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The Sun Also Rises | Context

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Inspiration

Hemingway wrote the first draft of The Sun Also Rises just weeks after returning from the bullfights in Pamplona, Spain, with Lady Duff Twysden, the real-life aristocrat on whom Lady Brett Ashley is based, and two of her lovers, including writer Harold Loeb, on whom Robert Cohn's character is based. Lady Duff, a divorced baroness, was fashionable and beguiling. She sported short hair and masculine dress, drank heavily with Hemingway and his counterparts, and attracted male attention wherever she went. Hemingway's first draft of The Sun Also Rises contained characters named Lady Duff (Brett) and Hem (Jake); the draft so closely followed events from the Pamplona trip that writer Donald Steward, who inspired the character Bill Gorton, said the novel was "nothing but a report on what happened ... [it was] journalism." Years later in a letter to the writer A.E. Hotchner, Hemingway reported on Lady Duff's death: "Brett died in New Mexico. Call her Lady Duff Twysden, if you like, but I can only think of her as Brett."

World War I

Though it contains no battle scenes The Sun Also Rises is still considered war literature—it examines the effects of war on veterans. The novel deals heavily in the theme of masculinity, the definition of which changed significantly during World War I, a worldwide conflict of alliances that began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in 1914. Known at the time as the Great War, the combatants believed they were fighting to end German militarism.

In earlier war times soldiers signed up to defend their countries as an act of courage. They measured their might through hand-to-hand battles that relied on skill and strength. It was truly survival of the fittest; the strongest men emerged from battle, often with scars to show for their valor, much like Count Mippipopolous in The Sun Also Rises. During World War I however, soldiers faced new forces; mustard gas, machine guns, and tanks killed indiscriminately, and battle was no longer about individual strength and courage. Similarly air raids and boat attacks gave armies opportunities to kill their enemies without ever seeing their faces. As a result survival was seemingly random, and many of the survivors returned home traumatized by their experiences. Between military and civilians, more than 38 million people died during the war. Many people, both veterans and civilians, were disillusioned by the sacrifices made during the war and struggled to understand the meaning of life amid so much senseless loss.

The Lost Generation

World War I, or the Great War, uniquely affected the young generation of men and women who came of age during wartime. Ernest Hemingway was among a small group of creative men and women—also including poets Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald—who moved abroad and launched literary careers during and after the war. American writer Gertrude Stein, living in Paris, mentored the young expatriate writers, as well as many visual artists. She once told Hemingway, "You are all a 'lost generation,'" and the term stuck. Hemingway used Stein's words as his first epigraph to The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway's generation was "lost" in that their lives lacked meaning after the war. Perhaps to fill a spiritual void the lost generation sought distraction and pleasure through decadent lifestyles full of travel, sex, food, and drinking. Lost generation writers often fictionalized their disillusionment in their work, as Hemingway did in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms.

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