Papa was not a Rolling Stone; he was Ernest
Hemingway, one of America's greatest authors. The
recipient of both a Pulitzer and a Nobel, he was criticized
by some for writing "too simply." But that was precisely his
goal. Hemingway liked to compare himself to the painter
Cézanne. One of the early Impressionists, Cézanne tried to
condense everything down into its most elemental shapes.
Often spending years on the same subject - it was his
contention that every single brush stroke was significant.
Hemingway saw his benchmark as the same - but with
prose. His goal was to break events down into their
elemental parts. His brush strokes were his words. Every
word mattered. Ernest had learned this lesson early. After
graduating from high school in Oak Park, Illinois, his first
job, at the age of seventeen, was at the Kansas City Star -
the newspaper in Kansas City, Missouri. In the short time
he was there, he learned lessons in style that would later
influence his fiction writing. Writing for the newspaper
entailed short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs,
authenticity, compression, clarity, and immediacy. Years
later Hemingway said, "Those were the best rules I ever
learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten
them." His prose was straightforward, his dialogue - spare.
He believed that what was left unsaid in a story was as
important - if not more so, than what was said. He equated
it with an iceberg where only 1/8 of the iceberg is above
water, while the 7/8 remaining below provides the stability
and motion. His theory was that what one left out of a story
could actually strengthen it. If the writer wrote well
enough - the reader would understand.
Papa's reputation often outshone his literary achievements. His wounds from driving a war time ambulance, bohemian life style in Paris, four wives, three sons, running with the bulls in Pamplona, deep sea fishing, big game hunting, boozing, womanizing, not to mention car wrecks, and two plane crashes, made him seem like the hero in an adventure novel. That he could write about what he experienced in such a readable style, even though he was relatively uneducated, sparked appreciation in some and envy in others. The fact that he bragged about himself - a lot - did not ingratiate himself to other writers or people. Granted - he was a braggart - but his life was full of experiences worthy of relating. Hemingway's expatriate days in Paris sound intriguing. Hanging out at Gertrude Stein's salons with the avant-garde of the writing and art world, including the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Picasso, put him directly in the sphere of change. Art forms were moving into a modern world. Gertrude Stein was originally from Oakland. Her apartment, in Paris, that she shared with her lesbian lover Alice B. Toklas, was the place to be seen and heard. Gertrude coined the famous quote, "there is no there - there." Although it has been attributed to other cities through the years, she was referring to Oakland.
Hemingway refers to these years in Paris, in his first important work, THE SUN ALSO RISES (1926). The book was well received - except for his own family back in Illinois. His mother and father thought the book was trashy and told him they were embarrassed. Hemingway had been raised with mid-west values, and in spite of his exotic life-style and travels, Gertrude Stein said he was still 90% Rotarian. Although he ran in her circle - he frowned on her life choices. Ernest lived in Paris with his young wife, Hadley, and eventually, baby "Bumby." These were prolific years. In a few short years, he went from being an unknown writer to being the most important writer of his generation and one of the greats of the 20th century. During this period he also produced books of short stories and another landmark book, A FAREWELL TO ARMS. But, while his star was rising in the literary world, his family life was disintegrating. By 1927 he had divorced Hadley, and married Pauline Pfeiffer.
The next year he and Pauline moved to Key West Florida, where they kept a house for twelve years. They had two sons. It was in Key West that he discovered deep-sea fishing - a sport he loved for the rest of his life. The same year they moved was also the year that his father committed suicide and Ernest retuned to Illinois for the funeral. By 1937 Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War. He and Pauline were on opposite sides of the issue, she siding with the Fascists and he with the Communists. Their marriage un-raveled by 1939. Ernest had been having an affair with a young writer Martha Gellhorn, who was covering the same war stories for another newspaper. They married in 1940.
After returning from Spain, Ernest and his new wife, Martha moved to "Finca Vigia" (Lookout Farm), a large house outside Havana, Cuba. By then he was working on FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (1940), about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. It was a huge success, commercially and critically. But the following years were barren for his writing career. He didn't publish another novel for ten years. He worked on several projects but never seemed able to get them completed. During 1941 he and Martha did cover the Chinese-Japanese war and wrote dispatches for PM Magazine. By 1942 he had taken on an undercover operation looking for submarines off the coast of Cuba. His boat, The Pilar, was fully outfitted with the equipment necessary for "sub hunts." But nothing ever materialized from these hunts except drinking and fishing with his buddies, and irritating Martha. She felt he should be acting like the great writer he was, and covering the war that was now raging in Europe. By 1944 he decided to go to Europe to report on the war. He initially went to London where he reported on the war's effects in London and the part of the Royal Air Force. While there, he was involved in a car crash. He suffered a concussion and a gash that required 50 stitches. When Martha arrived at the hospital, instead of offering sympathy, she berated him for being involved in a drunken auto wreck. She had lost all respect for him as a man and the marriage came to an end.
While in London, he had already met wife number four, Mary Welsh. Mary was caring and adoring and sympathetic. It has been said that with every new war, he needed a new woman. In August of 1944, when the Allies entered to liberate Paris, Ernest was there - at his favorite hotel, the Ritz. He spent a week drinking and carousing and celebrating in the city he had loved in his youth. He returned to America in 1946 with plans to write a great novel about this war, but it never materialized. What did materialize six years later was a story that had been simmering in his mind for years. When he began to put it to paper, it flowed out with prose that barely needed editing. With all his writing success, he had never won a major literary prize. This book garnered Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. It was THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. When it appeared in Life.
Magazine, 5 million copies sold immediately, as did the initial 50,000 hardcover copies. With the money from this success, he decided to take Mary to Europe and then to Africa. In a small Cessna in Africa, the pilot dove to avoid a flock of birds - hit a wire and made a crash landing. After getting out of that wreck with only minor injuries, they later took another small plane that also crash landed. Hemingway was hurt more seriously in this second crash. There were newspaper reports that he was dead - which he found amusing. Dispite his injuries, he and Mary proceeded on to Venice for one last visit before heading back to Cuba. When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in October 1954, he was unable to attend the ceremony due to the severity of his injuries.
His health continued to deteriorate, as did his writing. Hemingway seemed incapable of writing the fluid prose that had flowed so effortlessly in the past. What he did write, he found impossible to edit down to a manageable size. He needed to ask for help for the first time in his writing career. Incapacitated by huge swings in mood, exacerbated by his heavy drinking of up to a quart of liquor a day, made Ernest difficult to be around. In July 1960, he and Mary left Cuba and moved to Ketchum Idaho, where they had already purchased a house. But the beautiful surroundings couldn't hide what was wrong with Hemingway. In the fall he flew to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for help with his severe depression. He had been talking of suicide and Mary could no longer handle him alone. According to reports, the Mayo Clinic's treatment - ultimately lead to electro shock therapy. One source said he received 11 to 15 treatments, which instead of helping him - hastened his demise. On July 2, 1961 after months of fighting depression and paranoia, seeing enemies and threatening suicide, he took his own life with a shotgun in his home. He would have been 62 years old in eighteen days.
Although it is a sad ending to Hemingway's life and his writing career - it does not diminish his accomplishments or the incredible talent that he did possess while he was alive. For a taste of his talent, read THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. It's a short story and a quick read. If all else fails - see the movie with Spencer Tracy. Ernest was as much a victim of his public image of - macho adventurer - as he had been its recipient. It was a persona impossible to maintain. What does remain is his style of writing and the the creativity of the stories he left behind.