“It was northern Italy which gave him his first taste of freedom, of passion, of companionship under fire, perhaps too of the liberty from the Protestant constrictions of the American heartland in which he had grown up.” (Page 7)
When people think of the great writer, how do they picture him? Do you see him with a Daiquiri in hand, whilst relaxing in Cuba, enjoying the nightlife of Paris alongside the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound, or is he watching the sunset over the Venice Lagoon from the top terrace of Harry’s Bar?
Being a bit of a Hemingway fan, I have pictured all of these scenarios so when I was asked to review Hemingway in Italy from Haus Publishing Armchair Traveller series I jumped at the chance.
How did Hemingway end up in Italy?
From the opening pages of this extremely informative read, you get a brief history of Hemingway’s early life and how he ended up applying for and joining the ambulance drivers on the Italian front towards the end of the First World War. According to the novelist himself, he had apparently been influenced by the British writer, Hugh Walpole, who wrote The Dark Forest, which describes his experiences with the Russian Red Cross.
“He arrived in Italy from the States full of ideals, a non-drinker and pure, and during his stay in the Veneto he lived through very powerful and shocking experiences: war, death, love and alcohol.” (Page 15)
It is during this time that he started to collect detailed information on Italy, Austria, and the war that would become backdrops for so much of his fiction. He became intrigued by the stories of people like Cesare Battisti, a journalist from Trento, whom for Hemingway was a hero ready to die for his homeland; someone he admired with traits that would later feature in so much of his writing.
When he was injured in 1918 at Fossalta di Piave he was taken to Casa Gorghetto which has since been converted into Vineyard De Stefani, and does Hemingway Wine Tasting Tours.
Once first aid had been administered he was transported by train to the American Red Cross hospital in Milan where he was cared for by a nurse called Agnes von Kurowsky, who would later become Catherine Barkley, one of Hemingway’s best-known heroines in A Farewell To Arms.
“He had survived not only operations on his knees and legs but also the flu epidemic and bouts of jaundice, tonsillitis and Vincent’s angina, or” trench mouth”. (Page 70)
In his early years in Italy, you get the impression that he fell for at least four young ladies many of whom had helped him during his time of healing, although Agnes features far more than any of the others.
Hemingway in Italy is not just a book of where Hemingway visited, or of his time during the First World War but provides a further look into his life and loves and how he developed his writing from factual journalism into fiction.
We discover that it was while staying at the Gritti Palace Hotel in Venice with his fourth wife Mary that the then 50-year-old Hemingway began to conjure up the idea for Across the River and into the Trees and that he spent many days writing on the nearby Island of Torcello while his wife visited the Villa Diana in Fiesole, once the home of the Medici Poet, Angelo Ambrogini, as one of Alan Moorehead’s guests where she met Bernard Berenson, the art historian, and critic.
The reader learns more about not just Hemingway but also the people he met during his travels around the country.
We discover that he spent the Christmas of 1948 drinking bloody Marys in Cortina while reading and writing and find out that both himself and his wives encountered many artists and writers during their time in Italy. In 1949 while Hemingway was visiting Verona, Mary encountered the novelist Sinclair Lewis, Nobel Prize winner for literature and author of Main Street, Babbitt, and Elmer Gantry. Hemingway however, couldn’t stand the man and the feeling may have been mutual.
We then find out that during a trip to Africa, he had not one but two plane crashes with many of the papers reporting he had died. Wallowing, he returned to Venice in 1954 to recover from a damaged vertebrae and kidneys.
During this time he spent many of his days at the Gritti Palace “in his pyjamas, an old sweater and carpet slippers, wearing an eyeshade”. He then stumbled upon what he termed the ‘Venetian Cure’ of scampi and Valpolicella wine.
It is because of his love of both the Gritti and the ‘Venetian Cure’ that the hotel now has a Hemingway menu but it has been extended somewhat to include “scampi risotto and shellfish consommé followed by duck cooked with ginger and honey in a port sauce, a chocolate dessert with Bourbon and friandises or petit fours of preserved fruits, sweets and biscuits, all accompanied by Soave as well as Valpolicella'”. (Page 157)
My Thoughts on Hemingway in Italy
For anyone that wants to learn more about this Nobel Prize-winning author, this is an informative read. It looks deeper into the life of the writer and goes further than just reiterating that Hemingway loved women and drink. It shows his passion for a country he returned to time and time again and highlights where much of his inspiration comes from.
If you are a Hemingway fan planning a trip to Italy this book should be added to your research pile, although it will also mean that you will travel plans are extended.
Hemingway is known to have said,‘I love northern Italy like a fool’, and I can’t help but agree with him. Northern Italy holds a charm like nowhere else I have visited.
Have you read about Hemingway’s travels around Italy? Perhaps you know of some other works that fans of the great author will enjoy. If so, please add them to the comments below.
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