Hemingway preservation effort brings collaboration between Cuba, U.S. group

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

— Ernest Hemingway's rejected epilogue of "For Whom the Bell Tolls," a 1941 letter from Ingrid Bergman and more than 20 letters from the 19-year-old Italian contessa he was in love with are among thousands of the author's documents Cuba is making available to outside scholars.

President Fidel Castro and an American group led by U.S. Rep. James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, signed an agreement Monday to collaborate on the restoration and preservation of 2,000 letters, 3,000 personal photographs and some draft fragments of novels and stories that were kept in the humid basement of Finca de Vigia, the villa outside Havana where Hemingway lived from 1939 to 1960.

Also at the ceremony were Hemingway's grandson Sean, his niece Hillary and daughter-in-law Angela.

Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the joint effort by the New York-based Social Science Research Council and the Cuban National Council of Patrimony will produce microfilm copies of the material, restore some damaged documents and help conserve the house, including a 9,000-volume library and Hemingway's fishing boat, El Pilar.

Hemingway's fourth and last wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, donated the estate to the Cuban government in 1961, just after the author committed suicide at his Ketchum, Idaho, home. Cuban curators preserved the home exactly how the Hemingways left it, looking like the writer "just stepped down the driveway to pick up his mail," said Jenny Phillips, granddaughter of Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway's editor. Phillips' January 2001 visit to the finca set in motion the events that led to the project.

Visitors can see the writer's collection of moccasins lined against a wall, reading material in the bathroom and bottles of liquor on the table next to Hemingway's favorite reading chair. The estate includes the graves of four of Hemingway's dogs.

Curators prohibit visitors from entering the house - tourists peer through windows - a decision U.S. scholars and researchers say has protected the collection from deterioration and pilfering.

But the Americans will provide badly needed funds and equipment to help rescue the collection from disintegration in the Caribbean climate. Much material already has been damaged from sunlight and heat.

After negotiations brokered by McGovern, Phillips returned to Finca de Vigia with Hemingway scholars Sandra Spanier and Scott Berg. Amid stuffed game heads and rifles, they found letters and manuscripts revealing intimate details of the Hemingways' daily life.

There are written instructions to servants on preparation of favorite foods and requests that Hemingway not be bothered while writing. Letters to Mary and notes to himself illuminate their marriage's troubles. On a copy of "Wuthering Heights," Hemingway routinely recorded his weight, blood pressure and pulse.

Handwritten and typewritten drafts offer a glimpse into the writing process of an author known to have rewritten the ending of "A Farewell to Arms" 39 times, Spanier said.

"This is material that forms the missing piece of a puzzle that makes up the life and creative mind Ernest Hemingway," said Spanier, professor of English at Pennsylvania State University and editor of the Hemingway Letters Project. "As a scholar I'm interested in what the letters and manuscripts that may be here reveal about his creative process."