CONTACTS: Keneth Kinnamon, professor of English literature
UA English Office: (501)575-4301

Allison Hogge, science and research communications officer (501)575-6731, [email protected]


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- As the 100th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway's birthday approaches on July 21, literary fans across the world will be paying homage to a writer acclaimed as the leading voice of the Lost Generation. But a University of Arkansas professor claims these fans have mis-characterized the famous author.

A new study of Hemingway, conducted by Dr. Keneth Kinnamon, indicates that the author's social activism and leftist politics leave him far from "lost" and even dissociate him from the generation of post-war writers he supposedly founded.

In fact as Hemingway aged, said Kinnamon, his political involvement grew more radical, culminating in donations to finance the rise of the Communist Party in Cuba.

Over the past 5 years, Kinnamon has conducted an extensive study of Hemingway's personal letters and correspondence -- examining the author's own arguments and self-descriptions to gain a complete understanding of Hemingway's social views and personal politics.

As part of his research, Kinnamon had portions of Hemingway's FBI file declassified. The file documents nearly a decade of continuous surveillance that began in the 1950s as a result of the author's political activities.

Kinnamon will present his findings later this month at a conference in Oak Park, Ill., where Hemingway was born. In addition, he has published an essay entitled, "The Early Development of Hemingway's Political Consciousness," in a publication of the Center for Culture in Valencia, Spain, called Hemingway in Our Time.

"Hemingway was very protective of his political views. More than many of the writers of his time, he shied away from didacticism in his work and made his political points subtly," said Kinnamon.

"By examining his letters, I'm finding a more candid statement about his personal beliefs -- one that is more frank and open and gives us a better understanding of the man than if we viewed him exclusively through his fiction."

What Kinnamon has uncovered are the written records of a man who not only held strong convictions about political and social issues, but who actively took part in them -- often playing a dual role of journalist and soldier.

As a young man, Hemingway sympathized with the Socialist Part in America. His first and only vote was cast for Eugene V. Debs -- a socialist leader who ran for presidency five times in the early part of the century. According to Kinnamon, the writer's political opinions only leaned further left as he grew older.

In 1935, Hemingway went abroad as a news correspondent to cover the Spanish Civil War. But his sympathy for the people's rebellion soon compromised his objectivity. By the close of the revolution, Hemingway had become involved with many of the socialist and communist volunteers in the resistance.

During World War II, the author took an even more active political role. He had his 38-foot fishing vessel, The Pilar, designated as an official Q-boat and equipped it with a crew to patrol the Caribbean for Nazi submarines. Later, he would accompany U.S. troops during the Battle of the Bulge and even lead his own guerilla force in the liberation of Paris.

But the political stand that would have the greatest impact in Hemingway's life came after the war, when he had settled in Cuba.

Though his American citizenship made outright political activity impossible, the author continued to support his political interests covertly. Kinnamon's research reveals that Hemingway channeled money through a Cuban friend to support the Communist Party in its rise to power.

Despite the threat of McCarthyism and the controversy of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Hemingway remained a staunch supporter of Fidel Castro. When the author's political loyalties came to light in the late 1950s, the FBI opened a file and began a program of surveillance that documented Hemingway's activities up to his death in 1961.

"At times, Hemingway would be sitting in a restaurant and would say to his companion, 'The man at the next table is an FBI agent.' His friends considered it paranoia, but more often than not, Hemingway was right," said Kinnamon.

As such details come to light, Kinnamon sees a need to re-examine Hemingway's novels and a need to reevaluate the author's classification as a Lost Generation writer.

" 'The Sun Also Rises' is the only Hemingway novel that could be classified as Lost Generation writing," said Kinnamon. "But Hemingway, himself, did not fit into that category nor did the larger body of his work."

The Lost Generation earned its name from Gertrude Stein in the 1920s, who used the term to describe the group of expatriated American writers -- including Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald -- who gathered in Paris after World War I.

In the aftermath of the world's first great war, this group of artists reflected the disillusionment that followed mass destruction. They found emptiness in previously revered institutions such as honor, patriotism and duty, and they explored this loss through their writings.

With its cast of listless American expatriates, Hemingway's book, "The Sun Also Rises" embodies the Lost Generation sensibility. But according to Kinnamon, the book is as much a reproach to this generation as it is a reflection of their lives.

"The book criticized war by showing its toll on a generation of people, but at the same time, it criticized the lifestyle of these people," Kinnamon said. "I think Hemingway took issue with their sense of purposelessness. It was certainly something that he never experienced himself."

As Kinnamon moves into the final stage of his study, he intends to re-examine Hemingway's novels -- hoping that greater knowledge of the author's views will lead to a greater understanding of the themes and topics of his literature.

"I'm very interested in the nexus between literature as an art form and literature as a function of social issues," he said. "They can be intertwined. They often reflect each other. The subtlety with which Hemingway addresses political issues within his novels makes this a particularly interesting study."

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