Posted by: Tom Owen | August 8, 2009

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe – Maxwell Perkins, Editor, SPS 1902

Maxwell Perkins – Editor – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe

This entry doesn’t strictly count as a “book” per se, but Perkins made significant contributions to 20th century American literature.  An overview of his life and career is adapted from Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Career
After working as a reporter for The New York Times, Perkins joined the venerable publishing house of Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1910. At the time he joined it, Scribner’s was known for publishing eminently respectable authors such as John Galsworthy, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. However, much as he admired these older giants, Perkins wished to publish younger writers.

Unlike most editors, he actively sought out promising new artists and made his first big find in 1919 when he signed F. Scott Fitzgerald. This was no easy task, for no one at Scribner’s except Perkins had liked The Romantic Egotist, the working title of Fitzgerald’s first novel, and it was rejected. Even so, Perkins worked with Fitzgerald to drastically revise the manuscript and then lobbied it through the house until he wore down his colleagues’ resistance.

The publication of This Side of Paradise (1920) marked the arrival of a new literary generation that would always be associated with Perkins. Fitzgerald’s profligacy and alcoholism put great strain on his relationship with Perkins. Nonetheless, Perkins remained his friend as well as his editor to the end of Fitzgerald’s short life, advancing him money, making personal loans, and encouraging the unstable writer in every way. Perkins rendered yeoman service as an editor too, particularly in helping Fitzgerald with The Great Gatsby (1925), his masterpiece, which benefited substantially from Perkins’ criticism.

It was through Fitzgerald that Perkins met Ernest Hemingway, publishing his first major novel, The Sun Also Rises, in 1926. A daring book for the times, Perkins fought for it over objections to Hemingway’s profanity raised by traditionalists in the firm. The commercial success of Hemingway’s next novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929), which rose to number one on the best-seller list, put an end to questions about Perkins’ editorial judgment.

The greatest professional challenge Perkins ever faced was posed by Thomas Wolfe, whose talent was matched only by his lack of artistic self-discipline. Unlike most writers, who are often blocked, words poured out of Wolfe. A blessing in some ways, this was a curse too, as Wolfe was greatly attached to each sentence he wrote. After a tremendous struggle, Perkins induced Wolfe to cut 90,000 words from his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929).

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Although his reputation as an editor is most closely linked to these three, Perkins worked with many other writers. He was the first to publish J.P. Marquand and Erskine Caldwell. His advice was responsible for the enormous success of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, whose The Yearling (1938) grew out of suggestions made by Perkins. It became a runaway best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.

Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country (1946) was another highly successful Perkins find. His last discovery was James Jones, who approached Perkins in 1945. Perkins persuaded Jones to abandon the novel he was working on at that time and launched him on what would become From Here to Eternity (1951). By this time Perkins’ health was failing and he did not live to see its success, nor that of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952), which was dedicated to his memory.

Perkins died on June 17, 1947 in Stamford, Connecticut.

Read for Free
This Side of Paradise is available to read, for free, from DailyLit:  http://www.dailylit.com/books/this-side-of-paradise.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: