Ernest Hemingay is a much loved and revered reporter and writer of short stories, fiction, creative nonfiction and (even some) poems. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, and his iceberg theory of literature remains prevalent today: only one tenth of what is going on in a story is ever described, the rest lurks silently below the surface.
You can use this maxim by doing lots of lots of preparatory work for your novel (character and setting development work) and even if you don’t actually mention it in the story, it will contribute to the reality of the world.
Here is a list of his best works!
For Whom the Bell Tolls
This has got to be Hemingway’s greatest work. It tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American Spanish language professor who travels to Spain during the civil war, to contribute his skills as a demolition expert in the fight against Franco’s fascist forces.
At one point both Barack Obama, and John McCain, while they were running for US President both said this was their favourite work of fiction. It’s mine too, incidentally.
It’s a story of love and bravery set in the terrifying liminal space between the free regions of Spain and those falling to the murderous forces of facism. Screw you fascists.
Unfortunately the democrats lost in this tussle, and Spain remained fascist under Franco until 1975 … did you know that? Did you know Spain was ruled by Moorish Muslim forces from about 700 to about 1200 CE? Don’t say I don’t give you treats.
Hemingway travelled to Spain as a reporter during the war, and drew on his own experiences while crafting this text. He often had first hand experience of the things he described, which is partially what accounts for the high verisimilitude in his tales.
He famously said that if you get a story just right then it will appear truer than if it had actually happened. Sigh.
He also said that if he ever gets stuck writing he just writes the truest sentence he can think of and picks up from there! Oh God I love Ernest Hemingway.
A Farewell to Arms
Most people would agree that this would be Ernest’s next best. It’s a tale set in Italy during WW1 as the German and Austrian forces advance. Frederic Henry is an American soldier who falls in love with the English nurse Catherine Barkely.
Hemingway worked for a while as an ambulance driver in Italy during WW1, and was very seriously wounded on a number of occasions. People around him kept getting blown up, and he actually had hundreds of pieces of shrapnel lodged in his body at one point.
Like most of his novels, it’s a terrifying and beautiful romp, which many regard as the greatest American novel about WW1.
The Old Man and the Sea
Don’t you love that title?
This one tells the tale of Santiago, a Cuban fisherman who is pretty old, and who has fished the sea for a living all his days. His strength is failing, and the sea is no longer as generous as it once was.
Manolin is a young boy who takes pity on Santiago and brings him food.
Santiago takes to the sea, and hooks a big Marlin. What happens next is the stuff of legend.
This is a tale of dignity, perseverance, beauty, and decline. Enjoy!
The Complete Short Stories
Hemingway released many short story collections over the course of his lifetime. The first one was released when he was 24 years old in 1923.
It’s astonishing to think how early Hemingway was writing, considering how contemporary he feels. I think he had his first story published before commercial radio was invented …
I guess anyone who professes an unwavering fidelity to the ‘truth’ feels subversive and contemporary (see Hamlet). He died in 1961, so he never really saw the 60s.
In any case, it’s undoubtedly true to say that Hemingway is probably the most popular writer of short stories of all time, along with Chekhov, Flannery O’Connor, Carver, Agatha Christie, Turgenev et al. Why do all the women in my list need two names and the blokes only one? I seriously don’t know the answer.
His story ‘Hills like White Elephants’ is revered as an example of his iceberg theory. Have a read and see if you can work out what’s going on. Then google it.
I hope you enjoy reading these classics of literature!