Today marks the anniversary of the publication in 1940 of my personal favorite Hemingway novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Coincidentally, tomorrow marks the anniversary of the publication of The Son Also Rises, which came out in 1926.
And thanks to the good folks at Cambridge University Press, I’ve been lingering lately in The Letters of Ernest Hemingway Volume 4, 1929-1931, edited by Sandra Spanier and Miriam B. Mandel.
The letters — intentionally complete and unabridged, and largely unedited, so you can see some of Hemingway’s crazy spellings and punctuations, run-on words and the like — provide a fascinating look at the time of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Depression.
Hemingway gives us an intimate look at the concerns of the publishing world and the ways it tries to cope with the downturn, including the introduction by Doubleday of $1 books.
He was already a successful writer with a wealthy-as-hell second wife, so he wasn’t left going hungry, but it’s also interesting to see how much effort he expends trying to cajole his widowed mother into a bit of financial sensibility. Other interesting goings on: worries about Boston censoring his work, efforts to transfer rights from one publisher to another, concerns about being sued, and his family and his desire to keep his private life private.
I know, that last one is a little ironic as one reads through his very person letters, isn’t it?
For me, the most interesting passages are those about his struggles to write, and his writing advice. Some of this comes from a long stay in the hospital with his right arm immobilized and the pain of beginning to write afterwards. All typos, I’m afraid, are Hemingway’s (I hope!).
Have been working hard over the book but have made almost no changes. Write them out, try and better it and then come back to the way it is.”
“The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life–and one is as good as the other.”
“That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward.”
“If you do not personally want to change anything in your novel stick with it–Money can only be made writing with the greatest luck…But good writing will always be published eventually.”
“You know how it is–I worked over and over it myself until finally it didn’t make sense to me.”
“It’s only those bastards who cant write that think they can.”
“I have to stick at one thing when I’m writing a book and keep that in my head and nothing else.”
And from a cable, so all in caps:
“IN WRITING YOU GET YOUR EFFECT ONE WORD AT A TIME AND IF SOMEBODY CHANGES THE WORDS FOR YOU THE EFFECT IS GONE.”
I’m just past halfway through reading, so there may be more to come. But in any event, you might want to watch for this collection, which releases October 31! – Meg