In December 1925 Hemingway was at Schruns in Austria stuck in bed, recovering from a sore throat. He was, however, well stocked with books, reading, he wrote, Thomas Mann, Wilkie Collins and "9 vols. of Trollope." Some 30 years later in his home in Key West he had seven volumes of Trollope. While it may seem strange that one of the masters of twentieth-century modernism was reading and continued to read a then critically unfashionable Victorian chronicler of middle-class life, I contend that both writers were struggling with the same question – how to interpret masculinity for their times.
In the twenties Hemingway, based in Paris, was expanding his knowledge of world literature, and was impressed by writers like Turgenev and Tolstoy (who had described Trollope’s The Prime Minister as "excellent"). He was probably introduced to Trollope by Gertrude Stein, who along with Robert McAlmon was passionate about the writer. Trollope links to the Russian greats because of the realism of his style; like them he was writing a recognizable depiction of contemporary society, an accurate representation of its social complexities, "just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case," as Hawthorne wrote.
But I believe it was more than just Trollope’s truthfulness in style that interested Hemingway. Both Trollope and Hemingway were writing at times of great social and political change. For Trollope this was the shift from the early conservative certainties of church and state of the early Victorian era to the more unsettling times of trade, commerce, scientific discovery and social mobility. For Hemingway it was the world of the American expatriates in Europe in the wake of the traumas of the Great War, a new (perhaps lost) generation trying to make sense of this strange new world, so different from the Oak Park of Hemingway’s youth.
To be continued . . .
Berthoud, Jacques. "Introduction: Trollope the European" in Trollope, Anthony, Phineas Finn . Oxford UP, 1882, repr. 1991.
Hall, N John, Trollope: a biography. Oxford UP, 1991, pbk ed 1993.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 2 1923 – 1925, ed Sandra Spanier, Albert J DeFazio III, and Robert Trogdon. Cambridge UP, 2013.
Letwin, Shirley Robin. The Gentleman in Trollope: Individuality and Moral Conduct. MacMillan, 1982.
Mellow, James R. Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company. Phiadon, 1974.
Reynolds, Michael S. Hemingway’s Reading, 1910 – 1940: An Inventory. Princeton UP, 1981.
Smalley, Donald, (ed) Trollope: the critical heritage, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.
Young, Philip, Ernest Hemingway: a reconsideration, University Park PA, Pennsylvania State UP, 1966, repr. 1981.
Andrew Scragg is a retired librarian from The West Midlands in the United Kingdom and long-time Hemingway reader and member of the Hemingway Society. He has previously published on Hemingway in the Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies (2013).