March 4

This Day in History

Literary

Mar 4, 1952:

Ernest Hemingway finishes The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway completes his short novel The Old Man and the Sea. He wrote his publisher the same day, saying he had finished the book and that it was the best writing he had ever done. The critics agreed: The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and became one of his bestselling works.

The novella, which was first published in Life magazine, was an allegory referring to the writer's own struggles to preserve his art in the face of fame and attention. Hemingway had become a cult figure whose four marriages and adventurous exploits in big-game hunting and fishing were widely covered in the press. But despite his fame, he had not produced a major literary work in a decade before he wrote The Old Man and the Sea. The book would be his last significant work of fiction before his suicide in 1961.

Hemingway, born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois, started working as a reporter for the Kansas City Star in 1917. When World War I broke out, he volunteered as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross and was severely wounded in 1918 on the Austro-Italian front while carrying a companion to safety. He was decorated and sent home to recuperate.

Hemingway married the wealthy Hadley Richardson in 1920, and the couple moved to Paris, where they met other American expatriate writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. With their help and encouragement, Hemingway published his first book of short stories, in the U.S. in 1925, followed by the well-received The Sun Also Rises in 1926.

During the 1930s and 40s, the hard-drinking Hemingway lived in Key West and then in Cuba while continuing to travel widely. He was wounded in a plane crash in 1953, after which he became increasingly anxious and depressed. Like his father, he committed suicide, shooting himself in 1961 in his home in Idaho.

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