Light and funny, not earnest

An unpublished Hemingway short story inspired by bullring antics in Pamplona goes on the block at Christie's.


John Ezard
September 28, 2004 6:12PM (UTC)

A newly discovered short story by Ernest Hemingway indicates that part of the writer's ultra-macho image had its origin in a scene of knockabout farce in a Spanish bullring in his youth. Hemingway himself set up the incident, one of the few occasions when he is known to have been less than earnest about a sport he came to view as semimystical.

The five-page story -- titled "My Life in the Bull Ring with Donald Ogden Stewart" -- comes up for auction at Christie's New York, where it is expected to fetch at least $18,000. But it is unlikely to be published because of a ban by the author's estate, which is anxious to protect his reputation from the impact of what might be regarded as juvenile knockabout. Christie's said yesterday that because of the estate's attitude, it could not release extracts.

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Hemingway wrote the story in 1924, when he was 25, at the start of a surge of work that established his name, including his short story collection "In Our Time," the novels "The Sun Also Rises" and "Torrents of Spring," and another volume of stories, "Men Without Women."

The Ogden Stewart story was prompted by the same Pamplona fiesta that inspired "The Sun Also Rises." Donald Ogden Stewart, a wealthy socialite and screenwriter for, among other films, "The Philadelphia Story," was one of Hemingway's set at the time. In his 1975 autobiography, "By a Stroke of Luck," the spectacled Ogden Stewart recalls being helped into a bullring and handed a red cloak. A bull hit him full force. "My glasses flew in one direction, the cape in another, and I was tossed in the air amid a great gleeful shout."

The astonished Ogden Stewart found himself no longer afraid. "And not only that, I got mad. I charged the bull shouting, 'Come on you stupid son of a bitch.' The result was the same, unfortunately. But "Ernest clapped me on the back, and I felt as though I had scored a winning touchdown."

In Hemingway's story, which is being sold with a letter, his fellow American is tossed around the ring like a rag doll. Christie's said: "The piece ends with a battered Stewart croaking out his final wish to Hemingway to tell the world of his exploits." Hemingway embellished the episode to a journalist friend. The Chicago Tribune ran the story, which by now had a gored Hemingway tussling Ogden Stewart's bull to the ground.

Hemingway biographer Kenneth Lynn said this was important in creating the author's hyper-macho persona. "The story marked the take-off of the general public's awareness of Hemingway the man. The mileage he got out of the Pamplona story was quite impressive."

Hemingway shot himself in 1961, his mind and body scarred by trying to live up to his image. The 1924 story, presumably sent to Ogden Stewart, is being sold by his son, motor-racing journalist Donald Stewart, who lives in Rome. Monday night Christie's specialist Patrick McGrath said: "It's light, short and funny. He was correcting the proofs of 'In Our Time' when he wrote it. He was probably giving himself a break."

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John Ezard

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