These love letters will put your sappy teen poetry to shame
Before he became one of the world’s most prolific writers, Ernest Hemingway was just another boy in love. Excerpts from two emotional letters by Hemingway, hidden away in a trunk for over 90 years, have been published online for the first time in the Paris Review and reveal that he was madly in love with a high school classmate named Frances Elizabeth Coates.
According to Coates’ granddaughter Betsy Fermano, they worked together on a school literary magazine while studying at Oak Park and River Forest High School and their brief relationship left a lasting impression on the young writer. The new letters date back to before he wrote some of arguably the best books of all time such as The Old Man and the Sea and tell the story of his unrequited love for Coates.
In an impassioned letter to his sister, Hemingway pled with her to speak with Frances on his behalf: ‘Call up Frances Coates and tell her that your brother is at death’s door. And that will she please, no excuses, write to him. Make her repeat the address after so that she will have no alibi. Tell her that I love her or any damn thing.’
While Frances and Hemingway did exchange letters over the course of their lifetimes, the relationship wasn’t meant to be as she married another classmate named John Grace. Hemingway went on to marry a number of women, many of which ended in divorce as a result of his cheating ways. Unfortunately, Frances’ letters have yet to be discovered but two letters addressed to her from Hemingway while he was stationed as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War 1 have emerged.
One of the flirtatious letters, written after Hemingway was hospitalised following a mortar shell attack in 1918, was scribbled on American Red Cross stationery: ‘I can now read, speak and write love letters in Italian…I never cared to bring myself to address anyone as ‘My treasure’ but a ‘Tesor a mea’ [sic] just runs out of the pen…Tis indeed a noble language and I’ll have to haunt the fruit stands in the States to find somebody to work it off on!’
This is not the first time that Hemingway’s relationship with Frances has come into the limelight, as traces of her can be found throughout his works. Most notably in a dark, sexually charged short story named Up in Michigan published in 1923, the main character Liz Coates is described as ‘the neatest girl’ with ‘good legs’ before having an uncomfortable erotic experience with her neighbour.
The letters have been released online by Rober K. Elder, the coauthor of a book named Hidden Hemingway: Inside the Ernest Hemingway Archives of Oak Park which looks at the writer’s early life in Illinois. It also details a fuller account of Frances and Hemingway’s relationship with interviews with her granddaughter Betsy Fermano, as well as archival material of Frances and Hemingway in photographs.