A few weeks ago marked an important day in literary history when, on June 7, 1933, Max Eastman published “Bull in the Afternoon”, an article reviewing and poking fun of Ernest Hemingway and his nonfiction work, Death in the Afternoon.
This would prove noteable months later when Hemingway would confront Eastman over the article. Specifically, it seemed Eastman’s criticisms of Hemingway’s insistence on an overblown sense of masculinity and a constant need to show off his chest hair caused the great author some distress.
Hemingway demanded Eastman read his critique aloud so that he might berate the man for his opinions. When he refused, Hemingway smashed the book into the critic’s face proving that there truly are fewer things more fragile than a male ego. This may never be so true as when it concerns a man whose reputation and self worth was based so much on the idea of a superior masculinity.
Hemingway later inscribed the book he had broken on Eastman’s face with, “This is the book I ruined on Max (the Prick) Eastman’s nose, I sincerely hope he burns forever in some hell of his own digging” which the critic kept in his personal collection for years.
Two years after the death of Oscar Wilde one of his friends named Robert H. Sherard released a privately printed volume titled “Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship”. In 1905 the book was published publicly, and was soon followed by other biographical works about Wilde written by Sherard.
In ‘Unhappy Friendship’, Sherard recounted the comma story, and the context suggested that he’d heard the tale directly from Wilde.
While this story had appeared as early as 1884 in newspapers, under various titles including “Oscar’s Morning Work”, this retelling by Sherard became the most well known and became the basis for the many versions and adaptations of the quote that have been disseminated.
From Sherard’s telling the quote goes:
“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma.”
“And in the afternoon?”
“In the afternoon—well, I put it back again.”
For a more extensive explanation of the citations and history of this story and quite, you should check out the QuoteInvestigator’s reporting of the history of this famous quote.