F. Scott Fitzgerald, the literary wizard behind The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, was married to a woman named Zelda (a talented painter and writer in her own right).
The couple’s relationship in the best of times could have been defined as intoxicating. They were the power couple of the roaring twenties with larger-than-life personalities, brilliant creative talents and a shared fondness for throwing lavish parties that shook whatever city they were calling home.
But, in the worst of times, their relationship was horrendously toxic, riddled with mutual infidelity, knockdown drag-out fights, extreme jealousy, alcoholism and low blows.
During one of these bouts of the latter, Zelda said something to Scott that derailed him — so much so that he consulted his friend and contemporary at the time, Ernest Hemingway.
In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes of the encounter.At the time, the two were sitting in a Parisian cafe enjoying a cherry tart and a glass of wine when Fitzgerald confided in him…
“Zelda said that the way I was built I could never make any woman happy and that was what upset her originally. She said it was a matter of measurements. I have never felt the same since she said that and I have to know truly.”
In not so many words, Hemingway told Fitzgerald to meet him in “ Le Water” or French slang for “bathroom” so he could have a look to see if what he was fretting about was actually worth fretting about.
Upon closer inspection.
In the bathroom Hemingway had Fitzgerald drop his trousers and upon closer inspection gave him his diagnosis…
“You’re perfectly fine.”
Hemingway recommended that Fitzgerald visit the Louvre and look at the statues and to then go home and look at himself in the mirror “in profile”.
Less technically, Hemingway was telling Fitzgerald that his dick probably appeared smaller when looking down from above.
Then, in very Hemingway-esk language, he shares some wisdom with Fitzgerald regarding what’s really important in regards to one’s penis…
“It is the size that it becomes.”
Literary thinkers have dubbed the historical encounter as “homosexual” which to me is laughable.
The folks who’ve positioned the situation as such have clearly never played sports in high school nor have witnessed the absurdities that take place within a male locker-room.
Having played both high school and college basketball, I can confidently say Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s encounter wasn’t just normal but tame.
But, Sexuality and locker room horseplay aside, I find this moment in Le Water fascinating because it shows us that arguably the two greatest American writers to ever live struggled with insecurity.
(Which, by the way, they’re not the only ones, writers like Neil Gaiman have opened up about their battles with Imposter Syndrome).
Historians have said that even the wildly masculine Hemingway was, at times, described as being effeminate and androgynous (partly male and partly female in appearance).
However, this should be taken with a grain of salt because much of these claims came from Zelda Fitzgerald… and it’s quite clear that she and Hemingway absolutely despised one another.
Again, I find this loathing humorous because it makes these literary gods feel more human — anyone reading this right now has felt conflicting feelings towards a good friend’s significant other who they feel they shouldn’t be with.
Hemingway believed that Zelda greatly hindered Fitzgerald as a writer and I would agree.
However, my only rebuttal would be that this hindering was very much mutual — the pair seemed to destroy one another as creatives and people.
Friends & Foes.
For the remainder of Fitzgerald and Hemingway’s lives, they would find that they too had a complicated relationship — turning from friends to rivals and eventually friends again.
Their rivalry reached a climax when Fitzgerald asked Hemingway to share his thoughts on his novel, Tender Is the Night.
( Apparently, he didn’t hold back with his criticism).
However, the respect for one another’s work seemed to always be there (or at the very least return). Towards the end of Fitzgerald’s life, Hemingway wrote to him…
“you can write twice as well now as you ever could”.
Perhaps, the greatest compliment you can give another writer.
And, Fitzgerald regularly referred to Hemingway as the…
“Greatest living writer of our time”.
So, I will leave it at this.
Whether it’s silencing insecurities, navigating challenging intimate relationships or mastering one’s craft… it’s good to have a friend and contemporary.
By Cole Schafer.
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