Hemingway’s Dante Revisited: In Our Time and the Mythical Method

Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time has all the traits of a great work of modernist literature except for widespread recognition as such. One trait in particular has been vastly underestimated: the text’s implementation of what T.S. Eliot called the “mythical method.” Although Eliot’s term has more or less been consigned to the footnotes of literary history, its enduring associations with the myth-inflected school of high modernism typified by Eliot, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound, affords us a serviceable description of In Our Time’s submerged intertextual relationship with Dante’s Divine Comedy. While critics have observed in several of the collection’s short stories allusions to the same Grail legend that Eliot references in The Waste Land, they have persistently overlooked the extensive Divine Comedy parallels which form an indispensable component of In Our Time’s mythical method. This oversight regarding Hemingway’s “highly literate approach” (Sylvester, “Italian Waste Land” 92) to his early fiction has hindered our appreciation of In Our Time’s achievement as a work of modern literature and contributed to the occasional discounting of Hemingway’s status as a literary modernist.