Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hemingway in Italy

World War I

In October of 1917, Hemingway signed on as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. When World War I erupted, he traded covering drug raids and union strikes for action on the Austro-Italian front line.

On the morning of June 7, 1918, 18-year-old Hemingway stepped off a train at Milan's Garbaldi Station and assumed the duties of a Red Cross ambulance driver. As he distributed provisions to troops one night, an Austrian mortar shell shattered his knee, killed one of his companions, and blew off the legs of the second. Hemingway was then hit by machine gun fire, sustaining 227 separate wounds in his legs. He was shipped to Milan to recuperate, and there met and fell in love with a twenty-something nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky.

The pair took long walks past the Duomo cathedral and through the bustling shops of the Galleria. Von Kurowsky dismissed him as too young then (after he had returned to the States) wrote to tell him that she had found someone else. Ten years later, Hemingway recounted his experiences in "A Farewell To Arms," his 1929 novel about an affair between a wounded World War I soldier and his nurse.When Hemingway next revisited Italy, in the 1940s, he was a world-famous writer, charging around in a limousine, shooting at the private reserve of an Italian baron, and pursuing the eighteen-year-old beauty who inspired "Across the River and into the Trees," his 1950 novel about an aging soldier chasing a younger woman in post-war Venice.

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