By Michael Washburn
“We have come at a most interesting time,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in a February1953 letter to his friend Gianfranco Ivancich, relaying the rather callous observation of some literary tourists who had dropped by Hemingway’s house in Cuba unannounced. “Just in time to see the great Hemingway cry because he has to kill a cat.”
“Miss Uncle Willie,” Hemingway wrote of the cat, which had been hit by a car. “Have had to shoot people,but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years. Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.”
This letter is one of fifteen from Hemingway to Ivancich that have recently been made available to scholars by The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Written between 1953 and 1960 the letters touch on a variety of topics, such as the death of Willie, complicating the stock image of Hemingway the macho, blunderbuss-toting bon vivant. All of the letters reveal the deep affection that Hemingway felt for Ivancich.
“We miss you very much,” Hemingway writes, “and it is lonesome to have somebody around as you were and have them like a brother and have them go away. Now I have no brother and no good drinking friend nor hard-working banana grower. Everybody remembers you with so much affection and sends very best wishes.”
The two men met in Venice in 1949 and, lubricated by the bartenders at the Gritti Palace Hotel, became fast friends. From their first boozy encounters until Hemingway’s death in 1961, the two remained close, though most often their interactions were epistolary. According to the JFK Library, Ivancich was one of the “few people present at Hemingway’s private funeral.”
Ivancich’s sister, Adriana, was one of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s “muses.” She was reportedly the inspiration for both “Across the River and Into the Trees” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Old Man and the Sea.”
These letters – which Hemingway posted not only from Cuba, but also from Ketchum, Idaho; Kilimanjaro; Nairobi; Paris; and Madrid – are an addition to the 23 pieces of correspondence from Ivancich and five from Hemingway to Ivancich already housed at Hemingway Collection at the Kennedy Library. Of the fifteen new acquisitions, twelve have never been published.
A selection of the Hemingway-Ivancich correspondence will be on display this Sunday, April 1, during the Hemingway Foundation/PEN New England Awards Ceremony at the Kennedy Library. Novelist Teju Cole is this year’s recipient of the award, and Andre Dubus III will present a keynote.
According to the Kennedy Library, “The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library spans Hemingway’s entire career and represents ninety percent of existing Hemingway manuscript materials, making the Kennedy Library the world’s principal center for research on the life and work of Ernest Hemingway.”
To learn more about the Hemingway Collection, or to find out how to make an appointment to conduct research visit http://www.jfklibrary.orgwww.jfklibrary.org or call (866) JFK-1960.
Michael Washburn can be contacted at www.michaelwashburn.org or on Twitter as @whalelines.