Author Spotlight: Ernest Hemingway

Monday 9 June 2014 by

Ernest Hemingway, Author, Wikimedia Commons

As a writer, there are certain authors I wish I could be. There are others that teach me more about my writing. Ernest Hemingway is both of these.

Born in 1899, the notorious American journalist, writer and adventurer (and drunk) went on to be the most influential novelists of the 20th Century, with his crystal-clear, understated writing style. In his lifetime, he published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works, and after his death in 1961, a further three novels, four short story collections, and three non-fiction works were published. In his lifetime, he was friends with the like of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford and Scott Fitzgerald, and went from journalist and penniless writer scribbling away in the cafés of Paris, to one of the most celebrated literary contributors of his time, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

But if you’ve never read any Hemingway, where to begin?

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway, Vintage, Book

Start with For Whom the Bell Tolls. One of his most famous works, For Whom the Bell Tolls is the story of Robert Jordan, a young American volunteer caught up in the brutalism of the Spanish civil war. Set to blow up bridges in the fight against Franco, Jordan comes across Maria, and there the story begins. This is the first Hemingway I ever read and is the perfect introduction to his writing style. Although this is a starkly familiar Hemingway plotline (war: guy-meets-girl), there is something startling and unique about each story, and this is no different.

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway, Vintage Classics, Book

Next up is A Farewell to Arms. Arguably his most biographical account of war – Hemingway served as an ambulance driver in WWI – A Farewell to Arms tells the story of an American ambulance driver in Italy who falls in love with an English nurse. I would recommend getting the Vintage Classics special edition pictured – it includes all of Hemingway’s alternative endings and other passages, with a foreword from his son and an introduction from his grandson, and offers a beautiful insight to the author’s writing.

Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway, Vintage, Book

You won’t be able to read Death in the Afternoon without shivers. One of his non-fiction works, it talks about his passion for bullfighting and Spain, but also muses on the greater topics of fear and courage, with insights in to his wartime experiences. Written in his trademark utilitarian style, it simply serves to make it all the more haunting. I would also recommend reading Fiesta (original title: The Sun Also Rises – British publisher Jonathan Cape changed it to Fiesta in 1927) straight after this – ultimately the story of love and hedonism; it is also a story that spans the decadence of Paris and the bloody heat of bullfighting. Featuring some of his more dislikeable characters, perhaps, but I rate Fiesta as one of Hemingway’s best-yet-underrated works.

“Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.” — Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises

The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway, Vintage, Book

As for the rest of his works, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for his dramatic fable The Old Man and the Sea; and The Snows of Kilimanjaro features some of his greatest short stories. There is also the barely-acknowledged Green Hills of Africa (which tells of his month-long safari with then-wife Pauline) and the posthumous A Moveable Feast, which is a memoir of his time in Paris, and perhaps his “warmest” work.

The joy of Hemingway is you could argue there is a story for everyone; hidden amongst his novels and short stories and non-fiction, is a story that you will enjoy for years to come. His pared-down writing style has influenced writers ever since, and he is unbeatable in writing strong, realistic dialogue (try his short story Hills Like White Elephants from the collection Men Without Women for some of the best dialogue-that-never-says-anything you will ever find). As a writer, he was marked as a “genius”, and though I don’t like flinging that word around, I can see why. His life was often stranger than fiction, and I would recommend you also pick up a biography of Hemingway if you can. One of my favourite authors, Hemingway transcends era to remain one of our most contemporary authors yet.

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