It seems to me that the overworked art-form at present in America is the “history of a young man.” Frank Norris began it with “Vandover and the Brute,” then came Stephen French Whitman with “Predestined” and of late my own book and Floyd Dell’s “Moon Calf.” In addition I understand that Stephen Benet has also delved into his past. This writing of a young man’s novel consists chiefly in dumping all your youthful adventures into the readers’ lap with a profound air of importance, keeping carefully within the formulas of Wells and James Joyce. It seems to me that when accomplished by a man without distinction of style it reaches the depth of banality as in the case of “Moon Calf.” * * * Up to this year the literary people of any pretensions— Mencken, Cabell, Wharton, Dreiser, Hergesheimer, Cather and Charles Norris—have been more or less banded together in the fight against intolerance and stupidity, but I think that a split is due. On the romantic side Cabell, I suppose, would maintain that life has a certain glamour that reporting—especially this reporting of a small Midwestern town— cannot convey to paper. On the realistic side Dreiser would probably maintain that romanticism tends immediately to deteriorate to the Zane Grey-Rupert Hughes level, as it has in the case of Tarkington, fundamentally a brilliant writer. * * *
It is encouraging to notice that the number of pleasant sheep, i.e., people who think they’re absorbing culture if they read Blasco Ibanez, H. G. Wells and Henry Van Dyke—are being rounded into shape. This class, which makes up the so-called upper class in every American city, will read what they’re told and now that at last we have a few brilliant men like Mencken at the head of American letters, these amiable sheep will pretend to appreciate the appreciable of their own country instead of rushing to cold churches to hear noble but intelligible lords, and meeting once a week to read papers on the aforementioned Blasco Ibanez. Even the stupidest people are reading “Main Street,” and pretending they thought so all the time. I wonder how many people in St. Paul ever read “The Titan” or “Salt” or even “McTeague.” All this would seem to encourage insincerity of taste. But if it does it would at least have paid Dreiser for his early struggles at the time when such cheapjacks as Robert Chambers were being hailed as the “Balzacs of America.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
Public letter to Thomas Boyd, St. Paul Daily News, February 20, 1921, Feature section, p. 8.