- In the Same Corner of the Prize RingJack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Boxing
Writing of Ernest Hemingway’s literary influences as they were in 1919, Michael Reynolds puts forth that, at that time, “[Hemingway’s] reading was rooted in nineteenth-century British fiction. Other than Jack London’s stories and The Call of the Wild, he had read nothing that could be called modern” (49). Lisa Tyler, too, recognizes this European influence and comments that though not college educated, Hemingway “was extraordinarily well read, particularly in nineteenthand twentieth-century European literature” (17). In fact, among the different individuals whom Hemingway has recognized as influential, readers will find French, Russian and British authors, but no Americans (17); this is not to say that Hemingway had no American influences, but that these influences, in most cases, came later in his writing career. It was when working with Sherwood Anderson that Hemingway was exposed to literary nationalism (Reynolds 183). In the continued course of Hemingway studies, though, interconnecting Hemingway back to his American predecessors has become a more common project.
One intriguing and yet limited discussion is the potential influence of Jack London on Hemingway. As Tyler notes, Hemingway’s earliest fiction written for his high-school literary magazine, particularly “Judgment of Manitou,” highlights what Hemingway takes from London, “a naturalistic outlook, rugged subject matter, and a tough, macho attitude towards suffering” (18). However, for critic Peter Hays, the following question regarding such influence arises: “Did London actually affect Hemingway’s work, and if so, did that influence only extend to Hemingway’s high school work, or beyond, as [Philip] Young believes; and what is the nature of any influence?” (54). After a short analysis that focuses on each author’s subject matter, points of style, inclusion of arcane details, and use of anthropomorphism, [End Page 69] Hays concludes that not only was London’s influence apparent in Hemingway’s high-school work, but also that “it is obvious that London influenced Hemingway’s prose long past his high school days” (56). As to exactly how “long past” this influence carries, both Nicholas Georgiannis and George Monteiro call attention to the thematic, linguistic, and, at times, episodic similarities between London’s The Road and tramp tales and Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories.1
Even with such connections, there remains a dearth of conversation regarding a particular subject that blatantly interconnects the two: the sport of boxing. J. Lawrence Mitchell, in “Jack London and Boxing” and “Ernest Hemingway: In the Ring and Out,” provides an exceptional synthesis of many different biographical and literary sources highlighting the important role that boxing played in London and Hemingway’s personal and professional lives. In the two essays, though, each artist and narrative is treated as completely distinct from the other; in fact, the only mention of Hemingway in the London piece is in Mitchell’s concluding remarks where he acknowledges that London “laid claim to being the original twofisted writer long before Ernest Hemingway or Norman Mailer appeared on the scene” (240) and there remains no mention of London in the Hemingway piece. As it was not Mitchell’s purpose to interconnect the two authors, one cannot fault this absence; at the same time, I call attention to it for it highlights the shared interest and yet missed conversation between these near contemporary writers.
In the preface to On Boxing, Joyce Carol Oates, yet another American author fascinated with the sport, observes the following: “To write about boxing is to write about oneself—however elliptically, and unintentionally. And to write about boxing is to be forced to contemplate not only boxing, but the perimeters of civilization—what it is, or should be, to be ‘human’” (vii). For London and Hemingway, their connection to and fascination with boxing is far from obscure, suggesting that their turn to boxing stories may not be so unintentional. Earle Labor recognizes that London’s earliest “schoolboy scraps and his more dangerous escapades on the Oakland waterfront provided an early initiation into the world of physical aggression,” an initiation that would evolve into an appreciation that he would hone in his later life (208...