Louis Bromfield was born to a farming family in Mansfield, Ohio. He studied at Cornell Agricultural College for two years before transferring to Columbia University in 1916. He studied journalism briefly and then joined the American Ambulance Corps at the beginning of World War I and served in the French Army until 1919. He was later decorated for his services and given an honorary war degree. Bromfield did not start his journalism career until after the war, when he moved to New York to write for several periodicals, including the new Time magazine.
In 1921, Bromfield married Mary Appleton Wood, starting a family that would eventually include three daughters. His work in journalism, advertising, and the theater allowed him to make professional contacts by day and social ones by night. He was frequently at celebrity gatherings and was known for his boisterous presence, quick temper, and unabashed opinions.
After Bromfield's first novel, The Green Bay Tree, was published, he dedicated himself completely to writing. He moved with his family to Senlis, an ancient village north of Paris, because he had fallen in love with France while serving there during the war. Bromfield's literary works were already known in Europe, and he and his wife soon joined Paris' elite and exciting social circle. His house became yet another haven for what was known as the "Lost Generation," as he befriended Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Sinclair Lewis. (The "Lost Generation" is comprised of writers who relocated to Paris in the post-World War I years.)
His travels to India later inspired his novel The Rains Came, and his correspondence with close friend and author Edith Wharton would be published in 1999 as Yrs, Ever Affly. Bromfield also wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Early Autumn, in his expatriate years. Adding to his high-profile life, many of Bromfield's novels were adapted for the screen, among the first feature-length sound films.
Despite his worldwide popularity (at twenty-nine he had been compared to the best writers of his time, including F. Scott Fitzgerald), Bromfield did not lose his early passion for agriculture. He kept a one-acre farm behind his home in Senlis, France, growing vegetables and over 350 varieties of flowers. When he was forty years old, Bromfield returned to his birthplace of Ohio to buy a farm. "I was sick of the troubles, the follies, and the squabbles of the Europe which I had known and loved so long," he wrote in his 1955 autobiography. "I wanted peace and I wanted roots for the rest of my life."
Bromfield bought property in Lucas, Ohio and renamed it Malabar Farm. From 1939 until his death, it would be the most famous experimental farm of the postwar years. He became passionate about conservation and a strong advocate of the self-sufficient farm. His famous company followed him: actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married at Malabar in 1945. While at Malabar, he continued to write, producing spy novels, historical novels, and an ecological personal statement, Pleasant Valley. As his "radical agricultural experiments" received more and more attention, his notoriety as a conservationist farmer grew and his writing turned to nonfiction.
Louis Bromfield died on March 18, 1956, and was buried on what is now Malabar State Park. Thousands of visitors still tour Malabar Farm each year. In the 1980s, he was posthumously elected to the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame; his daughter, Ellen Bromfield Carson, has led the effort for the expansion of his farming methodologies and principles. Bromfield's novels are noted for their themes of city and country, the contrast between the mechanized and the natural world. His life reconciled the two opposites, as an artistic urban socialite returned to his Ohio home, and passion for the farm.