The worst of friends

FITZGERALD AND HEMINGWAY: A Dangerous Friendship Matthew J Bruccoli Andre Deutsch, pounds 14.99

There exists in the United States, I am reliably informed, a Hemingway Society devoted to the memory of the Big White Hunter, and to the practice of dressing up in safari suits to emulate the hero's adventures. After reading this book, I am more determined than ever to join the rival Fitzgerald Society, which I hope spends its time drinking martinis on beach rafts off Cap d'Antibes. Bruccoli's deft and dry account of the relationship (friendship seems too warm a word) between the literary giants of the lost generation effectively and methodically demolishes a myth assiduously cultivated by biographers, critics and Hemingway himself.

Told largely through newly-quotable letters, the story unfolds: Fitzgerald, the golden boy of Jazz Age literature, was impeccably generous towards Hemingway, whom he upheld as the coming man. Actively promoting Hemingway with US publishers, Fitzgerald painstakingly corrected and suggested excellent emendations to the manuscript of The Sun Also Rises, a true labour of love. But Hemingway refused to credit this substantial contribution, and later, in his practically fictitious memoir, A Moveable Feast, declared Fitzgerald's editorial judgement to be worthless (Bruccoli's reproduction of Fitzgerald's comments shows this to be quite untrue). And, in what must be one of the least generous comments in modern literature, to another list of incisive corrections drawn up by Fitz-gerald, Hemingway merely added the note, "Kiss my ass".

Hemingway saw Fitzgerald's marriage to Zelda as disastrous for his career; for her part, Zelda was mystified by her husband's devotion to Hemingway, whom she regarded as a "phoney he-man" and a "pansy with hair on his chest". These were predictable accusations; but scenes of Fitzgerald exposing his organ to Hemingway (Scott thought his too small, and one reason for Zelda's discontent) are mere playground stuff, indicative of Hemingway's rivalless nature rather than any less macho hanky-panky. To Fitzgerald, it seemed that Hemingway needed "a new woman for each book"; Scott was merely part of that pattern. Why did he bother? Well, like Gertrude Stein, he thought Hemingway a genius; his was a case of unabashed hero-worship, masking his own inability to realise his talent, as Hemingway would readily point out. Yet the very notion of Fitzgerald as a blocked, alcoholic failure is a canard: he was, Bruccoli points out, at least as productive as Hemingway: "The crucial difference was in the public images. . . Hemingway radiated confidence and dedication. Everything he did seemed related to his work. Fitzgerald, who had an abysmal sense of literary public relations, became identified with dissipation and irresponsibility. As Hemingway recognised, . . . Fitzgerald seemed to relish failure. Perhaps it was a function of what Fitzgerald called his Puritan conscience developed . . . to punish him for his failure to fulfil his ambitions. He knew how good he was: geniuses always know".

Fitzgerald's crack-up was a public affair, advertised by confessional articles in Esquire, which his friends implored him to stop writing, convinced he was seriously endangering his reputation. Hemingway's reaction to this public therapy session was to lampoon his old friend as "poor Scott Fitzgerald" in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro". When Fitzgerald, deeply hurt, asked Hemingway to excise his name when the story reached book form, Hemingway remarked to a mutual friend, "am going to cease being a gent and go back to being a novelist. Most of my friends were not of my own selection anyway".

"I am his alcoholic", Fitz- gerald wrote of Hemingway in 1934 (having published Tender Is the Night), "and do not want to disillusion him, tho' even Post stories must be done in a state of sobriety". Hemingway was determined that Fitzgerald assume the guise he had created for him, "that cheap irish [sic] love of defeat, betrayal of himself etc." It was convenient, perhaps, that a potential rival should be cast into the twilit literary limbo of a salaried script- writer in Hollywood. Two years later, during a fishing-trip, someone praised Fitzgerald's style in Papa's presence. He was hushed by a member of the entourage: "We don't say things like that around here," whispered the lackey.

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