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Tuesday, October 24, 2023

'How long is a novel anyway?'


“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”  - Ernest Hemingway
 Every couple days I read a few more pages from  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.  The above note was from late August, 1925 from his hotel in Spain – where he had isolated himself to finish writing what would become The Sun Also Rises.   He added to the note, “Hadley’s (his first wife) just gone up to Paris yesterday.  I’m staying here to finish a novel.  Have 10 ½ chapters done."

His letters are written to a wide range of friends, family and publishing associates during the months he was working on the manuscript of the 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.”    Hemingway, born in July of 1899, 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.

When asked what inspired him to be a better writer, he noted, “When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.”

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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