Hemingway image

Ernest Hemingway

1899–1961
Novels, stories, poetry, memoir
Works on Greatest lists
Greatest Literature

In Our Time (1925)

The Sun Also Rises (1926)

A Farewell to Arms (1929)

"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1936)

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

Greatest Novels

The Sun Also Rises (1926)

A Farewell to Arms (1929)

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

Greatest Novellas

The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

Greatest Stories

"Indian Camp" (1924)

"Big Two-Hearted River" (1925)

"The Three-Day Blow" (1925)

"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (1926)

• "Hills Like White Elephants"(1927)

"The Killers" (1927)

"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1936)

"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" (1936)

Related commentaries
In Our Time

It may seem strange to pick In Our Time as Hemingway's greatest story collection because many individual stories in later collections have become more familiar—and are arguably.... more

The Sun Also Rises

It's an irony that the first successful novel by a writer accused of being mindlessly ballsy features a hero without a penis. Jake Barnes had it shot off in the war, a tragedy that.... more

The Killers

When they made a movie of "The Killers" in 1946 they spent only about fifteen minutes telling Ernest Hemingway's entire story from two decades earlier. The rest of the screen time.... more

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms has been called the best American novel to come out of World War I. That could be accurate. I can think of very few other American novels that are even.... more

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

It might be considered Ernest Hemingway's greatest story, if not for the greater popularity of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro", with which it is often paired. Both "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber".... more

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

It's not the story I would pick as Hemingway's best, as I have a thing against writers writing about being writers. particularly about writers not being able to write. But this.... more

For Whom the Bell Tolls

For me this is the big Hemingway book. His greatest work and one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. And it is a big book, his longest. But For Whom.... more

The Old Man and the Sea

A lot has been said about Hemingway's ideals of courage, grace under pressure, an all that. But my own feeling is that what he really wanted was to be considered.... more

Ernest Hemingway

COMMENTARY | BIBLIOGRAPHY | VIEWS AND QUOTES

On books, writers and writing

1932

The individual, the great artist when he comes, uses everything that has been discovered or known about his art up to that point, being able to accept or reject in a time so short it seems that the knowledge was born with him, rather than that he takes instantly what it takes the ordinary man a lifetime to know, and then the great artist goes beyond what has been done or known and makes something of his own.

Death in the Afternoon

There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.

Death in the Afternoon

1934

For Christ sake write and don't worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. You feel you have to publish crap to make money to live and let live. All [right] but if you write enough and as well as you can there will be the same amount of masterpiece material (as we say at Yale)....

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don't cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don't think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.

About this time I wouldn't blame you if you gave me a burst. Jesus it's marvellous to tell other people how to write, live, die etc. I'd like to see you and talk about things with you sober. You were so damned stinking in N.Y. we didn't get anywhere ... and, of course you're a rummy. But you're no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are. But Scott, good writers always come back. Always.... All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.

Go on and write.

Letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.

"Old Newsman Writes: A Letter from Cuba", Esquire

1935

All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. If you read it you must stop where...Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.

Green Hills of Africa

When you have been lucky in your life you find that just about the time the best of the books run out (and I would rather read again for the first time Anna Karenina, Far Away and Long Ago, Buddenbrooks, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, War and Peace, A Sportsman's Sketches, The Brothers Karamozov, Hail and Farewell, Huckleberry Finn, Winesburg, Ohio, La Reine Margot, La Maison Tellier, Le Rouge et le Noire, La Chartreuse de Parme, Dubliners, Yeats's Autobiographies and a few others than have an assured income of a million dollars a year) you have a lot of damned fine things that you can remember. Then when the time is over in which you have done the things that you can now remember, and while you are doing other things, you find you can read the books again, and, always, there are a few, a very few, good new ones. Last year there was La Condition Humaine by Andre Malraux. It was translated, I do not know how well, as Man's Fate, and sometimes it is as good as Stendhal and that is something no prose writer has been in France for over fifty years.

But this is supposed to be about shooting, not about books, although some of the best shooting I remember was in Tolstoi and I have often wondered how the snipe fly in Russia now and whether shooting pheasants is counter-revolutionary. When you have loved three things all your life, from the earliest you can remember; to fish, to shoot and, later, to read; and when, all your life, the necessity to write has been your master, you learn to remember and, when you think back, you remember more fishing and shooting and reading than anything else and that is a pleasure.

"Remembering Shooting-Flying: A Key West Letter", Esquire

1938

In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it to the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.

Preface to The First Forty-Nine Stories

1943

[Re: Ezra Pound's broadcasts for the Fascists]. He is obviously crazy. I think you might prove he was crazy as far back as the latter Cantos. He deserves punishment and disgrace but what he really deserves most is ridicule. He should not be hanged and he should not be made a martyr of. He has a long history of generosity and unselfish aid to other artists and he is one of the greatest living poets. It is impossible to believe that anyone in his right mind could utter the vile, absolutely idiotic drivel he has broadcast. His friends who knew him and who watched the warping and twisting and decay of his mind and his judgement should defend him and explain him on that basis. It will be a completely unpopular but an absolutely necessary thing to do. I have had no correspondence with him for ten years and the last time I saw him was in 1933 when Joyce asked me to come to make it easier having Ezra at his house. Ezra was moderately whacky then. The broadcasts are absolutely balmy. I wish we could talk the whole damned thing over. But you can count on me for anything an honest man should do.

Letter to Archibald MacLeish

1954

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.

Nobel Prize banquet speech

You know that fiction, prose rather, is possibly the roughest trade of all in writing. You do not have the reference, the old important reference. You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true. You have to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable and also have it seem normal and so that it can become a part of the experience of the person who reads it.

Letter to Bernard Berenson

1964

[Re: F. Scott Fitzgerald] His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

A Moveable Feast

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, "Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.

A Moveable Feast

A girl came in the café and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair was black as a crow's wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.

I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone. So I went on writing.

The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another rum St. James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink.

I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.

Then I went back to writing and I entered far into the story and was lost in it. I was writing it now and it was not writing itself and I did not look up nor know anything about the time nor think where I was nor order any more rum St. James. I was tired of rum St. James without thinking about it. Then the story was finished and I was very tired. I read the last paragraph and then I looked up and looked for the girl and she had gone. I hope she's gone with a good man, I thought. But I felt sad.

I closed up the story in the notebook and put it in my inside pocket and I asked the waiter for a dozen portugaises and a half-carafe of the dry white wine they had there. After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.

A Moveable Feast

1966

Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.

Quoted in Papa Hemingway

The parody is the last refuge of the frustrated writer. Parodies are what you write when you are associate editor of the Harvard Lampoon. The greater the work of literature, the easier the parody. The step up from writing parodies is writing on the wall above the urinal.

Quoted in Papa Hemingway

On life and death

1932

There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man's life to know them the little that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.

Death in the Afternoon

1966

Fear of death increases in exact proportion to increase in wealth: Hemingstein's Law on the Dynamics of Dying.

Quoted in Papa Hemingway

The worst death for anyone is to lose the center of his being, the thing he really is. Retirement is the filthiest word in the language. Whether by choice or by fate, to retire from what you do—and makes you what you are—is to back up into the grave.

Quoted in Papa Hemingway

1999

When you stop doing things for fun you might as well be dead.

True at First Light

On war

1935

They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.

...but none of this means anything. No catalogue of horrors ever kept men from war. Before the war you always think that it's not you that dies. But you will die, brother, if you go to it long enough.

"Notes on the Next War: A Serious Topical Letter", Esquire

COMMENTARY | BIBLIOGRAPHY | VIEWS AND QUOTES