Biography of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in suburban Oak Park, IL, to Dr. Clarence and Grace Hemingway. Ernest was the second of six children to be raised in the quiet suburban town. His father was a physician, and both parents were devout Christians. Hemingway's childhood pursuits fostered the interests that would blossom into literary achievements.

Although Grace hoped her musical interests would influence her son, young Hemingway preferred to accompany his father on hunting and fishing trips. This love of outdoor adventure would be reflected later in many of Hemingway's stories, particularly those featuring protagonist Nick Adams.

Hemingway also had an aptitude for physical challenge that engaged him throughout high school, where he both played football and boxed. Because of permanent eye damage contracted from numerous boxing matches, Hemingway was repeatedly rejected from service in World War I. Boxing provided more material for Hemingway's stories, as well as a habit of likening his literary feats to boxing victories.

Hemingway also edited his high school newspaper and reported for the Kansas City Star, adding a year to his age after graduating from high school in 1917.

After this short stint, Hemingway finally was able to participate in World War I as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross. He was wounded on July 8, 1918, on the Italian front near Fossalta di Piave. During his convalescence in Milan, he had an affair with a nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky. Hemingway received two decorations from the Italian government, and he joined the Italian infantry. Fighting on the Italian front inspired the plot of A Farewell to Arms in 1929. Indeed, war itself is a major theme in Hemingway's works. Hemingway would witness firsthand the cruelty and stoicism required of the soldiers he would portray in his writing when covering the Greco-Turkish War in 1920 for the Toronto Star. In 1937, he was a war correspondent in Spain, and the events of the Spanish Civil War inspired For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Upon returning briefly to the United States after the First World War, Hemingway worked for the Toronto Star and lived for a short time in Chicago. There, he met Sherwood Anderson and married Hadley Richardson in 1921. On Anderson's advice, the couple moved to Paris, where he served as foreign correspondent for the Star. As Hemingway covered events on all of Europe, the young reporter interviewed important leaders such as Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Mussolini.

The Hemingways lived in Paris from 1921-1926. This time of stylistic development for Hemingway reached its zenith in 1923 with the publication of Three Stories and Ten Poems by Robert McAlmon in Paris and the birth of his son John. This time in Paris also inspired the novel A Moveable Feast, published posthumously in 1964.

During this period following the birth of his first child, Hemingway began to acquire a series of nicknames that eventually culminated in the well-known moniker “Papa.” Hadley and John referred to him as “Ernestoic,” “Tatie,” and “Tiny,” and he was also known as “Ernie,” “Hem,” “Wemedge,” and “Hemmy” at various points in his life. “Papa” came about for a number of reasons, including, according to official biographer Carlos Baker, Hemingway’s desire to be respected, admired, and obeyed. In addition, “Papa” dovetailed with Hemingway’s reputation as a rough-and-tumble outdoorsman and adventurer.

In January 1923, Hemingway began writing sketches that would appear in In Our Time, which was published in 1924. In August of 1923 he and Hadley returned to Toronto where he worked once again for the Star. At this point, he produced no writing that was not committed to publication, and in the coming months, his job kept him from starting anything new. However, this time off from writing gave him renewed energy upon his return to Paris in January of 1924.

During his time in Toronto he read Joyce's Dubliners, which forever changed his writing career. By August of 1924, he had the majority of In Our Time written. Although there was a period when his publisher Horace Liverwright wanted to change much of the collection, Hemingway stood firm and refused to change even one word of the book.

In Paris, Hemingway used Sherwood Anderson's letter of introduction to meet Gertrude Stein and enter the world of expatriate authors and artists who inhabited her intellectual circle. The famous description of this "lost generation" was born of an employee's remark to Hemingway, and it became immortalized as the epigraph for his first major novel, The Sun Also Rises.

This "lost generation" both characterized the postwar generation and the literary movement it produced. In the 1920s, writers such as Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein decried the false ideals of patriotism that led young people to war, only to the benefit of materialistic elders. These writers held that the only truth was reality, and thus life could be nothing but hardship. This tenet strongly influenced Hemingway.

The late 1920s were a time of many publications for Hemingway. In 1926, The Torrents of Spring and The Sun Also Rises were published by Charles Scribner's Sons.

In 1927 Hemingway published a short story collection, Men Without Women. In the same year he divorced Hadley Richardson and married Pauline Pfieffer, a writer for Vogue. In 1928, they moved to Key West, where sons Patrick and Gregory were born in 1929 and 1932. 1928 was a year of both success and sorrow for Hemingway. In this year, A Farewell to Arms was published, and his father committed suicide. Clarence Hemingway had been suffering from hypertension and diabetes. This painful experience is reflected in the pondering of Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

In addition to personal experiences with war and death, Hemingway's extensive travel in pursuit of hunting and other sports provided a great deal of material for his novels. Bullfighting inspired Death in the Afternoon, published in 1932. In 1934, Hemingway went on safari in Africa, which gave him new themes and scenes on which to base The Snows of Kilamanjaro and The Green Hills of Africa, published in 1935.

In 1937 he traveled to Spain as a war correspondent, and he published To Have and Have Not. After his divorce from Pauline in 1940, Hemingway married Martha Gelhorn, a writer. They toured China before settling in Cuba at Finca Vigia (Look-out Farm). For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in the same year.

During World War II, Hemingway volunteered his fishing boat and served with the U.S. Navy as a submarine spotter in the Caribbean. In 1944, he traveled through Europe with the Allies as a war correspondent and participated in the liberation of Paris. Hemingway divorced again in 1945 and then married Mary Welsh, a correspondent for Time magazine, in 1946. They lived in Venice before returning to Cuba.

In 1950 he published Across the River and Into the Trees, though it was not received with the usual critical acclaim. In 1952, however, Hemingway proved the comment "Papa is finished" wrong, with The Old Man and the Sea winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. In 1954, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In 1960, the now aged Hemingway moved to Ketchum, Idaho, where he was hospitalized for uncontrolled high blood pressure, liver disease, diabetes, and depression.

On July 2, 1961, he died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. He was buried in Ketchum. "Papa" was both a legendary celebrity and a sensitive writer, and his influence, as well as some unseen writings, survived his passing. In 1964, A Moveable Feast was published; in 1969, The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War; in 1970, Islands in the Stream; in 1972, The Nick Adams Stories; in 1985, The Dangerous Summer; and in 1986, The Garden of Eden.

Hemingway's own life and character are as fascinating as in any of his stories. On one level, Papa was a legendary adventurer who enjoyed his flamboyant lifestyle and celebrity status. However, deep inside lived a disciplined author who worked tirelessly in pursuit of literary perfection. His success in both living and writing is reflected in the fact that Hemingway is a hero to intellectuals and rebels alike; the passions of the man are equaled only by those in his writing.


Study Guides on Works by Ernest Hemingway

World War I began in 1914 and ended on Nov. 11, 1918. Fought primarily between the Triple Alliance powers of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Triple Entente countries of England, France, Russia, Italy, and the U.S. (Italy defected...

Ernest Hemingway wrote In Our Time in 1925, and its critical acclaim established him as a literary force. Critics currently argue over whether it should be considered a novel or merely a compilation of short stories and vignettes. In fact it has...

The Sun Also Rises will maintain a place in history not only for its literary merit, but also for its documentation of what writer Gertrude Stein called the "Lost Generation." After WWI, many young Americans left their native country,...