Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, a conservative upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago. He graduated from high school in 1917 and worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. Hemingway sailed to Europe in May 1918 to serve as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Italian Red Cross during World War I. Within weeks, he suffered a serious injury from fragments of an exploding mortar shell on the Italian front. He recovered in a hospital in Milan, where he had a romantic relationship with a nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky. This incident provided the inspiration for his novel A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929.
When the nineteen-year-old Hemingway returned home in 1919, his parents did not understand the psychological trauma he had suffered during the war, and they pestered him to get a job or go to college. His short story “Soldier’s Home” draws on his difficulties in coping with his parents’ and friends’ romanticized ideals of war.
Hemingway eventually began working for the Toronto Star Weekly. He married his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in 1921. He became the European correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star and moved to Paris with his wife in December 1921. There, Hemingway became friends with the poet Ezra Pound, the writer Gertrude Stein, the artists Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso, and other individuals belonging to the group of prominent expatriate writers and artists living in postwar Paris. Hemingway’s reputation began to grow both as a journalist and as an author of fiction. His novel The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926, established him as one of the preeminent writers of his day.
The Sun Also Rises portrays the lives of the members of the so-called Lost Generation, the group of men and women whose early adulthood was consumed by World War I. This horrific conflict, referred to as the Great War, set new standards for death and immorality in war. It shattered many people’s beliefs in traditional values of love, faith, and manhood. Without these long-held notions to rely on, members of the generation that fought and worked in the war suffered great moral and psychological aimlessness. The futile search for meaning in the wake of the Great War shapes The Sun Also Rises. Although the characters rarely mention the war directly, its effects haunt everything they do and say.
Amid the increasing literary success that followed the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s marriage began to fall apart, and he divorced Richardson in 1927. He quickly remarried, to a fashion reporter named Pauline Pfeiffer. In 1928, they moved to Key West, Florida, where they lived for over a decade. Hemingway’s life, however, was far from rosy. His father, Clarence Hemingway, committed suicide in 1928 after developing serious health and financial problems, and Hemingway engaged in an affair with a woman named Martha Gelhorn, which led to his divorce from Pfeiffer. He married Gelhorn in 1940.
In 1937, Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance. His novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, based on his experiences in Spain, was published in 1940, after he moved to Havana, Cuba, with Gelhorn. The book became an instant success, but he did not publish another novel for ten years. Meanwhile, he and Gelhorn divorced, and Hemingway married Mary Welsh, his fourth and last wife. Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for his phenomenally successful The Old Man and the Sea and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
Deteriorating health began to plague Hemingway. His heavy drinking increased his health problems, and he began to suffer from wild mood swings. In 1960, Hemingway and Welsh moved to Ketchum, Idaho. Not long afterward, he entered the Mayo Clinic to undergo treatment for severe depression. His depression worsened in 1961, and on July 2 of that year, Hemingway woke early in the morning and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
Hemingway’s style differs distinctively from that of writers before him, and his work helped shape both the British and American literature that followed it. His prose is extremely spare, succinct, and seemingly very direct, although his speakers tend to give the impression that they are leaving a tremendous amount unsaid. Modern prose fiction continues to be heavily influenced by Hemingway’s technique in this regard. His body of work continues to be considered among the most important in the development of twentieth-century literature.