Ernest Hemingway, despite being deeply unfashionable these days in some tony circles, was hands down the most important American novelist of the Twentieth Century. He was born on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois, a comfortable upper middle class suburb of Chicago which the writer would later recall as a place of, “broad lawns and narrow minds.”
The son of a depressive physician and a high strung mother with musical and artistic ambitions, the young Hemingway was probably happier there than he dared admit later in life. Despite conflicts with his mother over practicing the cello, he had a wide circle of friends and excelled at everything he touched in high school—scholastics, athletics, and the newspaper and yearbook he edited. He summered at the family’s cabin in Michigan where he mastered fly fishing and trapping which sparked a lifelong interest in the outdoors and what he perceived to be adventure.
But he was glad enough to get out of town when he could, spurning his father’s wishes that he attend college. Instead he turned naturally to journalism. He got a job as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star, then regarded as one of the outstanding newspapers “between the coasts.” He dutifully covered the re-write desk as other reporters phoned in stories, and covered sports and petty crime. He reveled in the life of a newspaper man, including the heavy drinking camaraderie so attractive to a boy of 17. Although he stayed with the paper only six months he later claimed his writing style was straight out of the Star style book, “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”
With the American entry into World War I, Hemingway was eager to see action, but his association with politically radical newsmen may have soured his desire to enlist in the Army as a combatant. Instead he signed on with the Red Cross and was assigned duty in Italy as an ambulance driver. He arrived in Europe in May 1918 and saw Paris for the first time in transit to Italy while the city was under German artillery bombardment. His first duty in Milan was to report to a munitions factory explosion which killed dozens of young women workers. “After we searched quite thoroughly for the complete dead we collected fragments,” he later recalled. In an afternoon any thoughts of glory were erased by gore.
Soon he was on duty at the front. On July 8 after only weeks in combat, Hemingway was severely wounded by mortar fire. Despite wounds in both legs he carried an injured soldier to safety, earning the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valor.
|Hemingway in an Italian military hospital in his Red Cross ambulance corps uniform with Agnes von Kurowsky, the lovely nurse eight years his senior he fell madly in love with.|
After emergency surgery on his wounds at a field hospital, he was transferred to a military hospital in Milan where he spent six months recovering and mooning over Agnes von Kurowsky, a beautiful American Red Cross nurse seven years his senior. Although she may have encouraged the attentions of her strapping, handsome patient, she became alarmed with the intensity of adoration and his fantasies of a life together as man and wife. After Hemingway returned home, she jilted him in letter claiming to be engaged to an Italian officer. He was crushed and bitter, but used Agnes as the model of characters in his A Very Short Story, and most famously, in A Farewell to Arms.
Recuperating uncomfortably in Oak Park, Hemmingway took solace in an extended fishing and camping trip to Michigan with old high school buddies which became the basis for his early short story The Big Two Hearted River which introduced his semi-autobiographical Nick Adams character.
In September 1919 he casually took a job in Toronto, Canada but was soon wrangling free lance assignments from the Toronto Star, many of them accounts of his fishing adventures. He maintained a relationship with the Star when her returned for a final summer in Michigan in 1920 and then moved to Chicago to work as an editor under Maxwell Anderson at the moderate leftist monthly Cooperative Commonwealth.
He met Hadley Richardson, a vivacious red head from St. Louis when she visited her brother, then his roommate. Like von Kurowsky she was eight years older than him, and described by friends as “nurturing” but surprisingly immature for her age. In an extended correspondence the couple planned an adventure to Europe together. Married in September 1921, Anderson urged the couple to go to Paris where they could live cheaply.
|Hemingway and his first wife Hadley--young, in love, and at large in Europe.|
Hemingway secured an assignment as a foreign correspondent from the Toronto Star which assured the couple of more than an ample income especially when they picked a cheap walk-up apartment in the poverty stricken Latin Quarter. Hemingway had enough money to rent another near-by room for his writing and the couple had money to spend on occasional jaunts around the continent.
Anderson’s letters of introduction to expatriate poet and arts patron Gertrude Stein and others soon put him at the center of a vibrant bohemian arts community. Poet Ezra Pound mentored him, as he had done to so many others, and accompanied Hemingway on a long trip to Italy in 1923. James Joyce was an especially close friend and favorite drinking companion, the frail Irishman often relying on the muscular American to bail him out of bar brawls. Through Stein’s famous salon he also met and associated with artists Pablo Picasso and Jean Miro. He began chronicling what Stein called the Lost Generation in notes and short stories.
Meanwhile he filed regular dispatches for the Star, including an account of the burning of Smyrna in the Greco-Turkish War. He also filed travel pieces, an account of fly fishing across Europe, and significantly, his first account of the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona. In December 1922 Hadley was on the way to meet him in Geneva when she lost a suitcase containing almost all of the story manuscripts Hemingway had been working on for a year and a half. The writer was devastated and sank into an inconsolable depression and heavy drinking.
The following year the couple returned to Toronto for the birth of their son, John (nicknamed Bumby) and Hemingway worked as a reporter at the Star. While they were in Canada, a small private edition of a 36 page collection of vignettes, including A Very Short Story was published in Paris under the title in our time.
After returning to Paris in 1924 he worked with Ford Maddox Ford on the influential literary magazine Transatlantic Review in which some of his first Nick Adams stories were published. Ford provided the dust jacket blurb for Hemingway’s full scale book, In Our Time which incorporated the vignettes from the earlier pamphlet between several Nick Adams stories. The book received strong, even glowing reviews for the writer’s “reinvention” of narrative prose in deceptively simple, short declarative sentences.
Hemingway was modestly on his way to becoming a literary celebrity. He enjoyed a friendly rivalry with F. Scott Fitzgerald whose recent success with The Great Gatsby encouraged him to try his hand a novel, which he recognized was becoming the most important literary form of the post war period.
The family’s now annual trip to Pamplona in 1925 was in the company of a mixed group of American and British expatriates, who inspired Hemingway to begin work on The Sun Also Rises. He dashed of a first draft in two months but then spent six months doing a painstaking rewrite before sending it to Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribner’s in New York. The novel was published to sensational reviews in October 1926 just as his marriage to Hadley was deteriorating.
Earlier that year Hemingway had begun an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, even inviting her on the annual trip to Pamplona. Hadley asked for a divorce in November. The couple amicably divided their property and Hemingway, feeling guilty gave her all of the proceeds from The Sun Also Rises. He married Pfeiffer, an heiress from Arkansas who worked on the Paris edition of Vogue. The smitten writer even converted to Catholicism for her, a major slap in the face to his father.
|Hemingway in Paris with the fresh head scar from the freak accident when he pulled his bathroom skylight frame down his head. In later years he would encourage people to assume that the scar was related to his war wounds or a hunting accident.|
On their honeymoon Hemingway somehow contracted anthrax, just one of the serious illness and bad accidents that seemed to plague him the rest of his life. A few months later he accidentally pulled the frame of a skylight in his Paris bathroom down on his head giving him a concussion and the large crescent shape scar on his forehead evident in all of his later photographs. He seldom admitted to the accident letting people believe that it was a war wound or a hunting accident, just one of the many little myths he let flourish to burnish his growing reputation as a macho man.
Recovering from the illness and accident, Hemingway pulled together his next short story collection, Men Without Women which included revised versions of ten pieces previously published in magazines and four new stories. The collection featured some of his strongest stories, most notably his bleak gangster tale, The Killers.
Pauline and Ernest returned to the United States in 1928, permanently leaving Paris behind. On the advice of John Dos Passos, they found a home in Key West. But Hemingway was restless. The couple was in Kansas City for the birth of their first son Patrick. Pauline nearly died in childbirth, an experience Hemingway would incorporate in his next novel, A Farewell to Arms, which he was beginning to work on. In the next few months he was hunting in Wyoming and visited his editor Perkins in New York.
The family, along with his first son Bumby, were aboard a train from New York to Florida when they got word that Hemingway’s father had committed suicide with a shot gun. Grief stricken and guilt ridden he told Pauline, “I’ll probably go the same way.”
Returning to Key West, he finished a first draft of the new novel in January 1929 and Scribner’s announced plans to serialize it in their monthly magazine prior to publication as a book in May. But Hemmingway struggled with the ending and went to France to collect notes from his hospitalization in Italy, then went on to Spain for research on his next project, a non-fiction book on bullfighting. The book was finally published in September. Again it was a major achievement. Royalties from the book, and the motion picture adaptation starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes which was released two years later made the family financially secure.
|Happy years in Key West--Hemingway with wife Pauline and a marlin.|
Pauline’s uncle bought them a two story home in Key West with a writing room in a converted carriage house. Another son, Gregory, was born, and Bumby stayed with the couple for extended periods of time. Hemingway was probably as happy as he ever would be. They went to Wyoming for trout fishing in the summers and big game in the fall, returning to Key West for the winters. He took up serious deep sea fishing, entertained visiting pals like Dos Passos and Perkins, caroused at a sea side dive called Sloppy Joe’s, dashed off to Europe or Cuba for quick trips, writing magazine pieces and working on his bullfighting book Death in the Afternoon which was published in 1932. It received praise, but also criticism for its worshipful meditation on what was after all a brutal blood sport.
In 1933 Hemingway and Pauline flew to Africa to research for a planned collection of big game hunting stories. A ten week safari provided ample material, but Hemingway was struck with amebic dysentery causing the collapse of his intestines and requiring him to be air lifted to a Nairobi hospital. The episode became fodder for the story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. He finished his collection, The Green Hills of Africa in 1935. It sold well but met with mixed reviews despite containing stories now considered classic like The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
That year he bought his beloved fishing boat Pillar, outfitted like the boats of professional fishing guides who catered to rich, bored customers. He sailed often to Bimini and to Cuba posing for pictures with his family in front of huge hanging black marlin. He captured that world and the seedy intrigue of smuggling in the Caribbean in his only novel of the decade, To Have or Have Not.
|Hemingway at the Battle of Teruel in the Spanish Civil war. Not just a war corespondent, he was a passionate Republican partisan and in the heat of the moment could not resist joining the battle.|
By the time it was published in 1937 he was covering the Spanish Civil War as a war correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA). Returning to a latent radicalism, he became passionately involved in the Republican cause, collaborating with Dutch film maker Joris Ivens on the script and narration of the film The Spanish Earth. While making the film he broke with his old friend John Dos Passos, who left Spain after his friend José Robles was arrested and executed by Republican authorities. Dos Passos became disillusioned with the left and began his long drift toward political conservatism. Hemingway railed against him for cowardice and deserting the cause under fire.
With the intervention of the Nazis and Italian Fascists on the side of General Franco, the war was turning against the politically divided Republicans. In Madrid under artillery barrage he wrote his only play, the bitter Fifth Column.
He was also dallying with journalist Martha Gellhorn, an acquaintance he had met in Key West. The combination of war and romance was irresistible. Hemingway traveled back and forth between the States and Spain two more times before he was present for the end in 1938. He and other correspondents were among the last to escape across the Ebro when the Republican last stand collapsed.
|Another war, another woman--Hemingway and third wife Martha in Idaho shortly after their marriage.|
Crushed by the Republican loss, he separated from Pauline upon returning to the States and moved to Cuba in 1939 where Martha soon joined him. Together they set up residence at rented Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm) near Havana. After an attempted reconciliation with Pauline on the annual Wyoming trip with the children, the couple filed for divorce. He married Martha in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1940. After the marriage Hemingway moved his summer base to Ketchum, Idaho near Sun Valley and also began making winter trips there from Cuba to ski.
All during this turmoil and drama he was working on his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bells Toll. He purposefully molded his hero, Robert Jordan, on Gary Cooper, the star of A Farewell to Arms and a Sun Valley skiing companion. The book was published in October 1940 and became his most successful, becoming a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, selling half a million copies in a few months and earning the author the unanimous recommendation of the jury for the Pulitzer Prize. But Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler, ex-officio head of the Pulitzer Board and a fascist sympathizer, vetoed the choice and no prize was awarded for 1941. In 1943 Hemingway got his wish when Cooper was cast opposite Ingrid Bergman in an Academy Award winning film of the book.
Returning to Cuba with the outbreak of war, Hemingway outfitted the Pillar as an amateur U-boat hunter and played at chasing Nazi subs in the Caribbean. But he yearned for action, and better yet revenge, for the bitter loss of Spain. In 1944 he was accredited a war correspondent for Colliers Magazine.
|Hemingway's war corespondent credentials from SHAFE--Supreme Headquarters Allied Forced Europe.|
He observed D-Day landings from an LST but Army authorities, fearful of losing the most famous American writer in action, refused to allow him to personally make the landing with the men, although his later accounts of the day inferred that he did come ashore.
In July he attached himself to the 22d Infantry Regiment under the command of colorful and able Colonel Charles “Buck” Lanham, which was spearheading the drive to Paris. Lanham became the model for Colonel Cantwell in Hemingway’s last war novel, Across the River and Into the Trees.
As the regiment approached Paris, Hemingway encountered a loose band of French Resistance fighters and somehow assumed command of the group through a series of sharp skirmishes with the Germans. He would later be charged with violating the Geneva Convention by participating in combat operations while an accredited correspondent. Charges were dismissed when he claimed to have acted only in an “advisory capacity,” although testimony by the French involved made it clear that he was in actual command—and acquitted himself more than ably.
He reconnected to the Regiment as it entered the Paris Suburbs with orders to wait for Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Division to enter the city first. He famously claimed to have jumped in a reconnaissance Jeep and entered the city without resistance ahead of all other troops and to have “personally liberated the Bar of the Ritz Hotel,” This account was later proved to be highly exaggerated, though Hemingway was indeed one of the first Americans to enter his former city.
While in Paris he attended a reunion hosted by Sylvia Beach owner of Shakespeare and Company Bookstore and the publisher of the first version of in our time, and made peace with Gertrude Stein, from whom he had been estranged since the mid ‘20’s.
After a period of carousing in Paris, Hemingway rejoined Lanham’s men for the brutal fighting in the Hürtgen Forest, where he fell ill. None the less, he commandeered a Jeep and driver to take him to Luxemburg in December to cover the developing Battle of the Bulge. Collapsing on arrival with pneumonia, Lanham personally had him carried to a hospital. In 1947 Hemingway was awarded a rare Bronze Star for a civilian citing his repeated “bravery under fire in combat areas in order to obtain an accurate picture of conditions.”
Earlier while in England awaiting the D-Day invasion Hemingway had met Mary Welsh, a Time Magazine correspondent. Repeating his war time pattern he became smitten, which became obvious to Martha, when she arrived dramatically but inconveniently on the scene having crossed dangerous Atlantic waters on an explosive laden cargo ship. Although Hemmingway was once again laid up with injuries from an auto accident, it took Martha no time at all to figure out what was going on, call Hemingway a bully, and announce she was done with him forever. He last saw his third wife when he left London to return to Cuba in 1945.
In 1946 he married Mary. Both were plagued with health problems. She suffered an ectopic pregnancy five months after the wedding, he had another auto accident that severely smashed his knee and put another deep gash on his forehead. She broke both ankles in separate Sun Valley Ski accidents. He slipped into another prolonged depression after the death of Maxwell Perkins, his long time friend and editor, in 1947 just another in a long list of old literary and drink palls to pass on. His weight ballooned, blood pressure soared, and he developed diabetes, all of which he handled by drinking more heavily than ever.
|Hemingway with Veronica "Rocky" Cooper, fourth and final wife the former Mary Walsh, and his pal Gary Cooper in Idaho.|
He was also experiencing a kind of writer’s block. He worked sporadically on a new novel, The Garden of Eden with unusual androgynous sexual themes based loosely on his own honeymoon with his second wife, Pauline on the French Riviera. Eventually we wrote more than 800 pages but was never satisfied and continued to tinker with the book until he died. It was published, unsuccessfully and posthumously by Scriber’s with more than two thirds of the manuscript cut and major changes to sequence.
In 1948 he and Mary went to Italy where they revisited the scene of his World War I injury and he conducted research for his brooding novel of coming to grips with love, loss, war, and death, Across the River and Through the Woods. Published in 1950 the book was such a departure from his pre-war novels that both the public and critics rejected it, although it has found an appreciative audience in retrospect among scholars. His first real literary failure was another cause for depression.
In 1951 the literary damn broke when Hemingway completed a draft of The Old Man and the Sea in just six weeks. The deceptively simple story of the battle of a humble Cuban fisherman and an enormous marlin was published in 1952 and immediately restored Hemingway’s reputation as the nation’s foremost novelist. Quickly translated into Spanish and other languages, the book reached a greater international audience than any of his earlier work. And he finally got the Pulitzer Prize denied him ten years earlier. He personally regarded it as his best work.
|Despite the severity of their injuries, Hemingway was much amused by the erroneous reports of his death in his second plane crash in two days.|
Refreshed and invigorated Hemingway and Mary embarked on a trip to Africa to hunt and do research on another book. On a sightseeing flight in the Belgian Congo, the couple’s bush plane struck a utility pole and crashed. Hemingway sustained another head wound and Mary broke two ribs. The next day a second plane carrying them for medical treatment exploded on takeoff giving Hemingway another concussion and painful burns over much of his body. Eventually reaching Entebbe, Uganda for medical treatment, Hemingway was amused to learn that he was reported killed in the crash. While recovering he took delight in reading obituaries printed in the world press.
But his injuries were painful and serious and would nag him the rest of his life. A few months later he suffered fresh burns attempting to put out a brush fire in Idaho on fishing trip with his son Patrick and his wife. A full physical conducted while on a visit to Venice finally revealed the seriousness of his accumulated injuries which included a fractured skull, fused spinal discs, a dislocated shoulder, and tears to the kidney and spleen in addition to the burns, which were slow to heal and subject to infection. Hemingway would never again be free of pain and his already heavy drinking increased as he attempted to self medicate.
While recovering he received surprise word that he had been awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature. Unable to go to Stockholm to receive the award, he sent an acceptance speech to be read for him. Hemingway remained bed ridden through 1955 and into early 1956 when he felt well enough for a trip to Europe. Although falling ill again, he retrieved a trunk of notebooks and papers from his early years in Paris that he had left behind in the basement of the Ritz Hotel when he moved to Key West in 1928.
Armed with the source material and his own increasing nostalgia for those days, Hemingway began work on his memoir of the era, A Moveable Feast at his Cuba home in 1957. It was the beginning of another intense period of activity. He finished his memoir in 1959 while simultaneously resuming work on The Garden of Eden; adding to another lengthy unpublished manuscript, True at First Light; and nearly completing work on another novel, Islands in the Stream.
He was publicly supportive of the Cuban Revolution and personally friendly with Fidel Castro. But hoards of visitors and tourists were now swarming his favorite haunts hoping to meet him or simply walking up to his door. He attempted to be gracious, but became more annoyed with the distraction. Late in ’59 he decided to permanently leave Cuba for year round residence in Ketchum. Although he made it clear that he was not leaving for political reasons, an angry Castro had his home expropriated after the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Caught behind in Cuba were Hemingway’s extensive 600 book personal library, memorabilia, art works, and manuscripts.
The summer of 1959 Hemingway made a trip to Spain for a series of bullfighting articles commissioned by Life Magazine. The manuscript ballooned far out of proportion from what the magazine would use and a clearly distracted Hemingway called in friend and ghostwriter A. E. Hotchner to organize the work. Hotchner would later draw this experience for his memoir of the ageing icon, Papa Hemingway.
Drinking heavily and medicated for the excruciating pain he was under nearly every day, Hemingway began to exhibit paranoia and delusions. Mary caught him one day with a shotgun in his mouth. He was sent for treatment to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota where he was treated for hypertension. He was also given electroconvulsive shock treatment at least 15 times. In January, 1961 he returned to Ketchum in worse shape than when he entered the clinic. He was returned for more treatments a few months later.
|Life's famous cover portrait of Hemingway--perhaps the most iconic image of him, but not one he would have chosen. He would prefer to have been remembered as a swashbuckling writer and adventurer, not a pensive old man.|
On the morning of July 2, 1961 Hemingway somehow eluded the vigilance of his wife Mary and slipped unobserved into a bedroom with his favorite shot gun. He placed it in his mouth and pulled the trigger, blowing the back of his skull off and killing him instantly. Cooperative local authorities went along with Mary’s story that he was accidently shot while cleaning his gun. He was quickly buried with Catholic rites by a priest unaware of the circumstances.
Life Magazine memorialized Hemingway with a memorable cover portrait of the old man with a graying beard in an Irish fisherman’s sweater. The world mourned. Five years later Mary Hemingway finally confirmed that her husband died at the age 61 by his own hand.