Sunday, May 07, 2006

Friendships That Count

How important are literary friendships to the actual work that arrives in the wake of those associations?

Immensely important, according to Richard Lingeman, author of the just-published Double Lives: American Writers' Friendships (Random House).

Lingeman, the author of a recent bio on now-underappreciated author Sinclair Lewis, tracks seven literary friendships, including those between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, Theodore Dreiser and H.L. Mencken, Henry James and Edith Wharton, and Willa Cather and Sarah Orne Jewett. He also examines the friendship among Beat Generation writers Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.

Then there's the infamous love/hate relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Here's how Chuck Leddy sees Lingeman's take on that subject, from a review in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The friendship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway was far more tempestuous. When they first met in Paris in the mid-1920s, Fitzgerald was an internationally famous author and Hemingway was a relative unknown with potential. Fitzgerald used his powerful connections to find Hemingway an editor (the legendary Maxwell Perkins) and a publisher for his first novel. Indeed, Fitzgerald helped Hemingway edit that novel, "The Sun Also Rises," and helped get it reviewed in the American press. How did Hemingway repay Fitzgerald's generosity? The hyper-competitive Hemingway would spend much of his career depicting Fitzgerald as a drunk and a neurotic hack who wasted all his talent. As Lingeman makes clear, Hemingway had a lifelong penchant for stabbing friends in the back.

That seems like a pretty accurate summary, based on the articles and books written on the Hem/Fitzgerald friendship. The best, and maybe most definitive book on that subject is the informative and eminently readable Hemingway Vs. Fitgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship, written by Scott Donaldson.

Donaldson is a brilliant scholar, incisive writer, and really nice guy to boot, as demonstrated by our few minutes' chat two years ago at a cocktail party during the Hemingway Society conference in Key West. The group's gathering is in Spain this summer. Wish I could go. But, alas ...


Doc said...

We'll lift a glass of Spanish wine (or perhaps even absinthe) in your honor next month at the conference. It really would be more fun with you around. Perhaps next time....

Philip Booth said...

thanks, Doc! Here's to another conference meet-up, and at least one before then.