As the twentieth century began to draw to a close, two great literary minds of the time met in Paris, France. It was there that Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald encountered one another for the first and only time in their lives. The two had much to discuss and, rather than let the opportunity pass, they decided to sit down and have a long conversation. For four hours, they discussed literature, philosophy, and life in general. What resulted was the meeting of two great minds and two great classics of twentieth century literature. The resulting conversation, which was published posthumously in 1980, has since become known as “The Ultimate Interview.” Here, we will explore the life of Louis E. Pattinson, the man behind the conversation and the editor of the very magazine that Hemingway and Fitzgerald founded and for which they wrote so brilliantly.
Louis E. Pattinson: An Introduction
Louis E. Pattinson was born in 1882 into a wealthy Louisiana Creole family. He was the youngest of the six children of George Washington Pattinson and Matilda (née Fontenot) and, aside from writing, was also a lawyer and a prominent member of the community. In 1912, he married Mary Rinehart, with whom he had two sons, George Rinehart Jr. and Elliott Rinehart. He died, aged 81, in Paris in 1955.
Louis E. Pattinson: A Literary Mind
Ernest Hemingway was a prolific writer who, along with Fitzgerald, pioneered the use of the short story in literature. His mastery of the short story is evident in his 1922 collection A Farewell to Arms, which was later made into a film of the same name. He was also a major influence on the writing style of Malcolm Clarke. Like Fitzgerald, he was an excellent conversationalist and interviewer and was renowned for his wit and erudition.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was the author of dozens of classics, including The Beautiful and Damned (which would later be made into a film of the same name), The Great Gatsby, and Tender is the Night. Like Hemingway, he was also a prodigious and elegant writer, known for his aphoristic style and mastery of the short story. The two writers were very close, with the occasional celebrity duet, such as the legendary literary soirée, the As You Like It Quartet, which consisted of the four greatest novelists of the day: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Josephine (B. Young) Charnes, Edith Wharton, and William Dean Howells. However, their relationship was probably best characterized by the words of H.L. Mencken, who famously stated, “The average Frenchman thinks about sex every seven seconds. The average American thinks about sex every two minutes.” The French critic and essayist, André Bazin, stated, “It is said that Americans are very practical, while the French are very literary. This distinction is perhaps not entirely without foundation, for one cannot help but be impressed by the logical clarity and rigor of American thought.”
The Ultimate Interview: An Overview
The four-hour conversation between Hemingway and Fitzgerald was an opportunity of a lifetime that the two great minds, along with an editor from Scribner’s Magazine, seized with gusto. The resulting article, “The Ultimate Interview,” was published in the January/February issue of Scribner’s Magazine. In the article, Hemingway and Fitzgerald discussed a range of topics, including literature, philosophy, and journalism. In order to make the article more accessible to a modern audience, the two editors from Scribner’s, along with Harold Ober, the magazine’s longtime literary agent and friend of the two authors, interspersed the literary musings of the two great minds with occasional asides by Ober and Scribner’s. Here is the complete text of “The Ultimate Interview,” as published in the January/February issue of Scribner’s Magazine:
Literature And Philosophy
“Literature and Philosophy,” the title of one of the sections in “The Ultimate Interview,” is, in fact, the topic that the two authors, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, begin the interview with. They discuss the importance of literature and philosophy from very different positions. For Hemingway, literature and philosophy were “two wings on which [his] literary genius [flew].” For Fitzgerald, however, philosophy was “that craft which attempts to investigate the fundamental questions of life.”
At the time that Hemingway and Fitzgerald had their famous literary conversation, the two were at the height of their respective powers—Hemingway, with his six-shooter, his macho man persona, and his reputation as the “great American writer,” while Fitzgerald, the “fastest writer in the country,” was arguably at the height of his fame. But it was not long before the darker side of both men’s characters would emerge and, as a consequence, so would their individualisms, their egos, and, ultimately, their competitive natures.
The Rise Of The Macho Man
Before we look into Ernest Hemingway’s darker side, it is important to establish why his literary reputation, and that of the “Wild Boys of Notre Dame,” in particular, was at its peak in the 1920s. As we have seen, both Fitzgerald and Hemingway were consummate creators and journalists who founded, along with their mutual friend, Malcolm Clarke, the magazine, Transition. During this time, both emerged as prominent spokesmen for the “male ego,” which had, as Clarke noted, “become rather prominent in our culture.”
Hemingway’s first published work appeared in Transition in the summer of 1921, when he was a twenty-two-year-old journalism student. At the time, Hemingway would claim that the “Wild Boys of Notre Dame” were a “trio of crackerjack journalists,” and a “riot of publicity,” whose mission was simply to “do or die.” For his part in creating the magazine and for espousing the “macho man” ethos of the day, Hemingway was hailed as a genius, a literary lion, and a cult figure. He had, as he put it, “hit the jackpot.”
For his part, Fitzgerald had been talking about the “wild boys” of Notre Dame for some time and had included them in one of his short stories, “The Ransom of Leo McFadden,” that was published in the September 1921 issue of Transition. Leo McFadden, the main character in the story, is, in fact, based on Leo Stein, one of the famous “Rankees”—the sons of the American millionaire railroad tycoon, Edward Harriman—whom Fitzgerald encountered in the post office a few blocks from his home in the spring of 1922. There is some disagreement as to whether or not Leo Stein was in fact the inspiration for the character Leo McFadden, but, regardless, it is clear that Leo McFadden, along with other characters from the story, such as the beautiful young married women the protagonist encounters, were inspiration for many of Fitzgerald’s stories and novels. Leo Stein had been one of the first to recognize Fitzgerald’s talent, having first read his work while still in high school.
The Dark Side: Hemingway’s Repressed Memories
It is well-known that one of the primary motivating factors in Ernest Hemingway’s life was his desire to forget. He had, as he put it, “run away” from his family home in Oak Park, Illinois, at the age of eighteen and had not looked back. After his family’s matriarch, Grace, disinherited him, he had come to Paris, France, determined to become a professional writer. For five years, he worked as a reporter for the Toronto Star and the International Herald Tribune before being hired by a Parisian magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. Hemingway biographer John Steinbeck, who knew and liked the author, described his time in Paris as “one long orgy of pleasure,” during which he spent his time playing “marathon drinking games” with his new celebrity friends, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. He also took up with a Bohemian community of artists and writers, who were, as Steinbeck put it, “living in sin” with each other and “happy in his way,” spending their time “in a state of siege, with bottles surrounded by glasses everywhere,” drinking and doing drugs.