Hemingway & the Crack-Up Report

Hemingway & the Crack-Up Report

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Hemingway & the “Crack-Up” Report
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Between 1935 and 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald suffered a mental breakdown, which would be referred to as the “Crack-Up.” Many things precipitated this meltdown including tuberculosis, alcoholism, Zelda’s deteriorating condition, and “his [troubled] sense of himself as a man” (Donaldson 189). During this period, Fitzgerald had been advised by his doctors to take time off work for the sake of his health. Heeding their advice, he decided to relocate to western North Carolina, most notably, Hendersonville, for some fresh mountain air.

His confessional “Crack-Up” essays were first published in Esquire Magazine in November 1935. The most well known essays were “The Crack-Up”, “Pasting It Together,” and “Handle with Care,” published in February, March and April of 1936 (www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/facts/facts1.html). These essays were touted as being candid, with the intention of ‘exploring Fitzgerald’s “dark night of the soul”’ (Donaldson 194). In fact, much of the truth is omitted; Zelda’s illness is not mentioned as a possible factor, and the role of drinking is not credited as a part of Fitzgerald’s increasingly serious problem. The most powerful and literary part of his essays is his compelling use of metaphor, most markedly in his referral to himself as being “a cracked plate” (Donaldson 195). Fitzgerald believed that he had no real self, and the Fitzgerald who existed consisted of borrowed personalities. His “intellectual conscience” was derived from Edmund Wilson, and his “artistic conscience,” from Ernest Hemingway (Donaldson 195).

Hemingway disagreed entirely with the way Fitzgerald handled his breakdown. In a letter to Maxwell Perkins, Fitzgerald, Hemingway observed that Fitzgerald, has “a marvellous talent and the thing is to use it- not whine in public” (Donaldson 196). Hemingway also cited two of Fitzgerald’s other flaws that contributed to his downfall, both mentally and as a writer. First, Fitzgerald was plagued by a lack of courage; second, Fitzgerald never grew up and “jumped straight from youth to senility without going through manhood” (Donaldson 196).

Hemingway never directly wrote to Fitzgerald with criticism. Instead, he more publicly humiliated him in his short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Published in Esquire magazine in August 1936, a passage from the story directly implicates Fitzgerald,

[They] were dull and they drank too much, or they played

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too much backgammon. They were dull and they were

repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and

his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story

that once began, “The very rich are different from you and

me.” And how someone had said to Scott, Yes, they have

more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought

they were a special glamorous race and when he found they

weren’t it wrecked him as much as any other thing that

wrecked him (Donaldson 197).

The quote Hemingway draws on is from Fitzgerald’s short story “The Rich Boy.” Hemingway believes that Fitzgerald’s downfall is his romantic awe and infatuation with the rich. The irony of this passage can be appreciated when discovering the origin of the comment on the rich. At a luncheon including Hemingway, Maxwell Perkins, and column writer Mary Colum, Hemingway was talking about his extended relations and associations with the rich. This prompted Colum to respond, “The only difference between the rich and other people…is that the rich have more money” (Donaldson 198). Hemingway is making fun of Fitzgerald for his idolatry of the rich; however, he suffers from the same affliction. By including this reference to Fitzgerald in “Snows,” he is essentially “transferr[ing] the put-down to Fitzgerald” (Donaldson 198).

Hemingway’s short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is also thought to be an indirect response to Fitzgerald. Written at approximately the same time as “Snows,” it is a story in “a long literary tradition of characters like Macomber, cuckolds in subjection to their wives who are also…cowards” (Smith 331). Hemingway always believed that Zelda had a negative influence on Fitzgerald, and in this story he may be commenting on Scott’s subordination and cowardice toward his wife (which Hemingway was trying to prevent.) (www.lostgeneration.com)

Fitzgerald responds to Hemingway on July 16, 1936, from Asheville, North Carolina. His letter reads as follows:

Dear Ernest:

Please lay off me in print. If I choose to write de profundis sometimes it doesn’t mean I want friends praying aloud over my

corpse. No doubt you meant it kindly but it cost me a night’s sleep.

And when you incorporate it (the story) in a book would you mind

cutting my name?

It’s a fine story- one of your best- even though the “Poor

Scott Fitzgerald ect” rather spoiled it for me.

Ever Your Friend


Riches have never fascinated me, unless combined with the greatest

charm or distinction (Bruccoli 131).

This seems a rather tame response considering the insult. However, Fitzgerald would continue to idolize and respect Hemingway, despite Hemingway’s less than warm and supportive interactions. Fitzgerald would later write to Max Perkins, “Somehow I love that man, no matter what he says or does…” (Bruccoli 133). After much persuasion and with the help of Max Perkins, Hemingway would eventually change the “Poor Scott Fitzgerald,” to “Poor Julian.” Note that the name Julian is taken from a novel by John O’Hara in which the protagonist is an alcoholic and suicidal (Donaldson 203). Hemingway also responded that since Fitzgerald published his public life in Esquire, he assumed it was “open season” on him (Donaldson 199).

Hemingway’s strong response to Fitzgerald’s breakdown may also relate to the fact that he also was depressed. Fitzgerald believed that Hemingway “managed to escape the great thunderbolts” (Donaldson 197). However, this was not true. Hemingway was deeply impacted by his father’s suicide and was plagued by his father’s legacy of depression. Fitzgerald would go on to say that Hemingway was “broken down” as well, but in a different way; “His inclination is toward megalomania and mine toward melancholy” (Donaldson 199).

Hemingway is believed to have had both megalomania, which is defined as “a psychopathological condition in which delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence predominate,” and melancholia, which is essentially severe depression (Donaldson 199). The difference between Hemingway and Fitzgerald, however, is in their choice of response to their respective disorders. Fitzgerald would choose to publicly display his in the form of the “Crack-Up,” and Hemingway would internalize his feelings, eventually leading to suicide.
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