"The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Hemingway Library Edition" is the latest effort by Hemingway's family and his longtime publisher Scribner's to extract more profits from the great man, who died in 1961 from a self-inflicted shotgun blast.
The edition, featuring a tossed off foreword by Hemingway's last surviving son, Patrick Hemingway, and a thoughtful introduction by his grandson, Sean, gives a good selection of famous and more obscure stories, along with drafts that show Hemingway's changes in reaching his finished work.
The drafts and notes come primarily from the archives of the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, according to Sean Heminway's introduction. The Hemingway connection to the JFK library was a revelation to me.
Hemingway's first drafts were handwritten. From there, he'd type a new version, upon which he'd make further handwritten revisions.
The drafts in the new collection show that his primary technique was cutting, sometimes a few words here and there, other times whole passages. While Hemingway liked to compare his work to that of painters like Pissarro, I think of him as a sculptor molding his marble.
While the book confirms Hemingway's reputation as a self-taught artist, Sean Hemingway makes note of his debt to Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, a more accomplished writer in their early days. That Hemingway turned against both of them shows the worst aspects of his personality.
The volume offers several of Hemingway's innovative early short stories, including famous ones about his autobiographical hero Nick Adams, whose name was an homage to Henry Adams, whose memoirs Hemingway revered, as Patrick Heminway discloses.
The book also includes famous later stories such as "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and "The Snows of Kilimanjoro."
While I was happy to see wonderful pieces such as "In Another Country," "The Killers" and "Hills Like White Elephants," I was disappointed at the absence of my favorite Nick Adams story, "The Battler," about Nick's comic/frightening encounter with a punch-drunk fighter.
Instead, the book prints Hemingway's first published story from his high school literary journal and an apprentice piece from his days as a young ambulance driver in World War I, both of which I could have done without.
Among the more obscure stories, "The Sea Change" remains provocative. Published in 1931, the story deals with a young woman's efforts to save her relationship with her boyfriend after a lesbian affair. The piece counters feminist critics who blast Hemingway's misogyny in "MacComber" and other later stories.
The most extensive revision is for "Hills Like White Elephants," the famous story about a young couple waiting to catch a train in Italy for the young woman to undergo an abortion, also a controversial story for its time. The attached first draft is an autobiographical non-fiction piece about Hemingway waiting for a train with Hadley Hemingway, his first wife. The completed story shows the strength of Hemingway's dialogue. The couple's minimalistic exchanges carry immense emotional weight.
I was especially interested in Hemingway's revisions for perhaps his greatest story, "In Another Country." Comparing the completed story with the drafts shows Hemingway's judicious cutting of words, especially in the story's celebrated opening paragraph.
Even with those revelations of his artistry, the opening's power remains mysterious. Violating one of those writing chestnuts from Strunk and White, Hemingway uses the passive voice and repeatedly resorts to the past tense of the verb "to be." That contrasts with the paragraph's vivid details and strong verbs in a few key sentences. A fresh rereading takes nothing away from the story's impressionistic power, only matched by a few short story masters.
Also of interest to writing students is Hemingway's previously unpublished essay, "The Art of the Short Story."
While Hemingway's reputation as a novelist has declined over the years, his standing as a short story master remains secure. This collection shows how he crafted his pieces in his workshop.