[lit-ideas] Wallace Stevens' fist-fight with Hemingway

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2006 16:30:29 -0700

From page 273 of Hemingway, A Biography, by Jeffrey Meyers:


"While Hemingway was writing 'Francis Macomber' an incident in his own life
provided additional material for the story.  Hemingway, thin-skinned and
quick-tempered, was famous for brawling. His most notorious fight took place
with Wallace Stevens, who weighed 225 pounds but was twenty years older than
Hemingway.  The poet, while drunk, made Ursula Hemingway cry at a Key West
cocktail party by insulting her brother and 'telling her forcefully what a
sap [he] was, no man.'  According to Matthew Josephson, who spoke to several
eyewitnesses, Stevens was the belligerent one.  When they met, he exclaimed:
'You think you're Earnest Hemingway' then challenged him to put up his
hands.  Stevens was of good height and he had been an amateur boxer, but he
was nearly sixty and very tight.  Ernest, usually pugnacious, this time
urged the older man to go away and sober up.  But Stevens threw a punch at
him; and there followed a bare-knuckled fight on the dock in which Stevens
put up a good show of resistance, but was badly battered.'  Hemingway
pursued the poet, 'knocked all of him down several times and gave him a good
beating,'  Before Stevens broke his hand in two places by hitting the
novelist on the jaw.  Stevens, who had disturbed the idea of order at Key
West, emerged from the fray with a black eye and bruised face, and was seen
the next day wearing dark glasses to conceal the damage.


"Though Hemingway gleefully revealed the story to Sara Murphy, he warned her
that Stevens was anxious to protect his reputation as a Hartford business
executive: 'you mustn't tell this to anybody . . . because he is very
worried about his respectable insurance standing and I have promised not to
tell anybody and the official story is that Mr. Stevens fell down a stairs.'
Hemingway added that Pauline, who usually hated his fights, was delighted
that he eventually shook hands and made it up with the poet.  Stevens
apparently held no grudge and later praised Hemingway's art in his letters:
'Some one told me the other day that Ernest Hemingway was writing poetry.  I
think it likely he will write the kind of poetry in which the consciousness
of reality will produce an extraordinary effect.  It may be that he will
limit himself to the mere sensation.  No one seems to be more addicted to
epatant [shocking] (but not in any meretricious sense).'


"The fight took place on February 19, 1936, and 'Francis Macomber' was
completed on April 19. . . ."  

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