- Fitzgerald and Hemingway
This year’s work on F. Scott Fitzgerald emphasizes influences on the writer as well as his engagement with socioeconomic theory, ethno-racial identities, and the other arts, including film, popular music, and theater. Several scholars expand on Fitzgerald’s Southern roots and writings (partially the result of the 12th International F. Scott Fitzgerald Society Conference in Montgomery, Alabama, in late 2013). As usual, The Great Gatsby receives the most attention, and the short stories feature more prominently than in years past. Scholarship on Ernest Hemingway also stresses influences on the writer and offers innovative perspectives on the Cuban and African works. Inquiry dedicated to reassessing Hemingway’s wartime biography and war writing predominates. In conjunction with the centennial of World War I scholars gravitate to the writer’s early war stories and A Farewell to Arms. But there is also a notable increase in critical engagement with Spanish Civil War texts, specifically For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Spanish Earth. In light of the vast amount of rich, engaging work on Fitzgerald and Hemingway, I must as always be selective in this commentary.
i F. Scott Fitzgerald
In F. Scott Fitzgerald at Work: The Making of “The Great Gatsby” (Alabama) Horst H. Kruse juggles close reading, archival research, and sheer speculation in order to rethink Fitzgerald’s sources for and composition of the novel. In his most extended and [End Page 165] thought-provoking chapter, “Max von Gerlach, the Man Behind Jay Gatsby,” Kruse explores the connections between Fitzgerald’s protagonist and Gerlach, an enigmatic German immigrant. In opposition to the traditional view of Gerlach as an affluent Long Island bootlegger, Kruse argues that Gerlach, a mechanic and small-time bootlegger, invented an identity as a natural-born U.S. citizen and soldier with pretensions to German nobility, a self-fashioning that “ultimately emerged as nothing less than [a search for] the American Dream.” Kruse uncovers Gerlach’s biography by analyzing ship manifests, U.S. Army and passport applications, correspondence, and other kinds of documents. Gerlach intrigued Fitzgerald, inspired the novel’s plot, and provides a crucial lens through which readers might perceive Gatsby’s underacknowledged racial and ethnic identity. Ultimately Kruse concludes that, as a model for Fitzgerald’s American Dream plot, Gerlach had his limitations. Uneven in their insights, Kruse’s remaining chapters on eugenics, Kant, and historiography extend his reading of Gatsby’s ethnic (and class) identity and Fitzgerald’s interest in U.S.-German relations.
b. Books and Essay Collections
John T. Irwin’s long-awaited F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction: “An Almost Theatrical Innocence” (Hopkins) weaves together personal storytelling and insightful literary and cultural analysis. This book completes Irwin’s trilogy on Platonic idealism, following his previous books on Edgar Allan Poe’s and Jorge Luis Borges’s detective fiction and on Hart Crane’s poetry. Here Irwin turns to the subject of social and professional theatricality. The six chapters explore a range of topics: Gatsby and Nick’s “compensating visions” of desire, Fitzgerald’s Southern identity, “repose” as transformative theatricality, the performance of self-identity, Fitzgerald’s mythic works, and the Platonic idealism of orphanhood. In two of his most remarkable chapters, “The Importance of ‘Repose’” and “‘An Almost Theatrical Innocence,’” Irwin considers the persistence of social and professional theatricality in Fitzgerald’s short stories and novels. In the former theatricality takes center stage as Irwin analyzes Broadway, popular song, and the existential gaze in Fitzgerald’s fictive society. Beginning with an analysis of the Broadway song “You’re the Top,” in which Cole Porter substitutes the word repose for rose in his 26 October 1934 recording, Irwin claims that Fitzgerald, who knew Porter, not only incorporated the singer’s lyrics in some of his stories but also made repose, and thus posing, central to many of his works. Informed by Sartre’s philosophical perspectives [End Page 166] on the gaze and performativity, Irwin argues that one’s own visibility to the gaze of the other opens up the possibility of self-making—the Platonic ideal of making oneself in one’s “self-image.” In these terms the gaze brings Gatsby’s self into...