Punching Papa

February 22: On this day in 1903 the Canadian novelist and short story writer, Morley Callaghan was born. Though prolific and successful in his home country, Callaghan was so overlooked even in his lifetime that Edmund Wilson thought him "the most unjustly neglected writer in the English language." Much of the international attention that Callaghan did receive was not for his twenty novels and story collections but for That Summer in Paris (1963), a memoir of his Lost Generation days among “a very small, backbiting, gossipy neighborhood” of Latin Quarter expatriates — Ford Madox Ford, Robert McAlmon, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, etc. Callaghan's account of his boxing matches with Hemingway especially raised eyebrows: “For the first time one has the confidence that an eyewitness has been able to cut a bonafide trail through the charm, the mystery, and the curious perversity of Hemingway's personality” (Norman Mailer in “Punching Papa”). 

 

Callaghan and Hemingway had been friends since their newspaper days in Toronto, and both liked to box. Callaghan was considerably shorter and lighter, but more experienced, and in an early sparring session he had “worked out a routine, darting in and out with fast lefts to the head,” while Hemingway “waited for a chance to nail me solidly”:

It must have been exasperating to him that my left was always beating him to the punch. His mouth began to bleed.... His tongue kept curling along his lip, wiping off blood.... Suddenly he spat at me; he spat a mouthful of blood; he spat in my face.

When Callaghan stepped back in shock, Hemingway explained, “That's what the bullfighters do when they're wounded.... It’s a way of showing contempt.” At a later session, F. Scott Fitzgerald was volunteered as timekeeper, charged with regulating one-minute rounds with two-minute rests between. Fitzgerald became so enthralled with the boxing that he forgot the clock — until the out-of-gas Hemingway made a desperate lunge at Callaghan, and got knocked on his back by a hard cross to the jaw. When Fitzgerald cried out, “Oh, my God! I let the round go four minutes!” Hemingway spat his contempt in a new direction: “All right, Scott...if you want to see me getting the shit kicked out of me, just say so. Only don't say you made a mistake.”

 


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.

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The People's Platform

Why is the Internet - once touted as the democratizer of the future - ruled by a few corporate giants, while countless aspirants work for free? Astra Taylor diagnoses why the web has failed to be a utopian playing field, and offers compelling ways we can diversify the marketplace and give voice to the marginalized.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.