Portuguese American Journal

Essay: Ernest Hemingway in Madeira in 1954 – By George Monteiro

On June 15, 1954, on its way west across the Atlantic, the Italian ship Francesco Morosini made a brief stop at Funchal. Among the ship’s passengers were Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway. It was the world-famous writer’s first and only visit to Madeira, one that took place 36 years after he had turned down a friend’s invitation to join him in Madeira, for the sake of the sun that would help him recuperate from his wounding on the Italian front in 1918.

Hemingway appears not to have left any record of his visit to Madeira, but his wife did. In her memoir, How It Was (New York: Knopf, 1976), Mary Welsh Hemingway offers a short account of the 1954 visit. Playing for the moment the travel writer, she recalls wine, the porcelain plaques, and the basket-sledding down the mountain:

Ernest and Mary Welsh Hemingway on safari, 1953-54

Ernest and Mary Welsh Hemingway on safari, 1953-54

At Funchal where the ship had stopped forty times in its voyages and he [the captain] had never gone ashore, Ruggiero this time decided to look at the town. He took me in a car to a café where we sipped sweet Madeira wine, then to the chapel on the mountaintop where Carlos I, last Emperor of Austria, is buried, his life much less violent comic-opera than those of his granddads, his uncles, and his cousins and his aunts. What I had not noticed during earlier visits were the porcelain plaques of Saint Fátima [sic] with her sweet, young face and elegant blue and white dress. Down the mountain we skidded in the basket sled, the runners being wood, not steel as I had earlier recorded, to the fish market where we found big fresh 60 to 70 pound tuna and also bright-eyed fresh dorado. Back on the Francesco Morosini, the captain decided to send for some fish, and that evening the chef did well by them. (462)

If Mary Hemingway’s memory is to be trusted, it can be seen that her husband was not with her (and the ship’s captain) on this bit of sight-seeing. What is probably is that Hemingway chose to remain aboard the Francesco Morosini, which, as scheduled, sailed later in the day.

On the next day —June 16th— there appeared in O Diário de Notícias, published in Funchal, Madeira, an interview with Hemingway, under the byline of “A. R.” New to Hemingway bibliography, this piece appears here in my translation from the Portuguese.



The man who had an interview with death: Hemingway, the celebrated Author of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” stopped by Funchal yesterday.

“He’s walking about the city, with the captain. But he shouldn’t be long.”

That’s what a friend told us.

The ship had arrived early in Funchal, and the writer wanted to take advantage of its short stay in Madeira to take a walk.

We took advantage of the moment to call for the photographer, who showed up shortly thereafter, surprised but curious, as was readily discernible.

“It’s Ernest Hemingway,” the author of ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ the basis of a film that was showing here at the Parc-Cinema a few days ago.”

Forty years ago, a graduate of Oak Park High School, in the United States, Hemingway went to France and Italy, shortly before the end of the war of 1914.

We thought of this detail during the inevitable duration of our wait (our prolonged wait), as well as his manner of terrific restlessness that turned him into, finally, an extraordinary reporter, proven by his experience in Spain and the Near East.

We could also have brought forth such Hemingway titles as Three Stories and Ten Poems, In Our Time, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Fisherman and the Sea [sic].

Literary schools, wrangles—do not matter. What is important to remember, for the reporter or writer, is that he see things as unilaterally plain as possible, if the work he produces is to project itself on its times with rare splendor and indisputable humanity.

“He remembered long ago when Williamson, the bombing officer, had been hit by a stick bomb some one in a German patrol had thrown as he was coming in through the wire that night and, screaming, had begged every one to kill him. He was a fat man, very brave, and a good officer, although addicted to fantastic shows. But that night he was caught in the wire, with a flare lighting him up and his bowels spilled out into the wire, so when they brought him in, alive, they had to cut him loose. Shoot me, Harry. For Christ sake shoot me. They had had an argument one time about our Lord never sending you anything you could not bear and some one’s theory had been that meant that at a certain time the pain passed you out automatically. But he had always remembered Williamson, that night. Nothing passed out Williamson until he gave him all his morphine tablets that he had always saved to use himself and then they did not work right away.”

“They’ve already gone aboard.”

It was on the way, perhaps, from the quay to the Francesco Morosini that the passage from ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” just quoted, came to mind. What is certain is that we were giving instructions to the photographer, the other Amândio. By pure coincidence, one literary journal in France had said that Hemingway’s style was photographic. But we won’t go into that now.

“The ship is about to sail. You have a minute.”

“Can you tell me where we may find Mr. Hemingway?”

Seconds later:

“Mr. Hemingway does not receive gentlemen of the press.”

The officer of the Francesco Morosini spoke in a preemptory, but friendly manner. “Orders received, orders conveyed,” we thought.

But we persisted. Another try, another refusal. The third and forth refusals appeared to be final, we thought. There was only one thing to do: forget the convention way—asking for a meeting through an intermediary.

“Mr. Ernest Hemingway, are you thinking about [Joseph] McCarthy?”

An open, frank smile.

We had found the writer at the pool, contemplating Funchal. At that hour—it was just past mid-day—the city was a poem of light. Streaks of red, dominating background spaces, emerald silhouette, a seductive lapis lazuli. The sea, the sky, the scenery simulated a supernatural tranquility, a euphoric apotheosis.

The McCarthy in question—the North-American senator—had been mentioned by Hemingway a few days earlier. In the dreams that followed his two appointments with death in the skies over Africa—a victim, as everyone knows, of two consecutive airplane crashes—he would have liked to have seen the Wisconsin Republican in similar aerial scrapes so that he could observe his reaction.

“How do you know about that?”

“I read about it in the French press.”

His smile broadened.

“What are your impressions of Madeira?”

“It’s a lovely island. Actually, I’m enthralled by it. I am amazed.

“Do you know that the film, ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ played here not so long ago?”

Another smile, but this time one that was, perhaps, a bit mechanical. We knew that the writer had not watched the film to its conclusion.

“Which do you prefer, the film or the book?”

“The book, of course.”

“Any new projects?”

“I’m traveling, as you can see. I have come by way of Lisbon. From here I go to Tenerife. Then La Guayra (Venezuela). Africa after that—Kenya.”

Hemingway had evaded my question, and he turned away, once again to contemplate the city.

“I was up on the hill and came down in one of the native carts.”

It was time to go. The writer was still smiling. It was a cordial good-bye.

Even in one’s simplest notes, taken on vacation, it is very difficult to imitate Hemingway’s photographic style. [My translation.]

So ends A. R.’s “interview.” It portrays a withdrawn, withholding Hemingway, one showing little or no interest in talking about himself or Funchal. Of course, his putative reticence on the occasion was to be expected, since he was still recovering from the near-fatal injuries he had suffered in the two plane crashes he had endured in East Africa earlier in the year. The reporter did manage, finally, to coax some answers (brief though they were) out of Hemingway when he questioned him directly—or so he tells us.

Hemingway, circa 1954

Ernest Hemingway,
circa 1954

There are several things to be said about this interview. First of all, the account is obviously padded with biographical and bibliographical details readily available in journals and newspapers. Secondly, the information that Hemingway claimed that he had been “up on the hill and came down in the native carts” is belied by Mary Hemingway’s account in which it is clear that when she says that “we skidded in the basket sled” down the mountain, the only other person with her was the captain of the Francesco Morosini. In the third place, Hemingway is quoted on where the ship is going when it leaves Funchal: “From here I go to Tenerife. Then La Guayra (Venezuela). Africa after that—Kenya.” This itinerary is inaccurate insofar as Hemingway’s voyage is concerned. It is even strange as a listing of the ship’s list of forthcoming ports of call. Hemingway was going home to Cuba, period, and there is no evidence that he planned or desires to return to Kenya or any part of Africa. Finally, illustrating the “interview” is a studio-like picture of the author. In it he is clean-shaven, though all the known pictures of him during this period in his life show him wearing the beard he grew to cover the rash on his face. Surely, any photograph taken on the Francesco Morosini would have documented this fact.


This essay was first published in the Hemingway Review. Copyright 2013 “Hemingway in Madeira in 1954,” Hemingway Review, Spring 2013, Volume 32 pp. 122-28. Reprinted with permission.


George Monteiro, professor emeritus of English and of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at Brown University, is the author or editor of books on Henry James, Henry Adams, Robert Frost, Stephen Crane, Emily Dickinson, Fernando Pessoa, and Luis de Camões, among others. He served as Fulbright lecturer in American Literature in Brazil–São Paulo and Bahia–Ecuador and Argentina; and as Visiting Professor in UFMG in Belo Horizonte. In 2007 he served as Helio and Amelia Pedroso / Luso-American Foundation Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Among his recent books are Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature, The Presence of Pessoa, The Presence of Camões, Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop, Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteen-Century Anglo-American Literature and Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil and After: A poetic Career Transformed. Among his translations are Iberian Poems by Miguel Torga, A Man Smiles at Death with Half a Face by José Rodrigues Miguéis, Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems by Fernando Pessoa, and In Crete, with the Minotaur, and Other Poems by Jorge de Sena. He has also published two collections of poems, The Coffee Exchange and Double Weaver’s Knot. More…

Recent Posts by Professor George Monteiro