UI professor rediscovers long-lost recording of Hemingway

By Andrea Lynn

A long-lost and historically important recording by Ernest Hemingway was
played publicly this week for the first time in nearly 50 years during a
reunion of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Oakland, Calif.

The 1947 recording, the first Hemingway is known to have made, should shake
up Hemingway scholars and aficionados, says Cary Nelson, the scholar who
rediscovered it, because it shoots down the common belief among these
people that after 1939, Hemingway went sour on leftist politics and on the
cause of the Spanish Republic.

The recording originally was played on Feb. 12, 1947, by Lincoln Brigade
veterans of the Spanish Civil War observing the 10th anniversary of their
defense of Madrid. The recording was played again Sunday during the
veterans' 57th anniversary dinner at the Parc Oakland Hotel.

The UI Press has just released an audiocassette tape of the recording and a
companion booklet, "Remembering Spain," edited by Nelson, a UI professor of
English. The booklet contains, among other things, a previously unpublished
letter Hemingway wrote in 1953 that serves as another piece of evidence
that although by 1940 the author felt betrayed by some of those he met in
Spain, "his basic feelings about the status of the cause and the status of
those who fought for it remained substantially untouched," Nelson said.

"Both documents show that Hemingway stood by the Spanish Republicans in
1947 and was willing to do it again in 1953."

In the recording, Hemingway reads "On the American Dead in Spain," his
haunting 1939 eulogy to members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who were
killed during the civil war in Spain, 1936 to 1939. The brigade - one of
four such groups that made up the 15th International Brigade - was composed
largely of American volunteers who helped defend the elected Spanish
government against Gen. Francisco Franco and fascism.

After Hemingway made the five-minute, $5.30 recording 47 years ago in
Havana, he shipped it to the Hotel Astor in New York to be played during
the 10th anniversary event. Hemingway covered the war as a journalist and
befriended many soldiers, including Milton Wolff, the last battlefield
commander of the Lincoln battalion. Wolff, 78, is the current commander of
the Bay Area Post of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

According to Nelson, Hemingway biographers "often have confused Hemingway's
disenchantment with Spain's wartime leaders with a general disenchantment
with the left and with the cause of the Spanish Republic."

"However, the 1947 recording and the 1953 letter show Hemingway maintaining
his support for the Republic in the strongest possible terms," Nelson said.
"Both documents show him as well in supportive contact with the American"

While Hemingway's recorded message was reported in the New York Times on
Feb. 13, 1947, scholars seem to have forgotten about the recording.
According to Nelson, the odd aluminum-and-plastic disk spent the next 45
years in one of Wolff's closets, with other archival material.  Nelson met
Wolff in San Francisco, and in 1992 helped arrange to bring his archive to
the UI Library.

It was in the Edwin Rolfe Archive, another recently obtained Spanish Civil
War archive Nelson helped bring to the UI, that Nelson found the 1953
letter. He now is editing a book of 22 previously unpublished Hemingway
letters from the Rolfe archive. In addition to reaffirming his loyalty to
the Republicans in the letter, Hemingway drops a bombshell: He tells Rolfe
that Andre Marty, a leader in the French Communist movement, was plotting
to have him - Hemingway - "eliminated."

Hemingway fell out of favor with many people, including veterans of the
Lincoln Brigade, after "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was published in 1940, for
having described in great detail an incident of Spanish terrorism in a
loyalist village.

Hemingway's "On the American Dead in Spain" first appeared as the lead item
in the Feb. 14, 1939, issue of New Masses, the American Communist Party's
leading cultural magazine. Contributors did not have to be party members
(Hemingway was not a member). The only other known recording of the writer,
"Ernest Hemingway Reading," was released in 1965. Hemingway died by
self-inflicted gunshot in 1961.

In his essay in "Remembering Spain," Nelson relates the history of
Hemingway's eulogy and how it was received by the veterans' organization.
Nelson also recently co-edited the "Collected Poems" of Edwin Rolfe, the
Lincoln battalion's poet laureate. The book was published in December by
the UI Press.

In "Remembering Spain," Milton Wolff tells how the Hemingway recording came
to be made and describes many of his interactions with the writer, both in
Europe and in the United States.

Now with five major Spanish Civil War archives, the UI Library is "one of
the two best places in the country to study U.S. volunteers' personal
contributions to the Spanish Civil War," Nelson said.

UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1994/03-03-94