Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway Introduction

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Ernest Hemingway Introduction

Between the battlefields and the plane crashes, the hunting and the bullfighting, the fishing and the boxing, the drinking and the boasting, wherever did Ernest Hemingway find time to write? But write he did. Hemingway produced ten novels, five books of non-fiction, and scores of short stories, essays, and poems before taking his life at the age of 61. An American original, he was born in the comfortable Midwestern suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, a place he described as full of "wide lawns and narrow minds." He spent the rest of his life throwing himself outside that comfort zone, constantly seeking new challenges, testing himself and the people around him. 

In doing so, he took American prose to a place it had never been—not just to the bullrings of Pamplona and the safari camps of Kenya, but to a pared-down, elegant style that condensed paragraphs of unspoken knowledge into a single sentence that said it all. The most common description of his writing style has been "hard-boiled"; Hemingway preferred to call it "true."

Hemingway was not big on self-analysis; he said upon receiving his Nobel Prize that "a writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." But the facts of his life are important, for Papa (the nickname he gave himself) believed that a good writer ought to draw always upon personal experience for his material. He wrecked his body in pursuit of a macho ideal. He wrecked his relationships in pursuit of… well, who knows what exactly he was after. After a lifetime of celebrating striving and stoicism, Hemingway ended his life wracked in mental and physical pain. Whatever his personal challenges, Hemingway's professional legacy is clear. American prose is different because of him, and his unique style has influenced art, film and countless other writers. We can only imagine that Papa would be proud.

Ernest Hemingway Trivia

Ernest Hemingway nicknamed himself "Papa" at the age of 27.

Hemingway's ultra-religious parents were frequently horrified by the frank and suggestive content of their son's work. When they received their copies of his 1924 short story collection In Our Time, a furious Clarence Hemingway sent the books back to the publisher.

After reading an early draft of A Farewell to Arms at Hemingway's request, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his friend a ten-page letter. He suggested that Hemingway end the book with the passage: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." Hemingway summed up his thoughts on Fitzgerald's critique in a three-word response at the bottom of the letter: "Kiss my ass."

Hemingway's machismo sometimes got on his fellow writers' nerves. In 1937, joking about Hemingway's fascination with firearms and weaponry, the writer Max Eastman wrote, "Come out from behind that false hair on your chest, Ernest. We all know you." The next time Hemingway saw Eastman at their publisher's office in New York, he tore his shirt from his chest to prove that he had chest hair before punching Eastman.

Hemingway and James Joyce were drinking buddies in Paris. Joyce was thin and bespectacled; Hemingway was tall and strapping. When they went out Joyce would get drunk, pick a fight with a bigger guy in the bar and then hide behind Hemingway and yell, "Deal with him, Hemingway. Deal with him."

After Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary were injured in two successive plane crashes in Africa in 1954, first reports said he had been killed. Some American newspapers even published his obituary.

By 1957, Hemingway's daily alcohol consumption included Chianti in the morning, wine with lunch and dinner, nightcaps and about a quart of liquor throughout the day.

Hemingway bought the gun he used to commit suicide from Abercrombie & Fitch, which at the time was a camping and firearms store.

Ernest Hemingway Resources


Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1926)
Hemingway's second novel is among his best. The story of a volunteer American ambulance driver and his romance with a British nurse in the First World War is based largely on Hemingway's own experiences. It is an excellent example of Hemingway's sparse, elegant style and stoic characters.

Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (1932)
We're not sure exactly how many books there are out there about bullfighting, but this one is probably the best. Hemingway had an obsession with bullfighting that started in his twenties (he even tried it himself, but decided to stick with writing). This elegantly crafted book details the sport in all its bloody glory.

Ernest Hemingway, The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938)
Hemingway described the contents of this book better than we can: "There are many kinds of stories in this book. I hope that you will find some that you like. Reading them over, the ones I liked the best…are The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, In Another Country, Hills Like White Elephants, A Way You'll Never Be, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, and a story called The Light of the World which nobody else ever liked. There are some others too. Because if you did not like them you would not publish them."_CITATION38_

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (1964)
His memoir of his fellow expatriates in Paris is at times vicious, petty and delightfully dishy. It is also a fascinating meditation on his interior life as a writer. The portrayals of former friends F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein—both of whom, it should be noted, helped and nurtured the young Hemingway in his early days in Paris—are just mean.

Martha Gellhorn, Travels With Myself and Another (1979)
Martha Gellhorn, Mrs. Hemingway #3, was a fascinating person—a widely traveled war correspondent and writer with an independent streak that often clashed with her husband's strong personality. Hemingway is the other person in this memoir of her travels, referred to only as U.C.—Unwilling Companion. Their marriage lasted only five years, but this fly-on-the-wall view of their travels is fascinating.

Kenneth S. Lynn, Hemingway (2007)
There are many biographies of Ernest Hemingway on the shelves, all of which have their own take on the writer. Lynn was interested in the psychological underpinnings of Hemingway's work. Some critics have panned the book as delving too far into Hemingway's psyche, drawing connections that may not be there. But if you want to go deeper into Hemingway's brain, Lynn's biography is worth a read.

Gregory H. Hemingway, Papa: A Personal Memoir (1988)
This memoir by Hemingway's third son was critically respected - Norman Mailer wrote the intro - and offers a fascinating (if voyeuristic) glimpse into Hemingway's family life. Gregory Hemingway had a troubled relationship with his father. Like many in the Hemingway line he struggled with depression, and had a lifelong interest in cross-dressing that infuriated his ultra-macho father. Eventually he underwent a sex change operation. He died in 2001 in a women's jail after being arrested for walking naked down a public street in Florida.


Songs of World War I
Listen to "Over There," "Hunting the Hun," "You Can't Beat Us" and other musical hits from the years of the First World War here. Hemingway and his soldier buddies would have known many of these tunes.

Josephine Baker
Hemingway called this African-American entertainer "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw." Baker emigrated to France around the same time as Hemingway. This documentary in several parts features her music and dance.

Cole Porter
In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Hemingway's dying narrator quotes from Cole Porter's 1933 tune "It's Bad for Me." This is one piece of evidence that Hemingway was familiar with the songwriter, who was born a few years before Hemingway and died a few years after him. His iconic hits include "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "Don't Fence Me In."

Cuban Music
Hemingway lived in Cuba off and on for twenty years. Music features prominently in the country's culture, which Hemingway found inspiring.

Edith Piaf
La Mome—the Little Sparrow—was singing on the streets of Paris while Hemingway was writing in its cafes. They rose to fame at the same time and both died, prematurely, in 1961. We imagine that Hemingway would have sympathized with the lyrics of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No, I Regret Nothing).

Wrestling Ernest Hemingway Soundtrack
The 1993 movie tanked at the box office, but the evocative score by Michael Convertino has its fans.

Islands in the Stream
Hemingway's novel Islands in the Stream is published posthumously in 1970. In 1983, Kenny Rogers' and Dolly Parton's single of the same name tops the charts. Coincidence? You decide.


Ernest Hemingway
Jousuf Karsh's iconic photograph of the author, taken in 1957. (Karsh also shot the famous portrait of Winston Churchill, scowling at the camera after Karsh snatched his stogie away.)

Baby Hemingway
Ernest's baby picture, circa 1900.

High School
Hemingway's graduation portrait, 1917

World War I
Hemingway's portrait in uniform and on crutches post-injury.

Hemingway's passport in 1923.

Hemingway in Cuba
The author relaxes in Cuba.

Hemingway and Gellhorn
Hemingway and his third wife, war correspondent Martha Gellhorn.

Hemingway on Safari
With his kill in Tanganyika, 1934.

Hemingway Fishing
The not-so-old man and the sea.

Hemingway Boxing
Boxing, like bullfighting, was a lifelong Hemingway fascination.

Hemingway Drinking
At home with a remarkably well-stocked bar.

Hemingway's typewriter.

The Old Man and the Sea
Dust jacket of first edition.

The Hemingway Home
The house where Hemingway lived and wrote in Key West, Florida.

Finca Vigia
The home where Hemingway and third wife Martha Gellhorn lived in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba.

The Ketchum, Idaho home where Hemingway died.

Movies & TV

The Spanish Earth (1937)
A documentary about the Spanish Republican government narrated by Ernest Hemingway and John dos Passos. Hemingway covered the Spanish Civil War as a journalist in the 1930s and developed strong anti-Franco views.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
Set in the Spanish Civil War, this is sort of the quintessential adaptation of a Hemingway novel: big, grand, sweeping, foreign setting, beautiful women, stoic men. It even has Gary Cooper, a Hemingway pal. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture (Katina Paxinou's portrayal of Pilar was the only winner, for Best Supporting Actress).

The Killers
Director Robert Siodmak's 1946 interpretation of Hemingway's short story about two hit men and their victim is said to be the only film adaptation of one of his works that Hemingway actually liked. It stars Burt Reynolds and Ava Gardner. The 1964 version is something of a cult classic. Ronald Reagan stars as a villain in his last film role before leaving Hollywood for politics. Obviously we don't know if Papa would have liked the movie, but we're guessing he probably would have liked Angie Dickinson.

The Sun Also Rises (1957)
A cast of Hollywood heavyweights acts out Hemingway's novel about expatriate Americans in Paris in the 1920s. The film has its flaws—scenes meant to take place in 1922 have cars from the 1950s zipping around—but is worth a watch if you're in the mood for drama in black and white.

Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993)
This is a drama in the tradition of old men-buddy pictures. In this case, the buddies in question are a retired Irish sailor (who claims he once wrestled Hemingway, hence the title) and a Cuban barber. The film isn't really about Hemingway, but its Florida setting, quiet reflections on life and other references evoke Papa's presence. A strong cast that includes Robert Duvall, Shirley MacLaine and Sandra Bullock hold the film up.

In Love and War (1996)
Chris O'Connell and Sandra Bullock (again) star in this film based loosely on the romance between a young Ernest Hemingway and nurse Agnes von Kurowsky in World War I. Hemingway used this relationship to write A Farewell to Arms, one of the greatest novels in American literature. The makers of this film used it to create the tagline "In war they found each other . . . in each other they found love." You decide which one you want to spend your time on.


The Nobel Laureate Page
The official site of the Nobel Prize has extensive entries about each of its winners. Hemingway's includes a full bibliography of his work, a biography, and the text of the speeches given by and about him when he won the prize in 1954.

The Hemingway Society
This is the online gathering place for serious Hemingway scholars. Like, really serious. If you're not planning to spend spring break at a Hemingway conference, you should probably visit another site first.

Literary Traveler
This site has essays related to the various places associated with Ernest Hemingway. Some are good, some are not so great. Still, a fun place to read up on one of literature's most entertaining travelers.

Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure
Okay, this is kind of cool. The good folks at PBS put together this site where you can click on icons representing different stages of Hemingway's life and all sorts of multimedia comes up, from audio clips of Hemingway reading to his favorite recipes. Fun!

Hemingway Archives at the JFK Presidential Library
You have to visit the library in Boston to gain access to the full collection, but this site has some good online resources useful for those doing Hemingway-related research.

X Timeline
This is also kind of fun. This site lets you jump to different events in Hemingway's life and provides details for some things that other biographies mention only fleetingly. It has the same collective editing policy as Wikipedia, however, so double check facts with other sources.

Video & Audio

1944: Embedded
Footage (circa 1944) of Ernest Hemingway and Edward G. Robinson's WWII reporting.

Ernest Hemingway: "The Fifth Column"
Audio of Hemingway reading from "The Fifth Column."

Ernest Hemingway Documentary
Mini-documentary of Hemingway's life.

Ernest Hemingway and Bullfights in Spain
Interesting little video featuring vintage bullfighting film and Hemingway's words on the subject.

Ernest Hemingway Audio
This entertaining page has audio clips of Hemingway reading his Nobel acceptance speech and a work in progress, as well as Charlton Heston reading "The Snows of Kilimanjaro."

Ernest Hemingway on Gulf Stream Fishing and Writing
A reading of Hemingway's 1936 Esquire interview and quotes from his friend John dos Passos, voiced over vintage footage of the writer.

Primary Sources

New York Times Obituary
Text of Ernest Hemingway's obituary in the New York Times on July 3, 1961.

Nobel Presentation Speech
Presentation speech to Hemingway on receipt of 1954 Nobel Prize.

Nobel Acceptance Speech
Text of Hemingway's Nobel acceptance speech.

"Soldiers Home"
E-text of the 1925 short story.

"Big Hearted River"
E-text of the 1925 short story.

"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
E-text of the 1933 short story.

"Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter"
E-text of essay first published in Esquire magazine, 1935

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