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Vanity Fair Hunts Hemingway

September 23, 2011

A literary team unearths letters from a 'lonely life.'

“My loving you is a chink in the armour of telling the world to go to hell and you can thrust a sword into it at any time,” Hemingway wrote to Hadley Richardson, the woman he was courting and who soon would be his (first) wife.

It’s a rare surviving exchange between the two. Hadley burned most of their letters after their divorce. It had survived, secretly, in a storeroom of Hemingway’s papers at his Cuban home, the Finca Vigía, which has been in the hands of the Cuban government.

It was Dec. 23, 1920. Hadley was going to a party with the brother of a friend. Hemingway said he was too broke to come. And he was suffering Hadley’s wrath for not kissing her goodbye when they parted at the train station.

“I didn’t want to kiss you goodbye—that was the trouble— I wanted to kiss you good night—and there’s a lot of difference,” he wrote.

This letter, along with reams of unseen correspondences, have found new life in The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, a 16-volume collection of his surviving letters to be published over two decades by Penn State, the Hemingway Society and Foundation and the Hemingway estate. The newly-published first volume contains his letters from 1907 to 1922.

“The bulk of the Finca’s contents—drawers and shelves and boxes with thousands of pages of accumulated correspondence and manuscripts—quietly became the property of the Republic of Cuba,” writes A. Scott Berg, in a Vanity Fair article detailing the expedition that brought these manuscripts to light.

Writes Berg:

We had come to Cuba hoping to find a few literary artifacts. Instead, we found ourselves amid a most significant literary dig, surrounded by “wonderful things.” We had already identified enough significant pieces of quotidian life at the Finca to begin to understand Hemingway’s 20 years there. As we drove back to Havana to report our findings and discuss the future of the documents, I could think only of the serious and solitary artist who lived there, not the swaggering figure of myth. “Writing at its best,” Hemingway had confessed in his Nobel acceptance speech, “is a lonely life.”

The article includes a number of his letters, but to see them in his own hand, with the long lines he uses to cross his t’s and the flourish he gives the tails of his y’s, check on Vanity Fair’s slideshow of Ernest Hemingway’s Life in Letters.