The Mysterious (Un)meeting of George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway

John Rodden and John Rossi

Seventy years ago, as the Spanish Civil War still raged, an English writer who had fought for seven months with a minor independent left-wing, quasi-anarchist militia, published a memoir of his experience that was ignored and sold a grand total of fewer than nine hundred copies during his lifetime. The author was George Orwell and the memoir was the now-famous Homage to Catalonia (1938), today regarded both in the English-speaking world and in Spain itself as the best work of reportage to emerge from that bitter conflict.

Orwell was, of course, neither the only literary man to go to Spain to fight the fascists, nor the only one to write about it after returning home. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) claimed more than one million lives in a nation of twenty-five million people, and it inspired an impressive body of literature. Probably the best-known novel, and the only work of fiction to rise to classic status, is Ernest Hemingway’s last great novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Like Orwell’s nonfiction documentary, Hemingway’s novel is written from a leftist stance. But Orwell’s enemies in his documentary about the Catalonia battlefront are the Stalinists as well as the fascist rebels. While some observers believe that Orwell romanticized the Spanish peasants and proletarians much as he did the English miners and working class in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Homage to Catalonia remains the definitive study of the betrayal of the Spanish revolution by the communists. By contrast, Hemingway’s novel represents a considerable artistic achievement, but it lacks the political maturity of Orwell’s narrative and is a representative example of the Popular Front era’s slogan: no enemies on the left.

Several intriguing links exist between these two honored literary men. Critics have sometimes drawn attention to the resemblances between the authors’ prose styles: the concrete language, the simple declarative sentences, the terse dialogue, the sense of artistic compression.[1] Moreover, some of Orwell’s rules of good writing in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” such as “never use a long word when a short one will do,” recall Hemingway’s prose—indeed, Orwell could have cited Hemingway’s taut, crisp style as an example of this rule. Each author—utterly in his own way yet with a similar emphasis on simplicity, clarity, and concision—changed the way that writers of English in the twentieth century used the language. Both men wrote outstanding books, but their greatest achievements lay with language.

Orwell and Hemingway were mutual admirers—though the esteem was much stronger on Hemingway’s part for Orwell’s work than the reverse. Hemingway was impressed not only by Homage to Catalonia but also with some of Orwell’s fiction, especially with Burmese Days and its critique of the evils of imperialism. Unlike his distinguished English contemporaries (such as Evelyn Waugh) who esteemed Hemingway’s literary craftsmanship, Orwell was not much taken with Hemingway’s early novels or short stories, regarding For Whom the Bell Tolls alone as a major literary achievement. Orwell tended to lump Hemingway with what he called the “tough-guy” American writers of the 1920s and 1930s, a genre that he correctly predicted would soon become dated.[2]

Given these affinities between the two men, it was perhaps unsurprising that, as Homage to Catalonia was being posthumously published in the United States in February 1952, Hemingway would be approached to review the book. Indeed, his friend Harvey Breit, editor of the New York Times Book Review, wrote to Hemingway and asked him to undertake the assignment. Hemingway voiced his deep respect for Orwell as both a man and writer, though he declined on the grounds that he was weary of politics and didn’t want to write anything about a book so highly political. Hemingway also told Breit that he and Orwell had met—not in Spain, as it turned out, but rather several years later in recently liberated Paris, at the close of the global conflict to which the Spanish fighting was a mere run-up: the final weeks of the Second World War, shortly after the Battle of the Bulge.

So in the early spring of 1945, during the dying days of World War II, George Orwell, a left-wing London novelist-journalist and author of a still-unpublished little fable that had been making the rounds of the wartime publishing houses, met Ernest Hemingway, then at the height of his international glory as a man of letters and well on his way toward becoming the biggest American literary icon of the postwar era. Just the thought of such a transatlantic cultural event is enough to spark the dramatic imagination and excite lovers of literature, both the fan of “Papa” or “Saint George” and the serious literary historian alike.

One wants to know all the details.

Did it happen? Did one of the most colorful meetings of twentieth-century literary figures ever really occur? Was it in fact a meeting—or an unmeeting?

Hemingway himself is one source of the story (which he repeated in different versions). Orwell mentions it nowhere in his journals or letters, but one of his literary acolytes, Paul Potts, claimed the meeting happened and wrote about it. Their accounts vary—and Potts, despite penning memoirs and reviews about Orwell, mysteriously waited fifteen years before reporting such a significant encounter.

Beyond the testimony of these two men, no evidence exists. The silence on Orwell’s part is notable, since he wrote several letters from Paris and Cologne during his war correspondent stint in spring 1945. None of them mentions Hemingway, let alone any conversation with him.

Is it not odd that nowhere in Orwell’s oeuvre (now collected in a monumental twenty-one volumes as The Complete Works of George Orwell) does Orwell himself—still a comparatively little-known London writer at the time—relate even the mere fact of meeting the famous Hemingway? It is as if by his silence on the matter that Orwell “the Truthteller” (as Time profiled him in 1952) indicts from the grave both Hemingway and the publicity-hungry culture-chat acquaintances, journalists, and scholars on the make, all of whom were eager to cash in on the growing reputation of “Saint George” Orwell.[3] By circulating the incident only after Orwell’s death, they were in effect making sure that no one could question the story.

Doubts have occasionally surfaced among the two men’s biographers about the authenticity of this storied, virtually type-cast encounter. It is true that both men were in Paris between February 15 and March 6, 1945. They also possibly met either at the posh Hotel Ritz (where Hemingway may have been staying) or at the Hotel Scribe (where Orwell and most foreign journalists in Paris lodged). Yet questions arise because, quite apart from Orwell’s deafening silence, the incident was never corroborated by any of Orwell’s or Hemingway’s close friends, the details vary in different (and often second- or even third-hand) accounts, and the pair who reported the supposed facts were notoriously prone to embroidery or outright invention. Indeed, as we shall see, key aspects of both accounts have an ex post facto ring about them.

So we use the word “supposed” about the facts of this widely disseminated story advisedly. The reality is that this celebrated encounter may have never really transpired—or, more likely, never occurred in any form resembling the tale as it stands today. A close examination of how the story grew across a half-century from the tiny seed that Hemingway tossed out during Orwell’s lifetime to the sprawling yarn that Hemingway’s executor published posthumously (fittingly, in what Hemingway himself called a “fictional memoir” otherwise devoted to his safari adventures) proves instructive as a case history of how literary legends are made, not born. Moreover, as we shall see, a comparative historical account of the two men’s relative status at different moments informs our judgment of the plausibility of the mushrooming story, all of which has broad implications for literary historiography and biography generally and the evaluation of sources and evidence in

Let us consider the origins of the story further. Three sources have reported the alleged meeting. Written from Hemingway’s Cuban home, La Finca Vigía, the first is a long, chatty, still-unpublished letter in March 1948 to Cyril Connolly.[4] The letter is warm and open, suggesting that Hemingway and Connolly have become good friends on the basis of their get-togethers in London and Paris during the previous two decades.[5] Hemingway raves about Connolly’s most recent work of nonfiction, The Unquiet Grave, which Connolly had just finished when they last met in Paris in 1945 (“one of the very best books I’ve ever read”).[6] Hemingway then expresses regret that he didn’t contribute his promised “Cuban Letter” to the October 1947 issue of Connolly’s Horizon,[7] reports on the lengthy illness (and recovery) of his son Patrick, and invites the Connollys to stay at Finca Vigía when the Hemingways are in Idaho to do a film shoot. Hemingway closes his eight-hundred-word letter with a request that Connolly convey his regards to Orwell:

If you ever see Orwell, remember me to him, will you? I like him very much and it was a moment when I had no time when I met him.

This final pair of sentences, which seem to be rather an afterthought, are the full record of any mention by either Hemingway or Connolly (or anyone else) regarding a personal encounter between Hemingway and Orwell during the latter’s lifetime. The last two sentences are matter-of-fact. Fully absent is the all-too-familiar tone of Hemingway swagger and vainglory.

So there is no reason to dispute the empirical fact that an uneventful encounter between the two men did occur. Although Hemingway’s penchant for bluster and bravado was already well advanced by the spring of 1948, he had not yet become so hungry for applause and so prone to fabrication as he would by the 1950s. If Hemingway had intended to invent out of whole cloth a meeting between himself and Orwell, he certainly would not have limited himself to such a modest description.

And what indeed would have been gained? Orwell was a relatively little-recognized writer in wartime London, whereas Hemingway was already a novelist celebrated worldwide. Even in March 1948, after the unexpected success of Animal Farm in Britain and the U.S., Orwell’s international stature was still modest in comparison to that of Hemingway. In fact, at least since September 1939 when Connolly had founded Horizon and turned it into the leading British literary magazine of the decade, Connolly himself was a better-known figure than Orwell and thus a much more valuable contact for Hemingway. This would soon change, as Animal Farm, which had just appeared in the U.K. in August 1945 and in the U.S. in August 1946, became a bestseller and won literary kudos both at home and abroad. But it was still the case in early 1948, especially in intellectual circles on the continent. Finally, Hemingway was well aware that Connolly and Orwell were close friends, and that Orwell would have immediately been in a position to refute any distorted claim about their meeting. Here again, the letter to Connolly furnishes no reason to doubt the genuineness of this plain-spoken account. One is left with the impression that the encounter was fleeting and forgettable; Connolly mentions it nowhere either in his extensive writings about Orwell or in his correspondence with both Eileen Blair and Sonia Orwell.

Notice, however, how the description of the encounter alters in the following letter in mid-February 1952 (also still unpublished) from Hemingway to Harvey Breit.[8] Hemingway tells Breit: “Here’s the pitch on Orwell. Homage to Catalonia is a first-rate book.[9] Orwell was a first-rate man too. You see it through the book. But he was fighting with a no-good outfit.”[10] Hemingway suggests his old (and now ex-) friend John Dos Passos as a better choice to review Homage to Catalonia because “he admired the outfit Orwell served with very much. . . .” (Dos Passos also apparently declined.)[11] Hemingway said he was “sick to death and hell of politics of every kind and I do not want to write a review of Orwell’s book which no one can honestly write without going into politics.”[12]

After that “pitch,” Hemingway returns to his French connection with Orwell. Hemingway claims that he never even inquired during their meeting into why Orwell—who had wartime press credentials for both the London Observer and the Manchester Evening News—had stopped in Paris. Instead, Hemingway informed Breit that the meeting had occurred in 1945 “after the Bulge fight. He was in civilian clothes and I did not ask him what he was doing, but [he] was probably accredited to the Embassy or had come over for the BBC or some information service.”

At this point Hemingway’s version begins to raise bigger doubts, featuring an anecdote that rebounds with the familiar strains of Hemingway braggadocio. Hemingway writes that Orwell sought him out at his hotel[13] and “told me he was afraid he was going to be knocked off by the communists and he asked me to loan him a pistol. The only pistol that I had which was suitable for civilian clothes was a .32 caliber colt with a very short barrel [sic]. I don’t think the pistol would have done Orwell much good as I had found that it was not a very effective weapon. But it may have made him feel better. He was fairly nervous and worried.”[14]

A few years later, when he sat down to publish his account of his Orwell encounter, Hemingway would supply the “missing” dialogue and add other literary embellishments—and indeed entirely new elements. He began in the late 1950s to write a substantial memoir that included discussion of their meeting. But this “revised” version was not published until the appearance of True at First Light (1998) , which was largely devoted to Hemingway’s last African safari, a misadventure that ended in two disastrous plane crashes in 1954. Interestingly, and quite revealingly, Hemingway subtitles the book “A Fictional Memoir.” In this revised version, he supplements his account of meeting Orwell by emphasizing Orwell’s inordinate fear of being assassinated by a mysterious “They.” After retelling the basic 1952 version of the gun loan, Hemingway adds that he dispatched a couple of friends to watch out for Orwell’s safety. They reported back to Papa that no one was following him. With a show of self-display characteristic of his yarns of the 1950s, Hemingway fleshes out his 1952 letter to Breit in True at First Light as follows:

[I] warned [Orwell] that if he shot someone with it they probably would die eventually, but that there might be a long interval. But a pistol was a pistol and he needed this more as a talisman than a weapon, I thought.

He was very gaunt and looked in bad shape and I asked him if he would not stay and eat. But he had to go. I told him I could give him a couple of people who would look after him if “They” were after him and that my characters were familiar with the local “They” who would never bother him nor intrude on him. He said no, that the pistol was all he needed. We asked about a few mutual friends and he left. I sent two characters to pick him up at the door and tail and check if anybody was after him. The next day their report was, “Papa, nobody is after him. He is a very chic type and he knows Paris very well. We checked with so and so’s brother and he says no one pursued him. He is in touch with the British Embassy but he is not an operative. This is only hearsay. Do you want the timetable of his movements?

No. Did he amuse himself”

“Yes, Papa

“I’m happy. We will not worry about him. He has the pistol.”

“That worthless pistol,” one of the characters said. “But you warned him against it, Papa?”

“Perhaps he would have been happier with a stinger.”

“No,” the other character said. “A stinger is too compromising. He was happy with that pistol.”

We let it go at that.[15]

It is worth noting—as Orwell liked to say—that (surprise!), like the 1952 letter, Hemingway’s “fictional memoir” showcases a Hemingway who is strong, properly armed, and solicitous about the “very gaunt” Orwell, who is “in bad shape” and “needs” even a “worthless pistol”—indeed, needs it “more as a talisman than a weapon,” the worldly wise Hemingway observes. The story lifts off and takes wings after Hemingway assures Orwell that “Papa” can “give him a couple of people” who will protect him. Hemingway’s “people” become his “characters” as the story slides into a dialogue with “Papa.” Evidently names and descriptions of his “characters” are quite unnecessary in this piece of “faction.” Hemingway himself plays the role of a commanding officer to whom his recruits report—or perhaps better, an omniscient author to whom his pair of characters reports. They even ask him if he wants “the timetables of [Orwell’s] movements.” Generalissimo Hemingway is uninterested in that, but he is happy that Orwell has managed to “amuse himself.” Exuding manly confidence (and contradicting his earlier admission that the gun is not much of a weapon), he concludes: “We will not worry about him. He has the pistol.” It is also interesting that Hemingway in this account attributes the brief meeting to Orwell, who had “to go” and therefore could not even “stay to eat.” In the 1948 letter, the clear impression that Hemingway gives is that he himself was in a rush: “It was a moment when I had no time when I met him.”[16]

The third source of the Hemingway-Orwell encounter is a fanciful tale by the poet Paul Potts (1911-86), one of Orwell’s impoverished bohemian friends. Potts’s story first appeared in his memoir, Dante Called You Beatrice (1960). [17

Whereas Hemingway’s unpublished letter to Breit—an obviously first-hand account—lacks any literary touches and indeed any dialogue at all, Potts’s story is a more detailed account—which, however, omits the gun anecdote. According to Potts, Orwell, who was staying at the Hotel Scribe in Paris, saw in the register of the Hotel Ritz that Hemingway was lodging there. Orwell went to Hemingway’s room and knocked on the door. In Potts’s version, Orwell did not introduce himself by his pen name, but rather—as if to diminish himself and as if he were not even a writer—by his birth name: “I’m Eric Blair.”

Let us ponder the probability of such a scenario. How likely was it that Blair-Orwell would have introduced himself by a name totally unfamiliar to a stranger such as Hemingway, rather than with the name by which any reader of Partisan Review might have known him? Moreover, how probable is it that Orwell would have searched out in a hotel registry the name of a famous writer like Hemingway and proceeded to knock unannounced on his door? In other comparable cases, ranging from T. S. Eliot to Parisian authors such as Malraux and Camus, Orwell wrote and introduced himself first (or asked his publisher to mail a copy of one of his books, such as Animal Farm).

As Blair had introduced himself, according to Potts, Hemingway was standing on the other side of the bed, on which there were two suitcases that he was packing. He looked up and saw that the man in the doorway was a licensed war correspondent and a British one at that. He bellowed, “Well, what the fucking hell do you want?” Orwell then softly replied: “I’m George Orwell.” At once Hemingway became expansive. He pushed the suitcases to the end of the bed, knelt down, reached underneath it, and pulled out a bottle of Scotch. “Why the fucking hell didn’t you say so? Have a drink! Have a double! Straight, or with water, there’s no soda.”

With that spirit-filled ending, Potts closes his vignette. The story is surrounded by claims of Orwell’s heroic virtue as a friend and of his genius as a writer. Dedicated to Richard Blair, Orwell’s adopted son, the memoir is a soaring panegyric to the rebellious Orwell as “the man of independence.” “He carried independence to such a length that it became sheer poetry,” wrote Potts about his friend. “There indeed may be a Red Indian language somewhere on the northern borders of Manitoba in which the word for independence is George Orwell.” Potts’s essay is studded with the flights of this sort:

This always sick man made his typewriter take on the suggestion of a white steed. In his hand the biro he used for corrections could never quite help looking a bit like a drawn sword. . . . In his company a walk down the street became an adventure into the unknown. . . . In short his life was a duel fought against lies; the weapon he chose, the English language.

On thinking of him a certain Don Quixote de la Mancha rides into mind on his horse Rosinante. . . . On him a tweed jacket wore the air of knightly armour. A cup of tea was wine before the battle. He carried no shield, used for a weapon plain facts loaded into simple English prose.[18]

Potts seems to have considered his relationship with Orwell the single bright spot of his life. “The happiest years of my life were those during which I was a friend of his,” recalled Potts. “I would have rather known him than have won the Nobel Prize.” If there was little chance of the latter, Potts nevertheless did come to know Orwell as well as most literary friends in the late ’40s. A penurious poet in the Fitzrovian literary world, who was often mocked in wartime London intellectual circles, Potts was befriended by Orwell shortly after they met in 1944. Potts never forgot the act of kindness. His memories of Orwell, if expressed in flowery language, are nevertheless genuine and stirring.

It is clear that Potts was smitten with Orwell, and that he was thankful that such a great man had befriended him. Here again, however, we have no strong grounds on which to question the mere claim that some meeting between Hemingway and Orwell did occur, or even that Orwell told Potts that he had indeed met Hemingway in Paris. (As we shall see, Potts would not have gotten the story from Connolly, let alone from Breit. He was not acquainted with Connolly until he wrote to him in mid-1956, when he had substantially completed the manuscript of Dante Called You Beatrice.)

Those are the “supposed facts.” In recent decades, one or another of the Potts or Hemingway versions of the story (and sometimes a hybrid composed of a mixture of their elements) has found a welcome home in the numerous biographies, literary portraits, and magazine fluff pieces written about Orwell and Hemingway. (For instance, Frances Stonor Saunders’ The Cultural Cold War, which circulates a number of the sensational popular best-seller claims about both Orwell and his widow, Sonia, reports the story.[19] It is easy to understand why. The letter to Breit features Hemingway’s own voice and expressive, trademark slang in the service of his swelled ego. This Hemingway-Breit rendering appeared for the first time in Carlos Baker’s Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (1969) and has been widely cited and quoted ever since

Potts’s second-hand account (purportedly from personal conversations with Orwell) is also wonderful type-casting, with its dose of Hemingway tough-guy talk and its appealing image of an unassuming Eric Blair bolstering his overall portrait of a diffident “Saint George.” In either version, the tale not only adds a dash of color to any depiction of Orwell and casts Hemingway in a flattering light, but also (we can report from personal experience) is greeted with delighted appreciation at literary dinner parties. Most secondary reports of the story have narrated it straight. Even biographers have done so. For instance, D. J. Taylor simply writes:

Orwell, initially based in Paris, would spend a couple of months reporting on conditions in liberated France and, he hoped, following the Allied trail eastward in Germany. By the last week in February, he was installed in the Hotel Scribe, a popular resort for literary men in transit—where he met Ernest Hemingway. . . . [20]

However, a few Orwell scholars have, quite properly, expressed skepticism about the story’s details—especially given Potts’s well-known reputation in London for Pinocchio portraiture. Significantly, after its appearance in his memoir, Potts’s version never surfaced in any article about Orwell (or Hemingway) until more than two decades after its original publication. It was first used in Sir Bernard Crick’s excellent biography, George Orwell: A Life (1980).

Even those Orwell and Hemingway scholars who have cited some version of the tale with a word of qualification, however, have not inquired more deeply about its authenticity; none of them has bothered to investigate it. One reason is that virtually all of them seem familiar with only one side of the story.[21] The Hemingway biographers invariably cite the Breit letter (and either avoid the Potts version or are not aware of it), occasionally pausing to wonder about the letter’s veracity. Baker, for example, in his massively researched biography of Hemingway, reports the meeting as having taken place “with what truth it is impossible to say.”[22] He leaves it at that. (Neither he nor any other Hemingway scholar seems aware of the 1948 Connolly letter.)

Baker also notes in passing that Orwell and Hemingway first met in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. (Where does he get that idea? He cites no source for it.)[23] Such a meeting was highly unlikely. Orwell never mentioned the encounter in any of his voluminous writings about wartime Spain. Nor does Hemingway claim it happened—neither before nor after Orwell’s death. (Baker is evidently confusing a nondescript encounter that Orwell had with John Dos Passos, both of whom supported the anarchist cause.)[24]

Is Baker excessively credulous about Hemingway’s claim to have offered Orwell hospitality in his private room and even loaned him a gun? Although Baker’s monumental Life of Hemingway—the first biography of Hemingway ever written—was generally well-received and remains the standard one cited, it is notably uncritical about Hemingway’s legend-building. Indeed Baker has sometimes been regarded as a fellow architect of Hemingway’s myth-making. In our view, Baker’s disinclination to investigate Hemingway’s 1952 letter more thoroughly—in an otherwise exhaustive 652-page Life—makes him complicit in the entire episode of the Hemingway-Orwell tale. Having committed the last two decades of his distinguished literary career largely to Hemingway scholarship, Baker seems to have developed a vested interest in accepting Hemingway’s inflated reports about his activities, even when Hemingway was prone late in life to telling tall tales to build up his public image and fortify his sagging ego. One critic of Baker’s work argues:

Baker chose not to question the Hemingway myth. . . . That Baker’s biographical project was essentially concerned with the perpetuation of Hemingway’s mythic persona has not escaped detection. Irving Howe . . . recognized what Baker had done (or rather what he had failed to do). So did Elizabeth Hardwick, who found “tiresome and displeasing . . . this fleshing out of the old Hemingway public persona.” . . . Baker essentially shied away from any investigation, reinterpretation, or correction which did not “square” with the mythos. He criticized Hemingway only where Hemingway himself did so, or where Hemingway’s well-publicized extremes of behavior would make his not doing so conspicuous. Baker’s case is that, knowingly or not, his goal was not to de-mythologize: Rather, he undertook . . . to perpetuate Hemingway’s mythic personality as historical reality and as objective truth. [25]

Also recounting the alleged story is Jeffrey Meyers, though he remains skeptical. Familiar with the minute details of both Hemingway’s and Orwell’s lives—he is the sole author to have written a biography of both men—Meyers is the scholar most qualified to corroborate or refute the story. Moreover, Meyers’ Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation (2000) benefits from the recent availability of Peter Davison’s edition of The Complete Works of George Orwell. Meyers casts a cold eye on the absence of reference to this meeting anywhere in Orwell’s writings. Meyers writes: “Orwell never mentioned their meeting and there is no record of their conversation.” Yet even Meyers cites only the Potts version of the encounter, and does not pursue the “supposed facts” any further in his biographies of either author.[26] (Nor does Meyers seem to know about the “record” of the conversation in the pages of True at First Light, which appeared two years before the publication of his Orwell biography.)

As we have noted, it is difficult to imagine Orwell not recording any memorable contact with a writer as renowned as Ernest Hemingway either in his wartime dispatches or his correspondence with a wide circle of literary friends.[27] For instance, if Orwell had shared drinks, exchanged stories, and borrowed a gun from Hemingway, would he not have mentioned it to his friends such as Muggeridge and Anthony Powell, with whom he was lunching almost daily in 1945? It is difficult to believe that these two prolific letter writers and diarists would not have somewhere recorded the incident.

Moreover, would Orwell not have told his [first] wife, Eileen Blair? And she in turn not have commented on it to Cyril Connolly, Orwell’s close literary friend ever since his Eton days? In a letter of March 25, 1945, just three or four weeks after the presumed encounter between Orwell and Hemingway, Eileen Blair writes to Connolly that “George is in Paris reporting for the Observer” and advises Connolly to forward any mail to her husband once Orwell reaches the press bureau location of his next assignment.

Beyond all this: as we have seen, Connolly himself was personally acquainted with Hemingway (they first met in Paris in 1929),[28 occasionally corresponded with him, and had recently met him in Paris where they discussed The Unquiet Grave. Would not Connolly have mentioned anywhere in their exchanges—or in his enormous body of journalism and reviews—a significant wartime Paris meeting between Hemingway and Orwell?

Again, the silence is deafening.

So what does one make of all this? Did this story ever really take place? Was it from the beginning of a “fictional memoir,” largely a figment of Hemingway’s Bunyanesque imagination?

A definitive answer is impossible: no incontrovertible evidence supporting or refuting the story has surfaced. As we have observed, however, three quite divergent versions of the encounter exist. Moreover, even when the stories overlap, smaller, revealing differences in detail also prevail. For instance, Potts and Baker place the encounter at the Hotel Ritz.[29] But that is disputable. If it took place, the meeting could have occurred at the Hotel Scribe. Orwell was staying there in March 1945. Malcolm Muggeridge, in the second volume of his autobiography, says that he met a drunken Hemingway at the Hotel Scribe in the spring of 1945.[30] (Muggeridge does not say anything about a Hemingway-Orwell encounter.) Of course, Hemingway may have been simply drinking or dining at the Scribe, but foreign correspondents covering the war after the liberation commonly used the Hotel Scribe as their Parisian base. Potts’s fanciful imagination may have invented the Ritz—not only because it fit with his idealized version of Orwell (and with Hemingway’s wealth), but also because he had probably never even heard of the Scribe. (Potts never visited France.)

We can grant, on the basis of Hemingway’s 1948 letter to Connolly, that the mere fact of a meeting is plausible. It is the protean story of the meeting that raises suspicion. Given that the three versions (two from Hemingway and one Potts) of the expanded story originate in post-Orwell sources—the 1952 Hemingway to Breit letter and Potts’s 1960 book chapter, how plausible are the “supposed facts”?

The Hemingway-Breit letter contains certain passages that are credible. The part about how much Hemingway admires Orwell’s writing, yet doesn’t want to review Homage to Catalonia says that he is not boastful. The section about meeting Orwell in his room, however, does sound like typical Hemingway big talk. In our view, however, Hemingway’s claim about giving Orwell a gun remains implausible.

With his connections in wartime England, Orwell surely could have secured a gun before his departure or during his Paris stay. (Hemingway was heavily armed before and after his war correspondent stint.) As a war reporter in Paris, how difficult would it have been for Orwell to find a gun? Crick also believes the gun story unlikely. On the other hand, a caveat must be entered: Orwell biographer Gordon Bowker discovered in the course of his research a fact that renders this portion of the story possibly valid. One of Orwell’s London acquaintances, Rodney Philips,[31] sold Orwell a German luger pistol for five pounds in the summer of 1945, apparently because Orwell said that he needed to be armed since his enemies, especially the communists, might assassinate him.[32] The contention that Orwell feared assassination and that Hemingway supplied a snub-nosed .32 and arranged for friends to tail Orwell all come from Hemingway’s letter to Breit.

As in the case of D. J. Taylor’s biography, Bowker’s acceptance of the Paris story and his uncritical attitude toward Hemingway seem rather ingenuous. Possibly, like many Orwell scholars and literary historians in Britain, they are unacquainted with Hemingway’s tendencies toward megalomania and compensatory self-promotion during the last decade of his life. The fact is that Hemingway had a propensity toward fantasizing and grandstanding that became obvious (and worsened) as he grew older. Always something of a braggart, Hemingway indulged this weakness increasingly as the 1950s wore on. His (third) wife at the time, Martha Gellhorn, once described him as the “biggest liar since Munchausen.”[33] Hemingway himself virtually admitted as much—and considered it a reflection of his literary gifts:

It is not unnatural that the best writers are liars. A major part of their trade is to lie or invent and they will lie when they are drunk, or to themselves, or to strangers. They often lie unconsciously and then remember their lies with deep remorse. If they knew all the other writers were liars too it would cheer them. . . . Lying to themselves is harmful but this is cleansed away by the writing of a true book which in its invention is truer than any true thing that ever happened. [34]

Certainly such an attitude would, at least in Hemingway’s own eyes, appear to fully justify his embroidery of the Orwell encounter within “a fictional memoir” such as True at First Light.

The timing alone of the story’s first release in print in 1960 gives one pause (i.e., the convenient fact that dead men tell no tales). The timing is not only significant because Orwell was not around to dispute the claim. After the publication of Animal Farm (1945), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and two heralded essay collections (Shooting an Elephant, 1950; Such, Such Were the Joys, 1952), Orwell’s reputation within the cultural elite (especially in New York and London intellectual circles) had come to eclipse Hemingway’s own. And therein lies a possible motive.

The fact is that by the early 1950s, when Hemingway first began recounting the story, George Orwell was already dead two years at the age of 46—and his meteoric ascension to canonical status had raised his star among the literati above that of Hemingway. The latter’s falling reputation as a creative writer was accelerating, braking only temporarily with the respectful critical response accorded The Old Man and the Sea, published in September 1952, roughly four months after Hemingway’s letter to Breit—for which he won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize. At the same time public “Papalotry”[35] was reaching a crescendo, i.e., Hemingway’s fame among the glitterati was approaching its high-water mark, soon to peak with his reception of the Nobel Prize in 1954—which some ungenerous critics attributed to fears among the prize committee members about the possibility of Hemingway’s impending death after his near-fatal plane crashes that January.

Whatever their reasoning, Hemingway knew very well that the Nobel Prize for Literature honored his past achievements. So the capacity of the Nobel to satisfy his raging ego was partial and temporary. As a result, his macho lifestyle and headline-grabbing extra-literary activities intensified relentlessly as the 1950s advanced.[36] His psychic investment in this compensatory dynamic deepened and ultimately ruled his being in his last years,[37] as almost all of his new writings, along with his increasingly garrulous prose, were mercilessly castigated and caricatured by literary critics and intellectuals worldwide.[38] The contrast between Hemingway’s and Orwell’s literary status in the 1950s—Hemingway’s reception of the Nobel Prize notwithstanding—was widening. Whereas the Hemingway myth was both becoming a bloated, self-inflated media spectacle without underpinnings in Hemingway’s art and coming to overshadow his literary identity, the Orwell legend was being viewed as founded on perceived transparency between his life and work and thus burnishing his reputation. As Jeffrey Meyers notes: “Unlike Orwell, whose persona strengthened and confirmed the image of an upright man, Hemingway’s legend swamped and destroyed the real artist.”[39]

By the early 1950s, Hemingway was already veering out of control. He exaggerated, prevaricated, invented stories, contradicted himself, and was in general a very unlikable person and quite often a blowhard. All this must be entered in the docket against the tale. Once again, the meeting itself probably occurred—and was negligible, much like Orwell’s brief encounters in Spain with Dos Passos or the young Willy Brandt; but the story of the meeting, even in its 1952 form (let alone the 1998 rendition), probably owes much to Hemingway’s imagination, perhaps ironic proof that his literary gifts had not yet deserted him completely—or that his power of “artistic lying” was already fully available and ready for use.

We have argued that a declining Hemingway certainly had a motive to invent or embroider a story about meeting Orwell. We should also note that period from 1948 to September 1952 was a literary low in Hemingway’s career. He had just been savaged by the critics for Across the River and Into the Trees (1950)—including by Cyril Connolly—and had not yet published The Old Man and the Sea.[40] (His weakness for braggadocio was at its peak, exemplified by his infamous, self-humiliating interview with Lillian Ross in the spring of 1950, in which he fully exposed himself as a Walter Mittyish fantasist.)[41]

Was indeed the Orwell tale Hemingway’s attempt to connect himself to someone now taken more seriously than the author of Across the River and Into the Trees, which was so roundly booed and even satirized by reviewers?[42] Hemingway was in agony about its reception, and he was fast slipping into the permanent state of personal crisis that would lead to his suicide less than a decade later in 1961. At some level, he recognized that he had written nothing of consequence since For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).[43] Edmund Wilson, once an admirer and friend, wrote in The Wound and the Bow (1941)—in a line that permanently bruised Hemingway’s sensitive ego—that even before World War II Hemingway had already entered “into a phase where he is occupied with building up his public personality. Hemingway had created a persona that “is not only incredible but obnoxious. He is certainly his own worst-invented character.”[44]

If not his worst character, the Hemingway persona of his last decade was certainly his most grandiose. Hemingway had morphed into the mythical “Papa” Hemingway of the newspapers and popular magazines: the full-bearded safari adventurer and big-game hunter, the hairy-chested brawler, the patron of saloon keepers, the literary hero of actors and actresses, the macho comrade of bullfighters and baseball players and boxers.[45 Dwight Macdonald’s vicious parody of “Papa” reflected the verdict of the literary elite about Hemingway’s own fall into self-parody and deterioration as both a stylist and storyteller:

He wrote a novel called Across the River and Into the Trees. It was not a good novel. It was a bad novel. It was so bad that all the critics were against it. Even the ones who had liked everything else. The trouble with critics is that you can’t depend on them in a tight place and this was a very tight place indeed. They scare easy because their brains are where their cojones should be and because they have no loyalty and because they have never stopped a charging lion with a Mannlicher double-action .34 or done any of the other important things. The hell with them. Jack Dempsey thought Across the River was OK. So did Joe Di Maggio. The Kraut thought it was terrific. So did Toots Shor. But it was not OK and he knew it and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.[46]

This context reframes our earlier question of Hemingway’s motive pointedly: Was Hemingway vainly and desperately seeking, by associating himself via this tale with Orwell—whose reputation in the 1950s as a writer was steadily climbing—to identify with a lost, indeed squandered self?

Perhaps, and it is also plausible that Hemingway was quite embarrassed by his time in Spain—and declined Breit’s reviewing request mainly for that reason. After all, Orwell’s views of the Spanish Civil War had been vindicated, whereas Hemingway had been duped by the communists and their allies. (He never criticized the Stalinists or the USSR until after the war.) Indeed, one of the reasons that Hemingway didn’t want to review Homage to Catalina for Harvey Breit was that such a review inevitably would have to deal with how politically clear-sighted Orwell was about the war—and this would imply how wrong Hemingway was. Helping out Orwell in Paris could help convince himself (if not others) that he too had been an outspoken critic of Stalin and the Stalinist intellectuals who visited Spain.[47 Furthermore, whereas Hemingway had gone to Spain to gather literary material, Orwell had gone to fight. While Hemingway fraternized with literary people, Orwell served as a soldier on the Aragon front—and even got a bullet through his windpipe for his trouble, temporarily rendering him voiceless and (even after he recovered) permanently weakening his vocal chords.

Such speculations aside, it bears repeated emphasis that neither of our two sources, Hemingway nor Potts, were known for being especially scrupulous or reliable with mundane facts. If the later Hemingway was a vainglorious self-advertiser, Paul Potts was a hopeless romancer. Each was a fabulist in his own way—and with his own particular reasons for promoting such a Paris legend. We have already addressed the issue of Hemingway’s motives. What about Potts and his story?

Simply viewed as a literary artifact, Potts’s tale is curious. He provides memorable detail about the sudden appearance of a timid Blair in the doorway, the suitcases of Hemingway on the bed, the Scotch stashed beneath it, the whiskey with no soda, and Hemingway’s bravura greeting to Blair-Orwell. If Orwell had indeed told Potts all this, why does Potts stop there? Why does he exclude all detail of the topics the two writers actually talked about—which, after all, would have been the most interesting aspect of the meeting? Meyers suggests that inventing any further such dialogue was beyond Potts’s limited literary skills.

Certainly Potts’s version of the Orwell-Hemingway encounter should be doubted on the grounds of Potts’s infamous reputation. A young Anglo-Irish Canadian, educated at Stonyhurst and a fervent ex-Catholic, Potts was ridiculed by much of literary London in the 1930s and ’40s as “the People’s Poet.” His first book of poems was titled Instead of a Sonnet (1944), and many of his detractors joked that the title was ironically all-too-fitting, adding that both it and the rest of his ouevre could well have been titled Instead of a Poem.[48] Perhaps Orwell empathized with him because, as Derek Stanford once remarked, Potts was “always odd-man out—a mostly unpaid, in-the-singular Opposition.” From being a supporter of Stalin in the 1930s, Potts broke away from Stalinism, aligned himself with the London anarchists connected with Freedom Press (Orwell was also a member of that circle through his friends Vernon Richards and George Woodcock). Thereafter, Potts wrote intelligent appreciations of the art of Ignazio Silone, Roy Campbell, and Ezra Pound, all of whom Orwell also admired for their literary talents, though he despised the fascist politics of the latter pair.

Potts was an itinerant poet notorious throughout London for hawking his broadsheet poems in pubs and on street corners. Incredibly dirty—one friend described him as looking as if he had crawled out of a hole in the ground—Potts had a pathetic side, partly manifested in his puppy-dog veneration of Orwell. As Stephen Spender noted, Potts’s memoir, Dante Called You Beatrice “reads like the autobiography of a neurotic.” The overriding impression left by Dante Called You Beatrice is of a writer who has experienced excruciating suffering and indeed wallows not infrequently in self-pity. Potts publicly identified himself as a failure—and not just a failure as a poet, but also as a husband, a family man, a respectable bourgeois member of society. Potts exalted his failure as proof of his integrity; indeed, as Stanford suggested, he immersed himself in “the cult of failure.” Perhaps Orwell also felt sympathy for Potts on this score. After all, in “Such, Such Were the Joys” he also proclaimed himself a failure.

But, of course, Orwell never published that essay during his lifetime and it dealt exclusively with the failure of Eric Blair, not George Orwell. Moreover, Orwell was a “failure” who became a great success. By contrast, Potts was a failure who became an ignominious failure—and proclaimed and indeed celebrated that “accomplishment” in the pages of his memoir. It must be conceded, however, that both men, to different degrees, quite identified with the cult of failure—and this shared predilection may also have disposed Orwell to empathize with or look kindly on the hapless Potts.[49]

Beyond all this, not only did the Potts tale not appear until a full decade after Orwell’s death, but it also leaves an impression similar to True at First Light that it has been worked over and “factionalized.” For the book chapter in Dante Called You Beatrice is virtually identical to Potts’s rambling memoir about Orwell in the March 1957 issue of London Magazine (“Don Quixote on a Bicycle”)—except that the magazine article omits entirely any mention of an Orwell-Hemingway meeting.

Was this omission due to space limitation? Did Potts believe that the Hemingway encounter didn’t somehow fit in? Or did Potts “remember” the story in all its picturesque detail only after 1957?

Whatever one’s verdict, the circumstantial evidence is not favorable to Potts.[50]

All such considerations aside, it bears noting that one of the most puzzling aspects of this running serial is why Orwell would have told his Hemingway encounter in such detail to Potts and no other member of his large group of friends. None of Orwell’s closest friends—not Cyril Connolly, Sir Richard Rees, George Woodcock, Julian Symons, T. R. Fyvel, Powell, Muggeridge, or Spender—mentioned the story in their reminiscences about Orwell. (Nor did Spender, a good friend of Orwell, even allude to Potts’s chapter on Orwell in his lengthy review of the memoir.) Knowing Potts by reputation (and sometimes personally), one can only surmise that he and Orwell’s other friends thought the whole thing a concoction of Potts’s own quixotic imagination. Potts even wrote to Connolly during the mid-1950s to ask for help with publishing Dante Called You Beatrice, and it is likely either at that time or later that Connolly read the manuscript. Undoubtedly, he considered Potts such an unreliable source that he too never commented on Potts’s version of the Orwell story.[51]

Connolly would, of course, have also been in a position to refute Hemingway’s exaggerated story of his meeting with Orwell, and that is also possibly why Hemingway never published any version of the Orwell encounter. It is also intriguing that Connolly was on friendly terms with Harvey Breit, who could have passed on the details of Hemingway’s 1952 letter to Connolly. The two critics corresponded and occasionally met when Breit was in London or Connolly was in New York, both men being cultural gatekeepers and clubbable intellectual journalists in their respective literary capitals.[52] There is no record of Breit ever telling anyone else about the Hemingway story, nor indeed does any extant correspondence between Breit and Connolly relate to it. Here again, one must surmise that both critics dismissed the embroidered Hemingway account of 1952 as a typical act of Hemingway “faction.”

Potts had a reputation for being a starry-eyed idealist, and he apotheosized Orwell in moral as well as literary terms. But the question remains: From whom did Potts get his information? Did Orwell ever mention to Potts a Paris meeting with Hemingway?

Yes, possibly so. Potts was unlikely to have gotten news of such an encounter from anyone else. Yet, of course, this does not exclude the possibility that Orwell did indeed also inform several of his other acquaintances about such a meeting. Why then didn’t they ever write about it? Quite probably for a simple reason: there was nothing to write about. It was a non-event not worth recording. Moreover, Connolly and Muggeridge (and possibly some of Orwell’s other friends and acquaintances) had met Hemingway and his crowd themselves, and so they would not have been especially impressed about the mere fact that Orwell also had a brush with Hemingway for “a moment” in a Paris hotel.

Nonetheless, on the other side of the ledger, it should also be stressed: Potts did indeed know Orwell personally. Apparently Orwell, whose circle of friends was wide and disparate, took a liking to (or took pity on) Potts, perhaps because he was shunned by so many people in the London literary scene. Potts spent time with Orwell in London and even visited him on the isle of Jura, a sign of Orwell’s favor. Crick quotes Potts’s reminiscences extensively in his biography of Orwell. Crick calls Potts “a terrible liar and romancer,” but he still regarded him as a useable source for Orwell’s later life.[53] And not without good cause. For instance, unlike many of Orwell’s closest friends, Crick noted, Potts knew that Orwell had written a never-published introduction to Animal Farm that dealt with censorship, which did not appear in print until 1972.

If a final verdict cannot be delivered, we are nonetheless left with hunches and suspicions. Did Orwell and Hemingway meet this way or was the encounter a product—wholly or in part—of Hemingway’s egoism and Potts’s urge to associate himself with a great man? And was Hemingway himself seeking to associate himself with a writer whose fame was beginning to outstrip his own?

Ironically, Hemingway might indeed have met Eric Blair many years before his claimed encounter with Orwell in Paris. Until March 1928, Hemingway lived in the rue Férou in Paris, just a few blocks from Eric Blair. Just before Blair arrived there, perhaps Hemingway dined in the fashionable hotel on the rue de Rivoli where Orwell sweated out the day as a dishwasher. Surely, Hemingway could have strolled many times past Hôpital Cochin, the pauper’s hospital in the fourteenth arrondissement where Blair was treated for a sudden, potentially fatal outbreak of tuberculosis in early 1929. His experience there was the subject of his famous essay “How the Poor Die” (1946). Later, Orwell’s first book, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)—Orwell’s own “fictional memoir”—recalled his months as a Parisian expatriate, a theme that Hemingway had memorably captured in The Sun Also Rises (1926)—and which he certainly lived out under different upscale conditions than did Blair as an impoverished clochard.[54]

Ultimately lacking confirmation from other sources, we conclude this much: the evidence for the storied meeting is tenuous. Biographers and cultural historians should not report it uncritically and without comment. Although we cannot say with certitude that it didn’t take place, it leaves us with the impression of Hemingway and Potts as fellow colleagues of Winston Smith at the Ministry of Truth, happily engaged in “rectifying” the facts and rewriting literary history.

[1] For example, Cyril Connolly observed in the Sunday Times, August 1973, that unlike himself, both Orwell and Hemingway possessed the ability to “pare in words down to the bone.” Quoted in Jeremy Lewis, Cyril Connolly: A Life, 569.

[2] Orwell did not approve of Hemingway, especially in the 1930s, both for literary and political reasons. In a 1935 review, he wrote: “Criss/Cross is American and ‘tough.’ The ‘tough’ American books would make one exclaim that Hemingway has a lot to answer for, were it not that their very number suggests that Hemingway is merely a symptom and not a cause.”

Just before leaving for Spain in December 1936, Orwell also voiced sharp criticism of Hemingway’s politics: “Hemingway, on the other hand, is treated rather respectfully (because Hemingway, you see, is rumoured to be toying with Communism).”

[3] On the explosion of Orwell’s critical and public reputation in the early postwar years, see John Rodden, The Politics of Literary Reputation: The Making and Claiming of “St. George” Orwell (New York: Oxford UP, 1989) and Scenes from an Afterlife: The Legacy of George Orwell (Wilmington: ISI, 2003).

[4] Letter from Ernest Hemingway to Cyril Connolly, 15 March 1948. This letter is in the Connolly collection at the University of Tulsa, along with telegrams sent in the mid-1940s from Hemingway to Connolly.

[5] Hemingway and Connolly first met in Paris in 1929—when Eric Blair was scraping along as a scullion and clochard. (Ironically, Connolly never met Blair in Paris after arriving in 1929, even though they resided only a couple of streets away from each other. They had no contact after Eton until Blair-Orwell got in touch after Connolly had reviewed Burmese Days admiringly in the New Statesman in July 1935.

When Hemingway arrived in London in May 1944 as a war correspondent, Connolly quickly sought him out and volunteered to introduce him to literary friends at a party in Bedford Square. According to Michael Shelden, they proceeded to “strike up a friendship; they drank together, and talked long into the night.” It was during this visit that Connolly invited Hemingway to write a “Cuban letter” for the regular feature in Horizon titled “Where Shall John Go?” Shelden also reports that Connolly took Hemingway to visit Lady Emerald Cunard and that, when she inquired about his opinion of Russia, he answered with exasperation: “There is the pro as well as the con about Russia. As with all these fucking countries.” Cited in Michael Shelden, Friends of Promise (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989) 120.

[6] Orwell’s view of The Unquiet Grave was decidedly less enthusiastic. Orwell called The Unquiet Grave “a cry of despair from the Rentier who feels that he has no right to exist, but also feels that he is a finer animal than the proletarian.” See Observer (London) 14 January 1945.

[7] Hemingway promised a “Cuban Letter” to Connolly for Horizon in May 1944 when they met in London. He never came through with the piece.

[8] Harvey Breit (1913–68) was a columnist and assistant editor at the New York Times Book Review in the 1940s and ’50s, and it was in his official editorial role that he proposed the Catalonia review to Hemingway. In 1950 Hemingway developed a friendship with Breit on the basis of their shared enthusiasms for baseball and boxing. By the end of the year, Breit felt close enough to Hemingway to request authorization to write his biography. Hemingway declined because too many “women” were still alive (among them his mother and all his wives) and because he feared that too much thinking about himself would stifle his work. On the friendship with Breit, see Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, 485–87.

[9] Coming from Hemingway, this was high praise indeed. As Meyers observes in Orwell: “The only contemporary books he disinterestedly praised were [e.e.] cummings’ The Enormous Room (published by Liveright in 1922), [Isak] Dinesen’s Out of Africa, and Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia” (170). See Meyers, George Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation, 416. This contention by Meyers is not entirely accurate, given that (as we have already seen) Hemingway also voiced high admiration for The Unquiet Grave in his 1948 letter to Connolly.

[10] Unlike most foreign soldiers and literary men who fought on the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell had not joined the ranks of the well-armed International Brigades, financed by Stalin’s USSR. Rather, he fought with the Party of Marxist Unification, known as P.O.U.M., a motley Trotskyist-anarchist militia under the leadership of the French anarchist André Nin.

[11] Granville Hicks reviewed Homage to Catalonia glowingly in the New York Times on 18 May 1952.

[12] Hemingway to Harvey Breit, 16 April–May 1952. The original of the Breit letter is in the Hemingway collection of the John F. Kennedy Library at Harvard.

[13] Sources are in conflict as to which hotel in Paris Hemingway was staying. Carlos Baker reports that Hemingway was at the Ritz; Paul Potts and Gordon Bowker merely say that the meeting occurred at the Ritz. But most other Orwell biographers and scholars claim that meeting took place at the Hotel Scribe. Since the location of the encounter was apparently Hemingway’s hotel room, the differing accounts about where Hemingway was lodging represent a notable discrepancy.

[14] Baker, Potts, Bowker,

[15] Ernest Hemingway, True at First Light: A Fictional Memoir (New York: Scribner’s, 1998) 139–40.

[16] In True at First Light, Hemingway adds: “I wished Orwell were still alive and I told G. C. about the last time I had seen him in Paris in 1945 after the Bulge fight and how he had come in what looked something like civilian clothes to room 117 of the Ritz where there was still a small arsenal to borrow a pistol because ‘They’ were after him.”

Hemingway works in this anecdote about Orwell in conversation with a visitor, G. C., who constantly refers to Hemingway as “General” (139).

[17] See Paul Potts, Dante Called You Beatrice (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1960).

[18] Potts.

[19] On Saunders’ treatment of George and Sonia Orwell, see John Rodden, Scenes from an Afterlife, chapter 2.

[20] D. J. Taylor, Orwell: The Life (London: Chatto & Windus, 2003) 344.

[21] Shelden is the only biographer to cite the 1948 Hemingway to Connolly letter. He also makes reference to Potts’s Dante Called You Beatrice, but he reports all of this straight, without questioning or qualification.

[22] Carlos Baker, Hemingway: A Life Story (New York: Scribner, 1969) 442. Inaccurately referring to Orwell in March 1945 as “famous,” Baker wrote that Hemingway reported, “with what truth it is impossible to say, that one of his visitors was the famous George Orwell, whom he had last seen in Barcelona. Orwell looked nervous and worried. He said that he feared that the Communists were out to kill him and asked Hemingway for the loan of a pistol. Ernest lent him the .32 Colt that Paul Willerts had given him in June. Orwell departed like a pale ghost.”

[23] Baker 442.

[24] Townshed Ludington, John Dos Passos: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey (New York: Dutton, 1980) 373.

[25] In a hard-hitting critique of Baker’s work, William Kimbrel writes: “The public persona” that had “attracted Baker’s” acceptance of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964) functioned as “an authoritative source for information of Hemingway’s life in Paris.” Kimbrel concludes: “Baker attempts to sustain the illusion of his own neutrality while [also engaged in] continual collusion with his subject to preserve the myth.” See William W. Kimbrel, Jr., “Carlos Baker and the ‘True Gen,’ ” and The Hemingway Review, 16.1 (fall 1996): 90. See also “Carlos Baker on Hemingway,” in Charles F. Madden, ed., Talks with Authors (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1968) 73–88.

[26] Meyers, George Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation, 416.

[27] Orwell certainly knew Hemingway’s work. As mentioned in an already-cited September 1935 review in New English Weekly, he expressed a low opinion of some of what he called “the tough American books . . . that Hemingway has a lot to answer for.” But Orwell regarded For Whom the Bell Tolls highly. He also was angered (though not surprised) when he found out that the communists and their sympathizers in liberated France refused to allow the novel to be republished. Given all this, it is difficult to imagine Orwell passing over any contact with Hemingway. See The Complete Works of George Orwell, ed. Peter Davison, vol. 10 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1999) 397.

[28] In Cyril Connolly: A Life (London: Pimlico Press, 1997), Jeremy Lewis writes that Hemingway and Connolly met in Paris in 1929 (211).

[29] Baker reports that Hemingway was staying at the Ritz from January 1945 on (pp. 441–42). As we have already noted, Hemingway’s March 1948 letter to Connolly indicates that Hemingway did sometimes stay at the Ritz, (e.g., around the time of the Paris liberation).

[30] Malcolm Muggeridge, The Infernal Grove: Chronicles of Wasted Time, vol. 2 (New York: Morrow, 1974).

[31] Philips was a wealthy Australian and the chief financial backer of the independent left journal Polemic—to which Orwell contributed a few of his best short essays. Philips claimed that Orwell feared he could be the target of a communist assassination. Bowker notes: “Orwell’s paranoia about communists was not just fear of spies and eavesdroppers, but of assassins too, the sort who had found and murdered others in Paris and even in America” (331). Since the end of the war, and especially since Animal Farm was published, Orwell had felt the need to arm himself.

[32] Gordon Bowker to John Rodden, 3 October 2007, 370–71.

[33] Jeffrey Meyers, Hemingway: A Biography (New York, 1985) 413. Meyers adds: “During his lifetime, the Hemingway legends took hold and replaced reality.” Matthew Bruccoli has noted “how difficult it is to establish the truth about virtually everything involving Hemingway, how difficult to differentiate the public Papa from the private writer” (240, 416–17).

[34] Hemingway, quoted in Frank Scafella, ed., Hemingway: Essays of Reassessment (New York: Oxford UP, 1991) 4–5.

[35] Mark Schechner, “Papa,” Partisan Review 49.2 (1982): 213–223. See also Townsend Ludington, “Papa Agonistes,” New Republic, (2 May 1981) 35.

[36] Carlos Baker phrases it more diplomatically in the 1972 edition of his Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (originally published in 1952): “In providing an account of Hemingway’s career for the period 1951–1961, the emphasis must fall far more upon what he did than upon what he wrote” (328). The critical consensus about the displacement of Hemingway’s energies from the literary to the social—and the fact that this shift became virtually his sole claim during the period to public attention—has only solidified since the 1970s. See Carlos Baker, The Writer as Artist (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972 [1952]).

[37] See Earl Rovit “On Psychic Retrenchment in Hemingway.” In Frank Scafella, ed., Hemingway: Essays of Reassessment (New York: Oxford UP, 1991) 181–88.

[38] On Hemingway’s reputation during these years, see Jeffrey Meyers, ed., Hemingway: The Critical Heritage (London: Boston and Henley; Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982) and Robert O. Stephens, Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Reception (New York: Ben Franklin, 1977).

[39] Jeffrey Meyers, “Review,” Virginia Quarterly Review, 60 (1984): 591. Also in Meyers, Hemingway: A Biography, 240.

[40] The Old Man and the Sea was published entire in Life (September 1, 1952). More than five million copies of the magazine sold on newsstands in two days. It was also a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

[41] This interview is collected in Lillian Ross, Portrait of Hemingway (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961).

[42] See, for instance, both Dwight Macdonald’s savage caricature of Hemingway’s style, “Ernest Hemingway,” collected in Against the American Grain (New York: Random House, 1962) and E. B. White’s parody of Across the River and Into the Trees, published as “Across the Street and Onto the Grill,” The Second Tree from the Corner (New York: Harper & Row, 1954).

[43] The following passage from Hemingway’s posthumously published, never-completed novel, The Garden of Eden (1986), ostensibly chronicles the writing difficulties of a young author, David Bourne. But they also mirror Hemingway’s own writing block during his last decade, which increased considerably after the plane crashes in 1954:

“He had started a sentence as soon as he had gone into his working room and had completed it but he could write nothing after it. He crossed it out and started another sentence and again came to the complete blankness. He was unable to write the sentence that should follow although he knew it. He wrote a first simple declarative sentence again and it was impossible for him to put down the next sentence on paper. At the end of two hours it was the same.”

[44] Jeffrey Meyers, Hemingway: A Life Into Art (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000) 136.

[45] Meyers draws attention to Hemingway’s boasting and to the costs of “the Hemingway legend”: “It was sometimes difficult for him to be a writer, lover, sportsman and warrior, to fulfill everyone’s high expectations, to be Ernest Hemingway everyday. He may have created the Papa persona because he felt more comfortable in a role than as himself. The name Papa kept people at a distance and was used by courtiers. During his lifetime, the Hemingway legend took hold and replaced reality.” Meyers, Hemingway: A Biography, 240–41.

[46] Macdonald’s essay was originally in Encounter (January 1962). It was reprinted under the title “Ernest Hemingway” in Dwight Macdonald, Against the American Grain (New York: Random House, 1962) 167–184.

[47] Meyers elaborates his Hemingway/Orwell comparisons in Hemingway: A Biography: “Hemingway’s portrayal of the French political commisar, Andre Marty, in For Whom the Bell Tolls shows that he was well aware of Communist horrors of Spain. He and Orwell were among the very few writers who were honest enough to criticize the Communists from the Left point of view (though Hemingway did not criticize them until after the war), and both writers were reviled by the Communist press. Hemingway condemned Max Eastman, James Farrell, and Edmund Wilson for remaining in New York and attacking everyone who went to Spain as a tool of Stalin. . . . Yet some of Hemingway’s emotional and political limitations become apparent when he is compared to Orwell, who thought telling the truth was more important than winning the war. . . . He was not capable of Orwell’s political insight and abandoned interest in politics after his side lost the war in Spain” (324–25).

[48] See also, for instance, his other two collections of verse during the 1940s: A Poet’s Testament (London: Whitman Press, 1940) and A Ballad for Britain on May Day (London: Modern Literature Ltd, 1945).

[49] Derek Stanford, “The Flag of Failure,” Time and Tide (June 4, 1960): 646. See also Stephen Spender, “The Problem of Sincerity,” The Listener (May 26, 1960) and Hugh G. Portis, “My Loneliness,” The Spectator (May 20, 1960).

[50] Paul Potts, “Don Quixote on a Bicycle: In Memoriam, George Orwell, 1903–1950,” London Magazine 4.3 (1957): 39–47.

[51] Potts and Connolly were acquainted by correspondence. See, for instance, the admiring letters from Potts to Connolly during the mid-1950s, which are held in the Connolly collection at the University of Tulsa.

[52] See, for instance, the letter from Breit to Connolly circa 1959, when Breit was staying at the Connaught Hotel as his new play, The Disenchanted, was about to be staged in London. The letter is located in the Connolly collection at the University of Tulsa.

[53] Sir Bernard Crick to John Rodden, February 21, 2007.

[54] Doubtless Hemingway was unaware when he was recasting his tale of meeting Orwell for the memoir that would eventually be posthumously published as True at First Light that he and Blair-Orwell had lived for several months just a few streets apart for a few weeks in 1928. Quite possibly, they really did meet back then! One can even imagine Hemingway, possibly feted at a literary luncheon to celebrate the success of The Sun Also Rises, being served by Orwell the busboy. The prospect is a delicious one. Indeed, what new storylines for his “fictional memoir” might Hemingway have imagined—and for that matter, Paul Potts too—if he had known in the 1950s that he and Orwell had resided in Paris just minutes away from each other? Both Hemingway and Potts could have been even freer in their fantasies!

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