Ernest Hemingway often drew on events from his own life when composing his short fiction. An especially significant example is his tale titled “A Very Short Story.” In this extremely brief work, Hemingway’s personal experiences are alluded to in a number of different ways, including the following:
- Like the unnamed protagonist of the story, Hemingway was indeed an American in Europe during World War I.
- Like the protagonist, Hemingway was injured during the war, required hospital treatment, and fell in love with a nurse who treated him. In real life, the nurse was a fellow American named Agnes von Kurowsky.
- Like the protagonist, Hemingway was treated in Italy (where he had been injured).
- Hemingway implies a sexual relationship between the protagonist and the nurse. Agnes von Kurowski denied that she had had any such relationship with Hemingway (see Jeffrey Meyers’ biography of Hemingway). According to Martin Smith, in his study of Hemingway’s book In Our Time,
Despite what some biographers have claimed, and despite the wishful thinking of some Hemingway "fans," it is highly unlikely that Hemingway and Agnes von Kurowsky had sex in his hospital bed.
- In the story, Hemingway implies that the couple have serious, imminent plans to marry. Von Kurowski later claimed that she was never as serious about Hemingway as Hemingway suggested and that their relationship had been quite innocent. Nevertheless, in the story, the protagonist describes receiving letters from the nurse, who was smitten with him. Her letters, he says,
were all about the hospital, and how much she loved him and how it was impossible to get along without him and how terrible it was missing him at night.
- In the story, the protagonist returns to America, planning to find a job so that he and the nurse can marry – a detail that fits the basic facts of Hemingway’s life.
- In the story, the nurse falls in love with an Italian and breaks off her relationship with the protagonist – another detail taken from “real life.”
- In the story, the nurse’s letter is sent to Chicago, which was indeed Hemingway’s hometown.
In short, the events described in “A Very Short Story” bear many resemblances to real events in Hemingway’s life, but Hemingway seems to have taken a good deal of fictional liberty in creating the story.