The Place

The Bay of Biscay, nestled between France and Spain, was a dangerous place during World Wa r I. German U-Boats owned the Bay, eagerly sinking British and American ships that would dare enter her waters. U-Boats accounted for 15,000 casualties and 5,000 ships sunk [2]. Despite the perils of the Bay of Biscay, it was necessary for ships from America to reach France with both supplies and troops, with Bordeaux being the most popular port. It is in this backdrop that the Nick Adams story “Night Before Landing” takes place.

The Bay of Biscay

The Story

Nick has enlisted in the army, and is being transported across the Atlantic. Upon landing in Europe, he will move to Italy and fight on the Italian front. As the title suggests, the story is set the night before the ship will land in Europe. Nick spends his time in the Bay of Biscay drinking with the Polish officers and a young man nick-named “the Carper”. Also on the ship is a French girl named Gaby, described as having “blonde hair which was always coming down, a loud laugh, a good body, and a bad odor of some sort.” There is a lot of apprehension amongst the young men, who are on their way to the front for the first time. Unaware of the horrors of war, the men joke amongst themselves, even as German U-Boats prowl around them. However, they feel invincible to the U-Boats, as German mail is rumored to be aboard their ship. It is the last time Nick will feel invincible, as he will soon be in the midst of war.

The Hemingway Connection

“Night Before Landing” is an especially autobiographical story, as every element in the story seems to mirror Hemingway’s voyage to Europe in the spring of 1918. Aboard the Chicago, Hemingway was on his way to the Italian front. Hemingway’s shipmates mirrored Nick’s. There was a girl named Gaby on the Chicago who, like Gaby from the story, had blonde hair and a bad odor. Howie Jenkins, Hemingway’s friend and fellow ambulance driver, was the basis for ‘The Carper’. Furthermore, like the boat in “Night Before Landing”, the Chicago was filled with Polish officers. Hemingway’s boat eventually landed in Bordeaux on the coast of France. He spent some time in Paris and reached Italy on June 6, 1918 [1-75:77]. War cause Hemingway severe emotional scars, and the trip aboard the Chicago can be viewed as his last innocence before experiencing the horrors of war.

Hemingway never intended “Night Before Landing” to be a short story. Rather, it was to be the first chapter of a novel tentatively titled Along With Youth that was to follow Nick through World War I, and follow the emotional and physical scars war caused Nick. Hemingway never completed Along With Youth, abandoning the project after 27 pages [1-297]. When compiling stories for the Nick Adams Stories collection, editor Philip Young decided to include “Night Before Landing” as a short story.