Ernest Hemingway with bullfighter Antonio Ordonez, c.1960 © Loomis Dean/LIFE/Getty Images.

Hemingway in Pamplona: The Role of "The Sun Also Rises" in San Fermín

American novelist Ernest Hemingway first visited Pamplona in 1923 at the age of 24 as a newspaper reporter in search of new material to write about. Hemingway experienced nine San Fermíns by the end of his life, but his first three, during the years 1923, 1924, and 1925 were the inspiration for his novel “The Sun Also Rises,” or “Fiesta,” as the Spanish translation is titled. The novel is told from the perspective of Jake Barnes, an American World War I veteran working as a newspaper correspondent in Paris. The novel follows Jake and his friends through Europe as they drink at local bars, deal with love and heartache, and eventually make their way to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The characters in the book are meant to depict the “lost generation,” or the post-World War I generation of writers that used literature to make sense of the turbulent period in which they grew up. Many literary historians believe that Hemingway wrote the character of Jake Barnes based on himself: he too served in World War I (as an ambulance driver) and became a journalist in Paris in the 1920s, part of the so-called lost generation of writers. W. J. Stuckey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, wrote that “The Sun Also Rises” was “was so autobiographical, it was essentially gossipy reportage.”

Hemingway loved Pamplona. He was known for staying at the Hotel La Perla during his visits to Pamplona, and his favorite restaurant/bar was the Cafe Iruña. Both of these establishments are still located today in the Plaza del Castillo, Pamplona’s main square. He was known to traipse through the city making local friends and drinking scotch sodas. Referring to Hemingway’s time in Pamplona, Jerónimo Echagüe writes that Heminway and the Americans whom his book encouraged to travel to Pamplona “did not come to colonize us, as happens in other places, but rather to integrate themselves in our fiestas.” 

While Hemingway had a general love for the city of Pamplona itself, some literary historians say that he was destined to love San Fermín specifically because of his fascination for bulls and their brutality. As a young boy in Northern Michigan, Ernest’s father frequently took him to hunt and fish in the hills, instilling in him a passion for danger. After moving to Paris to launch his literary career, he learned about bullfighting, and before seeing a bullfight firsthand or learning anything more about the sport, we wrote about it in an article for his literary firm. Soon after, he made plans to go to Spain to see the practice firsthand. He saw his first bullfight in Madrid with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, before traveling to Pamplona to watch one of the 7 bullfights of the San Fermín fiesta. Quickly, he became a bullfight aficionado, or passionate fan, and the art form went on to play a very important role in his book. In Chapter 18 of “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway writes that “in bull-fighting they speak of the terrain of the bull and the terrain of the bull-fighter. As long as a bull-fighter stays in his own terrain he is comparatively safe. Each time he enters into the terrain of the bull he is in great danger.” He notes that his favorite bullfighter, Juan Belmonte, “worked always in the terrain of the bull. This way he gave the sensation of coming tragedy.”

After “The Sun Also Rises” was published in October of 1926, the book not only kickstarted Hemingway’s career as a novelist, but it also brought Pamplona and its annual San Fermín fiesta to international fame. Still, Americans did not immediately flock to Pamplona because of worries about the Spanish Civil War and World War II. However, by the 1950s, when Spain’s political climate stabilized and the book became part of many American collegiate curriculums, young Americans became fascinated with the fiesta and yearned to see it in person. Since then, thousands of American tourists travel to Pamplona every summer to take part in the San Fermín fiesta. Some plan to run with the bulls (or maybe just watch the bull run from a balcony) or watch a bullfight while others take part in the 24-hour parades and parties in the streets. Regardless of your reason to visit San Fermín, perhaps you have Hemingway to thank for bringing what was once a small, locals-only festival to the world stage. 

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1 comment

Great article! I love it very much. So insightful


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