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Ernest Hemingway Boxing

In the Ring with Ernest Hemingway


Why did Hemingway come to consider that boxing was more important than literature?

Ernest Hemingway is one of the pillars of American literature of the 20th century. His passion for History (reflected in collections of his experiences during the First World War in Farewell to Arms and the Spanish Civil war in For Whom the Bells Toll, to mention but a couple of his novels) also crossed his passion for life, which is evinced by his letters: splashed with fishing legends, drinks in hot Havana nights and frequent fights with friends and enemies.

An author, however, is rarely a good judge of his own experience, at times sieved by imagination. His love for boxing, for instance, led him to create a false image of himself, as his friend and occasional boxing buddy the also novelist Morley Callaghan bears witness to:

We were two amateur boxers. The difference between us was that he had given time and imagination to boxing; I had actually worked out a lot with good fast college boxers.

The thing is, Papa believed that it was enough to dabble in an activity to achieve greatness. Hemingway was not pursuing the Nobel Prize in literature, but, at times, considered that boxing was more important than his own writing, as he made clear during an interview with Josephine Herbst: “my writing is nothing, my boxing is everything.”

But perhaps the greatest reach of this boxing pretension was manifested when he wrote a letter to George Brown (his boxing coach and personal friend, published by Stephen J. Gertz) concerning a trip to China, where in his passionate and direct style he describes a couple of rounds with an old friend:

He brought the gloves and they were little ones and hard as bricks. That was what made my mouth cut. The second time we were boxing outdoors on a cement floor in the garden behind the hotel. I was afraid to try to dump him because of the cement. To hear me tell it I must have been terrific.

Subsequently, it was not his boxing talent, nor fishing for great works, nor trophy hunting in Africa, nor all the legends in his life which made Hemingway a key figure of his time: it was the thousands of pages consecrated to effort; to fear, to courage before fear, and to unease before uncertainty, to the stories told amid bombings in bullrings and military hospitals, as well as those told in the middle of the sea. Perhaps for Papa, the infinite faith he had in himself (a faith with a suicidal aftertaste), was faith in its power to narrate realities, that is, of building them with the power of his word.

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