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  • The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume II, 1923–1925 ed. by Sandra Spanier, Albert J. DeFazio III, Robert W. Trogdon
  • Donald A. Daiker
The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume II, 1923–1925. Edited by Sandra Spanier , Albert J. DeFazio III , and Robert W. Trogdon . New York : Cambridge UP , 2013 . 519 pp. Cloth $40.00 .

The second volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1923–1925, covers arguably the most productive period in Hemingway’s literary life. The period began with a frustrated Hemingway responding to yet another rejection of his fiction by crying out, “I want, like hell, to get published” (21). But during the next three years, Hemingway wrote the best stories of In Our Time (1925), including his earliest—and some say best—Nick Adams stories. He completed a first draft of his first novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), which many believe to be the freshest and finest novel he would ever write. He wrote—in just two weeks!—and immediately submitted for publication a satire called The Torrents of Spring (1926). In some of his longest letters ever, he wrote extensive descriptions of bullfighting that he asked his old Petoskey friend Bill Smith to save for him; these would later be incorporated into Death in the Afternoon (1932). And he composed several longer stories, including “Fifty Grand” and “The Undefeated,” that would appear in his second short story collection, Men Without Women (1927).

“Christ I hate to leave Paris for Toronto the City of churches” (30), Hemingway had written to his Oak Park friend Isabelle Simmons in 1923 as he and his pregnant wife Hadley prepared to cross the Atlantic to take advantage of superior North American medical facilities. Toronto turned out to be even worse than he had feared, much worse. “This is no place to make up songs” (69), he wrote to Sylvia Beach and, less lyrically to artist Mike Strater, “I write nothing but shit here” (77). Hemingway may have been “full of hate” (59), as he described himself to Ezra Pound, but at least he hadn’t lost his sense of humor. “What bothers me,” he wrote to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, “is why with my fine intelligence I ever came out here” (91). Hemingway admitted to his father that “We made a mistake to come back here. But the only way to do with mistakes is to pay for them and get out of them as soon as possible” (72). So the Hemingways happily returned to France four months after leaving it.

Perhaps the relief of leaving Canada accounts for Hemingway’s outpouring of fiction the winter and spring of 1924. In Toronto, Hemingway had felt “all constipated up with stuff to write” (75); in Paris, the stories just flowed. “I have about 7 stories to write,” he told Pound in February. “Don’t know when or where able to write” (97). But a month later he could report, “Have written [End Page 95] a few stories in cafes and one place and another” (101). Not only do his letters take on a new confidence and enthusiasm—“I am writing some damn good stories” (103), he tells Pound—but they describe a different kind of story—“stories . . . written so tight and hard,” he tells his publisher Horace Liveright, “that the alteration of a word can throw an entire story out of key” (295).

“Miraculous” (42) Paul Smith calls the first quarter of 1924 with Hemingway enjoying what Michael Reynolds terms a “continuous creative binge” (194). By 2 May, Hemingway could report to both Pound and editor Edward J. O’Brien, “I have ten stories done now” (113, 117). Three of them may have been older—“My Old Man,” “Out of Season,” and “Up in Michigan” had earlier appeared in Three Stories and Ten Poems (Paris: Three Mountains Press, 1924)—but seven were brand new: “Indian Camp,” “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” “The End of Something,” “The Three-Day Blow,” “Soldier’s Home,” “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,” and “Cross-Country Snow.” With these ten stories, Hemingway had virtually all he needed for what would become In Our Time, except for a longer, concluding story that would...


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