6 Letters That Will Change The Way You Think About Ernest Hemingway

Letters of Ernest Hemingway shows the writer wasn’t all bullfighting and bravado — as Gertrude Stein knew, he was also a terrific pen pal. Here are some of his more surprising confessions.

1. Ernest Hemingway was insecure about his career — bullfighting gave him the validation he wasn’t getting as a writer!

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Letter to Ezra Pound, July 19, 1924:

Dear Ezra—

Here, at 900 meters above the Nivel del Mare on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees is a good place to observe the ruin of my finances and literary career. Shit. I appeared in the bull ring on 5 different mornings—was cogida 3 times—accomplished 4 veronicas in good form and one natural with the muleta, the last morning, received contusions and abrasions in the pecho and other places, was drunk twice, saw Bill drunk twice…We haven’t enough pesetas now to pay our hotel Bill and dont know how we’ll get away from here.

…Having been bitched financially and in a literary way by my friends I take great and unintellectual pleasure in the immediate triumphs of the bull ring with their reward in ovations, alcoholism, being pointed out on the street, general respect and the other things Literary Guys have to wait until they are 89 years old to get.

The Plaza is the only remaining place where valor and art can combine for success. In all other arts the more meazly and shitty the guy, I.E. Joyce, the greater the success in his art…

Then when a guy has a few decent human instincts like yourself what do they do to him? I wish to hell I was 16 and had art and valor.

…I am going to have to quit writing because we haven’t any money. The Transatlantic killed my chances of having a book published this fall and by next Spring some son of a bitch will have copied everything I’ve written and they will simply call me another of his imitators.

Now we haven’t got any money anymore I am going to have to quit writing and I never will have a book published. I feel cheerful as hell. These god damn bastards.

See you about the 27th of the month.

Love to Dorothy—

Hem.

[Here at the end he drops an anti-Semitic slur, which is less surprising since he’s writing to Ezra Pound, notorious bigot.]

2. You know him as a masculine bullfighter type, but he could be a real passive-aggressive asshole.

Yousuf Karsh / Via en.wikipedia.org

Letter to Dorothy Butler, late May, 1924. Butler was engaged to Hemingway’s friend and had recently sent Hemingway’s then-wife Hadley a letter that evidently offended Hemingway:

Dear Dorothy—

You are certainly consistent.

Your letter in which you accuse Lewis, whom you are going to marry, of cowardice and double dealing while sneering at your mother is entirely consistent.

…Even though I kissed you, Dorothy, Even while I kissed you, I never liked you but was willing to make the effort to like you for the sake of seeing Lewis occasionally. I made this effort successfully numberless times. Finally it could no longer be made. That was quite a relief. Still I wanted to keep up appearances to hold together the difficult social fabric.

As for Hadley’s telling Lewis you were selfish I am sure she was quite sincere. I believe my own language on that occasion was that you were a selfish bitch and that he would be a good deal better off in the hands of Dr. Fernandez than married to you. This view I still hold in general although the language is no doubt immoderate.

Now that you have completely busted the social fabric, which you will appreciate as you grow older, and Dorothy you will grow older, as a necessity for making human intercourse bearable, by your letter you will no doubt in the interest of frankness and consistency be very glad to know what I really think of you.
Dorothy, I will never tell you. As a matter of fact I don’t know what I think of you. I haven’t thought about the subject for some time.

…Do not get Ritzy Dorothy about my answering your letter to Hadley. I know it was not addressed to me. I answer it because I am amused by writing a funny letter. It is funny is it not? Perhaps you do not think so. Nevertheless each time I read it over I get a good laugh. In fact I am loath to send it. But I will keep a copy. You may have the original.

To make the manuscript more valuable I will sign it,

Affectionately yours,

Ernest Hemingway.

P.S—
Hadley says she is very sorry if Lewis came to our house without permission.

3. Hemingway loved some good Chinese food, and he got super stressed at work.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum / Via en.wikipedia.org

Letter to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Oct. 11, 1923, the day after the birth of his son, John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway:

Dear Friends—

The free time that I imagined in front of a typewriter in a newspaper office has not been. There hasn’t been any time free or otherwise for anything. Young Gallito was born yesterday morning at two o’clock. No trouble. Only took three hours and the doctor used laughing gas and Hadley says the whole childbirth business has been greatly over-rated. Weight seven pounds and five ounces. Which had a good deal to do with making it easy I’ll bet. Better to start with Novillos. I am informed he is very good looking but personally detect an extraordinary resemblance to the King of Spain. He is nursing already. Had a good doctor. It is the specialite de ville here. Hadley feels very well and sends you both her love. …

Felt dreadfully about Hadley having to go through the show alone. The whole thing here is a sort of nightmare. I work anywhere from 12 to 19 hours a day and am so tired at night that can’t sleep. It was a bad move to come back. …

How are you both and where? Contrary to my remembrance the cuisine here is good. They are very fine with a young or fairly young Chicken. I have also found some good Chinese places. We have both been very homesick for Paris. I have understood for the first time how men can commit suicide simply because of too many things in business piling up ahead of them that they can’t get through. It is of only doubtful value to have discovered…

With love from Hadley and myself,

Hemingway

4. Hemingway (at far right) asked his mom and dad not to embarrass him. Plus, they called him Ernie!

Letter to Clarence and Grace Hall Hemingway, Nov. 4, 1923:

Dear Dad and Mother—

I am sorry not to have written before but Hadley has been doing the writing for the family…

The baby is well but has taken to hollering. Doubtless he will be some fun in 3 or 4 years.

We may be going back to Paris in January. I have been trying to figure out some way we could all get to Oak Park for Christmas. We want to see you and all the family so much. It looks pretty hopeless though from 2 standpoints—expense—and traveling the round trip with a nursing baby.

I am working very hard with very little pleasure. Making no more money than I made in Paris with about 8 times the expense. …

Dont write to Boni and Liveright to order my book while we are still in the negotiation stage. It would be very embarrassing—Because I may be able to get a better deal out of Knopf or Seltzer. Will let you know of course as soon as anything definite.

Best love as always

Ernie

5. Hemingway tried to psychoanalyze his toddler son (below, center). He also acknowledged that Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas changed the way he wrote.

Letter to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Aug. 15, 1924. Stein and Toklas called Hemingway’s son “Goddy”:

Dear Friends—

…I am so glad it is going on being published with a minimum of worry now because it was too awfully bad to think of busting off publishing the long book regularly.

Your letter was fine. Goddy is well and has an upper tooth through and I think another one coming beside it. He is as hard spiritually as a chunk of carborundum and enjoys himself without anything outside having any effect or appeal. He is going to be a hard one and the sooner he gets shoved off into the world the more chance the world will have. My best hopes for his future are that he will not kill his parents some time because he needs 50 cents.

…I have finished two long short stories, one of them not much good, and the other very good and finished the long one I worked on before I went to Spain where I’m trying to do the country like Cezanne and having a hell of a time and sometimes getting it a little bit…but isn’t writing a hard job though? It used to be easy before I met you. I certainly was bad, Gosh, I’m awfully bad now but it’s a different kind of bad.

…Hadley and Goddy and I all send our love to you both—

Don’t stay away too long.

Ernest Hemingway.

6. Shortly after they’d met, Hemingway went to Lyon with F. Scott Fitzgerald to pick up the Fitzgeralds’ abandoned car. Hemingway kept Zelda Fitzgerald in the loop.

Wire to Zelda Fitzgerald, May 1925, regarding Hemingway’s trip with her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald:

MADAME FITZGERALD 14 RUE DE TILSITT PARIS SCOTT MISSED TRAIN PLEASE WIRE HIM CARE GARAGE I WILL BE AT HOTEL BRISTOL LYON WIRE ME ADDRESS OF GARAGE THERE HEMINGWAY

The book, with letters from 1923-1925, comes out Oct. 22.

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway (in the USA) © 2013 The Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Society and The Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.

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