Dawn Powell: Hemingway's "Favorite Living Writer"

By Kosiba, Sara | The Hemingway Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Dawn Powell: Hemingway's "Favorite Living Writer"


Kosiba, Sara, The Hemingway Review


Hemingway's friendship with Dawn Powell (1896-1965) has not been examined in detail, although the two writers had a friendship that lasted several decades and was nourished by their many mutual friends, including Maxwell Perkins of Charles Scribner's Sons. Introduced by John Herrmann and Josephine Herbst in 1926, they would correspond and follow each other's careers off and on until Hemingway's death (with Powell continuing to reflect on Hemingway even after his 1961 suicide). Powell would use her knowledge of Hemingway to create a fictional character. Their comments to and about each other provide new insights into their personalities and roles in 20th century American literature.

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ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S FRIENDSHIPS with other authors of his time, whether longstanding or casual, continually generate scholarly discussion and analysis. Many books and articles have been published on Hemingway's friendships and interactions with writers such as John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and others. Scholars have examined these relationships to gain a better appreciation for Hemingway's personality, as well as to understand what might have been gained or transferred through his interactions with other artists. Occasionally, some of these friends and contemporaries of Hemingway used their knowledge of him to create fictional characters in his image, as Dos Passos did with his portrait of George Elbert Warner in Chosen Country (1951).

But Hemingway's friendship with the writer Dawn Powell (1896-1965) has not been examined in detail. Less famous than Dos Passos or Fitzgerald and a more casual friend to Hemingway, Dawn Powell nevertheless had a relationship with him that lasted several decades and was nourished by their many mutual friends. Introduced by John Herrmann and Josephine Herbst in 1926, Powell and Hemingway would correspond and follow each other's careers off and on until his death in 1961 (with Powell continuing to reflect on Hemingway). She would even use her knowledge of Hemingway to create a fictional character. Their comments to and about each other provide new insights into their personalities and their roles in 20th century American literature.

Hemingway biographers have not seen Powell as a significant figure. Despite being the author of fifteen novels, a collection of short stories, and several plays, Powell is seldom mentioned in literary histories and critical commentary. Yet her publishers included Brentano's, Farrar and Rhinehart, and Houghton Mifflin, as well as Charles Scribner's Sons, where she was one of Max Perkins's authors. A major figure in New York literary circles, Powell was friends with John Dos Passos, Sara and Gerald Murphy, Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, and Josephine Herbst, as well as Hemingway. (1) Powell is not easy to dismiss or define. While friends and critics often found her work uneven, many of her novels and stories received high praise. Critics of her early novels set in Ohio noted flaws in her technique and yet still found substance in her writing. An anonymous reviewer for the New Republic, commenting on The Bride's House (1929), wrote: "Such description as Miss Powell's of Ohio farm life, never consciously striving for effect but always effective, is important by virtue of its infrequency in current literature, and is admirable by virtue of its honesty in a day when we are all told to shoot waterspouts" (173). Her later novels set in New York garnered even more praise. Rose Feld, reviewing A Time to Be Born (1942) for the New York Herald Tribune, began by stating:

   The difficulty with reviewing Dawn Powell's new novel 'A Time to Be
   Born' is that, first of all, you want to quote from it continually.
   To say it's brilliant, it's witty, it's penetrating, it's mature
   isn't enough. You want to prove it by giving examples but then,
   having chosen your quotes, you find they do not add up to all the
   book holds and means. 

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Dawn Powell: Hemingway's "Favorite Living Writer"
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