Who Is Finnegan?

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Hemingway shooting

WHEN WE PRESENTED our “Hemingway-Fitzgerald Trivia Question” we were fairly confident in our answer. We looked for critical support. We received instead a response from Dr. Scott Donaldson disagreeing with our analysis.

“‘Snobbish Story’ possibly based on E.H., Finnegan definitely not (FSF writing about himself). . .”

Scott Donaldson is THE authority on the two legendary American authors. His works include Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship, plus separate books on both men. Hard to believe he could miss on this story, “Financing Finnegan.” (Or indeed on both stories.)

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is F. Scott Fitzgerald writing about himself? Or, instead, as we contend, about his on-and-off friend Ernest Hemingway?

You can read the story here and judge for yourself.
****

As for ourselves, further research on the matter confirms our original opinion.

Dr. Donaldson has bought the accepted narrative on F. Scott Fitzgerald. In part, a portrayal of Fitzgerald as victim, with bearish Hemingway as antagonist. This viewpoint is in part attributable to Hemingway himself, and his seemingly unprovoked attacks on Scott in A Moveable Feast. But also to Scott’s “Crack-Up” essays in Esquire.

But again we ask, is Scott “Finnegan”?

At one point in his career he might’ve been. His experiences and one-time standing as a literary wonderboy no doubt informed his view of the character. But at the time he wrote “Finnegan,” nothing about Scott himself any longer fit. And hadn’t fit for a long time.

“Finnegan” is a famous novelist. By contrast, in 1938, for the greater public, Scott Fitzgerald was almost forgotten. He didn’t become a legendary author until the 1950’s, years after his death. In retrospect. No one considered him to be one in 1938. (On the other hand, Hemingway’s standing in 1938 was almost exactly the same as Finnegan’s.)

“Finnegan” has unending money problems– owes his publisher money on advances. Scott Fitzgerald had once been in this situation. But in 1938 he was not working on a novel, had received no advance for one. Instead, in 1937, as described on his Wikipedia page, F. Scott Fitzgerald had “entered into a lucrative exclusive deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer” to write screenplays. In 1937 Fitzgerald earned $29,757.87– the equivalent of $540,000.00 today. Over half-a-million dollars. In 1938 when he wrote “Financing Finnegan” he was swimming in money. For anyone alive during the Great Depression it was a near-fortune.

If anything, Scott’s situation fits well not with Finnegan, but the narrator of the tale.

What of Ernest Hemingway?

Again, we have to go back to 1938, when Fitzgerald wrote the story. Hemingway’s latest novel, To Have and Have Not, released in October 1937, had been a giant flop. It was slammed by reviewers, including the New York Times, which said, “this new novel is an empty book.” It was Hemingway’s first novel in eight years. It’s generally regarded by critics today, as it was then, as his worst novel.

As for finances, a glance at Hemingway’s Selected Letters shows he was in continual money trouble– at least as much as Scott had ever been. In part because Hem refused to crank out scores of short stories (or screenplays) purely to earn money. In 1938, after the failure of a long-awaited novel, Hemingway’s financial situation must’ve been particularly precarious.

Anyway you slice it, “Finnegan” is a depiction not of F. Scott Fitzgerald but of his one-time friend, Ernest Hemingway. Still smarting from his buddy’s shot at him in Esquire, Scott used the same forum to subtly even the score. Scott Donaldson didn’t catch it– but the ever-sensitive Ernest would have.

Ritz Bar w FSF picture

Advertisements

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.)
*******

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!
*******

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.
*******

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.
*******

Hemingway was to have the last word in his memoir of the 1920’s, A Moveable Feast.