Ernest Hemingway’s published writings are riddled with hundreds of errors and little has been done to correct them, according to a forthcoming study of the legendary writer’s texts.
Robert W Trogdon, a leading scholar of 20th-century American literature, told the Guardian that Hemingway’s novels and short stories were crying out for editions that are “as accurate to what he wrote as possible” because the number of mistakes “ranges in the hundreds”. Although many are slight, he said, they were nevertheless mistakes, made primarily by editors and typesetters.
The majority of Hemingway’s manuscripts are held at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where Trogdon has pored over the originals.
He singled out, for example, the 1933 short story A Way You’ll Never Be, which mistakenly features the word “bat” rather than “hat” when the character Nick Adams is explaining catching grasshoppers to the confused Italian soldiers. Hemingway originally wrote: “But I must insist that you will never gather a sufficient supply of these insects for a day’s fishing by pursuing them with your hands or trying to hit them with a hat.”
Misspellings in one edition of The Sun Also Rises, his 1926 novel about disillusioned expatriates in postwar France and Spain, include the bullfighter “Marcial Lalanda” appearing as “Marcial Salanda”, an easy mistake to make because of the similarity of the author’s handwritten “L” and “S”, Trogdon observed. There is also a restaurant called “Ciqoque” when Hemingway meant the real-life Paris eatery Cigogne, again an easy mistake for someone unaccustomed to distinguishing the author’s “q” and “g”.
Typesetters changed Hemingway’s punctuation and verb tense in setting up new editions. For example, in his 1933 short story The Light of the World, the sentence: “She just keep on laughing and shaking” should read: “She just kept on laughing and shaking.”
Trogdon argues that, with the exceptions of Under Kilimanjaro and A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, published in 2005 and 2009 respectively, no Hemingway book has been edited to preserve what he actually intended, unlike the writings of his contemporaries F Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, which have been re-published in corrected versions.
In The New Hemingway Studies, to be published by Cambridge University Press this month, he writes of “the reluctance of the Hemingway estate and his publisher to give a scholarly editor or group of editors control of a textual edition”, despite previous scholars pointing out mistakes.
In an essay headed Hemingway and Textual Studies, Trogdon observes: “For a variety of reasons, his novels, short stories, and non-fiction are riddled with errors.”
Prof Kirk Curnutt, the co-editor of The New Hemingway Studies, said: “Something as simple as the different between a ‘b’ and an ‘h’ can change the entire meaning … It is amazing to understand how fragile texts are.”
The volume’s essays by eminent scholars includes Prof Sandra Spanier, the general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project. Also published this month by Cambridge are The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 5 (1932-1934), the latest of a projected 17 volumes.
Spanier told the Guardian it contained several previously unpublished letters concerning Hemingway’s feelings about editorial changes to his published work: “[They] show that Hemingway was exacting about every detail of his writing.”
In a letter to the associate editor of Cosmopolitan, Hemingway warned against making any changes to his story After the Storm, which would appear in the May 1932 magazine: “It is understood if you publish it there are to be no changes in text or title – no additions – no cuts. Cannot submit it on any other basis. Don’t let anybody write me that it is very short. I know it is and if it could be any shorter I would make it shorter. It is as good and complete a story as I can write or I wouldn’t send it to you or to anybody else. And I don’t sell them by the yard or the word because I will cut out a thousand words to make one word important.”
Spanier said: “I especially like this letter because it not only shows Hemingway’s exactness … but also because it’s a pithy manifesto on the value of brevity and economy in writing – Hemingway’s hallmark.”