(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel opens on a cold Sunday morning with the protagonist traveling by boat to shoot ducks along a partially frozen lagoon near Venice. He assists the boatman in poling through the ice and offers to help place decoys, becoming somewhat angry at the surly boatman’s responses. Taking his place in a partially submerged barrel that serves as a blind, Colonel Richard Cantwell skillfully brings down the first two ducks that fly within range.

The narrative returns in a flashback to a physical examination that the colonel took three days earlier, when a skeptical army surgeon allowed him to pass, even though both men knew the colonel to be dying of heart disease. With Jackson, his driver, the colonel sets out from Trieste, recalling along the way sites where he fought and was wounded during World War I. Arriving in Venice, he goes by boat to the Gritti Palace Hotel and, once settled there, dines with his young mistress, Countess Renata. Afterward they make love in a gondola on the way to Renata’s home.

The following morning, the colonel leaves the hotel to walk through the market in the brisk winter air, returning in time for breakfast with his mistress. In his room he begins to tell her how he lost his regiment in the Hurtgen Forest. Although she finds portions of the account confusing, she listens as if knowing that it is important for him to share the experience. Even after the countess has fallen asleep, he continues his discourse—at times through an interior dialogue, at times addressing a portrait that Renata gave him.

They go to a jewelry shop where he buys Renata a moor’s head brooch that she admired; he informs her that the heirloom emeralds that she gave him have been deposited for her in the hotel safe. After martinis at Harry’s Bar, they return to the hotel for lunch, where the colonel and the...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990. Section 1 covers critical approaches to Hemingway’s most important long fiction; section 2 concentrates on story techniques and themes; section 3 focuses on critical interpretations of the most important stories; section 4 provides an overview of Hemingway criticism; section 5 contains a comprehensive checklist of Hemingway short fiction criticism from 1975 to 1989.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. After an introduction that considers Hemingway in relation to later criticism and to earlier American writers, includes articles by a variety of critics who treat topics such as Hemingway’s style, unifying devices, and visual techniques.

Lynn, Kenneth S. Hemingway. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. A shrewd, critical look at Hemingway’s life and art, relying somewhat controversially on psychological theory.

Mellow, James R. Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992. A well-informed, sensitive handling of the life and work by a seasoned biographer.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row, 1985. Meyers is especially good at explaining the biographical sources of Hemingway’s fiction.

Reynolds, Michael. The Young Hemingway. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1986. The first volume of a painstaking biography devoted to the evolution of Hemingway’s life and writing. Includes chronology and notes.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Paris Years. Volume 2. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1989. Includes chronology and maps.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The American Homecoming. Volume 3. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1992. Includes chronology, maps, and notes.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The 1930s. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1997. Volume 4 of Reynolds’s biography.