A Very Short (Love) Story
A soldier. A nurse. And a short-lived romance.
Welcome to A Very Short Story (1924) by Ernest Hemingway. Bearing the hallmark of a perfect vignette, this short story narrates the brief love story between a World War I soldier and a nurse. Set in a hospital in Padua, the story barely follows any plot. But it succeeds to have a lasting effect on its readers through its bittersweet conclusion.
It all begins with a short encounter between Luz and the unnamed hero at the hospital. While treating his wounds through her loving care, the two develop an inexplicable bond, a nameless relationship.
But love has to wait as the war continues.
It is only after the armistice that he receives more than a dozen of letters from Luz, revealing her deepest feelings and sharing her dreams of being happily married to him.
Things change after their brief railway journey from Padua to Milan. The two go astray. With their ways separated, the hero and the heroine lose a part of themselves and welcome new relationships, shelving the brief attachment and naming it a mere ‘boy and girl affair’.
What haunts me as a reader of this short story which is barely one page long is not the unfinished romance. But the way the pangs of separation have been portrayed through . . . SILENCE!
Hemingway is not only a master of words but also a deft user of silence. He could have easily taken the readers on a melodramatic journey of heartbreak and separation. But he narrated the events following a matter-of-fact approach, presenting life (and all its aspects) in the rawest and perhaps, cruellest form.
Using minimalistic language and crisp words, Hemingway conveys the story in a straightforward manner. His narrative voice is devoid of all emotions and is also remarkably neutral and impartial.
Another thing that shall remain with me for a long time is the author’s artistic way of working around the words, presenting the gradual deterioration of the relationship.
During the “honeymoon phase” of the relationship, we see Hemingway conveying the depth of love through these words —
“They felt as though they were married, but they wanted everyone to know about it . . .”
As the story progresses, we observe that the once-upon-a-time love that remained between the couple has ceased to exist. The joyful ride of love now faces the practical aspects of life (involving money and security) which takes away all the spotlight from the emotions. Hemingway shows us the not-so-impressive aspect of love when he exposes its uglier side by writing the following —
“. . . they kissed good-bye, but were not finished with the quarrel.”
Lastly, the ending strikes as thunder. This story of failed relationships highlights the feelings of loss and loneliness and how different people use different strategies to cope with it. The two characters develop through the short span of the story and emerge ‘evolved’ and ‘matured’ — something love does to all of us.