When Fitzgerald and Hemingway both sat at the moveable feast, where was the head of the table?—In 1966, after the posthumous publication of Hemingway's Paris memoirs, A Moveable Feast, A. Gingrich wrote his impressions of both Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
Scott Fitzgerald draws the finest and purest tone from the English language of any writer now alive—in fact, I think, of any writer since Walter Pater.”
It was a late June night in Bimini in 1936 and Janie, who had just turned twenty-seven, shushed me as if I were an unruly kid making rude noises in church. She was Mrs. G. Grant Mason Jr. then, and I had met her only a matter of hours before. Now she was looking at me as if she thought even that had been too soon.
“We don't say things like that around here,” she said.
“None of us.” I thought the stress on the “us” was just a touch heavier than it had been on the “none,” and since there are some skins thicker than mine, I was ready to take instant umbrage. I thought it could be interpreted as meaning that I was certainly not one of “us,” and I remember thinking of what my mother had always told me when I was very small, “Now don't you hang around one minute after you see you're not wanted,” but this was once 1 disobeyed my mother. I hung around, and we got to know each other a little bit better and in fact, almost twenty years later, and after four marriages to other people, we got married ourselves. But that night she was just a member in high standing of the Hemingway camp, warning me that if I valued my own much more recent membership in his circle, I'd better not mention Fitzgerald or I might be out on my ear the next day.
I thought the warning was exaggerated, and reminded her that Hemingway had asked me to bring Fitzgerald down to fish with him when the Pilar was first acquired, only a little over a year earlier. (This wasn't exactly true, I had suggested bringing Scott down, and Ernest had said fine, and it was Scott who had refused, saying he couldn't face Ernest again, white Ernest was such a success and he was such a failure.) I asked her if she knew Fitzgerald and she said she “didn't think so,” which I thought a damned peculiar answer.
“But can't we talk about somebody else? I don't want to draw you any diagrams, but he's just not a good topic.”
There were people still coining in and out of the lounge in The Compleat Angler, where we sat. The Hemingways had all retired to the “college,” which was what the Mouse, little Patrick, had called the cottage where they were staying, but Pauline's sister Ginny was still dropping around now and then, and so was Dick Cooper, a great friend of Jane's, who had an African plantation.
So I suppose I must finally have taken the hint, and probably with something heavily if belatedly gallant, like “Sure, let's talk about you,” because ultimately of course that's what we did wind up talking about. But Fitzgerald was abandoned, as an unsafe topic, as long as there were people around.
Thinking back on it now, it occurs to me that at that very moment the presses were turning, back in Chicago, with the August '36 issue of Esquire containing the first printed appearance of The Snows of Kilimanjaro with its line, later changed, referring to “poor Scott Fitzgerald,” but I'm sure I never gave that a thought at the time.
Sometime within the last couple of years, having occasion to look something up in Tender Is the Night, I found a copy on our shelves at home, inscribed in Scott's unmistakable hand and apparently with an eyebrow pencil of a rather light brown shade, as follows: “Now to all the other charms there is a physical one—and so now I may cease trying to please you and will only (glow) quite (naturally) from myself. As this delight in me conies from you it is very good.” The “glow” could have been “flow” and the “naturally” could have been “rationally,” and there was a faint line, as if to cross out, drawn through the “only” and part of the “glow” or “flow.”
Janie's books and mine have become higgledy-piggled, especially in the course of our last couple of moves, and when I showed it to her at the time, she couldn't imagine where it had come from.
“Hell, I thought you told me you never knew Scott!”
“Did I ever say that? I must have known him sometime around Paris. I never liked him. I still think you're wrong, with this great Fitzgerald thing of yours. He had nothing to say, and he kept insisting on saying it.”
“You said you ‘didn't think’ you knew him, and I thought it was damned funny at the time.”
“What time was that?”
“In Bimini in '36. Besides, if you'd known him around Paris, you'd have been about fourteen, Tender wasn't published until '34, Scott wasn't around Paris after-”
“Your memory! My god, I can't remember what I said last week and you expect me—hey, you know what? Maybe it was Dorothy Hale's book. I used to have a lot of her things. …”
“Dorothy jumped out of that Hampshire House window in '38—well, yeah, it could have been, at that—this was published in '34 and…”
“Your memory again. Have you ever thought of teaching elephants? Retarded elephants, of course, something like these remedial reading classes…”
Well, I suppose it is too much to expect a woman to remember everybody who ever made any sort of pass at her, even with an eyebrow pencil, but still— could anybody not remember, if it was Scott Fitzgerald?
He was the idol of my high-school days, right after the poets, like Rupert Brooke, Ezra Pound, and e. e. cummings, and a good six years before I 'd ever heard of Hemingway.
In Central High School in Grand Rapids in 1920 I remember confiding in Margaret Robinson, a young teacher of French, to the extent of telling her I found it hard to understand how F. Scott Fitzgerald, in This Side of Paradise, had been able to read my inmost thoughts and ascribe them to a fictional character called Amory Blaine, and how dashed I was when she said she was sure that lots of boys had felt that way about lots of books, ever since books began to be printed, though it was the best excuse she'd heard that year for why one boy was behind in his written French exercises.
Later, Fitzgerald himself told me something somewhat similar, when we were talking about Rupert Brooke, saying:
“Of course, he was the idol of all of us; I was not too old, just as you were not too young, back there around 1917, to have fallen under his spell.”
Scott's own most enduring idol, though, next after Hobey Baker, must have been Ernest Hemingway. One of his last letters, in the Fall of '40 before he died, was to Ernest, a warm letter, full of ungrudging admiration for For Whom the Bell Tolls, the book that had the kind of huge popular success that Scott had himself hoped to obtain with Tender Is the Night. And although in the decade before that Hemingway had done and said, and even written, many things to hurt him, throughout that time Scott had always expressed, both to Ernest and about him to others, the same unstinted enthusiasm for his work that had impelled him to bring Hemingway to Scribner's attention at a time when he himself was a hot literary property for any publisher and Hemingway was still, after one abortive appearance under the Boni & Liveright banner, relatively unknown.
After an article of Scott's had appeared that Ernest thought was too cry-babily self-revelatory, he wrote Scott about it in the most brutal way, using language that you'd hesitate to use on a yellow dog. It can't be quoted, because none of Hemingway's letters can be, under the terms of his will, but Scott let me see it, and it was shameful.
The most that Scott ever let himself say against Ernest, and I know how strong the provocation must have been, was that one wonderful crack that “Ernest was always ready to lend a helping hand to the one on the rung above him,” and it was mild compared to what he would have been fully justified in saying.
When A Moveable Feast came out, with its large sections about both Scott and Zelda, I was prepared to hate it, because I had always felt that Scott brought out the bully in Ernest, and I had resented bitterly for years the way Hemingway treated Fitzgerald in life, at a time when it mattered and had a direct bearing on Scott's own professional scorecard.
Scott had died in '40 at low ebb, his books out of print, his last novel unfinished and thinking of himself as an utter failure. His last letter to me, written not long after the one to Hemingway about For Whom The Bell Tolls, referred to The Last Tycoon, the book on which he was then engaged, as “a book I confidently expect to sell all of a thousand copies.” In contrast, he thought of Hemingway as at the flood tide of success.
By the time Hemingway shot himself, in 1961, the tables had begun to turn, and Fitzgerald's literary standing had soared, on the wings of several “revivals” from 1945 on, while Ernest's had begun to ebb.
So when I first heard there was anything about Scott in A Moveable Feast, I expected the worst, thinking that if Ernest had been catty and cruet about him when Scott was down and he was up, there was no telling how vicious he could be after the score had changed.
But I soon saw, after reading a few pages of A Moveable Feast, that this was the old Ernest speaking, probably because he had sense enough not to kill with improvements the old notes from the Twenties on which it was based, and by the time I came to the Fitzgerald parts I felt like cheering where I had expected to swear.
Of course, by the time A Moveable Feast was published it was all academic anyway, as Scott and Ernest were both dead. Still, in fairness, I did feel impelled to correct in print, as soon as possible, one imputation that I knew was wrong.
In general, I felt that Hemingway's portrayal of Fitzgerald was the best portrait of him ever done in print, for as I read it there Scott stood again alive, at his inimitably exasperating best and worst. It simply is Scott, to the last breath and the least bat of an eyelash, and Scott would have recognized himself in every line, something that is true of only a very few of the things that have been written about him.
There was, however, that one exception, the matter of Scott's being ill-equipped, or insufficiently equipped, as a man. Ordinarily, that's not a question you write about for general print, about anybody, dead or alive, but A Moveable Feast had given the matter a certain ineffable currency.
So I recalled the day in the early Spring of '35 when, having flown down to Baltimore from New York, I arrived at 1307 Park Avenue at the approximate time of the milkman's morning rounds, and found a note pinned to the front door bidding me to come right on up to the top floor. There Scott was working, clad in a grubby, faded-plaid flannel bathrobe, perched on a high stool and with a row of empty tumblers ranged alongside and away from his elbow.
“I will greet the editor of Esquire,” he said, crawling rather shakily down, “ceremoniously,” he added, essaying as he said the last a courtly bow worthy of Cyrano making a ground-sweeping gesture with his plume. The one hitch was that the cord of the bathrobe was caught in the grand downward swoop of the right arm, revealing all that F. Scott Fitzgerald had to reveal.
It was unimportant then, and would be now, had A Moveable Feast not raised the question. So I chose to answer it, from eyewitness authority, the way Rolls-Royce always answered all inquiries as to just how much horsepower they hide under their distinctive hood, with just one word: adequate.
Scott in my eyes, and even in such degage attire, always had an elegance surpassing even that of the Arrow Collar Man who had been the model we all grew up admiring. So I can see him now in my mind's eye, even more vividly, as he Looked that day just before we were sitting down to lunch, four of us, with his daughter Scottie, then fourteen, and a Virginia friend, Elizabeth Lemmon.
Typically, because my memory always astonishes me more by its sharp-focus selectivity than by its tenacity, I can't remember a damn thing that the other three of us wore, but I can see every detail of what Scott was wearing, as he turned away to put on an old heather-tweed jacket, and they are as plain to me now as if I were looking at them in a shop window: white shoes with a dark brown saddle, pipe-clayed like a British soldier's belt, grey flannel slacks, venerable but gracefully aged and still supremely well cut, and a black pullover that, aside from being vastly becoming, contrived to make him look, though he was then thirty-eight, as if he could never seem to be more than six or seven years out of Princeton.
(In contrast, a mental snapshot of Ernest at about the same time, pulled at random from memory's file, shows a hulking creature looking as if he were about to burst the seams of a blue tweed suit [cut by O'Rossen in the Place Vendome—a ladies' tailor, for god sake] with the sleeves and the pant legs both too short, an oatmeal flannel shirt with the collar unevenly turned down and a russet wool tie askew, with pebbly-grained thick-soled shoes of a wrong shade of liverish brown. The general effect is that of items left over from a rummage sale.)
Scottie was the most beguiling of children. When I think of her as she was then the phrase that comes to mind is that of the headstone that used to be up near Grant's Tomb, commemorating “an amiable child.” She struck me then, and for that matter does all over again whenever I see her now, as the most supremely normal creature imaginable, and I marvel that she could be the product of a pair as zany in their different ways as Scott and Zelda.
But as a father Scott was so impossibly exacting and demanding that no child, actual or even factional, could ever have come up to his perfectionist standards of behavior to be expected of others.
I really think that this, more than alcohol, was the key to most of his troubles. The great tragedy of Scott Fitzgerald's life, it seems to me, was not any one of the several minor tragedies on which, successively, he was wont to blame the wreckage of his life. Other writers have lived lives more sorrow-filled and disappointment-packed than his, from Charles Lamb to Clarence Day, to cite only the first two that come to mind.
But his big trouble was that he was a perfectionist in his living as much as in his writing. He wanted to live his best stories more than he wanted to write them. And in a sense he almost always wrote for his living, at least whenever it came to a choice between that and living for his work.
Then, too, Scott had that strange, almost mystic Celtic tendency to enjoy ill luck as some people enjoy ill health. He liked to dramatize to himself the inevitability of his latest and his next defeats.
If anything was wrong in his life, and something always seemed to be, even during his Long Island and Riviera days, when the world appeared to be his oyster, then everything was all wrong, and he seemed rather to enjoy saying so. It could be something as tragic as Zelda's failure to return more than momentarily to sanity, or as trivial as Scottie's failure, at fourteen, to pick up the right fork without a momentary hesitation, or to react instantly, and precisely as he thought she should, to a given set piece of reading that he had chosen for her.
He was the same way about a story of his own. At a time when everything was askew, when his Hollywood-contract options had been dropped and his freelance film work had been one disappointment after another, when his health was febrile and his fiscal situation precarious, he niggled over trifling details of the Pat Hobby stories, revising some of them four times and sometimes even as much as a week after they had achieved print.
In life and in letters Scott was such a perfectionist that he was prone to exaggerate minor excellences and minor defects away out of their proportionate importance to the average perception.
Failure always fascinated him. I think that's why he enjoyed writing about Pat Hobby more than almost any other character that came out of his pen since that first far-off Amory Blaine back at the beginning of his writing career.
And if through most of his life as a writer it could be said that he wrote for his living, rather than living for his work, more perhaps than any other author of our time, then paradoxically it could be said that the two exceptions were at the end and at the beginning— when he was frantically racing time to get the reject Romantic Egoist rewritten as This Side of Paradise, to get to be a success in time to win Zelda, and again at the end, in his Pat Hobby period, those last two desperately difficult years of life, when he was racing time to finish The Last Tycoon.
As Scottie said of the Pat Hobby stories, when she had at last prevailed upon Scribner's to publish them after I had failed for eleven years to get anybody else to do so, “In those dark, grim days, when life was such a struggle for Daddy, the fact that the old humor came out so strong in these stories was reassurance that somehow things would turn out right in the end.”
Things did turn out right, of course, though not in time for him to know it. Scott died thinking that Ernest was the greatest of successes, and that he was himself a failure, an example, an exhibit of the topic that for so long had held his interest, like the man in the O.Henry story who went around trying to find out the meaning of the phrase, “man about town,” and could never learn it, only to have it applied to himself in his obituary.
His own obits were perfunctory. As estimates of his stature in American letters. they ranged from niggardly to nonsensical, and almost without exception everybody seemed bent on remembering him for his worst book, Flappers and Philosophers, and forgetting all about the book for which he is today best remembered, The Great Gatsby. In most of the newspapers at the time, that was given mere passing mention, if any at all, while most of the space went to This Side of Paradise which compares to The Great Gatsby about as George Moore's Confessions of a Young Man (with its sentence about “the young actress with whom I used to sit on the stairs at midnight with”) compares to his Esther Waters.
And it took The New Yorker to tell the great grey and always oh so accurate New York Times that The Beautiful and Damned was not “a book of short stories” nor was its name The Beautiful and THE Damned.
Scott himself, in those kidding letters he used to write when he was in his nearest to total eclipse of both fame and fortune, answering routine inquiries with made-up citations of nonexistent tomes about aspects of his work, was much closer to the mark. Some of those scholarly works that have already appeared must be only harbingers of the minute dissection to which his oeuvre is ultimately destined.
But most of his worries, like most worries, were vain. He worried so about Scottie, as his letters to her show, and today she is about as successful as a woman can be, in every way, and as a person one he could only have been proud of.
Remembering how much more he enjoyed living than writing, before the first of those emotional blackouts that used to leave him unfit to enjoy either, and remembering how the bent of his wild and willful nature always inclined to defeatism, frustration, negation and failure, it is a matter of wonder that he left any perfectly realized work at all and not that he left so little. The five novels (and by no means least The Beautiful and Damned) will always be worth reading, though it is doubtful that more than one of them will always be read. The Great Gatsby will undoubtedly be both read and studied a century hence, as it is today, when Gone With the Wind will in all probability long since have lived up to its title, as it almost has already. Among the half-dozen volumes of short stories, there are probably not more than a half-dozen tales that will appeal to anthologists of our great-grandchildren's day as being (to use Scott's own early phrase) “worth preserving until the ennui of changing fashions suppresses me, my books, and them together.”
Oddly enough, or perhaps appropriately enough in view of his long fixation on failure, his most beautiful book, Tender Is the Night, was in a sense the most ugly and was the least perfectly realized piece of work of all five of his novels. It was a magnificent failure in many ways, and it contains passages of haunting loveliness, but it suffered from the very phenomenon with which it was concerned, a split personality. It was really the malformed twin embryo of two books, one of which might well have been a masterpiece. That book, which ought to have a prominent place on the shelf of the great unwritten books of lost time, was to have been titled simply Dick Diver. Scott was aiming high at the time. He obviously wanted to leave the world a Tom Jones. It might just possibly have been an even better book than The Great Gatsby, but the story got lost and twisted and came out imperfectly and misshapenly as an unassimilated half of Tender Is the Night.
For about eight years or so, along with The Compleat Angler, I reread both The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms once a year. The one that made me give up the habit was not The Great Gatsby, which I feel sure I could reread every year for the rest of my life. But the set pieces began to obtrude from A Farewell to Arms, and coincidences began to stick out like exposed plumbing, of which I had hardly been aware the first few times. So I had to give up, and decide to reread Scrope's Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing in the Tweed, as The Compleal Angler's one lone companion.
So where is Ernest's Gatsby now, hardly more than one scant lustrum after his death? In contrast to the ripple caused at the time by Scott's passing, Hemingway's was the shot quite literally heard round the world.
I honestly think now that in the long run he will have to rest his chances on his first real novel—not the Sherwood Anderson parody The Torrents of Spring that is still so listed—but that book from the Autumn of '26, The Sun Also Rises. That one will bear the repeated rereadings that form the kind of test none of the others can pass.
Scott would not have enjoyed the last laugh. He could write Ernest, as he did both early and late in his career, that “I envy you like hell,” and mean it. But he simply could not have embraced the thought that he himself might ultimately emerge as a better writer than Hemingway. He saw himself as, at best, a sort of John the Baptist, foretelling the Coming. He was so “gone” on Ernest, from the early Twenties on, when he began trying to enlist other writers into a sort of great unpaid claque (I remember Glenway Wescott as one who refused to join) that the degree of his admiration for Hemingway was, as among grown men, almost embarrassing. He so palpably modeled his medieval hero on Ernest, for the abortive serial that ran for a few numbers in Redbook, that even Edwin Balmer, himself one of the early admirers and encouragers of Hemingway, must have been glad when the series came to a halt. To anyone who knew both Scott and Ernest, the effect was as mawkish as would be the unwitting reading, before realizing what one was doing, of the “crush” notes between schoolchildren.
Of the two of them, I had always thought Scott was the one who might kid himself, that Ernest never would. When I first knew him, in '31 and '32, Ernest seemed an almost-hermit, basically interested in the only changeless things there are, the woods, waters and the denizens thereof, and filled with both suspicion and contempt for the fickle and evanescent “tea-drinking, back-scratching, logrolling literary world.” He used to brag about being possessed of an infallible and built-in shit-detector, and boast about his ability to spot a phony of any kind from a mile away. When we used to talk on the runs back and forth to the fishing grounds, and I would ask him about this one or that one, I soon saw that the men of his acquaintance were instantly classifiable into only three categories, shits, or rummies, or pretty good citizens.
“You and I are the only peasants here,” he said in '36 in Bimini, indicating with a hint of a wave of one hand the cluster of the rich and fashionable, the wealthy sportsmen types, who were in sight at the time. I took it for humility, but before very long I wasn't so sure. Within the year the nickname “Papa” had begun to spread well outside the immediate circle of his acquaintance. It had begun through his habit of calling women “Daughter,” thus practically insuring the appropriate response. Nobody, except possibly from Oak Park High days, ever called him Ernie. And few except Scott, of those who had known him in the Twenties in Paris, called him anything but Hem. Scott always called him Ernest, and so did the members of his family, including his brother Leicester (Lester the Pester, Ernest always called him), although Pauline fell in with the growing Papa phase.
Within another year or so after that, I began to feel that the old humility, the “to thine own self be true” stuff that I had really always thought he believed, was being eroded by more than a touch of what Knute Rockne used to warn the Notre Dame team against between halves, the tendency toward “believing your own press clippings.”
This cropped up once during a week when we were fishing out of Key West, when I had flown down from Chicago to do battle with him over the completed manuscript of To Have and Have Not. Next only to Across the River and into the Trees (which I thought Janie summed up well at the time as Across the Liver and into the Crise), his worst book, certainly, was To Have and Have. Not, and I always felt guilty about it, because when he sent me the finished script I felt, based only on my own hard-earned knowledge of what is and what isn't libelous, that large gobs of this were libel per se. Three people were libeled right up to their eyebrows. They were Dos Passos, and Janie, and her then husband, Grant Mason. Since I knew all three, I could see through every reference to them as if through a screen door, and suggested that all the portions in which they were involved would have to be heavily reworked, if allowed to stand at all.
On the phone Ernest said that if I would come down to go over the parts I felt had to be changed, he'd get Moe, his lawyer, to come down from New York at the same time.
“It isn't that I don't respect your experience,” he said; “on this subject I'm sure you're as great an expert as the burnt monkey on the subject of hot soup, but after all you're not a lawyer and he is, and I'd like the added security of somebody to check the checker.”
The week was funny. It was like those Paris riots, where the rioters and the cops would lay down their brickbats and nightsticks respectively, and adjourn two hours for lunch, then come back and pick them up again. It was just like that with Ernest and Pauline and Moe and I would “riot” all morning, then Ernest and I would go out fishing for the afternoon, then in the evening we would “riot” again.
It was the first time I had ever had any kind of quarrel with Ernest, as in dealing with his copy for the magazine we had always operated on the basis that I would make no changes of any kind, but would suggest changes, by wire or telephone, only if impelled to do so by considerations of libel, invasion of privacy, obscenity (then much stricter than now, when anything goes). Nothing had ever come up that couldn't be settled on one quick and always amiable exchange. He had always behaved like “the old pro” that he prided himself on being.
But now he began behaving like a stuck pig, squealing his head off. The parts about Dos Passos which, now that I think of it, were really no worse than the Pilot Fish portions of the last chapter of A Moveable Feast, he undertook to solve by a neat stratagem:
“You know all I have to do to get Dos to okay everything in here that you object to about him? A!l I have to do is tell him you don't like it! That shakes you up a little, doesn't it? Moe, you draw up the tightest-ass release you can dream up, and I'll get it signed.”
Then to me again: “You know what Dos thinks of you? He thinks you're a shit, that's what he thinks of you. Who had to get Dos into your magazine in the first place? Who had to get Dos to let you have the piece about the Quintanilla exhibition that he and I did together—when Dos had promised his part to The New Republic? For chris'sake, come down here and try to tell me how to write about one of my oldest friends!”
“But Ernest, I thought your defense of that part was that it isn't about Dos Passos. I frankly don't see how I can draw up a release for a man to sign that isn't about him—” This from Moe, the lawyer, who was quickly cut off:
“Defense, for chris'sake, so now I'm the defendant. Jesus Christ, between a lawyer and an editor, a poor working stiff hasn't got a chance.”
Changing tactics, and apparently on the ground that the best defense is a good offense, he let me have it next on the Janie parts, shrewdly sensing that my interest in them might not be altogether academic.
“Goddamn editor comes down to Bimini and sees a blonde, and he hasn't been the same since! Here I thought we had a Mennonite editor.”
“Oh, come on, Ernest, Arnold's wife's a blonde.” This from Pauline.
I was on a sticky wicket and afraid I showed it. I didn't see how Ernest or Pauline could know that I had been seeing Janie in New York, until suddenly I remembered that after the first time Jane had gone on to Acapulco with Paulines sister Ginny. Maybe what one knew they all knew.
“Gotta come into court with clean hands, doesn't he, counselor?” But Moe seemed to have lost the thread of the argument.
“But I won't be the one to come into court, ” I tried to riposte, feebly.
“Court, my ass. You know yourself, Pauline, that Jane was flattered when people took her for Mrs. Macomber in that story. Didn't she tell you so?”
“Well, not in so many words, but I can't imagine that her husband would exactly feel set up about it.”
“Maybe I could fix up the parts about him—not that I admit that there are any —you understand this is all privileged conversation, without prejudice, isn't that the term you used, Moe?”
“Oh, for god's sake Papa you don't think Arnold's going to sue you do you? Now, really…” That from Pauline.
And so it went, morning after morning and night after night, with the afternoons providing the only peaceful interludes.
But one of those afternoons, while Ernest was at the wheel of the Pilar, he reverted to the thing about people being flattered at being used as prototypes in his work.
“It's a little like having Cezanne include your features in a village scene,” he pointed out modestly.
I thought he was kidding, so I said, “You aren't mixing your metiers, by any chance?”
“Not really,” he went on evenly. “After all, what I can't seem to get through your Pennsylvania Dutch skull is that you're not dealing with some little penny-a-liner from the sports department of the Chicago Daily News. You're asking for changes in the copy of a man who has been likened to Cezanne, for bringing 'a new way of seeing' into American literature.”
I almost fell out of the boat. This out-sized ham was quoting we to my face, and without giving me any credit. I couldn't believe that it wasn't an elaborate spoof and that any second the big wide mouth would bust open in laughter. But he was completely deadpan and, most unbecoming, even a little prim.
“For chris'sake, that was me, that Cezanne stuff.”
He looked honestly surprised, then sheepish. “Oh, was it? I ought to know better than to go up against your memory. Anyway, I thought it was pretty good in there.”
Later, I looked it up and sent it to him, but of course that's the point. He had seen it before, he who always prided himself on slogans like “Keep your head down and never look at the Scoreboard,” and professed not to pay any attention to what anybody ever wrote about him. Characteristically, he had remembered only the bit he liked. Some of the rest set him off, as he himself expressed it, like a set piece of fireworks, and he accused me of getting too big for my britches.
Maybe I was, but since I had dug it out only to settle a bet, as it were, I still didn't think it was very sporting of him to start picking the other parts to pieces. However, after killing large portions of the Have sections of To Have and Have Not, which I had not expected him to do, I thought he might be smarting a bit, and more anxious than usual to try to put me back in my place.
The book, as it came out, was rather malformed as the result of such major excisions without any sort of replacement of the deleted elements. I thought the least he might have done would have been to change the title, because, as the book appeared, the title applied about like the “fifty-fifty” recipe for hamburger: one horse, one rabbit.
It was a little disillusioning, after believing for so long that he started every day's work by rereading everything that had been written up to that point and, as he put it, “challenging every word's right to be there,” to find him chopping whole hunks out of a book and not bothering to put one damn word back in.
I suppose he rationalized it on some such basis as that the value of any work increases in proportion to how much can be left out of it—a writer's version of the Mies van der Rohe dogma on architecture: less is more.
But that's one book I certainly don't think the treatment improved.
The passage relevant to Cezanne was this, and after thirty years, I still think it's relevant:
“For like Cezanne, Hemingway not only worked out a new way of setting things down but, far more important, he worked out a new way of looking at things before setting them down. And that is something in which the countless writers of the Hemingway school have neglected to follow their master. It's no trick to copy the Hemingway style. It's almost as easy to duplicate it as it is to parody it. But it is the trick of a lifetime to duplicate the method of seeing with the Hemingway eye for significant and selective detail, to achieve the all-important pattern down to which to strip the so-called 'stripped style.'”
But the piece in which it was contained went on less favorably, or at least so he thought, to say this:
“The old man himself, surefooted as he is on his own ground, is none too sharp in detecting in the work of others this all-important difference between the solid substance and the empty shell. An excellent, even sometimes a scholarly, appraiser of the works of writers dead and gone, he is not a good critic of contemporary writers. The very intensity with which he has worked out his way of writing for himself has given his subconscious mind an inclination to think of his way as the only way. For him, of course, it is. … In the process he has acquired a blind spot. Things that are said his way, by others, are apt to fool him into thinking they are better than they are. Only this way can one account for his going out of his way to praise such a wholly fortuitous performance as Appointment in Samarra.”
Ouch. The fur flew after that. Just because I had written a novel, I suddenly thought I was a critic. Maybe I'd better just spit it all up in Papa's hand, and I'd feel better.
Maybe I did. But I doubt that he did. I think my membership in The Ex-Friends of Hemingway must have been put up for the first time not long after that.
Moe, the lawyer, was not the lawyer that Hemingway later had representing him both as lawyer and as literary agent. Moe had meanwhile died. The agent lawyer got into some very peculiar difficulties, occasioned by the awkward necessity of wearing two hats.
As agent, for instance, he gave me permission to include a Hemingway story in The Armchair Esquire, an anthology we got out some years back. Then to his own very evident embarrassment, he had to switch hats and, as lawyer, threaten to sue me for what he had just arranged with me as agent. The newspapers had field day over it, and The Wall Street Journal ran what I consider an excellent exhibit of the ease of parodying the Hemingway style. Here it is, by permission:
“The writer has served with honor in many wars and he does not care what people think about his politics. He does not want a magazine to reprint two of his stories about the Spanish Civil War in The Armchair Esquire, an anthology, because he wants to revise them. It is not true that the writer is worried about a change in public sentiment toward Russia in our time. The writer does not worry about such things. The lawyer misbehaved badly in saying the writer does worry about such things.
“The writer wishes to protect his reprint rights. The mistake reflects badly on his courage. What a way to be wounded!
“The publisher wondered if he was to have or have not. But the writer did not bid farewell to The Armchair Esquire. One Spanish war story will be printed in the book by a magazine not noted for men without women.
“The publicity is not too bad. The people now know the book and many will buy it. Do not believe the winner takes nothing. When you hear the bookstore cash registers ring, don't ask for whom the bell tolls. Just know that the sum also rises.”
In the item, like faces in a rebus, are five Hemingway book titles and puns on three others. At the risk of elucidating the obvious, I will spell them out, with the| warning that they are coming, here below, if you want to look back first and see if you can find the two you might have missed out of the eight.[All right. Here they are: 1. The Old Man and the (Sea) 2. In Our Time 3. To Have (and) Have Not 4. (A) Farewell To (Arms) 5. Men Without Women 6. Winner Take(s) Nothing 7. For Whom The Bell Tolls 8. The (Sun) Also Rises]
I never heard from Ernest again after that episode, which was in '58, and within three years he was dead.
I can't say I ever felt too good about the way our friendship ended, never with a real bang, but just a gradual petering out that was, in Ezra's old phrase, like “the slow cooling of a bathtub.”
If friendship is scored in acts of befriend ing, then Ernest was way ahead of me. He| was a far better friend to me, if I keep the scorecard absolutely straight, for many years than Scott ever was. But I was a far better friend to Scott than I ever was to Ernest. Ernest helped me, much more, in the beginning days of the magazine, than Scott ever did. (He lined up a lot of people for me, and helped me line up a lot of others, though oddly enough, he never once suggested, in the magazine's prenatal days, my trying to get anything from Scott.)
In fact, looking back, it seems now that almost from the beginning, and certainly after the first year, when Scott was in such a bitter state of dejection over the failure of Tender Is the Night to achieve a success of smash-hit proportions, I was always helping Scott and Scott was always needing help. And I somehow always found, or made, the time to help him, even when I was in some pretty bad jams myself.
But after obliging him with the financing of the Pilar when he couldn't swing it himself, Ernest never again needed the kind of help that I could give him, unless you want to count the rather dubious benefit of getting him to mutilate To Have and Have Not, just to avoid getting his ass in a sling over libel problems. But he was chartering planes to bring me down from Miami to Key West, and telling me I was one of the three or four people he cared about pleasing in print, and really going far out of his way, time and again, to be helpful.
In '35, when my third son was born, and I'd been hoping as always for a girl, and even had the name Laurian Jane all printed in readiness for “her,” Ernest wired to ask to be allowed to stand godfather to him, while Scott contented himself with a couplet:
My advice is you still should strive
For Laurian Jane who didn't arrive.
But Scott and I were friends until he died, and would be now, I am morally certain, whereas Hemingway and I were no longer friends after, well, come to think of it, about when Scott died. In recent years I have read so much about each of them, written all of a sudden by everybody and his brother, except by those who knew both of them, that I am almost beginning to doubt that I knew either of them.
They were both changing when I knew them, but I felt that Scott was changing for the better, while Ernest was changing for the worse. Aside from two major lapses, both well-publicized, one in Beloved Infidel (in the scene where I met Sheilah Graham, as she entered Scott's Drake Hotel room, with the memorable phrase “the son of a bitch just bit my finger”) and the other in the Dartmouth Winter Festival scene in The Disenchanted, Scott hadn't had a drink in three years before he died. On the other hand Ernest, from all I heard after that, was in the process of crossing the great divide between great drinkers and great drunks.
Scott had the better excuse, of the two, for his drinking, because it is a matter of medical record that he had functional hypoglycemia, or hyperinsulinism, the opposite of diabetes, a condition that Janie, who has it too, has always said constitutes a great sodality whose spokesman might well be considered 0. Henry, with his immortal summary of it as “I was born eight drinks below par.”
When I think back on the way they were thirty years ago, before either had begun to be distorted by legend or disfigured by myth, I see them as two enormously attractive and gifted men, both of whom I admired and liked. Each of them seemed to me then to be completely sure of his own talent, though the one seemed even more respectful of the other's than of his own. I thought of each of them as simply loaded with personality and charm. But even then, Ernest was always the sore loser, blustering when he couldn't be first in anything and everything, while Scott with a certain jaunty blend of insouciance and despair was always both gracious and graceful in defeat, perhaps because Scott was always fascinated by failure and Ernest always enamored of success.
The irony is that the one who had appeared, while they were both living, to be the big success really died a failure, while the one who appeared to die a failure has since achieved such resounding success.
There may yet have to be a Hemingway revival, just as I feel pretty sure a Dreiser revival is about due. But there will never have to be another Fitzgerald revival, as he's had as many by now as he will ever need. He is established now, in a way that Hemingway has yet to be.
It's a jest he would have relished, but not gloated over, for he was never one to gloat.
A Mr. Arnold Gingrich printed an article in your December issue about my father and another friend of his, Ernest Hemingway, which was very complimentary to me but absolutely libelous.
He called me “supremely normal.” This seems to me a contradiction in terms to begin with, because if you are supremely anything, you are not normal, but also, it caused me to throw the cat out the window, crawl up the wall, and dance naked in front of the Washington Monument. What is “normal”?
I think Negroes are regular people like everybody else, I hate pictures which can be hung upside down without anyone knowing the difference, I hate beltways, I save old newspapers, I sometimes fix myself a Bloody Mary for breakfast and I hate the idea of the war in Vietnam so passionately that I can't even bear to read about it.
I have told my two beautiful daughters that if either of them gets married before she is twenty-five she will be disinherited, I do not like the writings of Norman Mailer or Norman Vincent Peale, I do not like dogs very much and, above all, I do not like Christmas. It saddens me to reflect that if Christmas were abolished, we nutty humans would doubtless find some equally painful substitute to ruin one-twelfth of every year, burdening us all with guilt feelings and, needless to say, bills to be paid until mid-April.
I do not like the radio, or television, or gardening or yachting or football games … or having a new car. Once in a while one must, obviously, have a new car, yet I always feel foolish with it, as if I were showing off the family's new-found affluence. But worse than a new car is fixing the old car, getting it inspected for example. I deeply hate doing that, and found a man at the gas station to do it for $5.
Here's the final abnormalcy: I wasn't sorry I wasn't asked to Truman Capote's party. I have no interest whatsoever in being “chic” or “in.” I tried false eyelashes one evening for a special occasion and one of the eyes peeled off in the middle of the evening, giving me what I suppose is the ultimate “op” look. I find “in” people very dull, because they haven't really got time to think about anybody but themselves, and I like people who think about other people a great deal, not just once in a while. I personally do not live up to this dream, but I admire those who do.
So… “normal”? Not at all. I do want to thank your Mr. Gingrich, who I assume is a young new reporter you have just hired on the staff of your magazine, for paying me this supreme compliment. But the record must be straight in Esquire, The Magazine of Ultimate Truth, must it not?
Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan Washington, D.C.
Published in Esquire magazine (December, 1966, pp. 186-89, 322-25; and March, 1967, The Sound And The Fury).