Sunday, June 17, 2007

Five best: American literature of the 1920s

Jeffrey Hart, an emeritus professor of English at Dartmouth College and author of Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe (2001) and The Making of the American Conservative Mind (2005), selected five books "essential to appreciating American literature of the 1920s" for Opinion Journal.

One title to make the grade:
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, 1929)

In my opinion, this is Hemingway's best novel, written with a style and lyrical force that is apparent from the famous opening: "In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.... Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees." Catherine Barkley, Hemingway's greatest heroine, is an English nurse's aid in Italy during World War I. Her fiancé, a British officer, has been killed on the Somme, blown to bits. Then a wounded man, an American ambulance driver named Frederic Henry, is brought into the hospital where Catherine works, and they find a certain solace in each other. As she later lies dying in childbirth and Frederic tries to comfort her with empty words, she passes the British officer's discipline on to him. " 'I'm going to die,' she said; then waited and said, 'I hate it.' " Her resolution in the face of death -- she "holds her line under the maximum exposure," as Hemingway put it elsewhere -- reflected the writer's own stylistic and moral imperative.
Read about all five titles on Hart's list.

--Marshal Zeringue