Ernest Hemingway FAQ @ LostGeneration.com  Take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions at the Hemingway Resource Center.

 

 

 


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Welcome to our Frequently-Asked-Questions section! 
Just click on a question below and you'll be taken directly to the answer.  


What does The Lost Generation mean?

Much has been made of the "Lost Generation" phrase that appears at the front of Hemingway's 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway attributed the phrase to Gertrude Stein who supposedly heard her French garage owner speak of his young auto mechanics, and their poor repair skills, as "une generation perdue." Stein would expand the remark to describe all the disillusioned young men who had survived World War I and who seemed to end up in France with no real purpose, but because of its relatively low cost of living.
    For the most part the "Lost Generation" defines a sense of moral loss or aimlessness. The World War seemed to destroy for many the idea that if you acted properly, good things would happen. But so many good young men went to war and died, or returned damaged, both physically and mentally, that their faith in the moral guideposts that had given them hope before, were no longer valid...they were "Lost."
    Some other novels of the post war period echoed this sentiment, including Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise which showed the same young generation masking their general depression behind the forced exuberance of the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby does the same, to a degree, where the illusion of happiness hides a sad loneliness.
    Hemingway was a little distressed that so much emphasis was placed on the phrase, and that he became the leader of the whole "Lost Generation" concept, when he really didn't agree with the idea at all. In letters to his editor, Max Perkins, he tried to clarify the theme of his novel. The point of the book for him was "that the earth abideth forever," hence his use of the verse from Ecclesiastes from which the book's title originates. He felt "there was no such thing as a lost generation" and that Gertrude Stein's comment was a piece of "splendid bombast." The vast majority of readers however, didn't see it that way, or couldn't see it that way.

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Why did Hemingway kill himself?

As for the reasons Hemingway killed himself...there were many. At the age of 61 he had a bad combination of physical and mental ailments caused by a lifetime of neglect and fast living. Mentally he had lost his memory during electroshock treatment at the Mayo clinic. Physically he suffered from rapid weight loss, skin disease, alcoholism, failing eyesight, diabetes, hepatitis, high blood pressure and impotence. Basically his body had broken down, he could no longer write and he was severely depressed, and rather than endure a lingering and ugly death he decided, ironically, that the courageous thing to do was to shoot himself.

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What characterizes Hemingway's writing style?

Hemingway pioneered a new style of writing that is almost commonplace today. He did away with all the florid prose of the 19th century Victorian era and replaced it with a lean, clear prose based on action rather than reflection. He also employed a technique by which he would leave out essential information of the story under the belief that omission can sometimes add strength to a narrative. It was a style of subtlety which contrasted greatly (and in a way enhanced) the themes he wrote about...war, blood sports like bullfighting or boxing, crime, etc. It is hard to find anyone writing today who doesn't owe a debt of influence to Hemingway.

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What is Hemingway's theory of omission or "iceberg principle?"

In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway outlined his "theory of omission" or "iceberg principle."  He states:   "If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.  The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.   The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing."

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Can you tell me more about the friendship between Hemingway and Fitzgerald?

When Fitzgerald met Hemingway  in Paris in 1924, Fitzgerald was already a very successful novelist (This Side of Paradise was a bestseller that made Fitzgerald wealthy and famous) while Hemingway was an obscure writer whose small book Three Stories and Ten Poems had for all intents and purposes been privately published. Despite this disparity in their careers, Fitzgerald hero-worshipped Hemingway. He found in Ernest all the qualities that he desired in himself, talent, athleticism, good looks, unfailing confidence, and more talent. Fitzgerald did some really important things for Hemingway's career...he introduced Hemingway to his publisher, Scribners, and helped in the editing of his first major novel The Sun Also Rises, which was published to great critical acclaim. In fact Fitzgerald seemed more interested in furthering Hemingway's career than his own. Ultimately Fitzgerald's alcoholism ruined their friendship. By all accounts Fitzgerald was intolerable when drunk...he would create so many embarrassing scenes that his friends began to avoid him, and this is what Hemingway did. Hemingway welcomed Scott's company when sober, but this seemed a rare condition for Fitzgerald. They would last meet (though this is debated by many of the biographers) in 1937 in Hollywood, where Hemingway was discussing a documentary he had worked on, and where Fitzgerald was working as a screenwriter.
    Zelda was skeptical of Hemingway on several fronts. She didn't buy the macho image that he portrayed and thought he might even be a homosexual, which made her wonder about her own husband, who seemed to worship Hemingway. She wasn't that impressed with his writing either. But it seems mainly she was jealous of her husbands genuine affection toward Hemingway, and she didn't quite know how to handle it. Hemingway saw early on that Zelda was mentally ill (she spent years in sanitariums, and eventually died in one in 1948 when it caught on fire) and he berated Scott for letting her control so much of his life. Hemingway always thought that Scott had great talent and genius, but that he drank it away and let Zelda wear him down so much that he couldn't write as well as he should have. Hemingway had watched his own mother dominate his father, whom he loved dearly, and believed her dominance led to his father's suicide; he didn't want to see the same happen to Fitzgerald. 

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What were the names of Hemingway's four wives and how many children did he have?

Hemingway's first wife was Hadley Richardson.  They married in 1921 and had a son, John, in 1923.  They were divorced in 1928.  Hemingway married Pauline Pfeiffer in 1928 and had two sons with her, Patrick in 1928 and Gregory in 1931. He divorced Pauline in 1940 and married Martha Gellhorn that same year.  He divorced Martha in 1945 and married his fourth and final wife, Mary Welsh, in 1946.

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What is the couple talking about in Hemingway's story "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The couple is discussing the possibility of Jig (the female character) getting an abortion.  The man tries to reassure her about the operation's simplicity, but he fails to understand the emotional impact of an abortion on the woman, and this misunderstanding creates the underlying tension of the story.

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I'm looking for a quote by Hemingway that says "there is no hunting like the hunting of men."  Where does it come from?

The quote appeared in the April 1936 issue of Esquire. It was the first line of an article titled "On The Blue Water: A Gulf Stream Letter." The exact quote follows:

    "Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter."

This article has been reprinted in a book called Byline, Ernest Hemingway which has recently been reissued. You can find it at our Lost Generation Bookstore by clicking the link below.

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Could you explain what the story "Old Man at the Bridge" is about?

The story itself was written from notes Hemingway had kept during his visit to the Ebro River in April of 1938 as part of his coverage of the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Association (NANA). Along with military trucks and troops crossing a bridge over the Ebro, and civilians pulling carts with their belongings, he saw and talked to an old man who was sitting at the foot of the bridge. He was too tired to continue. Hemingway, perhaps realizing that his situation would make a better short story than a dispatch, filed the story with Ken Magazine instead of with NANA. The story, on its surface, is about an old man who has left his village because of potential enemy artillery fire, has walked some 12 kilometers, but can go no farther.

A certain degree irony that runs through the story and is based on the juxtaposition of the old man having left his animals and worrying about them dying, and the correspondent's having to leave the old man, knowing that if he does so, the old man will die. The irony is that a cat, a few doves, and two goats will have a better chance of survival than the old man.  But the old man doesn't complain that he is likely to die, he worries about the animals. He doesn't complain that he has no family, he worries about the animals. And he doesn't complain that he has no place to go, even if he managed to get onto a truck ("I know no one in that direction'). He simply continues to worry about the only "friends" he seems to have left.

The irony at the end is that the correspondent could help him but callously says, "There was nothing to do about him. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro. It was a gray overcast day with a low ceiling so their planes were not up. That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck that the old man would ever have."  This meaning that there was no luck - the weather would sooner or later clear and the planes would fly and the old man would be killed. Cats may be able to take care of themselves, but old men, tired, alone in a war, cannot. 

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Can you tell me more about Hemingway's relationship with Gertrude Stein?

In 1920 - 1921, Hemingway was working as a reporter in Chicago, and met and married Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. He did not get along with one of the editors on the paper and decided to go to Europe to concentrate on his writing. His first thoughts were to go to Italy, but at the urging of the author Sherwood Anderson, he changed his mind and decided to go to Paris. Anderson wrote him a letter of introduction to (at least) two people, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Both Pound and Stein would prove to be important on the one hand as writers and critics would would help Hemingway in his own writing. But also because their lives and apartments were the centers for the other expatriate artists of that time - John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Miro, Picasso, etc. And as a collector of artwork, and since she and Alice B. Toklas lived next to the Jardin de Luxembourg, Hemingway, just by visiting her, was exposed to Cubist and Modernist paintings. (He would visit he apartment for afternoon tea and then spend time in the Jardin viewing the French Expressionist paintings).

Hemingway biographer Jeffery Meyers makes the point that Hemingway saw in Stein much of his mother - they were both the same age, both physically large women, both frustrated artists, and both competed, and lost, to some extent to Hemingway. "Most significantly, Hemingway tried to work out with Gertrude some of the strong Oedipal feelings he had for Grace. 'I always wanted to sleep with her and she knew it and it was a healthy feeling and made more sense than some of the talk.' Such forbidden desires could be safely expressed because he knew he could not actually sleep with a lesbian any more than he could sleep with his mother."

It was Stein who first introduced Hemingway to bullfighting and suggested that he visit Spain. She urged him to give up journalism completely and concentrate on his writing, explaining to him about the rhythm of prose and the power of the repetition of words. When she was dissatisfied with some of his early work, she made him start over and to concentrate more intensely. Hemingway felt so indebted to her that he made her the godmother of his first son and had some of her work published in one of the little magazines he was helping to edit.

Sadly, they suffered a falling-out in 1926.

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I need information on the story "Soldier's Home."  Can you help? 

As with many of Hemingway's short stories, understanding the title is helpful to understanding the intent of the story. "Soldier's Home" can have two meanings; the first is that [a] soldier is home, meaning that the soldier was home before, went off to experience war, and then came home. All of this is told to the reader within the first three paragraphs. But a second meaning of "Soldier's Home" is similar to an "Old Person's Home."  In other words, a home in which someone lives who is unable to fully take care of himself. They have been physically or mentally affected by something. Both nuances of the title apply to Krebs. He certainly has gone away to war and come back to his home. And he doesn't seem to be able to take care of himself - he stays in bed much of the day, hasn't gotten a job yet, and has only vague plans of going to Kansas City. But more than just this kind of laziness, there are hints that he had, and now has lost, his belief in any form of authority. He is disrespectful to his mother, does not abide by any religion seriously, and is incapable of feeling any of what we might consider normal interests; love, marriage, a job. ("Still, none of it had touched him.")  But you can make the point that it is religion that he has lost touch with the most. Before the war he had gone to a Methodist college in Kansas and there is a picture of him and his fraternity brothers wearing the same type of collar - Hemingway's intimation that he had accepted religion before the war. But afterwards, because of what he experienced at Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, and Saint-Mihiel and in the Argonne Forest,  he cannot even pray with his mother. The soldier may be home, but he is not the boy who went away, not at least in the former beliefs that helped to support him.

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Where did the title "For Whom The Bell Tolls" come from, and what does it mean?

  Hemingway took "For Whom The Bell Tolls" from "Meditation 17" of John Donne's (1572-1631) work Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the
Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea,
Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy
friends, or of thine owne were; Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

The tolling of the bell refers to the act of ringing a bell (the death knell) at a funeral to indicate that someone has died. Hemingway is drawing a parallel between the death of one person and the consequent affect on everyone, and the loss of Spain to the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The loss of one man or woman diminishes all of humanity just as the loss of Spain will diminish the extent of a free continent of Europe.

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Where did the title "Across The River and Into the Trees" come from and what does it mean?

  Hemingway draws this title from the last words of Civil War General "Stonewall" Jackson.

At 9:00 PM Saturday, May 2nd, 1863 Jackson was wounded at the battle of Chancellorsville. He was shot through the left upper arm just beneath the shoulder. The humerus was fractured--the rachial artery was injured. He bled profusely. A second bullet entered the lateral left upper forearm and exited diagonally from the medial lower third of the forearm. A third bullet struck his right hand fracturing the second and third metacarpal bones and lodged beneath the skin on the back of his hand. These wounds would lead to his left arm being amputated, and his living for eight days.

On the following Sunday, at 1:30 PM, Dr. McGuire noted momentary consciousness and told him he had but two hours to live. Jackson whispered, "Very good. it's all right." He declined brandy and water and said, "It will only delay my departure and do no good. I want to preserve my mind to the last." Dr. McGuire states his mind began to fail and wander. He talked as if giving commands on the battlefield--then he was at the mess table talking to his staff--now with his wife and
child--now at prayers with his military family. A few moments before he died he ordered A.P. Hill to prepare for action. "Pass the infantry to the front rapidly. Tell Major Hawks"--then stopped. Presently he smiled and said with apparent relief, "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees" and then seemingly in peace he died."

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