Ernest Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon shows a new side of Hemingway's writing which initially disappointed the critics. Published in 1932, Death in the Afternoon was not the expected fictional novel, but instead was more of a nonfiction description of bullfighting and Spanish culture in the 1920's and 1930's. In Curtis Patterson's words, "It is a tripartite work: bullfighting in Spain, plus semi-autobiographical details of the author, plus smut. The smut is lugged in by the ears, is unnecessary, is not amusing. The semi-autobiographical details make me faintly sick at my stomach. The explanation of, guide book to, apology for bull-fighting is absorbingly interesting."1 This book's focus on bullfighting is a complete transformation from Hemingway's previous novel A Farewell to Arms, which focuses on the war. Many critics see through this switch in subject matter, however, and propose that Hemingway's focus on bullfighting is really just a different way for him to express his emotions towards the war. According to Malcolm Cowley, "Hemingway had found in bullfighting an emotional substitute for the war. It provided everything, travel, excitement, crowds like armies watching the spectacle of danger."2 The violent descriptions of the death and injuries of the bulls, horses, and bullfighters are expressions of his pent up feelings towards death and the war.
When this book was first published, it sold poorly, in part because of the depression, and also because of the strange topic of bullfighting, which was unfamiliar to his readers. Although his writing style was still praised and respected, his subject matter was widely criticized, as H.L. Mencken...
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...has interesting biographical facts and many pictures of Hemingway on his travels.
This website has excellent comments by Hemingway and reviewers about Death in the Afternoon, and his trips to Spain.
1 Stephens, Robert O., ed. Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Reception. New York: Burt Franklin & Co., Inc., 1997 p 118
2 Ryan, Frank L., The Immediate Critical Reception of Ernest Hemingway. Washington, D.C.: University of America Press, 1980 p. 19
3 Stephens, p. 123
4 Meyers, Jeffrey, ed. Hemingway: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge &Kegan Paul Ltd., 1982 p.173
5 Stephens, p. 121
7 Meyers, p. 22
8 Stephens, p. 115
9 Stephens, p. 119
10 Stephens, p.109
11 Stephens, p. 108
12 Stephens, p. 111
13 Stephens, p. 131
14 Meyers, p. 22
15 Meyers, p.24
16 Stephens, p. 112
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