Wednesday, September 09, 2020

The Battle Of The Titians-Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” Vs. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side Of Paradise”

The Battle Of The Titians-Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” Vs. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side Of Paradise” 

By Zack James

No question as Josh Breslin has seemingly gracelessly aged he has become more perverse in his greedy little mind. That trait has exploded more recently as he has finally hung up his pen and paper if one can do such a feat and stopped writing free-lance articles for half the small press, small publishing house, small artsy journal nation. All this hubbub boiled over recently when he told his old friend from his growing up in Riverdale days, Sam Lowell, about his “coup,” his term, in upsetting the applecart of the American literary pantheon by claiming on very flimsy evidence that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early work, the one that gave him his first fame, This Side Of Paradise, could be compared with his masterwork The Great Gatsby. The perverse part came when he told Sam that he had only  written the article as a send-up of all the literary set’s fretting about who and what works belong in, or don’t belong in, the pantheon also based on as very little evidence.       

The whole faux dust-up came up because now that he was retired he could write a little more freely since he had neither the pressure of some midnight deadline from some nervous nelly editor waiting impatiently for him to dot that last i before rushing off to the printer nor the imperative of reining in his horns to insure that he could keep up with the gathering payments for alimony, child support and college educations for a three ex-wives and a slew of well-behaved kids. The latter being a close thing that almost broke his spirit. He had accepted a free-lance at-your-leisure assignment from Ben Gold, the editor of the Literary Gazette, who told him he could write a monthly column on some topic that interested him. As long as it was about three thousand words and not the usual five or six thousand that had to be edited with scalpel in hand and arguments every other line about its worthiness as part of the article.         

Josh admitted to Sam that he was intrigued by the idea and after thinking about the matter for a while decided that he would concentrate on reviewing for a 21st century audience some of the American masterworks of the 20th century. The beauty of this idea was that he would no longer have to face the dagger-eyed living authors, their hangers-on and acolytes every time he noted that said authors couldn’t write themselves a proper thank you note never mind such a huge task as writing a well-thought out novel that they had forced him mercilessly to review the relatively few times he entered the literary fray. He had made his mark in the cultural field by reviewing music and film mostly but would when hard up for dollars for those aforementioned three wives and slew of hungry kids take on anything including writing bogus reviews of various products like dish detergent and mouthwash although more recently a spade of reviews on technical gadgets like things for computers which he frankly didn’t know or give a fuck about. Couldn’t even figure out how to attach the damn things to the computer. Now he could leisurely delve back into the past and cherry-pick a few bright objects, write a few thousand words and move onto the next selection.

Or so he thought. Josh had made Sam laugh, had made himself laugh as well, one night when they were at Sam’s favorite watering hole, Teddy Green’s Grille over Lyons Street in their old hometown after he had finished and Ben had published his first “thought” article in the Gazette. He had admitted that his take on the issue was perverse, was a low-intensity tweaking of all those in the literary racket who labored long, hard, and winded to specialize in “deconstructing” some famous author in order to make hay in their own bailiwicks, making their own cramped careers out of the literary mass of real writers. He had stirred up the hornet’s nest by his “innocent” comparison of the two Fitzgerald works.                 

Josh told Sam that he had been rather naïve to think that the literary gurus would take his little heresy as mere grumbling of an old man and pass it off as so much blather. He had reasoned that one could get passionate about who would win the World Series or the Super Bowl, one political candidate over another, some worthy cause but that the almost one hundred year old vintage of a couple of books set in the Jazz Age 1920s by a now unfashionable “dead white man” author long since, very long    since, dead should be passed in silence. Not so. No sooner had the Gazette come out than some silly undergraduate English major had e-mailed Josh about how wrong he was to compare the “juvenile antics,” her term, of privileged white college boy Amory Blaine over up from nowhere strivings after fame and fortune of one Jay Gatsby when all the old-time money and position was against him. Of course he had had to defend his position and sent her a return e-mail summarily dismissing her championship as so much sophomoric half-thinking “politically correct” classist claptrap that has overrun the college campuses over the past decades, mostly not for the better.  

End of debate. No way since thereafter a couple of academic heavyweights, known Fitzgerald scholars, had to put their two cents worth in since an intruder was invading their turf, an odd-ball free-lance music and film critic well past his prime according to one of their kind as if he himself had not been pan-handling the same half dozen admitted good ideas for the previous forty years since he had gotten tenure. In any case no sooner had that undergraduate student dust-up settled down than Professor Lord, the big-time retired English teacher from Harvard whose books of literary criticism set many a wannabe writers’ hearts a-flutter took up the cudgels in defense of Gatsby.

Pointed out to ignorant Josh that  the novel was an authentic slice of life about the American scene in the scattershot post-World War I scene and that Paradise was nothing but the well-written but almost non-literary effort of an aspiring young author telling, retailing was the word the good professor used, his rather pedestrian and totally conventional youth-based comments. Those sentiments in turn got Professor Jamison, the well-known Fitzgerald scholar from Princeton, Scott’s old school, in a huff about how the novel represented the Jazz Age from a younger more innocent perspective as well as Gatsby had done for the older free-falling set who had graduated from proms and social dances to country club and New York Plaza Hotel intrigues. So the battle raged.   

Josh laughed loudest as the heavy-weights from the academy went slamming into the night and into each other’s bailiwicks and stepped right to the sidelines once he had started his little fireball rolling. Laughed harder when he, having had a few too many scotches at his own  favorite watering hole, Jack’s outside Harvard Square, thought about the uproar he would create when he tweaked a few noses declaring Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises as the definite Jazz Age novel and put Gatsby in the bereft dime store novel category by comparison.

It was that idea that Josh wanted to use Sam as a sounding board for, a guy to tussle out the pieces with. After Josh had received the response that he did from well-paid hucksters in the academy to the first article in his monthly column he decided to change tack and actually act as a provocateur, a flame-thrower, and rather than placid kind of educational pieces he would go slightly off-the-wall dragging some of those in the literary pantheon through the mud. So that throwaway idea of pitting two titans like Hemingway and Fitzgerald together to fight mano a mano for kingpin of the Jazz Age literary set began to geminate as the fodder for the next article for his column. Hence, Sam, Sam as devils’ advocate, since Josh and he had had many go arounds over literary subjects ever since they were in high school English classes together. Watch for the bloodless blather from the literati on that one when he gets done.     

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