Picks and Pans Review: Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters

updated 04/13/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/13/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

edited by Carlos Baker

Hemingway never wanted his letters to be published. Now, 20 years after he shot himself, his wife, Mary, and his publisher have gone against his wishes. The publisher, Charles Scribner Jr., perhaps self-servingly told a reporter, "I think when a person has reached the stature of Hemingway...one feels a kind of obligation to the world of literature not to stand in the way of publication." The resulting book, edited by Hemingway's official biographer, has 921 pages of letters to the writer's family, his editors, William Faulkner, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and many other literary figures of his era. Even the mundane details are lent a quiet fascination by history: "Scott and Zelda were in Paris and we had lunch and dinner before they left for Nice. They were looking well and Zelda's cure was very successful." In a letter to Fitzgerald, he wrote, "Saw Gertrude Stein the other evening and she asked about you. She claims you are the one of all us guys with the most talent etc. and wants to see you again..." To editor Malcolm Cowley, Hemingway gave his opinion of some other writers: "You could put Lionel Trilling, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Jean Stafford and...Robert Lowry into one cage and jack them up good and you would find that you have nothing." Perhaps the most interesting thing about the letters, however, is their relaxed, easy style. They are not at all like Hemingway's sometimes monotonous, irritatingly self-conscious—and now dated—writing for publication. (Scribner's, $27.50)

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