The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Base Metal Shows Through: Hem and Fitz

The New Yorker has an interesting piece on the new edition of The Sun Also Rises:
Early drafts of the book are well known to scholars, and are available at the Hemingway Collection, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, in Boston. But this new edition puts them in handy appendices, giving us lay readers a sense of Hemingway’s writing process, and, more importantly, of how different a novel “The Sun Also Rises” might have been.

All of Hemingway’s major changes to his manuscript move it toward a greater simplicity. In early drafts, the novel began in the middle of the story, at the bullfights during the festival of San Fermín, in Pamplona. Later, Hemingway opted for a more straightforward, chronological order, introducing the American expats Jake, Brett, and Robert Cohn in Paris, before they travel to Spain. In the manuscript that he sent to his editor at Scribner, Maxwell Perkins, the first two chapters detailed the characters’ histories and motivations. “This is a novel about a lady,” it began…

Jake Barnes was named Hem in the early drafts, and in the version he sent to his editor, Hemingway retained the conceit that the book was not merely based on his real-life experiences but was actually a memoir: “I made the unfortunate mistake, for a writer, of first having been Mr. Jake Barnes.”

All of this was cut at the suggestion of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who, after reading the version that Hemingway had sent to Perkins, wrote a long, dismayed-sounding letter to Hemingway, in which he said, “I think that there are about 24 sneers, superiorities, and nose-thumbings-at-nothing that mar the whole narrative up to P. 29 where (after a false start on the introduction of Cohn) it really gets going.” Though Hemingway would later downplay Fitzgerald’s editorial influence, the published novel begins with the sentence: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”

In the letter, Fitzgerald also criticized Hemingway for injecting his own writerly persona into the text: “That biography from you, who allways believed in the superiority (the preferability) of the imagined to the seen not to say to the merely recounted.” With this fragment of a sentence, Fitzgerald gives Hemingway the familiar writing-class advice—show, don’t tell; less is more; and what is left out can sometimes be more meaningful than what is included. Earlier versions of the novel contained even more of this “biography”; Fitzgerald had caught the remnants of nervous self-consciousness that Hemingway himself had curtailed as he wrote.
So, after Fitzgerald helps make Sun the major book it in fact is--though I do not admire Hemingway's code hero nonsense, which I think rather richly deserved Kurt Vonnegut's scathing takeoff--how did Hem repay him?

Slamming him in print and in a letter to their mutual editor, Maxwell Perkinss, for "whining" when he wrote his confessional memoir, The Crack-Up.

Not a nice chap, Hem, for all of his abilities. And, in fact, the nihilism of his philosophy, embedded as early as Sun,--"Our Nada, who art in Nada, Nada be thy name"--shows in his bleak record of bad behavior toward his onetime friend and benefactor

Patricia Hampl, in the American Scholar, tells the tale::
Hemingway lost no time trashing Fitzgerald to Perkins, their mutual editor (a connection that Fitzgerald, already a literary star, had arranged for the unknown and struggling Hemingway when they met in Paris in the 1920s). In a letter dated February 7, 1936—right after the first “Crack-Up” piece was published—Hemingway complains to Perkins that Fitzgerald “seems to almost take a pride in his shamelessness of defeat. The Esquire pieces seem to me to be so miserable. There is another one coming. I always knew he couldn’t think—he never could—but he had a marvelous talent and the thing is to use it—not whine in public.”

Hemingway wasn’t done. He went on to savage Fitzgerald in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” a short story that also appeared in Esquire, in August 1936. He injects “poor Scott Fitzgerald” into the fiction, noting that Fitzgerald had been “wrecked” by his “romantic awe” of the rich. This short story also refers to an exchange in which Fitzgerald is supposed to have said, “The very rich are different from you and me,” thereby allowing Hemingway to write the arch reply, “Yes, they have more money.”

Except this exchange, much quoted ever since, never occurred. Even decent Max Perkins couldn’t manage to correct the inaccuracy, though he put the facts on record: he was present at a lunch in New York in 1936 when Hemingway said, “I am getting to know the rich.” To which the literary critic Mary Colum, the third person at the table, said, “The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.” Fitzgerald wasn’t at the lunch—or in the city at the time. No doubt Hemingway was glad to offload the exchange onto Fitzgerald and adopt for himself the memorable zinger.

Fitzgerald wrote to Beatrice Dance (who had been his lover that summer) to report that he had protested his old pal’s literary slam in “a somewhat indignant letter,” though Hemingway remained unrepentant. “Since I had chosen to expose my private life so ‘shamelessly,’ in Esquire,” Fitzgerald notes, “he felt that it was sort of an open season for me.”

Fitzgerald then wrote Hemingway “a hell of a letter,” which, on second thought, he decided not to send. “Too often,” he says to Beatrice Dance, “literary men allow themselves to get into internecine quarrels and finish about as victoriously as most of the nations at the end of the World War.” Hemingway, he says in a final remark, “is quite as nervously broken down as I am but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is toward megalomania and mine toward melancholy.” About as good a mutual character assessment as either of them ever got.
I've always been on Team Scottie. This is partially why, but Fitzgerald's tragic romanticism at least has a living ethos, unlike Hemingway's underlying Nada.


Karen Clark said...

I have always quietly thought that Hemingway - and I am speaking of Hemingway as a human being, leaving all consideration of his literary abilities out of the equation - was simply a bottom-faced user of other people, who squeezed the juice out of everything and everyone he encountered and then cast them aside with an utter lack of gratitude and sneered at the broken relationships in his wake when there was nothing left to get out of them. Which is what some active alcoholics do, and it doesn't make them people you want to have in your life. Fitzgerald, while far more publicly tormented by his alcoholism, at least had his gentlemanly code and stuck to it. He may have peed on the hydrangea bed and toppled into the pool at the party, but the next day he apologized and sent flowers to his host. And he supported and worried about the well-being of the unfortunate Zelda until the day he died.

Anglocat said...

Just so, Karen. Team Scotty!