This story concerns the attempts of the title couple to conceive a baby. They tried in Boston and on the boat over to Europe. On the boat, Cornelia Elliot was very sick. She was a Southern woman and became ill easily. When they married, she had seemed younger but now she looked her forty years. When they were married, Hubert Elliot was studying at Harvard in a postgraduate program. He was a poet. He had never slept with a woman before he married. Most women to whom he told that fact immediately left him. Cornelia thought his chastity was lovely. She also adored the way that he kissed her. He could not remember what made him kiss her the first time or why they married, but they did.
The first night of their marriage was in Boston. It was a disappointment. But, they still wanted a baby very badly, so they kept trying after they sailed for Europe the next day. First, they went to Paris. Then, they followed some friends to Dijon, but they found that boring. They went back to Paris. Then, they decided that Paris was too crowded and they rented a castle in Touraine for the summer. Cornelia's friend came over from America to stay with them. This made Cornelia much happier than she had been. Several of Hubert's friends also came down to Touraine. But, even though they admired Hubert's poems and he was about to send them out to be published, the friends left to accompany a new young poet to a seaside resort. Hubert drank much white wine at this time. He stopped sleeping with Cornelia. Instead, Cornelia's friend stayed with her. Hubert drank a lot of white wine and hardly spoke. Hemingway writes that they were all happy.
Following the story about bullfighting, "Mr. And Mrs. Elliot" portrays a man with a lack of masculinity. The first line, "Mr. And Mrs. Elliot tried very hard to have a baby," indicates that they were having difficulty conceiving. This kind of problem is often used to point out a lack of male virility. Similarly, the women that ran away from Elliot when he told them he was a virgin also feared a certain lack of manliness. As strange as it seemed to Elliot himself, these girls were happy to have a man who had slept with many women. Despite the fact that Hubert did not have casual sex with a lot of women, he still could not develop a close relationship with Cornelia. He did not know why they married, and she spent much of her time crying. She was only relieved when her girlfriend came to visit. Those two could create a much tighter bond than she could with her husband.
Hubert derived his only friends from his celebrity. Americans living in France wanted to be near an up-and-coming poet. But such fame cannot last long, and these "friends" abandoned him. Left with no friends, no intimate relations, and no masculinity, Hubert began to drink.
Sparknotes' commentary for On the Quai at Smyrna seems to have quite a few historical errors. The commentary states that the narrator is likely talking about the Greek evacuation of Thrace, but the title is On the Quai at Smyrna. Smyrna is a city in modern-day Turkey (now called Izmir). The Christian (mainly Greek and Armenian) part of Smyrna was burned in 1922 after the Turks recaptured the city from the Greeks. Hemingway was actually in Turkey just after the Great Fire to cover the Greco-Turkish War as a correspondent for the Toronto Star.... Read more→
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I think it is difficult to talk about this short story without acknowledging the use of literary minimalism. Several pieces of information are left out of the text but most readers come to the conclusion that Mrs. Elliot is a lesbian. Her marriage to Hubert is one of convenience, and her desire to have a baby is, arguably, to prove that she is not Lesbian (or just so that she can live in the current society without being judged).