Ernest Hemingway in Paris in 1923.
"You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true. You have to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable and also have it seem normal and so that it can become a part of the experience of the person who reads it."
So begins the exhibition on Ernest Hemingway now up at The Morgan Library on Madison Avenue, which we went to see on Sunday, the day after the big blizzard here in New York City. Like many, I am fascinated by Hemingway, particularly during the Paris years in the 1920s when he was hanging out with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Juan Gris, Diaghilev from the Ballets Russes, Gerald and Sarah Murphy, and many more. One of my very favorite books, which I have read numerous times, is Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, which is about this period and, which I learned in this exhibit, was published posthumously. This one-room show at The Morgan focuses on Hemingway's work between the two world wars, presenting early manuscripts, galley proofs and letters.
Hemingway was raised outside of Chicago and eshewed college to work for a short time as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star newspaper where he adopted his writing style from the newspaper copy guide: Use short sentences, use vigorous English, eliminate superfluous words. He was enlisted to the Italian front in World War I and so began Ernest Hemingway's adventures, far from the American Midwest. In Paris, he and F. Scott Fitzgerald really invented a new American literature.
Hemingway in uniform in 1918 -
There are many interesting documents in this simply mounted show including an interview with George Plimpton at The Paris Review in which Hemingway reveals that he wrote the last page of Farewell to Arms 39 times. "Was there some technical problem there? What was it that stumped you?" asks Plimpton. "Getting the words right," replied Hemingway.
Hemingway at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris in 1923 -
Also presented is a reading list which Hemingway gave to a young writer - Flaubert, Tolstoy, E. E. Cummings and Henry James make the cut (click to enlarge and read) -
The exhibit notes that Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954. This show steers clear of Hemingway's personal life - there is no mention of his four wives or his suicide by self-inflicted gun shot wound in 1961. (Hemingway's father also committed suicide and his granddaughter, the stunningly beautiful American model Margaux Hemingway, died of a drug overdose at age 41 in 1996.) I think some personal context would have been helpful and that The Morgan might improve the design quality of its installations. But I really enjoyed this up-close look at an American genius, there until January 31.
Afterwards we wondered around the museum and into Mr. Pierpont Morgan's libary, which was completed in 1906 and is one of the great rooms in New York -
Then we repaired to the Cafe in the sunny glass atrium where we sat under a green leafy tree and ordered lunch and a glass of Chardonnay. It was a lovely way to spend the day after the blizzard.
Read Lillian Ross's profile of Ernest Hemingway in The New Yorker from 1950.
Read George Plimpton's interview with Hemingway in The Paris Review from 1958.
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