HAVANA — A rejected epilogue for Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” a 1941 letter from Ingrid Bergman and more than 20 letters from the 19-year-old Italian contessa he was in love with are among thousands of the author’s documents Cuba is making available to outside scholars.
President Fidel Castro and an American group led by U.S. Rep. James McGovern signed an agreement Monday to collaborate on the restoration and preservation of 2,000 letters, 3,000 personal photographs and some draft fragments of novels and stories that were kept in the humid basement of Finca de Vigia, the villa outside Havana where Hemingway lived from 1939-1960.
“I personally have much for which to thank Hemingway,” said the gray-bearded Castro, who wore his olive fatigues during the ceremony at Finca de Vigia. “The honor that he gave us by choosing our country in which to live and write some of his best work.”
Also at the ceremony were Hemingway’s grandson Sean, his niece Hillary and daughter-in-law Angela.
Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the joint effort by the New York-based Social Science Research Council and the Cuban National Council of Patrimony will produce mircofilm copies of the material, restore some documents damaged by the Caribbean climate, and help conserve the house, including a 9,000-volume library and Hemingway’s fishing boat, El Pilar.
The microfilm copies will be stored at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, but originals will stay at the Hemingway Museum at Finca de Vigia, long a source of pride for Cuba.
Hemingway’s fourth and last wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, donated the estate to the Cuban government in 1961, just after the author committed suicide in his Ketchum, Idaho, home. Cuban curators preserved the home exactly how the Hemingways left it, looking like the writer “just stepped down the driveway to pickup his mail,” said Jenny Phillips, granddaughter of Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway’s editor. Phillips’ January 2001 visit to the villa set in motion the events that led to the project.
Visitors can see the writer’s collection of moccasins lined against a wall, reading material, and bottles of liquor on the table next to Hemingway’s favorite reading chair. The estate includes the graves of four of Hemingway’s dogs.
Curators prohibit visitors from entering the house — tourists peer through windows — a decision U.S. scholars and researchers say has protected the collection from deterioration and pilfering.