Stepping back into Hemingway’s world

Associate Professor in Journalism lands major research grant  

Date posted

30 March 2021


An Edinburgh Napier academic has received a prestigious research award to provide fresh insights into the life of celebrated American novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway.

Dr Eamonn O’Neill aims to shed new light on the writer’s time in World War Two London after being named as a recipient of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Foundation’s Ernest Hemingway Research Grant.

The award will give Dr O’Neill access to the famous Boston institution’s Hemingway Collection and cover costs of up to $5000 as he delves into a fascinating period which saw A Farewell to Arms writer Hemingway stay at the Dorchester, drink at The Savoy and hang out with children’s author Roald Dahl.

Head and shoulders of Eamonn O'Neill in t-shirt with stretch of water in the background

The first recipient of the award in the UK, Dr O’Neill, 54 – an Associate Professor in Journalism at Edinburgh Napier – aims to produce both scholarly research articles and a book for a wider readership.

He said: “The library has been in lockdown since the pandemic struck and my research has been deferred, but I hope to hit the ground running in Boston as soon as is feasible.

“The grant covers research costs and travel, but for me its real value is in allowing me to gain access to original material from the narrow, previously hidden, period I am covering.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity. Hemingway’s work has influenced and fascinated me since I was an undergraduate. I am a committed member of the US-based Hemingway Society and I have been reading, teaching, and studying him since the beginning of my academic career at Strathclyde University two decades ago.”

Hemingway (1899-1961), whose most popular works include For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises, is famed for his lean writing style and thirst for adventure, but his time in England is less well-known than his escapades in France, Spain and Cuba.

Dr O’Neill’s research award will give him the chance to scrutinise the writer’s time in Europe between May 1944 and March 1945 via the biggest repository of Hemingway papers, archives and personal belongings in the world.

The former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy secured the collection as part of her late husband's Presidential Library and Museum directly from Hemingway's fourth wife Mary Welsh Hemingway as the JFK Library was being established.

The John F Kennedy Library Foundation provides funds to scholars interested in researching the Ernest Hemingway Collection, with grant applications evaluated on the basis of the expected use of the Collection, the proposal’s contribution to Hemingway studies and the applicant’s qualifications.

Dr O’Neill said: “Hemingway was quite a phenomenon in 1944, a one-man global industry, with big-screen Hollywood film adaptations of his books playing in the London cinemas he walked past.

“He literally had the world at his fingertips, yet in the period I am researching he was also a human wrecking-ball, destroying his marriage to fellow journalist Martha Gellhorn, drinking morning, noon, and night, and yet still able to charm anyone who crossed his path. One minute he was staying in the White House with President Roosevelt, the next he was being spied on by the FBI.

“It's that shadowy world, that nexus of a complex man who lived a very public life but retreated daily into his secret places, often hidden from even those closest to him, that fascinates me and which I hope to reveal in my work.

“There are few academics in the UK doing serious work on Hemingway but if the intense interest, even at this stage, from publishers and documentary and film production companies is anything to go by, it seems there's already a massive audience ready to step into his world again.”

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