Spare Me

I have more to say about this guy Hemingway. On the advice of my internet friend Joan, who reads this blog faithfully, I searched all over for a copy of That Summer in Paris in which Morley Callaghan talks about knowing “Hem” as a young man, in Paris in 1926. A Canadian journalist at the time, Callahan very modestly described what he saw and understood about all those boozy ‘expats’, including the beautiful and damned Scott Fitzgerald and his spellbinding wife Zelda with the dark gold hair, Zelda on whom Fitzgerald based several of the characters in his fiction, from Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby to Nicole Diver in Tender is the Night.

I’ve always felt a definite fondness for poor Fitzgerald, trying so hard to work in spite of worsening problems with alcohol, not to mention his efforts to help his wife manage her own faltering mental health.

Hemingway, by contrast, I’m always mad at, maybe because of that macho swagger of his. And then of course he had to go and commit suicide, which brought my judgment down on him for years, at least until my friend Mary pointed out that his whole family of origin was plagued with depression and mental illness.

The guy has always been hard for me to like or understand, even after reading the remarks of this Callaghan fellow, which seem very modest and therefore truthful..

Apparently Hemingway was always insisting that Callaghan box with him, implying that he could teach him much in the ring. He knew Callaghan had boxed in college and that seemed to goad him on. He wanted to put the guy to the test and even tried to force him to box right in his own living room.

One day at Hemingway’s gym, they went a few rounds. Callaghan says he was the better boxer only because he had gone up against so many fast boxers in his college years. He emerged the victor in any case and Hemingway came out of the fight bloody and bruised.

Yet every chance he got he tried to box with somebody. “He had all the lingo, he hung around gyms, he had watched fighters at work. He wanted to be seen as the sage of the ring. Writes Callahan “something within him drove him to want to be expert in every occupation he touched.”

This is the point where I get off the Hemingway bus. I have known too many men like that in my life – and then too he was so uncharitable about poor Scott, who wanted his simple friendship.

Callaghan writes about his own talks with Fitzgerald and how impressive he found the then-29-year-old:

“I remember drawing back and looking in wonder at this slender, charming and secretly tormented man. This was the man who was supposed to be leaving a crazy disorderly life? Yes, he did get a little drunk, did crazy things, and people thought of him as the wild irresponsible playboy of the era. Yet what fantastic energies he had stored in him! What power of concentration while at the same time he watched over the wife who Hemingway called crazy! Here he was telling me of the production which could only come from an exacting rigid discipline, What haunted him I was sure was that he gave only his spare time to the work that was closest to his heart… He made him me feel lazy, as I was, and it seemed incredible that a man as knowing as Ernest would talk of him as if he were simply an alcoholic. He worked much harder than Ernest did. In fact he made me feel I didn’t work at all…”

Later, when he saw Hemingway, he told him that he and Scott had talked for hours.

“I had liked Scott’s shrewd opinions, quick fine intelligence, extraordinary perception and tireless interest, and I remember that Ernest merely shrugged,, unimpressed. Ernest was simply unbudgeable. It was depressing. Was no one else to have an insight about Scott? Was Scott’s story written and no line ever to be changed? A drunk who knew he was wasting himself and his talent?.. He seemed to have some other feeling about him, some other hidden resentment.”

Hemingway was jealous of Fitzgerald, is how it sounds to me.

Oh I guess I admire the guy a little. His style of writing certainly changed everything in 20th century American literature from the moment his work emerged. But he was vain and greedy for love it seems to me and well, I’ll take a fallible man beset by self-doubt over a guy like that any day.

I’ll take Fitzgerald, who made pure magic with words and did his best with the tools he had to work with and died suddenly and young of heart attack and not a bullet in the brain.

11 thoughts on “Spare Me

  1. Wow How I agree. Pure Magic with words. I am just reading Gatsby again and have read all that was published by F Scott. I have not ever read any Hemingway because I think of him as a selfish , fickle, egocentric bully. What does one say when all he wants to do is box you? Great blog.

  2. I like the way you put that! This is what I love about the instant communication we enjoy these days: I was saying something but then you said it better … Vulcan mind meld! We all get smarter!

  3. A High Five, Terry. I have thought about F. Scott a lot. Just like married people tend to resemble each other, I think Scott participated in Zelda’s craziness, to the point that he, too, lost his bearings. And he was aware of it. (See Tender is the Night.) As for Hemingway, he was truly a disgraceful character, but I admire him for his work. He was driven; he produced. I trhink of Sinatra similarly: he was a terrible person, but his music was/is sublime..

  4. I like them both, but I do enjoy Fitzgerald’s introspective style over Hemingway’s. I’ve read all of FSF’s stuff other than The Last Tycoon. Hey, if he couldn’t finish it why should I start it? It’s somehow comforting to know that all the internal demons that vex us today, vexed folks 80-90 years ago, as well. In other words, or letters…SOS….

    But both authors had a way of cutting through all of that in their own style and finding the truth of the matter in the next day’s sunrise. It doesn’t matter how we get there, but if we get to see that golden glow, then not much else matters…at least for a while.

    In the end who’s the more vulnerable; the one who wears his insecurities and self-doubt on his sleeve, or the one who buries it under a load of bluster and bravado?

    They both succumbed to the numbing effects of the bottle. Different methods but the same catalyst. The color and noise of the creative can be overwhelming sometimes

  5. A guy can be a bully away from his writing desk and still write like an angel. Moral: read wondereful writers but don’t get to know them. Clancy

    1. Thinking about all the wrangling that goes on in “the academy” over these lit-crit issues, reminds me of Woodrow Wilson’s remark that Wilson that often the intensity of academic squabbles he witnessed as president of Princeton was a function of the “triviality” of the issues being considered. Ha!

    1. I like what YOU wrote earlier about Scott and Zelda. Remember the old Groucho joke? Fella goes to his doctor, “Doc,I need help. My wife thinks she’s a chicken.” Doc says “Well, goodness, man, take her to a psychiatrist and get her cured!” Fella says “I can’t. I need the eggs.”

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