Missing what?

She said she wouldn’t read Hemingway, because of his treatment of women.

‘Okay,’ I said, and recommended some other writers. I’m no Hemmingway expert, I just like the way he wrote, and we were in a general writing class, so it was not a good time to begin a discussion about the attitude of an author that many of us were not familiar with.  I had plenty of other suggestions to provide so we moved on.

I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot since though.  I did once put a novel on the fire rather than pass it on, because it ended with the heroine falling in love with the man who had abducted and raped her.  That was a couple of decades ago, but I can remember the feeling of satisfaction as I stirred up the charring pages with the poker.  Books, I thought, were a kind of model that showed people how to think and act.  I think I even went so far as to begin a letter to the publisher.

But yesterday, when I recommended Hemingway’s short stories to a group, I found myself qualifying the suggestion.  ‘He was a writer of his time,’ I said.  ‘You may not always like the way he portrays women.’

I didn’t feel it necessary to caution a reading group about text content when we read ‘Tom Jones’, or ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’.  I don’t issue a warning alongside Katherine Mansfield, though some of her characters and situations are just as questionable as Hemingway’s when measured against today’s ideas on roles and expectations.

There are books I have chosen not to read, and others I wish I hadn’t, but I’ve not been tempted to burn any of them. My favourite copy of Wuthering Heights is held together with a large elastic band.  I have a new copy, but cannot bring myself to lose that old one.  You might see that as sentimental attachment, and I would agree that’s a small part.

What I would ask though, is, ‘Should I have burned that book?’

2 thoughts on “Missing what?

  1. I’m a Queer-feminist animal lover (Hemingway’s treatment of animals wasn’t so good either! In fiction and real life), but I love Hemingway’s writing. Especially his short stories. It might make us uncomfortable, but I don’t think censorship is the right answer, (and your pupil’s self-ceonsorship – surely she should read him, and decide for herself?), so I’m glad you still recommend his work 🙂


  2. Hi Dundas I’m glad you agree. There are so many texts that offend modern sensibilities. One of the joys of leading creative-reading groups is that I get to discuss this, quite regularly, and so far most readers I come across are curious enough to accept some uncomfortable content. If censorship were applied rigorously to all texts there would be some large gaps on my bookshelves, especially amongst the classics.


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