September 19, 2013

Hemingway estate says “No thanks” to Vanity Fair, “Yes” to Harper’s


Hemingway with his sons, Patrick on the far left. They arrived in a Mini.

Rejection doesn’t have to last forever. In the case of Hemingway and Vanity Fair, it only lasted 89 years.

When young Ernest submitted “My Life in the Bull Ring with Donald Ogden Stewart” to Vanity Fair in 1924, his effort received a decided thumbs down. “With our regret that we cannot use it, clever and amusing as it undoubtedly is,” the editor Frank Crowninshield wrote.

But recently the magazine reconsidered, petitioning the Hemingway estate for permission to finally publish the comic tale it rejected a lifetime ago. This time Vanity Fair received the thumbs down.

“We’re very careful with unpublished material,” said Michael Katakis of the Hemingway estate. He continued:

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.

“Properly” means not Vanity Fair. “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,” said Patrick Hemingway

“Properly” means Harper’s, where the story will appear in October and reveal a different side of the literary giant. “Hemingway, believe it or not, could be humorous, and he modeled himself on Mark Twain,” Patrick said. “It’s a story with ‘cornball’ American humor—but it’s not of any literary value.” Still, the story is apparently worth a minor magazine scuffle.


Abigail Grace Murdy is a former Melville House intern.