In "Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald," Scott Donaldson draws from a career in the study of Hemingway and Fitzgerald to create a complete story of the friendship between the two men. He writes about the triumphs they shared, along with all of the obstacles that intervened through the years to drive the men apart: alcohol, money, jealousy, and all. This book is an exploration—carried off with style and intelligence—steeped in hard facts and amazing detail.
We must begin at the beginning. The friendship was off to a rocky start when Hemingway and Fitzgerald first met in the bar Dingo. In their first meeting, Hemingway was put off "by Fitzgerald's excessive flattery and invasive interrogation." Asking, for instance, whether Hemingway had slept with his wife before they were married did not seem appropriate conversation, particularly from a total stranger.
But the meeting proved to be fortuitous. Fitzgerald was already much more well-known at the time, with his "Great Gatsby" just published, along with several volumes of stories. Although Hemingway had been a feature writer until 1924, he had not yet published anything of note: "only a handful of stories and poems."
"From the start," Donaldson says, "Hemingway had a knack of ingratiating himself with famous authors and making them his advocates." He would later make the acquaintence of Gertrude Stein, John dos Passos, Dorthy Parker, and others. Even though Hemingway was not well-known, Fitzgerald had already heard about him before their first meeting. He'd already told his editor Maxwell Perkins that Hemingway was "the real thing."
And, after that initial meeting, Fitzgerald immediately went to work for Hemingway, trying to help jump-start his writing career. Fitzgerald would continue to do what he could to help Hemingway's career, even after his assistance had become a nuisance to his friend. Fitzgerald's influence and literary advice went a long way toward pointing Hemingway in the right direction. His edits to Hemingway's work during the late 1920's (from around 1926 to 1929) were a great contribution.
And then there was the end. Donaldson writes, "The last time Hemingway and Fitzgerald saw each other was a showing in 1937 while Fitzgerld worked in Hollywood."
'Til Death Do Us Part: Falling Apart
F. Scott Fitzgerald died from a heart attack on December 21, 1940. However, many events intervened in the years since Hemingway and Fitzgerald first met to create a rift that caused them to be less friendly for some years before death finally seperated them.
Donaldson reminds us of what Richard Lingeman wrote about literary friendships: "Literary friends walk on eggshells" with "the demons of jealousy, envy, competitiveness" lurking. To help explain the complicated relationship, he breaks the friendship up several stages: from 1925 to 1926,when Hemingway and Fitzgerald were close companions; and from 1927 to 1936, when the relationship cooled as "Hemingway's star ascended and Fitzgerald's began to decline." Fitzgerald once wrote to Zelda, "[My] God I am a forgotten man." The question of fame was certainly one thing that intervened to create a strained relationship.
Fitzgerald may have died a failure, but he did not remain one for long after his death. Hemingway was in quite a different situation at the time of his death. He was one of the most famous writers in the world, recognized as a "a rugged bearded figure known as Papa, better known for his battles with great beasts than for anything he happened to write.