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    « Lessons on Editing Your Family History | Main | What's Your Book's Theme? »
    Tuesday
    Sep142010

    Whose Memoir is This Anyway?

    So you’re concerned that your siblings have a different recollection of your family’s history than the one you want to put in your book. Your concern is not unique.

    A melodrama of competing versions of a personal history is being played out today in the family of Ernest Hemmingway.

    When Hemmingway committed suicide in 1961 his memoir, A Moveable Feast, was unfinished. Mary Hemmingway, his fourth wife reviewed the unfinished material with an editor from Scribner’s and assembled a book which was published in 1964.  

    Fast forward forty-five years. Hemmingway’s son, Patrick, succeeded Mary Hemmingway who had passed away as his father’s literary executor.

    "I thought the original edition was just terrible about my mother," said Patrick. Mary Hemmingway had been the fourth Mrs. Hemmingway. Patrick’s mother was Pauline Pfeiffer, the second Mrs. Hemmingway. His concern was with the way the affair between Pauline and Hemmingway broke up his first marriage to Hadley Richardson.

    So Patrick set out to create a revised edition. Patrick’s son, Sean, served as editor for the new version. Ernest Hemmingway had written several versions of his book and saved all the drafts. The new edition makes use of versions that Mary Hemmingway had ignored in the first edition.

    In his notebooks Ernest Hemmingway had also said that the book was a work of fiction although conceding that fiction often contains true stories.

    Robert Fulford summed the situation up in Canada’s National Post online. He wrote, “So Hemingway revised reality as he half-remembered it, and Mary selected from his versions the material she wanted, and Sean made some different decisions. The 2009 book turned out to be a revision of a revision of a revision.”

    Your memoir or family history may never satisfy all of the members of your family. They may have their own memories of the events. If they want to share their version with others, they can write their own book. As for you, you might best be guided by novelist Gore Vidal’s comment on his own memoir, “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life.”

    

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