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hemingway, ernest hemingway
Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Ernest Hemingway, American Writer

July 21, 2009
by Sarah Amandolare
Ernest Hemingway changed literature forever, crafting immaculately spare prose that proved meaning and emotion can be expressed without excessive description. He pursued life with uncommon vigor, whether writing, women, travel or sport, all the while tormented by the path he’d chosen. 

Hemingway’s Early Days

Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Ill., and was the second of six children, which included four girls and two boys. The upper middle-class, largely Protestant Chicago suburb was a place of “wide lawns and narrow minds,” Hemingway would say later.

His parents, Dr. Clarence and Grace Hall Hemingway, attempted to instill in their children “conservative Midwestern values of strong religion, hard work, physical fitness and self determination.” Hemingway fished and hunted with his father, and the family spent summers on a lake in northern Michigan, exploring the quiet outdoors. Later, Hemingway would retreat to homes in remote, natural settings.

Hemingway did not attend college, as his parents had expected him to do; instead, he took a job as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. According to The Hemingway Resource Center, the Star “advocated short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy,” which Hemingway later called “the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing.”

He left the paper in April 1918 to be a volunteer ambulance driver in World War I (his poor eyesight prevented him from being a soldier), and was sent to Schio, Italy. The Hemingway Resource Center outlines the important events that followed in Hemingway’s life: the injuries that sent him back to Oak Park, story-telling skill that landed him a job in Toronto, his first marriage to Hadley Richardson, and a position as European correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star in Paris.

Hemingway’s Notable Accomplishments

Hemingway traveled insatiably and lived in several different places around the world. “Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure,” published by PBS, outlines Hemingway’s life from Chicago to the American West.

Palin touches on the author’s love of bull fighting and women, his big game hunts in Africa, his bohemian years in Paris and Barcelona, and his estate in Havana, Cuba. Each chapter of Palin’s adventure, including later years in Idaho and Florida, lists novels published during that time. In the Paris chapter, Palin lists hotels, cafes and attractions mentioned in Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” which told of the so-called Lost Generation of expat writers and artists living in Paris in the 1920s.
“Torrents of Spring” and “The Sun Also Rises” were Hemingway’s first two novels, and both were published in 1926. Two years later, while living in Key West with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, Hemingway received the news that his father had committed suicide. Although grieving, he continued writing and published “A Farewell to Arms.” Hemingway and Pfeiffer had had a son, Patrick, just six months before the suicide, according to Palin.

Hemingway’s spare prose was a stark change from the flowery writing of his time, and set the pace for the 20th Century. His goal when writing had been to craft “one true sentence,” Cynthia Barnes explains in an article about a 2005 PBS series called “Ernest Hemingway: Rivers to the Sea.” Executive producer Susan Lacy nicely sums up Hemingway’s groundbreaking style: "Hemingway set out to create a new form of expression, to describe action and emotion in the simplest and truest terms.” 

Van Wyck Brooks, a literary historian, called Hemingway a “twentieth-century Twain,” while American journalist and essayist Joan Didion said Hemingway “made the English language new,” according to Barnes.

Hemingway was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. The Nobel Prize Web site offers a synopsis of the writer’s style and thematic approach, saying he “liked to portray soldiers, hunters, bullfighters—tough, at times primitive people whose courage and honesty are set against the brutal ways of modern society, and who in this confrontation lose hope and faith.”

The Rest of the Story

Hemingway’s death came at age 61 from a shotgun wound to the head at his Ketchum, Idaho, home. According to his New York Times obituary, Hemingway’s wife, Mary, called the shooting an accident that occurred while her husband was cleaning his gun. Hemingway had recently been released from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he’d been treated for two months for hypertension and hepatitis. Neighbors said he’d lost weight and seemed depressed.

Later, it was revealed that Hemingway committed suicide. An excerpt from “Ernest Hemingway: A Storyteller’s Legacy” on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum Web site touches on the tortured existence Hemingway endured. The excerpt notes that Hemingway was hospitalized “for extreme nervous depression,” had twice threatened suicide and had been subject to electric shock treatments. His health had deteriorated after surviving two plane crashes in Africa, along with other health conditions.

During Hemingway’s funeral, his son, Gregory, said he was thinking, “I hope it's peaceful finally . . . because nobody ever dreamed of, or longed for, or experienced, less peace than he. He wrote of that longing all his life, in words as simple and as complicated as autumn and as spring,” according to the excerpt.

Hemingway’s books are listed by Timeless Hemingway, each with a book summary linking to a synopsis on Wikipedia.

The Ernest Hemingway Home in Old Town Key West is now a tourist attraction where you can stroll the grounds and gardens. Learn more on the home’s Web site.

Hemingway Reference Sources and Lesson Plan

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston maintains The Papers of Ernest Hemingway, including drafts of his novels and short stories. The author’s newspaper clips, letters of correspondence and photographs are also included in the archives.

The Ernest Hemingway Foundation, established by his widow Mary in 1965, is focused on “scholarship and studies relating to the works and life” of the author. The foundation offers fellowships, publishes The Hemingway Review and holds an annual conference. The foundation’s Web site also links to outside sources of information on Hemingway.

The National Endowment for the Humanities EDSITEment Web site furnishes a lesson plan on Hemingway’s “Three Shots.” The lesson includes exercises to help students “conduct in-depth literary character analysis,” as well as study the impacts of the environment in which one grows up, and Hemingway’s prose style.

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