What was the Beef Between Hemingway and Fitzgerald?

Is the supposed beef between two pivotal figures in American literature real? How did it start? How did things end between them? Let’s find out!

Book Culture Bookstr Trivia
hemingway and fitzgerald

You may or may not know that Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald did not always get along. The two authors had massive respect and appreciation for each other’s works, and yet things between them weren’t always happy and sunshiney. Let’s take a deeper look!

To really grasp the difference between the two, here’s some basic info about each respected author!

Who is Hemingway?

Ernest Hemingway was an early 20th-century American novelist. He was widely known in his time for his revolutionary writing and his adventurous lifestyle. It brought him continued fame in the generations that followed. A Nobel Prize Awardee in Literature, he is considered to be one of the greatest litterateurs of all time. In his life, he published seven novels, six sets of short stories, and two non-fiction works. He writes from his experiences serving in WWI and from several other wild adventures he partook in during his life.

Who is Fitzgerald?

Francis Scott Fitzgerald was also an early 20th-century American Novelist. He is best known for his flamboyant and sophisticated way of writing. However, unlike Hemingway, he wasn’t given immediate and constant fame. His personal and professional life was filled with strife, and his work only received critical acclaim in the late 20th century. In his life, he published four novels, four short story collections, and 164 short stories. He had a turbulent life, and his professional one was filled with criticism, but there is no denying that today, he is also considered to be one of the greatest authors of all time.

The Good and Pretty

In 1925, the two great authors first met in Paris, where a bunch of writers and artists of the “Lost Generation” formed a close-knit expatriate community.

When they first met, Hemingway was already an emerging writer, having penned several short stories and poems. Hemingway had a deep respect for Fitzgerald and has always praised The Great Gatsby as a masterpiece. He admired how aptly Fitzgerald was able to capture the true American Dream on paper and his ability to compose raw and poetic sentences. Fitzgerald had mutual respect for Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway was greatly appreciated by Fitzgerald. 

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, black and white photo

On the one hand, Fitzgerald was a more conservative writer; he did not partake in extreme adventures and use them as inspiration for his books. He wrote what he knew, and he did it in the most melodic way possible. 

Hemingway was the exact opposite. His books drew inspiration from his life. He was outgoing and fearless and wrote the same way in his work. 

Although the two had vastly differing ways of putting pen to paper, both composed some of the most impactful and beautiful pieces of literature in literary history. And both of them knew and respected each other immensely for this. 

Singing Praises

Here are some quotes by both great authors that express their obvious respect and admiration for each other’s works:

In a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway wrote about Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby:

“I believe now that it is about the best American novel ever written.”

Hemingway also said:

“His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.”

 Fitzgerald felt similar sentiments:

“You write the best about almost everything of anyone I know.”

The Bad And Ugly

Although the two respected and sometimes praised each other’s work, they offered their fair share of criticism of each other’s craft as well. 

Hemingway did not appreciate Fitzgerald’s more conservative prose. He thought of Fitzgerald’s writing as complicated and overly ornate. In fact, Hemingway said that Fitzgerald’s talent only existed in his spleen. This basically means that Fitzgerald relies on self-pity as a source of inspiration rather than tapping into more profound themes. 

left: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Right: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

On the other hand, Fitzgerald thought Hemingway’s work to be lacking in depth and rawness. He felt that Hemingway’s writing did not strike a chord deep enough. 

With their differing approaches and styles, one author’s work was bound to be better received than the others. And in this case, it was Hemingway. Although The Great Gatsby is said to be one of the greatest American novels ever written, it was Hemingway who won a Pulitzer as well as a Nobel Prize in Literature. In addition to this, several of his books were bestsellers and were widely acclaimed. 

Furthermore, Fitzgerald’s life and professional career were filled with struggle. Therefore, he was often jealous of Hemingway’s rise in fame in the literary world and his comparative lack thereof. His jealousy escalated their already differing perceptions of literature.

Fitzgerald was also known to often make a “drunken fool” of himself. He screamed insults, hurled ashtrays and glasses, and walked out of social events and pubs, unaware of his surroundings. He has often said, later in his life, that sometimes a good drink fueled his ability to portray deeper feelings and emotions in his writing. On the other hand, Hemingway has repeatedly said that he has never written under the influence of alcohol.

Additionally, at one point, Fitzgerald had asked Hemingway to go to Lyon to pick his car up. However, after waiting for hours in turbulent weather, Fitzgerald didn’t show, and Hemingway had to take a train and then wired money for Fitzgerald to do the same. Even then, Fitzgerald was nowhere to be found. After a few days, when they were finally reunited, Fitzgerald looked like he was full of alcohol, and this didn’t sit well with Hemingway.

Voicing Criticisms

Hemingway was sometimes critical of Fitzgerald’s writing and the maintenance of his personal affairs. He wrote this in a letter to Maxwell Perkins:

“Last time he was in Paris he got us kicked out of one apt. and in trouble all the time. (Insulted the landlord — pee-ed on the front porch — tried to break down the door at 3-4 and 5 a.m.)… I am very fond of Scott but I’ll beat him up before I’ll let him come and get us ousted from this place — as a matter of fact I’m afraid I’d kill him.”

As stated previously, Fitzgerald was jealous of Hemingway’s rise to fame. In a letter to his daughter, Fitzgerald wrote:

“I wish I had written half of The Sun Also Rises.”

Fitzgerald also expressed his disapproval of Hemingway’s emphasis on war and violence in his works and wrote to Hemingway:

“Nobody over 30 plays baseball any longer and all the people under 30 have a grouch. How can you write about life when you hate it?”

 Fitzgerald wrote about Hemingway’s tough and adventurous image, saying:

“He’s such a self-centered bastard in all ways. His curiosity about everything is limited to his own personal experiences.”

It has been made abundantly clear that Fitzgerald and Hemingway had a complex relationship. They were friends and rivals; they respected yet detested each other. Throughout their lives and careers, they corresponded and took advice from each other. The pair had their heated moments but also had moments of respect and admiration. Both these great authors impacted the trajectory of literature in the following generations and will definitely continue to do so for several more years. 

Click here to read more on Bookstr Trivia!