When the Uncle of your Wife Buys you a House

A Farewell to Arms

Farewell to Arms

Key West

Key West

Hem and Pauline

Pauline and Hem

A few facts about The Hemingway House at 907 Whitehead Street: It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Key West

Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, lived very modestly in Paris. Hadley had a small trust that enabled them as young newly weds to go abroad and for Hemingway to focus on his writing. He did earn money from his journalism but the trust helped significantly.

When Hem met and fell in love with a young and stylish writer for Vogue in Paris, Pauline Pfeiffer, he felt guilt but he also had fewer money worries when he left Hadley for her good friend, Pauline. Pauline was from a wealthy family from St. Louis. Her family made money in Pharmaceuticals and her Uncle Gus funded the purchase of the home in Key West. Hem dedicated A Farewell to Arms to Uncle Gus.

Sara Murphy and Pauline Hemingway

Sara Murphy and Pauline Hemingway

Still, it can rankle to live in a house paid for by your wife’s family and Hemingway wrote in The Snows of Kilimanjaro through the main character, Harry, that the rich had ruined Harry’s fervor for writing bravely and writing all that he needed to.  The parallels are not too subtle as to Hemingway’s own life,. If you visit Key West, there is still a penny cemented into the pool surround. Supposedly Hemingway was irritated with the escalating costs of renovation and the pool in particular.  It was one of the largest in its day.  He told Pauline in a fit of pique that it was taking his last penny, so she threw one into the cement as it was setting. It’s still there. The woman had a sense of humor!

Key West is a lovely home, more elegant than Cuba, but Cuba was wilder, rougher, and I think more to Hemingway’s taste.

HEMINGWAY AS LETTER WRITER

Last several years

Last several years

Hemingway was a prolific letter writer. Some say that he left behind 8,000 to 10,000 letters. Some have been published despite his request that they not be published. I have to say though that reading his letters is really fun and interesting and gives me insight into his humor, what’s important to him, and the cadence of his voice.Hem's Dining room Dining room in Key West

Hem writing a letter maybe?

Hem writing a letter maybe?

 

Published letters have been accumulated from the “senders.” Hemingway did not keep copies of his own letters to others, but he did keep letters he received from other writers, from family members, and from his wives. Upon his death, he had stacks of letters he had received from his first wife Hadley. Mary, his last wife, was kind enough to return them to Hadley. Hadley had not kept Hemingway’s letters to her.

 

Sometimes Hemingway kept letters that he had drafted out, but never sent for one reason or another. He may have thought better of it; he may have thought it was too harsh; those also have been collected. Fortunately for all of us, Hemingway was a notorious packrat. When Mary went to collect some of their things after Hemingway’s death and she was permitted access to the Cuban house for the sole purpose of getting her belongings, she also retrieved letters, recipes, cards received, all were scattered together. They were turned over to the Hemingway Collection in Boston at the JFK Library. People who sorted through them found little notes, drafted pages and among his historically valuable letters, they also found recipes, doodles, Christmas cards. Carlos Baker, one of the early Hemingway biographers and scholar from Princeton, and the one selected by his fourth wife Mary, published a volume of 600 letters 20 years after Hemingway’s death. The rest of his letters were scattered about and in some cases held back by family members.

Where he wrote in the 1920's in Paris

Where he wrote in the 1920’s in Paris

 

Some of the letters have shed light on a different side of Hemingway. Sandra Spanier, an associate professor of English at Penn State University was also, the editor of one of the early projects for publishing some of Hemingway’s letters. She noted that in letters to Martha Gelhorn, Hemingway’s third wife, Hemingway emerges as far more supportive of Martha’s career than was earlier assumed. An uglier side also did emerge at times, but there were many kind letter showing the tenderness that he was capable of, the loving husband who took care of household details, his great pride in Martha’s work, and descriptions of Hemingway advising Martha that he was reading drafts of her novel to his sons. These letters only became available after Martha Gelhorn’s death in 1998.

Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

 

Correspondence with Jane Mason, a Havana socialite with whom it’s believed he had an affair, weren’t discovered until 1999 in a trunk by Jane Mason’s granddaughter. These also shed light on his wit and character.

 

I highly recommend reading some of these letters. They are extremely funny, self-deprecating, unguarded, and blunt. In one letter, Hemingway invited Senator Joseph R. McCarthy to Cuba to “Duke it out.” There was another letter that Hemingway wrote to his mother who notoriously disapproved of his subject matter and whom he notoriously disliked. When his mother told him that her book club disapproved of his 1926 The Sun Also Rises, he told her in this letter that he would have been worried if they had not disapproved and he advised his mother to read his future works with “a little shot of loyalty as an anesthetic.”

the Sun Also Rises

the Sun Also Rises

 

Reading Hemingway’s own words not in a novel, but in his correspondence with friends, family, enemies, and rivals, gives a much more rounded picture of him and it’s just plain fun.

 

I'm about to write a letter--by hand as in the earlier times.

I’m about to write a letter–by hand as in the earlier times.

 

Letters to Martha?

Letters to Martha?

Reading Hemingway

Hem's Dining room

Hem’s Dining room

As I noted in an earlier post,  I  had been reading more about Hemingway, than reading Hemingway. I reread A Farewell to Arms and loved it more than on any previous reading. I reread Across the River and Into the Trees and saw more in it than on original reading but still did not really “get” it. I liked the Colonel but didn’t get the attraction to Renata or what was special about her. Still I enjoyed it. I read several of the most prominent short stories and relistened to For Whom the Bell Tolls on Audio tape. It has been my favorite and remains so.

For whom the bell tolls, Polish cover, GRIM REAPER

For whom the bell tolls, Polish cover, GRIM REAPER

I also gave thought to why I like Hemingway so much. Is it him or his writing? As a person, he was wonderful and awful. However, aren’t all of our heroes that mixed bag? John Kennedy? Churchill? Roosevelt?  Mother Teresa and Gandhi seem to be a few of those who are not assailable on some level for bad behavior. For me, the good and the noble outweigh the bad. I also wondered if we give more latitude to the artistic sort or the heroic person and allow that they may be more finely tuned than the rest of us. Or is that giving them a pass that is undeserved and unfair? I don’t know. I don’t think they get a license to be mean and kick the dog and shove aside little old ladies and men in a line waiting for the bus, but if they do more damage to themselves and behave badly in a restaurant in New York or Paris, or drink too much to stop the racing mind or to relieve stress, do we give them a little extra space or is that uncalled for?

Beware

Beware

Not sure. I just know that I wish Hem who would have been 115 (HA!) on July 21 this year had not died so soon but he went on his terms. I think we all can relate to that and hope to be able to do the same.

Last several years

Last several years

On his own terms

On his own terms

Summer’s Over and i have plans!

 

 

 

Me as Stevie Nicks at summer party with my puppy

Me as Stevie Nicks at summer party with my puppy

 

 

So it is fall and I am contemplative. I have been reading a lot of Hemingway lately and just finished the new book by Naomi Woods called Mrs. Hemingway, a well-researched novel/history of Hemingway’s four wives.  I liked it. It’s  a subject I’ve read much about and recommend Bernice Kert’s Book The Hemingway Women highly.

 

I am now enmeshed in my own novel about Hemingway. I finished it, it’s being edited as I write, and I’m taking it to a writer’s pitch conference at the end of September. I am hoping that someone loves it and wants to publish it. I am delaying the publication of my second book to see if this one can leap frog over book two.

 

For those of you reading this who also write, I know you can appreciate the anxiety that comes with the task. We all write because we have to. It clearly is not paying any bills. We write because we need to get the story, the history, the concept down. But then we bounce from thinking it is a fantastic book to thinking it is nothing, less than nothing, a waste of time.

 

My first novel is called Tell me When it Hurts. Most Amazon reviews have been very good but there are a few that were not. THOSE are somehow the ones you remember.  So you soul search. Could I have done a better job? Did that part lag?  Then you realize that 10% of readers of any book will not like it. It’s not their sort of book; they were in a bad patch; they don’t like your subject matter; they like sci fi but someone gave them your literary novel of 18th century love.  Still, it smarts.

 

So I am heading on Sept 25 to tough love in NYC and we’ll see what happens. Stay posted because if you love Hemingway, you may like my novel. More on title and next steps.

Thank you for reading. Love, Christine

Me, Pink, and Jimmy Buffet in my barn JULY 2014

Me, Pink, and Jimmy Buffet in my barn JULY 2014, Summer’s OVER!