Facial Hair Friday: Old Man and the Beard—Ernest Hemingway

Today’s post comes from Thomas Richardson, an archives technician at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

Writers come along and become the definition of a genre. They’re known as masters of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, children’s books, etc. However, some writers reimagine how we read and interpret the world, immersing us in new literary concepts. They convey a powerful theme in a stoic, economical fashion. They even sport incredible facial hair while writing their masterpieces. In this case, Ernest Hemingway fits both criteria. 

Hemingway wrote some of the most renowned 20th-century American novels. Between 1923 and 1961, he produced Three Stories and Ten Poems, The Sun Also Rises, The Torrents of Spring, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, The Old Man and the Sea, and an assortment of short stories. Several posthumous works include A Moveable Feast, True at First Light, Across the River and into the Trees, and Under Kilimanjaro.

Hemingway’s writing style, coined the “iceberg theory,” was meant to draw the reader in with a minimalist style, but convey a deeper message throughout the work for the reader to implicitly understand. The point was to tell a story as true as possible for Hemingway. For his accomplishments he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. 

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899 to a prosperous family, Hemingway was a talented athlete and high school newspaper editor who later worked for the Kansas City Star. In World War I, he joined the Red Cross ambulance service on the Italian front and was wounded while trying to bring injured soldiers to a field hospital. He was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Bravery and the War Merit Cross. 

Hemingway’s writing career began following his return to the United States. When he began writing for the Toronto Star, he was encouraged to relocate to Paris to stimulate his literary goals. In Paris, he immersed himself with the “Lost Generation”: a group of artists, writers, and scholars who became disillusioned with society following World War I. He collaborated with personalities like James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway also spent several months in Spain, where he developed his passion for bullfighting, which inspired many of his works. 

Hemingway’s time as a journalist put him in many dangerous situations. He reported on the Greco-Turkish War, where he witnessed the burning of several ancient cities, and while in Spain he wrote about the numerous atrocities and destruction during the Spanish Civil War. In World War II, he accompanied troops landing in Normandy on D-Day and traversed northern France with the 22nd Infantry Regiment. Following the liberation of Paris, Hemingway covered fighting in the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge, reporting the harsh fighting conditions with vivid detail. Three years later, Hemingway was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his bravery in reporting while in combat. 

Hemingway’s personal life was almost as chaotic as the events he reported on and wrote about in his novels. He lived in several places including Key West, Cuba, Massachusetts, Wyoming, France, Spain, and Idaho. He was married four times (Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn, and Mary Welsh) and had three children (Jack, Patrick, and Gregory). 

Hemingway was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed deep-sea fishing, hunting, and bird-watching. He went on two African safaris to hunt big game and managed to escape death from two separate plane crashes while on his 1954 safari. Life did not come without its tragedies, however. Hemingway suffered from numerous head injuries and alcoholism throughout his life, which had a profound effect on his mental condition. He contemplated suicidal thoughts and suffered from mild delusions later in life. 

Following his 1954 safari, Hemingway left his home in Cuba and permanently relocated to Idaho. It was well known that he had a friendship with Fidel Castro, and on the eve of the Cuban Revolution, some believed that Hemingway supported the new Communist regime. He believed that the FBI monitored him for a time and was prone to manic depression and extreme mood swings. As his health deteriorated, he sought treatment from the Mayo Clinic, but there was irreparable damage to his liver, and years of concussions left him with severe brain trauma. On July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at his home in Ketchum, Idaho

Hemingway’s legacy remains as a seminal accomplishment in the world of literature. His novels became world-renowned works that remain in print and helped usher in a new writing style. The Ernest Hemingway Collection in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library retains the known extant Hemingway manuscripts of novels, short stories, newspaper articles, unpublished pieces, fishing logs, and over 10,000 photographs. 

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