Appreciation #6

“Ernest Hemingway” by Samuel Stevens

Hemingway Time Cover, October 18, 1937, Waldo Peirce

(Time cover by Waldo Peirce.)

There is probably no writer more controversial than Ernest Hemingway, attacked by academia as a misogynist, while others see him as a talentless hack with an inflated reputation. Yet his work endures despite all of it.

Hemingway was able to show deep emotion with his stripped-down style, changing American literature in the process. His novel The Sun Also Rises captures the relationship between men and women in such a way that few other writers have been able to do. He was also a master of the short story, demonstrated in “Soldiers Home,” “The Killers,” and “A Clean, Well Lighted Place” among many others.

He was not a perfect man, nor even a perfect writer– but who is? His myth has lived on more than who he truly was, laid bare in his novels and short stories. He is also an archetype of American success, spending years in obscurity among the Paris avantgarde before working his way up to literary fame.

Many have tried to imitate him, but there will only ever be one Ernest Hemingway.
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Samuel Stevens’s last story for New Pop Lit was “The Vast Conspiracy.”

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Appreciation #5

“Thomas Pynchon” by D. Greenhorn

Phantom of Opera 1925

(Not a photo of Thomas Pynchon.)

Thomas Pynchon’s greatest scene sees Charles Mason stuck in a time warp created by England’s transition to the Gregorian calendar. Typical of Pynchon is its weird setting, its oblique prose, its obsession with the effects of technology on man. Atypically, we find Mason longing for his wife—a rare display of pathos from Pynchon’s characters, who are generally a mob of proto-autists and freaks. Yet when Pynchon deigns to converse with us humans, there is no better living author.

Pynchon is the greatest American prose stylist of the late 20th Century. His audacious use of the vernacular recalls Twain—betters him, when at a poetic height. Pynchon is the most religious American since Hawthorne, except his religious is conspiracy. His first three novels exist in a paranoid oikonomia, the characters searching for God in the form of a letter, a mail carrier, a German fiber. In his nonstop conspiracy-mongering, Pynchon taps into the most genuine religion of our age.

Pynchon is the quintessential university novelist. His knowledge is capacious, but his wisdom rises and ebbs with his poetic intensity. His characters blur together; his scenes manage to be absurd yet unmemorable. His poor works are so wretched, and so closely resemble his great works, that they taint his genius as a whole.

Yet when good, Pynchon is the best of the moderns. His fantastic prose carries us beyond his often lame wit and precocity, making him an author worthy not only of being read, but revered.
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D. Greenhorn is a writer living in the Midwest. His first novel, Western Empire, will soon be available by Lulu. New Pop Lit will feature a new short story of his in September.

 

Answer to Trivia Question

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

hem w 2nd wife

Time to give the answer to our Hemingway-Fitzgerald Trivia Question! We asked,

“In what two F. Scott Fitzgerald pop stories was a major character a thinly-disguised version of Ernest Hemingway?”

AFTER WE SENT the question to an array of literary experts, we received responses from two of them reminding us of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Philippe” stories published in Redbook magazine in 1934/35. The chief character Philippe is based on Fitzgerald’s intermittent hero worship of the younger writer. We haven’t read the stories, and don’t know if they’ve been anthologized. Thanks to Dr. Kirk Curnutt and Dr. Scott Donaldson for the information. (They can collect on our original prize of a free beer in Detroit at any time.)
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But while the Philippe answer is technically correct, we were thinking of two other, better known Scott Fitzgerald stories.

The first is “A Snobbish Story,” originally published in the Saturday Evening Post in November of 1930, then later by Scribner’s in a collection, The Basil and Josephine Stories. It’s an excellent story, with dialogue which still bites, between rich girl Josephine and a young Chicago journalist. The characterization of the journalist is superb– there are more than enough clues in it to determine this is a vivid portrayal of the young Ernest Hemingway.

“–his eyes were nearly black, with an intense, passionate light in them; his mouth was sensitive and strongly set.”

The character, John, is described as a large young man. John talks and behaves much like how the early Hemingway must’ve been. Brash, confident, outspoken; “extraordinarily handsome.” “I’m going to be a great writer someday,” he announces.

Josephine and the young man insult each other. She tells him, “I’m going into a convent or else to be a trained nurse in the war.” (The story is set in 1916, when the Great War was raging in Europe.) “Will you enlist in the French army and let me nurse you?”

This is not just a nod to Hemingway, who was famously nursed by a beautiful nurse in that war– it’s an obvious one, given that Hem’s A Farewell to Arms had been published a year before Scott wrote this story, and was still topping best-seller lists. The plot concerns an injured young man who falls in love with his nurse.

“I want to be the best writer in the world, that’s all,” the John character says. In 1930, Ernest Hemingway was in the process of becoming exactly that.

The clincher in deciding that the character is based on young Ernest Hemingway comes when the man’s wife shows up! “–a handsome girl–.” “Neither of us believed in the old-fashioned bourgeois marriage–” John tells Josephine, about his wife.

Ernest Hemingway had something of an open marriage with his first wife– at least after future second wife Pauline showed up!
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It’s not as if F. Scott Fitzgerald was NOT known for putting persons he knew into his fiction. He in fact did this time and again– most notably with his wife Zelda, but also with good friends the Murphys; with old college friends; with old girlfriends; with anyone and everyone. Hemingway was a large presence in Scott Fitzgerald’s life; first as protege; then, equal. In subtle ways, as rival.
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The second story completing the answer to our Trivia Question is “Financing Finnegan,” originally published in Esquire magazine in January 1938.

The timing and venue of this publication are telling. In 1936 Ernest Hemingway published, in Esquire, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” in which he mentioned F. Scott Fitzgerald by name in a disdainful way. Fitzgerald was highly embarrassed, to the extent of asking Ernest to change the name in any future appearances of the story. Hemingway complied. Was it payback time?

The character “Finnegan” is described by the narrator but never seen. The relationship between the two writers mimics that of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. They both have the same publisher. Finnegan receives the kind of large advances for his work that the narrator used to receive. Finnegan is working on a novel, “one of those great successful novels of his.” “There’s never been such a talent,” the narrator says, a bit sarcastically. “His was indeed a name with ingots in it.”

Finnegan is injury prone– as Hemingway famously was– and is also a world traveler, forever looking for new experiences, new material for his work. (He’s said to be at the North Pole, then in Norway.) The clincher comes when the narrator describes Finnegan’s work.

The writing is described as containing “–a shy frankness together with an impression of a very quiet brave battle going on inside of him that he couldn’t quite bring himself to talk about– but that showed as heat lightning in his work.”

Does that not describe the writing of Ernest Hemingway?

“–nobody ever denied that Finnegan could write.”

The story catches Finnegan between successes, when he’s straining the faith of his publisher. Everyone hopes he’ll come through with a “great, successful novel.” In the real world Ernest Hemingway would do this, when For Whom the Bell Tolls was released in 1940.

Overall the story is derogatory toward Finnegan. It strongly hints at Fitzgerald’s disillusionment with Hemingway, particularly when the narrator says, “I’ve taken it upon myself to investigate some of the stories about him–.” And found they were mostly fake.
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Hemingway was to have the last word in his memoir of the 1920’s, A Moveable Feast.

 

 

Press Conference Aftermath

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

trash 2

Writers and their fans love a party.
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Hem fishing

Ernest Hemingway was able to squeeze in some trout fishing at a nearby river early that morning.
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Beatlemania latest

Fans of Walt Whitman greeted his entrance into town, then followed him everywhere.
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We were surprised at how much trash talking the “Big Four” writers did at the event, especially Mark Twain and Whitman. Apparently it’s an American tradition of long standing. You get a hint of this in our initial report.

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Our reporter Mel Diper (@meldiper) did three interviews before becoming indisposed. Here are statements gleaned from his notes:

maya angelou

Poet Maya Angelou:  “I was exquisitely gratified by the experience, I truly was. A spring tonic to renew the spirit. Such men. I feared entanglement with brutes! But they were, all four of them– even Ernest– very charming.”
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george plimpton at cafe

Participatory Journalist George Plimpton:  “I met the organizer of this event once before, you know. Don’t trust him!” (To a waitress): “I believe I’ll have a be-ah.” (Note: beer.) “It’s been ye-ahs” (years) “since I had one.” (An assistant of Plimpton’s pays for the beer. Like many writers of his station, George never carries money.)
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Mary McCarthy

Critic/Novelist Mary McCarthy:  “Young man, have you been drinking too much? You are not looking well!”
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Stay tuned for more reports from the venue!

More #1 Seeded Writers

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

We fill in the other two #1 spots in our Tournament brackets with two other legendary names from the past.

moby dick book cover

C.) Herman Melville. What does one do with Moby Dick? One of the other top competitors, Toni Morrison, explained once in a long essay the novel’s symbolism and significance. Talk about writing about America! The Pequod with its hierarchy, mad captain, and multi-cultural crew remains a striking metaphor about the country and concept “America.” What do they chase? That which Melville, writing ten years before the Civil War, saw as America’s founding flaw– the “white whale.” An allusion to slavery at minimum. I doubt if any novel ever written by anyone anywhere has been more ambitious– ambitious in terms of discussing the world, nature, society– and ambitious in looking inward toward man’s sins and soul. It’s also a great yarn. Lest we think this was all Melville wrote, he began as a popular novelist, wrote some classic short stories, including one, “Bartleby,” which in our cubicle work world is more relevant today than ever. Herman finished his career with a great novella, “Billy Budd,” just to show he still had it. But Moby Dick. A novel which can stand with any novel written by the world’s best, even the Russians.
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mark twain young
D.) Mark Twain. We happily bow to the voice of the crowd on this selection. As a persona he’s up there with anyone. He has his undeniable masterpiece, other classic works, fantastic essays and a few good stories. If we’re talking about which writers defined the culture and the American voice, then figures like Twain have an undeniable edge. We also can’t deny there was a time when American lit was much bigger in cultural importance than it is now. But be aware– there are many brackets to fill. A wide variety of voices will be announced.
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(We will be staging a press conference at which all four #1 seeded writers will be present. At least, we have commitments from them. Could be exciting.)

The Venues

DSC06462

WE’VE given much thought to the venues for the All-Time American Writers Tournament. As the city of Philadelphia was a successful spot for the recent NFL draft, we’d like to hold the tournament itself in that fair town. But for the period when we fill in the brackets– the “season” before the event– we’ve decided on a roomier place. Less hectic. A more rustic setting– a small town near woods and lakes. There will be plenty of space for the legendary names to relax and be themselves, before we bring them intensively under the spotlight.

The Dreiser Dilemma

dreiser

AS PART of our preparation for the All-Time American Writers Tournament, we’re re-reading several classic American writers to see, frankly, if they’re any good. The National Football League has their “combine” for evaluating talent. This is the stage we’re in now.

How are the writers doing?

Not that well. Perhaps worst of all is Theodore Dreiser, who wrote at least two historically significant novels. I just completed reading one of them, Sister Carrie. While one can see why the book was controversial in its day, by our “Pop Lit” standards it doesn’t hold up– even though it was a populist novel. The word-clotted style doesn’t help it. The narrative never creates momentum or excitement. The plot becomes predictable about halfway through– from that point the story is a slowly winding-down dirge. It’s a poorer read than a Rex Beach novel we recently reviewed, written in the same time period. But Dreiser’s book was “Literature,” don’t ya know.

THE QUESTION

The question is: How far do we go in keeping writers in context– in giving them credit for their importance in their own era? We don’t wish to completely discount that– but, we also plan to bring objectivity to this tournament.

Do we then also bring the same criteria we’re bringing to Dreiser (“Show us how good you are!”) to more recent, trendy authors?

David Foster Wallace is as unreadable as Dreiser– except in the opinion of his fan club, a well-connected, over-educated clique which carries weight in today’s lit world. Putting Wallace into context might work to his detriment. His writing may be as obsolete in 100 years as Dreiser’s is now.

Dilemmas! Dilemmas! We’ll post our criteria soon. . . .