DEBORAH LEFF: Good evening and welcome. I’m Deborah Leff, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum; and on behalf of myself and John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, it’s wonderful to welcome you here for a forum that looks at a different aspect of our archives and a jewel of our holdings here, the Hemingway Collection. I’d like to begin by thanking those who make these forums possible; Bank of America, the Lowell Institute, and Boston Capital, and our media sponsors, WBUR, which we broadcast these forums Sunday night at 8:00 p.m., The Boston Globe and Boston.com.
It’s not well known, but about one of every five researchers who comes to the Kennedy Presidential Library comes not for information related to President Kennedy, but rather for our remarkable Hemingway Collection. The Kennedy Library holds about 95% of the existing papers and artifacts of the Nobel Prize winner, who many consider to be America’s greatest writer. We encourage you to support this collection, and information about Friends of the Hemingway is on your chair.
During his final few years, few people were closer to Ernest Hemingway than our speaker this evening, Valerie Hemingway. And she told me just a few minutes ago that Ernest Hemingway was the most interesting person she has ever met. When she first met Hemingway, she was Valerie Danby-Smith, a 19-year old Dubliner assigned to interview him for The Irish Times. Ernest Hemingway was enchanted by her, and persuaded Valerie to join his entourage as his personal secretary.
In her marvelous new book, Running with the Bulls: My Years with the Hemingways, we travel with her and Ernest Hemingway to bull fights and to bars, to France and to Cuba. We meet Ernest Hemingway in his troubled but intense final years through her eyes. And we learn more about his life and writing as she joins his fourth wife, Mary, in packing up Hemingway’s house in Cuba after his death. She spent years sorting through the papers that eventually came to be donated here to the Kennedy Library. And some years later, she married one of Ernest’s sons, Gregory, which explains the Hemingway last name. Norman Mailer has called Running with the Bulls, “One of the best books on Hemingway that I have read.” Valerie has generously agreed to sign copies of the books in our museum store after this evening’s forum.
Moderating tonight’s conversation is Askold Melnyczuk, Director of Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston since 2002. An award-winning novelist, his stories, poems and reviews have appeared in numerous anthologies and in The Partisan Review, The New York Times and The Nation, as well as many other publications. He is the founder and was the longtime editor of AGNI, and has been active in PEN-New England, with whom the Kennedy Library co-sponsors the PEN/Hemingway Awards each spring. Askold, I turn it over to you. Thank you.
ASKOLD MELNYCZUK: Thank you. [Applause] Thank you so much, Deborah, and welcome to the audience. We’re going to speak for about 45 minutes or so, and then open to the floor to questions.
Five years ago, in 1999, the Hemingway Archives, along with the Kennedy Library, the Hemingway Society, PEN-New England and a number of other organizations hosted a celebration honoring the centenary of Hemingway’s birth. Acknowledging their debt to him were the Japanese Nobel Prize Winner, Kenzaburo Oé, the South African writer, Nadine Gordimer, the St. Lucian poet, Derek Walcott, the Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, along with such American writers as Robert Stone, Annie Poulx, Bob Shacochis.
What impressed me about that weekend was the many Hemingways that were uncovered over the course of our conversations. First, there was Hemingway the writer. There was Hemingway the traveler, the adventurer, the hunter, the aficionado, the lover, the father. Certainly, one of the most moving presentations was Derek Walcott’s panegyric on the beauty of a page of Hemingway’s prose.
The Hemingways we find in your book, Valerie, are fascinating, deeply moving. In that memoir, all those Hemingways are contained. And I wonder if we could begin with your first meeting with Hemingway. You were a 19-year old girl straight out of Dublin, living in Madrid, and had received an assignment to interview the man. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
VALERIE HEMINGWAY: Well there I was, living in Madrid. I had come from Dublin because I had wanted to be a journalist. And in those days, one didn’t go to college to journalism school. You worked at a newspaper, got a practical background in it. And there wasn’t much going on in Dublin in terms of, - I mean there were lots of characters in Dublin. [Laughter] But, in terms of the young person starting out, there weren’t many opportunities.
So, the Managing Editor of The Irish Times suggested I go abroad. And I had the opportunity to go to Spain, and send back dispatches from there. And I did attach myself to a Belgian youth service, and it was they, in fact, who sent me to meet Hemingway and to interview him. And they told me where to go, the Hotel Suecia, and that I should ask him certain questions. And being 19 and interested in all sorts of things, but not necessarily the assignment I was given, I did not do any background checking.
So, Hemingway agreed to see me. I sat in the dining room. And I looked around saying, “Which one could be Hemingway?” I had a tiny penguin paperback book. And I didn’t know that the photograph was 16 years old. So I was looking for someone who was about 45 or 44. And I said to the waiter, “That must be-- Could that be the North American writer, Ernest Hemingway?” And he looked, he said, “No, no, no, Senorita. Right over there is the great Don Ernesto.”
And I looked over, and here was this man with completely white hair, a beard, at the head of a table, about ten people around him. And so, I made note of it. I thanked the waiter. And when Hemingway and crowd left, I slipped into the lobby and I asked him if I could have an interview with him. And he told me to come back the next day. I did mention I was Irish, and that certainly caught his attention.
And the next day… So I was sitting up in the hotel room in the suite there on a sofa, and he was sitting on a chair. And I started out with my first question, “Why is it, Mr. Hemingway, you’ve come back to Spain? Franco is still in power. You haven’t been here since the Spanish Civil War.” And he said, “Well no, on the contrary, I have been back to Spain, you know.” And recently, he had been there when he was going on his way to his safari in Africa. So I thought, “Well, what do I do now?” [Laughter] So I started talking about the thing that I knew most about which was Irish literature. And we talked about various, various things. And he told me right away that James Joyce had been a great friend of his. And I told him that, when I was 16 and in London, I brought back a copy of Joyce’s Ulysses to Dublin. It was banned in Dublin. It was banned in Ireland. And it cost ten and sixpence which was a great deal of money. That would have been about a dollar and a half at that point.
So he loved that story. And I also told him how I came to read the first book of his that I read, which was The Sun Also Rises. But it was called Fiesta. That was the British title because The Sun Also Rises comes from the Bible. And in England, certainly at that time, you could not use any quotation from the Bible, so they called it Fiesta. My best school friend, I used to visit her in the south of Ireland in the summertime. And her uncle was on the Censorship Board. And when we were teenagers, we were terribly interested in all this sort of thing; why things were being censored and what was being censored, and we ought to know about it.
So she said, “Well we can go and look at those books there. Even though we’ll distract the family. We’ll go in.” [Laughter] And we did. And I had just come back from Spain. My uncle, a priest -- a lot of this is in the book -- had invited me to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes with him. And because I was the only girl in the family, I come from a family of three boys and a girl. And I have three boys and a girl. And my mother was one of three boys and a girl. So, we’ve had generations of that. But being the only girl, there were a lot of disadvantages, like having to wash the dishes and make my brothers’ beds and so on. But the advantage was that, when one person was going to be chosen, it was easy to just say, “Let’s take the girl.”
So, when I had been to Spain, I just thought it was the most wonderful country. And I knew I wanted to go back there again. So when I looked at this shelf of books, I pulled out this one, and it had an arena and a bullfighter and bull in the middle. And I slipped and put it in my pocket, of course not intending to keep it. I thought, “I’ll read it and return it.” But you know how that is with books.
[Laughter] Never lend anyone a book because it just never comes back again. So I read this Fiesta, and so, I was able to tell Hemingway that his… He was delighted to know that his books were banned in Ireland, along with Joyce’s. All the good people were banned. So did I answer your question?
MR. MELNYCZUK: Wonderfully. [Laughter] Hemingway wasn’t, - I hope
this isn’t too shocking to reveal. It, too, is in the book. But he wasn’t your favorite writer. You had a longer list.
MS. HEMINGWAY: That’s right. And you know, I had spent 14 years in the convent, from when I was three to when I was 17. So, practically all of my reading was Catholic authors. We had Evelyn Ward, Graham Greene, G.K. Chesterton, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, all these sort of things.
And even though when I read Fiesta, it didn’t strike me that I wanted to read more of this author. I thought, “This is curious, and this is interesting. And I want to go back to Spain.” But I didn’t put Hemingway on my list of favorite authors. He was really, I think, more than amused by this, bemused by it. Because at that time, in 1959, he couldn’t walk anywhere or go anywhere without people, - I mean people would come and touch him. It was rather like… I shouldn’t make the comparison. But it was a bit like Jesus. People wanted to touch him. Even now, people ask me, “Do you have anything that Hemingway touched? Do you have a piece of paper you could give me a corner of?” It’s like the relics of the saints.
But I was just amazed in Spain how people followed him. And in fact, just the other night, I did a reading. And somebody came up, the children of somebody, who had been in Spain. He was a young person like myself, an American though, he was in Spain in 1959. And he situated himself close enough to Hemingway that someone took a photo, so both of them are in it. [Laughter] And there was a third person in between and with their back and he thought maybe it might be me. But it turned out to be Annie Davis. I couldn’t say it was me. But they had me sign this photograph. But that’s the way it was. I mean everybody just absolutely adored him. And it just didn’t seem like such a big deal, which shows my ignorance. [Laughter] But that amused him very much. He would say, “Have you read the short story? You have to read--“ And he’d give me his book and then he’d say, “Well now, what did you think of that?” So it just wasn’t a passive thing. I had to read. And then the master told me… Well he didn’t actually tell me that I had to have any opinion one way or the other. But he wanted to see what a fresh reader of a completely different generation would take of his work.
MR. MELNYCZUK: So I have to ask, did you ever criticize him?
MS. HEMINGWAY: You know, I was brought up in this very ultra-polite Irish society. So you know, later, in my book, I talk about Mary, how Mary was absolutely forthright and open, and she just said what she thought. And sometimes I wished I could do that. But no. We were taught that if you don’t have something good to say, keep quiet. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: You mentioned your upbringing. And it, too, had singularities that, in some ways, seem to have prepared you for that meeting, that fateful encounter with Hemingway in various unlikely ways. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about growing up in Dublin in the ‘40s, and about your mother and father. Your mother was a Catholic who had been raised in England.
And your father was a Protestant who had been raised in Ireland. Is that right?
MS. HEMINGWAY: That’s right. I mean, my family, they didn’t seem unusual to me because you take your people for granted. But in fact, as I grew up, I realized there were tremendous contradictions. My mother was English, indeed. But she had an Irish, her mother was Irish. Her father was English. So she had a little bit of leaning towards Ireland.
My father was Irish Protestant, and his name was Smith. And when my mother met him, she had great aspirations for herself. She was a musician and dancer, not professionally, but she had studied and got her degree at the Royal College of Music in London, and she had great aspirations. And when she met my father, it was very charming. They met in Dublin at a cricket club. And when he said his name was Smith, she thought he was joking because Smith was… That was the name you give when you’re going incognito. You say your name is Smith so that nobody knows that you’re really Lord Dunsany or someone. So, she really didn’t think that it could be true because he was too handsome and bright to have a name like Smith. That was the way my, - My mother had very odd ideas about life.
And so, when they married, she insisted that they hook the name together, and it became Danby-Smith, which was really a millstone around my neck. Because when I went to school in Ireland, everybody is O’Sullivan and Murphy and Kelly, and that’s lovely. And you say your name is Danby-Smith, and they think you’ve come from another planet and, at that, a hostile planet. [Laughter] It was not a name… I remember, and I put this in the book because it just stuck in my mind so much. My Irish teacher, a teacher of Gaelic, always said, “Nobody with the name of Danby-Smith is going to be able to speak Irish. Just don’t even try,” which of course made me learn it and learn it very well. So that was a disadvantage.
But when I was three, things sort of ambled along, except my father had a real taste for liquor, which was very Irish. That was the thing. And when the war came along, he joined the British Army, which a lot of Irish people did. It was a way, - even in the ‘40s in Ireland, employment was very hard to come by. Although my father had inherited a business from his father who died very young of the drink. It was almost like a patriotic and fine thing to die of the drink in Ireland. [Laughter] So people sort of took care of families where that had happened. It was as if they’d gone to war and died for La Patria. [Laughter]
When my father went over to England, my mother, I think, panicked, and she went over to England after him, and she stayed with her father. But she seemed to completely forget or, anyway, not take note of the fact that there were two children born. And I was three, my brother was five. Actually, there was a third child. I don’t go into too much because he didn’t live with us for a while. But that’s another story. But anyway, Peter and myself, we were sent off; my Protestant
Aunt Constance came to the rescue. All through my childhood, my Protestant Aunt Constance-, - I say the word “Protestant” because it was sort of pejorative in the Catholic society I grew up in in Ireland. And yet, she was the good angel. She came and she put us in the convent. She persuaded the nuns to take us. And so, I was there from when I was three until when I was 17.
And it was very much a sort of scholarly endeavor because the nuns were serious. They had become, they had their vocations. Generally, in those days, from the age of 15 or 16, girls entered the convent. They did study; these were the Dominicans. Most of them had higher degrees but they had got them after they became nuns, and they were totally dedicated to teaching.
So, we really did learn a lot and enjoy learning. But we weren’t allowed to get up to a lot of shenanigans. Any little thing we did, something like…- Well I would not have brought my book, Ulysses, to the convent because that would have been instant expulsion. [Laughter] But I think it was a very unusual childhood. But obviously, the same childhood that other people at the time had. Very unusual looking back on it now.
And then I should say that, in the holiday time, my parents never got back together again. So, those early summers, we went to this little country; it was a boarding house at the time. The family wanted to make a little extra money, and so they took in children who had been what I called “orphaned by the war,” whose parents, like my parents, had gone off. So, initially, there were about 15 or 18 children all together in this house, and it was very jolly in the holidays. And nobody thought about, “Poor me. I’m not living at home with my parents and family.” And several of those, - there were two or three siblings there, like us. There were two of us, but there were three in several instances.
But gradually, after the war, all these other children disappeared, and Peter and I were just left there. We were never picked up. And that, in 1946 when I was six, the boarding house became a hotel, and it became a place where artists and writers used to come out. It was in Enniskerry, a beautiful little village in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin. Now it’s really a bedroom community for this town. It was 12 miles away from Dublin, but going to Dublin was like a complete adventure. One can’t imagine it now. Nobody had a car then. Early on, we had ponies and traps so going to Dublin would have been almost a whole day.
But, during those holidays, I spent time meeting all these people, and I spent hours and hours and hours listening to stories. Because the Irish are great raconteur. And nobody would notice because there wasn’t anyone to say, “It’s your bedtime,” and nobody really noticing where we were. So Peter and I learned a great deal about literature and art, and what was going on in the world. And it was a tremendous contrast to the rather austere convent.
So I had this sort of rather wild, - I mean at least observing the wild. It wasn’t so wild for us. Perhaps the wildest thing was when somebody injudiciously gave us clay pipes. And we went through the ashtrays and took out all the, - those were the days before filter cigarettes. And we got all the tobacco out of the butts, and put them in our clay pipes and we went out to the barn and we lit them, and got thoroughly sick. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: You mentioned that it was a contrast. And I just want to underscore what an extreme contrast it appeared to be in the book. Because you mentioned that among the other occupants or presences in the convent were deaf mutes. And you also mentioned that there were no mirrors in the convent, and that the only use you had for newspapers there was in the toilet.
MS. HEMINGWAY: It’s interesting, the things that… People who read the book, - I just know all of that, so it doesn’t seem odd to me. But I suppose it does seem odd to someone else.
The convent had… Well, there were three parts to it. There was the girls’ school which was a junior and senior school. So that was from first form, which was first grade, up to twelfth, roughly; and then there was a boys’ school which was first to sixth. Because over there, it’s six and six, the form of education. So Peter was there til he was 12. And then the third component was a school for the deaf, which started out as a foundling school. In fact, maybe not even school. As late as the 1940s, if parents had a deaf child, they often just bundled the baby up, or at whatever age they discovered this, and just left it on the stoop of the school, and never, ever… The child had no parentage noted, no history, nothing; never, ever to be found again or belong to anyone.
And so these girls, they were all girls, they grew up in this school; and when I first went there, it was really a very antiquated thing. What happened was, when the girls grew up, when they were teenagers, they started learning how to clean and mop and do all the menial work. And they actually, the entire school was run, - not run, but they were the people who did all the work, from the farm, everything.
It was like a medieval village. And it was entirely run by women; there were no men there at all. But from slaughtering the beasts that we had, - any meat - everything we had came from the farm. The vegetables came from the garden. The linens, the flax was grown. And the linens were made, and all the linens for the nuns’ habits and for the beds. It was amazing, really. It was totally selfsufficient at that time.
But in the early ‘50s, quite a bit of research was done on deaf-- On the condition, and how it could be ameliorated and/or maybe reversed. And I must say that the nuns didn’t say, “Oh dear, here goes our free help.” Because they lived in the convent, never left the convent, they were like the nuns. But the nuns at least knew they had relatives somewhere, but the young deaf people didn’t. Once Cabra learned that there was a possibility that, with medicine, these girls, some of them could be helped, they immediately did start to educate them and to look into the possibilities of reversing these children’s plight. And by the time I left there, Cabra was one of the pioneering places in Europe for education for the deaf. So that was a very nice story in itself.
Of course, the school went, - not went downhill, but it became impossible for the… The school now doesn’t exist any longer because, you know, the costs of things, - they had complete free help for the whole school. They had to change… Things had to change. But it was for the good, for the good of the young people.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Adjusting to the new economies.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes.
MR. MELNYCZUK: You mentioned that the Dunns, who ran Summer Hill, were your true family. But you did, while you were living at Summer Hill, occasionally see your mother and father, spent summers with them. Could you describe your relationship with both your mother and your father at that time?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes. Well actually, I never spent summers with them. My father came back to Ireland in 1948. I think he came back, I think the story was that he got into gambling debt, so he couldn’t return to Ireland. He did come in ’48. But there was a period when he wasn’t supposed to return, or else he could have been in big trouble. But when he came back, he did take us out, and it was wonderful because it was the one time, - Even at the hotel, the Dunns, this family who took us in, who had taken in the other children, too, but who continued with us, at the time we should have left there and gone back to our parents. But the parents at this point hadn’t whatever, whether it was no interest or whatever reason they didn’t take us back.
The Dunns had this dilemma, this moral dilemma. Because my father was in a better position than my mother to take us, but if we went to my father in England, we would have been brought up Protestant. So they had this tremendous dilemma. We had all this talking to about, “If you go, do you want to go and live with your father?” And we’d say, “Oh yes, of course we do. Go to England? That sounds wonderful.” You know children, they say yes, it’d be great to be with the parent. And then they’d say, “But, if you do that, you know, your soul will be in mortal danger.” [Laughter] “And you know, you could go to hell forever. Do you want to do that?” And then you’d say, “Well no, of course not.”
So, there was always this, - This thing came up, this crisis came up periodically in my childhood. So we never went to live with my father, and actually saw less and less of him until later. - I saw him in England a few times. But my mother was a different matter. My brother and I would go and visit my mother once a week in the summertime. She lived in a boarding house in Dublin with my youngest brother, Michael, who now lives up in Canada and is a Professor of Philosophy. Actually, my brothers turned out to be great. But we would go and visit; my mother… Well she always though that it was a temporary situation. She didn’t think we were going to be divided forever and ever. But when we went there, she would insist, - She had special clothes that we wore, clean clothes, so we had to have a bath. And then showers didn’t really come in in Ireland until later and then we put on these clean clothes.
And then she always gave us books, and she’d take us to the theater. So I learned, - I had this limited time with my mother. But in a way, it was very fruitful because I learned. The Dunns, these country people, did not think that, - they thought books were perdition, apart from going to one’s father in England and becoming a Protestant. If you read books, other than prayer books, you were very likely to end up a long time in Purgatory, or something worse. [Laughter]
But my mother, she had a different outlook, and she really introduced me to literature. And in fact, I don’t put it in the book, but on my 12th birthday, she took me to see the movie of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” And she made me learn the name of the person. And the only Ernest I had ever heard of before that was The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde, another Irish writer. So my mother was instrumental in her funny, absent way of, - for my love of literature and the theater, because those were the two things that she really insisted that we spend time at and enjoy. Not insisted we enjoy, but hoped we’d enjoy it.
MR. MELNYCZUK: You mentioned that the Dunns frowned on imaginative literature, and yet, their home became a magnet for artists and writers. How did that come about? And was that where you first met Brendan Behan?
MS. HEMINGWAY: In Ireland, particularly, literature and drink seem to go together. [Laughter] I met so many writers who really never, - They never wrote the book that they were going to write because they were talking about writing, and they were drinking. And by the time they finished talking and drinking, nothing got written; many of the writers I knew. And there were a few that I met, and Brendan Behan was one of them who did accomplish something, and Paddy Kavanaugh. There were some really good writers. But actually, when you met them, you wondered how they ever sat down and wrote a word. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: How did they find time to do any drinking with all their writing, somebody like Kavanaugh? [Laughter]
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Brendan Behan winds up winding through your life in very important ways. Do you have any sort of strong first impressions?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well, I met Brendan - he came out to the hotel when I was 16. And I can remember, he was a person who, - I remember he noticed me. A lot of the people that I met I more observed.
MR. MELNYCZUK: You were 16?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes. Because I left when I was about 17 ½, I left both the convent and Enniskerry. But, he had a way with him. He always noticed people, talked to them. In that way, he was a bit like Ernest in that, -he didn’t feel “I’m the great writer. Come and pay homage to me.” He always wanted to meet people, talk to them, know more about them. And so, we just had a sort of talking acquaintance at that time, and when I finished school and spent time in Dublin, wanting very much to write… Maybe if I had stayed in Dublin I would still be in the pubs talking about writing, like all those other people. [Laughter]
So, I would run into Brendan every now and then, as one does. Dublin is a very small, - It still is a small place. Although now, it’s quite affluent and quite different from what it was. In those days, it was a walking town. Nobody had a car. You might have a bicycle; that was the way to get around. So that you were inclined, - if you were in Dublin at all, you were going to run into people. There was no way they were going to avoid you because there they were. There were front and back doors to all the pubs, that’s true. [Laughter] But after a while, if you wanted to meet someone, you got quite savvy about which direction to go in.
But, I had a number of writer friends. But Brendan was always very, - he loved to talk, and he would give advice. Because I remember, actually, it was quite an accident that I went to see him before I went to Spain. I went to see somebody else. I went to see Terry Cronin, my friend, and whose husband at that time was the head of the IRA, but he was in the Curragh. Well he should have been in the Curragh. He was supposed to be in the prison, but he was on the run. [Laughter] And Terry wasn’t there.
Because I wanted to tell my friends, “I’m actually going to Spain.” People in Ireland, we talk a lot and we say we’re going to do things, and very often, the saying, it sort of carries you through. You know. [Laughter] But I wanted to tell them, “I actually am going to Spain.” And then I went to find Kevin and Pan Collins. Kevin was the film reviewer for The Irish Times at the time, and his wife, Pan, wonderful person. Francis Sheehy-Skeffington who had an ancestor, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, but a man, - She came from a great family, was a cousin of, oh dear-- I’ll have to come back to that… The Irish writer, O’Brien.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Flann O’Brien?
MS. HEMINGWAY: No. He’s written a lot, and was down in Africa, was a diplomat. I’ll come back. Anyway, Pan was one of the first people-- Television was just starting up there in 1957. And she got involved in Televi Share. And until she died, she was working with “The Late Show,” which was sort of the equivalent of your… -
MR. MELNYCZUK: Jay Leno?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Jay Leno, yes, exactly. So I went to find them, and I couldn’t find them. Because you walked, and so I walked a little bit further, and there I saw, - Well, I’m now close to Ingersley Road, so I’ll go into the Behan’s house. And so I went there, and Brendan was there, but Beatrice was off doing something. So Brendan, he wasn’t drinking at the time. He said, “I’ll put the kettle on,” which of course is what you do. If you go into an Irish house, they say, “We’ll put the kettle on.” And he made a cup of tea, and we started talking about going to, - I talking about my going to Spain.
And he said to me, “What would you want to do that for? Why would you want to go to a country that has a horse’s ass for a leader?” [Laughter] When you could,..
So anyway, I told him I was on my way. And then he told me, - and this I told Hemingway. This was another reason we sort of solidified our friendship when I first came. Because as a 19-year old, I had this story. Then Behan told me that he’d been to Spain, he’d gone to Majorca. It was at the height of his fame, when Borstal Boy had just come out. And at the same time, “The Hostage” was on in London at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre in London.
And so, he was a big success in Europe. I think it was also on in Paris. And when he got off the plane, he was met by a bevy of reporters because there’s a nice link between Catholic Ireland and Catholic Spain, at that time, and so, they were delighted to have him. They said, “Mr. Behan, what would you like to see most in Spain?” And he just looked up at them, and he said: “Franco’s funeral.” [Laughter]
And so, there was absolute dismay. And then he got sent back as soon as they could. I think they kept him overnight and sent him back. [Laughter] So, he didn’t see anything in Spain. And so, he sort of said, “Well I would just avoid going there. I didn’t spend more than, - my 24 hours there weren’t worth it. So, don’t go.” But anyway, I did. But I was able to tell Hemingway these stories, and he was delighted.
MR. MELNYCZUK: That’s a wonderful story, a wonderful moment in the book.
I promise you, we’re getting to Hemingway.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: Just before we do, on Easter 1959, on Sunday, you attended your first bullfight. I wonder if you could talk about that.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes, I did. When I went to Spain, well, I didn’t know what to expect. And often, when you’re young, you just plunge. And so I went, but I felt, “Oh, I wonder what the theater is like.” And so I started going to the theater. In Dublin, every few shillings I got, I would go to the Abbey Theater and to the other theaters. And you could do that for one and sixpence, two shillings. And when I was in Spain, then I went off to the theaters there. And I found that they were playing “Calderon.” They were playing 18th century, - Very stylized plays that were really quite boring. I had a grasp of Spanish. But I knew that this wasn’t what I was looking for.
And so, I was with a family, teaching English to the children of the family. That was, so I had my room and board. And I spent two hours a day, I think, with the children and some weekends, and on Easter Sunday, the parents had gone off somewhere. And the chauffeur took us to the bull ring, and we had these wonderful seats. And I saw this and I said to myself, “This is the drama. This is what I’ve been looking for.” Because this is the theater of Spain because it’s live. The people participate. And there’s something in it that, - When you’re at a bullfight, - Some people, I don’t say everyone. But there was something in it that I felt was akin to what I had felt in the theater in Dublin. And I said, “This is going to be my new theater.”
And it was only a couple of weeks after that that I met the Hemingways. And so I got to see lots and lots of bullfights, and with Ernest telling me what was happening, what I should look for, how to judge. First of all, how to judge the bulls, and then how to judge the bullfighter, and then all the other elements that come in, the wind and the different things that… - The whole thing, how it comes together. And you know, I was so lucky. If you wanted to know something about something, the person to ask was Ernest, or to wait til he was ready to tell you.
MR. MELNYCZUK: In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway writes about bullfighting as something that taught him or helped him to learn how to write. And he said that one of the things that bullfighting did was focus you on the great drama, the tragedy. So the very sort of theater that you found there was also the theater that gave him the kind of perspective he felt he needed as a writer. I wonder, - did you get other advice about writing or ideas about writing from him?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well, writing was absolutely sacred to him. In writing, it was more my observing him rather than him saying this is what you should do.
What he told me, he told me, “You’ve really got to live and experience things.” I’m sure he said the same things over and over again, like “You write one true sentence, and then you go from there.” And “always write what you know. Don’t fake it. You just write what you know.”
I observed him. In fact, I sort of got a paralysis, I would say, in terms of, you know, when I was around him, it just seemed like there is no point. Why would anyone else want to write? [Laughter] And at the time, he kept showing first his own stuff. You read this. - Because the first thing he said, “If you want to be a writer, you read all the great writers.” That was rule number one. That’s before you even take up the pen or pencil. And he kept thrusting books at me because, of course, it was very easy. I mean almost everything he said, “Have you read this?” I was able to say, “No.” [Laughter] And instead of that being bad, that was good because I was able to then read it. And he’d say, “This edition,” or that. I know he loved Constance Garnett’s translations so that I learned a great deal there.
In observing him, I never saw him write. Because he would get up in the morning, go to his desk and write. And that was the first thing he did everyday no matter what. And then when he finished writing, that’s when he would emerge, have his breakfast and do things. And we worked in the afternoon, when I worked for him, first of all, the correspondence. And then I did some typing of the A Moveable Feast, and whatever else needed to be done, notes that he was writing, A Dangerous Summer at the time. It was just called The Bullfight piece, and A Moveable Feast was called the para-sketches. Everything was simple and had a good name to it.
But when he wrote, the things that he told me, like hints that were good for him, he said, “If ever you get into a bind when you’re writing, you absolutely stick with it til you get out of that. You stay with it. And then when you’re writing well, even though you want to continue, you stop. So that the next morning when you get out of bed and you start to write, you have something to go with.” And I think that is wonderful advice, if one can do it. I think it’s a matter of training oneself. When I was with him, I didn’t do any creative writing at all. I mean, I just felt it’s useless. How could I even start? [Laughter] But I learned a lot.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Every writer I know draws on some of Hemingway’s bon mots, and advice about writing. There is that famous passage again. Oddly enough, as I was rereading the book, in Death in the Afternoon where he talks about the importance of having seven-eighths of the iceberg of the story submerge, and the one-eighth, the story that you tell, carry and suggests the weight of all that is untold and omitted. So he had a sort of art of omission. This is just a moment I can’t miss. You mentioned that sentence of Hemingway’s about writing the truest thing you know when you’re stuck. And so many friends and I have discussed that sentence and wondered what that actually meant. [Laughter] How did you translate that?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well, I suppose it’s quite different for everyone…
Because truth, is relative. I think with Hemingway, when you read his writing, it’s just so amazing in terms of how he puts things down and how right it is. Somebody asked me the other day, “Why is it that he’s so popular today?” And I think it’s because it’s so true.
It was just a year or so ago my son, Sean, put together a Hemingway anthology on war. And I can’t tell you how many people have come to me and said, “I’ve just been reading those pieces, and they were so apt. If you read them, they just apply exactly to today.” And that’s because they’re true. And now, if you ask me what true is, it’s like the essence of things. But I guess each person has a certain truth. There are the true. But there’s your own truth, too, that makes your writing individual, so that everything isn’t just generic. There is, - each person has their own truth, and I think that’s only something that you can know.
MR. MELNYCZUK: I think that certainly gets at it, the essence of things. That’s what he said the bullfight did for him. It distilled things to their essences, life and death in a few short moments. I was wondering if you’d read a short passage that really just so marvelously conveys what it was like to be in Hemingway’s company.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Right here.
MS. HEMINGWAY: And this is The Traveling.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Yes.
MS. HEMINGWAY: “Traveling with Ernest was never dull. He was a man of extremes. When he enjoyed life, as he did on that trip, he enjoyed it to the fullest. And he had the gift of being able to impart his pleasure and enthusiasm to those around him. He unleashed his imagination and could be deeply sensitive.
“He tended to exaggerate greatly. And mostly this was fun and enhanced every activity. But there was a dark side. An enemy was a deadly enemy, usually for keeps. A grudge was jealously guarded. And loyalty and friendship was demanded.
“He had the most inquiring mind of anyone I’ve ever met. Although his knowledge was vast and diverse, he constantly deferred to those around him, asking their opinion and valuing the answer.
“He often drew upon Bill Davis’s knowledge of Spain, architecture and modern art. He used to tell me that I was a lot smarter than he was, but that he knew more because he had been around longer. Although he had been on these roads many times, it was as though he was seeing France for the first time.
“He noted the changes with interest, not ennui. He might not have liked what he saw. But he analyzed and processed the changes instead of dismissing them. Each day was a new adventure. And I often felt that I was the aged and jaded one when I could not muster up enough enthusiasm for visiting yet another scene from his life or literature.”
MR. MELNYCZUK: Great. That’s wonderful.
MS. HEMINGWAY: You know that?
MR. MELNYCZUK: That’s wonderful. Yeah.
MS. HEMINGWAY: It was. It was wonderful. But then sometimes his strength, - He just never seemed to flag. You expected, “Aha! Now he’s going to need a rest,” but no. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: Energizer Hemingway.
MS. HEMINGWAY: He perhaps knew that this was the last time he’d be in Spain. I was with him the last time in Spain, the last time in France, the last time in Cuba. And just every ounce… - I mean it was a wonderful way to live, to enjoy every moment. Or not even enjoy, but to be aware every moment. Sometimes, as life is, you don’t enjoy everything. But he was always aware. And that really opened my eyes because I was inclined to be the sort of person who would be stuck in a book, and not looking around me. And I learned from him how important it is to look around and see, and see what’s there.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Wonderful. It was a very male world. And again, in Death in the Afternoon, he writes, “Girl inspection is a big part of bullfighting.” [Laughter] Did you ever feel out of place there?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well I didn’t, partly because I think… - I had three brothers. And also because I was a sort of… Well, I see myself. It’s funny how one sees oneself as a certain thing, maybe other people didn’t. But I sort of saw myself in a way as a very retiring figure, sort of very quiet, and listening to everything, but not--… People most of the time, I think, didn’t even notice I was there. I think many people were surprised that I turned up a year later and two years later, and then went on to work on the Hemingway Papers. Because they just thought this is just some transient hanger on, that that person will be gone soon. And somehow, I endured. And now here I am, 40 or so many years later, still somewhat involved with Hemingway and the Hemingway Papers, Hemingway’s life. It didn’t bother me, the male--… I just think they didn’t notice me. I was like the fly on the wall. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: I don’t believe that for a second. [Laughter] You mentioned how many people recognized Hemingway as you traveled. But there are so many wonderful anecdotes in the book that I’m not going to be able to touch on a tenth of them. But there is one moment, which I thought was especially funny and loaded, when Hemingway was mistaken for Orson Welles. [Laughter]
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes. Now, funnily enough, Orson Welles was one of the heroes of my youth. Because he had come to Ireland in the early ‘50s, I think, and had worked at the Gate Theater with Hilton Edwards and Michael Elmore. And I love the Gate Theater and the history of it, and Orson Welles had gone there. And he was in Ireland in 1958 and I made an attempt to meet him, and it didn’t work out. But then, we were approaching Paris, and at this point, it was just Bill
Davis, Ernest and myself. Mary and Annie Davis were already in Paris, and Bill had booked for us to eat at this fantastic restaurant; the name I just cannot remember. But, we arrived there and we were sort of marching. We’re looking forward to the food because as you know, all of you who have read Ernest, food was very important. So, we’re all imagining for about the hour before what we’re going to order and how it’s going to be, and so on. And we arrive at the door and Ernest is first. And the matre ’de bows low and says, “Welcome. Bienvenue, Monsieur Welles.” [Laughter] And Ernest looked and said, “Hemingway is the name.” And then there were all these abject, “Oh. Oh dear, oh dear. Sorry, sorry.” And it turned out that Welles had called up the day before, ordered his meal, and wanted- … He had everything just set because he was another gourmand, absolutely gourmand deluxe. So we went in and Ernest was just a bit irritated. And he’d had a--… I don’t know. It wasn’t really a falling out with Welles but he didn’t think every highly of him. He rather thought he was a bit of a snob and a lightweight, and various things like that.
And then Welles came in. We were given complimentary aperitifs so that was to take the edge off things. And we had that. And we were put in a position where we could see Welles come in and he sat at his table. And he put his napkin under his chin and I remember it was a capon. He might have had something to begin with, he probably did. But I just remember this capon, the silver, the silver hood over it, and all the--… And we watched and watched. And Ernest was getting--… It was really upsetting his-, he wasn’t enjoying his lunch as well as he might. And so, I said, “You know, I really would love to meet Orson Welles.” And so, Ernest, he said, “Well I can do that. No problem.” So, we let him eat his lunch; Welles, that is. And then Ernest sent over a little note, and invited Welles to have brandy and coffee with us, and he came over and did. It turned out to be just a wonderful meeting and they forgot all of their differences. And Welles was also a follower of the bulls and he knew and admired Antonio Ordonez who was the leading bullfighter at the time, and a great friend, protégé of Ernest’s. And it ended--… Lunch didn’t end up but Welles’s life ended when he--… When his life ended, he had left instructions that his ashes be buried on Antonio Ordonez’s ranch in Spain, and indeed, they are there to this day. But it was just a wonderful little sort of cameo.
And we want on to Paris, and Welles joined us there. And Ernest invented a little club and I had to go out and buy Swiss army knives because everyone in the club was to have Swiss army knives. [Laughter] And Orson was the first to get one. And then Mary in… This was, to me, an embarrassing situation, Mary for some reason insisted, when we had lunch with Welles in Paris, that I sing, which I am not going to do tonight, folks, that I sing ‘Danny Boy’ in Irish, which I did, much to my embarrassment, and I could see that Welles was not the slightest bit impressed. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: In a few minutes, we’re going to open the floor to questions. But there are at least two more matters that I want us to have a chance to touch on, and so, I’m going to yank you out of Spain, which we’ve only begun there and have barely touched on France, and very quickly deposit you in Havana, and to think of Pahilla. What was it like in Havana in 1960?
MS. HEMINGWAY: 1960. We were all there from January to July. Well for me it was idyllic. It was my first time in the tropics and I can’t tell you how nice it is if you’ve grown up in the damp of Ireland, and you’re never, ever warm, not even on the hottest day of summer. Although I hear things are a little better now with the global warming, at least Ireland is going to benefit from it. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: It’s the first positive development…
MS. HEMINGWAY: But I loved Cuba. There was a rhythm to the life there. Mary and Ernest, any disagreements they might have had in Spain and the drinking and all the hangers on, the people and that, and the frenzy, and even though, it was sort of fun, it was great fun for me in Spain. But when I went to Cuba, life was quiet. Ernest wrote every morning, swam in the pool, enjoyed his cats, went out fishing on the pillar. We went to the Floridita. Mary and I dressed up on Saturday nights, we went to the Floridita. Sunday afternoon, Ernest and I went to the cockfights and one day, Joe Olsop of The Herald Tribune came along and we had a wonderful afternoon.
So, it started out, it was really great. Ernest was writing. Mainly, he was writing The Dangerous Summer. But he was also correcting and putting finishing touches to A Moveable Feast. But suddenly, sort of a shadow came across our lives; part of it was the Revolution, which was now Castro had departed from his socialism and gone directly to communism, and had come up against-… The United States was unhappy with the direction Castro was taking, and not to speak of all the American--… The property and the interests in Cuba that America was losing out on because Castro started nationalizing everything. And so, Phil Bonzel(?) who was the American Ambassador used to come to dinner every Thursday at the Finca and we had these wonderful evenings. But in, I think it was April, he said that he wouldn’t be coming anymore, that he had been recalled, and that diplomatic relations were being severed between the two countries. And he strongly advised Ernest to leave Cuba. He said he actually had been asked by the American government, informally, to pass on the message that the direction Cuba was going in… And Ernest, this was devastating for him. At first, he sort of tried to argue and said, “Well, I’ve been here through revolutions. Dictators have come and gone. I write. I’m not involved in politics. The world knows I’m an American writer. There’s never been a question of my allegiance to my country.” But he could see that he probably would have to give up the Finca, and that was a devastating prospect. Plus, at the time, his health was declining, especially his eyesight. And he depended on his eyes for sports, fishing, for reading. He read about three books a week. The prospect, really, - it was an impossible situation. And a depression set in.
And Mary and I later discussed it. I said, “How was it we didn’t, -we didn’t catch on that Ernest needed help?” Perhaps he needed medical help but it was the last thing we thought of. We didn’t think of it at all. We thought, “He’s got plenty of reason to be depressed, and let’s try and cheer him up.”
But you all know the story how we left Cuba. He did take some of his papers, but not very much out. Went back to Spain to double check, - to see how the latest bullfight season was going, and to make sure that his Bullfight Piece, which was coming out in September in Life Magazine, that it would be up to date. He was a meticulous craftsman, and made sure that whenever he wrote something that it was as accurate as he could. So he insisted on going back to Spain and I stayed in New York for a little while with Mary. And then I did go back and join him in Spain because I was concerned; there had been a report in the paper that he had collapsed in the bullring. It turned out to be false, as far as we know.
But I just had this uneasiness and I went back to Spain. And I hadn’t seen him in about three weeks. And I was astounded at how he’d lost a lot of weight. He just seemed very depressed, very concerned and worried about everything around him. And he talked of suicide. I did what I could to comfort him, and hope that he would change his mind. But when we parted in Madrid, in late 1960, he came back to the States. And I just felt, one day, I’m just going to hear that he’s dead, and that’s what happened. But it was not for another six or seven months.
MR. MELNYCZUK: One last question from me, and then we’ll open it up to the audience. So if people have questions, we might start lining up at the mic; I think there’s just one mic in the center of the room. One of the reasons for your longlived connection with the Hemingway family was because, at Ernest Hemingway’s funeral, you met Gregory Hemingway, Hemingway’s son. I wonder if you’d speak for a few minutes about what happened after that meeting.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well when we met, the two of us were slight outsiders on that occasion because I was working. I had just gotten myself a job at Newsweek, was very proud of it. And they were delighted to let me off to go to the funeral. Of course they said, “Well we’d love you to do a piece.” But I said, “That’s not on.” And they said, “That’s up to you. We’ll still give you the time to go.” Mary realized, when I got there, that I was working for Newsweek. She had made absolutely certain not to ask anyone, any journalist, even friends who were journalists, to the funeral because it would be too tempting to write about it. And Greg was there, Ernest’s youngest son. And he had had a falling out with his father, and was not on good terms with Mary. So it turned out that the two of us were sort of--… We found ourselves sitting together at one end of the Christiania Lodge.
So we spent the four days, more or less, together and we had great fun. I just found that Gregory, who had not been mentioned at the Finca, his name was taboo. And I had no idea what it was. Ernest had -… The only thing he said to me once was he said, “Giggy was my best son, and he went bad.” And I had no idea what that meant. But when I met him, that completely went out of my mind because he was an utter charmer. He was great fun and we saw each other over the next three or four years. And then, in 1966, we got married and I had great hopes, as one always does when you get married. And it started out very well. But I learned early on that Greg had--… That there were problems, and he was a doctor. He was a wonderful doctor, but his problems became too great for him to practice medicine as he would like to have done. And we had some children. And my son, Edward, is sitting right here in the front row; has been a great strength to me in writing the book, urging me, to say, “I want you to write and tell the truth and tell your story.” So I did. I have some wonderful memories with Greg. We did things that I would never have done. I was adventurous, but not anything as adventurous as Greg was. We did things I would never have done; sailing in extraordinarily rough seas.
Well, with the idea that he would work in underdeveloped countries, we went to Nicaragua and Ecuador. He had a crazy idea once that we’d live in--… I thought it lovely to live in Ireland, nothing I would have liked better, but he chose a house that was right on the north/south border. [Laughter] And right in 1970, at the height when the troubles started. Greg had this nose; he should have been an investigative reporter or something because he had this nose for just getting himself right in the middle of trouble. [Laughter] So that our lives sort of started and stopped and started and stopped… Now I don’t know how much more you want me to tell. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: I have any number of follow-up questions. But I’m sure members of the audience do, too, and we’re running short of time. So I thought perhaps we’d open it up there.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Alright. We’ll see.
MR. MELNYCZUK: And then if there is a moment, then I will jump right back in there.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Okay.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Thank you. Yes.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes.
AUDIENCE: I just wanted to say how wonderful it is to be here this evening to hear the stories that you’re relating. I have a photo of Ernest that was taken in Ronda in October of 1959. And it’s a photo that I’ve never seen in any of the Hemingway biographies, picture books and so forth. Ernest has one arm around Guitano Ordonez, the other arm around Antonio Ordonez. There’s a lot of locals in the background trying to get into the picture. It was taken, apparently, by a local photographer. Were you with Ernest in Ronda in October of 1959?
MS. HEMINGWAY: I was, yes.
AUDIENCE: Do you recall this time, this instant, this moment in time, perhaps? I’m trying to learn more about the photo.
MS. HEMINGWAY: The photo. I don’t know whether I remember that particular moment. But I do remember because Ronda was such a--… It was his birthplace and the place of his family. And so, he was the son of Ronda and when he went back there, they really cheered him on. It was a wonderful bullfight so there was great jollity about it. And I believe that, although we didn’t see him at the time, Orson Welles was there at that same time, too. But I can’t really tell you anymore details. Off hand, I don’t know who the photographer would have been.
AUDIENCE: This photo is so telling because here is Hemingway-…
MS. HEMINGWAY: The two, the father and son.
AUDIENCE: The father and son, the two best bullfighters, arguably, for their time in Spain.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes. Well you’re lucky to have that photo.
AUDIENCE: I sent this photo to Todd Oliver as he was composing Hemingway From A to Z, and it is present in that volume. But I’ve never seen it published anywhere else, so I feel very lucky.
MS. HEMINGWAY: I’ll have a look for it.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Thank you. Other questions from the audience? [Pause] Okay. Then I’ll just jump right back in. We went momentarily back to the bullfights and I guess I wanted to mention that Ordonezes were the… The elder Ordonez was the model for, - what was his name? Pedro in The Sun Also Rises, that kind of great bullfighter there, the matador there.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Was it Romero?
MR. MELNYCZUK: Romero, Pedro Romero.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes.
MR. MELNYCZUK: But that made me think of another part of your story and Hemingway’s aesthetic. He was, in some ways, a pioneer of what came to be called “the new journalism” or the non-fiction novel. He says in the preface to A Moveable Feast that readers are welcome to read this as fiction if they wish. Whereas so much of his fiction is so clearly drawn and based on the Ordonezes, on stories and characters and people he knew so very well. Since you were typing the manuscript of A Moveable Feast, which is one of my favorite books of his, I wonder whether you could say something about where it was that he fictionalized and where he adhered closely to truth.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well that’s a little bit difficult for me because, when he told me that he started that book, he never imagined he’d write a memoir of sorts.
I mean it is sort of part of his memoirs. But he was injured in two plane crashes in Africa. And he came back and he had broken his back, and he had to lie down and be quiet for a while. Then he started thinking back on his early life, and especially on his early writing life. And that was Paris, and so he started writing his notes for it. And then, eventually, he put it into, - it was a few years later that he put it into that form, the book form.
But it’s very hard with a writer, I mean even almost with oneself to tell what memory, how memory serves you in writing. I think he probably thought it was all… I don’t think any of it was fiction in terms of the experience. I think he thought that’s exactly how it was. I wouldn’t be able to pull apart and tell you this part of it was fiction and this wasn’t.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Not the way the process works…
MS. HEMINGWAY: Especially as he wrote it, he probably thought, “This is it. This is what I remember.” Or at least, “This is what I want to put down.” Because I think he was quite conscious about things. I don’t think he was a careless writer in any way.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Certainly not. One of the most careful I have ever met in my life. [Laughter]
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes.
MR. MELNYCZUK: I’m sorry, there’s a question.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. I understand that Ernest Hemingway was not too fond of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I was wondering if you could verify this, and you might elaborate on it a little bit.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well, you know, I would disagree with you on that. I knew Hemingway just for two years, so I can only vouch for what he was like during those two years.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Hard to believe that.
MS. HEMINGWAY: But he always told me he loved Scott, but he was angry with Scott because he felt that he had dissipated his talent. It was the same sort of way he treated his children. When he expected things of them and they didn’t come up to expectations, he would get very angry about it. He had stricter guidelines for friends and family than he had for the rest of the world. And he always blamed Zelda, sort of blamed the woman. [Laughter] He said Zelda was jealous of Scott’s career and that she used every devious trick to prevent Scott from writing, and that eventually, she succeeded. Although we know that Zelda was not with him. Zelda was in an institution in the later years of her life. But I think that he always worried about Zelda; Scott, I’m talking about, worried about Zelda.
But definitely, Ernest always spoke with great affection of Scott to me. And Scott was the person who was instrumental in getting him published by Scribner’s. Maxwell Perkins was Scott Fitzgerald’s editor. And Scott said, “Oh, there’s this wonderful new writer, and you must look at his work,” - and it was Hemingway. And he brought him to Scribner’s and he’s with Scribner’s to this day as Scribner’s exists today, as part of Simon & Schuster, and a conglomerate.
But I do think, - that was definitely my feeling. He never said anything… The things that he said about Scott were really… He was a rummy, but that was not his fault, and I think I put it in my book. In a way, if you look at it that way, James Joyce was a rummy, by Ernest’s standards, because he drank a lot. But Joyce’s writing never faltered, and I think that was the way Ernest felt that Scott didn’t do his best by his writing. And that was letting his friends and family and himself down, and that was unforgivable for Ernest. But I think he had affection for the person.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Since you mention Hemingway as a father, I wanted to go back a bit to the son, and if we could talk a little bit more about Gregory. You said that they had had a falling out, and it was sort of a gradual process of discovery for you of what that falling out was over. And I wonder if you’d be willing to talk about that.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well, since I’ve put it in my book, Greg was a transvestite, which is a… - I don’t whether you want to call it a condition. It was something that was little understood, and maybe still is little understood. Certainly, I understand very little about it. And he felt that was a tragic flaw in his character. And he always felt that he had let his father down. Well, he always felt it was both ways. He felt that his father never did anything to help him with this condition and that, in some ways, his father, which might have been true, slightly despised him or looked down on him because of it and/or tried to ignore it. But he felt his parents never got him the help, never loved him for himself. They felt he has this flaw therefore he should be dismissed, as it were.
Now, that’s him looking at it. Since Ernest never- just didn’t allow Greg’s name to be used in the home, I don’t know how Ernest felt about it. Obviously, I know that he, - he said, “My son went bad.” And that, I presume, is what he was talking about. But they had a very close relationship. When Greg was little, he was an enchanting boy, and he was a wonderful shot, a wonderful athlete. He was very smart. And he went on to get a medical degree. All his life, he fought against being consumed by this condition that he had. He really fought against it. I know that because I was married to him for 20 years. So, I give him good marks for that. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: Absolutely. There’s actually a paragraph, I was wondering if you would be willing to read that. It’s one of the most moving in the book.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Oh yes. This is what Greg told me about his early life. They were off in Africa on a safari and out of that safari, that’s in the ‘30s, came Green Hills of Africa.
“While his parents were gallivanting in the bush, poor little Giggy was being terrorized by Ada, the nurse in charge he was left with in Key West. She ruled by fear, threatening to leave him as his parents had done whenever he was bad. She would put on her hat and coat and walk out slamming the door, and not return until his screams and imploring reached an unbearable pitch. She tyrannized him, telling him she was the only one in the world who cared for him and that if he did not behave, she would leave him, too.
“It was during this time he told me that he first went to his mother’s chest of drawers and took out her stockings, and rubbed them against his cheek. Ada did not wear hosiery in the Florida heat. He associated stockings only with his mother who was gone. He had remembered clinging to her leg and liking the silky feeling and the closeness it brought him to his mother who was not an affectionate person. Now that she was far away, he clung to the stockings which gave him security and a secret joy. That is how it started. That is all there was to it. He emphasized, ‘I’m not a transvestite. I do not want to dress up as a woman. It’s only the stockings, only the stockings. They’re my security blanket, and I cannot give them up. Do you still love me?’”
That was what he told me when he first admitted… I noticed that things were missing or things were appearing, like lipstick and stockings and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. And I thought he must have a girlfriend. I confided in my Aunt Helen and said, “What do I do?” And she said, “Well you keep your mouth closed and your eyes open.” [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: Didn’t your mother offer some advice, too?
MS. HEMINGWAY: No. Oh, my mother loved Greg, absolutely loved Greg. Well she said, “Oh, it’s far nicer than going out with violence and guns.” It was so fun. My mother was quite… - She said, “Well what a nice thing,” you know. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: That he was in touch with his feminine side instead.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes. [Laughter] Yes, it was funny.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Wonderful.
MS. HEMINGWAY: But yes, that’s how Greg first told me. He just said it was just something he did to relieve the… - When he couldn’t cope with things, it was his way of taking care of that.
MR. MELNYCZUK: You live in Montana now, which seems a far cry from Madrid and Dublin and Paris. But you have stayed there, you’re committed to it. Could you tell us a little about your life there?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well, I live in Bozeman. And it just surprised me that I’ve stayed there. I always thought I would leave, - I never wanted to go there. It seemed like I kept, all my life, getting further and further away from Ireland. I loved Ireland. Now I could go to Ireland anytime and somehow, I stay in Montana. [Laughter] I don’t know what that’s all about.
But I love Montana. I love to ski in the wintertime; otherwise, I think I would go mad. I mean I would have to leave. But I love that. Montana, it’s nice. It’s a quiet place. I’ve just been in New York, - well, up in Toronto and, before that, in New York. And I realize now, each year I come back to New York how busy New York is and how leisurely I have become. There are lots of wonderful writers out in Montana and some of them were very kind to give me nice blurbs.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Thomas McGuane. “This is the best and best written of all the reminiscences of Ernest Hemingway, in part because its’ adventurous author, Valerie Hemingway, is such an absorbing character herself.” [Laughter] “For once, the great artist, the hero and the fool seem to be the same person. And the long list of fascinating people in this train are seen with a rare frankness. Here, here. True, true.”
MS. HEMINGWAY: Thank you. And…
MR. MELNYCZUK: Jim Harrison.
MS. HEMINGWAY: I mean, we’ve got some interesting people out there like Jim Harrison.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Mailer is still in Massachusetts. [simultaneous conversation]
MS. HEMINGWAY: Mailer’s in Provincetown, and I talked to him recently. [Laughter] He’s still there. Can’t get him to come out to Montana. He came close when he did The Executioner’s Song, and he sent me up a letter. And he must have dictated it to his secretary because, he put: “Dear Valerie…” and then it was “Norman.” And then when she addressed the envelope, she just put “Valerie. Bridger Canyon Road.” In those days, 20 years ago, it was delivered to me. It was just amazing that it got… But nowadays, I’m afraid the way things have gotten so automated, and Montana’s got to smug and smart, they’d send it back to owner.
MR. MELNYCZUK: He’d send you an email anyway.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: Question. Yes.
AUDIENCE: A long time ago, I think I read a critique of Hemingway that suggested that he wrote about bullfighting and hunting in Africa because he was insecure about his masculinity. Did you ever get any sense of that? Or is that just easy psycho-babble?
MS. HEMINGWAY: I’d be inclined to say it’s the latter. [Laughter] Because I found that… He seemed to me, - and as I say, I’m looking back. I’m a 19-year old, I meet him. He certainly seemed very secure in his masculinity when I knew him. He just was a secure person. He hunted from when he was tiny. His father had, all his early years. That was part of his persona; he hunted, and he loved it. And Africa, it draws people. Once you go there, you always want to go back. I’ve been a couple of times, and I just love it. And this is why I’m very grateful I spent two years around Hemingway, because I was able to see him continuously.
Because so many of the stories that one reads, it’s just one little, - It’s like one glimpse, and you don’t see the rest. And you see that hour of the day, you don’t see the other 23 hours. And I did see him round the clock, and I would disagree with that, just based on what I know.
AUDIENCE: Good. I’m glad. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: You mentioned Mailer. There’s a very dramatic moment in the book when you are with Mailer and Beverly Bentley, I think, and you were watching television. And you see Jack Ruby…
MS. HEMINGWAY: Jack Ruby, one shot.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Yeah, shoot Oswald. And that brings us to the Kennedy Library. You were also here when it opened in 1981. And I wonder if you could tell us anything about that day?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well I remember that that was… - Mary Hemingway was supposed to come and open the, well, come to represent the Hemingway family. Because actually, it was Mary who, - she had this great admiration for JFK, and then later for Jackie, and right from the beginning, so many people wanted the Hemingway Papers. They’re really coveted. And Mary said, “They’re going to the Kennedy Library,” before even there was a Kennedy Library. I worked with the papers and put them together for years. Mary never faltered in that; it was the Kennedy Library. She wanted Hemingway and Kennedy, her heroes, together.
It was sad for me that Mary couldn’t be there that day. But I remember because we were at a hotel nearby, and George Plimpton, that’s another person we’ve lost in the last few months, or maybe a year. Time, - it accelerates when you get older. But I just remember it as being a wonderful occasion, and being able to think back to Hemingway’s friends, and also to the Kennedy family.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Last question from the audience, then I have one more to ask.
AUDIENCE: Part of the entourage in 1959 was Dr. George Saviers, Hemingway’s personal physician. What are your recollections about George Saviers during The Dangerous Summer?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well I liked George very much, and George is the person who… - He came up, and it was funny, - not funny, but at Mary’s funeral, George came up and he said, “Do you remember me?” And of course, once he said who he was… At the time, I didn’t recognize him or maybe I wasn’t thinking, but he said, “I’m George Saviers.” Ernest had a great fondness for him, and George traveled round with us quite a bit. Because I remember he was in Valencia, and I mentioned how Beverly Bentley and I were thinking, “Oh, we want to get away from these old fuddy-duddies for a little bit.” I know that doesn’t quite fit in with Ernest being, - It was fantastic. But there were times when you just felt you wanted to do something different and to make off on your own.
And Ernest sent George up, - because we said we weren’t feeling well, Ernest sent George up to our bedroom to check out. [Laughter] And he ordered, - we had to make these lies up about what our ailments were. [Laughter] And so then, in return, we got this very bland dinner. But George was always, - He was great fun. And when I went to catch him with Mary the next year, after Ernest died, he was there. And he really was a tower of strength for Mary because he had been very closely connected with… -Well, he was the one who helped get Ernest into the
Mayo Clinic, and had gone with him. And when Ernest was at the Mayo Clinic, it was under George’s name. He was a very valued and true family friend and I always felt that in later years, yes.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
MR. MELNYCZUK: It’s clear that much more than 7/8ths of this book is going to remain submerged in our conversation because we’re just about out of time. I have one last question if I may.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yes.
MR. MELNYCZUK: Early in the book you write: “While Cabra stimulated young minds and provided a secure and sheltered haven, it gave us few tools for tackling a secular life. The highest we girls could aspire to, we were told, was to join the Order, to become a nun. Being a wife and mother rated a poor second. No other alternatives were considered.” Yet, as I read your wonderful book, I wondered what kind of education could have prepared you for this life?
MS. HEMINGWAY: Well, this was for the life that I led. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: Yes.
MS. HEMINGWAY: I think I was very lucky. I don’t regret a moment of any of it. Obviously, one has to take the bad with the good. But even the bad strengthens you. [Laughter] The nuns told us this, you know, that life is a veil of tears.
[Laughter] But if you get through it, there’s a reward on the other side. But I feel I’ve had lots of rewards over the years, and it was a wonderful education because it was a very introspective education. And I find that so useful today when we have such an invasive world. Everywhere you go, there’s a television on, there’s something being fed to you. And I am able to withdraw from that.
One of the things we learned a lot of was poetry. And I stand at a bus stop or I’m waiting for something in between things, I recall poetry. And about three weeks ago, I was up in Pittsburgh and my friend, Seamus Heaney, was also there. And we were reminiscing about the youthfulness of an Irish education, and how wonderful it is to have a store of poetry and literature in your head. Those were the things that… - We learned them in a way that wouldn’t be taught today, that you got a clout if the lines didn’t follow each other. [Laughter] That doesn’t happen. But I’ll tell you, it was worth every clout. [Laughter]
MR. MELNYCZUK: Thank you very much, Valerie Hemingway, on behalf of the…
MS. HEMINGWAY: Thank you. [Applause]
MR. MELNYCZUK: - Certainly one of my rewards has been having this conversation. And I wanted to tell everybody that Valerie will be signing books in the bookstore. I’m sure that you will want to seize this moment. I think there might be a couple of copies left. Again, thank you very much.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Thank you.