Ernest Hemingway achieved world-wide fame and influence as a writer by a combination of great emotional power and a highly individual style that could be parodied but never successfully imitated.
His lean and sinewy prose; his mastery of a kind of laconic, understated dialogue; his insistent use of repetition, often of a single word, or name--built up and transmitted an inner excitement to thousands of his readers. In his best work, the effect was accumulative; it was as if the creative voltage increased as the pages turned.
Not all readers agreed on Mr. Hemingway; and his "best" single work will be the subject of literary debate for generations. But possibly "The Old Man and the Sea," published in 1952, had the essence of the uncluttered force that drove his other stories. In it, character stands hard and clear, indomitable in failure. Man--an ordinary although an unusual man- -is a victim of, and yet rises above, the elemental harshness of nature.
Won the Nobel Prize
The short novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953; it unquestionably moved the judges who awarded Mr. Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature the following year. And it was an occasion for relief and joy among those devotees of the novelist to whom "Across the River and Into the Trees," in 1950, had marked a low point in his career.
A great deal of Mr. Hemingway's work showed a preoccupation--frequently called obsession--with violence and death. He loved guns; he was one of the great aficionados of the deadly bullfight. He identified with the adventures of partisan warfare; he swung a burp-gun in guerrilla fighting.
He wrote a great deal of hunting, fishing, prizefighting; with directness and vigor; with the accuracy of a man who has handled the artifacts of a sport, taken them apart, loved them. He was at times a hard liver and a hard drinker. But in a sense this was all part of his being a hard and constant worker--at his profession of observing life and recording it faithfully as he saw it.
Barb From Max Eastman
Mr. Hemingway's fascination with the calibers of cartridges, and exactly what each could do to a living target, and physical conflict generally, brought a barb from Max Eastman in 1937. Mr. Eastman, a writer who had flexed his own muscles in Marxist dialectics rather than in battle or in the hunt, wrote:
"Come out from behind that false hair on your chest, Ernest. We all know you."
When Mr. Hemingway and Mr. Eastman met in the New York offices of Charles Scribner's Sons, blows were exchanged as Mr. Hemingway bared his chest to prove that the hair was not false. In the later part of his life, Mr. Hemingway wore a beard, coarse and grizzled. It became one of the most famous beards in the world, and a kind of symbol of the man himself.
After Mr. Hemingway became a successful writer, much effort was made by psychologists, amateur and professional, to discover why he wrote as he did. In spite of much rummaging around in his childhood and in his days as a young man in Paris, many of the conclusions about him were contradictory. Mainly by trial and error, he had taught himself to write limpid English prose.
Apprentice as a Writer
Of his apprentice days as a writer in Paris, he wrote this:
"I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, was to put down what really happened in action: what the actual things were which produced the emotions that you experienced the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion I was trying to learn to write, commencing with the simplest things."
"All I want to do is write well," he once said.
Mr. Hemingway had a deadpan wit to which he gave many a special twist, as when he translated Spanish literally. Santiago, the man character in "The Old Man and the Sea," is a great American baseball fan and engages in the following dialogue:
"The Yankees cannot lose."
"But I fear the Indians of Cleveland."
"Have faith in the Yankees, my son. Think of the great DiMaggio."
"I fear both the Tigers of Detroit and the Indians of Cleveland."
"Be careful or you will fear even the Reds of Cincinnati and the White Sox of Chicago."
The man who could thus put the nuances of American baseball into the Spanish locutions of a humble fisherman; who rarely lost his sense of the humor that he found was as much a part of war and disaster as was courage itself, was born in Oak Park, Ill., a middle-class suburb of Chicago.
The date was July 21, 1899. Ernest Miller Hemingway was the second child of a family of six children; there were four sisters and a younger brother. His father was Dr. Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a large bearded physician who was more devoted to hunting and fishing than to his practice.
His mother was Grace Hall Hemingway, a religious-minded woman who sang in the choir of the First Congregational Church. She gave her son a cello, and for a year made him practice on it. But the boy's father had greater lures. He gave the boy a fishing rod when he was 3 and a shot-gun when he was 10.
With his graduation from Oak Park High, he completed his formal education. He read widely, however, and had a natural facility for languages.
It was wartime, and torment for a spirited young man not to be in the fighting. Finally he managed to get to Italy, where he wangled his way into the fighting as a Red Cross ambulance driver with the Italian Army. Although he arrived too late for the great Italian rout at Caporetto, he learned all about it and described it brilliantly in "A Farewell to Arms," published in 1929.
On July 8, 1918, while he was passing out chocolate candy to frontline troops at Fossalta di Piave, Mr. Hemingway was badly wounded in the leg by an Austrian mortar shell and was hospitalized for many weeks. He received the Medaglia d'Argento al Valore Militare, a high Italian military decoration.
He returned to Chicago, suffering from chronic insomnia. For a while, he edited The House Organ of the Cooperative Society of America. But, inexorably, he drifted to the expatriate Left Bank world of Paris. He had a letter from Sherwood Anderson to Gertrude Stein, and he was soon one of the group of writers who frequented the bookstore of Sylvia Beach--Shakespeare & Co., at 18 Rue de l'Odèon. Here he met, among many others, Andrè Gide and James Joyce.
Mr. Joyce and Mr. Hemingway did a certain amount of drinking together. The author of "Ulysses" was a thin, wispy and unmuscled man with defective eyesight. When they were making the rounds of the cafes and Mr. Joyce became embroiled with a brawler, as he frequently did, he would slip behind his hefty companion and cry, "Deal with him, Hemingway. Deal with him."
It was in Paris that Mr. Hemingway began to write seriously. He was greatly aided by the advice of the austere and sometimes curmudgeonish Miss Stein, whose unadorned style of writing influenced him greatly. If she was exacting, she was also sympathetic, although she was inclined to deride Mr. Hemingway's mania for firearms and thereby often hurt his feelings.
After several trips back to the United States, Mr. Hemingway settled in Europe. But instead of sitting his life away at the Cafè des Deux Magots, as many of his contemporaries did, he worked hard at his writing.
He wrote with discernment about the persons around him. They were his expatriate countrymen, together with the "Lost Generation" British and general European post-war strays, and he limned them with deadly precision.
Before he was established as a writer, Mr. Hemingway underwent the privations that were almost standard for young men of letters in Paris. He lived in a tiny room and often subsisted on a few cents worth of fried potatoes a day. With the publication in 1926 of "The Sun Also Rises" after three years of indifferent response to his work, he achieved sudden fame.
In "The Sun Also Rises," Mr. Hemingway showed the felicity for titles that characterized his work. The title is from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible and is in a passage that showed the seemingly meaningless coming and going of the sun, the tides and the winds as the lives of his characters seemed to the author to come and go pointlessly.
A concise biography of Mr. Hemingway that focused on his Paris years was written by his friend, Archibald MacLeish:
Veteran out of the wars before he was twenty;
Famous at twenty-five: thirty a master--
Whittled a style for his time from a walnut stick
In a carpenter's loft in a street of that April city.
In 1928, Mr. Hemingway returned to the United States, where he lived for the next ten years, mostly in Florida. He hated New York City and its literary life and kept away from it as much as he could. He was still only 30 when he published his highly successful "A Farewell to Arms."
When "Death in the Afternoon" was published in 1932, Mr. Hemingway said he had seen 1,500 bulls killed. The great success of the book established its author as one of the great popularizers of bullfighting.
For several years Mr. Hemingway hunted big game in Africa and did much shooting and fishing in different parts of the world. "Winner Take Nothing" was published in 1933 and "The Green Hills of Africa" in 1935.
The latter was one of the best contemporary accounts of the complex relationships between the hunter, the hunted and the African natives who are essential to the ritual of their confrontation. At the same time, the book told as much of Hemingway, the writer's writer, as of Hemingway, the big game hunter. For example:
"... the feeling comes when you write well and truly of something and know impersonally you have written it that way and those who are paid to read it and report on it do not like the subject so they say it is all a fake, yet you know its value absolutely ..."
Like many American intellectuals, Mr. Hemingway offered some degree of support to Left-Wing movements during the Nineteen Thirties. In at least one of his books, "To Have and Have Not" (1937)--his only full-length novel with an American setting--one critic found he had spoken favorably of "social consciousness," and to another he had sounded "vaguely Socialist."
Action and Tragedy
But more readers will remember the work as a tale of action and tragedy in the Florida Keys. They will recall not so much the social aspects of Harry Morgan's career, but probably the remarkable love affair between the doomed boatman and his slatternly wife. Mr. Hemingway might stir the "social consciousness" of individual readers; but if so, he did it by exact characterization, never by didactics.
Nor had Mr. Hemingway ever joined the cafè-sitters, who cheered on the progress of the Left. In 1936, with characteristic directness, he went to Spain. He covered the war for the North American Newspaper Alliance. And in 1940 his novel of the Spanish Civil War, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," showed both that his own deepest sympathies were with the Loyalists, and that he was agonizingly aware of the destructive effect upon their cause of the Communist commissars.
Indeed, the novel was in the broadest sense a lament for everyone involved in the conflict. Its striking title came from John Donne, who had reminded that no man is an island, and had written (in his seventeenth "Devotion"):
"... never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
In the year World War II broke out, Mr. Hemingway took up residence in Cuba. But soon he was back in action in Europe, resuming the combat correspondence he had begun in Spain.
Mr. Hemingway was with the first of the Allied armed forces to enter Paris, where, as he put it, he "liberated the Ritz" Hotel. Later he was with the Fourth United States Infantry Division in an assault in the Huertgen Forest. The Bronze Star was awarded to him for his semi-military services in this action.
In 1950, "Across the River and Into the Trees"--the story of a frustrated and generally "beat up" United States infantry colonel who goes to Venice to philosophize, make love and die--disappointed critics. It touched off "Across the Street and Into the Grill," by E.B. White in The New Yorker. This was probably the supreme parody of Hemingway.
In 1950, The New Yorker also published a multi-part profile of Mr. Hemingway by Lillian Ross, who had spent several days with him in New York. It was a brilliant but savage series; it stirred much controversy and appears to have made more friends for Mr. Hemingway than for Miss Ross. But the most impressive riposte came from the novelist himself. When the profile was published in hard covers, Mr. Hemingway in The New York Herald Tribune listed it among the three books he had found most interesting that year.
"The Old Man and the Sea," two years later, pleased virtually everyone. It relied on the elemental drama of a fisherman who catches the greatest marlin of his life--only to have it eaten to the skeleton by sharks before he can get it to port.
Hurt in Air Crash
The 1954 Nobel Prize citation from the Swedish Academy said in part:
"For his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of modern narration, as most recently evinced in 'The Old Man and the Sea.'"
On Jan. 23, 1954, the writer and the fourth Mrs. Hemingway, the former Mary Welsh (whom he called Miss Mary) figured in a double crash in Uganda, British East Africa. First reports said both had been killed.
Actually, after one light plane crashed, a second had picked up the couple unhurt. Both Mr. Hemingway and his wife suffered injuries in the crack-up of the rescue plane; and a friend who visited them in Havana soon after found that the novelist's injuries had been more severe than was generally supposed.
Mr. Hemingway's other published writings include "Three Stories and Ten Poems," 1923; "In Our Time," 1925; "The Torrents of Spring," 1926; "Men Without Women," 1927, and "The Fifth Column and First-Forty-nine Stories," in 1938.
Mr. Hemingway earned millions of dollars from his work; for one thing, a great many of his stories and novels were adapted to the screen and television. These included "The Killers," an early gangster story, celebrated for its dialogue; "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," both set in East Africa; "The Sun Also Rises," "A Farewell to Arms," "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Old Man and the Sea."
Mr. Hemingway's first wife was a boyhood sweetheart, the former Hadley Richardson, whom he married in 1919. She accompanied him on one of his early trips to Paris. They were divorced in 1926.
The next year Mr. Hemingway married Pauline Pfeiffer. This marriage was terminated by divorce in 1940 and in that year Mr. Hemingway married a novelist, Martha Gellhorn. After their divorce Mr. Hemingway married Miss Welsh.
A son, John, was born to Mr. Hemingway and his first wife. Two other sons, Patrick and Gregory, were born to the author and his second wife.