Dear Friends : I am happy to report that Hemingway’s Daughter is being made into an AUDIO BOOK by Tantor Books, A Division of Recorded Books (RBMedia, Inc) bought the audio rights a few weeks ago. I do have the right to approve the narrator. I am very excited about it and will let all know –if interested–when it is available. The book has been endorsed by Mariel Hemingway.
Much thanks to everyone for reading and caring about Hemingway more than 60 years after his death.
The Old Man and the CTE? Ernest Hemingway had ‘nine or ten major concussions’, once HEADBUTTED his way out of a burning plane and got a ‘belting’ by Dodgers pitcher Hugh Casey… so did the disease that haunts the NFL lead him to suicide at 61?
Alcohol, PTSD and depression have been linked to Ernest Hemingway’s suicide
But now, his granddaughter believes that the author was struggling with CTE
Heavy drinking, depression and PTSD from serving in World War I have all been linked as factors in Ernest Hemingway’s suicide at 61, over 60 years ago.
The author of classics such as The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls shot himself in the head in his kitchen in Idaho, 19 days before his birthday. His family were planning a visit with him to celebrate.
Hemingway struggled with an array of health issues across his life but another might have gone undetected, according to his granddaughter Mariel, in an interview with The Spectator. CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease that catches up with all kinds of elite sportsmen – boxers, footballers, soccer players – might also have got Hemingway too.
Repeated blows to the head cause CTE and sports stars, specifically in the NFL, have been victims of the disease. In 2017, a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found CTE in 110 out of 111 brains from footballers who had played in the NFL and donated their brains to science after their death.
So, back to Hemingway. There is a long list of theories around his death, on top of those previously mentioned – several family members of his also took their own life including his brother, sister and later, his granddaughter. He also had hemochromatosis, a genetic disorder involving iron metabolism that eventually causes memory loss.
Ernest Hemingway’s suicide at the age of 61, in 1961, has been debated extensively since
Hemingway loved boxing and he was known to back himself with his fists against most people
Hemingway volunteered as an ambulance driver in World War 1 and was knocked unconscious by a mortar shell
But Hemingway loved sport and loved a fight. In his school days in Illinois, he was a lineman for his football team. At 18, he fought in World War I and was blown off his feet and knocked unconscious by a mortar shell in an explosion that killed two soldiers.
A car accident in London once left Hemingway concussed and needing over 50 stitches to repair a head injury. Another time, a skylight collapsed on top of him, leaving him with the famed scar on his forehead.
According to Dr Andrew Farah, who has studied Hemingway’s head injuries, in The Spectator: ‘That was one of nine or ten major concussions we know of. There were many more subconcussive hits to his head, and we’ve now learned that multiple subconcussive blows can have the same effect as concussions.’
Compare that to the case of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who last season was technically in concussion protocol twice but before those two officially diagnosed incidents, appeared to be worryingly unsteady on his feet after a high hit in a game against the Bills.
Four days later, he went off on a stretcher in a neck brace after another heavy tackle in a game against the Cincinnati Brown – his first official concussion of the 2022 season.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first discovered CTE, urged him to retire there and then.
‘If you love your life, if you love your family, you love your kids — if you have kids — it’s time to gallantly walk away. Go find something else to do. Twenty billion dollars is not worth more than your brain,’ he said via TMZ.
Tagovailoa played on, got concussed again on Christmas Day and didn’t feature again for the Dolphins in the season but will play as usual in 2023.
So if, by today’s standard, one concussion is enough for a 24-year-old elite athlete to quit football, how much of an accumulative impact would ‘nine or ten major concussions’ have had on Hemingway, on top of everything else?
The scientist that discovered CTE told Tua Tagovailoa to retire after a head injury saw him leave a game last September on a stretcher, in a neck brace – Hemingway is believed to have had ‘nine or 10’ serious concussions in his life
Hemingway is reported to have once ‘headbutted his way out of a cockpit’ after a plane crash
Hemingway died at the age of 61, shooting himself in the head with a shotgun in his kitchen
The Spectator also reports on Hemingway’s love of boxing and a couple of infamous scraps. Once, Great Gatsby author F.Scott Fitzgerald was a timekeeper in a fight where Hemingway was floored by a hit to the temple.
‘My writing is nothing, my boxing is everything,’ he once famously said. Apparently he thought he could be a professional if he had wanted to be.
Hemingway also survived two plane crashes in two days, the second of which he had to headbutt his way out the cockpit that was filling with smoke.
It is all part of a dossier of evidence which offers some form of explanation to his granddaughter of how the author met the end that he did.
‘It makes a lot of sense. I hadn’t realized he played football,’ Mairel Hemingway said to The Spectator. ‘Yes, I think so (if he had CTE). It makes total sense that getting hit in the head has effects on the brain.
‘He lived life very hard. That’s a factor for sure… I think a lot of things contributed. He had paranoia late in his life, and at the time there was no way to understand the science of what was happening to his brain.
‘Eventually you can’t fight it. The depression took over. He was known for courage, but how do you go up against those demons?’
In 1959, Hemingway asked A. E. Hotchner to help edit a piece for Life magazine on bullfighting. Hotchner said he found Hemingway ‘unusually hesitant, disorganized, and confused’. He was treated for hypertension in a clinic and even had electroconvulsive therapy in 1960. Three months before he died, he was found holding a shotgun in his kitchen before being returned to hospital for more treatment.
The next time he was released, Hemingway committed suicide two days later. He shot himself in the head that July morning in 1961. The condition that his brain was in will never be known for sure.
Netflix is eying a new war adaptation of the classic Ernest Hemingway novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, What’s on Netflix has learned.
A new For Whom The Bell Tolls movie has been developing for at least two decades, with Game of Thrones co-creator and co-showrunner David Benioff attached to the project in the early 2000s. Back then, the project was with Warner Bros, and Leonardo DiCaprio was tipped to play a role in the movie in ’05. There’s little record of what happened to the project after this, and according to Cinema.com, “DiCaprio won’t commit to the project without a director, however, and none is attached so far.”
David Benioff since mentioned the book in his 2016 article for the New York Times, looking at his favorite ten books of all time. In the segment on For Whom the Bell Tolls, the writer states:
“Yes, a few of the lines are easy to mock. (“I love thee and thou art so lovely and so wonderful and so beautiful and it does such things to me to be with thee that I feel as though I wanted to die when I am loving thee.”) Yes, the constant use of “thee” is grating. But my love for this novel isn’t rational. I have no interest in defending it. I loved it from first to last. No final page has ever left me as shattered.”
In 2022, we were first told that an adaptation might be in the works at Netflix via two copyright registrations with Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. The Universal registration specifically mentioned a “Short-Form One Picture License.”
Fast forward to 2023, and we’ve learned that David Benioff is eyed to continue writing the script for Netflix while long-term collaborator Alan Taylor is eyed to direct.
As you may know, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and currently working with Netflix under an extensive overall deal ever since Game of Thrones wrapped on HBO. Thus far, the pair have (either together or separately) worked on Metal Lords, The Chair, and Leslie Jones: Time Machine.
Alan Taylor is the writer, producer, and director who worked in 7 episodes of Game of Thrones and was the director on The Many Saints of Newark, Terminator Genisys, and Thor: The Dark World.
What’s For Whom The Bell Tolls about?
First published in 1940, here’s the official synopsis for the book written by Ernest Hemingway, per GoodReads:
“The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving and wise.”
Author’s note: “Weekend Short” is a weekly profile of a short story. Additional analysis by the readership is encouraged in the comments section.
Welcome to the weekend!
The creatures of the yard are engaged in harum-scarum antics on a warm and sun-soaked morning here in central Wisconsin.
Today’s short is Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” originally published in 1927. Set in Spain, the story portrays a couple as they struggle to make conversation around an inconvenience — an unmentioned something related to the woman. In his characteristic style, Hemingway employs script-like sparsity, as if even the narrator is uncomfortable saying too much.
The hills across the valley of the Ebro’ were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid.
“What should we drink?” the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.
“It’s pretty hot,” the man said.
“Let’s drink beer.”
“Dos cervezas,” the man said into the curtain.
“Big ones?” a woman asked from the doorway.
“Yes. Two big ones.”
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glasses on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.
“They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
“I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.”
Assuming you’ve now finished the story, let’s consider it. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it upon first reading. While brief, it drags and becomes uncomfortable — line after line of nothing but hedging and nothing-talk. But a slower second reading, especially aloud, turns the story from one of chatter to one of grinding selfishness.
The man in the story wishes the woman to have an abortion. The woman is uncomfortable about the idea but defers to the man. The man, trying to preserve his outward honor while still achieving an immoral end, uses a romanticized past to convince the woman that all will be well after the “operation.”Pauline Pfeffer
The woman, playing for time and not wanting to discuss the decision, remarks that the hills “look like white elephants.” We can take that line to mean: that there’s “an elephant in the room,” that her “white elephant” is an undesired gift, or that she is unmoored and reverting to childish fictions. From the man’s response to her skepticism regarding his seeing elephants in the flesh, we can understand him to be a petty, disagreeable sort — a small man in the land of imagined pachyderms.
The man’s eventual movement from the table brings us back into the wash of humanity, as he moves through others awaiting the train — musings of destruction in the everyday. Upon his return, the woman appears to have accepted the prospect of abortion. An ugly story, but a masterful recreation of life’s many unuttered subjects which we elide in debate and through distraction.
Many thanks to Michael I. and Eric R. for suggesting Hemingway’s “Elephants.”
Author’s note: If there’s a short story you’d like to see discussed in the coming weeks, please send your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Readers: Hemingway still inspires. Best, Christine
THE GOOD SOLDIER
John McCain Found Lifelong Inspiration From a Hemingway Hero
The late senator first read ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ when he was 12 years old, and the book’s hero, Robert Jordan, became an enduring role model.
No literary figure, Senator John McCain often pointed out, had more influence on how he conducted his life than Robert Jordan, the hero of Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel about the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
In his most recent book, The Restless Wave, written in collaboration with Mark Salter, McCain wrote about his impending death by observing, “’The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it,’ spoke my hero, Robert Jordan, in For Whom the Bell Tolls. And I do, too. But I don’t have a complaint. Not one.”
McCain first read For Whom the Bell Tolls when he was 12, and he returned to it in succeeding years. “It’s my favorite novel of all time. It instructed me to see the world as it is, with all its corruption and cruelty, and believe it’s worth fighting for anyway, even dying for,” McCain observed earlier this year in an interview. The title of McCain’s 2002 memoir, Worth Fighting For, comes from the same For Whom the Bell Tolls passage that he quotes in The Restless Wave.
With so many literary heroes to pick from, McCain’s choice of Robert Jordan is revealing. Robert Jordan is no superhero, capable of overcoming all odds. Even in the 1943 movie version of For Whom the Bell Tolls, starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, Jordan dies alone. In the passage McCain cites in The Restless Wave, Jordan lies concealed behind a tree with a submachine gun, hoping he can delay the heavily armed fascist troops who have been pursuing him and the guerrilla band he is with.
Jordan has gotten himself into this position by traveling from America to Spain to flight with the Loyalist forces supporting the democratically elected government of the five-year-old Spanish Republic, which in 1936 came under siege from a fascist military coalition led by General Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until he died in 1975.
Jordan knows that his own death is a certainty. He has sustained a broken leg as a result of the horse he has been riding falling on him. No matter what he does, he cannot flee. The best that he can do is sacrifice his life so that others, including the woman he loves, may live. “You’ve had as good a life as anyone because of these last days,” Jordan tells himself. “You do not want to complain because you have been so lucky.”
As he faces the end of his life, Jordan’s bravery reflects his character, but just as important are the choices that have brought him to this point. He is not a professional soldier, although he comes from a family in which his grandfather fought in the Civil War for four years. Until now Jordan has led a quiet life as an instructor in Spanish at the University of Montana. As a child he saw a lynching, but he was too young to do anything about it.
What has led Jordan to abandon the comfortable life he was leading in America is the prospect of the Loyalist defenders of the Spanish Republic being overwhelmed by a fascist cabal relying on foreign aid. During the Spanish Civil War, America was neutral as a result of a bill President Roosevelt signed on May 1, 1937, banning the export of arms and ammunition to the warring parties in Spain.
By contrast, neither Germany nor Italy saw any reason to remain neutral when they believed they had much to gain from helping a fascist ally. As historian Adam Hochschild notes in Spain Is in Our Hearts, his account of the Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War, the German and Italian contributions to Franco were immense and gave both nations a chance to test out weapons they would use in World War II.
Some 19,000 German troops and instructors saw action in Spain or helped train Fascist troops, and nearly 80,000 Italian troops fought for Franco between the start of the Spanish Civil War and its conclusion. The Soviet Union, which for a period identified itself with the Loyalists, provided only limited aid by comparison.
For Hemingway, who made four trips to Spain to report on its Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance, Jordan was an admirable figure who reflected what was best about the 2,800 Americans who went to Spain to fight on the Loyalist side. Jordan knows that the Loyalist side he is on is capable of great cruelty. He is no fan of the Communists who are part of the Loyalist alliance. But Jordan sees the flaws in the fascists as so much greater than those of the Loyalists that he does not back away from the commitment he has made to the war.
In this commitment Jordan mirrors Hemingway, who in a 1937 letter described the Spanish Civil War as “the dress rehearsal for the inevitable European war.” Hemingway raised money in support of the Loyalist side, and with his future wife, the correspondent Martha Gellhorn, who travelled to Spain with him, he went to the White House for a showing of the pro-Loyalist film, The Spanish Earth, before President and Eleanor Roosevelt.
In the end Hemingway had to content himself with doing his best rather than getting the outcome in Spain that he wanted, and so finally must Robert Jordan. What makes Jordan admirable is what made McCain admirable—his unwillingness to sit on the sidelines and watch democracy be undermined.
It may be hard to believe, but back in the 1920s, short fiction was big business. For the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, cranking out a few short stories to sell to magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, with their massive circulation figures, meant enough money to drown yourself in the finest martinis New York could offer. Today, 100 years later, the publishing industry looks a little different. When was the last time you paid for some written content on the internet, by the way? The $4,000 fee that Fitzgerald received (and bear in mind that’s 1920s money; think around £200,000 when adjusted for inflation) can only be dreamed of by authors today. But the peculiar thing is that there’s still something of a market out there, albeit one that has changed considerably.
Take Cat Person. Towards the end of 2017, a dark political year by anyone’s standards, the New Yorker published Kristen Roupenian’s short story and inadvertently triggered a tornado of hot takes on Twitter. Cat Person, though I probably don’t need to tell you this, latched onto some part of our collective imagination, some part shared by all the women who’d gone on bad dates with gross men and who’d looked for greater meaning in the ghosting that followed. It not only demonstrated the power of a well-written short story, but also our appetite for the format. In today’s climate of snackable content and videos that cut off after 15 seconds, it might be that a short story is just the palate cleanser we need most.
But what makes a well-written short story? For readers, they need to be tight and taut, packed with only the most necessary elements to draw us in and keep us involved over the course of a handful of pages. One perfect example is Raymond Carver, the American writer whose 1970s and 1980s stories demonstrated the value of saying less. There’s no room in a short story for fuss or frills; in a 500-page novel, on the other hand, there can be plenty of opportunity to digress. A good short story feels like a tightrope act, and by the time it ends, you can feel all the emotions of a blockbuster novel, but delivered a single smooth punch that knocks you to the ground and leaves you seeing stars.
This is not to say that writing a novel is by comparison an easy feat. But dip into one of Lydia Davis’s breathtakingly lucid short stories (start with Break It Down) and tell me that there isn’t something totally unique about the heft that a mere 20 or so pages can carry, when done properly. Knowing what to condense into so little space, and bringing the reader on an emotional journey along the way, is a challenge not suited to every writer.
So all that said, why would anyone bother writing them? It’s all in the arc, as Sophie Mackintosh, author of The Water Cure and award-winning short story writer, tried to explain it to me. “Short stories are inherently more playful I think,” she mused. “I try and see them as an opportunity to take a risk every time in some way, because if it doesn’t work out you can just go and write another one. You can go really deep into a moment in the way that a novel can’t always, and the shorter, sharper arc of a truly great story can be just completely disorienting, intense in a way I think you can’t sustain over a whole book.”
Reading the likes of Tenth of December by George Saunders or Especially Heinous by Carmen Maria Machado reveals the shocking fervour a well-wrought story can have. “Because you can read stories in one sitting, it’s a form perfectly suited for high-intensity experiences,” explains Thomas Morris, author of the short story collection We Don’t Know What We’re Doing. “When I finish reading a great story, I feel as if I’ve come away changed. And it’s incredible to me that I can have this kind of experience in the time between waking up and having my breakfast.” According to Thomas, the main difficulty when writing a short story is “knowing when to get in and when to get out. They’re like burglaries in that regard. Sometimes you need to linger, and keep searching for the treasure. Other times, it requires a smash and grab job.”
They mightn’t sell as much as a blockbuster novel, but as Cat Person itself proves, our desire for an extraordinary short story that takes you to dark places prevails. The perfect short story might not exist, but the very best can feel close to ideal exemplars of what can be done with words in such a short space. Lingering in the mind, like a microcosm of relationships or heartaches or middle-of-the-night fears, the power of the short story might be found in its willingness to dive right in and explore the murky depths that lie within us.
Ernest Hemingway’s memoir “A Moveable Feast” could soon be coming to the small screen.
Village Roadshow Entertainment Group (VREG), Mariel Hemingway, John Goldstone, and Marc Rosen have closed a deal to produce a series based on the book, which was originally published in 1964. Alix Jaffe, VREG’s executive vice president of television, will oversee the project along with Jillian Apfelbaum, executive vice president of content, and Adam Dunlap, vice president of television. Scribner’s published the book in the US and Jonathan Cape published in the U.K.
“A Moveable Feast” details Hemingway’s life as a young expatriate journalist in Paris in the 1920s while he was married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Famous figures including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce are also featured in the book.
“‘A Moveable Feast’ has been my favorite book since I was 11 years old when my father took me to Paris,” Mariel said. “While reading the book together, he showed me where Papa lived (and daddy was raised) ate, wrote, and dreamed of becoming a great writer. His deep love of my grandmother Hadley and his growing passion for art is an inspiring time at the beginning of his iconic career. I want to reveal on film the coming of age story that has captivated readers and burgeoning writers for several decades.”
Rosen brought the project to VREG. His past producing credits include the Netflix series “Sense8,” “The After” for Amazon, and CBS’ “Threshold.” Goldstone’s producing credits include films like “Jonah Hex” and “Get Carter.”
Mariel Hemingway was repped by Nathan Talei and Tracy Columbus. Goldstone was repped by David Tenzer. The Hemingway Trust is represented by Lazarus & Harris.
Dear Readers: This is longish–a bit over an hour–but Patrick speaks within the first 10 minutes if your time is limited. This is being held at the JFK library in Boston where the Hemingway Collection is housed. I enjoyed it and thank you, Don. Best, Christine
Hemingway liked to eat and drink and make love. As his health declined physically and mentally, these pleasures grew fainter. Medications impacted him. He loved a good meal. A cook book has been written by Craig Boreth (The Hemingway Cookbook) with great recipes and many background notes and anecdotes. I had a give-away here of my extra copy a few years ago and no one entered my contest. You missed out because it is a terrific book. Anyway, see below for more of Last Meals. C
I generally subscribe to the philosophy that you should live every day like it’s your last, which is why I detest spending entire afternoons resolving byzantine licensing issues at the DMV and why I harbor no guilt about eating dessert every single night.
If you have ever pondered your own mortality, you have probably fantasized about all the things you would say, see, and eat just before shuffling off that mortal coil. Fate doesn’t give most of us the chance to execute these designs, but that shouldn’t stop us from imagining the perfect final repast. To inspire your morbid culinary musings, here are my Top Five Greatest Last Meals consumed by some of our dearly (and not-so-dearly) departed.
5. Lobster Tail, Butterfly Shrimp, Baked Potato, and Strawberry Cheesecake
Apparently convicted murderers can be foodies too. Eschewing other more plebian (and otherwise popular) final food requests like hamburgers, fried chicken, and ice cream, Ronnie Lee Gardner dined on surf ‘n’ turf plus some all-American dessert just before his execution. I am guessing death by firing squad didn’t aid in his digestion.
4. French Onion Soup
The American queen of French cookery, Julia Child said her final “bon appétit” over a bowl of soupe à l’oignon gratinée at the very ripe old age of 91. The spry and ever fastidious Child probably grated the swiss and parmesan cheese by hand for this savory soup, and, I hope, snuck herself a few final nips of cognac.
3. New York Strip Steak, Baked Potato, Caesar Salad and Bordeaux Wine (HEMINGWAY)
He wrote well. He ate well. A few hours before committing suicide, Ernest Hemingway had his final meal of meat and potatoes while dining with friends at the Christiania restaurant in Ketchum, Idaho. Here’s also to menu substitutions: The famed novelist supposedly requested a Caesar salad instead of boring mixed greens.
2. Bread and Wine
The original Last Supper, hosted by Chef J.C., otherwise known as the Son of God. Simple, satisfying, and, dare I say, divine? (Oh, come on. You knew that was coming.)
1. Consommé Olga, Poached Salmon with Mousseline sauce, Lamb with Mint Sauce, Roast Duck with Apple Sauce, Sirloin of Beef with Chateau Potatoes, Stuffed Summer Squash, Creamed Carrots, Green Peas, Foie Gras, Waldorf Pudding, Chocolate and Vanilla Éclairs, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, and Ice Cream
So read the dinner menu for the first-class passengers of the R.M.S. Titantic the night it struck an iceberg. Unlike the poor fools in steerage who probably choked down stale biscuits just before putting on their life jackets, these lucky bastards plunged into the icy depths stuffed with haute cuisine. At least rich and poor alike were able to wait the requisite hour-after-eating to swim, as the ship didn’t sink until around 2 a.m. the next morning.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa,” but what kind of dad was he?
In my role as Associate Editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, I spend my time investigating the approximately 6,000 letters sent by Hemingway, 85% of which are now being published for the first time in a multivolume series. The latest volume – the fifth – spans his letters from January 1932 through May 1934 and gives us an intimate look into Hemingway’s daily life, not only as a writer and a sportsman, but also as a father.
During this period, Hemingway explored the emotional depths of fatherhood in his fiction. But his letters show that parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
‘No alibis’ in the writing business
Hemingway had three sons. His oldest, John – nicknamed “Bumby” – was born to Ernest and his first wife, Hadley, when Ernest was 24 years old. He had Patrick and Gregory with his second wife, Pauline.
Hemingway initially approached fatherhood with some ambivalence. In her 1933 memoir “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” Gertrude Stein recalls that one evening Hemingway came to visit and “announced…with great bitterness” that he was “too young to be a father.”
As the fifth volume of letters opens in January 1932, Hemingway is trying to finish “Death in the Afternoon,” his nonfiction account of bullfighting, in a household with a six-week-old baby, a three-year-old who ingests ant poison and nearly dies, a wife still recovering from a C-section, along with all the quotidian problems of home ownership, from a leaky roof to faulty wiring.
Hemingway explained to his mother-in-law, Mary Pfeiffer, that if his latest book fell short, he couldn’t simply take readers aside and say, “But you ought to see what a big boy Gregory is…and you ought to see our wonderful water-work system and I go to church every Sunday and am a good father to my family or as good as I can be.”
There are “no alibis” in the writing business, Hemingway continued, and “a man is a fool” to allow anything, even family, to interrupt his work. “Taking refuge in domestic successes,” he added, “is merely a form of quitting.”
For Hemingway, work didn’t simply entail sitting at a desk and writing. It also included the various adventures he was famous for – the fishing, hunting, traveling and socializing with the people he met along the way. Though he would teach the boys to fish and shoot when they were older, when they were very young he didn’t hesitate to leave them with nannies or extended family for long stretches of time.
This separation was particularly hard on the youngest, Gregory, who, from a very young age, was left for months in the care of Ada Stern, a governess who lived up to her last name. Patrick sometimes joined his parents on their travels or stayed with other relatives. Bumby, the oldest, divided his time between his father and his mother in Paris. The children’s lives were so peripatetic that at the Letters Project we maintain a spreadsheet to keep track of their whereabouts at any given time.
‘Papa’ explores fathers and sons in his fiction
However, it would not be accurate to say that Hemingway did not care about his children. In the latest volume of letters, three are addressed to Patrick, two of them decorated with circled dots, a Hemingway family tradition called “toosies,” which represented kisses.
In Hemingway’s fiction, we can see the depth of that paternal feeling, and in his letters, the domestic moments that inspired him.
In November 1932, with his two youngest sons ill with whooping cough and being cared for by their mother at their grandparents’ home in Arkansas, Hemingway postponed a trip to New York to stay in Key West with Bumby.
“He is a good kid and a good companion,” Hemingway wrote his editor, Maxwell Perkins, “but I do not want to drag him around the speakies [bars] too much.”
That same month Hemingway worked on the story of a father and son traveling together that would become “Fathers and Sons” in the collection “Winner Take Nothing.” It’s one of the only stories in which Nick Adams – a semi-autobiographical recurring character – is portrayed as a parent, and the reflective, melancholy piece was written just three years after Hemingway’s own father had died by suicide.
In the story, Nick is driving along a stretch of highway in the countryside with “his son asleep on the seat by his side” when he starts thinking about his father.
Nick recalls many details about him: his eyesight, good; his body odor, bad; his advice on hunting, wise; his advice about sex, unsound. He reflects on viewing his father’s face after the undertaker had made “certain dashingly executed repairs of doubtful artistic merit.”
Nick is surprised when his son starts to speak to him because he “had felt quite alone” even though “this boy had been with him.” As if reading his father’s thoughts, the boy wonders, “What was it like, Papa, when you were a little boy and used to hunt with the Indians?’”
Hemingway’s letters show that another story in the collection, “A Day’s Wait,” was inspired by Bumby’s bout with influenza in the fall of 1932. It is a seemingly lighthearted story about a young boy’s misunderstanding of the differences between the centigrade and Fahrenheit scales of temperature. Like Bumby, the protagonist, “Schatz” – one of Bumby’s other nicknames, a term of endearment in German – attends school in France but is staying with his father when he becomes ill. Schatz had learned at school that no one can survive a temperature of 44 Celsius, so, unbeknownst to his father, he spends the day waiting to die of his fever of 102 Fahrenheit.
But there is more to this story than the twist. “You don’t have to stay in here with me, Papa, if it bothers you,” the boy tells him. “It doesn’t bother me,” his father replies. He unwittingly leaves his son to believe, for an entire day, not only that the boy is going to die, but that his death is of no importance to his father.
In this slight story – one of those stories he told Perkins was written “absolutely as they happen” – we find an unexpected Hemingway hero in the form of a nine-year-old boy who bravely faces death alone.
Though he once wrote that he wanted “Winner Take Nothing” to make “a picture of the whole world,” Hemingway also seemed to understand that no one ever truly knows the subjective experience of another, not even a father and son.
Verna Kale, Associate Editor, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway and Assistant Research Professor of English, Penn State