The association of Earnest Hemingway with the concept of “Love” may not be the first that comes to mind. However, in our view, A Farewell to Arms is a tender love story. Now, letters from him written to Francis Coates, 99 years ago have recently be discovered. The story of the letters, how they came to light, and the relationship between Hemingway and Coates is fascinating in its own right, while the opportunity to observe connections between some of Hemingway’s work and his early life in Oak Park is priceless.
The Story of the Letters
“On an afternoon in Boston in 2016, Betsy Fermano walked through an exhibition titled “Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars” at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. Among the artifacts—vintage photos, paintings, and handwritten stories from Hemingway—she spotted a family name in a manuscript on display: ‘Coats.'”
“Frances Elizabeth Coates was Fermano’s grandmother and Hemingway’s high-school classmate. He used a version of her name—“Liz Coates”—in his sexually charged 1923 story “Up in Michigan,” and her name resurfaces elsewhere in his work.”
Hemingway at 19, Part I
“The nineteen-year-old Hemingway remained so enamored of his former classmate that he wrote to his sister Marcelline, asking her to
“’Call up Frances Coates and tell her that your brother is at death’s door. And that will she please, no excuses, write to him. Make her repeat the address after so that she will have no alibi. Tell her that I love her or any damn thing.’The correspondence dates to a time when Hemingway was not yet famous—he had only a handful of short stories to his name.'”
Hemingway at 19, Part II
In Coates’s unpublished memories of the young Hemingway, she wrote that the teenage Hemingway as
“A great, awkward boy falling over his long feet … in life, a disturbing person with very dark hair, very red lips. Very white teeth, very fair skin under which the blood seemed to race, emerging frequently in an all-enveloping blush. What a help his beard, later was to be, protecting and covering this sensitivity. The whole of his face fell apart when he laughed”.In another part of Coat’s writing she describes Hemingway’s personality (“The inferiority complex remained to the end and with it came the braggadocio and the need to become somebody to himself … a quick and deadly jealousy of his own prestige and a constant … and consuming need for applause”).
“Write About What You Know”
“Frances Elizabeth Coates was Hemingway’s high-school classmate. He used a version of her name—“Liz Coates”—in his sexually charged 1923 story “Up in Michigan,” and her name resurfaces elsewhere in his work.” Francis , however, married someone else.
“Two decades later, Hemingway may have aired some of his bitterness in To Have and Have Not. Reading the novel, Frances recognized broad caricatures of herself and John, a Northwestern graduate and successful railroad executive—especially when Hemingway tells of a young man sworn into an elite, Ivy League secret society:
‘The fiancé is a Skull and Bones man, voted most likely to succeed, voted most popular, who still thinks more of others than of himself and would be too good for anyone except a lovely girl like Frances. He is probably a little too good for Frances too, but it will be years before Frances realizes this, perhaps; and she may never realize it, with luck. The type of man who is tapped for Bones is rarely also tapped for bed; but with a lovely girl like Frances intention counts as much as performance.'”
” In [a letter dated] January of 1927, when Hemingway’s first son, John, was three, and—unbeknownst to Coates—his marriage to his first wife, Hadley, had broken down.
‘I just finished The Sun Also Rises and you are before me so vividly that I must tell you how much I enjoyed the book,” she writes, calling the novel “heartbreaking.” She continues: “The years are making you a strange person—I should so love to see you—I haven’t seen Marce for over a year—but someone said you were returning. I have a ravishingly beautiful daughter to match your son—and I’d so like meeting your nice Hadley … Jack joins me and wanting to see you both.'”
ooh! Am glad I married John”
“‘On the front of an envelope containing her photos with Hemingway, Coates wrote: “Ernie Pictures / And 25 years later ooh! Am I glad I married John.’”