I was inspired to catch up on some Ernest Hemingway after reading The Paris Wife, by Paula Mclaine (2012) a fictional account of his first marriage to Hadley Richardson. I wanted to do some background reading, to see what she had drawn on for inspiration and try to identify the tangle of fact and fiction in his characters, friends, events and places. After reading Fiesta, The sun always shines, and A Farewell to Arms, this is how I see the writing of Ernest Hemingway:
“In the morning, I met up with Tom and we went to a bar. I said to Tom, let’s have a drink, and Tom said, Yes, let’s have a drink. So we had a drink together, then we both had another drink. Dick and Harriet were at the next table. They were having a drink too. Afterwards I asked Harriet if she would like to come back to my hotel, and she said yes. So we went back to my hotel and ordered a bottle of wine. When Tom and Dick turned up later they asked if we wanted to go fishing, and we said yes. Then we had a drink and packed some beer and our fishing rods, and sat by the river to drink”…
(Don’t quote me I made it up!)
I now know that Hemingway called this minimalist style of writing the Iceberg Theory, or ‘theory of omission’. His background as a journalist had taught him to give the reader just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ so they would implicitly understand the underlying characteristics, emotions and themes not explicit in the writing. The true meaning of the story should not be evident in the writing itself.
“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”
Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon
It’s an interesting theory, but in order for this to be truly effective, there needs to be a much greater connection of time, gender and experience between writer and reader.
Fiesta, The Sun Also Rises (1926) is based on the real characters and events surrounding the author as he worked in Paris as a journalist. It didn’t make him many friends, and probably cost him his first marriage, but it did set him up as an important modern novelist.
A Farewell to Arms (1929) is a tragic story of war, love and loss. The narrator struggles through the Italian campaigns of WW1, is injured, falls in love, but ultimately ends the story with nothing.