July 20, 2007

Flemingway

It is not so much sentimentality as it is an ongoing desire to reexamine past assumptions in the light of new evidence that makes me want to re-read books read long ago.

I think I was in the 11th grade when I first read Hemingway -- The Sun Also Rises, to be exact. I owe to that book a less than satisfactory experiment with Pernod, the rejection of Hemingway's program--i.e., that one was only truly alive when torturing a bull or some other nonsense (the Pernod experiment and the critical distance were both important milestones in my intellectual development), and further encouragement to the notion that journalism is a noble profession that can be done reasonably well by people some of whose real passions, perhaps, are elsewhere.

I'm only a few pages into the book, but I can say two things: Hemingway, unlike Fitzgerald, is not one of those writers I feel an urge to read and reread. I was surprised at how little new I found in those first few pages. But Hemingway also makes a lasting impression. These paragraphs, for example, which I haven't read for something like 26 years, I remembered almost exactly:

She stood holding the glass and I saw Robert Cohn looking at her. He looked a great deal like as his compatriot must have looked when he saw the promised land. Cohn, of course, was much younger. But he had that look of eager, deserving expecation.

Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boys. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.

Had Hemingway written in the 1970s, Brett would have been built like a corvette, perhaps evoking bikini clad models splayed on the hoods of sports cars in automotive magazines. Compare that passage to this one, previously quoted on ideofact:

'James.'

It was a clear, high, rather nervous voice. Not the voice he had expected.

He looked up. She was standing a few feet away from him. He noticed that she was wearing a black beret at a rakish angle and that she looked exciting and mysterious like someone you see driving by abroad, alone in an open car, someone unattainable and more desirable than anyone you have ever known. Someone who is on her way to make love to somebody else. Someone who is not for you.

The James in question had been working with the woman in the rakish black beret, had persevered together through numerous hardships -- not the least of which was their initial, mutual distrust. Despite all they had been through together, and despite his growing respect and love for her, he hadn't lost his critical faculties. "Someone who is on her way to make love to somebody else. Someone who is not for you."

The James in question is Bond, James Bond, and the passage was written by Ian Fleming.

An odd juxtaposition, I know, but I'm often struck by how Fleming, despite all his flaws, sometimes had a far more progressive view of women than most of his contemporaries (and, of course, those who made the Bond films)...

Posted by Ideofact at July 20, 2007 11:47 PM
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