Hemingway’s dolce vita: the hard-hitting American writer's little known relationship with Italy

07 June 2017 | by Richard Owen


The brave, hard-drinking and self-destructive Chicago-born writer continues to fascinate readers and critics. Yet one aspect of his restless life remains relatively unexplored, as his latest biographer explains / By Richard Owen

Think of Ernest Hemingway and you think of Spain, Africa, Cuba, Florida, 1920s Paris. But Italy? Well yes: Italy, after all, gave him his first encounter with war and death at the Austrian front, an experience he fictionalised as A Farewell to Arms, and again provided him with inspiration after the Second World War, when he wrote Across the River and into the Trees­. And it was the country that – or so he claimed – made him a Catholic.

I learnt more about this neglected thread in the story of Hemingway’s life after going to Venice and the Veneto to talk about a book I had just completed on D.H. Lawrence and Italy. At Bassano del Grappa, in the foothills of the Dolomites, I saw the image on a poster of Hemingway in uniform. A museum had just opened devoted to Hemingway and the First World War, housed in a villa where the Red Cross ambulances driven by Hemingway and other volunteers were based.

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