Never-Before Seen Letters From Papa

A new collection of Ernest Hemingway's earliest writings gives insight into the business aspects of the career of one of the world's most renowned authors.

The pieces, collected by Hemingway's Philadelphia lawyer Maurice Speiser, recently were acquired by the University of South Carolina and put on public display Wednesday.

Hemingway never had an agent, and relied on Speiser for many business decisions, said professor Patrick Scott, the collection's curator.

The collection chronicles some of Hemingway's work from its inception. There is a letter from Speiser, which says his wife would love for Hemingway to write a play. The university also has the drafts and revisions of that play, The Fifth Column, which was the only one Hemingway ever wrote.

“This reveals new details of Hemingway's authorship,” said professor Matthew Bruccoli, who helped acquire the collection for $900,000. “It shows us how Hemingway functioned as a professional.”

The collection includes pieces never before seen or studied by scholars, including Hemingway's letter to Speiser rejecting as “idiotic” fellow author F. Scott Fitzgerald's suggestion for a different ending to Farewell to Arms. Bruccoli said he knew for years the correspondence had to exist, but until last summer did not know that Speiser's heirs had it.

When the authors met, Fitzgerald already had won success for The Great Gatsby, while Hemingway was just a beginner, Bruccoli said.

Fitzgerald recognized Hemingway's talent and offered him assistance, the professor said, but “Hemingway responded to Fitzgerald's kindness and support with increasing suspicion.”

In A Farewell to Arms, which takes place in Italy, the future of the main character, Frederick Henry, is left unresolved after Henry's love, Catherine Barkley, and their baby die.

In 1943, Hemingway wrote Speiser that Fitzgerald “suggested I change ending to his idiotic idea and I refused.”

That letter, which does not say what Fitzgerald proposed, is particularly important because it shows the relationship between the two authors, Bruccoli said. Hemingway expressed the same feelings in letters to four or five other people, the professor said.

There also is a 1916 issue of the Tabula, a magazine from Hemingway's high school in Oak Park, Ill., in which he had a short story published.

In one letter to Speiser, Hemingway apologizes for any problems he has caused, but says “If a man can't sound off to his lawyer, who the hell can he sound off to?”

“I think our relations have been kept to a fine level because I never 'yesed' you,” Speiser replied. “And so far as getting sore when I do I'll let you have it and then promptly forget about it. Sure you can sound off to your lawyer any time you feel like.”

The arly correspondence “teaches us that writers have a career; they struggle to make a career,” Scott said. “It teaches, in some sense, about the innocence and hopefulness in which they begin...It shows us the ambition which took someone from Oak Park to Paris.”

Speiser, who died in 1948, also collected translations of Hemingway's books in Arabic, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Swedish.

“Most people don't realize the impact Hemingway had overseas,” Scott said. “He was a world figure.”

The collection joins works by Fitzgerald, Joseph Heller and James Ellroy at the university's Center for Literary Biography. It will be a working collection that students and scholars can learn from, said Bruccoli, who hopes to build courses around the documents.

Bruccoli learned in July the collection was for sale and went to Philadelphia to see it, but the school could not afford the $1.8 million asking price.

Then South Carolina graduate Edward Hallman, of Atlanta, provided $750,000 through his family's Easterling-Hallman Foundation and the university raised $150,000. An agent from Christie's auction house helped negotiate the sale at half the asking price.

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