Scott and Ernest: The Authority of Failure and the Authority of Success
by Matthew J. Bruccoli


The first mention of either man by the other came in Fitzgerald’s October 1924 letter to Maxwell Perkins of Scribners, written from St. Raphael on the Riviera, where he was completing The Great Gatsby. Acting as volunteer literary scout, Fitzgerald wrote: “This is to tell you about a young man named Ernest Hemmingway, who lives in Paris, (an American) writes for the transatlantic Review + has a brilliant future. Ezra Pount published a collection of his short pieces in Paris, at some place like the Egotist Press, I haven’t it hear now but its remarkable + I’d look him up right away. He’s the real thing.” [The documents quoted in this book are printed as written.] It is characteristic of Fitzgerald that although his recommendation is full of errors (he would never master the spelling of Hemingway), it is right about the important matter: Hemingway was the real thing. The volume to which Fitzgerald reacted so strongly was in our time, published in Paris by the Three Mountains Press in a series, “The Inquest into the state of contemporary English prose,” edited by Ezra Pound. This 32-page book (actually a pamphlet bound in stiff covers) was limited to 170 copies and consisted of eighteen vignettes that were later used as the inter-chapters in Hemingway’s first story collection, In Our Time (New York; Boni & Liveright, 1925). The connection between Fitzgerald and Hemingway was provided by Edmund Wilson, Fitzgerald’s Princeton friend who was establishing himself as one of the most brilliant American literary critics. in our time was published in March 1924, before the Fitzgeralds moved to France, and Wilson called Scott’s attention to it. Wilson receptively reviewed Hemingway’s first two Paris publications, Three Stories & Ten Poems (Paris: Contact Press, 1923—300 copies) and in our time (Paris: Three Mountains Press, 1924—170 copies) in the October 1924 issue of The Dial. Although Fitzgerald did not cite Wilson to Perkins, the Dial review appeared the same month that Fitzgerald wrote Perkins.

By October 1924 Hemingway had achieved five nonjournalistic magazine appearances in America: a fable and a poem in The Double Dealer, six poems in Poetry, a poem and six vignettes in The Little Review. The Best Short Stories of 1923 included the previously unpublished “My Old Man” in a volume that was dedicated to “Ernest Hemenway”; but the story didn’t attract much attention. Hemingway’s luck was no better in the expatriate magazines, where only one of his short stories, “Indian Camp,” and two articles had appeared in the Transatlantic Review before October 1924. Hemingway had, however, achieved the two separate publications in Paris. Fitzgerald may not have read 3 & 10 when he wrote Perkins. If he had, his recommendation might have been even stronger, for the three stories were “Up in Michigan,” “Out of Season,” and “My Old Man.” As it was, Fitzgerald’s prediction of Hemingway’s “brilliant future” was prescient, for it was based on only the vignettes of in our time, which provided no more than samples of Hemingway’s style and tone:

We were in a garden in Mons. Young Buckley came in with his patrol from across the river. The first German I saw climbed up over the garden wall. We waited till he got one leg over and then potted him. He had so much equipment on and looked awfully surprised and fell down into the garden. Then three more came over further down the wall. We shot them. They all came just like that.

The hallmarks of the great Hemingway style are here: the clear diction, the abrupt rhythm, the absence of transitions between sentences, the “and” constructions, the reliance on simple declarative sentences, the controlled understatement, the concern with violence. But to predict a “brilliant future” for the writer of eighteen vignettes—the longest of which is less than 350 words—was reckless. It is possible that Fitzgerald may have heard through the literary grapevine something more about Hemingway, who had already attracted attention beyond his actual achievement as a literary contender. As the author of two little books, which were virtually privately published with a total of 470 copies, Hemingway was already regarded as the most promising young American writer in Paris. The word could have filtered down to St. Raphael.

Through fall 1924-spring 1925 Fitzgerald continued to remind Perkins about Hemingway while revising The Great Gatsby in Rome and Capri. Perkins was unable to find a copy of in our time until February 1925, at which time he wrote Hemingway expressing interest in publishing him; but Perkins did not have his current address. In late April 1925 Fitzgerald was in Paris, where he sought out Hemingway. Their first meeting at the Dingo occurred before 1 May; on that date Fitzgerald wrote Perkins that Hemingway had signed a contract with Boni & Liveright for In Our Time.

In the spring of 1925 Ernest Hemingway, who was not yet twenty-six, was living with his wife Hadley and their son John (called “Bumby”) on the Left Bank. Born in 1899 the son of a doctor in Oak Park, Illinois, he grew up in a solidly middle-class, conservative, pious family. After graduating from Oak Park High School in 1917 he worked for six months as a cub reporter on the Kansas City Star before going to Italy in 1918 as an ambulance driver with the American Red Cross. He was wounded and fell in love with a nurse, who declined to marry him. After the war he unsuccessfully tried to write fiction before returning to journalism in Chicago and Toronto. In September 1921 Hemingway married Hadley Richardson, who was seven years older than he.

By Christmas the Hemingways were in Paris, where he wrote articles for the Toronto Star at space rates. He was not on salary; the paper paid him for what it printed. At that time he impressed new acquaintances as shy and sincere. He made friends easily, for at every stage of his career he possessed great vitality and magnetism. His dedication to writing was real and absolutely convincing. Among his early friends and benefactors in Paris were Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and two publishers, Robert McAlmon and William Bird. Sylvia Beach, proprietress of the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop on the rue de l’Odeon and publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses, remained a lifelong friend. Although she did not publish his work, Beach was a widely liked figure in the Paris literary world, and her good will helped Hemingway. When the Hemingways returned to Toronto for the birth of their child in September 1923, Three Stories & Ten Poems had been published by McAlmon and in our time had been accepted for publication by Bird. Hemingway worked as a reporter on the Toronto Star until December 1923, when he quit his job because his boss was harassing him and because he couldn’t get on with his own writing in Toronto. In January 1924 the Hemingways were back in Paris and living over a sawmill at 113 rue Notre Dame des Champs off the Boulevard Montparnasse.

Hemingway’s accounts of his Paris apprenticeship from 1922 to 1926 are full of dedication and poverty. The dedication was authentic, but the poverty was largely illusory. Hadley was a small heiress. At the time of their marriage she had an income of $3000 a year from a trust fund. Americans could live well in Paris in 1922 on $3000, for the rate of exchange was favorable. Although Hadley’s income was later reduced by the mismanagement of the trustee, the Hemingways were not paupers and did not have to rely on his earnings for eating money. There was always money for the things Hemingway wanted to do. Their apartments lacked plumbing, but when they lived at 74 rue Cardinale Lemoine in 1922-23, Hemingway was able to rent a room nearby to write in. “Hunger was good discipline,” he claimed in A Moveable Feast; nonetheless, they could afford trips to Spain for the bullfights and long stays in the Austrian alps when he found it difficult to work during the rainy winters in Paris. There was even money to gamble on the horses—surely a losing proposition, despite Hemingway’s confidence in his handicapping skill.

In the spring of 1925, Fitzgerald, who was not yet twenty-nine, was living with his wife Zelda and their daughter Scottie at 14 rue de Tilsitt, near the Arc de Triomphe. Born in 1896, Fitzgerald had been raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father was a business failure, and the family lived on Mrs. Fitzgerald’s modest inheritance. Fitzgerald was keenly aware of his position as a poor boy at rich-boy schools. After Newman, a Catholic prep school in New Jersey, he entered Princeton with the class of 1917. In constant academic difficulties, he had to repeat a year. He left Princeton in 1918 to take an Army commission. After his discharge from the Army in 1919 Fitzgerald tried to make a quick success in New York advertising in order to marry Zelda Sayre, the Alabama belle he had fallen in love with while stationed near Montgomery. When Zelda proved unwilling to wait and broke their engagement, Fitzgerald quit his job and rewrote the novel he had written in the Army. Published by Scribners, This Side of Paradise was a surprise success in 1920, selling 40,000 copies in its first year. The money poured in, for Fitzgerald was a skilled writer of short stories tor the slick magazines. His income in 1920, his first full year as a professional writer, was $18,500—which had the purchasing power of perhaps $50,000 now. He needed it. Scott and Zelda were married in April 1920 and embarked on an extravagant life. Fitzgerald became a newspaper celebrity and tried to live up to it, acquiring a reputation as the playboy of American literature. In the late spring of 1924 the Fitzgeralds went to the Riviera—then unfashionable in warm months—to live quietly and economize while he wrote The Great Gatsby. They were incapable of economizing, but the novel was finished in the fall. Fitzgerald had hoped that Gatsby would make enough money so that he could give up short stories and concentrate on writing novels. The reviews were excellent, but the sales were disappointing: Scribners sold fewer than 23,000 copies in 1925.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald entered the Dingo—without Dunc Chaplin—that April day in 1925 he was the author of This Side of Paradise (1920), The Beautiful and Damned (1922), and The Great Gatsby (1925), as well as two volumes of stories, Flappers and Philosophers (1920) and Tales of the Jazz Age (1922). Ernest Hemingway was the author of Three Stories & Ten Poems (1923) and in our time (1924)—a total of eighty-eight printed pages. Yet from the inception of their friendship there was a role reversal. The literary apprentice awed the famous author. In addition to his admiration for Hemingway’s talent, Fitzgerald was impressed by two aspects of the already evolving Hemingway legend—by his reputation as a war hero and an athlete.

Fitzgerald, who did not get overseas in World War I, felt that he had missed a test of manhood and worried about how he would have behaved in battle. The war was very much on his mind in the Twenties. He studied books about the Great War, collected stereopticon slides of the battlefields, and was fascinated by pictures of mutilated soldiers. Hemingway was reputedly an authentic war hero who had been wounded while serving with the Red Cross in Italy and had then fought with the Arditti, an elite corps of Italian shock troops. In actuality he had never been in combat. He had been wounded by a mortar while distributing candy and cigarettes in July 1918, and had been hit by machine-gun fire while carrying another wounded man. At the time of the Armistice he was still undergoing treatment in Milan. Nonetheless, Hemingway was known in Paris as a combat veteran, a reputation which he did not discourage.

Fitzgerald was a disappointed athlete who said that he had sought literary recognition at school to compensate for his failure at football. Here again, Hemingway impressed him with his reputation as an athlete. In point of fact, the only athletic event in which Hemingway had distinguished himself at Oak Park High School was the plunge—a flat distance dive. Big but clumsy, he did win a letter in football. He excelled at fishing and hunting and assiduously developed his reputation as a boxer. His boxing enhanced the Hemingway image as it was reported that, disgusted with the conduct of one of the fighters at a professional match, he had climbed into the ring and knocked out the fighter. He claimed that he had been trained by professional fighters in Chicago as a boy, had worked as a sparring partner, and had been a bouncer in tough joints in America. There is no evidence to support any of this. Hemingway boxed for exercise regularly in Paris—often with inexperienced people like Ezra Pound—and set himself up as a boxing master. On 19 October 1925 he reported to his mother that he was earning extra money giving boxing lessons, and that Scott Fitzgerald was one of his pupils. Hemingway did look like an athlete. At six feet and 190 pounds he was a big man for that time, and seemed bigger. At five eight Fitzgerald was too small for football. Although he had won his letter at Newman, he was cut from the Princeton freshman squad after the first day of practice because they didn’t need 140-pound halfbacks.

Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is the only source for their first meeting at the Dingo. Indeed, it is the only record that the meeting did take place at the Dingo. He describes Fitzgerald’s looks as “between handsome and pretty” and makes an ominous comment on his feminine mouth. Hemingway acknowledges that he himself was with “some completely worthless characters”—implying it is permissible to drink with “completely worthless characters” if you know that they are “completely worthless.” Fitzgerald begins complimenting his work, which annoys Hemingway because he believes that “praise to the face is open disgrace.” Instead of listening to Fitzgerald, Hemingway studies him and notices that he is wearing a Brooks Brothers button-down shirt and a Guards tie. (This tie has one-inch diagonal stripes of navy blue and dark red; it can be legitimately worn by all ranks of the Brigade of Guards, which consists of the five regiments of Foot Guards as well as the Household Cavalry.) Hemingway considers warning Fitzgerald that his tie might cause him embarrassment with British visitors in Paris. There were two in the Dingo just then. Later in the recollection it develops that they were almost certainly Duff Twysden and Pat Guthrie, the Lady Brett and Mike Campbell of The Sun Also Rises. If so, did it matter what a couple of “completely worthless” drunks thought about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tie? It was uncharacteristic for Hemingway to be clothes-conscious. In those days, he made a point of being superior to clothes, wearing sweatshirts and patched pants. Fitzgerald, though never a dandy, was a well-dressed man.

Hemingway does not drop the matter of the tie—which he notes Fitzgerald bought in Rome. At their next meeting a couple of days later at the Closerie de Lilas cafe on the Place St. Michel, Hemingway brings up the tie. When Fitzgerald claims that he left the Dingo because he got fed up with Hemingway’s British friends —“that girl with the phony title who was so rude and that silly drunk with her”—Hemingway at first insists that there hadn’t been any British there. Then Hemingway asks him if they had been rude about his tie. He reports that Fitzgerald was puzzled by this concern about his tie, saying that he was “wearing a plain black knitted tie with a white polo shirt.” No matter what the tie was, the picture of Fitzgerald wearing any tie with a polo shirt is ludicrous. A polo shirt is a knit shirt, usually worn open at the neck. But at that time Brooks Brothers shirts had three collar styles called golf, tennis, and polo. The polo collar was the classic button-down collar, which Fitzgerald wore. Hemingway conveys the impression that Fitzgerald was either wearing a tie with a polo shirt, or worse, wearing a Guards tie and thereby running the risk of outraging Duff Twysden and Pat Guthrie.

During the meeting at the Dingo, Fitzgerald annoys Hemingway by asking whether he had slept with his wife before they were married. This is probably an accurate report; there is confirmation that Fitzgerald asked this question of new acquaintances. Then Fitzgerald passes out, which is also probably accurate. Fitzgerald, one of the legendary alcoholics of American letters, in fact had a low capacity for liquor. (Medical opinion now holds that he had hypoglycemia or hyperinsulinism.) There is ample supporting evidence for Hemingway’s reports of Fitzgerald’s drinking style. Hemingway had a great capacity for alcohol. He could drink after his daily writing stint and work the next day. Fitzgerald could undertake extended writing projects only when he was on the wagon.

At the Closerie de Lilas, Fitzgerald behaves well and Hemingway finds him endearing—“even if you were careful about anyone becoming endearing.” Hemingway even allows himself to be impressed by Fitzgerald’s non-conceited pride in The Great Gatsby, which had recently been published. But Hemingway undercuts Fitzgerald’s achievement by belittling Gilbert Seldes’ admiring review of the novel: “It could only have been better if Gilbert Seldes had been better.” This review in the August 1925 Dial, which placed Fitzgerald ahead of all the writers “of his own generation and most of his elders,” rankled Hemingway. (Hemingway could not have seen the August Dial in May, but it is possible that Seldes had sent Fitzgerald a typescript of the review.) One phrase particularly bothered him. Seldes praised Gatsby for “regarding a tiny section of life and reporting it with irony and pity and a consuming passion.” When he wrote The Sun Also Rises Hemingway built in a scene in which Bill Gorton sings: “Irony and Pity. When you’re feeling… Oh, Give them Irony and Give them Pity. Oh, give them Irony. When they’re feeling… Just a little irony. Just a little pity. . . .” Something more than envy was involved. The Dial was on Hemingway’s shit-list, and he nurtured a lasting grudge against Gilbert Seldes because the magazine had declined his work while Seldes was the managing editor. Hemingway insisted that Seldes had written him a letter advising him to stick to journalism, but Seldes always denied it.

After Fitzgerald has shown that he could behave himself at the Closerie de Lilas, Hemingway accepts his invitation to go with him to Lyons to pick up the Fitzgeralds’ car—at Fitzgerald’s expense. Hemingway is looking forward to useful conversations with a successful writer, but is “shocked” to hear Fitzgerald admit that he changed his good stories for submission to The Saturday Evening Post. When Hemingway protests against this “whoring,” Fitzgerald assures him that it did not damage his talent because he wrote the real story first. There is no evidence in the extensive Fitzgerald manuscript archive of a story in which this process occurred; but it is possible that he did make the claim to Hemingway. Fitzgerald regretted the expenditure of creative energy that went into his stories and frequently disparaged them.

In A Moveable Feast Hemingway recounts the Lyons trip in detail. When Fitzgerald fails to show up at the train, Hemingway goes to Lyons alone, hoping to meet him there. Fitzgerald arrives the next morning and wastes a lot of time. The car has been badly abused by Fitzgerald, who has driven it without adding oil or water, and by Zelda Fitzgerald, who had the top removed. They start for Paris and are soaked by rain. Fitzgerald insists that he is in danger of dying from lung congestion. Hemingway has to nurse him and fakes taking his temperature with a large bath thermometer. Fitzgerald worries because he is spending his first night away from his wife—which was not true—and tells Hemingway about her affair with a French aviator at St. Raphael, a story that Fitzgerald would repeat to him in other versions. At dinner Fitzgerald passes out from drink. The next day they drive to Paris while Fitzgerald discourses on Michael Arlen, and Hemingway invents a pretext to limit Fitzgerald’s drinking. Fitzgerald did not regard the Lyons excursion as a disaster, for he later listed it in his Notebooks as among his “Most Pleasant Trips.” In June Fitzgerald informed Gertrude Stein, “Hemmingway and I went to Lyons… to get my car and had a slick drive through Burgundy. He’s a peach of a fellow and absolutely first-rate.”

A few days later Fitzgerald brings Hemingway a copy of The Great Gatsby. Hemingway is embarrassed by the “violence, bad taste and slippery look” of the dust jacket; but Fitzgerald explains that the jacket “had to do with a billboard along a highway in Long Island that was important to the story.” Gatsby has been greatly admired as an example of dust-jacket art, which is a matter of taste. What is not disputable is what the jacket shows. It does not show a billboard. The jacket has a woman’s face over an amusement park night scene. After removing the offensive jacket, Hemingway reads The Great Gatsby and is so impressed that he vows to forgive Fitzgerald for his bad behavior: “When I had finished the book I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend.”

“Hawks Do Not Share,” the second Fitzgerald sketch in A Moveable Feast, introduces Zelda Fitzgerald at “a very bad lunch” in the Fitzgeralds’ “gloomy” apartment. From the start there was mutual distrust between Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald—which developed into antagonism. Hemingway, who had lost his respect for his once-admired father as he saw him yield to a dominating wife, compensated for his father’s weakness in his own marriage. The Hemingways did what Ernest wanted to do, and his work always came first. He was disgusted by Zelda’s influence over Fitzgerald and by what he regarded as her deliberate interference with Fitzgerald’s work. Zelda Fitzgerald may not have regarded Hemingway as a threat to her dominion, but she was immune to his charm and had reservations about his character. “Bogus” was one of her judgments on him, amplified with “materialistic mystic,” “phony he-man,” and “pansy with hair on his chest.”

Hemingway was sure that Zelda Fitzgerald encouraged her husband’s drinking to keep him from writing. Moreover, Hemingway reports that she was seeking out Lesbian company as part of her scheme to impede Fitzgerald’s work. “Scott was afraid for her to pass out in the company they kept that spring and the places they went to… Zelda did not encourage the people who were chasing her and she had nothing to do with them, she said. But it amused her and it made Scott jealous and he had to go with her to the places. It destroyed his work, and she was more jealous of his work than anything.” Hemingway claims to have been the first to realize that Zelda Fitzgerald was insane, when, during the summer of 1926 on the Riviera, she asked him, “Ernest, don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?”

There were some good times that spring in Paris, despite the perilous undercurrents in the Fitzgerald marriage. Hemingway took Fitzgerald to 27 rue de Fleurus, where Fitzgerald charmed Gertrude Stein, who was impressed by his writing. “Fitzgerald was the only one of the younger writers who wrote naturally in sentences… She thinks Fitzgerald will be read when many of his well-known contemporaries are forgotten,” Stein later recorded in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Dean Christian Gauss of Princeton was in Paris during the spring of 1925, and Fitzgerald took considerable pride in setting up seminar-lunches at which he discussed literary topics with Hemingway and Gauss.

Next Chapter 2

Published as Scott And Ernest: The Authority Of Failure And The Authority Of Success (The Fitzgerald-Hemingway Friendship) by Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Random House, 1978); later this text was revised as Fitzgerald And Hemingway: A Dangerous Friendship by Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994).