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4 posts from September 2012

27 September 2012

Pet-Names and Pillow-Talk: Ernest Hemingway’s Softer Side


“Here is the expert skier, soldier, here is a naturalist, a navigator, an authority on bullfighting and on boxing. Here is a man who sought the most dangerous conditions the world could offer…” So says the newscaster from this 1950s clip. Hemingway was often portrayed like this by the media: an all round Übermensch who displayed grace under pressure and had a wicked way with his pen to boot.

When we think of Ernest Hemingway we might think of him as all these things – as well as war correspondent, deep-sea fisherman, and of course, as writer – but we tend not to think of him immediately as husband material. A womanizer, yes, but not the type of husband who might call his wife Wicky Poo, Lovebug, Kitty Kat, Small Friend or Picklepot, nor the kind of husband who would permit his own nickname ‘Little Wax Puppy’.

But his letters (which were ‘not for posterity but for the day and the hour’) pulse with an excess of sentiment. Not for Hemingway-the-letter-writer the cool economy of Hemingway-the-novelist. In contrast to his fiction his letters could be ‘as loose, devil-may-care, recklessly copious and repetitive as he chose… he wrote letters to warm up his brain… or to “cool out” after he had laid aside the current story or chapter’ writes Carlos Baker in his introduction to the Selected Letters. Letter-writing was the equivalent to the therapist’s couch, or the pillow wherefrom sweet nothings were whispered in the lover's ear. 

The pet-names and pillow-talk begin with his first wife Hadley. In a long list of grousing complaints about his posting to Lausanne in 1922, he concludes that ‘they all talk French and the Russians are miles out of the way and I’m only a little tiny wax puppy. Poor dear little Wicky Poo’, the letter over-runneth, ‘I love you dearest Wicky – you write the very best letters.’ This spillage of emotions continues when he writes to his first mistress (and second wife) Pauline Pfeiifer in 1926: ‘oh Pfife I love you love you love you so, and I’m yours all shot to hell.’ While studiously avoiding cliché and hyperbole in his fiction, in his letters he sinks joyfully into sentiment, like a penned pig released to the mud.

As I looked through the Selected Letters, I expected to see a change of tone or language in the way he treated each of his four wives. Though his letters to his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, were not included, her own letters tantalizingly reveal half the conversation. One might infer that the language used was in common currency by them both. ‘I love you Bug,’ writes Martha to Ernest in 1943, ‘Kiss all catsies. Take care of yourself for me. / Mook.’   

What is striking is how gloriously constant and yet inventive is his langue d'amour throughout each of his marriages. ‘I am just happy and purring like an old jungle beast because I love you and you love me….’ he writes to his fourth wife, Mary, in 1944. ‘Please love me very much and always and take care of me Small Friend the way Small Friends take care of Big Friends – high in the sky and shining and beautiful.’ Not so far from a syrupy Disney romance, but all the sweeter for it coming from Ernest Hemingway; media Übermensch.

What is extraordinary is how direct the artery is from the heart to the page throughout Hemingway’s four marriages and many affairs. They always give me great delight to know that this Man Of All Things (skier, soldier, naturalist ad infinitum) also indulged in much baby-talk and mush. The letters pulse with love. It almost makes you forgive him for all the mistresses.

Naomi Wood is one of the Eccles Centre Writers in Residence at the British Library. Her second book, Mrs Hemingway, is a historical novel that explores Ernest’s four marriages to Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Excerpts from the letters are from The Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn (ed Caroline Moorehead) and The Selected Letters of Ernest Hemingway (ed Carlos Baker).











25 September 2012

Waiting for the scroll: On the Road is coming

It’s been a busy month for all of Team Americas, with much of my and Matt’s time in particular taken up with activities relating to our forthcoming exhibition On the Road: Jack Kerouac's manuscript scroll. Yes, we’re excited at the prospect of the arrival next week of Jim ('keeper of the scroll') with the typed manuscript, which will exhibited from 4 October until 27 December in our newly re-launched Folio Society Gallery in the Library's Front Hall.

The scroll will be taking centre stage in a specially designed 16 metre case so we decided that the accompanying BL material should focus on our sound recordings and Steve has put together a great ‘soundtrack’ to the scroll and the Beat Generation. You will be able to hear several contributions from Kerouac, including an excerpt of On the Road, jazz recordings which echo references in the novel, plus Allen Ginsberg reads Howl, and there are contributions by William Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Joyce Johnson, Carolyn Cassady et al. Oh, and there’s Neal Cassady reading Proust too!

And the exhibition should look great, thanks to Fiona’s design and the generosity of Carolyn Cassady, the Allen Ginsberg Estate and the Kerouac Estate in letting us reproduce some wonderful images. So, schedule your visit now. The exhibition is free and there’s also an excellent events programme, including a preview screening of Walter Salles’ new movie.

Regular readers of the blog will know that we’ve highlighted our sound recordings relating to the beats before, but if you’re a new reader, here’s the link to a bibliography Steve put together some years ago. We also have really strong printed collections, and here’s a bibliography of those (be warned, it’s BIG). Picking just a few of these books to put in the exhibition was very difficult so we’ve opted for the holy trinity of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, with just a couple of others.

Apart from writing Kerouac labels, I was also involved in our Inspired by Artists’ Books event on 4 September, at which we showcased some of our wonderful artists’ books and fine press holdings (here’s Fran’s blog on the event).  I suppose it was inevitable that my brain would end up connecting the 2 themes so I started to think about whether we had any beat-related books which fall in to this category. Of course we do, and I featured Bill Burroughs and David Bradshaw’s Propagation Hazard at the event. But for this blog, I’ve chosen a Kerouac title. It’s by Mark McMurray, a colleague who is Curator of Special Collections and University Archivist at St. Lawrence University, teaches courses on the history of the book and printing, and who set up his own Caliban Press in 1985 - how he finds the time I don’t know! Anyway, Mark has made a couple of jazz-related titles, small, but perfectly formed and lovingly made, and here is an image of his History of Bop by Jack Kerouac.

History of bop
Caliban Press, 1993


14 September 2012

The Empire of Haiti: digitising some of the Nineteenth Century

 Coronation of Faustin I

Coronation of Faustin I, from Album Imperiale d'Haiti, New York 1852

A short but well-illustrated Team Americas post this week. We've all been a bit busy (especially Carole and Matthew who are currently refining the Kerouac exhibition labels like a pair of master sculptors). One of the things I'm currently working on is making a home for some Haiti materials we recently had digitised and so today seemed like a good time to share some highlights of the content with you.

The whole selection is quite broad, composed of various manuscripts, maps and a book of lithographic prints. Two of the book's prints and one of the maps are on show here. The book Album Imperiale d'Haiti commemorates the coronation of Faustin I (previously Faustin-Elie Soulouque). Above is the coronation scene and below the lavish frontispiece. The book also contains a further scene of Faustin leaving the ceremony and portraits of a number of dignitaries.

Frontispiece from Album Imperiale d'Haiti, New York 1852

Due to the impracticality of uploading .tiff files to the blog what you see here are very low resolution images. Once the full size versions are up you will be able to see them in all their zoom-able glory. While the maps were designed to be viewed in microscopic detail, I doubt that the engraver for the Album imagined that his work would ever be looked at so closely - and I suspect there are some interesting omissions in the landscape plates for keen-eyed viewers.

Carte de Saint Domingue
Carte de l'Isle de Saint Domingue, 1722 [BL Shelfmark: Maps.K.Top.123.35]

Team Americas is feeling very digital at the moment, with the American Civil War, War of 1812 and this project all going on at the same time. We'll keep you posted as to how all of them are coming together - look for any announcements interspersed amongst the On the Road quotes on our Twitter stream.


07 September 2012

Not Just Anne of Green Gables: Canadian Literature and the Library

Wrong Room
'The Wrong Room', an illustration from Thomas Hutchinson's, The Clockmaker [1838, Second London Edition; BL Shelfmark 12654.c.6]

I’ve been reading Reingard Nischik’s, History of Literature in Canada and, with the Giller Prize Longlist also just announced, thought I would try and inspire a few of you to come and use the Library’s collection of Canadian literature. Team Americas have written about early Canadian writings before, although these were published in France rather than the country with which they were concerned. Whether published in Europe or Canada Francophone Canadian writing features strongly in the collections in the form of newspapers, periodicals and books, the below, Une de Perdue, being just one example.

Une de Perdue
Front cover from an early Francophone Canadian adventure novel, George de Boucherville's, Une de Perdue... [1874 edition' BL Shelfmark: 1509/3550]

Despite this depth of Francophone material the Anglophone collections are stronger historically, largely due to the possibility of obtaining English language publications via copyright deposit. That said, the Library’s Anglophone Canadian materials display the same format strengths as the Francophone materials, with newspapers (dating back to the eighteenth century), periodicals (such as the Acadian Recorder) and books being the main sources.

The collection also reflects the development of Canadian literature’s international scope as the copies held of important early works such as Goldsmith’s, The Rising Village [BL Shelfmark: 11644.bbb.40(2.)] and Haliburton’s The Clockmaker [BL Shelfmark: G.17989] are London rather than Canadian editions. Further, because of the linguistic scope and historical depth of the collection you can also perceive how Canadian literature develops, positions itself in relation to prevailing trends and reacts to the winds of national and international politics.

Such things are still true today as the Library continues to collect (by copyright deposit and purchase) Canadian work in a variety of languages – which now stretches far beyond a simple Anglophone / Francophone split. I’m also pleased to say we occasionally manage to be part of the CanLit scene, something illustrated by the fact that Giller Prize winner Elizabeth Hay is speaking here next Wednesday lunchtime. If you are interested the event is free (with hot drinks and biscuits provided) and there are more details here.


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