UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “Sweet, deferent, generous, dutiful, responsible, arrogant, belligerent" — these are just a few of the traits that Penn State Liberal Arts Professor of English Sandra Spanier said Ernest Hemingway reveals in a series of personal correspondence that she and her team have collected and published in the fourth volume of "The Letters of Ernest Hemingway (1929-1931)."
The book, published by Cambridge University Press and available in the U.S. on Friday, Nov. 16, is edited by Spanier and Miriam B. Mandel and captures an important turning point in Hemingway’s life as he — for the first time — begins to contend with celebrity.
The new book picks up where the third volume left off in April 1929, just as Hemingway is returning to Paris with his second wife and just before Scribner’s Magazine serialized his novel "A Farewell to Arms" from May 1929 to October 1929. Spanier, who serves as general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, explained that Hemingway’s correspondence reveals an internal struggle in dealing with his meteoric rise to international fame.
“On the one hand,” Spanier said, “Hemingway was highly interested in how his work was being received, but he is also increasingly intent on keeping his private life separate from his writing life.” Among the 430 letters to 125 correspondents in the volume is an October 1929 note from Hemingway to his mother in which he writes, “If anyone ever wants to interview you about me please tell them that you know I dislike any personal publicity and have promised me not to even answer any questions about me.”
In addition to coping with his newfound fame, the editors identified other themes emerging from Hemingway’s letters, including his reflections on mortality, depression, his professional persona and international politics.
“We also see an unfamiliar aspect of Hemingway’s personality — that of a mentor,” Spanier said, citing correspondence with other writers, including a note to George Albee in October 1931. Among Hemingway’s other literary correspondents are John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Archibald MacLeish, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder and the legendary editor Maxwell Perkins.
“Keep on writing — you will write damned good stuff — but I can't take that story and go to bat for it because it isn't right yet — But it’s better to write a new one than re-write an old one — If this advice is punk — remember you asked for it,” wrote Hemingway to George Albee in 1931.