Lost in the current tragedy: Penn State is the world center of Hemingway scholarship
How Penn State came to be a center of Hemingway scholarship is a multiple tragedy in itself. The first tragic figure was Hemingway himself denying the validity of scholar Philip Young’s book. Hemingway tried to suppress the book because Young said to truly understand the author, the reader had to realize that Hemingway had been seriously injured during World War I. The consequence of his physical and emotional injuries, Young explained, was a therapeutic working out of his problems in Hemingway’s fiction.
Young explained Hemingway’s reaction to his book, “But then he really wondered if I really understood how damaging it could be to a practicing writer to tell him he has a neurosis. It damages him with all his readerss and could so injure the writer himself that he could no longer write.”
When Hemingway killed himself in July, 1961, Young received phone calls, telegrams, and letters at Penn State congratulating him. “You called it, Young! These messages belong to a rare species of the genus Congratulation, but the recipient was not gratified. Nor was the remark particularly accurate, as anyone who reads my book will see…”
The book, best read in the 1966 edition Ernest Hemingway, a Reconsideration (published by Pennsylvania State University Press) includes a detailed account of how Hemingway tried to prevent the original book from being published and how Hemingway reluctantly relented after Young pleaded with him. It is an astonishingly beautiful read.
The second tragic figure was Philip Young who could not assuage the guilt he felt that he was responsible for the death of Hemingway. Whether he was or not is unclear to this reader, who could argue it either way. The question is a fascinating one which I will leave to you to decide. Young ended his days severely depressed unable to stop blaming himself.
“Scholars do make a difference,” David Morrell wrote in a foreword to a posthumously published book of Young’s essays. “Back in the fall of 1965, I was a fourth year English major at a small college in Ontario, Canada. My wife, Donna, a beginning high school teacher, used her slim salary to pay our rent and to put food on the table while I supplemented her income by working weekends at Sears….Life decisions had to be made and thus it happened on a drizzly November afternoon, ensconced in the college’s one room library, I browsed the meager stacks and came across a critical book called Ernest Hemingway. Its author was Philip Young. This is how it began:
Jake Barnes, principal character of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, was reading Turgenev very early one morning while drunk on brandy in Spain, and he speculated that one day, somewhere, he would remember it all, and what he read would seem really to have happened to him.
“I came to attention….Dazed, I immediately wrote to Young, telling him how enthused I was by his work and how I wanted to come study with him….So it was that in June of 1966, my wife, our recently born daughter, and I set out in a Volkswagen Beetle…and finally reached a wooded valley in the center of Pennsylvania: State College, and Penn State. All because of Philip Young.”
The other tragic figure is Sandra Spanier, wife of Penn State’s former President Graham Spanier.
She not only wrote a gracious introduction to the same book, American Myth, Essays by Philip Young, she became the editor of Ernest Hemingway’s complete letters. Before Young’s death, through circumstances too complicated to explain, Young was asked to edit Hemingway’s letters and the massive collection of letters is now here at Penn State.
Sandra Spanier edited the first volume in this monumental project. The volume was published in September—two months ago. Amazon just sent me an email asking me to buy this newly released book. Go to the Amazon web site and see the video of Sandra Spanier explaining the Hemingway project.
I wonder as I see this cultured, wonderful woman how it must be to have achieved this great success only now to be tasting ashes in her mouth.
I do not feel sorry for him. I do feel sorry for her.