Ernest Hemingway – A Brief Biography (1899-1961)
Ernest Hemingway. unattributed, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ernest Hemingway was a novelist, short-story writer, and journalist, who is now regarded as one of the most important writers in the history of literature.
He is credited for almost single-handedly revolutionizing the art of writing a novel. And I think it is safe to say that no other writer has had as much influence on 20th-century fiction as Hemingway has had.
In short, the structure and style of the modern-day novel can be directly traced back to Ernest Hemingway.
In this biography, we will take a brief look at Hemingway’s life as a writer and a human being.
Ernest Hemingway was born on 21st July 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, just west of Chicago.
Hemingway’s father, Clarence Hemingway, was a physician, and his mother, Grace Hemingway, was a well-known musician in Oak Park.
From an early age, when the Hemingway family went on holiday to Northern Michigan, Hemingway went along with his father to fish, hunt, and camp in the woods and near the lakes of Northern Michigan.
It was on these trips that Hemingway learned how to hunt and fish. These childhood experiences instilled in him a life-long passion for hunting, fishing, and other forms of outdoor adventures.
In 1913, Ernest Hemingway, aged 14, enrolled in Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Hemingway was said to be a good athlete, who took part in multiple sports, including football, track and field, and boxing, the latter of which remained a lifelong passion for him. He also received good grades in English, which is not very surprising in hindsight.
Hemingway also edited the school’s yearbook and newspaper during his last two years at the high school.
In 1917, Hemingway, aged 18, finished high school and went to work as a reporter for The Kansas City Star for six months.
His time there as a reporter greatly influenced his future writing style. Hemingway was asked to use short sentences, short first paragraphs, vigorous English, and to be positive, not negative in his writing.
This very writing style would become Hemingway’s trademark in the future.
Enlisting as an Ambulance Driver During World War l
In 1918, during a Red Cross recruitment effort, Ernest Hemingway enlisted as an ambulance driver in Italy. Prior to this, he had been rejected by the United States Army due to poor eyesight.
In June of that year, Hemingway arrived at the Italian Front and was stationed at Fossalta di Piave, a town in the Metropolitan City of Venice.
The following month, Hemingway was seriously injured by mortar fire after returning from a canteen with cigarettes and chocolate. Despite being wounded, he helped the Italian soldiers to safety.
For his bravery, Hemingway would later receive the Italian War Merit Cross, which is an Italian military decoration.
Having sustained severe shrapnel wounds to both legs, Hemingway underwent an emergency operation at a distribution center and then spent five days at a field hospital.
Eventually, Hemingway was taken to the Red Cross hospital in Milan, where he spent six months recovering. While at the hospital, he met and fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, who was a Red Cross nurse.
Upon returning to America, Hemingway thought that Agnes would join him within a few months. But she never arrived. Instead, she sent him a letter announcing her engagement to an Italian officer.
The rejection left Hemingway devastated.
The character ‘Catherine Barkley’ in Hemingway’s 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms, was inspired by Agnes.
Returning from War
Ernest Hemingway returned to America in January 1919.
Upon his return, he was jobless and needed some time for recuperation. Shortly thereafter, a family friend offered him a job in Toronto, which he accepted.
In Toronto, Hemingway began working as a freelancer and writer for the Toronto Star Weekly.
In June 1920, Hemingway moved to Chicago to live with his friends, while still working for the Toronto Star.
It was while working in Chicago as an associate editor of the Cooperative Commonwealth journal, that Hemingway met writer Sherwood Anderson.
Ernest Hemingway first met Hadley Richardson when she had come to Chicago to visit the sister of his roommate.
Even though she was eight years older than him, Hemingway was immediately smitten by her.
After corresponding for a few months, the two decided to get married and travel to Europe.
Hemingway and Hadley were married on 3rd September 1921.
Two months later, Hemingway was offered the job of a foreign correspondent by the Toronto Star. He accepted the offer, and on Sherwood Anderson’s suggestion, he and Hadley left for Paris.
It is said that Anderson suggested Paris to them because Paris was an inexpensive place to live in, and also because many interesting artists and writers of the time lived there.
Life in Paris
Upon their arrival in Paris, Hemingway and Hadley lived in a small walk-up in the Latin Quarter of Paris, situated on the left bank of the Seine, around the Sorbonne. And Hemingway rented a room in a nearby building in order to write.
In Paris, Hemingway met Gertrude Stein, an American art collector and writer. Stein was a central figure of the artistic movement in Paris, a champion of Modernism.
Stein quickly became Hemingway’s mentor in Paris. She introduced him to the expatriate writers and artists, more popularly known as the Lost Generation.
Through Stein, Hemingway met artists such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro.
Later on, Hemingway also met Ezra Pound and forged a strong friendship with him. Pound recognized Hemingway’s talent right away and tried to assist him in furthering his career as a writer.
Through Pound, Hemingway met the Irish writer James Joyce, and the two of them occasionally drank together.
Return to Toronto
In 1923, Hemingway and Hadley returned to Toronto, where their son John Hadley Nicanor was born.
While Hemingway was in Toronto, his first book Three Stories and Ten Poems was published in Paris in 1923.
Within a few months, his second book In Our Time was published. The book contained six vignettes and twelve short stories.
Hemingway quickly got bored of life in Toronto and began to miss Paris. He wished to live the life of a writer, rather than that of a journalist.
Return to Paris
In January 1924, Ernest Hemingway returned to Paris along with his family, and they moved into a new apartment.
In Paris, Hemingway met the English novelist Ford Maddox Ford and began to assist him in editing The Transatlantic Review, which had published some of Hemingway’s earlier stories.
One of these stories, Indian Camp, was published in Hemingway’s second book In Our Time, receiving high praise from the critics, who lauded Hemingway’s crisp and direct style of writing.
During this time, Hemingway met fellow American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and the two became good friends.
Hemingway read Fitzgerald’s recently published novel The Great Gatsby and liked it very much. It is said that Fitzgerald’s novel inspired Hemingway to write his first novel.
Traveling in Spain
Hemingway and Hadley visited Spain in 1923.
They went to the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, which was where Hemingway first became fascinated with Bullfighting.
In July 1925, Ernest Hemingway began writing the draft of his first novel The Sun Also Rises. The story portrays British and American expatriates traveling from Paris to the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona to watch the bullfights. It epitomizes the post-war expatriate generation or the so-called lost generation.
Hemingway finished the first draft within eight weeks and then began revising the manuscript when he was in Schruns, Austria, for the winter. The novel was finally published in October 1926 by Scribner’s.
In January 1927, Hemingway and Hadley divorced after Hadley became aware of Hemingway’s affair with Pauline Pfeiffer.
In May of that year, Ernest Hemingway married Pauline Pfeiffer. By the end of the year, Pauline was pregnant and the couple decided to move back to America.
In March 1928, Hemingway and Pauline left Paris for America.
Life in Key West
Upon arriving in America, Hemingway and Pauline moved to Key West, Florida, where Pauline’s uncle bought a house for the couple. The second floor of the house was converted into a writing studio for Hemingway.
Here, Ernest Hemingway began working on his second novel A Farewell to Arms, set during the Italian Campaign of World War l.
The novel was published in September 1929, and it established Hemingway as a major American writer.
Hemingway was happy but restless with his life in Key West. He frequently invited his friends, such as the writer John Dos Passos and the painter Waldo Pierce, on fishing and boat trips.
While Hemingway’s base was in Key West, he continued to travel to Europe and Cuba.
Trip to Africa
In 1933, Ernest Hemingway went on his first among many trips to Africa.
Hemingway and Pauline first visited Kenya and then went on to visit Tanganyika, where they hunted in the Serengeti.
The 10-week-long trip provided Hemingway with a lot of material for his writing. His subsequent works such as The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Green Hills of Africa, were all inspired by this trip.
The Spanish Civil War
In 1937, Ernest Hemingway went to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA).
In Spain, Hemingway was joined by Martha Gellhorn, an American writer and journalist, who is now regarded as one of the best war correspondents of the 20th century.
Martha Gellhorn would eventually become Hemingway’s third wife.
While in Spain, Hemingway wrote his first and only play, The Fifth Column. An anthology called The Fifth Column and the First Forty-nine Stories was published in 1938.
Hemingway was present at the Battle of the Ebro, which was the longest and largest battle of the Spanish Civil War, taking place between July and November 1938. He was one of the last journalists to leave the battle scene.
Life in Cuba
In 1939, after the end of the Spanish Civil War, Ernest Hemingway moved to Cuba.
By now, Hemingway had separated from Pauline. Martha joined him in Cuba, and they rented a 15-acre property fifteen miles away from Havana.
In 1939, Hemingway began writing the draft of For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was about a young American volunteer attached to a Republican guerilla unit during the Spanish Civil War.
Hemingway finished the final draft of the novel in July 1940 and the novel was published in October 1940. The novel was a great success. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and enhanced Hemingway’s stature in the literary world.
After Hemingway’s divorce from Pauline was finalized, he married Martha on 20th November 1940, in Wyoming.
World War ll
In May 1944, Ernest Hemingway went to Europe to cover the second world war.
Upon his arrival in London, Hemingway met American journalist Mary Welsh, who would eventually become his fourth wife.
Hemingway went along with the troops to the Normandy Landings but was not allowed to go ashore, as no correspondents were permitted to land on that first day.
The landing craft came under heavy fire before turning back. Hemingway would later write about how he witnessed many of the troops get shot and fall on the beach.
In July, Hemingway attached himself to the 22nd Infantry Regiment, which was commanded by Colonel Charles ‘Buck’ Lanham. The Regiment was on its way to Paris when Hemingway joined them.
Hemingway and Lanham became close friends. Hemingway greatly admired Lanham and described him as the finest, bravest, and most intelligent military commander he had ever known.
Lanham was the inspiration for Colonel Cantwell in Hemingway’s 1950 novel Across the River and Into the Trees.
Hemingway was also present at the liberation of Paris on 25th August 1944.
Later on, Hemingway was awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery during the war.
The Difficult Years
Ernest Hemingway was surprisingly prone to accidents, falling victim to multiple car and plane accidents in his lifetime.
These accidents often left him with serious and sometimes everlasting wounds and injuries, which would trouble him for the rest of his life.
The successive deaths of many of his close friends and his heavy drinking habit slowly began to push him into depression. He began to suffer from weight problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Winning the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature
In 1952, Ernest Hemingway’s most famous work The Old Man and the Sea was published. The novella tells the story of an aging Cuban fisherman named Santiago, who struggles to catch a huge Marlin off the coast of Cuba.
Hemingway wrote the novella in 1951 while living in Cuba. On its publication, the book was an instant critical and commercial success.
And in 1953, the novella was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Hemingway even more popular internationally.
The following year, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature. However, he chose not to travel to Stockholm to receive the prize, as he was suffering from pain due to his plane accidents in Africa. Instead, he sent a speech to be read.
The Old Man and the Sea was an important factor in deciding to award Hemingway the Nobel Prize.
In 1956, while on a trip to Paris, Ernest Hemingway retrieved some trunks of his which he had stored in the Ritz Hotel in 1928.
In the trunks, Hemingway discovered many notebooks full of writings from the years he lived in Paris. These notebooks provided him with great material for his next work.
The following year, Hemingway returned to Cuba and began to edit the writings in his notebooks into his memoir A Moveable Feast. Simultaneously, he also worked on other unfinished projects.
During this period of intense writing, Hemingway slid into depression and was never able to recover again.
In 1960, Hemingway and Mary left Cuba for good and eventually moved to Idaho.
Hemingway was constantly paranoid and worried, convinced that he was being watched by the FBI (which was apparently true). Unable to look after him anymore, Mary took Hemingway to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for hypertension treatments.
At the Mayo Clinic, Hemingway underwent multiple electroshock treatments.
After his release from the Mayo Clinic, Hemingway was back in Ketchum, Idaho.
In the early morning hours of 2nd July 1961, Hemingway shot himself with a shotgun, killing himself instantly.
Ernest Hemingway is now buried in the Ketchum cemetery.
Without a doubt, Ernest Hemingway has gone down in history as one of the greatest and most influential writers ever.
Hemingway published seven novels, six short-story collections, and two works of non-fiction in his lifetime, and he addressed the themes of life, war, emasculation, love, loss, adventure, and wilderness in his works.
He popularized the spare and tight prose writing style that first made him famous, thereby exerting an influence on the contemporary style that is unparalleled.
Hemingway himself described his style as the iceberg theory, also known as the ‘theory of omission’. His style was economical and understated and he was able to convey things without explicitly stating them.
Rest assured, Hemingway has cemented his place in the pantheon of great writers who influenced generations to come. His works have stood the test of time and are now regarded as classics in American literature.
Ernest Hemingway’s life has now become a stuff of legends and his stature in the world of literature has remained largely unquestioned, unchallenged, and undiminished.