Controversy seems to be following Ernest Hemingway these day, nearly fifty years after his death.
First there was the revelation that he was a failed KGB spy and then there is the dispute over the restored edition of A Moveable Feast. Far less controversial is Scott Donaldson’s recent book Fitzgerald and Hemingway: Work and Days, which was reviewed by the Los Angeles Times over the weekend.
As the LA Times review points out, Donaldson’s exploration of the lives and works of each author sheds new light on their bond. While in temperament and writing, there is much to distinguish the two writers, there are also many similarities. In the review, Matthew Shaer writes:
“Donaldson shows … how deeply both men [Fitzgerald and Hemingway] believed in the lost cause. In an essay on ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ he compares Hemingway’s experience in the Spanish Civil War to that of his doomed protagonist, Robert Jordan. For Jordan, war ‘gave you a part in something that you could believe in wholly and completely.’ He is not naive: He believes in the Republic while also believing it is doomed. And he knows that innocents have been slaughtered—at one point, he wonders how many of the men he’s killed were ‘real fascists.’
But in the end, it is the fight that matters. ‘Belief was very much at issue, for the Republicans needed a secular faith to replace the religion they [had] left behind,’ Donaldson writes of Jordan. So too of Hemingway, who cherished the spark of the fight, especially when the odds were long. In contrast, the accepted view of Fitzgerald is that he was too beautiful and self-concerned to be interested in any cause save his own. Yet Donaldson argues that Fitzgerald, too, was enamored by the poetry of defeat. As a young man, he wrote on the Old South and the Confederacy, and his masterpiece, ‘The Great Gatsby,’ was an elegy for the American Dream, the greatest lost cause of them all.
Hemingway and Fitzgerald, in fact, had much in common: Both were Midwesterners; both believed their fathers were failed men and sought to compensate for the slight; both were uncomfortable with celebrity; both adopted poses—the warrior and the bon vivant—that were shattered on the public stage.