For the past decade, a team of researchers led by Penn State English professor Sandra Spanier has been searching the world over for Ernest Hemingway’s personal letters. They’ve managed to bring together—and clear permission to reprint—6,000 previously unpublished letters that were scattered throughout 70 libraries, universities, and institutions as well as many more from the personal collections of Hemingway’s family, friends, and descendants. “For instance,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education in an article about the Hemingway letters project, “a descendant of the pilot of the plane that crashed with Hemingway aboard during an African trip in 1954 got in touch to share some letters the editors hadn’t known about.”
It’s an enormously ambitious project that Spanier hopes will span 16 published volumes. The first volume, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1907-1922, has just been published and is now available in bookstores. According to The Chronicle:
Volume I covers not just the budding writer’s childhood in Oak Park, Ill., but also his time as a reporter for The Kansas City Star, his experiences as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War I, the heartbreak of his romance with Agnes von Kurowsky—an episode that helped inspire A Farewell to Arms—his marriage to Hadley, and their plunge into artistic life in Paris.
The correspondence is published with the blessing of son Patrick Hemingway, who believes the letters will reveal a truer side of his father, labeled by many scholars as a tortured and tragic misogynist. “My principal motive for wanting it to happen was that I think it gives a much better picture of Hemingway’s life than any of his biographers to date,” says Patrick. “He had the misfortune to have mental troubles in old age. Up until that, he was a rather lighthearted and humorous person.” Spanier agrees that the letters will have a revolutionary impact on Hemingway’s personal reputation. “It’s sort of a commonplace that Hemingway hated his mother, and it’s true that they had a very strained relationship later on,” she says. But “what’s striking about these early letters is the closeness of the family, the loving tone in which he speaks to both his parents.”
Image courtesy of Cambridge University Press.