This is an amazing feat! Read on!
Dr. Sandra Spanier, a Hemingway scholar, is heading the Hemingway letters project. She and her international team have spent the past few years pouring over letters from Hemingway and then cataloguing them and getting them ready for publication. They are currently working to publish every—yes, you read that correctly—letter written by Ernest Hemingway. The collection will span 17 volumes. The letters include those written to his family, to other authors including F. Scott Fitzgerald, and to the women in his life with whom he was romantically involved or with whom he was simply friends. At Penn State alone there are 13 members on staff helping with this massive task. The team currently has 6,000 letters from all over the world. People still continue to send letters from their own private collections to be published. They are being published in chronological order.
This is very interesting to me. The decision to publish every letter rather than to edit and pick and choose the ones that may seem more significant historically or academically than others, is at the request and insistence of Hemingway’s surviving son, Patrick. Patrick insisted that it was either all or nothing—all letters get published or none get published.
The scholarly investigation has been painstaking and awe-inspiring. Dr. Spanier noted that, for example, finding out whether or not Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, was with him in Pamplona for the Fiesta Day San Fermin in 1929 was an important part of the annotating process. It is the intent to clarify every detail that can be extracted from these letters.
Kristin Quesenberry, an editorial and researcher associate, has a favorite letter. “There’s a hilarious letter that showed up in the second volume. He just lists off dozens and dozens of things he hates. There was a research worksheet for every single word in the list and this rant was 100 words or so.”
Dr. Spanier estimated that not a month goes by in which she does not hear from someone who has a copy of a letter. The volume the team is working on right now will follow Hemingway from 1929 through 1931. During those years, he lived in Key West and was married to Pauline. That’s about when A Farewell to Arms came out. This is the fourth volume so the task is about a quarter of the way done if 17 volumes are anticipated.
Another unique aspect of the project that Dr. Spanier noted is the public’s continued interest in Hemingway. The letters have even been featured in an article in Vanity Fair. A Cambridge University press recently advised Dr. Spanier that they picked up the first volume as one of their top holiday gift picks for the season.
Emily Knell of The Daily Collegian, wrote an article from which I’m quoting much of the above from. She noted that, “Public interest could be due to the letters’ ability to by-pass the macho myth surrounding Hemingway and focus more on his life and his work. However, it could also be due to the fact that Hemingway led a life full of love—enough for four wives, adventures, and friendships with people like Gertrude Stein.”
This is me speaking: I don’t know if I’ll get through all 17 volumes, but what a delight and what a treasure-trove of amazing information directly from Hemingway. I think you’ll get to see the blustering side; the sensitive side; empathic side; the funny side; and at times, perhaps, the ugly side. What a treat!