Ernest Hemingway working at his book For Whom the Bell Tolls at Sun Valley, Idaho in December 1939
Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21st 1899, to Grace Hall-Hemingway, a musician, and Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a physician.
In his early years, he developed a taste for outdoor adventure in the family’s summer home on Walloon Lake in Michigan, which would come to influence his writing.
On leaving high school in 1917, he joined the Kansas City Star as a cub reporter, and he later took their style guide to heart for his fiction writing: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”
Early in 1918, he volunteered to help the war effort in Europe, signing on to be an ambulance driver in Italy. Those familiar with Hemingway’s work will know that an experience in Italy was described later in a non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon.
His gallantry in assisting Italian soldiers won him the Italian Silver Medal for Bravery, but a bad injury resulting from mortar fire took him off the battlefield. Whilst recuperating, he fell in love with a Red Cross nurse, but she left him for an Italian officer. This experience affected his relationships thereon after, and he abandoned wives before they could abandon him.
After returning from Europe, he became staff writer and foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star Weekly in 1919. In September 1921 he married his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and two months later, the couple moved to Paris with Hemingway working for the Toronto Star as their foreign correspondent. It was this period that inspired the fictional account of their lives in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife. Hemingway’s first book, an anthology of short stories and poems called, to-the-point true to Hemingway fashion, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published in 1923. It was quickly followed by In Our Time, another collection of vignettes and stories.
He also worked on The Transatlantic Review with Ford Madox Ford, which featured some of his short stories. Around this time, he began to earn the praise of critics, who credited him for reinvigorating the short story genre.
Hemingway began work on his first novel on his birthday, 21st of July, 1925. In October 1926, The Sun Also Rises was published.
There followed a glittering career as a writer, including such major works as A Farewell To Arms, To Have and Have Not, For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and many of his novels, short stories and non-fiction works have been made into major films. The Old Man and the Sea, which was published in 1951 after Across the River and Into the Trees garnered bad reviews, won him a Pulitzer Prize the following year. In 1954 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
During his life, Hemingway travelled extensively, covering the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. During the Second World War, he covered the hostilities for Collier’s Magazine, and was present at the Normandy Landings, and at the liberation of Paris in August 1945. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in WWII by the United States Military, having been “under fire in combat areas in order to obtain an accurate picture of conditions”.
But not everything in Hemingway’s life was positive. His father committed suicide in the winter of 1928, just minutes before a letter had arrived from Ernest telling him to not worry about money troubles. He commented, “I’ll probably go the same way.” During his life, he was beset by injuries from accidents and war coverage. Apart from the injury sustained in Italy in 1918, he was concussed in London in a car accident; another car accident in 1945 smashed his knee and caused a deep forehead wound; in 1944 in Africa, he nearly died after being involved in two successive plane crashes; and in 1955 on a fishing expedition in Africa, a bush fire caused him second degree burns. In Venice in 1955 his fourth wife, Mary, reported his injuries consisted of two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder and a broken skull.
When he was in Paris, he became friends with Irish writer James Joyce, and spent many evenings in heavy drinking sessions. His obsession with drink stayed with him. The uncle of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, bought the couple a house in Key West. It is said the location, opposite the lighthouse, made it easy for Hemingway to find it on his way home from drinking sessions at a local bar, Sloppy Joe’s.
He suffered from severe headaches, high blood pressure, weight problems, and diabetes. His drinking increased partly to mask the pain from his injuries. He began to sink into depression as, one after another, his great literary friends began to die.
In his final years, his mental state deteriorated, and he became confused, disorganised and irritable. His brother and his sister, as well as his father, all committed suicide. On July 2nd, 1961, Hemingway unlocked the basement storeroom in his house in Idaho, removed his favourite Boss shotgun, pushed two shells into it, put the end of the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. His complicated history as war hero, writer, womanizer and alcoholic, polarized is reception. To some he was an inscrutable enigma, to others a hero, and to others still a villain.
Regardless of one’s opinion on his character, he is sparse writing irrefutably changed the world of literature. Hemingway referred to his style as the Iceberg Theory: the facts float above the water, the supporting structure and symbolism operate out of sight. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the short novel The Old Man and The Sea, where the simple tale of an old fisherman parallels on many levels with religious texts.
This week we’ll be discussing “The Old Man at the Bridge”.