Lovely article by Juan Vidal and what Hemingway’s debut novel meant to him. Best, Christine
From Pamplona, With Love: ‘The Sun Also’ Turns 90
I was in Boston for a few days and took the opportunity to visit the Hemingway collection at the JFK Library and Museum. It’s about 20 minutes depending on traffic from downtown in a cab but shuttle buses travel out there more inexpensively as well. It is right on the water and very modern as you can see.
The present exhibit at the Hemingway Collection is entitled Hemingway Between the Wars, which covers much if not most of his career. The Old Man and the Sea, The Dangerous Summer, A Moveable Feast, among others came after World War II, (some posthumously. Hem died in 1961 and A Moveable Feast came out in 1964, edited primarily by Hemingway’s surviving wife, Mary. Garden of Eden was also posthumously published.) but The Sun Also Rises, Men Without Women, A Farewell to Arms, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many of the more famous short stories, i.e. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Green Hills of Africa, all were done between the wars.
Although Hemingway had his first great romance (with Agnes Von Kurowsky, his attending nurse after Hemingway was injured) during the war–not between the wars, the famous photo of her and Hemingway was in the exhibit. While I knew well that F. Scott Fitzgerald had done some serious editing on The Sun Also Rises and cut out the beginning and told Hemingway to start at a different place—and the rest is history—they had the actual letter Fitzgerald wrote to Hemingway expressing his disappointment at the beginning and making his suggestion to cut in strong terms. Uncharacteristically and probably because he was young and not yet confident, Hemingway did not resist and took Fitzgerald’s advice, much to the improvement of the book.
There also was a list of titles that Hemingway considered for The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (1936). For those of you not familiar with this story, it is set in Africa and was published in September 1936 in Cosmopolitan Magazine concurrently with The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The story was eventually adapted to the screen as “The Macomber Affair” (1947).
The story deals with a dysfunctional marriage between Francis and Margot who are on a big game safari in Africa with a professional hunter Robert Wilson. On his first time out, Francis had panicked when a wounded lion charged him, which humiliated him in front of his wife who took far too much pleasure in mocking him about his act of cowardice. It is suggested that she sleeps with Robert Wilson. The next day the party hunt buffalo. Two are killed and one is wounded and retreats. It’s generally bad form, not to mention cruel all around, to leave a wounded animal as it is, and Francis and Wilson proceed to track him so that they can put him out of his misery. When they find the buffalo, it charges Francis Macomber. He stands his ground and fires, but his shots are too high. At the last second Macomber kills the buffalo with his last bullet and Margot fires a shot from her gun, which hits Macomber in the skull and kills him. Good times!
(Sorry, as a divorce lawyer I sometimes have a dark sense of humor on relationships.) Anyway, at the exhibit, there is a list of some of the alternate titles that Hemingway considered such as Marriage is a Dangerous Game, A Marriage has Terminated, The Cult of Violence, Marriage as a Bond.
TO BE CONTINUED Next POST!
Just when you think everything that can possibly be written about Hemingway or his life or his writing has been done, another level of knowledge is uncovered.
The third volume of Hemingway’s letters, which covers the period 1926 to 1929, has been published. Those were truly wonderful years. He wrote The Sun Also Rises in about six weeks—at least for the first draft—in 1926. It was published in 1927. These letters cover correspondence with some of the literary luminaries of the day as well as cover a very rich and turbulent period for Hemingway.
We are all familiar with the spare prose and tight structure of his writing. Consequently, his letters are surprisingly rambling and fun. He writes very honestly about his divorce from his first wife, Hadley, and of the pain of falling in love with a woman who became their mutual friend, Vogue journalist Pauline Pfeiffer. He also wrote of the drama of the birth of his first son, Patrick, by cesarean section during which Pauline almost died. It also was at this period of time that he relocated to Key West and completed his second book Men Without Women.
While Hemingway aficionados are familiar with his dislike of his mother throughout his life, it may be less well known that he was very fond of his father who killed himself. In the letter to Pauline’s mother following his father’s suicide, he wrote, “I was awfully fond of my father—and still feel very badly about it all and not able to get it out of my mind and my book into my mind.”
Seventy percent of the letters have never been published before. They reveal a side to Hemingway that has had very little exposure: his intense drive to be the best writer out there, his insecurities, his enjoyment of a little gossip. He wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald asking him to write “all the dirt.”
It also seems clear that the culminating event in A Farewell to Arms, i.e. Catherine’s death during childbirth—is based in large part on Pauline’s difficulties. At the end of A Farewell to Arms when the nurse asks Frederic Henry if he’s proud of his newborn son, Frederic’s response is almost verbatim from a Hemingway letter in which he replied, “No, he nearly killed his mother.”
Hemingway had always asked that his letters never be published, but his fourth wife Mary agreed to the publication of some and I’m not familiar enough with the details of the estate to know exactly how these came to be published.
Read the letters and enjoy. Also, if you’re in New York catch the exhibit that’s at the Morgan Library. You won’t regret it. Love, Christine
The Sun Also Rises did have a different beginning when Hemingway first wrote it. Apparently, Scott Fitzgerald suggested that Hemingway begin later in the story and crossed out the beginning Hem had slated for the novel. He followed that advice and the rest is history.
Or not. A new edition shows Hemingway’s original placement of paragraphs. For background, please see Hemingway reworked.