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Hemingway Kills Cat, Cries; Literary Establishment Rocked

By Periscope @periscopepost

Hemingway kills cat, cries; literary establishment rocked

Ernest Hemingway. Photo credit:

In a recently unearthed letter, Ernest Hemingway, the undisputed heavyweight champ of 20th century American writing, reveals what his vast collection of published work supposedly doesn’t: His tender side.

In the letter, part of a collection of unpublished correspondence from the great man to friend Gianfranco Ivancich unveiled at the JFK Library in Boston, Mass. on Wednesday, Hemingway describes having to kill his cat, Willie, after the animal was struck by a car. “Certainly miss you. Miss Uncle Willie. Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years,” the author wrote. “Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.”

The letter. The letter that everyone is talking about – largely because The New York Times’s ArtsBeat blog flagged it up – is dated February 22, 1953, and details Hemingway’s sadness at having to kill Willie. Though someone else offered to do it, but Hemingway said he couldn’t risk “a chance of Will knowing anybody was killing him.” As he’s preparing to shoulder his rifle and shoot Willie, a group of tourists pulls up. “I still had the rifle and I explained to them they had come at a bad time and to please understand and go away. But the rich Cadillac psycho said, ‘We have come at a most interesting time. Just in time to see the great Hemingway cry because he has to kill a cat.’” Hemingway continued, “I humiliated him as he should be humiliated, omit details.”

The softer side of Papa Hemingway? Hemingway’s literary and personal reputation has been boiled down to bullfighting, war journalism, big game hunting, and fishing, all macho pursuits. According to The Telegraph, “The letters, as a whole, show the author had a gentle side, and was someone who made time to be fatherly and nurturing to a younger friend, said Susan Beegel, editor of scholarly journal The Hemingway Review.”

Hemingway’s macho image. The uncomplicated image of a complicated man is troubling to some (though not to Woody Allen, whose Midnight in Paris features a talking animatronic Hemingway who makes grave pronouncements about bravery and death and being a man). Nathan Heller, writing at Slate on March 16, explained, “Ernest Hemingway would be aghast to see what has become of Ernest Hemingway. Against the gray obscurity that awaits most writers in death, his image, 50 years later, has become the literary equivalent of the Nike swoosh or golden arches.” The persona that remains is of a virile, macho, “intense man of hard-living habits and a few brilliantly selected words”; but it’s only a persona – were he alive today, he’d be pegged as “neurotic”. “Those who knew Hemingway well, especially in these early years, reported that his braggadocio was something of a cover: Far from being the swaggering, insouciant rake of lore, he was emotionally fragile, stirred into panics by women’s rejections, prone to insomnia, workaholic and perfectionist (in Paris, he’d spend all day writing and sometimes come home with a single sentence), and given to weird and compulsive record-keeping projects, like tallying exact word counts or tracking his wife’s menstrual rhythms,” said Heller.

Crazy cat man. Hemingway’s image might also be complicated by the fact that he may have been an animal hoarder. David Haglund at Slate’s Browbeat blog noted that by 1945, he had 23 cats; he and his fourth wife, Mary, called them “purr factories” and “love sponges” and treated the cats like “royalty”. Said Haglund, “If Hemingway had been a single woman rather than a married man, surely he would have been tarred as a ‘cat lady.’ Perhaps that label would have been enough to complicate the macho, big-game-hunting image that, more than 50 years after Hemingway’s death, persists.”

Hemingway kills cat, cries; literary establishment rocked

Descendents of Hemingway's cats, many of who are polydactyl, still roam his Key West property. Phot credit:

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