Double Lives: American Writers' Friendships

Double Lives: American Writers' Friendships

by Richard Lingeman

Writers know they’re taking a risk when they befriend other writers. No matter how deep their mutual affection or genuine their admiration, there’s bound to be rivalry–and of course the danger that secrets and intimacies may end up in print. And yet, writers have always been irrevocably drawn to each other. In this insightful new book, veteran…  See more details below


Writers know they’re taking a risk when they befriend other writers. No matter how deep their mutual affection or genuine their admiration, there’s bound to be rivalry–and of course the danger that secrets and intimacies may end up in print. And yet, writers have always been irrevocably drawn to each other. In this insightful new book, veteran biographer Richard Lingeman explores the passions and betrayals that have enlivened the most significant, most fruitful friendships in American letters.
From the unlikely pairing of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville to the kinetic Beat threesome of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Neal Cassady, American writers have formed friendships of high intensity, fierce competition, and extreme need. Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston revered each other’s work but fell out when they tried to collaborate on a doomed play. Henry James could never forgive Edith Wharton her success in the literary marketplace–much as he enjoyed cadging trips in her chauffeur-driven car. Theodore Dreiser and H. L. Mencken loved nothing better than exchanging acid barbs over steins of German beer, but neither could tolerate being criticized by the other. Yet all these friendships endured for years and yielded treasure troves of letters, essays, and thinly veiled fictional portraits.
In Double Lives, Lingeman explores friendships that span the centuries, straddle both coasts, and take in every gender combination. Mark Twain and William Dean Howells were co-curmudgeons who shared a sense of humor and a deep streak of generosity. Willa Cather had the great good fortune to encounter the older Yankee writer Sarah Orne Jewett at the precise moment when Cather was ready to embrace her own professional and sexual identity. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway met in Paris while both were in their twenties, became fast friends for the worst reasons (Fitzgerald needed heroes, Hemingway admirers), and spent the next fifteen years disappointing each other. As Lingeman so deftly shows, this trajectory is all too common: the seesaw of fortune has challenged many of these rich and volatile friendships.
Double Lives is that rare literary treat–a melding of life and letters that is at once brilliantly revealing and absolutely irresistible. In capturing the heartbeat and heartbreak of our most fascinating writerly relationships, Lingeman has fashioned a sparkling, multifaceted gem.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rivalry, generosity, inspiration, camaraderie, sexual passion and love color the six pairs and one trio of literary friendships presented by Lingeman, biographer of Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser. Ernest Hemingway publicly denigrated the writing of his champion, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and lampooned him as a childish buffoon in A Moveable Feast. Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, both ambitious westerners who sought acceptance by the Boston literary elite, collaborated for 40 years with barely a ripple of discord. Sarah Orne Jewett encouraged Willa Cather to be honest about her lesbianism and write about the Nebraska she knew and loved. And while Edith Wharton bristled at being called Henry James's disciple, she listened to the master and found her niche writing about New York high society. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady shared drugs, beds and life stories, and in the process, forged a beat aesthetic. H.L. Mencken's ambivalence toward Theodore Dreiser, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's fatherly understanding of the passionate egoist Herman Melville round out the volume. Although its scope is narrow (all the subjects are white, and none more recent than the '50s) and lacks the originality and vision of Rachel Cohen's Chance Meeting, this well-researched volume has many insights to offer serious students of American literature. (On sale Apr. 18) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Since creative writers "work in the solitude of lighthouse keepers," it only makes sense that many crave intellectual companionship and develop intense links to other writers who shape both parties' careers. Senior editor of the Nation, Lingeman (Small Town America) chooses seven intimate friendships between American authors to illustrate the many roads such "double lives" can take. From Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne to Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald to the trio of Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and Jack Kerouac, Lingeman distills from major biographies, personal letters, and other sources an intensely concentrated study of the effect these friendships had on the writers' lives and work. A skillful introductory chapter defines the nature of literary friendship-although the reader might also crave a similar final summation. For general and specialized collections.-Shelley Cox, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Literary friendships form and then sometimes falter or fail because writers, like the rest of us, grow away from each other, become competitive or have a failure to communicate. Lingeman has substantial credentials as a critic of American literature, including a well-received biography of Sinclair Lewis (Sinclair Lewis, 2002), and his scholarship is much in evidence here. Although he does not in any systematic way ever define "friendship," he does begin with some generic thoughts about why friendships form, change, endure, fracture. Following are his assessments of some of the most noted-and sometimes fragile-friendships in American literary history: Hawthorne and Melville, Twain and Howells, Wharton and James, Cather and Jewett, Dreiser and Mencken, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Ginsberg and Kerouac and Cassady. The author relies heavily on the research of others (dutifully recorded in the endnotes-many, many of which begin with "Quoted in . . ."), and so his observations are often more synthesis than thesis. (As he observes, scholars have written entire volumes on these relationships.) But he is a reliable and amiable companion on this journey that often traverses familiar territory. The expository pattern is much the same: an explanation of how the principals met, a glance back at how they arrived at their meeting, a description of the time they were together and how their relationship affected their works, an account of their estrangement(s) (if there were any), a note about how things stood when the first of them died. If some of these tales are more than twice-told (it's hard to say something fresh about Hawthorne and Melville), others are perceptive and revealing. Cather's importantmeeting and subsequent correspondence with the older (and much-revered) Jewett helped embolden Cather to leave her editorial position at McClure's and focus on her own fiction. And Dreiser entered a seven-year snit when former protege Mencken trashed An American Tragedy. Sometimes familiar, sometimes fascinating discussion of the choreography of friendship, of the roots and routes of rivalry.

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.55(h) x 1.06(d)

Meet the Author

Richard Lingeman, a senior editor at The Nation, is the author of many distinguished nonfiction books, including Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street; a two-volume biography of Theodore Dreiser: Theodore Dreiser: At the Gates of the City and Theodore Dreiser: An American Journey (Chicago Sun-Times Book of the Year); Small Town America: A Narrative History,

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