Published by Scribner’s in 1926, the first edition featured a Hellenistic jacket design illustrated by Cleonike Damianekes. The illustration, printed in a medley of beiges and browns, depicts a loosely-robed, exhausted-looking woman inclined against an even more tired-looking tree, her head resting on her shoulder, her eyes closed, both shoulders and one thigh exposed, cupping a golden apple in one hand, a pan’s pipe resting by her sandaled foot.

What this image has to do with the plot of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, let alone with its characters (who have as much in common with classical Greece as The Three Stooges) is anyone’s guess. But Hemingway’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, felt that the illustration “breathed sex” and would therefore appeal to female readers. Whether owing to this or not, the first print run of Hemingway’s first novel—5090 copies —sold out within two months. Subsequent larger runs sold out even faster.

The plot of Hemingway’s novel can be summed up thus: a group of expat louts travel to Spain from Paris to run with the bulls in Pamplona. Lest you take umbrage at my characterization of the novel’s dramatis personae, a recent nonfiction book by Lesley Blume that unravels the real story behind Hemingway’s novel is titled Everybody Behaves Badly.

In fact the novel began its life as — if not a memoir, something very close to one. An early draft version of the narrator character who would become Jake Barnes was named “Hem,” while other characters bore the names of their true-life counterparts. And if the final draft exemplified Papa’s “iceberg theory” (“The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water;” i.e., the less said and the more implied the better), it was largely thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who, having read the draft manuscript, persuaded him to cut the other seven-eighths.

Many consider The Sun Also Rises Hemingway’s best work. Had Hemingway been half as good a novelist as he was a short story writer, that would be an even more impressive claim. Anyway, it’s a powerful novel, the sort of novel that burns its descriptions into your senses while forever changing your view of certain things. Among such descriptions is this one that finds the narrator fly fishing in Spain’s Irati River:

… I hooked another and brought him in the same way. In a little while I had six. They were all about the same size. I laid them out, side by side, all their heads pointing the same way, and looked at them. They were beautifully colored and firm and hard from the cold water. It was a hot day so I slit them all and shucked out the insides, gills and all, and tossed them over across the river. I took the trout ashore, washed them in the cold, smoothly heavy water above the dam, and then picked some ferns and packed them all in the bag, three trout on a layer of ferns, then another layer of ferns, then three more trout, and then covered them with ferns. They looked nice in the ferns, and now the bag was bulky, and I put it in the shade of the tree.

—a description so solidly organic you can shuck out its insides. And notwithstanding Gertrude Stein’s contention that “remarks are not literature,” there are quite a few formidable ones aired by Mr. Barnes, to wit: “I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together”—which alone is worth the price of admission.

For my cover I engaged the help of a compact, fiery-eyed, adamantine Andalusian artist named Pablo Picasso. Dating from 1962, the colored linocut print (full Spanish title: “Picador et Torero Attendant le Paseo de Cuadrillas”) shows a picador and a matador in their suits of lights astride a horse. Though otherwise unaltered, I enhanced the background with some vertical bands of color and a setting (or rising) sun. The image struck me as fitting in more ways than one, Hemingway and Picasso having been, as it were, made for each other. Both occupied the avant garde of their disciplines, both drank a lot, both suffered from a surfeit of testosterone, and both were supreme womanizers who left behind debris fields of suicidal wives and children. Both were cruel SOB’s who projected themselves into the bullring: Hemingway as matador, Picasso as the bull. Finally, the less one knows about each, the better for their art.

Should Mr. Picasso’s heirs see my cover, and should they object to my doctoring the master’s work, they may take some comfort in the fact that this cover will in all likelihood never be used. Nor have I been compensated by so much as a nickel for it, so there’s no point in suing me.

About Peter Selgin

Peter Selgin is the author of Drowning Lessons, winner of the 2007 Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction, Life Goes to the Movies, a novel, two books on the craft of fiction, and several children’s books. His memoir, Confessions of a Left-Handed Man, was short-listed for the William Saroyan International Prize. His latest novel, The Water Master, won the William Faulkner Society Prize, selected by Random House Senior Editor Will Murphy. His work has won the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, the Dana Award, six Best American Essay notable essay citations, and two selections for the Best American series. A second memoir, The Inventors, is forthcoming from Hawthorne Books in April of 2016. He teaches at Antioch University’s MFA program and is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia College & State University.
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