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American author Ernest Hemingway used the experiences from his rich and colorful life to inform his novels and short stories. Learn about how life and major works.

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.

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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.The central romantic conflict in the book is between Jake and Lady Brett Ashley, a woman with a soap opera star name and romantic past. A war injury has left Jake impotent, so a real relationship between them is unreasonable, but they can’t seem to fight their feelings for each other.

We’ll cover this book in more detail in another video.The events of World War I also inspired Hemingway to write A Farewell to Arms, which was published in 1929. Like The Sun Also Rises, the ties between Hemingway’s own experience with the war and what happens to his protagonist Frederic Henry are hard to ignore.

Frederic is an American, serving in the Italian army in an organization that seems awfully Red Cross-like to me. He gets injured and falls in love with the nurse who’s caring for him, an intriguing Brit named Catherine Barkley.Critics can, and have, argue till the cows come home about what the character of Catherine says about Hemingway’s attitude towards women, but we don’t have time for that now. Though Hemingway was certainly not an unknown when A Farewell to Arms came out, many think that this is the book that cemented his reputation as one of the greatest American novelists.

Short Stories and Later Life

Hemingway was part of a group of American expatriates known as The Lost Generation
The Lost Generation

Hemingway wrote more than just the three novels mentioned here, and he also wrote a ton of short stories, including my very favorite short story of all time, ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’ A story that’s short on action, but so incredibly beautiful that none other than James Joyce (no slouch in the short story department himself) called it ‘masterly.

‘He also wrote a series of stories, later dubbed ‘The Nick Adams Stories’ because they featured a protagonist named – you guessed it – Nick Adams. At this point, you’ll be shocked to learn that many aspects of ‘The Nick Adams Stories’ appear to be inspired by Hemingway’s own life experiences, particularly his time spent up in Michigan and with the Red Cross.Many of his short stories weren’t published until after Hemingway died, and some literary scholars think that his stories were edited or otherwise altered from their original version, but what continues to shock me is just the sheer volume of them.

Some of his other most famous titles include, ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’, ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ and ‘The Killers.’After a life full of writing, travel, adventure, and yes, debauchery, Hemingway settled in Ketchum, Idaho, with his fourth wife, Mary. Both physically and mentally ill at this point, he attempted suicide multiple times before finally succeeding in 1961.

Lesson Summary

In summary, American writer Ernest Hemingway lead a fascinating and complicated life that informed many of his major novels and short stories, including The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea.

Hemingway was part of a group of American expatriates who spent a lot of time in Paris, known as ‘The Lost Generation. The Lost Generation included other prominent American authors, namely Gertrude Stein. Though his life ended tragically in 1961, his novels and short stories are considered some of the greatest in American literature.

Learning Outcomes

When this lesson is done, you should be able to:

  • Summarize key points about Ernest Hemingway’s life and their influence on his books
  • Identify Hemingway’s most important novels and recall the plots
  • List some of Hemingway’s short stories

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