I picked up the first volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway after reading a fascinating piece in Vanity Fair about the challenges and sneakiness involved in retrieving Hemingway’s correspondence from his estate in Cuba. Depending on who you ask, at the time of his suicide either the Hemingway estate was given to the Cuban government, or the Cuban government seized the estate – either way, the net effect was that for the last fifty years, most people, including scholars, have had no idea what all was still there. This volume of previously unpublished letters is the first in a series of 15 that will be published over the next 20 years. I haven’t yet made it past the introduction, and already I’m in love:
In a 1950 letter to [F. Scott] Fitzgerald’s biographer, Hemingway recalled Ford Madox Ford’s advice that “a man should always write a letter thinking of how it would read to posterity.” He remarked, “This made such a bad impression on met that I burned every letter in the flat includeing Ford’s.” He continued:
Should you save the hulls a .50 cal shucks out for posterity? Save them. o.k. But they should be written or fired not for posterity but for the day and the hour and posterity will always look after herself . . . . I write letters because it is fun to get letters back. But not for posterity. What the hell is posterity anyway? It sounds as though it meant you were on your ass.
Worth reading: The Hunt for Hemingway – Vanity Fair, October 2011