Ernest Hemingway Biography


Early Years

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born the second of six children in Oak Park, Illinois, on July 21, 1899. His mother, Grace, was a religious woman with musical talent, while his father, Clarence Edmonds ("Ed") Hemingway, was an outdoorsman who loved hunting and fishing in the northern Michigan woods. From an early age, Ernest shared his father's interests. He also vacationed with his mother on Nantucket Island and heard tales of his seafaring great-grandfather, Alexander Hancock. Much of what Hemingway learned in the early years about the outdoors and nature's lessons became the basis of many of his stories, such as some of the Nick Adams stories and The Old Man and the Sea.

Hemingway attended Oak Park and River Forest high schools, where he wrote for the newspaper and the literary magazine and participated in sports such as boxing, swimming, and football. He didn't attend college but instead began working as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. Later, he also wrote for the Toronto Star and Star Weekly. His early journalistic career profoundly impacted his literary writing style, which was always honed and spare.

Experiences and Literary Achievements

Hemingway was rejected for regular military service in World War I because of a weak left eye, so he drove a Red Cross ambulance in Italy, distributing chocolate to Italian troops. While recuperating from serious wounds in a Red Cross hospital in Milan, Hemingway fell in love with nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, who later rejected him as too young. These World War I experiences eventually became invaluable fodder for his most famous war novel, A Farewell to Arms. The experiences contributed to many of his war novels' recurring themes: the cruelty and stupidity of war, the greedy materialism and quest for power that cause war, the platitudes and abstractions that glorify war, and the value of enduring whatever must be endured.

As a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star Weekly, Hemingway moved to Paris. Armed with a letter of introduction from Sherwood Anderson to Gertrude Stein, Hemingway established friendships with a number of famous expatriate writers who helped him develop his craft. Hemingway published In Our Time, a collection of short stories, some of them the Nick Adams stories set in Michigan. In 1923, Hemingway made the first of five consecutive yearly trips to Pamplona, Spain, for the bullfights — an experience that eventually served as a basis for The Sun Also Rises, which is about the expatriate life in Paris and Pamplona. In the epigraph of that book, Hemingway quotes a line that Gertrude Stein previously recounted: "You are all a lost generation." The phrase "lost generation" quickly became a mantra of the post World War I generation's attitude about the war's effect on their lives and the futility and meaninglessness of life.

In 1928, Hemingway moved to Key West, Florida, and began deep-sea fishing. That same year, his father committed suicide. In 1932, Hemingway went on a two-month fishing expedition to Havana and began marlin fishing, which eventually provided material for The Old Man and the Sea. In 1933, he continued fishing off the coast of Cuba, sailed to Paris, and then went on to Africa for a safari in Kenya and Tanganyika. The safari provided a setting for Green Hills of Africa.

As a foreign correspondent in Paris, Hemingway began to raise funds for the Loyalist cause in Spain. In 1937, he went to Spain as a war correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War, which gave him material for For Whom The Bell Tolls, his best-selling novel about an American volunteer and a band of Spanish Loyalist guerillas. Hemingway's goals in the book included a clear depiction of the indifference of the world's democracies to encroaching fascism and the desperate need to fight against it.

In 1939, Hemingway moved to Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm), a house near Havana, Cuba. When World War II began, he volunteered to serve as a spotter for the U.S. Navy, outfitting his own fishing boat, the Pilar, to hunt for German submarines off the Cuban coast. In 1944, he became a war correspondent for Collier's and covered the war, including the liberation of Paris, with the U.S. Fourth Infantry Division. "Papa" Hemingway, as he was dubbed, purportedly liberated the Ritz hotel in Paris, particularly the bar, just prior to the arrival of Allied troops.

After the war, Hemingway married his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, a Time magazine correspondent. Drawing on his World War II experiences, he published Across the River and Into the Trees, about a May-December romance. A subtle consideration of war in modern times, this book was less realistic and more symbolic than his previous work and was roundly attacked by critics. However, his 1952 publication of The Old Man and the Sea restored his reputation and earned Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. In 1954, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The prize committee cited the power of his style, his mastery of narration, and his admiration for the individual who "fights the good fight" in a "world of reality overshadowed by violence and death."

In 1959, Hemingway bought a home in Ketchum, Idaho. In declining health from diabetes, high blood pressure, and mental depression (possibly caused by a genetic illness unrecognized at the time), he attended the Spanish bullfights in 1960 and later celebrated his 60th birthday. At the Mayo Clinic, he twice underwent electric shock treatments, which didn't help him. So great was Hemingway's stature as both a writer and legendary figure, the world mourned after his suicide by shotgun at his home in Ketchum on July 2, 1961.

A number of Hemingway's works were published posthumously. A Moveable Feast, published in 1964, contains striking and sometimes abusive representations of the famous literary figures Hemingway had known in Paris. Islands in the Stream, published in 1970, is a semi-autobiographical novel, set in the Caribbean, about a painter, his relationships with his family, his loneliness, and his violent death. The Dangerous Summer, published in 1985, is based on a bullfight "duel" Hemingway witnessed in Spain in 1960. The Garden of Eden, published in 1986, recounts the love affairs of two women and one man, explores complex gender issues, and has prompted many critics to reconsider earlier assessments of Hemingway's machismo.

While Hemingway the dedicated writer and careful editor may seem somewhat at odds with Hemingway the legendary man of action, both sides contributed to a lasting literary legacy. As the dominant concerns of successive generations have changed, readers from each generation have found new understanding and appreciation of Hemingway's works. For example, the generation of Baby Boomers profoundly affected by the Vietnam War found much to identify with in the lost generation's alienation in The Sun Also Rises. Subsequent generations, increasingly concerned with international economics and threats to the global environment, may well find the multicultural aspects of Hemingway's literature irresistible and appreciate more fully the environmental foresight of works like The Old Man and the Sea. And as the World War II generation (like the World War I generation before it) passes away, Hemingway's works will remain an invaluable contribution to twentieth-century literature and to the historical perspective of future generations.

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