly, March 1865

Hemingway, “Old Man at the Bridge” (1938)

 

A two-page sketch, a 76-years-old man escaping from the advancing fascists (during the Spanish Civil War), but too exhausted to go on. All pathos, all pity. He talks of his animals that he took care of until the last minute before he was forced to leave. He thinks the cat can take care of itself, but not so much the other animals–who, it turns out, are like him: his fate is sealed. The fascists’ planes were not up. “That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck that old an would ever have.” The story is intended to be heartbreaking. Visualizing the old man, it is. It is a universal image: the civilian at the end of his rope, and luck. Those are his last moments, witnessed apparently by a news reporter. Unlike “Cat in the Rain,” the cats in this case are self-sufficient: it’s the old man who is reduced to the state of a kitten, shivering with uncertainty, no Hadley to save him.

Notably, the sketch was possibly intended as a news article: “It is based upon an Easter Sunday stopover at the Ebro River during his coverage of the Spanish Civil War in April 1938. Although employed by the North American Newspaper Association (NANA), Hemingway apparently decided to submit it to Ken Magazine as a short story instead of using it as a news article.”

Ken Magazine, May 19, 1938