Archive for January 30th, 2016

First-ever major exhibition on Hemingway – and it even has his wartime “Dear John” letter.

Saturday, January 30th, 2016
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Ernest Hemingway: Between Two wars. Entrance to the exhibit. Morgan Library & Museum. Jan/ 2016

Entrance to the exhibition. (Photograph: Zygmunt Malinowski)

From our roving New York City correspondent, photographer Zygmunt Malinowski filing from … Hawaii! You can read more of his posts here and here and here and here. Meanwhile:

When he was nineteen, young Ernest Hemingway enlisted as a Red Cross ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I. Within a month, he was severely injured with shrapnel wounds to his legs. Notwithstanding his trauma, he helped other soldiers to safety first and so was awarded medal for bravery.

Hemmingway

In Milan, 1918. (Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

The story behind the exhibition “Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars” begins about then. His personal letters (including his 1920s Paris letters correspondence with Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sylvia Beach), partial drafts of manuscripts, first edition books, and photographs can be found at New York City’s Morgan Library and Museum, located near Grand Central Station. It is in the first major exhibition ever for Hemingway (1899–1961), one of the major American writers of the twentieth century.

The war was not all suffering. While convalescing in the hospital, he fell in love and became engaged. Nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, seven years his senior, was the daughter of Polish-Russian-German émigré. However, she broke off the engagement with a Dear John letter – and that, too, is featured in the exhibition.

The romantic setback was only one episode during his war experience. He left a more enduring record with his successful wartime short stories and novels, including Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway later wrote to Fitzgerald, who read and commented on some of his drafts: “war is best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get.” And so it was with him.

The exhibition is a treasure trove of his written records, handwritten and printed, included in annotated notebooks, single pages, and letters. I felt I was standing over this literary giant’s shoulder, watching a work in progress (he received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954). Some of his handwritten pages in pencil give the impression that he was in a hurry to jot down his thoughts – his quick and careless handwriting runs slantwise on unlined pages.

The exhibition includes the drafts of Farewell to Arms, in which he rewrote the ending again and again. During an interview George Plimpton asked him why he reconfigured the ending so many times. Hemingway replied: “To get the words right.”

The exhibition, organized in collaboration with John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Library in Boston, ends its New York run on Jan. 31, and then continues to Boston where it will reopen in the spring at the JFK museum. (Read about it in the lower lefthand corner here.)