13 February 2014

More from Hemingway's letters.

I'm still working my way through the delightful second volume of Hemingway's letters, which I wrote about last month.  There's so much great stuff in them, as the author bluffs and jokes and scolds and brags throughout his voluminous correspondence.

He was really launching his career, and had already run into the problem that would plague him throughout his life: his writing style could not be truly duplicated, but it was easy enough to imitate.  Hemingway complains in a letter to Edward O'Brien about lesser writers cribbing from his discoveries.
You can work like hell on a thing and sweat vinegar and then somebody reads it and all the places that it was awkward because you couldnt get it any other way they copy as tricks. (p 155)
Somewhat sadder is to read about Hemingway's long consideration of suicide, which was on his mind even in his late twenties.  He wrote to Ezra Pound about a prominent contemporary politician who'd killed himself, and his comment is haunting in retrospect.
Did you see that when Sen. Brandegee commited suicide he was found with the gas tube In His Mouth?  I still claim that anybody that wants to do it can do it.  Things are looking better and I look forward to not giving a demonstration of my theory for some time. (p 169)
Included in the text is also a short story that had never been published, "My Life in the Bull Ring with Donald Ogden Stewart."  This brief humorous story was enclosed in a letter to Frank Crowninshield, and it mocks the breathless masculinity of so much of bullfighting.  At the end of the fight, the titular Don Stewart (whose name is mistaken for the Spanish title of nobility) has strangled the bull to death with his bare hands.
Poor fellow he was a dreadful sight.  His rubs stuck out like the bones of an old corset.  He was holding in his pancreas with his left hand.  As I reached him a small boy who had raced from the barrier stooped down in the sand and picked up something.  He handed it to Stewart who hurriedly tucked it into place.  It was his duodenum.
"You'd better wash that," I urged him. (p 191)
There's a lot of humor.  When writing to Harold Loeb (who would later appear as a character in The Sun Also Rises), Hemingway urged him to come visit the ski villager of Schruns, advising:
Tell Kitty you will be pure because there is only one beautiful girl in the village and she eats garlic for breakfast. (p 197)

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