By 1956, Ernest Hemingway was in a free fall.
Once transformative and captivating, his short, simple staccato style that remade American writing decades before had gone stale. It was now emulated by numerous authors. Lost in a literary rut, he became a caricature of his super-macho characters. He dodged sniper’s bullets in France, chased wild animals in Africa and tried to outrun fame.
That summer, Hemingway found inspiration for his fiction in his adventures years earlier as a correspondent in World War II. He wrote five short stories about the war, he told his publisher, with a stipulation: “You can always publish them after I’m dead.”
Six decades later and long after his suicide in 1961, only one of those stories had been published — until Thursday. The newly published work, “A Room on the Garden Side,” is a roughly 2,100-word story told in the first person by an American writer named Robert just after Allied soldiers liberated Paris from the Nazis in August 1944.
There is little doubt that Robert is based on the author himself. The scene from the title is a garden-view room at the Ritz, the luxury hotel in Paris on the Place Vendôme that Hemingway adored and claimed to have “liberated” in the war. Soldiers in the story call Robert by the writer’s nickname, “Papa.” There are other signs, too: exclusive magnums of champagne, doting service from the hotelier and discussions about books and writers and the trappings of celebrity.
“Hemingway’s deep love for his favorite city as it is just emerging from Nazi occupation is on full display, as are the hallmarks of his prose,” said Andrew F. Gulli, the managing editor of The Strand Magazine, the literary quarterly that published the story.
While the short story had never been released to the reading public, it was not entirely unknown. The manuscript — 15 pages written in pencil — has been stored for decades in the permanent Hemingway collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Hemingway scholars have studied and written about “A Room on the Garden Side” and the four other works in the series, including “Black Ass at the Crossroads,”the only other story that had been published.
About a year ago, Mr. Gulli said, he asked the Hemingway estate for permission to print the story in The Strand Magazine, which mostly publishes new mystery stories but also unpublished pieces by well-known writers. In November, it published an uncovered short story by Raymond Chandler, best known for his gritty detective tales.
“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,” Mr. Gulli said, referring to the administrators of the estate.
Kirk Curnutt, a board member of the Hemingway Society, wrote an afterword in the magazine noting that the piece “contains all the trademark elements readers love in Hemingway” and captures “the importance of Paris.”
“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,” Mr. Curnutt wrote.
If you prefer to read the story yourself first, you might want to stop here.
The narrative takes place during an evening in the hotel room near the end of the war. Some French soldiers dismantle and clean their weapons. They talk about leaving Paris the next morning to continue fighting.
Robert sips on 1937 Perrier-Jouët Brut from fine glassware, reads books and watches the sunlight bounce off trees in the garden. Surrounded by war, he enjoys luxury and personal comfort in one of the hotel’s finer rooms. But he yearns to leave the room and walk out of the Ritz.
The autobiographical elements are clear. As the war ended, Hemingway was in the middle of a drought writing new fiction, after the success of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” published in 1940. It had been nearly 20 years since he wrote his early novels, “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Farewell to Arms.”
In 1950, he wrote the widely lampooned “Across the River and Into the Trees.” Then, in 1952, he published “The Old Man and the Sea,” a global success that destroyed the last remnants of his privacy. Shortly after he finished “A Room on the Garden Side,” Hemingway told a friend that he hated the disruptive nature of fame.
“Probably I would do better never to publish anything else,” Hemingway wrote to his friend Harvey Breit, the editor of The New York Times Book Review. “Simpler to leave stuff for when I am dead.”
Inside the Release of a Never-Before-Published Ernest Hemingway Story ~ Vanity Fair
Ernest Hemingway’s last decade on Earth started, in 1950, with The New York Times labeling the American novelist as the greatest writer since Shakespeare. In 1952, he published The Old Man and the Sea, his last major work of fiction. Two years later, in 1954, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. That same year, the writer barely survived two plane crashes—in as many days—while in Africa. But the six years that followed were unkind to Hemingway and ended with his suicide in 1961. Before he took his life, he sat down in 1956 to compose a letter from his home in Cuba to his publisher Charles Scribner Jr. “I started writing short stories which is the hardest thing for me,” he wrote. “You can always publish them after I’m dead.” On Saturday, one of those stories, “A Room on the Garden Side,“ will be published for the first time.
The year in which Hemingway wrote “A Room on the Garden Side” was a difficult one for the 57-year-old novelist. As his biographer Carlos Baker wrote, by 1956, Hemingway “hoped to get through the spring without killing anyone, himself included.” He had been in a foul mood for some time, mainly due to his lack of acumen regarding fishing in the waters of Cuba and Peru, and a manuscript about Africa that remained untouched for months on end as he struggled to write. Writing short stories seemed like a promising method by which to redevelop his cadence, and for inspiration he turned to his favorite touchstones: Paris, war-time heroism, and discussions of mortality. “It has some of the necessary ingredients,” said Andrew F. Gulli, the managing editor of The Strand Magazine magazine, the literary quarterly that will publish Hemingway’s story. “A group of courageous characters, hope for the future, nostalgia for the past, a memorable setting (in this case, the iconic Ritz hotel), and the fragility of life.”
“A Room on the Garden Side” is a story told in first person by an American named Robert, just after Allied soldiers liberated Paris from the Nazis in 1944. Robert’s persona mimics Hemingway’s own, all the way down to the fictional character’s nickname: “Papa.” Throughout, Robert sips fine champagne, reads, and carries on conversations with his fellow soldiers about the war that’s just concluded. The setting is pure Hemingway. He was once quoted as having said: “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz.”
While Hemingway was writing the story, he was also working on a memoir about his years as a struggling young expatriate journalist and writer in 1920s Paris, a time when he was living with his first wife and spending time with literary luminaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. (The memoir, A Moveable Feast, was published posthumously in 1964.)
By the mid-1950s, “He was aware his powers were kind of waning,” said Kirk Curnutt, a board member at the Hemingway Society, as well as a professor of English at Troy University. “It was a very nostalgic period for him,” as he felt he was nearing the end of his life, but he wanted to ensure that the modern history of Paris was intertwined with his own life story. “I think in particular, in ‘A Room on the Garden Side,’ it’s really confronting the question of: what might have happened had the Allies not reclaimed Paris?”
Some critics may wonder why, some six decades after his death, the Hemingway estate has decided to publish the short story. While the cynical might view it as a money grab, some Hemingway acolytes believe the moment has meaning.
“We are currently at a very important time in our nation’s history, both in terms of our relationship with Western Europe and our own liberal values,” says Curnutt. “Hemingway’s story brings to the surface our debt to, and our relationship with, our European allies, and how the world would’ve been a more nefarious place had we not banded together to rid the world of evil. Today, it’s easy to forget, but Hemingway’s words force us to confront our past and remember—which, perhaps, makes the text more important now than it was when he wrote it in 1956.”
Indeed, as Hemingway’s short story nears its conclusion, the American narrator explains why he felt the need to fight in the war. “I also loved France and Spain next to my own country,” he writes. “I loved other countries, too, but the debt was paid and I thought that the account was closed, not knowing the accounts are never closed.”