Good Reading : April 2009
writing life 2 man’s man The chest-beating, knuckle-baring, man’s man of classic American fiction, ERNEST HEMINGWAY, as revealed in ROBERT SCHNAKENBERG’S Secret Lives of Great Authors. ERNEST HEMINGWAY JULY 21, 1899 – JULY 2, 1961 NATIONALITY: AMERICAN ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: CANCER MAJOR WORKS: THE SUN ALSO RISES (1926), A FAREWELL TO ARMS (1929), FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (1940), THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1952) CONTEMPORARIES & RIVALS: WILLIAM FAULKNER, F SCOTT FITZGERALD, JOHN DOS PASSOS, GERTRUDE STEIN LITERARY STYLE: TERSE, SPARE, SUCCINCT WORDS OF WISDOM: E ‘ALWAYS DO SOBER WHAT YOU SAID YOU’D DO DRUNK. THAT WILL TEACH YOU TO KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.’ rnest Hemingway spent more than thirty years in the spotlight as America’s foremost literary celebrity. He survived five wars, four automobile accidents, and two airplane crashes. He wrote about himself, and his own experiences, more than any other author of his time. THE ODD COUPLE Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald were the Oscar and Felix of America’s lost generation. Born only three years apart, they formed one of the most unusual friendships in literary history. Hemingway was brash, blustering, and self-confident; Fitzgerald was insecure, mannered, and somewhat foppish. Yet they were inseparable for a brief period and have been linked in the popular imagination ever since. They first met in 1925, at the fabulously named Dingo Bar in Paris. Hemingway was only 25 years old at the time, a virtual unknown, whereas Fitzgerald, three years his senior, had just published The Great Gatsby and was well on his way to literary superstardom. Nevertheless, the two became fast friends. In fact, their relationship became surprisingly intimate. When Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, reportedly mocked the size of her husband’s genitalia, Hemingway conducted an impromptu men’s room inspection to reassure his friend about the adequacy of his endowment. ‘You’re perfectly fine,’ Papa told Fitzgerald. ‘You are OK. There’s nothing wrong with you.’ 54 goodreading i APRIL 2009 Despite such heartwarming moments, the friendship cooled considerably after 1926. The estrangement was due, in part, to simple jealousy. Hemingway’s star was rising while Fitzgerald was entering a long, slow, steep artistic decline. Hemingway also developed a nasty habit of mocking his old friend in print. He created a thinly veiled, unflattering caricature of Fitzgerald in The Sun Also Rises and slogged him by name in the short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, prompting Fitzgerald to beg him not to make fun of him again. For a while Hemingway complied. But he couldn’t resist the chance to get in the last word. Long after Fitzgerald died, Hemingway trashed his erstwhile mentor one last time in his posthumously published memoir, A Moveable Feast, depicting the Great Gatsby author as a fey, impotent coward. A HAIRY SITUATION Hemingway didn’t take kindly to slights against his manhood. In fact, he nearly blew a gasket after critic Max Eastman belittled him in a scathing review of his 1932 bullfighting treatise, Death in the Afternoon. Eastman wrote that Hemingway ‘lacks the serene confidence that he is a full-sized man’ and compared his writing style to a man ‘wearing false hair on his chest.’ Several years later, Hemingway ran into Eastman in the offices of editor Maxwell Perkins. After shaking Eastman’s hand, a grinning Hemingway ripped open both Eastman’s shirt and his own – revealing the luxurious man-pelt that proved that he, Hemingway, was by far the fuzzier bear of the two. ‘What do you mean accusing me of impotence?’ Hemingway demanded. He then proceeded to rub a copy of Eastman’s own review in his face and wrestled the mortified critic to the floor. It was the last time Eastman ever gave Papa a bad review – at least in such personal terms. Secret Lives of Great Authors by Robert Schnakenberg is published by Quirk, rrp $24.95.