Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies.
—Claude Louis Hector, Duc de Villars
Mr. Hemingway's piercing jabs at that prone body.
The complicated relationship between Fitzgerald and Hemingway falls logically into three distinct stages. During the first stage, lasting from their meeting in Paris in May 1925 through the end of 1926, they were very close companions who saw each other often and wrote warmly to each other when apart. Fitzgerald as the more experienced writer took the lead in cementing their friendship. He campaigned to deliver Hemingway to Scribner's and Maxwell Perkins, he wrote a laudatory review of In Our Time, he loaned Hemingway money and support as needed, and he made valuable suggestions for tightening up the opening of The Sun Also Rises.
The relationship cooled in the period from 1927 to 1936, as Hemingway's star ascended and Fitzgerald's began its decline. Bridling at his role as beneficiary of Fitzgerald's advice and guidance, Ernest became increasingly abrasive in his comments about Scott and his weaknesses, among them feeling sorry for himself, selling out his talent, succumbing to drink, and allowing Zelda to dominate him. The crowning blow came in Esquire's August 1936 publication of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” with its gratuitous reference to “poor Scott Fitzgerald” as a writer wrecked by his idolization of the very rich.
After that time and until Fitzgerald's death in December 1940, the friendship was effectively over, though both men used Perkins as a go-between toobtain news about each other and Fitzgerald, in particular, made frequent comments about Hemingway in his correspondence and notebooks.
Handy as it is in summarizing the relationship, this three-stage division does not take account of what happened after Fitzgerald's death. What becomes clear, in reading through Ernest's correspondence (some of it, like his letters to Charles Scribner, only recently opened), is that Hemingway repeatedly and systematically denigrated Fitzgerald during the two decades remaining to him, and that these attacks were occasioned or at least intensified by the posthumous revival of Fitzgerald's reputation. The revival began with the publication of The Last Tycoon in 1941, continued with The Crack-Up, The Portable Fitzgerald, and the Armed Services edition of The Great Gatsby in 1945, and reached its climax with four books of 1950 and 1951. Two of these—The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, selected by Malcolm Cowley, and Cowley's revised version (following Fitzgerald's notes) of Tender Is the Night—made the body of his work more widely available to readers. The other two—Budd Schulberg's novel The Disenchanted and Arthur Mizener's biography The Far Side of Paradise-aroused an extraordinary degree of interest in Fitzgerald's unhappy life.
Ten days after Fitzgerald's death, Perkins wrote Hemingway that he was “trying to think of some way that something could rightly be done to bring his writings forward.” The most obvious course was to bring out his novel about Hollywood, since it was going well when he died and “might have vindicated Scott completely.” The trouble was that the novel was “very far from being finished.” A few weeks later, Perkins wrote his friend Elizabeth Lemmon to the same effect, adding that he was interested in “getting Hem or Bunny Wilson to write some sort of memoir of him.”
Apparently Perkins did not ask Hemingway to write such a piece at this time. Edmund Wilson took over as editor and introducer of The Last Tycoon, which was brought out in an omnibus volume also containing The Great Gatsby and five of Fitzgerald's major stories. In opposition to Perkins, Wilson wanted to include the “Crack-Up” articles, Fitzgerald's letters to his daughter, selections from his notebooks, and tributes to Scott that he had solicited for the New Republic. Perkins did not want to see “those terrible cracked plate pieces from Esquire” in a Scribner's book. Such a miscellaneous book would be bad for Fitzgerald's reputation, he felt. Besides, it wouldn't sell. In the light of these objections, the idea for such a book was set aside for the time being.
Early in April Perkins wrote Hemingway that a plan had been worked out about Scott's Hollywood novel. The book ran to 37,000 words only, and had not been revised. The final third had not even been written. Nonetheless The Last Tycoon broke “wholly new ground” for Scott, had its share of magical moments, and deserved to be published. So Scribner's decided that Bunny Wilson should edit the unfinished novel, and contribute an introduction that covered Scott's career as a writer. With Gatsby and the stories, Perkins thought, the volume would constitute an omnibus of Fitzgerald's “best writings in fiction.”
He hoped Bunny Wilson would “not knife Scott in that [introduction] he is going to write,” Ernest replied. In fact Wilson was a less than ideal editor, for he regarded himself as Fitzgerald's intellectual superior and did not hesitate to change copy and rearrange scenes. Still, in the foreword he gave The Last Tycoon a favorable sendoff as “Fitzgerald's most mature piece of work” and “far and away the best novel we have had about Hollywood.” Reviewers echoed those lines, and several took the occasion to reassess Fitzgerald's career as a writer. “If only he had lived, if only his constitution had served him better,” John Chamberlain commented in Harper's, “what fiction he might have done! As it is, he was the best of the lot—and I, for one, can't understand why more useful sermons have not been preached over his grave.” Stephen Vincent Benêt, in the Saturday Review of Literature, thought that The Last Tycoon showed Fitzgerald working at the height of his powers. “You can take off your hats now, gentlemen,” he concluded, “and I think perhaps you had better. This is not a legend, this is a reputation—and, seen in perspective, it may well be one of the most secure reputations of our time.”
To put it mildly, Hemingway did not agree. “There are very fine parts” in the novel, he acknowledged in a November 1951 letter to Perkins, “but most if it has a deadness that is unbelievable from Scott.” The part about Stahr was very good. You could recognize Irving Thalberg (the charismatic producer upon whom Fitzgerald modeled his hero Monroe Stahr), “his charm and skill, and grasp of business, and the sentence of death over him.” But the women in the novel were “pretty preposterous,” he thought, for Scott really didn't have “any knowledge of people.” In the things between men and women, “the old magic was gone.” As far as it went, Hemingway's criticism was right on the mark. By far the most effective sections of Tycoon depict Stahr commanding every facet of the movie-making process, and dealing brilliantly with actors, directors, writers, and cameramen. In contrast, the love story involving Stahr and Kathleen seems pallid and unconvincing. But Hemingway had only begun his adverse criticism.
At this stage in his letter, Ernest introduced a metaphor that he was to return to time and again by way of denigrating his onetime best friend. “He still had the technique and the romance of doing anything, but all the dust was off the butterfly's wing for a long time even though the wing would still move up until the butterfly was dead.” The dead butterfly led to Scott's death in life, as Hemingway went on to describe it. He died “inside himself when he was thirty to thirty-five years old, and his creative powers died “somewhat later.” His heart died in him in France (the Jozan episode, presumably) and the rest of him “just went on dying progressively after that.”
As to Wilson's contribution, Hemingway observed that he had done a creditable job of “explaining, sorting, padding and arranging” the fragmentary novel Fitzgerald left behind. But he disapproved of the “very poor selection” Wilson had made among Fitzgerald's stories. Specifically, he thought “The Rich Boy” “profoundly silly” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” “simply trash.”
Perhaps inspired by the butterfly metaphor, Ernest tried out two others in his disparagement of The Last Tycoon. Reading the book, he said, was “like seeing an old baseball pitcher with nothing left in his arm coming out and working with his intelligence for a few innings before he is knocked out of the box.” That comparison at least gave Fitzgerald credit for trying before failing. The other, more devastating metaphor contained no such ameliorative touch. Scott's book reminded him of “a slab of bacon on which mold had grown. You can scrape off the mold, but if has gone deep into the meat, there is nothing that can keep it from tasting like moldy bacon.”
In his final remarks, Hemingway tried to soften these blows to Fitzgerald's corpus, if not (as Scottie thought) to his corpse. “If [If!] I sound deprecatory about Scott, remember I know how good he is and was only criticizing Wilson's selections and his posthumous work.” In dealing with literature, Ernest observed, it was best to speak frankly and critically.
Fitzgerald not only left The Last Tycoon unfinished at his death, but-according to Hemingway—even if Scott had lived longer he never would have finished it. It was a point he made first to Perkins, citing as evidence Fitzgerald's “preposterous outline” for the final stages of the book, and then to Charles Scribner, who became his in-house confidant at Scribner's following the death of Perkins in 1947. The “worst symptom” of a writer emerged when he began to show his work-in-progress or read it aloud or “Make the Gigantic Outline,” Ernest wrote Scribner in August 1948. Scott would not have completed Tycoon “in 1,000 years. I know it and you know it, but who the hell else knows it?” The following year, Hemingway suggested that Fitzgerald had behaved dishonestly in trying to sell Tycoon to the magazines in its incomplete form, “giving samples here and there like a mining prospector with a salted mine.”
Edmund Wilson exhibited his famously fractious personality in the course of editing The Last Tycoon for Scribner's. He and Perkins differed on the issue of what should accompany Fitzgerald's fragmentary novel in a book. Wilson not only wanted the volume to include a collection of letters, notebook entries, and essays by and about his former Princeton companion, he also wanted to reprint Tender Is the Night and some of Fitzgerald's slight Pat Hobby sketches from Esquire. It was impractical to include Tender, Perkins pointed out: it would make the book too long. He also balked at using the Pat Hobby stories. “I know you to be an immovable man when you have made a decision,” he wrote Wilson, “but I truly do not think the Pat Hobby stories are good enough for this book.” They were “not much more than anecdotal,” and Scott would not “have wanted them in a book”—certainly not in a book of his best work, including Gatsby and a selection of his best stories. Wilson has been given a good deal of credit for rebuilding Fitzgerald's reputation, but in this instance as in others, it was Perkins who was functioning as Scott's posthumous guardian and protector.
Following Fitzgerald's death, obituary writers were virtually unanimous in depicting him as an author whose star had risen and fallen during the 1920s. When the Jazz Age “petered out, as much from emptiness as anything else,” commented the Providence Journal, “he, too, petered out—tragically and completely.” Westbrook Pegler delivered a vicious diatribe against those days in his nationally syndicated column. Fitzgerald's passing reminded him “of a queer band of undisciplined and self-indulgent brats who were determined not to pull their weight in the boat and wanted the world to drop everything and sit down and bawl with them.” A more restrained but still sniffy New York Times editorial acknowledged that Fitzgerald had captured “the life and times of a certain section of our society” during the days after World War I, but lamented that he had not since grown up. The obituary in Time magazine was so bent on tying Fitzgerald to the Jazz Age that it mentioned only his two early novels, ignoring both The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night. It was as if Herman Melville had been memorialized as the author of Typee and Omoo, never mind Moby-Dick.
In short, Fitzgerald was a back number, and some readers must have been surprised to discover that he was still alive enough to die in December 1940. The previous year, a young and highly literary Budd Schulberg was startled when asked to work with Fitzgerald on the Dartmouth Winter Carnival movie. He'd supposed that Scott was dead and gone.
Maxwell Perkins may have been the best friend F. Scott Fitzgerald ever had. During Scott's lifetime Max did him the considerable honor of continuing tobelieve in him through long and distressing periods of alcoholic silence. And immediately after his death, Perkins set about to rescue Fitzgerald's reputation from the casual dismissals in the newspapers and magazines. He struck this note vigorously in two February 1941 letters to Wilson. “[W]hat we must do,” he wrote Wilson, “is to show the world in so far as we can by what we publish, that Scott was very much beyond the boundaries of the Jazz Age, with which his very success at the start identified him.” His object was to bring out writings of Fitzgerald “which would demonstrate irresistibly that he was far more important, far more the distinguished and significant writer, than the public in general thinks him to be; that he vastly transcended the Jazz Age kind of writing with which they associate him.” The public never fully understood, Perkins believed, that Fitzgerald's early fiction “cut both ways”: that he saw the excesses of the Jazz Age even as he seemed to be glamorizing them. “Pegler didn't seem to have any hint of that in his mind.” His aim, Max said, was “to reveal the living writer, not the dead man.”
In his “immovable” fashion Wilson could not be deterred from his plan to reprint Fitzgerald's “Crack-Up” essays, together with various other material, in book form. Perkins, who thought that Scott over-dramatized his depressed state in the “Crack-Up,” remained opposed to this idea, and in due course, Scribner's turned down Wilson's proposal for such a collection. He then shopped the idea elsewhere, to Princeton University Press, to the Colt Press in San Francisco, to Houghton Mifflin, and to New Directions, which brought out The Crack-Up in 1945 and has kept it in print ever since.
There were certain roadblocks Wilson had to surmount in order to get this book published. For one thing, James Laughlin at New Directions objected to his procedure, as editor, of choosing selectively among Fitzgerald's notebooks. “Fitzgerald is not your concession,” Laughlin insisted to Wilson. “He belongs to the world.” As Laughlin saw it, Wilson's trust was to present “an untampered-with version” of what Fitzgerald left behind. “How would you like to have somebody scissoring your notes when you were dead?” The implied attack on his integrity infuriated Wilson, who wrote Fitzgerald's executor John Biggs that Laughlin had “a mental age of about 14 and is considered by those who know him to be on the verge of dementia praecox.”
This dispute was smoothed over when Laughlin agreed, in the contract, not to change any of Wilson's editorial decisions. Another hurdle was surmounted when Wilson persuaded Scottie Fitzgerald to permit publication of the book, over the objections of Perkins and Harold Ober. But there was still Hemingway to deal with.
Wilson intended to print letters by Fitzgerald referring to Hemingway inhis miscellaneous volume, as well as some of Scott's comments about Ernest in his notebooks. Bunny had reason to fear that Ernest might object, so all of these references were dispatched to Hemingway's lawyer Maurice Speiser for approval. In reply, Hemingway wrote Speiser that he had “no objection to Wilson publishing any non-libellous letters by Scott Fitzgerald.” He added that if Wilson was considering editing Fitzgerald's letters that he had a hell of a lot of them in Paris and Key West. He “cared for Scott so much and respected the good that was in him and understood the causes of his trashiness, when he was trashy, and the real causes of his crack-up, which [could] not yet be published.” But he thought that publication of these letters was “premature” until a real study could be written which would truly portray “the whole tragedy of Scott and Zelda.”
What Hemingway was saying, between the lines, was that he knew much more about Fitzgerald than Scott's Princeton companion Wilson—and that he rather resented Bunny turning Scott's manuscripts into his private “concession.” When Perkins wrote Ernest in February 1944 that he too had some wonderful letters from Scott, Hemingway advised him to hang on to them rather than “letting Bunny Wilson pee them away in his malicious little driblets.” Wilson had not even asked him for one of his letters from Scott, Ernest pointed out. He and Max should both save their letters, and then get out a good book on Fitzgerald and his letters. He knew Scott, “through some periods, better than anyone, and would be glad to write a long, true, just, detailed… account” of those years. Then they could get John Peale Bishop to edit the letters. Bishop was unfailingly “kind, impersonal, and disinterested,” while Wilson was “usually twisting the facts to cover some expressed error of critical judgment… or some prejudice or lack of knowledge or scholarship.” Wilson was “the great false-honest, false-craftsman, false-great-critic of our exceedingly sorry times.”
Nonetheless Ernest asked Max to send him a copy of The Crack-Up in advance of its August 1945 publication date. “I feel badly not to write anything about Scott when I knew him, possibly, the best of any of them,” he observed. But he could not “write anything true” as long as Zelda was alive, just as he could not write about his own family with his “bitch of a mother still able to read.” Then he proceeded to level his guns against Fitzgerald. Tycoon was really a mock-up “to draw advances on.” Scott “was almost completely uneducated.” He did everything wrong, and for a time it came out all right. “But geometry always catches up with you.”
Ernest invited Max to share his disaffection. “I always feel that you and I can talk truly about Scott because we both loved him and admired him andunderstood him. Where other people were dazzled by him we saw the good, the weakness and the great flaw that was always there”—the cowardice, the dream world about football and war. Next time, Hemingway said, he'd write “what was good in [Fitzgerald]. But we take it for granted people should be good. And in a horse, a regiment, a good writer I look for what is wrong. Take it for granted they are good or would not be looking at them.” The next time, when Ernest would write about what was good in his old friend, did not come to pass.
For the most part, Hemingway's correspondence with Charles Scribner following Perkins's death concentrated on professional matters, in author-to-publisher fashion. But occasionally, and more or less gratuitously, Ernest would insert a jibe about Fitzgerald—whose reputation, of course, depended to a considerable degree upon the house of Scribner. Late in 1948, for example, he reported that he had been given an Italian award “so old and decrepit” that Charlie could now refer to his wife Mary as “Lady Mary.” He would assume no title himself, Hemingway said. “Mister” was good enough for him. Then he added, as an afterthought: “Poor Scott, how he would have loved it.”
In August 1949, Hemingway linked Fitzgerald with another famous Scribner's author in a double-barreled blast. Sometimes, he wrote Scribner apropos of nothing, he thought of “Scott and his ideas of GLAMOUR and they seem ridiculous. Also that over-grown Little Abner, THOMAS WOLFE, and his mother.” Ernest next wrote at considerable length about how Zelda had unmanned Scott by telling him his “equipment was insufficient.” Ernest tried to reassure Scott by looking in mirrors and at statues in the Louvre—the same story Hemingway was to present in fleshed-out form as “A Matter of Measurements” in A Moveable Feast. But Scott could not be reassured, for he had sunk into a “lace-curtain Irish slough of despond” and never got out of it except to borrow money for a book he knew he couldn't finish.
In a final paragraph, Ernest apologized for talking tough about Scott and proceeded to a veritable masterpiece of faint praise. “But what a lovely writer he was, within his ignorance and lack of education, and his adoration of the rich. He should have been a spaniel,” summoning up an image of Fitzgerald as lapdog fawning before the rich. On second thought, though, Hemingway decided that Fitzgerald “did not rate” to be a cocker and even less a springer, like his own much-loved Black Dog.
In a somewhat similar letter of May 1951, Ernest disparaged the posthumous idealization of Max Perkins. “Please bury Max's ghost for keeps,” he wrote Scribner, and along with it any idea that he or Wolfe (who died in 1939) or Fitzgerald were gods. “Max was Max with five daughters and an idiot wife. Tom Wolfe was a one book boy and a glandular giant with the brains and the guts of three mice. Scott was a rummy and a liar and dishonest about money with the inbred talent of a[n]… easily frightened angel.” As an editor, Hemingway correctly pointed out, Perkins never touched his copy, aside from removing an obscenity here and there. But he did not call attention to Max's greatest quality as an editor: that he befriended and encouraged and supported the authors he worked with, including Hemingway as well as Fitzgerald and Wolfe. Ernest did not observe the convention of speaking well of the dead. Inasmuch as they could no longer feel pain, they needed less protection than the living. Besides, as he commented in 1959, “a son of a bitch live is a son of a bitch dead.”
Hemingway also dropped derisive comments about Fitzgerald into his extensive correspondence with Malcolm Cowley of the late 1940s and early 1950s, commencing with discussions in advance of Cowley's laudatory “A Portrait of Mister Papa” for Life magazine's January 10, 1949, issue. “Can remember Scott, on 5th avenue, telling me what a great football player he would be if he could only play now when he really knew and understood the game,” Hemingway said in a September 1948 letter. But Scott, “a basic coward,” would not cross the street in traffic, even though Ernest told him a good broken field runner “would sift through traffic anytime with perfect confidence and without danger. I was only a lineman but traffic no bother me Dr. Will cross through it going backwards anytime if you will pay me or make a bet. And not worry.” At the same time, he pointed out in a subsequent letter, Hemingway had “no illusions” that he had been or could be a great football player. Those were “the sort of daydreams Scott and John O'Hara had about twelve.”
As the Fitzgerald revival heated up in the early 1950s, Cowley expatiated on the vagaries of the literary stock market. Fitzgerald Common, down for so long, was on the rise at last. With his extraordinary competitiveness—you couldn't take a bike ride with Hemingway without getting into a race—Ernest could not avoid seeing fellow writers as rivals, and doing what he could to cut the ground from under them. Wolfe and O'Hara and Faulkner came in for this kind of treatment, but Fitzgerald bore the brunt of it. In his correspondence, Hemingway characteristically deflected attention from Fitzgerald's often wonderful writing to his shortcomings as a human being and the trials of his far-from-wonderful life. So too, in their way, did Budd Schulberg's autobiographically oriented novel The Disenchanted and Arthur Mizener's biography The Far Side of Paradise, with its emphasis on Scott's dissipation.
Motivated by admiration for Fitzgerald's writing, Cowley was determined to do just the opposite—to “do right by Scott” by leaving out “the sensational passages that the movies and television are excited about” and instead treating Fitzgerald as he deserved, “just as a writer.” In this spirit, Cowley first edited a collection of Fitzgerald's best short stories, and then embarked on a revised version of Tender Is the Night. He had as his mandate for this venture Scott's own notes about telling the story of the novel chronologically rather than starting in médias res on the beach at Antibes. Cowley was eager to get Hemingway's reaction to this reorganized Tender, and that stimulated a flurry of correspondence between the two men.
From the start Ernest had reservations about the revised novel. Tender Is the Night was the one novel of Fitzgerald's that he invariably praised—“a damned beautiful and most sad book,” as he wrote Cowley in July 1951. He rather liked the complicated time line of the original, and was not sure he wanted to see the novel tampered with. In explaining why, he reiterated the butterfly comparison and tried out another from the insect world. “Scott had, most of all, charm and in this book more than any other. I think there is a danger in over-dissecting charm just as you don't really understand the butterfly any better by rubbing the dust from his wings… Scott had nearly as much logic as a hawk moth around a lantern.”
In September Hemingway launched a full-scale assault on authors of then-popular novels about World War II, including James Jones, Irwin Shaw, and Norman Mailer. All of them, he said, would have been frightened out of their wits if they'd been in the Hiirtgen forest campaign he went through as a war correspondent. As for Fitzgerald, he was poorly educated and suffered from spells of unbelievably bad taste. He caught the surface of characters but in Tender he mixed up himself and Zelda with Gerald and Sara Murphy as models for Dick and Nicole Diver. “How could he ever know people except on the surface when he never fucked anybody, nobody told him anything except as an answer to a question and he was always too drunk late at night to remember what anybody really said?” Drink ruined him, along with “Zelda, and cowardice, and ambition and love of earning money….”
When he read the revised Tender Is the Night in November, he responded immediately that in straight chronological order the book lost “the magic completely.” There was no secret and no mystery, and “all sense of a seemingly magical world (the world of Sara and Gerald Murphy) being destroyed by something… unknown is lost.” Once again, Hemingway reverted to the butterfly trope. The revision of Fitzgerald's novel was “just like taking the wings off a butterfly and arranging them so he can fly straight as a bee flies and losing all the dust that makes the colors that makes the butterfly magical in the process.” He understood that Cowley was only developing Fitzgerald's idea for changing the novel, but felt confident that if he'd had the opportunity he would have been able to talk Scott out of it. None of this was important, he added, “unless everything is important in writing.”
In this same letter, Hemingway made it clear that he was not pleased by the ongoing efforts to restore Fitzgerald's reputation. “You and Edmund Wilson tidy Scott up,” he told Cowley, “and he becomes a sort of Henry James of the twenties.”
When Arthur Mizener contacted Hemingway in the course of research for his Fitzgerald biography, Ernest sounded more than willing to cooperate. He couldn't send Mizener any of the Fitzgerald letters he'd asked for—they'd become rat and roach food in the muggy Key West climate, he feared—but otherwise he offered to “help any way I can on Scott.”
In the several letters he wrote to Mizener, Ernest's assistance took the form of a series of insults about Scott. He ridiculed his Walter Mitty-like dreams of glory, for example. Fitzgerald was always talking about playing football again, or going to war for the first time, but he lacked the requisite courage. As a combat soldier, Hemingway asserted, he “would probably have been re-classified or shot for cowardice.” Fitzgerald was “fragile Irish instead of tough Irish” and had no discipline. He would “quit at the drop of a hat” and if necessary go out and borrow someone's hat to drop.
One of Hemingway's techniques for putting Fitzgerald down was to follow a favorable comment with a damning contradiction: the “yes, but” approach. When sober Scott could be a charming companion, he told Mizener, but he had an embarrassing tendency to hero-worship. “I loved Scott very much,” he declared, but “he was extremely difficult with that situation he got himself into and Zelda constantly making him drunk because she was jealous of his working well.” Bunny Wilson and John Bishop were good friends from Princeton, but “they never saw much of him when he was at his best, which was over a short time.” Scott had “a very steep trajectory and was almost like a guided missile with no one guiding him.”
Hemingway repeated his tale about Fitzgerald's sexual insecurity for Mizener, and added that Scott “never slept with any girl except Zelda” until she “went officially crazy.” Patently, Hemingway's goal was to belittle Fitzgerald in the eyes of his first biographer, just as he had done with Perkins and Scribner and Cowley—all of them in a position to advance or retard the revival of Scott's reputation. “Poor Scott,” Ernest wrote Mizener, “how he would have loved all thisbig thing about him now.” He never had any respect for him “except for his lovely, golden, wasted talent.” Scott was “romantic, ambitious, and Christ, Jesus, God knows how talented.” But he was also generous without being kind, and completely uneducated. If Scott were still around, Ernest would be glad to let him read everything he said about him. He would never say such things behind his back.
For Mizener's benefit, Hemingway did a brief and unflattering run-through of Fitzgerald's published works. Tender Is the Night was the best of his books, despite its inconsistencies. The Great Gatsby “was ok with reservations.” None of the stories were great but the best, Ernest guessed, were “Babylon Revisited” and “The Rich Boy” (which he had called “profoundly silly” a decade earlier). This Side of Paradise was comic. And he couldn't read The Beautiful and Damned. “[W]ho the hell said they were beautiful and what the hell were they damned by?” The Italian soldiers he'd known on the Basso Piave may have been damned but it didn't seem to him that “you were necessarily damned because you made a little money.” Mizener had picked a tough subject to write about in Fitzgerald, he observed, and by his standards one hardly worth the effort.
Despite his own critical remarks about Fitzgerald, when Life ran a selection from Mizener's biography on January 15,1951, that called attention to a number of Scott's problems, and particularly his drinking, Hemingway attacked it as unforgivable grave-robbing. “I'd kill a guy for money if times were bad enough, I guess,” he wrote Harvey Breit. “But I don't think I could do that.” Directly to Mizener he wrote that he would rather clean sewers, be a bouncer in a bad whorehouse, or pimp for a living than to sign such an article. Mizener's letters tricked him into thinking he was “a straight guy,” he told Cowley. “Poor Scott: what robes, or shroud, he had were torn and sold by very strange people.” Both Mizener and Schulberg (in whose The Disenchanted Fitzgerald appeared as the alcoholic screenwriter Manley Halliday) were “swine.” Cowley was a decent man but “that Schulberg-Mizener Axis could well be hanged, head down, in front of any second rate garage.” When the New York Herald-Tribune's Sunday book review asked him for a list of books he liked, Hemingway came up with “Longevity Pays: The Life of Arthur Mizener by F. Scott FitzGerald [sic] and The Schulberg Incident by F. Scott FitzGerald [sic, again].”
Hemingway's virulent feelings about these books, and particularly Mizener's, did not on the surface make much sense. In a “Foreword to Scott” passage cut from A Moveable Feast by his widow, Mary, and Scribner's editor L.H. Brague, Jr., Hemingway claimed that “[o]ther people have written about him and did not know him, but I tried to help in the parts about him that I knew, telling them of his great generosities and kindnesses.” The seven letters to Mizener contain no account whatever of such generosities and kindnesses. In The Far Side of Paradise, Mizener may over-emphasize Fitzgerald's drunken behavior, but for mean-spiritedness his biography cannot compete with the comments in Hemingway's correspondence with him.
What troubled Ernest most about the success of Schulberg's and Mizener's books was that they promised to encourage unwanted invasions of his privacy. By mid-century the Hemingway legend had taken hold of the public imagination. He had dwindled into a celebrity who could not travel to Italy without photographic coverage in the newspapers and magazines, or come to New York without an obligatory mention in Leonard Lyons's New York Post column. To avoid this sort of attention, Mary Hemingway reported, she and Ernest used to duck out of hotels by back doors and service entrances. These were annoyances. Longer studies that delved deeper into his past were far more threatening.
Ernest cooperated with Cowley for his Life portrait in 1949, and was reasonably satisified with the result. The next year, he also cooperated with Lillian Ross for her New Yorker profile, and this time emerged as a rather foolish and self-important figure who spoke in pidgin English and drank enormous quantities of champagne. What was really troubling him in May 1951, however, was the impending threat of a psychologically oriented book from Philip Young. In writing Cowley at that time, he made the connection between Young's book-in-progress and Mizener's biography. “The Mizener formula on grave-robbing Scott Fitzgerald was a money-maker. So every publisher wants to follow it. But Scott is dead and through very good luck I am not.” As a consequence he planned to make “a cold, hard fight” against publication of Young's book. Cowley discouraged Hemingway from pursuing such a policy. It was probably a losing battle, he pointed out, and not worth the effort. Besides, Young's was basically a book of literary criticism, although he psychoanalyzed from the fiction.
Reluctantly, Hemingway gave up the battle to suppress, and was infuriated when Young's Ernest Hemingway came out in 1952, advancing a Freudian “wound theory” to account for most of his life and work. Still, he blamed Mizener for preparing the way. Letters were pouring in from would-be biographers, he told Cowley. Several of them commented “that they admired Arthur Mizener's book on F. Scott Fitzgerald and please send them all available details and any unpublished material about my life.” In attacking Mizener and Schulberg as grave robbers, Hemingway was not so much defending Fitzgerald as defending himself against having his life closely examined while he was living it.
Ernest may also have wanted to keep under wraps the family propensity to depression, most obviously manifested in his father's suicide. In writing Cowley, he specifically objected to the revelation of Zelda's mental illness, and its possible effect on Scottie Fitzgerald. “Do you think it is fair to a girl that Mizener, for money, should publish that her mother was a schizophrenic?”
After his experience with Young, Hemingway was wary about Charles Fenton's book dealing with his apprenticeship as a writer—the years from 1916 to 1924. In Fenton's favor were the disarming letters he wrote, and the fact that he'd been a newsman and flown with the R.A.F. in World War II. But Ernest became annoyed when Fenton dug up juvenilia he'd written in Oak Park, and when he swallowed whole the tall tales of veteran reporter Lionel Moise who'd worked with Ernest on the Kansas City Star. At one stage, he ordered Fenton to “cease and desist” looking into biographical detail. He'd promised cooperation on his early career as a newspaperman, but that was as far as he would go. “It is an invasion of privacy to have some one following everywhere you have been or lived as though the FBI were on your tail.” Philip Young had given him his word that his book was “neither biographical nor psychoanalytical. I suppose taking a man's word is old-fashioned.” After considerable delay, Fenton's book was published in 1954. With Young and Fenton in mind, Ernest complained that he was fed up with “chicken English instructors constituting themselves detectives and writing about your life and getting it all wrong but bringing in so many people and places that you are deprived of making stories, by their intrusions, because you would expose yourself to libel suits.” When they do the sort of job Mizener did on Fitzgerald “in your lifetime they destroy all possibility of your writing your own Remembrance of Things Past when Albertine was really a girl and not your chauffeur.” He made the same point to Carlos Baker, who published an influential book of criticism about Hemingway's fiction in 1952. He didn't want any biography written when he was alive, Ernest insisted. Nor did he want dates and hotel registers uncovered: too many people were involved, both whores and nice girls.
Hemingway's jaundiced attitude toward the Fitzgerald revival of 1950-1951 may have been exacerbated by the unfavorable reception of Across the River and Into the Trees, his novel published in September 1950. Long on talk and short on plot and character development, that book marked the nadir of Hemingway's literary career. A few reviews dodged the obvious faults of Across to celebrate Hemingway's wider accomplishment. John O'Hara, in the New York Times Book Review, called Ernest “the most important author living today, the outstanding author since the death of Shakespeare.” But most of the judgments deplored the book as trivial, lamentable, and distressing—so egregiously bad as to be embarrassing.
With his own reputation skidding, Ernest had additional reason to oppose the elevation of Fitzgerald's. Yet his epistolary jabs at Scott's prone body continued after he earned critical and popular acclaim for The Old Man and the Sea, the novella presented in its entirety to the readers of Life on September 1,1952— and to two generations of schoolchildren since that time. Nor did they stop after Hemingway achieved the pinnacle of recognition with the award of the Nobel prize for literature two years later.
To take but two examples, Hemingway went out of his way to denigrate Fitzgerald in correspondence with Charles Poore in March 1953 and with Harvey Breit in August 1954. Poore was assembling material for The Hemingway Reader and planned to include a sizable chunk of A Farewell to Arms. Ernest wrote him his oft-told story about Scott's foolish suggestion for the end of that novel: specifically, that he thought it should end with Frederic Henry getting word of the Allied victory at Belleau Wood. Poore wanted to include this anecdote in the Reader, but pointed out that the chronology was wrong. The novel ended early in 1918, months before the battle at Belleau Wood. Of course this was true, Hemingway acknowledged in his March 1953 letter to Poore—though he did not admit that the mistake as to timing (since he invented the tale) was his and not Fitzgerald's. At this point, Hemingway backed down on the shaky grounds of his affection for Scott. Better skip the anecdote, he advised Poore. “Scott was a good friend of mine. He could not stay the course for many reasons. But I have never written about him except the one reference in 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' and I would hate to have a slighting reference now.”
There were slighting references aplenty in his letter to Breit the following year. Breit was beginning work on a stage adaptation of Schulberg's The Disenchanted and asked Hemingway for his insights about Fitzgerald, the model for the leading character in that novel. Despite his previous diatribes about grave robbing, Ernest saw no objection to Breit's doing a play about Scott, who was “in the public domain now.” Then he followed with a series of deprecatory comments about Fitzgerald, presumably to guide Breit as he fleshed out his character for the stage.
Eager to establish his authority, Hemingway told Breit that he knew Fitzgerald much better than Budd Schulberg, who had written his biographical novel on the basis of his trip to Dartmouth with Scott and a few other meetings in Hollywood. “I knew him for a long time and under all circumstances and was his hero which is a job you can have any time.” In similarly sarcastic tone, Ernest leveled his customary charges against Zelda for unmanning Scott sexually, for her jealousy of his work, and for being “completely crazy,” but revealed—for thefirst time, I believe—the information that “she was unfaithful to him first with a young French naval flying officer.”
When it came to Scott's drinking, Ernest also supplied some fresh stories (which may or may not have been invented) to undergird his usual derogatory comments. Not only did Scott have no tolerance for alcohol, for example, but— and this was new—he “enjoyed passing out cold too because it made him the center of attention. Without meaning to be he was a terrific exhibitionist and as time went on he became a nastier and nastier drunk.” Hemingway provided two specific examples of this nastiness. The first occurred in Paris, when he and Hadley were living above the sawmill on rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. Fitzgerald, drunk, came to see the Hemingways and let his daughter Scottie pee-pee just outside the landlord's door. Very politely, the landlord came out and told Scott there was a toilet under the stairs that the child could use.
“I know there is, you son of a bitch,” Scott said. “And I'll take you and shove your head in it.”
There were “hundreds and hundreds like that,” Ernest wrote. They would go out to dinner together and Scott would insult people so that Hemingway had to intervene “to keep him from being beaten up.” One night he'd had to bribe the doorman at the Plaza “to square something really awful Scott had done.” Scott seemed “to love to be humiliated and, of course, to humiliate whoever he was with… At the start he used to be terribly contrite afterwards. Finally he didn't remember.” To do Fitzgerald one sentence worth of justice, Ernest added that he “was always generous and he could be so damned nice sober.”
Hemingway figured that most of what he had to say about Fitzgerald wouldn't help Breit much in writing a play about Scott in Hollywood, when he may have been very different from the time he knew him best. Still, he offered a possible scene from his own experience. “When I first knew him he was very good looking in a too pretty way and every time he took a drink his face would change a little and after four drinks the skin would be drawn and it would look like a death's head. I guess you could do that in a play with lighting.” His friendship with Fitzgerald wasn't all as “sour” as he'd made it sound, Ernest commented before closing. “Sometimes it was funny. But it never was sound. I knew him better than anybody did then, I guess.”
Most of these accusations against Fitzgerald—or the Fitzgeralds, one should say—were revived in A Moveable Feast, which Hemingway wrote during the late 1950s. A few, like the urinary insult to the landlord, were not. Whether in print or out—and Hemingway did not intend his correspondence to be published—this letter to Harvey Breit represented the single cruelest communication about Fitzgerald he ever put down on paper.
I am bothered by my tendency to metaphor, decidedly excessive. I am devoured by comparisons, as one is by life, and I spend my time doing nothing but squashing them.
As a device for invective, David Worcester points out in The Art of Satire, metaphor is superior to direct statement, for it “opens the gates to imagination and suggestion… Whereas a man can harden himself before a torrent of abuse and shrug it off, his dignity can hardly survive a good [Samuel] Butlerian simile.” In addition, a metaphor or simile has the advantage of allowing the reader or listener to participate by drawing his own deductions.
Hemingway like Flaubert was beset by a predilection for metaphor, particularly when he was writing satire. That happened often, starting with his earliest days in journalism. In dispatches to the Toronto Star Weekly, he repeatedly deflated the high and mighty, or anyone he found pompous or pretentious, with targets ranging from the grandstanding mayor of Toronto to the scum of Greenwich Village “skimmed off and deposited in large ladles” on the cafés of Montparnasse to Benito Mussolini “the biggest bluff in Europe.” He may well have learned the effect of the devastating metaphor from his mother, who on his twenty-first birthday compared her love for him to a bank account on which he had overdrawn.
When Hemingway wanted to say something particularly malicious, he often couched the insult in metaphor. He was especially fond of the “if this, then that” construction. If his brother Leicester had been a magazine, he once commented, he'd think twice before renewing his subscription. Edmund Wilson had so many leaks in his integrity that if he were an aqueduct, he'd be dry. His marriage to Martha Gellhorn failed because her vaginal operation produced a two-car garage while he had only one car to park. His idyllic marriage to Hadley was cut to pieces by rich sharks led to their prey by a pilot fish he leaves unnamed in A Moveable Feast but recognizable as former friend John Dos Passos.
In his assault upon Fitzgerald, Hemingway used several such dehumanizing metaphors. A month after belittling him as a “spaniel” in a letter to Charles Scribner, Ernest tried out another comparison. Scott was “a good writer punched full of holes,” ready to sink like a destroyer because of “three holes along the water line with nobody checked out on how to patch them.” Or, in another military trope, he was like an unguided missile who came crashing to earth on a “very steep trajectory.”
On occasion Hemingway turned to the world of sport for demeaning similes. In his lack of capacity for alcohol, Fitzgerald reminded him of a glass-jawed boxer who couldn't take a punch—and in his supposed cowardice, of the heavyweight fighter “Maxie Baer” who had entirely lost his nerve. Reading The Last Tycoon was like seeing an old baseball pitcher with a dead arm working a few innings before being knocked out of the box. Scott “tried to be a better writer than he was and he threw the ball over the grandstand.”
All of these metaphors appear in Hemingway's correspondence, where—most frequently of all—he likened Fitzgerald to a butterfly. In A Moveable Feast, he settled on that single analogy, though only after essaying yet another in a passage cut from the manuscript. Written in pencil, it begins in 1931, when Scott was thirty-five-years-old. After two crossed-out beginnings, Hemingway started with “I had not seen them for a year and Scott, as always, looked older.” There followed one of Hemingway's most telling and vicious metaphors about Fitzgerald. “He showed his age, month by month, as perceptibly as cut flowers do each day and now, at thirty-five, if he had been in a vase in your house you would have thrown him out long ago.” Scott had written “so freely, so lovingly, so romantically and so inaccurately” about his youth, Ernest observed, that it was time for someone else to write about his middle age, “which commenced the year he was thirty.” Unlike the other unpublished sections of the memoir Hemingway left behind at his death, this fragment of the manuscript was closed by Mary Hemingway for twenty-five years.
The butterfly metaphor dominates the italicized epigraph introducing A Moveable Feast's three chapters on Fitzgerald:
His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.
Hemingway worked hard on this passage, making two significant deletions before letting it stand as above. One of these, which originally appeared after “brushed and marred,” read: “He even needed someone as a conscience and he needed professionals or normally educated people to make his writing legible and not illiterate.” Hemingway, who was perfectly aware that Fitzgerald had referred to him in “The Crack-Up” as his “artistic conscience,” crossed out this derogatory sentence.
The other omitted section came at the end of the published epigraph. “In the meantime, thinking well and fairly conscious of its worth, he had written The Great Gatsby. Tender Is the Night is a better book written in heroic and desperate confusion. It was the failure of these… He was flying again and I was lucky to meet him just after a good time in his writing if not a good one in his life.” In this case, the deleted passage tended to put Fitzgerald in a favorable light. In reducing the epigraph to a single elegant comparison, Hemingway cut both a nasty comment and one that recognized Scott as a “heroic” and accomplished writer.
The butterfly metaphor remained, with all its connotations. Hemingway had introduced this motif repeatedly in correspondence, but artfully reshaped it for A Moveable Feast. In print, he likened Fitzgerald's talent not to a butterfly itself nor the flight of the butterfly nor the insect's wings nor even the dust on those wings, but to the pattern the dust made. The pattern, which made the butterfly beautiful, was also highly perishable. Ernest might have stated directly that Scott's talent was fleeting or ephemeral or incredibly fragile, but the metaphor said it for him more effectively.
The comparison also served to call Fitzgerald's masculinity into question, abetting Hemingway's delineation of Fitzgerald on the next page as a man “who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty” and with “a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty.” When Vladimir Nabokov, a great writer who was also an expert lepidopterist, described the transformation from caterpillar to pupa to butterfly, he assigned each stage its own gender: the caterpillar was a he, the pupa an it, and the butterfly a she. In Spanish the word mariposa for butterfly is often used interchangeably with maricon for homosexual, as Hemingway, who spoke demotic Spanish well, must have known. In English too, butterflies flit, as in demeaning slang do gay men.
A Moveable Feast has been called, accurately enough, a “triumphal banquet of self-celebration, a feast of victims.” The parade of victims who stagger through the pages of Hemingway's book of reminiscence include Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, Ernest Walsh, and others in addition to Fitzgerald, the mostseverely wounded. In this wickedly funny book, the humor comes at the expense of those who were Ernest's benefactors when he was starting out in Paris in the 1920s. For every fault singled out and satirized, Hemingway by implication assumes the opposite virtue. It is, finally, too much to believe. Hemingway was right to warn the reader, in his preface, that it might be wise to regard the book as fiction rather than fact.
In the final scene involving Fitzgerald, Hemingway recounted a post-World War II conversation with Georges, the chasseur at the Ritz bar during the '20s when Scott did some of his most notorious drinking there. People were forever asking him about “Monsieur Fitzgerald,” Georges says, but he could not remember him at all. This was odd, since he remembered everybody from those days. Who was this Fitzgerald, Georges wanted to know. Was he a good writer? Did he come to the Ritz often? Perhaps, if Hemingway wrote about him, Georges might be able to bring him to mind. This anecdote, which nicely diminished Fitzgerald, appears to have been apocryphal. In 1957 a graduate student at the Sorbonne interviewed Georges for her doctoral dissertation. He said he remembered Fitzgerald very well indeed.
In collecting examples for a book called The Cutting Edge, Louis Kronenberger had difficulty locating effective sharp-edged satirical pieces. Most of them went too far, he found. They were “much oftener disagreeable, or enraged, or obscene, or vitriolic than wittily crushing or brilliantly lethal.” By a curious paradox, the assailants did harm to themselves in the course of disparaging others. The poisoned dart turned into a boomerang.
Many readers of A Moveable Feast, like the critic Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin, have come to feel that way about an author who systematically presented almost everyone else as badly flawed and himself as “virtually perfect.” When the chapters on Fitzgerald in that book are considered in combination with Hemingway's ill-spirited letters during the 1940s and 1950s, the sole sensible conclusion to arrive at is that Ernest did considerable harm to his own reputation while attempting to damage Scott's. Only two very great writers could have survived those darts, those boomerangs.
MP to EH, December 31, 1940, Only Thing, 301-302. MP to Lemmon, January 3, 1941, PUL. FSF, Tycoon, introd. Bruccoli, lxvii-lxxiii, lxxv-lxxvi. MP to EH, April 4, 1941, Only Thing, 307. EH to MP, April 29,1941, SL, 523. EH to MP, November 15, 1941, Only Thing, 313-314. EH to Scribner, August 13, 1948, PUL. EH to Scribner, October 4, 1949, SL, 678-679. MP to EW, June 18,1941, Yale. SD, “Remaking of Reputation,” 2. SD, Fool, 149. MP to EW, February 16, 1941 and 24 February 1941, Yale. Laughlin to EW, August 3 and August 17, 1943, and EW to Biggs, August 10, 1943, Yale. EH to Speiser, 1943, PUL. EH to MP, February 25, 1944, Only Thing, 329-330. EH to MP, July 23, 1945, SL, 594-595. EH to Scribner, ca. October 1948, PUL. EH to Scribner, August 16,1949, PUL. EH to Scribner, May 18-19, 1951, SL, 726. EH, “The Art of the Short Story,” 100. EH to Cowley, September 5, 1948 and February 10, 1949, Neville. Cowley to EH, August 11, 1951, Neville. EH to Cowley, July 24, 1951, September 16, 1951, and November 8, 1951, Neville. EH to Mizener, July 6, 1949, SL, 657-658. EH to Mizener, April 22, 1950 and May 12, 1950, 689-690, 694-695. EH to Breit, January 17, 1951, and EH to Mizener, January 18, 1951, JFK. Bruccoli, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, 222. Dardis, Thirsty, 208. EH to Cowley, May 13, 1951, June 1, 1951, and June 2, 1951, Neville. EH to Fenton, June 12,1952, Neville. EH to Poore, April 3,1953, JFK. Baker, Life Story, 491. O'Hara, reviewof Across, New York Times Book Review (September 10, 1950), 1. EH to Poore, March 16, 1953, JFK. EH to Breit, August 18, 1954, SL, 834-836.
Flaubert quoted in “Along Publishers Row,” Authors Guild Bulletin (Summer 1998), 28. Worcester, Satire, 26-27. EH, Dateline, 114, 255. SD, “Hemingway's Attack,” in press. EH to Mizener, May 12,1950, SL, 694. EH, Feast, 207-208. EH to Scribner, September 14,1949, PUL. EH to Mizener, July 6, 1949, SL, 657. EH to Breit, May 12, 1953, JFK. SD, By Force of Will, 68-69. EH to MP, November 15, 1941, SL, 528. EH to Wallace Meyer, March 4 and 7, 1952, SL, 758. EH, Item 486, JFK. EH, Feast, 147. Tavernier-Courbin, Hemingway's Feast, 11-12, 99. Egan, “Lies,” 68-69, 79-80. Nabokov, “Invitation to a Transformation,” New York Times Book Review (April 25, 1999), 35. Kronenberger, Cutting Edge, viii, xii.