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Hemingway Letters Describe Family Ties

A message on a postcard from Ernest Hemingway to his father foreshadows the life-changing experiences that would become the foundation for one of the author's most beloved stories, "A Farewell to Arms."

The words on the postcard, dated June 9, 1918, are simple, yet ominous. Hemingway would be shot a month later while serving as an ambulance driver during World War I in Italy. "Everything lovely. We go to the front tomorrow," he wrote. "We've been treated like kings."

The handwritten postcard is part of a collection of 100 telegrams, letters and other correspondence from Hemingway acquired by the Penn State University Libraries from the author's nephew, Ernest Hemingway Mainland. Some of the material is on display at the university's Paterno Library.

Photos: Book People
The items represent the last known sizable collection of Hemingway letters still in private hands, said William Joyce, head of the Special Collections Library. Neither the university nor Mainland disclosed terms of the acquisition.

Besides Italy, the dispatches originate from, or prominently mention, other places familiar to Hemingway buffs, such as Pamplona, Spain, which figures in "The Sun Also Rises," and Key West, Fla., where Hemingway lived in the 1930s.

One postcard with a picture of the cathedral of Milan, Italy, was addressed to "Dr. C.E. Hemingway" - Hemingway's father, Clarence Hemingway. A month later, the writer suffered more than 200 wounds to his legs from mortar shrapnel while attending to Italian soldiers in trenches. Hemingway recovered at a hospital in Milan, where he fell in love with a nurse.

"To see the postcard he sent home, just pinning down the day he goes to the front is very exciting," Penn State English professor Sandra Spanier said with a smile. "This is the material that got transformed into 'A Farewell to Arms."

Spanier is guest curator for the exhibition and general editor for the Hemingway Letters Project, an effort to publish more than 6,000 Hemingway letters in a 12-volume scholarly edition to be published by Cambridge University Press starting next year.

While Hemingway was known to have rocky relations with his family, the correspondence shows a more cordial tone. The simple, descriptive and often humorous writing may be familiar to avid readers of Hemingway.

"Being as spontaneous as they are, it's almost like having conversations," Joyce said.

This is especially evident in the letters to his little sister Madelaine, a confidante to whom Hemingway refers in letters by the nicknames "Sunny" or "Nunbones." Madelaine Hemingway collected the letters, which were passed on to her son, Mainland.

"Keep sensible, don't get tragic and don't write silly things," Hemingway signed off in one letter written Feb. 19, 1930, to his mother.

"There was a lot of playfulness with language in the family," Spanier said.

Mainland, in an interview from his home in Petosky, Mich., said Spanier sought him out after learning of the noteworthy cache. The letters stayed in good condition after being kept in a vault. Mainland, 69, said he intended to publish the letters himself but that he was growing too old to wait for the copyright to expire in 2011.

"The reality of me being able to publish these letters - it ain't going to happen," said Mainland, who now owns Hemingway's childhood home.

He understands why Hemingway still attracts a following, though he said he was "sort of cynical" about the attention his uncle gets.

"He's a guy who put his pants on one leg at a time," Mainland said. "He wrote stories that millions have enjoyed and thousands have made money off of it."

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