Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, near Chicago, on July 23, 1899. Hemingway was one of the most important American writers of this century, both for his value and for the influence he had on his successors.
Hemingway was a "sincere" author who put a lot of himself into his novels and who used the characters to say what he thought, without words and without fear of meeting someone's wrath. But Hemingway as well as a novelist of absolute value was a very interesting character, a character who lived his time in a full way, participating in some of the most important events of the century; also for different reasons he dealt with many of the most influential figures of this century and had with them sometimes friendly relations sometimes hostile; was in the trenches on the Italian front during the First World War, followed by many other war events as sent to American newspapers, met Mussolini, Franco and Fidel Castro, won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer and, indirectly, the Oscar (this award was in fact won by the film based on his "For whom the bell rings").
Many of his novels are built around people really known by the author, but mixed in such a way that it is difficult to identify them, which has put many of his biographers in crisis; it is curious and rather sad that as long as he was alive the American writer has always distrusted anyone from trying to understand what was true and invented in his novels, but as soon as he died his biographies invaded the bookstores. But Hemingway, knowing that such a ban would be disregarded after his death, seems to have enjoyed confusing ideas by meeting people he knew in his life in Cuba in the '50s with others dating back to the Parisian period of the' 20s or to the Spanish Civil War.
In "Farewell to Arms" Hemingway describes the battle of Caporetto, moreover in a very effective way, even though he did not participate directly in the defeat of the Italian army. It is true that he carried out his job as an ambulance driver in that area, but there was no Caporetto; his story is based on the testimony of the wounded rescued by him and on what he saw in person in 1922 during the Greek retreat in Thrace during the Greek-Turkish war. It is useless to say that there was someone who accused Hemingway of cheating and bragging about untrue things, but in this criticism the confusion between fiction and reality is evident.
Hemingway, as already mentioned, was born in America, but since he turned eighteen up to the date of his death he spent most of his time outside his country, in Italy, in France, in Spain and in Cuba; he had a Latin temperament and a love for fun and transgression that made him feel oppressed by the conservative and bigoted environment of the rich American bourgeoisie. His father was a doctor and his mother was a poorly successful opera singer, his childhood home was the typical baroque and heavy Victorian villa.
Hemingway's childhood was wealthy and serene, without any particular disturbances or shocks, but as soon as he reached the necessary age he enrolled as a volunteer for the First World War where he played the role of Red Cross lieutenant. He arrived in Paris in May 1918 in the company of his friend Ted Brumback without fully understanding what awaited him; but the reality that he found on his arrival in Milan made him understand what the war really was. The headquarters of the Red Cross was near Bassano del Grappa and Hemingway arrived there in October, before the start of the Vittorio Veneto offensive. However, we know that he arrived in Italy in June and was wounded near Fossalta on 8 July 1918.
In Italy, the American writer had the opportunity to live on his skin all the worst aspects of the war, and this deeply affected his literary creation that was always characterized by its strong antimilitarism. During his life Hemingway took part in other war events, always as a reporter, but his point of view had radically changed. This is demonstrated by the fact that he left Cuba when he had the feeling that a civil war was coming, despite the friendship that linked him to Fidel Castro. After the Great War Hemingway returned to Chicago where he was welcomed as a hero. He began to collaborate with the "Toronto Star", he married for the first time, with Hadley Richardson; he seemed destined to lead a normal life, but he resisted only a year. In 1920 he moved to Paris as a newspaper correspondent and here he began to attend Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein, long considered his masters.
They introduced him into the Parisian cultural elite where he met, among others, James Joyce and Ezra Pound with whom he had a very good friendship. It is in this period that Hemingway wrote his first novel, "In Our Time", published in America by the small publisher Liveright. The novel was quite successful and above all hit the attention of Francis Scott Fitzgerald who convinced the publisher Scribners of New York to contract the young man of letters. Scribners' offer was economically the same as those that can not be refused, and in fact Hemingway accepted it, asking his mentor and friend Anderson to intercede with Liveright so that he would renounce the rights, at the time agreed, on his subsequent novel. These, having understood that he had nothing to do with any young writer, but with a talent of literature, he refused and Hemingway enraged in a few days wrote a lazy novel aimed at denigrating the figure of his old friend Anderson. "Torrenti di primavera", the title of the book, came out at the beginning of 1926, only three months after its debut, and it served Hemingway to free itself both from the publishing house and from the image of Anderson's emulator. The great success was now imminent; the first novel written for the new publishing house was the one that definitively consecrated Hemingway: "Fiesta".
In this book the American author transposes his travels to Spain and in particular his love for the bullfight born three years earlier, during the festival of San Firmino in Pamplona. For the first time, he described the "lost generation", the one who tried to conceal his own uncertainty and his despair with alcohol, the dissoluteness in sexual habits and the search for emotions in an exotic environment; the protagonist Jake Barnes is among the heroes of Hemingway the one that most resembles him, perfectly at ease everywhere and at the same time foreigner in every place, and is also his most imitated character. Another notable figure of the novel is that of the torero, Pedro Romero, seen by Hemingway as the best example of the fusion of strength, courage and elegance, which fascinated him to such an extent that he became the co-star of "Fiesta".
From then on his fame grew steadily, soon Hemingway became the most influential American writer, more than F. S. Fitzgerald himself, to whom he owed much of his success. In 1929 he released "Goodbye to Arms" considered by many to be his best novel, and received an immediate success: the book was marked by its marked anti-militarism and inevitably ended up dividing public opinion. The story is as usual largely autobiographical and the figure of the Red Cross lieutenant who participates in the battle of Caporetto clearly follows that of the author.
Many of the characters described have really existed, in particular the young Abruzzese priest and the nurse who falls in love with the protagonist. Some argue that the inspiration for the novel came to Hemingway when he went to Italy in search of the priest who had baptized him after his injury to the front, to get an affidavit of the baptism. The writer had in fact divorced his first wife and wished to marry in the church with Pauline Pfeiffer, but to do so he had to be baptized. Regardless of the truthfulness of this thesis, it is interesting that in Italy "Farewell to Arms" came out only after the Second World War because the fascist regime forbade its publication, but already in the '30s it enjoyed a certain fame in anti-fascist circles and circulated secretly. Much of the merit of this clandestine dissemination goes to Cesare Pavese and Fernanda Pivano who translated the novel and printed it challenging the prohibition of the infamous Minculpop.
Certainly the subject matter should not have been much appreciated by Mussolini, but it was not so revolutionary that it was forbidden to leave if the Duce had an open account with his author. In fact, in 1923, when he was still a simple mail from the Toronto Star, Hemingway took part in a press conference organized by the Italian dictator: when journalists were allowed to enter the conference hall Mussolini was already in place, but he was so absorbed in the reading a book not to notice the entrance of other people in the room. It was clearly a studied attitude that did not for a moment convince the future Nobel laureate, who approached the table to see what the Duce read so interestingly; when, however, he was close enough he realized that it was an Italian-English English-Italian dictionary and, moreover, held to the contrary.
The next day the readers of the Toronto Star made loud laughs reading that article that began with these words: "Mussolini is a bluff, is the biggest bluff in Europe and I have proof." There were no official reactions from the Fascist party, and it did not take too much imagination to imagine that Mussolini did not like the article. Hemingway always proved to be very attentive to the fate of his novels and knew that in Italy "Farewell to arms" was circulating illegally. Evidently he was very struck by this fact, so much so that the first time he went to Italy after the end of the war (he arrived in Cortina in 1948) he got Fernanda Pivano's phone number and invited her to join him; when she, a young novice writer, showed herself excited in her presence, he displaced her with a simple request: "Tell me about the Nazi" (tell me about the Nazis). Since then a great friendship was born between the two and the Pivano still seems to be amazed at the availability of the great writer towards the young translator. This episode is one of many that could be cited to show how Hemingway was in his own way a political figure, not in the sense that he took an active part in political life, but in the sense that his irony and influence often bothered the powerful; he was aware of it and he never had trouble manifesting his thoughts.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out Hemingway went to the Iberian Peninsula, to which he was particularly fond, determined to give world resonance to the communist cause, but came to the front and realized the splits existing within the same faction and the cruelties operated by both parties did not hesitate to denounce these facts attracting the ire of the communists of the whole world that until then had acclaimed him.
In reality Hemingway did not act as a party, nor did he take sides with this or that without hesitation; that his sympathies have always gone to the left is certainly not a mystery, but his freedom of thought and his contempt for the atrocities of the war always came first. This is very clearly contained in another of his most successful novels: "For Whom the Bell Tolls". The protagonist comes into contact with two women in the novel: one, Maria, the victim of multiple violence by Franco's soldiers, the other, the elderly Pilar, who witnessed the ferocious mass executions ordered by the Communists.
So there are no good and bad, but there is war, which sees everywhere carries a baggage of injustices and atrocities. In Italy Elio VITTORINI, who together with Cesare PAVESE was the main architect of the spread of Hemingway in our country, had the novel published in an unauthorized version, in the Polytechnic magazine, without Pilar's stories, in order not to deprive the left of an ally so precious. "For those who ring the bell" came out in October 1940, on April 1, 1941, it had sold about half a million copies and in the second two years it had become the greatest American best-seller in history after "Via col wind". The publication of the novel preceded by a few weeks the divorce of its author by his wife Pauline and the marriage with a young and ambitious writer, with whom he had a relationship for some time, Martha Gellhorn. For the decade following the publication of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" his activity as a writer marked a setback: he did not publish or write anything remarkable.
For four years he holed up in a kind of dreamlike and alcoholic refuge, spending most of his time in Sun Valley and in Cuba in the company of his children trying to convey to them that love for hunting and outdoor life that he had received from his father. Relations with his wife began to deteriorate soon; she went to Europe to follow the war closely, but Hamingway of wars had had enough for a while. With a rather ridiculous pretext (to watch over the presence of German submarines) he was ordered by his government to stay in Cuba: he spent the whole summer of 1943 fishing in the Caribbean island. He recovered from this inactivity only the following year when he impulsively decided to leave for Europe as a correspondent for the same magazine for which he wrote his wife, a decision to which a sort of professional jealousy should not be foreign. On this occasion he met Mary Welsh, destined to be his fourth and last wife. On June 6, he took part in the Normandy landings and returned to London on some flights with the RAF. It was during this period that he was the victim of two serious incidents in which he struck his head and for which he showed alarming symptoms for months. However, this did not prevent him from contributing to the cause of the war: he entered Paris at the same time as the regular troops with a small group of faithful "liberated" the Ritz, holding himself armed to the teeth and with adequate provisions of champagne.
He returned to Paris in January 1945 after a series of missions around Europe, became the protagonist of a scene of jealousy against Mary Welsh: took the portrait of her husband that the woman kept, placed it on the toilet bowl and there exploded against six gunshots, destroying the Ritz's toilets; then they both parted to deal with divorce formalities from their spouses.
The last fifteen years of Hemingway's life were marked by the inexorable degeneration of his physical and mental condition, upstream of which there is an impressive series of accidents and an unruly alcohol consumption; only during the 1953 expedition to Africa did he injure himself three times in the head, he broke four ribs, cut off an artery, dislocated his shoulder and burned his face in a fire. But more than the incidents was the abuse of alcohol to compromise his mental faculties causing him to plunge into a depressive state from which he never fully recovered and to which he reacted by taking additional doses of liquor. Inevitably, this situation has also affected his work as a writer, in fact date back to this period two of Hemingway's worst novels "Isole nella corrente" and "Il giardino dell'Eden", however, published posthumously because the author had never wanted to give them to prints.
The only production of that period of which he was satisfied and who decided to publish, however, went down in history as one of his best, the famous long story of "The Old Man and the Sea" that earned him the Pulitzer Prize for narrative in 1952 and the Nobel the following year. Hemingway did not go to pick up the prestigious award given to him by the Academy of Sweden because he had not yet recovered from the ruinous expedition to Africa mentioned earlier. This absence was not appreciated by the establishment, which did not like Hemingway's way of being: too free and unruly was the new Nobel Prize to be able to please the most influential figures in the cultural world, linked to a tradition that granted them many privileges. On the other hand, Hamingway did not like them, they did not like Hemingway.
When he learned that he had been awarded the prestigious prize, he wrote a letter to Fernanda Pivano in which he commented on his victory: "Too late, now I do not care anymore, they should have given it to me instead of thinking that Churchill would die without taking it. Churchill is still fine and I am alive by chance. "
In 1960 the health conditions of Hemingway worsened and led him to settle in Idaho, where he spent his last years of life continuing to enter and exit the clinics, but without making significant improvements. In '61 his depressive state had exceeded the level of guard and the day after the dismissal from the clinic in which he had undergone yet another electric shock decided to take his own life.
Mary Welsh recounted that that evening the great writer seemed serene, had taken her out to dinner and had sung an old song with her before going to bed; the next morning he was awakened by the sound of his rifle.