To the Editor:
I was somewhat surprised to see in Joseph Epstein’s article about feuding writers that the author barely touched on the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald [“‘You Stink,’ He Explained,” December 2015]. Epstein confined his observations to A Movable Feast, Hemingway’s spiteful diatribe aimed at people who helped him on his way to literary prominence, particularly Fitzgerald, whom he ridiculed as little more than a drunken, insecure fool who knew nothing about writing. In fact, Hemingway’s dislike of Fitzgerald went all the way back to the 1926 publication of Hemingway’s breakout book, The Sun Also Rises.
When Hemingway showed Fitzgerald the original manuscript, Fitzgerald read it in one weekend and then suggested the first two chapters be excised. Hemingway saw immediately that he was right and hated Fitzgerald for it all his life. There are other examples of Hemingway’s enmity toward Fitzgerald. After Fitzgerald’s death, there was a move by critic Edmond Wilson and others to rescue Fitzgerald’s reputation as a writer. Hemingway got wind of this and it poisoned him further. Responding to a request for information from Arthur Mizener, Fitzgerald’s biographer, Hemingway told him that Fitzgerald almost ruined Hemingway’s second novel, A Farewell to Arms, by suggesting an ending that would have upended the entire book. What’s more, he claimed he had the letter from Fitzgerald to prove it. Hemingway never produced this letter, however, and no one found it after his death. There are some who theorize that he was sexually attracted to Fitzgerald and that he hated himself for it. Or maybe he was just a cast-iron bastard who, in his earlier work, in particular, could write like a dream and that’s why he continues to get a pass.
Joseph Epstein writes:
Of the two speculations on which Eddie Naughton ends his excellent letter, I much prefer the second. Not a nice man, Ernest Hemingway, not in the least.