Leader Blues

Monday, July 06, 2009

TOP STORY >> Hemingway wrote ‘Farewell to Arms’ in Piggott

By JON GAMBRELL
Associated Press writer

PIGGOTT — The quail rose out of the cornfields and briers of northeast Arkansas, giving the young writer just enough time to swing his shotgun up like a pitchfork toward their flight.

As he picked off the birds along Sugar Creek in Piggott, Ernest Hemingway still remained years away from depression and turning another shotgun on himself.

The man collecting his kills had won the attention of the literary world with “The Sun Also Rises,” but remained reliant on the handouts of friends, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.

In Piggott, the family of Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, gave generously to the writer as the Great Depression took hold of the country. He wrote about 100 pages of “A Farewell to Arms” from a converted studio over an old barn near their home before the heat of an Arkansas summer — and his own restlessness — drove him away.

Now, 80 years after the publication of the tale of love and loss, the Arkansas home where Hemingway stayed has seen an increase in the number of visitors coming to the out-of-the-way museum. That likely would come as a shock to Hemingway, who dismissed the town as the unbearably hot “disease cultural center of America.”

“He was not social with Piggott. He came here because he could get away from everybody and he could write,” said Deanna Dismukes, an education coordinator at the museum. He thought that “nobody’s going to bug him, because there aren’t any important people like (James) Joyce.”

You have to want to go to Piggott to get there, even today. It’s a three-hour car trip from Little Rock or St. Louis to the town, about 10 miles from the Missouri border in the upper reaches of northeast Arkansas. The drained swamp land surrounding the city of 3,500 holds rice fields and an occasional corn crop.

Paul Pfeiffer saw a new life for himself in the lands surrounding Piggott. Pfeiffer, who established a successful chemicals company with his brothers, purchased 63,000 acres around the city and moved his family there from St. Louis in 1913.

His daughter Pauline would later graduate from journalism school in Missouri and take on several reporting jobs before landing in Paris to work for Vogue.

There, among the Lost Generation writers of the Left Bank, Pauline Pfeiffer met Hemingway and his then-wife at a party. Soon, the sharp-dressed and sharp-minded reporter won over Hemingway, who divorced in 1927 and married Pfeiffer a month later.

Their marriage, though likely based on lust and mutual respect for their writing styles, also included a financial incentive as well, said Ruth Hawkins, who heads the Arkansas State University program that manages the Piggott museum. The trust fund of Hemingway’s first wife had dwindled to “almost nothing” by the end of their marriage, she said.

“I think he found she was a good editor and came from a family with money. Those were important to Ernest,” Hawkins said. “Until he could get established as a writer, he knew he had to have some source of income.”

By late 1927, Pfeiffer became pregnant with their son Patrick and wanted to return to the U.S. to have the child. They spent time in Key West, Fla., before returning to the farm home.

At Piggott, the Pfeiffers built a writer’s studio for Hemingway in a loft over the old horse barn they used to store steamer trunks and other goods. The studio included a bathroom, bed and a slanted ceiling, but it offered a more important luxury — distance between the writer and his new in-laws as he struggled to decide what to do with Frederic Henry, the protagonist of “A Farewell to Arms.”

Henry, like Hemingway, worked as an ambulance driver on the Italian front and suffered a knee injury during a mortar attack. By the time the writer reached Piggott, Henry already lay in a hospital bed, trying to grapple with his injury.

Hemingway wrote about 100 pages of the book in Arkansas, later excising much of it. The full sticky heat of an Arkansas summer descended on Piggott each day, with the small rectangular windows of Hemingway’s loft only funneling in more dense, humid air.

Soon, he and Pauline traveled to Kansas City for the baby’s birth by cesarean section, an experience that later would enter the tragic final act of “A Farewell to Arms.”

The two returned to Piggott weeks later, but Hemingway soon cut out to Wyoming to finish the novel as Pauline and his new son waited at the Pfeiffer family home.

Hemingway “was not one to be in one place for a terribly long time,” Dismukes said. “He suffered from some depression and in order to alleviate the depression and get him writing again, he needed a new locality. He needed to meet new people, see new things, have new experiences.”

The Pfeiffer family accepted that and Pauline’s uncle even helped fund an African safari for the couple at a cost of $25,000 during the Great Depression. That uncle even helped pay for Hemingway’s deep-sea fishing boat and the couple’s apartment in Paris.

Hemingway returned dutifully to Piggott for holidays, sometimes writing short stories and storing manuscripts in a local bank vault. But the fame of being Ernest Hemingway soon found its way to Piggott. Paramount Pictures sent telegrams to Hemingway urging him to attend a premiere of the 1932 film adaptation of “A Farewell to Arms” — at a movie theater in Piggott. Hemingway declined the offer.

As Hemingway became more popular, his relationship with Pauline strained. They divorced in 1940 and Hemingway remarried quickly, later speaking poorly of Pauline in letters and among friends.

Not only did he lose his wife, he lost an editor and champion as well, Hawkins said.
“By the time he divorced Pauline, I think he was trying to forget he ever had anything to do with the Pfeiffers because he didn’t want to have to admit they supported him financially,” she said.

Pauline died in 1951 of a brain hemorrhage and drifted into Hemingway history. The Piggott home had changed hands a year earlier and, even after being placed on the National Historic Register, the then-owners remodeled Hemingway’s loft into a bedroom.

Arkansas State University bought the property in 1997. The house had fallen into disrepair, with soot from power surges surrounding electrical sockets and cracks overtaking the walls. The school re-modeled everything, restoring the home and Hemingway’s loft to the memory of those who visited or worked in the Pfeiffer home.

Today, an air conditioner for the loft hums in the 90-degree summer heat, a far cry from the shirt-soaking sweat Hemingway endured 80 years ago.

Inside the cool room, a period typewriter rests on a desk and a zebra-skin rug lies across the floor. An original zebra-skin once sat in the room, but the previous owners threw it out because it got “too ratty,” Dismukes said.

A poker table Hemingway used sits in a corner, with poker chips, cards and a copy of the July 14, 1961, edition of Life magazine open across it.

A black-and-white photograph of Hemingway’s funeral in Idaho dominates the pages, with the headline: “His Final Chapter to a Magnificently Told Story.”