One of the most well-known American writers of all time, Ernest Hemingway was a World War I veteran, newspaper reporter, and fiction author who wrote more than 20 published novels and short story collections. His widow, Mary Hemingway, has also stated that he had more than 330 unpublished stories at the time of his death.
Known for his straightforward prose and ability to craft compelling dialogue — the Nobel Prize for literature committee in 1954 highlighted his “forceful and style-making mastery of the art of modern narration” — Hemingway often drew upon his own experiences in his writing. Also a skilled sportsman, he regularly wrote about soldiers, hunters, and other courageous characters. The following are five of Hemingway’s most notable novels.
The Torrents of Spring
Only seven of Hemingway’s 10 novels were published during his lifetime. The first of those seven, The Torrents of Spring, was published in 1926 but is often overlooked, as one of his most popular books, The Sun Also Rises, was also released that year. The 96-page novella provides an introspective look at Hemingway, his writing style, and his penchant for parody. The Torrents of Spring is an entertaining story that offers insight into Hemingway’s early career as a storyteller.
Written in the span of only 10 days, The Torrents of Spring is essentially a work of parody that satirizes the Chicago school of literature. More specifically, Hemingway takes aim at literary tendencies employed by contemporaries such as Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and John Dos Passos.
A Farewell to Arms
Perhaps no novel epitomizes Hemingway’s style, tone, and preferred subject matter more than A Farewell to Arms. Published in 1929, the story takes place during World War I and follows protagonist Frederic Henry, an American paramedic in the Italian Army who falls in love with a nurse as he is attempting to leave the war. Beyond telling the forbidden love story of two imperfect characters, Hemingway accurately and vividly details scenes of hospital units full of bedridden alcoholic soldiers and challenges the patriotic and heroic perceptions of war.
The novel’s title was borrowed from a poem written by the 16th century poet George Peele. The content in the story, while fictional, is largely based on Hemingway’s own experiences in World War I. Like Henry, he was born in the US but was a paramedic with the Italian Army in World War I. He also fell in love and was wounded as the result of a mortar shell.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls is another war story that was inspired by Hemingway’s own experiences and is arguably his greatest novel. As a reporter with the North American Newspaper alliance, Hemingway spent time covering the Spanish Civil War and used this as a backdrop for what would become his most ambitious story. The title, as was the case with A Farewell to Arms, is also taken from a poem.
Covering themes such as death, bigotry, camaraderie, and political ideology, For Whom the Bell Tolls focuses on American Robert Jordan and his role as part of guerrilla forces tasked with blowing up a major bridge as part of an attack on Segovia. Again, similar to A Farewell to Arms, there is a love interest at the center of the story who is a source of conflict for the protagonist. More than anything, the book stands out for Hemingway’s brutally vivid and accurate descriptions of combat during the Spanish Civil War. Editor Maxwell Perkins later commented on Hemingway: “If the function of a writer is to reveal reality, no one ever so completely performed it.”
The Old Man and the Sea
The last novel published by Hemingway prior to his death in 1961, The Old Man and the Sea, in its simplest form, is the story of a seasoned fisherman engaged in a three-day battle with a large marlin as he attempts to break his 84-day streak without catching a fish. A deeper reading of the story highlights a range of themes and motifs, including pride, glory, redemption, martyrdom, and life and death. The book received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953.
The Sun Also Rises
Published shortly after The Torrents of Spring, The Sun Also Rises represents a more earnest attempt by Hemingway to tell a captivating and meaningful story. It’s also the first of his many stories to focus on World War I. More specifically, it details the lives of veterans in the years following what was then known as The Great War. Its narrator and protagonist, Jake Barnes, is an American who falls in love with a divorcée, Lady Brett Ashley.