May 13: On this day in 1950, The New Yorker published Lillian Ross’s controversial profile of Ernest Hemingway, “How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?” Based on a weekend spent following the author around New York, Ross’s article is regarded as an essential moment in the creation of the Hemingway legend. Some found Ross’s Hemingway attractive; some agreed with the New Yorker wit who quipped to James Thurber, “She loved him so much she shot him.”
Ross begins her article with praise for “the greatest American novelist and short-story writer of our day,” but for the most part she writes in a documentary style, letting Hemingway’s words and actions speak for themselves. Hemingway gave his approval to the result before publication, despite many passages which seem boasting, aggressive, or just odd — for example, the title of the article, a cryptic question which Hemingway kept asking aloud throughout the two days. Having just finished the final draft of Across the River and into the Trees, he was in a celebratory mood for much of the time — champagne all morning, wine at lunch, a pocket flask for his walkabouts. His sports metaphors and advice are as copious. He tells Marlene Dietrich that she is “hitting them with the bases loaded,” and “the best that ever came into the ring.” His advice to Ross, and for all occasions: “Never lead against a hitter unless you can outhit him. Crowd a boxer, and take everything he has, to get inside. Duck a swing. Block a hook. And counter a jab with everything you own. Papa’s delivery of hard-learned facts of life.” By taking his own advice, “I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant.” At one point, Hemingway forces a belt salesman at Abercrombie and Fitch to poke him in the stomach. He raises an airgun to take a pretend shot at a flock of Fifth Avenue pigeons. He says he got his writer’s fastball from Flaubert, his knuckleball from Baudelaire and Rimbaud; that he learned how to counterpoint in words from Bach, and “how to make a landscape from Mr. Paul Cezanne by walking through the Luxembourg Museum a thousand times with an empty gut.”
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.