Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 2: 1923-1925,"
edited by Sandra Spanier, Albert J. Defazio III and
Robert W. Trogdon; Cambridge University Press ($40)
Dec. 18, 1924, the 25-year-old writer Ernest Hemingway
shipped a quick note to the literary editor Robert
McAlmon, a friend and fellow Midwesterner living and
working in the creative ferment that was Paris in the
rushing you the Krebs," Hemingway wrote. "Hope
it’s all right. Gertrude thinks its (sic) a good story
anyway. … Anyhow this story is as good as I’ve got
Krebs" referred to one of Hemingway’s great early
works of fiction, the short story titled "Soldier’s
Home." Harold Krebs, the central character, is back
in the Midwest, home from the recent war, a gloomy young
man unsure what to do next. He sits at his parents’
breakfast table, reading The Kansas City Star and not
really listening to his nagging mother. It’s poignant
and moving in its portrait of a soldier emotionally
incapacitated by his experience.
that point in his budding career, Hemingway had begun to
garner serious attention for short stories he had
published and he was determined to keep it up.
"Soldier’s Home" would appear in McAlmon’s
"Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers"
in mid-1925 and in Hemingway’s first U.S. story
collection, the ground-breaking "In Our Time,"
later the same year.
a few days before that note to McAlmon, Hemingway had
sent off a short story to Frank Crowninshield, editor of
Vanity Fair. Titled "My Life in the Bull Ring With
Donald Ogden Stewart," the story indeed reflected
Hemingway’s fascination with the bullfight culture he’d
witnessed in Spain two summers in a row. It showed other
sides of Hemingway: The observer of vivid detail and the
comic and wry social commentator.
hope you like the story," Hemingway wrote.
Crowninshield did not publish the brief sketch, though
in a return note to Hemingway he called it "clever
and amusing," according to the editors of the new
"The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1923-1925."
it turned out, no one ever published Hemingway’s bull
ring story. Until now, that is. It appears about halfway
through the new volume. This is the second book in a
series that currently projects to include 16, an
extraordinary effort to corral more than 6,000 known
pieces of Hemingway’s correspondence. Disclosure: I
had a small role contributing to the annotations to
Hemingway’s Kansas City-related letters published in
Volume 1 of the series and have long been acquainted
with the project editors through my membership in the
Ernest Hemingway Society.
all the biographies and critical studies that have been
published about Hemingway in the last 60 years or so,
none has really gotten as close to the man as this
accumulation of letters is now allowing. It’s as if we
are watching a picture emerge on blank paper as the
developer does its darkroom magic, to employ an
old-school film reference.
a formal biography," J. Gerald Kennedy writes in
the introduction, "which reconstructs the subject’s
lifetime as a coherent narrative already defined by the
arc of a career, this virtual narrative produces a
rather different perspective, as shifting, incomplete,
and episodic as lived experience, which it mirrors more
closely than a biographical account."
volume includes a mere fraction of the total cache —
242 letters, about 60 percent of which have never been
published — but it spans three of Hemingway’s most
significant early years.
for a few dreary months in Toronto when his wife,
Hadley, gives birth to their son and Hemingway grows
increasingly disgusted with his newspaper job at the
Toronto Star, this is the intense Paris period when he
falls under the influence of Ezra Pound and Gertrude
Stein but carves out his own path to the brink of
stardom. He is learning how to navigate the publishing
world as well as the bull rings of Spain and the
snow-clad mountains of Switzerland and Austria.
voice in letters is often far different than his voice
in fiction — he is by turns relaxed, playful,
impulsive, solicitous, boastful and indignant. He’s
sloppy sometimes, and his typewriter is not always
working, and with the closest of friends he engages in
boisterous bursts of invented and wackily bent language,
at least partly influenced by the poet Pound (a job is a
"jawb," a letter a "screed," and you’ll
have to imagine what "yencing" means, because
its equivalent can’t be printed here).
in letters to male friends," Kennedy writes,
"we meet a coarse, unbuttoned Hemingway who flaunts
his prejudices, hostilities, and resentments with
should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with the
ever-coarse, ever-unbuttoned and ever-complex character
that the young man from Oak Park, Ill., molded himself
into. But it’s also instructive and uncomfortable to
listen in as Hemingway shovels racial, anti-Semitic and
anti-homosexual epithets, especially as he’s buttering
up his pal Pound.
of these letters prefigure the social dramas and
personal cruelties Hemingway will inflict years later in
his Paris memoir, "A Moveable Feast." Others
find him belittling one fellow writer or another.
("The Willa Cather Book starts getting really good
about page 425," he quips to Stein. And to Pound he
shares a swipe at Sherwood Anderson, one of the reigning
American writers of the day who befriended Hemingway in
Chicago and had given him letters of introduction to the
Paris literati: "I have not had a drink for five
days. It makes a man understand Anderson.")
with Pound and Stein (and her companion Alice B. Toklas),
Hemingway’s correspondents here include Edmund Wilson,
who had praised one of the young writer’s first
published stories, and numerous others from the literary
world; his parents, with whom he deployed, as Kennedy
writes, "strategies of concealment and
appeasement"; and close friends from the wartime
American Red Cross ambulance service and his beloved
woods-and-stream Michigan landscape, the personal lode
that he had begun mining with great fictional success.
the end of this book, "In Our Time" has been
published in the U.S. to admiring reviews, but Stein’s
refusal to critique it (she told him she’d rather wait
for his novel) makes Hemingway irate and apparently, the
editors note, causes irreparable damage to their
late 1925, Hemingway also is polishing the manuscript of
his first great novel, "The Sun Also Rises,"
and quickly knocking out his much-overlooked satire and
takedown of Anderson and Stein, "The Torrents of
Spring." Hemingway is quite proud of himself over
the latter, suggesting to Pound that it is "the
funniest book I’ve read since Joseph Andrews."
those with a passion for American literary history and
an interest in the machinery of fame, these letters,
ably and helpfully annotated by a team of scholars led
by Sandra Spanier of Penn State University, provide an
abundance of raw material and a few hours’ worth of