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Faulkner and Hemingway: Biography of a Literary Rivalry by Joseph Fruscione (review)

From: The Hemingway Review
Volume 32, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 137-141 | 10.1353/hem.2013.0002

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In fashioning a title for his first mature novel, young Ernest Hemingway considered a number of biblical phrases that related to the ethos of the Lost Generation. Briefly, his shortlist contained such possibilities as The Old Leaven (1 Corinthians 5:7) and Two Lie Together (Ecclesiastes 4:11) before the author settled on the more thematically-relevant phrase The Sun Also Rises (Ecclesiastes 1:5). If Joseph Fruscione had chosen to go to the same source for the title of his recent book on Faulkner and Hemingway, he might well have named it Iron Sharpens Iron, after a pithy phrase taken from Proverbs 27:17.

Indeed, the idea of iron sharpening iron resonates throughout Professor Fruscione’s Faulkner and Hemingway: Biography of a Literary Rivalry. His comprehensive study posits that these two giants of American literature were not just simply adversaries: they were also coevals who brought out the best and the worst in each other over the course of nearly four decades. Fruscione observes that “each had a psychocompetitive hold on the other” (2). Each desired to be known as America’s pre-eminent modernist writer, and yet even in the midst of a prolonged and bitter rivalry, both were capable of showing each other “respect, admiration, and influence” as fellow artists (14). Their ongoing dialectic would be acted out in their published and unpublished works, from which one may trace “a sequence of psychological influence, cross-textual reference, and gender” performance (17), as each tried to prove himself the better writer and, therefore, the better man. In the process, Fruscione argues, each writer challenged the other to achieve greater artistic heights, while exploring themes and images that were sometimes complementary and sometimes contrapuntal.

The notion of a point-counterpoint relationship between Faulkner and Hemingway is established early in the book. In his Introduction, Fruscione compares the two authors to bullfighters, while specifically invoking the rivalry between Antonio Ordoñez and Luis Miguel Dominguín in The Dangerous Summer. He claims that “[a]s Hemingway traveled to Spain in 1959 to cover … their mano a mano series of bullfights, he was likely thinking of a rivalry between craftsmen of a different sort—that between himself and Faulkner” (1). Shortly after casting them as competitors, Fruscione goes on to compare Faulkner and Hemingway to jazz musicians, while highlighting their creative potential for synthesis: “They helped shape each other’s work and aesthetic, manifesting a literary version of what jazz musicians call ‘trading twelves’— riffing on others’ versions of twelve bars of music in a back-and-forth exchange, much as Faulkner and Hemingway often did in their own writing with a sharp competitive edge” (2). From this point onwards, Fruscione’s study (which is part literary biography and part intertextual analysis) employs a number of metaphors to elucidate the dialectic between the two authors. In the chapters that follow, both men are examined in terms of the hyper-masculine personae they adopted—those of “wounded veteran, hunter, outdoorsman, paterfamilias” (12)—and they are compared to boxers, racehorses, and duelists, whose irons were indeed mutually sharpened through an ongoing process of verbal jousting.

The first four chapters of the book offer a decade-by-decade summary of the Faulkner-Hemingway rivalry from the 1920s to the 1950s. Chapter 1 covers the period after both men returned from service in the First World War. Fruscione highlights the parallel aspects of their lives, including the fact that both came home as wounded heroes, although neither young Ernest nor young Bill had done any fighting during the war. Ernest, of course, had been legitimately wounded while serving with the Red Cross in Italy, but Bill Faulkner had never left his RCAF training unit in Canada, so his “limp” was entirely affected. Quite reasonably, Fruscione observes that these young veterans shared a penchant for myth-making which presaged their future need to maintain a larger-than-life public image. In the post-war milieu of American modernism, both Hemingway and Faulkner came under the mentorship of Sherwood Anderson. Hemingway would go on to parody Anderson’s style in The Torrents of Spring, while Faulkner would lampoon him in his New Orleans-based novel, Mosquitoes. From...

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