Ernest Hemingway's last word from beyond the grave

Ninety years after 'Vanity Fair' turned down a story by the writer, the tables are turned

Paul Bignell
Saturday 22 June 2013 21:25 BST
Editor Graydon Carter cannot publish the story by Hemingway rejected by Vanity Fair in the Twenties
Editor Graydon Carter cannot publish the story by Hemingway rejected by Vanity Fair in the Twenties

For many aspiring writers, having a story published in a prestigious magazine could make or break a career. For most, their manuscript will be destined for an editor's wastepaper basket. Ernest Hemingway fell into this category after the US glossy magazine Vanity Fair rejected a short story he wrote as a 25-year-old.

But the American author who went on to write novels such as The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea appears to have had the last laugh from beyond the grave.

Almost 90 years after the story, entitled "My Life in the Bull Ring with Donald Ogden Stewart", was rejected by the trend-setting magazine, a request from Vanity Fair's editor-in-chief Graydon Carter to publish the story has been turned down by Hemingway's estate. The five-page story, written in 1924 and set in a Spanish bullring, is said to be faintly comical but perhaps not his best work, written as he was attempting to put the finishing touches to The Sun Also Rises and The Torrents of Spring.

Michael Katakis of the Hemingway Estate, told The Independent on Sunday: "We're very careful with unpublished material. The question is: 'If Hemingway were alive, would he want it published in a magazine like Vanity Fair, or would he want it relegated to a scholarly examination of how a writer was developing?

"There is always this pressure to commoditise these things to such a point the literary value is diminished. For Patrick [Hemingway's son], this is not only a great man of letters but his father, and he wanted this done properly."

The Ogden Stewart of the short story's title was a socialite belonging to Hemingway's set.

In his 1975 autobiography, By a Stroke of Luck, Stewart recalls the events which led to the story in which he came face-to-face with a bull in Pamplona: "My glasses flew in one direction, the cape in another, and I was tossed in the air amid a great gleeful shout."

Patrick Hemingway told the IoS: "Hemingway, believe it or not, could be humorous, and he modelled himself on Mark Twain. It's a story with 'cornball' American humour – but it's not of any literary value.

"I'm not a great fan of Vanity Fair. It's a sort of luxury thinker's magazine – for people who get their satisfaction out of driving a Jaguar instead of a Mini."

The short story will appear in The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume II: 1923-1925, published later in the year. Vanity Fair did not respond to questions.

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