This Day In Literary History
On July 21st, 1899, the legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois - a suburb of Chicago. His father, Clarence Edmonds "Doc Ed" Hemingway, was a country doctor. His mother Grace was an aspiring opera singer.
Grace, who earned money giving voice and music lessons, was a domineering and fiercely religious woman who shared the beliefs of the strict, fundamentalist Protestant population of Oak Park, which Ernest Hemingway described as having "wide lawns and narrow minds."
As a boy, Hemingway adopted his father's hobbies of hunting, fishing, and camping in the woods and lakes of Northern Michigan, where his family owned a summer home. They often vacationed there, and the young Hemingway's experiences instilled in him a passion for both outdoor adventure and living in remote areas.
In high school, Hemingway excelled in both sports (he boxed and played football) and academics, displaying exceptional talent in his English classes. His first literary experience was writing for both the school newspaper and yearbook.
In his senior year, he became the editor of the newspaper. He sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Ring Lardner, Jr. as a tribute to his literary hero, Ring Lardner.
After graduating high school, Hemingway decided not to go to college. Instead, he began his writing career as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. Six months later, against his father's wishes, he left the job to join the Army and fight in World War I.
He failed his physical due to vision problems, so he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps instead. On his way to the Italian front, he stopped in Paris, which was being bombarded by German artillery. He tried to get as close to the combat zone as possible.
When he arrived in Italy, Hemingway witnessed first hand the horrors of war. After an ammunition factory near Milan exploded, he had to pick up the human remains. He wrote about the experience in his first short story, A Natural History Of The Dead.
It left him badly shaken. In July of 1918, Hemingway's career as an ambulance driver ended when he was badly wounded while delivering supplies to soldiers. Shrapnel from an Austrian trench mortar shell lodged in his legs, and machine gun fire badly injured his knee.
While recovering in a Milan hospital, he fell in love with Agnes von Kurowski, an American nurse six years his senior. They planned to return to America together, but when the time came, Agnes jilted Hemingway and ran off with an Italian officer.
This painful betrayal left a mark on his psyche, and was reflected in his classic novel A Farewell To Arms (1929). After the war, he returned briefly to Oak Park before leaving for Toronto, Ontario.
There, he lived in an apartment on Bathurst Street, now known as The Hemingway. He resumed his journalism career, landing a job as a reporter for the Toronto Star newspaper. He met and married his first wife, Hadley Richardson.
She hated their cramped apartment, so they moved to Paris, where Hemingway covered the Greco-Turkish War for the Toronto Star. In this obscure yet important war, he witnessed the horrific burning of Smyrna, which he mentioned in a few of his short stories.
While living in Paris, he met Gertrude Stein, who became his mentor and introduced him to the American expatriate community of writers and artists who lived around the Montparnasse Quarter. This community came to be known as the Lost Generation, a term Stein coined from a comment made by her mechanic.
In 1923, after enjoying great success as a foreign correspondent, Hemingway returned to Toronto, where he began writing fiction under the pseudonym Peter Jackson. His first child was born - a son named John but known as Jack. Hemingway asked Gertrude Stein to be his son's godmother.
Around this time, Hemingway had a falling out with his editor, who believed he had been spoiled by his overseas assignments. He deliberately gave Hemingway mundane assignments.
A bitter Hemingway angrily resigned from the Toronto Star in December of 1923. His resignation must have been either ignored or rescinded, as Hemingway continued to write for the newspaper - albeit sporadically.
In 1925, Ernest Hemingway's first book was published. It was a short story collection called In Our Time. It featured four Nick Adams stories.
The book's title, which came from the English Book of Common Prayer, was suggested to Hemingway by Ezra Pound. The 1930 reprint of the book included the piece On The Quai At Smyrna as an introduction.
It was based on Hemingway's experiences covering the Greco-Turkish War. The same year his book was published, Hemingway met writer F. Scott Fitzgerald at the Dingo Bar in Paris. Just two weeks before, Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby was published.
Hemingway and Fiztgerald became close friends. They spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and exchanging manuscripts. Impressed with Hemingway's writing talent, Fitzgerald did a lot to advance his career.
Unfortunately, Fitzgerald's wife Zelda took an immediate dislike to Hemingway. The feeling was mutual. Zelda and her husband were having marital problems at the time, and she blamed the decline of their sex life on Hemingway, whom she called a "fairy."
She accused him of having a homosexual affair with Fitzgerald, but there's no evidence that the two men had an affair or that they were gay or bisexual. Zelda was both a heavy drinker and a schizophrenic, and would later be institutionalized.
To get back at her for attacking his masculinity, Fitzgerald slept with a female prostitute and flaunted the affair. The conflict between Hemingway and Zelda ended his friendship with Fitzgerald and created lifelong animosity between the two writers.
Hemingway and his wife Hadley divorced in 1927. He later married Pauline Pfeiffer, a devout Catholic from Arkansas who was an occasional fashion reporter, writing for Vanity Fair and Vogue. Hemingway converted to Catholicism and continued to write.
Tragedy struck the following year when his father, in poor health and with financial troubles, committed suicide by shooting himself with an old Civil War pistol. Hemingway returned to Oak Park to arrange the funeral.
He angered the Protestant community by voicing the Catholic view that all suicides go to Hell. Not long afterward, Harry Crosby - an old friend of Hemingway's from his Paris days and the founder of Black Sun Press - also committed suicide.
A year later in 1929, Hemingway published his classic novel, A Farewell To Arms. It was an autobiographical novel based on Hemingway's experiences in World War I. In it, Frederic Henry, an American soldier, is wounded in Italy and recovers in a Milan hospital.
There, he meets a British nurse, Catherine Barkley, and falls in love with her. By the time he has recovered, she is three months pregnant. They are separated by the war, then reunited later.
They flee to Switzerland by rowboat where, after a long and painful labor, Catherine gives birth to a stillborn baby, then bleeds to death. The novel would later be adapted for the stage and screen.
Ernest Hemingway wrote ten novels, most of them all-time classics. He also wrote ten short story collections, several non-fiction books, and two plays. His famous 1952 novella The Old Man And The Sea -written while Hemingway was living in Cuba - was his favorite, and with good reason.
His previous novel, Across The River And Into The Trees (1950) was savaged by the critics. They said that Hemingway was washed up as writer - he had become a parody of himself. The Old Man And The Sea proved his brilliance.
Hemingway's thrilling tale of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman far out in the Gulf Stream who struggles to reel in a giant marlin, won him tremendous praise from the critics, who compared his novella with Melville's Moby Dick and Faulkner's The Bear.
The Old Man And The Sea also won Hemingway the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1983, my eighth grade English teacher assigned the class to read this amazing novella. I loved it and became a big Hemingway fan. I still am.
In July of 1961, just three weeks before his 62nd birthday, after suffering from health problems and mental illness, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide with his hunting rifle.
Ironically, even though he had previously voiced the Catholic belief that all suicides go to Hell, the Church ruled that Hemingway was not responsible for his suicide due to mental illness. He was therefore allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
Hemingway's father and two of his siblings had also committed suicide, and years later, his granddaughter, actress Margaux Hemingway, would take her life. Some believe that the disease haemochromatosis ran in Hemingway's father's family.
Haemochromatosis is a genetic disease that causes an excessive level of iron in the blood - which not only results in damage to the pancreas, but also causes instability in the cerebrum, resulting in depression and mental illness.
Quote Of The Day
"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer's radar, and all great writers have had it." - Ernest Hemingway
Today's video features a full length documentary on Ernest Hemingway called Ernest Hemingway: Wrestling With Life. Enjoy!