Literary Daybook, Feb. 22

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published February 22, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 22, 1916, the New York Courier is published.
-- "From Time to Time" (1995)
by Jack Finney

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1903 the Canadian novelist and short story writer Morley Callaghan was born. Though prolific and successful, Callaghan was so overlooked by the critics for much of his career that Edmund Wilson thought him "the most unjustly neglected writer in the English language." Much of the attention that Callaghan did receive was not for his 20 novels and story collections but for "That Summer in Paris" (1963), a memoir of his 1929 Lost Generation days among "a very small, backbiting, gossipy neighborhood" of Latin Quarter expatriates -- Ford Madox Ford, Robert McAlmon, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, etc. Callaghan's account of his boxing matches with Hemingway especially raised eyebrows -- including those of Norman Mailer in a 1963 review entitled, "Punching Papa": "For the first time one has the confidence that an eyewitness has been able to cut a bona fide trail through the charm, the mystery, and the curious perversity of Hemingway's personality." Callaghan and Hemingway had been friends since their newspaper days in Toronto, and both liked to box. Callaghan was considerably shorter and lighter, but more experienced, and in an early sparring session he had "worked out a routine, darting in and out with fast lefts to the head," while Hemingway "waited for a chance to nail me solidly":

"It must have been exasperating to him that my left was always beating him to the punch. His mouth began to bleed ... His tongue kept curling along his lip, wiping off blood ... Suddenly he spat at me; he spat a mouthful of blood; he spat in my face."

When Callaghan stepped back in shock, Hemingway explained, "That's what the bullfighters do when they're wounded ... It's a way of showing contempt." At a later session, F. Scott Fitzgerald was volunteered as timekeeper, charged with regulating one-minute rounds with two-minute rests between. Fitzgerald became so enthralled with the boxing that he forgot the clock -- until the out-of-gas Hemingway made a desperate lunge at Callaghan, and got knocked on his back by a hard cross to the jaw. When Fitzgerald cried out, "Oh, my God! I let the round go four minutes!" Hemingway spat his bullfighter's contempt in a new direction: "All right, Scott ... if you want to see me getting the shit kicked out of me, just say so. Only don't say you made a mistake."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

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