Hemingway in the Basque Country

Hemingway in the Basque Country

Yvonne and I are on a tour of the Basque Country, a unique region that straddles southern France and northern Spain. As we explored the towns of Bayonne, Biarritz, San Sebastian, and especially Pamplona, I couldn’t help but think of Ernest Hemingway’s travels through the same region. Here’s a photo of him in 1923, during the time when he visited there. 

A fictional version of Hemingway’s travels is included in his novel The Sun Also Rises. I read it years ago and decided to reread it on the trip.

The travel portions of the novel offered fascinating comparisons with our own experiences. I was especially struck by the scenes in Pamplona.

When I first read the book, I didn’t know that in the 1920s, when Hemingway visited that town, the running of the bulls was a new practice known mostly in the immediate region, and that Hemingway’s vivid descriptions in the book were what made it world-famous. 

I was also struck by how the story, basically a description of people wandering from bar to bar having bored conversations and a few fights, is nevertheless considered a milestone of American literature. What I realized on this reading was that the novel was groundbreaking not so much because of the story but for the way it was delivered—in the utterly naturalistic, unadorned voice that Hemingway became famous for. 

People had heard that voice before—in fact, had heard voices like it all around them, in homes, streets, and taverns—but they hadn’t read it in the pages of a book. And so the story, boredom and all, created a sensation.