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New Semi-Autobiographical Hemingway Story Published

“A Room On the Garden Side” was written in 1956 and takes place during the liberation of Paris in 1944

Hemingway photographed in 1956, the year he completed “A Room on the Garden Side.” ( Credit line ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo)
smithsonian.com

By the middle of the 1950s, Ernest Hemingway no longer had the hunger of younger writers to publish everything he wrote. In fact, he’d had his fill of literary fame and the publishing world. Still, the stories kept coming. In 1956, he completed five new short stories, most of them set during World War II. While one of those tales “Black Ass at the Crossroads,” eventually made it into print, the others never did. But now, reports Matthew Haag at The New York Times, the literary magazine The Strand has published another one of these stories called “A Room on the Garden Side.”

The new story and its unpublished companion pieces were not lost or unknown. Sian Cain at The Guardian reports that they have been housed with Hemingway’s other papers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and have been read and commented on by scholars over the years. In a letter to his publisher, Charles Scribner, Hemingway described them himself calling them “probably very dull” only to interject that “some are funny I think.”

Last year, Andrew F. Gulli, managing editor of The Strand, which publishes contemporary works of fiction in addition to unpublished literary works by the likes of Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, Raymond Chandler and others, asked the Hemingway Estate for permission to run one of the stories, and the executors agreed.

This is not the first posthumous publication of Hemingway’s work. In fact, putting out lost Hemingway works has become something of a cottage industry since the writer’s suicide in 1961. Cain reports that in 1964 the estate published A Moveable Feast, his memoir of 1920s Paris as well as the novels Islands In the Stream in 1970 and The Garden of Eden in 1986. In 1985, The Dangerous Summer, a nonfiction account of bullfighting was released. Also in 1985, five unpublished stories appeared in a biography of the author.

“It would be easy to create a small collection of unpublished works and sell a ton of copies, but they’ve been so successful with the Hemingway brand by selectively knowing when and how to publish these little gems,” Gulli tells Haag.

The story itself is a tale set in the Ritz hotel in Paris in 1944 near the end of World War II. Hemingway, who worked as a correspondent associated with the OSS—the precursor to the CIA—during the war, liked to say he “liberated” the bar at the Ritz when the Allies retook Paris. The main character, a soldier named Robert who is set on leaving the hotel in the morning, seems to be semi-autobiographical, sharing Hemingway’s nickname “Papa,” a taste for champagne and a tendency toward literary musings. Robert, of course, also shares the author’s love for the Ritz: “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz,” Hemingway once said, according to Cain. During the course of the narrative, the soldiers drink, reminisce and discuss “the dirty trade of war.”

“[T]he story contains all the trademark elements readers love in Hemingway. The war is central, of course, but so are the ethics of writing and the worry that literary fame corrupts an author’s commitment to truth,” Kirk Curnutt, a board member of the Hemingway Society writes in an afterword to the story. “…Mostly what “A Room on the Garden Side” captures, though, is the importance of Paris. Steeped in talk of Marcel Proust, Victor Hugo, and Alexandre Dumas, and featuring a long excerpt in French from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, the story implicitly wonders whether the heritage of Parisian culture can recover from the dark taint of fascism.”

There is no word yet on if, when or where the other three unpublished stories or other unpublished works by Papa Hemingway will join “A Room on the Garden Side” in print.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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