Publisher Adds Warnings to Hemingway Works, to Dismay of Biographers and Scholars

Publisher Adds Warnings to Hemingway Works, to Dismay of Biographers and Scholars
The monument to U.S. Nobel Prize Ernest Hemingway in the Cojimar neighborhood in Havana on Sept. 8, 2014. (Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images)
Carly Mayberry

Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway is the latest literary target of a politically correct publisher who feels compelled to qualify the writings of one of the nation’s most influential authors for readers.

Publisher Penguin Random House recently reissued his works with warnings on “language and attitudes,” a move which is drawing criticism from both Hemingway biographers and some university professors.

Specifically, Hemingway’s "The Old Man and the Sea" was reissued while his 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" includes the warning: “The publisher’s decision to present it as it was originally published is not intended as an endorsement of cultural representations or language contained herein.”

The "For Whom the Bell Tolls" writer’s short story collection received a similar warning. A similar warning appears with his short story collection "Men Without Women." Hemingway penned "The Sun Also Rises" in 1926. While considered one of America’s greatest novels, it also faced criticism for having anti-Semitic tropes.

Biographers and Scholars React

"The publisher’s comments would be hilarious, were they not also alarming," Hemingway biographer Richard Bradford told England’s The Telegraph this week.

“Scrutinize any novel or poem written at any time, and search for a passage that could create unease for persons who are obsessed with themselves, and you’ll find one. And then every publication will need to carry a warning like this, the verbal equivalent of photos of cancer ridden lungs which now decorate cigarette packets,” said Bradford. “Publishers and the literary establishment as a whole now seem to be informed by a blend of stupidity and bullying regarding what readers should be allowed to think.”

That’s as Mary Dearborn, author of "Ernest Hemingway, A Biography" previously made these comments in the UK’s Daily Record when history and literature students at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland were given a graphic content warning. The school is located in an area renowned for its fishing industry.

“This is nonsense. It blows my mind to think students might be encouraged to steer clear of the book,” said Dearborn. “The world is a violent place and it is counterproductive to pretend otherwise. Much of the violence in the story is rooted in the natural world. It is the law of nature.”

"The Old Man and the Sea" tells the story of Santiago, an aging fisherman who catches an 18-foot marlin while sailing in his skiff off the coast of Cuba. Unable to tie the giant fish to the back of the tiny vessel or haul it on board, Santiago holds the line for an unspecified number of days and nights, suffering intense physical pain yet feeling compassion for the captured animal. Once the fish begins to circle his craft, he finds himself forced to kill it for which he then chastises himself. The story of bloodshed, endurance, and sacrifice, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to their awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway in 1954, has been seen by some as a metaphor for Christianity.

Jeremy Black, emeritus professor of history at the University of Exeter, told the Daily Record about the graphic warning given to students: “This is particularly stupid given the dependency of the economy of the Highlands and Islands on industries such as fishing and farming. Many great works of literature have included references to farming, fishing, whaling, or hunting. Is the university seriously suggesting all this literature is ringed with warnings?”

The school had previously issued content warnings for other classics including Homer’s "The Iliad" and "Beowulf," English poems written around 1025 AD, with both given warnings they contain “scenes of violent close combat.” Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein" was marked as containing “violent murder and cruelty” and Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" and "Romeo And Juliet" were noted to contain scenes of “stabbing, poison and suicide.”

Hemingway isn’t the first prolific author to be hit by such trigger warnings. The books of children’s author Roald Dahl have also been flagged. That’s while the website singled out content from close to 7,000 books, which included classics from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Red flag content ranged from such diverse topics as discrimination against gypsies to "fatphobia."
As a seasoned journalist and writer, Carly has covered the entertainment and digital media worlds as well as local and national political news and travel and human-interest stories. She has written for Forbes and The Hollywood Reporter. Most recently, she served as a staff writer for Newsweek covering cancel culture stories along with religion and education.
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