November 2, 2009

“The rich are different” – a famous quote-counterquote legend

You may have heard about a legendary exchange between the American novelists F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961).

Usually, Fitzgerald is quoted as saying: “The rich are different from you and me.” And, Hemingway is quoted as responding: “Yes, they have more money."

In fact, this is a mythical quote-counterquote. Here’s how it became a legend…

In 1925, Fitzgerald wrote a short story titled “Rich Boy.” It was later published in a popular book of his short stories titled All the Sad Young Men (1936). The story begins with this passage:

"Let me tell you about the very rich.  They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.  Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."

Clearly, that’s not a favorable view of the rich.

But years later, Ernest Hemingway, who was supposedly a friend of Fitzgerald, mocked the famed opening lines of “Rich Boy” in his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” In the original version of that story, printed in Esquire magazine in 1936, Hemingway wrote:

“The rich...were dull and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, “The very rich are different from you and me.” And how some one had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren't it wrecked him as much as any other thing that wrecked him.”

Understandably, Fitzgerald was offended. He complained to Hemingway’s publisher and when the story was reprinted in a 1938 collection of Hemingway’s short stories, “Scott Fitzgerald” was changed to the name “Julian.”

But in his personal notebooks, Fitzgerald made the mistake of writing a cryptic entry that said: “They have more money. (Ernest’s wisecrack.)”

After Fitzgerald’s death, entries from his notebooks were included in The Crack-Up (1945), a book compiled from Fitzgerald’s writings by his friend Edmund Wilson.

Wilson added a footnote to the notebook entry about Ernest’s wisecrack that explained: “Fitzgerald had said, ‘The rich are different from us.’ Hemingway had replied, ‘Yes, they have more money.’”

After that, books began citing this footnote as if it were an actual conversation between Fitzgerald and Hemingway. And, thus a famous quote-counterquote myth was born.

For more about famous misquotes and quote myths, I highly recommend the books The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes and They Never Said it by Paul F. Boller Jr. And John George.

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