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The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship

by Scott Donaldson

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-87951-711-5
Publisher: Overlook

A tidy though somewhat tedious history of the literary rivalry and oft-fractured friendship between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Donaldson, biographer of Fitzgerald (1983) and John Cheever (1988), begins with a laborious introduction to his subjects” childhoods and early romances that limply attempts to draw striking parallels between the two men based upon such unexceptional experiences as problems with parents and love affairs ending disastrously. After this lamentable opening, however, Donaldson’s pacing and analysis improve markedly as he delineates the origins of the men’s friendship amidst the snappy decadence of the American expatriate community in 1920s Paris. With their world populated by the likes of Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish, and the cream of the Parisian social scene, Hemingway and Fitzgerald moved, frolicked, and fought in the limelight both of their private social circles and a scrutinizing public eye. Tempers frequently flashed over their criticisms of each other’s works: Hemingway’s attack on Tender Is the Night and Fitzgerald’s suggested revisions for A Farewell to Arms are but two examples of their aggressive posturing, which stretched into long literary skirmishes. The many fracases the two men found themselves in, including Hemingway’s pummeling of critic Max Eastman and Fitzgerald’s alcohol-induced misadventures, provided the men with ample opportunities either to realign themselves as friends in mutual support or to distance themselves from each other. Even more, though, than their respective writings and celebrated social blunders, the friendship floundered over the question of reputation; as Fitzgerald succinctly stated, “I talk with the authority of failure—Ernest with the authority of success. We could never sit across the same table again.” Freed from Donaldson’s armchair psychoanalysis of his subjects, Hemingway Vs. Fitzgerald would emerge a cleaner and tighter history of the men, whose heady lives and harrowing words could well be left to tell their own story without such an intrusive authorial presence. (18 b&w photos)