For this post, I present some trivia that people might not know about Hemingway.
He often wrote standing up especially after the two plane crashes made long bouts of sitting uncomfortable.
His father committed suicide. His first wife’s father committed suicide. Two of his siblings committed suicide. His former wife, Martha Gelhorn, committed suicide. His Italian muse, Adriana Ivancich, committed suicide. And, of course, Hemingway committed suicide in 1961.
Contrary to popular myth, his favorite drink was not a Mojito, but a very dry, very cold Martini.
He originally grew the beard to hide a recurrent skin condition and it became his signature look.
He never went to college.
He was actually shy when not drinking.
He had an amazing wit and sense of humor, which is not evident in his novels. Read his letters.
He had little interest in his sartorial presentation. He preferred loose slacks or shorts and wore them to rags.
His pets were part of his family and he worried about them tremendously when he was away from home. The death of a stray who became his constant companion, Black Dog, threw him into a severe depression. He never got over that death.
10. He always wanted a daughter. His fourth wife Mary became pregnant and a girl was expected, but it was an ectopic pregnancy and was lost. Hemingway had three sons—Jack, the oldest, with his first wife Hadley, and Gregory and Patrick with his second wife Pauline.
The great Luise Rainer, first winner of back to back Oscars, apparently wanted to play Maria badly. She didn’t know Hemingway and the studio had its eye on a young Ingrid Bergman, fresh off of her Casablanca triumph. David O., Selznick took Ingrid to meet Hemingway and he adored her. Luise just passed away but read about her regret.
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 Some have been published despite his request that they not be published.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.Dining room in Key West
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
I mentioned last post that I’ve been re-reading Hemingway’s novels. I finished A Farewell to Arms and Across the River and into the Woods. I found so much more to love in A Farewell to Arms than my first few times around. While Catherine is dated in her attitude and her fawning for love, she still was working, living on her own, and in love. Frederic goes from looking for a fun time so loving Catherine deeply. I loved the scenes with Rinaldi and when he calls Frederic “baby.” Wonderful novel.
Across the River was not on the “best” list, At times, I found it hard to get through but it picked up in the end and I liked it but didn’t understand what The Colonel saw in Renata. She was young and beautiful but vapid and not even very spirited. However, Hemingway too was in love when writing it and Adriana, his prototype for Renata,was being seen through his eye. Still not a favorite. I liked the sense of Venice but not too much else.
Read “Hemingway’s Best Novels” for yourself. Link below.
This was a fun article to read. The comments were just as much fun because everyone has an opinion. It is interesting to see which novels are preferred, and whether only purists love the short stories best. I found the insights to be illuminating. My favorite novel is For whom the Bell Tolls, and among the short stories, I love The Snows of Kilimanjaro and A Clean Well-Lighted Place. The end of Something is also one I reread often.
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.”