Last night Doug and I went to see Scott and Hem at the Garden of Allah. We are both Hemingway fans and both interested in the creative process and addiction. We had our fill of all three of these during the performance. The Garden of Allah is a Hollywood apartment hideaway where F. Scott Fitzgerald gets a visit from Hemingway while working on a screenplay that will likely end in failure. Temptation to drink or otherwise numb oneself with all kinds of different addictions abound. This drama climaxes with a physical fight between the two of them. A fight that is observed by the personal assistant to movie mogul Louis Mayer. The assistant clearly disdains Hemingway and throws out something that William Faulkner said about Hemingway in regards to courage.
I looked around on the internet and found this introduction to a review by E.L. Doctorow on The New York Review of Books about “As I Lay Dying.” He introduces the review with a quick recount of the feud between Hemingway and Faulkner, including the words that the assistant threw out to Hemingway.
Talking to a class at the University of Mississippi one day late in his life, William Faulkner remarked that his cogenerationist Ernest Hemingway lacked courage as a writer, that he had always been too careful, never taking risks beyond what he knew he could do, never using “a word where the reader might check his usage by a dictionary.” The remark, quoted in a university press release, was picked up by the wire services and eventually made its way to Hemingway, who was outraged that Faulkner had questioned his courage. Faulkner then had to write a letter of apology and explain that he never questioned Hemingway’s physical courage, but only his courage as a writer who never went “out on a limb” or risked “bad taste, over-writing, dullness, etc.” Hemingway’s hurt seemed to have been assuaged, the criticism applying only to his life’s work.
I am sitting with these words this morning, pondering this recent self-examination of my own courage–my internal battle of wanting to go out on a limb, risk bad taste, over-working something, anything to stand up for things I normally keep to myself. I feel like a bird ready to fly but not quite ready to test out those wings just yet.