"This is it. There are no more books," says Charles Scribner 3d, whose family firm was Hemingway's publisher throughout his life, and through this extraordinarily fruitful and productive period beyond the grave.
And one can only hope Mr. Scribner means what he says. Though I certainly wouldn't count on it.
Has anyone been given less opportunity to "rest in peace" than Papa since he said adios? Has any great writer been so relentlessly milked, marketed, manipulated, and exploited in death as poor Hemingway? Has any celebrity been as posthumously hustled? There are stiffs buried in Potter's Field accorded more respect.
Hitler is better treated.
While the relentless, ghoulish pursuit of an additional royalty buck continues, haunting a towering literary figure writer who crafted a style that since the mid-20s has helped shape American writing.
It is shameful, and I think the Hemingway family and the estate, the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston (repository of the manuscript), as well as Scribner (now a part of Simon & Schuster), ought to be embarrassed to pull off this latest literary scam. Dr. Frankenstein wasn't as callous in robbing graves; Igor was more deft.
The New York Times credited Daily Variety for breaking the story last month. The Times's own piece, by Ralph Blumenthal, told of a new "fictional memoir," titled, "True at First Light."
The book, boiled down from "a sprawling 850 pages" by the old man's son Patrick, now 70, is about Papa and Mary Hemingway's adventures in East Africa in 1954 (you know, safaris, Mau Mau, lions, plane crashes, white hunter Philip Percival, and all that).
Asked about the supposed "find," Ed Hotchner, who wrote "Papa Hemingway," acknowledged it was "a big publishing event," but then cast a bit of doubt by remarking that Hem never mentioned such a book to him and that, "It's a mystery to me."
Since the 1961 suicide in Idaho, they've gotten four full books out of a dead man: "A Moveable Feast," "Islands in the Stream," "The Dangerous Summer" and "The Garden of Eden."
There is some wonderful stuff in these books plus much literary dreck. The Hemingway who once told George Plimpton that he rewrote the final paragraph of "A Farewell to Arms," 39 times, "to get it right," would probably not have recognized any of these works in their posthumously published form.
"A Moveable Feast" conjured up wonderful images and anecdotes of Paris when he was young. But there was also a lot of literary score-settling and pure bitchery, Gertrude Stein and Scott Fitzgerald among the victims of Hemingway's venom.
"Islands" starts off brilliantly (including some of the funniest stuff Hem ever wrote) but goes downhill fast. The final section, where Papa in his fishing boat hunts a German U-boat to its death, is pretty poor.
"The Dangerous Summer" earlier appeared in a different form in Life and is all about the mano-a-mano rivalry of two matadors, Ordonez and Dominguin, as I recall. There is also a lot of Spanish countryside, boozing, various hangers-on, pretty girls, Ava Gardner, and getting Ed Hotchner into the ring togged out as a bullfighter. You had the feeling about a third of the way through this one that Hemingway was, as a member of the Travellers Club in Paris once described his behavior, "a man barely under control."
The fourth book, and the worst, "The Garden of Eden," was an odd number in which Papa also at times seemed to be "Mama."
Such excesses, for which not he, but the executors and the editors are to blame, seem now to have reached new lows in "True at First Light." A feature of that which seems to be the "marriage" of Ernest Hemingway, with Miss Mary's blessing, to an 18-year old Wakamba woman a ceremony in which he also by local custom, inherited her 17-year old sister, "a widow," with the three of them, though not Mary, sleeping in a goatskin bed 14-feet wide.
Get this jolly description of the arrangement in a letter to Hotchner at the time, "I'm very happy with my lovely wives with their impudence and solicitude and stacked better than M. Monroe but with good hard palms to their hands and smell wonderful."
But then, as Hotch pointed out to the Times, Hem also bragged that he'd made love to Mata Hari (executed by the French a year before Hem got to Europe).
Shouldn't we give the poor guy a rest and stop publishing this crap?