Letters reveal Hemingway’s anger at censorship

Hemingway held nothing back when confronting his UK publisher about the censorship of his books.

Letters belonging to Ernest Hemingway- renowned writer, famous drunk, and infamous wit- show how he hit back at his English publisher after discovering they intended to censor his writing for UK release.

Publisher Jonathan Cape wrote to explain editorial changes to Hemingway’s 1932 nonfiction book about bull-fighting, Death in the Afternoon, and received an enraged response:

“All pleasure I had about the book coming out in England was effectively and completely removed by your letter of November 3rd. Don’t you understand that if any excisions or changes have to be made it is I who will make them if the book is not to be bollixed up? I thought we had gone into that once.”

Hemingway’s letter continued:

“If you want to publish any more books of mine, and it is quite all right if you do not, it is necessary to understand this very clearly. You are not my vicar. If the Pope is the vicar of Christ it is because Our Lord is not here upon earth to make his own decisions. I am not Christ (oddly enough) and as long as I am here upon earth will make my own bloody decisions as to what I write and what I do not write…

“If you say a book will be suppressed if it contains certain words and you do not care to publish it for that reason that is your affair. If I find the words are not important and can conceivably change them without loss of sense, meaning or effect I will change them or leave a blank. I will be damned if I have any vicar pruning my books to please the circulating libraries.”

The letters are revealed in a book, Letters of Ernest Hemingway Volume 5 (1932-1934) released in the UK this summer. General editor of the Letters Project, Professor Sandra Spanier, told the press:

“It’s a wonderful letter… Hemingway was responding to Cape’s letter of 3 November. Cape had written that he had made a few omissions of ‘Anglo-Saxon words’ that would be unacceptable to the English public. Where the American edition of Death in the Afternoon reads ‘go f—k yourselves’, Cape’s English edition reads, ‘go hang yourselves’. Elsewhere Cape replaced ‘f—k’ with ‘blast’.”

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