Back in 2007, I visited Hemingway’s home and his hangout Sloppy Joe’s while in Key West. After touring his beautiful two-story that remains home to many six-toed cats, I checked out the gift shop and purchased one of his most favorite novels, A Farewell to Arms. I was intrigued by what I had learned about Hemingway’s life from the tour guide and was questioning why I had never read any of Hemingway’s novels throughout high school or college. I figured if the book were as impressive as Hemingway’s life, I would be in for a good read. Although it has now been years since I have read A Farewell to Arms, I remember one thing distinctly; it was torture to finish the book. I couldn’t stand how he disregarded basic rules of writing and found it was anything but smooth reading. After completing the classic, I never really thought much about Hemingway unless his granddaughter was on television. Then last year, I read A Paris Wife that chronicled his time in Paris with his first wife Hadley, an expatriate and European friends who were mostly writers. I loved the book, and it encourages me to pick up Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises. Just like A Farewell to Arms, I had a difficult time getting through it, even though I knew people in his life during his years in Paris inspired several of the characters. I know that Hemingway later went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but his simple sentences and lean narrative prose just left me disappointed that his books were not as intoxicating as his life.
This past October I visited Oak Park, Illinois before a business meeting in Chicago. I purposely took a vacation day and flew in early, so I could visit the home of Frank Lloyd Wright because I was captivated by his life after reading Loving Frank. Before my planned day trip, I did a little research to learn more about the area. I was reminded of my reading of A Paris Wife, that Oak Park was also the birth home of Ernest Hemingway; therefore, I made plans to carve out two hours in the afternoon to tour his birth home and visit the Hemingway Museum.
I arrived at the Hemingway home in the opening hour of one o’clock. The volunteer suggested that I start at the museum further down the street and then tour the house. The exhibits in the museum covered all aspects of his life in Oak Park, including his childhood and schooling and his love of nature and the arts. I particularly enjoyed learning about Hemingway’s youth and how his parents influenced him. His father, who was a physician took him hiking, fishing, camping and hunting and encouraged him to observe animals in their habitat closely. His mother was a musician and taught him how art affected people’s feelings. He applied both lessons to his writing. Hemingway wrote for both the school newspaper and yearbook in high school. The journalism class that he took in his junior year set him off on a career path as a journalist before becoming a novelist in later years.
Of course, there were also several exhibits about his life after he left Oak Park that focused on his involvement in both World Wars, his four wives, and the movies. I enjoyed the exhibits that put the spotlight on his love interest, starting with Agnes von Kurowsky, the nurse that he fell in love with during World War I and was the inspiration for the character, Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms. Of course, since I loved A Paris Wife, I gravitated to Hadley and at the same time found myself disliking Pauline since she was intent on having a relationship with Hemingway despite the fact that he was married to Hadley. Reading about his third wife, Martha Gellhorn and his fourth wife, Mary Welsh left me wanting to learn more about his later wives, so upon leaving the museum, I purchased a DVD of the HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn.
I wrapped up the exhibits in the museum within an hour and then headed back down to Hemingway’s birth home. Hemingway was born on the second floor of his grandfather’s Victorian home and his birth certificate still, hangs on the wall. He lived in the house until he was six years old and then his family moved to a prairie style home in the neighborhood. The room seemed like it was very lively between his mother offering music lessons on the first floor in the parlor and the travel stories around the dinner table from his Uncle Tyler who roomed on the second floor. My favorite room was the family library.
I enjoyed learning more about Ernest Hemingway during my visit to Oak Park and found myself more curious about his life than when I visited his home in Key West. I am sure my interest was peaked because of reading A Paris Wife. The more I learn about Hemingway, I came to the conclusion that he lived a full life and impacted so many others throughout his days. Hemingway’s competitiveness with other authors including F. Scott Fitzgerald and later his third wife, Martha Gellhorn allowed his ego to become a monster at times. His love life would read like a script from a soap opera. Also, his travels, drinking and the fact that he survived two plane crashes would make his life story a page turner. Of course, his sad demise from the world would bring a final ending to the last page. Hemingway’s life was fascinating. This fact was again validated today, as I finally sat down to watch that DVD I bought a couple of months ago. I enjoyed Hemingway and Gellhorn starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman this afternoon. The movie, of course just made me want to know more about this captivating man and the women he loved. Hemingway continues to intrigue me.