Ernest Hemingway Biography @  The Key West Years. 



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Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.









Hemingway and a large blue Marlin caught in the Gulf Stream near Key West.















Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's third wife.


   Ernest Hemingway Biography>Key West


The new Hemingways heard of Key West from Ernest's friend John Dos Passos, and the two stopped at the tiny Florida island on their way back from Paris. They soon discovered that life in remote Key West was like living in a foreign country while still perched on the southernmost tip of America. Hemingway loved it. "It's the best place I've ever been anytime, anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms...Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks." After renting an apartment and a house for a couple of years the Hemingways bought a large house at 907 Whitehead Street with $12,500 of help from Pauline's wealthy Uncle Gus.

Pauline was pregnant at the time and on June 28, 1928 gave birth to Patrick by cesarean section. It was in December of that year that Hemingway received the cable reporting his father's suicide. Despite the personal turmoil and change Hemingway continued to work on A Farewell to Arms, finishing it in January of 1929. The novel was published on September 27, 1929 to a level of critical acclaim that Hemingway wouldn't see again until 1940 with the publication of his Spanish war novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. In between Hemingway entered his experimental phase which confounded critics but still, to some extent, satisfied his audience.

In 1931 Pauline gave birth to Gregory, their second son together, and the last of Hemingway's children.

After A Farewell to Arms Hemingway published his 1932 Spanish bullfighting dissertation, Death in the Afternoon. While writing an encyclopedic book on bullfighting he still managed to make it readable even by those who had no real interest in the corrida. He inserts observations on Spanish culture, writers, food, people, politics, history, etc. Hemingway wrote about the purpose of his Spanish book, "It is intended as an introduction to the modern Spanish bullfight and attempts to explain that spectacle both emotionally and practically. It was written because there was no book which did this in Spanish or in English."

Though a non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon does codify one of Hemingway's literary concepts of the stoical hero facing deadly opposition while still performing his duties with professionalism and skill, or "grace under pressure," as Hemingway described it. Many critics took issue with an apparent change in Hemingway from detracted artist to actual character in one of his own works. They disliked a blustery tone Hemingway drifted into , particularly when discussing writers, writing and art in general. It was the genesis of the public "Papa" image that would grow over the remaining 30 years of his life, at times almost obscuring the serious artist within.

Returning to fiction in 1933, Hemingway published Winner Take Nothing, a volume of short stories. The book contained 14 stories, including "A Clean Well Lighted Place," "Fathers and Sons," and "A Way You'll Never Be." The book sold well despite a mediocre critical reception and despite the terrible economic depression the world was then mired in. James Joyce, one of Hemingway's friends from his early Paris days, wrote glowingly of "A Clean, Well Lighted Place" as follows: "He has reduced the veil between literature and life, which is what every writer strives to do. Have you read 'A Clean, Well Lighted Place'?...It is masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best stories ever written..."

In the summer of 1933 the Hemingways and their Key West friend Charles Thompson journeyed to Africa for a big game safari. Ever since reading of Teddy Roosevelt's African hunting exploits as a boy, Hemingway wanted to test his hunting skills against the biggest and most dangerous animals on earth. With a $25,000 loan form Pauline's uncle Gus (the same uncle who helped them buy their Key West home) Hemingway spent three months hunting on the dark continent, all the while gathering material for his future writing. In 1935 he published Green Hills of Africa, a pseudo non-fiction account of his safari. Unfortunately, he picked up where he left off in Death in the Afternoon. While the book contained some decent writing about Africa and its animals it was overshadowed by Hemingway's again digression into the blustery tone of his alter ego. In the book Hemingway harshly criticizes his supposed friends, making the reader cringe at his insensitivity. He portrays himself as courageous, skillful and cool while depicting others, including his friend Charles Thompson, as mean-spirited and selfish. In a telling review the prominent literary critic Edmund Wilson poked at Hemingway, saying "he has produced what must be the only book ever written which makes Africa and its animals seem dull."

Oddly though, from the same safari Hemingway gathered the material for two of his finest short stories, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." In both stories the protagonist shows a weakness that is contrary to what the typical Hemingway hero exhibits. Harry, the dying writer in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," laments his wasted talent, a talent diminished by drink, women, wealth and laziness. Macomber in "The Short Happy Life..." shows cowardice under pressure and just as he redeems himself his wife shoots him.

As in other Hemingway stories, a curious effect can be seen in these African tales. Often in Hemingway's non-fiction work the truth is obscured by Hemingway's need to promote his public personality, his need to portray himself as above fear, above pettiness, above any negative quality that would tarnish that image. In his fiction though, certain negative qualities, whatever they might be, are in the characters as flaws that often lead to their destruction. Beyond that, in a biographical context, the actual events of Hemingway's life end up in his fiction rather than in his non-fiction. For example: Hemingway's World War I injuries more closely resemble those of Frederic Henry in A Farewell To Arms than the accounts you see repeated in old biographical blurbs which tell of how he fought with the elite Italian forces, how after being hit by a mortar he carried a wounded soldier through machine gun fire to the field hospital, and how he refused medical treatment until others were treated before him.

When you want to find the truth about Hemingway's life, look first to his fiction.

In March 1937 Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance. The civil war caused a marital war in the Hemingway household as well. Hemingway had met a young writer named Martha Gellhorn in Key West and the two would go on to conduct a secret affair for almost four years before Hemingway divorced Pauline and married Martha. Pauline sided with the Facist Franco Regime in Spain because of is pro-catholic stance, while Hemingway supported the communist loyalists who in turn supported the democratically elected government. Often travelling with Gellhorn, the two fell in love as they competed for quality stories. They would eventually marry in November of 1940, nearly four years after meeting at Sloppy Joe's bar in Key West in December 1936. Eventually the loyalist movement failed and the Franco led rebels won the war and installed a dictatorial government in the spring of 1939. Though his side lost the war Hemingway used his experiences there to write the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, a play titled "The Fifth Column" and several short stories.


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