Come Dressed as the Sick Soul of Late Capitalism

[Innocent wayfarers, beware. This essay contains what are vulgarly known in the trade as “spoilers,” so if for some unfathomable reason you’ve yet to view Succession, Glass Onion, and The White Lotus, tread gingerly and try not to gasp.]  It may be the most famous and chewed-over exchange in American literature that never actually took place, at least not in real time. In 1936, when the country was still in the hold of the Great Depression and in no mood for mooniness, Esquire magazine published Ernest Hemingway’s cinematic story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” a meditation on mortality and the beautiful consoling desolation of a cathedral mountain, all that. Amid the flashbacks and the regrets, the narrator couldn’t resist sneaking in a catty sideswipe: “He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how someone had said to Scott, ‘Yes, they have more money’.”  That “someone” was of course Hemingway himself, unable to resist puffing his chest at “poor Scott”‘s expense. Earlier the same year Esquire had published Fitzgerald’s revelatory confessional “The Crack-Up,” so it was understood that he was in a precarious state. Fitzgerald’s understandable ire at being mocked and misrepresented — he complained to their mutual editor, the Solomonic Maxwell Perkins — forced Hemingway to soften the passage later for hardcover publication and substitute the weak-water name “Julian” for “poor Scott.” Didn’t matter. Sophisticated readers knew the real score. For decades, the original back and forth in print was patted down and packed into a tidy conversational anecdote, with Hemingway’s snappy comeback considered by many (most?) the definitive retort — a bull’s-eye reality check — to Fitzgerald’s dreamy, minty-green Jazz Age romanticism. The verdict has been reversed

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