30 November 2015

Hemingway Between Two Wars

Ernest Hemingway on crutches while recovering in Milan, Italy, September 1918. 
The Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

“None are to be found more clever than Ernie,” declared an Oak Park and River Forest High School classmate of young Ernest Hemingway who apparently agreed; he used it as his senior yearbook quote. Bright and competitive, Hemingway always knew he wanted to be a writer and at 16 published his first short story, The Judgment of Manitou, in his school’s magazine, The Tabula.

“Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars,” an exhibit at the Morgan Library in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (which houses Hemingway’s papers), looks at the two most productive decades in the writer's life during which he published five novels, two works of non-fiction, and five short-story collections, honing his craft along the way and becoming one of the most important voices in American literature. (Full disclosure, I did my grad work on Hemingway and am a big fan.)

Broken into six sections, the exhibit contains almost 100 items including drafts, notebooks, manuscripts, first editions, photographs, and letters from friends and fellow writers like John Dos Passos, Sylvia Beach, and John Steinbeck. There are also bull fight ticket stubs, dog tags from when Hemingway was a war correspondent for Colliers during World War II, and a painting of Hemingway by Waldo Pierce modelled after a well-know photo of Balzac.

The most interesting section of the exhibit was the beginning where you see Hemingway emerging as a writer. There’s the first appearance of Nick Adams in a story written on Red Cross stationary; the passport from his early Paris days with that ridiculously handsome photo; his first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems, published by Robert McAlmon’s Contact Press; and a letter dated 20 March 1925 in which Hemingway explains his artistic credo to a displeased father: "You see I'm trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across—not to just depict life—or criticize it—but to actually make it alive."

My favourite of his novels, The Sun Also Rises, which he wrote in just nine weeks in 1926, is represented with numerous items like three of the seven French school notebooks in which he wrote the first draft. As with all of Hemingway’s drafts, you see him crossing out words and sometimes full paragraphs, always paring down. On the back cover of the third notebook, there’s a running list of how many words he had written each day before he had his first whiskey and soda.

Also fascinating are the items related to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway, who had met Fitzgerald at the Dingo Bar, showed his manuscript of The Sun Also Rises to the already successful author. Fitzgerald turned out to be a good critic, suggesting that Hemingway cut the first two chapters, thus beginning the novel with the story of Robert Cohn. The first two pages of those excised chapters are on display and show that Fitzgerald was right.

First page of autograph manuscript of A Farewell to Arms, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929. 
Reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 1929 by Charles Scribner's Sons. 
Copyright renewed ©1957 by Ernest Hemingway. All rights reserved.

By 1929, Hemingway had become surer of himself as a writer and when he received nine pages of notes from Fitzgerald on A Farewell to Arms (three of which are on display), he was less open to advice. Even though on one of the pages of the typescript Fitzgerald had written “This is one of the most beautiful pages in all English literature,” at the bottom of Fitzgerald’s notes is a comment by Hemingway, “Kiss my ass—EH.” He also was not a happy with the book’s copy editor, writing in the margin of one of the galley proofs, “who buggered this up like this. EH.”

Hemingway was famously thin-skinned and quick to lash out at anyone. Furious at Irwin Shaw for including a character based on Hemingway's younger brother, Leicester, in Shaw's novel The Young Lions, Hemingway's personal copy of the book shows an annotation on one page that reads, “This is the part I will break his jaw for.”

Yet Hemingway could also be kind. When a young man, Arnold Samuelson, showed up at Hemingway's home in Key West, Florida to ask him for advice on becoming a writer, Hemingway offered him a job looking after his boat and wrote up a reading list of 16 works for Samuelson to read including classics such as War and Peace, Madame Bovary, and Wuthering Heights as well as some "modern" titles, Dubliners and The Enormous Room. “Here’s a list of books any writer should have read as a part of his education,” Hemingway told Samuelson, “. . . if you haven’t read these, you just aren’t educated.”

Ernest Hemingway revising the typescript of For Whom The Bell Tolls, Sun Valley, Idaho, November 1940.
 Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos.

Regardless of his actions, Hemingway was thought highly of by many other writers like Dorothy Parker who remained a staunch supporter of Hemingway's even after he mocked her behind her back. On 30 November 1929, the New Yorker published a profile of Hemingway written by Parker titled “The Artist’s Reward.” Nervous about its reception, she sent him a draft to read, commenting in her cover letter, “part of the Artist’s Reward is having shit like this written about you.” And in this case, a very fine exhibit.

“Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars” is at the Morgan until January 31, 2016. For more information, visit here.

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