Making Modernism

Christmas Cards between Fanny Butcher and Ernest Hemingway, 1920s, 1950s

Chicago Tribune literary editor Fanny Butcher sent her annual Christmas cards to an impressive roster of twentieth-century writers and artists whom she counted as friends, including Ernest Hemingway. Butcher’s stylish black and white and orange cards nearly always feature her reading a book, with her small dog nearby. Butcher also saved cards, especially from writers whom she admired: this one from Ernest and Mary Hemingway features Ernest sailing his fishing boat Pilar off the coast of Cuba. Inside, Hemingway thanks Butcher for her gift to him of shaving cream—for his chronic sensitive skin. Presumably Mary Hemingway adds (in red pen): “And strong wishes for all the nicest things—”. The difference in self-presentation is striking: a smart, urban woman with her head in a book; a bare-chested man sailing the high seas, on a boat that Hemingway apparently crewed to search for German U-boats.

Butcher initially met Hemingway in 1929, after she sold her bookshop, which gave her funds for her first trip to Paris. (It was also on this trip that she met James Joyce.)  Hemingway at this point was mostly known for The Sun Also Rises(1926), which Butcher had reviewed with some displeasure for the Chicago Tribune. Yet Butcher soon warmed up to Hemingway and his work: her many reviews thereafter were filled with praise for what she understood, with little irony, to be his “down-to-earth” values.  Raised in Oak Park—a Chicago suburb—and influenced by the literary culture of Chicago, where he had spent a formative year (and where he met Sherwood Anderson and Carl Sandburg), Hemingway was an author that Butcher claimed for the Midwest.

Butcher and Hemingway met only a few times after their initial meeting in Paris, on occasion in Chicago, and once in Cuba during Butcher’s 1947 trip with her husband.  Late, unpublished correspondence between Hemingway and Butcher—in the Butcher Papers at the Newberry—testifies to Hemingway’s attention to Butcher and to readers whom he felt shared her literary sensibility. They corresponded for many years, and Butcher corresponded with Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary—whom Butcher had known first as a reporter in Chicago during the 1940s—for many more years after Hemingway’s death.

-Liesl Olson, Newberry Library

Link to the finding aid for this collection

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