The third volume of a projected 17-volume collection of Hemingway’s letters covers three years during which the author rose to literary fame with the publication of The Sun Also Rises (1926), Torrents of Spring (1926), and the collection Men Without Women (1927).
By 1929, he had completed the manuscript for A Farewell to Arms. The period was marked, too, by emotional upheaval: his father committed suicide, leaving his mother and teenage siblings in financial straits; he ended his first marriage to Hadley Richardson and married Pauline Pfeiffer. Among 344 letters (70 percent of which were previously unpublished) to 92 recipients, only two are to Hadley and 9 to Pauline. Hadley burned her husband’s letters after their divorce, and those to Pauline were destroyed, according to her instructions, after her death. Editor Maxwell Perkins is a frequent recipient; others include family members; friends such as Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald; and fellow writers, including Sherwood Anderson and T.S. Eliot. In a detailed introduction, the volume’s editors note that Hemingway’s letters “are unpolished, unselfconscious, candid and casual”—and, they might have added, often catty and gossipy. Money is a recurring theme. Hemingway disparages Robert McAlmon (“without money, he would never have been published anywhere by anybody”); Ford Maddox Ford (“kissing asses of people with money” to fund his magazine); and sometimes himself. “Am thinking of quitting publishing any stuff for the next 10 or 15 years as soon as I get my debts paid up,” he wrote to Fitzgerald. “To hell with the whole goddam business.” The most moving letter is to Hadley, written in November 1926. Acknowledging his cruelty to her because of his affair with Pauline, he implores her not to feel rushed into deciding to divorce. But Hadley stood firm: “Haven’t I yet made it quite plain that I want to start proceedings for a divorce from you—right away?” she responded immediately.
A meticulously edited volume offering an unvarnished portrait.