Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Hemingway’s "The Woppian Way or The Passing of Pickles McCarthy"

blog by Michael Federspiel

intro by Frank Boles:
This blog is one of several we are posting in connection with the PBS documentary, Hemingway, produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, which will air April 5-7. Be sure to join us on March 31 at 6:30 p.m. for a special introduction to Hemingway when we join with WCMU-Television for an online event featuring Lynn Novick. To register for the March 31 event visit WCMU at wcmu.org/hemingway.

The Clarke Historical Library recently acquired a significant fragment of a story Hemingway worked on while he lived in Petoskey. Known alternately to scholars as
The Woppian Way or The Passing of Pickles McCarthy, the typed and heavily edited manuscript shows the young Hemingway, back from Europe and World War I, at the beginning of his career as a writer. Michael Federspiel, a member of the Clarke Historical Library’s Board of Governors and an expert on Ernest Hemingway’s life in Michigan, shared with me the story behind this item.

The latest addition to the Clarke Historical Library’s Hemingway Collection is a manuscript of a story he worked on in Petoskey in 1919. The four-page draft has many corrections to the typed text which are in Hemingway’s own hand. It was created at a significant time in the author’s life and has ties to another important document in the Clarke’s collection – a letter Ernest wrote to his father in October 1919.

In the fall of 1919, Ernest Hemingway was at a crossroads. He had graduated from high school in 1917, went on to spend a year as a Kansas City Star newspaper reporter, and then he joined the American Red Cross and traveled to Italy where he was severely wounded in July 1918. After recovering in a Milan hospital, he returned to America in January 1919 to further recover from his wounds while clinging to hope about a long-term relationship with a nurse who had cared for him. Then in March, he received a letter ending that relationship which sent him into emotional free fall. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, he spent the summer of 1919 healing physically and emotionally. That fall when his family returned to their Oak Park, Illinois, home he decided rather than go off to college or back to newspaper work he would devote himself to writing fiction. Using money received by cashing in an insurance policy, he remained in northern Michigan. As fall transitioned to early winter, he packed his typewriter and left Windemere, his family’s Walloon Lake cottage, and friends at Horton Bay and looked for a room in Petoskey. He found that room in a large white frame house on State Street owned by a widow, Eva Potter, who lived there with her son. Her daughter, a schoolteacher, worked out of town but returned on weekends. Potter must have welcomed the extra $8 a week Ernest would pay her to stay in the upstairs corner bedroom for two months.

We know something about his actions and thoughts at that time thanks in part to a letter already in the Clarke’s Hemingway Collection. It was written by Ernest to his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway and dated October 28, 1919. He writes from Horton Bay that he has “a room located at 602 State Street where I wish you could forward my mail and anything else. It is small but heated and gives me a place to work…. Brought the typer [typewriter] and am departing with it and all my worldly goods to Petoskey on Thursday (November 1).”

Staying in Petoskey would be a new experience for Hemingway as his summers were typically spent almost exclusively at Walloon Lake and nearby Horton Bay with only occasional day trips to towns such as Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Boyne City. Additionally, Hemingway was a “summer person” and in Petoskey he would encounter year-round residents and businesses. During his two-month stay, he would meet new people, do public presentations about his World War I experiences, and work hard to write publishable fiction.

Some in Petoskey were wary of this unemployed unshaven stranger from Chicago who could often be seen walking around looking “rough” wearing old shoes a Mackinac shirt, and pants, but at the Potters he was warmly received. Mrs. Potter’s daughter, Hazel, remembered the boarder being “big and dark” and “typing away all the time.” Her mother, Eva, provided a pleasant home base for him. As Ernest told his mother in a December 4, 1919, letter, “My landlady here is awfully nice to me. Some days when I come in early in the morning I find a lunch laid out on my table with a Thermos bottle full of hot cocoa. Cake and salad and cold meat. And she sends up pop corn to me. Hot and buttered. She treats me great and in return I try to do things for her downtown and go around and pay her water, electric and telephone bills etc. She does any mending for me that I need too.” His Petoskey days settled into a routine of walks around town, meeting with new friends and, significantly, hunched over his “typer.”

Writing was nothing new to Ernest Hemingway. As a high school student, he had written both for the school newspaper and for its literary magazine and in Kansas City, he had experience as a professional journalist. But the writing which he now was practicing was different – his made-up stories had to appeal to the general public (and even more so, the editors to whom he submitted them). Hemingway had read popular magazines and had a sense of what they contained and tried to emulate the writers’ style and topics. It was tough going and frustrating as rejection notices were delivered to him.

Thirty-five-year-old Edwin Balmer, a future editor at Redbook magazine and publisher author, who lived in Chicago but summered at Walloon Lake agreed to help the aspiring writer. He agreed to critique what Ernest had written and on the back of one story manuscript, he wrote the name of several magazine editors who he thought might be interested in young Hemingway’s work. Abandoning his Kansas City journalistic style, Ernest focused on fiction publishable in popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post or Everybody’s Magazine and he valued Balmer’s opinion and his contacts.

One particular story, The Woppian Way, was getting a lot of Hemingway’s attention. Set in Italy during the War, it featured an Irish protagonist who gave up a promising boxing career to join the Italian army’s Arditi battalion. Hemingway likely started this story in Oak Park and brought it north with him as he struggled to get it just right. In that October 28, 1919 letter, he tells his father, “This afternoon I worked out the new front part of the ‘Woppian Way’ that Balmer wanted me to do and will have it in shape to start on its travels as soon as I am settled in Petoskey.” Hemingway even supported Balmer’s suggestion to rename the work, The Passing of Pickles McCarthy and it has since been known by both titles.

“Back in the days when we were eating of the fruit of the tree of watchful waiting, when people still cared where the Giants finished, before the draft had even begun to form the cave of the winds…there was a ringsman by the name of Pickles McCarthy. (Opening paragraph of The Woppian Way)

According to Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker, The Woppian Way / The Passing of Pickles McCarthy was an attempt by Ernest to follow the advice Trumbull Scott had given him in 1917 – write about things you have personally experienced. Hemingway tried to follow this advice as he bridged his high school writing to more sophisticated (and sellable) adult fiction. While the story’s plot is invented, the Italian people, places, and events were ones he knew firsthand. But, as Baker says, “He had not yet learned to discipline his prose, economize his dialogue, curb his powers of invention, or understand that scenes of carnage were not in themselves the ideal climax for the stories he had to tell.” Though completed, the story would remain unpublished.

Despite his serious effort and hard work, none of the stories Hemingway wrote that fall were accepted for publication during his lifetime. By January 1920, he was in Toronto where he was a paid companion for the handicapped son of a family he met in Petoskey and it was then that he began his affiliation with the Toronto Star newspaper. In September 1921, Hemingway maried his first wife, Hadley Richardson, at Horton Bay, and after short stay in Chicago the couple would move to Paris where famously Ernest would become part of the Lost Generation. Initially supported in Paris by his wife’s trust fund and money he made as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, he abandoned trying to write for popular magazines and instead created revolutionary new fiction. This time he wrote about what he personally knew and had experienced and the settings for his new taut fiction were most often in northern Michigan. Nick Adams, his reoccurring protagonist, shared many of Hemingway’s own life experiences.

Now, 102 years after it was originally written, this draft of The Woppian Way has found its way to CMU’s Clarke Historical Library. How had it survived and how did it come to be at CMU? Most of those details are known and the story is an interesting one.

Hemingway was a borderline hoarder when it came to his writing. He kept virtually everything from complete early drafts of stories and novels to scraps of paper with story ideas or simple descriptive sentences. He mined these resources and often something created earlier was retooled and ended up in a published work later. After Hemingway’s death, his widow, Mary, initially had all his personal papers – letters, manuscripts, photos, etc. – boxed up and stored in a warehouse. When access requests from scholars became overwhelming, she donated the archives to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston where it remains preserved and available to the public. The collection there includes the evolution of many of his works – handwritten first drafts, typed with handwritten corrections drafts, and final drafts.

Two versions of The Woppian Way are included in the JFK Library’s Hemingway inventory. One is a 17-page typed, titled copy with no corrections. On the first page of it is written, “602 State Street, Petoskey, Michigan.” It is likely that this is what Hemingway considered the final version and was the one that was sent to potential publishers. The JFK’s other version is what the library considers “typescript fragments” and is nine pages of different sheets with pencil corrections and it is possible these are drafts worked on in Petoskey. If Hemingway kept these drafts, why isn’t the Clarke draft there too?

That Hemingway lived in many different places is well-known and scholars, and even those with casual interest, can identify Paris, Key West, and Cuba among his famous locales. With these and his many other moves, his possessions came along with him. When he married, the bulk of what he had remained at his parents’ house at Oak Park – likely including any correspondence or writing that he had. By 1931, Hemingway had moved back to America with Pauline, his second wife, and purchased a large house on Whitehead Street in Key West where he would live until 1940 when he moved to Cuba. In 1928, Hemingway’s father committed suicide and his mother struggled to support herself and maintain the large family home in Oak Park. In 1936, she sold that house and moved to a much smaller residence. It would make sense that at that time Ernest received his old things from Oak Park – including his earlier writings. In that they likely no longer seemed useful or relevant, they may have been put into storage. According to an article published at the JFK Library website written by Megan Floyd Desnoyers, in 1935, Hemingway left papers with Joe Russell, his friend and owner of Sloppy Joe’s Bar, in the storeroom behind the bar in Key West – a date that would fit that timeline of the Oak Park home sale. The Sloppy Joe’s website lists a slightly different version with the papers coming to Joe Russell in 1939, when Hemingway was preparing to move to Cuba. What is agreed upon is that after Ernest’s death, his widow, Mary Hemingway, consolidated his papers including those remaining in Key West. They were found in extremely poor conditions with rat skeletons among and in the boxes.

It is at this point Waring Jones, a skilled and determined Hemingway collector enters the picture. Jones, a Minnesotan, was a theatrical producer, newspaper editor, and book and art collector. According to his son, Finn-Olaf Jones, Waring went to Key West shortly after Ernest’s 1961 death to see what Hemingway material might be available. He discovered that boxes of materials had been left in a closet at Sloppy Joe’s and that Hemingway estate executors had sorted through them and had claimed what they wanted. They had then given permission to dispose of the rest and Jones took advantage of that decision and bought the remaining items sight unseen. It was likely at this time that those copies of The Woppian Way now at the JFK and the one at the Clarke parted company. It’s not known why the executors chose some things and not others, but some drafts went with them and some were left behind. After enjoying the Sloppy Joe’s material for many years, in 2001, Jones donated the bulk of it (along with additional material) to the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park where it became part of the Foundation’s larger collection. It is now stored and accessible at the Oak Park Public Library.

While much of Waring Jones’ Hemingway collection was donated to Oak Park, some items were held out and put up for sale by his family using New York bookseller, Jeffrey Marks. It was by way of a listing he posted that the Clarke became aware of The Woppian Way manuscript’s availability. Recognizing its significance and potential value as a part of its Hemingway Collection, the Clarke combined money from its Michigan Hemingway Endowment, a private donor, and Friends of Library to secure the purchase. This item, created by a new struggling writer in Petoskey, Michigan, is now on site and available to see and use.