Research Report by Raymond M Weyls


Research Report by Raymond M Weyls





Hagemann, Meyly Chin.  “Hemingway’s Secret: Visual to Verbal Art.”  Journal of Modern Literature 7.1 (1979): 87-112.




In the article “Hemingway’s Secret: Visual to Verbal Art”, Meyly Chin Hagemann discusses how the work of Ernest Hemingway is greatly influenced by the work of French, Postimpressionist artist Paul Cezanne.  More specifically, Hagemann investigates the methodology Hemingway maintained when turning Cezanne’s visual art into the beautiful and detailed landscapes found in his novels and short stories.   Furthermore, Hemingway uses this methodology to create tension his is work.  Therefore Hagemann displays the step-by-step process (referred to as “Hemingway’s Secret”) of turning the visual art of Cezanne into the verbal art found in Hemingway’s work.  This article shows how conscious Cezanne and Hemingway were of using spatial planes to convey the exact forethought landscapes, as well as social relationships in Hemingway’s case, they developed for their work.



Hagemann begins his article discussion how Ernest Hemingway recorded how he struggled as a young writer in attempt to write literature, as Paul Cezanne would paint.  He illustrates this feeling as a young man through his reoccurring character Nick Adams.  In “Two Hearted River”, Hemingway includes Nick Adams’ aspirations as a writer saying, “He, Nick, wanted to write about country so it would be there like Cezanne had done it painting… Nobody had ever written about country like that.  He felt almost holy about it.” (Hagemann 87).  Furthermore, Hemingway also used Nick Adams to inform his readers on how he recalls nostalgically how he learned to write “true sentences” and stories with dimension.  In explanation to what Hemingway meant by the term “true sentences”, Hagemann states “A true sentence makes the reader feel pain and joy without the writer having to name or describe pain and joy” (Hagemann 97).  Therefore, the most difficult struggle for both Cezanne and Hemingway was to create sensations.  Hagemann then explains how Hemingway never stopped trying to put down what really happened in action because the actual things that take place are what produce the emotion that you experience.  This reflects Hemingway’s idea of writing “true sentences”.

            In order to thoroughly depict Hemingway’s methodology of taking Cezanne’s painted landscapes and breaking them down into planes and dimensions, Hagemann demonstrates the procedure with two works by Cezanne.  The first painting Hagemann used was Cour d’ume ferme(Figure 1).  In this instance, Cezanne uses vertical objects and color tone to depict both the spatial dimensions of his landscape, as well as the point of emphasis in his painting.  Hagemann goes ahead to show us how Hemingway would break down a painting by Cezanne into planes, in order to investigate the exact spatial dimensions (Figure 2).  Hagemann explains that he identifies planes in three different fashions.  The picture plane is the viewer’s position as he or she faces the picture.  A static plane is parallel to the picture plane.  A dynamic plane is one whose top and base lines are at angles with the picture plane.  Hagemann includes, “When an artist overlaps dynamic and/or static planes, he place one plane behind the other, leading the viewer into deep space and back again to the foreground” (Hagemann 92).  After establishing the three types of planes he then identifies in the first painting he an effective way to comprehend visual tension by imagining two straight-standing poles and picturing a clothesline tightly stretched across from the top of one pole to the other.  Visually tilting one or both poles away from each other pulls the imaginary clothesline tighter.  The psychological sense of pressure or strain is spatial tension (Hagemann 92).  The second painting he breaks down into planes is significantly different from the first.  Where the first painting creates spatial tension with vertical objects, which are depicted in walking distance to the viewer; the second painting includes miles among miles of horizontal layering of the landscape creating a lot more distance from the viewer.  Yet, Hagemann explains the objects’ roles in each painting, creating different and distinct sensations for the viewer to undergo.  For example, in the second painting discussed titled Le Golfe de Marseille, vu de I’Estaque (Figure 3), Hagemann identifies the planes in the painting to then discuss how the relationship between one another creates sensations in the viewer.  Hagemann explains, “Jagged lines separating the mountaintips from the sky, “I” area, create a number of minute intersecting planes at tension with one another and an erratic sense of stops and starts, moving up and down (Hagemann 101).  This point is illustrated in Figure 4.  Now that spatial tension is explained and demonstrated through Cezanne’s work, Hagemann goes on to identify how Hemingway used the same methodology of creating such sensations in his own writing.

            As Hagemann showed the use of spatial tension in two of Cezanne’s paintings, he also shows the use of spatial tension in two of Hemingway’s works.  First he depicts the how different literary elements in “Out of Season” are used as planes build tension or sensation through one another.  In “Out of Season”, Hemingway narrates an experience in Cortina where he has a heated argument with his wife to then take off on a fishing trip with a guide who ended up being the village drunk.  In addition, the party consisting him, his wife, and the drunk were all negatively perceived by the people of Cortina.  Furthermore, the drunken fishing guide persuades Hemingway to break the fishing laws of Cortina.  The tension between Hemingway and his wife, Hemingway and the guide, Hemingway and his conscience, as well as the tension between the party and people of Cortina are seen and used as planes.  Hemingway uses these planes to escalate the tension in the story the same way Cezanne would use his visual planes to create tension in his paintings.  The spatial dimensions between these planes were depicted through Hemingway’s description of him walking up and down Cortina’s main street, passing each plane in a vertical fashion.  As Cezanne used color tone and shape to create tensions between planes, Hemingway uses language and description of his planes to create such tension.  Hagemann explains, “The fist half of the story moves downward.  Three people walking down a hill, through a town, toward the river to break a law by fishing out of season.  In doing this, they move outside society’s mores.  The word “down” appears twelve times before the story’s direction changes, that is down the path; down the road; down the street of Cortina; down the road to the Concordia Hotel” (Hagemann 104).  Though I haven’t shown an example of an upward movement depicted in Hagemann’s article, he goes on to explain how the story’s structure depends upon a down-up movement with its major conflicts unfolding during the first half.  Spatial tensions are maintained between Hemingway and his wife, the drunken guide and the town, as well as the party of law-breakers (Hemingway, his wife, the guide) and the town.


            Before reading this article, I admired Ernest Hemingway’s writing for his detailed descriptions of the beautiful landscapes he included in his works.  Until now, I had not noticed how he developed tension and spatial dimension through the setting and characters of his stories.  I did not include how Hagemann explains this methodology of creating tension or sensation in “Indian Camp”.  Instead of placing planes in a horizontal or vertical fashion, circular placement of the planes is shown in “Indian Camp”.  Since the Storyboard Project at UCSB plans to use “Indian Camp” as the literary piece for their project, I find this article to be of substantial use for the group creating their project.  In providing a one-stop source for analyzing this work by Hemingway, I feel the analysis of the relationship between the planes, as well as the tension created between these planes, used by Hemingway would enrich the project’s analytical depth.  This article would serve as one of a few different sources in analyzing and interpreting Hemingway’s distinct style of writing included in the storyboard.

Resources for Further Study


Johnston, Kenneth G. “Hemingway and Cezanne: Doing the Country”.  American Literature. 56.1 (1984): 28-37


Gaillard, Theodore L. “Hemingway’s Debt to Cezanne: New Perspectives”. Twentieth Century Literature.  45.1 (1999): 65-75



Smith, Paul.  “Hemingway’s Early Manuscripts: The Theory and Practice of Omission”.  Journal of Modern Literature. 10.2 (1983): 268-288


Referred Illustrations



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