Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, remains, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “a romance and a guidebook.” It also became, in the words of critic Sibbie O’Sullivan, “a modern-day courtesy book on how to behave in the waste land Europe had become after the Great War.” The Sun Also Rises successfully portrays its characters as survivors of a “lost generation.” In addition, the novel was the most modern an American author had yet produced, and the ease with which it could be read endeared it to many. But for all its apparent simplicity, the novel’s innovation lay in its ironic style that interjected complex themes without being didactic. Generally, the novel is considered to be Hemingway’s most satisfying work.
The material for the novel resulted from a journey Hemingway made with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and several friends to Pamplona, Spain, in 1925. Among them was Lady Duff Twysden, a beautiful socialite with whom Hemingway was in love (the inspiration for the novel’s Lady Brett Ashley). There was also a Jewish novelist and boxer named Harold Loeb (source of Robert Cohn) whom Hemingway threatened after learning that he and Lady Duff had had an affair. Lady Duff’s companion was a bankrupt Briton (like Mike Campbell). The trip ended poorly when Lady Duff and her companion left their bills unpaid. The ending of the novel is only slightly more tragic, yet it recovers those precious values which make life livable in a war-wearied world: friendship, stoicism, and natural grace.