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Hemingway sought to make the sentences and paragraphs he wrote ostensibly simple, filled with repetitions and odd variations, charged with a sort of hidden electricity, filled with an emotion which the reader could not easily find in the words themselves, emotion which seemed to live in the space between the words, or in the sudden endings of certain paragraphs.
Thus, in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway could write, “But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”
In that sentence, he managed to declare very little, but to suggest a great deal. In the forty-one words, twenty-seven words have only one syllable. This makes the reader feel comfortable, as though something easy were being said. But it is clear from the way the punctuation works and the variation within the phrasing that nothing is in fact simple, and much is ambiguous and almost painful. Instead of saying so, Hemingway manages to give the impression of this, to comfort the reader with the diction, but then jolt the reader with the shifting levels of tone and meaning within the clauses.
The theory of this is to let the writer do the feeling and to register this in the prose, bury it in the white spaces; thus, the reader will come to feel it all the more intensely, because it will not come as mere information, but as something much more powerful, will come as rhythm. And it will come so subtly that the reader’s imagination will be deeply engaged in capturing it in all its uncertainty and strangeness. Thus, it will be closer to music in its impact, but the words will still hold their meaning. It will play the stability of meaning against the mystery of silent sound. This idea that what you leave out in prose writing is more important than what you put in made its way into the very core of Hemingway’s method as a novelist and short story writer.
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