Historic Adventurers: Ernest Hemingway

National Archives
Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest writers in American history, didn't just write what came to his mind. He lived it, making his life off the page more adventurous than what he actually wrote down.

While strolling through downtown Madrid, I came across a bar in a square that looked like it hadn’t changed much since the 1930s. The old restaurant owner across the street informed me that the bar was from the 1910s and it somehow survived the Spanish Civil War. Casually, he mentioned another detail about the bar: Ernest Hemingway penned most of his first draft of For Whom The Bell Tolls while standing at the bar.

When Ernest Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, he reflected upon the moments that led him to that crowning achievement. The countless pages, edits, and revisions that allowed him to craft brilliant, painstaking narratives exuded through his speech.

When high school students read his work in English class, they may assume that this man was just another writer who lived a plush lifestyle composed of nothing more than click-clacking on the typewriter. What they don’t realize is that Hemingway was one of the most accomplished adventurers in twentieth-century culture. So, what did he do, exactly?

Wounded By Shrapnel In World War I
Hemingway served in the Red Cross during World War I, where he was stationed on the Italian front. He was delivering supplies (chocolate and cigarettes, actually) to Italian soldiers on the frontlines when a mine exploded and sent over 200 pieces of shrapnel into his leg. He would draw on his experiences when he sat to write A Farewell To Arms.

Lost Generation In Paris
After marrying his first wife, the Hemingways moved to Paris in 1921. He worked for a newspaper there until influence from his friends and expats, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, provided him with courage to stop and focus solely on writing novels. His adventures through the city’s bar scene would serve as the basis for The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast.

Bullfighting In Pamplona
Every summer from 1923 to 1927, Hemingway traveled to Pamplona to witness the violent Spanish sport of bullfighting. Hemingway, a boxer, was enthralled with the artistic brutality that encompassed the pandemonious fights.

Chasing The Spanish Civil War
After spending some time in North America, Hemingway found a cause worth investigating for a new novel. He flew to Madrid in 1937 and covered the Spanish Civil War - a precursor to the Fascist takeover of Europe a few years later during World War II. By shadowing soldiers on the front lines of battle, he was able to write dozens of articles for United States newspapers (who were giving the Spanish Civil War little-to-no coverage at the time). When he returned, he completed one of his most famous novels, For Whom The Bell Tolls.

Hangin’ In Havana
The island life called Hemingway, and he answered. He spent as much time as he could in Cuba, which provided him with fishing, rum, and more fishing. Always an avid sportsman, Hemingway enjoyed nothing more than a morning spent chasing a massive fish, and an afternoon drinking rum at a beach bar.

Kansas City Beginnings
As a boy fresh out of high school, Hemingway began his career as a writer for The Kansas City Star. Though he didn’t spend an extensive amount of time in this role, his reporting adventures in the town’s crime and legal beat gave him plenty of motivation to construct narratives from real life.

Roald Dahl During World War II
While Hemingway was in London covering World War II, he often met with other writers who became close friends. One such writer happened to be Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Witches, and every other awesome  children’s narrative you can think of. They spent time talking politics with other writers in Hemingway’s apartment and at local pubs in areas that weren’t currently being bombed by the Germans.

Ketchum If You Can
During the later parts of Hemingway’s life, he retreated to the small town of Ketchum, Idaho. Surrounded by woods and dotted with lakes and rivers, the avid outdoorsman found tranquility in the peace and quiet of the forest.

Nairobi, Kenya, Too?
Hemingway enjoyed big game hunting. He traveled to Africa often to hunt lions and explore the wilderness, exemplified by his climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Though he never wrote a major novel about his adventures through Africa, he crafted dozens of short stories based on his adventures in the areas surrounding Nairobi.

Hemingway explored the world to the best of his abilities. Better yet, he found ways to convey these adventures through terse, well-crafted narrative. So, next time you find an Ernest Hemingway novel in the bookstore, pick it up and realize that the “fictional” story probably contains more truth than you think.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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