my hemingway is bigger than yours

Johnson? That’s so other era.

Hemingway.

Now that’s where it’s at. Of course I’m referring to that area of the male physique that men primp at, worry over, joke about and occasionally put to good use.

Just ask Steinbeck who thought losing semen every now and then was a bracing tonic preparatory to great art.

Where the hell am I going with this?

Beware of writers especially novelists who are your friends. For they have the power to represent you as caricature or fact. Or exploit the vast wasteland that lies between them.

That’s one of the unavoidable lessons of A Moveable Feast.

In the preface, Hemingway neatly inoculates himself against the charge of historical inaccuracy. “If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”

Yes, there is always that chance.

I wonder, though, how Fitzgerald or his admirers might regard the strikingly unflattering portrait that emerges of the author of The Great Gatsby.

Fitzgerald is too pretty to be handsome, a kind of androgynous beauty. He is presented as weak, sickly, nervous, uptight and fragile. Vulnerable beyond propping. He’s hypochondriacal in the extreme. Hemingway sees him as a drama king and wearies of Fitzgerald’s “silly comedy” of fear, worry, doubt.

Annoyingly, too, Fitzgerald is a lightweight. “Anything that he drank seemed to stimulate him too much and then to poison him…”

But even worse than his wimpish handling of booze, Fitzgerald is tortured by self-doubt when it comes to his, well, the shape and size of his Hemingway.

Voilà.

“Zelda said that the way I was built I could never make any woman happy and that was what upset her originally. She said it was a matter of measurements. I have never felt the same since she said that and I have to know truly.”

Hemingway asks Fitzgerald to follow him to a back room. They return.

“You’re perfectly fine,” said Hemingway. “You are O.K. There’s nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.”

Next time you’re at the Louvre, surrounded by all that sturdy manly marble, know that fragile Fitzgeraldian psyches are searching for reassurance.

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6 Responses to my hemingway is bigger than yours

  1. Alice Under says:

    Which edition of A Moveable Feast are you reading? I read the new edition of it last year and was given to understand, from that book’s introduction, that the first published version contained a number of inaccuracies, particularly in the negativity about Fitzgerald–on a sentence, word-choice level as much as anything else (Hemingway apparently wrote many drafts of some of the chapters and his last wife supposedly did some idiosyncratic picking and choosing and combining). Not that the scene you describe was any different in the copy that I read. His portrayal of Fitzy is fantastic and funny and rather horrible–and yet my preference for reading either Gatsby or Tender any day over anything Hemingway remains!

  2. Hi Alice, Bantam edition, Nov ’65. And I agree with you for reasons I can’t formulate; F is a better, stronger and more compositionally gifted novelist than H, by a long shot.

  3. Bellezza says:

    Loved that part from A Moveable Feast. Love all parts of it, actually, even though as a woman I’m only able to address one’s Hemingway from another perspective.

    The statue in the photograph makes me smile, as does your post. It brings to mind my favorite marble guy, Michaelangelo’s David who really is quite glorious when you look at him in real life.

    In the end, though, I am saddened that Hemingway wasn’t able to keep his buttoned up. So many wives, so much lost…

    • I saw David on my honeymoon. Glorious, I agree. I didn’t know what to expect. But when I walked into the hall and saw him just towering there, all my expectations were exceeded. As for your questionable character, I really do hope Easter hops here in a hurry — I’m missing your blog.

  4. Bellezza says:

    Yeah, and I’m not even supposed to be blogging (having given it up until Easter), so who am I to question character? 🙂

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