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Despite his wartime injuries, the 18-year-old Hemingway had a lust for life 

Ernest Hemingway the myth long ago replaced Ernest Hemingway the man in the public imagination. The iconic image remains the famous Karsh of Ottawa portrait, taken in 1957. He stares warily out of the photograph, hairy, leathery, monumental. This volume of letters is the first in an ambitious series that will collate and annotate every scrap of his massive correspondence. The project is important, say the editors, because it will allow readers to "follow the thoughts, ideas and actions of one of the great literary figures of the 20th century in his own words". Hemingway is still widely read today, but perhaps not much considered. Unlike his friend and rival Scott Fitzgerald, it is hard to imagine him having anything very relevant to say about modern times. He belongs to the first half of the 20th century and, had he not blown his brains out when he did, would surely have found the Sixties hard going.

This does not diminish his importance. His books defined an age and the authenticity of his vision is confirmed by the breadth — geographical and ideological — of the contemporary acclaim they received. These letters deal with the period of his formation — before, as it were, Hemingway became Hemingway. They cover the the first 22 years in his life and his transformation from all-American boy to member of the rich crop of international literati who fetched up in Paris in the early 1920s.  

There are 275 letters here, most of them unpublished until now, a fraction of the 6,000 or so he churned out in his lifetime. Encouraged by his parents in childhood, Hemingway scribbled letters, notes and postcards compulsively all his life, sometimes writing a 3,000-word screed in the evening when his morning literary output amounted to a bare 500 words. As is to be expected, they are often ungrammatical, barely punctuated and misspelled, but they vibrate with vigour and immediacy. His big personality is evident from the outset. Almost from the first time he puts pen to paper there are traces of his less attractive traits — boastfulness, machismo, competitiveness. But the overwhelming impression is of an engaging young man, bursting with joie de vivre. Young Ernie clearly loved his family and friends and his enthusiasm for nature is unfaked.

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