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Biography

Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American writer and journalist. During his lifetime he wrote and had published seven novels, six collections of short stories, and two works of non-fiction. Since his death three novels, four collections of short stories, and three non-fiction autobiographical works have been published. Hemingway had an enormous influence on 20th century fiction, not only for the writing style he introduced, but because of the apparent life of adventure he followed, and the public image he cultivated. In 1954 Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in Literature—when he was at the pinnacle of his career.

Hemingway was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois. After high school he worked as a reporter but within months he left for the Italian front to be an ambulance driver in World War I. He was seriously injured and returned home within the year. He married his first wife Hadley Richardson in 1922 and moved to Paris, where he worked as a foreign correspondent. During this time Hemingway met, and was influenced by, writers and artists of the 1920s expatriate community known as the "Lost Generation". In 1924 Hemingway wrote his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.

Hemingway was married four times: he married Pauline Pfeiffer in the late 1920s after his divorce from Hadley; he divorced Pauline when he returned from the Spanish Civil War. He married Martha Gellhorn in 1940 but left her for Mary Welsh Hemingway after World War II. During the 1930s and 1940s he had permanent residences in Key West, Florida and in Cuba. He covered the Spanish Civil War after which he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. During World War II he was present at Operation Overlord, and in Paris during the liberation of Paris. Across the River and Into the Trees was the last novel he wrote that decade.

The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952, after which Hemingway went on safari to Africa where he nearly died in a plane accident. Much of the rest of his life was spent in pain or in ill-health. In 1959, he moved from Cuba to Idaho, where he committed suicide in the summer of 1961.

Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid 1920s and the mid 1950s, though a number of unfinished works were published posthumously. Hemingway's distinctive writing style is characterized by economy and understatement, and had a significant influence on the development of twentieth-century fiction writing. His protagonists are typically stoical men who exhibit an ideal described as "grace under pressure." Many of his works are now considered classics of American literature. During his lifetime, Hemingway's popularity peaked after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea.

Writing style

The New York Times wrote in 1926 of Hemingway's first novel: "No amount of analysis can convey the quality of The Sun Also Rises. It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame". The Sun Also Rises is written in the spare, tightly written prose for which Hemingway is famous, a style which has influenced countless crime and pulp fiction novels. It is a style which some critics consider Hemingway's greatest contribution to literature. The Nobel Prize committee acknowledged Hemingway's style. In 1954, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature the award was for "his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style".

Hemingway began as a writer of short stories, and as Baker explains, he learned how to "get the most from the least, how to prune language how to multiply intensities, and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth." The style is known as the Iceberg Theory because in Hemingway's writing the hard facts float above water; the supporting structure, complete with symbolism, operates out-of-sight. Jackson Benson believes Hemingway used autobiographical details to work as framing devices to write about life in general—not only about his life. For example, Benson postulates that Hemingway used his experiences and drew them out further with "what if" scenarios: "what if I were wounded in such a way that I could not sleep at night? What if I were wounded and made crazy, what would happen if I were sent back to the front?" The concept of the iceberg theory is sometimes referred to as the "theory of omission." Hemingway believed the writer could describe one thing (such as Nick Adams fishing in "The Big Two-Hearted River") though an entirely different thing occurs below the surface (Nick Adams concentrating on fishing so to the extent that he doesn't have to think about anything else).

The simplicity of the prose is deceptive. Zoe Trodd believes Hemingway crafted skeletal sentences in response to Henry James' observation that WWI had "used up words". In his writing Hemingway offered an almost photographic reality that was often "multi-focal". His iceberg theory of omission was the foundation on which he built. The syntax, which lacks subordinating conjunctions, creates static sentences. He used a photographic "snapshot" style to create a collage of images. Short sentences build one on another; events build to create a sense of the whole. Multiple strands exist in one story; an "embedded text" bridges to a different angle. He also used other cinematic techniques of "cutting" quickly from one scene to the next; or of "splicing" a scene into another. Intentional omissions allow the reader to fill the gap, as though responding to instructions from the author, and create three dimensional prose.

Hemingway uses polysyndeton to convey both a timeless immediacy and a Biblical grandeur. Hemingway's polysyndetonic sentence—or, in later works, his use of subordinate clauses—uses conjunctions to juxtapose startling visions and images; the critic Jackson Benson compares them to haikus. Many of Hemingway's acolytes misinterpreted his lead and frowned upon all expression of emotion; Saul Bellow satirized this style as "Do you have emotions? Strangle them." However, Hemingway's intent was not to eliminate emotion but to portray it more scientifically. Hemingway thought it would be easy, and pointless, to describe emotions; he sculpted his bright and finely chiseled collages of images in order to grasp "the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always". This use of an image as an objective correlative is characteristic of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and of course Proust. Hemingway's letters refer to Proust's Remembrance of Things Past several times over the years, and indicate he might have read the massive book at least twice. His writing was likely also influenced by the Japanese poetic canon.


 

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