Between Two Wars at The Morgan Library

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“Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars” at The Morgan Library & Museum is a must-see for aficionados of American modernist literature. Assembled in a single room, the exhibition tells the tale of Hemingway’s life, from its promising beginning to its untimely end, using personal and professional documents. It is a known fact that Hemingway was a ferocious self-editor. He meticulously cut flowery adjectives from his texts and omitted anything that did not prove to be essential to the plot; he cultivated a clean and minimalist prose that became his signature style. Reading his published work gives the impression that it is the spontaneous creation of a genius, but the exhibition exposes the real creative process: a rigorous exercise in rewriting. Demonstrated by Hemingway’s original manuscripts on display, he crisscrossed and footnoted repeatedly for draft after draft.

On display, there were possible titles for the vignettes in his short story collection, “In Our Time,” next to unpublished chapters from bestseller “The Sun Also Rises” that shed a new light on Hemingway’s famous books and persona.

Among the manuscripts are a selection of letters documenting the correspondence between Hemingway and other literati, such as Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, who admired and critiqued him through the different stages of his career. The exhibition acknowledges all the phases and themes of Hemingway’s life and work: journalism, war, bullfights, fishing, travel, and love. It displays various artifacts of his that demonstrate these themes. For example, the exhibition includes a collection of Hemingway’s bullfighting ticket stubs from the bullfights he attended in Pamplona and Madrid, showcased next to pictures of him drinking at a café with friends during the fiesta in Pamplona.

The exhibition is humble in size. It entails a simple display of authentic documents, untouched by the curators Declan Keily and Robert H. Taylor, other than modest framing and arranging. Nevertheless, this very aspect of the exhibition manifests the “objective correlative” technique Hemingway persistently used in his work. This literary device was defined by T.S. Eliot as “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” Thus, the exhibition succeeds not only in exhibiting artifacts, but also demonstrates Hemingway’s unique aesthetic ideology. “Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars” itself is objective and informative, exhibiting concrete artifacts, merely arranged by chronological order. Overall, it expresses an authenticity Hemingway himself aspired to achieve in his writing from between the fastidiously revised lines on display.