Literary friendships form and then sometimes falter or fail because writers, like the rest of us, grow away from each other, become competitive or have a failure to communicate.
Lingeman has substantial credentials as a critic of American literature, including a well-received biography of Sinclair Lewis (Sinclair Lewis, 2002), and his scholarship is much in evidence here. Although he does not in any systematic way ever define “friendship,” he does begin with some generic thoughts about why friendships form, change, endure, fracture. Following are his assessments of some of the most noted—and sometimes fragile—friendships in American literary history: Hawthorne and Melville, Twain and Howells, Wharton and James, Cather and Jewett, Dreiser and Mencken, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Ginsberg and Kerouac and Cassady. The author relies heavily on the research of others (dutifully recorded in the endnotes—many, many of which begin with “Quoted in . . .”), and so his observations are often more synthesis than thesis. (As he observes, scholars have written entire volumes on these relationships.) But he is a reliable and amiable companion on this journey that often traverses familiar territory. The expository pattern is much the same: an explanation of how the principals met, a glance back at how they arrived at their meeting, a description of the time they were together and how their relationship affected their works, an account of their estrangement(s) (if there were any), a note about how things stood when the first of them died. If some of these tales are more than twice-told (it’s hard to say something fresh about Hawthorne and Melville), others are perceptive and revealing. Cather’s important meeting and subsequent correspondence with the older (and much-revered) Jewett helped embolden Cather to leave her editorial position at McClure’s and focus on her own fiction. And Dreiser entered a seven-year snit when former protégé Mencken trashed An American Tragedy.
Sometimes familiar, sometimes fascinating discussion of the choreography of friendship, of the roots and routes of rivalry.