An Unauthorized Guide to Ernest Hemingway

I don’t think people can escape Ernest HemingwaySun Also Rises was either drilled into your brain in high school or you have seen it lying around, forgotten on some shelf. There is, of course, the possibility that like me, you’ve spent years studying Papa Hemingway…for fun. I know it might not feel like it right away, but this man was as controversial as he was talented. Let’s just say that Hemingway was the kind of person you would’ve wanted to meet up with at parties but not actually befriend.

A little background

Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, IL. He had four wives and three kids in his lifetime. He married his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in 1921. Shortly after, Hemingway got a job as an foreign correspondent in Paris, a fancy term for a reporter stationed overseas.  Hadley gave birth to Jack while in France. They affectionately called him Bumby.  Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas served as his godmothers. Stein was a fellow American writer and art collector. She was Hemingway’s mentor and hosted the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse at her Parisian salon.

Hemingway would later write a memoir about his time in Paris called A Moveable Feast, the book Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is based on. The piece was published posthumously and deeply offended many of the writers and artists mentioned in it, as they believed the memoir was both a breech of privacy and a work of libel. Examples of this include the claim that John Dos Passos introduced the writer to Pauline Pfeiffer to provoke his divorce from Hadley and the anecdote of F. Scott Fitzgerald asking Hemingway in confidence if he thought he had a small member as his wife Zelda had suggested.

Hemingway spent a lot of time traveling around Spain, Cuba, and East Africa as he was an avid fan of bullfights, hunting, and sailing. Many of his stories center around one of these activities and tend to focus on impotent men and unattainable women. He is also known for writing fiction that is very close to the truth of his own life. To date, scholars have been able to identify living counterparts to almost all of his characters.

He took his own life at his home in Ketchum, Idaho on July 2, 1961, three weeks before his 62nd birthday.

Notable works

Sun Also Rises

Jake Barnes is an American journalist living in Paris. He is bitter because a war injury has left him impotent. Because of this, he can’t get the love of his life, Brett, to commit to him. Instead, he becomes the embodiment of pettiness and follows her around everywhere. In his spare time, which seems to be plenty, he enjoys getting drunk, insulting Brett’s current boyfriends, and pretending he knows a lot about bullfighting.

A Farewell to Arms

This novel was meant to be a love letter (I guess?) for Agnes von Kurowsky, a nurse who served in the war with a young Hemingway. Catherine Barker, her fictional counterpart, doesn’t have too good of a time in the war and loves Frederic Henry more than Agnes ever loved Ernest. The most enjoyable part is that we get to experience this through Frederic’s first-person narrative. The cynicism and insight into Hemingway’s misogynistic psyche is worth it.

A Moveable Feast

As aforementioned, this is a memoir exposing the secret lives of every major figure of the Lost Generation. If you thought the Beat Poets were melodramatic, wait until you get a whiff of these dudes. Aside from the juicy gossip, the prose is ripe with brilliant musings on writing. Very quote-worthy.

“Hills Like White Elephants”

This is one of Hemingway’s better known short stories, dealing with the issue of abortion. Had I not told you about this just now, you probably would have not picked up on it in your first read. But now you know, so enjoy the heartbreak.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

Probably the magnum opus of his short stories (for some, I suppose). There’s hunting and murder. I’m not too fond of this one, but Hemingway scholars would probably have my head for that statement.

Some rad info

  • Hemingway’s mom dressed him as a girl until the age of six.
  • Homeboy made Hadley take in Pauline Pfeiffer who lived with them while she became Papa’s mistress.
  • His home in Cuba is now a museum.
  • His method for suicide was a shot to the head, from here the phrase “pulling a Hemingway.”
  • You can visit Papa’s boyhood home in Oak Park, outside of Chicago, as well as the Hemingway museum.
  • His final novel, published posthumously along with A Moveable Feastis titled The Garden of Eden. In it, the main characters consummate their relationship in reversed genders. This is particularly significant given that Hemingway spent most of his life aggressively defending his position as an alpha male.

Enviable quotes

“Courage is grace under pressure.”

“I drink to make other people more interesting.”

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.”

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”

You can find more quotes here.


We have Hemingway to thank for the “Tip of the Iceberg” theory. He would write seemingly superficial and simple sentences in order to construct a deeper narrative. Instead of giving the reader everything he or she needed to immediately understand the underlying themes of the story, Hemingway would construct an environment in which the reader could read between the lines. He became well known for his clean and profound prose, his theory now taught in literature and writing courses alike.

The Unauthorized Guide to Literary Figures is a series of sassy and instructive articles featuring the titans of the literary canon. If you’d like to contribute a piece on your favorite author, submit your pitches at



2 thoughts on “An Unauthorized Guide to Ernest Hemingway”

  1. Hanna Abi Akl says:

    Brilliant article. I’m a big Hemingway fan myself and have recently finished “The Old Man and the Sea”. A true inspirational figure for any aspiring writer and a model for noteworthy enthusiasts.

    By the way, I am a first-time visitor of the site and was immediately taken by it. Your sections (or, “verticals”) have awoken the nerd in me. Here’s to your great work and keep it up!



    1. Gabrielle van Welie says:

      Thanks for reading and loving the page! My next Unauthorized Guide is on Fitzgerald, another colorful individual. Throughout the next weeks, we’ll also be rolling out a new history vertical, so something to look forward to. 🙂 If you enjoyed this guide, you should also check out my post on 15 Signs You’re Dating Ernest Hemingway. Happy reading!

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