Ernest Hemingway Biography


Ernest Hemingway's colorful life as a war correspondent, big game hunter, angler, writer, and world celebrity, as well as winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in literature, began in quiet Oak Park, Illinois, on July 21, 1899. When Ernest, the first son and second child born to Dr. Ed and Grace Hemingway, was only seven weeks old, his general practitioner father took the family for a quick weekend trip to the Michigan north woods, where Dr. Hemingway was having land cleared by several Ottawa Indians for Windemere, a summer cabin that he built on Walloon Lake. Ernest would return to this area year after year, as a child and later as an adolescent — hunting, fishing, camping, vegetable gardening, adventuring, and making plans for each new, successive summer.

Ernest's mother, a devout, religious woman with considerable musical talent, hoped that her son would develop an interest in music; she herself had once hoped for an operatic career, but during her first recital at Carnegie Hall, the lights were so intense for her defective eyes that she gave up performing. Ernest attempted playing the cello in high school, but from the beginning, it was clear that he was no musician. Instead, he deeply shared his father's fierce enthusiasm for the outdoors.

Ernest began fishing when he was three years old, and his fourth birthday present was an all-day fishing trip with his father. For his twelfth birthday, his grandfather gave him a single-barrel 20-gauge shotgun. His deep love of hunting and fishing in the north Michigan woods during his childhood and adolescence formed lasting impressions that would be ingredients for his short stories centering around Nick Adams, Hemingway's young fictional persona.

In high school, Hemingway played football, mostly lightweight football, because he was small and thin. Hoping for more success in another sport, Hemingway took up boxing. Years later, he would often write, using boxing metaphors; he would also tell people that it was a boxing accident that was responsible for his defective eyesight. Hemingway was always self-conscious about seeming less than the best at whatever he chose to do. For example, he had a lifelong difficulty pronouncing his l's; his sounded like w's. His perfectionist father always stressed that whatever Ernest did, he must "do it right." The stigma of having a slight speech defect and genetically flawed eyesight continually rankled Hemingway.

Hemingway's writing career began early. He was a reporter for The Trapeze, his high-school newspaper, and he published a couple of stories in the Tabula, the school's literary magazine. Ironically, he remained an atrocious speller throughout his life. Whenever editors would complain about his bad spelling, he'd retort, "Well, that's what you're hired to correct!"

After Ernest's high-school graduation, Dr. Hemingway realized that his son had no passion for further education, so he didn't encourage him to enroll in college. Neither did he encourage him to join the boys his age who were volunteering for the army and sailing to Europe to fight in World War I. Instead, Dr. Hemingway took another approach: He called the Kansas City Star to find out if his son could sign on as a cub reporter. He learned that an opening wouldn't be available until September, news that delighted Ernest because it meant that he could spend another summer in the north Michigan woods hunting and fishing before he began working in the adult world.

Arriving in Kansas City to work for the Star, young Hemingway began earning fifteen dollars a week. He was taught to write short sentences, avoid clichés, unnecessary adjectives, and construct good stories. He soon realized that a large part of Kansas City life was filled with crime and impulsive violence. It was an exciting time for the naive, eager, red-cheeked young man from the north woods who was determined to learn how to write well.

A few months passed, and despite the satisfying pace of his life and the thrill of seeing his work in print, Hemingway realized that most of the young men he knew were leaving to take part in the war in Europe. Hemingway's father was still opposed to his son's joining the army, and Hemingway himself knew that his defective eyesight would probably keep him from being accepted. However, Hemingway met Theodore Brumback, a fellow reporter with vision in only one eye at the Star, who suggested that Hemingway volunteer for the American Field Service as an ambulance driver. Hemingway's yearning to join the war effort was rekindled, and six months after he began his career as a newspaper reporter, he and Brumback resigned from the Star, said goodbye to their families, and headed to New York for their physicals. Hemingway received a B rating and was advised to get some glasses.

The letters that Hemingway wrote home to his parents while he was waiting to sail overseas were jubilant. The voyage from New York to France aboard the Chicago, however, was less exultant. Hemingway's second typhoid shot had left him nauseated and aching, and rough seas sent him retching to the rails several times.

At Bordeaux, France, Hemingway and Brumback boarded a train headed to Milan, Italy. Shortly after they settled in, a munitions factory exploded, and Hemingway was stunned to discover that "the dead are more women than men." After a few weeks of making routine ambulance runs and transporting dying and wounded men to hospitals, Hemingway grew impatient. Wanting to see more action, he traveled to the Austro-Italian border, where he finally had a sense of being at the wartime front.

During this time near the Austro-Italian border, Hemingway was severely wounded. An Austrian projectile exploded in the trenches and sent shrapnel ripping into his legs. Trying to carry an Italian soldier to safety, Hemingway caught a machine-gun bullet behind his kneecap and one in his foot. A few days later, he found himself on a train, returning to Milan. Later, writing about being wounded, he recalled that he felt life slipping from him. Some literary critics believe that it was this near death experience that obsessed Hemingway with a continual fear of death and a need to test his courage that lasted the rest of his life.

A few months later, the war was over and Hemingway returned to the States with a limp and a fleeting moment of celebrity. At home in Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway immediately felt homesick for Italy. All of his friends were gone, and he received a letter from a nurse with whom he'd fallen in love while he was hospitalized. The news was not good: She had fallen in love with an Italian lieutenant. Ten years later, this nurse would become the model for the valiant Catherine Barkeley in A Farewell to Arms.

Returning to the north woods to find his emotional moorings, Hemingway fished, wrote some short-story sketches, and enjoyed a brief romance that would figure in "The End of Something" and "The Three-Day Blow." He also spoke to women's clubs about his wartime adventures, and one of the women in the audience, a monied Toronto matron, was so impressed with Hemingway that she hired him as a companion for her lame son.

Tutoring the boy and filling a scrapbook with writings in Canada, Hemingway then headed back to the Midwest, where he met Hadley Richardson, seven years older than he and an heiress to a small trust fund.

Hadley fell in love with Hemingway. Hemingway's ever-fretting, over-protective mother thought that Hadley was exactly what her rootless son needed; she prodded Hemingway to settle down and give up his gypsy travels and short-term, part-time jobs.

Despite his fears that marriage would destroy his way of living, Hemingway married Hadley, and they set up housekeeping, living on income from her trust fund. Soon, near-poverty depleted Hemingway's usual good nature, and friends urged him to move to Paris, where living expenses would be cheaper.

In Paris, Hemingway and Hadley lived in the Latin Quarter, a bohemian enclave of artists, poets, and writers. The Toronto Sun bought the articles that Hemingway submitted, as well as his political sketches, and Hemingway was pleased about the short stories he was writing. He was twenty-three years old and felt that he'd finally hit his stride as an author with a style that was authentically his own.

After covering the war between Greece and Turkey for the New York Sun, Hemingway returned to Paris and continued writing Nick Adams tales, including "A Way You'll Never Be." He was interrupted, though, when the Toronto Star insisted that he cover the Lausanne Peace Conference. While there, he urged Hadley to join him, and she did so, bringing all of his short stories, sketches, and poems in a valise that would be stolen in the Lyon train station.

Hemingway was so stunned with disbelief at the terrible loss that he immediately returned to Paris, convinced that Hadley surely hadn't packed even the carbon copies of his stories, but she had. Hemingway had lost everything that he'd written.

Ironically, American expatriate and writer Gertrude Stein had just spoken to Hemingway about loss, mentioning a garage keeper's off-hand comment: "You are all a lost generation," a casual remark, yet one that eventually would become world famous after Hemingway used it as an epigraph to his first major novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926). This term "lost generation" would be instantly meaningful to Hemingway's readers. It would give a name to the attitudes of the post-World War I generation of Americans, especially to the young writers of that era who believed that their loves 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 gains of international power groups. The high-minded sentiments of their elders were not to be trusted; only reality was truth — and reality was harsh: Life was futile, often meaningless.

After the loss of his manuscripts, Hemingway followed Stein's advice to go to Spain; she promised him that he'd find new stories there. After his sojourn in Spain, Hemingway returned to Paris and from there to Canada, where Hadley gave birth to their first child. Afterward, Hemingway returned to Paris, where he began writing "Big Two-Hearted River." From there, he went to Austria, where he wrote more Nick Adams stories, as well as "Hills Like White Elephants."

Hemingway and Hadley were divorced in 1927, and he married Pauline Pfeiffer, an Arkansas heiress, who accompanied him to Africa, traveling 300 miles by train to reach Nairobi, and onward to the Kapti Plains, the foothills of the Ngong Hills, and the Serengeti Plain. Africa would be the setting for two of Hemingway's most famous short stories — "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro."

In 1940, Hemingway and Pauline were divorced, and he married writer Martha Gellhorn. They toured China, then established a residence in Cuba. When World War II began, Hemingway volunteered his services and his fishing boat, the Pilar, and cooperated with United States naval intelligence as a German submarine spotter in the Caribbean.

Wanting a still-more-active role in the war, Hemingway soon was a 45-year-old war correspondent barnstorming through Europe with the Allied invasion troops — and sometimes ahead of them. It is said that Hemingway liberated the Ritz Hotel in Paris and that when the Allied troops arrived, they were greeted by a notice on the entrance: "Papa Hemingway took good hotel. Plenty stuff in the cellar."

Following yet another divorce, this one in 1944, Hemingway married Mary Welsh, a Time magazine correspondent. The couple lived in Venice for a while, then returned to Havana, Cuba. In 1950, Across the River and into the Trees appeared, but it was neither a critical nor a popular success. His short novel The Old Man and the Sea (1952), however, restored Hemingway's literary stature, and he was awarded the 1953 Pulitzer Prize in literature.

In January 1954, Hemingway was off for another of his many African safaris and was reported dead after two airplane crashes in two days. He survived, though, despite severe internal and spinal injuries and a concussion. When he read newspaper obituary notices about his death, he noted with great pleasure that they were favorable. That same year, Hemingway received the Swedish Academy's Nobel Prize in literature, "for his powerful style forming mastery of the art of modern narration, as most recently evidenced in The Old Man and the Sea."

During the next few years, Hemingway was not happy, and during 1961, he was periodically plagued by high blood pressure and clinical depression. He received shock therapy during two long confinements at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, but most of the prescribed treatment for his depression was of little value. Hemingway died July 2, 1961, at his home, the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

It seems as if there were always two Hemingways. One was the adventurer — the grinning, bearded "Papa" of the news photographs; the other was the skillful, sensitive author Hemingway, who patiently wrote, rewrote, and edited his work.

Certainly each of the short stories discussed in this volume represents a finished, polished "gem" — Hemingway's own word for his short stories. No word is superfluous, and no more words are needed. Along with such well-known short-story writers as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and John Steinbeck, Hemingway is considered by literary critics to be one of the world's finest.