There are a couple army recruits, a boy named Nick, masses of greek immigrants, and one last matador. These are characters in Ernest Hemingway’s early fictional work, In Our Time (1924,1925). They first appear, however, as subjects in Hemingway’s articles written for the Kansas City Star and The Toronto Star (1917-1924).
Hemingway said, “the best rules I ever learned in the business of writing” came from Kansas City.” . It is widely accepted that Hemingway’s writing style derives from the short, simple but weighted sentences encouraged in journalism: “Use short sentences. Use short paragraphs. Use vigorous english. Be positive, not negative,” reads the opening paragraph to the Kansas City Star “Copy Style.”
More than style came from Hemingway’s days as a journalist. He was able to witness the everyday narratives of people in many different places. His journalism and military service between 1917-1924 allowed Hemingway to write about Chicago, Kansas City, Canada, France, Spain, Turkey and many places in-between.
In Our Time takes place in many of these same geographies. It was first published in Paris, 1924 as eighteen short vignettes that take place in the many countries Hemingway traveled to as journalist and medic in World War I. It was called in our time and the book jacket had bylines from newspapers. It was released in America in 1925 with the addition of longer chapters in between the vignettes.
Traveling to four places Hemingway writes about as a journalist and author of this collection of short stories reveals the remarkable overlap of content and subjects that appear in each geography. In Our Time serves therefore as an archive of the news of the early twentieth century and fiction a tool to disseminate information in a time when other genres and mediums could not.
In the late 1910’s and early 1920’s— when technology did not yet allow for wide dissemination of information— there were many debates addressing the readership and purpose of journalism. Newspapers are great daily tools of information, but are not widely accessible as records of history. Unlike a newspaper, a work of fiction can easily sit on a desk or bookshelf as a more permanent, bound narrative.
Today, we take for granted our ability to archive and immediately access records of the past. The internet and digital scholarship make this possible today. In addition, there are many platforms that allow for an editorial of news that blurs genre like twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. All these platforms allow for a quick and wide dissemination of information. News from around the world can be accessed and shared from practically everywhere.
Hemingway contributes a tangible reminder and record of the the times between 1917-1924 in Kansas City— the Great Lakes, North America— Adrianople, Turkey— and the bullfighting arena in Span.