“Madame, it is always a mistake to know an author.”
—Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
I avoided writers very carefully because they can perpetuate trouble as no one else can.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up
The Hemingways bought a house in Key West in January 1931, and soon thereafter began a pattern of spending winters and springs in Florida and the warmer months in the high country of the American West. That way, Ernest could indulge his passion for fishing and hunting while working regularly on whatever book was in process. The Fitzgeralds limped back to Montgomery in the fall of 1931, intending to settle down in the comfortable environment of Zelda's hometown. The plan did not work out. In letters written at the hospitals where her schizophrenia waxed and waned, Zelda repeatedly invoked a vision of a home of their own—in one version “a little house with hollyhocks and a sycamore tree and the afternoon sun imbedding itself in a silver tea-pot… with Scottie running about somewhere in white, in Renoir.” The Fitzgeralds never owned a home of their own, anywhere, anytime. For the rest of his life, Scott did his work in a series of rented homes and apartments and hotel rooms.
Fitzgerald and Hemingway were on the same continent during most of the 1930s, then, and there was often talk of getting together on one Gulf Stream outing or another, but none of these came to pass. The bloom was off the friendship. Their correspondence trailed off, except in moments of crisis or when one or the other had published a book. Often they communicated through Perkins, who served as a willing go-between. In cross-correspondence—what they had to say about each other, to others—Hemingway became increasingly intolerant andunsympathetic toward his old friend, while Fitzgerald struggled gamely to preserve the illusion of what had once been the closest of relationships. In the last year of his life, he set down the sorry record in an autobiographical note. He and Ernest met only four times during the decade: once in 1931 (the infamous “measurements” meeting), once in 1933, twice in 1937. “Four times in eleven years (1929-1940),” he commented. “Not really friends since '26.”
Fitzgerald was thirty-five years old when they came back from Europe, and the generations were tumbling over on schedule. In January 1931, Scott's father died, and he made a melancholy journey to the funeral in Maryland. After long silence, Ernest wrote him a letter of commiseration in mid-April, combining deepest regrets about Zelda's “rotten time” with a recommendation that Scott turn his father's death to proper literary account. “I'm sorry you had a trip to U.S. on such sad business. Hope to read your acct. of it between board covers rather than in Post. Remember us writers have only one father and one mother to die. But don't poop away such fine material.”
The cruelly worded warning was right on the mark, for Fitzgerald did try to express his feelings about his father's death in an indifferent story called “On Your Own.” Ober was unable to place the story with the Saturday Evening Post, or anywhere else. Scott resurrected a phrase from the rejected tale to use “between board covers” in Tender Is the Night. Dick Diver like Fitzgerald returns to the States for the funeral of the father who has taught him much about decency and honor, and there, in the cemetery among the graves of the early settlers, utters farewell to the past. “Good-by, my father—good-by, all my fathers.”
The elegy might also have served for the passing of Judge Anthony Sayre, Zelda's father, in November 1931. By that time, Scott was in Hollywood on assignment from Irving Thalberg at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to rewrite a screenplay of Red-Headed Woman as a vehicle for Jean Harlow. Fitzgerald stayed in California for five weeks, finished the job, and was back in Montgomery for Christmas with $6,000 in his pocket. This would buy him time, he felt sure, to buckle down on his novel. “Am replanning it to include what's good in what I have, adding 41,000 new words & publishing,” he wrote Perkins in January. “Don't tell Ernest or anyone—let them think what they want—you're the only one who's ever consistently felt faith in me anyhow.” Scott now was centering his thinking on the story of Dick and Nicole Diver's troubled marriage, withglimpses along the way of the Parisian demimonde, the psychiatric sanitariums of Switzerland, the seemingly charming life of the rich on the Riviera, and the distinct whiff of political and economic upheaval in the air.
The Fitzgerald who wrote Tender Is the Night in 1932 and 1933 was a very different person from the one who had started work on The Boy Who Killed His Mother in 1926—older, wiser, more deeply hurt, and infinitely more aware of the wider world.
Talking with Zelda's doctors, he acquired a layman's understanding of Freud and Jung. Reading Spengler and Yeats, he learned that the West was in decline and the center could not hold. Above all, it began to seem that Marx was right, and that capitalism must soon give way. Had he gone over to communism like Bunny Wilson? Ernest asked Scott. If so, he was much too late. Ernest had undergone his own flirtation with Communism in 1919-1921, and now had put it behind him. Still, he added, he supposed “everybody has to go through some political or religious faith sooner or later.”
Scott was in fact highly interested in Marxist ideas at the time. While he was in Hollywood, he persuaded Zelda to read M. Ilin's New Russia's Primer, a simplified description of the Soviet Five-Year Plan written for schoolchildren. She and Scottie had “a long bed-time talk about the Soviets and the Russian idea,” Zelda wrote Scott in Hollywood. She also advanced a highly sensible program of her own, and sought her husband's endorsement by an appeal to Hemingway's authority. “We must reduce our scale of living,” she said. It would be easier if they could start from a lower base. That, she pointed out, was “sound economics and what Ernest and most of our friends do.” Despite his developing political-economic consciousness, Fitzgerald was loath to change his extravagant spending habits.
Outlining his “General Plan” for Tender Is the Night early in 1932, Scott emphasized the revolutionary background. His novel, he wrote, should “[s]how a man who is a natural idealist, a spoiled priest, giving in for various causes to the ideas of the haute bourgeoisie, and in his rise to the top of the social world losing his idealism, his talent and turning to drink and dissipation.” In order to cure his wife of her illness, this man (Dick Diver) was to pretend to a belief in the current order he did not hold, “being in fact a communist-liberal-idealist, a moralist in revolt.” After his private collapse, Diver was to send “his neglected son into Soviet Russia to educate him.”
Much of this outline was scrapped before Fitzgerald was through with his novel, but not—significantly—his implicit condemnation of the rich, and particularly of the Warren family, from the crooked grandfather to the degeneratefather and the daughters who use their sexual power (Nicole) and financial means (Baby) to dominate and mistreat others.
Zelda was also at work on a novel. She had written several articles and stories during the 1920s, which were usually published under false colors as the joint work of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald or under her husband's byline alone. His name on the piece commanded a higher price. During her sixteen months at Prangins clinic in Switzerland, she wrote “sixteen or twenty short stories” to release the artistic energy that had previously gone into ballet. Most of these were never published—Scott thought that they were unprofessional, “about as interesting as the average high-school product and yet all of them 'talented.'” Restored to the familiar surroundings of her childhood, Zelda shifted from stories to a novel about a young Southern girl who goes off to Europe with her philandering husband and discovers herself as a ballet dancer.
Zelda emerged psychologically intact from the crisis of her father's death, but suffered a relapse early in 1932 while working hard on her novel. In February Scott took her to the Phipps clinic at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Though undergoing treatment, she continued to write, and in four weeks time finished the first draft of the novel. Scott must have felt embarrassed that Zelda had accomplished so much, so fast. But her book as it was then fashioned needed considerable editing—among other things, she had named her heroine's unsympathetic husband Amory Blaine, the name of the hero of This Side of Paradise. Scott worked with her on that task, eventually sending the revised script to Perkins in mid-May along with some promotional comments. Zelda's book, which was to be called Save Me the Waltz, was “a good novel now, perhaps a very good novel.” Scott went on to compare her work to that of Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, two writers Perkins was editing. Zelda's novel was more “the expression of a powerful personality,” like [Thomas Wolfe's] Look Homeward, Angel, than the work of a finished artist like Ernest Hemingway. It should appeal to the thousands of readers interested in dancing. The book was “about something & absolutely new, & should sell.”
But Fitzgerald also had a touchy issue to deal with. Hemingway had told him once he would never publish a book in the same season with him, “meaning it would lead to ill-feeling.” Now that promised to happen with Ernest's book about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon, and with Zelda's novel, both coming out in the fall. If he saw Ernest, Scott advised, “Do not praise [Zelda's novel], or even talk about it to him!” Even though there was no possible conflict between the two books, Ernest would expect Max's “entire allegiance.” Besides, Scottpointed out in considerable understatement, there “has always been a subtle struggle between Ernest & Zelda,” and it would be better not to risk “curiously grave consequences—curious, that is, to un-jealous men like you and me.”
Fitzgerald's warning came too late. Perkins had already written Hemingway with the news that he had seen Zelda's novel—it was initially sent directly to Max, without any editing or commentary from Scott—and that there were some good things in it. “If you ever publish any books by any wives of mine,” Ernest wrote back, “I'll bloody well shoot you.” Death in the Afternoon was published September 23,1932. The reviews ranged widely, and the book had a decent if not spectacular sale. Save Me the Waltz was published exactly two weeks later, on October 7,1932. The reviews were poor, and despite Fitzgerald's predictions the book did not sell. Max sent Ernest a copy of Zelda's novel, which he “found to be completely and absolutely unreadable.” He offered to forward it to anyone Max could think of who might be able to read it.
One of the reasons Perkins wanted to publish Save Me the Waltz was the hope that Zelda might turn out to be “a writer of popular books” and through her earnings rescue the Fitzgeralds from their precarious financial condition. Over the years of waiting for Scott's next novel, Max confided to Ernest, Scribner's had advanced him so much that it was impossible to imagine his making “anything out of a novel even if it were a great success.” But if Zelda could begin to make money, Perkins thought, “they ought to get into a good position where Scott could write.”
In this and other letters of the early 1930s, Perkins was manifestly trying to include Hemingway in his concern about Fitzgerald's various troubles. In effect, he was asking Ernest to commiserate with him in his distress, and on occasion to participate in schemes to relieve Scott's woes. Until the end of 1929, Hemingway willingly accepted complicity with Perkins in this task. In correspondence he chided Scott for writing stories instead of novels, but the harsh message was softened by the clear and sometimes explicit assumption that Scott was an important writer and what he did with his talent therefore mattered. By 1932, however, Hemingway had renounced the role of rehabilitating Fitzgerald.
Yes, Scott had been his benefactor, but as always he was eager to discharge the debt and move on. And yes, Scott had once been his best friend, but those days were over, brought to an end by Fitzgerald's series of personal and socialblunders during 1929: making a mess of timekeeping in the bout with Callaghan, spilling the beans to Vallombrosa, abasing himself by misinterpreting Stein's observations, tipsily revealing the worst of McAlmon's slanders, and interposing himself as editor, agent, adman, and all-around nuisance with regard to A Farewell to Arms. It seemed very much as if Scott were bent on alienating Ernest's affections. Certainly his behavior had that effect.
In his letters to Perkins, therefore, Hemingway adopted an increasingly callous attitude toward Fitzgerald. “Poor old Scott,” he'd remark by way of dismissing the subject, and then move on to more important matters. “Poor old Scott” was no longer his problem. “Listen,” he wrote Perkins by way of signing off on any future obligation, “you have troubles, and they are real troubles, and Scott has bad troubles, and I have had some troubles and if Mr. Thomas Wolfe lives long enough, great writer though he should be, he will have plenty of troubles too but I get my work done in spite of all troubles and when it is done to hell with it being bitched by somebody else's troubles.” And to John Dos Passos later that month, kidding Dos's “camera eye” technique in U.S.A. and denigrating Fitzgerald: “Writing a fine book about Scott Fitzgerald oddly enough. Very interesting and instructive. Am going to have a camera eye looking up a horse's ass and newsreels of you singing in Chinese and give a drink of hot kirsch to every customer.” And again to Max Perkins in July, in reply to Max's letter about seeing Fitzgerald in Baltimore, in fine spirits but not looking well: “Poor old Scott—He should have swapped Zelda when she was at her craziest but still saleable back 5 or 6 years ago before she was diagnosed as nutty—He is the great tragedy of talent in our bloody generation.”
During this period, Hemingway was not alone in wanting to limit his relations with Fitzgerald. Scott also managed to antagonize two other men he greatly admired, H.L. Mencken and Edmund Wilson.
Even before they came to Baltimore, Fitzgerald had wired Mencken for advice about “the biggest psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins for nonorganic nervous troubles.” Once living there, he looked up the Menckens socially. There was a “somewhat weird evening” at La Paix, the Fitzgeralds' rented house outside the city where Zelda, on outpatient basis, struck the sage of Baltimore as “palpably only half sane.” Mencken's wife, Sara, spooked by the dinner party, vowed never to return. Later Scott got into the disconcerting habit of dropping in on the Menckens, usually uninvited. He still stood in awe of Mencken, whom he had regarded as a kind of literary god in the earliest days of his writing career. For his part Mencken took an interest in Fitzgerald as yet another literary acquaintance who was ruining himself with drink. “[L]iquor sets him wild,” he noted, “and he is apt, when drunk, to knock over a dinner table, or run his automobile into a bank building.” Joseph Hergesheimer, in nearby West Chester, reported that Fitzgerald caused a sensation “by arising at the dinner table and taking down his pantaloons, exposing his gospel pipe.” When an “always plainly tight” Scott began to propose taking Sara and Menck for automobile rides with himself at the wheel, they decided to bar him from the house. They were both fond of him, but he was making himself impossible.
With Wilson, another man he regarded as his intellectual superior, Fitzgerald's behavior followed a different but equally offensive course. After passing a certain point of alcoholic consumption, Scott would alternate needling his friends with even more annoying expressions of admiration. He would abase himself before Wilson, for example, characterizing himself as a vulgarian sitting at the feet of the scholar. Then he would switch to insulting remarks, adding, “Can't take it, huh?” if Bunny came back at him. All this struck Wilson, admittedly “a hard guy to get along with” himself, as “high school (Princeton University) stuff” they should dispense with, now that they were well into their thirties. In a 1950 letter to Fitzgerald biographer Arthur Mizener, Wilson downplayed this tension between them as “due to a misunderstanding on my part, my own self-confidence at the time being probably in as bad shape as his.” But Scott's needling-praising technique was damned irritating, and not uncommon at this stage of his life. John Bishop was subjected to this treatment, he told Wilson, and Bunny himself had seen Fitzgerald do it with Hemingway.
In January 1933, Fitzgerald went on a “terrible bat” in New York, and in the midst of it arranged for a dinner meeting with Hemingway and Wilson. The effects were disastrous. All three men did some drinking in advance. Ernest arrived in a horse-drawn carriage, announcing that he wanted to do something for the horse, after attempting to justify the death and disemboweling of horses during bullfights in Death in the Afternoon. In great good spirits, he sang a bawdy Italian song for the waiters at the Aurora restaurant. Scott was already drunk when Wilson arrived, and immediately began to jibe at him. “Where's Mary Blair?” he demanded. Mary Blair was Wilson's first wife, whom he had divorcedyears earlier. Wilson was then grieving for his second wife Margaret Canby, who had died in an accident a few months before.
With Ernest, Scott took a stance of abject hero worship. “Hemingway was now a great man,” Wilson reported, “and Scott was so much overcome by his greatness that he embarrassed me by his self-abasement.” He was looking for a woman, Scott declared, and Ernest told him he was in no shape for one. Well, he was done with men, anyway, Scott said. Hemingway told Wilson to ignore that comment, for he and Scott sometimes joked around about homosexuality. Then he told Fitzgerald “not to overdo it.” As the evening deteriorated, Fitzgerald laid his head on the table, then lay on the floor pretending to be unconscious but actually listening to the conversation and “from time to time needling his hero, whose weaknesses he had studied intently, with malicious little interpolations.” From time to time Wilson or Hemingway escorted him to the men's room, to hold his head while he vomited. Finally, Ernest and Bunny returned Scott to his hotel room at the Plaza. Wilson stayed on to hear what Fitzgerald might have to say as he sobered up, but Scott simply undressed and put himself to bed and stared at Bunny “with his expressionless birdlike eyes.”
The next day, as was his wont, Scott called both of his dinner companions to apologize. When Wilson mentioned the cold eye Fitzgerald had fixed him with, Scott belligerently said, “No confidence, eh? Well, you'll have to learn to take it.” Ernest assured Scott he would not mention the incident to Max Perkins, but Fitzgerald brought it up anyway in a letter to Max regretting that he had violated “a custom of many years standing” by not telephoning him during his New York trip. By return mail, Perkins let Fitzgerald know that there was no need for such explanations. He had called Max up after all, leaving a message when he was out, and Max had called back, missing connections with Scott at the Plaza. It was the least of the things he would have liked to forget about that trip.
“I came to New York to get drunk and swinish and I shouldn't have looked up you and Ernest in such a humor of impotent desperation,” Fitzgerald wrote Wilson a month later. “I assume full responsibility for all unpleasantness— with Ernest I seem to have reached a state where I half bait, half truckle to him… Anyhow, plenty of egotism for the moment.” In his notebooks years later, he was inclined to absolve himself of much of the blame. “Very strong personalities must confine themselves in mutual conversation to very gentle subjects,” he generalized. “[I]f they start at a high pitch as at the last meeting of Ernest, Bunny and me, their meeting is spoiled. It does not matter who sets the theme or what it is.”
After the dinner at the Aurora, Hemingway wrote Perkins that he didn't know whether Scott was going to “ever come out of this thing.” He seemed so “damned perverse.” Of course it wasn't easy to get your work done properly, but that didn't account for Scott's “wanting to fail—it's that damned, bloody romanticism.” What he really needed to do was to grow up—and dry out. “I wish to Christ I could see him sober,” Ernest concluded. A few weeks later, he wrote Perkins speculating that the only things that might make Scott a writer again would be 1) Zelda's death, or 2) his stomach giving out so he couldn't drink. Worst of all, Scott was now cultivating his failure. “He's gone into that cheap Irish love of defeat, betrayal of himself, etc.”
Ernest did nothing to bolster Scott's confidence—quite the contrary. In “Homage to Switzerland,” which appeared in the April 1933 Scribner's magazine, he took a satirical swipe in a fictional conversation at the subject matter of Fitzgerald's magazine fiction. Were the Berlitz students a wild lot? a traveling American asks his Swiss waitress, who has been studying languages. “What about all this necking and petting? Were there many smoothies? Did you ever run into Scott Fitzgerald?”
“Homage to Switzerland” was one of the lesser stories in Winner Take Nothing, Hemingway's collection that was published in October 1933. By this time, Wilson had apparently decided, on the basis of the dinner at the Aurora and other signals, that the way to motivate Fitzgerald was to appeal to his rivalrous instincts vis-à-vis Hemingway. After reading an advance copy of Winner Take Nothing, he wrote Scott congratulating him on at last completing Tender Is the Night, which was then scheduled for January-April 1934 serialization in Scribner's magazine, to be followed by book publication. Although the best of the stories in Hemingway's new collection were “excellent,” Wilson said, he still advised Fitzgerald—not once but twice—that “now is your time to creep up on him.” The subtext of that particular image was anything but reassuring. As Wilson saw the literary contest, Hemingway was obviously in the lead and Fitzgerald could only gain on him through stealth.
Wilson was correct in thinking that the issue of comparative standing was on Fitzgerald's mind. Late in September 1933, he unveiled to Perkins his plan “to prevail upon the [newly formed] Modern Library, even with a subsidy, to bring out Gatsby a few weeks after the book publication of [Tender].” He would share in the cost of the subsidy, if needed. Fitzgerald felt that Scribner's business department had taken a short-sighted view of the importance—to the firm as well as to the author—of his literary reputation. “As for example,” he went on, “anovel of Ernest's in the Modern Library [A Farewell to Arms came out in a Modern Library edition in May 1932] and no novel of mine, a good short story of Ernest's in their collection of the Great Modern Short Stories and a purely commercial story of mine.” He added two ingratiating remarks. First, he assured Max that he would be easier to deal with than Ernest when it came to making cuts in Tender for serial publication. Second, he would deliver the final manuscript to Scribner's in a month's time. “Please do not have a band as I do not care for music.” Fitzgerald's reputation was indeed on the wane. Athough The Great Gatsby appeared as he wished in a Modern Library edition in September 1934, there was only one printing, of 5,000 copies.
Fitzgerald had a great deal riding on Tender, his first novel in nine years. Initially he considered a preface that would try to account for the long gap. After all, there had been scarcely a week during that period when someone didn't ask him for a report on when his new book would be finished. But he scotched that plan, and counseled Perkins to play down the “At last, the long awaited…” approach in advertising. Above all he wanted to differentiate his novel from his formulaic happy-ending stories in the Saturday Evening Post. He cautioned Perkins not to “use the phrase 'Riviera' or 'gay resorts'” in ad copy. It would be much better to point out that “after a romantic start, a serious story unfolds”—advice that Scribner's followed in writing the book-jacket description of the novel. He was also dead set against any kind of personal ballyhoo or publicity. “The reputation of a book must grow from within upward, must be a natural growth,” he maintained, and Tender Is the Night perfectly illustrated his point. Undervalued in its own time, it has grown to rank, with Gatsby, as the work on which Fitzgerald's critical reputation most securely rests.
In a letter to John Peale Bishop the week before publication of Tender, Fitzgerald discoursed on the distinction between his two great novels. The intention of the two books was “entirely different.” Gatsby was a dramatic novel, a kind of “tour de force” demanding sharply drawn dramatic scenes. Tender was a “philosophical, now called psychological novel,” with material so “harrowing and highly charged” that he deliberately refrained from pointing it up emotionally. That was particularly true of the “dying fall” ending that Hemingway had “developed to me, in conversation.” In Tender, he was covering a far wider canvas than in Gatsby, a novel with a strict time sequence and a tightly knit plot line. It was like comparing a sonnet sequence with an epic.
Fitzgerald may have counseled against ballyhoo, but could hardly prevent his publishers from seeking endorsements from illustrious literary figures. Hemingway was not one of them; wisely, neither Scott nor Ernest supplied blurbs for each other's books. For endorsements, Scribner's turned instead to Gertrude Stein, who had praised Gatsby in her autobiography, and to T.S. Eliot.
In February 1933, Eliot came to Baltimore to lecture at Johns Hopkins, and a meeting was arranged with Fitzgerald. Scott stayed sober for the afternoon and evening they spent together. “I read him some of his poems and he seemed to think they were pretty good,” Fitzgerald wrote Wilson afterwards. He liked Eliot, who had just ended a devastating marriage, but thought he seemed “very broken and sad and shrunk inside.” Eliot's manner reminded him of what Stein said about Hemingway: that he was “one of those tall men who are always tired.” In any case, Eliot proved willing when asked for a word of praise about Fitzgerald. Scribner's printed his comment on the front flap of the book jacket for Tender. “I have been waiting for another book by Mr. Scott Fitzgerald with more eagerness and curiosity than I should feel towards the work of any of his contemporaries, except that of Mr. Ernest Hemingway.” A fine encomium but for the galling comparison at the end.
Scribner's also used a laudatory phrase from Eliot on the back of the book jacket, quoting his comment—in a 1925 letter to Fitzgerald—that he regarded Gatsby as “the first step forward in the American novel since Henry James.” Scott sent off a letter to Eliot in London disavowing complicity in the gaffe. “I regret terribly that they used a line from a personal letter of yours on the jacket,” he wrote. “I know how I would feel if anyone used as publicity what I had written in a personal letter.”
Still, the technique of praise by reference to another eminence—Fitzgerald compared to James—was one that Scott himself used in a letter of introduction composed on the same day he wrote Eliot in England. The introduction was intended to help a young man named Charles (Bill) Warren land a job in Hollywood. Warren “has shown a remarkable talent for the theatre in writing, composing and directing two shows” in Baltimore, Fitzgerald observed. His gifts were “amazingly varied,” and he should soon fit in and rise close to the top in motion pictures. “[I]n fact,” Fitzgerald added as a clincher, “I haven't believed in anybody so strongly since Ernest Hemingway.” Thanking Fitzgerald for his letter of introduction a few months later, Warren pointed out that the “little line of yours about 'haven't been as interested in anyone since Hemingway' has had the desired effect every time.”
With so much at stake, Fitzgerald revised his novel tirelessly right up to publication day. Busy with the galleys in March, he wrote Perkins that he couldn't help making changes. As “a serious man” he was determined to struggle over every line he published, and if the last-minute alterations cost money, Scribner's could charge them to his account. Later in the year, when he was working on proofs for his 1935 book of stories Taps at Reveille, he confessed that a pile of proofs had the same effect on him that a covey of partridge did on Hemingway. He couldn't leave them alone. Perkins tried to forestall him from excessive tinkering with the stories, and from omitting some of the best of them— “The Swimmers” and “One Trip Abroad,” for example—which had been raided to supply passages in Tender Is the Night. By way of argument, Max pointed out that Hemingway had sometimes used the same phrases in both story and novel. That was not justification enough for Fitzgerald, who was no longer willing to let Hemingway occupy the high literary ground. Ernest “might be able to afford a lapse in that line,” Scott wrote, but he could not. “Each of us has his virtues and one of mine happens to be a great sense of exactitude about my work.”
“I'm so glad all the good people liked your book,” Zelda wrote her husband shortly after Tender came out. That was an exaggeration, for the reviewers varied widely in their assessments. Among the most favorable was Gilbert Seldes, who thought the novel so intense that he had to put it down in order “to stop, to think and to feel.” Among the least was Fanny Butcher, who labeled the book “a brilliant failure.” Tender Is the Night sold reasonably well, for a book published in the trough of the depression. During April and May the book ranked tenth on the Publishers Weekly best-seller lists. Criticism focused less on its subject matter—the life of rich expatriates on the Riviera—than Fitzgerald had feared, with one notable exception. Philip Rahv in the Daily Worker acknowledged that the novel portrayed the collapse of the haute bourgeoisie, “dying in hospitals for the mentally diseased, in swanky Paris hotels and on the Riviera beaches.” At the same time, however, he thought that Fitzgerald discerned “a certain grace” in the last gasps of the leisure class. Why write about them at all? “Dear Mr. Fitzgerald,” Rahv concluded in politically doctrinaire fashion, “you can't hide from a hurricane under a beach umbrella.”
A number of reviewers were put off by the novel's structure, and particularly by its opening on the Riviera with Rosemary's adoring and romanticdepiction of Dick and Nicole Diver's world. This beginning, many felt, made Diver's subsequent downfall hard to accept, and hard to credit. Fitzgerald suspected they were right, and in his notes sketched out a plan for reorganizing the novel along chronological lines.
Most of Fitzgerald's literary friends weighed in with praise for Tender. The most perceptive of these appreciations came from John Dos Passos, who admitted that he'd been “enormously thrown off by the beginning” but realized later how establishing that glamorous facade was necessary before showing how it was being eroded by its intrinsic amorality and the social and economic currents of the time. Zelda also noted the revolutionary thrust of the novel. “The book is grand,” she wrote Scott. It was very moving to witness “characters subserviated to forces” stronger than themselves and “succumbing to the purpose of a changing world.” Both Fitzgeralds understood that her history of mental instability supplied Tender with much of its authenticity. Scott went so far as to take portions of her troubled letters and assign them to Nicole Diver. It was his material, after all, and he was the professional writer, or so at least he argued in a confrontation with Zelda in May 1933. At that time, and despite the failure of Save Me the Waltz, she was contemplating a novel dealing with her schizophrenia. Her doctors thought this was a topic she should avoid, for the sake of her health. Scott thought so too, and not only for that reason.
In February 1934, Zelda suffered another relapse, and was sent to Craig House in Beacon, New York. With dancing and writing more or less forbidden to her, she had turned her attention to painting. Scott arranged a show of her work— thirteen paintings and fifteen drawings—at Cary Ross's gallery in New York from March 29 to April 30, 1934, to overlap publication of Tender. Ernest came to see her show, she wrote Scott from Craig House. There was no word from him about Scott's novel.
Although Hemingway delayed letting Fitzgerald know what he thought of Tender Is the Night, he freely expressed his opinion to others. He wrote Gerald Murphy, for example, that the book was marred by “too much bloody flashy writing.” And he unburdened himself to Max Perkins at length. Perkins had written Hemingway in advance of publication to say that he thought Fitzgerald would “be completely reinstated, if not more” by his novel. When Scott was through with all the revising, Max believed he “would have a genuine masterpiece in its kind.” Ernest did not think so.
“Scott's book… has all the brilliance and most of the defects he always has,” he wrote Max after finishing the novel. The two most serious defects, in Hemingway's view, were that Fitzgerald did not really understand people, and that he did not invent enough. In Tender Is the Night, Scott started with Gerald and Sara Murphy as models for the Divers, and did a marvelous job of catching “the accent of their voices, their home, their looks.” But he invested them with a romantic aura, and knew nothing about them emotionally. “[Y]ou do not learn about people,” Ernest pointedly added, by asking them questions such as “Did you sleep with your wife before you married her?” Instead of inventing, Hemingway maintained, Fitzgerald had “made the story conform to the few wows he had saved up out of his life.” This was the wrong way to go about writing fiction. In making his argument, Ernest alternated deprecatory remarks about Scott with reflections on the theory of literature.
The trouble is that he wouldn't learn his trade and he won't be honest. He is always the brilliant young gentleman writer, fallen gentleman writer, gent in the gutter, gent ruined, but never a man. If he is writing about a woman going crazy he has to take a woman who has gone crazy [Zelda]. He can't take one woman [Sara] who would never go crazy and make her go… If he is writing about himself going to hell as a man and a writer he has to accept that and write about that. He can make it all up and imagine it all but he has to imagine it truly…[i]f he wants it to be literature. You can make up every word, thought, and action. But you must make them up truly. Not fake them to suit your convenience or to fit some remembered actions. And you must know what things are about. He misunderstands everything. But he has this marvellous talent, this readability, and if he would write a good one now, making it all up, he could do it. But using actual stuff is the most difficult writing… Making it all up is the easiest and the best.
“Did you like the book?” Fitzgerald finally wrote Hemingway on May 10. “For God's sake drop me a line and tell me one way or the other.” Either way, Ernest couldn't hurt his feelings. Scott simply wanted an intelligent opinion to get “the reviewers' jargon” out of his head. Then, as if to provoke an unfavorable response, he went on to criticize Winner Take Nothing. As a collection, it had neither the surprise nor the unity of In Our Time, and it did not contain “as large a proportion of first-flight stories” as Men Without Women. It would have been better to hold the book for more material, so that its “sheer bulk” might atone for its inferiority to Hemingway's earlier collections.
“I liked it and I didn't like it,” Hemingway reported in a letter of May 28. A major difficulty, as he saw it, was that Dick and Nicole Diver were obviously fashioned after the Murphys at the beginning, but by the end had segued into fictionalized versions of Scott and Zelda. In arguing the point, Hemingway adopted his characteristic stance as expert. “You can take you or me or Zelda or Pauline or Hadley or Sara or Gerald but you have to keep them the same and you can only make them do what they would do. You can't make one be another.” Invention was “the finest thing” but it didn't work if you made up something that would not actually happen. There were some “wonderful places” in the novel, and no one could write better, but Scott “cheated too damned much in this one.”
He'd “always claimed” Fitzgerald couldn't think, Hemingway continued, but backed down from that generalization to a more specific charge. A long time ago, he wrote, Scott “stopped listening except to the answers to your own questions.” Seeing and listening were the writer's stock in trade. Scott could still see well enough, but he wasn't listening. The novel “was a lot better than I say,” Ernest conceded. “But not as good as you can do.”
Hemingway proceeded with a barrage against Fitzgerald's failings that, depending on one's point of view, could be construed either as bracing critiques or downright insults. First came the “masterpiece” issue, in combination with a jibe at Fitzgerald's popular fiction for the magazines. Scott simply had to write, and not worry “about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece.” He himself produced one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit, and tried to put the shit in the wastebasket, Ernest said. Scott felt he had to “publish crap to make money to live,” but that was all right so long as he wrote as well as he could on his novels and forgot about creating masterpieces. He didn't think “well enough to sit down and write a deliberate masterpiece.”
Next Ernest turned his attention to what he regarded as Scott's unseemly wallowing in his misfortunes. Here as throughout the letter, Hemingway's advice came in the form of a directive from on high. “Forget your personal tragedy,” he commanded Fitzgerald. “We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don't cheat with it.” Neither of them were tragic characters. “All we are is writers and what we should do is write.”
Before signing off, Hemingway went on to take swipes at Fitzgerald's wife and his drinking. “Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you.” He was oversimplifying, Ernest admitted, but he thought Zelda was crazy the first time he met her, and Scott “complicated” matters by being in love with her. Then too, he was “a rummy” but no more a rummy than James Joyce and most good writers were. The thought inspired Ernest to finish on a note of encouragement. “But Scott, good writers always come back. Always.” What's more, Scott was a much better writer now than he had been a decade before, when he thought he was so marvellous.
The letter ended in a glow of good feeling. Ernest was “damned fond” of Scott and wished they had a chance to talk. Scott had been “so damned stinking” in New York (at the dinner with Wilson) that they didn't get anywhere. Still, they'd “had good times talking” in the past. In his comments on Tender, he'd left out commentary on its “good parts,” for Scott knew how good they were. What's more, Ernest agreed with Scott about Winner Take Nothing. He'd wanted to hold off publication until he had more stories, himself. Almost as an afterthought, he appealed to Fitzgerald's long-standing practice of promoting his career. Scott had Hollywood connections, he knew. “What about The Sun also and the movies? Any chance?”
Fitzgerald replied at once to Hemingway's letter. He took exception to Ernest's views on “composite characters” like Dick and Nicole Diver—a point he was to expand upon in correspondence with John Peale Bishop and Sara Murphy—and confessed that he'd committed a literary “burglary” by adopting Ernest's concept of an emotionally subdued ending for Tender. He thanked Hemingway for his letter, which was “damned nice.” And he too wished they might talk face to face. Perhaps it was true that he no longer listened. “But I listen to you and would like damn well to hear your voice again.”
In writing her husband from Craig House, Zelda proposed that he should invite Ernest to visit him in Baltimore. He had “more room than people in the house,” she pointed out, now that she was no longer in residence. Scott issued no such invitation, but a number of meetings between the two men were suggested during 1934 and 1935. In December 1934, for example, Arnold Gingrich at Esquire was planning to visit Hemingway in Key West, and go fishing with him on his new 38-foot boat, the Pilar. Gingrich proposed bringing Fitzgerald along, and Hemingway okayed the idea. At the last minute, Fitzgerald canceled by telegram: SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE TO GET DOWN THIS WEEK AND I CERTAINLY REGRET IT. HAD SO MANY THINGS TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT.
According to Fitzgerald, his mother's illness prevented the trip. In reality, Scott did not want to face Ernest in an environment where he would feel out of his depth. The following month, it was Perkins who suggested bringingFitzgerald along when he came to Key West to read the typescript of Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa. This time, Hemingway discouraged the notion. It would be better to see Fitzgerald after he'd finished revisions on the book, Ernest wrote Max. Scott's literary judgments were “deplorable.” As ever the peacemaker, Perkins wrote Fitzgerald after his trip to Key West that “Hem was quite mad” when he didn't bring Scott with him. Late in February, he passed on to Hemingway Scott's claim that he'd been “on the absolute wagon for a month” and felt fine. It would be a miracle if Scott could really quit drinking, Max realized, but a note from Ernest might help.
The prospect for a reunion improved after Hemingway wrote Perkins in April that he was having second thoughts about Scott's novel. “How is Scott?” Ernest wrote. “I wish I could see him. A strange thing is that in retrospect his Tender is the Night gets better and better. I wish you would tell him I said so.” Max passed on the good words to Fitzgerald, who pasted them in his scrapbook. “Thanks for the message from Ernest,” Scott wrote back. “I'd like to see him too and I always think of my friendship with him as being one of the high spots of my life. But I still believe that such things have a mortality, perhaps in reaction to their very excessive life, and that we will never again see very much of each other.” So it worked out, even though Max continued to propose a foregathering of his two authors. He'd like to see Ernest, Scott responded on May 11, but only “under the most favorable of circumstances.” At that moment, Zelda was in “very bad condition” and his own mood reflected hers. Two days later, however, Scott wired Ernest that he could make a three-day stay at Key West if that didn't interfere with his plans. By way of setting the ground rules for his visit, he added, NOT UP TO ANYTHING STRENUOUS PROBABLY RESULT OF TEETOTALLING SINCE JANUARY. The timing was off. Pauline wired back that Ernest was in Bimini.
In December Hemingway sent Fitzgerald a macabre invitation. He began with a discussion of illness—Zelda's continuing troubles, Scott's bad liver and heart and lungs, his and Scott's mutual insomnia—before firing his opening salvo. “You put so damned much value on youth it seemed to me that you confused growing up with growing old,” he observed. Still, Ernest admitted, Scott had taken so much punishment he had no business trying to tell him anything.
Now that the revolution was heating up in Cuba, Ernest had a specific proposal in mind. Scott had been complaining to him of his illnesses and misfortunes. All right, then: if Scott really felt blue, he should get himself heavily insured and come down to Key West and Ernest would take him to Cuba on his boat and see to it that he got killed. His family would be provided for and he wouldn't have to write any more and Ernest would write him a fine obituary. “[W]e can take your liver out and give it to the Princeton Museum, your heart to the Plaza Hotel, one lung to Max Perkins and the other to George Horace Lorimer. If we can still find your balls I will take them… to Antibes and have them cast into the sea off Eden Roc and we will get MacLeish to write a Mystic Poem to be read at that Catholic School… you went to.” Then he ventured on such a poem himself, to be titled “Lines To Be Read At the Casting of Scott FitzGerald's balls into the Sea from Eden Roc.” Get that insurance, pal, he repeated, in a curious echo of his father's preparations for death. “If they won't give you health or life insurance get accident insurance.”
Such was the kind of thing Ernest expected to pass for good-natured raillery. He finished with an exclamatory “Merry Christmas!” and signed himself “Yours always affectionately.” Scott did not go to Key West, or on Ernest's boat to Cuba. They would not meet again until 1937. During the interim, Fitzgerald's life and career touched bottom. There were times when he wished he were dead.
In talking with Fitzgerald and Hemingway in 1925, Dean Gauss from Princeton brought up the issue of early indebtedness. Fitzgerald admitted that British author Compton Mackenzie strongly influenced This Side of Paradise, and Hemingway acknowledged that Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio had been his first model. Both agreed that they had to pay for whatever help they'd gotten from others and then proceed to find their own voice. “It was like consulting a psychiatrist,” Gauss wrote. “If you were to go on your own, you soon had to wean yourself of such outside direction.” Ernest had paid Anderson off, somewhat brutally, in The Torrents of Spring. But Gertrude Stein was still around, and still asserting her importance in shaping his work.
Since the summer of 1933, when Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was serialized in the Atlantic, Arnold Gingrich had been urging Hemingway to respond to her accusations that he had been “formed” as a writer by her and Anderson (“they were both a little proud and a little ashamed” of then-handiwork) and that he was both fragile and “yellow,” like some of the flatboat men on the Mississippi Mark Twain had written about. Gingrich pressed the point when Stein and Toklas came to the United States for an extended lecture tour in late 1934. Hemingway was writing informal and wide-ranging “letters” for Esquire every month, anyway. Why not take a whack at Gertrude in one of them? It would make “a sure-fire piece” for the magazine.
With a show of restraint, Hemingway said no. He'd heard Stein on the radio, he wrote Gingrich in mid-November, and she sounded “so God awful” thata counterattack would be “like socking a dummy or a ghost.” He knew all her weak spots, and there was “a certain damned fine feeling of superiority” in knowing he could finish her off at any time and still not doing it. Besides, he didn't like “to slam the old bitch around” when she was having such a fine time being lionized in the United States.
In fact Ernest was not so magnanimous as all that. In his introduction to James Charters's (Jimmie the Barman's) memoirs of Montparnasse, published in July 1934, he expressed his pronounced preference for honest saloons over the literary salons of “legendary women.” And in a passage for Green Hills of Africa, which was to be published the following year, he repeated a conversation between himself and Pauline about Gertrude Stein. Once she had been talented. Now she was all “malice and nonsense and self-praise… Woman of letters. Salon woman. What a lousy stinking life.” In the same book, he turned the issue of influence upside down. It was not that she had “formed” him, but the other way around. Stein never could write dialogue, until she learned how to do it from his fiction. “She never could forgive learning that and she was afraid people would notice it, where she'd learned it, so she had to attack me.” Stein had been all right until she went through menopause, Hemingway wrote both Gingrich and Perkins. Then, suddenly, she lost “all sense of taste” and couldn't tell a good picture from a bad one, or a good writer from a lousy one.
When Stein's memoir appeared, Fitzgerald called Perkins to ask whether Hemingway was “bothered” by her slurs against him. A little bit at first, Max replied, putting it mildly. But Scott was only human, and could not help being pleased by Stein's prediction in the Autobiography that he would be read long after “his contemporaries” were forgotten. In his notebooks, Fitzgerald used one of her aspersions against Hemingway as a spur for his own ambitions. “I want to write scenes that are frightening and inimitable. I don't want to be as intelligible to my contemporaries as Ernest who as Gertrude Stein said, is bound for the Museums. I am sure I am far enough ahead to have some small immortality if I can keep well.”
So, when Stein wrote him that she and Toklas would be in Baltimore over the holidays, and that she “liked a lot” of Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald invited them to Christmas Eve dinner. A curious exchange of presents ensued. When Scottie came down to greet the guests, Gertrude apologized for not bringing her a Christmas gift. “I did not know I was to see you,” she explained. Undaunted, Scottie asked if perhaps Stein might not have something in her pocket—and was pleased when the visitor produced a pencil and presented it to her. “I shall keep this as a souvenir,” the fourteen-year-old girl announced solemnly.
Zelda was also on the scene, on overnight leave from Sheppard and Enoch Pratt hospital. During the evening, she showed Stein some of her recent paintings. When Gertrude expressed an interest, Scott immediately proclaimed that she must accept as a gift any two of them she liked. That was fine with Gertrude, who chose two paintings, but Zelda drew the line. Scott pointed out that Gertrude had been exceedingly kind to him, and that when she hung Zelda's work in her Paris salon, it might make her famous. That was not her husband's gift to make, Zelda made clear. He could give Stein everything he owned, but she couldn't have those paintings. In the end, Gertrude took a canvas with her, but it was not one of the two she selected. A few days later, Scott assured Stein in a letter that Zelda had been given “a tangible sense of her own existence” when Gertrude liked two of her paintings well enough to want to own them. In his usual fashion, he also apologized for having, himself, been “somewhat stupid-got with the Christmas spirit.”
In 1934 alone, Fitzgerald twice invoked Hemingway's name in articles for Esquire. “F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald,” as authors of “Auction—Model 1934,” recall that their treasured Lalique turtle “held the white violets the first night Ernest Hemingway came to our house”—an occasion that even Zelda, who probably wrote the piece, must have felt worth noting. “Sleeping and Waking,” Fitzgerald's powerful December 1934 essay on insomnia, began with the observation that for a long time he thought Hemingway's 1927 story “Now I Lay Me” constituted the last word on the subject.
The primary example of Fitzgerald's continuing obsession with Hemingway, however, came in the form of “Philippe, Count of Darkness,” the historical novel he embarked upon immediately after Tender Is the Night. The book, which was never completed, was to recount the adventures of a French nobleman modeled on Hemingway. This medieval novel “shall be the story of Ernest,” Fitzgerald declared in his notebooks, where he also articulated his ambitions for this work-in-progress: “Just as Stendhal's portrait of a Byronic man made Le Rouge et le Noir, so couldn't my portrait of Ernest as Philippe make the real modern man?” He completed four installments of the novel, which were published in Redbook. In the first three, Philippe battles the Normans for the land his father bequeathed to him, survives a dangerous encounter with King Louis the Stammerer, brutally disposes of a number of enemies, and woos women with masterful dominance—an almost invincible warrior-hero. In the fourth episode, however, Philippe is weakened by his love for the Lady Griselda, a witch whoexerts her power over him—a plot development that suggests his hero worship of Hemingway may have been waning.
Fitzgerald knew a good deal about French history, and did considerable research for “Philippe.” But the results were less than satisfactory. In the first place, the exploits of the hero were not credible. Second, and more important, the dialogue was written in an unintentionally comic patois mixing medieval formality with modern slang. The four installments, all written in 1934 and 1935, read as poorly as anything Fitzgerald wrote. Nonetheless, he twice proposed going back to them late in 1938, either as (when rewritten) the leadoff item for a new collection of stories or (when fleshed out considerably) as a full-scale novel. He was reluctant to give up on a project he had devoted so much time to.
There is no evidence that Hemingway read these stories, or that he knew Philippe was fashioned after himself. Fitzgerald understood, of course, and was also concerned about a possible conflict between his medieval book and what Hemingway was then writing. Late in 1934 he quizzed Perkins about Ernest's next novel, and was relieved to find that it was not to be the story about the Crusades Hemingway once spoke to him about. “I would hate like hell for my 9th century novel to have to compete with that,” he commented.
Students of literature are notorious for finding improbable connections between authors and their works. It is a consequence, probably, of too much indoor cogitation and not enough exercise. Eureka! the dedicated think, as they consign their revelations to the paper that will prove their brilliance. Usually the result is an arid intellectual exercise that convinces no one but the writer of the many ways, many, that X influenced Y. Books, as Emerson warned in “The American Scholar,” “are for the scholar's idle times.”
This is not to say that writers do not influence each other. Of course they do. T.S. Eliot, who knew what he owed to Dante and Spenser and Shakespeare, made the point cogently:
Someone said: “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.
Eliot's own history proved the point. The shadow of “The Waste Land” falls across both The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises, as across much of the modern literary landscape.
Among contemporaneous writers, the issue becomes more complicated and controversial. Loyalists are liable to disavow indebtedness on the part of “their author.” Matthew J. Bruccoli, the leading authority on the life and work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, has declared that “[n]either Hemingway nor Fitzgerald influenced the other's writing.” Bruccoli points out, rightly, that the two men wrote in “utterly dissimilar” styles: Fitzgerald the more lyrical and traditional, Hemingway in a vocabulary not much beyond Basic English and with the understatement Eliot advocated in his doctrine of the “objective correlative.” Fitzgerald could evoke emotional reactions through the magical sound of his particular voice on the page. Hemingway aimed to let the concrete suggest the ineffable, to “put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced.”
The difference between them as writers may be measured in the conclusions to their greatest novels. Each book ends with the death of a principal figure. At the end of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway has made a last trip to the dead protagonist's “huge incoherent failure of a house.” In a powerfully charged poetic voice, he—and Fitzgerald through him—calls up a vision of the promise of America.
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate with his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further…. And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Past and future and present merge in the imagery of this reflection, and are mirrored in the changes of tense of the final two brief paragraphs. A man's reach must exceed his grasp, Browning wrote. Fitzgerald wanted us to feel that there was something magnificent in Gatsby's quest for the unattainable—and unworthy—object of his dreams. And he did it with his extraordinary gift for evocative language.
At the end of A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway lets clipped dialogue and a fade-out paragraph convey Frederic's desolation. Controlled fury emerges from the persistent negations of his conversation with the doctor, and pathos from his despairing attempt to commune with the dead Catherine. He is angry and he is alone and nothing will ever be the same again.
Outside the room, in the hall, I spoke to the doctor. “Is there anything I can do to-night?”
“No. There is nothing to do. Can I take you to your hotel?”
“No, thank you. I am going to stay here a while.”
“I know there is nothing to say. I cannot tell you—”
“No,” I said. “There is nothing to say.”
“Good-night,” he said. “I cannot take you to your hotel?”
“No, thank you.”
“It was the only thing to do,” he said. “The operation proved—”
“I do not want to talk about it,” I said.
“I would like to take you to your hotel.”
“No, thank you.”
He went down the hall. I went to the door of the room.
“You can't come in now,” one of the nurses said.
“Yes I can,” I said.
“You can't come in yet.”
“You get out,” I said. “The other one too.”
But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn't any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.
Gertrude Stein and Christian Gauss were right in concluding that the two young authors, both twenty-nine when they finished these novels, burned with different flames and drew from opposite ends of the color spectrum. Yet they did influence each other in demonstrable and important ways.
Fitzgerald was highly sensitive to the echoes of Hemingway he heard on every side. In his October 1933 memorial essay on Ring Lardner, he commented that Ring's many imitators “lifted everything except the shirt off his back—only Hemingway had been so thoroughly frisked.” And in critiquing Bishop's novel Act of Darkness, he called attention to “the tremendous power of certain stylists.” He detected traces of Hemingway's cadence in Bishop's writing, and cautioned him against letting borrowed language “cradle his ideas.” He had found from his own experience, Scott said, that it was much better to cut such passages and substitute “something that is yourself.”
When he was working hard on the last stages of Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald was particularly aware of the danger of lapsing into Hemingwayesque patches. Directly to Hemingway, he talked about “pieces and paragraphs” Ernest had written that he “read over and over.” He'd had to stop doing so for fear that Hemingway's “particular rhythms were going to creep in on mine by process of infiltration. Perhaps you will recognize some of your remarks in Tender, but I did every damn thing I could to avoid that.”
The manuscripts of Fitzgerald's novel testify both to the “awful pull” he felt toward Hemingway's style, and his determined efforts to resist it. In the draft of one scene, for example, Fitzgerald initially wrote, “Dick and Mrs. Spears [Rosemary's mother] sat in the Cafe des Allies in Cannes. It was August now and all the leaves were dusty and the sparkle of the mica was dulled and dusty on the baked ground. A few gusts of a mistral from farther down the coast seeped through the Estoril and rocked the fishing boats in the harbor, pointing their masts here and there at the featureless sky. The waiters sweated working in the shade.” In the margin, next to the sentence about August and its repetition of “dusty,” he wrote “Hemmingway.” What Fitzgerald was hearing in his own prose, Alan Margolies has suggested, was the beginning of A Farewell to Arms. “Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”
In revision, Fitzgerald tried to erase the similarity. He eliminated the second “dusty” and the leaves and dropped the sentence about the sweating waiters. In still other passages, he warned himself against imitative language, inserting “Hem” above a sentence he deleted, remarking “Beware Ernest in this scene,” and, again, “Now cheerful cafe scene but remember to avoid Hemmingway.” At another place in his drafts, Fitzgerald invoked Hemingway's name and the most widely quoted passage in A Farewell to Arms. Dick Diver is thinking about a female patient of his, an artist who is tortured by eczema (as was Zelda). Not for her, he reflects, “the frontiers of consciousness.” That kind of exploration “was for peasants, with big thighs and thick ankles who could take punishment as they took bread and salt, take it on every inch of flesh until the word pride was distorted and meaningless, like those words honor and glory and sacrifice that Hemingway speaks of as having been made meaningless in the war.” In his manuscript, Fitzgerald placed three question marks in the margin of that last clause. In the book as published, he kept the business about the peasants, but omitted the reference to Hemingway and to Frederic Henry's condemnation of empty patriotic rhetoric.
If Fitzgerald was generally successful in fighting off Hemingway's influence, there is at least one instance where I think Ernest borrowed directly from Scott. In “The Rich Boy,” Fitzgerald's story that ran as a two-parter in Redbook for January and February 1926, the protagonist Anson Hunter is visiting Paula Legendre—a woman who was once in love with him but who has subsequently found happiness in her marriage to Peter Hagerty. Hagerty returns home about eleven p.m. after having a drink with a friend. “Do you want to see our family gymnastic stunt?” she asks Anson.
“Yes,” he said in an interested voice.
“All right. Here we go!”
Hagerty picked her up easily in his arms.
“This is called the family acrobatic stunt,” said Paula. “He carries me up-stairs. Isn't it sweet of him?”
“Yes,” said Anson.
Hagerty bent his head slightly until his face touched Paula's.
“And I love him,” she said. “I've just been telling you, haven't I, Anson?”
“Yes,” he said.
“He's the dearest thing that ever lived in this world, aren't you, darling? … Well, good night. Here we go. Isn't he strong?”
“Yes,” Anson said.
“You'll find a pair of Pete's pajamas laid out for you. Sweet dreams—see you at breakfast.”
“Yes,” Anson said.
This scene resonates strongly with the end of The Sun Also Rises. Jake Barnes has come to Madrid at the behest of Lady Brett Ashley (AM RATHER IN TROUBLE, she'd wired him). On arrival Jake must listen to her go on and on about her affair with Pedro Romero. The situations are much alike, and so is the language the authors employ to communicate emotion. Both Anson and Jake are forced into hearing about their lady love's intimate relationship with another man. And in each case, curt replies—for Hemingway, the monosyllables occasionally shade off into silence—are used to suggest how deeply the protagonist is hurt. In Sun, Jake comes to Brett's hotel, puts his arms around her, and kisses her, sensing as he does so that she has something on her mind. She begins to tell him how devastated she feels about having to send the young bullfighter Romero away.
“He shouldn't be living with any one. I realized that right away.”
“Oh, hell!” she said, “let's not talk about it. Let's never talk about it.” (First and second mentions of a proposal Jake welcomes.)
(Resuming.) “It was rather a knock his being ashamed of me. He was ashamed of me for a while, you know.”
“Oh, yes. They ragged him about me at the cafe, I guess. He wanted me to grow my hair out…”
… … …
“What was it about being in trouble?”
“I didn't know whether 1 could make him go, and I didn't have asou to go away and leave him. He tried to give me a lot of money, you know. I told him I had scads of it. He knew that was a lie. I couldn't take his money, you know.”
“No.” (Beginning to grasp that Brett called on him to rescue her, financially.)
“Oh, let's not talk about it. There were some funny things, though. Do give me a cigarette.” (Third proposal not to talk, immediately recanted.)
I lit the cigarette. (And said nothing.)
“He learned his English as a waiter in Gib.”
“He wanted to marry me, finally.”
“Of course. I can't even marry Mike.”
(lightening up.) “Maybe he thought that would make him Lord Ashley.”
“No, it wasn't that. He really wanted to marry me…”
(Trying flattery.) “You ought to feel set up.”
“I do. I'm all right again. He's wiped out that damned Cohn.”
… … …
“I'm thirty-four, you know. I'm not going to be one of those bitches that ruins children.”
“I'm not going to be that way. I feel rather good, you know. I feel rather set up.”
She looked away… Then I saw she was crying… I put my arms around her.
“Don't let's ever talk about it. Please don't let's ever talk about it.” (Fourth and fifth times.)
“I'm going back to Mike.” I could feel her crying as I held her close. “He's so damned nice and he's so awful. He's my sort of thing.”
She would not look up. I stroked her hair. I could feel her shaking. (Silence.)
“I won't be one of those bitches,” she said.
“But, oh, Jake, please let's never talk about it.” (Sixth such proposal.) (Silence.)
The woman in charge of the hotel will not let Jake pay Brett's bill. Romero had taken care of it. Over a couple of pre-prandial martinis, Brett brings up the affair once more. It is then that Jake warns her, “You'll lose it if you talk about it.” At lunch he drinks enough wine to stun an ox.
The scene in “The Rich Boy” has been incorrectly cited as an example of Hemingway's influence on Fitzgerald. The critic who made that mistake was probably led astray by Fitzgerald's letter about having to stop reading Hemingway to avoid imitating him, and by his mention, in The Crack-Up, of Hemingway's “infectious style.” Yet chronology makes it clear that the influence worked the other way around. Fitzgerald wrote “The Rich Boy” during his stay in Capri in the winter of 1925, before he even met Hemingway, and the story was published as a two-parter in Redbook for January and February 1926. Close as they were, there is every reason to suppose that Ernest read Scott's story in manuscript during the fall of 1925, when he was at work on Sun. Fitzgerald did not read Sun until June 1926.
For the most part, Hemingway kept quiet about stylistic debts to Fitzgerald. There was at least one exception to the rule. In his 1950 novel Across the River and Into the Trees, Hemingway's Colonel Cantwell—en route to his beloved Venice—comments, “They were coming up on Mestre fast, and already it was like going to New York the first time you were ever there in the old days when it was shining, white and beautiful. I stole that, he thought.” The theft was from Fitzgerald's 1932 essay “My Lost City.” There he described the enchantment that the “tall white city,” the “whole shining edifice” of New York had once provoked in him, and in a forlorn cry calls out for a return of what is forever past: “Come back, come back, O glittering and white.”
SD, Fool, 97. Bruccoli, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, 206. EH to FSF, April 12, 1931, SL, 340, 339. Bruccoli, Grandeur, 312, 322. FSF to MP, ca. January 15, 1932, Scott/Max, 173. SD, “A Short History,” 177, 188. ZF to FSF, December 1931, Correspondence, 279. FSF to MP, ca. May 14, 1932, Scott/Max, 176. MP to EH, 19 April 1932, and EH to MP, 2 June 1932, Only Thing, 166-169. EH to MP, November 15, 1932, SL, 376-377. MP to EH, June 11, 1932, Only Thing, 170. EH to MP, April 4, 1932, Only Thing, 162. EH to John Dos Passos, ca. April 12, 1932, SL, 356. EH to MP, July 27, 1932, Only Thing, 175. Hobson, Mencken, 346-348. EW, Thirties, 473-474. EW to Mizener, 1949, Letters on Literature and Politics, 233.
Dinner at the Aurora
Mellow, Hemingway, 416-419. FSF to MP, January 19, 1933, and FSF to EW, ca. February 1933, Life in Letters, 226-227. FSF, Crack-Up, 200. EH to MP, early February 1933 and February 23, 1933, Only Thing, 181, 184. EH, “Homage to Switzerland,” Short Stories, 426. EW to FSF, October 21, 1933 and 4 November 1933, 230-231. FSF to MP, September 25 ,1933, Scott/Max, 182-183.
FSF, “A Preface,” ca. 1934, PUL. SD, “A Short History,” 195. FSF to MP, March 4, 1934, Scott/Max, 194. FSF to Bishop, April 23,1934, Life in Letters, 255. FSF to EW, ca. February 1933, Life in Letters, 277. EW, Sixties, 222. Eliot, blurbs on jacket of Tender. FSF to Eliot, May 21, 1934, Correspondence, 362-363. FSF to Samuel Marx, May 21, 1934, Correspondence, 364. Warren to FSF, October 12,1934, PUL. FSF to MP, March 4,1934 and August 24,1934, Letters, 272,277. FSF to MP, December 3,1934, Correspondence, 394. ZF to FSF, after April 12, 1934, Correspondence, 354. SD, “A Short History,” 196-197, 190-192. Reynolds, 1930s, 168. MP to EH, February 7, 1934, and EH to MP, April 30, 1934, Only Thing, 207, 208-210. FSF to EH, May 10, 1934, Letters, 307. EH to FSF, May 28,1934, SL, 407-409. FSF to EH, June 1,1934, Letters, 308-310. ZF to FSF, after April 12, 1934, Correspondence, 355. EH to Gingrich, November 26,1934, telegram, Neville. FSF to EH, December 3,1934, in Bruccoli, Scott & Ernest, 125. EH to MP, December 28, 1934, Only Thing, 219. MP to FSF, February 18, 1935, Scott/Max, 216-217. MP to EH, February 27, 1935, Only Thing, 222. FSF to MP, April 15,1935 and May 11,1935, Scott/Max, 219-220, Bruccoli, Scott and Ernest, 127.EH to FSF, December 21,1935, SL, 427-429. Stein, Autobiography, 216. Gauss quoted in Goldhurst, Contemporaries, 161. Kirk Curnutt, “In the Temps de Gertrude,” French Connections, ed. Kennedy and Bryer, 131, 122. EH to Gingrich, November 16, 1934, SL, 410-411. EH to MP, July 26,1933, and MP to EH, September 22, l933,Only Thing, 193, 201. Simon, Biography, 156, 209-210. FSF, Notebooks, #2068. Mellow, Invented, 431-432. FSF and ZF, “Auction —' Model 1934,” and FSF, “Sleeping and Waking,” Crack-Up, 62,63. SD, By Force of Will, 210-211. FSF. Notebooks, #1031, #1034. Bruccoli, Grandeur, 387-388. FSF to MP, April 23,1938, and FSF to MP, December 24,1938, Life in Letters, 360,374. FSF to MP, November 20,1934 and November 26,1934, Scott/Max, 212, 214.
The Question of Influence
Emerson, “The American Scholar,” Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen Whicher (Boston; Houghton Mifflin Riverside, 1957), 68. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Selected Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1950), 4-6. Bruccoli, Scott and Ernest, 159. EH, Death, 2. FSF, Gatsby, 188-189. EH, Farewell, 331-332. FSF, “Ring,” Crack-Up, 35. FSF to Bishop, January 30, 1935, and FSF to EH, June 1, 1934, Letters, 364-365, 309. Bruccoli, Composition, 121-122. Alan Margolies, “‘Particular Rhythms’ and Other Influences: Hemingway and Tender Is the Night,” Hemingway in Italy, ed. Lewis, 69-74. Goldhurst, Contemporaries, 163-164. EH, Sun, 241-243, 245. Prigozy, “Measurement,” 106. EH, Across, 34. FSF, “My Lost City,” Crack-Up, 33.
Published as Hemingway Vs. Fitzgerald: The Rise And Fall Of A Literary Friendship by Scott Donaldson (Woodstock, Ny: Overlook P, 1999).