An Ernest Hemingway biography
Ernest Hemingway (1889-1961) – Writer
Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on 21st July 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois, to Dr. Clarence Hemingway and Grace Hall. His father was an obstetrician, a man who lived his life in peace and loved the same. Ernest was the second born, after Marcelline. Grace was an opera singer and music teacher. She inculcated the spirit of art and music into the growing children. She introduced them to singing and cello, which Hemingway loathed terribly.
The family had annual trips to the Art Institute of Chicago where Hemingway saw many great artists, but it was the stuffed African Animals in the museum of National History that piqued his interest. As a young child, he was fascinated by fishing and hunting in Windermere, Wallon Lake that his dad Dr. Clarence took them to during the summer days. He discovered his knack for hunting small rabbits, porcupines and embraced the outdoor life.
Listening to Grandpa Hall’s Civil War stories, the young Hemingway developed an ever-longing love for the forces. In 1917 Hemingway graduated from school when the declaration of war made the headlines. It was as though Hemingway’s childhood dream to serve the forces was about to become a reality.
He soon moved out with his uncle Alfred to pursue Journalism in Kansas City. Joining The Star as a mere cub reporter, he was introduced to the their Style manual, 110 guidelines on the art of writing good news, which stayed with him for quite a long time. Later, he would mention in an interview, “The best rules of writing that I ever learned for the business of writing, I’ve never forgotten them”.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.– Ernest Hemingway
In 1918, Hemingway failed his medical test due to an eye defect he had since childhood, thus he could not get selected into the Army. But Hemingway still craved the war front. The Red Cross was in Kansas City recruiting ambulance drivers for their campaign in Europe. Hemingway didn’t waste much time and applied for the role.
Soon he was in Italy to help the rescue workers. He was stationed at Schio on the outer hills of Dolomites where he was assigned the duty to deliver chocolates, write papers, magazines, etc. to boost the morale of Italian soldiers. They named him Giovani Americano (The Happy American). On 7th July 1918, while recovering dead bodies, a severe crash from the bomb-dropping knocked him unconscious.
He lay amongst the pile of dead bodies for more than four hours until he was rescued by a fellow driver. 227 pieces of shrapnel had wounded his feet. He would keep a few of those pieces in his wallet to serve as a memory of this mutilation. He was nominated for the Silver Medal of Valor for his bravery and he would go on mentioning this event later in life exaggerating his role.
While recovering in Milan, he met Agnes Von Kurosky. She was working in the same hospital that Ernest was recovering. Just as any teen crush, he was swooned by her beauty. The first-time love-struck Ernest did everything in his capability to meet the her expectations. But the affair didn’t last long. Agnes was getting stationed outside Milan and she had plans to marry an Italian soldier.
In 1919, he returned to his hometown while still recovering from the shrapnel wounds. There he was given a hero’s welcome. He actively worked towards cultivating his hobby in writing. With the help of his friend Bill Smith, he got a second-hand typewriter and started working as a freelance writer.
As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.– Ernest Hemingway
He worked on his storytelling skills and delivered his war story from Italy to the Ladies Aid Society, where he made contacts with Ralph Connable, Head of F W Woolworth Chain stores. He gave lessons to his specially-abled son Ralph Junior and made fifty dollars a week. Soon he got introduced to J Herbert Cranston, the Chief editor for Star Weekly, and procured a writing job. At the Star Weekly, he wrote more than 160 articles and Cranston was fairly impressed by the young lad’s writing skills, especially his use of humor in the most mundane political articles.
In 1921, Hemingway married Hadley Richardson. She was everything he ever wished for, auburn hair, electric ocean blue eyes, and a warm and welcoming aura. According to Hemingway even though he was eight years younger than her “I knew exactly when I saw her that she would be my wife”. The couple married in a small private ceremony in Petoskey, Michigan on 3rd September 1921. They later shifted to Paris and lived the bourgeois life.
In Paris, Hemingway’s pursuit for writing finally met his destination. There he met and worked with literary celebs like writer Gertrude Stein, poet Ezra Pound and novelist James Joyce. Gertrude Stein, also an art collector, was friends with Picasso and other famous artists and she soon took Hemingway under her wing. In 1923, Hemingway finally published his first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems. He also welcomed the birth of his first child, John Hadley or Bumby as they called him.
By 1927, his marriage with Hadley was on the rocks with the introduction of Pauline, Hadley’s friend who had accompanied them for one of their vacations. He soon divorced Hadley and married Pauline. The couple shifted to her house in Key West by 1928. They went on a Safari to Africa just as Hemingway read about Theodore Roosevelt as a child and hunted wild buffaloes and lions from that trip, which also provided a good setting for his short stories, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
In 1928, Hemingway received the news of his father Clarence committing suicide by shooting himself in the head. This news had a drastic affect on him. To cope up with the same, he resorted to his father’s only escape which became his as well—Alcohol. He didn’t lose his connection with his writing though and went ahead and published one of his most successful novels, A Farewell to Arms.
In 1940, he met Martha Gellhorn. She was a war correspondent and a journalist who covered international conflict and hence was always on the move. Hemingway married her within sixteen days of divorce from Pauline. For he said he felt too lonely without her and it was Martha’s witty, aristocratic aura that allured him. After their union, news of World War II came into focus; to cover the same, Martha and Hemingway left for Cuba.
Before leaving, he volunteered to help the United States Naval Intelligence by providing his boat, the Pilar, and acted as a German Submarine spotter in the Caribbean. During the same year, Hemingway also published For Whom Bell Tolls and dedicated it to his newfound love Martha.
In 1944 his marriage with Martha came to an end. He later married his fourth and final wife, Mary Welsh. In the 1950s, he published his not-so-popular releases, Across the River and Into the Trees, which did not gather much reputation or critics. However, it was in 1951, with the publication of The Old Man and the Sea that everyone saw the uprising of the real Hemingway writing. The book had more than 15300 copies being sold from first print; he was even awarded the Pulitzers and The Nobel Prize.
“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”– Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
During the later years, however, his health deteriorated. Emotionally as well as physically, one can see how much the death and war and their after-effects had severely affected him. He was diagnosed with severe depression and Mary Welsh signed the papers for him to receive shock treatments to cure the same. However, Hemingway, just like his father, shot himself with his gun on the day of 21st July 1961, his birthday.
Ernest Hemingway, as controversial as his life could get, one cannot argue that his fiction if not his real life, was something that the common folk often connected with. He was Papa Hemingway, the man who wrote about wars and death with such intricacy that one would be astonished he hadn’t been part of the same.
His love for Nature and the uncertainty it brought along is something that leaves the reader with a thought to ponder upon. Though one would have many knits to pick in his personal life, his novels stood out of the herd. He was often criticized for many of his writings or the style he adapted, for them he had one thing to say, “Critics are men who watch the war from a high place then come down and shoot down the survivors.” And from there on, he enjoyed his gin and bled on the typewriter and passed his days.
- Ernest Hemingway: A Biography by Mary Dearborn, Vintage, 2018
- Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir by A. E. Hotchner, Da Capo Press, 2005
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