The Custom House
281 Front St, Key West, FL 33040
Published in 1937, Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not is that rare example of a novel whose cultural impact far outweighs its critical reputation. Long criticized for its fragmented form, its ham-fisted approach to politics, and its hardboiled obsession with cojones, this blistering tale of a Florida Straits boat captain named Harry Morgan desperately trying to survive the economic ravages of the Great Depression by running rum and revolutionaries to Havana has nevertheless fueled tourist industries in Key West and Cuba and has inspired no less than three separate movie adaptations (including a classic one co-written by William Faulkner).
Kirk Curnutt explores what a very different novel To Have and Have Not would have been had Hemingway not hastily amputated his original draft at the last possible moment, leaving us a final product that, much like Harry Morgan after page 87, feels as if it is missing a limb. Previous critics have insisted that the author feared libel lawsuits from the real-life role models for characters he skewered, most notably his putative mistress, Jane Mason, and his former friend and fellow writer John Dos Passos. Curnutt, by contrast, argues that Hemingway underwent a political catharsis while covering the Spanish Civil War that rendered a narrative that was originally feral in its suspicion of partisans and ideologues at odds with newfound ideals of activism and intervention that Hemingway felt essential to halting the global rise of fascism.
While recognizing the novel’s faults, Curnutt also celebrates the many elements that make To Have and Have Not an interesting read—not the least of which is its Key West setting and the real-life habitués he wrote into the text. He also documents Hemingway’s underappreciated brilliance at writing action, suspense, and other elements of pulp fiction, reminding audiences of the visceral thrills of what one movie adaptation called “Hemingway-Hot Adventure.”
About Kirk Curnutt
Kirk Curnutt is professor and chair of English at Troy University. He is the author of fourteen books of fiction and criticism, including Ernest Hemingway and the Expatriate Modernist Movement, Coffee with Hemingway (featuring a preface by John Updike), and, most recently, Reading Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. After co-organizing the Ernest Hemingway Society and Foundation’s 2004 conference in Key West (held at the Casa Marina), he co-edited the collection Key West Hemingway with Gail D. Sinclair. He has served on the board of the Hemingway Society since 2006 and is currently working on a broad-range examination of Key West fiction as an example of regional literature. Despite his affinity for all things Papa, his favorite Key West novel is Thomas Sanchez’s Mile Zero.