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Hotchner Remembers Ernest Hemingway ... and the Feds That Pursued Him

Earlier this month, on the 50th anniversary of his friend’s death, A.E. Hotchner penned a tender letter in remembrance of Ernest Hemingway.

He expressed remorse for not taking more seriously Hemingway’s suspicions that he was being watched by the FBI; fear, combined with the loss of his talent and feelings of alienation from his friends and family, drove the aging writer to suicide, Hotchner believes. Decades after the novelist’s death, the bureau released records showing that J. Edgar Hoover was uncomfortable with Hemingway’s power as a celebrity and uncertain about his loyalties, and ordered his agents to follow him. –ARK

A.E. Hotchner in The New York Times:

This man, who had stood his ground against charging water buffaloes, who had flown missions over Germany, who had refused to accept the prevailing style of writing but, enduring rejection and poverty, had insisted on writing in his own unique way, this man, my deepest friend, was afraid — afraid that the F.B.I. was after him, that his body was disintegrating, that his friends had turned on him, that living was no longer an option.

Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file. It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest’s activities in Cuba. Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones. The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital. It is likely that the phone outside his room was tapped after all.

In the years since, I have tried to reconcile Ernest’s fear of the F.B.I., which I regretfully misjudged, with the reality of the F.B.I. file. I now believe he truly sensed the surveillance, and that it substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.

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