Drinking Wine With the Basques in The Sun Also Rises

The Basque Wineskins

The first part of the Sun Also Rises focused on how several illustrious American expatriates in France after World War I symbolized a Lost Generation of disillusioned young men and women who wandered from bar to bar attempting to drown their sorrows in drinking and shallow romantic affairs. Through direct or indirect narratives and dialogue, Hemingway reveals that these characters have all been physically and/or traumatized by the war. Most of the scenes  in Book I are heavily tinged with drinking, with the characters experiencing the effects of being drunk without even remembering what they did during the previous day or night. Though they rejected the cultural and moral values that were prevalent in western culture before the War, they  could not replace them with any meaningful new lifestyles. Consequently, each of the main characters feels that they must escape the depressing situations that they have created for themselves and their compadre. Jake is recovering from a one-sided romance with Lady Brett, while Brett is off with her “fiancé,” Mike.

In Chapter 11 , Jake and Bill are headed to Northern Spain to enjoy fishing and bullfighting. Their shared train and bus ride through the French countryside and the Western Pyrenees Mountain of Northern Spain marks a transition in Hemingway’s novel. The bus ride symbolizes that they are able to escape thinking about the emotional and physical traumas they experienced during the war and are moving toward a time where they can reconnect with themselves and with nature. Besides a war injury that made him sexually impotent, Jake says that he wants to experience the things he values more than anything in life, i.e., fishing, male-bonding, and bullfighting. In this part of the book, Jake channels the values that Hemingway embraced. On the bus ride to their fishing vacation fishing, Jake and Bill meet a group of celebrating Basques (see below) from the Pyrenees Mountain region of northern Spain.



The Basque culture is known for enjoying life through celebrations with fine food, dine, and wine grown in France and  Spain. Jake narrates the start of the bus trip. “Two of our Basques came in and insisted on buying a drink. So they bought a drink and then we bought a drink, and then they slapped us on the back and bought another drink.” The Basques’ celebrations contrast to the shallow unfocused drinking orgies that Jake experienced in Paris. ” These Basques are a swell people,” Bill said. They encourage the Americans to get rid of their wine bottles and teach them how to enjoy drinking wine in Basque wine skins. Jake’s narrative continues:

The Basque lying against my legs was tanned the color of saddle leather. He wore a black smock like all the rest. There were wrinkles in his tanned neck. He turned around and offered his wine-bag to Bill. Bill handed him one of our bottles. The Basque wagged a forefinger at him and handed the bottle back, slapping in the cork with the palm of his hand. He shoved the wine-bag up. “Arriba! Arriba!” he said. “Lift it up.” Bill raised the wine-skin and let the stream of wine spurt out and into his mouth, his head tipped back. When he stopped drinking and tipped the leather bottle down a few drops ran down his chin.”No! No!” several Basques said. “Not like that.” One snatched the bottle away from the owner, who was himself about to give a demonstration.He was a young fellow and he held the wine bottle at full arms’ length and raised it high up, squeezing the leather bag with his hand so the stream of wine hissed into his mouth. He held the bag out there, the wine making a flat, hard trajectory into his mouth, and he kept on swallowing smoothly and regularly.

The Basques’ conversations with each other are welcoming. They encourage Jake and Bill  to sample a small part of their proud culture that has existed (metaphorically) almost as long as the sun has risen. The bus scene occupies only about a page of the novel, but it marks the beginning of Jake’s recovery from the war. It helps him to forget, at least temporarily, about Lady Brett. Unfortunately, we will see in the next section, that he will abandon fishing and all of his stated values when he decides that he must meet up with her in Pamplona Spain.


Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education (1973) and in English Literature (2015). He earned a Doctorate in Education in 1987. He is married and has three wonderful adult  daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia. He is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com, an editor for the Correctional Educator Journal, and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic and meditation teacher. Murray also serves a board member and volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write him at ellisonms2@vcu.edu or leave comments on the LitChatte.Com Blog. You can also leave your email on the sidebar on the right of this post to receive automatic postings of my Blog.

Murray Ellison at the Poe Museum

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2 Thoughts to “Drinking Wine With the Basques in The Sun Also Rises”

  1. Marion Brown

    Murray, unforeseen family responsibilities have prevented me from attending your class on Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I have read the book at home and have enjoyed your comments on this blog. I look forward to participating in future classes you may have at LLI.
    You’ve made Hemingway clearer for me. Thanks!

    1. Hi Marion
      I am hoping to see you sometime soon at the Midlothian Book Club First Friday’s Classic Book Club or at the classes I am now teaching at LLI OSHER,
      Murray Ellison

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