Magazine article The Spectator

The Tough and the Tender

Magazine article The Spectator

The Tough and the Tender

Article excerpt

They met in Paris in the spring of 1925. At 28 Fitzgerald was already rich and famous, author of three novels and two collections of short stories, including his recently published masterpiece The Great Gatsby and the tales that thrilled readers of the Saturday Evening Post, which gave their name to the Jazz Age. Scott and Zelda didn't just give parties, they were the party, as Donaldson aptly remarks. They'd sailed to Europe to escape from their own destructive self-image. Hemingway, three years younger, was an ex-journalist who had published only a handful of stories and poems in little magazines. He and his wife Hadley lived cheaply in rented rooms while he served his apprenticeship to Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein, Joyce, and gave out large signals of promise. Both were Middle Western middle-class kids with dominant mothers and put-upon fathers. Both took their prose seriously, though one was a descendant of Keats with Ivy League trimmings and the other invented a sort of tough-guy prose poem that married American demotic with doomy modernism. Both had been wounded by early love affairs: Fitzgerald was rejected by the society beauty Ginevra King, Hemingway by Agnes von Kurowsky, the night nurse who looked after him in Italy in 1918.

It was Fitzgerald who made the first approach, full of admiration for Hemingway's war experience and his charismatic presence. From the outset he adopted the younger man as his `artistic conscience', slightly ashamed of the hack work that brought him in such a handsome income from popular magazines, and convinced that Hemingway was about to deliver the great American novel, if not several. He lent him money, helped revise The Sun Also Rises, got him taken on by his own editor, Maxwell Perkins at Scribner's, wrote admiring reviews of his books, and advanced his reputation in every quarter that he could think of. His reward was lifelong denigration: a stream of bitchy stories (and downright lies) in Hemingway's letters and interviews, and then the coup de grace in A Moveable Feast, with 'poor Scott' as the poor lush who couldn't hold his drink or his women or his talent. Hemingway himself, on the other hand, stars as the superhero who could outdrink, outbox, outshoot, outfish, outwrite and outfuck every other man in town.

'Those two ... brought out the worst in each other', said a mutual friend. Fitzgerald behaved badly to everyone when in his cups, then abased himself in frenzied apologies the next day. Hemingway disliked his girlish-looking mouth and confiding, ingenuous manner. He also disliked Zelda - he thought she was jealous of Scott's work, and encouraged him to drink too much - and the feeling was mutual. She thought him a 'poseur'. Her pithy summary of his first novel was 'bullfighting, bullslinging, and bullshit', translated by another critic, surveying the Hemingway oeuvre, as 'the short and simple annals of the hardboiled'. If ever there was a case of the tough and the tender, the raw and the cooked, Papa and Scott were it, though of course the binaries break down under closer inspection.

Hemingway wrote to Dos Passos later that Scott

should have swapped Zelda when she was at her craziest but still saleable back 5 or 6 years ago before she was diagnosed as nutty - He is the great tragedy of talent in our generation.

Hemingway got rid of his own wives, saleable or not, at regular intervals. Scott and Zelda remained an item, even when she was immured for the rest of her life in various expensive padded cells. …

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