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“A work of distinctly minor Hemingway fiction.”

PUBLISHED: June 11, 2008

John W. Aldridge reviewed Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” upon its release in our Spring 1953 issue:

I confess that I am unable to share in the prevailing wild enthusiasm for this new book of Hemingway’s, “The Old Man and the Sea.” It is of course a remarkable advance over his last novel; and it has a purity of line and a benignity, a downright saintliness, of tone which would seem to indicate not merely that he has sloughed off his former emotional fattiness but that he has expanded and deepened his spiritual perspective in a way that must strike us as extraordinary. But one must take care not to push these generosities too far, if only because they spill over so easily into that excess of blind charity we all tend to feel for Hemingway each time he pulls out of another slump and attains to the heroism of simply writing well once again. I have these standards in mind when I say that “The Old Man and the Sea” seems to me a work of distinctly minor Hemingway fiction.

It wasn’t for another decade that it became en vogue to lambaste “The Old Man and the Sea.” This was demonstrated most spectacularly in the form of Robert P. Weeks’ devastating fisking, “Fakery in The Old Man and the Sea.” Perhaps we were ahead of our time. Or perhaps, in light of Hemingway’s 1953 Pulitzer and 1954 Nobel Prize, we were just wrong.


Brendan Wolfe's picture
There is no right or wrong when it comes to this stuff, of course. But even if there were, I would never use the Pulitzer Prize as my guide. William H. Gass exaggerated when he declared that “the Pulitzer Prize in fiction takes dead aim at mediocrity and almost never misses; the prize is simply not given to work of the first rank, rarely even to the second” – but not by much. That’s the nature of such prizes. Anyway, great excerpt.
James McCaffery's picture
James McCaffery · 12 years ago
Not forgetting Dwight Macdonald’s classic deflation of late Hemingway in an essay republished in Against the American Grain (1962).

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