Exclusive Excerpt: The Letters of Ernest Hemingway

HemingwayIn this second collection of Hemingway's correspondence, general editor Sandra Spanier and her team of Hemingway scholars--Albert J. DeFazio III and Robert W. Trogdon--have essentially crafted a portrait of a young man becoming an artist. The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 2: 1923-1925 features 280 letters, many of them never before published, and a significant proportion of them dealing with Hemingway's time in Europe, particularly his ex-pat days in Paris and his bullfighting days in Spain. Other letters explore Hemingway's influential relationships with Sylvia Beach, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, and Gertrude Stein.

Our thanks to Spanier, and Cambridge University Press, for sharing these two letters. The first was sent to Ezra Pound, in which Hemingway describes the infamous, painful loss at a Paris train station of a briefcase containing years of his writing. (It was never found). In the second letter, to his friend Gregory Clark, Hemingway reveals his views on bullfighting. "You see it isn't sport," he wrote. "It's a tragedy."


To Ezra Pound, 23 January [1923]

Chamby Sur Montreux


23 Janvier

Hem1Dear Ezra—:

We have the intention of joining you. How is it? What do you pay? What is the hotel? Can I, like Northcliffe on the Rhine, preserve my incognito among your fascist pals? or are they liable to give Hadley castor oil? Mussolini told me at Lausanne, you know, that I couldn’t ever live in Italy again. How the hell are you any way? e sua moglia? How long are you going to stay? Answer any of these that seem important.

I suppose you heard about the loss of my Juvenilia? I went up to Paris last week to see what was left and found that Hadley had made the job complet by including all carbons, duplicates etc. All that remains of my complete works are three pencil drafts of a bum poem which was later scrapped, some correspondence between John McClure and me, and some journalistic carbons.

You, naturally, would say,“Good” etc. But don’t say it to me. I aint yet reached that mood. I worked 3 years on the damn stuff. Some like that Paris 1922 I fancied.

Am now working on new stuff. We have 6 to 8 months grub money ahead. I have laid off the barber in order that I wont be able to take a newspaper job no matter how badly St. Anthonied. The follicles functioning at a high rate of speed. I am on the point of being thrown out from all except the society of outliers like yourself. It is several weeks since I would have dared show at the Anglo-American.

The lire appears to be dropping. Evidently Douglas is a greater man than Mussolini. Dave O’Neil the Celto-Kike has just bought two left boots for 18 francs (a mistake at the factory)—the salesman telling him he wont be able to tell the difference after a few weeks.  Dave is jubilious. The boots, of course, are very painful.

Hadley sends you and Dorothy Pound her love—as I do—write me—Immer (as they used to say in the Rhenish Republic)



To Gregory Clark, [c. mid-July 1923]

Dear Greg—

The Star has stopped coming, nothing since the last of May—So I haven’t been able to follow you up the Labrador and feel uneasy as hell. How does it go I wonder? Christ I hope you have a good trip and the stuff pans out. Wish I were along with you. Bet you’re hitting ‘em in the eye with the copy.

On my own hook am just back from a trip through Spain. Travelled round from Madrid to Seville to Ronda, Granada, back to Madrid and out to Aranjuez and back with a bunch of bull fighters I got to know living at the Aguilar the bull fighters pensione in Madrid. It’s some Metier. I went down to Spain after that alone. Sure have got the stuff. Some very good stories will come out of it some day.

Gee I’d love to take you to a bullfight. You’d like it better than anything I’ll bet. You see it isnt sport. It’s a tragedy. A great tragedy. And God how it’s played!

The tragedy is the death of the bull—the inevitable death of the bull, the terrible, almost prehistoric bull that runs with a soft, lightrun, can whirl like a cat, is death right up until he is absolutely dead himself and is stupid and brave as the people of any country and altogether wonderful and horrifying.

You never imagined any such power. Well the whole thing is his life and death and the horses, picadors and occasional toreros he takes off with him are only incidental. It’s not like the French duel. I saw 3 matadors badly gored out of 24 bulls killed.


Credits: The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 2: 1923–1925, edited by Sandra Spanier, Albert J. DeFazio III and Robert W. Trogdon © 2013. The Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Society and The Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.


(Photos courtesy of the Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)


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Comments (2)

Those two excerpted letters are amazing for just how much Hemingway is able to communicate with so little words. So much action and emotion is contained in each letter. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose three years of works, had to be immensely discouraging.

Does anyone have any insight into what Hemingway means the the "Star" has stopped coming? Is it the muse or his desire to write?

One of the most interesting lives of the 20th Century. Any chance Cambridge Press might be willing to offer this book as a kindle version? I'm confident that after the incident of losing his works in Paris that Hemingway would be a big fan of having his works converted into digital format, thus ensuring they can never be "lost" again.


Posted by: RC O'Leary | Wednesday February 5, 2014 at 5:48 AM

Seems to be more prolix in his letters than his writings

Posted by: John Doe | Monday February 10, 2014 at 12:03 AM

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