David Brooks of the NY Times: Thoughts on Hemingway’s Cuba


When David Brooks  visited Cuba and Hemingway’s home, the Finca Vigia, in 2016, he wrote an article  about it. He commented on how

David Brooks, Columnist for the New York Times
David Brooks, Columnist for the New York Times

healthy a place Hemingway’s home in Cuba seemed. It was bright, beautifully situated, and filled with tons of reading material.Hemingway was an avid reader of newspapers and all sorts of books and got through most of his daily newspapers and other reading. There also was a baseball diamond nearby where he used to pitch to the local kids.

However despite this sun-filled life, Hemingway nevertheless was not a healthy man toward the end of his life. Drinking had taken its toll and although Brooks cites Hemingway’s brother, Leicester, as stating that he counted17 scotch and sodas a day as his brother’s intake, Leicester –at least based on all of my reading–spent little time with Hemingway so I’m not sure how he would know. If anyone reading this knows more of this issue than I do, please comment. Despite Hemingway’s drinking and poor habits, on a wall in the Finca was Hemingway’s record of weight, which he was obsessed with.Leicester Hemingway

Brooks noted that Hemingway could be lively and funny, and be the life of the party in a good way, but he also could be argumentative and depressed. If you follow this blog, you’ll know the extent.

Old Havana
Old Havana

The article is very interesting. Quoting a bit of David Brooks’ article:

“When you see how he did it, (Me: meaning how he accomplished his writing) three things leap out. First is the most mundane—the daily discipline of the job. In the house, there is a small bed where he laid out his notes and a narrow shelf where he stood, stared at a blank wall and churned out his daily word count.

“Second, there seemed to have been moments of self-forgetting… if you just try to serve the work—focusing on each concrete task and doing it the way it’s supposed to be done—then you’ll end up obliquely serving the community more.” (I think Brooks is saying there is a loss of self-consciousness in writing when you get to that point.)

“Finally, there was the act of cutting out. When Hemingway was successful, he cut out his mannerisms and self-pity. Then in middle age, out of softness, laziness and self-approval, he indulged himself, but even then, even amid all the corruption, he had flashes when he could distinguish his own bluster from the good, true notes.

“There is something heroic that happened in this house. Hemingway was a man who embraced every self-indulgence that can afflict a successful person. But at moments he shed all that he had earned and received and rediscovered the hardworking, clear-seeing and unadorned man he used to be.”

EH 4449P Ernest Hemingway reading books with his dog Negrita at Finca Vigia in Cuba. Please credit "Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston"
EH 4449P
Ernest Hemingway reading books with his dog Negrita at Finca Vigia in Cuba. Please credit “Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston”


Re-Reading Hemingway


            I decided it was time to re-read Hemingway. I’ve read all of it but lately have been reading more books about him instead of reading him. I just finished Mary (wife 4) Hemingway’s How It Was for the second time. It had been widely criticized as self-serving and not insightful. For me, it still was very interesting to see Mary’s point of view and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about events that I knew much about but this time from Mary’s perspective. She is a complicated figure and that’s for another post. She put up with a lot of verbal abuse from Hem but also seems to have wanted to be “Hemingway’s Wife,” and for that, she endured. She was loyal, and despite some bad times, stayed.

Mary in older age
Mary in older age
Mary's book
Mary’s book

Within the past six months, I also have read Hemingway’s Cats and Hemingway and Fitzgerald..  I loved the animal book as much as anything I’ve read about Hemingway. It’s not scholarly but it’s human and I am an  animal person so I  melted into the book. I love that Hem loved his animals like family members and he valued their presence in his life.

Hem, boys, and cat
Hem, boys, and cat

A month ago,I began reading the short stories again. I read slowly and


found new meaning and layers in this go-round. Favorite: The Snows of Kilimanjaro.  I’m now tackling A Farewell to Arms. I’m listening to it on an audio tape because I find it lets me listen and focus on the words and the sentence structure as opposed to being distracted.

Hem, Martha, boys
Hem, Martha, boys

In listening, I am finding that there is so much that I missed or that I’d forgotten.  Despite my affinity for Hemingway, I don’t like war stories as a rule.  However, listening to the dialogue, I became completely engrossed in the maneuvers of Hemingway’s unit/Frederic Henry’s unit and his cohorts with him. I love Rinaldi and the way he calls Frederic “baby.” I loved the love story.

The descriptions are beautiful and immediate and while by modern standards, the romance and the dialogue between Frederic and Catherine are dated, the emotional wallop is still there.

A Farewell to Arms
A Farewell to Arms

Next up is Across The River and into the Trees, Hemingway’s most maligned novel for which Adrianna Ivancich was his muse.  As he was writing it, Hemingway apparently thought it was going to be one of his best.  The reviews were brutal.  I haven’t read that one in a long time and I want to see if it’s as bad as all that.

So:  Do you have a favorite short story?  A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is probably my favorite but The Snows of Kilimanjaro is the pinnacle for me–very different lengths–those two–but wow, in 3 pages, what he did in A Clean Well-Lighted Place.


The PBS Special on Hemingway: Thoughts

It was quite a 3-night extravaganza of Hemingway on PBS. I’m very interested in what you all thought since we are a bit inside the loop in terms of already having an interest and not coming to the subject matter completely without preconceptions and knowledge.

When I first read about Ken Burns and Lynn Novick doing the series, I was hopeful that it would be balanced. Then when I heard some reviews, I became fearful that it was going to be a hatchet job. After watching all three parts myself, I thought it was fair. Because I know so much about Hemingway already, not a lot was new to me and perhaps that took some of the sparkle out of it. However, I felt that while there were some portions in which he showed up badly, that was him at times and it can’t be avoided if a true portrait is being drawn. And based on all of my reading, when he was bad, he was really bad. Even without the booze, some of his letters were just atrocious. Others, however, were warm, loving and very funny. A man who for weeks slept outside his son Patrick’s room when he was ill to be sure he made it through was the same man who was cruel to Gregory as well as to each of his wives. He was complicated.

I thought they did a good job in exploring the impact of numerous severe concussions throughout his life. When you layer that in with extreme alcoholism and add in a significant swath of mental illness in terms of depression which developed a paranoid component, you have a man whose behavior at any moment could be unexplainable and incomprehensible. I do think anyone who didn’t know much about Hemingway would come away with a sense of a complexity and a sense of the highs and lows, and an interest, perhaps, of knowing more and reading more.

Because it’s an interesting issue of the times, Hemingway’s writings that deal with some fluidity of gender is an interesting issue to explore. I think that those who’ve read a lot of Hemingway and about Hemingway realize that the macho bluster he created, promoted and perpetuated was not all of him – not by a mile. I also have always resented people who write that Hemingway was cruel to Fitzgerald and to Harold Loeb in A Moveable Feast. He was and it was not pleasant to see. However, he also didn’t publish it. It was published posthumously and he didn’t edit it. For all we know, that might have been changed greatly, so I read A Moveable Feast – a book I love – nevertheless realizing he did not have the last say on how it came out or how it was edited.

Many of you know much more about Hemingway than I do and I began this blog in order to be educated by others. Please let me know your thoughts on the special.

Warmest wishes and please keep reading and caring about his writing and him.


P.S. June 1, 2021, my novel–Hemingway’s Daugther will be published. Please look for it if you have an interest. Thank you! C

NEW HEMINGWAY BOOK: Dear Readers: As we finish watching the PBS Hemingway Special, I wanted to share the new book written by a scholar and friend from an active and avid Facebook group. It looks wonderful! Best to all and I look forward to comments on the Special. Part I was balanced, I thought. We’ll see. Best, Christine


A Perfect Tonic for the Literate (and Pandemic-Weary) Traveler

Traveling The World With Hemingway

Curtis L. DeBerg, PhD

This lavish over-size 10 x 12 book in beautiful landscape format brings to life the more than one dozen exciting places the great 20th-century novelist Ernest Hemingway called home—for short periods or for years.

When Hemingway’s prose burst on the scene it was considered highly original for its spare, compact yet evocative style. His writing influenced generations of novelists and journalists; his books are still avidly read around the world.

Hemingway won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and in 1954 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Among his enduring legacies in print are  A Farewell to Arms (1929), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), The Old Man and the Sea (1951), the posthumously published memoir of his young years in Paris, A Moveable Feast (1964), and The Nick Adams Stories (1972), thematic short stories from various early collections.

In Traveling The World With Hemingway, hundreds of spectacular new digital images capture the odyssey of the adventurous author’s remarkable life. Starting at his birthplace home in Oak Park, Illinois, you’ll follow his footsteps north to his boyhood summer home near Lake Superior in northern Michigan. Then away to the Italian front during World War I and falling in love in Milan; the cafes of Paris and the bullfight rings of Pamplona; marlin fishing off Key West and hunting in Sun Valley, surviving back-to-back plane crashes in Africa and chasing Nazi subs out of Havana. Ernest Hemingway made all these places and more as vivid and indelible as his fictional characters.

Juxtaposed against page after page of lush landscapes and cityscapes are historic sepia portraits of the author, friends and family in all these far-flung locations. Each chapter opens with a colorful quote from Hemingway about the place you are about to visit as you turn these gorgeous pages.

This is a visual treasure book filled with the romance and inspiration of a great writer’s favorite places—the perfect tonic for the literate (and pandemic-weary) traveler.

*  *  *

Traveling The World With Hemingway will be released in June 2021 by Wild River Press, winner of multiple Benjamin Franklin Gold Medals for excellence in independent publishing since 2005.

ISBN 9781735541501

Hardcover 10 x 12 landscape format

All-color 240 pages printed on luxurious matte stock

Illustrated with hundreds of contemporary color with historical archival photos

Retail price: $75 for hardcover standard edition with color jacket

Direct from the publisher exclusively: $300 author’s signed and numbered limited edition of 100 copies only, bound in gold-stamped black leather with matching collector’s slipcase

*  *  *


Curtis L. DeBerg became intrigued with Ernest Hemingway when he first traveled to Key West in 2005, to visit a cousin who owned a vacation home near Geiger Key. After 40 years as university professor in California, Dr. DeBerg retired in 2020 to devote his time to researching Hemingway and traveling the world in his footsteps—an ambitious journey no one had ever before attempted on this epic scale. He is a member of The Hemingway Society, a group connecting scholars and historians who love and promote the works of Ernest Hemingway. It has 600 members worldwide, and is one of the largest single-author organizations in existence. He is also a group administrator of the active Facebook group “Ernest Hemingway,” which currently has 28,000 members.

*  *  *

For interviews with the author or reprint permission, contact Thomas R. Pero, Publisher, at tom@wildriverpress.com or phone 425-486-3638

Random Bits of Information

As I await anxiously for the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS film, I’ve come across various and random Hemingway nuggets. Just thought I’d share. Here are a few:

  1. Hemingway had a knack for using common sense to observe life and in so doing, saying something that’s simple but applicable to so many other things in life. “Anyone can be a fisherman in May,” said Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. Were truer words ever written down?
  • Steve Gardiner wrote an article about bridges in books. He noted in particular The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, The Bridge on the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle, The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. I never thought about it before but bridges connect, can be blown up and divide, and have been historically significant.
  • A new book has come out called Ernest Hemingway: Artifacts From A Life. It’s being sold a number of places but also at the JFK Library and Museum. It’s “beautifully designed, intimate and illuminating. This is the story of American icon Ernest Hemingway’s life through the documents, photographs and miscellaneous items he kept, compiled by the steward of the Hemingway estate and featuring contributions by his son and grandson. ($35.00)
  • In an article about what books are on celebrities’ shelves, film maker and author Devashish Makhija, whose recent release Oonga is receiving rave reviews, in answer to the question “Who are your favorite authors?” cites three: a) Dashiel Hammett for sharp incisive blasts of emotion he injects in his prose; b) Ernest Hemingway for how he arrives as the heart of the human condition; c) Alice Munro for the delicateness with which she makes us feel.
  • The author Walter Scott in an article for Parade, said Hemingway’s favorite meal was a New York strip steak, a baked potato, a Caesar salad, and a glass of Bordeaux. (Sounds really good to me.)
having a meal
  • Hemingway dedicated a book to each of his four wives: a) The Sun Also Rises to Hadley. He also in their divorce signed over all royalties which included movie proceeds. That was the gift that kept on giving but he had nothing in 1926 when he left Hadley. They had a son. He felt guilty. And Hadley was not greedy. It could have been an empty gift but . .. it wasn’t; b) Death In The Afternoon to Pauline (I’m not sure she would have liked that but I think she would have preferred Farwell To Arms which he dedicated to her Uncle Gus Pfeiffer; c) For Whom The Bell Tolls to Martha; d) Across The River And Into The Trees to Mary. (I don’t think she’d like that either since Adriana was the prototype for Renata but I suppose it’s better than nothing!)

May we all enjoy the Hemingway PBS movie. I’m really hoping they show both sides of him not just the bad side.

With Black Dog in Cuba

Best to all,


Hemingway: never out of Fashion

Hemingway’s works as well as his life are being mined for material–and there is a lot of richness there as we know. See below.

The Sound & The Flurry: How Podcasts Are Becoming A Hollywood Gold Mine

Village Roadshow has increasingly been expanding its television business including adapting Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a reboot of College Bowl, an adaptation of video-game Myst and Lo Life, a scripted series based on the Brooklyn street crew led by Big Vic Lo.

A Moveable Feast

Alix Jaffe, VREG’s Executive Vice President, Television, who will oversee the relationship, said, “As we continue to build our television division, we have the unique opportunity to partner with Kelly and the team at Treefort Media to expand our slate with premium, cross-platform storytelling that will create a more immersive experience for audiences. We believe there is an incredible synergy between our teams and are looking forward to the partnership.”

Kelly Garner, Treefort’s Founder and CEO added, “This is an incredible opportunity not only to collaborate with Village Roadshow’s talented team, but also to supercharge our slate by tapping into Village Roadshow’s iconic and diverse library. We can’t wait to explore the possibilities and expand our pipeline into TV and film.”

Shakespeare and Co. with Sylvia Beach. Hem with one of his many wounds

Treefort is represented by UTA.

Hemingway’s Death: July 1, 1961

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 8b7f91c876901ba7779b7c6480c92008-1.jpg

It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it. Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises

Hemingway killed himself on July 1, 1961.  It’s sad to think about but he was true to himself to the end.  His great companion, A. E. Hotchner, who just passed away himself within the past several months, wrote an essay about the death and I attach the link here.

Ketchum Idaho home where Hem died
Ketchum Idaho home where Hem died

Hotchner met Hemingway while doing a story for Cosmopolitan, which was about the future of everything: art, music, theater, and literature.  They asked a young journalist to go down to Cuba and interview Hemingway.  I won’t repeat what I’ve written before about their meeting.

Suffice to say for this post that Hotchner remained to the end a trusted confidant, hell-raiser when necessary, collaborator on projects, and loyal friend.  As he notes in his article, he dramatized many of Hemingway’s stories and novels for TV and the movies, and they traveled through Europe together often.

Mary's book about Papa
Mary’s book about Papa

Hotchner, in his article, notes that Hemingway called him in May of 1960 from Cuba.  Hem had been asked by Life magazine to cut a 92,000 word article down to 40,000.  A month later, Hem had only cut out about 534 words.  He asked Hotchner to come to Cuba to help him.  He did go and got the job done, but Hotchner noted that Hem was “bone tired and very beat up.”  He assumed that after a period of rest, Hem would be back to his hale old self.

Much has been written about Hemingway’s paranoia and the last year of his life.  He felt that the feds, the FBI, the IRS or all were following him and out to get him.  During dinner with Hem and Mary (Hemingway’s fourth wife), Hem indicated halfway through the meal that they had to leave because two FBI agents at the bar were watching him.  At the time Hemingway was working on A Moveable Feast, having difficultly, although most of the Paris sketches were all set and down on paper.  He often spoke of suicide.  His father had killed himself.

AE Hotchner's book about Hemingway
AE Hotchner’s book about Hemingway

During the last eight months of Hemingway’s life, he received eleven electric shock treatments at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota.  During a short release, he attempted suicide twice with a gun; on a flight to the Mayo Clinic, he tried to jump from the plane.  When it stopped in Casper, Wyoming, for repairs, he tried to walk into the moving propeller.

When Hotchner visited him in June, he’d been given a new series of shock treatments and insisted that his room was bugged.  When Hochner asked him, “Papa, why do you want to kill yourself,” he replied, “What do you think happens to a man going on 62 when he realizes that he can never write the books and stories he promised himself? And do any of the other things he promised himself on the good days?”  Hotchner noted that he’d written a beautiful book about Paris and Hem replied, “The best of that I wrote before.  And now I can’t finish it.”

Hem writing
Hem writing

When Hotch suggested he could relax or retire, Hem noted, “How does a writer retire?  Everywhere he goes he hears the same damn question:  what are you working on?”

The irony is that decades later in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the FBI released its Hemingway file.  J. Edgar Hoover had placed Hemingway under surveillance because he was suspicious of his activities in Cuba.  Agents filed reports and tapped his phones.  The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital and it’s likely that the phone outside of his room was tapped after all.

Hotch ends the article noting that he believes Hemingway truly sensed the surveillance and that it contributed to his anguish and his suicide.

The above borrows heavily from the article by A. E. Hotchner, so I urge you to read it directly.  Hotchner also wrote the wonderful book “Papa Hemingway” and “Hemingway and His World.”  I love his writing and his view of Hem as a true friend, not just as “Hemingway.”  There’s not a better source, in my opinion, for getting a real flavor of what it was like to be part of Hemingway’s posse and inner circle.


RIP, Hem.

young man: all of it ahead of him.



Hemingway – A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick


Hemingway, a three-part, six-hour documentary film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, examines the visionary work and the turbulent life of Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest and most influential writers America has ever produced. Interweaving his eventful biography — a life lived at the ultimately treacherous nexus of art, fame, and celebrity — with carefully selected excerpts from his iconic short stories, novels, and non-fiction, the series reveals the brilliant, ambitious, charismatic, and complicated man behind the myth, and the art he created. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, written by Geoffrey C. Ward and produced by Sarah Botstein, Novick and Burns.

Premieres April 5-7, 2021 on Nine PBS.https://player.pbs.org/partnerplayer/Wyf2FxJ9ObCcyfPJKQp3YQ==/?autoplay=false&topbar=false&callsign=KETC

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick explore the writer and his enduring influence. Coming April 2021

Preview of the new Hemingway biography on PBS: Sounds harsh but honest.

‘Lucky for him he could write’: Ken Burns takes on Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway at his typewriter as he works on For Whom the Bell Tolls at Sun Valley lodge, Idaho, in 1939.

Ernest Hemingway at his typewriter as he works on For Whom the Bell Tolls at Sun Valley lodge, Idaho, in 1939. Photograph: AP

Too white, too male, too privileged – and according to some critics, that’s just one of the co-directors. A new PBS documentary on an American giant sails in stormy waters

Speaking at a press event for the new PBS documentary about Ernest Hemingway, the actor Jeff Daniels said of the man whose words he reads: “Lucky for him he could write.”

Over six hours, the co-directors Lynn Novick and Ken Burns subject a giant of American literature to an unsparing psychiatric exam.Ken Burns: How Vietnam War sowed the seeds of a divided AmericaRead more

“I was aware of this sort of edifice of the macho characteristic and good writing,” Burns said, about the scale of the task. “The writing only increased in its power and glory and majesty. And as I confronted all of this negative stuff, it became important that the art transcended it and basically didn’t excuse it. And we do not excuse him. And we hold his feet to the fire.”

All of this negative stuff: Hemingway was married four times. He was psychologically and physically abusive. He used and wounded his friends. If unsurprisingly in a man born in middle-class Illinois in 1899, his views on race were prejudiced. He died by his own hand, at 61, 60 years ago.Advertisementhttps://33d6d92e8945d70fc2e39e370912f961.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

In episode one of Burns and Novick’s film, the poet and scholar Stephen Cushman says it isn’t possible to “launder” Hemingway. The directors do not try. They have been working 40 years and have created a body of work built on the great 1990 series The Civil War that has grown to encompass jazz, baseball, the second world war, Vietnam and more.

With Hemingway, Burns said, they found that “as we often find with great artists, there is this terrible price to pay among those closest to that person and among the outer circle and, of course, most notably to one’s self.”

Novick “felt pretty clear that I didn’t like Hemingway the man and that I wasn’t sure how I am going to feel spending six hours with him as a viewer … and yet at the end, I think we have tried to get under his skin, as Edna would say. I felt a lot more compassion for him and his struggles and his demons.”

Edna O’Brien lights up the film. In episode one, the great Irish novelist defends Hemingway from a common charge: that he hated women.Edna O’Brien on turning 90: ‘I can’t pretend that I haven’t made mistakes’Read more

Of Up in Michigan, an early short story which describes a rape, O’Brien says: “I would ask his detractors, female or male, just to read that story. And could you in all honor say that this was a writer who didn’t understand women’s emotions and who hated women? You couldn’t. Nobody could.”

O’Brien also says A Farewell to Arms, the novel of the first world war which ends with a death in childbirth, “could have been written by a woman. I regard that as a compliment. Hemingway might regard it as an insult. But I don’t, because it is the androgyny in a man or a woman that allows them, even if briefly, to be able to put themselves inside the skin of the thing.”

The notion of Hemingway’s buried androgyny surfaced in the press session too.

“What we need is a more nuanced sense of his sexuality,” Burns said, “His very complicated and evolving sexuality. And in fact, Edna hits on it better, like, what is it in us that’s obligated to inhabit the other. And that’s an interesting part.”

“Maybe it was born when [Hemingway’s] mother twinned him, putting him in dresses and his sister in pants so that they could be alike. Maybe it is born of some other thing. But he has a curiosity about role changes. His wives cut their hair short, to look like boys. He wants them to call him ‘Katherine’ and he calls them ‘Pete’ in the bedroom. There’s some very interesting stuff.”

Appropriately for America in 2021, this is a Hemingway who inflicted trauma but also suffered it, including severe head injuries, which Burns and Novick examine.

Ernest Hemingway at the Belchite sector, during the Spanish civil war, some time in 1937.
Ernest Hemingway at the Belchite sector, during the Spanish civil war, some time in 1937. Photograph: London Express/Getty Images

And so to race. Never mind Hemingway – critics have spoken harshly of Burns’ own place in PBS’s output and his choice of subjects.

In short, are the director and those whose stories he tells too white and too male to be so strongly backed by the public broadcaster? Burns and Novick were duly asked about their “criteria for individuals who become worthy of their own series versus become included in a broader series”, as “it seems like it’s a lot of white politicians and artists and [the] only three black individuals have been athletes”.

“We pick subjects,” Novick said. “They pick us. It is a very organic process. And we focus on people from a whole wide diverse array of American characters and important figures in our history. So, I think we don’t really want to think about parsing our work into these kind of categories … We are pretty expansive in what we have taken on, what we’re interested in.”

Burns said: “I think Louis Armstrong deserved a 10-hour series by us, and just was the central part of the Jazz series. So too we could have done a biography of Frederick Douglass out of The Civil War, of many other subjects that we are doing that are complicated in that way, and many other people who aren’t getting the full treatment, that are constituent parts of these other things.”

Burns also said he was currently deeply involved in an eight-hour film about Muhammad Ali, due in September. But in the end, he said, choosing subjects “has to be done with your gut”.Ken Burns’s The Civil War: America’s greatest documentary rides againRead more

Hemingway’s own instincts included a need for wholesale slaughter and gutting, whether on African safari or from boats off the Florida Keys. But amid it all, Novick and Burns contend, whether hunting or watching bullfights or reporting from the bombarded cities of Spain, he found ways to pin humanity down on the page. If he has now become a problem, it is a problem that should at least be confronted.

“In some ways this is [our] most adult film,” Burns said. “I don’t mean that in any rating way. I mean that in how complicated it is to be able to tolerate contradiction, to be able to tolerate undertow, to understand that he could be one thing and the opposite of that thing at the same time.”

Daniels is not the only big name attached to the project. Meryl Streep voices the great journalist Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s third wife. Keri Russell, Mary-Louise Parker and Patricia Clarkson read the words of Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer and Mary Welsh.

Daniels described a sort of cleansing experience. Hemingway, he said, has “a brevity and a simplicity that … just boils down to him telling you the truth. And there’s no adornment. Since doing the reading for Ken and Lynn, I have ceased using adjectives and adverbs because I felt so guilty. That’s what it felt like.

“And like Edna was saying, he inhabits the skin of his opposite, and that’s what actors do. That’s what great artists do. And it’s nice to know that those of us who are acting and do that didn’t invent it. People like Hemingway did.”

  • Hemingway premieres on PBS from 5 to 7 April