That’s how I “discovered” Ernest Hemingway. He kept showing up in the news, remarkable for a man who has been dead for fifty years. I tried to find who he was, “what made him tick.” I was only partly successful.
I found facts and inferences. Few of them will make you want to read his books. You might get the same reaction I did: treat him as you would the sun, too big to look at except in reflection, in the traces he left behind, for those who sought his talents and charisma through imitation. Countless good writers have imitated his style with mixed results. This is what I found:
Ernest Miller Hemingway was born July 21, 1899, and raised rich and comfortable in Oak Park, Illinois. His parents were well-educated professionals, his father a doctor and his mother a professional musician. Ernest was also blessed with good looks: tall, dark and handsome, athletic and with great latent writing ability.
Then, in the summer of 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho, he allegedly put the muzzle of a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. It was reported as an accident. Between those two defining parameters, he lived and worked and pursued his dreams.
He lived in interesting times. Just out of high school, he went to Italy as an ambulance driver in World War I. Later, he was a correspondent in the Spanish Civil War. During World War II, he was present at the landing in Normandy and witnessed the liberation of Paris.
From the beginning of his career he had a passion for outdoor adventures in remote, isolated places. He loved bullfighting, big game hunting, and was drawn to wars that he could write about from personal experience.
He was married four times, to remarkably beautiful women. During these marriages, he traveled and lived in France, Canada, Spain, Austria and Cuba, and in the United States: Key West, Florida, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Idaho and New York. He maintained permanent residences in Key West, Florida, Cuba, and Idaho.
His home in Key West, purchased for him by his second wife’s rich uncle, is now a museum with a resident population of over 40 cats, descended from a single cat given him by a sea captain. They are all well cared for. Most of them have extra toes, as did their ancestor. Hemingway loved cats.
He was a successful author, able to support himself and his extravagant lifestyle through his writing. He even won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He attracted friends who shared his interests and were able to advance his career. Editors clamored for his work as a journalist, writer of poetry, short stories and autobiographical novels.
It’s remarkable that he lived as long as he did. He suffered serious injuries in the wars he survived. He was in two serious plane crashes that left him scarred, partially crippled and in perpetual pain the latter part of his life.
Through all this he was an exceptionally talented writer who could turn out enormous quantities of good writing in spite of injuries, ill health, a drinking habit he couldn’t shake and depression that eventually drove him to suicide at the age of 62. He wrote 60 thousand words in just two months, on an old standard typewriter.
If Hemingway sounds interesting, try his “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” that draws on his experience during the Spanish Civil War. In my opinion, that is his best.
Just don’t try to imitate his life style, full of big game safaris, deep sea fishing and wars at first hand. Chances are you won’t live as long as he did.