Ernest Hemingway has been dead almost as long as he lived. A Hemingway scholar writing the author's biography in real time would be almost finished by now. With the publication of this staggering new collection of Hemingway's correspondence, that feat seems fully possible.
In the post-"celebreality" age, the guilt that should come with reading these letters has been bred out of us. The VH1 comparison may seem irreverent, but reading Hemingway's private letters is similar to watching Flavor of Love confessionals: I'm tricked into thinking he's normal, even that I'm close to him.
Yet, in his will, Hemingway asked that his letters not be published. By the end of this edition, some 2,500 will have been.
The completeness is enormous. After reading basically the same letter about crop yields for the 15th time, I was tempted to ignore all letters written from that farm. But as a boy, he writes wide-eyed letters to his father, which surprisingly most resemble the prose he's known for. His letters then turn to elaborate, arrogant flirtations with girls and language.
When the war finally comes up, the section is brief. He seems unsure of how to grapple with his experience, which starts with violence, injury, and unquestionable heroism, then is all idyllic scenes of fraternity and convalescence.
Hemingway often describes such times in thoughtful, emotional prose. It's genuinely fun to watch him become a writer—succeed and fail at it, and change his voice depending on his correspondent. The few letters his first wife Hadley didn't burn are full of telling passages: "Wickey Poo... You can make me jealous—and you can hurt most awfully—'cause my loving you is a chink in the armor of telling the world to go to hell and you can thrust a sword into it at any time."
But I guess even the scholars want that kind of voyeuristic nonsense, so they can apply it to his bio, and then his work. The editors fight hard to justify their work in their intros. But do I need to know that Hemingway first described Gertrude Stein (who was 48) as "about 55 I guess and very large and nice"?
...Honestly, yes. I can't believe I've gone this long without knowing it. This is my celebreality, and I don't feel bad about it.