Hemingway Isn’t the Only Sports Badass in the Canon
  Up Late    April 4, 2015     Eric Larkin

Hemingway is the protective big brother of book nerds. If you were pushed down on the playground for being a book nerd, the ghost of Hemingway would show up, punch the bully in the face for not reading books, then punch you in the face for not being manly, even if you were a woman.

THE CANON'S WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS (Man, if you like old school graphics, you gotta check out this Flikr

THE CANON’S WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS – if you like old school graphics, you gotta check out Double-M’s Flikr page , CC2.0

(Well, maybe he was more complicated than that, as this Dish post on his psychology RE intimacy suggests.  Whatever.)

Hemingway might be the premiere literary sports badass. Famously, he (may or may not have) said “The only three sports are motorcar racing, bullfighting and mountaineering. That’s it! Three sports, you know?”  Or maybe boxing. Or maybe it was Charlotte Bronte who said it.  Anyway, it is a little known fact that most classical authors had an “Only 3 Sports” thing.  I have a friend who did his dissertation on it, The “Three Sport Thingy” in World Literature: Hemingway and Other Sports Badasses. In some cases, the sense of “sport” is stretched to include activities or amusements in general.  Here are some of the standout canonical sports badasses…


Mishima Yukio – No surprises from a culture warrior so torn between East and West:





Samuel Beckett – A cross-channel sportsman:



Grappling (on those drives to school, it is said he and André would talk shop thru the cab window: how to use the ropes, maneuvering into the Boston Crab, etc.)


Robert Burns – A culture-centric sportsman, precision, strength and endurance are valued:


Tossing of the caber

Brisk walks (across moors, thru rye, for example)


Jules Verne – A true adventurer, with an eye towards the future:

Deep-sea diving

Hot air ballooning

Rocketeering (actually impossible in his time, leading to a lifetime of frustrated stargazing and dangerous experiments with saltpeter.)


Jane Austen – Sadly reflective of the limitations placed on women in her day, her few options at least foreshadowed a time when women became less dependent on men:

Ballroom dancing

Boar hunting with Colt 45s



William Shakespeare – As most extra-textual statements about him are, this list can only be inferred from his works:


Bear wrestling



Mary Shelley – Her list is a bit more conceptual than some of the others:

Grave robbing




A disappointing outing for Camus. That night, he went home and jotted down some ideas for a story.

A disappointing outing for Camus, with 3 goals allowed after the half. That night, for the first time, he went home and jotted down some ideas for a story. (photo courtesy of Matthew Wilkinson, CC2.0)


Albert Camus – The French-Algerian absurdist kept in top-form despite bouts of TB:

Football (goalkeeper)

Beach volleyball

Running In Place






Virginia Woolf – She is in the very front rank of English writers and lived a defiantly active life, despite the debilitating effects of mental illness:





Robert Louis Stevenson – Never in terrific health, Stevenson’s “sport” advocacy reflects a man who uses his prodigious imagination to strain against his limitations:

Outrigger canoeing




Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Man himself. He did it all; he saw it all.



Violin-ball (similar to stick-ball)


Anton Chekhov – So prolific was this Russian humorist, it is a wonder he had time for sport:


Pond hockey

Racquetball (every Thursday night at the Y, without fail)


Anthony Burgess – Mr. Burgess disclaimed this list several times:



Neezhnying (perhaps not a verb?)


Khalil Gibran – A living bridge between continents, cultures, religions:



Lucha Libre



TOLSTOY WAS A BIG SPRINTER. colorized etch-o-graph courtesy of Adam Baker, CC2.0



Herman Melville





George “Squashington” Elliot



Roller Derby



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