Peculiar Anecdotes From the Life of Ernest Hemingway

In the world of renowned and important authors, it can be argued that no writer has every given us as many interesting real life tales and correspondence than the "Papa" of 20th century fiction: Ernest Hemingway.
07/18/2015 02:36 pm ET Updated Jul 18, 2016

Due to the nature of the profession, writers often spend a lot of time with their own thoughts, toiling away in solitude over word choices, sentence structures and story arcs, with the goal of creating the best piece of writing possible. In turn, many writers, and particularly fiction writers, lean towards the introverted spectrum of the human condition. For book lovers, the literature that we love connects us to the author that wrote it on a personal level at times, so stories about writers lives, while not overly common in prevalence, are welcome additions to the bond that we feel with the author, and remind us that writers are just like everyone else in a lot of respects. Sometimes tales of famous writers are more intriguing and amusing because of the distinguished reputation of those writers and the elegance of their prose. There is an abundance of anecdotes about writers, but some of the most noteworthy and entertaining ones have formed when writers interact with their peers. One writer in particular has an endless supply of stories and exchanges with other writers.

In the world of renowned and important authors, it can be argued that no writer has ever given us as many interesting real life tales and correspondence than the "Papa" of 20th century fiction: Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms are two of the best novels released over the past century, and his short fiction was perhaps even better given his command of seemingly simplistic sentences that are almost impossible to emulate, making them sneakily brilliant. Hemingway was anything but an introvert, and his brash nature and pension to live life to fullest, with no shame, created some very interesting stories about the late fiction master.

Among his contemporaries, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce were two of the best fiction writers alongside Hemingway, and in 1920s Paris, the hub of creative enlightenment, he found himself in their company. Hemingway and Fitzgerald were the best of friends for a brief period of time before their relationship became contentious for reasons that could be explained by examining the success of their respective careers.

Before their falling out, Hemingway and Fitzgerald provided the literary world with a very peculiar situation. Fitzgerald's famous wife Zelda, who became just as mentally ill as the man himself at a rapid pace, once told her husband that he was unable to satisfy her in the bedroom. To that, the self-aware writer of The Great American Novel, The Great Gatsby, responded by asking Hemingway to accompany him to the cafe bathroom for a second opinion. Fitzgerald dropped his pants and Hemingway responded by telling him that it was perfectly normal and advised him to stop over at the Louvre and compare himself to the statues. Hemingway documents this in his memoir, A Moveable Feast. Unfortunately, the light-hearted, brotherly nature of their relationship would soon crumble.

After the Paris years, the majority of their exchanges were in publications or through letters. Fitzgerald once sent Hemingway a letter with the perfect final passage for A Farewell to Arms, the ending to the novel that Hemingway wrote thirty-nine endings for himself. He responded to Fitzgerald with, "Kiss my ass." To be fair, the bluntness of this statement is justified as no novelist, especially one of Hemingway's magnitude, wants to be told by another writer how to write his own book by another writer. But when Fitzgerald penned his tell-all Esquire essay "The Crack Up," chronicling his creative decline and mental instability, Hemingway responded in what would now be considered incredibly insensitive in today's society, telling the troubled writer to toss two parts of his manhood into the sea, if he even had them anymore.

With regards to James Joyce, the author of what is commonly referred to as the best novel of twentieth century, and possibly all time, Ulysses, his relationship with Hemingway was not as well documented, and it has even been said that the two could be in the same bar together without ever exchanging words, as remarkable as that sounds. They did drink together at times, and while they were both heavy drinkers, it seems that Hemingway handled his alcohol better than the Irish novelist. Joyce would get himself into bar fights and when he was too drunk to adequately fight, or even see his opponent, he would tell Hemingway to fight for him. Details about their opinions of each other's writing have not been as well reported on, likely because they were merely drinking buddies who just so happened to be two of the best writers of their time.

Before Hemingway's broken relationship with Fitzgerald and his drinking days with Joyce, Hemingway was the pupil of the author of Winesburg, Ohio: Sherwood Anderson. Hemingway's breakthrough can be contributed to his early mentor who before their falling out, shared the same publisher. Eager to get out from under Anderson's wings and away from the publisher that prized the established Anderson over Hemingway, the pupil decided to satirize the mentor. His publishing contract had a clause that would terminate his contract if one of his books was rejected, and when Hemingway penned The Torrents of Spring, largely considered to be a spoof on the writing of Sherwood Anderson, the novel was rejected and Hemingway was released from his contract. Their relationship was never the same. The novel, while not great, served its purpose in Hemingway's eyes. Written in only ten days, he was able to convince Scribner's to publish the book in large part because it came bundled with the allure of publishing The Sun Also Rises at the same time.

Hemingway often chose his battles but when William Faulkner was asked of his opinion on Hemingway's work, the great southern writer showed his elitist mentality. Their two writing styles could not be more different. Hemingway wrote short, concise stories, that were readable by the everyman but offered enough depth for serious considerations, while Faulkner wrote dense, stream of consciousness novels that required immense focus and mental capacity in order to discern meaning. These differences caused Faulkner to remark that Hemingway had no courage and had never used a word that required a reader to visit a dictionary. Hemingway's priceless reply: "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

Despite the bravado of Ernest Hemingway, was he really as outspoken and confident in himself as he appeared in the public eye? Some critics that have analyzed Hemingway's work and life claim that he was actually very much an introvert, even drawing comparisons to the most reclusive author of the 20th century, J. D. Salinger. The enigmatic writer called Hemingway an influence, and even corresponded with him through letters. He referred to himself jokingly as the chairman of the Ernest Hemingway fan club. Hemingway may have given us some great tales throughout his adventurous life, but it is undeniable that he was self-conscious and preoccupied with his personal demons and emotions, given that he drank so heavily that his health declined, leading him to put the barrel of his favorite shotgun into his own mouth. His dismissive nature of "The Crack Up" may have even been caused by it hitting close to home. He gave us great literature, an abundance of personal tales, but even so, it is quite possible that Hemingway was wearing a mask the whole time, only revealing his true self in his fictional tales.