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Although Ernest Hemingway often claimed that he invented out of knowledge, his first writing about the bullfight preceded his first experience of it. “The first matador got the horn” was written in mid-March 1923 and published in the spring issue of The Little Review soon after; it is a one-paragraph piece that highlights the dangers of the bullfighter’s craft and the audience’s responses to his situation. Two months later, Hemingway took the train from Paris to Madrid, arriving early on May 27, 1923 to buy a first-row barrera seat: he saw his first bullfight later in the afternoon. That seminal event unleashed a torrent of prose and a trickle of poetry, all of it soundly rooted in the expertise he acquired as, year after year, he followed the bulls and transformed himself into the bullfight eminence in the English-speaking world – a position he still holds. Hemingway was lucky to come to the bullfight when he did. In 1923, the bullfight world was commemorating the death of José Gómez Ortega (Joselito), born in 1895, promoted to full matador de toros in 1912, and killed by the bull Bailaor on May 16, 1920. Joselito had been an extraordinarily gifted bullfighter, and the six years of his rivalry cum partnership with the innovative Juan Belmonte (1892–1960) have been labeled la edad de oro (the golden age) of the bullfight. Striving to outdo each other, Joselito and Belmonte injected a grace and beauty into the muleta work that lifted that (generally) red cloth to a prominence it had not enjoyed previously, when it had been considered simply as preliminary to the climactic sword thrust that had been the determining factor of a bullfighter’s reputation. The week that Hemingway arrived in Madrid, the city and indeed the entire taurine world were focused on the shocking, sudden loss of the legendary Joselito.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationErnest Hemingway in Context
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9780511862458
ISBN (Print)9781107010550
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2011


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