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New letters show Ernest Hemingway as a real-life badass

Mar 30, 2012

Ernest Hemingway is famous for his brusque, no-bullshit writing style and his stoic male characters. In real life he was known for a kind of Teddy Roosevelt adventurism that made him seem like a character from one of his books—he volunteered to report on the Spanish Civil War just to be where the action was, and he was later fond of big-game hunting in Africa.

Now new letters being released through the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation between Hemingway and his friend Gianfranco Ivancich offer an intimate glimpse of the author as a friend, and, true to his image, they show Hemingway as emotionally sensitive but completely bad-ass.

In fact, Hemingway writes almost startlingly like Woody Allen‘s “Midnight in Paris” imagined Hemingway might have been in person—succinct, poetic, and fiercely passionate. The New York Times excerpts some highlights from the 15 newly-unearthed letters, which include the following:

Hemingway called Mr. Ivancich, who came from a noble Italian family in Venice, his “brother,” his “good drinking friend” and a “hard-working banana grower,” and frequently signed off as “Mr. Papa” or “Papa.”

In one dated Feb. 22, 1953, from Cuba, he describes having to shoot his beloved cat Willie after he was hit by a car. Someone else offered to do the job, but Hemingway writes that he could not risk “a chance of Will knowing anybody was killing him.” He goes on to say that a group of tourists unexpectedly drove up: “I still had the rifle and I explained to them they had come at a bad time and to please understand and go away. But the rich Cadillac psycho said, ‘We have come at a most interesting time. Just in time to see the great Hemingway cry because he has to kill a cat.’” In response, he writes, “I humiliated him as he should be humiliated, omit details.”

In an April 1953 letter, he tells his friend that “Papa’s liver and kidneys and also blood-pressure are all doing fine and he wins consistently on almost all the tests the doctors can devise, and his head is working fast, sharp and cheerfully.”

And in a 1953 letter Hemingway even shows some wry humor:

Although he says he’s finished one book, and three-quarters of another, he announces “None for publication this year, though, since the income tax is already so high that any more income would put us in the poor-house.”

Visit the JFK Library site for more from the Hemingway archives.

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