- The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 3 (1926-1929) eds. by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier, and Robert W. Trogdon
Any scholar of twentieth-century art, letters, and history; existentialism and the (post)modern; travel and travel writing; and migrant aesthetics and the shaping effects of place on the individual will be drawn to Ernest Hemingway like a moth to a streetlamp. The publication of his correspondence, unedited and unabridged, traces some monumental events in his life and American Letters: a 100-day separation from Pauline Pfeiffer (and eventual divorce of Hadley Richardson), the publication of The Sun Also Rises, the decision to leave Paris (and to eventually move back), the composition and revision of A Farewell to Arms and Men without Women, the birth of his second child, his father's suicide, first impressions of Key West and Havana, and his reflections on America after several years in Europe. Like the first two installments, Volume 3—edited by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier, and Robert W. Trogdon—is expertly collected and annotated. The quality of the ancillary details on each page is (in my experience) unmatched by other letters-compilations of famous writers—a testament to the passion, skill, and dedication of the editorial team. The collection is a great achievement and a superb resource for scholars of Hemingway's work and American literatures more generally.
"Half the writing I do is elimination" (549), writes Hemingway to Max Perkins. Fortunately, this control was usually not levied in letters. We find a mix of languages (Spanglish, Franglais, Denglisch among others), moods (frazzled and ecstatic to melancholy and despondent), slang (nicknames, sobriquets, and diminutives), and forms (sketches, all CAPS, striked sections, and marginal notes). Some letters from France to people back home are colored by tips on where to eat and what to do on a short visit (239, 395). Ordinary topics like public transportation appear occasionally (354), but he writes glowingly about biking out to Versailles and down the Champs-Élysées (305, 448); the fallen leaves in the Luxembourg Gardens (448); and going to the circus with Bumby (334), who at one point spoke "some English," French, and German (38). He also provides felicitous reports about southern France—"Provence is cockeyed beautiful" and "Aigues Mortes is a wonderful sight looking back at it from the sea" (523). Some phrases from Paris—like "Lilas tomorrow morning from 10 on" (120)—could be imagist poems. [End Page 124]
The volume has insights on topics rarely touched in Hemingway Studies, like an English-language bookshop (not Shakespeare and Company) on the Left Bank (224)1—and some of the disappointments of expatriate life. "I have been long enough in Europe" (98), he would write to Perkins months before his separation from Hadley; the pending divorce would send him into a severe depression. In the fall of 1926, Gerald Murphy gave him a place to live and $400 in cash (almost $5000 today), but the despair nearly brought him to madness. Distraught about Hadley, a situation he couldn't share with family (225), he was "lonesome" (118) and purposely avoiding people around town (132). In the midst of the 100-day separation from Pauline, his grandfather died unexpectedly (129); he felt "like hell (173), in "grave condition" (169), and about as happy as an "empty tomato can" (155). Far from home and family, lonely and in a troubled emotional state, his thoughts turned to suicide (138, 140, 165). He writes Pauline from the Left Bank, "evidently all I can do is remove the sin out of your life and avoid Hadley the necessity of divorce—and compliment Hadley—by killing myself" (140). Everything was "out of control" (140) as he composes a last will and testament (152).2
Aside the marital strife, and inclusively before the trouble with Hadley, Hemingway occasionally expressed severe ire about Parisian life. In Volume 2 he described the French with disdain ("Sons of bitching cock suckers. … Jesus how I hate the bastards") and the desire to join...