The life and work of Ernest Hemingway

The life and work of Ernest Hemingway

Across more than half a century, the life and work of Ernest Hemingway have been at the center of controversy and intrigue. From the moment he embarked on his career as a writer, he presented himself to the world as a mans man, a sportsman, a street-wise reporter, a heroic, battle-scared soldier, and an aficionado of the Spanish bullfight, among other talents. His legend and mastery of so many abilities almost seems to colossal for one man, yet those who knew him say he was a crack shot, an expert amateur boxer, and a considerable military genius.

All of these aspects made Hemingway the writer he was, along with his dedication to his craft. His work has hardened into myth, as he has become one of the immortal writers of the twentieth century. Affable with all of his friends, Hemingway had an aura about him that gave him a commanding presence in any room. His personality was one of strength and it showed with some of the qualities he possessed; a competitive spirit, personal pride, fearlessness in any undertaking, and an interest in physical violence must have left his closest companions admiring in awe.

Probably, all of the above allowed Hemingway to live through several divorces and the untimely suicide of his father whom he loved so dear, and still write with the greatest of adroitness and emotion. Maybe that is how he has endeared himself to the entire world and why his legend will live for eternity. One of Hemingways resounding qualities is that his writing has the quality of reality and not idealism. For him, writing is truth, honesty, and sincerity. Hemingway writes of what he knows and what he has experienced and he does so in the most direct and objective way possible.

With no space for ambiguity, every word on every page is key to the story for Hemingway, unlike many of his contemporaries. Although some would claim to have these qualities, Hemingway is the most extreme version of this style of writing. His style undoubtedly stems from his many years as a reporter and the crisp, economical writing one must use in that line of work. He truly was the romance writer of the twentieth century. With a brutality that only those who have served in war have truly seen, Hemingways writing is that of a man rigidified by the penultimate experience of war, that severely affects anyone within its grasp.

With the desire to write pouring through his veins, Hemingway the writer was forever changed by war. One might even say that it brought out the best of him, as where other writers cowered, Hemingway stood tall and proud. That is the way he will always be remembered. As Hemingway is a writer of experience and was profoundly affected as a boy as well as a man, it is important to note the effects of his childhood on his writing. Born in Oak Park, Illinois on 21 July 1899, Ernest Miller Hemingway was one of six children.

His father was a medical practitioner, but felt most at home in nature with a gun or fishing pole, which explains two of Hemingways passions and his love of nature. At school he possessed many talents including football, athletics, boxing, being a member of the debate team, and a member of the school orchestra. His most important academic endeavor was his early commitment to writing, which included editing a weekly news-sheet and writing poetry and prose for the schools literary magazine. Hemingways exposure to literature in high school was predominantly British.

Only a handful of American writers enjoyed full representation in the unusually well stocked local library, whereas every standard British writer from Shakespeare onward was available in depth. The schools preoccupation with Europe may have been one of the many reasons Hemingway was so intrigued by these distant places and so wanted to leave maybe what seemed insignificant in his corner of America. Another well-documented reason was Hemingways hatred for his mother, as many of his World War II comrades knew all to well. From the beginning, Hemingways personal mission has been to find the style that defines him as a man.

In his high-school activities and his high-school writing, the difficult quest is already apparent. In English class he is already talking about an authors style, to the mystification of his classmates. He is already trying styles for himself. His determination to be different from his classmates leads him away from elegance and toward the emphasis of a limited, repetitive vocabulary. His subjects are savage and his dialogue is concise and colloquial for maximum effect using understatement with suggestive power. By his junior year he has a typewriter on the third floor of his familys house, conveniently remote from his prominent family.

He is becoming his own man and is biding his time until he can leave home and experience an unsheltered existence wherever he chooses. This rebellion was natural as it grew into his way of living and writing. To prove his manhood, he had to step outside of the comfort of a society that demanded no proof and only was concerned with status. Above all, Hemingway was looking for adventure on the horizon, and with typewriter in hand he set out to find it. After volunteering for active service in the First World War and being rejected because of a damaged eye from boxing, Hemingway found his escape as a reporter for the Kansas City Star.

His writing style evolved from the newspapers form: graphic, potent prose to tell a story clearly and expeditiously. It cannot be overemphasized that the seven months he spent with the paper had the most profound influence on Hemingway as he worked as a crime reporter and rode the ambulances to the hospital  a preview for the reality of life during wartime. When his true ambition to seek out the war was made possible, Hemingway jumped at the chance to serve the Red Cross on the Italian front and so he left the Kansas City Star for Europe.

His search for adventure continued, as he was able to join a team that carried Red Cross supplies to the front line. Two months after coming to Europe and still two weeks before his nineteenth birthday, he was badly wounded in the leg by a mortar shell. Lucky to be alive, he was hospitalized in Milan where over two hundred shell fragments were removed from his legs and body in the course of twelve operations. All this time Hemingway was observing and experiencing. He knew the idealism that inspired the volunteers, the courage some men possessed and the bravado of others, the brutality, and the waste that lay mangled on the ground.

With all this experience, Hemingway would later call on it to tell the truth in ways people never imagined. After a short stint in Toronto with the Star Weekly, Hemingway got his wish again and returned to Europe in 1921 as a roving correspondent for the Daily Star in Paris. He received modest wage, had the freedom to travel, choose his writing material, and sufficient financial stability to progress with his own fiction.

In Paris, Hemingway was introduced to an intimate circle of writers including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many others. As one would imagine, these imminent writers would open up what was a burgeoning writer and allow young Hemingway to gain feedback on his prose and poetry  an invaluable commodity. This is seen all to clearly in Hemingways letters to his new found friends: To Ezra Pound, Paris, 17 March 1924 Dear Duce: I am writing some damn good stories. I wish you were here to tell me so, so I would believe it or else what is the matter with them. You are the only guy that knows a god damn thing about writing.

Ford can explain stuff, but in private life he is so goddam involved in being the dregs of an English country gentleman that you get no good out of him As the years progressed, Hemingway began to wish for more time for his fictional work. The ideas from his experiences around Europe were sitting innocently in the back of his mind waiting to explode onto the page. After another return to Toronto, Hemingway resigned from the Star to pursue his passion of literature in Paris. His first novel was finally ready for print and Ernest Hemingway the author had arrived on the scene.

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