Do Not Touch The Lion

I hope everyone enjoyed the JFK museum visit as much as I did! We will not be holding class April 17th due to Patriot’s Day, but keep an eye on your inbox for details from Alex about our April 24th visit to Harvard’s Houghton Library!

The first thing that strikes you when you enter the JFK Presidential Museum and Library is the architecture. The massive glass windows take excellent advantage of the ocean view, giving the whole building an open feeling, despite the secure nature of the building.

Our visit to the JFK library was guided by Dr. Justice, a superhero name if I’ve ever heard one. She led us up to the mural room, where we dropped off our stuff in order to begin the tour.

We were then brought down to a main research room, where academics can examine the works archived in both the JFK Presidential archive, and the Hemingway archive. Luckily, the resident researcher of the day was out on lunch, so we were able to stay a while and listen to some of the amazing things that Dr. Justice has been able to facilitate, including an amazing little story about using the referential prowess of the Library’s archivists to hunt down an old toy that is certainly out of production.

It should be noted that the Library’s resources are generally open to us, as students at UMB. If you’re interested in using the archives, all you have to do is check out the website! The archivist made it seem like a great deal of the materials are digitized, but Dr. Justice was very clear the the Library takes Copyright seriously, so make sure you adhere to Fair Use laws!

After the main research room, we proceeded to Hemingway room! This room featured a great deal of Hemingway’s novels, many of which are translations of his work into other languages. Dr. Justice explained that Hemingway’s works have a way of coming back in force during harsh times around the world. I’ve always thought that there is a timeless quality to Hemingway’s stoic bleakness, and I suspect that this quality helps to fuel the global popularity of Hemingway’s writing. The Hemingway room also featured a great deal of artifacts, as well as a wall of original Hemingway papers, collected from his notebooks, correspondences, and writing drafts.

Prominent, in the center of the room, is a giant lion pelt.  Apparently Simba (as referred to by Dr. Justice) was the victim of one of Hemingway’s various safaris. We were told not to touch the lion, and I assumed Dr. Justice was just asking for our courtesy to not touch the valuable artifact. Later, we learned that both Simba and Eddie (his gazelle compatriot) are in fact covered in Arsenic, and this warning was for our own good!

Upon our arrival back in the Mural room, Dr. Justice told us an amazing story about how she was able to draw a connection between Hills Like White Elephants and Hemingway’s transition from his first to his second marriage, using primary documents. At first, she was troubled by the content of the story. Upon an initial reading, the story seems like an aggressive, privileged man forcing his lover to have an abortion. Dr. Justice was able to find solace in the realization that Hemingway wrote himself as the girl, allowing the abortion to function as a powerful metaphor for his failed marriage and potential new love.

We finished up our visit by doing an activity in the Mural room. Dr. Justice printed off a few packets of source document photocopies, allowing us to view Hemingway’s creative process as he turned his raw teenage angst into a timeless and memorable short story. We were asked to find differences in the various drafts, and Dr. Justice guided us through these differences, giving us context. As a book nerd, the experience was sublime. It is truly a gift to be able to see the creative process of a recognized genius like Hemingway.

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11 thoughts on “Do Not Touch The Lion

  1. This is an excellent summary, Nick, with lots of helpful reminders of notable aspects of the visit. Dr. Justice gave us some inspiring models of book historical work and I hope that these examples help you to refine your own thinking about which aspects of your book you will focus on for the exhibition (and final paper – grad students!).

  2. Well, generally I am deterred when reading a book about an abortion”says the guy fascinated by a human-flesh-bound book in the houghton library, but this realization that it might not actually be a literal abortion which made the story that much better and easier to read for me. I appreaciated the enlightened thought on the story, offering a way, a new in thinking about analysis of stories. Metaphors which seem to be all but forgotten in our skills.

  3. I like that you use the phrase, “find solace,” because it did seem like Hillary was troubled by her initial reading of the story. I was struck by her dedication. And inspired. I am just beginning my post-undergrad career of academia, but I see a long road ahead. It’s nice to see someone who is still so passionate about her subject of study, even though so many years have passed.

  4. I really liked how you talked about the activity at the very end of the tour. Going through the primary sources and seeing Hemingway’s actual work go through the stages of revision and publication is something I’ve never really done before. I liked how even the subtle edits like changing the names of characters/places was such a big thing with the limits on how many words you can fit on a page, and line Dr. Justice said, Hemingway made it work with his superior writing skills.

  5. As mentioned, the first thing I noticed about the JFK Library was the beautiful architecture. The building on the outside and on the inside looks so….so clean! And when I say “clean,” I mean more than just “wow, it looks like someone dusted in here,” I mean more like pristine. Even the air is crisp. Anywho, I like your mentioning of Dr. Justice’s response to Hills Like White Elephants because I was very confused by the meaning that story was telling the audience. However, with Dr. Justice mentioning that Hemingway wrote himself as the girl with the abortion acting as a metaphor for his failed marriage and potential new love really cleared things up for me. I even went back and re-read the story and was able to read/understand it in a whole new light.

  6. I also really enjoyed the activity where we compared all of the different editions! Being able to track the changes between the different drafts and editions was really fascinating. I suppose that is the advantage of an author like Hemingway who didn’t throw away anything! There probably aren’t too many authors where scholars have so many different drafts and such available to investigate. I’m sure there are many people who wish that the main author they focus on was as meticulous about keeping things as Hemingway. This is especially true given all of the inferences that can be made from tracking the changes from draft to draft and edition to edition.

  7. Nick, I also enjoyed the part in your post where you write: “Dr. Justice was able to find solace in the realization that Hemingway wrote himself as the girl.” This is one of the most interesting aspects of Hemingway’s “creative genius”, as you say. He often experiments with reversing gender roles in his narrative, most notably in The Garden of Eden. You’ll think you’re reading into the male character as a representative of Hemingway’s own biography and then in the next chapter he is identifying as the female character … meanwhile the whole story itself is the characters identifying with opposing gender roles. It highlights how much we read into an author’s writing as a representation of their own life or their own experiences and the reality that it is not always that easy to pinpoint that connection. It’s especially interesting in Hemingway’s case since so much of his writing is based on his own experiences. I think that’s the amazing thing about authorship, the creation can seem to be completely separate from the author’s own life but it is never too far away.

  8. Nick, great post! I was also struck by the archival research Justice did, and how this gave way to new interpretations of Hemingway’s work (in this case interpretations that helped resolve some apparent ideological problems). However, given some of the essays that we have read in the BHR, I feel the need to demonstrate caution – perhaps even restraint – in approaching archival studies as a method for literary interpretation, because I fear that the specter of the author and authorial intent is dangerous insofar that it might serve to shut down discourse. This is not to say that I felt Justice would not entertain alternative readings, however, at the extreme, this could be exactly the effect. Moving forward, I would endeavor to consider the letters, journals, drafts, etc. as paratexts which are in a dynamic conversation, but are not dictating the meaning of the texts in which they are in conversation. Similarly, I felt awkward that symbolic and biographical critical lenses were employed in her reading, as these modes are out of favor. In closing however, there is something deeply satisfying in tracking the traces Hemingway’s thoughts through the landscape of the text, like him a hunter on Safari.

  9. Having had to miss last week due to illness, I am sad that I was not able to attend. It sounds like a wonderful experience to visit the JFK library, and I’ll have to make sure to do so before I leave UMASS as it sounds like being a student comes with some excellent access opportunities. I’m interested particularly in Dr. Justice’s biographical reading of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” which sounds like a fantastic use of research and primary sources. I’ll never forget an academic article that we read for one of my early critical theory classes which was an example of flimsy evidence and poor research. Much of the evidence came from the argument that “Hemingway could have read this…” or “Hemingway could have accessed that…” Dr. Justice’s reading, however, sounds like it was based around compelling primary sources that fully indicate Hemingway’s biographical rendering of the loss of his first marriage as something abortive and final. It seems like an example of how primary research can uncover previously lost evidence that can help us to better understand texts and how we read them.

  10. Was I the only person who was touched by the anecdote we heard about archivists tracking down and purchasing the stuffed bear from eBay?
    It almost overshadows the wonderful exercise that we got to do comparing variations of the same text. I really appreciated the approach of looking at how small changes in a text can reveal so much information that the polished, final drafts could not convey. Even when it’s Hemingway!

  11. I found our time with Dr. Justice to be enthralling. To hear someone with such a vast knowledge of one of America’s most prolific writers freely admit that it was never her intention to end up where she is now was incredibly reassuring. In college, many of us find ourselves being drawn to something we never expected (the field of law, for myself) and we end up taking that first step towards the future we were meant for.

    One of the most interesting things I heard during our time with Dr. Justice was her comment about Hemingway writing down everything in order to process his thoughts. While I am not a writer of his caliber, it felt nice to know that a writer I have respected for most of my life processed information and his thoughts the same way I do. Connecting with him, even on something as simple as that, made the entire experience all the more worth it.

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