Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Word Counts and The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (The Finca Vigia Edition, 1987, 650 pages)

My Top Ten Hemingway Short Stories
Key Word Counts 

I have now completed the first of my 2013 Reading Projects, the short stories of Ernest Hemingway (1899 to 1961, USA, Nobel Prize, 1954).   Reading, for me anyway, a 650 page collection of 71 short stories is much more "labor intensive" experience than reading most novels of the same length.   Of course I liked, as does everyone, some of his short stories more than others and a few did kind of drag on for me and as a personal note I do not like, even though I know it is reflective of how people talked at the time, dialogue that makes constant use of race based abusive terms to refer to non-caucasian races and there is a lot of that in these stories.   Here are my favorite stories:

  1. "The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber"  
  2. "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" -I picked this story as the American entry for project 196
  3. "Indian Camp"
  4. "Hills Like Elephants" 
  5. "Old Man at the Bridge"
  6. "Soldier's Home"
  7. "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
  8. "A Cat in the Rain"
  9. "Homage to Switzerland"
  10. "The Killers"-Dorthy Parker said it was the best short story written in 1929
I think it is worth the time for those into the short story to read this collection.  There are stories that are too long, like the ones set on the Key West Fishing Boats, the Captain Willie stories.  Many will be turned off or bored by the hunting and fishing stories, offended by constant use of racial slang, and find the stories, as fits the Hemingway image, overly macho.   This said, the characterizations are brilliant, the technical skill in the best stories is among the best.   If you want to just read a sample, not a bad idea for those with limited reading time, try the stories above and don't give up even if you do not like the subject matter of the opening stories.   

Word Counts

I decided to try a literary experiment to see if it might be of interest.  I took a number of expressions and searched the full text of the short stories for them.   In order to have a comparison I also scanned for the same expressions in two collections of short stories (total page count of these two collections and the Hemingway anthology is about the same).  I picked Best American Short Stories 2012 and Best British Short Stories 2012 for my comparisons.   These two books contain stories by about 40 writers.   I decided to search on "death", "home", "dark", "god", "clean", "drink", "green", "blue", "father", "mother", "money", "love" and "lone" (to find both "lonely" and "alone"-it also found "lone" meaning one but I filtered those out in my results.  

  1. Death  Hemingway 27, Best of 2012 books combined 41
  2. Home H-130  Best Stories 261
  3. God H 91  Best 64
  4. Clean  H 101  Best 46
  5. Drink H 324  Best 148
  6. Green H 54   Best 108
  7. Blue  H 97 Best 46
  8. Mother H 225  Best 244
  9. Father 326 Best 212
  10. dark  204  Best 148
  11. money   H 121  Best 68
  12. love   H  282 times  Best 80
  13. lone- to find lonely and lone  H 85 Best 80
"Ernest, I think there is something
missing in your life"- Carmilla
I am not ready to draw any big conclusions from these word counts.  I think numbers 2, 4, 5, and 12 may have a lot to tell us.   When you scan a collection of short stories written over decades it is hard not to see the preoccupations of the writers.  You can, I think, see into the mind of an author using this without knowing anything of their lives.   Before  E-readers it would have taken a very long time and been very tedious to make these counts.   

I would really appreciate it if readers could suggest other key terms to search.   


Suko said...

Congratulations on reading all of Hemingway's short stories!

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Great going, Mel! I have never read Hemingway's short stories, for no particular reason other than the fact that I never thought of it. I'll try and read some of the ones you listed. Your novel experiment has, indeed, thrown up some interesting aspects of a writer's preoccupation and gives a fair indication of the frame of mind he or she is at the time of writing. I think I may have gone through earlier editions of "Best American Short Stories" and "Best British Short Stories" and they are real treasures for a reader.

Mel u said...

Suko-thanks very much!

Prashant C. Trikannad I think especially in a collection of works that span a writer's full careers word counts can be very revealing-thanks as always for your comments-

Paul McVeigh said...

Dare I say... search 'sex'?