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Fall 1998

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Summer 97 > Article

Love in Ernest
 by Catherine Gianaro 

The intimacies of a wartime romance, scribbled in the diary of a young Red Cross nurse, might never have attracted more than the misty eyes of her lover. Except that the lover was Ernest Hemingway.

Since the discovery of Agnes von Kurowsky's private journal, the diary has become the basis for such diverse projects as scholarly research and a Hollywood film.

"People are as interested in Hemingway's life as they are in his writing," said James Nagel, the UGA professor of American literature whose book on the diary has been translated into 11 languages and has become the basis of a major motion picture.

Hemingway in Love and War: The Lost Diary of Agnes von Kurowsky was adapted into the recently released film In Love and War, which stars Sandra Bullock as the nurse and Chris O'Donnell as the young writer.

"It's pretty unusual for a scholarly work to be so popular among the [general public]," Nagel said. "The book is aimed at scholars of American literature and other scholarly audiences."

Hemingway was wounded during World War I and spent nine months in a Milan hospital, where he fell in love. That fabled romance led the renowned author to write A Farewell to Arms.

In 1986, Nagel discovered that Kurowsky had left a diary of those years. It was owned by Henry Villard, a well-known American diplomat who happened to be a patient in the hospital with Hemingway in July 1918. Villard became friends with Kurowsky, and years later she gave him the diary as a keepsake. Villard then tracked down Nagel, who was lecturing in Europe on Hemingway.

It was clear from the beginning that this was a document of vital importance to Hemingway scholars worldwide, Nagel said. For the next three years, the Hemingway guru researched and co-wrote the book with Villard.

"The diary changed everything," Nagel said. "It corrected the scholarly record of biographies of Hemingway."

Kurowsky's diary - far more matter-of-fact than her previously documented love letters - was the impetus for Nagel's discovery of such details as the wound to Hemingway's knee (Nagel found the X-rays and the bullet that was removed from Hemingway's knee) and where in Italy he was hospitalized (previous scholars had him in the wrong hospital).

Nagel has been studying the author for 35 years. Four of the 17 books Nagel has written about American literature are on Hemingway's work. The Hemingway family invited Nagel to speak at the first annual Hemingway festival, which was held this past July in Sanibel
Island, Fla.

For more information, e-mail James Nagel at jnagel@uga.cc.uga.edu.


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Agnes and Ernest