Not only was Ernest Hemingway a titan of 20th century literature, but he was a larger-than-life character whose many thrilling antics have become the stuff of legend. Ernest Hemingway drew from his own life experiences to pen books like The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
How well do you know the writer who came to be fondly called Papa? Read on for five fascinating facts you might not know about Ernest Hemingway.
1. Hemingway's mother wanted a girl when he was born
When Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, he was initially a bit of a disappointment to his mother—only because he wasn't a girl. Up until about the age of six, Ernest Hemingway's mother kept his hair long, clothed him in dresses, and called him 'Ernestine'. Eventually, Hemingway insisted on being called 'Ernest', but this useful nugget offers some insight into why he so heartedly aimed to embody a strong masculine ideal later in life.
2. Hemingway was married four times
Ernest Hemingway loved falling in love and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, once lamented that she didn't mind "Ernest falling in love, but why does he always have to marry the girl when he does?" To some extent you could say Hemingway was lucky in love though; each of his four wives were brilliant and accomplished women in their own right.
Hadley Richardson was a gifted musician who supported Ernest Hemingway during his years as a poor, struggling artist in Paris.
Pauline Pfeiffer was an ambitious journalist who wrote for Vogue in Paris and offered her sharp editorial eye for Hemingway's debut novel, The Sun Also Rises—the book which made him famous.
Martha Gellhorn was another ambitious career woman who covered every major international conflict during her six decades as a war correspondent.
Mary Welsh was his fourth and final wife, and they were together for the final fifteen years of Hemingway's life. She was a journalist and later the literary executor of Hemingway's posthumous works, including A Moveable Feast and The Garden of Eden.
3. Hemingway dedicated a book to each of his wives
Hemingway spent very little time as a single man—all his relationships tended to overlap and he married within a year of divorcing each of his wives. But he always left a piece of writing behind dedicated to each one. The Sun Also Rises was dedicated to Hadley Richardson, Death in the Afternoon to Pauline Pfeiffer, For Whom the Bell Tolls to Martha Gellhorn, and Across the River and Into the Trees to Mary Welsh.
4. Hemingway had a six-toed cat
There are multiple theories as to how Hemingway received his first six-toed cat, but the more popular story goes that Ernest met a sea captain at his favorite Key West hang, Sloppy Joe's Bar. The two of them got drunk together and the sea captain gifted him a white six-toed kitten Hemingway later christened Snowball. Today, dozens of Snowball's polydactyl offspring continue to live (and procreate) at Hemingway's house in Florida.
5. Hemingway earned the Italian Silver Medal of Valor and a Bronze Star
Ernest Hemingway served as an ambulance driver during WWI and on July 8, 1918 was badly wounded by mortar fire. Despite this, he managed to help an Italian soldier to safety and was give the Italian Silver Medal of Valor for the action. 30 years later, the US honored the intrepid writer with a Bronze Star for his courage while covering the European theater during WWII.
One last factoid for you: did you know Ernest Hemingway mentions F. Scott Fitzgerald in his book A Moveable Feast? That's right, he was friends with Fitzgerald and spoke highly of The Great Gatsby—perhaps Fitzgerald's most well-know work.
Tell us in the comments which fascinating fact you enjoyed the most!