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.