Ernest Hemingway

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At a Glance

Ernest Hemingway played a major role in defining 20th-century American literature, but his life, art, and image are so deeply intertwined that it is hard to separate them. This is because he had such high standards, and because he insisted on a certain type of intense truth in his writing. Since he often wrote about the sort of experience that tested a man’s mettle, he repeatedly risked his life in high-adventure situations. Hemingway served as a Red Cross ambulance driver in World War I (where he was injured by both mortar and machine gun fire), reported on the Spanish Civil War and World War II, worked as a deep-sea fisherman, and went on big game safaris throughout Africa. He was in two plane crashes while visiting Africa and was so badly injured in one that some newspapers reported he had been killed. All of this and more showed up in his writing.

Facts and Trivia

  • Hemingway won the Italian Silver Medal for Valor for his actions in World War I. (Even though he had over 200 pieces of mortar shell in his legs, Hemingway carried an injured soldier to medical help.)
  • While his work was well-received by critics almost from the start, Hemingway himself was the subject of much criticism for his morals and behavior. This led to a lot of verbal conflicts—and even some physical ones.
  • In the 1920s, Hemingway was part of a group of American expatriate writers living in Paris. There he socialized and argued with writers such as Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and T. S. Eliot.
  • Hemingway married four times, often falling for one woman while still married to another one.
  • After battling depression and poor health for several years, Hemingway shot himself in 1961—just as his father had in 1928.

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Biography

(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Hemingway was one of the most influential writers in the twentieth century, both as a much-imitated stylist and as a larger-than-life celebrity.

Early Life

Born into a conservative, upper-middle-class family in Oak Park, Illinois, an affluent suburb of Chicago, Ernest Hemingway spent much of his life and early literary career trying to break away from the constraints of his youth. Hemingway’s father, Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, was a physician who had a great interest in hunting and fishing. The young Hemingway, whose father hoped that his son would eventually join him in his medical practice, became an avid outdoorsman at an early age.

During long holidays spent at the family’s summer home on Walloon Lake in northern Michigan, Ernest, who was not healthy as a youth, pushed himself to the limits of his physical endurance, as he did throughout much of his later life. He became an enthusiastic sportsman.

Grace Hall Hemingway, Ernest’s mother, was a cultivated woman, much interested in music. She dominated her husband, and Ernest realized early that his father was henpecked. Until her death, Grace Hemingway never had a positive word to say about her son’s work. She regarded Ernest’s writing as an embarrassment to the family because it dealt with a side of life that Grace considered seamy. Never able to win from his mother the approbation that he wanted, Hemingway was early attracted to older women who appreciated his work and who appreciated him. Three of his four wives were considerably older than he, and his first serious romantic encounter was with Agnes von Kurowsky, a nurse who tended him in Italy and was eight years his senior.

Hemingway completed high school in 1917, just as the United States was being drawn into World War I. He had no wish to go to college and was eager to serve his country. His defective vision precluded his serving in the armed forces, so after a summer at Walloon Lake, Hemingway, drawing on his experience in writing for his high school newspaper in Oak Park, went to Kansas City as a reporter for the Star , a celebrated daily newspaper of that era. He was to return to Oak Park only five or six times in his entire life after he made the initial break. In Kansas City, Hemingway served...

(The entire section is 9,925 words.)