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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

To Have and Have Not (1937) by Ernest Hemingway

This Ngram compares the popularity of five Authors: Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.  This Ngram shows that although F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were more famous, the less "famous" Modernists were actually more popular, particularly as the 20th century ended.

Book Review
To Have and Have Not (1937)
by Ernest Hemingway
Humphrey Bogart played Harry Morgan in the film version of To Have and Have Not (1937) by Ernest Hemingway.  The film changed several key plot points of the book, making it a poor "movie version" and more of it's own film than a faithful adaptation of the literary text

   As the above Ngram clearly demonstrates, Ernest Hemingway's ability to generate book sales and celebrity level attention from the media and audiences did not produce a level of long term popularity equal to that enjoyed by the high modernists: Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.   I would speculate that Ernest Hemingway, perhaps because of his immense popularity with the general public in the 1950s, was less read by literature graduate students in American University English departments, whereas James Joyce and Virginia Woolf were becoming firmly enshrined as fully "canonical" authors.

 Part of me thinks that this is ridiculous, a prejudice by academics against a popular author with a large general audience and respect among the critical community.  On the other hand, I can see where a scholar, could see his talents already in decline by To Have and Have Not, which is either a still-waters-run-deep indictment of the American Dream during the Great Depression or Hemingway's take on the hard boiled Detective novel, or both, or neither I suppose.

  One difference between Hemingway's Hard Boiled Cuban/Florida Keys locations and those of detective fiction mainstays like Hammett and Chandler is the tropical vibes. Another is the moral ambiguity of bootlegging, gun-running Harry Morgan.  Morgan is no private detective, quite the opposite of Hammett's continental operative or Philip Marlowe.   To Have and Have Not was pieced together by Hemingway writing a conclusory novella to two short story/novellas about the Harry Morgan character.   His prose is still bracing in 1937, but To Have and Have Not lacks the personality of his roman-a-clef-ish The Sun Also Rises(1926) and the Italian Front chronicle of A Farewell To Arms (1929.)  Sun and Farewell were career makers, and To Have and Have Not reads as the work of someone who is assured an Audience.  Not lazy, but not world beating. 

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