CHICAGO—12 DECEMBER 1920, LETTER TO WILLIAM B. SMITH, ROOMMATE IN CHICAGO
Having your sister visit was delightful for me because she brought with her the lovely Miss Hadley Richardson. Isn’t it a lovely place with her presence here? Our room is run down but she lit the walls and the curtains were open and the afternoon sun came through the window, glowy and not harsh like the sun near the Austrian lines. Gawd, the sun was so sharp in the trenches. That is why no women are allowed in war, sweet Will, because they make things all glowy and the fighting wouldn’t get done and so the war would last forever.
She is a favorable girl and her red hair, it was so red. Those women with red hair are a rarity you know. Dearest Will, have her visit with your sister again. You wouldn’t mind, would you? You and little Kate get along well enough. Miss Hadley, she would make a good wife for me. Even though she is eight years older, there is some bit of childish immaturity about her. I feel as though she is fragile and needs someone alongside. I would make her a fine husband and show her how to live. We could travel; I’ve always wanted to stay longer in Toronto or go to Finca Vigia to visit and drink their beers and brandy. We would have an apartment along the beach and we would have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright. In the morning I would see her face, clean, and she would love me in the morning too. I want her with me then, Bird. But hunger is good discipline.
I’ve wandered from place to place, not really knowing anything but writing and doing so because it was my one love. Sometimes I’d be gloomy for no reason and I wouldn’t care if my shirt was tucked to my trousers and my shoes would be falling apart and I’d go down to the Man Clothing Trade because I have no woman. But with Hadley I would never be gloomy and there would always be strange and comic things happening in the worst times. But seeing Hadley. I really want something in my life for the first time. I want to feel how her collarbone changes the surface of her skin and the shadows that fall across her face when the sun stretches in the late afternoon and maybe her eyes would sparkle while reading my work. Does she have soft hands? She must because she is fragile and her mother hid her away, you say. Being with her would be like writing a new book. 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 peels of little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue 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 one true sentence, and then go on from there. But Hadley with me. I would write and never stop for her.
Whenever I see her smiling face, I have to smile myself.
MILAN—18 AUGUST 1918, LETTER TO PARENTS
The captain said that you’ve already heard from Brummy, but he suggested that I write you first before the papers. You see, I am the first American wounded so the papers might write something of me. I was out on the field and a bomb went off. I had bullets in my legs and there was one under my right knee but the doctor waited until it was healed to operate so he could do a clean cut with no infection, isn’t that a great idea, Dad? Anyway, I grabbed another wounded Italian soldier and drug him into our captain’s trench. He was shot in the stomach and his blood seeped onto the front of my coat and my captain said “R.I.P, Tenente and soto Tenente” because he saw the blood on my vest. I urged them to take off my jacket (I had no shirt underneath) and they saw my full torso and said I’d live, which made me happier. I asked to see my legs, even though I was a little scared to, and they took off my trousers and there they were, the old chaps. My limbs were still there. Thank God! They were pretty banged, with shrapnel and bullets tearing the skin. I could not feel it, Mother, so don’t worry. Another ambulance came and they put me in a stretcher and took me to the camp tent. I was given right away a shot of morphine and two shots of anti-tetanus. The doctor pulled out what he could from my knees and legs (more souvenirs for me!) and then they sent me on another stretcher to the base hospital in Milan. Milan is a fine place, although I haven’t seen much of it. It took a few hours longer to get to Milan because the road was having its “entrails” blown out with explosives. So they would carry me until they heard the whee-whoosh-boom-clash-clash of a big one coming then wham! They threw me on the ground and flattened. My wounds were burning now like little devils. Then the rest stop had the roof blown off and I had to wait two hours for an ambulance. They went out to the field for the wounded soldiers then came back for me.
I’ve 227 wounds from the trench explosives and it didn’t really hurt at all at first, only that my boots felt like they were filled with heavy water and I couldn’t walk very well. They couldn’t figure out how I walked 150 yards with the young chap with my knees nearly blown off. Oh, also, there are over 200 flesh wounds, but they heal quickly especially since I am still young.
I enjoy receiving your letters, my family! That includes Grandpa and Aunt Grace. Thanks so much for the 40 lire! I sent you a cable so you wouldn’t worry. I’ve been lying in a hospital bed for a month and seven days. The nurses are American and there are eighteen nurses for four patients. They care for me quite well and sometimes one will let my friend that I drove with bring me brandy. It’s cheap but goes down well. I’ll have to learn to walk again. Give my love to everyone at home!
P.S. I got a letter from the Helmles addressed to “private Ernest Hemingway” but what I am actually is Soto Tenente Ernest Hemingway or S. Ten. That is my rank in the Italian army but I hope to become a Tenente or First Lieut.
PARIS—2 JANUARY 1922, LETTER TO HADLEY RICHARDSON, WIFE
My Dearest Hadley,
I’m sitting in the front room which is also the living room and part of the kitchen. I’m truly sorry we had to rent this two-dollar, Rue du Cardinal Lemoine apartment and the stove sometimes shuts off when you boil tea water and in the morning your feet are cold on the wooden floor. It doesn’t bother me but I wish it were better for you. Your smile is big even though your feet are cold. You love Paris. Right now, you are out searching for a flower market with cheap prices. I should be in the room we rented for me so I can continue writing for the Toronto Star that will make us denarii so you can get flowers from the expensive vendors on La Ruia and wear rich-blue dresses like the governor’s wife.
You were right to tell me “Paris, darling, oh Paris please?” instead of Chicago. Sherwood was right. Chicago was boring, with rows of streets on either side of city that stretched until you couldn’t see any farther and the same vendors selling the same things, the pubs having cheap beer and girls on the weekends. One can only be around the same whores and beers for a certain time. And every day the same—no excitement in Chicago. It’s read the paper in morning with coffee and maybe a cigarette, write articles on the shoemaker’s new store on Main Street, walk across the road for a quick lunch. Then the evening walk or ride the trolley home and say “good-night” or “bonne nuit” if they spoke French. Your wife would have dinner on the table but the table was too big and the room didn’t seem like a home.
I thought about you in Chicago but I knew it was not home for us and I am beginning to love Paris like you do. I knew even at the first time I was infatuated with you I was going to marry you and get a little house (one day near, my darling, I will buy you a house with a working stove and a warm floor) with you, for you. I see you walk in with flowers with long green stems that compliment your red hair. It falls down your back in long curls. So I will greet you and then help you start dinner.
PARIS—20 APRIL 1926, LETTER TO F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, FRIEND
Dear Old Fitz,
I’ve had a rotten cold. My throat keeps closing. You cannot tell in writing because sickness does not affect the hand. I might as well be writing my grave inscription and obituary.
Hadley is well. She is playing the piano. We haven’t been doing much together. We went out to the Saint Cyr. Yr. before. She plays at the Dome often. Bumby has the whooping cough. Hadley gets a cough every now and then too. I supposed the give it back and forth to each other. We leave for Spain May 12. If Bumby isn’t better, I will go ahead and Hadley will join me later. Pauline may be in the USA in September when we go to visit my parents. By that time I’ll have a copy of The Sun Also Rises. God, I still hate my mother but always sign my letters “love from Ernest” or “Ernie.”
I’ve been very busy with my book. It is all done and back from the editor. I’ve gotten it down to about 90,000 words. May dedicate it like this:
TO MY SON
John Hadley Nicanor
This collection of Instructive Anecdotes
I hope to hell you like it. Have you been writing? Write me. Paul Nelson would be good to write about if you knew anything about it. Am recommending you to Mr. Walsh that you be given this quarter’s bonus of $2000 so DON’T WORRY ABOUT MONEY.
Regards to all your family,
(God what a name)
NEW YORK—10 OCTOBER 1923, LETTER TO HADLEY
My love, Hadley
I just received word from our good friends Chink and Gertrude that our son, John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway, was born and I am so elated. However, I am saddened that I missed it. You were so quick my darling so that I could not even take the morning train to come to you! Damn New York. Damn the agency, they think I’m the best at writing columns so they sent me to the city. I will telephone you this week when I go to meet with the company’s executive. He’s rich enough to have gold plated phones in every room. Perhaps he’ll give me one as a present to you and our new baby. Our sweet new baby. God, if I were there with you. You’d be sleeping of course. And I would watch your gentle breath slightly move the sheets up and down. Your face so peaceful, after being in so much pain. The nurse won’t let me hold the baby yet, something with keeping him clean. My son. My only son. But then you would wake up and the nurse would let us hold him together.
Oh Darling, I always knew that I’d marry you and we’d live in Toronto with our son. Toronto is grand isn’t it? I know you miss Paris. So do I. But Toronto is a grand place to raise your child, Chink told me and that is why we came. Forests in each direction, so much for a child to do. My son. A safe town to raise my son. Our son. I hope you are well, dearest Hadley. I am taking leave sooner. Perhaps I won’t go to the executive’s house. I’ll take leave.
SWITZERLAND—14 DECEMBER 1922, LETTER TO HADLEY
I trusted you with my manuscript my life’s work ALL my good forms and thoughts, my words inspired by you and the gentle way you were with me—now you’ve not only mishandled our finances (which I quickly forgave) but the suitcase was the only thing I gave you the brown one that’s worn on the edges from travels it’s been everywhere it had my LIFE in it how could you.
I spent hours in that damn tiny office that smelled like piss and ink in the day in the dark by oil lamp and I always told you “Hadley, this is for you to make up for the lost inheritance, this is for your house and so you can hire a maid for the cleaning” and you took it for granted didn’t you. A man ought to trust his wife with things such as important documents that will sustain them and buy beef for the dinner stews. What wife are you, Hadley, such one that would crab and wallow about lost funds and then lose another important thing. What did you do to lose it? I bet you saw a young chap and put the case on a bench and flirted like a new slut at the bar shows. Did he do you well, my darling? Did he do you well after you lost my damn manuscript?!
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I am devastated. How could I work on the novel now in this depressive state, my sweet words so carefully written for you I can’t understand why Hadley why. Two years of restless work all gone. I can’t move.
I am glad that you’ve gone to visit your cousin. I might have done something regrettable. Or are you going to leave me too?
PARIS—12 NOVEMBER 1926—LETTER TO PAULINE PFEIFFER
I did not get your last letter until just recently—cable communication stopped. My last letter must seem quite heartless but if I knew you were feeling low I would have written more about that than the book.
Oh, I am absolutely done for. I know your family doesn’t want you to be with a married man, with breaking up a home and feeling nerves, getting into a mess—and I’m sure their silent disapproval is nothing pleasant and gets you out of sorts. Jin showed me a letter from your mother, two weeks ago, saying that when you visited her at that time—at which I didn’t hear for you—you were happy and looking quite well but that now you were gone to pieces and in not very good shape. And you are not very strong and your thoughts run you down so your nerves will just break which is naturally not pleasant. I am kept up all day and night thinking about this—and the worry is like the top of you is filled up but you can’t shake it and there isn’t anything else. All I can think is that I love you more than all and everything that is happening but I can’t do anything about it because you won’t let me.
You said that when you went to Piggot you were going to tell your mother and if she didn’t like it then you’d leave and come back to me anyway—or she’d like it—because it was you and me against the world and there was only us and we were only together and never afraid. You said you were going to rest and get healthy and not to worry because you’d be better. I cannot help but worry more now that you’ve gotten worse. Everything seems absolutely hopeless. To think it used to be us being so happy and unforgettable and having all the world to ourselves. Now we are only connected by feasible letters that get lost in the mail carriage and our fat figures now skinny apart and the horrors of you saying, “I can’t do it anymore. I won’t. I can’t. I just can’t do it any longer.” So that is all I think about because if all the other promises were broken how could I believe that one would stay? I know you spent the extra three months in New York because it’s what you think Hadley wanted and because you thought it was the right thing to do—sacrifice. Hadley wanted to delay the divorce as long as possible. She didn’t want to smash us both up. She doesn’t admit it but we are the same person. Sometimes she has admitted it. It’s nearly impossible to delay it and we railroad right into wreckage and everyone gets smashed up. Anyone can get smashed and apparently we want to get smashed by choice.
I just want to get through the awful few weeks and finally get settled and not have to think these horror thoughts anymore—I’m absolutely tired.
But I won’t think about it and maybe you will come back, Pfife, and maybe in the middle of the night but I won’t care because I’ll be up thinking wrecking thoughts and you’ll stop it when you come to me. All I want is you, Pfife, dear God all I want is you now. I’m so ashamed of this letter and I hate it but I had to get all the wreckage out so we can sort through it and salvage the pieces. But there’s only 84 days until I can see you again and I know your mother has heard and you’re doing your first punishment but surely I’ll get a letter from you soon or a wire from Jin saying how you are doing.
I may go to Hell, if I could have you I wouldn’t mind going to Hell after I’m dead. But I pray for you. Oh I pray for you, Pfife—all hours of the night I pray for you I pray that you’ll be next to me I pray for your health I pray for you to sleep and to hold you and not to worry and oh my god Pfife I love you I love you I love you and I’m yours all shot to hell I love you.
PARIS—7 SEPTEMBER 1926, LETTER TO SHERWOOD ANDERSON, FRIEND
I am still living in Paris. Pauline is with me. She comes to dates with our brother or to see Bumby, and Hadley is there and bares it. We are still living apart. I suppose she will ask for a divorce soon. She still loves me and is waiting. There is still part of me that loves her; don’t thinking wrongly of me.
When we went to Schrun’s for Christmas, Pauline joined Hadley and I and Bumby. Hadley and Bumby stayed in Austria while I went back to Paris with Paulie for business. You know how much I drink, Sherd. Gawd, I drink and drink until the place is dry and not even the cork so much as drips of brandy and the barrels are piled up for taking. We rented a hotel room. I don’t remember what happened. Maybe nothing, maybe everything. But then the next month I traveled to New York with Pauline for publications and to visit Scott. That was when the affair began. Hadley was aware of it in July when we vacationed to Pamplona. She endured it and I am thankful for that. For Bumby’s sake.
I plan on giving her the royalites for The Sun Also Rises when the divorce is final. Oh what has happened? Fame and denarii make you feel different than when you had none. I hope you and your wife are well, my friend.
PARIS—18 NOVEMBER 1926, LETTER TO HADLEY
My dearest Hadley:
I am terribly so sorry for not getting your letter until after we talked—I didn’t know your decisions or thoughts and that got us messed up some. After I had seen you and hurt you again and again by talking about what we agreed to only write about. I think the letter—like the rest of you and everything you have ever done—is perfectly unselfish and generous and thoughtful for Bumby.
I found out this week—through the letter—how Pauline and I had without meaning to put pressure on you to divorce me—a pressure of a kind of quick panic that we lost one another and hurried response that sent you and Bumby away and I can account for that. Naturally you were suspicious about Pauline during February and acted like a person when they react to anti-marriage. You have always been right and I’ve always trusted you. You are a level-headed woman.
I think that maybe when Pauline and I realized how much we hurt you and how cruel we had been to you that we couldn’t continue—she couldn’t continue—to such cruelty and realized that we could
have gone on any length of time without each other and it would suit you because you didn’t think that two people should divorce or that it was inevitable (or wanted) and I hope that feeling was sincere. I think that it may have changed and now you believe that two people should separate when they don’t deserve each other or anything else.
If you do want a divorce, please write me the requests and I will find the details about lawyers and I will start at any rate—you just say the rate and you will have it. If you want to start now or wait until after Pauline has come back—do whatever you want and what you think is best because you’ve always had good sense.
Also, I do not know when you are going back to America but perhaps we should hurry the divorce because you might not want to have that with you when you are in Chicago or New York.
In any case, no matter what you do, I am writing to Scribners that all royalties of The Sun Also Rises be paid to you. The way Max writes about it, it should be a good sum. After all, the book was dedicated to you. Please do not make an objection to this. I will see that you get it and please Hadley take it as a gift at least.
Our letters and sentences got jumbled during the lack of mail delivered and I think you meant that the three months is terminated, but if you want Pauline and I can finish out the three months. It makes no difference because I think she’ll be back in January anyway. Let me know and if I should tell Pauline.
I’m so sorry this is long and I’m sorry Hadley. I’ll see a lot of Bumby—I am thankful that he has such a mother as you. I think it is perhaps the luckiest thing that he has you for a mother. And I won’t tell you how I admire your straight thinking, your mind, your heart and your very lovely hands and I pray to God always that you are all right and that he will make up the very great hurt that I have done to my sweet Hadley—who is the best and truest and loveliest person I have ever known.
CUBA—14 DECEMBER 1960, LETTER TO HADLEY
Four wives and one man and no enjoyment. What has come of me? I had what I needed and let it go for fame and it corrupted me and my father was right, even though I lied to him. Mary is not happy with me, she is crazy and tired from my outbursts and hospital visits. Am I a man or a scared child lost in Europe? Like the one was saw in Paris while getting lunch with Ezra. Paris. That was the best time in my life I know—with you, my dearest Hadley and the city, you made it beautiful.
The doctors think I am well enough to come home. I was in the ward for a month. Mary is up to her wits with me and I suppose she will also divorce me soon. I am a hard man to live with and I got worse I know. They locked my guns away in the basement.
The Old Man and the Sea has gotten much praise and the pay is good. I do nothing with money now, I give it all to Mary. She pays my hospital bills. I feel so lost and I had to leave Cuba. I know the American government is watching me at everything I do because of the spy work I had done in the last war. The president himself commissioned to have me watched. This fills my head with wild thoughts that run through and through and through and I cannot stop and I shake and Mary tries to calm me but not even the warm sun on the deck (you know how that used to calm me) could help and I panic and start screaming things a crazy person would say and Mary has to call the emergency nurses to sedate me and then they drive me to the hospital. I write all the time, I wrote all the time and I fear a complete and nervous crack up from deadly overwork. I have a worn out head—not to mention body. I am not even half a man. The doctors say I have hypertension and that is why I have fits. I drink too much.
Suicide has always been against by beliefs and convictions, you know that Hadley.
I fear I made a mistake, those years ago, when I left you and Bumby in Austria and went to New York with Pauline. My heart has felt it for years and when I wrote about Paris my mind felt it, too. I hope God has saved you from the hurt. He has too, because perhaps I feel it now. Some days I cannot write and I just sit in a rocking chair or sit with a cup of coffee until the cup is cold and Mary has to tell me. One night I slept for three days. Then I did not sleep for two weeks. I’ve decided. Hadley, I need to see you in Paris in 1921. If this doesn’t happen by next week then I do not see a point of going on.
Because of the war, the high blood pressure, the drinking drinking drinking, the brandy and wine, the emptiness, I get to thinking and then I can’t think and then I can’t talk and then I can’t write, can’t think, can’t talk.
You were wonderful to me on the phone. I said, “It’s Ernest. I’m writing and I can’t remember something in Paris,” but I did know and you knew that I remembered but you talked to me anyway. You told Patrick that you cried afterwards.
Always dearest Catherine Cat get through everything as well as you can and then meet me in Paris and have a fine life, and eat at some fine restaurant and laugh and have good times making small jokes. All the things wrong with me are getting better (I sound like a hypochondriac, but really am not). Did I tell you about our 50-year-old that used to belong to Mr. Jim Stillman? When I was talking on the long distance he started to scream something and I couldn’t make it out clearly then I realized what he was shouting was “I can’t stand to hear another God-dam word of it.”
Much love always, from your beat-up Fredric Henry
ITALIAN FRONT—7 SEPTEMBER 1917, UNFINISHED LETTER BY ANONYMOUS SOLDIER
I’m always near the front line of the trenches, but don’t worry, I take good care of myself. I must be quick because we are expecting an attack on a neighboring town. Don’t worry. I just returned from a meeting with Captain Bates. We were warned about the new use of a chemical weapon called “Mustard Gas.” The Germans have been using tear gas since 1915, but only on the Russian Front. Now, they are slowly bringing this new gas across the continent. Either artillery shells are fired or canisters are thrown at the soldiers. A yellow gas explodes from the metal cans and yellow puffs of heavy air cloud you and blind your eyes for days. It also causes yellow blisters on the skin and makes you vomit like you ate a week-old trout that had been out in the sun too long. You remember Pietro don’t you? He was in the trenches a few miles past the Austrian front and the Germans unloaded on them. He sent me a letter in the hospital—“My throat burns and bleeds. My throat is closing and I know I’m going to choke to death. I can barely whisper now.”
Oh I really hope they can cure him. He is like a brother to me. We’ve seen pictures of where they threw the chemical bombs. The ground has a sheet of thick, oily dust on it and grass is becoming scare in Europe. People are not the only ones suffering from this war. God, we’re all going to hell for destroying each other.
I miss you terribly, it’s been two years and three months and a few weeks and I wonder when I’ll see you and little Lucia again. She has only seen me once and she won’t remember. How are my mother and father? I received a letter that they wer