At the time of Hemingway's graduation from High School, World War I was raging in Europe and despite Woodrow Wilson's attempts to keep America out of the war, the United States joined the Allies in the fight against Germany and Austria in April, 1917. When Hemingway turned eighteen he tried to enlist in the army, but was deferred because of poor vision; he had a bad left eye that he probably inherited from his mother, who also had poor vision. When he heard the Red Cross was taking volunteers as ambulance drivers he quickly signed up. He was accepted in December of 1917, left his job at the paper in April of 1918, and sailed for Europe in May. In the short time that Hemingway worked for the Kansas City Star he learned some stylistic lessons that would later influence his fiction. The newspaper advocated short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy.
Hemingway later said: 'Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten them.' Hemingway, upon reaching Europe, first went to Paris, then in early June, after receiving his orders, travelled to Milan, Italy. The day he arrived, a munitions factory exploded and he had to carry mutilated bodies and body parts to a makeshift morgue... it was an immediate and powerful initiation into the horrors of war. Two days later he was sent to an ambulance unit at a the town of Schmo, where he worked driving ambulances.
On July 8, 1918, only a few weeks after arriving, Hemingway was seriously wounded by fragments from an Austrian mortar shell which landed just a few feet away. At the time Hemingway, was distributing chocolate to Italian soldiers in the trenches near the front lines. The explosion knocked Hemingway unconscious while killing one Italian soldier and blowing the legs off another. What happened next has been debated for some time.
In a letter to Hemingway's father, Ted Brum back, one of Ernest's fellow ambulance drivers, wrote that despite over 200 pieces of shrapnel being lodged in Hemingway's legs, he still managed to carry another wounded soldier back to the first aid station, along the way being hit in his legs by several machine gun bullets. Whether he carried the wounded soldier or not, doesn't diminish Hemingway's sacrifice. He was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valor with the official Italian citation reading: 'Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, with an admirable spirit of brotherhood, before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded by the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated.' Hemingway described his injuries to a friend of his: 'There was one of those big noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you'd pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. It flew all around and then came back and went in again and I wasn't dead any more.' Hemingway's experiences in Italy, his wounding and his subsequent recovery at a hospital in Milan, his relationship with his nurse Agnes von Kurowsky and their eventual breakup, all inspired his great novel A Farewell To Arms.
A Soldier's Home When Hemingway returned home from Italy in January of 1919 he found Oak Park dull compared to the adventures of war, the beauty of foreign lands and the romance of an older woman. He was nineteen years old and only a year and a half removed from high school, but the war had matured him beyond his years. Living with his parents, who never quite appreciated what their son had been through, was difficult. Soon after his homecoming they began to question his future, began to pressure him to find work or to further his education, but Hemingway couldn't seem to muster interest in anything. He had received some $1000 dollars in insurance payments for his war wounds, enabling him to avoid work for nearly a year.
He lived at his parents house and spent his time at the library or at home reading. He spoke to small civic organizations of his war exploits and was often seen in his Red Cross uniform, walking about town. For a time Hemingway himself even questioned his role as a war hero, and when asked to tell of his experiences he often exaggerated to satisfy his audience. Hemingway's story 'Soldier's Home' conveys his feelings of frustration and shame upon returning home to a town and to parents who still had a romantic notion of war and who didn't understand the psychological impact the war had had on him. The last speaking engagement Hemingway held was at the Petoskey (Michigan) Public Library and it would be important to Hemingway not for what he said but for who heard it. In the audience was Harriett Connable, the wife of an executive for the Woolworth's company in Toronto.
As Hemingway spun his war tales Harriett couldn " the lp but notice the differences between Hemingway and her own son, who was a year younger. Hemingway appeared confident, strong, intelligent and athletic, while her son was slight, somewhat handicapped by a weak right arm and spent most of his time indoors. Harriett Connable thought her son needed someone to show him the joys of physical activity and Hemingway seemed the perfect candidate to tutor and watch over him while she and her husband Ralph vacationed in Florida. So, she asked him if he would do it. Hemingway took the position, which offered him time to write and a chance to work for the Toronto Star Weekly, the editor of which Ralph Connable promised to introduce Hemingway to. Hemingway wrote for the Star Weekly even after moving to Chicago in the fall of 1920.
While living at a friend's house he met Hadley Richardson and fell quickly in love. They were married in September 1921 and by November of the same year Hemingway accepted an offer to work with the Toronto Daily Star as its European correspondent. Hemingway and his new bride would go to Paris, France where the whole of literature was being changed by the likes of Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ford Maddox Ford. He would not miss his chance to change it as well.
Hemingway's First Life In Paris The Hemingway arrived in Paris on December 22, 1921 and a few weeks later moved into their first apartment at 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine. It was a miserable apartment with no running water and a bathroom that was basically a closet with a slop bucket inside. Hemingway masked the primitiveness of the living quarters from his wife Hadley who had grown up in relative splendor, but she endured, carried away by her husbands enthusiasm for living the bohemian lifestyle. Ironically, they could have afforded much better; with Hemingway's job and Hadley's trust fund their annual income was $3, 000, a decent sum in the inflated economies of Europe at the time. Hemingway rented a room at 39 rue Descartes where he could do his writing in peace. With a letter of introduction from Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway met some of Paris' prominent writers and artists and forged quick friendships with them during his first few years.
Counted among those friends were Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Max Eastman, Lincoln Steffens and Wyndam Lewis, and he was acquainted with the painters Miro and Picasso. These friendships would be instrumental in Hemingway's development as a writer and artist. Hemingway's reporting during his first two years in Paris was extensive, covering the Geneva Conference in April of 1922, The Greco-Turkish War in October, theLuasanne Conference in November and the post war convention in the Ruhr Valley in early 1923. Along with the political pieces he wrote lifestyle pieces as well, covering fishing, bullfighting, social life in Europe, skiing, bobsledding and more.
Just as Hemingway was beginning to make a name for himself as a reporter and a fledgling fiction writer, and just as he and his wife were hitting their stride socially in Europe, the couple found out that Hadley was pregnant with their first child. Wanting it born in North America where the doctors and hospitals were better, the Hemingway left Paris in 1923 and moved to Toronto, where he wrote for the Toronto Daily Star and waited for their child to be born. John Hadley Nica nor Hemingway was born on October 10, 1923 and by January of 1924 the young family boarded a ship and headed back to Paris where Hemingway would finish making a name for himself. While he could do no wrong with his writing career, his personal life had began to show signs of wear.
He divorced his first wife Hadley in 1927 and married Pauline Pfeiffer, an occasional fashion reporter for the likes of Vanity Fair and Vogue, later that year. In 1928 Hemingway and Pauline left Paris for Key West, Florida... new surroundings to go with their new life together. They would live there for nearly ten years, and Hemingway found it a wonderful place to work and to play, discovering the sport of big game fishing, which would become a life long passion and a source for much of his later writing. That same year Hemingway received word of his father's death by suicide. Clarence Hemingway had begun to suffer from a number of physical ailments that would exacerbate an already fragile mental state.
He had developed diabetes, endured painful angina and extreme headaches. On top of these physical problems he also suffered from a dismal financial situation after speculative real estate purchases in Florida never panned out. His problems seemingly insurmountable, Clarence Hemingway shot himself in the head. Ernest immediately traveled to Oak Park to arrange for his father's funeral.