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Ernest Hemingway: In His Time

Posted on 07/11/2011

Source: American Newspaper Archives / America's Historical Newspapers

July of 2011 marks 50 years since the suicide of American author and Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway ranged far from his Oak Park, Illinois roots as a journalist in Kansas City, an ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War I, an expatriate in Paris in the 1920s, and a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. He hunted for big game in Africa and went deep sea fishing in the Caribbean. Along the way he wrote a handful of stories and novels that defined his generation. Hemingway’s celebrity was of a different order than the fame of other American writers of his time. He had homes in Key West and then Cuba, went hunting and fishing, made appearances in the gossip columns, had multiple wives and wrote celebrity journalism. He used his fishing vessel to hunt for German subs during World War II. What he did was news. Even when, strictly speaking, it wasn’t really news at all. Following are some examples. Here he’s introduced in 1930 to readers of the Seattle Daily Times in a gossip column: 

Click to read full page in PDF.

A visit to New Orleans in 1936 is front-page news in the Times-Picayune

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He gets into fights with other authors, including this one with Max Eastman in the office of the fabled Scribners’ editor Maxwell Perkins, as seen in this 1937 item from the Springfield Sunday Union and Republican

Click to read full page in PDF.

His first three wives were all from St. Louis – giving him the blues:


Click to read full page in PDF. Source: The Sunday Oregonian; Date: 11-11-1945.


For his literary contributions, he deserved significant coverage. His terse style changed American literature. This is the opening of Henry James’ 1881 novel The Portrait of a Lady:

Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not—some people of course never do — the situation is in itself delightful. Those that I have in mind in beginning to unfold this simple history offered an admirable setting to an innocent pastime. The implements of the little feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an old English country-house, in what I should call the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon. Part of the afternoon had waned, but much of it was left, and what was left was of the finest and rarest quality. Real dusk would not arrive for many hours; but the flood of summer light had begun to ebb, the air had grown mellow, the shadows were long upon the smooth, dense turf.

Compare this to Hemingway’s opening of A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterwards the road bare and white except for the leaves.

Both opening paragraphs are evocative and scene setting, and are great examples of fine writing, but Hemingway’s prose still seems modern. The late-1920s were closer in time to James’ book than we are today to Hemingway’s. And then he was dead of a self-inflicted wound—and that was front-page news too.


Click to read full article in PDF. Source: Dallas Morning News; Date: 07-03-1961.

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