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Saturday, October 25, 2014

How long is that again?

Every couple days I read a few more pages in the second volume of  The Letters of Ernest Hemingway and I’m always rewarded with some little tidbit about him or his writing that I didn’t know.  And the bonus is that they come directly from him through the words he was writing to others.

His letters are written to a wide range of friends, family and publishing associates during the months he was working on the manuscript of a novel he was calling Fiesta, a name that it would be marketed under in most of its European editions. 

I was surprised to find out that he really wasn’t sure just how long his manuscript should be before it was considered “A Novel.”    He was noted for his short stories, and had just cobbled together a dozen of them into the book In Our Times, but he really hadn’t done a novel in the traditional sense until this point.

Writing in late August, 1925, to a publishing friend  from his hotel in Spain – where he had isolated himself to get the project completed – he wrote:  “Hadley’s (his first wife) just gone up to Paris yesterday.  I’m staying here to finish a novel.  Have 10 ½ chapters done.  How long is a novel anyway?  Only thing I have here outside of French and Spanish is 1563 pages (of something called) War and Peace by a man calls himself Tolstoi.  Very discouraging.  I’ve only done 200 pages of 200-220 words apiece … (but) Think it’s going to be a Wham.  Hope so.”   

I like some of Tolstoy’s work, but I’m glad that journalistic feature writers like me have Hemingway and that book Fiesta – retitled in America as The Sun Also Rises – as our models for what we can hope to achieve.
Ernest Hemingway with Lady Duff Twysden, wife 
Hadley (center), and friends, during the July 1925 
trip to Spain that inspired The Sun Also Rises.

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1 comment:

  1. Tolstoi and Hemingway--always an interesting contrast. I belong to the "never made it all the way through War and Peace club." I'm pretty sure it's a BIG club! As both a writer and reader, I too prefer Hemingway's definition of "long."