There is little dispute any more over the status of Ernest Hemingway as a novelist. Except for a small group of theorists, largely those whose critical bent is toward radical feminism, the consensus of contemporary scholars is that Hemingway ranks with William Faulkner and E Scott Fitzgerald as one of the major voices in American fiction of the first half of the twentieth century. His novels continue to be reprinted and sold to large audiences of “general readers.” The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), and The Old Man and the Sea (1952) continue to appear on high school and college syllabi in American literature courses and in freshman composition classes. Further, his reputation as a short-story writer equals, perhaps even exceeds, that of his fame as a novelist. Tales such as “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Killers,” and “Hills Like White Elephants” are among the most studied works of short fiction in American educational circles.
Hemingway’s nonfiction writings, however, have not received similar acclaim. Only an occasional article has appeared over the decades since Hemingway published his first book-length work of nonfiction in 1932. Most scholars who have written monographs on Hemingway tend to concentrate almost exclusively on his fiction, passing over his nonfiction works in silence or offering merely cursory notice of their existence. Some have gone so far as to categorize Hemingway’s excursions into the realm of the essay and the various other forms of true-to-life writing in which he periodically engaged as simply unfortunate mistakes, a collective waste of time for a man whose metier was clearly the world of imaginative literature. There has been, even among many of Hemingway’s most ardent admirers, a feeling that “Papa” Hemingway was simply capitalizing on his talents to turn out “journalism” with relative ease in order to finance his insatiable desire to live the good life in exotic parts of the world.
Ronald Weber’s critical study, one of the few to pay extended attention to all of Hemingway’s major nonfiction, attempts to give a more balanced view of books such as Death in the Afternoon (1932) and Green Hills of Africa (1935) and to explain some of the difficulties inherent in studying the three major works of nonfiction that Hemingway left unfinished at his death. Weber considers Hemingway “a nonfiction writer only in a special sense,” who shaped his material “into a personal blend of fact and fiction that rigorous practitioners of the discipline of fact would find, to say the least, questionable.” Weber believes that, in his book-length nonfiction, Hemingway was attempting to rise above mere journalistic reporting to create works of lasting value. His thesis is simple, and clearcut: Hemingway’s nonfiction, “principally the five book-length efforts,…occupied a large part of his career and deserves more close and undivided attention than it has hitherto received.”Hemingway’s Art of Non-Fiction fulfills that role. Surprisingly, Weber is less concerned with the “literary talk” that has garnered the attention of many earlier critics, who often latch onto Hemingway’s comments about modern writing’s literary heritage as the only valuable parts of otherwise self-indulgent efforts. Instead, he focuses on the subjects of the works, which he suggests Hemingway intended his readers to do. Unlike so many who have preceded him in critiquing Hemingway’s nonfiction, Weber does not find the overbearing presence of the author himself a defect in these works. On the contrary, he believes that, in the best of the nonfiction, Hemingway’s main point is “to provide the reader with a subject, though never one detached from the energizing presence of self.”
Weber organizes his text into six chapters, devoting an initial chapter to an analysis of Hemingway’s early work as a journalist, then concentrating each of the remaining chapters on one of the five...
(The entire section is 1670 words.)