Book Review of Hemingway's "Out of Season"
Before close reading and analyzing the text of "Out of Season," there’s one thing worth noticing: there are two versions of "Out of Season."
The first was printed in 1923. This version is that of the original manuscript, the one that Hemingway told Fitzgerald he "wrote right off on the typewriter without punctuation", which was then carefully revised by Hemingway as the "setting copy."
Two years later, in 1925, the second version, which is also the most circulated one, was published. The reason why it was called "the second version" is that some of the typographical and syntactic eccentricities had been "corrected" by the copyeditor. Among these was the first paragraph of the story, in which with four consecutive "he," there is no definitive designation except "the young gentleman" in the whole paragraph, making readers feel dizzy at the first reading. In the "second version", the first "he" was designated to "Peduzzi" as the subject of the sentence in consideration of syntactic convention.
After consulting a few papers and references about this story, I know that this was actually the first story Hemingway wrote after the notorious theft of almost all his manuscripts except two. He, recovering from this catastrophe, started afresh, bringing in a "new theory \[of composition] that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood." (Moveable Feast)
In this deceptively bland story, a young gentleman hired a man, who was called Peduzzi, from a hotel to guide him illegally fishing in the out of season.
Readers could infer from the first sentence of the story, in which Peduzzi invests all the four lire he earned by spading the hotel garden in drinking, that Peduzzi is a drunkard.
At the end of the story, we are better informed that what Peduzzi had done with the hotel garden was "break up frozen manure with a dung fork," which was quite a demanding and vulgar job.
The story seems to be centered on the young gentleman and his wife, who was lagging behind carrying fishing rods while the three of them were heading to the river bank.
As the plot rolls on, the tension between these two has been demonstrated by the young gentleman saying, "I’m sorry you feel so rotten…I’m sorry I talked the way I did at lunch. We were both getting at the same thing from different angles." which was answered by "It doesn’t make any difference…None of it makes any difference. "
The wife’s first answer, "It doesn’t make any difference," indicated the futility of the apology and explanation made by her husband, which was followed and strengthened by a repetition, "None of it makes any difference." "None of it" varied from the prior sentence, suggesting the apology as well as the venture to fish were all in vain. The curt answers show the wife’s glum perception of their relationship.
"Fishing rods" in the story were endowed with symbolism. They were carried by the wife, "disjointed," "one in each hand," just exactly like their relationship.
Peduzzi, knowing there was something wrong between them from the beginning, tried to join them up in one by repetitively calling on the wife to "come up" and "walk with us." Yet the story is about miscommunication. The couple, husband and wife, were foreigners in town. Both of them couldn’t understand Peduzzi well, despite Peduzzi’s attempts at multiple vernaculars.
Although Peduzzi was full of enthusiasm and cordiality toward them, he wasn’t qualified to be a fishing guide. For he was drunk at the very beginning, and then he drank three grappas and bought a liter of Marsala on their way to the bank, all on the young gentleman’s credit.
Of Peduzzi, the young gentleman's wife disapproved of his soaking in the alcohol all day long, in addition to his failure to make himself understood. "You’ll have to play up to this," she said (to her husband). "I can’t understand a word he says. He’s drunk, isn’t he? "
Hemingway cheated readers with his sophisticated narrative strategy, which spotlighted the couple’s problematic relationship while covering the real tragedy under the surface.
In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald several years after he wrote the story, Hemingway declared that it was "an almost literal transcription of what happened" when he and his wife visited Cortina in April 1923:
"I meant it to be a tragic story about the drunk of a guide because I reported him to the hotel owner . . . and he fired him and as that was the last job he had in town and he was quite drunk and very desperate, he hanged himself in the stable. ... I wanted to write a tragic story without violence. So I didn't put in the hanging. Maybe that sounds silly. I didn't think the story needed it. " (Selected Letters 180–181)
"In Another Country" and many other stories adopted the same strategy, in which the narrators’ perspectives seemed to be in conformity with the readers', staging the pseudo-heroes who formed the first layer of stories in the center.
While in "Out of Season", the narrating strategy is much more complicated than it used to be. Just as the young gentleman said, "We were both getting at the same thing from different angles." This story, this fishing out of season thing, was crusted by multiple layers. Both the husband and wife were mired in their relationship. As for Peduzzi, though there’s no clear statement about what had happened to him, readers could piece together his living state through clues scattered around the lines.
Peduzzi, submerging in the liquor, was drunk from the start, and at the end, after the unsuccessful fishing adventure, he even asked for an advanced payment (to buy more drinks) for his guide for fishing the following day, of which the young gentleman said he "may not be going."
There’s a paragraph of internal monologue from Heminway’s other short story, "The Gambler, The Nun, and The Radio," which probably best answers Peduzzi’s non-stop drinking: "... drink was a sovereign opium of the people."
Why does Peduzzi need to anesthetize himself so desperately? There’s a key line in the text we need to lay eyes on: "Peduzzi stopped in front of a store with the window full of bottles and brought his empty grappa bottle from an inside pocket of his old military coat." Yes, he used to be a soldier, and now he was doing the most inferior job for the hotel. Furthermore, he was despised by almost everyone in town except the town beggar, "lean and old, with a spittle-thickened beard, who lifted his hat as they passed."
Though we don’t know if his alcoholism was the reason for their despising of him or the result of it, Peduzzi was definitely marginalized by the town.
When they first stopped by the door of the Specialty of Domestic and Foreign Wines shop to hunt for a drink, someone passing in the street told Peduzzi "scornfully," "It is closed until two," and Peduzzi "felt hurt."
This must have struck him deeply inside. Peduzzi was confident in himself before this "hurt," and was wholeheartedly longing for a drink of Marsala then. "A little to drink, some marsala for the Signora, something, something to drink." Yet, as they went to the second store, when the young gentleman asked him what he wanted to drink, his reply differed from the previous one: "'Nothing,' he said, 'anything.' He was embarrassed. 'Marsala, maybe. I don’t know. Marsala? '"
It’s because of his inferiority and marginalization that when the young gentleman stopped by the second store to buy Marsala for Peduzzi, the girl behind the counter laughed at him and was "amused" twice by this incident. At the same time, instead of buying wine himself, Peduzzi "was walking up and down at the other end out of the wind and holding the rods."
Then he broke out, saying, "Come on, I will carry the rods. What difference does it make if anybody sees them? No one will trouble us. No one will make any trouble for me in Cortina. I know them at the municipio. I have been a soldier. Everybody in this town likes me. I sell frogs. What if it is forbidden to fish? Not a thing. Nothing. No trouble. Big trout, I tell you. Lots of them."
Though there’s no further elaboration, we can feel through these words that he was in the delirium of anger. It’s more of a catharsis and self-convincing than a conversation with the young gentleman.
Besides the scornfulness from the town, Peduzzi’s daughter also neglected him:
"There," said Peduzzi, pointing to a girl in the doorway of a house they passed. "My daughter."
The girl went into the house as Peduzzi pointed.
The tension was building up inside Peduzzi, while "The young gentle man and the wife understood nothing." When "they turned sharp down the bank," the story also turns sharp down. The wife irked her husband by saying, "Of course you haven’t got the guts to just go back," "Of course you have to go on." as the young gentleman was worried about their illegal fishing in out of season. Then he told his wife to go back: "Go on back, Tiny. You’re cold in this wind anyway. It’s a rotten day and we aren’t going to have any fun, anyway."
Peduzzi was taken aback by the wife’s leaving. "’She’s gone!’ said Peduzzi. It shocked him." The use of "shock" here seems eccentric. Why did Peduzzi overreact to this? Unless she wasn’t just leaving them for the hotel but was actually ending a relationship with the young gentleman.
When the young gentleman and Peduzzi reached the bank, they jointed up the rods, put on the reels, and threaded the lines through the guides. Just as they all geared up, they found they were in need of some "lead" (sinkers for the fishing lines).
Here, Hemingway punned on the word "lead," implying that the young gentleman as well as Peduzzi lack "lead" in their own lives. After they finished sharing a liter of Marsala the young gentleman bought, Peduzzi proposed another fishing trip the following day at seven in the morning. He felt optimistic again, "His eyes glistened. Days like this stretched out ahead. It would begin at seven in the morning."
Then he asked the gentleman to pay him beforehand, though he didn’t say what for. We all know he would buy more drinks with this money. When he took the money from the young gentleman, he was exhilarated. "’Thank you, caro. Thank you,’ said Peduzzi, in the tone of one member of the Carleton Club accepting the Morning Post from another. This was living. He was through with the hotel garden, breaking up frozen manure with a dung fork. Life was opening out."
Life was such a burden for Peduzzi that he couldn’t bear it without getting himself drunk. After giving money to Peduzzi, the young gentleman changed his mind by turning down Peduzzi’s offer to guide him the next day. "'I may not be going,' said the young gentleman, 'very probably not. I will leave word with the padrone at the hotel office. '"
Why would he leave word with the hotel? In particular, he would leave word with the hotel office. Hemingway leaves a riddle here, which he unravels in his letter to Fitzgerald. It should have been a tragic story that ended with the young gentleman (an avatar of Hemingway) reporting Peduzzi to the hotel, and then Peduzzi hanged himself in the stable.
"I wanted to write a tragic story without violence. So I didn't put in the hanging. Maybe that sounds silly. I didn't think the story needed it. " (Hemingway) Why did he think the story didn’t "need it"?
In order to figure out this question, we need to examine his new theory of omission. "…the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood." What Hemingway wanted to say was more than the suicide; the reason Peduzzi hanged himself at last was much more complicated and deeply rooted.
It’s all about the aesthetic orientation. He preferred to show the elements in the undertow that led to the final outbreak. The telling of Peduzzi’s suicide would blur the focus of the readers and thus would undermine the very strength of the story.
The tension he created through selective narration and the mysteries he had shown by his accurate excision, all contributed to this excellent fiction, which showcased Hemingway’s outstanding artistry.
The young gentleman in the story was actually Hemingway in disguise. Like Hemingway, he had also served in the military, which was obliquely hinted at as he essayed the fishing adventure from the hotel: "The young gentleman had a musette over his shoulder." The "musette" bag was the standard issue to the Army for infantrymen and Rangers until 1944. Peduzzi must have recognized this at first sight.
They shared the Marsala at the end of the story after their fishing plan was aborted. It was a rare and relieving moment that glistened with hopefulness, though it’d have been extinguished soon after:
"The sun came out. It was warm and pleasant. The young gentleman felt relieved. He was no longer breaking the law. Sitting on the bank he took the bottle of marsala out of his pocket and passed it to Peduzzi. Peduzzi passed it back. The young gentleman took a drink of it and passed it to Peduzzi again. Peduzzi passed it back again. "Drink," he said,"drink. It’s your marsala." After another short drink the young gentleman handed the bottle over. Peduzzi had been watching it closely. He took the bottle very hurriedly and tipped it up. The gray hairs in the folds of his neck oscillated as he drank, his eyes fixed on the end of the narrow brown bottle. He drank it all. The sun shone while he drank. It was wonderful. This was a great day, after all. A wonderful day.
Peduzzi hanged himself on this wonderful day. He might have intuitively felt the need of the young gentleman for a good drink to numb himself. They shared the same bottle of wine, had the same experience, and were going through the same existential crisis.
"What was the real, the actual, opium of the people? He knew it very well. It was gone just a little way around the corner in that well-lighted part of his mind that was there after two or more drinks in the evening;"("The Gambler, The Nun, And The Radio" )
These two men, who both have no "lead" in their lives, were unable to anchor their existence to substantial lives, floating on nothingness.
This explains why Peduzzi was excited when he learned that the young gentleman had no "lead":
"You must have piombo. Piombo. A little piombo. Just here. Just above the hook or your bait will float on the water. You must have it. Just a little piombo."
"But listen, caro, you must have piombo. The line will lie flat on the water." Peduzzi’s day was going to pieces before his eyes. "You must have piombo. A little is enough. Your stuff is all clean and new but you have no lead. I would have brought some. You said you had everything. "
Troubled as the young gentleman was, Peduzzi thought the young gentleman should have been all clean and new and should have "lead". When he was balked at by the fact, he was so desperate that he repeated it again and again unbelievably, even compromising by saying, "a little is enough."
In the end, the young gentleman refused Peduzzi’s proposition and said he would leave word with the hotel office, which shows he failed to commiserate with Peduzzi.
The three characters in this story, especially the young gentleman and Peduzzi, were all haunted by their own conundrums and couldn’t fully understand each other in vernacular communication, which led to the disjointed and falling apart of their potential connection.
The first and last paragraphs of this story, along with others, were listed by Hemingway as those he liked most in the collection of "In Our Time." They encompass so much stifling heat and a seething undercurrent that’s about to explode.
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