According to Hemingway's most preeminent biographer, Carlos Baker, the writer believed that “the only way he could run his life decently was to accept the discipline of the Church.”
Hemingway was not yet 28 when, as one critic notes, he accepted “the tradition [and] authority … of Rome and formalized his conversion.”
Of course, Hemingway was no saint; but as he said more than once, the Catholic Church was not so much designed for saints as it was for sinners – flawed souls who traveled the long road of life not randomly, but rather in a great and serious quest for redemption..
"I was a little ashamed, and regretted that I was such a rotten Catholic,” says Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, “but realized there was nothing I could do about it, at least for a while, and maybe never, but that anyway it was a grand religion, and I only wished I felt religious and maybe I would the next time."
In Hemingway's Dark Night, Matthew Nickel marshals a range of sources - including rare, previously unpublished Hemingway letters - to explore every aspect and nuance Hemingway's Catholic faith, thus revealing the author's profound sacramental sense of ritual, pilgrimage and sacrifice.
As Nickel writes: '[Hemingway's most] exemplary characters, after a profound recognition of original sin, always seek reconciliation with imperfection, yearning toward repentance through a form of traditional rituals: Jake Barnes [The Sun Also Rises] acknowledges his wound and still prays, attends Mass, processions, and confession; Frederic Henry [A Farewell to Arms] suffers the dark night while learning from the priest how to pray, how he may become very devout; Robert Jordan [For Whom the Bell Tolls] learns slowly and then all at once in that moment of conversion through la gloria, which ultimately leads to his sacrifice; and Santiago, the old fisherman [The Old Man and the Sea], promises to say ten Hail Marys, ten Our Fathers, and to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if he catches the marlin." Meanwhile, Hemingway himself donated his Nobel Prize medal to that very same shrine.
In the end, Nickel concludes: "All of Hemingway's writing echoes in some way that long breath of Christendom from the crucifixion through the Dark Ages, the Crusades, the building of the great cathedrals, and into the twentieth century; the breath that calls out one last time in the moment of repentance to tell the story of sin - a story that offers one final chance, before the last plunge into deep darkness of no return, the possibility of incarnational love."
"Nickel's scholarship is impeccable, thoroughgoing and perspicacious. ... A cutting-edge study of the most urgent concerns of one of our greatest writers." - H.R. Stoneback, Distinguished Professor English, SUNY New Paltz
"Nickel has written a very strong Catholic reading of all of Hemingway, grounded in lucid textuality and exhaustive research." - Allen Josephs, past president of the Hemingway Foundation and Society, author of Ritual and Sacrifice in the Corrida
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Matthew C. Nickel holds a PhD in literature from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His writing on American and British literature has appeared in journals and scholarly volumes such as North Dakota Quarterly, Ernest Hemingway in Context, Reading Roberts: Prospect & Retrospect, and Durrell and the City: Collected Essays on Place. He is also a poet and editor. His most recent anthology of poetry is Kentucky: Poets of Place.
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