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Archive offers glimpse into Hemingway, his family

Middlebury College acquires some early letters

MIDDLEBURY - No matter where he lived, Ernest Hemingway cared what people thought of him back home.

That's clear from a letter he wrote to his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, from Paris in 1925. A collection of short stories, "In Our Time," had won good reviews in the New York newspapers. He hoped the local press in his hometown of Oak Park, Ill., would take note as well, he said, "so they will hear I am not considered a bum in N.Y. at least."

He added, "I wish the book would have a good sale in Chicago and Oak Park as I'd like the people I know to see what the stuff is that I am doing, whether they happen to like it or not."

The letter is among hundreds written by Hemingway and other members of his family, including mid-19th century journals and Civil War letters written by his grandfather. The letters and photos of Hemingway and his family at home in Oak Park and at their summer place in Michigan were recently acquired by Middlebury College from the author's nieces, Anne and Hilary.

Hilary Hemingway's husband graduated from Middlebury in 1975.

Andrew Wentink, curator of Middlebury's special collections, calls the Hemingway collection the most significant acquisition by the college's archives since it got Henry David Thoreau's personal copy of the first edition of "Walden" - complete with Thoreau's margin notes - in 1940.

A public opening isn't expected until next year. The college paid for some of the materials - though Wentink wouldn't say how much; others were provided as gifts by Hemingway's heirs.

Wentink and Tim Spears, dean of the college at Middlebury and a professor of American studies who teaches a course on Hemingway, said the materials contain clues they think will be important to Hemingway researchers.

"Scholars have put a lot of weight on Hemingway's early years . . . the context of his early family history is really important," Spears said.

The roots of Hemingway's muscular love for the outdoors likely were formed during his childhood summers at the family compound on Walloon Lake.

Early photos show the young Hemingway with a big fish and with a toy gun given to him by his grandfather. "A lot of his short stories are set in the outdoors," Spears said.

The archive traces Hemingway's family history from the journals written by his grandfather, Anson Hemingway, in the 1850s through letters between Hemingway's father and mother, a once aspiring opera singer, to the author's death in 1961.

Aside from being of interest to the writer's fans and literary scholars, the materials provide a fascinating glimpse for a social historian into the lives of a prosperous Midwestern family during that period, Spears said.

Hilary Hemingway, daughter of Hemingway's brother, Leicester, joined with her sister Anne in providing the materials to Middlebury.

She hopes the letters will give a fuller picture to future Hemingway biographers and debunk some mistaken ideas in past biographies.

Ernest Hemingway, his brother, and his father all had at least two things in common, Hilary Hemingway said.

Each developed diabetes late in life, and later committed suicide. It's only been in recent years that medical science has discovered the strong links between diabetes and depression, she said, adding that she hoped the result would be a new understanding of what some have called "the Hemingway curse."

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