Carlos Baker Criticism

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Arthur Mizener (review date 18 October 1952)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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 considerable accomplishment. Along with it he also manages to give the reader a good deal of insight into the way it has been with Hemingway himself. Since each of Hemingway's books has been what Fitzgerald called The Sun Also Rises, “a romance and a guide-book,” Professor Baker's thorough knowledge of Hemingway's times in Paris and Africa and Spain is invaluable.

Hemingway's lifelong commitment to an ideal of fiction not unlike Eliot's objective correlative and his habit—also shared by Eliot—of disowning even the most modest interpretation of a story (“It's just something that happened to us”) make interpretation of his work a very delicate matter. Every reader must, for example, have been moved by the magnificent opening of A Farewell to Arms and have been aware of how remarkably it succeeds in conveying, with beautiful economy, the interinanimation of life and death. Professor Baker rightly begins his account of A Farewell to Arms with an attempt to explain these paragraphs. He does not, I think, wholly succeed; but what he does say is solid and sensible and gets us a good deal farther than most analyses of Hemingway's style.

Much the same thing is true of his accounts of the books as a whole. No one will agree with all Professor Baker's judgments and some will be bothered by his occasional air of putting a good face on things, as when he conveniently forgets his previous emphasis on Hemingway's brilliant surface representation in discussing Across the River and Into the Trees. He is nonetheless talking very good sense about these things and you have to respect him.

I wish he had managed to get along without the numerous unilluminating references to writers like Pater, Ruskin, and Carlyle and his own occasional excursions into “wit.” (“None but occasional modifiers are called,” he says, for example, of Hemingway's style, “and only a few are chosen.”) These things sound like the lecturer in a sophomore introduction to literature, and Professor Baker is far too good a man ever to sound like that. But these are minor defects in an otherwise thoroughly informed and interesting book.

Patrick F. Quinn (review date 24 October 1952)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 33,230 words.)