“She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.”
“This fellow raises the grapes. He ‘s got thousands of acres of them.”
“What’s his name?” asked Brett. “Veuve Cliquot.”
“No,” said the count. “Mum. He’s a baron.”
The most fully realized female character in the fiction of Ernest Hemingway appeared in his first novel The Sun Also Rises (1926). We only know (Lady) Brett Ashley through the words of Jake Barnes who, like his creator, can hardly be a reliable narrator in spite of his attraction to her. When Jake calls Brett a "bitch" he renders Hemingway's verdict and we are meant to concur.
Brett is a strong, independent woman who charms everyone she meets, a goddess with a bob who rejects a mythic role for herself. I suspect Hemingway had a sneeking fondness for such boyish women. His initial description of Brett (at top) is instantly recognizable as Hemingway-esque. What may take a bit of reflection to recognize in the dialogue is how the characters occasionally get away from their author. We are intended to condemn Brett's garish ways but remain to be convinced that wandering from bar to bar, as Jake and his friends do, is superior to going from relationship to relationship.
Although the novel takes place mostly in the Paris of 1925, it is the recent war that shaped their characters; Jake has become impotent and after her sweetheart dies, Brett is noncommittal with men, even her two husbands, whom she has divorced before the story begins. This character who combines disparate qualities within herself, masculine/feminine, strength/vulnerability, morality/unreliability, is an Art Deco woman, like the style of the day that contained curves within geometric figures and speed within static images.
1. unidentified artist - Blanco y Negro, 1934, Art Archive, UK.
2. unidentified artist - Vogue Summer Travel Issue, 15 May 1932, Kunstbibliotech, Berlin.
3. Jean Dunand - Leda, 1932, Galerie Felix Marcilhac, Paris.
4. Doccia & Agata - bowl, c.1920, National Ceramics Museum, Sevres.
5. Jean Lurcat - The Siren Rug, 1920s, Musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris.