Of Hemingway and Bullfighting

Through this year, By George Journal is celebrating one of the greatest authors of our time – Ernest Hemingway. Herein is 20 of our favourite quotes from Papa’s 1932 tribute to the sport and art of bullfighting – Death in the Afternoon.  

In his own bibliographical note, Hemingway writes that the book “is not intended to be historical or exhaustive. It is intended as an introduction to the modern Spanish bullfight and attempts to explain that spectacle both emotionally and practically.”

Interwoven in his expose of bullfighting, Hemingway also provides his opinions on good story-telling and excellence in writing. In fact, within this book is found some of the Master’s greatest insights into his craft.

  • Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.
  • The usual bullfighter is a very brave man, the most common degree of bravery being the ability temporarily to ignore possible consequences. A more pronounced degree of bravery, which comes with exhilaration, is the ability not to give a damn for possible consequences; not only to ignore them but to despise them.
  • A bullfighter is not always expected to be good, only to do his best. He is excused for bad work if the bull is very difficult, he is expected to have off-days, but he is expected to do the best he can with the given bull.
  • Honor to a Spaniard, no matter how dishonest, is as real a thing as water, wine, or olive oil. There is honor among pickpockets and honor among whores. It is simply that the standards differ.
  • The individual, the great artist when he comes, uses everything that has been discovered or known about his art up to that point, being able to accept or reject in a time so short it seems that the knowledge was born with him, rather than that he takes instantly what it takes the ordinary man a lifetime to know, and then the great artist goes beyond what has been done or known and makes something of his own.
  • In appearance he (Domingo Lopez Ortega) had one of the ugliest faces you could find outside of a monkey house, a good, mature, but rather thick-jointed figure, and the self-satisfaction of a popular actor.
  • About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.
  • All bad writers are in love with the epic.
  • All our words from loose using have lost their edge.
  • If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.
  • When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. If a writer can make people live there may be no great characters in his book, but it is possible that his book will remain as a whole; as an entity; as a novel.
  • There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.
  • I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing what you really felt, rather that what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things which produced the emotion that you experienced..
  • Any man’s life, told truly, is a novel…
  • Most men die like animals, not men.
  • Madame, there is no remedy for anything in life. Death is a sovereign remedy for all misfortunes…
  • Madame, all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.
  • There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.
  • The great thing is to last and get your work done and see and hear and learn and understand; and write when there is something that you know; and not before; and not too damned much after.
  • Let those who want to save the world if you can get to see it clear and as a whole. Then any part you make will represent the whole if it’s made truly. The thing to do is work and learn to make it.

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