Copyright

Ernest Hemingway: Life and Work

Kristy Bowen, Stacy Redd
  • Author
    Kristy Bowen

    Kristy Bowen has an M.A in English from DePaul University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago. A writer and book artist, she currently works as a content writer with an arts and culture focus. She runs an indie press, dancing girl press & studio, and has taught writing and art workshops in college and community settings.

  • Instructor
    Stacy Redd

    Stacy has taught college English and has a master's degree in literature.

Learn who Ernest Hemingway was. Discover Ernest Hemingway's biography and books and learn about the popular novels and short stories that he wrote. Updated: 03/10/2022

Who Was Ernest Hemingway?

Ernest Hemingway was a 20th-century American author famous for his novels and short stories. While he spent considerable time in Europe after WWI as an expatriate, Hemingway later lived and wrote in Cuba and the U.S. He spent much of his life on different continents and went through several wars, which greatly informed his writing, both in style and subject matter. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize for literature, Hemingway is considered one of the 20th century's greatest voices.

Who Was Ernest Hemingway?

You may not think that 20th century American writer Ernest Hemingway has a lot in common with Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series. Hemingway was born in 1899 in Illinois and wrote enduring novels such as For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises. Meyer, on the other hand, was born 12 years after Hemingway died, and is famous for writing books about teenage vampires.

The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952
The Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway's personal life was marked by multiple marriages, time spent in Europe, Africa and Cuba and excessive drinking. Meyer, a practicing Mormon, has only been married once, doesn't smoke or drink, and while she may have visited Europe or Africa, is generally associated with the Pacific Northwest, where the Twilight series is set.

What these two writers do have in common is an ability to elicit very strong responses from their readers, at least the ones I've come into contact with. People who love Hemingway, LOVE HEMINGWAY, both his writing and general approach to life. Similarly, Hemingway's critics tend to write him off as an overrated, philandering, drunk, misogynist. In my experience, Meyer has the same polarizing effect. Twilight fans are obsessed with all things Twilight and Twilight detractors (of which I admit I am one) think she represents everything that's wrong with contemporary fiction.

For the record, I've been on Team Hemingway since my first exposure to his writing in middle school. Though I'll admit his personal life isn't one that I'd use as a model, I don't think he could have written the works he wrote without living the life he lived. Let's find out why.

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  • 0:05 Who Was Ernest Hemingway?
  • 1:34 Hemingway's Early Life
  • 3:07 Hemingway at Home and Abroad
  • 5:39 Short Stories and Later Life
  • 6:55 Lesson Summary
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Biography of Ernest Hemingway

Though he took many liberties with the raw material, Ernest Hemingway's life, including his experiences during WWI and Paris in the 1920s, inspired many of his short stories and novels. Hemingway's work as a journalist and foreign correspondent was another potent influence. His short, direct, and conversational style has its roots in the journalistic writing of the time.

Early Life

Born in 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, Ernest Hemingway attended public school. Upon graduation, he moved to Kansas City, where he took a journalism job with the Kansas City Star. When WWI began, he was unable to enlist due to a vision problem, so he volunteered as an ambulance driver with the American Red Cross. He was injured on the Austrian-Italian front, hospitalized, and later received a commendation for his service. During this time, he fell in love with a British nurse, Agnes Von Kurowsky. While the relationship eventually ended, and Hemingway returned to the Midwest, the affair inspired what many consider his greatest novel, A Farewell to Arms. After his return to the U.S., he spent time in the upper peninsula of Michigan and wrote about his experience in his short story, "Big Two-Hearted River," which introduced Hemingway's recurring protagonist/ alter ego, Nick Adams.


Hemingway in Paris, 1924

Hemingway in Paris


Hemingway Abroad

In the early 1920s, Hemingway took another job abroad for the Toronto Star. He married Hadley Richardson, whom he met in Chicago in 1921. Together, they had a son, Jack. They settled in Paris, where Hemingway became involved with the expatriate literary community, which boasted a number of fellow American writers, including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound. Hemingway began to publish short stories during this time, which were gathered in his first collection, In Our Time, in 1924. He followed up with his novel The Sun Also Rises in 1926, which was greatly inspired by his life as an ex-pat and the struggles of the Lost Generation, many of whom perished on the front lines or remained listlessly in Europe. Surrounded by Paris creatives, Hemingway wondered about the lost ones—the musicians, painters, and poets—who never made it through the war. If they did survive, many succumbed to alcoholism, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hemingway continued living in Paris, divorcing Hadley and marrying his mistress, journalist Pauline Pfeiffer, with whom he would have two more children. He was fascinated by bullfighting, and he was an avid fisher, hunter, and traveler, even going on an African safari in 1935. These experiences and the things he saw while working as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War gave him plenty to draw upon. A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929. It put Hemingway on the literary map. He would marry twice more during his lifetime: Martha Gellhorn (1940) and Mary Welsh Hemingway (1944). Later in life, he lived mostly in Cuba, where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, which won the Pulitzer in 1953 and helped Hemingway win the Nobel Prize in 1954.

Hemingway's Death

In 1960, Hemingway settled in Ketchum, Idaho, where he suffered anxiety and depression that resulted in two hospitalizations at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After months of mental health struggles, he died by suicide in 1961 in his Idaho home. Numerous manuscripts remained, including a memoir of his life in Paris in the 1920s. A Moveable Feast was published in 1964.

Books and Novels by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's novels, marked by their un-embellished prose and dialogue, pushed him to the forefront of 20th-century American literature. Hemingway's books provided a window into post-war, expatriate life in Europe.

A Farewell to Arms

What many consider Hemingway's greatest book, A Farewell to Arms chronicles the story of an American soldier who falls in love with a nurse after being wounded during WWI. The story aligns with Hemingway's own experience but builds it into the tragic story of two lovers, who after struggling to escape to Switzerland, are unable to find happiness. The nurse, pregnant when the two escape by boat, suffers a stillbirth and dies. Published in 1929, A Farewell to Arms was an immediate bestseller.

Hemingway's Early Life

The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926
The Sun Also Rises

While almost every writer uses his or her own personal experiences as inspiration, the connection between Hemingway's life and his written work is almost overwhelming. His works pulled inspiration from his earliest experiences, starting from his youth, which was marked by a love of the outdoors, particularly hunting and fishing. His love of fishing likely laid the groundwork for his novel, The Old Man and the Sea, published in 1952.

You may have read The Old Man and the Sea in school, and if you're anything like the people I went to school with, there's a good chance you hated it. Though it was successful upon publication, certain literary critics were also not that into this work, calling it 'unrealistic.' Of course, some novels are meant to be unrealistic, but Hemingway, a former journalist, was by that point known for his realistic and unembellished writing style.

His other novels seemed heavy on detail and light on whimsy, and many critics found The Old Man and the Sea to be an unwelcome departure from that. There's also a chance you just found it boring. Many Hemingway-haters do. Unlike his other novels, which we'll get to later, this one didn't have war heroes or torrid affairs, or running of the bulls or horrifying injuries to genitals.

Instead, it tells the story of an old man named Santiago, who, after going almost three months without catching a fish, finds himself in a knock-down-drag-out with a big ole marlin. Spoiler alert: Santiago wins the day, but despite this exciting victory, still seems to be unsatisfied with his life and wistful for his younger days. Not a surprise that Hemingway wrote this towards the end of his own life.

Hemingway at Home and Abroad

A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929
A Farewell to Arms

Though by all accounts, Hemingway was both academically and socially successful in high school, he didn't attend college. After working as a journalist for The Kansas City Star for a bit, he unsuccessfully tried to join the military around the time of World War I. He ended up in Europe anyway, working for the Red Cross. Eventually, he'd combine his interest in combat and travel with his talent for writing, working as a foreign correspondent for many publications and covering various events, including the Spanish Civil War and World War II.

During his time in Europe, he'd meet a group of other American expatriates, or people living in a country other than their home country, lead by another wonderful American writer named Gertrude Stein. This group was nicknamed 'The Lost Generation.' If you've seen the movie Midnight in Paris, you've seen Woody Allen's vision of the Lost Generation: a drunk and boisterous Hemingway, a brilliant and vibrant Stein and the circle of artists, musicians and various bohemians they surrounded themselves with.

This time in Hemingway's life largely influenced his book, The Sun Also Rises. Published in 1926, the book is about a group of American expatriates, led by an American journalist (sound familiar?) named Jake, and their various misadventures, love triangles, and drunken conversations that take place in Paris and Pamplona, the Spanish city famous for the running of the bulls. It's my personal favorite of his novels because it's about the live-for-the-moment, bohemian lifestyle that I love to fantasize about but would never actually want to live myself.

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Video Transcript

Who Was Ernest Hemingway?

You may not think that 20th century American writer Ernest Hemingway has a lot in common with Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series. Hemingway was born in 1899 in Illinois and wrote enduring novels such as For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises. Meyer, on the other hand, was born 12 years after Hemingway died, and is famous for writing books about teenage vampires.

The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952
The Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway's personal life was marked by multiple marriages, time spent in Europe, Africa and Cuba and excessive drinking. Meyer, a practicing Mormon, has only been married once, doesn't smoke or drink, and while she may have visited Europe or Africa, is generally associated with the Pacific Northwest, where the Twilight series is set.

What these two writers do have in common is an ability to elicit very strong responses from their readers, at least the ones I've come into contact with. People who love Hemingway, LOVE HEMINGWAY, both his writing and general approach to life. Similarly, Hemingway's critics tend to write him off as an overrated, philandering, drunk, misogynist. In my experience, Meyer has the same polarizing effect. Twilight fans are obsessed with all things Twilight and Twilight detractors (of which I admit I am one) think she represents everything that's wrong with contemporary fiction.

For the record, I've been on Team Hemingway since my first exposure to his writing in middle school. Though I'll admit his personal life isn't one that I'd use as a model, I don't think he could have written the works he wrote without living the life he lived. Let's find out why.

Hemingway's Early Life

The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926
The Sun Also Rises

While almost every writer uses his or her own personal experiences as inspiration, the connection between Hemingway's life and his written work is almost overwhelming. His works pulled inspiration from his earliest experiences, starting from his youth, which was marked by a love of the outdoors, particularly hunting and fishing. His love of fishing likely laid the groundwork for his novel, The Old Man and the Sea, published in 1952.

You may have read The Old Man and the Sea in school, and if you're anything like the people I went to school with, there's a good chance you hated it. Though it was successful upon publication, certain literary critics were also not that into this work, calling it 'unrealistic.' Of course, some novels are meant to be unrealistic, but Hemingway, a former journalist, was by that point known for his realistic and unembellished writing style.

His other novels seemed heavy on detail and light on whimsy, and many critics found The Old Man and the Sea to be an unwelcome departure from that. There's also a chance you just found it boring. Many Hemingway-haters do. Unlike his other novels, which we'll get to later, this one didn't have war heroes or torrid affairs, or running of the bulls or horrifying injuries to genitals.

Instead, it tells the story of an old man named Santiago, who, after going almost three months without catching a fish, finds himself in a knock-down-drag-out with a big ole marlin. Spoiler alert: Santiago wins the day, but despite this exciting victory, still seems to be unsatisfied with his life and wistful for his younger days. Not a surprise that Hemingway wrote this towards the end of his own life.

Hemingway at Home and Abroad

A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929
A Farewell to Arms

Though by all accounts, Hemingway was both academically and socially successful in high school, he didn't attend college. After working as a journalist for The Kansas City Star for a bit, he unsuccessfully tried to join the military around the time of World War I. He ended up in Europe anyway, working for the Red Cross. Eventually, he'd combine his interest in combat and travel with his talent for writing, working as a foreign correspondent for many publications and covering various events, including the Spanish Civil War and World War II.

During his time in Europe, he'd meet a group of other American expatriates, or people living in a country other than their home country, lead by another wonderful American writer named Gertrude Stein. This group was nicknamed 'The Lost Generation.' If you've seen the movie Midnight in Paris, you've seen Woody Allen's vision of the Lost Generation: a drunk and boisterous Hemingway, a brilliant and vibrant Stein and the circle of artists, musicians and various bohemians they surrounded themselves with.

This time in Hemingway's life largely influenced his book, The Sun Also Rises. Published in 1926, the book is about a group of American expatriates, led by an American journalist (sound familiar?) named Jake, and their various misadventures, love triangles, and drunken conversations that take place in Paris and Pamplona, the Spanish city famous for the running of the bulls. It's my personal favorite of his novels because it's about the live-for-the-moment, bohemian lifestyle that I love to fantasize about but would never actually want to live myself.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Ernest Hemingway most famous for?

Hemingway is famous for his writings detailing life as a soldier and expatriate in Europe after WWI. He is also known for his stories of adventure in Africa and Cuba.

What is considered Ernest Hemingway's best book?

Many critics consider A Farewell to Arms to be Hemingway's best novel. Published in 1929, the novel was an instant bestseller. It is rivaled by the prize-winning "Old Man and the Sea," which won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize in 1954.

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