A Clean, Well-Lighted Place | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway | Biography


Beginnings: Journalism and World War I

Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on July 21, 1899. In his career as a journalist he often covered wartime battlefronts. As a novelist he is acclaimed for works such as The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), and The Old Man and the Sea (1952—for which he received the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). A year later he won the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature.

While still a teenager, Hemingway began his writing career as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. Rather than go to college, he volunteered for the American Red Cross in 1918 as an ambulance driver during World War I (1914–18). After being severely injured in Italy in a noncombat role, he returned to the United States and stayed at his family's home in Michigan to recover and plan a return to his life as a writer.

Early Career: The Paris Years

Hemingway married his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in 1921, and within months the couple moved to Paris. While in Paris Hemingway joined the expatriate artistic community of American writer Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), who hosted a salon where writers and artists frequently met. Hemingway socialized with well-known cultural icons such as American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Irish writer James Joyce (1882–1941), and American poet Ezra Pound (1885–1972). These modernist writers commented on the insecurities and lack of direction in a world that seemed to have lost all meaning after the brutality of the war. Stein famously referred to this group as the "Lost Generation" after the disillusionment felt as a result of the atrocities of World War I. Hemingway was often included in this so-called generation, but he remained fiercely independent of it. In 1923 when the Hemingways learned Hadley was pregnant, they moved temporarily to Toronto, Canada (believing the hospitals were better there). Already employed by the Toronto Star, Hemingway continued his work as a foreign correspondent.

Midcareer: World Travel and Rise to Fame

Soon after the 1927 publication of The Sun Also Rises, a novel heavily drawn on what Hemingway learned about bullfighting during frequent trips to Spain, he and Richardson divorced. He married Pauline Pfeiffer later that year and returned to the United States to live in Key West, Florida. In 1928 their son Patrick was born, followed by another son, Gregory, in 1931. During this marriage Hemingway published A Farewell to Arms, a novel about World War I.

In the 1930s Hemingway engaged in adventurous outdoor activities such as hunting in Africa, bullfighting in Spain, and deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Always drawn to the sea, Hemingway bought a boat, the Pilar, in 1934. He equipped it to catch big fish and traveled extensively around the Caribbean, gathering the experiences he would later use in his novella The Old Man and the Sea.

Late Career: War Correspondence and Literary Prizes

In 1937 he covered the Spanish Civil War as a foreign correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. While in Spain he met fellow journalist Martha Gellhorn. In 1939 he took the Pilar to Cuba, where Gellhorn joined him. Pfeiffer then left him, and Hemingway and Gellhorn married in 1940, settling on a farm near Havana, Cuba.

Hemingway served as a war correspondent in Europe during World War II. He met his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, a Time magazine correspondent, while living in London from 1944 to 1945. Always aiming to be at the center of events, Hemingway witnessed the Normandy landing at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944; the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944; and the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. In 1946, following a divorce from Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway and Welsh married in Cuba.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway's novel about the Spanish Civil War, had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1941, but it did not win. However, in 1953 Hemingway won the prestigious award for The Old Man and the Sea. Appearing in 1952, the novella is the last complete work published before his death. An immediate commercial and critical success, it became an international best seller—making its author a celebrity after almost 10 years of virtual literary silence. The novella's critical acclaim helped cement Hemingway's reputation as a literary giant, and in 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Death and Enduring Legacy

Hemingway sustained many injuries (automobile, hunting, airplane, and household accidents) throughout his lifetime of adventures. He was a heavy drinker who suffered from depression and several chronic ailments, among them liver disease and hypertension (high blood pressure). When Hemingway and his fourth wife moved to Ketchum, Idaho, after buying a house in 1959, his mental health continued to deteriorate. On July 2, 1961, Hemingway committed suicide, like his father, sister, and brother before him.

A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's fictionalized memoir of his early years in Paris, was published in 1964 and is considered a valuable addition to the Hemingway canon. His simple, rhythmic prose style in it and many other works is one of the 20th century's most widely imitated styles by writers who followed. Many critics and readers in the United States and abroad consider him among the century's best authors.

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