Hemingway Letters Spark Interest Among Anglers

American writer Ernest Hemingway working at a portable table while on a big game hunt in Kenya, September 1952. | Image by Earl Theisen/Getty Images
American writer Ernest Hemingway working at a portable table while on a big game hunt in Kenya, September 1952. | Image by Earl Theisen/Getty Images

A new collection of letters from Ernest Hemingway at a time of his life characterized by fishing, hunting, and lambasting his critics has struck a chord among readers.

Currently placed No.12 in Amazon’s best sellers list for American literature, the latest volume — number six in the series — is a collection of Hemingway’s letters written to friends, colleagues, and fellow literary heavyweights, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald.

An introduction to the volume written by Dr. Verna Kale, associate editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, reads:

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 6 (1934–1936) is a book about fish. It is about other things as well, of course: writing and art, friendship and fatherhood, the ongoing Great Depression and the rising threat of fascism in Europe. And fish — so many fish.”

The Hemingway Letters Project from Cambridge University Press will eventually include 17 volumes of Hemingway’s letters, covering his life.

The latest volume covers June 1934 to June 1936 — two years during which the famed writer turned to nonfiction writing and fishing adventures after seeing considerable success with A Farewell to Arms and roughly two decades before he would win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Nobel Prize in literature for The Old Man and the Sea.

During these two years, Hemingway spent considerable time on his boat, Pilar, big-game fishing off of Key West, Cuba, and Bimini. He became an expert in Atlantic sailfish and eventually served as the first vice president of the Salt Water Anglers of America.

The combination of literary pursuits and adventure during this time period may draw some parallels to the protagonist in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. This is a short story about a writer named Harry who goes on an African safari for inspiration and renewal that Hemingway wrote for Esquire in 1936.

Harry ends up stranded with his wife, a woman he does not love but who finances his luxurious, boozy lifestyle, and a gangrene infection sets in his leg. Realizing that his talent for writing was wasted through years of procrastination and excess, Harry dies. However, his spirit finds some peace, soaring high above snowy Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa.

In this collection of letters, Hemingway, who would ultimately commit suicide in 1961, is critical of himself. For instance, he wrote to editor Arnold Gingrich in 1934, “I am a phony in the sense that every writer of fiction is a phony.”

He also recognized writing as a challenge and aimed to rise to it.

“A life of action is much easier to me than writing. […] But writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge, and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done — so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well,” he wrote to Ivan Kashkin, a Soviet literary critic and translator, in 1935.

Avid and amateur readers alike will likely find inspiration in this collection of letters, which is full of adventure, science, politics, and an abundance of fish tales.

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