Carlos Baker 1909–-1987
(Born Carlos Heard Baker) American biographer, novelist, critic, and editor.
Baker is best known as the official biographer of Ernest Hemingway, but he also published critical studies of other literary figures, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Faulkner. His biographical account of Hemingway's life garnered much praise for its wealth of invaluable material but drew negative reaction for its lack of insight and interpretation. Yet Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (1969) is still regarded as an important biographical work and Baker is remembered as an influential biographer and literary critic.
Baker was born on May 5, 1909 in Biddeford, Maine. In 1932 he received his B.A. from Dartmouth College and a year later received his M.A. from Harvard University. After spending a few years teaching high school, he became an English instructor at Princeton University in 1938. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1940 and became a full professor in 1951. He was appointed chairman of the English department in 1952, a position that lasted until 1958. In the early 1950s, Baker initiated a correspondence with Hemingway, a relationship that would continue until a few months before Hemingway's death in 1961. This exchange of letters allowed Baker to gather personal information from the author, even though Hemingway forbade the writing of any biography of himself. From 1954 to 1957, Baker was the Woodrow Wilson Professor of English at Princeton. He received a Fulbright lectureship at Oxford University in 1957 and in Nice, France, in 1958. After Hemingway's death, Baker maintained a privileged relationship with Mary Hemingway, the author's widow. In this way he was able to become Hemingway's official biographer. In 1969 his biography of Hemingway was published. In 1977 Baker retired as professor emeritus. He died after a short illness on April 18, 1987.
Baker's 1952 interpretive study of Hemingway's oeuvre, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, succeeded in establishing his credentials as a leading Hemingway scholar. He revised the study three times, adding chapters to explore later fiction and appending a bibliography. Baker's often contentious relationship with Hemingway is retold in The Land of Rumbelow: A Fable in the Form of a Novel (1963), a novel chronicling the complex relationship between a famous author and a literary critic. Through information garnered from Hemingway and his widow, as well as interviews with associates, family, friends, and acquaintances, Baker compiled his comprehensive biography, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, which was published in 1969. Considered the official biography of Hemingway, the book was a commercial success and has been translated into several languages. With the permission of Mary Hemingway, Baker published Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961 (1981), a collection of approximately six hundred unedited letters. Because Hemingway had forbidden the publication of his correspondence, even after his death, the appearance of this book garnered critical approbation as some scholars disparaged Baker as opportunistic and dishonorable.
Although some of Baker's facts have been challenged, Ernest Hemingway is regarded as an invaluable resource on Hemingway's life. Commentators have noted a few inaccuracies in Baker's biographical account, a result of Hemingway's tendency to invent his own truth and Baker's willingness to accept it. In general, however, Baker has been commended for exposing most of Hemingway's myths by presenting objective accounts of the author's life. The copious amount of previously unpublished information reported in Ernest Hemingway has also been a matter of critical discussion: most commentators praise the extensive amount of new material in the book; yet several assert that the research could have been presented more judiciously and with more insight into Hemingway's personality. Some critics maintain that Baker's privileged position as official Hemingway biographer impacted his interpretation of the material—that, in fact, he treated the author with too much respect. Yet critics recognize his accomplishment and the importance of his work, as well as his considerable influence on Hemingway studies.
Shadow on a Stone (poetry) 1930
The American Looks at the World [editor] (essays) 1944
Shelley's Major Poetry: The Fabric of a Vision (criticism) 1948
Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (criticism) 1952
The Major English Romantic Poets: A Symposium in Reappraisal [editor with C. D. Thorpe and Bennett Weaver] (criticism) 1957
A Friend in Power (novel) 1958
Hemingway and His Critics: An International Anthology [editor] (criticism) 1961
Ernest Hemingway: Critiques of Four Major Novels [editor] (criticism) 1962
A Year and a Day: Poems (poetry) 1963
The Land of Rumbelow: A Fable in the Form of a Novel (novel) 1963
Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (biography) 1969
The Gay Head Conspiracy: A Novel of Suspense (novel) 1973
The Talismans and Other Stories (short stories) 1976
Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961 [editor] (letters) 1981
The Echoing Green: Romanticism, Modernism, and Phenomenon of Transference in Poetry (criticism) 1984
Emerson Among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait (criticism) 1996
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SOURCE: Mizener, Arthur. “Prodigy into Peer.” Saturday Review of Literature 35, no. 42 (18 October 1952): 25.
[In the following favorable review of Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, Mizener contends that Baker succeeds in focusing on Hemingway's “essential character” and considers the study “a considerable accomplishment.”]
This first systematic study of Hemingway as a writer [in Hemingway: The Writer as Artist] is a fine, sensible book, and when you think of all the possibilities for going astray about Hemingway's work and of all the irrelevant things it would be easy to write about his personality, you feel, I think, very grateful to Professor Baker for having written the kind of book he has.
He is not trying to startle the reader with “Freudian fiddle-faddle” or another trick kind of interpretation; he is trying to give precise definition to what we can all see, if only vaguely. Consequently he fixes from the start on what is certainly the essential characteristic of Hemingway's work, the way he is able to embody a structure of values and feelings in a meticulously “true” representation of “the way it was.” Professor Baker makes us see how this central intention has governed Hemingway's work through all the changes and developments of the thirty years between Three Stories and Ten Poems and The Old Man and the Sea. It is a...
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SOURCE: Quinn, Patrick F. “The Measure of Hemingway.” Commonweal 57, no. 3 (24 October 1952): 73-75.
[In the following review, Quinn asserts that Baker repudiates many of the critical perceptions about Hemingway and his work in Hemingway: The Writer as Artist.]
Perhaps the most important generalization that can be made about modern literature, fiction as well as poetry, is that its method is dramatic rather than expository. It seeks not to explain but to imply.
Some day this axiom will be taken for granted. Ignoring it, many people are baffled by the apparently inflated reputation of Hemingway. The man can write—obviously. But what a narrow range, and how little depth! The smallness of his talent compels him to deal with sensational material. His writing is almost invariably concerned with war, sex, and violence. No doubt these subjects have an immediate and widespread interest, and so the man's audience is large. But Hemingway's great weakness is that he can treat his material only on a primitive, non-intellectual, amoral level. There are no mature values in his work. One misses ideas, ethics, high seriousness. And so what is he, really, but the prince of pulp-writers; and how is it that a professor at Princeton has published this detailed and enthusiastic study of what Hemingway has done?
The book [Hemingway: The Writer as Artist] was written for...
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SOURCE: West, Ray B., Jr. “The Sham Battle over Ernest Hemingway.” Western Review 17, no. 3 (spring 1953): 234-40.
[In the following review, West compares Baker's treatment of Hemingway and his work in Hemingway: The Writer as Artist to Philip Young's Ernest Hemingway.]
Present-day criticism of Ernest Hemingway appears to be in a confused and unhappy state. The blame, I think, lies with the over-zealous friends of Mr. Hemingway, and with Mr. Hemingway himself. There is a kind of person who can abide no criticism of Ernest Hemingway, and Ernest Hemingway himself seems to be one of these people. In those pleasant days—say between the publication of For Whom the Bell Tolls and Across the River and Into the Trees—a good many wise and interesting things were said about Ernest Hemingway's work, as well as many things that were interesting but not wise, and a few that were just plain foolish. This is as it should be—this is the way of criticism. Almost all of the remarks, good, bad, and indifferent, served to create a picture of an artist who was more than competent, but not without his weaknesses. The competence and the limitations were discussed and defined, in terms of the principal works and in terms of general problems of the aesthetics of fiction. Hemingway's place in the heaven of American novelists may have seemed lowly to him and his friends, but it was no mean place. He...
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SOURCE: Beach, Joseph Warren. Review of Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, by Carlos Baker. American Quarterly 6, no. 1 (spring 1954): 79-83.
[In the following mixed assessment of Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, Beach commends Baker's analysis of specific stories and novels, but criticizes his treatment of Hemingway's aesthetic.]
Even if he is not always satisfied with Professor Baker's approach to the esthetic problem, the devoted reader of Hemingway must hail this study [entitled Hemingway: The Writer as Artist] as of decided importance for an understanding and evaluation of Hemingway's writing. To begin with, it is full and detailed in its account of the conditions under which each work was written and published and of Hemingway's intentions in general and in particular. Frequent quotations from Hemingway's letters to Baker underline the zeal with which the latter has gone about to inform himself. But what is more important, in his analysis of Hemingway's books in relation to his artistic intentions, Baker gives us a better notion of the stature of the man than most previous writers. Mr. Baker is, one must admit, an overzealous partisan of Hemingway, so deeply impressed with his greatness and integrity as an artist that he inclines to defend him against all comers and ignore the limitations under which Hemingway labored by virtue of his personal temper and the historical moment...
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SOURCE: Redman, Ben Ray. “Politicking Profs.” Saturday Review of Literature 41, no. 21 (24 May 1958): 16-17.
[In the following negative review, Redman deems A Friend in Power dull and unfavorably compares Baker's novel to C. P. Snow's The Masters.]
For some years now the groves of academe have been loud with the voices of professor-novelists telling the outside world what life is like within the learned woods. Some of the revelations have been shocking to innocent readers who had previously believed that universities were staffed exclusively by dedicated scholars and teachers, indifferent to the rewards of a competitive society, seeking only the satisfactions that the pursuit of learning and the education of youth can give, and all living in happy amity one with another. It has been startling, indeed, to learn straight from the professors' mouths that academic life is more often than not a savage struggle for position and prestige, in which the kicked face of a dear friend and the knifed back of a valued colleague are routine phenomena. Sex, too, it seems, has its troublesome place within the halls of ivy, as well as without. If the professors continue to give themselves away, a new meaning will come to be attached to the familiar phrase la trahison des clercs. Perhaps it is high time for them to close ranks with shut mouths.
Carlos H. Baker, Woodrow Wilson Professor...
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SOURCE: Weales, Gerald. “Politics of the Academy.” Commonweal 68, no. 13 (27 June 1958): 333-34.
[In the following review, Weales provides a negative assessment of A Friend in Power.]
If a man teaches at Princeton, as Carlos H. Baker does; if he is high enough in the academic echelons to know something about the intimate mechanics of university administration, as Baker, former Chairman of the Department of English, presumably is; and if Princeton chooses a new president, as it recently did, it is not surprising that the tangentially involved man should decide that the process of president-hunting might be the basis of a novel. If the observer is concerned with literature, as Baker, who has written books on Shelley and Hemingway, those two romantics, must be, he may actually write the novel. The ifs are in; the novel is written and published. The result—after all this build-up—is very disappointing.
A Friend in Power is an account of how Enfield University, a lightly disguised Princeton, found its new president. The story is told from the standpoint of Ed Tyler, Chairman of Modern Languages and one of the faculty Committee of Six elected to advise the trustees on presidential possibilities, who burrows busily through an ordinary academic year, made extraordinary by his committee doings, only to discover, with appropriate surprise, that he is to get the nod himself....
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SOURCE: Hicks, Granville. “Hemingway: The Complexities That Animated the Man.” Saturday Review of Literature 52, no. 16 (19 April 1969): 31-33, 43.
[In the following favorable review, Hicks regards Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story as objective and superbly researched.]
Of seven books about Ernest Hemingway and his writings that have appeared in recent months the most important is Carlos Baker's semi-official biography, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. In his foreword Baker describes the nature of his authority: “This biography was undertaken at the invitation of Charles Scribner, Jr., president of the publishing company which brought out all of Hemingway's major works from 1926 onwards. The work was carried on with the full knowledge and cooperation of Mary Welsh Hemingway, the author's widow and literary executor, who generously permitted the biographer to examine whatever documents he wished to see without attempting to influence his judgments or his interpretations.” In addition to making use of the mass of material thus made available to him, including many unpublished manuscripts and thousands of letters, Baker studied relevant books, magazines, and newspapers, and interviewed or corresponded with scores of men and women who had known Hemingway. It is no wonder that the book took seven years.
There could never have been any question about Baker's scholarship, and...
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SOURCE: Hart, Jeffrey. “Hemingway: Sunlight and Night-Face.” National Review 21, no. 15 (22 April 1969): 390-91.
[In the following laudatory review of Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, Hart praises Baker's prodigious accomplishment.]
On trouve au fond de tout le vide et le néant.
—Eugénie de Guerin
In a famous passage in Death in the Afternoon Hemingway remarked that “the dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water,” and he intended this as a comment upon his own writing, where much of the meaning is beneath the surface, its power and complexity standing in marked contrast to the simplicity, indeed often the slightness, of the story itself. In writing a story, he said, “you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted, and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.”
This technique, when Hemingway could manage it successfully, is in large part responsible for the uncanny power of his best work, for those images which remain in the mind and seem to point to the depths of things; but it is a difficult and demanding technique too, responsible for the slowness with which he characteristically wrote, and for the mental exhaustion writing entailed. When he was first developing his style...
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SOURCE: Samuels, Charles Thomas. “The Heresy of Self-Love.” New Republic 160, no. 2835 (26 April 1969): 28-32.
[In the following mixed review of Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, Samuels disparages the objectivity of and amount of minute detail in Baker's biographical account.]
Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story tells so inconclusive a tale about so narrowly conceived a life that it is hard to acknowledge Baker's virtues without seeming smug. Commend his factual abundance, and you seem to be praising unglamorous gifts like industry and perseverance; whereas the abundance is so striking that one means a more handsome compliment. During seven years, Baker examined nearly 2,000 letters and unnumbered manuscripts yet to be published, and interviewed or corresponded with so many people that his acknowledgments run to four pages of names in Lilliputian type, his documentation to 102 pages. Commend his easy prose, with its unobtrusive quotations, and you seem to imply a mechanical fluency; whereas the fluent conveying of so much evidence raises craft to the level of art. Commend Baker's sharp eye for lies, and you seem to be calling him a detective; whereas Hemingway's exaggeration makes detection the prerequisite of insight.
Yet Baker hasn't used the information himself, but only assembled it. In his foreword (the only extended passage of interpretation), he maintains that this...
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SOURCE: Hardwick, Elizabeth. “Dead Souls.” New York Review of Books 1, no. 11 (5 June 1969): 3-4.
[In the following unfavorable review, Hardwick describes Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story as “an extensive, exhausting, repetitive record of the events of Hemingway's life.”]
Carlos Baker's biography of Ernest Hemingway [Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story] is bad news. The friendliness with which it has been received would seem to give sanction to this unfortunate development in the practice of biography. Baker's work is an enterprise of a special kind, not the first of its sort, and, one supposes, not the last. It is a form of book-making that rests upon only one major claim of the author: his access to the raw materials. The genre rises out of a vast collection of papers, letters, interviews, and junk, and is itself, in the end, still an accumulation, sorted, labeled, and dated, but only an accumulation, a heap. In a hoarding spirit it has an awesome regard for the penny as well as the dollar. (Like poor Silas Marner, who “loved the guineas best, but would not change the silver … he loved them all.”) The original accumulation—the “facts,” the private papers, the authorized commission—is thought of as predetermining not only in content but in form. Condensation would seem to be insulting to the beseechments of the papers, one and all. The book is written by “the material”...
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SOURCE: Weeks, Edward. “The Peripatetic Reviewer.” Atlantic Monthly 223, no. 6 (June 1969): 110-12.
[In the following review, Weeks offers a favorable assessment of Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story.]
Shortly after its publication I remember discussing A Farewell to Arms with a famous obstetrician. “How did you like it?” I asked. “Great,” he said, “I thought it was great. But I couldn't bear to read about Catherine Barkley's death. It was too near the real thing.”
That criticism by one professional of another expresses what many of my generation felt about Ernest Hemingway: he did bring us so dangerously close to the real thing. Pete Wellington, who bossed him as a young reporter on the Kansas City Star, said that Ernest “wanted always to go where the action was,” and a year later while convalescing from his serious wounds in Italy, Hemingway made a statement, in a letter to his father, which could be called his working credo: “It does give you an awfully satisfactory feeling to be wounded,” he wrote. “There are no heroes in this war. … All the heroes are dead. … Dying is a very simple thing. I've looked at death and really I know. If I should have died, it would have been … quite the easiest thing I ever did. … And how much better to die in all the happy period of undisillusioned youth, to go out in a blaze of light, than to have your body...
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SOURCE: Schorer, Mark. Review of Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, by Carlos Baker. American Literature 41, no. 4 (January 1969-70): 592-94.
[In the following essay, Schorer applauds the abundance of research and fact in Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, but perceives the biography as lacking interpretation and insight into the true character of Hemingway.]
Carlos Baker tells us at the outset what his book [Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story] will and will not be, what we may expect and what we are not to expect. He will not critically explore Hemingway's “literary output.” He will not propose any “thesis” to explain Hemingway's “psychological outlook” or “the nature and direction of his career.” These exclusions, as stated, are only sensible: Mr. Baker has indeed already published a well-known (probably overly respectful) critical analysis of Hemingway, and the last kind of biography one would be interested in reading is a reductive exercise in simplistics. But the consequences of these exclusions in the actual result are another matter, and on these we will touch presently; before that we should say that the only surprising disclaimer that Mr. Baker makes is his first: this is not to be a “‘definitive’ biography … it will be after the year 2000 before anything like a definitive work can be undertaken.”
Why, one wonders, as, contemplating...
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SOURCE: Kazin, Alfred. “The Battler.” New York Review of Books 28, no. 6 (16 April 1981): 3-4.
[In the following review, Kazin maintains that Hemingway's selected letters “make a sometimes unbearably continuous and too emphatic record of the man's life, vehemence by vehemence.”]
Hemingway liked to write letters; his biographer Carlos Baker, selecting nearly six hundred here [in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961], thinks he wrote six or seven thousand in the fifty years preceding his death in 1961. He liked to write, scoffed at Conrad and others for grumbling. Since Hemingway's “real writing” came so hard (he counted each day's words like a prospector weighing his find) and was above all intended to look hard, it is obvious from these more than nine hundred pages of letters that letters were play, relaxation, a chance to warm up before the day's stint and to cool down after it. With his usual devastating shrewdness about former friends and allies who had put him down in some way, he said in 1948 of Gertrude Stein:
It makes us all happy to write and she had discovered a way of writing she could do and be happy every day. She could never fail; nor strike out; nor be knocked out of the box because she made the rules and played under her own rules. When I can't write (writing under the strictest rules I know) I write letters;...
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SOURCE: Burgess, Anthony. “Opening Hemingway's Mail.” Saturday Review 8, no. 4 (April 1981): 64-65.
[In the following positive review of Hemingway's selected letters, Burgess praises Baker's fine editing job of the volume.]
As one who earns his precarious living by writing, I find the writing of letters—even necessary ones like rebuttals of accusations of libel or plagiarism—a source of chagrin and even guilt, since being a letter-writer gets in the way of being a man of letters. Some authors manage to fuse the opposed claims of letters and letters by practicing what is termed the epistolary art, anticipating the posthumous publication of their collected mail and royalties for their relicts. This entails showing a private face in a public place, which is not what letter-writing ought to be like. Auden wrote a sonnet about a literary man who answered “some of his long marvellous letters but kept none.” That seems reasonable, but my heart goes out to the shade of Sir Thomas Beecham, who never opened a letter in his life, unless it smelled of a check.
Reading Carlos Baker's fine biography of Hemingway, I was heartened to discover that there were whole drawer-loads of unopened mail in his various houses. But now I have this bulky selection (selection, mind, not collection) to attest that he was quite as bad as Lord Chesterfield or John Keats or Evelyn Waugh. All that can be said...
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SOURCE: Ludington, Townsend. “Papa Agonistes.” New Republic 184, no. 3460 (2 May 1981): 32-36.
[In the following mixed assessment of Hemingway's selected letters, Ludington maintains that the collection will be “fascinating to a substantial audience who doubtless will find many details boring and references obscure.”]
Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald, from Burguete, Spain, July 1925:
To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on 9 different floors and one house would be fitted up with special copies of the Dial printed on soft tissue and kept in the toilets on every floor and in the other house we would use the American Mercury and the New Republic. Then there would be a fine church like in Pamplona where I could go and be confessed on the way from one house to the other and I would get on my horse and ride out with my son to my bull ranch named Hacienda Hadley and toss coins to all my illegitimate children that lived [along] the road.
To his former wife, Hadley Mowrer, from La Finca Vigia, Cuba, July 1942:...
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SOURCE: Oldsey, Bernard. “Papa's Private World.” Nation 232, no. 18 (9 May 1981): 575-77.
[In the following review, Oldsey contends that Hemingway's selected letters provide valuable insight into his life and work.]
A dying writer in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” realizes that he “had sold vitality, in one form or another, all of his life.” The author of that story seems capable of doing the same thing even after life. Ernest Hemingway's career has been extended by a string of posthumous publications, including A Moveable Feast, By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, Islands in the Stream and The Nick Adams Stories. Now, twenty years after his suicide, his literary executors have seen fit to publish Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961.
It is extremely doubtful that Hemingway would have approved this last publication. After what he considered bad experiences with Lillian Ross (whose profile on him appeared in The New Yorker) and Malcolm Cowley (whose “Portrait of Mr. Papa” came out in Life), he grew increasingly annoyed with invaders of his privacy. “The writing published in books is what I stand on,” he told one critic, “and I would like people to leave my private life the hell alone.” As the embodiment of the writer-celebrity, Hemingway should have understood how valuable his letters might prove. In fact, there were...
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SOURCE: Balitas, Vincent D. Review of Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961, by Carlos Baker. America 144, no. 20 (23 May 1981): 430.
[In the following favorable review of Selected Letters, Balitas asserts that Baker “has provided us the opportunity to learn a bit more about the man and his art.”]
His reputation is lower now than at any time in the past, but Ernest Hemingway nevertheless retains his appeal for a wide variety of readers. Perhaps that appeal has more to do with the legend he worked so hard to create than it does with the work itself, but few can doubt that his contributions to the art of fiction were once of major importance. The fact that few contemporary writers are directly influenced by Hemingway's fiction, or that not many young readers seem to care about Jake Barnes and the other characters once so familiar, does not mean that Hemingway's place in American literary history is seriously threatened. Whatever the future holds for how we view that fiction, it is good that Prof. Carlos Baker, who wrote what is certainly the best Hemingway biography to date, has made a major contribution to our understanding of “Papa's” work and of his legend. By collecting nearly 600 letters from a massive correspondence [in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961], Baker has provided us the opportunity to learn a bit more about the man and his art....
(The entire section is 750 words.)
SOURCE: Hart, Jeffrey. “Swell Letters: The (Mostly) Sunlit Hemingway.” National Review 33, no. 10 (29 May 1981): 618-19.
[In the following positive assessment of the selected letters, Hart claims that “the true Hemingway devotee will savor every word, and every brief explanatory footnote by Carlos Baker, who has done a superb editorial job here.”]
Malcolm Cowley once wrote that Ernest Hemingway was one of the “nocturnal” American writers, and compared him with Hawthorne. I myself have compared him to Picasso's famous painting of the woman looking in the mirror: one countenance is painted in warm colors, cheerful; the alternative countenance is greenish and sickly. This second countenance is at the center of Hemingway's fiction, preoccupied with madness and death, terrifying emotions controlled by the famous style. The many letters collected in this volume represent almost entirely the other countenance, the sunlit Hemingway—though, here and there, the essential nightmare peeps through.
This volume [Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961] is almost a thousand pages long, and different readers will treat it in different ways. You can skip and browse. By reading the first ten words of a paragraph, you can pretty much tell if you want to read the rest. But the true Hemingway devotee will savor every word, and every brief explanatory footnote by Carlos Baker, who...
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SOURCE: French, Sean. “Trade between Giants.” Times Literary Supplement (17 August 1984): 925.
[In the following review, French offers a negative assessment of The Echoing Green.]
Literary criticism is a collaborative process and, as F. R. Leavis argued, the crucial collaboration is that between the critic and his audience. But what if you have no confidence in any common ground with your audience at all? [In The Echoing Green], Carlos Baker seems to conduct his argument within a literary-critical version of Forster's Marabar Caves, that symbolic locale where there is no returning echo at all, simply a blank “bou-oum” representing the ultimate indifference of the universe.
The indifference of the universe is, however, a small affair when compared with the indifference of the American undergraduate in the face of the study of poetry, or so at least the elementary level of the opening chapter, “William Wordsworth,” would suggest:
For all those modern readers to whom poetry matters, the continual reexamination of the poetry of the past is quite as important an obligation as the encouragement of good poetry now. … If we believe that there have been literary giants among the poets of our own age—and who would deny such stature to Yeats and Frost and Eliot and Stevens and Auden?—it is well to remember that these men were neither...
(The entire section is 584 words.)
SOURCE: Gleckner, Robert. Review of The Echoing Green: Romanticism, Modernism, and the Phenomena of Transference in Poetry, by Carlos Baker. American Literature 57, no. 1 (March 1985): 158-59.
[In the following essay, Gleckner finds The Echoing Green limp and disappointing.]
Jacket copy, publishers believe, helps to sell books. Perhaps it will sell some copies of this book [The Echoing Green], but those who buy on this account will learn to their disappointment, especially if they know Carlos Baker's previous work, that you can't always tell a book from its jacket blurb. This jacket tells us that Baker “examines and interprets” the works of Yeats, Frost, Pound, Eliot, Stevens, and Auden “against the background of English Romantic poetry,” but the “examination” and “interpretation” reveals little about those works beyond reasonably informed common knowledge. And “the background of English romantic poetry” is but a routine five-chapter summary of the careers, critical ideas, and some poems of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats.
Six subsequent chapters do a similar summary job on the six modern poets selected, added to which are compilations of quotations from essays, public lectures, reviews, and letters where “the bulk of what [these six poets] had to say about the romantic poets” resides. “Adapted images and echoed phrases”...
(The entire section is 810 words.)
SOURCE: Tuttleton, James W. “The Discord at Concord.” Wall Street Journal (4 April 1996): A12.
[In the following positive review, Tuttleton asserts that Emerson Among the Eccentrics “is a massive, readable, at times witty, always erudite biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson.”]
At his death in 1987, Princeton Prof. Carlos Baker had virtually completed Emerson Among the Eccentrics. Luckily for us, the manuscript has now been rescued and published (with a graceful introduction by James R. Mellow).
This book is a massive, readable, at times witty, always erudite biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), one of America's most distinguished writers and intellectuals. Equally as important to Baker, though, are the friends and relatives who could be found, at one time or another, in Emerson's orbit.
Baker's account begins with Emerson at 27, about to launch his great career as thinker, poet, essayist and lecturer. He had been trained for the Unitarian ministry but left the church in favor of freelance spiritual self-development. His proclamations of faith in the ultimate benignity of the world and the perfectibility of man attracted a nation of disciples. “Trust thyself,” he told his readers. “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” This optimistic message of self-reliant individualism, as Baker notes, revolutionized American...
(The entire section is 875 words.)
SOURCE: Gilpin, W. Clark. Review of Emerson Among the Eccentrics, by Carlos Baker. Christian Century 113, no. 28 (9 October 1996): 943.
[In the following review, Gilpin offers a favorable assessment of Baker's biography of Emerson.]
Carlos Baker, who had a long and distinguished career as a literary critic at Princeton University, is perhaps best known for his magisterial 1969 biography of Ernest Hemingway. But for more than a decade thereafter Baker focused on Ralph Waldo Emerson, and this distinctive biography is the welcome result. Virtually complete at the time of Baker's death in 1987, Emerson Among the Eccentrics details Emerson's life in Concord, his encounters on lecture tours, and the incidents of his remarkable friendships.
It is those friendships that give this book its distinctive theme and vantage point. Emerson himself was fascinated with biography, punctuating his journals with acute characterizations of both acquaintances and public figures. Baker continues this Emersonian tradition by drawing marvelous portraits of Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau and many more.
Baker's book contains remarkably few expositions of Emerson's published thoughts. Instead, it presents Emerson's pursuit of and retreat from friendships, his misunderstandings or conversational insights as the matrix of experience from...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Allen, Bruce. Review of Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961, edited by Carlos Baker. Christian Science Monitor (14 April 1981): B4.
Considers Hemingway's selected letters “a publication of enormous significance both for the study of Hemingway himself and for our understanding of modern American literature.”
Kazin, Alfred. “He Sensed the Disenchantment in Our Time.” Book World—The Washington Post 3, no. 15 (13 April 1969): 1, 3.
Postive review of Baker's biography of Hemingway.
Lisca, Peter. Review of Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, by Carlos Baker. Modern Fiction Studies 15, no. 4 (Winter 1969-70): 561-64.
Considers Baker's biography an invaluable resource on Hemingway.
Steiner, George. Review of Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, by Carlos Baker. The New Yorker 45, no. 30 (13 September 1969): 147-56.
Disparages Baker's “lust for trivia” and asserts that “the root sadness of Professor Baker's book lies in the decision to write an interminable record of Hemingway's ‘life story’ while leaving out all that matters.”
Toynbee, Philip. “Hemingway.” Encounter 17, no. 4 (October 1961): 86-88.
Claims that Baker's collection of critical essays on...
(The entire section is 237 words.)