The name Ernest Hemingway instantly evokes thoughts of literature and artistry. That could just me be, but the man has certainly had quite a successful past… I mean, he did win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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Naturally, you would think a person with this level of fame, success, and talent would be used to it. However, research from Penn State has shown that Hemingway was anything but. The Hemingway Letters Project conducted within Penn State University examined over 6,000 of the author’s outgoing letters. Not to mention uncovering 340 annotated letters which will almost all be published.
Data was collected from letters to his fans which showed the inspiration and support fellow writers gave him. Here’s how he reacted to his own success and the success of those he looked up to:
His response to the fans:
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Upon the release of A Farewell To Arms, the author was shocked by the 101,000 copies sold by the year’s end. This was even after the 1929 stock market crash. The fan mail came pouring in, which Hemingway always responded to with grace and advice to aspiring writers. His humble tone shone through in every letter and he even went as far as to send his books to St. Quentin… at his own expense.
Here’s an excerpt from his letter to novelist Hugh Walpole in December 1929, discussing the wave of attention he clearly wasn’t used to:
When The Sun Also Rises came out there were only letters from a few old ladies who wanted to make a home for me and said my disability would be no drawback and drunks who claimed we had met places. ‘Men Without Women’ brought no letters at all. What are you supposed to do when you really start to get letters?
He even received letters from David Garnett, a writer with connections to Bloomsbury, as well as several artists and authors, including Virginia Woolf.
He remained humble and true to his inspirations:
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David Garnett is often overlooked as a major source of inspiration for Hemingway, but his letters prove otherwise. Through his success, Hemingway remained charmingly humble and grateful for the creation of such a great work and Garnett predicted this. Hemingway couldn’t believe the positive review he left on A Farewell to Arms:
“I hope to god what you say about the book will be true, though how we are to know whether they last I don’t know– But anyway you were fine to say it would.” He continues on and begins to praise Garnett for his novel The Sailor’s Room. “… All I did was to go around wishing to god I could have written it. It is still the only book I would like to have written of all the books since our father’s and mother’s times.”
He makes his excitement to speak with Garnett very clear saying “You have meant very much to me as a writer and now that you have written me that letter I should feel very fine– But instead all that happens is I don’t believe it.”
Penn State really dug into the details of Hemingway’s letters, and it seems that, despite his literary success and everlasting name, he was truly a humble soul. I suppose it’s just another reason to like him even more.