Now Let's All Read Hemingway's Mail

The first volume of the old man's collected correspondence is being released

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A new collection of Ernest Hemingway's collected letters was just published by Cambridge University Press. It quickly prompted essays like this one from Alexandra Fuller in The Daily Beast, a rueful meditation on a man who never seemed to reach peace.

And in the end, that is it: that these letters—boisterous, exuberant, and insistent on a reply (see me! hear me! feel me! so many of them seem to implore)—only show more deeply how fearlessly—carelessly, even—Hemingway lived in order to be seen. What seems achingly absent from all his deeply mined adventuring (inimitably expressed as it is in both his books and his letters) is the deep, quiet acknowledgment of ever having arrived.

Meanwhile, Vanity Fair has the story of the discovery of vast troves of letters and unpublished work, much of which had been marooned in Cuba by the twin upheavals of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and Hemingway's suicide in Idaho in 1961. A. Scott Berg, who had written an influential biography of Hemingway's editor Maxwell Perkins, was along for the mission with a handful of other Americans who were the first to see the store of documents in a garage cellar near Finca Vigía, Hemingway's beloved Cuba estate. It's a great story:

The cellar was jammed with file cabinets as well as firearms and horned animal heads and photographs; and while the interests of my colleagues ranged from correspondence to curios, I used most of my time to comb through folders that pertained to Hemingway’s writing career, anything that might illustrate the author’s creative process. In an instant, I felt as though I had entered King Tut’s tomb; literary riches abounded. There was a five-page fragment that ended up in Death in the Afternoon and a five-line exchange of dialogue intended for Islands in the Stream that had not seen the light of day; there was a snatch of World War II-vintage dialogue that Hemingway had hunt-and-pecked on his Royal typewriter—raw stuff which he had evidently meant to spin into fiction but which he ultimately judged “too frank”; galley No. 10 ofAcross the River and into the Trees bore author’s revisions; pristine pages of The Old Man and the Sea did not.

I remembered from my research that Hemingway had had second thoughts about the ending ofFor Whom the Bell Tolls, how at the last minute he thought it should include an epilogue accounting for the supporting players. Perkins had read the proposed coda, and, knowing Hemingway’s preference for minimalism, he had urged the author to drop the pages. He had backed his opinion by citing his daughter Peggy, with whom he had shared the manuscript. She had said the book had ended perfectly without it. Perkins had evidently returned those final pages to the author, because they did not exist among his papers Stateside. But there in an old file in the basement of the garage at the Finca Vigía remained a 12-page pencil draft of those very pages. As I quickly related that publishing anecdote, I handed the folder to Jenny Phillips, Peggy’s daughter.

With an eye on the clock, because of our appointment with Marta Arjona, I frantically sprinted through a few folders of personal material, which proved to be as revealing as anything I had ever seen relating to the Hemingways’ marriage. In my notebook, I scribbled some passages from love letters Ernest had sent to Mary during the war; and then, in another folder, I found a startling statement written less than 10 years later: “Right now the question is whether I should accept Mary as a scold and give up another illusion,” it said. “Or whether I should ride along and learn not to give a damn.” Oddly, Ernest had appended a note to Mary, saying he had jotted these thoughts to “clarify something in my head.” Then, even more astonishing, he added, “Please return them.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.