Today is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899), the Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such books as The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), and The Old Man and the Sea (1952). He started his writing life as a journalist, but when he was in Paris after World War I, working as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, he was encouraged to take a more literary turn by other American writers like Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. His first collection of short stories, In Our Time, was published in 1925.
Both U.S. presidential candidates of 2008 cited Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) as one of their favorite books. It’s about an American teacher, Robert Jordan, who volunteers to go fight in the Spanish Civil War against Franco’s Fascists. Robert Jordan is wounded in battle and contemplates shooting himself with his submachine gun to end the intense pain, but when the enemy comes into sight, Jordan does his duty and delays the approaching Fascist soldiers so that his own comrades can escape to safety. And then he dies.
“Grace under pressure” – Hemingway’s famous phrase in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald (20 April 1926), published in Ernest Hemingway : Selected Letters 1917-1961 (1981) edited by Carlos Baker. In the letter, he wrote that he was “not referring to guts but to something else.” The phrase was later used by Dorothy Parker in a profile of Hemingway, “The Artist’s Reward,” in the New Yorker (30 November 1929)
Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, shooting himself in the head with a double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun, while wearing a robe and pajamas in the foyer of his Blaine County house.
He had a turbulent personal life. He told people that he despised his mother. He had been married four times and involved with many other women. He was often unkind to other writers whom he knew, and wrote vicious portraits of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, which were published in his memoir A Moveable Feast.
“I’ve been in love (truly) with five women, the Spanish Republic and the 4th Infantry Division.” – Letter to Marlene Dietrich (1 July 1930)
His memoir was actually published posthumously by his widow, Mary Hemingway, in 1964. She edited extensively the memoir manuscript, patching stuff together from various sources. She included things he’d explicitly stated that he didn’t want published, and excluded other parts of his unfinished memoir manuscript.
This month, July 2009, Scribner is releasing a “restored edition” of Hemingway’s memoir. The new edition is edited by Sean Hemingway, the grandson of Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, a woman who was much maligned in the edition of the memoir edited by Mary, the fourth wife.
Sean Hemingway is a curator at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he has edited other anthologies of Hemingway’s writing. He is including parts of the original manuscript that Mary had cut out, passages that he says show his grandfather’s “remorse and some of the happiness he felt and his very conflicted views he had about the end of his marriage” to Pauline. The new edition, he says, is more inclusive and portrays his grandmother in a more sympathetic manner. Sixteen thousand copies of the new edition of A Moveable Feast are being printed in the first run, and Scribner is also releasing new editions of all of Hemingway’s novels with redesigned covers.
Hemingway said, “The writer’s job is to tell the truth.” In A Moveable Feast, he wrote: “I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, `Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”
There’s a legend that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to create a six-word story, and he said, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Inspired by this, an online magazine invited readers to submit their own six-word memoirs, a collection of which was published by Harper Collins in 2008 as Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Six-word memoirs include: “All I ever wanted was more” and “Moments of transcendence, intervals of yearning” and “They called. I answered. Wrong number.”