Exhibit highlights Hemingway prose
BY BRIAN HICKS
Sunday, December 18, 2011
In the spring of 1935, Ernest Hemingway was lamenting the placement of his home on a list of Key West tourist attractions.
His regular Esquire magazine column was devoted to his tongue-in-cheek protest that he had no desire to compete with the Turtle Crawls (No. 3 on the map), the open-air aquarium (No. 9) or the Sponge Lofts (No. 13).
“Yet there your correspondent is at number 18 between Johnson’s Tropical Grove (number 17) and the Lighthouse and Aviaries (number 19),” Hemingway wrote. “This is all very flattering to the easily bloated ego of your correspondent but very hard on production.”
The idea of Hemingway actually writing must have seemed a curious concept to readers of the day.
Even though he is arguably the most famous writer since Shakespeare, Papa was — and is — probably more famous as a sportsman. Photos are much more likely to show him fishing for marlin in the Gulf Stream, posing over his kill on an African safari or sitting ringside at a Pamplona bullfight, than actually toiling in front of a typewriter or notebook.
The University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library is now offering a more complete picture of the Nobel Prize-winning author. The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is displaying an exhibit focused on Hemingway’s work through manuscripts, letters and rare books.
The exhibit runs through February.
“In these works, and especially in his unpublished letters, there are apparent contradictions between Hemingway’s desire for the quiet, contemplative life of a fiction writer in his prime years and his interests in crafting a public persona as a war correspondent, sportsman and literary lion,” said Jeffrey Makala, curator of the exhibit.
The exhibit is “A Quieter and Less Eventful Life” — a title taken from another of Hemingway’s Esquire columns. It spans his career from some of his earliest writing, in his high school literary magazine, through the end of his life. The library is showcasing the ultra-rare chapbooks that were his earliest solo publications alongside first editions of all his books.
It is, quite simply, a bibliophile’s fantasyland. Aside inscribed first editions in immaculate dust jackets, this is a rare chance to see F. Scott Fitzgerald’s personal copy of “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” There are typescripts of Hemingway’s Esquire letters, the play “The Fifth Column” and the Life Magazine serialization of “The Old Man and the Sea.” Some of those typescripts include corrections in Hemingway’s slanting handwriting.
The idea behind this exhibit is to highlight Hemingway’s writing life. Included in the exhibit are many unpublished letters the Irvin Department has acquired that include those rare glimpses of the vehemently anti-intellectual Hemingway’s thoughts on his craft. One Hemingway note in the exhibit offers advice to a college student, another tutors Esquire editor Arnold Gingrich on publishing his first novel, and one offers an excuse to his third mother-in-law on the dissolution of his marriage to Martha Gellhorn.
“I think writers are awfully difficult bastards to live with,” Hemingway wrote.
The letters make the exhibit; they offer an unvarnished, unedited Hemingway. And in these private letters, many of which remain unpublished, Hemingway talks a lot about his writing. Which is where USC’s interest comes in.
“We’ve been trying to buy manuscripts that include his thoughts on writing and the business of publishing,” Makala said.
Some of the material in this exhibit comes from the Speiser and Easterling-Hallman Foundation Collection, which was bought for the university by private donors 10 years ago. A few years ago, the benefactor of that $750,000 purchase — which included the letters and massive book collection of Hemingway lawyer Maurice Speiser — left a bequest allowing the school to add to the collection.
The result is a Hemingway collection that is one of the finest in the country, and a fine complement to the Fitzgerald Collection donated by longtime faculty member and Fitzgerald expert Matthew J. Bruccoli.
“It is some of the best stuff,” Makala said. “We have a great collection.”
If you go
What: ‘A Quieter and Less Eventful Life’: Ernest Hemingway on Writing and Other Pursuits
Where: The Hollings Special Collections Library at the Thomas Cooper Library on the University of South Carolina campus, 1322 Greene St., Columbia
When: Now through February. Library is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday