Eleven years after writing the critically acclaimed novel For Whom the Bell Tolls and just eleven more preceding his death, Ernest Hemingway, once again, captured reader's attention with his version of two star
crossed lovers in the city of Venice. Hardly Shakespeare, however, one must appreciate his subtle tributes to writers like Blake. "What hand or eye framed that dark-eyed symmetry." Unlike previous works, the tolls on Hemingway's life seem to have spilled
over into his writing. Across the River and Into the Trees found a loyal following of critics, and its early success seemed to ride on the coattails of Hemingway's name. In fact, it is very likely that people were so anxious for his return that a bestse
ller was inevitable. Character development may be lacking and dialogue became apparently weak at times; however, Across the River and Into the Trees popularity dwindled due to the quality of the work, not the quality of the writer.
Experiencing World War I seems to have had a great impact on Hemingway's writing. Since the army would not let him enlist due to a poor left eye, Hemingway decided to volunteer for the Red Cross. As a result, Hemingway found himself stationed in Italy;
the country where his first work following the war takes place. However, Hemingway does not directly recreate the war experience. Instead, he uses his main character Richard, the wounded Colonel who has since retired from the army, as a means of briefly d
escribing war from a retrospective point of view. The Colonel's experience appears very much like Hemingway's first hand experience with war. A familiarity that must have changed his earlier notions of war from his pervious book: For Whom the Bell Tolls
. In fact, the Colonel resembles Hemingway in many ways. For Hemingway, the realities of war opened his eyes to a very tragic side of life. As an ambulance driver, Hemingway fortunately survived the explosion from an enemy shell that killed many American
soldiers and left Hemingway with a wounded leg. This tragic exposure with death seems to have left a very strong impression on Hemingway's life.
In fact, the explosion seems to have had an impact on more that Hemingway's physical condition. Its effects have transcended into his work in a very strong way. Maybe it was fate, but ironically, many of Ernest Hemingway's main characters all possess de
formities that pose some type of challenge in their lives. Just as Hemingway suffers from a wounded leg, his characters share similar scars and subtle imperfections, which hamper their peace. For example, the Colonel suffers primarily from a lame hand. Ho
wever, many other visible scars carry the burdens of war with the Colonel for the rest of his life. However, I do not think Hemingway wanted us to sympathize with Richard. His lucrative twenty-four hour relationship with the nineteen year-old Reneta does
not allow for many moments of pity. In fact, Hemingway makes their love so strong that passing over the war stories with very little concern becomes apparently easy. He seems to be struggling with a book whose purpose is caught somewhere between a powerf
ul love story and a critical account of the horrors of war. As a result, the book fails to produce a feeling of completion. With this in mind, one may understand how Hemingway's personal life unintentionally becomes apparent in Across the River and Into
Throughout the latter part of his life, Ernest Hemingway suffered many bouts with depression. His reckless lifestyle of heavy drinking and risky activities had many hard impacts throughout the years. Florida brought him the deep sea fishing, Spain brought
him the bull, and his hunting trips to Africa led him to the Lion. Everything Hemingway was doing in his life had to be at either great risk or great excess. Divorce, illnesses, and accidents like his plane crash in Africa were slowly catching up on the
aging author. Slowly Hemingway was becoming a very bitter, worn out old man. We see this side of Hemingway very vividly in his portrayal of the Colonel. When the two young soldiers laugh a Richard and Reneta as they pass on a side street in Venice, one ca
n feel a very sympathetic moment with Hemingway. We can't find sympathy with the Colonel because he proceeds in physically abusing both young men. However, Hemingway's anger and personal frustration is never more apparent. It is almost like Hemingway do
es not care if Across the River and Into the Trees is a critical success. Rather, one feels that Hemingway is using his success and respect by taking the opportunity to vent years of frustration and dissatisfaction. He uses the Colonel to personify his tr
agedies. Unfortunately, his sadly apparent overcompensation of a romantic love affair can not completely overshadow the true roots of bitterness. The book is very revealing towards the personal struggles in Hemingway's life.
Compared to Hemingway, the Colonel is no different. Just moments after meeting Reneta, the two magically fall in love. Shakespeare made it work, but Hemingway has fallen a bit short. The circumstances are far too great for the dialogue to convince us that
the two are actually in love. Moreover, I am disappointed that Hemingway resorted to constant exchanges of "I love you" as a means of convincing aloof readers. I think this futile relationship is one of the factors that led critics to say, "though it ha
s moments of strength and beauty, it also has moments of tawdriness."
Frankly, Ernest Hemingway seems to have lost his focus. As a result, his work Across the River and Into the Trees suffered. Its best seller status seems to have come solely through anticipation of the book that was to follow For Whom the Bell Tolls. Unfo
rtunately, the kindest critical reviews said nothing more than the book is "a little less than perfect." Although a uniform edition of the book was published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1956, ARIT did not surface again until 1977. In fact, ARIT is one
of Hemingway's books, which is much harder to come by.
Taking the book strictly for what it is, one can still see the magic of Hemingway's straightforward writing leap from the pages. The book is full of beautiful lines, which are typical of Hemingway's unique depth. His lines momentarily lead us to think
of ourselves in a different light. "We live by accidents of terrain, you know, And terrain is what remains in the dreaming part of your mind." I am unable to define the true meaning of this quote because I'm not supposed to. This is one of the beauties o
f Hemingway's writing. Even if novels like Across the River and Into the Trees do not achieve glorious critical acclaim; Hemingway fans will still enjoy his straightforward style of prose. Hemingway always leaves his readers with memorable moments. He l
eaves lines that we love to relate to romantic ideals and personal experiences. The subtle haunting scars each protagonist consistently fails to transcend are back once again. Like our sympathy with previous characters such as Jake in The Sun Also Rises,
we find ourselves once again caught up in another story of love just shy of perfection. Deep down we know perfection can never be achieved, but we're keen to the chase. In different ways and for different reasons, we all find some meaning in " We are g
overned by what you find in the bottom of dead beer glasses that whores have dunked their cigarettes in." Unfortunately, the one-liners is basically all this book has to offer.
Taking place in a twenty-four hour span, the brevity of action seems to parallel the brevity of time in which Hemingway took to complete this novel. He seems to have tragically rushed the story. The reckless abandon which became a major part in his life
led to a shallow relationship between the Colonel and Reneta. A love that leads readers difficulty with which to sympathize. This difficulty arises from the fact that symbolism like the jewels or the picture doesn't hold any deep meaning. They appear to
be props that Hemingway arbitrarily threw in the book solely to complete the puzzle.
Fortunately, Hemingway followed Across the River and Into the Trees with his Pulitzer Prize winning achievement: The Old Man and The Sea. He returned to the level of writing one could see in earlier works like The Torrents of Spring and The Sun Also Rise
s. Although it immediately became a best seller, Across the River and Into the Trees was not a story that truly demonstrates the complete style and form we have come to expect from Ernest Hemingway. However, Across the River and Into the Trees reflects th
e difficult times Hemingway experienced throughout the latter years of his life.