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Ernest Hemingway Conference: Hemingway

XVII Biennial International Ernest Hemingway Conference

Biography of Ernest Hemingway (From American National Biography)

Ernest Hemingway, c. 1945. 
Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-1100).


Hemingway, Ernest (21 July 1899-2 July 1961), writer, was born Ernest Miller Hemingway in Oak Park, Illinois, the son of Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a doctor, and Grace Hall, a musician and voice teacher. Oak Park sits foursquare on the Illinois prairie, eight miles west of downtown Chicago, where it was developed to hold at bay the corruption of the city. With its insistence on constant vigil against corrupting forces, the Village of Oak Park, as it called itself, put tremendous pressures on its sons and daughters. In the village of his youth, Hemingway was theoretically protected by city ordinances from uncensored movies, boxing matches, any information on venereal disease or birth control, all forms of gambling and prostitution, and all consumption of alcohol. Until he turned eighteen, Hemingway could not legally buy cigarettes, play billiards, drive a car, or own a cap gun within the village limits. Unless accompanied by a parent or responsible adult, young Hemingway, governed by the village curfew, could not be out of the house after 8:00p.m. in fall and winter or after 9:00 p.m. in spring and summer. That Hemingway rebelled against these pressures is not surprising; had the first generation of the twentieth century not rebelled, it would have been strange indeed.

Hemingway grew up in the bosom of a well-known, extended, and respected family, college educated at Wheaton, Oberlin, and Rush Medical School, a family whose sense of civic responsibility was strong and whose interests were divided among medicine, the Congregational church, and real estate. Although Hemingway was sometimes embarrassed by his mother's free spirit and frightened by his father's retreat into depressions, his early years were not scarred by divorce or abuse; he grew up among his four sisters and one brother respecting his elders, submitting to discipline, and behaving like a good bad boy. With plenty of parental and community rules, it was easy to be bad in Oak Park and just as easy to be forgiven, for the Hemingway name was a substantial one within this well-to-do community.

When Grace Hall-Hemingway, as Ernest's mother hyphenated her last name, designed their house on North Kenilworth, she included a music studio and recital hall thirty feet square with a vaulted ceiling and a narrow balcony. Here she gave music and voice lessons, scheduled student recitals, and composed and practiced her own music, which was marketed by two different publishing houses. Incurably optimistic, she was the energy source in the Hemingway household, a woman always onstage, with a personality that could not be ignored--a woman not unlike her eldest son, Ernest. After he left home, Hemingway obscured his mother's talents and personality by professing to hate her and to hold her responsible for his father's 1928 suicide. Yet it was from his mother that Hemingway's boundless energy and enthusiasm came. No one who met mother or son ever forgot either of them.

Oak Park's Influence on Hemingway

Balanced against the propriety and culture of Oak Park were Hemingway's northern Michigan summers, where the family cottage was on one side of Walloon Lake and, later, his mother's farm was on the other. Every July and August from his birth through the summer of 1917, Ernest explored the woods, the streams, and the lake. For the first twelve years his father was with him, teaching him to hunt and fish, but after 1911, when Clarence Hemingway began to retreat into his deepening depressions, the boy was left to his own devices. Besides his sisters for company (his brother was not born until 1915), there were other summer people living in cottages all along the lake, summer friends from Horton Bay and Petoskey, and the last of the Ojibwa Indians who lived in the woods close to Horton. Those summers of trout fishing, camping out, hiking, baseball games, and awakened sexuality were as important to the education of young Hemingway as were his school years in Oak Park.

Whatever else his culture taught him, young Hemingway learned early that perseverance and winning were Oak Park virtues. Like his boyhood hero, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest was determined to excel in physical activities: twice he ran the high school cross-country race; twice he finished last. He played lightweight football until his late growth got him onto the varsity team his senior year. Slow afoot and a little clumsy, he was a second-string interior lineman. He managed the swimming team, where his event was the "plunge," swimming underwater for distance. He captained the water polo team. When he got his height, he also got boxing gloves. Later in Europe he took up tennis, skiing, and the luge. He always admired professional boxers, baseball players, and, later, bullfighters.

In high school Hemingway took the then-standard precollege curriculum: six semesters of science, four of math, six of Latin, eight of English literature and composition, four of history, two of applied music, and another two years of orchestra. Whatever the course, humanities or science, there were always written assignments: weekly book reports, essays, and term papers. Hemingway translated Cicero; wrote about Greek tyrants, the Marathon campaign, and the Punic Wars; outlined his reading of Macbeth and Hamlet; and reported on the anatomy of grasshoppers, the necessity of life insurance, the need for a standing army, and the causes of the American Revolution. He also wrote humorous pieces for the school newspaper and the literary magazine. "Bill 3127 Introduced by Senator Hemingway" put the hunting of policemen under the game laws, making it a misdemeanor to kill them out of season. Like any Oak Parker, Hemingway could easily roll out his biblical parody:

It is written that in the Library thou shalt not chew gum. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's magazine orally. Thou shalt not play tic tac-toe with Toots Johnson. Thou shalt not match pennies with Reed Milliken. Thou shalt not throw paper wads with Jim Adams. . . . Thou shalt not kid the Jane that sitteth upon thy right hand, nor kick the boob who sitteth across from thee. (John F. Kennedy Library)


Most of Hemingway's courses required collateral reading in both the high school library and the Scoville Institute. Besides required texts, Hemingway also found time to read the books he most enjoyed at age sixteen, the short stories of O. Henry, Rudyard Kipling's tales of empire, and Stewart Edward White's version of the strenuous life. From the Scoville's collection Hemingway borrowed books, particularly during the summer, and frequently had late fees to pay. He may never have gone to college, but in Oak Park he acquired the cultural background he needed for the next step in his life.

The Great War

In June 1917, two months after the United States entered World War I, Hemingway graduated from high school and began his last completely idyllic summer at Walloon Lake, where he turned eighteen, still too young to enlist in the army. In October, with help from his Missouri relatives, he signed on as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star, where he said he learned to write a "simple, declarative sentence." He also learned the Star's style sheet: short first paragraphs, vigorous language, no superfluous words, few adjectives, no trite phrases. For seven months young Hemingway covered the usual beats assigned to raw recruits: city council, train station, police station, and hospital emergency room. In March 1918 he wrote home, "We are having a laundry strike here and I am handling the police beat. The violence stories. . . . For over a month I have averaged a column a day" (John F. Kennedy Library). The romance of the newsman as crime fighter was part of what pulled young Hemingway into journalism. Three years later he would write stories about a young reporter, Punk Alford, solving violent crimes.

As eager as most American males of his age to experience the Great European War, Hemingway joined the Missouri Home Guard, which was eventually called to active duty. By that time Hemingway was already in Italy, serving as a volunteer ambulance driver for the American Red Cross. After two weeks of limited action at Schio he volunteered to man a rolling canteen on the Piave River front. There, on the night of 8 July 1918, after barely a month in the war zone, young Hemingway was wounded by an Austrian trench mortar. He was not yet nineteen. All that summer and fall he recovered from his leg wounds in the Milan Red Cross hospital, where his nurse was Agnes Von Kurowsky, an attractive young American woman eight years his senior. Although she found Hemingway handsome and entertaining, their relationship loomed larger in his mind than in hers. When he returned to America on 21 January 1919 he thought they were engaged to be married, but in March she wrote and broke off whatever the relationship might have been, saying that she was far too old for him.

Assignment as Correspondent to the Toronto Star in Paris (1922)

In January 1920, still limping from his war wound and trading on his apprenticeship in Kansas City, Hemingway appeared at the Toronto Star desk looking for part-time work. The city editor agreed to buy Hemingway's stories on a piece by piece basis as they suited the needs of the paper. This arrangement produced Hemingway features on dental schools, prizefights, free shaves, and trout fishing. When Hemingway left Toronto in May 1920 to return to Chicago, his loose arrangement with theStar remained in place; over the next twenty months the paper regularly printed Hemingway features on rum-running and Chicago gangsters. During this same period Hemingway was courting Hadley Richardson, a St. Louis woman eight years older than himself. They were married at Horton Bay in September 1921 and immediately began planning to move to Italy.

In Chicago the new couple enjoyed the company and storytelling of Sherwood Anderson, who advised Hemingway that a would-be writer should go to Paris, not Italy. At the time, Hemingway was churning out copy for the short-lived Cooperative Commonwealth magazine, for which he was editor, writer, and general factotum. The magazine soon went bankrupt in a scandal, leaving the Hemingways free to leave Chicago for Paris. Traveling as a special correspondent to the Toronto Starallowed him to submit features on a per-piece basis and occasionally to work for weekly wages and expenses while covering major European news events. In January 1922 they moved into an inexpensive, fourth-floor walk-up apartment in the heart of Paris's Latin Quarter.

That first year in Paris Hemingway had little time to work on the novel he had begun in Chicago. Not only were there the distractions of the city (galleries, cafés, racetracks, boxing matches) and the demands of newfound friends (Sylvia Beach,Gertrude SteinEzra Pound, Bill Bird); there were also the demands of his newspaper work. During a twenty-month period in Europe, Hemingway filed more than eighty-eight stories with the Toronto Star, all but a few of which were printed. Between January 1922 and September 1923 the Star printed Hemingway submissions ranging from local color ("American Bohemians in Paris a Weird Lot") to winter sports ("Try Bob-Sledding If You Want Thrills") to the Great War ("A Veteran Visits Old Front, Wishes He Had Stayed Away"). The Star also sent Hemingway to cover four important events: the Genoa Economic Conference (6-27 Apr. 1922), the brief but intense Greco-Turkish War (29 Sept.-21 Oct. 1922), the Lausanne Peace Conference (21 Nov.-15 Dec. 1922), and the French military occupation of the German Ruhr (30 Mar.-9 Apr. 1923).

The Shaping of Hemingway's Fiction Writing

At the Genoa conference Hemingway was an early witness to the conflict between the fascist right and the Bolshevik left that would dominate much of his century. "The Fascisti," he wrote, "make no distinctions between socialists, communists, republicans or members of co-operative societies. They are all Reds and dangerous" (By-Line, p. 28). Less than a year later at Lausanne, Hemingway described the new fascist dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, as "the biggest bluff in Europe" (By-Line, p. 64). There was something permanently wrong, he said, with any man who would wear a black shirt and white spats. In September 1922 the Star sent Hemingway on a five-day train trip to Constantinople, where he covered the Greco-Turkish War that culminated with the Turks burning Smyrna and the Greeks retreating hopelessly from Thrace. "It is a silent procession," he wrote. "Nobody even grunts. It is all they can do to keep moving" (Dateline, p. 232).

These events began Hemingway's serious political education, giving him a privileged view of the postwar political leaders setting Europe's agenda: Georges Clemenceau, Georgi Tchitcherin, Jean-Louis Barthou, Lloyd George, and Mussolini. Hemingway wrote about anarchists, anti-Semitism, fascism, power politics, disarmament, German inflation, Paris nightlife, Spanish bullfights, and German trout fishing. Wherever he went, he always told his readers how to live well in another country: where to stay, what to eat, which wine to choose, how to get the most for their money. While covering the stories, Hemingway developed his admiration for the insider, the experienced man who knows the language, food, and customs of the country. As a foreign correspondent, such expert knowledge was expected of him. When he had it, he used it; when he lacked firsthand experience, he pretended so persuasively to have it that we later believed he wrote nothing that was not autobiographical. The bilingual insider, adept at European travel, became the trademark of his later fiction, which frequently was set in a foreign country.

Hemingway's short journalistic course in the sociopolitical aftermath of the Great War rubbed his Oak Park Republicanism up against European socialism. The impact added to his sense of being a man without a political home, a man more opposed to fascism than socialism but distrustful of all government. The experience also provided him with character types, themes, and images that would appear regularly in his fiction to the very end of his life. Jake Barnes's journalism (The Sun Also Rises), the socialist subtext in A Farewell to Arms, Harry's story of Constantinople in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Colonel Cantwell's return to the site of his first wound (Across the River and into the Trees), and the Paris streets of A Moveable Feast are firmly rooted in Hemingway's Toronto journalism.

While covering the Lausanne Peace Conference in the early winter of 1922, Ernest asked Hadley to join him for a vacation at Chamby. Packing up most of her husband's Paris fiction, including the novel begun in Chicago, Hadley booked a seat on the night train to Switzerland. While buying mineral water at the station, she left her luggage unattended in her compartment. She returned to find that a thief had stolen the valise containing Ernest's writing. In tears, she arrived in Lausanne to face him with what he later reconstructed as one of his most painful experiences. Evidence now indicates that it was less traumatic than he remembered, for he apparently did not immediately return to Paris to check with the police or the station's lost-and-found; nor did he post a meaningful reward. Shortly after he returned from Paris to Chamby, Hadley became pregnant, and they began talking of his moving back to a full-time newspaper job in Canada.

A Brief Return to Toronto (1923)

Despite the loss of his unfinished novel, Hemingway was not deeply discouraged about his creative future. Two of his best new stories--"My Old Man" and "Up in Michigan"--were not lost, and Hemingway was committed to be part of Bill Bird's inquest into the state of contemporary letters, a project begun by Ezra Pound to publish modernist prose. In January 1923 six of his poems appeared in Poetry magazine; in February Robert McAlmon agreed to publish a limited edition of Hemingway's poems and stories. By March Hemingway had produced six vignettes, which he sent to Jane Heap's Little Review, where, with another of his poems, they were published the following October. In August, two weeks before their ship sailed for Canada, McAlmon's edition of Three Stories & Ten Poems appeared in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and Hemingway finished the last short sketches that would complete his book that Bill Bird was to publish as in our time (1924).

Returning to Toronto, Hemingway expected to be welcomed as the Star's foreign correspondent. Instead he found himself working with a new editor, who generally disliked prima donnas and particularly disliked Hemingway. No sooner did Ernest report for work than he was put on the night train to Kinston to cover the prison break of four convicts, including the bank robber Red Ryan. Two years later, while making notes for a novel, Hemingway vowed to write a picaresque novel about Ryan's escape from prison. "It will be the story of a tough kid," he said, "lucky for a long time and finally smashed by fate" (Princeton).

Although he never wrote the Red Ryan novel, his next fiction--the unpublished and unfinished "A New Slain Knight"--has a criminal breaking from custody and a central character who is a professional revolutionary with criminal tendencies. In To Have and Have Not, Hemingway gave us the fishing guide turned criminal in Harry Morgan, who is gut-shot while killing three Cuban bank robbers. Many of his male characters live lives apart from the social norm, men without family, without homes; lonely, self-reliant men; men not so distantly related to Red Ryan.

Hemingway's first son, John Hadley Nicanor, was born that October in Toronto while Ernest was returning from another out-of-town assignment. Furious with his editor, with Toronto, and with his inability to write for two masters--himself and theStar--Hemingway quit his last full-time job in January 1924; he, Hadley, and their son returned to Paris that same month to live on her small trust fund and whatever money he could make writing. They found an inexpensive, cold-water flat above a sawmill, close to Ezra Pound's apartment and near the heart of Montparnasse.

An Expatriate in Paris

With Ezra Pound as his mentor, Sylvia Beach as his friend, and Gertrude Stein as his surrogate mother and godmother to his son, Hemingway was as well connected as a young writer could be. Pound convinced him to work as an unpaid assistant for Ford Madox Ford, who was then publishing the short-lived but important Transatlantic Review. From that vantage point, Hemingway connected with every expatriate American writer in Paris. Through Gertrude Stein's salon, he fell in love with Cézanne's landscapes and met young painters on the rise--Juan Gris, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso. At Sylvia Beach's bookshop and lending library, he extended his education and his circle of acquaintances, including George Antheil, Adrienne Monnier, Archibald MacLeish, and James Joyce.

Outwardly confident, vibrant with energy, interested in everything and anyone, and laughing and joking among his café friends, young Hemingway became a featured attraction along the Americanized Left Bank of Paris. Continuously moving with his curious, slow-footed gait, he was a man on his way somewhere else, always. He was six feet tall, broad shouldered, mustached, and handsome, a man who set his own style. Whatever the activity--hunting, fishing, walking, or writing--he was intense and competitive. Whether it was the bullfights at Pamplona, the ski slopes at Schruns, or an evening at a Paris dance hall, the Hemingway experience always demanded unexpected emotional resources. Few of his male friendships lasted longer than five years, but to whatever he touched in those days he added scale and a sense of importance. Yale-educated American painter Gerald Murphy said, "The lives of some of us will seem, I suppose by comparison, piddling. . . . For me, he has the violence and excess of genius."

Between 1924 and 1929 Hemingway rose from an undiscovered writer known only to the expatriate crowd to one of the best-known American writers of his generation. His limited edition publications were followed by In Our Time (1925); his breakthrough novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926); a second collection of stories, Men without Women (1927); and his first war novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929). Thanks to his lifelong New York publisher, Charles Scribner's Sons, he worked under the forgiving eye of editor Max Perkins, who seldom changed anything Hemingway wrote. During this period, although Hemingway spent his summers in Spain following the bullfights and his winters in Switzerland skiing, Paris remained his base of operations. His newfound success was not without its costs. In April of 1927 Hadley divorced him, allowing him to marry, in May, Pauline Pfeiffer, with whom he had begun an affair more than a year earlier. In their divorce settlement, he gave Hadley lifelong rights to all of the income from The Sun Also Rises.

In 1928 Ernest and Pauline returned to America for the cesarean birth of his second son, Patrick. During this visit they discovered the then-isolated pleasures of Key West fishing and Wyoming dude ranches. After spending most of 1929 in and out of their Paris apartment, in 1930 the Hemingways moved back to Key West, where Ernest began writing his vade mecum and explanation of the bullfight, Death in the Afternoon (1932). On 1 November 1930, while driving John Dos Passos from their Wyoming hunting trip into Billings, Montana, to catch the east-bound train, Hemingway, confused by the lights of an approaching car, swerved sharply on a newly graveled road and ended up in the ditch; his right arm was badly broken. While he recuperated in Billings, the sale of the film rights to A Farewell to Arms brought him a $24,000 windfall. During the Great Depression the Hemingways were supported by Pauline's trust fund; by gifts from her wealthy uncle, Augustus Pfeiffer, who paid for their home in Key West and their African safari; and by income from Hemingway's writing. For the last thirty years of his life, that income was richly supplemented first by Hollywood and later by television. During his lifetime, the sale of movie rights for five of his novels and numerous short stories gave him an independence enjoyed by few American writers.

The Key West Years

Hemingway experimented freely with genre, voice, and subject matter, going ten years (1929-1939) before writing anything like a traditional novel. Death in the Afternoon, with its multiple voices, its stories within the narrative, and its factual framework, was a book before its time. Unclassifiable, it was and remains largely ignored by Hemingway critics but is pilfered freely for its pithy quotes. In 1933 Hemingway published his third collection of short stories, Winner Take Nothing, followed two years later by his seminonfictional account of his 1933 African safari, Green Hills of Africa (1935). Mixing humor, flashbacks, literary pontification, and self-exposure with his fable on aesthetics, Hemingway once again wrote outside the reception range of the critics. In 1936 he published his most experimental short story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," which contained a collection of vignettes similar to those of in our time embedded in a larger story. Written in tandem with what was to become his most popular short story, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," Hemingway presented, among other things, two contrasting views of American men and women.

During this period (1933-1936) he was also writing a series of personal essays, called "Letters," for the newly foundedEsquire magazine. This forum allowed him to create a public persona that became as well known as that of many movie stars. His subject matter was himself in situ: Africa, the Gulf Stream, Paris, Spain, Cuba, Key West; wherever his interests took him. The voice was personal and frequently humorous, combative, or prophetic. In September 1935 he warned his audience about the next war, which he said would begin within two years. In September 1937 he was in Madrid reporting on the Spanish Civil War.

That October, Hemingway was on the cover of Time magazine, and his last experimental work from the Key West years, To Have and Have Not, was published to tepid reviews. What had begun as two stories about Harry Morgan, a Key West fishing guide and rumrunner, expanded in the planning stage to be a complex novel comparing a Cuban revolution with a parallel revolution in Spain. The book he intended to write was abandoned, the revolutions were reduced to a whisper, and the remainder was cobbled together as well as he could manage.

Hemingway was under self-imposed pressure to reach the war and to find a safe haven for his recently begun affair with 29-year-old Martha Gellhorn. With Pauline confined to Key West with their two sons--Gregory had been born in 1931--what safer place to conduct a love affair than Madrid under siege? There he covered the war for the North American News Alliance and the short-lived Ken magazine. He also contributed a narrative to the film The Spanish Earth and wrote his only play, The Fifth Column (1938).

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

In February 1939, with his marriage to Pauline essentially over, Hemingway took his fishing boat, the Pilar, to Havana, where, living in his favorite room in the Hotel Ambos Mundos, he began writing what would be received as his finest novel,For Whom the Bell Tolls. In April Gellhorn rented and made habitable a property outside of Havana, "La Finca Vigia," where she and Hemingway set up their writers' workshop. He worked steadily on his Spanish Civil War story of an American dynamiter, Robert Jordan, and his epic task of destroying a bridge behind Republican lines. She, who had seen almost as much of Spain as had he, wisely chose to write instead about her recent stay in Prague as it prepared to face the approaching Nazi invasion.

On 24 December 1939 Hemingway left his empty Key West house for the last time as Pauline's husband. Taking with him eight hundred books and his personal belongings, including several paintings by Miró, Fernand Léger, and Juan Gris, he moved permanently into La Finca. In Europe, Hitler's blitzkrieg had overrun Poland; the war Hemingway had predicted had begun, but America was not yet a part of it. That March, Martha's new novel, dedicated to Ernest, was published as A Stricken Field, the title taken from a pseudo-medieval quote written for her by Hemingway. That same month The Fifth Column, rewritten to make it work onstage, opened in New York to mixed reviews.

At the end of July 1940 Hemingway delivered his completed typescript of For Whom the Bell Tolls to Max Perkins. The novel appeared on 21 October to ecstatic reviews; four days later Paramount Pictures offered Hemingway $100,000 for the film rights. In early November Pauline's divorce suit against her husband on grounds of desertion was granted, leaving Hemingway free to marry Gellhorn a few weeks later.

Hemingway's War Efforts

Although the last two decades of Hemingway's life produced seven volumes of fiction and nonfiction, these years remain the murkiest and the least understood by his literary biographers. The first five years of this period were subsumed by Hemingway's various war efforts. Cuba, ruled by dictator Fulgencio Batista, was a haven for spies and intelligence agencies of every stripe. When Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941, German submarines operated freely up and down the Atlantic Coast and throughout the Caribbean, sinking freighters and oil tankers at will. In 1942 Hemingway organized a group of amateurs he called the Crook Factory to gather intelligence on German operatives, which he passed on to the American ambassador. The details of this operation remain buried in government archives. By July 1942 Hemingway was running Nazi submarine patrols with his fishing boat, which was rigged with machine guns and explosives. After several sightings but no contact, Hemingway took himself off the Pilar's roster in November.

Drinking heavily and arguing with his new wife, Hemingway was suffering through the longest hiatus he had ever experienced in his writing career. Since finishing For Whom the Bell Tolls thirty months earlier, he had written nothing but an introduction to Men at War (1942). During this same period Martha published a short-story collection, The Heart of Another(1941), and began her next novel, Liana (1944), which she finished in June 1943. All that year and into 1944 Hemingway stayed in Cuba, where he returned to his self-appointed submarine patrols and wrote nothing. At the end of 1943 Martha left the Finca to cover the European war for Collier's magazine; she urged her husband to come with her. He brooded alone at the Finca, where his typewriter continued to gather dust until 1945. At the peak of his career, the foremost American male novelist went six years without writing any new fiction. Only later would students of his work recognize this hiatus as the onset of the severe depression that eventually would destroy Hemingway just as it destroyed his father before him. By this point, the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage was finished in all but name. In April 1944 Hemingway signed on as a war correspondent for Collier's, displacing Martha; by the end of May he had met Mary Welsh Monks, soon to be his fourth wife, and Martha had closed the door behind her.

Between June and December 1944 Hemingway explored the European war with manic energy, deliberately putting himself in dangerous situations. On D-Day, 6 June, rather than observe the Normandy landing from the relative safety of the correspondents' ship, Hemingway went aboard a landing craft to get a closer view. The result was his essay "Voyage to Victory," which remains vintage Hemingway:

I saw a ragged shell hole through the steel plates forward of her pilothouse where an 88-mm. German shell had punched through. Blood was dripping from the shiny edges of the hole into the sea with each roll of the LCI. Her rails and hull had been befouled by seasick men, and her dead were laid forward of her pilothouse. (By-Line, p. 351)


At the end of that month he flew twice on Royal Air Force missions intercepting German rockets headed for England. In July he was attached briefly to George Patton's Third Army before transferring to Colonel Charles "Buck" Lanham's Twenty-second Regiment of the Fourth Army. By August, when Collier's published "London Fights the Robots," Hemingway was leading a small group of French irregulars and unattached GIs toward the liberation of Paris and the Ritz Bar.

In and out of Paris all that fall, Hemingway alternated between the battlefields of France and the bedroom of the Ritz Hotel, where his affair with Mary Welsh Monks was proceeding as well as the war effort. When he was not sick with colds and sore throats or suffering from recurring headaches from a severe concussion he sustained in London, Hemingway was by turns brave, gentle, obsessive, foolhardy, loving, and brutal: a man surfing on the crest of his manic drive. That fall Collier'spublished two of his essays, "Battle for Paris" and "How We Came to Paris." In October a U.S. Army court-martial cleared Hemingway of conduct forbidden to correspondents as noncombatants, conduct such as carrying weapons, shooting Germans, and behaving like a field officer. Under oath, Hemingway lied about his field activities prior to the liberation of Paris, lies for which he suffered deep remorse.

On 15 November 1944 Hemingway rejoined Lanham's Twenty-second for nineteen days of the bloodiest fighting of the war. On the German-Belgian border, in rolling, thickly forested hills cut by muddy logging roads, the German defense had prepared thick bunkers and thousands of mines. Heavy artillery zeroed in on all crossroads. Fighting in snow and winter mud, both sides suffered incredible losses; 33,000 Americans were casualties of the action they called Hurtgenwald. Here Hemingway verifiably killed a German soldier who was charging across the clearing toward Lanham's command post.

Life after World War II

Sick, weary, his speech slurred from concussion, and his memory temporarily damaged, Hemingway had seen enough of the war. He returned to New York and then to Cuba, where Mary Welsh Monks joined him in May. The following month Hemingway wrecked his car, cutting Mary's face while breaking four of his ribs and reinjuring his head. That summer of 1945, as the war on both fronts came to an end, Hemingway began putting his writing life back together, working on what he said would be his "trilogy." In September he filed an uncontested suit for divorce from Martha on the grounds of her desertion. In November a $112,000 sale of movie rights to two short stories provided him the financial freedom to write without pressure to publish.

In March 1946 Hemingway and Mary Welsh Monks, both recently divorced, were married in Havana. By mid-June he claimed to have finished one thousand pages of a new novel; by December he said it was twelve hundred pages but would not be finished for several months. The first seven months of 1947 Hemingway remained in Cuba, writing steadily through March. In June Max Perkins died suddenly in New York; in August, Hemingway, morose, overweight, and with his ears buzzing, was diagnosed with high blood pressure. From this point to his death, he was to fight a holding action against hypertension, diabetes, depression, paranoia, and perhaps hemochromatosis--many of the same problems that led to his father's suicide and would, years later, lead to his younger brother's suicide.

The Hemingways spent the fall and winter of 1947, as they frequently did, hunting game birds in and around Ketchum, Idaho. Returning to Cuba in February, Hemingway continued writing on what may have become Islands in the Stream. Because the bulk of his writing during these later years was unpublished by the author, and because he seems to have been working simultaneously on what were later treated as discrete texts that he saw as a trilogy (Islands, Garden of Eden, and A Moveable Feast), nothing definitive can yet be said about the work from this period. It is becoming increasingly evident, however, that these three posthumous texts, mixing fact and fiction, engage thematically the role of the artist in modern times and have at their core, for good or ill, the experience of Paris in the 1920s. It was to be a trilogy unlike any other, bringing to closure the experiments begun in Paris twenty-five years earlier.

From September 1948 through April 1949 Ernest and Mary lived in northern Italy, principally Venice and Cortina, and visited sites from Hemingway's first war. Nostalgic returns to previously good places--Italy, Pamplona, Africa, Paris--became a feature of Hemingway's later years, and each return was less than happy. In Italy, between duck hunting in the Venetian marshes and skiing in the Dolomites, Hemingway became infatuated with eighteen-year-old Venetian beauty Adriana Ivancich. Mary tolerated her husband's behavior with what grace she could manage. Before they returned to Cuba at the end of April, Hemingway had begun the story of a Venetian duck hunt.

For six months at the Finca, Hemingway, having put aside his trilogy, used the duck-hunt story as a framing device for a novel, Across the River and into the Trees (1950). Aaron Hotchner, acting as Hemingway's sounding board and agent, negotiated an $85,000 price for the novel's serial rights. Hemingway took Mary, Hotchner, and the manuscript back to Paris, where he finished the story in a hotel room at the Ritz. Just before Christmas 1949, the group drove through the south of France, revisiting, among other places, Aigues Morte and Grau-du-Roi, where Ernest and Pauline once honeymooned. The Hemingways spent two months in Venice before returning to Paris and eventually to Cuba in early April. There Hemingway revised the book galleys for Across the River; in September the courtly love story of the dying American colonel and the teenage Venetian beauty received overwhelmingly negative reviews. By the end of 1950, Ivancich and her mother were visiting at the Finca, where Hemingway finished Islands in the Stream and may have begun The Old Man and the Sea. Mary, reduced to household drudge and the object of her husband's ridicule, wanted out of her marriage but did not act on it.

The Old Man and the Sea (1952) and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Fifty-one years old, sicker than most knew, and eleven years without a successful novel, Ernest Hemingway seemed to have reached the end of his career. Would-be biographers and scholars were in general agreement that this was the end of the line. Meanwhile, in a two-month burst of writing, Hemingway completed the first draft of The Old Man and the Sea and returned to add Thomas Hudson's last sub chase to the Islands manuscript, which he declared finished in May 1951. What was looking like a banner year turned to sorrow when Grace Hall-Hemingway died at the end of June and Pauline Hemingway, after a violent phone argument with Ernest, died unexpectedly in October. These two losses were followed by Charles Scribner's mortal heart attack in February 1952.

Each of these deaths diminished Hemingway's reserves but contributed to his art in ways that a writer can feel but not explain, refueling what seemed to be exhausted supplies. No matter how much he claimed to have hated his mother, he was ever the dutiful son, caring for her financially, writing occasionally, and telephoning her regularly. At the heart of him, he could not avoid seeing her face in his mirror. In March he began a story, "The Last Good Country," in which the mother stoutly stands up to authority in defense of her son. Pauline's death, coming on the heels of his Grau-du-Roi revisit, took him back to the Garden of Eden manuscript. Charles Scribner's death may have been the hardest of all to bear, for with him Ernest lost his last father surrogate to whom he could take his work seeking approval. At fifty-two and about to receive his greatest public adulation, Ernest Hemingway was more alone than he had ever been in his life.

Life magazine, having paid $40,000 for the serial rights, published and sold five million copies of its 1 September 1952 issue containing The Old Man and the Sea in its entirety. Book-of-the-Month Club bought the novella, and Scribners sold out its 50,000-copy first run. Critics and readers delighted in the simple, moving story of an old fisherman's losing battle with sharks over the carcass of his giant marlin. In early April 1953 a film crew arrived in Havana to begin filming Hemingway's pocket-sized epic. In May, Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, which had been denied to For Whom the Bell Tolls.

In June, with a sizable advance from Look magazine to do a series of articles on a return safari to the Serengeti, Ernest and Mary left Havana for Europe and eventually Africa. Beginning with the Pamplona feria, Hemingway returned for the first time since 1933 to the Spanish bullfight circuit, which he and Mary followed for a month. By September they were in Kenya on safari, which did not end until 21 January, when Ernest treated Mary to a small-plane trip to see Africa from the air. Two days later at Murchison Falls, the plane struck a telegraph wire and crash landed. Newspapers worldwide headlined Hemingway's death. Soon afterward, the Hemingway party, bruised but alive, boarded another small plane, which crashed in flames on takeoff. More death notices appeared, but Hemingway again survived, badly injured internally and with serious burns. The couple returned to Venice to recuperate until Ernest was ready to drive back to Spain in May. In June 1954 they departed Europe for Havana, where on 28 October Ernest received news that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he could not make the trip to Stockholm because of poor health.

From 1955 to 1961 Hemingway's life alternated between ever-shortening cycles of euphoric writing and paranoia-ridden depression. His weight rose and fell alarmingly; his hypertension worsened. Medication for his blood pressure exacerbated his depressions. The public did not see his vulnerability, but close friends became increasingly concerned. Yet, when his health did not prevent him, Hemingway wrote steadily on his trilogy. Garden of Eden expanded in several drafts, and he was now working alternately on A Moveable Feast. This pattern continued well into 1958. In January 1959, when the Batista government was brought down by the Castro revolution, Hemingway bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where he could safely watch the revolution, for which he had a good deal of sympathy.

During the summer of 1959 Hemingway returned to Spain to cover for Life magazine the mano-a-mano bullfights of the young Ordóñez and the veteran Dominguín. All that summer and into the fall, Hemingway's behavior became more erratic, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. His mood shifts frightened Mary and bewildered his male friends. That winter and into the next year, Hemingway worked on his contracted 10,000-word feature for Life magazine. By May 1960 he had written 120,000 words, which he asked Hotchner to edit. Life paid $90,000 for the shortened version but printed only part of it.

When Hemingway insisted on returning to Spain during the summer of 1960, Mary remained in New York. From Spain he wrote her plaintive letters about his fears of cracking up. That November, under the care of his Ketchum doctor, Hemingway entered the Mayo Clinic to be treated for hypertension, enlarged liver, paranoia, and severe depression. He received extended treatments of electroshock therapy before being released in late January 1961. By the end of April, after two suicide attempts, he was back at Mayo for more electroshock. Discharged on 26 June, he was driven back to Ketchum, where he soon brought his story to its seemingly inevitable, sad conclusion. On the morning of 2 July Hemingway slipped two shells into his favorite shotgun and quite deliberately blew the top of his head away. He was survived by three wives, three sons, numerous rumors, five unpublished books, and a distinguished if frequently misunderstood body of work. In Death in the Afternoon, the character of the Old Lady is told that all stories, if followed far enough, end sadly and that no true writer would tell you otherwise. The words could have been put on Hemingway's tombstone.

A Writer's Life Carried Out on an Epic Scale

In his junior year notebook at Oak Park and River Forest High School, Hemingway recorded his boy's hopes for the future:

I desire to do pioneering or exploring work in the 3 last great frontiers[:] Africa[,] southern central South America[,] or the country around and north of Hudson Bay. I believe that the Science, English and to a certain extent the Latin that I am now studying in high-school will help me in this object. I intend to specialize in the sciences in college and to join some expedition when I leave college. I believe that any training I get by hiking in the spring or farm work in the summer or any work in the woods which tends to develop resourcefulness and self reliance is of inestimable value in the work I intend to pursue. I have no desire absolutely to be a millionaire or a rich man but I do intend to do something toward the scientific interests of the world. (John F. Kennedy Library)


He read it over, and then he signed it: Ernest M. Hemingway--a binding contract with himself made on that first day of spring, a contract he kept with the world as well as he was able.

Hemingway never enrolled at college, but he never gave up his studies in natural history, ichthyology, or unencumbered spaces. His language studies broadened: Italian, French, Spanish, and a smattering of German. He never got to Hudson Bay or South America, but he took his readers with him to Africa, the heart of which beats deep within his writing in ways not always obvious. He studied trout streams in several countries, studied Gulf Stream marlin, studied Spanish bulls and African game. He studied the flight of birds, the bends of rivers, and the flow of country. But what he studied first, last, and always was that strange animal, his fellow man, rampant in his natural setting. Like his mother, Hemingway was an artist; like his father, he was a natural historian. Like both, he found his calling in Oak Park.

Like neither parent, however, he was a child of the twentieth century, born too late for the frontier and too soon for outer space, leaving only that dark country within himself and his readers to explore. He responded to every pressure of his time, recording its progress and aging as it aged. His life seemed to embody the promise of America: with good fortune, hard work, talent, ambition, and a little ruthlessness a man can create himself in the image of his choosing. As a young man in Paris, Hemingway dedicated himself to his writing, and he let nothing interfere with his goal. He created a public persona to match his prose, becoming the person he wanted to be. Like that of other self-made Americans, however, Hemingway's invented self was a mask that he wore with less and less ease as he grew older. Despite his public image, despite his raucous life and several wives, and despite the critics who turned on him, he left stories and novels so starkly moving that some have become a permanent part of the American cultural inheritance.

Before he turned twenty-five Hemingway was a friend of James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein and had written most of the stories to be published as In Our Time. Before he was thirty he had buried his father and written two of the best novels to come from his generation, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. At thirty-eight he reported the Spanish Civil War to neutral Americans. At forty-four he reported on the Normandy invasion from a landing craft off Omaha Beach. At forty-six he married his fourth wife. At fifty-three he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. At fifty-four he survived two plane crashes in Africa. At fifty-five the Nobel Prize was his. His legacy includes several of the finest short stories written in the twentieth century, at least three--possibly four--major novels, and an example of a writer's life carried out on an epic scale. His style has, at some point, influenced most American writers of the twentieth century. That he self-destructed affirmed his humanity; that he wrote as well as he did promises his permanence.


Reynolds, Michael (Feb 2000) "Hemingway, Ernest" American National Biography Online.