The Letters of Ernest Hemingway 1923-1925 edited by Sandra Spanier, Albert J. DeFazio III and Robert Trogdon; Cambridge University Press, 319 pages ($40). No more juvenilia. This is Vol. 2 of Cambridge University Press’ projected complete letters of Ernest Hemingway. It only encompasses two years in his early and mid-20s but they were the Paris years, the years when he truly become Ernest Hemingway.
We begin with a letter to his mother from Montreux praising her fruitcake (his fellow reporters at the Kansas City Star supposedly loved it.) We end on New Year’s Eve in 1925 with Hemingway writing F. Scott Fitzgerald that he’s “loose” from publisher Horace Liveright over their rejection of “The Torrents of Spring” (“I have known all along that they could not and would not be able to publish it” as it makes a hash “out of their present ace and best-seller (Sherwood) Anderson … I did not have that in mind in any way when I wrote it.”)
In these Paris letters, you’ll find, of course, Gertrude Stein, bullfighting, visits to Spain, all the Hemingway mythology demythologized.
In that last letter, he is headed to Scribner and his fabled relationship with Max Perkins and is rewriting “The Sun Also Rises” (“it is damn good”). As presented in this edition, he writes Fitzgerald of leaving Liveright: “God it feels good to be out from the Jews anyway.” As printed, there’s a line through the two words “The Jews” indicating he had second thoughts before mailing.
It’s no wonder really that, as editor Sandra Spanier writes “Hemingway claimed he did not wish his letters to be published.” But after his suicide, his widow Mary Hemingway broke the logjam and, as is now known, you get in these letters an entirely different personality than is available anywhere else, both likable and dislikable and, as well, revelatory about his capacity for literary friendship. He tells Fitzgerald: “Don’t for Christ’s sake feel bad about missing the war because I didn’t see or get anything worth a damn out … because I was too young.”
Two thirds of these have never seen light of day before. A great continuing literary project.
– Jeff Simon