Hiawatha: Gifted from Grace Hemingway to Ernest

Pictured: Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Maynard’s English Classic Series (#218-219)

“Listen to this simple story,
To this song of Hiawatha” 

Originally published in 1855, Maynard, Merrill, & Co. released Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem Hiawatha in 1899 as part of their Maynard’s English Classic Series. The text is supplied with explanatory notes.

The title of Longfellow’s work is derived from the name of an Indian chief. According to Britannica, Hiawatha was the chief of the Onondaga tribe of North American Indians. His character is defined by his “incarnation of human progress and civilization. He taught agriculture, navigation, medicine, and the arts, conquering by his magic all the powers of nature that war against man.” 

Further, Longfellow’s Hiawatha is written in the “metre of the Finnish Kalevala,” and it reached “wide popularity.” Longfellow’s epic poem is broken into twenty-two cantos that chronicle Hiawatha’s “various mythic feats, becomes his people’s leader and marries Minnehaha before departing for the Isles of the Blessed.” 

Grace and Ernest Hemingway, 1899. (Source: Hidden Hemingway: Inside the Ernest Hemingway Archives of Oak Park by Robert Elder, Aaron Vetch and Mark Cirino, Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio , 2016, p 31)

Opening this copy of Hiawatha reveals something extraordinarily different from all editions. Grace Hall Hemingway, inscribed it to her son Ernest. According to Mary V. Dearborn in Ernest Hemingway: A Biography, Grace was a singer, who made her debut at Madison Square Garden (16). Additionally, she was a “music teaching professional” (17).

She was “extravagant,” but Leicester, Ernest’s younger brother, affirmed that she “lacked domestic talents” (17). However, she frequently read Pilgrim’s Progress and the works of Dickens, Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson to her children in the evenings (19).

Dated Aug. 1st, 1905 — not more than two weeks after Ernest’s sixth birthday — his mother gifted him Maynard, Merrill, & Co.’s Hiawatha. Her inscription reads, “Ernest Miller Hemingway / from his loving mother / Aug. 1st, 1905 / Windemere.”

Grace Hemingway’s inscription of Hiawatha to Ernest.

Contextually speaking, in the summer of 1905, Ernest’s father, Ed (his full name was Clarence), “bought a forty-acre farm across the lake from Windemere; he and Grace called it Longfield, after a property in their favorite book, Dinah Mulock Craik’s 1856 Victorian novel John Halifax, Gentleman” (35). Bernice Kerl, in The Hemingway Women, describes the cottage as being “lit by oil lamps and heated with fireplaces. Simple cooking facilities included a wood-burning stove and a hand pump for water in the kitchen sink” (29). Outside was picturesque, as “it was a region of farmland, unspoiled forests, trout streams, and an occasional village” (29).

Windemere Cottage. Walloon Lake, Michigan.(Source: Photographer unknown. Papers of Ernest Hemingway. Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.) 


However, in later years, Ernest’s relationship with his mother was fraught. Kerl believes Grace was “the pivotal woman in Ernest’s life, not because he spoke so harshly of her, but because he was so much like her—creative, driven to excel, effective at drawing attention to himself, adept at manipulating others to satisfy his needs” (13). His hatred for Grace, however, was severe. Kerl conjectures that part of Ernest’s rebuke for his mother stemmed from “the rapid displacement he suffered after the birth of the younger siblings—two in less than five years” (31). Kerl turns to Ernest’s friend Major General Charles T. Lanham to elucidate his fissured relationship with Grace: “‘from my earliest days with EH, he always referred to his mother as ‘that bitch’” (23). Not only did she have to “‘rule everything,’” but John Dos Passos found Ernest to be “the only man he ever knew who really hated his mother” (23).

Grace passed in 1951 at the age of seventy-nine in Memphis, Tennessee. Ernest did not attend her funeral.





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