The writer makes himself known in a small room full of photos, manuscripts, and trunks.
My window commands a view of the harbor, shrouded in low clouds, and across the water I can see the vague outline of downtown Boston swaddled in gray. The wind has been steady and cold for a few days and yesterday’s sparse erratic mist, halfway between rain and snow, turned during the night into a steady Spring shower of heavy flakes. The weatherman apologetically explains that, although it’s April, some meteorological traffic jam over the Atlantic leaves us stuck in January-style weather. Now, late in the afternoon, it’s snowing again. A 747 fresh from its Atlantic crossing flies low overhead in its final approach to Logan International Airport.
On the desk in front of me a photocopy of a handwritten manuscript gives me another, much older link to Europe. The manuscript is Ernest Hemingway’s first draft of The Sun Also Rises. I am in the reading room of the Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Library.
End of the Sunrise
I looked at the ultimate handwritten line of The Sun Also Rises: a line of dialog spoken by the novel’s hero, Jake, to Hemingway’s femme fatale, Brett. Hemingway wrestled a long time with this line — as he did with much of what he wrote — before it satisfied him. Brett tells Jake how nice it could have been if only everything hadn’t gotten in the way and they could have been a couple. In the handwritten first draft, Jake’s reply, reads:
“Yes,” I said. “It’s nice as hell to think so.”
Then Hemingway he wrote:
The End. Paris, Sept. 21–1925.
But below that he wrote,
“ain’t it nice to think so.”
He was already wrestling with the revision. I then looked at the typed manuscript submitted to Scribner’s, which had the ending as published:
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
The missing links between the first and final versions of the concluding line could be in any of the Hemingway collections at Kennedy, at Princeton, or at Texas — but my purpose wasn’t to produce a scholarly finding, but only to have a tiny peek at the development of Hemingway’s fiction, and in this, on that cold, cloudy, snowy day by Boston Harbor, I succeeded.
The Hemingway Room
Mary Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s fourth wife, probably remembered that her husband had been a supporter of Kennedy when she happened, in 1964, to meet Jacqueline Kennedy’s secretary at a party. Mary offered the collection to the Kennedy library which, at that time, was still in the planning stages (and still reeling from the assassination). Library representatives initially had trouble reaching Mary because not long after the party she went on an extended fishing trip in the Cayman Islands. More hurdles ensued and the donation wasn’t finally settled until 1968. Another four years passed before letters and manuscripts began to arrive in shopping bags, cardboard boxes, and dented old trunks with Cuban and French labels. (Hemingway spent his formative years as a writer in Paris and later lived several years at a farm called Finca Vigia in pre-Castro Cuba.)
The library meticulously cataloged the collection and made the papers available for research in 1975 at its temporary quarters, and in 1980 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Patrick Hemingway (one of Ernest’s three sons) officially dedicated the Hemingway Room at the newly opened library.
The triangular room has the size and feel of a comfortable living room — something like what you would expect had you dropped by Finca Vigia in the 1950s.
Ahead as you enter the room there is a fireplace over which hangs the trophy head of an antelope from Hemingway’s first African safari in 1933. To your right a wall of photos sketches Hemingway’s life history:
The Civility of Librarians
If professions imbue their practitioners with characteristic mannerisms, then librarians must be blessed above all professionals because never have I met one who would not go well beyond the call of duty to see that my questions were answered and that I understood how the material at hand was organized, all with saintly kindness and patience. Megan Desnoyers, the Supervisory Archivist and Curator of the Hemingway Collection at the Kennedy Library kindly tolerated my flood of questions freely intermingled with an incessant blather of enthusiasm and awe.
Ms. Desnoyers guided me through the Hemingway room, showed me the bound catalogs enumerating the thousands of pages of letters and manuscripts, showed me the boxes where photocopies of these papers are neatly filed (the originals are tucked away in acid-free folders in a space where temperature and humidity are carefully regulated), and answered dozens of questions about the materials and about Hemingway himself. Desnoyers knows her collection and Hemingway well. She has published articles drawing heavily upon the primary sources that she oversees (e.g., “Ernest Hemingway: A Storyteller’s Legacy,” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, Winter, 1992).
The Hemingway papers comprise not only novel and short story holographs that allow you to trace the development of fiction from its inception to published form, but also incoming and outgoing letters. Hemingway was a voracious correspondent and the collection includes letters to and from family, fans, and literati like Ezra Pound, Malcolm Cowley, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many others.
Though the Kennedy collection is vast, it is not complete. Hadley lost a suitcase of Hemingway’s early stories in a Paris train station, and Ernest’s globe-trotting habits meant that he had papers scattered from Paris to Cuba and Key West to Idaho. When Mary rounded up the collection for the Kennedy library, she brought materials out of back rooms and closets in faraway places like Sloppy Joe’s (Ernest’s Key West watering hole) and the Paris Ritz where they had been languishing for years.
The biggest coup was Mary’s rescue of a substantial cache of materials from Finca Vigia (including paintings Hemingway had bought back in his Paris days from now famous artists) just as they were about to be “nationalized” as Castro’s regime made the Hemingway house made into a museum. One painting mysteriously disappeared from the house in Cuba, but since Mary had pulled strings at the highest levels of both American and Cuban governments, she counted herself lucky to rescue what she could. The house and its furnishings fell into the hands of the communists.