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.”
At his best, he was an amazing class act.
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?
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.
A hotel chain wants to have Hemingway themed hotels focusing on adventure and lust for life, I guess. The Hemingway Estate is working with them in this endeavor. Not sure what I think of this at the moment. ET TU?
A few weeks ago, I was bemoaning how to relate my trip to Ireland in May to my Hemingway obsession and I just came across an article about a new biography of Maeve Binchy, the great Irish novelist who cultivated the cozy neighborhood story to high art and who passed away recently. She wrote many novels, usually about the west country of Ireland which is where I was. Her writing style, her topics, and her resolutions are/were about as far from Hemingway as you can get but the article was fun and began with a famous Hemingway belief.
“It was famously laid down by Ernest Hemingway that the first condition for a writer is to have an unhappy childhood. I assumed that Maeve Binchy was the exception to the Hemingway principle, as she always spoke about the idyllic nature of her childhood.”
So, I qualify! My childhood is a story for some other longer post, probably in some other blog that focuses on Dickensian beginnings. I was born in NJ; my parents died 5 months apart when I was seven; the court became involved, and the story goes downhill from there in certain ways but also uphill in other ways.
Hem in some ways had a good childhood in the sense that his family was large; his father took him hunting and fishing; and there were family vacations at a lake in Michigan yearly that formed the basis of many of the short stories. Hem got his love of the outdoors and nature while on the lake in Michigan with many friends and family. However, Hem’s relationship with his mother was always a struggle and his father was a more shadowy figure in Hem’s life, who ultimately killed himself. His mother later sent the gun to Ernest as a gift. Huh? .
So tell me about a great writer who had a great Rockwellian childhood! I’d like to hear about it.