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

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Hem­ing­way to Fitzger­ald: “Kiss My Ass”

Ernest Hem­ing­way Cre­ates a Read­ing List for a Young Writer, 1934

Ernest Hemingway’s Favorite Ham­burg­er Recipe

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