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Open Hemingway

The title “Open Hemingway” is both a compound noun and the imperative: open editions that want to be read.

The MVP has just launched its first critical editions with the 1923 and 1924 states of Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, released in the nick of time for Papa’s 116th birthday. A third volume is to follow shortly. These are annotated editions intended for classroom use, but the scarcity of the original texts means these editions are the first accessible to many scholars. It is also important to see the development of this portentous book, calling into being as it did a new standard for American literature and a style to be emulated a thousand times over.

The editions are released in Canada under a Creative Commons 3.0 unported license, meaning users can modify them freely so long as they give attribution and do not use them for commercial purposes. The primary text is, of course, in the public domain. This means erroneous footnotes can be revised, the Introduction can be cut or altered and expanded, or citations to any scholarly works overlooked can be surreptitiously added by anyone feeling left out… It also means the materials can be customized to different reading groups and their individual needs, and no one need worry about transferring teaching notes to a new edition if they don’t wish to.

This is all possible because most of Hemingway’s works entered the public domain in Canada in 2012, and many hasty scans of perennial syllabus favourites appeared as if overnight in the hands of cash starved (but tablet toting) undergraduates. I first noticed this in the Spring term of that year and was overwhelmed by it while teaching The Sun Also Rises that summer. My students knew where to find Papa without opening their pockets, but I had no idea where to send them for a reliable text in a usable format. They could get it cheap, but was it any good? And what could I do about it? It seemed the trend was fixed for an Open Hemingway… at least north of the 49th parallel, or more often than not, very far south in Australia.

Not so in the USA where new forms of the posthumous titles are appearing rapidly and critical editions for the classroom languish. The 1923 and 1925/1930/1938 editions are certainly under copyright in the USA, and it seems unlikely a critical edition or new printings of the earlier states of the text are set to appear. However, for the 1924 in our time, Milton A. Cohen has made a definite call for such an edition in his excellent monograph Hemingway’s Laboratory: The Paris in our time. These editions, the MVP hopes, answer him, even if only in a limited geographical territory. American readers, however, will need to wait.

On the problem of waiting, E.R. Hagemann poses hard questions in his definitive “A Collation, with Commentary, of the Five Texts of the Chapters in Hemingway’s In Our Time, 1923-38.” One can imagine a harrumpf and eyes looking up over glasses from a downturned chin as he thought about the matter: “Then there is the absence of copyright notice in in our time. Was it, in fact, copyrighted? If so, who held the copyright? Bird? Hemingway? Doubtful.” To these ruminations he adds “It is interesting to note that in our time is not listed in the Catalogue of Copyright Entries for 1924 or any other year.” “Interesting” is a popular euphemism in Canada, standing in as the bon mot for nearly anything unspeakable, but those are matters for American readers to ponder, carefully.

The main hope for these editions is that they become useful, whether for the Canadian classroom or for the rich textual versioning awaiting analysis. Across the revisions of the text, readers see important changes. There is the proto form of the love story inspired by Agnes von Kurowsky, with Ag becoming Luv across the revisions and ever more distance developing between the narrator and the protagonist (all presaging A Farewell to Arms). The concerns with gender and masculinity, complex and protean, are also there in Hemingway from the beginning. Likewise, the interbellum political conflicts refuse any sense of a purely aesthetic novelist as he weaves political life and death around the trope of the bullfight that would mean so much to him and that stands here almost as a metonym for the war. If any of this emerges for readers, then these editions have served their purpose.

So go open Hemingway


Several student research assistants made this edition possible. Special acknowledgement goes to Camilla Castro with Nyarai Tawengwa, Peter Mate, Maria Zrno, and Mickey Truong.

James Gifford

Associate Professor of English & Director of the University Core | School of the Humanities | Fairleigh Dickinson University - Vancouver Campus


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