Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize winning author and a huge drunk

Ernest Hemingway (middle) in a classic pose, drinking in Cuba where he would live in the 50's before the Communist revolution.

Ernest Hemingway (middle) in a classic pose, drinking in Cuba where he would live in the 50’s before the Communist revolution.

Few people in the 20th century will have lead a more interesting life than Ernest Hemingway 1899-1961). He was fighting for the American army in World War I at the Italian Front, where he got seriously injured. Later he returned to Europe as a journalist to cover the Spanish Civil War and later on World War II. Hemingway had 15 books published and won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. In his life he was married to 4 different women and survived 2 plane crashes. In 1961 he terminated his own rich life by committing suicide. Still he found time for his favorite hobby: drinking.

To set the mood we’ll quote one of Hemingway’s letters. This is the P.P.S. from a writing to Russian translator and critic Ivan Kaskin:
“P.P.S. Don’t you drink? I notice you speak slightingly of the bottle. I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky? When you are cold and wet what else can warm you? Before an attack who can say anything that gives you the momentary well being that rum does? I would as soon not eat at night as not have red wine and water. The only time it isn’t good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. But it always helps my shooting. Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief. Let me know if my books make any money and will come to Moscow and we will find somebody that drinks and drink my royalties up to end the mechanical oppression.”

As Hemingway states in his letter he had always been a drinker. But in his early years in Chicago where he was born and raised and Kansas City where he got his first steady job as a reporter he never got much further than beer and cheap wines. That all changed when he was sent to Europe in World War I. When he was hospitalized in Italy he used his charms to have nurses bring him alcohol, or he would simply bribe people to do so. This way he got to know the great Italian wines, vermouth and fine cognacs. When he recovered more and more an Italian nobleman, Count Emanuele Greppi, took him under his wings to teach him the finer things in life. Or as Hemingway would later describe this time: “I was bouncing in a whore-house and writing day-times.”

After Italy the recovering writer kept drinking heavily. Under the roof of his parents where drinking was strictly forbidden he had his Italian liqueurs hidden in bookcases. Later on the prohibition in the United States drove him to Canada. But since the weather in Toronto was not to his liking he moved to Paris. In the French capital he took full advantage of the many bars the city had to offer. More than ever the art of drinking started to play a large role in his writings. In Europe Hemingway traveled a lot and drunk in the most amazing places and people. For example he drunk wine with the Italian facist leader Benito Mussolini, now who can say that? He would later write: “Don’t bother with churches, goverment buildings or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”

In the intro of this post we summarized some of the highlights of Ernest Hemingway’s impressive life. However there is no way in hell we could describe all of his adventures in a simple blog post. If you have the chance it’s very well worth to read his biography. We just stuck to a small part of his drinking. This American writer has proved without a doubt that heavy drinkers do not necessarily have to live empty lives. On the contrary, Hemingway is a perfect example of yet another drunkard who enriched the lives of people in his time and many generations to come.

Micky Bumbar

More drinkers that left their mark on the world’s history

38 thoughts on “Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize winning author and a huge drunk

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. What simpler pleasure is there than alcohol? Although it’s only 11am, reading this article has made me crave a large glass of whisky and a few cigarettes to accompany it!


    • Well it’s hard to get published these days. You’re offering stories to magazines or wrote books? In both cases you need somewhat of an entrance. Just offering stuff here and there is like a young musician with a demo tape. Very small chance of success.


  2. I had the pleasure of touring Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida this spring. He was surely a drinking man whore, but he could write. Very interesting man. I love this post, also.


  3. “The only time it isn’t good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. ”

    well, there goes my theory that drinking inspires writing.


    • Hahaha it does. Or at least I hope it does, otherwise I might as well quit the blog 😉
      But I think drinking boosts the creativity in the long run, but you shouldn’t write while drunk. Hemingway usually wrote during the day and drunk during the night. Like he says in the lettre to the Russian translator there is no greater way to recharge the battery than by getting drunk!
      Well, who am I to argue with the words of a great writer like Hemingway. Cheers!


  4. …ungelooflijk (?) for 15 years I ran an internationally acclaimed 4 star restaurant called, Hemingway’s Cafe Restaurant (of fine wine, fine food & fine music)! It was a an opera cafe or mini version of the Moulin Rouge! We would have been great drinking buddies! 🙂


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