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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Product Owner - Business Analyst

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Product Owner/Business Analyst is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Quality Technician

£28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

Recruitment Genius: Java Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity for an ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea