An Introduction to Ernest Hemingway: “The Collected Stories”

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Until last year I hadn’t read a word of Hemingway’s work. I first encountered his writing in a creative writing tutorial while studying at university when my peers and I were asked to draw our attention to Hemingway’s incredible economy and evocation of place in one of his best known short stories, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”. Since then I have been keen to explore Hemingway’s oeuvre, and so last month I treated myself to this handsome Everyman’s Library edition of Hemingway’s Collected Stories. A thick tome comprising almost 800 dense pages of crafted prose, it is a collection that gives a good taste for the mechanisms, themes and concerns of Hemingway as a writer, yet at the same time I would feel reluctant recommending diving into such a large collection, especially if you are a novice vis-à-vis Hemingway, as I was. With this in mind, I have chosen ten short stories from The Collected Stories that have imprinted themselves on my imagination which give an accurate sketch of what Hemingway is all about. I have included hyperlinks to the stories for you to read them as you wish, in the hope that these stories will pique your interest and make you want to read more of his work.

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1) “Indian Camp” (1924)

Published in 1924, “Indian Camp” was one of Hemingway’s earliest published short stories. It forms part of what became known as the Nick Adams Stories, in reference to the protagonist and fictional pseudonym who relays Hemingway’s own experiences in Europe during the First World War, the twenties and thirties.

This rather gruesome tale recounts Nick’s experience working as an intern alongside his father who is forced to deliver the baby of an Indian woman who has spent two days in labour. The story grapples with a large number of themes over a mere five pages, underlining the incredible economy and density that are the trademarks of Hemingway’s prose.

Read the story here.

2) “Soldier’s Home” (1925)

“Soldier’s Home” follows the story of Krebs, a young war veteran returning from WWI and his struggles to re-assimilate himself into society. He returns later than some of his compatriots and so people around him become at ease and somewhat bored of the hideous tales of war that have inevitably left an indelible imprint of the mind of the young man. The story deals with the repercussions that the horrors of war have on people trying to return to the ‘norm’ of everyday life.

Read the story here.

3) “Cat in the Rain” (1925)

On the face of it, “Cat in the Rain” is a simple, quaint yet rather charming tale of a couple spending an evening in a hotel room. The lady spots a cat outside hiding from the rain under a table and decides to go down and rescue it. Almost comedic in tone and beautifully written, the story can be enjoyed just for what it is; yet, typical of Hemingway, there are much deeper and darker themes and concerns which course underneath the explicit prose and make this a story that deserves to be read and re-read.

Read the story here.

4) “Hills Like White Elephants” (1927)

Set on a Spanish roadside, “Hills Like White Elephants” is told almost entirely in dialogue with just two characters. After ordering a couple of beers, the story pivots on an unspecified “operation” that the man wants the woman to have and the effects this operation would have on their relationship. The dialogue here was a revelation for me: poised, suggestive and highly thought-provoking. Hemingway is able to evoke each characters’ thoughts without needing to rely on a third-person narrator, using just exquisitely dense and crafted speech.

Read the story here.

5) “Ten Indians” (1927)

It is the 4th July and Hemingway’s alter ego Nick Adams returns home from a day on the road with his friend Joe Garner to the news that his girlfriend has been spotted dating another guy. Yet in tune with the significance of that date, rather than wallow in self-pity Nick is drawn to the beauty and freedom of the natural world: “he heard the wind in the hemlock trees outside the cottage and the waves of the lake coming in on the shore… and he was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken”. This is a rousing tale for the broken hearted.

Read the story here.

6) “Wine of Wyoming” (1930)

A story set in the era of American prohibition, “Wine of Wyoming” features a French immigrant couple who enjoy selling their own homebrewed beer and wine to people who enjoy “a good drink in good company”. Madame and Monsieur Fontan (interestingly not too far away from the name of French fabulist De La Fontaine) provide an outsider’s scrutinising look at American society and Hemingway seems to use cultural differences to satirise particular aspects of American life.

Read the story here.

7) “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (1933)

A gorgeous, engaging tale of insomnia and loneliness demonstrating the sheer craftsmanship of Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a simple tale about a deaf old man who enjoys spending his evenings watching the night draw in with a sip of brandy in his local café, the “Clean, Well-Lighted Place” of the title. The two waiters working at the café gossip about the man, revealing that he has recently tried to commit suicide. When wondering how the old man had arrived at such a point, the younger wait is stumped as “he has plenty of money”. Often lauded as one of Hemingway’s finest short stories, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a quintessential example of Hemingway’s writing style, known as the Iceberg Theory, which focuses on the surface elements of a story while allowing larger themes to stream through his prose implicitly.

Read the story here.

8) “The Capital of the World” (1936)

“The Capital of the World” uses a more ‘complex’ narrative structure than typically found in Hemingway’s short stories. It features far more characters than are usually present in a short story, yet Hemingway demonstrates an ability to evoke individual character over a short space with aplomb. In short, the story is set in a Madrid restaurant and hotel where a young waiter with a dream to become a renowned matador currently resides. The hotel is mainly frequented by former second-rate bullfighters who, for various reasons, are unable to return to the bullring. The narratives and myths surrounding these former matadors only incite the young waiter’s aspirations, yet the story culminates in a tragic denouement which points towards the dark realities of bullfighting.

Read the story here.

9) “Old Man at the Bridge” (1938)

“Old Man at the Bridge” is a melancholic tale of the common down-and-out man, the archetypal figure who crops up in this collection again and again in stories such as “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”. In this story the narrator comes across “An old man with steel rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road” during the Spanish Civil War and depicts the plights of the common man in the face of war. The way Hemingway draws out and contemplates the story of the fate of the ordinary man reminded me of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) in which the two young poets attempted to move the pendulum of literature away from grand epic tales to stories about people and characters of the quotidian.

Read the story here.

10) “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936)

A tale about a wealthy American couple going on safari with a more experienced American, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” evidences Hemingway’s humour and biting acerbic tone. This is a story that yet again shows off Hemingway’s masterful use of dialogue, and one which also has many filmic qualities.

Read the story here.

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Have I missed out a notable short story of Hemingway’s? What is your favourite? And with this being my first exploration into his work, where should I go from here? Your thoughts are always appreciated in the comments box below. Thank you for reading.

My handsome Everyman’s Library edition of Hemingway’s short stories can be found here.

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2 thoughts on “An Introduction to Ernest Hemingway: “The Collected Stories”

  1. You’ve whetted my appetite to read more. I had heard the White Elephant one and had loved how he had done what he had. A great teaching for writers to study. Didn’t he also write the six word short story: For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. ?

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