For Whom the Bell Tolls | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway | Biography


Ernest Hemingway was born near Chicago, Illinois, on July 21, 1899. As a teenager, he worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. In 1918, during World War I, Hemingway volunteered to join the Italian army as an ambulance driver. When he was injured, he returned to the United States and stayed in Michigan, at his family's home.

Hemingway married his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and they moved to Paris in 1921, where he was mentored by Gertrude Stein, an American writer living in Paris who hosted a salon where writers and artists would meet. He also began spending time in Pamplona, Spain, where he became fond of bullfighting. He and Hadley had one son, John, in 1923. He divorced Hadley to marry his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, with whom he had a son named Patrick in 1928 after they moved to Key West, Florida.

Hemingway spent quite a bit of time searching for big adventures in the outdoors, hunting, fishing, and continuing to attend bullfights in Spain. He covered the Spanish Civil War as a foreign correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance in 1937 and met his third wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn, to whom he dedicated For Whom the Bell Tolls. His experience covering the war informed the novel a great deal, and his political leanings were in line with the Republicans. Martha divorced Hemingway after he became infatuated with yet another war correspondent, Mary Welsh, who became his fourth wife.

For Whom the Bell Tolls was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1941. It was thought by many American critics to be his best book, and it further solidified his place in the American literary canon. Hemingway finally received the Pulitzer in 1953 for his short novel, The Old Man and the Sea (1952), and in 1954, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the United States, the reception of For Whom the Bell Tolls was extremely positive, but there were detractors who felt that Hemingway had taken advantage of the Spanish people, becoming what some called a "military tourist" and portraying some historical characters in very negative lights. Marty, for example, was a real person and was, to the dismay of French veterans of the Civil War, portrayed as crazy. Hemingway also insulted La Pasionaria, a major figure in the Republican movement, by portraying her in a negative light. In addition some of the descriptions of the peasantry were stereotypical, and the formal English translations of Spanish phrasing could be confusing.

These personal digs and cultural oversights cost Hemingway a place in an anthology of literature on the Spanish Civil War entitled Heart of Spain, edited by American writer Alvah Bessie. A few writers protested the decision to exclude Hemingway by pulling their work from the anthology. In 1968 For Whom the Bell Tolls would finally get beyond the censorship of the Spanish government and be released in Spain. Francisco Franco led the rebellion to overthrow the Spanish democratic republic during the Spanish Civil War, replacing it with a harsh dictatorship that would reign for many years. Franco's regime censored literature deemed critical of Catholicism or Spanish politics. In 1966, two years before the Spanish release of the novel, Republican general Enrique Lister wrote in his memoir of the war that Hemingway, though a great writer, did not have a deep understanding of the forces at work both during and after the civil war.

Accident-prone throughout his lifetime of adventures, Hemingway self-medicated and drank heavily. When Hemingway and Welsh moved to Ketchum, Idaho, after buying a house in 1959, his mental health disintegrated. On July 2, 1961, Hemingway committed suicide, a fate that fell upon several members of Hemingway's family over the years.

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