How Bravery Failed in Hemingway and Fitzgerald

I just finished re-reading A Moveable Feast, by Hemingway. The edition is one that was restored from its earliest version but it does not restore Hemingway himself to “Great Writer” status. The novel or memoir (or both) tells tales of writers in Paris in the 1920s without the humor or drama that Woody Allen does in “Midnight in Paris.” To me, his short work such as The Nick Adams Stories show an early brilliance that his novels and later work could never match. In Moveable Feast you can watch him wobble between that brilliance and his clumsy attempt to bully his way through the story.

Two topics: one each about Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein are the best of the bunch. In these two he does not appear to be in direct competition with his subjects. To Hemingway, it would seem, Stein is a woman so she offers no macho competition though she is easily his intellectual equal and mentor. And Pound is merely a poet who cannot match Hemingway in a boxing ring, so he requires no bullying either. In the section on F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, you can see how hard he competes. Most of the section is wasted with Hemingway spending too much time arguing how much worse a drinker is Scott than himself. Who wins that one? And who cares? Where are the great chats about writing we hope for? There one delightful small chapter on his use of first-person narrative, but it only highlights the lack of writerly tales.

Hemingway finally admits how “fine” a novel The Great Gatsby is, but he tags that with the prediction that because of Zelda, Fitzgerald could never match it after that. While it’s true that Fitzgerald never equaled that novel, it was not because of Zelda. According to Hemingway’s own statements that period of his own life also saw the dissolving of his marriage to Hadley, but you won’t find any of that in the text. The worst of it is a tedious discussion between the two men about the size of Scott’s manhood, the sub-text implication behind the story is the opposing size of Hemingway’s pen. Apparently, Hem had never heard the expression, T.M.I. and neither had his publisher. Finally, however, what felled Fitzgerald was also what felled Hemingway—a lack of writerly courage—which they covered up with their use of alcohol. Neither won that battle, and as their readers, neither do we.

I wish I could hold in my mind the foggy memory that I had after the first reading of the book (it was the sixties, you know) rather than have it sullied by this rereading. Something every reader knows is that fiction creates the best memories, so I will choose to “remember” Paris in the 1920s as Woody Allen has dramatized it in “Midnight in Paris.” Memory has always been my own best editor to me in life, but I pray never to be above any good editor of my own writing.

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One Comment to “How Bravery Failed in Hemingway and Fitzgerald”

  1. There’s a quote from Harold Bloom in the New York Review about Fitzgerald and Hemingway. He says, “Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are a major repetition of the Shelley–Byron mutual contamination” of writers as friends. They may have competed, but they also learned a great deal from each other, in spite of any “contamination” there might have been.

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