The first cool weekend of fall provided the ideal opportunity to visit the ‘Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars’ exhibition which recently opened at the Morgan Library and Museum in midtown Manhattan.
Laid out chronologically, beginning with Hemingway’s high school years, the exhibits include letters, draft manuscripts and excerpts from published work providing a fascinating insight into Hemingway’s writing process and personality.
He wrote his first drafts by hand maintaining that this way he had at least three chances to work over what he had written: one when he wrote it out, the second when he typed it up and the third when he proofread the hard copy. He also claimed that he took a great deal of care with his writing, stating in one quote that if he didn’t take as much care he could easily turn out two novels a year! I couldn’t help wondering what he would have thought of the current suggestion that authors should put out multiple novels a year to please their readers.
My favorite pieces were:
1. A letter from Hemingway to his parents expressing his disappointment that they obviously did not like his work given they had returned the copies of his books.
2. A letter from Bill Horne, a friend whom he’d met in Italy, consoling Hemingway following the breakup of his relationship with the nurse who had cared for him while he was in hospital after being wounded while working as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross and whom he’d hoped to marry. (Part of this experience became the basis for Farewell to Arms.)
3. Pages of Hemingway’s work drafted on Western Union Telegraph paper – presumably the only thing available to him to write on at the time of inspiration.
4. Two handwritten pages of an edit of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Scott Fitzgerald. The whole document was apparently ten pages long and much of it was praise for the writing rather than outright criticism or suggestions for change, but across the bottom of the last page Hemingway had written “Kiss my Ass”!
5. One of Hemingway’s books which he had been asked to dedicate. However the book had been bought second hand from a book collector for the owner’s home library and Hemingway knew this so he wrote a sarcastic comment about how the author wouldn’t see any royalties from the sale of the book he was being asked to dedicate.
Maybe because I like to write my first drafts by hand I enjoyed the chance to see Hemingway’s versions complete with insertions, deletions and, in one case, three false starts on the opening paragraph, a reminder that no-one writes perfect first drafts. True, Hemingway’s writing is not always easy to read, but the exhibit labels provide the gist of the documents for those having problems deciphering his script.
The exhibition runs until January 31st, 2016. If you get a chance to go, I’d highly recommend it.