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

four wives.

"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

`One true sentence’: Hemingway and the Art of Fiction,

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

5 p.m.

Previous Story Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments