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. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon. 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.