The mystery of whether Ernest Hemingway’s widow volunteered or was coerced into leaving their Cuban house to the nation has come a step closer to being solved, with the discovery of a letter in which she states that her late husband “would be pleased” that Finca Vigía be “given to the people of Cuba … as a centre for opportunities for wider education and research”.
Hemingway lived on the 19th-century Cuban farm for 21 years, between 1939 and 1961, writing his masterpieces The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls there as well as posthumously published works including A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream. He committed suicide in Idaho in 1961. The property became a museum in 1962, but it has been unclear whether this was following the wishes of Mary Hemingway, his fourth wife, or at the insistence of the Cuban government, with differing accounts from different parties.
The newly discovered letter, dated 25 August 1961, sees Mary Hemingway specifically donate the Finca Vigía to the Cuban people. “…Whereas – my husband, Ernest Hemingway, was for twenty-five years a friend of the Pueblo of Cuba … he never took part in the politics of Cuba … he never sold any possessions of his, except his words, having given away cars, guns, books and his Nobel prize medal to the Virgen del Cobre,” she wrote to her husband’s friend Roberto Herrera.
“I believe that he would be pleased that his property … in Cuba be given to the people of Cuba … as a center for opportunities for wider education and research, to be maintained in his memory. With this document, as the only heir of Ernest’s estate, I hereby give to the people of Cuba this property, in the hope that they will learn and profit from, and enjoy it, as much as Ernest and I did.”
Sold this week via Alexander Historical Auctions, the letter was found among the papers of Herrera. “Ernest Hemingway had committed suicide in Ketchum less than two months earlier. However, at some point shortly thereafter, Mary backtracked and stated that after Hemingway’s suicide, the Cuban government contacted her in Idaho and announced that it intended to expropriate the house, along with all real property in Cuba. These documents show that Mary did indeed intend to donate the home to the Cuban people,” said the auction house in its catalogue. The handwritten note was snapped up on Wednesday for $1,100 (£716), a price well below the estimate of $2,000-$3,000.