X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Books

Does the world need 17 volumes of Hemingway's letters?

The second tome of the Sandra Spanier edition is out — though Papa didn't want his correspondence published

26 October 2013

9:00 AM

26 October 2013

9:00 AM

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume II:1923-1925 Sandra Spanier and others

CUP, pp.515, £30

‘In the years since 1961 Hemingway’s reputation as “the outstanding author since the death of Shakespeare” shrank to the extent that many critics, as well as some fellow writers, felt obliged to go on record that they, and the literary world at large had been bamboozled, somehow.’ So wrote Raymond Carver in the New York Times in 1981. My, how times have changed.

In the past 12 months alone this reviewer has seen Hemingway elegantly caricatured in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, strut the West End stage thinly disguised as Jake Barnes in an adaptation of his novel The Sun Also Rises (a production on which I was pleasingly credited as ‘bullfighting consultant’), be traduced with neither art nor foundation in Paula McLain’s novel about his first marriage, The Paris Wife, and fascinatingly explicated in the monograph, Beyond Death in the Afternoon by Allen Josephs (who, unlike McLain, knows well the difference between a banderillero and a picador.)

And I wasn’t even in England for most of the year. Orson Welles had it right when he said in his interview with Michael Parkinson in 1974 that although Hemingway ‘was in total eclipse for the last ten years, the sun is rising again critically for him. He’s been dead long enough.’

However, one wonders how long do you have to be dead for, and how good a writer do you have to be, for 17 volumes of collected letters to be too much of a good thing. The first volume begins when the author was seven years old, for Christ’s sake. Indeed, that it is a good thing at all is in serious doubt: in the introduction to this volume Hemingway himself is quoted, from a letter to his executors three years before his death, quite explicitly:

It is my wish that none of the letters written by me during my lifetime shall be published. Accordingly, I hereby request and direct to you not to publish, or consent to the publication by others, of any such letters.

[Alt-Text]


This is followed by some rather sketchy and self-serving argument by the editors — along with his only surviving son, Patrick — that his correspondence is owed to posterity, to scholarship, and that anyway, if he didn’t want them published, he should have burned them. One wonders, in this age of total information, whether just such an argument won’t be used to publish the credit- card statements of, say, Saul Bellow or John Updike, ‘so we can more accurately know the writer as he actually lived, rather than the mask he wrote for himself’. If the academics are after you, God forbid they find your email password after you’re gone.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, there is no denying that the letters are of interest, although the interest is necessarily patchy, given the inclusion of everything from financial instructions to stockbrokers to artistic advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Scholars will undoubtedly find the minutiae fascinating, while literary gossips will focus on familiar names such as Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford and Gertude Stein.

My own interest was piqued, admittedly, by Hemingway’s discovery of bullfighting and Spain during these years, his reaction to which was the inspiration for my stint as an amateur torero in 2010. So I was intrigued to see quite how little hispanophilia and tauromania impinged on his everyday life and professional thoughts, given what some would have us believe. That a man of an aesthetically sensitive temperament who survived gruesome wounds, psychological and physical, in the first world war should be drawn to the gore of the corrida de toros is not exactly surprising; but those who try to make it central to Hemingway’s intellectual development will be disappointed by this evidence. As A Moveable Feast made clear, someone like Pound, who impressed so hard on his protégé a combination of minimalism and le mot juste, was far more important to the development of Hemingway’s mid-1920s style of ‘omission’ than his infrequent, though devout, hero-worship of matadores including Juan Belmonte, El Niño de la Palma and Maera.

However developmentally intriguing such speculations may be, one still has to ask oneself why one is reading someone’s letters without their permission in the first place. In Hemingway’s case it could be because he developed a style within his métier as powerful, innovative and influential as, say Marlon Brando’s in acting or, indeed, Belmonte’s in toreo. But this is the very thing that is not in the letters. Apart from a few flashes of distinctly mannered rhythms, the style is warmly unpretentious and frequently playful.

What is most striking is how accurately he assessed his own worth and impact; that if he wrote ‘awfully well’ it would ‘last right on through’. It didn’t just last, but changed literature ever after — although not all would say for the better.

And this is not restricted to literature: in July this year, while participating in my 19th ‘running of the bulls’ in Pamplona, I was tripped and trampled by a rampaging herd of drunken tourists, 5,000 of whom were crowded into the half-mile that comprise the world’s most famous encierro. After I was dragged to safety before a group of bulls could add their weight to the melée, I discovered that my saviour was none other than John Hemingway, Ernest’s grandson. As we later shared a drink, I half-jokingly remarked: ‘You know it’s you Hemingways’ fault that all of us idiots are here in the first place.’ There are more than a few novelists — Norman Mailer and Elmore Leonard spring immediately to mind — who could say the same thing.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop £28.50, Tel: 08430 600033

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close