Waugh and Hemingway and “Beat-up Old Bastards”

An article in The Huffington Post earlier this week discusses Ernest Hemingway’s claims to have killed 122 “Krauts” during WWII and compares that claim with those of Chris Kyle (subject of the autobiography¬†and film American Sniper) to have killed¬†160 enemy combatants during his years¬†as a sniper for the US Navy Seals. Kyle was a soldier whereas Hemingway was an unarmed war correspondent only intermittently¬†present in the front lines following D-Day. The authors of the article (Mark Cirino and Robert K Elder) are highly skeptical of Hemingway’s claims. In the course of their discussion they mention a letter Hemingway wrote to Evelyn Waugh touching on this topic:¬†

In October 1950, in a letter to author Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), [Hemingway]¬†wrote that the figure wasn‚Äôt such an impressive total, ‚Äúespecially for anyone who had ever have [sic] to teach sniping.‚Ä̬†Although Hemingway was an excellent and devoted hunter, there is no evidence that he ever instructed soldiers in the art of sniping.¬†Hemingway‚Äôs self-perpetuated image was often at odds with the historical record, not to mention common sense.¬†…

Hemingway viewed D-Day operations on June 5-6, 1944 and transferred to the 4th Infantry by the end of July. He travelled back and forth from the front, until leaving for Cuba in March 1945. Hemingway’s greatest exposure to combat would have been Rambouillet in August, Belgium in September, and the Battle of Hurtgen in November.

Hemingway’s only letter to Waugh, noted in an index of his outgoing correspondence,¬†is dated 25 October 1950. It is not included in the Selected Letters¬†edited by Carlos Baker and published in 1981 nor does it appear in the index¬†of letters to Waugh archived at the British Library, but it seems to have been published somewhere, as The Huffington Post quotes from it. It is probably a letter of thanks to Waugh for his favorable review of Hemingway’s novel Across the River and into the Trees¬†which appeared in the Tablet for 30 September 1950 and was quoted in a Time magazine article the following¬†month. (“Winner Take Nothing,” Essays, Articles and Reviews, pp 361-3). Waugh was one of the few reviewers to defend the book, and he placed it in the context of Hemingway’s other work–not his best and possibly his worst but, even so, much better that the sort of book by lesser writers that many of the same¬†reviewers routinely praised. The hero is a “beat-up old bastard,” a description Waugh later quoted in a letter to Diana Cooper as having been applied to link him with¬†Hemingway but which Waugh¬†considered to be “greatly to his own honour.” (Letter dated 8 September 1952, Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch, p. 143).¬†

Any reader having more information about Hemingway’s letter to Waugh or the whereabouts of its publication or achiving is invited to reply as provided below.

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