Ernest Miller Hemingway was born at eight o’clock in the morning on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. In the nearly sixty two years of his life that followed he forged a literary reputation unsurpassed in the twentieth century and created a mythological hero in himself that captivated (and at times confounded) not only serious literary critics but the average man as well… in a word, he was a star.
Born in the family home at 439 North Oak Park Avenue, a house built by his widowed grandfather Ernest Hall, Hemingway was the second of Dr. Clarence and Grace Hall Hemingway’s six children; he had four sisters and one brother. He was named after his maternal grandfather Ernest Hall and his great uncle Miller Hall. Oak Park was a mainly Protestant, upper middle-class suburb of Chicago that Hemingway would later refer to as a town of \”wide lawns and narrow minds. \” Only ten miles from the big city, Oak Park was really much farther away philosophically.
It was basically a conservative town that tried to isolate itself from Chicago’s liberal seediness. Hemingway was raised with the conservative Midwestern values of strong religion, hard work, physical fitness and self determination; if one adhered to these parameters, he was taught, he would be ensured of success in whatever field he chose. As a boy he was taught by his father to hunt and fish along the shores and in the forests surrounding Lake Michigan.
The Hemingways had a summer house called Windemere on Walloon Lake in northern Michigan, and the family would spend the summer months there trying to stay cool. Hemingway would either fish the different streams that ran into the lake, or would take the row boat out to do some fishing there. He would also go squirrel hunting in the woods near the summer house, discovering early in life the serenity to be found while alone in the forest or wading a stream.
It was something he could always go back to throughout his life, wherever he was. Nature would be the touchstone of Hemingway’s life and work, and though he often found himself living in major cities like Chicago, Toronto and Paris early in his career, once he became successful he chose somewhat isolated places to live like Key West, or San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, or Ketchum, Idaho. All were convenient locales for hunting and fishing. When he wasn’t hunting or fishing his mother taught him the finer points of music.
Grace was an accomplished singer who once had aspirations of a career on stage, but eventually settled down with her husband and occupied her time by giving voice and music lessons to local children, including her own. Hemingway never had a knack for music and suffered through choir practices and cello lessons, however the musical knowledge he acquired from his mother helped him share in his first wife Hadley’s interest in the piano. Hemingway received his formal schooling in the Oak Park public school system.
In high school he was mediocre at sports, playing football, swimming, water basketball and serving as the track team manager. He enjoyed working on the high school newspaper called the Trapeze, where he wrote his first articles, usually humorous pieces in the style of Ring Lardner, a popular satirist of the time. Hemingway graduated in the spring of 1917 and instead of going to college the following fall like his parents expected, he took a job as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star; the job was arranged for by his Uncle Tyler who was a close friend of the chief editorial writer of the paper.
At the time of Hemingway’s graduation from High School, World War I was raging in Europe and despite Woodrow Wilson’s attempts to keep America out of the war, the United States joined the Allies in the fight against Germany and Austria in April, 1917. When Hemingway turned eighteen he tried to enlist in the army, but was deferred because of poor vision; he had a bad left eye that he probably inherited from his mother, who also had poor vision. When he heard the Red Cross was taking volunteers as ambulance drivers he quickly signed up.
He was accepted in December of 1917, left his job at the paper in April of 1918, and sailed for Europe in May. In the short time that Hemingway worked for the Kansas City Star he learned some stylistic lessons that would later influence his fiction. The newspaper advocated short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy. Hemingway later said: \”Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them. \” Hemingway first went to Paris upon reaching Europe, then traveled to Milan in early June after receiving his orders.
The day he arrived, a munitions factory exploded and he had to carry mutilated bodies and body parts to a makeshift morgue; it was an immediate and powerful initiation into the horrors of war. Two days later he was sent to an ambulance unit in the town of Schio, where he worked driving ambulances. On July 8, 1918, only a few weeks after arriving, Hemingway was seriously wounded by fragments from an Austrian mortar shell which had landed just a few feet away. At the time, Hemingway was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to Italian soldiers in the trenches near the front lines.
The explosion knocked Hemingway unconscious, killed an Italian soldier and blew the legs off another. What happened next has been debated for some time. In a letter to Hemingway’s father, Ted Brumback, one of Ernest’s fellow ambulance drivers, wrote that despite over 200 pieces of shrapnel being lodged in Hemingway’s legs he still managed to carry another wounded soldier back to the first aid station; along the way he was hit in the legs by several machine gun bullets. Whether he carried the wounded soldier or not, doesn’t diminish Hemingway’s sacrifice.
He was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valor with the official Italian citation reading: \”Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, with an admirable spirit of brotherhood, before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded by the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated. \” Hemingway described his injuries to a friend of his: \”There was one of those big noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then.
I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you’d pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. It flew all around and then came back and went in again and I wasn’t dead any more. \” Hemingway’s wounding along the Piave River in Italy and his subsequent recovery at a hospital in Milan, including the relationship with his nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, all inspired his great novel A Farewell To Arms. A Soldier’s Home… When Hemingway returned home from Italy in January of 1919 he found Oak Park dull compared to the adventures of war, the beauty of foreign lands and the romance of an older woman, Agnes von Kurowsky.
He was nineteen years old and only a year and a half removed from high school, but the war had matured him beyond his years. Living with his parents, who never quite appreciated what their son had been through, was difficult. Soon after his homecoming they began to question his future, began to pressure him to find work or to further his education, but Hemingway couldn’t seem to muster interest in anything. He had received some $1,000 dollars in insurance payments for his war wounds, which allowed him to avoid work for nearly a year.
He lived at his parents house and spent his time at the library or at home reading. He spoke to small civic organizations about his war exploits and was often seen in his Red Cross uniform, walking about town. For a time though, Hemingway questioned his role as a war hero, and when asked to tell of his experiences he often exaggerated to satisfy his audience. Hemingway’s story \”Soldier’s Home\” conveys his feelings of frustration and shame upon returning home to a town and to parents who still had a romantic notion of war and who didn’t understand the psychological impact the war had had on their son.
The last speaking engagement the young Hemingway took was at the Petoskey (Michigan) Public Library, and it would be important to Hemingway not for what he said but for who heard it. In the audience was Harriett Connable, the wife of an executive for the Woolworth’s company in Toronto. As Hemingway spun his war tales Harriett couldn’t help but notice the differences between Hemingway and her own son. Hemingway appeared confident, strong, intelligent and athletic, while her son was slight, somewhat handicapped by a weak right arm and spent most of his time indoors.
Harriett Connable thought her son needed someone to show him the joys of physical activity and Hemingway seemed the perfect candidate to tutor and watch over him while she and her husband Ralph vacationed in Florida. So, she asked Hemingway if he would do it. Hemingway took the position, which offered him time to write and a chance to work for the Toronto Star Weekly, the editor of which Ralph Connable promised to introduce Hemingway to. Hemingway wrote for the Star Weekly even after moving to Chicago in the fall of 1920.
While living at a friend’s house he met Hadley Richardson and they quickly fell in love. The two married in September 1921 and by November of the same year Hemingway accepted an offer to work with the Toronto Daily Star as its European corespondent. Hemingway and his new bride would go to Paris, France where the whole of literature was being changed by the likes of Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ford Maddox Ford. He would not miss his chance to change it as well. Hemingway’s First Life In Paris
The Hemingways arrived in Paris on December 22, 1921 and a few weeks later moved into their first apartment at 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine. It was a miserable apartment with no running water and a bathroom that was basically a closet with a slop bucket inside. Hemingway tried to minimize the primitiveness of the living quarters for his wife Hadley who had grown up in relative splendor, but despite the conditions she endured, carried away by her husbands enthusiasm for living the bohemian lifestyle.
Ironically, they could have afforded much better; with Hemingway’s job and Hadley’s trust fund their annual income was $3,000, a decent sum in the inflated economies of Europe at the time. Hemingway rented a room at 39 rue Descartes where he could do his writing in peace. With a letter of introduction from Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway met some of Paris prominent writers and artists and forged quick friendships with them during his first few years.
Counted among those friends were Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Max Eastman, Lincoln Steffens and Wyndahm Lewis, and he was acquainted with the painters Miro and Picasso. These friendships would be instrumental in Hemingway’s development as a writer and artist. Hemingway’s reporting during his first two years in Paris was extensive, covering the Geneva Conference in April of 1922, The Greco-Turkish War in October, the Luasanne Conference in November and the post war convention in the Ruhr Valley in early 1923.
Along with the political pieces he wrote lifestyle pieces as well, covering fishing, bullfighting, social life in Europe, skiing, bobsledding and more. Just as Hemingway was beginning to make a name for himself as a reporter and a fledgling fiction writer, and just as he and his wife were hitting their stride socially in Europe, the couple found out that Hadley was pregnant with their first child.
Wanting the baby born in North America where the doctors and hospitals were better, the Hemingways left Paris in 1923 and moved to Toronto, where he wrote for the Toronto Daily Star and waited for their child to arrive. John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway was born on October 10, 1923 and by January of 1924 the young family boarded a ship and headed back to Paris where Hemingway would finish making a name for himself.