Ernest Hemingway

Oak Park 1899 - Ketchum 1961

Ernest Hemingway was born in Illinois by Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a doctor and hunter, and  by Grace Hall, a music teacher and painter. After graduating, he showed no interest in continuing his university studies. Instead he became enthusiastic about sport, practicing different disciplines, including running, boxing and swimming, but above all for writing.

When he knew he had a chance to become a chronicler for the Kansas City Star, he left the family and set off for his new destination. It was 1917. The United States, until then remained neutral to the First World Conflict, in April declared war on Germany.

Attracted by the ongoing conflict, in 1918 he decided to reach Europe with the uniform of a second lieutenant. He joined the Red Cross and, passing through France, he arrived in Milan, where, as soon as he arrived, he had to witness with horror the devastating consequences caused by the explosion of a munitions factory: Ernest and his companions were forced to recover the bodies reduced to shreds. After three days, he moved to Schio: even in the mountains the conflict reaped victims and young Hemingway had the task of transporting the wounded to the ambulance. In the Veneto region he met John Dos Passos, originally from Chicago and also destined to become a famous novelist.

During the last year of the war, the Italians had entrenched themselves along the western side of the Piave. Here the volunteers had to supply the Red Cross refreshment stations in the towns behind the lines: Ernest, who wanted to be always in the heart of the action, was sent to Fossalta, one of the villages most marked by military maneuvers. One night, while he was going to bring chocolate and cigarettes to the men in the trenches, an Austrian mortar fell among the Italian soldiers and he, in a desperate attempt to carry on his shoulders a severely wounded man, became the target of an enemy machine gun, that threw his leg apart. After having been operated in a place of medication in Fornaci, where he was extracted only some of the splinters that had been stuck in the limb, he was taken to the American Red Cross hospital in Manzoni Street in Milan. The war for Hemingway could be said to have ended. During his stay, he fell in love with a nurse, Agnes Hannah von Kurowsky, a girl from Washington and older than him, who returned him with an affection probably curbed by the difference in age.

The war experience in Italy, the love for the nurse, the history and the beauty of the European territory deeply defined Ernest as a man and writer.

Once back in Oak Park he felt overwhelmed by dissatisfaction, despite being considered a hero: he continued to wear the Italian cape, drank wine, sang the Piave songs and did not look for work. Because of these bad habits, he was driven from his mother's house.

He settled in Chicago, where he began writing articles for the Toronto Star supplement and tried in vain to sell his stories. Here, in the autumn of 1920, he met Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, who would become his first wife. The two moved to Paris, at a time when Hemingway frequently practiced boxing in order to make some money. After having gone to Spain as a special envoy, he was particularly impressed by the bullfights and the festive and charming atmosphere of the place. Hadley, pregnant, returned with her husband to America in view of the birth of her son.

Ernest was now a reporter and writer on the rise and, as such, he returned to live with his family in Paris: it was January 1924. In 1925 he began to be noticed for his raw and objective style and his works were requested and published by Scribner's publisher. In the meantime the marriage with the first wife came to an end.

Pauline Pfeifer, former fashion editor for Vogue, became the second Mrs. Hemingway. Getting pregnant, the two returned to America, for whose immense space Hemingway had begun to feel nostalgic: in Key West he met the passion for the sea fishing and hunting. In 1928 his second son was born. He felt a sense of deep shame when his father shot himself: he did not conceive of suicide, because he violated his code of courage.

In the meantime, one of his most famous novels, A Farewell to Arms, was released and had a great success, to which many others, of non-American setting, will be added. After having his third son, in the autumn of 1932 Ernest, together with his wife Pauline, left for Africa, where he took part in an adventurous safari.

In July 1936 the civil war broke out in Spain: the director general of the North American Newspaper Alliance proposed to Hemingway to go there as a war correspondent, and he accepted.

During this period he met Martha Gellhorn, a cultured woman from St. Louis who would later become his third wife.

Returning from Spain, he described the Spanish experiences in a novel and, after four years, he married to Martha. The Key West house would have belonged to Pauline from now on; Ernest's new home became Finca Vigía, near the small town of San Francisco de Paula, in Cuba. At the end of 1940, For Whom the Bell Tolls was published and it was a resounding success.

When the United States entered the war during the Second World Conflict, Hemingway got his vessel, the Pilar, to become a ship-owl, patrolling Nazi submarines off the coast of Cuba and equipped with a crew of men at his command . The so-called "Hook Band" was however dissolved by order of Washington and the counterintelligence in the Caribbean was entrusted to the FBI. He then left for London as a war correspondent, after signing a contract with Collier's magazine. Victim of a rather serious car accident, he was not looked after by his wife, who often reproached him for being a heavy drinker: he began to court Mary Welsh, an attractive journalist from Minnesota who worked for the Daily Express and who had met in England . She then became the fourth and last Mrs. Hemingway. Together they went to Venice and Cortina, at a time when he began to come to life another of his most important novel, Across the River and Into the Trees, after which he wrote, at the beginning of the Fifties, also The Old and the Sea, that would have won him the Pulitzer Prize.

He traveled to Africa and Europe, and in 1954 he received the Nobel Prize for literature. He was ill now: he had very high blood pressure and cholesterol, the badly functioning liver and the inflamed aorta. Aged and consumed, he began to give clear signs of mental imbalance and tried several times to commit suicide. Discharged after some admissions, he returned to the villa he had bought in Ketchum with Mary.

Sunday, July 2, 1961, he got up early, managed to take a double-barreled gun from his armory, and shot himself in the forehead.

 

Bibliography

Burgess Anthony, L’importanza di chiamarsi Hemingway, Roma, Edizioni Minimum fax, 2008

Pivano Fernanda, Hemingway, Milano, Bompiani, 2001