"THE TEST OF WHETHER A BOOK IS ANY GOOD IS HOW MUCH GOOD STUFF YOU CAN REMOVE FROM IT": EXTRAORDINARY LONG HEMINGWAY LETTER, TWICE SIGNED AS 'PAPA,' DISCUSSING THE SUN ALSO RISES, THE PLAY TODAY IS FRIDAY, THE SHORT STORIES "THE KILLERS" AND "TEN INDIANS," AND AN EVENING SPENT WITH "A FINE NEW WHORE IN TOWN"
HEMINGWAY, Ernest. Typed letter twice signed "Papa" to Peter Viertel. Finca Vigia, Cuba, 29 September 1949. Quarto, two sheets of Hemingway's "Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba" stationery, each leaf measuring 8-1/2 inches by 11 inches, typed in black ink, single-spaced, on one side of each leaf for two full pages of typed text, heavily annotated in pen by Hemingway. $42,000.
Extraordinary typed and heavily annotated letter from Hemingway in Cuba to friend and fellow author and screenwriter Peter Viertel in Malibu, California, a long, lively letter discussing his writing progress, a proposed trip, hunting and shooting pigeons, drinking, baseball and a new whore in town, with over 150 words of additional notes written in the margins and on the verso of the second page in blue ink by Hemingway. Twice signed as 'Papa.'.
The letter, on Hemingway's Finca Vigia stationery, addressed to Peter Viertel in Malibu, CA, reads in full [with Hemingway's manuscript annotations in brackets and italics]:
[Poor John, the ex-light weight champion, with his bag of feathers. I'll be god-damned. Papa.]
Am awfully sorry to be answering your letter of 31 August now. I thought I had done it but have been working so very hard that it got mixed in with other stuff that I put away in the "Must Be Answered at Once". [That is no damn excuse. Have been jamming like in a six day bike race.]
It would be wonderful if you an Jige could go across at the same time as we do. We will be leaving on the ILE DE FRANCE from New York on 1 November. Please don't tell this to anyone as I want to get in and out o town quiet. Will be pooped from working on book and I want to see the town anyway without all that crap. Have done over 15,000 words snice I got your letter. Been going like I was possessed by the devil and figure, with luck, to finish this book now in three weeks. Then we don't have to worry about nothing. Please keep security on this, too.
Don't worry about the Finca being empty. It would have been wonderful to have you guys out here as I think it is a good place to live and to work. But a Hell of a nice girl who works in the Embassy will stay out here while we are gone and that we will not have to worry. I only hate to have it empty when you keep on the big staff of servants who you cannot let go without giving them three months' pay. We plan to be in Europe for some six weeks to two months. Will be in Paris for a little while and then go down to Venice. This is going to be the last year of the great shoot there as the duck marshes are going to be drained for some agrarian reform project. If you wanted to come down there for a little while we could get in a couple of damned good shoots. Fifty to sixty high flying ducks in a day is about what you'd get in a season in the states. They have mallards, pintail, widgeon, teal, redheads and lots of unknown ducks; all coming down from behind the Iron Curtain and plenty fat. I think they must fly over the Iron Curtain at night.
Everything goes good down here. Mary is up in Chicago checking on her folks who are quite old and she should pay them a visit. Haven't heard from her yet about how they are because she figures that we are at sea. [(they are ok but her mother too bored with death coming on and too fragile to travel.)] But we had to put back in after six days out because there are about five tropical disturbances forming and kicking around. In the bad weather we stayed at Puerto Escondido, you remember the place where I shot that iguana, and I wrote 5,000 some words while we were holed up. Have been having awfully good luck with it and it goes as fast as when I wrote THE SUN ALSO RISES in six weeks and the day I wrote THE KILLERS in Madrid one morning when it snowed and a story called TEN INDIANS in the afternoon and then couldn't cool out and wrote TODAY IS FRIDAY in the evening. After that got drunk. The only trouble writing alone here is like pitching with nobody in the stands or making a Hell of a fight to absolutely empty seats. [I wonder why this girl capitalizes Hell. Must be early training.] Have been pitching one hit and no hit ball and am pitching double headers like Ed Walsh. He was the only man they said who could ever strut while sitting down but he won 40 ball games in one year for a team that never gave him more than one or two runs. I'm going awfully good. With the Hell you and Jige were here to read it and tell me whether it's as good as it feels. When you're half a hundred years old you ought to be able to tell pretty well, though, unless you've gone into your second childhood. Hope this hasn't happened. Would like to live to be a smart and mean old man. Removed. And just lay back and let the bastards lead. Have scrapped about 100,000 words. After all, the test of whether a book is any good is how much good stuff you can remove from it. This also confidential.
John's evening life with his hound sounds very interesting. What happens here is that I wake up around 3 or 4 in the morning and go to work and Blackie wakes up very reluctantly because he certainly loves his sleep, and then lies down beside where I am working and keeps his eyes open all the time. He had a terrible nervous crisis when we made him retrieve a couple of pigeons at the club. He doesn't believe in hurting anything nor in anything hurting him. [Have got him threw [sic] it and he retrieved 17 then 22 and yest 40. I killed 23 x 25 from 30 meters.] All cats are fine and so are all the dogs. Please give my best to Eddie Rolfe and tell him I am writing him. Have been terribly remiss on letters on account of working so hard. When you finish working you try to get some exercise so as to be able to sleep a little so you can work the next day. I can always work but I know you have to feed the horse and let him rest sometimes.
I am shooting good and have been practicing shooting pigeons from 30 meters so as to be able to go up to the big shoot in Kansas City next March if my form justifies it. So far it does but working tires you eyes and your eyes are what you shoot with along with a couple of other things. The entry fee on that shoot is $1,000. I have beaten several of the guy who have won it but you have to be in really good form to shoot it as it's 100 birds and that more or less eliminates the luck and separates the characters pretty well. If you guys need any dough for trip or anything let me know because as soon as book is finished I will stink with it. [or stench with it. But not for long.]
I read the bull book that you wrote about but it didn't mean anything to me. Know 30 or more better stories than that about bull fighting that will never write. That may sound conceited and it probably is but who the Hell isn't sometimes? Will tell you three stories when we get together that I know, as samples.
Please give my best love to Jige an the two of you accept Mary's which I know she would send if she were here. There is a big wind today so we are going down and shoot some pigeons. They ought to fly very well. Wish you were here. It is very lonesome. We have a fine new whore in town who has just come in and who really loves the profession. She was cut out for it. But have turned her over to a friend of mine and am sticking it out, that's probably not the phrase, til Mary gets back. don't know when that will be yet. Had hoped to stay at sea so as to be a good boy. But this weather has bitched that. It is hard being a good boy alone in this town when you are a lonesome character.
[I had to give in and play the whore and we drank 7 bottles of Roederers Brut '42 and fucked all night until it was daylight, both got battle fatigue I guess. Anyway I wrote only 708 words. I speak to whore very slow in English since she wants to learn English like all whores have some project and then translate soft and good in Spanish. There are going to be a lot of complications in Venice and we will have to cover it like Tinker and Johnny Evers. What we need is a third baseman and Hal Clease at 1st. Papa. Maybe we can recall Willie Walton from the American Association to play 3rd. He can't hit. But he can field (womens)].
Fine condition. An extraordinary Hemingway letter.