Biography of Ernest Hemingway





• Introduction

• The aim of the Project Work

• The Project Work

My Favourite Author:

• Childhood

• World War I

• A soldier’s home

• The Paris years

• An unparalleled creative flurry

• Key West

• Cuba

• World War II

• The last days

• Denouement

• Conclusions.


Born in the family home at 439 North Oak Park Avenue (now 339 N. Oak Park
Avenue), a house built by his widowed grandfather Ernest Hall, Hemingway
was the second of Dr. Clarence and Grace Hall Hemingway’s six children; he
had four sisters and one brother. He was named after his maternal
grandfather Ernest Hall and his great uncle Miller Hall.


The Hemingway family: Ursula, Ernest and Marceline with parents, October

Oak Park was a ma ainly Protestant, upper middle-class suburb of Chicago that
Hemingway would later refer to as a town of “wide lawns and narrow minds.”
Only ten miles from the big city, Oak Park was really much farther away
philosophically. It was basically a conservative town th

hat tried to isolate
itself from Chicago’s liberal seediness. Hemingway was raised with the
conservative midwestern values of strong religion, hard work, physical
fitness and self-determination; if one adhered to these parameters, he was
taught and he would be ensured of success in whatever field he chose.
Five year-old Ernest Hemingway trout fishing, July 1904

As a boy he was taught by his father to hunt and fish along the shores and
in the forests surrounding Lake Michigan. The Hemingways had a summerhouse
called Windemere on Walloon Lake in northern Michigan, and the family would
spend the summer months there trying to stay cool. Hemingway would either
fish the different streams that ran into the lake, or would take the
rowboat out to do some fishing there. He would also go sq quirrel hunting in
the woods near the summerhouse, discovering early in life the serenity to
be found while alone in the forest or wading a stream. It was something he
could always go back to throughout his life, wherever he was. Nature would
be the touchstone of Hemingway’s life and work, and though he often found
himself living in major cities like Chicago, Toronto and Paris early in his
career, once he became successful he chose somewhat isolated places to live
like Key West, or San Francisco de

e Paula, Cuba, or Ketchum, Idaho. All were
convenient locales for hunting and fishing.
When he wasn’t hunting or fishing his mother taught him the finer points of
music. Grace was an accomplished singer who once had aspirations of a
career on stage, but eventually settled down with her husband and occupied
her time by giving voice and music lessons to local children, including her
own. Hemingway never had a knack for music and suffered through choir
practices and cello lessons, however the musical knowledge he acquired from
his mother helped him share in his first wife Hadley’s interest in the

Ernest Hemingway feeding a stuffed squirrel, February 1910

Hemingway received his formal schooling in the Oak Park public school
system. In high school he was mediocre at sports, playing football,
swimming, water basketball and serving as the track team manager. He
enjoyed working on the high school newspaper called the Trapeze, where he
wrote his first articles, usually humorous pieces in the style of Ring
Lardner, a popular satirist of the time. Hemingway graduated in the spring
of 1917 and instead of going to college the following fall like his parents
expected, he took a job as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star; the job
was arranged for by his Uncle Tyler who was a close fr

riend of the chief
editorial writer of the paper.

World War I

Ernest Hemingway in his Spangolini uniform

At the time of Hemingway’s graduation from High School, World War I was
raging in Europe, and despite Woodrow Wilson’s attempts to keep America out
of the war; the United States joined the Allies in the fight against
Germany and Austria in April 1917. When Hemingway turned eighteen he tried
to enlist in the army, but was deferred because of poor vision; he had a
bad left eye that he probably inherited from his mother, who also had poor
vision. When he heard the Red Cross was taking volunteers as ambulance
drivers he quickly signed up. He was accepted in December of 1917, left his
job at the paper in April of 1918, and sailed for Europe in May. In the
short time that Hemingway worked for the Kansas City Star he learned some
stylistic lessons that would later influence his fiction. The newspaper
advocated short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity,
compression, clarity and immediacy. Hemingway later said: “Those were the
best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten

Hemingway first went to Paris upon reaching Europe, then traveled to Milan
in early June after receiving his orders. The day he arrived, a munitions
factory exploded and he had to

o carry mutilated bodies and body parts to a
makeshift morgue; it was an immediate and powerful initiation into the
horrors of war. Two days later he was sent to an ambulance unit in the town
of Schio, where he worked driving ambulances. On July 8, 1918, only a few
weeks after arriving, Hemingway was seriously wounded by fragments from an
Austrian mortar shell, which had landed just a few feet away. At the time,
Hemingway was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to Italian soldiers in
the trenches near the front lines. The explosion knocked Hemingway
unconscious, killed an Italian soldier and blew the legs off another. What
happened next has been debated for some time. In a letter to Hemingway’s
father, Ted Brumback, one of Ernest’s fellow ambulance drivers, wrote that
despite over 200 pieces of shrapnel being lodged in Hemingway’s legs he
still managed to carry another wounded soldier back to the first aid
station; along the way he was hit in the legs by several machine gun
bullets. Whether he carried the wounded soldier or not, doesn’t diminish
Hemingway’s sacrifice.

Young Ernest Hemingway: At the Milan hospital in the fall of 1918

He was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valor with the official Italian
citation reading: “Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an
enemy shell, with an admirable spirit of brotherhood, before taking care of
himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more
seriously wounded by the same explosion and did not allow himself to be
carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated.” Hemingway described
his injuries to a friend of his: “There was one of those big noises you
sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something
coming right out of my body, like you’d pull a silk handkerchief out of a
pocket by one corner. It flew all around and then came back and went in
again and I wasn’t dead any more.”
Hemingway’s wounding along the Pave River in Italy and his subsequent
recovery at a hospital in Milan, including the relationship with his nurse
Agnes von Kurowsky, all inspired his great novel A Farewell To Arms.

A Soldier’s Home.

Ernest Hemingway stretched out in the Red Cross Hospital, Milan 1918

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
correspondent. 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.

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 Lemoyne. 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 Stephens
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.

 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) that 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

The first version of in our time (characterized by the lowercase letters in
the title) was published by William Bird Three Mountain Press in 1924 and
illustrated Hemingway new theories on literature. It contained only the
vignettes that would later appear as interchapters in the American version
published by Bonnie & Liveright in 1925. This small 32 page book, of which
only 170 copies were printed, contained the essence of Hemingway 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 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, Bonnie
& 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 an 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 Bonnie & 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
begun 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.

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.

Editor and author: Max Perkins (left) and Ernest Hemingway (right), Key
West, Florida, 1935

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 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 boxing at Bimini, Bahamas, 1935

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.

Hemingway at work on For Whom The Bell Tolls, Sun Valley, Idaho, December

When you want to find the truth about Hemingway’s life, look first to his
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 Fascist 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.


After returning from Spain and divorcing Pauline, Hemingway and Martha
moved to a large house outside Havana, Cuba. They named it “Lookout Farm”,
and Hemingway decorated it with hunting trophies from his African safari.
He had begun work on For Whom The Bell Tolls in 1939 in Cuba and worked on
it on the road as he traveled back to Key West or to Wyoming or to Sun
Valley, finishing it in July of 1940. The book was a huge success, both
critically and commercially, prompting Sinclair Lewis to write that it was
“the American book published during the three years past which was most
likely to survive, to be know fifty years from now, or possibly a might just possibly be a masterpiece, a classic.” Oddly, the
book was unanimously voted the best novel of the year by the Pulitzer Prize
committee, but was vetoed for political reason by the conservative
president of Columbia University; no prize was awarded that year. The book
sold over 500,000 copies in just six months, and continues to sell well

The next ten years would be a creatively fallow period for Hemingway, (it
would be 1950 before he would publish another novel) but while he looked
more interested in bolstering his public image at the expense of his work,
he was actually immersed in several large writing projects which he could
never seem to complete. During the 1940’s he worked on what would become
the heavily edited and posthumously published novels Islands In The Stream
and The Garden Of Eden. In between he would also cover (and some say
participate in) World War II, and he would divorce his third wife Martha to
marry his fourth, Mary Welsh. In an insightful essay on Hemingway, E. L.
Doctorow writes of Hemingway’s work during the 40’s, discussing The Garden
of Eden in particular. “That is exciting because it gives evidence, despite
his celebrity, despite his Nobel, despite the torments of his own physical
self punishment, of a writer still developing. Those same writing
strategies Hemingway formulated to such triumph in his early work came to
entrap him in the later.I would like to think that as he began “The
Garden of Eden,” his very next novel after that war work (For Whom the Bell
Tolls), he realized this and wanted to retool, to remake himself. That he
would fail is almost not the point – but that he would have tried, which is
the true bravery of a writer.”
After his work covering the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent work on
his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway took on another assignment,
covering the Chinese-Japanese war in 1941. He traveled with his wife Martha
and wrote dispatches about the war for PM Magazine. It was a tedious trip
and Hemingway was glad to return to Cuba for some well-deserved rest. He
didn’t stay still long. By 1942 Hemingway had undertaken an undercover
operation to hunt down German submarines in the Atlantic Ocean off the
coast of Cuba. Hemingway gathered some of his friends, as well as a few
professional operatives and then outfitted his boat Pillar with radio
equipment, extra fuel tanks and a nice quantity of ordnance, hoping that if
he ever located a German sub he could get close enough to drop a bomb down
the hatch. He called the gang the “Crook Factory.” Nothing ever came of
their sub hunts except a good time fishing and drinking together, in the
process irritating Martha who thought Hemingway was avoiding the
responsibilities as a great writer to report the real war then raging in


World War II

Hemingway during World War II

In the spring of 1944 Hemingway finally decided to go to Europe to report
the war, heading first to London where he wrote articles about the RAF and
about the war’s effects on England. While there he was injured in a car
crash, suffering a serious concussion and a gash to his head, which
required over 50 stitches. Martha visited him in the hospital and minimized
his injuries, castigating him for being involved in a drunken auto wreck.
Hemingway really was seriously hurt and Martha’s cavalier reaction
triggered the beginning of the end of their marriage while in London
Hemingway met Mary Welsh, the antithesis of Martha. Mary was caring,
adoring, and complimentary while Martha couldn’t care less, had lost any
admiration for her man and was often insulting to him. For Hemingway it was
an easy choice between the two and like in other wars, Hemingway fell in
love with a new woman.
Hemingway and Mary openly conducted their courtship in London and then in
France after the allied invasion at Normandy and the subsequent liberation
of Paris. For all intents and purposes Hemingway’s third marriage was over
and his fourth and final marriage to Mary had begun. Hemingway wrote,
“Funny how it should take one war to start a woman in your damn heart and
another to finish her. Bad luck.”
In late August of 1944 Hemingway and his band of irregular soldiers entered
Paris. Hemingway was always fond of saying he was the first to enter Paris
en route to its liberation, but the story is a stretch. He did liberate his
favorite bar and hotel though. He set up camp in The Ritz Hotel and spent
the next week or so drinking, carousing and celebrating his return to the
city that meant so much to him as a young man.
Next, Hemingway traveled to the north of France to join his friend General
Buck Lanham as the allied forces (the 22nd Infantry Regiment in particular)
pushed toward Germany. Hemingway spent a month with Lanham, long enough to
watch American forces cross over into Germany. The fighting was some of the
bloodiest of the war and was obliquely recorded by Hemingway in Across the
River and into the Trees.

Hemingway returned to America in March of 1946 with plans to write a great
novel of the war, but it never materialized. The only book length work he
would produce about the war was Across the River and Into the Trees. It
tells the bittersweet story of Richard Cantwell, a former brigadier general
who has been demoted to colonel after a disastrous battle, which had been
blamed on him. The aging Cantwell, with his heart problem that threatened
to kill him at any moment, falls in love with the young Italian countess
Renata. They carry out a love affair and through their conversations and
monologues we learn the source of Cantwell’s inept military
that fails to appreciate his talents and in fact sends him orders that are
impossible to fulfill, in effect guaranteeing his failure and disgrace, an
ex-wife (based on Martha Gellhorn) that uses her relationship with Cantwell
to gain access to the military brass for information important to her
journalism career and a general distaste for the modern world.

Banking on Hemingway’s reputation, Scribners ran an initial printing of
75,000 copies of Across the River and Into the Trees in September of 1950
after it had already appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in the February-June
issues of the same year. Generally slammed by the critics as sentimental,
boorish and a thin disguise of Hemingway’s own relationship with a young
Italian woman named Adriana Ivancich, the novel actually contains some of
Hemingway’s finest writing, especially in the opening chapters. The critics
were expecting something on the scale of For Whom The Bell Tolls and were
disappointed by the short novel and its narrow scope.

The Last Days


Stung by the critical reception of Across the River and Into the Trees,
Hemingway was determined to regain his former stature as the world’s
preeminent novelist. Still under the muse of Adriana Ivancich, Hemingway
began work on a story of an old man and a great fish. The words poured
forth and hit the page in almost perfect form,
requiring little editing after he’s completed the first draft. It had been
a story simmering in Hemingway’s subconscious for some fact he
had written about just such a story in one of his Esquire magazine
dispatches as early as 1936. Max Perkins periodically tried to persuade
Hemingway to write the story, but Hemingway felt he wasn’t yet ready to
write what his wife Mary would later call “poetry in prose.”

Hemingway often described competition among writers in boxing terms. He
felt he has been sucker punched and knocked to the canvas by the critics on
Across the River and Into the Trees, but as if he has been saving it for
just such an occasion, he believed the fish story would allow him to regain
his position as “champion.”
In September of 1952 The Old Man and the Sea appeared in Life magazine,
selling over 5 million copies in a flash. The next week Scribners rolled
out the first hardcover edition of 50,000 copies and they too sold out
quickly. The book was a huge success both critically and commercially and
for the first time since For Whom The Bell Tolls in 1940 Hemingway was atop
the literary heap.and making a fortune. Though Hemingway had known great
success before, he never had the privilege of receiving any major literary
prizes. The Old Man and the Sea changed that, winning the Pulitzer Prize
for fiction in 1953.
Flush with money from the Old Man and the Sea Hemingway decided to exercise
his wanderlust, returning to Europe to catch some bullfights in Spain and
then to Africa later in the summer for another safari with his wife Mary.
In January of 1954 Hemingway and Mary boarded a small Cessna airplane to
take a tour of some of east Africa’s beautiful lakes and waterfalls. The
pilot, Roy marsh, dove to avoid a flock of birds and hit a telegraph wire.
The plane was badly damaged and they had to make a crash landing. The
group’s injuries were minor, though several of Mary’s ribs were fractured.
After a boat ride across Lake Victoria they took another flight in a de
Haviland Rapide, this time piloted by Reginald Cartwright. Heading toward
Uganda the plane barely got off the ground before crashing and catching
fire. Cartwright, Mary and Roy Marsh made it through an exit at the front
of the plane.

Hemingway, using his head as a battering ram, broke through the main door.
The crash had injured Hemingway more than most would know. In his biography
of Hemingway Jeffrey Meyer lists the various injuries to the writer. “His
skull was fractured, two discs of his spine were cracked, his right arm and
shoulder were dislocated, his liver, right kidney and spleen were ruptured,
his sphincter muscle was paralyzed by compressed vertebrae on the iliac
nerve, his arms, face and head were burned by the flames of the plane, his
vision and hearing were impaired.” Though he survived the crashes and
lived to read his own premature obituaries, his injuries cut short his life
in a slow and painful way.

Despite his ailments, Hemingway and Mary traveled on to Venice one last
time and then headed back to Cuba. On October 28, 1954 Hemingway won the
Nobel Prize for Literature, but due to his injuries was unable to attend
the ceremonies in Sweden. Instead, he sent a written acceptance, read to
the Nobel Committee by John Cabot, the US Ambassador to Sweden.


After 1954 Hemingway battled deteriorating health, which often kept him
from working, and when he was working he felt it wasn’t very good. He had
written 200,000 words of an account of his doomed safari tentatively titled
“African Journal” (a heavily edited version was published in July of 1999
as True At First Light), but didn’t feel it publishable and didn’t have the
energy to work it into shape. There were no short stories forthcoming
either and those he had written he put aside as well, disappointed with his
effort. He was struggling creatively as much as he was physically, and as a
way to satisfy his writing “compulsion” he returned to those subjects he
knew well and felt he could write about with little struggle.
In 1959 Life magazine contracted with Hemingway to write a short article
about the series of bullfights between Antonio Ordonez and Louis Miguel
Dominguin, two of Spain’s finest matadors. Hemingway spent the summer of
1959 travelling with the bullfighters to gather material for the article.
When he began writing the story however, it quickly grew to some 120,000
words, words that Hemingway couldn’t edit into short form. He asked his
friend A. E. Hotchner to help (something he would have never considered in
his prime) and together they succeeded in cutting it down to 65,000 words.
Despite reservations about the article’s length the magazine published the
article as “The Dangerous Summer” in three installments in 1960. This was
the last work that Hemingway would see published in his lifetime.
Besides highlighting Hemingway’s increasing problem with writing the clear,
effective prose which made him famous, his physical deterioration had
become obvious as well during that summer of his 60th year. Pictures show
Hemingway looking like a man closer to eighty than one of sixty. At times
despondent, at others the life of the party, the swings in his moods,
exacerbated by his heavy drinking of up to a quart of liquor a day, were
taking a toll on those close to him.
During this time Hemingway was also working on his memoirs, which would be
in 1964 as A Moveable Feast. Hemingway wouldn’t live to see the success of
this book, which critics praised for its tenderness and beauty and for its
rare look at the expatriate lifestyle of Paris in the 1920’s. There was a
control in his writing that hadn’t been evident in a long time.
By this time Hemingway had left Cuba, departing in July of 1960, and had
taken up residence in Ketchum, Idaho where he and Mary had already
purchased a home in April of 1959. Idaho reminded Hemingway of Spain and
Ketchum was small and remote enough to buffer him from the negative
trappings of his celebrity. He had first visited the area in 1939 as a
guest of Averill Harriman who had just developed Sun Valley resort and
wanted a celebrity like Hemingway to promote it. He had always liked the
cool summers there and the abundance of wild land for hunting and fishing.

But even the beautiful landscapes of Idaho couldn’t hide the fact that
something was seriously wrong with Hemingway. In the fall of 1960 Hemingway
flew to Rochester, Minnesota and was admitted to the Mayo Clinic,
ostensibly for treatment of high blood pressure but really for help with
the severe depression his wife Mary could no longer handle alone. After
Hemingway began talking of suicide his Ketchum doctor agreed with Mary that
they should seek expert help. He registered under the name of his personal
doctor George Savvies and they began a medical program to try and repair
his mental state. The Mayo Clinic’s treatment would ultimately lead to
electro shock therapy. According to Jeffrey Meyers Hemingway received
“between 11 to 15 shock treatments that instead of helping him most
certainly hastened his demise.” One of the sad side effects of shock
therapy is the loss of memory, and for Hemingway it was a catastrophic
loss. Without his memory he could no longer write, could no longer recall
the facts and images he required to create his art. Writing, which had
already become difficult was now nearly impossible.


Hemingway’s gravesite near Ketchum, Idaho

Hemingway spent the first half of 1961 fighting his depression and
paranoia, seeing enemies at every turn and threatening suicide on several
more occasions. On the morning of July 2, 1961 Hemingway rose early, as he
had his entire adult life, selected a shotgun from a closet in the
basement, went upstairs to a spot near the entranceway of the house and
shot himself in the head. It was little more than two weeks until his 62nd

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