Today in Literary History – July 21, 1899 – Ernest Hemingway is born

Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel Prize-winning American writer was born in Oak Park, Illinois, an upscale suburb of Chicago, on July 21, 1899.

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Despite influencing a generation of writers with his spare, staccato literary style, Hemingway also reveled in his larger-than-life image as a boxer, big-game hunter, deep-sea fisherman, bullfighting aficionado, and womanizer.

He even became an adjective; “Hemingwayesque” came to stand not only for his rat-a-tat writing style but also as a description – admiring or pejorative – of an over the top “man’s man.”

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Hemingway’s father, Ed, was a doctor. His mother, Grace, was a musician and a proto-feminist who only agreed to the marriage on the condition that she would not be obligated to do any domestic work.

Unusually for the times, Ed Hemingway ran the household of six children and managed the servants, while still keeping up a demanding medical practice.

Hemingway, needless to say, did not follow his father’s example, although he was grateful to him for teaching him to hunt, fish, and box. Hemingway later said that he hated his mother.

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In 1918, at the outbreak of World War I, Hemingway tried to enlist in the Army but was turned down due to his poor eyesight. Instead he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps and was seriously wounded by a mortar shell while serving on the Italian Front.

In 1920 Hemingway got a job as a reporter with the Toronto Star newspaper. He lived in Toronto before the Star sent him to Paris as their correspondent in 1921.

In Paris, with his first wife Hadley Richardson, Hemingway led a charmed life with a steady income and friendships with other American, British and Irish ex-patriot writers, known as the “Lost Generation”: Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, and Ford Maddox Ford among many others.

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In 1926 Hemingway published a novella, The Torrents of Spring, plus his first and probably best novel, The Sun Also Rises, based on a real trip to Pamplona, Spain to see the bullfights.

This was followed by a stream of iconic novels: A Farewell to Arms (1929), To Have and Have Not (1937), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) Across the River and into the Trees (1950), and The Old Man and the Sea (1952).

He also published non-fiction memoirs and volumes of short stories, many of which, particularly those featuring his alter ego Nick Adams are highly regarded. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

Hemingway’s pared down style and expressive naturalistic prose along with his themes of sex, death, and the fight between good and evil have earned him many fans and imitators even up to the present time. Some modern readers, though, have a difficult time overlooking Hemingway’s pervasive racism, misogyny and homophobia.

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Hemingway and his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer left Paris in 1928 and eventually settled in Key West, Florida. He later lived in Cuba with his third wife Martha Gellhorn, spending his summers on a ranch in Ketchum, Idaho. In 1946 Hemingway married Mary Walsh, his fourth and final wife.

By then Hemingway was suffering from depression and other health problems, including diabetes, brought on by his alcoholism. He briefly quit drinking in 1956, but returned to it and developed high blood pressure, liver disease, arteriosclerosis, and failing eyesight.

His mental health also deteriorated and he was given electroshock therapy.

He committed suicide at his Idaho ranch on July 2, 1961, at the age of 61.

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