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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Ernest Hemingway


Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, the eldest son of five siblings. His father, Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, was a physician, and his mother, Grace Hall-Hemingway, was a painter and musician.

His mother dressed and raised Ernest as a girl for some of the early part of his life, calling him "Ernestine". She  fantasied that he was the twin of his older, 18-month-old sister, Marcelline. Some accounts hold that she dressed them both as girls and let their hair grow long, then later cut their hair and dressed them both as boys.

Hemingway as a baby

For two months each summer, Ernest was allowed to attend a boys' camp, where he could dress and live as a boy.

His boyhood was spent in the wild country round the Great Lakes which gave him a love for the outdoor life. Ernest had a happy childhood until his parents began to quarrel bitterly.

In his youth, Ernest joined his father fishing and hunting; he was given a fishing rod by his father when he was three and a shotgun when he was ten .

From 1913 until 1917, Ernest attended Oak Park and River Forest High School where he took part in a number of sports, namely boxing, track and field, water polo, and football.

Ernest excelled in English classes and performed in the school orchestra with his sister Marcelline for two years.

In his junior year, Ernest took a journalism class. The better writers in class submitted pieces to The Trapeze, the school newspaper. Ernest's first piece, published in January 1916, was about a local performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


After leaving high school in 1917, Hemingway he went to work for The Kansas City Star as a cub reporter. Although he stayed there for only six months, he relied on the Star's style guide of using short, vigorous sentences as a foundation for his writing.

Early in 1918, Hemingway responded to a Red Cross recruitment effort in Kansas City and signed on to become an ambulance driver in Italy. (His sight was too bad for the army.) He left New York in May and arrived in Paris as the city was under bombardment from German artillery.

Hemingway in uniform in Milan, 1918. 

Hemingway was awarded two Italian military decorations for bravery as a volunteer with the ambulance unit. However, he suffered a severe knee wound and was forced to return home with an aluminium kneecap which knits together his injured leg.

In late 1919 Hemingway was hired as foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, and he and his wife left for Paris. During his first 20 months in the French capital, Hemingway filed 88 stories for the Toronto Star. He covered the Greco-Turkish War, where he witnessed the burning of Smyrna and wrote various travel pieces.

Hemingway's first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published in 1923. From then on Hemingway preferred to live the life of a writer, rather than live the life of a journalist.

In 1936 Hemingway was sent to Spain as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. He donated much of his fortune ($40,000) to Spanish Medical Aid during the war.

Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in 1941 before making a trip to China and was given the cover name "Argo". However, he failed to give any practical information, so Russian contacts with Argo had ceased by the end of the decade.

The United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941. Hemingway convinced the Cuban government (by then he was living in Cuba) to help him refit his fishing boat, the Pilar, which he intended to use to ambush German submarines off the island's coast.

From May 1944 to March 1945, Hemingway was in London and Europe as a war correspondent . He joined the 22nd regiment of the 4th Infantry Division and took part in Allied landings in Normandy as part of the 4th Infantry invasion. Hemingway had recently been hospitalized with concussion from a car accident and as he was wearing a large head bandage, he wasn't allowed ashore.

Late in July, Hemingway attached himself to the 22nd Infantry Regiment commanded by Colonel Charles 'Buck' Lanham, as it drove toward Paris, and he became de facto leader to a small band of village militia in Rambouillet outside of Paris.

At Villedieu-les-Poêles, France, Hemingway threw three grenades into a cellar where SS officers were hiding, a clear violation of the Geneva Convention. It was the first time he had killed a man.

On December 17, 1944, a feverish and ill Hemingway had himself driven to Luxembourg to cover what would later be called The Battle of the Bulge. As soon as he arrived, however, he was handed to the doctors, who hospitalized him with pneumonia; by the time he recovered a week later, most of the fighting in this battle was over.


"Easy writing makes hard reading" was Hemingway's philosophy. He succeeded in giving voice to the inarticulate fears and longings of ordinary people. His terse descriptions and spare dialogue earned such writing the epithet "Hemingwayese."

Ernest Hemingway once wrote a six-word short story - It read “For sale: baby shoes, never used.”

An early riser, Hemingway started work at first light and continued until noon.  He said he woke at sunrise every day because his eyelids were especially thin: "My mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast — talk them or write them down."

Hemingway began by writing standing up in pencil on onion skin paper,(he felt it was better not to feel comfortable whilst writing) shifting to the typewriter when all was going well.  He attempted around 500 words a day.

The Sun Also Rises, which dealt with the desolation of American ex-pats in Paris, was published in 1926. Hemingway wrote much of this work in the Cafe Closerie ded Lilas, Boulveyard Du Mont Parnasse, Paris.

The phrase "The Lost Generation" was originated in The Sun Also Rises.

Hwmingway's 1928 novel Death in the Afternoon, written after his father's suicide, was ostentatiously about bull fighting in Spain but is really a metaphor for man's struggle with death.

Originally intended to be a short story, A Farewell to Arms, Hemimgway's 1929 novel, was inspired by his love affair during World War 1 on the Italian/Austrian front with the Red Cross Nurse, Agnes Von Karowsky. She was 8-years-older than Ernest  dismissed it as puppy love.

Hemingway revised the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times.

A Farewell to Arms was banned in Ireland in 1939 for being immoral and irreligious.

A 10-week East African safari led to the 1935 publication of Green Hills of Africa, an under appreciated non-fiction narrative about hunting Kudu bulls, as well as the short stories The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.

To Have or Not to Have was Hemingway's 1937 novel about a mercenary at sea near the West Indies..Howard Hawks bet Hemingway he could make a movie out of what he considered to be the novelist’s worst book and delivered the Bogart and Bacall movie. He did it by using little of the novel.

The first edition of the Ernest Hemingway novel For Whom the Bell Tolls was published on October 21, 1940. The first edition print run was 75,000 copies priced at $2.75. Hemingway wrote the book in Havana, Cuba; Key West, Florida; and Sun Valley, Idaho in 1939. The story was based on his experiences during the Spanish Civil War.

Hemingway got the book title from English metaphysical poet John Donne's 1624 work Meditation XVII. The line he quotes from reads: "And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."

The Old Man and the Sea, inspired by Hemingway's beloved fishing boat The Pilar, was first published in Life Magazine on September 1, 1952, and five million copies of the magazine were sold in two days. The story centers upon Santiago, an ageing fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.

Original book cover. Wikipedia Commons

The Old Man and the Sea was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on May 4, 1953 and was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway in 1954.

Hemimgway wrote nothing after receiving the 1954 Nobel prize.

Unlike his great contemporaries Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Steinbeck, Hemingway never wrote for the movies, but he had no objection to selling his novels and short stories for good prices to producers.

Hemingway hated every one of the films based on his stories. The Snows of Kilmanjano he scathingly referred to as “The snows of Darryl Zanuck.”

Ernest Hemingway once wrote a six-word short story - It read “For sale: baby shoes, never used.”


Hemimgway was 6 foot (1.83 m), barrel chested with Hollywood white teeth and an army mustache. In his later years he was shaggy grey bearded, bespectacled.

In Paris Gertrude Stein became his mentor and introduced Hemingway to the "Parisian Modern Movement" then ongoing in Montparnasse Quarter. At the same time, Hemingway became a close friend of James Joyce. These authors and many others met at Sylvia Beach's bookshop, Shakespeare & Co., at 18 Rue de l'Odéon, Paris.

Scott Fitzgerald was his close friend and drinking partner in Paris. Hemingway drunk gin neat whilst Fitzgerald favored gin cocktails.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald became more distant as Hemingway's fame grew and Fitzgerald's declined and became increasingly dependent on alcohol. Hemingway disapproved of Fitzgerald's lowering his great talent to write high-priced stories for the slick commercial magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and his sojourns in Hollywood to make money writing screenplays.

Hemingway married red-haired Hadley Richardson, a woman 7-years-older than him in 1919. They had one son, John.

As a poverty stricken young reporter in Paris, Hemingway managed to keep his family fed only by poaching pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens in the company of his infant son. He lured each pigeon with some grain, wrung its neck, and then hid each one under the baby's pram blanket.

During a stop in Paris, in 1926, Hemingway began an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, a beautiful blonde Catholic. In the one hundred days Hadley ordered him to stay away from Pauline, Hemingway wrote much of Men Without Women.

Hemingway divorced Hadley Richardson in January 1927 and married Pauline Pfeiffer in May of that year.

Hemingway fathered two sons Patrick and Gregory with Pauline. Patrick was, like Henry's son in A Farewell to Arms, delivered by Cesarean section. The intense labor pains Pauline endured, inspired Catherine's labor in the novel.

Gregory died in police custody after being picked up in a stupor shortly after a sex change operation.

In the late 1930s a slow and painful split from Pauline ensued, which had begun when Hemingway met journalist and writer Martha Gellhorn in Key West during Christmas 1936.

After Hemingway's divorce from Pauline was finalized, he and Martha were married November 20, 1940, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She described marriage to Hemingway as "a life darkening experience."

Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with unidentified Chinese military officers 1941

Hemingway and Martha separated after the novelist met the boyish war correspondent Mary Welsh in London during World War II. He was immediately infatuated with her and asked Mary to marry him on their third meeting.

Hemingway married Mary on March 14, 1946 at a ceremony in Cuba. She had an ectopic pregnancy five months later. The couple didn't produce any children together.

After their marriage, Mary lived with Hemingway in Cuba for many years and, after 1959, in Ketchum, Idaho.

Ernest and Mary Hemingway on safari in Kenya, Africa, 1953-1954.

Hemingway was the grandfather of sister actresses Mariel and the late Margaux Hemingway.


A Catholic, through his second wife, Pauline's influence, Hemingway donated his Nobel Prize money to the Shrine of the Virgin in Ecuba, Cuba. However his faith was unable to enable him to overcome his hedonistic tendencies; the writer once claimed "what is moral is what you feel good after."

 Ernest Hemingway feared telephones. It stemmed from his fear of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.


Following the advice of John Dos Passos, Hemingway moved to Key West where he established his first American home. From his old stone house — a wedding present from Pauline's uncle — Hemingway fished in the Dry Tortugas waters, went to Sloppy Joe's, Key West's famous bar, and traveled to Spain.

In 1930, Hemingway had the first ever swimming pool in Key West built.

Hemingway's house in Key West, Florida (see below), where he wrote a good deal of his literature, is now a museum in his honor.

He removed a urinal from his local Key West bar and installed it in his home. Hemingway claimed that he had flushed so much of his money down it over the years, he owned it.

In 1939 Hemingway moved to Cuba, where he lived in a Spanish style house, at Finca Vigia in San Francisco de Paula, 20 miles from Havana. He wrote in a white tower, which gave a view of Havana and the surrounding countryside.

Hemingway lived in Cuba in the 1940s and 50s. Finca Vigia was restored by the Cuban and U.S. governments from 2005 and opened to tourists in 2007.

In 1959 Hemingway bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where he committed suicide in the summer of 1961.


Hemingway had a large collection of Hawaiian shirts.After moving to Cuba he wore a white Guayabera, a Cuban shirt which hangs outside the trousers, and grey slacks.

Hemingway owned scores of cats including ones named Alley Cat, Boise, Crazy Christian, Dillinger, Mr Feather Puss (so trusted that the Hemingways allowed him to baby-sit their infant), Furhouse and Pilar.

Today many of their feline descendants can be located on the grounds of Hemingway's Key West home. The lineage of cats that live there have six toes on each foot, a quirk that goes back to Hemmingway's own cats.

Hemingway shared his Cuban home with around 40 cats, 15 dogs, hundreds of pigeons and three cows.

Hemimgway liked action and adventure such as big game hunting in Africa, (his favorite shooting gun was his Springfield 30-06), and fishing for White Marlin. Hemingway once caught a 800 pound swordfish.

Ernest Hemingway in Key West, Florida, USA, in the 1940s, with a sailfish he had caught

Athletic and good at sports, Hemingway enjoyed boxing (he paid local Key West men to spar with him), skiing, bullfighting and tennis.

The bar in Key West, Florida, where he hung out the most was Sloppy Joe's. A drinking connoisseur, Hemingway invented a Papa's Special, a cocktail containing a squirt of wine, a squirt of grapefruit juice, some ice and four ounces of rum.

Hemingway earned himself a few extra bucks by advertising Ballentine Ale. He claimed the ale was just what he needed after “fighting with a really big fish.”

Whilst working on a novel Hemingway survived solely on peanut butter sandwiches.


Hemingway's success in becoming a successful author was overshadowed by numerous injuries. The injury prone writer survived two successive plane crashes in the African bush, where he jammed his spine, ruptured his right kidney, collapsed his intestine and suffered concussion.

Hemimgway was badly injured one month later in a bushfire accident which left him with second degree burns on his legs, front torso, lips, left hand and right forearm. The physical pain of all his injuries took away all his strength meaning he was unable to travel to Stockholm personally to accept his Nobel Prize.

Other wounds Hemingway suffered during his life  included a finger gashed to the bone in an accident with a punching ball, laceration of arms, legs and face from a ride on a runaway horse through a deep Wyoming forest, and a car accident resulting in a broken arm.

Hemimgway once calculated he had acquired 237 shrapnel scars during the two world wars. He also suffered several broken bones from his time as a matador.

During his last years, Hemingway suffered from bipolar disorder, then known as manic depression, and was treated with electroshock therapy at the Menninger Clinic. The therapy, he claimed, had destroyed his memory, which was essential to a writer, and he told his friend A.E. Hotchner that his memory loss was one of the reasons he no longer wanted to live.

By the summer of 1961, Hemingway was ill with high blood-pressure, chronic alcoholism, heart problems, liver failure, skin problems (following the air plane crashes), depression and insomnia.

In the early morning hours of July 2, 1961, Hemingway shot himself with his favorite shotgun. He is interred in the Ketchum Cemetery in Ketchum, Idaho.

Hemingway's father Clarence, his siblings Ursula and Leicester, and his granddaughter Margaux all also committed suicide.

Sources Food For Thought by Ed Pearce, Novels and Novelists by Martin Seymour-Smith (Editor) 

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