Corrections or additions?
This article by David McDonough was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 29, 1999. All rights reserved.
Hemingway, Enduring at 100
In "A Moveable Feast," his posthumously published
memoir of Paris in the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway wrote:
"I always worked until I had something done, and I always stopped
when I knew what was going to happen next. That way, I could be sure
of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new
story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire
and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame
and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look
out over the roofs of Paris and think: `Do not worry. You have always
written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write
one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally
I would write the one true sentence and go on from there. It was easy
because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen
or I’d heard someone say."
In this, his centennial year, Ernest Hemingway is everywhere. The
Smithsonian is planning a retrospective, as is the Kennedy Library.
Closer to home, Charles Scribner III, of the renowned publishing family,
has funded "`One true sentence’: Hemingway and the Art of Fiction,"
a memorial exhibition that opens Monday, October 4, at the main exhibition
gallery of Firestone Library at Princeton University.
No American author before or since has ever captured the public’s
imagination quite like Hemingway. While the literary reputations of
many of his contemporaries such as John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald,
and William Faulkner rise and fall with each new generation of readers,
Hemingway’s position has remained secure. Even in the electronic 1990s,
he is the perennial favorite of teenagers.
"Hemingway is the one writer who dominates American fiction, had
the most influence, made the most difference," explains John Delaney,
curator of Firestone Library’s Hemingway exhibit. "Everyone who
reads can think of a Hemingway novel or two, a story or two. The Hemingway
character, the Hemingway style, is still recognizable today. His short
sentences, terse, without a lot of adjectives, have made a lot of
Hemingway was born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. Vacations
and leisure time were taken up by hunting and fishing trips to northern
Michigan that later made such an impact on his lean, compact writing.
Upon graduation from high school in 1917, Hemingway worked a six-month
apprenticeship as a cub reporter on the Kansas City Star, before volunteering
as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in World War I. After recovering
from war injuries, he settled in Paris. It was the age of the great
literary expatriates: Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and
Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote enthusiastically to his publishers, Charles
Scribner’s Sons: "There’s a writer here named Hemingway, and he’s
the real thing."
With his first two volumes, "Three Stories and Ten Poems"
in 1923 and "In Our Time" in 1925, he became one of the leading
spokesmen for what became known as the Lost Generation — young
people disillusioned by the Great War and its aftermath.
Hemingway’s first great success came in 1926 with "The Sun Also
Rises" and he scored again with "A Farewell To Arms" in
1929. His literary reputation made, Hemingway spent the 1930s turning
out work conceded to be of less importance, but he lived large. He
was everywhere: at the bullfights in Spain, hunting big game in Africa,
fishing in the Caribbean, drinking and getting into famous fistfights
with members of the Brooklyn Dodgers in Cuba. He was a genuine celebrity
in an age when writers actually could achieve that status. He also
seemed to get married a lot — although the final count was only
"For Whom The Bell Tolls," based on an incident in the Spanish
Civil War, was published in 1940. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1952
for the graceful novella, "The Old Man and the Sea," and was
awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954. He published little after that, and
in 1961, ill and depressed, he took his own life. Posthumous works
have appeared; most have met with mixed reception. "Islands in
the Stream," published in 1970, is considered the best of the
The exhibit at Princeton centers on Hemingway the writer, rather than
Hemingway the celebrity, partially because the workmanlike aspect
of his life is the road least traveled by most examiners, and also
because content dictates the show. An enormous amount of the material
for this exhibit comes from the Scribner archives, donated to Princeton,
which include book contracts and editorial correspondence with the
"This gives us an opportunity to present a side of Hemingway that
the others can’t," says Delaney. "Hemingway the conscientious
writer, working at his craft every day. And that is what endures.
Undergraduates today are decades removed from when he was a world-known
public figure, let alone a world class writer."
The world is a much smaller place today, and students trend to be
less impressed with exploits like big game hunting and deep sea fishing.
They are unlikely to be any more impressed with Hemingway’s insecure
manly posturing than they are with Fitzgerald’s drunken binges. So
it is almost completely from within his work that Hemingway’s light
must shine for new readers.
Some of the most fascinating parts of the collection consist of letters
between Hemingway and Scribers editor, the famed Maxwell Perkins,
and correspondence showing the warm friendship that evolved between
Hemingway and Charles Scribner.
When Charles Scribner died, Hemingway wrote to his son Charles Jr.,
"He was the best and closest friend that I had and it seems impossible
that I will never have another letter from him." He and Charles
Jr. were to become good friends; in many ways, the younger Scribner
became a surrogate for his father in Hemingway’s eyes. Charles Scribner
III has written an informative article, "Hemingway at One Hundred:
A Publisher’s Perspective," containing insights by both father
and son, which will be available (while supplies last) to visitors
to the gallery exhibit.
Another important component of the exhibit comes from the Sylvia Beach
Papers. Beach, proprietor of Shakespeare and Company, the famous Parisian
bookstore that flourished in the 1920s, knew Hemingway well, and was
a meticulous keeper of records. The Beach papers, Delaney explains,
provide their own insight into the author’s intellectual life.
"What’s interesting is that Hemingway had so many interests apart
from his writing," says Delaney. "Writing did come first,
especially as he got older, but he was a voracious reader. We have
Sylvia Beach’s card files, including the magazine subscriptions he
requested while in Africa. What surprised me is the wide range of
his reading. History, the natural science, all the best writers."
Above all, the exhibition focuses on the writer’s craft. Hemingway’s
work habits — he liked to use pencil, "because you got more
chances," he used to say. His practice of counting words, a habit
left over from his journalism days, is evident. His notes show word
counts scribbled in the margins, and his letters reveal the Hemingway
bravado. "Most writers are only one book writers anyway,"
Hemingway once opined. "They have one story to tell, which is
the thing that impressed them as terrifically important, and when
they succeed in expressing it fully they are at a loss for anything
further to write."
Is that what stopped his genius, finally? Or did he discover that,
in the end, he could no longer find that one true sentence?
The exhibition features first editions of many of Hemingway’s books.
In a copy of "The Old Man and the Sea," inscribed to Charles
Scribner Jr., the author has written the words: "D’abord, il faut
durer," or "First of all, one must endure."
There is no doubt that Hemingway has lived up to his motto.
— David McDonough
Firestone Library, Princeton University, 609-258-3184. A centennial
exhibition of Hemingway’s correspondence with his editors at Charles
Scribner’s Sons. Free. Monday, October 4, to January 9. Open
Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, noon to
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.