Biography of Ernest Hemingway

Famous Author Known for His Simple Prose and Rugged Persona

A picture of American writer Ernest Hemingway.
American writer Ernest Hemingway working at a portable table while on a big game hunt in Kenya. (September 1952). (Photo by Earl Theisen/Getty Images)

American author Ernest Hemingway is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Best known for his novels and short stories, he was also an accomplished journalist and war correspondent. Hemingway's trademark prose style — simple and spare — influenced a generation of writers.

A larger-than-life figure, Hemingway thrived on high adventure — from safaris and bullfights to wartime journalism and adulterous affairs.

Hemingway is among the most prominent of the "Lost Generation" of expatriate writers who lived in Paris in the 1920s.

He was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in literature and several of his books were made into movies. After a long struggle with depression, Hemingway took his own life in 1961.

Dates: July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961

Also Known As: Ernest Miller Hemingway; Papa Hemingway

Famous Quote: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

Childhood

Ernest Miller Hemingway was the second child born to Grace Hall Hemingway and Clarence ("Ed") Edmonds Hemingway in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899. Ed was a general practitioner and Grace a would-be opera singer turned music teacher.

Hemingway's parents reportedly had an unconventional arrangement, in which Grace — an ardent feminist — would agree to marry Ed only if he could assure her she would not be responsible for the housework or cooking.

Ed acquiesced; in addition to his busy medical practice, he ran the household, managed the servants, and even cooked meals when the need arose.

Ernest Hemingway grew up with four sisters; his much longed-for brother did not arrive until Ernest was 15 years old. Young Ernest enjoyed family vacations at a cottage in northern Michigan where he developed a love of the outdoors and learned hunting and fishing from his father.

His mother, who insisted that all of her children learn to play an instrument, instilled in him an appreciation of the arts.

In high school, Hemingway co-edited the school newspaper and competed on the football and swim teams. Fond of impromptu boxing matches with his friends, Hemingway also played cello in the school orchestra. He graduated from Oak Park High School in 1917.

World War I

Hired by the Kansas City Star in 1917 as a reporter covering the police beat, Hemingway —obligated to adhere to the newspaper's style guidelines — began to develop the succinct, simple style of writing that would become his trademark. That style was a dramatic departure from the ornate prose that dominated literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

After six months in Kansas City, Hemingway longed for adventure. Ineligible for military service due to poor eyesight, he volunteered in 1918 as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Europe. In July of that year, while on duty in Italy, Hemingway was severely injured by an exploding mortar shell. His legs were peppered by more than 200 shell fragments, a painful and debilitating injury that required several surgeries.

As the first American to have survived being wounded in Italy in World War I, Hemingway was awarded a medal from the Italian government.

While recovering from his wounds at a hospital in Milan, Hemingway met and fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, a nurse with the American Red Cross. He and Agnes made plans to marry once he had earned enough money.

After the war ended in November 1918, Hemingway returned to the United States to look for a job, but the wedding was not to be. Hemingway received a letter from Agnes in March 1919, breaking off the relationship. Devastated, he became depressed and rarely left the house.

Becoming a Writer

Hemingway spent a year at his parents' home, recovering from wounds both physical and emotional. In early 1920, mostly recovered and eager to be employed, Hemingway got a job in Toronto helping a woman care for her disabled son. There he met the features editor of the Toronto Star Weekly, who hired him as a feature writer.

In fall of that year, he moved to Chicago and became a writer for The Cooperative Commonwealth, a monthly magazine, while still working for the Star.

Yet Hemingway longed to write fiction. He began submitting short stories to magazines, but they were repeatedly rejected. Soon, however, Hemingway had reason for hope. Through mutual friends, Hemingway met novelist Sherwood Anderson, who was impressed by Hemingway's short stories and encouraged him to pursue a career in writing.

Hemingway also met the woman who would become his first wife — Hadley Richardson (picture). A native of St. Louis, Richardson had come to Chicago to visit friends after the death of her mother. She managed to support herself with a small trust fund left to her by her mother. The pair married in September 1921.

Sherwood Anderson, just back from a trip to Europe, urged the newly-married couple to move to Paris, where he believed a writer's talent could flourish. He furnished the Hemingways with letters of introduction to American expatriate poet Ezra Pound and modernist writer Gertrude Stein. They set sail from New York in December 1921.

Life in Paris

The Hemingways found an inexpensive apartment in a working-class district in Paris. They lived on Hadley's inheritance and Hemingway's income from Toronto Star Weekly, which employed him as a foreign correspondent. Hemingway also rented out a small hotel room to use as his workplace.

There, in a burst of productivity, Hemingway filled one notebook after another with stories, poems, and accounts of his childhood trips to Michigan.

Hemingway finally garnered an invitation to the salon of Gertrude Stein, with whom he later developed a deep friendship. Stein's home in Paris had become a meeting place for various artists and writers of the era, with Stein acting as mentor to several prominent writers.

Stein promoted the simplification of both prose and poetry as a backlash to the elaborate style of writing seen in past decades. Hemingway took her suggestions to heart and later credited Stein for having taught him valuable lessons that influenced his writing style.

Hemingway and Stein belonged to the group of American expatriate writers in 1920s Paris who came to be known as the "Lost Generation." These writers had become disillusioned with traditional American values following World War I; their work often reflected their sense of futility and despair. Other writers in this group included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and John Dos Passos.

In December 1922, Hemingway endured what might be considered a writer's worst nightmare. His wife, traveling by train to meet him for a holiday, lost a valise filled with a large portion of his recent work, including carbon copies. The papers were never found.

Getting Published

In 1923, several of Hemingway's poems and stories were accepted for publication in two American literary magazines, Poetry and The Little Review. In the summer of that year, Hemingway's first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published by an American-owned Paris publishing house.

On a trip to Spain in the summer of 1923, Hemingway witnessed his first bullfight.

He wrote of bullfighting in the Star, seeming to condemn the sport and romanticize it at the same time. On another excursion to Spain, Hemingway covered the traditional "running of the bulls" at Pamplona, during which young men — courting death or, at the very least, injury — ran through town pursued by a throng of angry bulls.

The Hemingways returned to Toronto for the birth of their son. John Hadley Hemingway (nicknamed "Bumby") was born October 10, 1923. They returned to Paris in January 1924, where Hemingway continued to work on a new collection of short stories, later published in the book In Our Time.

Hemingway returned to Spain to work on his upcoming novel set in Spain — The Sun Also Rises. The book was published in 1926, to mostly good reviews.

Yet Hemingway's marriage was in turmoil. He had begun an affair in 1925 with American journalist Pauline Pfeiffer, who worked for the Paris Vogue. The Hemingways divorced in January 1927; Pfeiffer and Hemingway married in May of that year. (Hadley later remarried and returned to Chicago with Bumby in 1934.)

Back to the U.S.

In 1928, Hemingway and his second wife returned to the United States to live. In June 1928, Pauline gave birth to son Patrick in Kansas City. (A second son, Gregory, would be born in 1931.) The Hemingways rented a house in Key West, Florida, where Hemingway worked on his latest book, A Farewell to Arms, based upon his World War I experiences.

In December 1928, Hemingway received shocking news — his father, despondent over mounting health and financial problems, had shot himself to death. Hemingway, who'd had a strained relationship with his parents, reconciled with his mother after his father's suicide and helped to support her financially.

In May 1928, Scribner's Magazine published its first installment of A Farewell to Arms. It was well-received; however, the second and third installments, deemed profane and sexually explicit, were banned from newsstands in Boston. Such criticism only served to boost sales when the entire book was published in September 1929.

The Spanish Civil War

The early 1930s proved to be a productive (if not always successful) time for Hemingway. Fascinated by bullfighting, he traveled to Spain to do research for the non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon. It was published in 1932 to generally poor reviews and was followed by several less-than-successful short story collections.

Ever the adventurer, Hemingway traveled to Africa on a shooting safari in November 1933. Although the trip was somewhat disastrous — Hemingway clashed with his companions and later became ill with dysentery — it provided him with ample material for a short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, as well as a non-fiction book, Green Hills of Africa.

While Hemingway was on a hunting and fishing trip in the United States in the summer of 1936, the Spanish Civil War began. A supporter of the loyalist (anti-Fascist) forces, Hemingway donated money for ambulances. He also signed on as a journalist to cover the conflict for a group of American newspapers and became involved in making a documentary. While in Spain, Hemingway began an affair with Martha Gellhorn, an American journalist and documentarian.

Weary of her husband's adulterous ways, Pauline took her sons and left Key West in December 1939. Only months after she divorced Hemingway, he married Martha Gellhorn in November 1940.

World War II

Hemingway and Gellhorn rented a farmhouse in Cuba just outside of Havana, where both could work on their writing. Traveling between Cuba and Key West, Hemingway wrote one of his most popular novels -- For Whom the Bell Tolls.

A fictionalized account of the Spanish Civil War, the book was published in October 1940 and became a bestseller. Despite being named the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1941, the book did not win because the president of Columbia University (which bestowed the award) vetoed the decision.

As Martha's reputation as a journalist grew, she earned assignments around the globe, leaving Hemingway resentful of her long absences. But soon, they would both be globetrotting. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, both Hemingway and Gellhorn signed on as war correspondents.

Hemingway was allowed on board a troop transport ship, from which he was able to watch the D-day invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

The Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes

While in London during the war, Hemingway began an affair with the woman who would become his fourth wife — journalist Mary Welsh. Gellhorn learned of the affair and divorced Hemingway in 1945. He and Welsh married in 1946. They alternated between homes in Cuba and Idaho.

In January 1951, Hemingway began writing a book that would become one of his most celebrated works — The Old Man and the Sea. A bestseller, the novella also won Hemingway his long-awaited Pulitzer Prize in 1953.

The Hemingways traveled extensively but were often the victims of bad luck. They were involved in two plane crashes in Africa during one trip in 1953. Hemingway was severely injured, sustaining internal and head injuries as well as burns. Some newspapers erroneously reported that he had died in the second crash.

In 1954, Hemingway was awarded the career-topping Nobel Prize for literature.

A Sad Decline

In January 1959, the Hemingways moved from Cuba to Ketchum, Idaho. Hemingway, now nearly 60 years old, had suffered for several years with high blood pressure and the effects of years of heavy drinking. He had also become moody and depressed and appeared to be deteriorating mentally.

In November 1960, Hemingway was admitted to the Mayo Clinic for treatment of his physical and mental symptoms. He received electroshock therapy for his depression and was sent home after a two-month stay. Hemingway became further depressed when he realized he was unable to write after the treatments.

After three suicide attempts, Hemingway was readmitted to the Mayo Clinic and given more shock treatments. Although his wife protested, he convinced his doctors he was well enough to go home. Only days after being discharged from the hospital, Hemingway shot himself in the head in his Ketchum home early on the morning of July 2, 1961. He died instantly.

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Daniels, Patricia, Contributing Writer. "Biography of Ernest Hemingway." ThoughtCo, Jun. 16, 2017, thoughtco.com/ernest-hemingway-1779812. Daniels, Patricia, Contributing Writer. (2017, June 16). Biography of Ernest Hemingway. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ernest-hemingway-1779812 Daniels, Patricia, Contributing Writer. "Biography of Ernest Hemingway." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ernest-hemingway-1779812 (accessed November 18, 2017).