Fiesta (The Sun Also Rises)
Fiesta (The Sun Also Rises) – Ernest Hemingway
Something extraordinary happens to young people when they cross out of their own country and into that wider space on the map and in the atlas marked ‘the rest of the world’. Concertinaed into one wide open plain full of opportunity, adventure, danger; foreign countries exist without boundaries, without subtleties as there are at home; exist divided only by adventures and the excitement of discovery.
So perhaps with books. Few books more clearly chart that space than Fiesta (the Sun Also Rises). A book about young Americans in Paris and Pamplona and places inbetween. A book about a bull-fight. A book about the enchanting Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn (“no one had ever made him feel he was a Jew, and hence any different from anyone else, until he went to Princeton”) and Pedro Romero the precocious young bull-fighter. It’s a book written about the gaps in which the passions live (las aficiones) written by a man who knew how to find them and how to live them: “Robert Cohn said. ‘Let’s bet on something else. Can you bet on bullfights?’ ‘You could,’ Bill said, ‘but you don’t need to.’ ‘It would be like betting on the war,’ I said. ‘You don’t need any economic interest.'”
The book is one long bull-fighting metaphor of hierarchy: horses, steers, bulls, bull-fighters. Atop the tree a Lady (and perhaps atop that the narrator). The violence of the fight (“it’s strange how one doesn’t get used to the blood”) and the incongruity of the celebration, the goring of the steers, of the runners, of the horses, of Lady Ashley’s many would-be lovers is all transcended by the power and control of Hemingway’s skill as a writer and the deft benevolence of his narrator who is magnanimous in what is ultimately a victory for him. The other characters fight each other beneath him and he gives each the space to display their qualities and yet ultimately he masters them one by one: “The fight with Cohn had not touched his spirit but his face had been smashed and his body hurt. He was wiping all that out now. Each thing that he did with the bull wiped that out a little cleaner. It was a good bull, a big bull and with horns, and it turned and recharged easily and surely. He was what Romero wanted in bulls.” The narrator as bull-fighter. The lover as bull-fighter. The writer as bull-fighter. In the Hemingway universe we all fall somewhere within the hierarchy of the bull-ring.
Hemingway’s first novel uses five young Americans beyond the boundaries of America to mark the boundaries in which he would work for the rest of his career ‘in the terrain of the bull’; which in male writing is to write honestly about men, beautifully about women and ‘unwarily’ about everything. Hemingway is charmingly didactic: he writes characters to show us how we can live, to reveal to us, even tangentially, who we are,who we might be and all in the catching Hemingway brevity. Perhaps, with that in mind, this description of craftsmanship is as apt a description of Hemingway’s writing as any – a formula by which the potent redraw the boundaries around us all and most of all themselves: “Pedro Romero had the greatness. He loved bull-fighting, and I think he loved the bulls, and I think he loved Brett. Everything of which he could control the locality he did in front of her all afternoon. Never once did he look up. He made it stronger that way, and did it for himself, too, as well as for her. Because he did not look up to ask if it pleased he did it all for himself inside, and it strengthened him, and yet he did it for her too. But he did not do it for her at any loss to himself. He gained by it all through the afternoon.”