Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Little Lord Fauntleroy

By Inge, M. Thomas | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), December 2003 | Go to article overview

Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Little Lord Fauntleroy

Inge, M. Thomas, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)

It seems clear now from the point of view of the turn of the century that the United States had at least three major literary figures in the first half of the twentieth century: F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), William Faulkner (1897-1962), and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). The other writers usually mentioned in their company- John Dos Passos, e. e. cummings, Thornton Wilder, Thomas Wolfe, and Hart Crane- a group once thought to be representative of the Lost Generation, are still read and discussed, as are Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, and Robert Penn Warren. But none of them appears to have the continuing power and influence of the major three. The nature of their work in terms of style, content, and point of view seems quite different, but it is natural to look for the extent to which they influenced each other. An examination of how they perceived and felt about their peers and the kinds of relationships they maintained is one way to reveal and understand their respective accomplishments.

The most fully explored and emotionally charged friendship was that between Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Although Fitzgerald was his senior in years and reputation, Hemingway always seemed to be giving him lessons in life and writing- treating his work with respect but at the same time finding it somehow lacking in enduring qualities - and offered him a genuine friendship, but one tinged with a degree of jealous condescension. Less discussed has been the relationship between Hemingway and Faulkner, who began their publishing careers almost simultaneously. Never geographically close enough to become fully acquainted, they viewed each other from afar. Hemingway would sometimes satirize Faulkner's style and seemed afraid that the Mississippian would prove to be the better writer, while Faulkner once said publicly to his regret that he thought Hemingway had not fully challenged his potential and talent. But Hemingway would go on record in 1946 to call Faulkner "the greatest living American writer" (Bruccoli 44), and Faulkner would warmly praise Hemingway's work on other occasions. It was their public personae that got in the way.

The relationship between Fitzgerald and Faulkner has not been discussed at all, probably because they held no public discourse with each other and harbored little sense of competition (Fitzgerald's major work was finished just as Faulkner was beginning his publishing career). There was no chance, then, of Faulkner influencing Fitzgerald, but the influence did go the other way. In Faulkner's first two novels, Soldiers' Pay (1926) and Mosquitoes (1927), general techniques he learned from Fitzgerald about style and authorial attitude seem clearly evident, but critics have found few specific borrowings.

Several scholars have found interesting parallels between novels by the two authors. For example, although his intent was to compare attitudes and not find influence, Cleanth Brooks published an essay in 1964 on the concepts of "American innocence" as found in Henry James, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. He outlined a number of similarities in characterization, thematic concern, and value systems between Thomas Sutpen of Absalom, Absalom! (1936) and Jay Gatsby, both "self-made men" of a different kind. In his 1966 book, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Craft of Fiction, Richard D. Lehan found that although they operated out of very different conceptions of time and history, both Fitzgerald and Faulkner depicted "their heroes caught in a world of decay and decline," which required them "to extend the narrative limits of their novels" to function on the levels of history and myth (46-47). A comparison of Sutpen and Gatsby as idealistic characters suggests that "Faulkner's novels have a moral dimension which Fitzgerald's lack" (48).

Despite the title of F. A. Rodewald's 1975 article "Faulkner's Possible Use of The Great Gatsby" he mainly summarizes the similarities that Brooks had already noted between that novel and Absalom, Absalom! …

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