Marianne Fons Explains Fitzgerald vs. Hemingway

posted in: Family 29
Me n’ Ma. Photo: Joe Mazza / BraveLux.


There’s a pattern here — and I’m not talkin’ fabric. Look!

I write a blog post –> my mother reads my blog post –> my mother is compelled to comment –> the crowd goes wild

Now, my mother reads my blog every time I post, but she doesn’t comment every time. Clearly she should, though, because you love it. You love my mom! I love my mom, too.

After making an egregious mistake in my summer reading list posts, my mom pointed this out (in a comment.) And everyone was so tickled by it, I thought I’d just call her up and interview her about my mistake and put the whole conversation up for your reading pleasure. It’s fun and informative!




PG: Mommy.

MOM: Mary.

PG: Do you realize how much people like it when you comment on the blog? Do you see their comments on your comments?

MOM: No, I didn’t realize that! I’m delighted. I’ll comment more.

PG: Please do. As you know, I made a mistake when I went over my potential summer reading list. I credited Tender is the Night to Ernest Hemingway, but Tender is the Night was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Since you were one of the people to kindly point it out — and since you have a B.A. and an M.A. in English — I thought I would get your comment on this and perhaps learn a thing or two about those two egomaniacal jerks. I mean “brilliant geniuses.”

MOM: Sounds fun, sweetie, fire away.

PG: By the way, where are you right now?

MOM: I’m sitting in one of my favorite spots in the whole world: the rocking chair on the front porch here in Winterset.

PG: Lovely. So, first things first: Tender Is the Night. What’s it about?

MOM: I read it a long time ago, in grad school. It really has been a long time, but I recall thinking that it was a better book than The Great Gatsby, which is still considered sort of the gold standard American novel. Now I’m worried I’ve got it wrong, but I think Tender is the Night has to do with mental illness. And beautiful, tragic people. The female character … I think she’s institutionalized in the novel, and I’m pretty sure she’s based on F. Scott’s wife, Zelda.

PG: That sounds about right. Poor ol’ Zelda.

MOM: All these years later, I might find the tale less appealing, but when I read it I would’ve been around 32, and everyone in that F. Scott Fitzgerald world seemed to be these glamorous, tragic figures.

PG: It’s a little different in Hemingway’s books, right? I’ve read The Sun Also Rises and … something else. I remember lots of sunshine and bullfighting and drinking while bullfighting in the sun.

MOM: I did an independent study on Hemingway in grad school and read all his books. I read a lot about his life and because of that, I read a lot about Fitzgerald, too, because they were pals.

PG: Of course they were.

MOM: I remember learning that Fitzgerald had money but was cheap, while Hemingway was poor but generous.

PG: Wow! That’s a really interesting thing to know. Hm.

MOM: Hemingway’s belief was that you should be good to people like waiters and busboys, bell captains, people working service positions, basically, where Fitzgerald was rude to so-called underlings. There’s an anecdote I remember: F. Scott Fitzgerald was ill with a fever and very sick —

PG: Probably hungover, right?

MOM: — probably, and Hemingway put him in the tub and was trying to make him well. He apparently was able to get a thermometer and maybe some medicine or something from a bellboy and Hemingway said, basically, “Look, you need to be good to people in service professions because when the chips are down, they’re the ones who are really going to be the people you need to ask for help.”

PG: I agree completely, though it sounds a little transactional. But I know what he means and I waited tables for 10 years of my life, so like, go Hemingway.

MOM: Well, yes, Fitzgerald was a snob, but I think Hemingway was a real a**, too. He was horrible to women and then he got cancer and couldn’t take it and he blew his head off with a rifle.

PG: Mom!

MOM: His father committed suicide, too, I think. His father was a doctor.

PG: “Got cancer and couldn’t take it.” I’m still processing that one, Marianne.

MOM: Well, he really changed fiction, I think. Hemingway did. Oh, and honey, good luck reading Henry James. I’m an educated person, but I think Henry James is hard to read. His sentence structure is so dense and long … One sentence will be an entire paragraph. I read Turn of the Screw and I tried to read The Ambassadors and I just couldn’t do it.

PG: Well, if we’re talking about the other books on my list, how about the Donna Tartt novel, The Goldfinch?

MOM: I heard about Donna Tartt when Goldfinch came out. Her novels are … what are they called?

PG / MOM: Southern Gothic.

MOM: Southern Gothic, yes. I started that last one and it was just so … I don’t know. Southern Gothic? Everyone was just just runnin’ around in red ditches, catchin’ rattlesnakes. And something horrible happened but what don’t know what it was and it’s gonna take a loooooong time fo find out what it was and it was just … unsatisfyingly dark. I didn’t finish The Goldfinch, and that is unusual for me.

PG: What about David Foster Wallace?

MOM: Did he write Confederacy of Dunces?

PG: No! Well, I’m not reading that one, yet, even though if I had chosen on my own, I’d have probably picked it. It’s okay. I’m going with 1984 because the people have spoken and I love the people. Orwell is one of my top-five authors, so I’m happy. Have you read 1984?

MOM: I’m sure I have, but every time I picture it, I just picture Animal Farm. 

PG: Hey, you wanna read it with me??

MOM: Sure! That sounds fun, honey. But I think … Yes, I’ll have to get it. When should we start reading?

PG: As soon as you get it.

29 Responses

  1. Shelley Dionne
    | Reply

    Loved this discourse with you and your mom now I have to read Tender is the Night

  2. Theresa
    | Reply

    Totally agree with you on The Goldfinch, Marianne.

  3. Caroline Nelson
    | Reply

    I’m thrilled that I am not the only one who could not finish The Goldfinch! That book was not constructed in a way I was able to easily digest it. Thank you, Marianne. Thank you!

  4. Shirley Wells
    | Reply

    Ummm, I hate to correct you again, but it’s not “The Sun Also Sets” by Hemingway; it’s “The Sun Also Rises.” ☺

  5. Judy Forkner
    | Reply

    I give your interview with your mom a big thumbs up!

  6. Marcia Rowell
    | Reply

    Well that was fun! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Mary Lou Maloni
    | Reply

    Henry James is dense. I read Turn of the Screw for a class and decided I am done with this author.

  8. Marianne Fons
    | Reply

    Me again, Mary. I know you were typing fast when you interviewed me, amazingly fast (I’m always amazed how incredibly fast you type, like you could win a speed-typing contest), so it’s not surprising there are a few teensy inaccuracies.

    1. The Hemingway book referenced should be THE SUN ALSO RISES, not THE SUN ALSO SETS . . .

    2. Hemingway used a shotgun, not a rifle. I sound pretty crass regarding his cancer and his suicide. There’s a lot one can criticize about Hemingway, but he was a great writer who lived life to the fullest. He disliked weakness, and at the time he got cancer I don’t think there was really any treatment for it so he took matters into his own hands.

    3. The Tartt novel I didn’t finish is THE LITTLE FRIEND, not THE GOLDFINCH.

    4. I always get the names David Foster Wallace (INFINITE JEST) and John Kennedy O’Toole (A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES) mixed up. I’ve never read INFINITE JEST, but I have read DUNCES and did not enjoy it.

    5. To end on an English major-y note, I believe the title INFINITE JEST is a reference to Hamlet, when Hamlet is in the graveyard with his friend Horatio, holding the skull of Yorick, a man of “infinite jest.”

  9. Nancy Rudy
    | Reply

    I’m listening to 1984 on my kindle right now! I’m trying to do the Great American Read from PBS – marked off the books I have already read, started at the top and here I go

  10. JB
    | Reply

    I’ll read 1984 again with you two (assuming I can check it out of the library – no more books are coming IN to this house for a while).

  11. Melanie
    | Reply

    Isn’t your mom just the sweetest!? And eloquent and thoughtful. One question. Does your mom get/have editorial control when a post includes her commentary? Just kidding….sort of.

  12. Pam Williams
    | Reply

    Fun!! I love it!

  13. Helen Marie
    | Reply

    The Goldfinch. I got through it, but don’t recommend it. There’s so much better out there.

  14. Michelle
    | Reply

    My master’s thesis was on Tender Is the Night. 🙂

  15. Heather
    | Reply

    Loved this little insight into your relationship… I EXTRA loved it because it felt like a conversation I’ve had with my own mother. <3

  16. Mary Ann
    | Reply

    Thanks Marianne, now I can check The Goldfinch off with out feeling guilty. I may drag myself through Tender Is The Night but truly your whole summer list is pretty dark and depressing Mary. Let’s find a fun beach read too! Ask Mom please.

  17. Erica
    | Reply

    I liked the Goldfinch! Unexpected twist in the last part of the book! Stick with it. I thought it was a really understated commentary on obligation, guilt and the effort at redemption. (All this comes to me in retrospect as I’m considering that some found it hard to read. That didn’t occur to me at all.)

  18. Pattie Bajuszik
    | Reply

    I did not like the Goldfinch either. Started reading the e-book from the library. Loan expired. Then hit it in audio form. Still didn’t get through it. Then borrowed the actual book, and finally finished it. Not worth my time and it seems it didn’t improve with any format. After 1984, please read Animal Farm. Just re-read it and in these times, it is so applicable.

  19. Char
    | Reply

    I think it’s The Sun Also Rises rather than Sets. In any case, put A Confederacy of Dunces on your list. I hope its appeal lasts – I thought it was hilarious but I read it 30 years ago and, you know, I was a different person then.

  20. Sue
    | Reply

    The reason I love reading the responses from your mother is how she begins, “Mary, this is your mom”. Without knowing she grabs our attention, so tenderly. My mom has been gone for 17 years but if she could answer a blog post of mine, I know she would start it, “Susan, this is your mom. ” … Yes mom, you have my attention.

    Thank you for sharing her.

  21. Georgia O'Neal
    | Reply

    love the conversation – however, Hemmingway wrote ” The Sun Also Rises” ( not sets)
    and he blew is brains out with a shotgun ! sorry – just stupid editor catches ! ( of course you knew these things, just trying to fool us !)
    Marianne – love that you comment – please do more !

  22. Ryan R Young
    | Reply

    Summer Reading – pick up Michael Chabon’s best book, “Summerland”. It’s a little dark, but not too dark, and it’s all about resourceful kids, baseball, mythology, and the Pacific Northwest. A Volvo station wagon is a key character. Also airships, and werefoxes.

    I’m with Marianne on “Confederacy of Dunces”, did not enjoy it, although it was praised to the stars when it came out.

    • Ruth
      | Reply

      Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

  23. Ellen
    | Reply

    Oh please, please, please give The Goldfinch a chance! It haunted and enchanted me. The characters bloomed and built through the novel, so much so that they still seem real in the world to me. The way the author wrote about art and longing through the main character was mesmerizing. Darkness and magic tangle up in there, Mary! I haven’t commented before but this was urgent!!!! Ps I love you ❤️

  24. Ruth
    | Reply

    Yes, it tickles me, too, to know that your mom is your biggest fan and would walk on coals for you. She’s the best! May I just jump in here and give you a book recommendation that Sandra Dallas gave – the book is PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf. I seem to recall that Sandra said that Kent was one of her favorite authors (she’s an author herself) and that’s how I came upon the book. Give it a go! It’s compelling.

  25. Chris Ziemkiewicz
    | Reply

    I think your mom is wrong about Hemingway being generous and Fitzgerald being cheap. I am not a Hemingway fan and love Fitzgerald, though. There’s a story that Dorothy Parker borrowed a typewriter from Hemingway, who had far more money than she ever did, and he hounded her every time they met for its return. He even claimed to have written a really vicious ode to her after she had attempted suicide, To The Tragic Poetess because of the stupid typewriter. Much later she was embarking on an ocean liner for Europe and Hemingway saw her off. As she waved from the deck he shouted, “what about my typewriter?” She went to her stateroom, grabbed the typewriter she had brought with her, tossed it overboard in his general direction, then turned to her companion and said, “how am I going to make my living now?”

  26. Summer
    | Reply

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who found Henry James hard to read! I also did not like Fitzgerald or Hemingway very much. For classical authors, I’ll just recommend Henry David Thoreau, Willa Cather, and Robert Penn Warren. I’m also quite partial to a more modern writer, Mark Childress. My favorite book was “V is for Victor.” And don’t get me started on sci-fi (though I will give you a peek – if you like words and want a thrill at how wonderfully they are used, try Ray Bradbury – pick any collection of his short stories!).

  27. patrick powell
    | Reply

    Well, from what I know of Fitzgerald I wouldn’t have described him as an ‘egomaniacal jerk’, but not a ‘brilliant genius’ either. He would write well. On the other hand from what I know of Hemingway, I would certainly describe him as an egomaniacal jerk and – though I am allergic to instant middle-brow Sunday paper supplement pop psychology – I suspect a good case could be made out that he was a sociopath, though the term was not current in the 1920s.

    More to the point, although I must concede that his novel The Sun Also Rises did give English-language literature an abrupt new direction, in my view Hemingway was not himself a very good writer, to put it mildly. Yes, he had the occasional attractive turn of phrase, but there’s a damn sight more to writing than that Hemingway didn’t have.

    He did though – a memorable description of him by his very first publisher Robert McAlmon in Paris was ‘the limelight kid’ – have ruthless ambition, a complete lack of scruples and an unnerving instinct for self-promotion, and all three together made a very potent catalyst to transmute a modicum of literary talent into the ‘man of letters’ he became.

    I am at present (purely for private but practical reasons) writing a longish piece on why I believe The Sun is not a masterpiece as is claimed and the H. is not a ‘writer of genius’ as is also claimed, and I have been doing a lot of background reading of which Lesley Blume’s very entertaining and very readable Everybody Behaves Badly etc was the mainstay.

    The more I read, the more I come across other books and essays which might be worth reading, including – this might be relevant to your blog entry – Hemingway vs Fitzgerald by Scott Donaldson, so my task is getting very greater. I came across your blog post here just now after spending quite some time googling the net for the full 82-line version of Hemingway’s excessively nasty poem about Dorothy Parker To The Tragic Poetess. I didn’t find it, well, so far I haven’t found the complete poem and only have the first 2o-odd lines. So I might as well ask: if you can point me in the direction of getting hold of the full version, I would be very grateful.

    Best wishes to you and your Mom (Brit. ‘mum’).

  28. patrick powell
    | Reply

    PS I enjoy reading early to middle Henry James but he did tend to go off at the deep end later on. I also find that if you put the effort in and make a sincere attempt to get to the end of his sentences, it does pay off. But he’s not an author you can skim read. Hemingway was.

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