1 June 2021 Susannah

Meet A Book Addict – Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway bought about 200 new books every year and added them to the libraries of his various homes. I have been lucky enough to visit his home in Cuba, the ‘Finca Vigia’. Visitors are not permitted to enter the rooms, but you can stand at the doors and look in.

By the time Ernest and his wife Mary left the house in 1960, his library had about 9,000 volumes. Other books had been left behind at his home in Key West. His Cuban library measured about 20 by 30 feet, and its floor to ceiling shelves sagged with books. But his books managed to creep all over the house – stacked on windowsills, piled on tables and next to beds. I was intrigued that Hemingway shared the conviction I discussed in my last newsletter – that books and alcohol make a great combination – for he had drinks trays conveniently placed near any comfortable armchair where he might be tempted to sit and read. His wife Mary had about 400 cookbooks in her bedroom, in the writing tower in the grounds, Hemingway kept foreign editions of his own books, he had a large collection of maps, and even the guest house was filled with books. Hemingway collected books on France and Spain, history and military history, books about bullfighting, and autographed works by his friends and contemporaries.

Regular visitors to Hemingway’s Cuban and Key West libraries were his cats, which were allowed to roam where they liked. He adored his cats and would often sit and read, while a cat purred on his lap (by 1943 he had 11 cats in residence).

The furniture in the library was all locally made, and animal skins from his hunting safaris adorn a couch and desk (you can see these in the image above).

The John F. Kennedy Library in Boston (which I have also visited) has a superb Hemingway collection. They have created a digitized collection of his books.

Is Ernest Hemingway one of your favourite writers? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Ernest Hemingway and his library, from https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=112586870165352&story_fbid=283264619764242 & https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.654200544776286.1073741835.397566163773060&type=3
Body image credit- Ernest Hemingway with a cat, from https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=112586870165352&story_fbid=283264619764242

Comments (4)

  1. Sharing the same surname (related by geography–Yorkshire–not blood), I felt required to read EH as a young man. I go back to him regularly. I think his short stories are among the best ever written, especially the “studies in fear” of his WWI experiences. I find that most of his novels, though terrific in places, have fatal flaws. Only “A Farewell to Arms” avoids the structural or thematic pitfalls. Not surprising, it’s my favorite one.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I agree about his short stories and A Farewell to Arms. I think Hemingway is challenging as a man and a writer. It’s time I revisited his books, as it has now been many years since I read any. The last I read was ‘Over the River and Into the Trees’ which is one of his worst books, so that put me off for a while. Thanks for your comments, Collins.

  2. Ann Hordern

    60 or so descendants of Hemingway’s polydactyl cats live in his house in Key West Florida and on a visit there in 2020, just before the world knew the word Covid, and I found them scattered around the rooms and the garden, but mostly on a bed somewhere. Some are directly related to Hemingway’s original cat, Snow White, and all were very laid-back. Hemingway gave his cats names of famous people and the tradition continues. I suggested that Susannah Fullerton would be a good one.

    The tour was a quick touristy (non)event but I was then free to spend as long as I wished to walk around by myself and I was delighted at the atmosphere the house exuded, chewing gum and backwards baseball caps notwithstanding, especially his study and the treetop writing room overlooking the pool. Among the books he wrote while living there were Death in the Afternoon, about bullfighting, and Farewell to Arms, started in Paris and Austria I believe but completed in Key West.

    There is a great story about the construction of the pool and his then wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, had the last word.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for your comments, Ann. I have not been to his house in Florida, but have been to the one in Cuba, and some of his cat’s descendents roam aorund there too. I adored seeing the Cuban house. I believe there is a programme about Hemingway on TV starting this Saturday – really looking forward to it.
      I do love your suggestion of a cat named for me. I am a great cat lover, so have always warmed to Hemingway because of his love of cats.
      Thanks for your kind response and hope you continue to enjoy my newsletter.

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