Hemingway in Constantinople

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Author: Peter Lecouras
Date: Autumn 2001
From: The Midwest Quarterly(Vol. 43, Issue 1)
Publisher: Pittsburg State University - Midwest Quarterly
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,538 words

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ON SEPTEMBER 30, 1922, Ernest Hemingway arrived in Constantinople to cover the Greco-Turkish War (1920-1922) for the Toronto Star. Beginning with "British Can Save Constantinople" dated September 30, 1922, to his last article, "Refugees from Thrace" dated November 14, 1922, Hemingway wrote twenty articles about the war and its politics, which together constitute some of his best formative work. Hemingway's trip to Constantinople left a deep impression on him that lasted at least until the writing of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1936) which memorably mentions the same war.

Although passages in his articles for the Toronto Star elicit sympathy for the half-million Thracians who were dispossessed by the Greco-Turkish War, Hemingway dehistoricizes the Greek culture and its people who suddenly find themselves powerless among the Western power brokers--Britain, France, and Italy, whose political and economic interests render them indifferent to the centuries-old enmity between the Greeks and the Turks. In the "Greek" vignettes from In Our Time (1924) and in some of the Toronto Star articles, such as "Refugees from Thrace," Hemingway forges a new style that isolates and heightens the emotional impact of an experience by communicating "small details, intimately preserved, which have the effect of indicating the whole" (Plimpton, 236).

The journalistic pieces Hemingway wrote for the Toronto Star about the Greco-Turkish War anticipate the style and aesthetic purpose of the three "Greek" vignettes from In Our Time, "On the Quai at Smyrna" (1930), passages in Death in the Afternoon (1932), and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." These works essentially reject the complex, though recent, political history which precipitated the war. Furthermore, these particular works demonstrate a symbiotic relationship between Hemingway's discourse and the politics of the Western-backed hegemony.

In these works Hemingway sacrifices the historical context through a highly selective presentation of material, appearing hostile toward the Greeks and their politics, as if he were holding them exclusively accountable for the events of 1920-1922. The emotions of the Greeks are overwhelmingly those of panic and fear in the face of certain death and annihilation. Hemingway suggests that the panic and fear are in some way deserved--the result of poor and cowardly leadership and emotional weakness on the part of the Greeks that is its own betrayal. Because King Constantine replaced highly competent officers of the Greek army with cronies (Revolt, 245), Hemingway, adopting the attitude of the British foreign office and the American Consulate in Ankara, condemns the Greek cause, its culture, and its political goals in a demonstration of realpolitik.

The Greco-Turkish War's influence on Hemingway has received fairly little, if any, discussion until very recently because it has not seemed particularly important in Hemingway's artistic development. Other than the notable exception of Jeffrey Meyers, who raises questions about Hemingway's attitude toward the Greeks, Hemingway's treatment of them in his work has either been ignored or has been viewed as the inevitable by-product of his formalist and ahistorical aesthetic. But the contrary is closer to the truth. Aside from some of the reporting that he did for...

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Source Citation
Lecouras, Peter. "Hemingway in Constantinople." The Midwest Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 1, 2001, p. 29+. Accessed 19 Sept. 2020.
  

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