Ernest Miller Hemingway 1899-1961
The works of Ernest Hemingway have always topped my list of favorite literature
. Once upon a time
when I was a sophomore in high school I was forced to read The Old man and the Sea
. After getting over the initial shock of the size of the novel, a mere 127 pages. I was immediately taken with his simple writing style. When my English
teacher got around to telling us about Hemingway himself, I knew I was in love. There was something in this larger than life character and the way he suffered that struck a chord.
In college Mr. Hemingway managed to find his way into several of my literature classes. It was the works of Hemingway as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald that influenced my decision to pursue English, particularly American Literature, as my second major. By the time I graduated I had read all of his works as well as a few biographical works.
The brief biography that follows is a skeletal outline of the life that continues to inspire many even 40 years after his death.
Ernest Miller Hemingway began his life humbly enough on the morning of July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois
. In the nearly sixty two years of his life to follow he lived the life of a great movie, both as its subject and its star .Between his many adventures he went onto write over 25 works in all. His literary reputation remains one of the greatest in American history
. He has captivated the hearts of readers and critics, not to mention the occasional fellow adventurer.
Hemingway was born in his family's home and was the second of six children. His parents, Dr. Clarence, and Grace Hall Hemingway raised him in the small upper middle-class suburb of Chicago, Oak park. It was a conservative town that prided itself on not being overcome with the liberal ways of nearby Chicago. Hemingway was raised with with strong emphasis on religion, hard work, and determination. When looking back on his hometown Hemingway referred to it as a town of "wide lawns and narrow minds".1
As a boy he was taught by his father to hunt and fish in the area surrounding Lake Michigan. They often spent time in the summers in their vacation home they called Windemere. He also enjoyed squirrel hunting and various other outdoor activities. He attended the public school in Oak Park and was active in several sports including basketball and football. Hemingway also worked on his school's paper the Trapeze, for which he wrote many articles, mostly humorous and somewhat satirical.
World War I
Upon his graduation in 1917, Hemingway opted to take a job as a reporter for the Kansas City Star
rather than attend college. The newspaper advocated short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy. Hemingway later said: "Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten them."2
This job was not to last long however, upon America's entering WWI
Hemingway tried to enlist. He was turned down though due to his poor vision, and ultimately signed up with the Red Cross
as an ambulance driver.
When Hemingway reached Europe he went first to Paris, then traveled to Milan in early June after receiving his orders. There in Italy Hemingway was quickly introduced to the horrors of war. The day after he arrived a nearby factory blew up and he had to carry the wounded, as well as the dead from the site. Then on July 8, 1918, Hemingway was seriously wounded while delivering cigarettes to the soldiers near the front. The details as to what followed that day are sketchy, but one account details a wounded Hemingway carrying a wounded soldier back to the first aide station. Hemingway described his experience to a friend as "There was one of those big noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you'd pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. It flew all around and then came back and went in again and I wasn't dead any more."3 Hemingway was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valor, and sent to the hospital in Milan to recover from his injuries. It was there that he met an older nurse by the name of Agnes von Kurowsky, who went onto inspire the novel A Farewell to Arms.
Birth of an Author
Upon his return to Oak Park, Hemingway was restless. He did a few speaking engagements and wrote for the Toronto Star Weekly
. It was around this time Hemingway met Hadley Richardson, the two quickly fell in love
and were married in September of 1921. Later this same year Hemingway accepted a position as European
correspondent for the Star Weekly
. Hemingway and his new wife moved to Paris in December of 1921. While in Paris Hemingway met some of the famous artists and writers living there including Ezra Pound
, Gertrude Stein
, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce
, Max Eastman, Lincoln Steffens and Picasso
. It was during this time that Hemingway became part of the American expatriate
culture that flourished in Paris, it was also during this time that Hemingway discovered bull fighting
The Key West Years
In 1925 Hemingway published his first collection of short stories In Our Time
. Later in 1926 his first novel, The Sun Also Rises,
came out. During this time Hemingway also worked on Men Without Women
and A Farewell to Arms
Hemingway's career was taking off, but his personal life seemed to be suffering. In 1927 he divorced Hadley, and married Pauline Pfeiffer. In 1928 he and Pfeiffer moved from Paris
to Key West
, where they would live for the next 12 years. It was also in 1928 that Hemingway was hit with the suicide
of his father. Clarence Hemingway who was plagued with diabetes
, as well as mounting financial worries, had shot himself in the head.
During his years in Key West, Hemingway published several more works including Death in the Afternoon and Winner Take Nothing. In 1933 Hemingway embarked on his first African safari, which would inspire such classics as The Green Hills of Africa and the short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Then in March 1937 Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Hemingway supported the communist loyalists who in turn supported the democratically elected government. It was during this time when home in Key West that he fell in love with a fellow writer, Martha Gellhorn. The two met at what is the now famous Sloppy Joe’s bar . They often travelled together, and four years later Hemingway divorced Pfeiffer and married Gelhorn. His experiences in Spain were put to use in the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls and the play The Fifth Column.
World War II
After marrying Gelhorn, Hemingway moved to Cuba
. There he finished For Whom the Bell Tolls.
The book was a huge success and sold over 500,000 copies in six months.
The next ten years Hemingway did very little, he worked on The Garden of Eden and Islands in the Stream, neither of which he seemed to be able to complete. He also did a bit of dispatch work during the Chinese-Japanese War in 1941, and in 1942 along with some friends went out in his boat, Pilar, hunting for German submarines in the Atlantic. This last mission was unsuccessful and just proved to be a good time for Hemingway and his friends.
In 1944 Hemingway went to London to write about the war. Shortly after his arrival in Europe Hemingway was involved in a car accident and had to have over fifty stitches. When his wife Mary got there, she was less than sympathetic and berated him about being involved in a drunken auto wreck. That incident signaled the end of Hemingway's third marriage.
Hemingway didn't grieve for long, he soon began a courtship with Mary Welsh who would go on to become Hemingway's fourth and final wife. It was shortly after his meeting Mary that one of the most beloved real-life Hemingway stories took place.
In late August of 1944 Hemingway and his band of irregular soldiers entered Paris. Hemingway was always fond of saying he was the first to enter Paris en route to its liberation, but the story is a stretch. He did liberate his favorite bar and hotel though. He set up camp in The Ritz Hotel and spent the next week or so drinking, carousing and celebrating his return to the city that meant so much to him as a young man.4
After this escapade Hemingway went on to report about the American
advance across Germany
, some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. Upon returning home Hemingway wrote Across the River and into the Trees
. This book was bashed by the critics as sentimental
and boorish. This failure seemed to slow Hemingway down for a time and it wasn't until 1952 that his work was published. This next work went on to be his most famous. The Old Man and the Sea
was published in Life
magazine and sold out immediately. The book was a huge success and led to Hemingway winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
in 1953, and in 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature
The Last Years
In the years to follow Hemingway began to have numerous health problems. He suffered from blood pressure problems as well as a deteriorating mental state. He couldn't concentrate on his work, and what he did write he felt wasn't good enough
. During this time he worked on what would become the posthumously published novels A Moveable Feast
and True At First Light.
In 1960 Hemingway and moved from Cuba to Ketchum, Idaho
. Soon after his move he was admitted to the Mayo Clinic
, and underwent treatment including shock therapy
Hemingway received "between 11 to 15 shock treatments that instead of helping him most certainly hastened his demise." One of the sad side effects of shock therapy is the loss of memory, and for Hemingway it was a catastrophic loss. Without his memory he could no longer write, could no longer recall the facts and images he required to create his art. Writing, which had already become difficult was now nearly impossible.5
According to Mary after his release Hemingway was "never better for a moment"6
. He suffered depression
, and threatened suicide on more than one occasion.
On July 2, 1961 Hemingway rose early, as he had his entire adult life He went into his basement and selected a shotgun
from the closet, he then went upstairs to a spot near the entrance-way of the house and shot himself in the head. It was little more than two weeks before his 62nd birthday
Since his death Hemingway has continued to accumulate fans. His exciting and ultimately tragic story have made him an American icon. The story of his life has been retold in countless biographies and historical fictions. His own story which would later inspire A Farewell to Arms
even made its way to the silver screen in 1996 under the title In Love and War.
Although a good movie, anyone interested in the life of Ernest Hemingway, really should check out some of the better biographical works out there. There are many out there to choose from and I have found that the ones I used here to be particularly informative.
And last but not least, for a very nice list of Hemingway's published works check out the list compiled by gitm, with the addition of the last two posthumously published works. The Garden of Eden was published in 1986, and True at First Light, was published in 1999.
1 Reynolds,The Young Hemingway, 144.
2Mellow,Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences, 193.
Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, 32.
4Mellow,Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences, 391.
5Mellow,Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences, 559.
6Kert, The Hemingway Women, 521.
Baker, Carlos. Hemingway: A Life Story.New York: Charles Scribners Son's, 1969.
Mellow, James R. Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences.Boston:Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
Kert, Bernice. The Hemingway Women. New York: W.W. Norton, 1983.
Reynolds, Michael S.The Young Hemingway.New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986.