“The Old Man and the Sea,” a distinctly minor work.

I’m working on rather a large project for Virginia Quarterly Review that entails looking through many of the issues produced in the publication’s eighty-year history. I must admit that I sometimes become distracted by the contents of the articles themselves, which often are not just interesting on their own, but doubly so in the context of modern times.

My favorite recent read has been John Aldridge’s “About Ernest Hemingway,” from the Spring 1953 VQR. It’s a ten page review of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” a book that is, of course, regarded as one of the great triumphs of the English language; famously, it earned Hemingway the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. Here’s the opening paragraph, emphasis mine:

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 nove; 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. It should be possible for us to honor him for his amazing recuperative powers and his new talent for quasi-religious revelation and still be able to see that it is not for either of these qualities that his book must finally be valued, but for the degree of its success in meeting the standards set down by his own best previous achievement as an artist. 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.

The good news is that the book only set Mr. Aldridge back $3.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

3 replies on ““The Old Man and the Sea,” a distinctly minor work.”

  1. I’m not sure that I can say — I think this is still under wraps with VQR. I can, however, be a real tease and say that it’s one of the cooler projects that I’ve worked on in many months, and that the final result will make for a genuinely excellent addition to the web. :)

  2. Oddly enough, I once made the same argument in a high school English class paper. Let’s just say that the Conaway Quarterly Review (commonly known as a “report card”) suffered quite a bit…

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