Sunday 21 January 2018

Fair's fair as Hemingway has last laugh

John Boland

I see that Ernest Hemingway has had the last laugh on Vanity Fair, which 90 years ago declined to publish one of the then-struggling young writer's short stories.

Nine decades later, Vanity Fair's editor-in-chief Graydon Carter sought permission to publish the same story but has been turned down by the Hemingway estate. The story's title, My Life in the Bull Ring with Donald Ogden Stewart, refers to a dramatist friend of the author who was a member of the famed Algonquin circle and whose screenplay for the great 1940 movie The Philadelphia Story featured Katharine Hepburn's immortal line: "The time to make up your mind about people is never."

However, Hemingway's son, Patrick, has clearly made up his mind on this matter, refusing Carter's request and dismissing Vanity Fair as "a sort of luxury thinker's magazine for people who get their satisfaction out of driving a Jaguar instead of a Mini".

*****

Go figure. The No 1 bestseller in the Netherlands for the last few weeks is John Williams's Stoner, an American novel about the uneventful life of a modest academic that was first published 48 years ago to no great acclaim and to sales of less than 2,000 copies.

"Why isn't this book famous?" CP Snow asked in 1965, while among its more recent admirers is actor Tom Hanks, who enthused: "It's simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher, but it's one of the most fascinating things you've ever come across."

Ten years ago, Vintage obviously thought so, too, reprinting this quiet but deeply affecting masterpiece with an appreciative introduction by John McGahern – a preface that was retained for a subsequent New York Review of Books edition.

Now it's been reissued by Vintage again, selling more than 125,000 copies in the Netherlands and also being hailed in France, Spain and Italy – a heartening posthumous tribute to a fine writer who died forgotten in 1994 at the age of 71.

Irish Independent

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