If Only The Two Had Met!

“No son of a bitch that ever won the Nobel Prize ever wrote anything worth reading afterwards.” wrote Ernest Hemingway.
“Faulkner was a no-good son of a bitch. All a man needed, in order to do 5,000 words a day of that kind of stuff, was a quart of whiskey, the loft of a barn, and a total disregard of syntax.” He was referring to William Faulkner’s “A Fable”.

Of the many confrontations Hemingway had with other writers, perhaps the most ongoing was the one he had with Faulkner. What’s significant about these two is the fact that they never met even though they bickered continuously.

One day, in talking to some students at the University of Mississippi, Faulkner said that Hemingway lacked the courage to go out on a limb of experimentation. Hemingway was deeply insulted. He didn’t like to be called a coward and asked his General to write to Faulkner about his behavior under fire in 1944. The General did and Faulkner apologized, saying he was only making $250 talking.

When Paul Romaine, a Midwestern bookseller, was gathering up some of Faulkner’s early work for a small volume called “Salmagundi” he asked Ernest if he could include his poem “Ultimately” on the back cover. Hemingway agreed to the proposal, though he told his then biographer that the poem was bad enough to fit perfectly into a collection of Faulkner’s “early shit”. In spite of that another time in Paris Ernest admitted that Faulkner was a better writer than he.

Later Harvey Breit of the New York Time’s Book Review asked William Faulkner to review “The Old Man And The Sea”. Faulkner, said, “among other things, Ernest has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Hemingway, furious of course, replied, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.” 

Still in a letter to Cowley, Ernest wrote that Faulkner had “The most talent of anybody but hard to depend on.…I would have been happy just to have managed him.”

While Faulkner in his turn wrote to Breit; “I hope he (Hemingway) will accept me on his side.”

If only the two had met!


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