The Sun Also Rises

by: Ernest Hemingway

Lady Brett Ashley

She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.

James describes Brett as incredibly good looking and goes on to note details of her figure, hair, and clothing. He and Brett are clearly in love, but because of his war injury, Jake has lost the ability to have sex. The novel poignantly follows his attempts to be satisfied with kisses, conversation, and observation.

She was looking into my eyes with that way she had of looking that made you wonder whether she really saw out of her own eyes. They would look on and on after everyone else's eyes in the world would have stopped looking.

As Jake and Brett ride through Paris in a taxi, having just left the others behind at a bar, they kiss and confess their love for each other. Here, Jake describes how Brett looks at him while in the taxi. In addition to confessing her love, Brett also confesses her frustration for not being able to physically consummate their love. From the pain of the impasse, she admits that she can barely stand the thrill of Jake’s touch. Readers realize that Jake and Brett’s desire to be together as lovers springs from a deep and mutual longing and attraction that binds them in spite of themselves.

“I’m not joking you,” the count blew a cloud of smoke. “You got the most class of anybody I ever seen. You got it. That’s all.”

The count affirms his observations of Brett while he and Brett visit Jake the day before she intends to leave the country with Mike. Earlier, the concierge told Jake that Brett seems very genteel and that she obviously comes from a good family. Here, the count agrees that Brett appears to have a special elegance. No matter where she goes, Brett elicits admiration from both men and women for both her beauty and her behavior.

Brett was looking at him quite coolly, but the corners of her eyes were smiling.

Brett stares at Mike after he states to the others, including Bill and Jake, that he’d rather not attend the evening’s fight. Brett’s reaction reflects her character: ambiguous, stealthy, and often hard to read. At this point in the novel, she serves as the hub around which all the attentions turn.

Brett was really done in and will be quite all right by Tues. and is practically so now. I know her so well and try to look after her but it’s not so easy.

This excerpt from Mike’s letter to Jake from San Sebastian explains that Brett passed out on the train and that they will meet Jake at Pamplona despite the delay. The detail shows the level of the companions’ debauchery. It also shows that Mike feels protective of Brett. The heavy drinking will catch up with each of the characters in his or her own way, ultimately damaging both health and friendship.

“And God, what looks,” Brett said. “I believe, you know, that she’s falling in love with this bull-fighter chap,” Mike said.

After Montoya takes the circle of friends to meet Romero, the young bullfighter who dominates the bullfight show, Brett comments approvingly on his appearance. Mike confides to Jake his recognition of Brett’s attraction to the young matador. Romero’s bullfighting techniques appear beautiful and sexual in a sport that features a fight to the death between species along with a death blow of stabbing by horn or sword. In many ways, Romero’s moves mirror those of Brett herself, who relishes winning the intense battle of the sexes.

I’m a goner. I’m mad about the Romero boy. I’m in love with him, I think.

Brett exposes her sexual weakness and feelings for Romero to Jake as they walk in the moonlight, a safe place where she feels she can be honest with Jake, her best friend. She admits she feels smitten with the beauty and agility of the nineteen-year-old bullfighter, Romero, a boy unspoiled by war or cynicism. However, readers may note that, despite thinking she could give herself wholeheartedly to love, Brett flits from one attraction to the next without much thought about integrity.

His ear was cut by popular acclamation and given to Pedro Romero, who, in turn, gave it to Brett, who wrapped it in a handkerchief belonging to myself, and left both ear and handkerchief, along with a number of Muratti cigarette stubs, shoved far back in the drawer of the bed-table that stood beside her bed in the Hotel Montoya, in Pamplona.

Unpacking the vivid, specific details in Jake’s observation reveals much about Brett’s character. Brett’s treatment of Romero’s trophy wrapped in Jake’s handkerchief portrays both her fleeting infatuation with Romero and her cavalier attitude towards her platonic relationship with Jake. Neither means very much to her. She relegates the hard-won prize of a bullfight, the bull’s ear, to the trash along with cigarette stubs. She moves on quickly, without compassion.

“He only left yesterday. I made him go.” “Why didn't you keep him?” “I don’t know. It isn’t the sort of thing one does. I don’t think I hurt him any.”

After arriving in Madrid to rescue Brett, the two discuss Romero’s departure, which Brett insisted upon. She feels conflicted about making Romero leave her, but she knows that she has done the right thing for herself. Jake then holds her in his arms as she sobs in her hotel room. Readers may note, however, that Brett keeps talking about Romero even though she keeps repeating that she doesn’t want to talk about him.

“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”

Brett’s line toward the end of the novel brings much of the plot to full circle. Brett remains miserable, and she continues to wish for something she cannot have: Jake’s sexual love. Her words come after they shared three martinis and Jake has had several bottles of wine. Despite her clear love and longing for Jake, Brett then admits that she might return to Mike and to the merry-go-round of her vapid promiscuity.