- The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 3, 1926–1929 ed. by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier, Robert W. Trogdon
Ernest Hemingway is having a revival. Sales of his work have skyrocketed, and bookstores are stocking up. Viral videos of proselytizing fans are circumnavigating the web. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s probably for one simple reason: you don’t live in France.
Since the November 13 Paris shootings, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast has resurfaced on French sales charts, leaping from about 9,000 copies per year in the previous two years to over 165,000 copies in 2015. If you’re wondering why, consider that another classic also made a late-2015 continental comeback: Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance. If Voltaire decries religious extremism at its worst, Hemingway’s depiction of Paris in the 1920s holds [End Page 153] up the city at its best: artistic, communal, and decadent. If the November 13 attackers wished to punish Parisian revelry, Hemingway shows us how to praise it.
It is perhaps a propitious time, then, to be reading The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1926–1929 from Cambridge University Press. It is the third installment in the complete collection of Hemingway’s letters, a product of the Hemingway Letters Project, ongoing since 2002. The project was originally conceived by Patrick Hemingway, Ernest’s second son, who has collaborated with general editor Sandra Spanier, a professor of English at Penn State. The first volume covers the years 1907–1922, the second 1922–1923.
It is telling of Hemingway, and of this period, that Volume 3 of his complete letters—which covers the forty-month period from January 2, 1926 to April 29, 1929—runs to over 600 pages. This is even after the omission of what were probably his most frequent correspondents (more on this later). At the beginning of the period, Hemingway has just terminated his contract with publisher Boni & Liveright; by the end, he is nearing the completion of A Farewell to Arms in Key West, and preparing to return to Europe. In between, he writes and publishes The Sun Also Rises, Men Without Women, and many of his most famous short stories. He divorces and remarries. His father commits suicide. He travels the world. He becomes famous. He attends numerous spectacles of violence.
Because this is a complete collection of letters, the range of correspondents and subject matter is extraordinary. There is the momentous (a letter to editor Maxwell Perkins agreeing to sign with Scribner) and the insignificant (letters to Hemingway’s Paris landlord arguing about past-due rent). There is the dramatic (letters to family about the death of Hemingway’s father) and the ridiculous (misspelled letters to Ezra Pound arguing about whether their new magazine should include reviews of bullfights). Most center on the workaday problems of publishing: letters to editors and agents; letters to friends starting magazines; letters to friends writing, hopefully, reviews. Although Hemingway’s personal life certainly makes regular appearances in the letters, the bulk is business.
Scholars of Hemingway will no doubt value the completeness of the work. This volume is painstakingly yet unobtrusively annotated. End-notes after each letter explain obscurities with a sensitive anticipation of the reader’s questions, without the distraction of footnotes breaking up the format of longer letters. The editors rarely overexplain, and cross-references provide efficient connection between individual pieces in a chain of correspondence. The rich front matter makes a case for this volume as a desk reference for fans of the Lost Generation. The editors have included maps of Paris, Europe, and the United States with the location of Hemingway’s places of residence, and detailed timelines of the literary and biographical events of this period in Hemingway’s life. The letters are presented in their original form, complete with eccentric spelling and typos. The volume includes photographs of Hemingway and his [End Page 154] family from the period, and many letters are accompanied by reproductions of postcards and hand-drawn doodles. The editors are scrupulous...