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The second of six children, Ernest Miller Hemingway became an American novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and sportsman (a boxer). Born in 1899, his father was a doctor and his mother a musician. They lived at Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Ernest was like several other American writers, working as a journalist before becoming a novelist. After graduating from high school, he worked as a junior reporter for The Kansas City Star, where he quickly learned that truth often lurks below the surface of a story. He learned about corruption in city politics and that in hospital emergency rooms and police stations, a mask of cynicism was worn “like armour to shield whatever vulnerabilities remained”. In his pieces, he wrote about relevant events, excluding the background.
In World War I, Hemingway left The Kansas City Star for the Italian Front to enlist as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross (he had been rejected for military service because of a defective eye). In 1918, he was seriously wounded in both legs by mortar and machine-gun fire and returned home. Although not Italian, Hemingway was decorated by the Italian Government with the Silver Medal of Military Valor for his efforts. His wartime experiences formed the basis for his novel A Farewell to Arms (1929).
Ernest Hemingway in Cuba
As the foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, while living in Paris in the early 1920s, he covered the Greco-Turkish War in more than a dozen articles before resigning from journalism to devote himself to fiction.
Hemingway’s succinct and lucid prose style—which he called the iceberg theory—had a powerful influence on American and British fiction in the 20th century, while his adventurous lifestyle and his public image brought him admiration from later generations.
Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short-story collections, and two nonfiction works. Three of his books, four short-story collections, and three nonfiction works were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature. Hemingway used his experiences as a reporter during the civil war in Spain as the background for his most ambitious novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Among his later works, the most outstanding is the short novel, The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the story of an old fisherman’s journey, his long and lonely struggle with a fish and the sea, and his victory in defeat.
In 1921, Hemingway married Hadley Richardson, the first of four wives, and said to be his favourite. They moved to Paris, where he worked as a foreign correspondent and fell under the influence of the modernist writers and artists of the 1920s’ so-called “Lost Generation” expatriate community. His debut novel The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926.
He divorced Richardson in 1927. He then married Pauline Pfeiffer. They divorced after he returned from the Spanish Civil War, which he had covered as a journalist. His experiences in that arena provided the basis for his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).
Martha Gellhorn became his third wife in 1940. But he and Gellhorn separated after he met Mary Welsh in London during World War II. Hemingway was present with Allied troops as a journalist at the Normandy landings and the liberation of Paris.
A Larger than Life Figure
Ernest Hemingway was a larger than life figure. A boxer, a journalist. Among his many passions – which included bullfighting, war, and hunting animals, was a passion for horses and betting.
He volunteered to drive ambulances in World War I as a teenager, fought in and reported on the Spanish civil war, helped free Paris at the end of World War II. He was the lover of many women, husband of four, and winner of a Nobel Prize. He was a man who almost came to blows with Orson Welles once and with many others. He befriended gunslingers, bullfighters, soldiers, fishermen, and even Fidel Castro himself. Ernest Hemingway is famous for being one of the most appreciated American fiction writers of all time, but his personal life is no less interesting. A tough, hard-driving, hard-drinking, larger-than-life figure who hunted big game on the savannah, cheered toreadors, he covered wars, and he always, always wrote.
Something else the great writer did in his later years, was fishing. He loved it. But he didn’t just fish for large sea creatures to show off – Hemingway fished for U-boats: he had a sonar installed in his ship and informed the CIA of the whereabouts and movements of Russian submarines. He did so as he was living in Cuba.
A Survivor but Emotionally Troubled
Hemingway was also a genuine survivor, too. He had a troubled emotional life yet lived through anthrax, malaria, pneumonia, dysentery, skin cancer, hepatitis, anaemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, two plane crashes, a ruptured kidney, a ruptured spleen, a ruptured liver, a crushed vertebra, and a fractured skull. It seemed as if the only thing that could kill Hemingway was Hemingway himself. Alas, this was precisely what happened – he believed the FBI would ransack his things and follow him around. This belief and other borderline psychotic episodes prompted his fourth wife (Mary Welsh Hemingway, an American journalist and author, to whom he was married in 1946) to admit him to a mental hospital. There, he received electric shocks until he could no longer remember his name, let alone write. Shortly after his 36th electric shock, he killed himself with a shotgun. Ironically, the FBI later admitted they were following Hemingway, although it is unclear why they were doing so.
The Hemingway Letters Project
The Hemingway Letters Project produces a comprehensive scholarly edition of the author’s 6,000 letters, approximately 85 per cent of them never before published. The edition is being published by Cambridge University Press in a projected seventeen volumes. The project is authorised by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/Society and the Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust, holders, respectively, of the U.S. and international rights to the letters. There’s a video introduction to the Letters Project with commentary by Sandra Spanier and Patrick Hemingway at: https://www.hemingwaysociety.org/hemingway-letters-project
Videos and Films
You can enjoy an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s classic American short story “My Old Man” – click here or unpack the story and learn about the author’s time as an expatriate in Paris – click here.
Other online videos can be viewed by clicking:
Several of Hemingway’s books were made into films, including:
- A Farewell to Arms – a 1932 romance drama film directed by Frank Borzage and starring Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper, and Adolphe Menjou. The film received Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Art Direction.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls is a 1943 American war film produced and directed by Sam Wood and starred Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.
- The Killers – a 1946 American film noir directed by Robert Siodmak and starred Burt Lancaster (in his film debut), Ava Gardner and Edmond O’Brien. The film earned four Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Film Editing.
- The Old Man and the Sea – a 1958 American adventure drama film directed by John Sturges. The film was based on Hemingway’s 1952 novel of the same name. The film starred Spencer Tracy. Dimitri Tiomkin won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on the film.
- To Have and Have Not – a 1944 American romance-war-adventure film directed by Howard Hawks. It was loosely based on Hemingway’s 1937 novel of the same name. It starred Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan and Lauren Bacall.
- The Snows of Kilimanjaro – a 1952 American technicolour film based on Hemingway’s 1936 short story of the same name. Directed by Henry King, it was written by Casey Robinson and starred Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner. The film was nominated for two Oscars for Best Cinematography, Color and Best Art Direction, Color.
Sources and Further Reading
- From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1954/hemingway/biographical/
Courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. ↑