Prickly Ernest Hemingway Returns Letter to Critic: “Wipe Your Royal Irish Ass On It. You Are Stupid” (1931)

Despite being the paragon of imperturbable masculinity of his time, Ernest Hemingway had a highly sensitive artistic temperament. Nowhere did he exhibit this more than when discussing his writing. Papa did not suffer fools gladly, and literary critics tended to fare even worse. After Max Eastman dared to write, “Come out from behind that false hair on your chest, Ernest. We all know you,” Hemingway was reported to have slapped him with a book. When Orson Welles—a cinematic firebrand in his own right—decided to chide Hemingway about his script, the author took a swing.

In this YouTube clip, the critic seems to have gotten away with merely a verbal wallop. Although there is no video, the audio is clear, and we hear Hemingway’s measured baritone reading, then commenting on, an Irish critic’s review that he had received in 1931:

‘Your book lies upon my table. I have finished reading it, and I eye it dubiously.’ You’ve got a nice eye, boy!

‘The pages are cut rather unevenly.’ Nice work, you’re in there.

‘The stiff covers and the binding are normal, I think.’ Who are you, kid?

‘The signature on the cover is stamped in gold, or what looks like gold. There is nothing printed on the back side of the jacket.’ Your own backside.

The reviewer, one Walter H. McKay, fails to probe beyond the book’s binding, and Hemingway, in his typical style, tersely rips him a new one (bonus points if you noticed Hem’s Joycean turn of phrase).

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman

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