If you are going to read James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” read it with a guide so you can understand the nuances of the Irish novelist’s prose. This summer, if you read Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer-winning novella “The Old Man and the Sea,” read it with “Reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea: Glossary and Commentary,” which combines 60 years of Hemingway scholarship to guide the reader through the allegorical novella.
The authors – Bickford Sylvester, Larry Grimes, and Peter L. Hays – share their passion and expertise for Hemingway by detailing select passages about Santiago’s 84-day fishing slump. They accomplish this by highlighting a phrase or passage and listing the coordinating page and line number, so the reader can follow along. Topics addressed in their work include mythological and religious allusions, the inspiration for the protagonist, and an explanation of Hemingway’s iceberg technique: “I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.”
Religious allusions – Christian and Afro-Cuban – are strewn throughout the novella. For example, the authors explain the significance of the number 40 on page 9, line 4, in Hemingway’s book: “In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now … unlucky.” The authors explain the reference: “The number forty is widely applied in scripture to represent unusual duration. In the Old Testament, for example, the rain of the Deluge fell for forty days; another forty days passed before Noah opened the window of the ark.”
There are several mythological intimations as well, including one from the “Iliad.” The grandfather of Achilles is mentioned six times, unnamed, but Edith Hamilton, the world-renowned classicist, refers to him as “the old man of the sea” in her mythological dictionary. And because Hemingway was influenced by real-life events, readers will learn that Hemingway combined his experiences with those of two of his shipmates, Gregorio Fuentes and Carlos Gutierrez, to create Santiago. Overall, the book enhances the reader’s experience, taking them to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, with Santiago. (The Kent State University Press; $34.95)
A new biography by British author Richard Bradford, “The Man Who Wasn’t There: A Life of Ernest Hemingway,” asserts that Hemingway may have embellished, or flat-out lied, about many things to enhance his public appeal: “Hemingway perverted the truth so frequently and habitually that he all but erased his own existence.”
In the book, Bradford writes about Hemingway’s oft-told vindictiveness in “The Sun Also Rises”; how, in the text, he turned on his friends, including Harold Loeb (Robert Cohn in the novel): “Robert Cohn is a cruel, unamusing caricature of Harold Loeb.” Bradford then asserts that Hemingway may have invented the story about how he lost his virginity to Prudy Boulton “in the woodlands of Michigan.” And in 1944, Hemingway blocked his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, from covering the “invasion of northern France” for Collier’s, telling her the Pan Am flight to London flies only men when he clearly knew there were four women on board. This topic and “The Sun Also Rises” imbroglio have been written about extensively, making Bradford’s anti-Hemingway slant unforgiving. (I.B. Tauris & Co., $21.90)
Hemingway traveled to Spain in 1937 to cover the war for NANA: The North American Newspaper Alliance, and his reportage experience there inspired “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the novel, Scribner is issuing “For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Hemingway Library Edition” this summer. The anniversary edition features a personal foreword by Patrick Hemingway, the author’s last surviving child, and a new introduction by Sean Hemingway, Ernest’s grandson.
Included are early manuscripts with Hemingway’s line edits, three stories about World War II, and a four-page unpublished account of the Spanish Civil War. The novel’s protagonist, an American college professor, Robert Jordan, fights for the Loyalists against Franco’s Nationalists because he abhors fascism. Fellow loyalist El Sordo fights along with Jordan, and Hemingway impressively details El Sordo’s last stand. Hemingway’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, said that “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is Hemingway’s greatest achievement, and many readers believe so, too – including former Sen. John McCain. (Scribner, $32.00)
Wayne Catan teaches English literature at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix.