So when I last appeared we discussed Hemingway’s life in Cuba. It was an interesting time, and one that I find perceptually engaging when you look at his life. But there is so much more than that, finding a good point in time is hard. For that reason I have chosen to go into a little more depth about the man’s life over all.
That is why today, we will once again be guest to Ernest Hemingway’s life. Last year PBS ran a documentary about Hemingway that actually encouraged today’s biography. The documentary was a three part work on his life, split into the different stages. Hemingway, covered a lot of material in the six hour runtime which could be described as his life, his work, and his loves. The series was co-produced and directed by Ken Burns who you might have heard about in the last couple of decades. If you know his style then you will have a pretty good idea of how it was structured and how it looked.
Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, which is a suburb of Chicago. He was the second of six children (four girls and two boys). His father, Clarence Edmond Hemingway, was a physician and enjoyed hunting and fishing. His mother, Grace Hall Hemingway, had studied music and made begin musical studies at an early age, hopeing to get him interested in music. Ernest’s father owned a small house with land on Lake Bear. There Ernest learned to fish (at the age of three he was already able to handle a fishing rod) and to hunt (at twelve he carried his father’s rifle). He attended Oak Park and River Forest High School, where he learned to play the cello and was part of the orchestra. In his studies he excelled in language, but felt apathy for the other subjects. He showed his literary skills in the school newspaper, using the alias Ring Lardner, Jr. When he finished his studies, in 1917, he did not want to go to university, as his father wanted, nor did he want to perfect his cello studies, as his mother wanted. He moved to Kansas and in October 1917 began working as a reporter at the Kansas City Star, earning $15 a week.
The United States entered the war on April 6, 1917, and Ernest did not want to miss the opportunity to follow the American Expedition Corps, as did John Dos Passos, William Faulkner or F. Scott Fitzgerald. But because of a defect in his left eye, he was excluded as a fighter. He managed to get a position as a Red Cross ambulance driver and landed in Bordeaux at the end of May 1918, to go to Italy. On 8 July 1918 he was seriously wounded by Austrian artillery. With injured legs and a broken knee, he still helped Italian soldiers escape to safety. He walked 40 meters until he fainted. The heroism he showed during the attack helped to earn him recognition from the Italian government with the Silver Medal for Valor. During his recovery in the Milan hospital he fell in love with a young nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky, who would later leave him for a Neapolitan officer.
He returned to the United States in January 1919, resuming his work as a journalist at the Toronto Star and as an editor for the monthly Cooperative Commonwealth. He married Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, 8 years his senior, on September 3, 1920. The couple moved to Paris in 1922. It was then, shortly after arriving in Paris, his first and only son, John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway, was born, whom he called “Bumby”. In Paris he met the avant-garde literary environments and related to the members of the so-called Lost Generation: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald among others. The Hemingway family lived in an austere apartment, but when Ernest wrote to his family he told them that they lived in the best area of the Latin Quarter. His literary beginnings were not easy. His first works: Three short stories and ten poems (1923) and “In This World” (1925) went unnoticed. Ernest earned his living as a correspondent and traveled throughout Europe.
The year 1925 marked the discovery of Hemingway for American publishers, and the year he wrote his first novel, Fiesta. The new style he showed in this book, a portrait of the bohemian Paris of the twenties and much of it autobiographical inspiration, left behind a more experimental and obscure literary work, resulting in more of a sudden surprise success. Also in “Death in the Afternoon”, he recounts his experiences in Spain, a country that he was already beginning to worship, and in which there are still testimonies of his presence today. In 1929, he published “A Farewell to Arms”, a novel with autobiographical content, since it is based on his passage through the war and his experiences on the battle front. It was followed by two more optimistic works, which dealt with two topics that he was passionate about: bullfighting, in “Death in the Afternoon”, and Africa, in “The Green Hills of Africa” (published 1935).
In 1928 he returned to the United States with his second wife, but soon left for Cuba. From that moment on there was a curious and definitive transformation in his style. His work moves away from individualism, as can be seen in “To Have and Not Have” (published 1937), which describes the failure of an individual rebellion, and it is here that he engages in the humanitarian struggle and the union of people.
He was more committed to his writing in this new stage, which focused on the Spanish Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. Through this commitment that he testified to in the script of the documentary film “The Spanish Earth”, in the play ” The Fifth Column” and of course in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, a masterpiece of universal literature. World War II then broke out. In 1944 he traveled to Europe as a war correspondent, participated in aerial reconnaissance missions over Germany and was part of the landing in Normandy, being one of the first journalists to enter Paris. It was not until 1950 that he wrote again. “Across the River and into the Trees,” it is his first publication after those turbulent years of war. “The Old Man and the Sea” was released in 1952. This was a short story commissioned by Life magazine, “The Old Man and the Sea,” was the work which would win him the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. The story tells of an old Cuban fisherman who has had a rough spot in his life and goes fishing determined to end it. A year later he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for all his work.
From that moment forward he tried to write a novel about the Second World War, something that came very difficult for him, and it was a task that he would never finish. Hemingway was left with a longing for the feeling that caused him to be a young dreamer, brave and risky, who not only wrote about events that would one day become part of history, since he was also part of it. On July 2, 1961, perhaps he decided he couldn’t write anymore – a lifetime of alcohol abuse and long-term use of Reserpine and Ritalin left him in a mentally unstable condition, one that was was further complicated by hereditary hemochromatosis, which is a genetic disorder characterized by excessive intestinal absorption of dietary iron – and shot himself with a shotgun he had purchased from Abercrombie & Fitch. Given the absence of a suicide note and from the angle of the gun shot wound, it is difficult to determine if his death was actually self-inflicted or if it was an accident.
The life and times of Ernest Hemingway were often turbulent, often exciting, and often infused with a brand of melancholic normalcy that only he could create. His style is one that has inspired generations since his passing and has earned him a place among the great writers of the last century.