Ernest Hemingway Biography


In his earlier years, Ernest Hemingway relished the nickname "Champ," which exemplified his roistering, hard-fisted outdoor life of adventure. In his later years, he delighted in being called "Papa" and had the reputation of a worldwide celebrities' celebrity, almost a legendary character. He often helped to further the legend in lively ways. During World War II, when he was an American war correspondent, there was no doubt who had helped liberate the Ritz hotel in Paris. A guard was found posted at the entrance with a notice, "Papa took good hotel. Plenty stuff in the cellar."

Hemingway's colorful life began in quiet Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where he was born July21, 1899. His father was a physician, and Ernest was the second of six children born to Dr. and Mrs. Clarence F. Hemingway. His mother, a devout, religious woman with considerable musical talent, hoped that Ernest would develop an interest in music. Ernest acquired his father's enthusiasm for guns and for fishing trips in the Michigan north woods, and that phase of his childhood formed important impressions reflected later in Nick Adams stories like "Indian Camp" and "Big Two-Hearted River."

Hemingway played high school football and learned to box, incurring permanent eye damage that caused the army to reject his repeated efforts to enlist in World War I. Boxing also gave Hemingway a lasting enthusiasm for prize fighting, material for stories, and a tendency to talk of his literary accomplishments later in boxing terms.

He edited the high school newspaper, twice ran away from home, and on graduating from high school, Hemingway headed for Kansas City to enlist despite parental objections that he was too young: seventeen. Rejected by the army, he went to the Kansas City Star, a national newspaper, where he added a year to his age and was hired as a reporter. (For that reason Hemingway's birth date is often given as 1898rather than the correct 1899.)

Finally, Hemingway succeeded in joining a volunteer American Red Cross ambulance unit as a driver. He was so seriously wounded at Fossalta on the Italian Piave on July 8, 1918, that he recalled life slid from him, "like you'd pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by a corner," almost fluttered away, then returned. It is thought by some literary observers that the experience gave Hemingway a fear of his own fear and the lifetime need to continually test his courage through dangerous adventures.

After a dozen operations on his knee and recuperation in Milan, he returned, with an aluminum kneecap and two Italian decorations, to join the Italian infantry. These vivid experiences later provided background for A Farewell to Arms in 1929.

War — the cruelty and stoic endurance that it requires — forms a major part of Hemingway's writing, beginning with the In Our Time collection published in 1924 to his post-World War II novel, Across the River and Into the Trees. In addition to World War I action, Hemingway later covered the Greek-Turkish War in 1920, while the Spanish Civil War in 1937 provided material for his For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Following World War I, Hemingway returned to northern Michigan to read, write, and fish, and then to work for the Toronto Star in Canada. He lived briefly in Chicago, where he came to know Sherwood Anderson. In 1921 he married Hadley Richardson and they moved to Paris, where he was foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. His newsbeat was all of Europe, and while still in his twenties, Hemingway had interviewed Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Mussolini. The years 1921-26 in Paris, when Hemingway was first developing his writing style and when his first son John was born, are recorded in A Moveable Feast (1964).

Sherwood Anderson had given Hemingway a letter of introduction to Gertrude Stein, who was living in Paris, and that proved to be his entrance into the world of working authors and artists who visited her home. It was she who mentioned a garage keeper's comment to Hemingway, "You are all a lost generation." That casual remark became famous when Hemingway used it as an epigraph to his first major novel, The Sun Also Rises.

"Lost generation" came to signify the postwar generation and the literary movement produced by the young writers. These writers of the twenties were thought to reflect that generation's belief that their lives and hopes had been shattered by the war. They had been led down a glory trail to death not for noble, patriotic ideals, but for the greedy, materialistic gain of power groups. The high-minded sentiments of their elders were not to be trusted. Only reality was truth and that was harsh. Life was futile — nothing.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein are among those usually credited with influencing Hemingway's early writing. Most of that early work was lost when a suitcase containing the first draft of his first novel and eighteen of his stories representing most of four years work was stolen from his wife Hadley on a train to Lausanne, Switzerland. Later, "My Old Man," one of two short stories that Hemingway had left, was selected for Edward O'Brien's volume of Best Short Stories of 1923, which was dedicated to Hemingway.

Early Hemingway stories had appeared in German and French publications before the Atlantic Monthly magazine published "Fifty Grand," the short story that introduced his startling concept of crisp, concise dialog to the United States. In 1923, Three Stories and Ten Poems was published, followed in 1924 by the Paris edition of in our time. (The lack of capital letters was the current vogue to call attention to newness.) In 1925, In Our Time was published in the United States by Boni and Liveright, Sherwood Anderson's publishers, who rejected Hemingway's next book, The Torrents of Spring, a satire of Anderson's Dark Laughter. Scribner published the rejected manuscript and that same year issued Hemingway's first successful novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926).

The Hemingways were divorced in 1927, the same year that he married Vogue writer Pauline Pfeiffer. In 1928, the Hemingways moved to Key West, Florida, where Patrick was born in 1929 and Gregory in 1932. The shocking event of 1928 for Hemingway was the suicide of his father, who had been ill with hypertension and diabetes. It wasn't until 1940 that the experience was reflected in his writing through the thoughts of Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls, and later characters sometimes expressed thoughts on suicide.

Between wars and books Hemingway traveled and pursued hunting and other sports. Bullfighting claimed his attention and resulted in Death in the Afternoon. His 1934 African safari yielded material for The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Green Hills of Africa.

In 1940, Hemingway and Pauline were divorced. He married writer Martha Gelhorn and they toured China before establishing in Cuba. When World War II began Hemingway volunteered his fishing boat, Pilar, and served with the U.S. Navy as a submarine spotter in the Caribbean. In 1944, he was a forty-five-year-old war correspondent barnstorming through Europe with the Allied invasion troops — and sometimes ahead of them.

Following his divorce in 1944, Hemingway married Mary Welsh, a Time magazine correspondent. They lived in Venice after the war before returning to Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm) near Havana, Cuba. In 1950, Across the River and Into the Trees appeared and was not a critical success. One of the reported comments, "Papa is finished." His 1952 work, The Old Man and the Sea, received the 1953 Pulitzer Prize.

In January of 1954, Hemingway was off for another African hunt and was reported dead after two airplane crashes in two days. He survived severe internal and spinal injuries and a concussion that impaired his eyesight for a period. He survived to read the numerous newspaper obituary notices and noted with great pleasure that they were favorable. That same year Hemingway received the Swedish Academy's Nobel Prize for Literature, "for his powerful style-forming mastery of the art of modern narration, as most recently evinced in The Old Man and the Sea."

Suddenly he was sixty and there was his birthday photograph in a national magazine. White-bearded and still full of ginger, Hemingway was booting an empty beer can high in the air along a road near his Ketchum, Idaho, home.

During 1961, Hemingway, plagued by high blood pressure and mental depression, received shock treatments during two long confinements at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He died July 2, 1961, at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, as the result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds and was buried in Ketchum.

In a manner, there were two Hemingways. One was the flamboyant adventurer — the lively legend in the spotlight. The other Hemingway was the skillful, sensitive author who patiently wrote, rewrote, and edited his work. A Farewell to Arms (1929) required eight months for writing the first draft and another five months for rewriting, according to Hemingway, who claimed to have rewritten the last page thirty-nine times. That writing discipline begun in the twenties persisted throughout his literary career. In discussing The Old Man and the Sea (1952), Hemingway is said to have read through the manuscript some two hundred times before releasing it. Hemingway, the colorful legend, was also the author who said, "What many another writer would be content to leave in massive proportions, I polish into a tiny gem."