The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907-1922 (Volume 1)

Andrew O’Hagan writes:

The letters show the moment by moment process of self-enlargement, of fiction taking over from reality, of Hemingway braiding himself a style first and then a history to match it. If his family mistook so much of what he wrote for experience, that’s because he set it up that way, signing himself ‘Old Master’ when he was barely 18. He made the fiction true, including the fiction of himself, and then struggled to keep up with it. There’s a drawing at the end of a letter written while he was in hospital in Italy in 1918, little more than a stick drawing, of a man lying in bed, his legs all bandaged up, shouting: ‘Gimme a drink!’ ‘Ernie’ has captioned this: ‘Me. Drawn from Life.’ This cartoon character, Ernie, was the prototype of the man who became Frederic Henry, the twisted hero who knows his way around a martini and a bottle of Asti, though the man and his wounds and his appetites are further from Hemingway’s own reality than the author could bear.

(LRB 7 June 2012)