Re: RARA-AVIS: Conrad, Hemingway and Faulkner (was: Dan Fortune series)

From: Dennis Lynds (
Date: 06 May 2005

Etienne and Michael,

I had to think about both your takes on Hemingway, Faulkner, and Conrad.

To me, they are all three great writers, and all three deal with the human condition as do all good writers. They simply deal with different aspects of this vast and complex subject. Both Conrad and Faulkner attemped to tackle more of the complexity than Hemingway. But what Papa did he did superbly in a deceptively spare, but actually stylized, style that was easy to imitate but damned hard to master.

I'm not sure exactly what Michael means when he says Conrad wrote about the human condition and Hemingway about humans. At first glance this seems to me an extremely fine distinction. The only useful meaning I can glean from such a distinction, is to suggest that Hemingway deals with individual people, and Conrad with abstractions in a social context. Yet Conrad's and Faulkner's characters are as individually human as Hemingway's, and all three deal with these individuals in a social context.

I can think of an only too real critical distinction if this human condition-human schism is looked at in a more extreme way, because that is exactly what ocurred in American, and to some extent British, literature after World War Two, but not in the rest of the world.

Nelson Algren has dealt with this in an essay introduction to a new paperback edition of his NEON WILDERNESS short story collection, but I'll give a brief summary. Before WWII, American lit was almost universally about man in society. But after, led by such critics as Lionel Trilling and Leslie Fiedler, it turned sharply inward, dwelling on the individual angst of a single psyche essentially without any reference to the social world he or she lived in. We contemplated our navel, and while doing that presented in a dry external style in which everything was implied, suggested, but never said. Chekov became the model but in a more extreme version that dealt entirely with the internal psychological struggles of an individual divorced from the world he or she lived in.

Socially concerned writers from Crane, Dreiser and London, to the Dos Passos of USA, Sinclair Lewis, James T.Farrell, and Algren himself were dismissed.

Most of the rest of the world did not do this, especially Europe and South America. Which is why I tend to read books from those worlds instead of the literature of my own. As Algren said, "I could easily find all my books in the libraries of Europe, but not in the library of the city about which they were written."

End of tirade, but that human versus human condition, disturbed me.


----- Original Message ----- From: "E.Borgers" <> To: <> Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2005 4:47 AM Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: Conrad, Hemingway and Faulkner (was: Dan Fortune series)

> Dennis,
> I think that speaking of modern literature, Faulkner is one of the
> important writers.
> I do not know why, but it seems that he is not correctly paid his due by
> recent contemporary Aglo-Saxon literary critics and lit. historians.
> I'm glad to hear that you admire Conrad. I share this with you.
> He's one of the real founders of modern writing and modern literature.
> His legacy and influence is outstanding.
> Personally I see him *also* as one of the distant roots of modern noir,
> roots of literary or mystery noir novels. That's a point of view I
> advocated since quite some time on this list.
> Conrad can be reread and reared. And must.
> I think that the Hemingway heritage is more strictly focused on
> minimalization of style and "distanciation", influencing a lot of
> writers who more or less are using a behaviorist writing in their novels.
> On the other hand, his often exaggerated stand proclaiming and
> supporting a "life of action(s)" - and that kind of views he often
> developed in his novels- is now obsolete, I think.
> Conrad's views and feelings on the human condition, to the contrary, are
> universal.
> E(tienne) Borgers
> Hard-Boiled Mysteries
> Dennis Lynds wrote:
> >Dear Jacques,
> >
> > .../..
> >So you noticed the touch of Faulkner, did you. You may be the first one,
> >at least the first to mention it. (People tend to approach experience
> >literature with preconceived notions. We see what we expect to see, what
> >want to see, and most readers of mystery and detctive stories don't
> >to see Faulkner, or for most part want to. Hence Barzun and Wilson.)
> >
> >But, yes, I have read and reread all of Faulkner's novels countless
> >There is always more to discover in each one. He is to me the greatest
> >American writer, and possibly, together with Conrad, the greatest writer.
> >Conrad was my first great discovery, and to me it is clear that he must
> >been Faulkner's too. It is obvious that Faulkner owed a large debt to
> >Conrad, and the two of them have been large influences. Not, obviously,
> >style or meter, as you say, but in much else. In style I am of that
> >generation in which no writer could escape Hemingway (not even Faulkner
> >you read some of his early stories. I recall one, it's name escapes me
> >the moment, that was about WW One, and was perfect Hemingway.) We did
> >best to escape Papa, but it was difficult, and many potentially good were
> >destroyed by it. I think I succeeded with the help of Conrad, Faulkner,
> >Hardy, the American proletarian writers, and, above all, Nelson Algren.
> >course none of that is really for me to say, but I thank you for noticing
> >the Faulkner in me, I couldn't have a greater compliment.
> >
> >Best,
> >Dennis-Michael
> >
> >
> >
> RARA-AVIS home page:
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