Continuation of post regarding my visit to the Kennedy Library, Hemingway Exhibit on Between the Wars
There was an anecdote displayed of an interview that Hemingway had with George Plimpton. Plimpton knew that Hemingway had written the end of A Farewell to Arms something like 39 times. Plimpton, a writer himself, asked if there was a technical problem that stumped him and why he kept re-writing the end. What was the problem? What was the hold-up???
Hemingway, in typical succinct style, replied “getting the words right.”
Finally, a famous quote from A Farewell to Arms (1929) was posted. Most people know the first sentence, but not the next one. It reads, “The world breaks everyone and after many are strong in the broken places.” Most people stop there.
It goes on, however, “But those that will not break, it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these, you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.”
Thus we go from something that sounds somewhat upbeat and promising to a rather grim conclusion. Still, above all Hemingway believed that men can’t be defeated even in death.
Finally, his mantra for writing was the following:
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.
Oh, the fun of this. About half of the items in the exhibit are being borrowed from the Kennedy Library (Boston) Collection. Some were private letters so don’t be too hard on him. If letters you wrote to a close friend or lover were made public .they might not include your most eloquent turns of phrase. If you can manage, this will be a great stroll through Hemingway lore and history.
I subscribe to a number of RSS feeds and google alerts that keep me posted on all things Hemingway. So here are a few random developments.
1) Mariel Hemingway is producing a movie of Hemingway’s last book, A Moveable Feast, finished after his death and published initially in 1964. (Hemingway died in 1961).
2) Andy Garcia is wrapping up his movie about Hemingway and his boat captain, Gregorio Fuentes.
3) Coming out in the Fall is a possible Oscar contender called GENIUS, about
Hemingway’s editor Maxwell Perkins (played by Colin Firth) and Tom Wolfe (played by Michael Fassbinder). Dominic West plays Hemingway. All Brits playing Americans.
4) The Cuban government is working on how much access to permit to the Finca Vigia. Right now, the public can peer through windows but cannot go in.
5)Thomasville is having a Hemingway Outdoor furniture collection.
6) A man named Robert Wheeler spent a winter four years ago in Paris, retracing Hemingway’s time there in the early 1920s. He took a camera. And now he’s publishing a book, due out April 7. I can’t wait to see it.
7) Before announcing the winner of the 2015 PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction, Beacon Press director Helene Atwan, administrator of the prize, made note of a major gift from the Hemingway family. The cash prize attached to the award was doubled this year to $20,000. Patrick, Hemingway’s remaining son, was on hand to assist in distributing the awards which took place at the JFK Library, home of he Hemingway Collection.
As usual, Hemingway is in the news everywhere. So what’s new?
1.) There apparently is news that there is a computer program that can predict whether you or I are the next Hemingway. You can send in a sample of your writing and the computer can tell you if you are in line with his style or just another wannabe.
We all know that there is so much more that went into his writing than on the surface. One of the prime theories that Hem put to the test was the iceberg theory. For every sentence that he wrote on the paper, there were ten that didn’t get down on the paper but that were distilled into making that one sentence. When Hemingway wrote about a waiter, he–in his head–knew the waiter’s whole history and it was his theory that by knowing that history, even though it didn’t make it to the paper and the story, it added some texture to what eventually got into the story. He wrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times and he wrote the last sentence of the The Sun Also Rises “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” many, many times until it had the exact inflection he wanted. No program can take that into account. So good luck with that computer
2.) The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library has received a shipment of new documents that it has added to its Hemingway collection. One that is particularly interesting is the telegram by which Hem was advised that he’d won the Nobel Prize for literature. It was sent to him on October 28, 1954 at 11:00 a.m. It said:
At its session today the Swedish Academy decided to award you the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature and I would accordingly request you to notify me if you accept this award and whether in that case it would be possible for you to be present in Stockholm on Nobel Bay December 10 to receive the prize from the hands of His Majesty the King. Anders Obersterling, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, 7:00 p.m.
Hemingway was not in good enough health to go to Sweden. He’d just survived two plane crashes in Africa and, while he put on a brave face, the second crash left him impaired for life with pain that never went away. He wrote a brief statement that was read by John C. Cabot, the then U.S. Ambassador to Sweden.
While Hemingway told the press that Carl Sandburg, Isak Dinesen, and Bernard Berenson were far more deserving of the honor, but he could use the prize money so he accepted, I have to believe he was pleased. He should have won it for For Whom the Bell Tolls and fortunately he won it eventually for The Old Man and the Sea.
It’s wonderful to listen to him making the speech, which he made after the fact and recorded. The beginning of it goes as follows:
“Having no facility for speech making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this prize.
No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the price can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and conscience….Writing, at best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer, he must face eternity, or lack of it, each day….I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again, I thank you.”
Earlier this year, a trove of about 2,500 documents from Hemingway’s home in Cuba, Finca Vigia, were shipped to the Hemingway collection in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. They were digitized and many have already been made available. The documents include letters, lists, diaries, telegrams, insurance policies, bank statements, passports, a page of his son, Patrick’s, homework, and many Christmas cards.
For those of us who love and follow all things Hemingway, it’s an enormous boon that he was a packrat. He seems to have saved everything. In 2008, another group of documents and letters were sent to the library, including an alternate ending for For Whom the Bell Tolls. Robert Jordan lives??
In reading about the material that went to Boston, I felt sad all over again. When Hemingway and Mary left, they didn’t know that they would not be going back. Books were left open, shoes were left out, a Glenn Miller record was on the phonograph.
After Hemingway’s death in July of 1961, relations with Cuba could not have been much worse. The Bay of Pigs invasion occurred in April of 1961 and our two countries were not cozy. Nevertheless, John F. Kennedy quietly arranged for Mary Hemingway to travel to Havana and meet with Fidel Castro. They agreed that Mary could take paintings and papers out of the country and in return, she gave the Finca Vigia and its remaining contents to the Cuban people.
The property declined significantly, but due to the efforts of the Finca Vigia Foundation, which was started by Jenny Phillips, the granddaughter of Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway’s long-time editor, the decline has been arrested. Documents are being preserved and the house has been shored up with some repairs taking place.
It was interesting to read about the documentation and how it came through in a very random way. In the middle of a folder of Christmas cards, a recipe might appear or an important letter about Hemingway’s style. A telegram from Archibald MacLeish congratulating him on For Whom the Bell Tolls is followed by Mary’s hamburger recipes. There are logs from his boat, the Pilar, as well as correspondence that Mary had. According to Susan Wrynn, the curator of the Hemingway collection at the JFK Library, Mary Hemingway, while packing up papers to take back to America also burned some messages which were sent to Mary but were believed not to be written by Hemingway but by a newspaper man named Herb Clark, an old flame of Mary’s in the Paris days. Perhaps she thought that her own correspondence wasn’t important?
Hem at typewriter
There are also stories with edits by Hemingway critiquing his own work, noting “you can phrase things clearer and better.” Or, “you can remove words which are unnecessary and tighten up your prose.” All in all, it’s quite a find and addition to this amazing collection.