Blessed by Pain


Hemingway loved books and his personal library contained over 7,000 books.

We all know about the infamous Ernest Hemingway. Many of us were introduced to the author in grade school, and others continued to learn from his work in college and as practicing writers. Who hasn’t heard of The Old Man and the Sea? We all have. I don’t think everyone understands the depth of Hemingway. His work was highly metaphorical, symbolic and riveted by pain.

I have an undying interest in the pain of Hemingway and how pain fueled his hunger for words (Read~ Pain: A Writer’s Inspiration; Analysis of and Symbols in Hemingway and Gellhorn; Whiskey Dreams: Inside the Mind of Hemingway; Wakeless Love, Tragedy and Words; The Hemingway Archivist: Connection and Disconnection.) This man was filled with pain, but his work was prosperous because of that. I feel that my best poetry comes from a pain filled place, so I can relate.

We all know Hemingway, but what do you know about his pain? From suicidal thoughts, to infections, to skin cancer, to diabetes, to accidents and operations, to concussions, to pneumonia, to broken bones, to alcoholism and mental breakdowns, and the complications of love, this man seemed to beacon suffering. He was suicidal since the 1920s and tragically ended his own life in 1961. I believe a broken, hardened heart contributed to his fate.

After taking a look at three books, I put together a chronology of tragedy reflected in Hemingway’s story. The books I pulled from are cited below. I would love a chance to read the correspondence between he and Martha…the woman (another writer) I think he had the best intellectual and sexual connection to. I’m sure an intimate look at his personal correspondence would be much more revealing (see the ‘archivist’ post I cited above).

Hemingway was a tragically inspiring man. You know? I am an archivist by profession. There is actually a “Hemingway Archivist” working the Hemingway Room who is responsible for the Hemingway Collection in Boston. This is a special collection available to researchers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. It would be a dream to work there. One day, I will go back to Boston and visit this unique place that is part of National Archives and Records Administration.

After reading through a few books, I was struck by two things I had never heard about Hemingway. Most know he was a hunter. He was also known to be a jerk who seemed to position himself rightly so. Why does a hunting jerk who is a real softy for house cats not make sense to me? I think killing wild animals made him feel in control when he was almost always out of control. I don’t believe he enjoyed killing after seeing him cuddling cats.

I also found it interesting that Hemingway was “erotically aroused by women’s hair.” Hummmm? Long or short? I had never heard that before!

We all have an idea about who Ernest Hemingway was and about who he has continued to be after his death. His legacy has been solidified. The writer is now immortal. Not many understand the depth of Hemingway. His love of words, metaphors and symbols became permeated by his pain. If you have a moment, take a look for yourself at a brief chronology of his personal pain (not his accomplishments).


Spring 1918~ He put his “fist through a glass showcase.”

July 8, 1918~ He was “concussed and wounded by trench mortar and a machine gun.”

January 1919~ Agnes von Kurowsky breaks his heart and inspires Farewell to Arms.

September 1921~ He marries first of four brides.

1927~ His first divorce.

March 1928~ He pulled a “skylight down on his skull.”

December 1928~ His father commits suicide.

November 1, 1930~ He was in a car accident near Billings, Montana. His right arm was “severely fractured.”

April 7, 1935~ He “accidentally shoots himself in the leg” while “gaffing shark.”

1936~ He started a love affair with Martha Gellhorn.

1937~ He “dropkicks foot through a mirror.”

1940~ He gets another divorce and quickly marries Martha (a journalist).

December 1945~ He gets his third divorce from Martha.

1946~ He marries his fourth wife and she has a miscarriage a few months later.

September 1949~ He was “clawed while playing with lion.”

June 1951~ His mother dies.

January 1954~ He suffered “severe burns fighting a fire.”

1961~ He committed suicide.


Running with the Bulls: My Years with the Hemingways by Valerie Hemingway

Hemingway the 1930s by Michael Reynolds

Hemingway: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers

Explore posts in the same categories: Authors, Body and Mind, Books, Connection, Darkness, Disconnection, Inspirational, Intellect, Journalists, Love, Men, Metaphors, Mortality, National Archives and Records Administration, Pleasure and Pain, Quotes, Strength, Symbols and Imagery, Weakness, Women, Worthy Reads, Writers, Writing

5 Comments on “Blessed by Pain”

  1. Bastet Says:

    I’d never realized that Hemingway had been so hounded by pain … a very interesting post!

  2. Excellent post. From everything I have read about him he seemed like an egomaniac, a bully and a friend who could turn on you in two seconds. He was especially mean to Scott Fitzgerald. He used people for his own purposes and discarded them when they were no longer relevant. He cheated on his wives and killed animals. So I don’t pay any attention to him. I liked Fitzgerald and he was mean to him after everything he did to further his career. Blah.

    • ~Felicia~ Says:

      He really was all of those things G. Sadly…he was. I just find it interesting that for some (not all), the larger part of who we become is shaped by painful experiences. Not all can be stronger and make a positive change. Even though he was all of those things, his ability to mask pain with metaphors and symbolic allusion was amazing. Most people see an old man and a fish when they read his most famous novel, but a deeper look suits those of us with a hunger for understanding. I really find the hunter in him mind boggling. He adored house cats. I mean it makes sense to me that deep down he was actually an animal lover who justified his killings as a type of self medication. Wild animals were a real life metaphor for his wild/crazy life, and so again and again he attempted to rid himself of that by bringing something wild to an end. It makes me mad as an animal lover, but the writer and analyst in me is also saddened by this. His pain made him creatively famous, but also killed him. There was also a history of addiction and mental illness in his family. I believe seven of his family members died by their own hands, some committing suicide and others overdosing. I think you would agree that we are often inspired from a very painful place. Hugs my friend. I appreciate your thoughtful contemplation. ~~~F

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