Photo: Collette C. Hemingway
Seán Hemingway never knew his grandfather Ernest, but has gotten to know him by spending time with his original manuscripts. In 2004, after editing two collections of Ernest Hemingway's short-form writing, Seán took on the project of restoring A Moveable Feast, the great writer's memoir of his life in Paris during the 1920s, and worked on it during nights and weekends for five years while keeping his day job as curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We spoke to him after he returned from an annual fieldwork trip to Crete with his family, and he explained the purpose of publishing a new edition, how his background in archaeology prepared him for the task, and why he (along with all of his cousins) chose to study anything but English literature.
O: How did this project to restore A Moveable Feast start?
Seán: I've edited two other books of my grandfather's writings—Hemingway on Hunting and Hemingway on War—so my Uncle Patrick suggested the project to me. He's overseen my grandfather's literary properties since Mary [Hemingway] died, and always knew that she had made some changes to the manuscript. He was curious to know if there was material about his mother, Pauline (my grandmother), that had been cut out.
O: Why did you decide to take it on?
Seán: At first, I didn't know whether there was really enough material to do a new edition. I'm a full-time curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Greek and Roman art, where all we have are bits and pieces of a culture, and I have a training in classics, which involves looking at fragments of manuscripts to draw conclusions. Here, we had pretty much all the material, and a book had been published. But the more I researched, the more it seemed that there was still new text to present, and I got excited.
O: What material did you have to work with?
Seán: Mary gave my grandfather's original manuscripts to the National Archives; they're held in the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, and they made a complete set of copies just for me. It was remarkable—he saved all of his manuscripts: first drafts written in his hand, a typed draft and often a second typed draft of most chapters. Then, there's actually a manuscript of nineteen chapters of the book all together, so it's clear the book was almost finished.
O: How different is this edition from the original 1964 publication?
Seán: If you read the two versions side by side, the first nineteen chapters are very similar. In general, Mary and the editor of the original version were very respectful of the text, except they changed the order of two of the chapters, and we changed them back. The complete manuscript didn't have a last chapter, so they created an ending out of additional pages Hemingway had written for the book, but didn't include.
O: What was it about the original edit of the book that made it seem less true to the writer's intention?
Seán: To me, the big issue is that it was presented as completed in 1960, but it wasn't finished then. So it's not that they did a bad job. What they did was present it as Ernest Hemingway's conclusion. I understand that, but the new edition doesn't have the ending since it wasn't in my grandfather's final manuscript.
O: What else did you change?
Seán: The most significant difference is they used first person instead of second person in many chapters, and that's an editorial change that I, if I had done it the first time around, wouldn't have made.
O: Why not?
Seán: Second person is more experimental, and it's more personal. It's like he's talking to himself, and by saying "you" all the time, the reader is part of the story too. I included a selection of manuscript pages in the new edition, and you can see on one page where he had changed "you" to "I" and then back to "you." So it's clearly something he thought about, decided on, and was consistent with.
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