“Everybody Has It”: Syphilis and the Human Condition in the Writings of Ernest Hemingway

  • Lisa Tyler


The ubiquitous references to venereal disease in Hemingway's writings signal his commitment to literary modernism and the shock of the new. Syphilis, the life-long, potentially fatal illness for which there was no permanent remedy until 1943, became a trope for Hemingway. Again and again, he presents sexually transmitted diseases in general, and syphilis in particular, as the universal human condition. Hemingway sees syphilis as both a concrete medical reality of his time and an iconic form of human suffering, a metaphor for what all humans must eventually endure: suffering for which there is no remedy. He then explicitly links that suffering both to unreasonable and inherently dangerous societal expectations for masculine behavior and to the emotional pain of the depression he repeatedly experienced.


  1. Baker, Carlos. 1969. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Scribner’s.Google Scholar
  2. Birmingham, Kevin. 2014. The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  3. Bock, Martin. 1997. Syphilisation and Its Discontents: Somatic Indications of Psychological Ills in Joyce and Lowry. In Joyce/Lowry: Critical Perspectives, 126–144. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.Google Scholar
  4. Brand, Anthony. 2004. ‘Far from Simple’: The Published Photographs in Death in the Afternoon. In A Companion to Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, ed. Miriam B. Mandel, 165–187. Rochester: Camden House.Google Scholar
  5. Brandt, Allan M. 1987. No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States Since 1880. Expanded Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Brasch, James D., and Joseph Sigman. 1981. Hemingway’s Library: A Composite Record. New York: Garland. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.Google Scholar
  7. Brian, Denis. 1988. The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Hemingway—By Those Who Knew Him. New York: Grove.Google Scholar
  8. Burwell, Rose Marie. 1996. Hemingway: The Postwar Years and the Posthumous Novels. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Caswell, Claude. 1998. City of Brothelly Love: The Influence of Paris and Prostitution on Hemingway’s Fiction. In French Connections: Hemingway and Fitzgerald Abroad, ed. J. Gerald Kennedy and Jackson R. Bryer, 75–100. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  10. Cawthorne, Terence. 1962. Goya’s Illness. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 55 (March): 213–217.Google Scholar
  11. Comley, Nancy R., and Robert Scholes. 1994. Hemingway’s Genders: Rereading the Hemingway Text. New Haven: Yale State University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Donaldson, Scott. 1977. By Force of Will: The Life and Art of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  13. Eide, Marian. 1998. Beyond ‘Syphilisation’: Finnegans Wake, AIDS, and the Discourse of Contagion. In Quare Joyce, ed. Joseph Valente, 225–240. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  14. Felisati, D., and G. Sperati. 2010. Francisco Goya and His Illness. Acta Otorhino-laryngologica Italica 30: 264–270.Google Scholar
  15. Ferris, Kathleen. 1995. James Joyce and the Burden of Disease. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.Google Scholar
  16. Fuentes, Norberto. 1984. Hemingway in Cuba. Secaucus: Lyle Stuart, Inc.Google Scholar
  17. Giemza, Bryan. 2010. The French Connection: Some Visual and Literary Sources for the French Connection in Hemingway’s ‘The Light of the World. Hemingway Review 30 (1 Fall): 84–102.Google Scholar
  18. Goya, Francisco. 2015. Plate 15 from ‘Disasters of War’ (Los Desastres de la Guerra: And there is no help (Y no hai remedio). In The Collection Online. Metropolitan Museum of Art.Google Scholar
  19. Haas, Rudolf. 1987. Hemingway and Goya: ‘Boundary Situations’ and their Representation in Literature and the Arts. Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 36: 29–40.Google Scholar
  20. Hayden, Deborah. 2003. Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  21. Hays, Peter L. 1995. Hemingway’s Clinical Depression: A Speculation. Hemingway Review 14 (2): 50–63.Google Scholar
  22. Hemingway, Ernest. 1925. In Our Time. New York: Collier.Google Scholar
  23. ———. 1926. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Collier.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 1929. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 1932. Death in the Afternoon. New York: Scribner’s.Google Scholar
  26. ———. 1934. Introduction to Quintanilla. New York: Pierre Matisse Gallery. Reprinted in Hemingway and the Mechanism of Fame, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 31–34.Google Scholar
  27. ———. 1937. To Have and Have Not. New York: Scribner’s.Google Scholar
  28. ———. 1940. For Whom the Bell Tolls. New York: Collier.Google Scholar
  29. ———. 1950. Across the River and into the Trees. New York: Scribners.Google Scholar
  30. ———. (1970) 1972. Islands in the Stream. New York: Bantam.Google Scholar
  31. ———. 1981. Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917–1961, ed. Carlos Baker. New York: Scribner’s.Google Scholar
  32. ———. 1987. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  33. ———. 2005. Under Kilimanjaro, ed. Robert W. Lewis and Robert E. Fleming. Kent: Kent State University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Iuliano, Fiorenzo. 2014. Staging the Stigma: Syphilis and Its Metaphors in Claude McKay’s The Clinic. StatusQuaestionis: A Journal of European and American Studies 6: 40–62.
  35. Jobst, Jack W., and W.J. Williamson. 1994. Hemingway and Maupassant: More Light on ‘The Light of the World.’. Hemingway Review 13 (2 Spring): 52–61.Google Scholar
  36. Joyce, James. (1922) 1997. Ulysses. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  37. Kadlec, David. 2000. Mosaic Modernism: Anarchism, Pragmatism, Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Lyons, J.B. 1988. Thrust Syphilis Down to Hell and Other Rejoyceana: Studies in the Border-Lands of Literature and Medicine. Dublin: Glendale.Google Scholar
  39. Mandel, Miriam B. 2004. Subject and Author: The Literary Backgrounds of Death in the Afternoon. In A Companion to Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, ed. Miriam B. Mandel, 79–119. Rochester: Camden House.Google Scholar
  40. Martine, James J. 1970. A Little Light on Hemingway’s ‘The Light of the World.’. Studies in Short Fiction 7: 465–467.Google Scholar
  41. Meyers, Jeffrey. 1985. Hemingway. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  42. Moddelmog, Debra A. 2013. Sex, Sexuality, and Marriage. In Ernest Hemingway in Context, ed. Debra Moddelmog and Suzanne del Gizzo, 357–366. Cambridge: New York.Google Scholar
  43. Nickel, Matthew. 2013. Religion. In Ernest Hemingway in Context, ed. Debra Moddelmog and Suzanne del Gizzo, 347–356. Cambridge: New York.Google Scholar
  44. Parascandola, John. 2008. Sex, Sin, and Science: A History of Syphilis in America. Westport: Praeger.Google Scholar
  45. Porter, Laurence M. 1980. Syphilis as Muse in Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. In Medicine and Literature, ed. Enid Rhodes Peschel, 147–152. New York: Seale Watson.Google Scholar
  46. Ravin, James G., and Tracy B. Ravin. 1999. What Ailed Goya? Survey of Ophthalmology 44 (September–October): 163–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Reynolds, Michael. [1981] 1996. Hemingway’s Reading, 1910–1940: An Inventory. Princeton: Princeton University Press. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.Google Scholar
  48. ———. 1996. A Farewell to Arms: Doctors in the House of Love. In The Cambridge Companion to Ernest Hemingway, ed. Scott Donaldson, 109–127. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rütten, Thomas. 2013. Genius and Degenerate? Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus and a Medical Discourse on Syphilis. In Contagionism and Contagious Diseases: Medicine and Literature 1880–1933, ed. Thomas Rütten and Martina King, 147–166. Berlin: De Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sanford, Marcelline Hemingway. 1999. At the Hemingways, with Fifty Years of Correspondence between Ernest and Marcelline Hemingway. Moscow: University of Idaho Press.Google Scholar
  51. Smith, Paul. 1989. A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Boston: Hall.Google Scholar
  52. Spilka, Mark. 1990. Hemingway’s Quarrel with Androgyny. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  53. Strychacz, Thomas F. 2004. Hemingway’s Theaters of Masculinity. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Sweeney, Gerard M. 1998. Wharton’s Bewitched. Explicator 56: 198–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Takano, Yasushi. n.d. Against the Victorian Normalization of Sexuality: A Study of Hemingway’s Representation of Syphilis. Kyushu University.$takano/literature/syphilis.pdf
  56. Timins, Michael. 2012. ‘The Sisters’: Their Disease. James Joyce Quarterly 49: 441–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tyler, Lisa. 2016. ‘Our Fathers Lied’: The Great War and Paternal Betrayal in Hemingway’s In Our Time. In Teaching Hemingway and War, ed. Alex Vernon, 30–40. Kent: Kent State University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Waisbren, Burton A., and Florence L. Walzl. 1974. Paresis and the Priest: James Joyce’s Symbolic Use of Syphilis in ‘The Sisters.’. Annals of Internal Medicine 1974: 758–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Watts, Emily Stipes. 1971. Ernest Hemingway and the Arts. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  60. Wilson, Edmund. 1924. Mr. Hemingway’s Dry-Points. The Dial LXXVII.4 (October): 340–41. Reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: Five Decades of Criticism, edited by Linda Welshimer Wagner, 222–223. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa Tyler
    • 1
  1. 1.Sinclair Community CollegeDaytonUSA

Personalised recommendations