The death of Ernest Hemingway

Photo Ernest & Mary Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway (1899 -1961) was one of the most famous of all American authors. His style was minimalist, understated and direct, and had a huge influence on 20th century literature. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. His most famous novels are: For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea.

When he was 18 he worked briefly as a journalist before enlisting as an ambulance driver in World War 1. In 1918 he was seriously wounded and returned to America in early 1919. He felt isolated, but got some journalistic work with the Toronto Star. He moved to Chicago in 1920 while still writing for the Star.

In 1922 he married the first of four wives, Hadley Richardson. They moved to Paris where he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. Hemingway became involved with modernist writers and artists of Gertrude Stein’s circle. Stein became Hemingway’s mentor, introducing him to the expatriate artists and writers of the Montparnasse Quarter, where Hemingway met writers such as James Joyce and Ezra Pound.

In 1937 Hemingway agreed to report on the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Journalist and writer Martha Gellhorn, who Hemingway had met in Key West, joined him in Spain. He was present at the Battle of the Ebro in 1938, the last republican stand, and was among some of the last British and American journalists to leave the battle as they crossed the river.

Hemingway was back in the USA by 1940, he moved his summer residence to Idaho, near the new resort of Sun Valley, and his winter residence to Cuba, where he lived – on and off – with Martha Gellhorn, who he married in November 1940. It was Martha who inspired him to write his most famous novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, finished in July 1940. Martha went to China in 1941 on assignment for Collier’s magazine, and Hemingway — her “unwilling companion” — went with her sending some dispatches back.

From June to December 1944 Hemingway was in Europe. At the D-Day landing, he was kept on a landing craft because military officials considered him “precious cargo”. By this time there was almost continuous conflict with Martha, she was always travelling, working, and Hemingway seemed to feel some jealousy towards her reporting.

Hemingway said he “was out of business as a writer” from 1942 to 1945. In 1946 he married Mary Welsh. The Hemingway family then suffered a series of accidents and health problems in the years after the war. In 1945 he had a car accident where he “smashed his knee” and sustained another “deep wound on his forehead”. Mary broke her right ankle and then her left in successive skiing accidents.

Hemingway sank into depression as his literary friends began to die: in 1939 Yeats and Ford Madox Ford; in 1940 Scott Fitzgerald; in 1941 Sherwood Anderson, and James Joyce; in 1946 Gertrude Stein; and the following year in 1947, Max Perkins, Hemingway’s long-time Scribner’s editor and friend. During this period, he suffered from severe headaches, high blood pressure, weight problems, and eventually diabetes—much of which was the result of previous accidents, and many years of heavy drinking.

In 1954, while in Africa, Hemingway was almost fatally injured in two successive plane crashes. The first plane hit an abandoned pole, the next day, attempting to reach medical care in Entebbe, they boarded a second plane that exploded at take-off. Hemingway suffered burns and another concussion, this one serious enough to cause leaking of cerebral fluid.

Hemingway accompanied Patrick and his wife on a fishing expedition in February, but his painful injuries caused him to be irascible and difficult to get along with. A bushfire broke out, and he suffered from second degree burns on his legs, front torso, lips, and right forearm. Months later in Venice, Mary reported to friends the full extent of Hemingway’s injuries: two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder and a broken skull. The accidents led to his physical deterioration, and to overcome the pain of his injuries he increased his drinking, which had been barely controllable before the accidents.

During the late 1950s Hemingway was working on his non-fiction book, A Moveable Feast. In 1959 he went to Spain the gather material for a series of bull-fighting articles for Life Magazine. When he got back to Cuba he had difficulty in organising the article. Life magazine asked for 10,000 words, but he had written over 100,000 and he had to ask for editorial help from Hotchner. Afterwards Hotchner said he found Hemingway to be “unusually hesitant, disorganized, and confused”, and he was suffering badly from failing eyesight.

In 1960 Hemingway and Mary left Cuba. Hemingway travelled to Spain so he could be photographed for the front page of Life magazine. Back in the USA Mary received reports that Hemingway was near death. He cabled her saying he was okay. But he was not. He was lonely and lay in bed for days, retreating into silence.

In October 1960, he returned to New York, where he was afraid to leave Mary’s apartment because he thought he was being spied on by the FBI. Mary took him out to Idaho, where she had George Saviers, a doctor, attend to him. Hemingway became increasingly concerned about his financial position, his taxes, and the belief that the FBI were monitoring his every movement. As he got worse, Dr Saviers suggested that he go to the Mayo Clinic. Here he was treated with electro-convulsive therapy as many as 15 times in December 1960, then in January 1961 he was released mentally confused. He had been treated with a combination of medications which could easily have created his depressive state.

It was only 3 months after his release that Mary Hemingway found Ernest sitting in the kitchen holding a shotgun. She phoned Dr Saviers who sedated him and sent him back to the Mayo Clinic for more electro-shock therapy. He was release in June, but two days later in the early morning of 2 July 1961, Hemingway quite deliberately put the 12-gauge Boss shotgun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

It has always been known that Hemingway’s father committed suicide, but what is not so well know is that both of them more than likely suffered from a genetic disease called hemochromatosis, which is the failure to metabolize iron, this leads to mental and physical deterioration. Ernest Hemingway had been diagnosed with the illness in early 1961. His sister and brother also committed suicide. Adding to Ernest Hemingway’s problems was his heavy drinking which occurred during most of his life.

Hemochromatosis is a hereditary disease that most likely affected the five other members of his family who committed suicide. It is most common in people of Irish, Welsh, Scottish and other northern European heritage.

Iron is a potent oxidant that can deposit in and damage every cell in your body. To protect you from being poisoned by too much iron, your intestines stop absorbing iron when you have too much.
People with hemochromatosis lack the ability to stop absorbing iron when they have too much.
in your brain to make you lose your memory, cause depression, and interfere with every brain function
in your liver to cause cirrhosis, in your eyes to cause loss of vision.

If iron levels are kept in the normal range, there is no tissue damage and a person with hemochromatosis can live a perfectly normal life.  When blood levels of ferritin are too high, the excess iron can easily be removed by drawing a litre or two of blood.

If Hemingway had blood withdrawn every time his tissue levels of iron were too high, he could have avoided all of the  pain he suffered and probably would have lived a longer life. He would not have had to suffer damage to his brain, liver, pancreas, eyes, joints and skin. His suicide can be explained completely by the pain of untreated hemochromatosis.


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