Ernest Hemingway c.1918
Public DomainErnest Hemingway c.1918 - Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899–1961) was the second of six children born to Doctor Clarence Edmonds Hemingway and the musically talented Grace Hall-Hemingway in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois.

It was not an unusual childhood, in that it had its problems, but it would haunt Hemingway for the rest of his life. The perplexing mood swings of an increasingly paranoid and depressive father – constantly worried about money and finally committing suicide – would be to a greater or lesser degree played out by his son. The unfulfilled professional ambition of his mother – who dressed her son as a girl for the first two years of his life and whom he blamed vehemently for the death of his father – could go some way to explaining his constant desire to pursue something ‘other’: soldier, boxer, bullfighter. Yet the long summers spent fishing, shooting and hiking at the family’s house in Walloon Lake, Michigan, would also foster an almost meditative appreciation of beauty and nature that would remain an accessible tonic to a fractious soul. His parents never developed any real understanding of Hemingway’s work; indeed, they were so mortified upon receiving In Our Time (1924) – the first of their son’s works to be published in the States – that they returned their copies to the publisher.

Leaving Oak Park and River Forest High School in his eighteenth year, Ernest started work as a cub reporter with the Kansas City Star before joining the war as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross. Although he was denied the opportunity to fight owing to poor eyesight, he achieved a certain level of notoriety as ‘the first wounded American from the Italian front’. As well as earning him the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valor, his injuries also impressed upon him a near-death experience, which would be notably replayed in his 1929 novel, A Farewell To Arms.

Upon moving to Paris with his new wife, Hadley, in December 1921, and before he had established his name as a successful author, he was for a time known as ‘Hemingway of the [Toronto] Star’. Receiving his first by-line for the paper’s Weekly edition on 6 March 1920, he continued in the role of foreign correspondent until 1924. It was in these early years, as one of the Lost Generation of writers, and amongst contemporaries such as F. Scott FitzGerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, that Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast is set. The book was published posthumously (1964) and has recently become the focus of some controversy due to the release of Sean and Patrick Hemingway’s ‘Restored Edition’ (2009).

Ernest Hemingway, 1950
Public DomainErnest Hemingway, 1950 - Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

Hemingway’s first real literary breakthrough came in the form of his full-length novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), which cemented both his reputation as a serious writer and his position as spokesperson for the modernist era. A further five novels would follow, along with two works of nonfiction and six short story collections. An additional four collections, three nonfiction publications and three novels would be published posthumously. The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the last novel to be published before his death, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature the following year.

Hemingway was married four times. During the 1930s and 1940s, he did much of his writing in his homes in the Florida Keys and Cuba. Fishing was one of his great loves, and he bought himself a 38-foot boat, the Pilar, which he adapted to hunt German submarines during World War II.

Following a serious plane crash whilst on safari in Africa in 1952 – and probably not aided by a lifetime’s appreciation of alcohol – Hemingway’s last years were plagued by ill health. He was too sick to collect his Nobel Prize in 1954, and later his memory would begin to deteriorate alarmingly. Suffering from bouts of paranoia, he became convinced that he was wanted by the FBI. He moved to Idaho in 1959, where he took his own life with his favourite shotgun on 2 July 1961.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

– Ernest Hemingway

The Paris Review Interview, 1958

The New York Times, articles about Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway Collection -- John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum