I took requests for Case Files ideas yesterday on Facebook. Pretty awesome suggestions, I am especially excited to write a post on Elizabeth Taylor (but I feel like that one will be a beast to write, better save it for a night where I’m not feeling so lazy). Last night, I was sitting with Jesse finishing up season 3 of The Wire (finally, we’ve been so busy) and Patronus just crawled right on my lap and stretched his big paws across me. Not only did this strike me as unusual and special, it also struck me because… I haven’t written a post about Ernest Hemingway yet! Silly me.
So, let’s Case Fileize (I just made that up, so there) Mr. Hemingway.
Ernest Hemingway grew up in a nice suburban town in Illinois. His father was a physician and his mother was a musician. Ernest begrudgingly learned to play the cello as a young kid, later saying as an adult that he hated his mother. Ouch. Life wasn’t rough, as Ernest lived in a seven-bedroom home in the early 1900s.
As Hemingway got older, his love of two things emerged – writing and being active. He played football, water polo, track and field, and boxing. He also wrote for the school newspaper and yearbook, eventually graduating and working for The Kansas City Star as a reporter. Another great reason to love Hemingway – he start as a journalist!
But times being what they were, Hemingway signed on with the Red Cross to go assist as an ambulance driver in Italy with the war. He performed gloriously, eventually recieving the Itlalian Silver Medal of Bravery for carrying a man to safety while injured from shrapnel in both of his legs. He left the war effort and stayed in the hospital for the next six months, falling in love with his nurse, and making plans for marriage. She was supposed to meet him in America to finalize their marriage when she wrote to Hemingway saying she had become engaged to an Italian officer instead. Burn.
But love wasn’t too far off for Ernest. He returned home and after some recuperation, bounced around Canada and the U.S., finally landing in Chicago and working for the Toronto Star. It was there he met his future wife, Hadley Richardson. It’s important to note that she was a redhead. They fell in love, got married, and moved to Paris once Hemingway was hired as a foreign correspondent through the Toronto Star. Things were pretty peachy.
Oh, but not so fast. Hemingway was a member of the Lost Generation! He had to act as such. I could sit here and go over all the things he did in Paris, like meet F. Scott Fitzgerald and rub elbows with Pablo Picasso, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about Hemingway’s mind. So, the short of it is that Hemingway became insanely successful while in Paris, had a child with Hadley, began an affair with another woman, Hadley left him, and he married his mistress (Pauline) shortly after. This would be a lifetime pattern for Hemingway. Pauline got pregnant and wanted to return to America. They left for Key West.
Hemingway returned to America and welcomed his second son, Patrick, into the world. Shortly after, Hemingway found out his father had committed suicide, with Hemingway remarking “I’ll probably go the same way.” That’s ominous.
Hemingway’s drinking had been of note in Paris – he regularly went out with the Irish writer James Joyce – but it picked up at this time in his life. His third son was born, he had suffered a severe head injury right before leaving Paris, he broke his arm so badly it took him a full year for it to heal properly, and he began to regularly frequent the bar Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. Oh did I also mention he got anthrax (on his honeymoon with Pauline) and contracted dysentery (on safari with Pauline – this woman is bad news) and had to be evacuated from Africa for a prolapsed intestine.
But Pauline (and her bad luck) didn’t stick around for long. Hemingway fell in love with a woman working alongside him as a reporter in the Spanish Civil War. The romance happened slowly, but by the time Hemingway returned to America, his relationship with Pauline was over and she left him. He moved his residences from Key West and Wyoming, to Cuba and Idaho. It was during this time he also began his love affair with kitties, especially ones with more than four toes.
Oh but wait, this new lady (named Martha) did not last long. Hemingway went to Europe to write, report, and galivant through WWII terrain – even picking himself up a group of resistance fighters and leading them through battle. Are you shaking your head? He was brought up on formal charges for violating the Geneva Convention, but he escaped any punishment. Martha was reporting abroad, and returned to London, and a concussed Hemingway – to discover he had fallen in love with and proposed to a woman named Mary.
Hemingway, who I will argue had some seriously bad luck with injury and health, just deteriorated after his marriage to Mary. He got pneumonia and Mary had an ectopic pregnancy. Then she broke both her ankles and Hemingway got in a car accident crushing his knee and providing another nasty head wound. His son, Patrick, got in a car accident and became severely ill. Then all his friends started dying – Fitzgerald, Joyce, Yeats, Stein, and finally his longtime friend and editor, Max Perkins. Ernest’s health rapidly deteriorated with chronic headaches, high blood pressure, and weight fluctuations leading to diabetes. Don’t forget all that drinking, either.
Things just got worse. Mary and Ernest visited Africa where they got in two back-to-back plane crashes, one so bad reporters arrived on the scene to report the death of Hemingway. Alas, it was not yet meant to be, and Hemingway shushed them before returning to lick his wounds, which tallied in at second degree burns on his legs, front torso, lips, left hand and right forearm, along with two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder and a broken skull. Joy. This where Hemingway’s drinking really picked up as he began to use alcohol to numb his physical pain.
Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but was so ill he could not visit Stockholm to accept his prize. He suspected he had been awarded the prize as a consolation gift for his near-death experiences over the year. What a crappy way to think about such a wonderful honor. His drinking continued in spite of his doctor’s orders to cut that stuff out.
He continued to work, finishing three different works during this time, but he became depressed. He left Cuba permanently and moved with Mary to Idaho. His work was fragmented and unorganized, like it had never been before. Hemingway became incredibly ill while in Spain for a TIME magazine piece, taking to his bed for days and barely speaking. He returned to Idaho, but things just got worse. Not only was he depressed, but he became paranoid, too – insisting the FBI was watching him. He was admitted to the Mayo Clinic and treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ahhhh!) and released. It became clear what was on his mind when Mary found him at the kitchen table one morning just holding his shotgun. He was placed back In treatment and received more shock therapy.
Two days later, Hemingway shot himself in the head with his shotgun.
The Case File
So, I didn’t know this until researching Hemingway, but he had a condition known as hemochromatosis, which causes iron build-up in the body, causing mental and physical impairment. His father had it and behaved similarly to Hemingway before his suicide. His siblings also committed suicide. I don’t know what to think of this discovery, so I’ll just do my best with the information I have.
Ernest Hemingway had some clear mental health issues. It was obvious he was an alcoholic, whose behavior and out-of-control drinking was over looked because he was a writer. Writers and alcohol are kindred spirits. It’s rare to have one without the other. Couple that with Ernest’s clear wounds from being left by his Spanish nurse in WWI, and you’ve got a guy who really didn’t think much of himself.
Think about it, he treated his body horribly, regularly injured it taking great physical risks (how do you get injured that many times without some ownership of it all – tell me, please), he probably kept all of his female companions at arm’s length, making it that much easier to leave them when they became disposable, much like he had been. To top it all off, Hemingway believed he didn’t deserve the Nobel. He didn’t believe he deserved good things. Most writers don’t and the ones who do either worked very hard to believe they did, or they aren’t good writers. Right? I don’t know. That just seems to be the case.
Either way, Hemingway was a great dude. He’s provided me with some of my favorite writing rules, ever:
1. Write drunk, edit sober.
2. The first draft of anything is shit.
Thanks, Hemingway. If you felt the way I feel about my writing, then maybe I’ll write a book one day after all.
I’m also in love with him because he was in Paris during that seemingly perfect time, a time I’d kill to be a part of. He was also a great writer, with a distinct style, and he lived a really cool life. Paris and Key West! Plus, he’s responsible for the cat I have today, I’m sure of it.
Sources (1, 2)