Ernest Hemingway: The Oak Park Legacy

Ernest Hemingway: The Oak Park Legacy

by James Nagel (Editor)


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Ernest Hemingway: The Oak Park Legacy is the first extensive examination of the relationship of Hemingway to his hometown, Oak Park, Illinois, and the influence its people, places, and underlying values had on his early work. In this volume, 11 leading Hemingway scholars explore various aspects of these issues, from the migration of the Hemingway family from Connecticut to Illinois in the 1850s, to Hemingway's high-school stories and the dramatic breakthrough of In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises. With these books, Hemingway suddenly became one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. The essays in this collection explore the social and family background that provided the material and sensibility for these literary masterpieces.

In these essays, James Nagel provides the first account ever published of the move of the Hemingway family from Connecticut to Illinois. Writing his account after the discovery of a lost diary by one of Hemingway's ancestors, Nagel explores dates and places, the motivation for the move to the Midwest, and the tragedies that awaited the family there, including the death of two young men in the Civil War. Michael Reynolds, the premiere biographer of Ernest Hemingway, describes the culture of the village of Oak Park at the turn of the century, and Larry E. Grimes presents an important new assessment of the religious training the Hemingway children received. David Marut discusses the short stories Hemingway published while still a highschool student, and Carlos Azevedo, Mary Anne O'Neal, Abby H. P. Werlock, and George Monteiro examine the early stories about Nick Adams. In an insightful afterword, Morris Buske, the Historian of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, reflects on the differing values of Ernest Hemingway's parents, the artistic, cultured Hall family as opposed to the scientific, more practical Hemingways, charting the influence the two traditions had on the young Ernest.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817308421
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 07/28/1996
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: 1520L (what's this?)

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Ernest Hemingway

The Oak Park Legacy

By James Nagel

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 1996 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-9131-7


High Culture and Low: Oak Park before the Great War


The Oak Park that nurtured young Ernest Hemingway and the music that once played there can never be completely recovered, for the metaphoric distances, as Hemingway might say, have all changed. What scholars unearth from old newspapers, unreferenced letters, and curious photographs is never the village itself, never the times or the people. The Oak Park air no longer smells as it once did in autumns of burning leaves; the horse barns and livery stables have crumbled to dust. The collective village memory is selective and seldom verifiable, and out of memory, dead documents, and fading gravestones we reconstruct the past to suit our present needs. What we think happened, did happen, as long as we believe in it.

Hemingway's high school classmates remembered young Ernest for his spirit and humor, if not his manners. Sue Lowrey Kesler said that Ernie was "always laughing, carefree; rather tousled and unkempt as to appearance." Other girls in his class were more blunt. One said, "Confidentially, he was not too popular and none of 'us girls' dated him." Another said, "He did not care too much what his classmates thought of his personal appearance. ... Ernie was a handsome boy ... but he did not care how he looked. Unkempt is the only word to describe him." Grace Knold Gjesdahl thought young Hemingway's "aloofness and his conceit ... did not make for close associations. ... We wished he would pay a little more attention to the back of his neck and his finger nails!"

Compared to adolescents today, Ernest appears terribly respectable in photographs, but his classmates remembered his appearance as evidence of his rebellion against Oak Park and family norms. Carol Derenforth Lowitz said that he "would almost refuse to conform to the standard of ethics set up by his class mates," an attitude that she attributed to his reaction against his "pedantic and straight-laced family." The doctor and the doctor's wife, Grace Hall Hemingway, were never pedantic, and "straight-laced" does not describe Grace's own rebellion against Oak Park restrictions.

Ernest's classmates never saw his high school notebooks, where he began his lifelong obsession with lists and promises. On those private pages, he inventoried himself and his dreams. His list of possessions included two suits (one worn out and one good), six shirts, three pairs of shoes, magazines and books, a rifle, a shotgun and a box of shells, fishing hooks, line, flies, a baseball bat and glove, two account books, a "chronic case of piles" and "a lot of knowledge about woodcraft, hunting, fishing ... farming, lumbering, etc." The list was dated March 21, 1915. Ernest Hemingway was fifteen years old on that spring solstice, and this was no casual list, but an accounting as focused as Thoreau's inventory of his costs at Walden.

On the same day, Hemingway mapped out his future:

I desire to do pioneering or exploring work in the 3 last great frontiers[:] Africa[,] southern central South America[,] or the country around and north of Hudson Bay. I believe that the Science, English and to a certain extent the Latin that I am now studying in high school will help me in this object. I intend to specialize in the sciences in college and to join some expedition when I leave college. I believe that any training I get by hiking in the spring or farm work in the summer or any work in the woods which tends to develop resourcefulness and self reliance is of inestimable value in the work I intend to pursue.

I have no desire absolutely to be a millionaire or a rich man but I do intend to do something toward the scientific interests of the world.

He read it over, and then he signed it: Ernest M. Hemingway, a binding contract with himself made on that first day of spring, a contract he kept with the world as well as he was able.

He never enrolled at college, but he never gave up his studies in natural history, ichthyology, or unencumbered spaces. His language studies broadened: Italian, French, Spanish, and a smattering of German. He never got to Hudson Bay or South America, but he took us with him to Africa. He studied trout streams in several countries, studied Gulf Stream marlin, studied Spanish bulls and African game. He studied the flight of birds, the bends of rivers, and the flow of country. But what he studied first, last, and always was that strange animal, humanity, rampant in its natural setting. Like his mother, Ernest was an artist; like his father, he was a natural historian; like both, he found his calling in Oak Park. But like neither parent, he was a child of this century, born too late for the frontier and too soon for outer space, leaving him only the dark country within himself to explore.

Remembering right, as Gertrude Stein said, is never easy and seldom achieved. All people have their own stories. When Malcolm Cowley began his 1948 Life magazine feature on Hemingway, he relied on his Oak Park informant, Otto McFeely, the editor of Oak Leaves, who passed along hearsay and interviewed some Hemingway classmates for their memories. Phil White's response is representative of McFeely's information. White said:

I was smaller than he [Hemingway] was, but I could always lick him when we were grade school boys and I know as old as I am, I could lick him today. He always was yellow. He always tried to be the big shot and never was. He never dated girls or went to dancing school until he was in the last year of high school when he seemed to get an idea of what girls were for. It is said that in his last year he had a very ardent and successful affair with a high school teacher who was then thirty years old.

That Hemingway actually began dance classes, along with most of his peers, in the fall of his sophomore year, that he dated Dorothy Davies and Frances Coates in his junior year, or took Jean Pickett and Katherine Bagley canoeing while making a play for Annette, had dropped from White's memory. It is also unlikely that Hemingway had an affair with his senior English teacher, Fannie Biggs, although he must have found her attractive, for there is a strong resemblance between Biggs and Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson. As with many memoirs, White's tells more about Oak Park's response to the adult Hemingway than it does about Ernest's early life in Oak Park.

The Oak Park of Hemingway's youth, which has eroded beneath the pressures of this century, was a moral outpost from Chicago, "the city on the hill" that voted Republican at every chance. In the Bull Moose election of 1912, half of the male population cast votes, sixty percent of them for Roosevelt. With its insistence on moral behavior, parental control, and constant vigil against corrupting forces, Oak Park put a good deal of pressure on its sons and daughters. That some, like Hemingway, seemed to rebel against those pressures is not surprising; in fact, had that first generation of this century not rebelled, it would have been strange indeed. In the Oak Park of his youth, Hemingway was theoretically protected by city ordinances from uncensored movies, boxing matches, any information on venereal disease or birth control, all forms of gambling and prostitution, and all consumption of alcohol. Until he turned eighteen, Hemingway could not legally buy cigarettes, play billiards, drive a car, or own a cap gun within the village limits. Unless accompanied by a parent or responsible adult, Hemingway had an eight P.M. curfew in the fall and winter, nine P.M. in spring and summer.

Not too surprisingly, Ernest, like more than one of his classmates, became fascinated with drinking, gambling, and prizefights, for whatever knowledge is forbidden to children becomes the coin of their realm. In Oak Park or, more likely, across the boulevard in Cicero, he took his first illegal drink and learned the fine art of rolling dice, "galloping dominoes" as he called it. He engaged in sponsored activities that got him out of the house after curfew: high school sports, the YMCA, the school orchestra. One day he shot a pheasant on Wallace Evans's game farm, violating Oak Park ordinances against carrying weapons and being out after curfew, not to mention stealing. That readers have taken such rebellion as Hemingway's rejection of Oak Park is unfortunate. One may rage against one's cultural inheritance but can no more reject it than one's blood type.

Although Hemingway was sometimes embarrassed by his mother's free spirit and frightened by his father's retreat into depression, Hemingway's early years were not scarred by divorce or abuse; he grew up respecting his elders, submitting to discipline, and behaving like a good bad boy. In the protective village it was easy to be bad and just as easy to be forgiven, for the Hemingway name was a substantial one within the community. As Zelma Morton remembered, "If Ernest was not really popular neither did any Oak Parker ever ignore a Hemingway." His extended family, largely educated at Wheaton College, Oberlin College, and Rush Medical School, was well known and well liked; his grandfather, Anson, uncle, Willoughby, and parents were all featured at various times on the cover of Oak Leaves. His father was a professional, his mother classically trained in music. They lived in a respectable neighborhood of businessmen, salesmen, doctors, and dentists, most of whom took the train each morning into Chicago, where they worked. Although not as fine as John Farson's Pleasant Home, there was nothing shabby about the three-story Hemingway house, with its seven bedrooms, two full baths and two half baths, a large music studio, a living room of comparable size, a dining room and kitchen, Dr. Hemingway's office, and a large screened porch.

There was also nothing shabby about the music that drenched Hemingway during his early years. Otto McFeely, remembering Grace Hall Hemingway long after her musical prime, saw her as "a frequent figure at art teas, weddings of scions of old families and at the Nineteenth Century Club, [she] wore long skirts before the New Look and always recalled to me the ... Dowager Queen of England who also is very unfashionable. ... Like most persons with the artistic flair, especially those who suffer the disaster of a little talent, she was also a 'character' who often caused people to smile, but always indulgently." Hemingway himself further obscured his mother's personality when he professed to hate her and when he later held her responsible for his father's suicide. It became convenient for Hemingway to blame his mother for problems he did not want to face.

When Grace Hall Hemingway designed their Kenilworth house, she included a music studio and recital hall thirty feet square with a vaulted ceiling and a narrow balcony. Here she gave music and voice lessons, scheduled her student recitals, and composed and practiced her own music, which was marketed by two different publishing houses. Today her lyrics, mostly written for contraltos like herself, are as dated as the long Victorian dresses she wore until her death in 1951, but they are no more sentimental than most turn-of-the-century popular music. Among her publications are such titles as "If I Could Know," "I'll Sing the Songs of Araby," "God Laid Me Aside to Rest Me," "For You and Me," "Starlight Serenade," and "The Sweetest Song I Know." Ernest must have known by heart her "Flower Lullaby," with cello obbligato:

    Hush, hush
    My heart is singing low
    While rocking to and fro
    Lullaby, lullaby
    Sleep, darling child
    Dream of angel faces
    That loved thee long ago
    Dream of soft, sweet kisses
    That mother's lips bestow
    Hush Hush.

However sweet and sometimes cloying Grace's lyrics might sound today, her music remains as demanding as when first written. With her large hands, she used chords stretching a full octave; in some cases, the harmony was played in the treble while the bass carried the melody. "If I Could Know" is not a beginner's piece, written with six flats.

No matter how egocentric a mother or how curious a personality Grace Hall Hemingway may seem today, it is a mistake to think of her as a pushy amateur musician whom Oak Park tolerated with amusement. In a village filled with amateurs, Grace was a professional musician whose classically trained skills became her identity and her freedom. Wherever one went in Oak Park, Grace was singing by invitation. At the Third Congregational Church she chaired the music committee and directed fifty children in the vested choir and orchestra. When the Women's Christian Temperance Union met to reaffirm Oak Park's dry status, Grace "added to the pleasure of those present by singing a solo." When the Three O'Clock Club met, "the attraction was Mrs. Grace Hall Hemingway in one of her charming and versatile programs." Two weeks later she entertained the Nineteenth Century Club with her Shakespearean song routine from As You Like It. A month later she was entertaining the high school parent-teacher association with Irish ballads like "Mollie Bawn" and Longfellow's "Home Song." On one of her almost annual trips to California, Grace was

received with great enthusiasm in the professional musical circle of Los Angeles [where she sang] at a reception to the leading musical lights. ... Later Mrs. Hemingway gave a recital at Blanchard Hall Building, assisted by Miss Henderson of the New York Castle Square Opera Company. ... Last Friday evening Mrs. Hemingway was heard at The Abbotsford Inn, an invitation affair. Saturday afternoon she sang ... for the musical critics of the press, and on Saturday evening gave a private recital of her own songs, with harp, violin, piano and pipe organ accompaniment.

Young Hemingway heard his mother practice her varied musical routines, her students at their lessons, and himself on his cello. He and his older sister, Marcelline, played in the high school student orchestra for two years. The impact of his musical training, both formal and casual, was long lasting. He listened to classical music throughout his life. During his courtship of Hadley Richardson, piano concerts were part of their shared interests; after their marriage, Hadley replaced his mother at the piano they rented in Paris. Out of this background came Hemingway's compulsion to public performance and his understanding of counterpoint, which he used to advantage in his writing.

When his mother was not immersed in her music, she actively participated in the Nineteenth Century Club, Oak Park's continuing education for ladies of some leisure. Professors from the University of Chicago and national authorities lectured regularly on topics like Arthurian romance and the grail legends, Roman architecture, William James, women's suffrage, Ibsen's philosophy, and the causes of divorce. Added to the general meetings were the special sections devoted to music, art, literature, home management, education, social economics, and social reform, each with meetings and reports by the membership. Grace not only attended these events, taking notes, but she also contributed to them. Many of the subjects reinforced Ernest's high school course work and reading. The Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas houses Grace's elaborate notes on Aristophanes, Boccaccio, Euripides, Homer, and Greek music, drama, and poetry. One can also read her twenty-page manuscript "The Analogy between Music and Color" and her twenty-nine page manuscript on Russian music. Given her gregarious nature, one can easily imagine that more than a little of her continuing education became a part of the Hemingways' household life, and much of her interests supplemented or reinforced her son's education.

At Oak Park and River Forest High School, Hemingway took the then standard precollege curriculum: six semesters of science, four of math, six of Latin, eight of English literature and composition, four of history, two of applied music, and two years of orchestra. In Latin, young Hemingway translated Cicero; in history he wrote essays on Greek tyrants and the Marathon campaign and outlined the Punic Wars. "It's a hard world," he wrote in the margin of his high school notebook, "and few of us get out of it alive." His yearlong courses in American and ancient history were not grounded in the watered-down texts that are now written for high school students; Hemingway read and was tested on the standard histories of his day. His English courses required weekly writing and the study of composition, and Hemingway read the classic myths, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, the British romantics, Walter Scott, Dickens, George Eliot, Tennyson, Browning, and Matthew Arnold. He spent ten weeks studying the history of the English language, four weeks on formal rhetoric, and an entire semester of his senior year on prose composition. Along with his classmates, Hemingway memorized the opening lines of Chaucer's general prologue to The Canterbury Tales and the then standard ration of Shakespeare soliloquies. Whatever the course, humanities or science, there were always written assignments: weekly book reports, essays, and term papers. Hemingway outlined his reading of Macbeth and Hamlet and wrote reports on the anatomy of grasshoppers, the necessity of life insurance, the need for a standing army, and the causes of the American Revolution.


Excerpted from Ernest Hemingway by James Nagel. Copyright © 1996 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Hemingway Genealogy,
The Hemingways and Oak Park, Illinois: Background and Legacy JAMES NAGEL,
Hemingway: The Oak Park Background,
High Culture and Low: Oak Park before the Great War MICHAEL REYNOLDS,
Hemingway's Religious Odyssey: The Oak Park Years LARRY E. GRIMES,
John Halifax, Gentleman and the Literary Courtship of Clarence and Grace JAMES NAGEL,
The Early Fiction of Ernest Hemingway,
Out of the Wastebasket: Hemingway's High School Stories DAVID MARUT,
Oak Park as the Thing Left Out: Surface and Depth in "Soldier's Home" CARLOS AZEVEDO,
Romantic Betrayal in "Ten Indians" MARY ANNE O'NEAL,
Women in the Garden: Hemingway's "Summer People" and "The Last Good Country" ABBY H. P. WERLOCK,
By the Book: "Big Two-Hearted River" and Izaak Walton GEORGE MONTEIRO,
Hemingway's Later Work: A Farewell to Oak Park,
"Working on the Farm": Hemingway's Work Ethic in The Sun Also Rises JUDY HEN,
The Search for an American Audience: Marketing Ernest Hemingway, 1925–1930 JOHN J. FENSTERMAKER,
What If Ernest Had Been Born on the Other Side of the Street? MORRIS BUSKE,

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