1899 - 1961
Ernest Miller Hemingway, American Nobel Prize-winning author,
was one of the most celebrated and influential literary stylists
of the 20th century.
Ernest Hemingway was a legend in his own life-time - in a sense,
a legend of his own making. He worked hard at being a composite
of all the manly attributes he gave to his fictional heroes - a
hard drinker, big-game hunter, fearless soldier, amateur boxer,
and bullfight aficionado. Because the man and his fiction often
seemed indistinguishable, critics have had difficulty judging
his work objectively. His protagonists - virile and laconic -
have been extravagantly praised and vehemently denounced. In his
obsession with violence and death, the Hemingway creation has
been rivaled only by the Byronic myth of the 19th century.
Despite sensational publicity and personal invective, Hemingway
now ranks among America's great writers. His critical stature
rests solidly upon a small body of exceptional writing,
distinguished for its stylistic purity, emotional veracity,
moral integrity, and dramatic intensity of vision.
Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Ill., on July 21, 1899.
His father was a country physician, who taught his son hunting
and fishing; his mother was a religiously puritanical woman,
active in church affairs, who led her boy to play the cello and
sing in the choir. Hemingway's early years were spent largely in
combating the repressive feminine influence of his mother and
nurturing the masculine influence of his father. He spent the
summers with his family in the woods of northern Michigan, where
he often accompanied his father on professional calls. The
discovery of his father's apparent cowardice, later depicted in
the short story "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," and his
suicide several years later left the boy with an emotional scar.
Despite the intense pleasure Hemingway derived from outdoor
life, and his popularity in high school - where he distinguished
himself as a scholar and athlete - he ran away from home twice.
However, his first real chance for escape came in 1917, when the
United States entered World War I. He volunteered for active
service in the infantry but was rejected because of eye trouble.
After spending several months as a reporter for the Kansas City
Star, Hemingway enlisted in the Red Cross medical service,
driving an ambulance on the Italian front. He was badly wounded
in the knee at Fossalta di Piave; yet, still under heavy mortar
fire, he carried a wounded man on his back a considerable
distance to the aid station. After having over 200 shell
fragments removed from his legs and body, Hemingway next
enlisted in the Italian infantry, served on the Austrian front
until the armistice, and was decorated for bravery by the
Learning His Trade
Shortly after the war Hemingway worked as a foreign
correspondent in the Near East for the Toronto Star. When he
returned to Michigan, he had already decided to commit himself
to fiction writing. His excellent journalism and the publication
in magazines of several experimental short stories had impressed
the well-known author Sherwood Anderson, who, when Hemingway
decided to return to Europe, gave him letters of introduction to
expatriates Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. Hemingway and his
bride, Hadley Richardson, journeyed to Paris, where he served
his literary apprenticeship under these two prominent authors.
Despite the abject poverty in which he and his wife lived, these
were the happiest years of Hemingway's life, as well as the most
In 1923 Hemingway published his first book, Three Stories and
Ten Poems. The poems are insignificant, but the stories give
strong indication of his emerging genius. "Out of Season"
already contains the psychological tension and moral ambivalence
characteristic of his mature work. With In Our Time (1925)
Hemingway's years of apprenticeship ended. In this collection of
stories, he drew on his experiences while summering in Michigan
to depict the initiation into the world of pain and violence of
young Nick Adams, a prototype for later Hemingway heroes. The
atrocities he had witnessed as a journalist in the Near East
became the brief vignettes about intense suffering that formed
inter chapters for the collection. One story, "Indian Camp,"
which sets the tone for the entire volume, has Nick accompanying
his father, Dr. Adams, on a call during which the physician
performs a caesarean operation with no anesthetic. They discover
afterward that the squaw's husband, unable to bear his wife's
screams, has killed himself by nearly severing his head with a
razor. The story is written in Hemingway's characteristically
terse, economic prose. "The End of Something" and "The Three Day
Blow" deal with Nick's disturbed reaction to the end of a love
affair. "The Big Two hearted River" describes a young man just
returned from war and his desperate attempt to prevent mental
Hemingway returned to the United States in 1926 with the
manuscripts of two novels and several short stories. The
Torrents of Spring (1926), a parody of Sherwood Anderson, was
written very quickly, largely for the purpose of breaking his
contract with Boni and Liveright, who was also Anderson's
publisher. That May, Scribner's issued Hemingway's second novel,
The Sun Also Rises. This novel, the major statement of the "lost
generation," describes a group of expatriate Americans and
Englishmen, all of whom have suffered physically and emotionally
during the war; their aimless existence vividly expresses the
spiritual bankruptcy and moral atrophy of an entire generation.
Hemingway's second volume of short stories, Men without Women
(1927), contains "The Killers," about a man who refuses to run
from gangsters determined to kill him; "The Light of the World,"
dealing with Nick Adams's premature introduction to the
sickening world of prostitution and homosexuality; and "The
Undefeated," concerning an aging bullfighter whose courage and
dedication constitute a moral victory in the face of physical
defeat and death.
In December 1929 A Farewell to Arms was published. This novel
tells the story of a tragically terminated love affair between
an American soldier and an English nurse, starkly silhouetted
against the bleakness of war and a collapsing world order. It
contains a philosophical expression of the Hemingway code of
stoical endurance in a violent age: "The world breaks everyone,"
reflects the protagonist, "and afterward many are strong in the
broken places. But those that it will not break it kills. It
kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave
impartially. If you are none of those you can be sure that it
will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry."
Hemingway revealed his passionate interest in bull-fighting in
Death in the Afternoon (1932), a humorous and inventive
nonfiction study. In 1933 Scribner's published his final
collection of short stories, Winner Take Nothing. This volume,
containing his most bitter and disillusioned writing, deals
almost exclusively with emotional breakdown, impotence, and
Hemingway's African safari in 1934 provided the material for
another nonfiction work, The Green Hills of Africa (1935), as
well as two of his finest short stories, "The Short Happy Life
of Francis Macomber" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." Both
stories concern attainment of self-realization and moral
integrity through contact with fear and death.
Hemingway wrote To Have and Have Not (1937) in response to the
1930s depression. The novel, inadequately conceived and poorly
executed, deals with a Florida smuggler whose illegal activities
and frequent brutalities mask his sense of ethics and strength
of character. Mortally wounded by the gangsters with whom he has
been dealing, the individualistic hero comes to the startling
realization that "One man alone ain't got no - chance."
The chief political catalyst in Hemingway's life was the Spanish
Civil War. In 1936 he had returned to Spain as a newspaper
reporter and participated in raising funds for the Spanish
Republic until the war's end in 1939. In 1937 he collaborated on
the documentary film The Spanish Earth. Hemingway's only writing
during this period was a play, The Fifth Column (1936; produced
in New York in 1940), a sincere but dramatically ineffective
attempt to portray the conditions prevailing during the siege of
Seventeen months after that war ended, Hemingway completed For
Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). His most ambitious novel, it
describes an American professor's involvement with a loyalist
guerrilla band and his brief, idyllic love affair with a Spanish
girl. A vivid, intelligently conceived narrative, it is written
in less lyrical and more dramatic prose than his earlier work.
Hemingway deliberately avoided having the book used as
propaganda, despite its strained attempt at an affirmative
resolution, by carefully balancing fascist atrocities with a
heartless massacre by a peasant mob.
World War II
Following the critical and popular success of For Whom the Bell
Tolls, Hemingway lapsed into a literary silence that lasted a
full decade and was largely the result of his strenuous,
frequently reckless, activities during World War II. In 1942 as
a Collier's correspondent with the 3d Army, he witnessed some of
the bloodiest battles in Europe. Although he served in no
official capacity, he commanded a personal battalion of over 200
troops and was granted the respect and privileges normally
accorded a general. At this time he received the affectionate
appellation of "Papa" from his admirers, both military and
In 1944 while in London, Hemingway met and soon married Mary
Welsh, a Time reporter. His three previous marriages - to Hadley
Richardson, mother of one son; to Pauline Pfeiffer, mother of
his second and third sons; and to Martha Gelhorn - had all ended
in divorce. Following the war, Hemingway and his wife purchased
a home, Finca Vigia, near Havana, Cuba. Hemingway's only
literary work was some anecdotal articles for Esquire; the
remainder of his time was spent fishing, hunting, battling
critics, and providing copy for gossip columnists. In 1950 he
ended his literary silence with Across the River and into the
Trees, a narrative, flawed by maudlin self-pity, about a retired
Army colonel dying of a heart condition in Venice and his dreamy
love affair with a pubescent girl.
Hemingway's remarkable gift for recovery once again asserted
itself in 1952 with the appearance of a novella about an
extraordinary battle between a tired old Cuban fisherman and a
giant marlin. The Old Man and the Sea, immediately hailed a
masterpiece, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. Although
lacking the emotional tensions of his longer works, this novella
possesses a generosity of spirit and reverence for life which
make it an appropriate conclusion for Hemingway's career. In
1954 Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Hemingway's rapidly deteriorating physical condition and an
increasingly severe psychological disturbance drastically
curtailed his literary capabilities in the last years of his
life. A nostalgic journey to Africa planned by the author and
his wife in 1954 ended in their plane crash over the Belgian
Congo. Hemingway suffered severe burns and internal injuries
from which he never fully recovered. Additional strain occurred
when the revolutionary Cuban government of Fidel Castro forced
the Hemingways to leave Finca Vigía. After only a few months in
their new home in Ketchum, Idaho, Hemingway was admitted to the
Mayo Clinic to be treated for hypertension and emotional
depression and was later treated by electroshock therapy.
Scornful of an illness which humiliated him physically and
impaired his writing, he killed himself with a shotgun on July
Shortly after Hemingway's death, literary critic Malcolm Cowley
and scholar Carlos Baker were entrusted with the task of going
through the writer's remaining manuscripts to decide what
material might be publishable. The first posthumous work, A
Moveable Feast (1964), is an elegiac reminiscence of Hemingway's
early years in Paris, containing some fine writing as well as
brilliant vignettes of his famous contemporaries. A year later
the Atlantic Monthly published a few insignificant short stories
and two long, rambling poems. In 1967 William White edited a
collection of Hemingway's best journalism under the title
By-Line Ernest Hemingway.
Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in suburban Oak
Park, IL, to Dr. Clarence and Grace Hemingway. Ernest was the
second of six children to be raised in the quiet suburban town.
His father was a physician, and both parents were devout
Christians. In this context, Hemingway's childhood pursuits
fostered the interests which would blossom into literary
Although Grace hoped her son would be influenced by her musical
interests, young Hemingway preferred to accompany his father on
hunting and fishing trips. This love of outdoor adventure would
be reflected later in many of Hemingway's stories, particularly
those featuring protagonist Nick Adams.
Hemingway also had an aptitude for physical challenge that
engaged him through high school, where he both played football
and boxed. Because of permanent eye damage contracted from
numerous boxing matches, Hemingway was repeatedly rejected from
service in World War I. Boxing provided more material for
Hemingway's stories, as well as a habit of likening his literary
feats to boxing victories.
Hemingway also edited his high school newspaper and reported for
the Kansas City Star, adding a year to his age after graduating
from high school in 1917.
After this short stint, Hemingway finally was able to
participate in World War I as an ambulance driver for the
American Red Cross. He was wounded on July 8, 1918, on the
Italian front near Fossalta di Piave. During his convalescence
in Milan, he had an affair with nurse Agnes von Kurowsky.
Hemingway was given two decorations by the Italian government,
and he joined the Italian infantry. Fighting on the Italian
front inspired the plot of A Farewell to Arms in 1929. Indeed,
war itself is a major theme in Hemingway's works. Hemingway
would witness firsthand the cruelty and stoicism required of the
soldiers he would portray in his writing when covering the
Greco-Turkish War in 1920 for the Toronto Star. In 1937 he was a
war correspondent in Spain, and the events of the Spanish Civil
War inspired For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Upon returning briefly to the United States after the First
World War, Hemingway worked for the Toronto Star and lived for a
short time in Chicago. There, he met Sherwood Anderson and
married Hadley Richardson in 1921. On Anderson's advice, the
couple moved to Paris, where he served as foreign correspondent
for the Star. As Hemingway covered events on all of Europe, the
young reporter interviewed important leaders such as Lloyd
George, Clemenceau, and Mussolini.
The Hemingways lived in Paris from 1921-1926. This time of
stylistic development for Hemingway reached its zenith in 1923
with the publication of Three Stories and Ten Poems by Robert
McAlmon in Paris and the birth of his son John. This time in
Paris also inspired the novel A Moveable Feast, published
posthumously in 1964.
In January 1923 Hemingway began writing sketches that would
appear in In Our Time, which was published in 1924. In August of
1923 he and Hadley returned to Toronto where he worked once
again for the Star. At this point he had no writing that was not
committed to publication, and in the coming months his job kept
him from starting anything new. But this time off from writing
gave him renewed energy upon his return to Paris in January of
During his time in Toronto he read Joyce's Dubliners, which
forever changed his writing career. By August of 1924 he had the
majority of In Our Time written. Although there was a period
when his publisher Horace Liverwright wanted to change much of
the collection, Hemingway stood firm and refused to change even
one word of the book.
In Paris, Hemingway used Sherwood Anderson's letter of
introduction to meet Gertrude Stein and enter the world of
expatriate authors and artists who inhabited her intellectual
circle. The famous description of this "lost generation" was
born of an employee's remark to Hemingway, and it became
immortalized as the epigraph for his first major novel, The Sun
This "lost generation" both characterized the postwar generation
and the literary movement it produced. In the 1920s, writers
such as Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound,
and Gertrude Stein decried the false ideals of patriotism that
led young people to war, only to the benefit of materialistic
elders. These writers held that the only truth was reality, and
thus life could be nothing but hardship. This tenet strongly
The late 1920s were a time of many publications for Hemingway.
In 1926, The Torrents of Spring and The Sun Also Rises were
published by Charles Scribner's Sons.
In 1927 Hemingway published a short story collection, i[Men
Without Women]. In the same year he divorced Hadley Richardson
and married Pauline Pfieffer, a writer for Vogue. In 1928 they
moved to Key West, where sons Patrick and Gregory were born in
1929 and 1932. 1928 was a year of both success and sorrow for
Hemingway. In this year A Farewell to Arms was published, and
his father committed suicide. Clarence Hemingway had been
suffering from hypertension and diabetes. This painful
experience is reflected in the pondering of Robert Jordan in For
Whom the Bell Tolls.
In addition to personal experiences with war and death,
Hemingway's extensive travel in pursuit of hunting and other
sports provided a great deal of material for his novels.
Bullfighting inspired Death in the Afternoon, published in 1932.
In 1934, Hemingway went on safari in Africa, which gave him new
themes and scenes on which to base The Snows of Kilamanjaro and
The Green Hills of Africa, published in 1935.
In 1937 he traveled to Spain as a war correspondent, and he
published To Have and Have Not. After his divorce from Pauline
in 1940, Hemingway married Martha Gelhorn, a writer. They toured
China before settling in Cuba at Finca Vigia (Look-out Farm).
For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in the same year.
During World War II, Hemingway volunteered his fishing boat and
served with the U.S. Navy as a submarine spotter in the
Caribbean. In 1944, he traveled through Europe with the Allies
as a war correspondent and participated in the liberation of
Paris. Hemingway divorced again in 1945 and then married Mary
Welsh, a correspondent for Time magazine, in 1946. They lived in
Venice before returning to Cuba.
In 1950 he published Across the River and Into the Trees, though
it was not received with the usual critical acclaim. In 1952,
however, Hemingway proved the comment "Papa is finished" wrong,
in that The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953.
In 1954, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In 1960, the now aged Hemingway moved to Ketchum, Idaho, where
he was hospitalized for uncontrolled high blood pressure, liver
disease, diabetes, and depression.
On July 2, 1961, he died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. He
was buried in Ketchum. "Papa" was both a legendary celebrity and
a sensitive writer, and his influence, as well as some unseen
writings, survived his passing. In 1964, A Moveable Feast was
published; in 1969, The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the
Spanish Civil War; in 1970, Islands in the Stream; in 1972, The
Nick Adams Stories; in 1985, The Dangerous Summer; and in 1986,
The Garden of Eden.
Hemingway's own life and character are as fascinating as any in
his stories. On one level, Papa was a legendary adventurer who
enjoyed his flamboyant lifestyle and celebrity status. But deep
inside lived a disciplined author who worked tirelessly in
pursuit of literary perfection. His success in both living and
writing is reflected in the fact that Hemingway is a hero to
intellectuals and rebels alike; the passions of the man are
equaled only by those in his writing.
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This web page was last updated on:
10 December, 2008