Biography of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)-2
A Soldier’s Home…
When Hemingway returned home from Italy in January of 1919 he found Oak Park dull compared to the adventures of war, the beauty of foreign lands and the romance of an older woman, Agnes von Kurowsky. He was nineteen years old and only a year and a half removed from high school, but the war had matured him beyond his years. Living with his parents, who never quite appreciated what their son had been through, was difficult. Soon after his homecoming they began to question his future, began to pressure him to find work or to further his education, but Hemingway couldn’t seem to muster interest in anything.
He had received some $1,000 dollars in insurance payments for his war wounds, which allowed him to avoid work for nearly a year. He lived at his parent’s house and spent his time at the library or at home reading. He spoke to small civic organizations about his war exploits and was often seen in his Red Cross uniform, walking about town. For a time though, Hemingway questioned his role as a war hero, and when asked to tell of his experiences he often exaggerated to satisfy his audience. Hemingway’s story “Soldier’s Home” conveys his feelings of frustration and shame upon returning home to a town and to parents who still had a romantic notion of war and who didn’t understand the psychological impact the war had had on their son.
The last speaking engagement the young Hemingway took was at the Petoskey (Michigan) Public Library, and it would be important to Hemingway not for what he said but for who heard it. In the audience was Harriett Connable, the wife of an executive for the Woolworth’s company in Toronto. As Hemingway spun his war tales Harriett couldn’t help but notice the differences between Hemingway and her own son. Hemingway appeared confident, strong, intelligent and athletic, while her son was slight, somewhat handicapped by a weak right arm and spent most of his time indoors. Harriett Connable thought her son needed someone to show him the joys of physical activity and Hemingway seemed the perfect candidate to tutor and watch over him while she and her husband Ralph vacationed in Florida. So, she asked Hemingway if he would do it.
Hemingway took the position, which offered him time to write and a chance to work for the Toronto Star Weekly, the editor of which Ralph Connable promised to introduce Hemingway to. Hemingway wrote for the Star Weekly even after moving to Chicago in the fall of 1920. While living at a friend’s house he met Hadley Richardson and they quickly fell in love. The two married in September 1921 and by November of the same year Hemingway accepted an offer to work with the Toronto Daily Star as its European corespondent. Hemingway and his new bride would go to Paris, France where the whole of literature was being changed by the likes of Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ford Maddox Ford. He would not miss his chance to change it as well.
Ernest Hemingway Biography>The Paris Years
The Hemingways arrived in Paris on December 22, 1921 and a few weeks later moved into their first apartment at 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine. It was a miserable apartment with no running water and a bathroom that was basically a closet with a slop bucket inside. Hemingway tried to minimize the primitiveness of the living quarters for his wife Hadley who had grown up in relative splendor, but despite the conditions she endured, carried away by her husbands enthusiasm for living the bohemian lifestyle. Ironically, they could have afforded much better; with Hemingway’s job and Hadley’s trust fund their annual income was $3,000, a decent sum in the inflated economies of Europe at the time. Hemingway rented a room at 39 rue Descartes where he could do his writing in peace.
With a letter of introduction from Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway met some of Paris’ prominent writers and artists and forged quick friendships with them during his first few years. Counted among those friends were Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Max Eastman, Lincoln Steffens and Wyndahm Lewis, and he was acquainted with the painters Miro and Picasso. These friendships would be instrumental in Hemingway’s development as a writer and artist.
Hemingway’s reporting during his first two years in Paris was extensive, covering the Geneva Conference in April of 1922, The Greco-Turkish War in October, the Luasanne Conference in November and the post war convention in the Ruhr Valley in early 1923. Along with the political pieces he wrote lifestyle pieces as well, covering fishing, bullfighting, social life in Europe, skiing, bobsledding and more.
Just as Hemingway was beginning to make a name for himself as a reporter and a fledgling fiction writer, and just as he and his wife were hitting their stride socially in Europe, the couple found out that Hadley was pregnant with their first child. Wanting the baby born in North America where the doctors and hospitals were better, the Hemingways left Paris in 1923 and moved to Toronto, where he wrote for the Toronto Daily Star and waited for their child to arrive.
John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway was born on October 10, 1923 and by January of 1924 the young family boarded a ship and headed back to Paris where Hemingway would finish making a name for himself.
With a recommendation from Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford let Hemingway edit his fledgling literary magazine the Transatlantic Review. In recommending Hemingway to Ford, Pound said “…He’s an experienced journalist. He writes very good verse and he’s the finest prose stylist in the world.”
Ford published some of Hemingway’s early stories, including “Indian Camp” and “Cross Country Snow” and generally praised the younger writer. The magazine lasted only a year and a half (until 1925), but allowed Hemingway to work out his own artistic theories and to see them in print in a respectable journal.
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An unparalleled creative flurry…
From 1925 to 1929 Hemingway produced some of the most important works of 20th century fiction, including the landmark short story collection In Our Time (1925) which contained “The Big Two-Hearted River.” In 1926 he came out with his first true novel, The Sun Also Rises (after publishing Torrents of Spring, a comic novel parodying Sherwood Anderson in 1925). He followed that book with Men Without Women in 1927; it was another book of stories which collected “The Killers,” and “In Another Country.” In 1929 he published A Farewell to Arms, arguably the finest novel to emerge from World War I. In four short years he went from being an unknown writer to being the most important writer of his generation, and perhaps the 20th century.
The first version of in our time (characterized by the lowercase letters in the title) was published by William Bird’s Three Mountain Press in 1924 and illustrated Hemingway’s new theories on literature. It contained only the vignettes that would later appear as inter-chapters in the American version published by Boni & Liveright in 1925. This small 32 page book, of which only 170 copies were printed, contained the essence of Hemingway’s aesthetic theory which stated that omitting the right thing from a story could actually strengthen it. Hemingway equated this theory with the structure of an iceberg where only 1/8 of the iceberg could be seen above water while the remaining 7/8 under the surface provided the iceberg’s dignity of motion and contributed to its momentum. Hemingway felt a story could be constructed the same way and this theory shows up even in these early vignettes. A year after the small printing of in our time came out, Boni & Liveright published the American version, which contains ten short stories along with the vignettes. The collection of stories is amazing, including the much anthologized “Soldier’s Home,” as well as “Indian Camp,” “A Very Short Story,” “My Old Man” and the classic “Big Two-Hearted River” parts one and two. “Big Two Hearted River” was a eureka story for Hemingway, who realized that his theory of omission really could work in the story form.
Next came The Torrents of Spring, a short comic novel that satired Hemingway’s early mentor Sherwood Anderson and allowed him to break his relationship with Boni & Liveright to move to Scribner’s. Scribner’s published Torrents (which Scott Fitzgerald called the finest comic novel ever written by an American) in 1925, then a year later published Hemingway’s second novel The Sun Also Rises, which the publisher had bought sight unseen.
The Sun Also Rises introduced the world to the “lost generation” and was a critical and commercial success. Set in Paris and Spain, the book was a story of unrequitable love against a backdrop of bars and bullfighting. In 1927 came Men Without Women and soon after he began working on A Farewell To Arms.
While he could do no wrong with his writing career, his personal life had began to show signs of wear. He divorced his first wife Hadley in 1927 and married Pauline Pfeiffer, an occasional fashion reporter for the likes of Vanity Fair and Vogue, later that year. In 1928 Hemingway and Pauline left Paris for Key West, Florida in search of new surroundings to go with their new life together. They would live there for nearly twelve years, and Hemingway found it a wonderful place to work and to play, discovering the sport of big game fishing which would become a life-long passion and a source for much of his later writing. That same year Hemingway received word of his father’s death by suicide. Clarence Hemingway had begun to suffer from a number of physical ailments that would exacerbate an already fragile mental state. He had developed diabetes, endured painful angina and extreme headaches. On top of these physical problems he also suffered from a dismal financial situation after speculative real estate purchases in Florida never panned out. His problems seemingly insurmountable, Clarence Hemingway shot himself in the head. Ernest immediately traveled to Oak Park to arrange for his funeral.
Ernest Hemingway Biography>Key West
The new Hemingways heard of Key West from Ernest’s friend John Dos Passos, and the two stopped at the tiny Florida island on their way back from Paris. They soon discovered that life in remote Key West was like living in a foreign country while still perched on the southernmost tip of America. Hemingway loved it. “It’s the best place I’ve ever been anytime, anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms…Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks.” After renting an apartment and a house for a couple of years the Hemingways bought a large house at 907 Whitehead Street with $12,500 of help from Pauline’s wealthy Uncle Gus.
Pauline was pregnant at the time and on June 28, 1928 gave birth to Patrick by cesarean section. It was in December of that year that Hemingway received the cable reporting his father’s suicide. Despite the personal turmoil and change Hemingway continued to work on A Farewell to Arms, finishing it in January of 1929. The novel was published on September 27, 1929 to a level of critical acclaim that Hemingway wouldn’t see again until 1940 with the publication of his Spanish war novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. In between Hemingway entered his experimental phase which confounded critics but still, to some extent, satisfied his audience.
In 1931 Pauline gave birth to Gregory, their second son together, and the last of Hemingway’s children.
After A Farewell to Arms Hemingway published his 1932 Spanish bullfighting dissertation, Death in the Afternoon. While writing an encyclopedic book on bullfighting he still managed to make it readable even by those who had no real interest in the corrida. He inserts observations on Spanish culture, writers, food, people, politics, history, etc. Hemingway wrote about the purpose of his Spanish book, “It is intended as an introduction to the modern Spanish bullfight and attempts to explain that spectacle both emotionally and practically. It was written because there was no book which did this in Spanish or in English.”
Though a non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon does codify one of Hemingway’s literary concepts of the stoical hero facing deadly opposition while still performing his duties with professionalism and skill, or “grace under pressure,” as Hemingway described it. Many critics took issue with an apparent change in Hemingway from detracted artist to actual character in one of his own works. They disliked a blustery tone Hemingway drifted into , particularly when discussing writers, writing and art in general. It was the genesis of the public “Papa” image that would grow over the remaining 30 years of his life, at times almost obscuring the serious artist within.
Returning to fiction in 1933, Hemingway published Winner Take Nothing, a volume of short stories. The book contained 14 stories, including “A Clean Well Lighted Place,” “Fathers and Sons,” and “A Way You’ll Never Be.” The book sold well despite a mediocre critical reception and despite the terrible economic depression the world was then mired in. James Joyce, one of Hemingway’s friends from his early Paris days, wrote glowingly of “A Clean, Well Lighted Place” as follows: “He has reduced the veil between literature and life, which is what every writer strives to do. Have you read ‘A Clean, Well Lighted Place’?…It is masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best stories ever written…”
In the summer of 1933 the Hemingways and their Key West friend Charles Thompson journeyed to Africa for a big game safari. Ever since reading of Teddy Roosevelt’s African hunting exploits as a boy, Hemingway wanted to test his hunting skills against the biggest and most dangerous animals on earth. With a $25,000 loan form Pauline’s uncle Gus (the same uncle who helped them buy their Key West home) Hemingway spent three months hunting on the dark continent, all the while gathering material for his future writing. In 1935 he published Green Hills of Africa, a pseudo non-fiction account of his safari. Unfortunately, he picked up where he left off in Death in the Afternoon. While the book contained some decent writing about Africa and its animals it was overshadowed by Hemingway’s again digression into the blustery tone of his alter ego. In the book Hemingway harshly criticizes his supposed friends, making the reader cringe at his insensitivity. He portrays himself as courageous, skillful and cool while depicting others, including his friend Charles Thompson, as mean-spirited and selfish. In a telling review the prominent literary critic Edmund Wilson poked at Hemingway, saying “he has produced what must be the only book ever written which makes Africa and its animals seem dull.”
Oddly though, from the same safari Hemingway gathered the material for two of his finest short stories, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” In both stories the protagonist shows a weakness that is contrary to what the typical Hemingway hero exhibits. Harry, the dying writer in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” laments his wasted talent, a talent diminished by drink, women, wealth and laziness. Macomber in “The Short Happy Life…” shows cowardice under pressure and just as he redeems himself his wife shoots him.
As in other Hemingway stories, a curious effect can be seen in these African tales. Often in Hemingway’s non-fiction work the truth is obscured by Hemingway’s need to promote his public personality, his need to portray himself as above fear, above pettiness, above any negative quality that would tarnish that image. In his fiction though, certain negative qualities, whatever they might be, are in the characters as flaws that often lead to their destruction. Beyond that, in a biographical context, the actual events of Hemingway’s life end up in his fiction rather than in his non-fiction. For example: Hemingway’s World War I injuries more closely resemble those of Frederic Henry in A Farewell To Arms than the accounts you see repeated in old biographical blurbs which tell of how he fought with the elite Italian forces, how after being hit by a mortar he carried a wounded soldier through machine gun fire to the field hospital, and how he refused medical treatment until others were treated before him.
When you want to find the truth about Hemingway’s life, look first to his fiction.
In March 1937 Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance. The civil war caused a marital war in the Hemingway household as well. Hemingway had met a young writer named Martha Gellhorn in Key West and the two would go on to conduct a secret affair for almost four years before Hemingway divorced Pauline and married Martha. Pauline sided with the Facist Franco Regime in Spain because of is pro-catholic stance, while Hemingway supported the communist loyalists who in turn supported the democratically elected government. Often travelling with Gellhorn, the two fell in love as they competed for quality stories. They would eventually marry in November of 1940, nearly four years after meeting at Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West in December 1936. Eventually the loyalist movement failed and the Franco led rebels won the war and installed a dictatorial government in the spring of 1939. Though his side lost the war Hemingway used his experiences there to write the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, a play titled “The Fifth Column” and several short stories.