Ernest Hemingway and the New Yorker: The Harold Ross Files. (Notes)

By Bosha, Francis J. | The Hemingway Review, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Ernest Hemingway and the New Yorker: The Harold Ross Files. (Notes)


Bosha, Francis J., The Hemingway Review


Since its inception in 1925, The New Yorker magazine has been one of the most important venues for modern fiction. Yet Ernest Hemingway published only one short piece there, "My Own Life" in 1927. Scholars often attribute Hemingway's absence from The New Yorker to the magazine's inability to pay writers as well as its mass market competitors. However, the files of the magazine's founding editor, Harold Ross, tell a more complex story and reveal how, between 1942 and 1948, Ross repeatedly sought Hemingway contributions for The New Yorker and very nearly succeeded.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S LIMITED ASSOCIATION with The New Yorker magazine--a major influence in contemporary fiction since its debut in 1925--is striking. His sole contribution to The New Yorker, "My Own Life" a short parody of Frank Harris's My Life and Loves (3 vols., 1923-1927), appeared in the 12 February 1927 issue. If we think of Hemingway in connection with The New Yorker at all, we probably recall Lillian Ross's notorious and variously interpreted profile of him, "How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?", printed in the magazine on 13 May 1950. Even Dorothy Parker's fawning profile of Hemingway in the 30 November 1929 issue, published in the wake of The New Yorker's review of A Farewell To Arms, (1) is more memorable than Hemingway's own brief attempt at drollery.

Hemingway's lone New Yorker piece, "My Own Life," was a heavy-handed attempt to parody Frank Harris's inflated account of his sexual conquests. In 1922, when Sylvia Beach asked Hemingway's advice about publishing Harris's My Life and Loves, Hemingway encouraged her to go ahead, saying it would be "the finest fiction ever written" (Baker, Life 100). As such, Hemingway felt the Harris autobiography merited ridicule, and sent a short parody to Maxwell Perkins in the fall of 1926, hoping that Scribner's magazine would publish it. If Perkins could not use the piece, Hemingway suggested, he might forward it to Edmund Wilson at The New Republic. When both of these possibilities failed, Hemingway was finally able to place the parody, several months later, in the fledgling New Yorker.

The New Yorker's chronic shortage of money explains in part why "My Own Life" would prove to be Hemingway's only contribution to the magazine. In its early years, The New Yorker could not afford to compete with mass market magazines for writers such as Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sinclair Lewis, among many others. The New Yorker did draw contributions from John O'Hara in the late 1920s, and by 1935 John Cheever began what would be a half-century association with the magazine. As The New Yorker persevered through the Depression, it steadily attracted a generation of younger authors, including Irwin Shaw, Jean Stafford, and, by 1941, J.D. Salinger, among so many others. But in The New Yorker's early years, as Thomas Kunkel points out, "serious fiction ... simply was not a ... priority" (306) for its founding editor, Harold Ross (1892-1951). In his prospectus for the magazine, Ross wrote that he sought to publish "prose and verse, short and long, humorous, satirical and miscellaneous."

Nonetheless, an examination of the Harold Ross files--housed since 1991 at the New York Public Library's Manuscripts and Archives Division (2)--reveals a more complex picture. While the magazine was frequently cash-strapped in its early years, Harold Ross corresponded with Hemingway between 1942 and 1948, and eventually interested him in writing again for The New Yorker. All indications suggest the two men enjoyed each other's company and maintained a friendship. On 4 September 1945, Hemingway wrote to his future wife, Mary Welsh, about plans to visit New York that fall. The letter suggests his respect not only for Ross, but for The New Yorker and its staff:

   I want to show up there for November though no matter what. And see the
   shows, and the museums, and the new painters, and old friends with good
   heads to talk to, and Mr. … 

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