A few days ago, I was browsing through the piles of books in my study when I was surprised to find a paperback copy of A Farewell To Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. I don’t remember buying it and I have no idea how or when I came to own it, but I started to read it because I felt I couldn’t ignore the presence of a book written by a man who went on to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, while I’ve never read anything by Hemingway before now.
A Farewell To Arms deals with Hemingway’s experiences as an ambulance driver in World War One, so as the centenary of the Battle of the Somme was so fresh in my mind, I felt I could not ignore this novel, but I was reluctant to grace this work with my time because I was aware that Hemingway was also the author of Death in the Afternoon, a 1932 publication that glorifies the repellent practice of bullfighting.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when no sooner had I made a grudging start on Hemingway’s novel of war than the subject of bullfighting hit the headlines and I have to say that despite my familiarity with this ghastly pastime over the course of decades, I was genuinely amazed by what I read. Even if you’ve never actually seen a bull in your life, it should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that they’re big, strong creatures that are highly mobile and which possess a potentially lethal set of horns; with this in mind, it’s equally obvious that if you’re going to torment a creature like this, it will react violently.
However, that cowardly, sequinned popinjay – the late Victor Barrio – seemed to believe that he could torment a huge bull by the name of Lorenzo with impunity. This was a view shared by the other sadistic cretins in the ring with him that day and also by his widow, who complained without a trace of irony, apparently, that “life is unfair” after she’d seen the valiant Lorenzo comprehensively wipe the smile off the face of not only her husband, but also from the shocked countenances of all the other inadequates present that day.
I won’t go into the appalling details of bullfighting other than to say that the odds are completely stacked against the bull, who is doomed to be tormented and tortured until death eventually arrives as a merciful release. I don’t possess the vocabulary to properly articulate my sneering contempt for the degenerate bullfighters and their audience, but I can at least record my enormous, unqualified and undying admiration for Lorenzo, who was the bravest, noblest and most beautiful creature in the ring that memorable day.