Across the River and into the Trees

Across the River and into the Trees

Infobox Book
name = Across the River and Into the Trees
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First American edition
author = Ernest Hemingway
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Charles Scribner's Sons
release_date = 1950
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages = 320 pp
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Across the River and Into the Trees" is a novel by Ernest Hemingway. The title is derived from the last words of Confederate General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson.

Hemingway himself described the novel to reporter Lillian Ross in a famous 1949 interview, while he was preparing to revise the first draft: "Book start slow, then increase in pace till it becomes impossible to stand. I bring emotion up to where you can't stand it, then we level off, so we won't have to provide oxygen tents for the readers. Book is like engine. We have to slack her off gradually."

Plot summary

The story follows the last three days in the life of a retired United States Army officer in Venice, Italy.

In the period just after the Second World War, a fifty-year-old American colonel pays a visit to the site in Italy where he was nearly decapitated during the First World War.

Cantwell (symbolic name) is a skilled soldier, having risen steadily through the ranks in his thirty-year career and having personally killed 122 men (one of them using a nail driven through a two-by-four.) However, these achievements aroused the envy and mistrust of his seniors, who had reached their ranks mostly by political maneuvers rather than martial prowess. Needing a scapegoat, the military demoted him to the rank of colonel after he, following his orders, had led his brigade into an impossible battle in the Hurtgen Forest and lost a large portion of the brigade. After his demotion, he becomes bitter, and criticizes most of the Allied generals, especially Eisenhower, Leclerc, Patton, and Bernard Montgomery. He feels that they have subjected him to friendly fire in doing what their enemy had not been able to do to him.

Cantwell passes his holiday in Venice hunting ducks, eating, drinking, recounting his wartime exploits, and having a sexual relationship with a nineteen-year-old Italian Venetian contessa, Renata. Renata is Hemingway's highly idealized portrait of a nineteen-year-old Italian girl he encountered during his 1948 visit to Venice. She suggests to the general that they "stay at the Muehlebach hotel which has the biggest beds in the world and we'll pretend that we are oil millionaires."

His nostalgic liberty over, Colonel Cantwell proleptically anticipates his death by quoting the last words of rebel general Stonewall Jackson to his aide, and then crawls into the back seat of his staff car and dies of a heart attack.

Before his death, Cantwell gives orders for the return of some personal belongings to Venice, but his aide, angered by the colonel's criticism of his penmanship, decides to return the items "through channels", meaning that the honest colonel will still be the victim of politics even after his death.

Literary significance & criticism

Hemingway had difficulty during the 1940s in getting back into the swing of writing of fiction after his traumatic work as a war correspondent during World War II. Returning to his abode in Cuba, he began one project that would eventually be published posthumously as "The Garden of Eden" (1986), then shelved that manuscript to work on two others that would be known as "Islands in the Stream" and the unpublished "Isle of Pines" manuscript. During a trip to Italy in 1949, he began a new short story which promptly evolved into "Across the River and Into the Trees".

This novel was excoriated by critics and has generally been regarded as the low-water mark of Hemingway's career. Morton Zabel, writing for "The Nation," declared it "the poorest thing its author has ever done – poor with a feebleness of invention, a dullness of language, and a self-parodying style and theme." A "New Yorker" review by Alfred Kazin expressed "pity and embarrassment" for an excellent writer who had produced such a poor work late in his career. Northrop Frye made the comparison between Hemingway's work and Mann's similarly-themed "Death in Venice" but wrote that Hemingway's effort was amateurish. Meanwhile, "Across the Street and Into the Grill", a parody by E. B. White published in "The New Yorker", skewered the novel mercilessly.

External links

* [ Literary Encyclopedia Review]
* [ An Analysis of Across the River and Into the Trees]

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