Papers offer clue to a softer side of macho Hemingway

"Everything lovely, we go to the front tomorrow, we've been treated like kings." These words, on a postcard from a son to his father towards the end of the First World War, are at first glance striking mainly for their youthful insouciance amid what was then the bloodiest war in history.

But the son in question was Ernest Hemingway – and his words represent more than the bravado of the young Red Cross ambulance driver who, a month after they were written, on 9 June 1918, would be badly wounded on the Italian front. They are a precious fragment of the personal experiences that inspired his novel A Farewell to Arms. They are also a tiny piece in the mosaic of one of the most ambitious recent projects in American literary scholarship.

The card, in Hemingway's sprawling hand, is one of 100 items in a collection of letters, cards and telegrams previously belonging to his nephew Ernest Hemingway Mainland. Now they are at Pennsylvania State University, part of a six-year-old effort to produce a single scholarly edition of the author's correspondence.

The Hemingway Letters Project began in 2002. It will consist of 12 volumes grouping the 7,000 or more letters and cards he sent, most never published before. The Mainland collection is believed to be one of the last of any consequence that was still in private hands.

Hemingway – "EH" as he is known on the project – was a prodigious correspondent but only two volumes of letters, barely a tenth of his estimated output, have appeared. From them, however, emerges a much more nuanced and complex character than the macho figure of popular legend.

"Hemingway once said his letters were 'often libellous, always indiscreet and often obscene'," said Sandra Spanier, overall editor of the project. They were "private writings, unguarded and uncensored. They capture his emotions in the heat of the moment ... he could be vulnerable, tender, critical and self-critical, and he could be wickedly funny."

The writer explicitly stated that he never wanted his letters published – yet he saved copies, as well as drafts of his writings and miscellanea as trivial as receipts. Some letters, including one to the Red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy, were never sent. Others, to F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and others, are part of America's 20th century literary memorabilia.

The treasure included trunkfuls of papers at the Ritz Hotel in Paris; at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, patronised by Hemingway in the 1930s; and at Finca Vigia, his home in Cuba, where he lived from 1939 to 1960. Despite icy relations between Cuba and the US, his widow, Mary, was allowed to take material from Finca Vigia after his death in 1961, a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Six years ago, the two countries signed an unprecedented deal allowing Professor Spanier and other scholars access to the vast amount that remained – including thousands of personal documents and letters. These have been microfilmed and incorporated into the Letters Project.

The Mainland collection fills in more missing pieces. The 1918 postcard of Milan's cathedral was addressed to his father, Clarence Hemingway. A month later, days before his 19th birthday, he was wounded on the Italian front. He recovered in a hospital in Milan, where he fell in love with a nurse.

The card, along with other letters to the family, found its way to Hemingway's younger sister Madelaine, who passed them on to her son. "Keep sensible, don't get tragic and don't write silly things," Hemingway signed off in a 1930 letter to his mother.

Mr Mainland, who is 69, told the Associated Press he wanted to publish the letters himself, but was too old to wait for copyright to expire in 2011. Professor Spanier persuaded him to give them over. "The reality of me being able to publish these letters – it ain't going to happen," he said.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week