The Scot on the shadowy trail of Ernest Hemingway in London

A Scots academic is to crack open the shadowy world that circled writer Ernest Hemingway as he bedded down in London during World War Two.

Dr Eamonn O’Neill of Edinburgh Napier University, aims to shed new light on the fascinating spell when Hemingway stayed at the Dorchester, drank at The Savoy and socialised with children’s author Roald Dahl.

Dr O’Neill, an Associate Professor in Journalism, has been awarded the prestigious John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Foundation’s Ernest Hemingway Research Grant – the first time it has gone to a UK-based academic.

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He said it was “a wonderful opportunity” to study a secretive period in the life of the writer, who has influenced him for many years.

Writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway. PIC: CC.Writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway. PIC: CC.
Writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway. PIC: CC.

Dr O’Neill said: “Hemingway was quite a phenomenon in 1944, a one-man global industry, with big-screen Hollywood film adaptations of his books playing in the London cinemas he walked past.

“He literally had the world at his fingertips, yet in the period I am researching he was also a human wrecking-ball, destroying his marriage to fellow journalist Martha Gellhorn, drinking morning, noon, and night, and yet still able to charm anyone who crossed his path. One minute he was staying in the White House with President Roosevelt, the next he was being spied on by the FBI.

“It's that shadowy world, that nexus of a complex man who lived a very public life but retreated daily into his secret places, often hidden from even those closest to him, that fascinates me and which I hope to reveal in my work.

“There are few academics in the UK doing serious work on Hemingway but if the intense interest, even at this stage, from publishers and documentary and film production companies is anything to go by, it seems there's already a massive audience ready to step into his world again.”

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The award will give Dr O’Neill access to the Boston institution’s Hemingway Collection and cover costs of up to $5000.

He said: “The library has been in lockdown since the pandemic struck and my research has been deferred, but I hope to hit the ground running in Boston as soon as is feasible.

“The grant covers research costs and travel, but for me its real value is in allowing me to gain access to original material from the narrow, previously hidden, period I am covering.

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“It’s a wonderful opportunity. Hemingway’s work has influenced and fascinated me since I was an undergraduate. I am a committed member of the US-based Hemingway Society and I have been reading, teaching, and studying him since the beginning of my academic career at Strathclyde University two decades ago.”

Hemingway (1899-1961), whose most popular works include A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises, is famed for his lean writing style and thirst for adventure, but his time in England is less well-known than his escapades in France, Spain and Cuba.

Dr O’Neill’s research award will give him the chance to scrutinise the writer’s time in Europe between May 1944 and March 1945 via the biggest repository of Hemingway papers, archives and personal belongings in the world.

The former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy secured the collection for her late husband's Presidential Library and Museum directly from Hemingway's fourth wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway.

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