When James Joyce Got Into a Bar Fight, He’d Yell: “Deal With Him, Hemingway!”

The narrator of this rare clip describes James Joyce — arguably the greatest novelist of the 20th century — as a “small, thin, unathletic man with very bad eyes.” Ouch. And it gets worse. According to the voiceover, when Joyce and drinking buddy Ernest Hemingway faced a potential brawl, Joyce would hide behind his more imposing comrade and shout “Deal with him, Hemingway, deal with him!!!’

But we bet they were both just hiding behind Gertrude Stein.

For more on Hemingway’s adventures in fighting, see our post Ernest Hemingway’s Delusional Adventures in Boxing: “My Writing is Nothing, My Boxing is Everything.”

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

Related Content:

James Joyce Reading from Finnegans Wake

Ernest Hemingway Reads “In Harry’s Bar in Venice”

James Joyce, With His Eyesight Failing, Draws a Sketch of Leopold Bloom (1926)

James Joyce’s Ulysses: Download the Free Audio Book

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

by | Permalink | Comments (30) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (30)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Ana says:

    “arguably the greatest novelist of the 20th century”

    He made possible many changes. The “greatest” nobody is but “one of the greatest” he surely is.

  • henry anderson says:

    Nah he was the greatest got cut to the chase with only 2 books and wrote about his love of booty

  • James Voice says:

    James Joyce..possibly the most overrated novelist in history.

    The “greatness” he is accused of is that he is the first “stream of consciousness” writer; IE he writes EVERYTHING that passes through someone’s mind in a single day in “Ulysses”. He called it “Ulysses” because in his opinion his story is also a great epic; that’s how pretentious he is. To compare his crap to the Iliad!!!

    That’s it. That literary trick is his “great” contribution to literature. Forget about Shakespeare! This man is the shit eh!

    People often jump on the “praise” bandwagon for Joyce; knowing that many “intellectuals” are supposed to highly regard him they think if they do the same they’ll look clever.

    His stories are awful. Boring crap. His characters are forgettable and one dimensional. They think terrible things in their stream of consciousness; as it includes all things, it includes thinking about taking a shit and in one case a woman thinking about what it would be like to have a stallion’s penis inside her.

    I suspect you’ve never even read his books.

    Joyce sucks; ALL his stories (Well – the ones I read anyway – Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake, Portrait of the artist as a young man – are boring crap.

    Try reading a real masterpiece, like Les Miserables, then you might change your mind about Joyce.

    • Kit Kabootle says:

      You read Araby and like, the first two pages of Ulysses. It’s better practice to develop opinions on stuff you know about. nnLike, everything you just said could only be said by someone who had no idea what they’re talking about. It actually made me laugh kind of. nnAre you aware of how much time, diligence and study he put into his work? uuuugh nevermind, i don’t even really care.

    • Justtosay says:

      You seem to be under the impression that you’re intelligent enough to have a valid opinion about Joyce, so how the hell do you not know that “Ulysses” alludes to the “Odyssey” and not the “Iliad”?

  • James Duval says:

    – NullOp –

    That they were writers is certainly objective fact, at least.

    – James Voice –

    I don’t understand why you think the Iliad is a particularly great work. It was more interesting than most other works from the same approximate time period, and that’s about all I can say about it. The culture it belonged to is dead, dust. Its values and its reference points no longer resonate with the world we live in.

    I also don’t understand why the constant bodily functions obsession of many of Joyce’s characters is a bad thing in your view. Bodily functions are a huge part of living, I think about mine quite a lot. I found those sections among the most believable, and I don’t think that his characters are one-dimensional at all – more like a-dimensional.

    That said, I didn’t enjoy any of his work either. In general I found modernism’s fixation on experimenting with new forms of ‘realer’ realism sort of tedious.

    That doesn’t mean he ‘sucks’, and Les Mis is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Butthead says:

    Uh you said penis. uh huh uh huh. huh huh huh huhuhuhuhh…

  • I’d like to know where this clip actually comes from because it sounds like it was part of a longer film.

  • Stephen Hero says:

    I love internet debate.

    The utter pointlessness of quibbling with a phrase like “Arguably the greatest”. The writer is arguing that Joyce is the greatest, ergo he is, literally, *arguably* the greatest… Yawn.

    James Voice:

    It’s not called Ulysses simply because he thought it was an epic. Part of its (highly complex) structure is an echo of the Odyssey (‘Ulysses’ is an alternative name for the Odyssey, not the Iliad). In any case, as James Duval points out, “even Homer nods”.

    Joyce is not considered the first author to use stream of consciousness (Proust is a more obvious, if still problematic, choice), nor does any serious critic think that his supposed ‘genius’ is merely the invention (or use) of that device.
    It’s also odd that you mention his “stories”, but not ‘Dubliners’ (his sole collection of short stories).

    it’s obvious that what you are looking for from a novel is not provided by Joyce. On the whole, I don’t like 19th Century novels, but I only dismiss them as “boring crap” for my own amusement. Your criticisms (Joyce doesn’t pay much attention to traditional characterisation, his novels are not narrative-driven) are as irrelevant to Joyce as one who would complain that Picasso’s pictures are ‘unrealistic’, or that there’s no melody in Varèse.

    That said, you have some highbrow support for some of your views. Virginia Woolf said this: “Mr Joyce’s indecency in Ulysses, seems to me the conscious and calculated indecency of a desperate man who feels that in order to breathe he must break the windows.” Indeed, Ulysses includes the c-bomb. I don’t imagine you’ll enjoy Woolf much, though (if you are a fan of characterisation and are not a fan of stream of consciousness).

  • MaX says:

    This Hemingway story is rubbish. It was invented by someone. There’s never a source given for it. But is continues to be repeated. Ignorance is spreads like wildfire.

  • Andrew Turnbull says:

    The narrator describes Joyce thusly because it is almost word for word how Hemingway described him in A Moveable Feast. I don’t have the book handy, but if you have a copy you can read the chapter on Joyce and it is a close paraphrasing. Love the writing of both of those guys.

  • DeForest Light says:

    cf Gajdusek “Hemingway and Joyce: A Study in Debt and Payment.” Hemingway was a defender of Joyce not just in this anecdote but of his aesthetic which Hemingway and very few others understood at the time and which he and very few others adapted to their own work.

  • Gonzalo Soltero says:

    This story from Hemingway and Joyce in Paris comes from the very readable biography on the former by Anthony Burgess.

  • Gin Twice says:

    James Voice’s comments say much more about his own limited intellect and understanding of writing and literature than anything else.
    I suggest he keep it simple, to start with, and just pick out some random sentences from Ulysses, or better yet Dubliners. Joyce’s editor suggested numerous changes to the stories in Dubliners and Joyce replied that he wouldn’t change a single word as every sentence was perfectly honed.
    Even if one can quibble with his taste or subject matter, it’s hard to dsipute that his sentences are almost without exception as close to perfectly written as is humanly possible. Honed to perfection.

  • BarerMender says:

    My problem with Joyce was that he gave me a sick, creepy feeling. My response to Joyce is to shove him away with both hands.

  • Tony bulmer says:

    Three things. Joyce was not, by a wide margin the greatest novelist of the 20th Century.

    As a bookish one eyed stick insect I cannot imagine “our Jim” got into many bar fights.

    Lastly, Hemingway who got into very many fights, describes seeing Joyce once in the distance [Moveable Feast] and although they both lived in Paris at the same time and had the same publisher they never “hung out”.

  • David Caldwell (@daithaic) says:

    James Joyce changed literature for ever and his use of the Iliad is a rather wonderful literary device as his anti-hero Leopold Bloom spends and observes 1 day 16th June 1904 in my hometown of Dublin. I set out more about his importance and context in my hometown here;


    You can argue about Jimmy and his place in literature and he is not one of the four Dubliners who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 20th Century.

    However, you cannot argue about the importance of the Iliad, the first narrative work in Western literature and a unique insight into the mindset of the people who are the foundation stone of Western Civilisation. Dismissed as a fable, the historical veracity of the places and events outlined in it have been proved to be real. It also introduces many literary devices which are still used in literature – for instance the reader (audience)having the added frisson of knowing the fate to befall a character first appears in the Iliad and is a standard device in every Soap Opera.

  • Aine Stapleton says:

    He was an alcohol abusive father who treated his daughter like shit..sad but true..

  • Aine Stapleton says:

    excuse me ..alcoholic! not alcohol :p

  • morsej001 says:

    Thin, yes. Unathletic, yes. Very bad eyes, yes. Small, no. He was quite a tall man.

  • JesseKaellis says:

    Duh–blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

  • amphibian_SW says:

    That dig at Gertrude Stein is rather sexist and unnecessary, don’t you think? We get it, she was ‘manly’

  • LOU SASSLE says:

    this is boge boge boge boge. my balls are on fire and my tits ache. i ate a fire ant and now my buttholes itchy. fuuuuuckckckckckckckkkkkkkkk

  • Andrew Hemeren Kuharevicz says:

    Oh come on. It’s just a good story.

  • John Gulino says:

    To say that Joyce is “boring crap,” well, he did something that no one had ever done before. I suppose anything might be boring to some folks.
    Yes, people do think that “I am supposed to hold him in high regard because all the intellectuals seem to…” Well, I read Joyce in college, in the seventies, and I thought he was brilliant, and that was not because of any imposed assumptions from other readers. I don’t know if he is the greatest novelist, but he is one of the greats. Admittedly, not everyone will enjoy his works, especially Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. But, then again, not everyone enjoys Picasso’s work or Jackson Pollock’s or Miles Davis’s jazz or John Cage’s music. James Joyce seems to me to personify the twentieth century in all its modernism and even post modernism, in all its chaos and new creativity.

  • tolstoink says:

    Garbage. Obviously so. A basketcase alcoholic who barely knew where he was on a good day. The high priests of literary culture have anointed him the greatest of the greats because were too stupid to know any better, much like how Warhol was by the art critics.
    Our literary culture has been sliding into the same mire for some time now. Writers pandering to stupidity, laziness, irresponsibility, ignorance, moral vacuity… … Anyone who has read widely and well and can THINK will understand. Critics know there is no job without some ism to promote, some GREAT writer to champion. Hemingway, Joyce, stein? Pathetic attempts at aggrandizing themselves at our expense. Our time and effort to understand subpar work.
    So, it took Joyce years to comeplete? Ever hear of the painter who created the greatest work ever? He painted and painted and painted untill it was a solid black and opaque canvas. The critics wept with joy when they saw it. Ulysses

  • Camie says:

    Actually, Gertrude Stein would’ve been the opponent in the brawl and James Joyce would’ve still hid behind Hemmingway.

  • Molly says:

    It’s a good story and all, but WTF is “But we bet they were both just hiding behind Gertrude Stein.”? Way to reduce a woman of the same caliber as the men you’re discussing to an object of derision based on her looks. Is no woman safe, no matter how respected her work may be?

  • Harry says:

    Joyce was one of the greatest because of Finnegans Wake. Yes, it takes some work to read it but that is the whole point.
    Why must everything be spoonfed to us? Joyce wanted us to maake our own connections and to guide us to our own answers and he was successful with the Wake in doing this.

  • Rasputin Andreievich says:

    Gertrude Stein’s work may be somewhat respectable in a noncritical way. However, she mostly rose to prominence because of personality and the clique she headed. Much that is said about her and good is simply because of who she was and where as a woman of that time. There are plenty of seriously good female writers, even long before her time–Emily Brontë and Jane Austen being two good examples. In many ways, Gertrude Stein was a vile person and deserves any degree of ridicule, but that’s typically brushed over BECAUSE she was a woman. Really, do some research.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.