July 2, 2018 Brigitte Ganger

On This Day: The Death of Ernest Hemingway

July 02, 1961

On This Day: The Death of Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway at "La Consula", Bill Davis' estate in Spain, 1959. (Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F)

Ernest Hemingway, born on July 21, 1899, was one of the most prominent American writers of the early 20th century. He is credited for writing classic novels like A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Always Rises. Hemingway was born in Illinois but lived much of his life abroad, visiting Cuba and exploring Africa. During his career, he won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize, which speaks to his immeasurable talent with language. Hemingway's novels were inspired by his unique economically-driven world view, as well as his own experiences and vivid imagination. He died on July 2, 1961, just a few weeks short of his 62nd birthday. Though he has departed the earth, his legacy lives on in the form of his many literary works. This month, we celebrate his life and many accomplishments.

Top English student to budding journalist

In 1899, a baby boy named Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to well-educated parents Clarence Edmonds and Grace Hemingway. Ernest's mother was a musician and his father a physician, but he was never very close with either of them. It was said that his personality was more like his mother's. 

Photograph of Ernest Hemingway as a baby. (Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout his time at school, Hemingway always excelled in his English classes. Although Hemingway is best known as a novelist, a journalism class that he took in high school truly ignited his passion for writing. He later worked as a journalist at The Kansas City Star after graduating high school before he joined the war efforts.

A journalist at war

At the same time that Ernest Hemingway was reaching adulthood, the United States was in the midst of World War I. In 1918, Hemingway signed on with the Red Cross and became an ambulance driver, stationed in Italy. He served for less than a year, as he was seriously injured by mortar fire during his deployment and had to return home. Hemingway returned home from the war before his 20th birthday jobless and still recovering from his injuries.

Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, The Ernest Hemingway Collection)

He went on to hold several jobs in journalism, including a writing position with The Toronto Star and editor position with the Cooperative Commonwealth before meeting his first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. Directly after their marriage in 1921, the couple moved to Paris until 1923 when they returned to Toronto. The same year the young couple had a son, Jack.

The making of a novelist

It was around this time that Hemingway's first book Three Stories and Ten Poems was published. His book was so successful that he decided to quit journalism, become a full-time writer and move his family back to Paris. Hemingway continued to work on his novels and published In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises within a few years of each other, during which time he was also traveling extensively throughout Europe with his family. The Sun Also Rises was inspired by his travels to Pamplona to witness bullfighting, as well as his experience in the war. It is considered by many to be his greatest work.

Ernest Hemingway fishing, Key West, 1928. (Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)

Following the publication of this novel, Hemingway and Hadley divorced. He began what was a long period of several of relationships, marriages and pregnancies which lasted until the end of his life. After marrying his second wife, Pauline, he moved back to the United States and wrote A Farewell to Arms, which many consider to be a much more complex novel than his first and one that truly allowed him to make a name for himself as one of America's great writers.

Women and travel

In 1933, Hemingway embarked on his first trip to Africa, which shaped much of his later writing career, and sparked his desire to travel to other exotic locations such as the Caribbean. The later half of the 1930s was a very tumultuous time in Hemingway's personal life, but prosperous time for his professional life. 

Ernest Hemingway with son John Hadley Nicanor (Bumby). (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1939 he vacationed to Cuba, was divorced from Pauline and married Martha, whom he shared homes with in both the United States and Cuba. However, his marriage to Martha was short lived. During World War II, he moved to London and met a Time magazine correspondent named Mary whom he promptly married after divorcing Martha in 1945, despite the fact that he had only met with Mary a handful of times.

A writer's depression

He received a Bronze Star for his bravery during his service in World War II. Following that deployment, he took a hiatus from writing and returned to Cuba.

Ernest and Mary Hemingway on safari in Kenya, Africa, 1953-1954. (Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)

Both Ernest and his wife survived some serious freak accidents. Several of his close friends died during this time, causing him to sink into a deep depression. However, he was able to pull himself out of the depression by continuing his writing: The Garden of Eden and several short stories were published around this time before he returned to Europe with Mary and had several affairs.

Dash from the Past

During the last decade of Hemingway's life, he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea as well as his Nobel Prize in Literature. He continued to travel and write award-winning novels, but his depression returned. Pain from previous injuries and health issues that arose as a result of his heavy drinking contributed to his decline. Towards the end of his life, Hemingway was not only seriously ill, but also paranoid, which led to his suicide in 1961.

Photograph of Ernest Hemingway with his son John Hadley Nicanor (Bumby). (Photographs: Paris Years, 1922-1930)

Despite his tragic and untimely end, Ernest Hemingway was truly an exceptional man. While his personal life may have been tumultuous, he was a dependable and talented writer who left us with several truly groundbreaking novels. His bold character and dedication to his passion of writing shows through in all of his work. Novels like The Old Man and the Sea revolutionized the literary world and still have an impact on both education and writing today. This year marks 57 years since Hemingway's passing, but his works reflect his uniqueness forever.

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