Poor Hemingway. The most pi cked-over literary remains in American history are soon to be scavenged again. Five of his apprentice short stories, never before published, are to be included in a book coming out this fall; before that, three of them will be published in The New York Times Magazine. That a quite specific decision not to print the stories was made by Hemingway himself seems to matter to no one; as with other Hemingway material released since his death, the last thing anyone seems to care about is what Hemingway himself might have wanted.
The stories -- "Crossroads," "The Mercenaries," "The Ash-Heel's Tendon," "The Current" and "Portrait of the Idealist in Love" -- were discovered in the Hemingway papers by Peter Griffin, who is one of several people now working on biographies of the author. Griffin's is to run two or more (!) volumes, the first of which, "Along With Youth: Hemingway, the Early Years," is to be published in November by Oxford University Press. It is in this volume that the stories are to appear, as will other new material that Griffin has discovered in his researches, notably letters that Hemingway wrote to friends during the 1920s.
No doubt all of this will provide a field day for Hemingway scholars, whose numbers are legion or maybe infinite, not to mention for Griffin himself. Since the stories were written in Hemingway's 21st and 22nd years, they will provide ample opportunity for textual analysis. As for the letters, Griffin said in The New York Times last week that they indicate Hemingway's famous World War I romance with a nurse was considerably more than platonic, which should provide ample opportunity for sexual analysis.
This will be loads of fun for Hemingway scholars and nonacademic fans as well, but it certainly has nothing at all to do with what Hemingway himself apparently would have preferred. Why were the five apprentice stories not published in Hemingway's lifetime? According to The Times, Griffin himself said it was because, in the reporter's words, "in Hemingway's later years, when presumably his name alone would have been enough to assure publication, the author feared the critics would use these immature works against him." As for Hemingway's letters, he specified in a note to his executors, written in 1958: "It is my wish that none of the letters written by me during my lifetime shall be published. Accordingly, I hereby request and direct you not to publish or consent to the publication by others, of any such letters."
Poor Hemingway. He put it in writing, but not in his last will and testament, which had been signed three years earlier. His request was clear and emphatic -- how could it have been more so? -- but it was not legally binding, just as there was nothing legally binding about his decision not to print the five apprentice stories or other work that he had for one reason or another decided was unfit for publication. There's no question about what he wanted done; it's just that he did not stipulate his wishes in his will, and he did not destroy the material he did not want published.
Which is to say that he left the door open for the Hemingway industry to pick over his bones. For a time after his death in 1961 his desires were respected, but gradually over the years material leaked into print. The first to appear was "A Moveable Feast," a collection of miscellaneous reminiscences about Paris in the 1920s that included a vicious portrait of Scott Fitzgerald. Then there was Carlos Baker's biography, "Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story," which paraphrased but did not directly quote many letters. Next to appear was "Islands in the Stream," an embarrassingly flattering self-portrait disguised as three novellas. Then it was Mary Hemingway's "How It Was," which quoted a number of excerpts from letters, many of them flattering to Mary Hemingway. And then at last appeared "Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961," approved by Mary Hemingway and edited by Baker, who claimed that Hemingway "had himself departed on many occasions from the letter and spirit of his directive of 1958."
With that, it became apparent that Hemingway's stated request no longer mattered to anyone. In the name of "scholarship" and "the historical record," any old piece of arcana that happened to have been scribbled by Ernest Hemingway was now fair game. As Baker put it in describing "the wisdom and rightness" of Mary Hemingway's decision to publish the letters, "They will not only instruct and entertain the general reader but also provide serious students of literature with the documents necessary to the continuing investigation of the life and achievements of one of the giants of 20th-century American fiction."
In the name of "scholarship," anything goes. Indeed, a great many literary scholars will look at you -- their faces just as straight as they possibly could be -- and tell you that the scholarship, or the "criticism," is of greater weight than the work itself. That being the prevailing assumption in the most research-oriented English departments, it can hardly come as a surprise to anyone that the wishes of an author can now be brushed aside with scarcely a moment's reflection; nothing, after all, must be allowed to stand in the way of scholarship.
Nothing, for that matter, must be allowed to stand in the way of publication, either. Decisions to bring out the work of dead authors are now controlled by scholars, biographers, anthologists, publishers and other interested parties, some of whom bring to the process considerations that are neither entirely literary nor entirely pure. Not infrequently, these considerations bulk larger than respect for an author's requests or reputation; the line of reasoning seems to be that if a decision to publish serves the interests of the academic community generally and individuals within it specifically, then the decision must be made to go ahead.
Maybe the "scholars" are right, but I think not. What is more important about authors than anything else they do is their work, and it is for them to decide which of it shall be published and which shall not. If for whatever reason an author decides to keep rather than destroy work he does not wish to publish, it is not for someone else to contravene that decision once the author is no longer around to object.
But destroying it is apparently an author's only scholar-proof defense. Some months ago I was told by an author whose work I admire enormously that she had not long before put to the torch the manuscript of a novel that was two-thirds complete. She wasn't happy with it, she said. "Oh, really?" was all I said in reply, but what I thought at the moment was that it was a terrible shame not to be able to read that manuscript. Now I know that she was absolutely right; she took the only safe and sure course.