James Joyce Picked Drunken Fights, Then Hid Behind Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hem­ing­way seemed to feud with most of the promi­nent male artists of his time, from Wal­lace Stevens and T.S. Eliot to F. Scott Fitzger­ald. He had a “very strange rela­tion­ship” with Orson Welles—the two came to blows at least once—and he report­ed­ly slapped Max East­man in the face with a book. All his blus­ter and brava­do makes his warm friend­ship with James Joyce seem all the more remark­able. They are a lit­er­ary odd cou­ple if ever there was one: Joyce the labyrinthine thinker of Byzan­tine thoughts and cre­ator of sym­bol­ic sys­tems so dense they con­sti­tute an entire field of study; phys­i­cal­ly weak and—despite his infa­mous car­nal appetites—intel­lec­tu­al­ly monk­ish, Joyce exem­pli­fies the artist as a reclu­sive con­tem­pla­tive. Hem­ing­way, on the oth­er hand, well… we know his rep­u­ta­tion.

Hemingway’s 1961 obit­u­ary in The New York Times char­ac­ter­ized Joyce as “a thin, wispy and unmus­cled man with defec­tive eye­sight” (per­haps the result of a syphilis infec­tion), and also notes that the two writ­ers “did a cer­tain amount of drink­ing togeth­er” in Paris. As the nar­ra­tor of the rare film clip of Joyce informs us above, the Ulysses author would pick drunk­en fights, then duck behind his burly friend and say, “Deal with him, Hem­ing­way. Deal with him.” (That scene also gets men­tioned in The Times obit­u­ary.) Hem­ing­way, who con­vinced him­self at one time he had the mak­ings of a real pugilist, was like­ly hap­py to oblige. Joyce, writes Hem­ing­way biog­ra­ph­er James R. Mel­low, “was an admir­er of Hemingway’s adven­tur­ous lifestyle” and wor­ried aloud that his books were too “sub­ur­ban” next to those of his friend, of whom he said in a Dan­ish inter­view, “he’s a good writer, Hem­ing­way. He writes as he is… there is much more behind Hemingway’s form than peo­ple know.”

Joyce, notes Ken­neth Schyler Lynn in Hem­ing­way, real­ized that “nei­ther as a man nor as an artist was [Hem­ing­way] as sim­ple as he seemed,” though he also remarked that Hem­ing­way was “a big pow­er­ful peas­ant, as strong as a buf­fa­lo. A sports­man. And ready to live the life he writes about. He would nev­er have writ­ten it if his body had not allowed him to live it.” One detects more than a hint of Hem­ing­way in Joycean char­ac­ters like Dublin­ersIgna­tious Gal­la­her or Ulysses’ Hugh “Blazes” Boy­lan—strong, adven­tur­ous types who over­awe intro­vert­ed main char­ac­ters. That’s not to say that Joyce explic­it­ly drew on Hem­ing­way in con­struct­ing his fic­tion, but that in the boast­ful, out­go­ing Amer­i­can, he saw what many of his semi-auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal char­ac­ters did in their more bull­ish counterparts—a nat­ur­al foil.

Hem­ing­way returned Joyce’s com­pli­ments, writ­ing to Sher­wood Ander­son in 1923, “Joyce has a most god-damn won­der­ful book” and pro­nounc­ing Joyce “the great­est writer in the world.” He was “unques­tion­ably… stag­gered,” writes Lynn, “by the mul­ti­lay­ered rich­ness” of Ulysses. But its den­si­ty may have proven too much for him, as “his inter­est in the sto­ry gave out well before he fin­ished it.” In Hem­ing­way’s copy of the nov­el, “only the pages of the first half and of Mol­ly Bloom’s con­clud­ing solil­o­quy are cut.” Hem­ing­way tem­pered his praise with some blunt crit­i­cism; unlike Joyce’s praise of his writ­ing, the Amer­i­can did not admire Joyce’s ten­den­cy towards auto­bi­og­ra­phy in the char­ac­ter of Stephen Dedalus.

“The weak­ness of Joyce,” Hem­ing­way opined, was his inabil­i­ty to under­stand that “the only writ­ing that was any good was what you made up, what you imag­ined… Daedalus [sic] in Ulysses was Joyce him­self, so he was ter­ri­ble. Joyce was so damn roman­tic and intel­lec­tu­al.” Of course Stephen Dedalus was Joyce—that much is clear to any­one. How Hem­ing­way, who did his utmost to enact his fic­tion­al adven­tures and fic­tion­al­ize his real life, could fault Joyce for doing the same is hard to reck­on, except per­haps, as Joyce cer­tain­ly felt, Hem­ing­way led the more adven­tur­ous life.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Joyce Reads a Pas­sage From Ulysses, 1924

Ernest Hemingway’s Very First Pub­lished Sto­ries, Free as an eBook

Vir­ginia Woolf Writes About Joyce’s Ulysses, “Nev­er Did Any Book So Bore Me,” and Quits at Page 200

Ernest Hem­ing­way: T.S. Eliot “Can Kiss My Ass As a Man”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (12) |

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 (12)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Edward Champion says:

    This arti­cle is some­what mis­lead­ing. The only source for the claim that Joyce liked to start fights (and it comes from Hem­ing­way) is this Time arti­cle (http://content.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,27803,00.html), which Ell­mann also cites. But keep in mind that Joyce was very blind. (The famous clip of Joyce read­ing from FINNEGANS WAKE involved some­one whis­per­ing the words into his ear because he could not see text at that point. And, of course, Joyce went through count­less eye oper­a­tions.) If Hem­ing­way is to be believed (and the man was known to bull­shit), any calls from Joyce to “Deal with him” had less to do with cow­ardice and more to do with blind­ness. Joyce had no prob­lem piss­ing peo­ple off with his work or in per­son. He even man­aged to infu­ri­ate his bene­fac­tor, Har­ri­et Shaw Weaver.

    Even so, Joyce was very much opposed to vio­lence (there are only two vio­lent acts in ULYSSES: the broth­el scene in “Circe’ and The Cit­i­zen in “Cyclops”) and count­ed Hem­ing­way as more of an acquain­tance than a friend. Nev­er­the­less, Ell­man’s bio exca­vates these appre­ci­a­tions:

    Joyce on Hem­ing­way: “We were with him before he went to Africa. He promised us a liv­ing lion. For­tu­nate­ly we escaped that. But we would like to have the book he has writ­ten. He’s a good writer, Hem­ing­way. He writes as he is. We like him. He’s a big, pow­er­ful peas­ant, as strong as a buf­fa­lo. A sports­man. And ready to live the life he writes about. He would nev­er have writ­ten it if his body had not allowed him to live it. But giants of his sort are tru­ly mod­est; there is more behind Hem­ing­way’s form than peo­ple know.”

    Hem­ing­way on Joyce: “Once in one of these casu­al con­ver­sa­tions you have when you’re drink­ing, Joyce said to me he was afraid his writ­ing was too sub­ur­ban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. Nora Joyce said, ‘Ah, Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunt­ing.’ Joyce replied, ‘The thing we must face is that I could­n’t see the lion.’ ”

  • Jon says:

    Hem­ing­way liked to take on men small­er than him­self. He taunt­ed Max East­man, and East­man wound up on top of him. He invit­ed the Cana­di­an nov­el­ist Mor­ley Callaghan into the ring, then got mad when it turned out Callaghan knew some­thing about box­ing. Hem­ing­way did bet­ter against the port­ly, 19 year old­er Wal­lace Stevens.

  • Mary Murie says:

    For a fas­ci­nat­ing insight into the world of Hem­ing­way and Joyce– Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation:A His­to­ry of Lit­er­ary Paris in the Twen­ties and Thir­ties by Neol Riley Fitch. One of those books you feel your­self liv­ing in as you read it.

  • Roger Nyle Parisious says:

    I have had sim­i­lar sto­ries from two sep­a­rate sources in two coun­tries.
    Arthur Power(“My Con­ver­sa­tions With Joyce” ) remem­bered one of those “You take ’em ‚Hemingway,you take’em” inci­dents with Joyce who was most­ly blind insult­ing the ugli­est guy at the bar and then throw­ing them back on Hemingway.By the way,Arthur(whose uncol­lect­ed writ­ings and mem­oirs I am prepar­ing for pub­li­ca­tion) real­ly cared about Joyce and dis­liked Hemingway.There was no mal­ice in this.
    The oth­er account(which is more typ­i­cal) came from the co-founder of Alfred Knopf and Com­pa­ny as he told the sto­ry to Ree Drag­onette and I at a late din­ner she held for the three of us.He was in a Flori­da Keys Bar watch­ing a very dis­tin­guished gen­tle­man walk up to a soused Hem­ing­way and extend his hand.“Hello,Mr.Hemingway,my name is Wal­lace Stephens.” There was the sound of a falling body.And a very sat­is­fied look­ing Hem­ing­way.

  • Daniel Pico says:

    Here is what I got about this sub­ject: In the first edi­tion of Ulysses (1921) Hem­ming­way send an enthu­si­as­tic let­ter for the book, along with Yets. Who receive the let­ter was Har­ri­et Weaver. Lat­er Hem­ming­way ask to know Joyce with a let­ter from Sher­wood Ander­son. In that time Joyce use to spend night on a bar called “Gip­sy” in Paris… this quotes prob­a­bly comes from a let­ter to Ander­son. Te fact is that Hem­ming­way was prais­ing Joyce and his work since the begin­ning. He use to be kin­da envi­ous because in that time Joyce spend mon­ey with friends at bars. Around 1923 is pos­si­ble to find an inter­view by Ole Vin­d­ing, when he ask Joye an opin­ion about Hem­ming­way he recalls that “Hem­ming­way is a good writer, he writes as he is: pow­er­ful and big like a bull.. but the giants like him are pret­ty hon­est (…) Under that shape there is much more that does ppl think” .. what that means?.. a soft side of course. The sto­ry about this fight comes from Hem­ming­way and is relat­ed by Robert McAlmod on “Being Genius­es Togeth­er” 1907. Hem­ming­way tell that Joyce was too drunk to know who was his oppo­nent.. when he says “Deal with him, Hem­ing­way!”

  • Hem says:


  • Kate says:

    thanks, this was very use­ful

  • Kirby Michael Wright says:

    I have dif­fi­cul­ty imag­in­ing Joyce get­ting bar patrons riled up enough to want to fight him. Who would want to fight a thin half-blind man? You’d have to be a cow­ard. Inter­est­ing that Hem­ing­way con­sid­ered him­self a box­er, when he did­n’t have a sin­gle fight in the ring. I would have loved to put on the gloves against Hem­ing­way. Why? I’m a lefty, and I’d throw him off.

  • M Henderson says:

    There’s a bit of a prob­lem with Joyce bas­ing any of his burli­er char­ac­ters in Dublin­ers or Ulysses on Hem­ing­way. The first book was pub­lished in 1914, and Joyce fin­ished the man­u­script of the sec­ond in Octo­ber 1921. But the two writ­ers did­n’t meet for the first time in Paris until just before Christ­mas in 1921.

  • Pequod42 says:

    Hap­py to see that some­one knows what he is talk­ing about. Thanks.

  • Pequod42 says:

    I’m smil­ing a lit­tle to imag­ine Blazes Boy­lan on a hunt for lions. His adven­tur­ous­ness seems to be con­fined to the bed­room of mar­ried women. Mol­ly, who is a good judge, does­n’t think much of him.

    If Joyce was “intel­lec­tu­al­ly monk­ish,” then Hem­ing­way was a Zion­ist.

    Anoth­er writer who thought he was a pugilist was Nor­man Mail­er. He took a swing at me once. I did­n’t have to duck or step back. He missed by a mile.

  • Kristof Thibaud says:

    I think Kir­by Wright, our writer, could have han­dled Hem­ing­way in the ring. Why? Hem­ing­way had trou­ble with south­paws.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.