Ernest Hemingway first heard about Key West through another writer friend named John Dos Passos. Hemingway and his wife, Pauline, decided to see Key West for themselves upon returning from a trip to Paris. They instantly fell in love with the island and ended up renting an apartment and then a house there for two years. Hemingway particularly loved the flowers, coconut palms and the opportunity to go fishing whenever he liked.
The Hemingways eventually purchased a home on 907 Whitehead Street. Hemingway would live there for more than ten years, see the birth of two sons, go through a divorce and remarry again after meeting a young writer named Martha Gellhorn at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, an establishment that still stands on Duval Street.
The Hemingway’s home on Whitehead Street is now a museum and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Old Town Key West. Tourists can see the bedroom where Hemingway did most of his writing and admire the gardens around the house where more than forty cats live.
Hemingway’s residency in Key West may just as well be known for his love of Florida Keys fishing. This love for fishing started as a young boy. His family had a summer house on Lake Walloon in Michigan, and this is where Hemingway discovered the sport. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway talks about the importance of writing about what one knows about. His love for fishing is reflected in a number of his works, and in a way, this is what first got him into writing.
Hemingway’s earliest published works are articles about fishing. The Toronto Star published some of these pieces, and Hemingway would later write articles about big game fishing for Esquire. Fishing also inspired his first works of fiction with the Nick Adams stories.
Hemingway was an enthusiastic angler but also loved big game fishing. He broke a record by catching seven Marlins in one day in 1938 and made fishing history by shooting a machine gun at some sharks while fishing in the Bahamas in 1935. His 38-foot fishing boat named, Pilar, out-shined many of today’s Key West fishing charters, in number of fishing tournaments won.
Fishing had a huge influence on his works of fiction. This is something that Hemingway always described in a very vivid manner, and fishing is always a way for his characters to engage in some introspection and to find truth.
His classic, The Sun Also Rises, features a few chapters about fishing and one of his most well-known novels, The Old Man And The Sea, is about a Cuban man with no money who fishes for a living.
One of Hemingway’s first stories, The Big Two-Hearted River, is about a young man who goes on a fishing trip by himself. This is one of the most positive stories Hemingway has ever written and the trip is really about the young man finding himself.
The Old Man And The Sea is more of a tragedy, but again, fishing becomes a way to find truth. The old man finds humility through this activity and gains a better understand of his place in the world.
Hemingway’s love for the sea and fishing is one of the central themes of his novel, Islands In The Stream, which was published after his death in 1961. The novel includes three stories that were meant to be a part of a larger series of works about the sea, and that would include The Old Man And The Sea. Parts of the book are set in the Bahamas, and the stories feature characters who deal with their sense of self and with their relationships to their children with the sea still being a central theme.
Hemingway’s time in Key West had a huge influence on his writing, both with the type of settings he chose for his books and with the importance of the sea, fishing, and islands as central themes for some of his most significant works.