Even in this strangest of summers, when social distancing leaves us feeling we’re living in suspended animation, the art of the dive can teach us about poise and exploration—the walk to the edge, the glance down into faraway water, the prickle of fear, the headlong leap, the thrill of hurtling through air, and, finally, the exultant feeling of immersion are all metaphors for adventure and discovery. Dives excite because they combine danger, vulnerability, and (hopefully) athletic grace. Literary scholars’ figurative dives into authors’ lives and work are also exercises in bravery and/or foolhardiness.
We’ve spent our summer proofreading The New Hemingway Studies, a volume collecting fifteen commissioned essays on Ernest Hemingway’s influence in the 21st century. Trust us, no leap is scarier than putting “New” in a book title. Now that we’re surfacing, however, we’re almost ready to breathe easy. We feel confident the contributions will make waves. No one dislocated a shoulder or pulled a bellysmacker.
The author himself enjoyed a good gymnastic dive. Characters like Nick Adams, Jake Barnes, and David Bourne all take headlong leaps that inspired our scholarly pikes, tucks, and triple gainers.
In the erotically-charged (and posthumously published) 1926 story “Summer People,” Hemingway’s earliest alter ego, Nick Adams, shows off his diving prowess for his object of desire, Kate: “He ran very quickly out the yielding plank of the springboard, his toes shoved against the end of the board, he tightened and he was in the water, smoothly and deeply, with no consciousness of the dive.” “Summer People” portrays Nick as confident and untethered from inhibition as he eventually seduces Kate in a scene notorious for its depiction of coitus more ferarum.
The equation between diving and carnality is an odd projection of Hemingway’s own fantasizing during the summer of 1920 when he lusted after Katy Smith (later Mrs. John Dos Passos). Two years after his WWI wounding in Italy, a year after a painful jilting by Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, he floundered in post-adolescent indirection, badgered by his parents to grow up yet years away from writing for a living. Several of our contributors examine a decisive event prompted by a night of partying not unlike the one in “Summer People”: when Hemingway’s mother, Grace, caught her legally adult son drinking and sneaking around with his teenage sisters and their underage friends, she expelled him from the family’s Northern Michigan cottage with a scathing letter that calls “a mother’s love” a “bank account” before declaring “you have overdrawn.” Plumbing this infantilizing incident (which, tellingly, “Summer People” elides) through the lens of trauma studies, family dynamics, and other critical approaches, our contributors show how Grace’s reprimand caught Hemingway between rip tides of emotional dependency and aloofness amid which he never really found his footing.
In The Sun Also Rises, meanwhile, Jake Barnes dives “cleanly and deeply” into the waters at San Sebastian to clear his head from the excesses of a Pamplona feria. Another of our contributors argues that textual studies is a similarly restorative act and imagines a not-so-distant future when the copyrights on Hemingway’s major works expire and scholars can clean up the shockingly high number of typos that muddy his texts. Scholarly editions will guarantee a textual clarity that not even the chopping and churning of critics can muddle.
Hemingway’s most dramatic diving scenes occur in The Garden of Eden, another posthumously published effort, whose sexual role reversals hit Hemingway studies like a tsunami in 1986. David Bourne, entwined in a romantic triangle with his wife, Catherine, and their paramour, Marita, likes to dive from the high rocks of the Camargue. In one reckless instance, Marita treads water to see how near to her David can land. While the lovers emerge unharmed from the game, this novel of precarious relationships finds David acknowledging “I cut it too fine.” In similar fashion, another of our contributors examines Hemingway’s sensual appreciation of food, drink, and sex, noting how quickly immoderate connoisseurship gives way to the undertow of indulgence.
Hemingway’s characters view diving as a ritual of aggressive self-baptism. We hope our scholarly submersions in The New Hemingway Studies likewise catalyze fresh, luminous discoveries on the Hemingway Studies horizon.