Ernest Hemingway met F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in 1925 when they were all living in Paris. The Great Gatsby had just come out and, according to Fitzgerald, “was not selling well but had very fine reviews.” Hemingway pursued the new friendship, thinking, as he explains in his Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast, that he might learn something in the company of “an older and successful writer.” At the time, Hemingway had yet to publish a novel and so when they argued about writing, he worried he couldn’t back up his point. His point being that he had started to break down his writing, to “get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe.”
Hemingway thought that Scott was friendly and reasonable, but a bit of a tool, who wrote silly commercial fiction. He still hadn’t read Gatsby.
Hemingway’s opinion of Fitzgerald shifted radically once he had. Then he met Zelda, who Fitzgerald loved to distraction and who Hemingway couldn’t do less than devote an entire chapter to in A Moveable Feast. Zelda was “very beautiful” he said, and had “hawk’s eyes.” When Zelda spoke into Hemingway’s ear, it was as a “hawk might share something with a man. But hawks do not share,” wrote Hemingway. And “ Scott did not write anything any more that was good until after he knew that she was insane.”
As a writer, I think about Hemingway all the time. I think of what I can learn from him. How to make rather than describe. I think about his remarkable portrait of Zelda Fitzgerald, the single chapter. Through his eyes, she was zany, drunk, beautiful, charismatic, jealous. She was a hawk, with her sleek blonde hair and chilling eyes. She was a predator who, make no mistake, destroyed men.
I didn’t always read Hemingway the way I do now. My high-school copy of his collected short stories has shameful graffiti in metallic marker all over the front cover. Once upon a time, I couldn’t see the exquisite sentence through the macho bluster, the male ego, the outsized persona, the burly, bearded, wet-lipped, big-game hunter. I was a feminist and there was no room in my pantheon for all the mishegoss.
I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism lately—about feminisms. The clear-eyed protest feminism of high-school me, the critical theory and third-wave feminism of college, and then out into the workforce, real-world feminism, where equality demanded constant strategizing and grooming, negotiating, swallowing pride, working twice as hard, and, perversely, learning spreadsheets.
Everything is different again now. In some respects better and in others, back where we started. And in yet other respects, nowhere near the continuum. “Feminism” is too binary a system in a postgender culture. Too myopic to contain its intersections. Our moment demands many feminisms, and demands that we question them all.
Inevitably, the road to clarity lies in allowing everything to get much more complicated. In the meantime, and along the way, the battle continues—messily, broadly, unsilenced. Maybe zany, drunk, charismatic, and hawklike, too.
Literature, as Hemingway exemplified, contains and embraces contradictions, pluralities and ambiguities. It’s a good place to be messy, to explore, and so, in tribute to the great writer and our complicated moment, this issue of TLR is all female, a vox feminae.