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Ernest Hemingway
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 Italian government.

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 artistically fruitful.

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 breakdown.

Major Novels

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 homosexuality.

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 Madrid.

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 literary.

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.

Last Works

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 2, 1961.

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 achievements.

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 1924.

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 Also Rises.

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 influenced Hemingway.

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.











This web page was last updated on: 10 December, 2008