No matter where he lived, Ernest Hemingway cared what people thought of him back home.
That’s clear from a letter he wrote to his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, from Paris in 1925. A collection of short stories, “In Our Time,” had won good reviews in the New York newspapers. He hoped the local press in his hometown of Oak Park, Ill., would take note as well, he said, “so they will hear I am not considered a bum in N.Y. at least.”
He added, “I wish the book would have a good sale in Chicago and Oak Park as I’d like the people I know to see what the stuff is that I am doing, whether they happen to like it or not.”
The letter is among hundreds written by Hemingway and other members of his family, including mid-19th century journals and Civil War letters written by his grandfather. The letters and photos of Hemingway and his family at home in Oak Park and at their summer place in Michigan were recently acquired by Middlebury College from the author’s nieces, Anne and Hilary.
Hilary Hemingway’s husband graduated from Middlebury in 1975.
Andrew Wentink, curator of Middlebury’s special collections, calls the Hemingway collection the most significant acquisition by the college’s archives since it got Henry David Thoreau’s personal copy of the first edition of “Walden” complete with Thoreau’s margin notes in 1940.
“To have been in this position at a time when this came to Middlebury it’s hard to get over it, it’s just so exciting,” said Wentink.
It will take months to get the letters and photos fully catalogued.
A public opening isn’t expected until next year. The college paid for some of the materials though Wentink wouldn’t say how much; others were provided as gifts by Hemingway’s heirs.
Wentink and Tim Spears, dean of the college at Middlebury and a professor of American studies who teaches a course on Hemingway, said the materials contain clues they think will be important to Hemingway researchers.
“Scholars have put a lot of weight on Hemingway’s early years … the context of his early family history is really important,” Spears said. The roots of Hemingway’s muscular love for the outdoors likely were formed during his childhood summers at the family compound on Walloon Lake.
Early photos show the young Hemingway with a big fish and with a toy gun given to him by his grandfather. “A lot of his short stories are set in the outdoors,” Spears said.
Spears said students at the college and visitors from elsewhere soon will have an opportunity to do original research on one of the 20th century’s greatest writers, rather than relying on the research of others.
The archive traces Hemingway’s family history from the journals written by his grandfather, Anson Hemingway, in the 1850s through letters between Hemingway’s father and mother, a once aspiring opera singer, to the author’s death in 1961.
Aside from being of interest to the writer’s fans and literary scholars, the materials provide a fascinating glimpse for a social historian into the lives of a prosperous Midwestern family during that period, Spears said.
One item contained in the papers is a first chapter to Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises,” which he cut from the final version at the urging of his friend and fellow writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
One nationally known archivist, Tom Staley, director of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which has its own extensive collection of Hemingway papers, said the carbon copy of that omitted chapter was a particularly fine catch for Middlebury.
“It’s always very interesting to see what the author left out,” Staley said. “It really tells you what their values are … How do you proceed by elimination?”
“It looks like they got a very good collection there,” Staley said. “It matches very well with the other collections.”
Hilary Hemingway, daughter of Hemingway’s brother, Leicester, joined with her sister Anne in providing the materials to Middlebury.
She hopes the letters will give a fuller picture to future Hemingway biographers and debunk some mistaken ideas in past biographies.
The author’s niece, who lives in Florida, said some have concluded from comments Hemingway made to friends that he didn’t like his mother very much.
“He enjoyed making his image of a tough guy who gave his mom hell,” she said. But he continued to send his mother letters and checks throughout her life. “He was a dutiful son,” she said. “He took very good care of his family.”
Ernest Hemingway, his brother and his father all had at least two things in common, Hilary Hemingway said.
Each developed diabetes late in life, and later committed suicide. It’s only been in recent years that medical science has discovered the strong links between diabetes and depression, she said, adding that she hoped the result would be a new understanding of what some have called “the Hemingway curse.”
The letters from and to Hemingway and his family, together with the family photos, should provide a wealth of new materials for scholars, Hilary Hemingway said.
“You get it as close to the horse’s mouth as you can. There’s an awful lot here that wasn’t available to biographers.”
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