In the early stages of their literary careers, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner were both befriended by the writer Sherwood Anderson. Anderson recognized their talent from the start. He encouraged the young authors, gave them feedback on their writing, introduced them to his publisher, and, in short, was a generous friend, mentor and host in the early, formative years of their literary careers.
Anderson's first novel, Winesburg, Ohio, had established his reputation in 1919. Known for his kindness and hospitality, Anderson was at the centre of the circle of young artists in New Orleans in the mid-twenties. He was regarded as a writer who opened doors for the new generation of writers by his innovative style (which was simple, direct, evocative), his honest treatment of sexuality and his sensitivity to the workings of the subconscious. Thomas Wolfe is reputed to have said in 1936 that Anderson was "the only man in America who ever taught me anything." However, a year later Wolfe turned against his teacher, stating that Anderson "had shot his bolt and was done as a writer" (quoted in Cowley, "Introduction" 2). This incident mirrors the process of initial admiration and friendship turned into criticism and rejection also followed by Hemingway and Faulkner. Hemingway ironically referred to this as "true writer's gratitude."
Ernest Hemingway knew Anderson well in 1920, when he was 21 and Anderson 44, and both men were living in Chicago. Hemingway was generally regarded as Anderson's pupil, and indeed received considerable help from him while writing his first collection of stories, In Our Time. William Faulkner met Anderson in New Orleans in 1925, who was then at the height of his fame after the publication of his successful novel Dark Laughter. The aspiring novelist (28) admired and respected Anderson and enjoyed his company. As he later recalled, they would meet in the afternoons, "we'd walk and he'd talk and I'd listen, we'd meet in the evenings and we'd go to a drinking place and we'd sit around till one or two o'clock drinking, and still me listening to him talking" (qtd. in Blotner, Biography 402). But the help Anderson offered was more than just conversation: it entailed his reading the early stages of manuscripts, and giving advice and encouragement. It was Anderson who advised Hemingway to go to Paris--then the international hotbed of the arts--and who helped him on his way by giving him letters of introduction to such famous expatriates as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. In a very practical sense, Anderson helped Faulkner, too, by finding him a congenial place to stay in New Orleans (rooming with the painter William Spratling). Moreover, Anderson was a personal mentor, as Faulkner later acknowledged, who had made him aware that his true subject matter was his native country.
While the younger men's achievement eventually far surpassed that of Anderson, their personal and artistic debt to him was substantial. If it is true, as Anthony Burgess writes, that "to describe without frills, without the imposition of an attitude, making word and structure convey thought and feeling as well as physicality--this sounds easy now, chiefly because Hemingway has shown us how to do it" (30-31), it is no less true to say that it was Anderson who had first shown Hemingway "how to do it." It is well-known that Faulkner learnt from Anderson, too, by imitating his work: some of the stories that Faulkner wrote in New Orleans (e.g. "Cheest" and "Out of Nazareth") are pure imitation Anderson. Perhaps the greatest debt both writers owed Anderson was that of gratitude for his intervention on their behalf with his publisher, Horace Liveright. In his later memoirs, Anderson recalled his efforts, and his friends' response, or lack of it, afterwards:
. . . and after I had made a fight to get his [Faulkner's] first book published, as I had with Hemingway, going personally to Horace Liveright, who was then alive, to plead for the books, as, with Hemingway, I did not, for years, see him again. (qtd. in White 465)
Indeed, what gratitude Anderson received came in the shape of parody. His novel Dark Laughter was parodied unmistakably in Hemingway's book The Torrents of Spring (1933) and his literary views as well as his personality were parodied in Faulkner's novel Mosquitoes (1926). Also, Faulkner published a short parody of Anderson's style in the introduction he wrote for William Spratling's book of caricatures Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles (1926).
Can we take it that these parodies were in fact meant to acknowledge the parodists' indebtedness in an ironic but essentially serious writers' gesture of gratitude? Taking a psycho-analytic view, we may regard their parodies as a necessary stage in these writers' maturation process: as an attempt to liberate themselves by killing their literary father, by severing the bonds between his heritage and their own work (one of Faulkner's biographers, Karl, indeed calls him the "assassin son." 266). In this sense, too, parody can be seen as essentially a tribute: in Thomas M. Greene's words: "Every creative imitation mingles filial rejection with respect, just as every parody pays its own oblique homage" (qtd. in Hutcheon 10). And indeed, the young men's ability to parody Anderson showed how well they had learned his lessons.
It is well-known that the underlying motivation for parody need not always be malice or scorn. In her study A Theory of Parody, Linda Hutcheon emphasises the diversity of the genre. Parody, Hutcheon states, can be "a whole range of things. It can be a serious criticism, not necessarily of the parodied text; it can be a playful, genial mockery of codifiable forms. Its range of intent is from respectful admiration to biting ridicule" (15-16). Parody is "characterised by ironic inversion, not always at the expense of the parodied text"(6). Hutcheon, too, sees parody as a mode of coming to terms with the intimidating heritage of one's literary predecessors. As such it incorporates critical commentary, which may be a mixture of praise and blame, a "critical act of reassessment and acclimatization" which need not imply any inadequacy of the preceding text so much as the desire to re-create or "re-function" (4) it to one's own needs. Hutcheon, in fact, is firmly opposed to the dictionary definitions that present parody as a tool of malice. Rather, it can have many positive functions: it may arise from an effort to demystify and "desacralize" the target; or it may have a conservative function, as it often had in the past: that of keeping artistic fashion's extremes or "modishness" in line (2).
This essentially positive function of parody is what Hemingway emphasised in the letter he sent Anderson shortly after the publication of The Torrents of Spring. As he would do later after his portrayal of Scott Fitzgerald in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Hemingway insisted that he was attacking Anderson for his own good:
. . . it looks as though ... because you had always been swell to me and helped like the devil on the In our time [sic] I felt an irrisistible need to push you in the face with true writer's gratitude. . . ."--[but] "if when a man like yourself who can write very great things writes something that seems to me . . . rotten, I ought to tell you so. (qtd. in Meyers 185)
Perhaps he even meant Anderson to be grateful. It is interesting to read Anderson's later comment on this letter:
In the letter he spoke of what had happened as something fatal to me. It [Torrents] was intended to bring to an end, once and for all, the notion that there was any worth in my own work. . . he had done it in the interest of literature . . . it was a kind of funeral oration delivered over my grave. . . . (qtd. in White 463)
How should we regard the Anderson parodies produced by Faulkner and Hemingway; were they indeed expressions of "oblique homage," or were they intended to expose Anderson's flaws in the interest of literature, as Hemingway claimed? And how did the parodists later reconsider their "true writer's gratitude"?
What Hemingway effectively parodied in The Torrents of Spring were the halting effect and monotony of Anderson's style:
The cold night. The shuttered houses of the town. The little Indian, who had lost his artificial arm. The big Indian, who was also in the war. Yogi Johnson, who was in the war too. The three of them walking, walking, walking. Where were they going? Where could they go? What was there left? (127)
Faulkner, who later stated that he blamed Anderson for his lack of humour and failure to mature artistically, also parodied the repetitiousness of Anderson's style in his introduction for Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles. And indeed, this does seem to be a serious flaw of the original text, as the following fragment of Dark Laughter illustrates:
Fred had a little knack of drawing, just as Aline had, but what of it? He never even knew what he was after. Did Aline know what she was after? It would be nice if he could talk to Aline about it all. Why couldn't he? (137)
Another, and serious shortcoming of Anderson's work was the evident difficulty he had in the construction of time frames, of transitions, of achieving a logical succession of events. Hemingway satirised this by inserting clumsy explanatory passages in the text: "Spring was coming. Spring was in the air."(86) [Author's note: This is the same day on which the story starts, back on page 21.] He also parodied Anderson's love scenes, another of his weaker points: "'You are my woman,' he said. Tears came into her eyes, too. - 'You are my man,' she said. . . ." (69)
What the parodies by Hemingway and Faulkner were aimed at was not only Anderson's literary ineptitude but also the simplicity and indeed falsity of the underlying theme of Dark Laughter: that of the instinctive and primitive closeness to nature of the black race. Dark Laughter presents the slowly developing love affair between a woman and her gardener, which is watched by her negro servants with considerable amusement: "The air on the hilltop was filled with laughter, dark laughter." When the two lovers have finally come together, the woman leaves her old husband, Fred, who, at the end of the story, sits "upright and rigid in bed", alone, devastated; the narrator asks, in complete seriousness, "Why couldn't Fred laugh? He kept trying but failed. . . ." The only sound Fred hears is the negro maid's "high shrill laughter. . . ." (263) Anderson's suggestion, not conveyed in this short summary, is that the laughter of the negroes is more than mockery or amusement. Their laughter, like their singing "had sometimes a way of getting at the ultimate truth of things." Hemingway parodied this by replacing the negroes by Indians, and their dark laughter by the Indian war-cry: "The house was empty . . . as he stood there alone in his tall leanness, in his own deserted house, there came to Scripp's ears the distant sound of an Indian war-whoop" (29).
What Faulkner parodied in the character of Dawson Fairchild in Mosquitoes--a roman à clef recognisably portraying certain people from the literary and intellectual démi-monde of New Orleans--was Anderson's personality, his fumbling, bemused way of speaking, his difficulty in adequately expressing his literary views. Wordy, ineffectual Fairchild is at the centre of the book's many conversations, as Anderson was in the New Orleans discussions, "a benevolent walrus" with a "kind, baffled face" (33). Foolishly talkative, yet always at a loss for words, Fairchild is called "a bewildered stenographer with a gift for people" (51). Mixing praise and blame, then, Faulkner's parody nevertheless creates an overall impression of Anderson as a pathetic and ridiculous man, who, moreover, is aware of his waning powers: "Words . . . I had it once" (248). This must have been hurtful to Anderson: another "funeral oration" delivered by one of his former pupils.
If Faulkner was cruel to a generous friend, Hemingway was much more so. Extremely competitive ("notorious" Anthony Burgess writes, "for beating up much older and weaker men in friendly boxing matches" 84) Hemingway hit where it must have hurt Anderson most, by satirising his genuinely positive characteristics: his generosity, kindness and hospitality. Thus, Hemingway's fictional author is a foolish, vain, name-dropping snob, who fawningly tells the reader:
And listen, reader. I meant it when I said I would be glad to read anything you wrote. That wasn't just talk. Bring it along and we will go over it together. If you like, I'll rewrite bits of it for you. (133)
This must have been extremely hurtful to Anderson, since he was here ridiculed for the assistance he had generously and disinterestedly given in the past, and that was here presented as mere affectation. Far from serving any purely didactic or ameliorative function, therefore, Hemingway's parody was intended as a personal attack--"the first," his biographer Meyers writes, "of many personal attacks that were intended to wound and to destroy the reputation of writers who had once been his close friends" (169).
Indeed, to Anderson himself, the cruelty lay not so much in the parodies as such as in the hostility and disloyalty displayed by Hemingway and Faulkner, who once their careers became successful, turned against him, their friend and mentor. Anderson's close friend Julius Friend (parodied as Julius Kaufman in Mosquitoes) told Faulkner's biographer Blotner that Anderson felt that Faulkner and Hemingway had accepted his help and then "used him unworthily. . . . I think their main sin in his eyes was that they gained a more popular success than he--without acknowledgement of their indebtedness. This was ingratitude" (Biography 379-80).
This view is shared by some of the contemporary readers' responses to Torrents. Hemingway's wife Hadley, who personally liked Anderson, felt that Hemingway had been needlessly nasty, and that the whole idea of the book was detestable. And while Allen Tate, Dos Passos and Fitzgerald thought the book was funny and its criticisms justified, the publisher Horace Liveright (Anderson's as well as Hemingway's) had no choice but to reject it: "It would be in extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it" (qtd. in Meyers 168-69). Much later, in 1959 (two years before his death), Hemingway himself stated: "I did it because I was righteous, which is the worst thing you can be . . . I'm sorry I threw at Anderson. It was cruel and I was a son of a bitch to do it" (qtd. in Meyers 170).
Unlike Hemingway, Faulkner felt the need to make amends to Anderson soon after his parodies. He dedicated his third novel, Sartoris, to him: "to Sherwood Anderson, through whose kindness I was first published, with the belief that this book will give him no reason to regret that fact." Faulkner also openly stated on several occasions that Mosquitoes was an apprentice work of little value, calling it "the chips, the badly sawn planks" that a carpenter produces while learning to be a first-rate carpenter. Yet it took a long time before Faulkner was able to admit he had been wrong in his dealings with Anderson. In a letter to editor Manuel Komroff in 1949, who was planning a retrospective essay, Faulkner claimed not to know why Anderson had taken umbrage at him. "I knew Anderson in new Orleans. [Then] I went to Europe. . . . When I saw him next in New Orleans, he had taken umbrage at me in the meantime; I never did know why, and wouldn't even speak. Though I ran into him in New York several years later, and everything seemed to be alright again." (qtd. in Blotner, Sleected Letters 153). This short fragment reveals Faulkner's unwillingness to acknowledge the rupture between himself and Anderson, perhaps out of embarrassment about his role in causing it.
However, in later years, when Anderson's reputation had declined, Faulkner often emphatically acknowledged his debt to Anderson, talking of the strenghts rather than the weaknesses of Anderson's work in various interviews and articles. When, for instance, on several occasions people talked to him about the rumours of a prospective Nobel Prize, Faulkner would typically dismiss the importance of the Prize by saying that they gave it to Pearl Buck ("Old Chinahand Buck") and Sinclair Lewis but passed over Sherwood Anderson and Theodore Dreiser (qtd. in Blotner, Biography 1313, 1342). Blotner reports Faulkner's eventual statement on the Prize as a tribute to all the writers of his time, saying "as though placating the shade of his old friend . . . "'we all failed but Anderson. . . .'" (Biography 1351). In a draft of the acceptance speech, Faulkner wrote of himself, Hemingway, Dos Passos and Wolfe as "all of us children of Sherwood Anderson" (qtd. in Blotner, Biography 1357).
In 1953, Faulkner wrote a complimentary foreword to Anderson's published correspondence. In this same year, in The Atlantic Monthly of June 1953, Faulkner specified his indebtedness to Anderson in repeating Anderson's words to him: "You have to start somewhere to start from: then you begin to learn... You're a country boy; all you know is that little patch up there in Mississippi where you started from" (qtd in Blotner, Biography 142). This was the inspiration for Faulkner's well-known statement that he discovered that his starting point could be his "own little postage stamp of native soil" and that he "would never live long enough to exhaust it," and that by "sublimating the actual into the apocryphal" he would exploit his talent to the utmost, enabling him to create a cosmos of his own (qtd. in Cowley, Writer's Trade 193). In Faulkner studies, this realization is indeed generally regarded as the starting point of Faulkner's artistic maturation. We may conclude that in paying tribute to Anderson, his work and his literary influence, Faulkner proved a better friend and more generous fellow artist than Ernest Hemingway, who never publicly retracted any of his scathing comments on Anderson until two years before his death.
The Anderson parodies cannot stand on their own as literary texts: without the reader's familiarity with Anderson and his work, these parodies are incomprehensible, their humour lost, their characters too naive to be interesting, and their style irritatingly childish and monotonous. Anderson's fame as a writer, however, has dwindled and his novel Dark Laughter is out of print. Consequently, we may take it that much of the parodic strength of Torrents and Mosquitoes is now lost. As readers to-day, we cannot experience the novel as the (historic) reader did in the 1930s. The short-lived impact of the parodies is illustrated by David Garnett, who writes in his introduction to Torrents that his opinion of the book when he first read it in the '30s("screamingly funny") changed drastically in the course of the years: "The reason is that the literary approach and style which Hemingway was parodying had imposed itself on us then and we were delighted to find it ridiculed" (1). As the need to resist Anderson's style and approach has gone, so, it appears, has much of the humour of its parody. To us today--even if we are informed readers, aware of Anderson's literary shortcomings and of the parodists' need for oedipal revolt--the Anderson parodies have largely lost their parodic strength; they remain interesting only as museum pieces and as biographical documents. However, if their parodic strength and humour is lost, a sense of their cruel intent remains. And since Hemingway and Faulkner never personally spoke to Anderson about their parodies, this cruelty remains a distasteful note in the literary history of this period. In the long run, however, Faulkner actively dispelled this sense of cruelty by the many occasions on which he praised Anderson's work and achievement, proving himself capable of what is perhaps indeed "true" writer's gratitude.