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Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, 1950. (Credit: A.E. Hotchner)
Ernest Hemingway, 1950. (Credit: A.E. Hotchner)

Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899July 2, 1961) was an American author. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho.



Hemingway was one of the 20th century's most important and influential writers, and many details of his own life have become nearly as well-known as has his work, along with his absence of punctuation. His image was of a stoic, macho, adventurous figure, and he often drew heavily on his own experiences for his writing.

He was a leading figure of the so-called Lost Generation. Hemingway's fiction, especially his early work, was dominated by two types of characters. The first type were people altered by their World War I experiences, people who'd become detached and cynical, yet emotionally needy. The second type of character — perhaps a response to the first type — is a simple, plainspoken individual of direct emotions, who finds fulfillment or even redemption in fishing, bullfighting or other physical activities.

Death and violence were constant themes in Hemingway's life and writing. He saw violence in both World Wars, and in the Spanish Civil War. Hunting was among his favorite interests. He was notoriously accident-prone, perhaps due to his adventurous life.

Hemingway created one myth after the other about himself: he claimed he had an affair with Mata Hari and that he joined the Arditi after his wounding in the first World War, among other accounts. Many people were perfectly willing to believe these tales, unlikely as they often were.

Hemingway was sometimes captured or challenged in his lies, and the discrepancy between himself and the idealized image he had created has been cited as a factor in his troubled life and eventual suicide. Hemingway probably suffered from depression, which was aggravated by his alcoholism.

Early Life

Hemingway was born at eight o'clock in the morning on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. His father was a physician, and the family lived a comfortable, protected life.

His mother, Grace Hall Hemingway , dressed and raised him as a girl for part of his life, calling him "Ernestine". Accounts vary from two years[1] to six years[2] to even his teens[3]. Some reports claim that, when Hemingway was born, his mother fantasized that he was the twin of his older, 18-month-old sister, Marcelline. Some accounts hold that she dressed them both as girls and let their hair grow long, then later cut their hair and dressed them both as boys.

For two months each summer, Hemingway was allowed to attend a boys' camp, where he could dress and live as a boy[4].

In his youth, Hemingway joined his father hunting; at ten, he got his first shotgun. He enjoyed a good fight, and boxing was a lifelong passion. (Some of his Nick stories seem partly based on his experiences at this time.)

After high school, Hemingway worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. He adopted as his personal standard the main directives of the newspaper's stylebook: "Brevity, a reconciliation of vigour with smoothness, the positive approach".

First World War

Hemingway left his reporting job after only a few months, and, against his father's wishes, tried to join the United States Army. He did not pass the medical examination due to poor vision.

Later, he enlisted in the American Field Service ambulance Corps and left for Italy, then mired in World War I. En route to the Italian front, he stopped in Paris. The city was under constant bombardment from German artillery.

Instead of staying in the relative safety of the Hotel Florida , Hemingway asked the cab driver to bring him to the place where the shells were falling. Hemingway wouldn't stop looking for enemy fire until one shell tore apart the facade of a church at the Place de la Madelaine nearby. (He later said: "I was an awful dope when I went to the last war...")

Not long after arriving in Italy, Hemingway saw the brutalities of war: On his first day of duty, an ammunition factory near Milan suffered an explosion. Hemingway had to pick up human remains, mostly of women who'd worked at the factory.

This first and extremely cruel encounter with human death left him shaken. The soldiers he met later didn't lighten this horror: Eric Dorman-Smith quoted Shakespeare's Henry IV Part Two: "By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe god a death . . . and let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the next" (Burgess (9.), p. 24). A 50-year-old soldier, to whom Hemingway said "You're troppo vecchio for this war, pop." replied "I can die as well as any man." (Burgess (9.), p. 24). Hemingway, for his part, would conjure this very same Shakespearean line ("we owe god a death") in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, one of his later famous African short stories.

On July 8, 1918, at the Italian front Hemingway was wounded delivering supplies to soldiers, ending his career as an ambulance driver.

The exact details of the July 8 attack remain mysterious but two facts are certain: A trench mortar shell hit him leaving fragments in both legs, and he was awarded the Silver Medal of Military Valor (medaglia d'argento) from the Italian government. He may have saved another soldier's life by carrying him on his back.

Hemingway later transferred to the Italian infantry, and was seriously injured.

Convalescing in the Ospedale Croce Rossa Americana, Via Alessandro Manzoni in Milan, he met Sister Hannah Agnes von Kurowsky , a nurse from Washington, DC, and one of eighteen nurses looking after just four patients. He fell for her, but they never were together. Soon after his departure, she fell in love with another man.

(Hemingway once wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald: "We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get a damned hurt use it - don't cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist" (Lynn (13.), p. 10). Some ten years after his painful World War I experiences, A Farewell To Arms was published. The work is heavily autobiographical.)

After the First World War

After being discharged from the Army, Hemingway returned home and in 1920 took a job in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at the Toronto Star newspaper as a freelancer, staff writer, and foreign correspondent.

About this time, Hemingway met Canada's young literary prodigy, Morley Callaghan who also was a cub reporter at the same paper. Callaghan, who respected Hemingway's work, showed his own stories to him and Hemingway praised it as fine work. (The two later joined up in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris, France with F. Scott Fitzgerald and the other expatriate writers of the day.)

In 1921 Hemingway married Hadley Richardson and moved to Paris as a correspondent for the Toronto Star covering the Greco-Turkish War. After the 1922 publication and American banning of colleague James Joyce's Ulysses, Hemingway used Toronto-based friends to smuggle copies of the novel into the United States.

In 1923, Hemingway's first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published in Paris by Robert McAlmon. In the same year, his first son, John, was born in Toronto. Busy supporting a family, he became bored with the Toronto Star, and on January 1, 1924, Hemingway resigned.

The Hemingways decided to live abroad for a while, and, following the advice of Sherwood Anderson, they settled in Paris. Anderson gave Hemingway a letter of introduction to Gertrude Stein. She became his mentor and introduced Hemingway to the "Parisian Modern Movement" then ongoing in Montparnasse Quarter. Hemingway's other mentor was Ezra Pound, the founder of imagism. He was so impressed with Pound that he considered giving him the Nobel Prize gold medal. Hemingway later said of them: "Ezra was right half the time, and when he was wrong, he was so wrong you were never in any doubt about it. Gertrude was always right." (to John Peale Bishop; Cowley (4.), p. xiii).

At the same time, Hemingway became a close friend of James Joyce. These authors and many others met at Sylvia Beach's bookshop, Shakespeare & Co., at 18 Rue de l'Odéon, Paris.

In Montparnasse, Hemingway's favorite restaurant was La Closerie des Lilas. Here, in just over just six weeks, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises.

A tragedy became an unexpected boon when Hemingway's manuscripts, including A Farewell to Arms were stolen at Gare de Lyon. In re-writing A Farewell..., Hemingway had time to reconsider it, thus improving the work. The second version was a great deal less ornate. Hemingway compressed his prose to its bare essentials, related in a nearly journalistic, matter-of-fact style. These features would become essential components of Hemingway's style.

The Sun Also Rises

The 1926 publication of The Sun Also Rises was met with acclaim and success. Hemingway's style rocked the literary scene when it first appeared: it seemed simple on the surface, but was revolutionary in a time when Victorian writing with neo-Gothic decorations still governed the literary world.

Hemingway divorced Hadley Richardson and married Pauline Pfeiffer in 1927. Because of his Roman Catholic faith, some conflicts of conscience arose, but these were eventually overcome. In the one hundred days Hadley ordered him to stay away from Pauline, Hemingway wrote much of Men Without Women .

1927 saw the publication of Men Without Women, a collection of short stories, containing "The Killers," one of Hemingway's best-known and most-anthologized stories.

Hemingway's father committed suicide using an old Civil War era pistol. He couldn't bear the burden of his incurable illnesses. This suicide was doubtless a great pain to Hemingway, who may have been ashamed by the "cowardice" of the act. Another suicide was of Harry Crosby, founder of the Black Sun Press and friend of Hemingway from his days in Paris.

A Farewell To Arms

Hemingway drew heavily on his own World War I experiences for his second major work, A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929. The novel details the romance between Frederic Henry, an American soldier, and Catherine Barkley, a British nurse, ending with her death in labor.

A Farewell to Arms was published at a time when many other World War I books were prominent, including Frederic Manning 's Her Privates We , Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Richard Aldington's Death of a Hero, and Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That.

By this time, Hemingway was no longer in love with Sister von Kurowsky and had divorced Hadley. He had fathered a boy named Patrick who was, like Henry's son in A Farewell to Arms, delivered by Cesarean section. The intense labor pains of his second wife, Pauline, inspired Catherine's labor in the novel.

Having published the successful A Farewell to Arms, the years of financial struggle were ending. Ernest Hemingway was now an author of worldwide renown, happy with Pauline and financially independent.

Many of the novel's characters are based on real-life persons, like Kitty Cannell, who inspired Helen Ferguson, and the priest, who was based on Don Giuseppe Bianchi, the priest of the 69th and 70th regiments of the Brigata Ancona. A mystery is the character Rinaldi, who had already appeared in "In Our Time".

A Farewell to Arms has been criticised as being a male fantasy. Lieutenant Henry always seems to know what to do and say. Women are attracted to him, men respect him, and Italians embrace him as they would a native. Nurse Barkley falls for him so much she thinks of little else. Nobles want to play billiards with him. Henry is always in grave danger, yet he always escapes. The entire novel is built on this kind of fantasy.

Still, it remains an important work.

Things Turn Sour

His books sold very well and were approved by critics, but with Hemingway's success came bad behavior. He told F. Scott Fitzgerald how to write, and told Allen Tate that there was a fixed number of orgasms a man had. He also claimed Ford Madox Ford was sexually impotent . This was perhaps a hint of Hemingway's own sexual neurosis.

In return, Hemingway himself was criticized — and, some claim, bothered by the criticism. The journal Bookman attacked him as a dirty writer. McAlmon, the publisher of his first, non-commercial book said, according to Fitzgerald, Hemingway was "a fag and a wife-beater" (Burgess (9.), p. 57) and that Pauline was a lesbian. Gertrude Stein criticized him in her book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. She claimed Hemingway had derived his prose style from her own and from Sherwood Anderson's, and that this shameful origin was "yellow" (Burgess (9.), p. 64).

Max Eastman was even more confrontational in his attacks, suggesting that Ernest "come out from behind that false hair on the chest" (Times 1961 (15.), p. 6). Eastman would go on to write an essay entitled Bull in the Afternoon , a parody and a satire of Death in the Afternoon, a book dear to Hemingway.

It is worth noting that these attacks on Hemingway's pride and talent were accompanied by the already-mentioned injuries which kept him almost constantly in poor physical shape.

Key West

Following the advice of John Dos Passos, Hemingway moved to Key West where he established his first American home. From his old stone house — a wedding present from Pauline's uncle — Hemingway fished in the Dry Tortugas waters, went to Sloppy Joe's, Key West's famous bar, and traveled to Spain occasionally, gathering material for Death in the Afternoon and Winner Take Nothing .

A collection of pieces mostly about bullfighting, Death In The Afternoon, was published in 1932. He became an aficionado of bullfighting after having seen the Pamplona fiesta of 1925, which was fictionalized in The Sun Also Rises. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway extensively discussed the metaphysics of bullfighting: the ritualized, almost religious practice. In his writings about Spain he was greatly influenced by the Spanish master Pio Baroja (when Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, he travelled to Baroja, then on his death bed, specifically to tell him that he thought Baroja deserved the prize more than he did) although the extent of Baroja's influence is not fully appreciated in the English speaking world.

A safari led him to Mombasa in fall 1932, Nairobi and Machakos in the Mua Hills . The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber were the literary results.

1935 saw the publication of Green Hills of Africa, another nonfiction work, this one based on Hemingway's big game hunting and safaris in Africa

But his good fortune in business, art and marriage was overshadowed by serious attacks on his health (anthrax infection, a cut eyeball, a gash in his forehead, grippe, toothache, hemorrhoids; kidney trouble from fishing in Spain, torn groin muscle, finger gashed to the bone in an accident with a punching ball, laceration of arms, legs and face from a ride on a runaway horse through a deep Wyoming forest, and a car accident resulting in a broken arm.)

Social Criticism

Hemingway's leisurely way of life provoked some criticism: Max Eastman and others demanded greater commitment to the affairs of the people. A young left-winger begged Hemingway to give up his lonely, tight-lipped stoicism and write about truth and justice.

For a while, it seemed he would do so. His article Who Murdered the Vets? for New Masses, a leftist magazine, and his novel To Have and Have Not showed a certain social awareness . Soon, he would take political sides more explicitly.

For Whom The Bell Tolls

In spite of efforts to support the Spanish republicans, Francisco Franco won the Spanish civil war in the spring of 1939. Hemingway had lost his adopted homeland of Spain to Franco's nationalists, and would later lose his beloved Key West home as a result of his 1940 divorce. Furthermore, many of his literary peers were dead or would soon die.

For Whom The Bell Tolls was published in 1940. The novel, which concerns the Spanish Civil War, told of an American man who fought on the side of the Republicans and blew up a bridge to support a Republican offensive against the fascists.

The Second World War

The United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941 and for the first time in his life, Hemingway took an active part in a war.

Aboard the Pilar, now a Q-Ship, Hemingway was ready to fight and sink Nazi submarines threatening the coasts of Cuba and the United States.

It is worth noting that, according to Anthony Burgess, Hemingway never before shot nor would have shot another human being, and that he was a non-combatant in World War I, in the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) he was reporting on after having written For Whom the Bell Tolls and in the Spanish Civil War, where even the money he collected to support the Loyalists was used for non-belligerent purposes.

Perhaps his failure in preventing Fascists from taking Spain — for he was very possessive of this country — had led him to take more drastic actions.

As the FBI took over Caribbean counter-espionage, Hemingway went to Europe, first as war correspondent for Collier's magazine.

At Villedieu-les-Poêles , France, Hemingway threw three grenades into a cellar where SS officers were hiding, a clear violation of the Geneva Convention. It was the first time he had killed a man.

Seemingly encouraged, he declared he would be an unofficial intelligence unit. Later, he acted as an unofficial liaison officer at Château de Rambouillet, and afterwards, he even formed his own partisan group which took part in the liberation of Paris. Some have argued Hemingway tried to emulate the characters he'd created in his fiction.

By firing his machine pistol at a portrait of Mary Welsh 's husband after having placed it atop the toilet bowl in his room in the Hôtel Ritz Paris, he proved he would no longer flinch from killing a man who stood face to face with him.

After the Second World War

After the war, Hemingway started and abandoned a novel about the earth, the sea and the air.

He went to Italy where he gathered material for Across the River and Into the Trees, an homage to Venice. He derived the title from the last words of General Stonewall Jackson. In Across..., his now-divorced third wife appeared as the third wife of the protagonist, Adriana Ivancich as his lover Renata, which means "Reborn" in Latin.

The novel received poor reviews, many of which accused Hemingway of bad taste, stylistic ineptitude and sentimentality. Perhaps the last charge was most true, and fit an emerging pattern: Hemingway was growing old.

The Old Man and the Sea

Main article: The Old Man and the Sea

He started and, depressed by its mediocrity, abandoned a long sea novel to be published posthumously as Islands in the Stream . One section of it was used as the idea for The Old Man and the Sea, which was published in 1952. That novel's enormous success satisfied and fulfilled Hemingway, probably for the last time in his life. It earned him both the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, and restored his international reputation.

Then, his legendary bad luck struck once again: On a safari he was the victim of two successive plane crashes.

Hemingway's injuries were serious: He sprained his right shoulder, arm, and left leg, had a grave overall concussion, temporarily lost his vision in the left eye, his hearing in the left ear, had a paralysis of the sphincter, crushed a vertebra, suffered from a ruptured liver, spleen and kidney and was marked by first degree burns on his face, arms and leg.

As if this was not enough, he was badly injured one month later in a bushfire accident which left him with second degree burns on his legs, front torso, lips, left hand and right forearm. The physical pain caused him to lose his mind. His strength was gone entirely, and so was his will to live. He couldn't even travel to Stockholm personally to accept his Nobel Prize.

Later Years

A glimpse of hope came with the discovery of some of his old manuscripts from 1928 in the Ritz cellars, which were transformed into A Moveable Feast. Although some of his energy seemed to be restored, severe drinking problems kept him down. His blood pressure and cholesterol count were perilously high, he suffered from aortal inflammation, and his depression, aggravated by alcoholism had probably already started.

He also lost his Finca Vigía in San Francisco de Paula and was forced to "exile" to Ketchum, Idaho after the situation in Cuba had started to escalate.

The very last years, 1960 and 1961, were marked by severe paranoia. He feared FBI agents would be after him if Cuba turned to the Russians, that the "Feds" (Burgess (9.), p. ??) would be checking his bank account, and that they wanted to arrest him for gross immorality and carrying alcohol. (The FBI was in fact surveilling Hemingway due to his activities in Cuba.)

Hemingway was upset by perfectly normal photographs in his Dangerous Summer article. He was receiving treatment in Ketchum for high blood pressure and liver problems - and also electroconvulsive therapy for depression and his continued paranoia.


Hemingway attempted suicide in the spring of 1961, and received treatment again, but this was unable to prevent his suicide on July 2, 1961 - at 5:00 AM, he died as a result of a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head. Incidentally, the shotgun used in Hemingway's suicide was purchased at Abercrombie and Fitch.

Hemingway donated his entire Cuban estate to Fidel Castro.

He is interred in the Ketchum Cemetery in Ketchum, Idaho.

(The local public elementry school is named in his honor)

(In 1996, his granddaughter, actress Margaux Hemingway, would take her own life; she is interred in the same cemetery.)


Hemingway's influence on Modern American Literature is arguably wider than anybody elses. His prose and style is known to have inspired that of Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, Douglas Coupland and many of the Generation X breed of writers. However it is also widely knowledged that Hemingway severed as a massive inspiration to Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. J.D Salinger is said to have wanted to be a great American short story writer much in the same vain as Hemingway. Hemingway's impact can even be seen in Latin American literature for example the impact with which Hemingway has had on writer's such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He even had an impact on the modernists his literary circle included avatars such as Joyce (who called A Clean, Well Lighted Place "one of the best stories ever written"). Unlike the widely respected and beloved William Faulkner Hemingway's influence can be more clearly seen across Modern Literature.




Short story collections

In Cinema

  • (1938) Spain in Flames
  • (1962) Adventures Of A Young Man is based on Hemingway's Nick Adams stories. (also known as Hemingway's Adventures Of A Young Man .)

Awards and Honors

During his lifetime, Hemingway was awarded with:


  1. Hemingway, Ernest, A Farewell to Arms. London: Arrow Books, 1994
  2. Hemingway, Ernest (ed. by Carlos Baker), Selected Letters 1917-1961. New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981
  3. Hemingway, Ernest, The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway The First Forty-Nine Stories and the Play The Fifth Column. New York City: Random House, Inc., 1938
  4. Hemingway, Ernest, (ed. and intro. by Malcolm Cowley), The Viking Portable Library Hemingway. New York City: The Viking Press, 1944
  5. Hemingway, Ernest, For Whom the Bell Tolls. London: Arrow Books, 1994
  6. Baker, Carlos (editor), Ernest Hemingway Critiques of Four Major Novels. New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962
  7. Baker, Carlos, Hemingway: The Writerrrrr as Artist. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972
  8. Berridge, H.R., Barron's Book Notes Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms. Stuttgart: Klett, 1990
  9. Burgess, Anthony, Hemingway and his world. Norwich: Thames and Hudson, 1978
  10. Döblin, Alfred, Berlin Alexanderplatz. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 1996
  11. Esslin, Martin (translated from English by Marianne Falk), Das Theater des Absurden. Hamburg, Rowohlt, 1972
  12. Kundera, Milan (translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim), The Unbearable Lightness of Being. London: Faber and Faber, 1991
  13. Lynn, Kenneth S., Hemingway. New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1987
  14. The New Encyclopædia Britannica 15th Edition. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1993
  15. Hemingway's Prize-Winning Works Reflected Preoccupation With Life and Death? The New York Times, CX (July 3, 1961)
  16. PBS Bio
  17. Remembering Papa. Cigar Aficianado. July/August 1999.
  18. Harper Collins Bizarre News.
  19. Hemingway Biography. Rachel Teague, April 2000, New Hampshire Technical Institute, Concord, New Hampshire.


Scan of letter from Hemingway's typewriter

External links

Last updated: 10-15-2005 22:11:44
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