It is to be hoped that Scott Fitzgerald’s letters will be eventually collected and published. Those that follow are merely a handful that happened to be easily obtainable and which throw light on Fitzgerald’s literary activities and interests. The first group consists of letters to friends; the second of letters to his daughter. In most of the letters of the first group, the spelling and punctuation have been left as they were in the originals, except for the uniform italicization of titles of books and magazines and the insertion of missing ends of parentheses.
I write to tell you how very sorry I was that I couldnt accept your “invite” yesterday. But bronchitis interposed its highly annoying hand and spoiled it. Remember, Litz, until we meet “when the Holly blooms” in three months you are “She who (quick somebody, give me [?] an appropriate [crossed-out word] quatushun [sic]) well anyway [crossed out word] you are she who. I am in a particularly despondent and dissipated mood. Outside the sun is shining but I am perfectly positive it is only doing it out of spite. In the church across the way they are singing hymns. I think they might be at least sing (Hers) [?] I am going to write you at Miss Hartridges School, Plainsfield N.J. and I swear it will be a sensible letter not a foolish jumble like this for
My mind is all a-tumble
And the letter seems a jumble
for the words they seem to mumble
And my pens about to stumble
and the papers made to jumble
So I sign myself your humble
Francis Scott Fitzgerald
P.S. My query of “Have you no compunctions” is still unanswered. Any time you have compunctions or any other discease [sic] send me a night letter—
Nunc Sum Studens. (Latin.) I am now a Princetonian. Its great. Im crazy about it. Today we had the rushes. The Sophs mass in a body in front of the gym and the Freshmen try to rush their way in. You can imagine it. Four hundred Freshmen, among them yours truly, against 380 Sophs. Everything was ruined shirts, jerseys, shoes, socks, trou, hats ect. were strewn over the battle-field. I was completely done up. I was in the front row and a soph and I almost killed each other. I am a mass of bruises from head to foot. When we got in we elected a class President, Vice Pres. and sec. When we came out again the sophs. tried to bust our line. We beat H——— out of them. Then we paraded around the campus, yelling “whoop it up for seventeen,” which is a wonderful song. Then we cheered and sang. Zip!!! This is some place. I have a big piece of some sophs shirt. Somebody has a big piece of my jersey. (Lord only knows who.) Tonight is the cannon rush so if you never hear from me again youll know I died a freshman.(gentle pathos.) The “horsing” (or hazing) is going on now. Its very foolish. Freshies have to carry their cap in their mouths and by the way our uniforms are some class (not)
[Here, Fitzgerald has drawn a humorous image of himself as a Freshman in uniform].
(Picture of me in my Freshman uniform)
Black cap --->
Black jersey --->
Cordoroy [sic] Trou --->
Black socks --->
Black shoes --->
The Sophs. make you tell a funny story and then wont laugh but tell you to finish. Then they tell you to dig for the point. (N.B. You dig) This morning I gave.
You’ll be surprised to get this but it’s really begging for an answer. My purpose is to see exactly what effect the war at close quarters has on a person of your temperament. I mean I’m curious to see how you’re point of view has changed or not changed—
I’ve taken regular army exams but haven’t heard a word from them yet. John Bishop is in the second camp at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana. He expects a 1st Lieutenancy. I spent a literary month with him (July) and wrote a terrific lot of poetry mostly under the Masefield-Brooke influence.
Here’s John’s latest.
The place still speaks of worn-out beauty of roses,
And half retrieves a failure of Bergamotte,
Rich light and a silence so rich one all but supposes
The voice of the clavichord stirs to a dead gavotte
For the light grows soft and the silence forever quavers,
As if it would fail in a measure of satin and lace,
Some eighteenth century madness that sighs and wavers
Through a life exquisitely vain to a dying grace.
This was the music she loved; we heard her often
Walking alone in the green-clipped garden outside.
It was just at the time when summer begins to soften
And the locust shrills in the long afternoon that she died.
The gaudy macaw still climbs in the folds of the curtain;
The chintz-flowers fade where the late sun strikes them aslant.
Here are her books too: Pope and the earlier Burton,
A worn Verlaine; Bonheur and the Fetes Galantes.
Come—let us go—I am done. Here one recovers
Too much of the past but fails at the last to find
Aught that made it the season of loves and lovers;
Give me your hand—she was lovely—mine eyes blind.
Isn’t that good? He hasn’t published it yet. I sent twelve poems to magazines yesterday. If I get them all back I’m going to give up poetry and turn to prose. John may publish a book of verse in the Spring. I’d like to but of course there’s no chance. Here’s one of mine.
When Vanity kissed Vanity
A hundred happy Junes ago,
He pondered o’er her breathlessly,
And that all time might ever know
He rhymed her over life and death,
“For once, for all, for love,” he said…
Her beauty’s scattered with his breath
And with her lovers she was dead.
Ever his wit and not her eyes,
Ever his art and not her hair.
“Who’d learn a trick in rhyme be wise
And pause before his sonnet there.“
So all my words however true
Might sing you to a thousandth June
And no one ever know that you
Were beauty for an afternoon.
It’s pretty good but of course fades right out before John’s. By the way I struck a novel that you’d like Out of Due Time by Mrs. Wilfred Ward. I don’t suppose this is the due time to tell you that, though. I think that The New Machiavelli is the greatest English novel of the century. I’ve given up the summer to drinking (gin) and philosophy (James and Shoepenhaur and Bergson).
Most of the time I’ve been bored to death—Wasn’t it tragic about Jack Newlin—I hardly knew poor Gaily . Do write me the details.
I almost went to Russia on a commission in August but didn’t so I’m sending you one of my passport pictures—if the censor doesn’t remove it for some reason—It looks rather Teutonic but I can prove myself a Celt by signing myself
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’ve been intending to write you before but as you see I’ve had a change of scene and the necessary travail there-off has stolen time.
Your poem came to John Biggs, my room-mate, and we’ll put it in the next number—however it was practically illegible so I’m sending you my copy (hazarded) which you’ll kindly correct and send back—
I’m here starting my senior year and still waiting for my commission. I’ll send you the Litt. or no—you’ve subscribed haven’t you…
Do write John Bishop and tell him not to call his book Green Fruit.
Alec is an ensign. I’m enclosing you a clever letter from Townsend Martin which I wish you’d send back.
Princeton is stupid but Gauss and Gerrould are here. I’m taking naught but Philosophy&English—I told Gauss you’d sailed (I’d heard as much) but I’ll contradict the rumor.
Have you read Well’s Boon, the Mind of the Race, (Doran —1916) It’s marvellous! (Debutante expression.)
The Litt is prosperous—Biggs&I do the prose—Creese and Keller (a junior who’ll be chairman) and I the poetry. However any contributions would be ect. ect.
Young Benet (at New Haven) is getting out a book of verse before Xmas that I fear will obscure John Peale’s. His subjects are less precieuse&decadent. John is really an anachronism in this country at this time—people want ideas and not fabrics.
I’m rather bored here but I see Shane Leslie occasionally and read Wells and Rousseau. I read Mrs. Geroulds British Novelists Limited&think she underestimates Wells but is right in putting McKenzie at the head of his school. She seems to disregard Barry and Chesterton whom I should put above Bennet or in fact anyone except Wells.
Do you realize that Shaw is 61, Wells 51, Chesterton 41, Leslie 31 and I 21. (Too bad I haven’t a better man for 31. I can hear your addition to this remark)…
Yes—Jack Newlin is dead—killed in ambulance service. He was, potentially, a great artist.
Here is a poem I just had accepted by Poet Lore
THE WAY OF PURGATION
A fathom deep in sleep I lie
With old desires, restrained before;
To clamor life-ward with a cry
As dark flies out the greying door.
And so in quest of creeds to share
I seek assertive day again;
But old monotony is there—
Long, long avenues of rain.
Oh might I rise again! Might I
Throw off the throbs of that old wine—
See the new morning mass the sky
With fairy towers, line on line—
Find each mirage in the high air
A symbol, not a dream again!
But old monotony is there—
Long, long avenues of rain.
No—I have no more stuff of Johns—I ask but never receive.
[News jottings (unofficial)] If Hillquit gets the mayoralty of New York it means a new era. Twenty million Russians from South Russia have come over to the Roman Church.
I can go to Italy if I like as private secretary of a man (a priest) who is going as Cardinal Gibbons representative to discuss the war with the Pope (American Catholic point of view—which is most loyal—barring the Sien-Fien—40% of Pershing’s army are Irish Catholics). Do write.
I remind myself lately of Pendennis, Sentimental Tommy (who was not sentimental and whom Barrie never understood) Michael Fane, Maurice Avery&Guy Hazelwood .
Bishop wrote ...even death there would be a compensation - Keats, Shelley, Browning, Wilde, Bishop various and gifted quintet, let us weep over all five...
And Fitzgerald responded:
Your last refuge from the cool sophistries of the shattered world, is destroyed! I have left Princeton. I am now Lieutenant F. Scott Fitzgerald of the 45th Infantry (regulars). My present address is
After Feb 26th
593 Summit Ave.
will always find me forwarded.
—So the short, swift chain of the Princeton intellectuals, Brooke’s clothes, clean ears and, withall, a lack of mental prigishness … Whipple, Wilson, Bishop, Fitzgerald … have passed along the path of the generation—leaving their shining crown upon the gloss and unworthiness of John Bigg’s head.
One of your poems I sent on to the Litt. and I’ll send the other when I’ve read it again. I wonder if you ever got the Litt. I sent you… So I enclosed you two pictures , well give one to some poor motherless Poilu fairy who has no dream. This is smutty and forced but in an atmosphere of cabbage…
John’s book came out in December and though I’ve written him rheams (Rhiems) of praise, I think he’s made poor use of his material. It is a thin Green Book.
by JOHN PEALE BISHOP
1st Lt. Inf. R.C.
SHERMAN FRENCH CO.
In section one (Souls and Fabrics) are Boudoir, The Nassau Inn and of all things Fillipo’s Wife, a relic of his decadent sophomore days. Claudius and other documents in obscurity adorn this section.
Section two contains the Elspeth poems—which I think are rotten. Section three is Poems out of Jersey and Virginia and has Campbell Hall, Millville and much sacharine sentiment about how much white bodies pleased him and how, nevertheless, he was about to take his turn with crushed brains (this slender thought done over in poem after poem). This is my confidential opinion, however; if he knew what a nut I considered him for leaving out Ganymede and Salem Water and Francis Thompson and Prayer and all the things that might have given body to his work, he’d drop me from his writing list. The book closed with the dedication to Townsend Martin which is on the circular I enclose. I have seen no reviews of it yet.
THE ROMANTIC EGOTIST
by F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
“… the Best is over
You may complain and sigh
Oh Silly Lover…”
“Experience is the name Tubby gives to his mistakes.”
Chas. Scribners Sons (Maybe!)
There are twenty-three chapters, all but five are written and it is poetry, prose, vers libre and every mood of a temperamental temperature. It purports to be the picaresque ramble of one Stephen Palms [Dalius?] from the San Francisco fire thru school, Princeton, to the end where at twenty-one he writes his autobiography at the Princeton aviation school. It shows traces of Tarkington, Chesterton, Chambers, Wells, Benson (Robert Hugh), Rupert Brooke and includes Compton-McKenzielike love-affairs and three psychic adventures including an encounter with the devil in a harlot’s apartment.
It rather damns much of Princeton but its nothing to what it thinks of men and human nature in general. I can most nearly describe it by calling it a prose, modernistic Childe Harolde and really if Scribner takes it I know I’ll wake some morning and find that the debutantes have made me famous over night. I really believe that no one else could have written so searchingly the story of the youth of our generation.
In my right hand bunk sleeps the editor of Contemporary Verse (ex) Devereux Joseph, Harvard ’15 and a peach—on my left side is G. C. King a Harvard crazy man who is dramatizing War and Peace; but you see I’m lucky in being well protected from the Philistines.
The Litt continues slowly but I haven’t received the December issue yet so I cant pronounce on the quality.
This insolent war has carried off Stuart Wolcott in France, as you may know and really is beginning to irritate me—but the maudlin sentiment of most people is still the spear in my side. In everything except my romantic Chestertonian orthodoxy I still agree with the early Wells on human nature and the “no hope for Tono Bungay” theory.
God! How I miss my youth—that’s only relative of course but already lines are beginning to coarsen in other people and that’s the sure sign. I don’t think you ever realized at Princeton the childlike simplicity that lay behind all my petty sophistication and my lack of a real sense of honor. I’d be a wicked man if it wasn’t for that and now that’s disappearing.
Well I’m overstepping and boring you and using up my novel’s material. So Goodbye. Do write and lets keep in touch if you like.
God bless you.
Lieut. John Peale Bishop (He’s a 1st Lt.)
Please, please don’t be so depressed—We’ll be married soon, and then these lonesome nights will be over forever—and until we are, I am loving, loving every tiny minute of the day and night—Maybe you won’t understand this, but sometimes when I miss you most, it’s hardest to write—and you always know when I make myself—Just the ache of it all—and I can’t tell you. If we were together, you’d feel how strong it is—you’re so sweet when you’re melancholy. I love your sad tenderness—when I’ve hurt you—That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels—and they bothered you so—Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget—
Scott—there’s nothing in all the world I want but you—and your precious love—All the materials things are nothing. I’d just hate to live a sordid, colorless existence-because you’d soon love me less—and less—and I’d do anything—anything—to keep your heart for my own—I don’t want to live—I want to love first, and live incidentally…Don’t—don’t ever think of the things you can’t give me—You’ve trusted me with the dearest heart of all—and it’s so damn much more than anybody else in all the world has ever had—
How can you think deliberately of life without me—If you should die—O Darling—darling Scott—It’d be like going blind…I’d have no purpose in life—just a pretty—decoration. Don’t you think I was made for you? I feel like you had me ordered—and I was delivered to you—to be worn—I want you to wear me, like a watch—charm or a button hole bouquet—to the world. And then, when we’re alone, I want to help—to know that you can’t do anything without me…
All my heart—
I love you
Delighted to get your letter. I am deep in the throes of a new novel.
Which is the best title
(1) The Education of a Personage
(2) The Romantic Egotist
(3) This Side of Paradise
I am sending it to Scribner. They liked my first one. Am enclosing two letters from them that might amuse you. Please return them.
I have just finished the story for your book. It’s not written yet. An American girl falls in love with an officer Francais at a southern camp.
Since I last saw you I’ve tried to get married&then tried to drink myself to death but foiled, as have been so many good men, by the sex and the state I have returned to literature.
Have sold three or four cheap stories to American magazines.
Will start on story for you about 25th d’Auout (as the French say or do not say) (which is about 10 days off)
I am ashamed to say that my Catholicism is scarcely more than a memory—no that’s wrong it’s more than that; at any rate I go not to the church nor mumble stray nothings over chrystaline beads.
Maybe in N’York in Sept or early Oct.
Is John Bishop in hoc terrain?…
For God’s sake Bunny write a novel&don’t waste your time editing collections. It’ll get to be a habit.
That sounds crass&discordant but you know what I mean.
Yours in the Holder group
Scribner has accepted my book for publication late in the winter. You’ll call it sensational but it really is niether sentimental nor trashy.
I’ll probably be East in November&I’ll call you up or come to see you or something. Haven’t had time to hit a story for you yet. Better not count on me as the w. of i. or the E.S. are rather dry.
Francis S. Fitzgerald
Westport, Conn. Aug 12th 1920
Dear Mr. Hovey:
I want to ask you a question. How long would it take to seriazize a 120,000 word novel? My plans have changed, I think. Here is new project.
(1) “Flappers + Philosophers” my 1st collection of short stories to appear in Oct.
(2) A second collection of short stories to appear next Spring + to include the Jellybean, three little plays and also four stories not yet written.
(3) My new novel in which I am deeply absorbed “The Flight of the Rocket” to appear next autumn.
Let us suppose you get the novel in Nov., like it + begin to serialze it in January or February. Then how about these three or four stories I intend to write when I finish the novel + which should be published before spring to be eligible for the collection. Could you publish them simultaeneously? Would you prefer only the novel? Would you prefer only the short stories?
Of course the easiest way would be for me to do the short stories 1st but its utterly impossible as I’m plunged in the middle of the novel + wouldn’t leave it for $10,000.
The only solution it seems to me is for me to rewrite a fairly good novelette which appeared in the June Smart Set instead of the new short stories + publish it in the spring collection. Then I would devote the time between finishing my novel in Nov. and going abroad in Jan. to this revising and to writing a play which I’ve always wanted to do.
Let me hear from you. Went over to Miss Rita Willmans + I think she’s a very striking personality + most attractive
F Scott Fitzgerald
38 W. 59th St. New York City
Dear Mr. Hovey:
Am about half thru my novel but went down to the bank last week + found my account so distressingly not to say so alarmingly low that I had to do a short story at once.
I hope you’ll like it. I think its the best thing I’ve ever done.
F Scott Fitzgerald
Oct 27th, 1920 38 W. 59th St.
Dear Mr. Hovey:
About the story. Glad you like it + I’ll admit it’ll be over the heads of a few people. I solemnly promise that the next one I send will be as jazzy + popular as The Offshore Pirate to make up for it.
As you can see the girl, of course, represents that inhibited attraction that all men show to a “wild + beautiful woman". The greyer a mans life is the more it comes out. But if I’d have explained the story in anyway but a dream it would have been a regular Max Beerbohm extravaganza + hence furthur over people’s heads that it is now. But I do think to come out + say “it was all a dream” in so many words would cheapen + rather spoil the story.
F Scott Fitzgerald
Fri, April 22nd 1921 38 W. 59th Street
Dear Mr. Hovey:
I’m sending you today, through Reynolds, the first of the three parts of The Beautiful and Damned. The second part should reach you Monday and the third part Tuesday.
After the ten months I have been working on it it has turned out as I expected—and rather dreaded—a bitter and insolent book that I fear will never be popular and that will undoubtedly offend a lot of people. Personally, I should advise you against serializing it— now that the damn thing is off my hand I can try a few cheerful stories. If you do not want it, I don’t believe I shall offer it to anyone else but shall let Scribners bring it out in September—which is probably the psychological time anyhow.
On May 3d Zelda and I are going abroad for a few months (and I expect to write several movies and short stories while I’m over) so I’m sending you the thing in parts that I may get as early a decision as possible. Could you let me know, do you think, by Saturday the thirtieth? You see if you don’t serialize it I shall have to depend on an advance from Scribner for our trip and of course I can’t ask for that until I hear from you.
My best to Mrs Hovey
F Scott Fitzgerald
June 25th, 1921
Dear Mr Hovey:
What you say about the book fell sweetly on my ear. This Side of Paradise is having a checkered career in England. I’m not sure yet whether its going to be a sucess or not.
We spent a month in Italy + had a rotten time. We’re coming to America early in July and I’m curious to see what you’ve done with the novel. Perhaps some of your cutting away may give excellent suggestion for further pruning of the book section.
Zelda and I feel you’ve made a grave mistake about the illustrator. This Benson did one of my stories in the Post + My God! you ought to see the grey blurs he made of my beautiful protagonists. But perhaps he’ll rise to the occasion. My best to Mrs. Hovey.
F Scott Fitzgerald
I was tickled to write the review . I saw Broun’s&F.P.A.’s reviews but you know how they love me&how much attention I pay to their dictums.
This is my new style of letter writing . It is to make it easy for comments¬es to be put in when my biographer begins to assemble my collected letters.
The Metropolitan isn’t here yet. I shall certainly read Enamel. I wish to Christ I could go to Europe.
Thank you for your congratulations. I’m glad the damn thing’s over. Zelda came through without a scratch&I have awarded her the croix-de-guerre with palm. Speaking of France, the great general with the suggestive name is in town today.
I agree with you about Mencken—Weaver&Dell are both something awful...
I have almost completely rewritten my book. Do you remember you told me that in my midnight symposium scene I had sort of set the stage for a play that never came off—in other words when they all began to talk none of them had anything important to say. I’ve interpolated some recent ideas of my own and (possibly) of others. See inclosure at end of letter … Having disposed of myself I turn to you. I am glad you and Ted Paramore are together… I like Ted immensely. He is a little too much the successful Eli to live comfortably in his mind’s bed-chamber but I like him immensely.
What in hell does this mean? My control must have dictated it. His name is Mr. Ikki and he is an Alaskan orange-grower…
If the baby is ugly she can retire into the shelter of her full name Frances Scott.
St. Paul is dull as hell. Have written two good short stories and three cheap ones.
I like Three Soldiers immensely&reviewed it for the St. Paul Daily News. I am tired of modern novels&have just finished Paine’s biography of Clemens. It’s excellent. Do let me see if you do me for the Bookman. Isn’t The Triumph of the Egg a wonderful title. I liked both John’s and Don’s articles in Smart Set. I am lonesome for N. Y. May get there next fall&may go to England to live. Yours in this hell-hole of life&time, the world.
F. Scott Fitz
ZELDA SAYRE FITZGERALD
Dear Mr. Hovey—
I am very ashamed of myself—but you know how it is to be a drinking woman! Here is this foolish thing and I hope it will be something like what you wanted. “The Flapper” is a very difficut subject for me because I cherish a secret ambition of being one someday—and take the cuties quite seriously.
We enjoyed seeing you in New York, and thanks again for the slick party.
Would the end of the week be too late for the picture? And could you let me know if you are in a hurry. And will Mrs Hovey come thru here on her way East?
Sorry as hell I missed you! Studio all day + just in, to find your note. Wept at thought of your taking walk alone.
Tomorrow one of those smoky orgies known as conferences but will phone you then + we’ll arrange lunch or dinner or perhaps I’ll give my fete this week Sent Carl the letter.
Bought the car—Kaiser was fine. I had the jitters about traffic + he was very patient
Till Soon Your Chattel Scott Fitz
Dear Carl and Sonya:
Feel like a bitch leaving you with sickness and not saying goodbye. The last days crept up on us like telegraph poles on the Broadway limited with work still to do and people and the Barlycorns which are to Hollywood what the Smiths are to the English speaking world.
Zelda sends long nuptial kisses. The black shape above is my heart.
The mss were of enormous help.
Farrar tells a man here that I’m to be in the March Literary Spotlight. I deduce that this is your doing. My curiosity is at fever heat—for God’s sake send me a copy immediately.
Have you read Upton Sinclair’s The Brass Check?
Have you seen Hergeshiemer’s movie Tol’able David?
Both are excellent. I have written two wonderful stories&get letters of praise from six editors with the addenda that “our readers, however, would be offended.” Very discouraging. Also discouraging that Knopf has put off the Garland till fall. I enjoyed your da-daist article in Vanity Fair—also the free advertising Bishop gave us. Zelda says the picture of you is “beautiful and bloodless.”
I am bored as hell out here. The baby is well—we dazzle her exquisite eyes with gold pieces in the hopes that she’ll marry a millionaire. We’ll be east for ten days early in March…
What are you doing? I was tremendously interested by all the data in your last letter. I am dying of a sort of emotional aenemia like the lady in Pound’s poem. The Briary Bush is stinko.
Cytherea is Hergeshiemer’s best but its not quite.
John Grier Hibben
I’ll tell you frankly what I’d rather you’d do. Tell specifically what you like about the book and don’t——. The
characters—Anthony, Gloria, Adam Patch, Maury, Bleekman, Muriel Dick, Rachael, Tana ect ect ect. Exactly whether they are good or bad, convincing or not. What you think of the style, too ornate (if so quote) good (also quote) rotten (also quote). What emotion (if any) the book gave you. What you think of its humor. What you think of its ideas. If ideas are bogus hold them up specifically and laugh at them. Is it boring or interesting. How interesting. What recent American books are more so. If you think my “Flash Back in Paradise” in Chap I is like the elevated moments of D.W. Griffith say so. Also do you think it is imitative and of whom.
What I’m angling for is a specific definite review. I’m tickled both that they have asked for such a lengthy thing and that you are going to do it. You cannot hurt my feelings about the book—tho I did resent in your Baltimore article being definitely limited at 25 years old to a place between McKenzie who wrote 2 1/2 good (but not wonderful) novels and then died—and Tarkington who if he has any talent has the mind of a schoolboy. I mean, at my age, they’d done nothing.
As I say I’m delighted that you’re going to do it and as you wrote asking me to suggest a general mode of attack I am telling you frankly what I would like. I’m so afraid of all the reviews being general and I devoted so much more care myself to the detail of the book than I did to thinking out the general scheme that I would appreciate a detailed review. If it is to be that length article it could scarcely be all general anyway.
I’m awfully sorry you’ve had the flue. We arrive east on the 9th. I enjoy your book page in Vanity Fair and think it is excellent—
The baby is beautiful.
From your silence I deduce that either you decided that the play was not in shape to offer to the Guild or that they refused it.
I have now finished the revision. I am forwarding one copy to Harris &, if you think the Guild would be interested, will forward them the other. Your play should be well along by now. Could you manage to send me a carbon?
I’m working like a dog on some movies at present. I was sorry our meetings in New York were so fragmentary. My original plan was to contrive to have long discourses with you but that interminable party began and I couldn’t seem to get sober enough to be able to tolerate being sober. In fact the whole trip was largely a failure.
My compliments to Mary Blair, Ted Paramour and whomsoever else of the elect may cross your path.
We have no plans for the summer.
Thank you for giving the play to Craven—and again for your interest in it in general. I’m afraid I think you overestimate it—because I have just been fixing up Mr. Icky for my fall book and it does not seem very good to me. I am about to start a revision of the play—also to find a name. I’ll send it to Hopkins next. So far it has only been to Miller, Harris&the Theatre Guild. I’d give anything if Craven would play that part. I wrote it, as the text says, with him in mind. I agree with you that Anna Christie was vastly overestimated…
Am going to write another play whatever becomes of this one. The Beautiful&Damned has had a very satisfactory but not inspiring sale. We thought it’d go far beyond Paradise but it hasn’t. It was a dire mistake to serialize it. Three Soldiers and Cytherea took the edge off it by the time it was published…
Did you like The Diamond as Big as the Ritz or did you read it. It’s in my new book anyhow…
I have Ullyses from the Brick Row Bookshop&am starting it. I wish it was layed in America—there is something about middle-class Ireland that depresses me inordinately— I mean gives me a sort of hollow, cheerless pain. Half of my ancestors came from just such an Irish strata or perhaps a lower one. The book makes me feel appallingly naked. Expect to go either South or to New York in October for the Winter.
F. Scott Fitz
Just a line to tell you I’ve finished my play&am sending it to Nathan to give to Hopkins or Selwyn. It is now a wonder. I’m going to ask you to destroy the 2 copies you have as it makes me sort of nervous to have them out. This is silly but so long as a play is in an actors office and is unpublished as my play at Cravens I feel lines from it will soon begin to appear on B’way…
Write me any gossip if you have time. No news or plans have I.
Fitzgerald howled over Quintilian. He is glad it was reprinted as he couldn’t get the Double Dealer and feared he had missed it. It’s excellent especially the line about Nero and the one about Dr. Bishop.
The play with an absolutely new second act has gone to Nathan who is giving it to Hopkins or Selwynn. Thank you for taking it to Ames&Elkins. I’m rather glad now that none of them took it as I’d have been tempted to let them do it—and my new version is much better. Please do not bother to return the 2 mss. you have as its a lot of trouble. I have copies of them&no use for them. Destruction will save the same purpose—it only worries me to have them knocking around.
I read sprigs of the old oak that grew from the marriage of Mencken&Margaret Anderson (Christ! What a metaphor!) and is known as the younger genitals. It bored me. I didn’t read yours—but * * * * is getting worse than Frank Harris with his elaborate explanations and whitewashings of himself. There’s no easier way for a clever writer to become a bore. It turns the gentle art of making enemies into the East Aurora Craft of making people indifferent … in the stunned pause that preceded this epigram Fitzgerald bolted his aspic and went to a sailor’s den.
“See here,” he said, “I want some new way of using the great Conradian vitality, the legend that the sea exists without Polish eyes to see it. Masefield has spread it on iambics and downed it; O’Niell has sprinkled it on Broadway; McFee has added an evenrude motor—”
[cribbed from Harry-Leon Wilson] But I could think of no new art form in which to fit him. So I decided to end the letter. The little woman, my best pal and I may add, my severest critic, asked to be remembered.
Would you like to see the new play? Or are you fed up for awhile. Perhaps we better wait till it appears. I think I’ll try to serialize it in Scribners—would you?
Am undecided about Ullyses application to me—which is as near as I ever come to forming an impersonal judgement.
The Garland arrived and I have re-read it. Your preface is perfect—my only regret is that it wasn’t published when it was written almost two years ago. The Soldier of course I read for about the fifth time. I think it’s about the best short war story yet—but I object violently to “pitched forward” in the lunch-putting anecdote. The man would have said “fell down” or “sorta sank down.” Also I was delighted as usual by the Efficiency Expert. Your poems I like less than your prose—The Lake I do not particularly care for. I like the Centaur and the Epilogue best—but all your poetry seems to flow from some source outside or before the romantic movement even when its intent is most lyrical.
I like all of John’s except the play which strikes me as being obvious and Resurrection which despite its excellent idea&title&some spots of good writing is pale and without any particular vitality.
Due to you, I suppose, I had a wire from Langner. I referred him to Geo. Nathan.
Many thinks for the book. Would you like me to review it? If so suggest a paper or magazine and I’ll be glad to.
F. Scott Fitz.
The format of the book is most attractive. I grow envious every time I see a Knopf binding.
This is to tell you about a young man named Ernest Hemingway who lives in Paris (an American), writes for the Transatlantic Review and has a brilliant future… I’d look him up right away. He’s the real thing.
Dear Miss Sanford:
I absolutely refuse to give you my autograph.
F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The above will tell you where we are as you proclaim yourself unable to find it on the map . We enjoyed your letter enormously, collossally, stupendously. It was epochal, acrocryptical, categorical. I have begun life anew since getting it and Zelda has gone into a nunnery on the Pelleponesus…
The news about the play is grand&the ballet too. I gather from your letter that O’Niell&Mary had a great success. But you are wrong about Ring’s book . My title was the best possible. You are always wrong—but always with the most correct possible reasons. (This statement is merely acrocrytical, hypothetical, diabolical, metaphorical). …
I had a short curious note from the latter yesterday, calling me to account for my Mercury story. At first I couldn’t understand this communication after seven blessedly silent years—behold: he was a Catholic. I had broken his heart….
I will give you now the Fitz touch without which this letter would fail to conform to your conception of my character.
Sinclair Lewis sold his new novel to the Designer for $50,000 (950,000.00 francs)—I never did like that fellow. (I do really).
My book is wonderful, so is the air&the sea. I have got my health back—I no longer cough and itch and roll from one side of the bed to the other all night and have a hollow ache in my stomach after two cups of black coffee. I really worked hard as hell last winter—but it was all trash and it nearly broke my heart as well as my iron constitution.
Write to me of all data, gossip, event, accident, scandal, sensation, deterioration, new reputation—and of yourself.
Our love Scott
I am quite drunk
I am told that this is Capri;
though as I remember Capri was quieter
As the literary wits might say, your letter received and contents quoted. Let us have more of the same—I think it showed a great deal of power and the last scene—the dinner at the young Bishops—was handled with admirable restraint. I am glad that at last Americans are producing letters of their own. The climax was wonderful and the exquisite irony of the “sincerely yours” has only been equalled in the work of those two masters Flaubert and Ferber…
I will now have two copies of Westcott’s Apple as in despair I ordered one—a regular orchard. I shall give one to Brooks whom I like. Do you know Brooks? He’s just a fellow here….
Excuse the delay. I have been working on the envelope… That was a caller. His name was Musselini, I think, and he says he is in politics here. And besides I have lost my pen so I will have to continue in pencil … It turned up— I was writing with it all the time and hadn’t noticed. That is because I am full of my new work, a historical play based on the life of Woodrow Wilson.
Act I At Princeton
Woodrow seen teaching philosophy. Enter Pyne. Quarrel scene—Wilson refuses to recognize clubs. Enter woman with Bastard from Trenton. Pyne reenters with glee club and trustees. Noise outside “We have won—Princeton 12-Lafayette 3.” Cheers. Football team enter and group around Wilson. Old Nassau. Curtain.
Act. II. Gubernatorial Mansion at Patterson
Wilson seen signing papers. Tasker Bliss and Marc Connelly come in with proposition to let bosses get control. “I have important papers to sign—and none of them legalize corruption.” Triangle Club begins to sing outside window… Enter women with Bastard from Trenton. President continues to sign papers. Enter Mrs. Galt, John Grier Hibben, Al Jolsen and Grantland Rice. Song “The call to Larger Duty.” Tableau. Coughdrop.
Act III. (Optional)
The Battle front 1918
The peace congress. Clemenceau, Wilson and Jolsen at table…. The junior prom committee comes in through the skylight. Clemenceau: “We want the Sarre.” Wilson: “No, sarre, I won’t hear of it.” Laughter… Enter Marylyn Miller, Gilbert Seldes and Irish Meusel. Tasker Bliss falls into cuspidor.
Oh Christ! I’m sobering up! Write me the opinion you may be pleased to form of my chef d’oevre and others opinion. Please! I think its great but because it deals with much debauched materials, quick-deciders like Rasco may mistake it for Chambers. To me its fascinating. I never get tired of it….
Zelda’s been sick in bed for five weeks, poor child, and is only now looking up. No news except I now get 2000 a story and they grow worse and worse and my ambition is to get where I need write no more but only novels. Is Lewis’ book any good. I imagine that mine is infinitely better— what else is well-reviewed this spring? Maybe my book is rotten but I don’t think so.
What are you writing? Please tell me something about your novel. And if I like the idea maybe I’ll make it into a short story for the Post to appear just before your novel and steal the thunder. Who’s going to do it? Bebe Daniels? She’s a wow!
How was Townsend’s first picture. Good reviews? What’s Alec doing? And Ludlow? And Bunny? Did you read Ernest Boyd’s account of what I might ironicly call our “private” life in his “Portraits?” Did you like it? I rather did.
I am quite drunk again and enclose a postage stamp.
Your letter was perfect. It told us everything we wanted to know and the same day I read your article (very nice too) in Van. Fair about cherching the past. But you disappointed me with the quality of some of it (the news)—for instance that Bunny’s play failed and that you and Margaret find life dull and depressing there. We want to come back but we want to come back with money saved and so far we haven’t saved any—tho I’m one novel ahead and book of pretty good (seven) short stories. I’ve done about 10 pieces of horrible junk in the last year tho that I can never republish or bear to look at—cheap and without the spontaneity of my first work. But the novel I’m sure of. It’s marvellous.
We’re just back from Capri where I sat up (tell Bunny) half the night talking to my old idol Compton Mackenzie. Perhaps you met him. I found him cordial, attractive and pleasantly mundane. You get no sense from him that he feels his work has gone to pieces. He’s not pompous about his present output. I think he’s just tired. The war wrecked him as it did Wells and many of that generation.
To show how well you guessed the gossip I wanted we were wondering where the * * * *s got the money for Havana, whether the Film Guild finally collapsed (Christ! You should have seen their last two pictures.) But I don’t doubt that * * * * and * * * * will talk themselves into the cabinet eventually. I’d do it myself if I could but I’m too much of an egoist and not enough of a diplomat ever to succeed in the movies. You must begin by placing the tongue flat against the posteriors of such worthys as * * * * and * * * * and commence a slow caressing movement. Say what they may of Cruze—Famous Players is the product of two great ideas Demille and Gloria Swanson and it stands or falls not by their “conference methods” but on those two and the stock pictures that imitate them. The Cruze winnings are usually lost on such expensive experiments as * * * *.
Is Dos Passos novel any good? And what’s become of Cummings work. I haven’t read Some Do Not but Zelda was crazy about it. I glanced through it and kept wondering why it was written backward. At first I thought they’d sewn the cover on upside down. Well—these people will collaborate with Conrad.
Do you still think Dos Passos is a genius? My faith in him is somehow weakened. There’s so little time for faith these days.
The Wescott book will be eagerly devoured. A personable young man of that name from Atlantic introduced himself to me after the failure of the Vegetable. I wonder if he’s the same. At any rate your Wescott, so Harrison Rhodes tells me, is coming here to Rome.
I’ve given up Nathan’s books. I liked the 4th series of Prejudices. Is Lewis new book any good. Hergesheimers was awful. He’s all done…
The cheerfulest things in my life are first Zelda and second the hope that my book has something extraordinary about it. I want to be extravagantly admired again. Zelda and I sometimes indulge in terrible four day rows that always start with a drinking party but we’re still enormously in love and about the only truly happily married people I know.
Our Very Best to Margaret
In the Villa d’Este at Tivoli [Como] all that ran in my brain was:
“An alley of dark cypresses
Hides an enrondured pool of light
And there the young musicians come
With instruments for her delight
……….locks are bowed
Over dim lutes that sigh aloud
Or else with heads thrown back they tease
Reverberate echoes from the drum
The still folds etc”
It was wonderful that when you wrote that you’d never seen Italy—or, by God, now that I think of it, never lived in the 15th century.
But then I wrote T. S. of P. without having been to Oxford.
[1924, December] Hotel des Princes Rome, Italy
Dear Mr. O’Hara
The Sapho followed me around Europe + reached me here. We had some people to dinner the night it came + we took turns reading it and almost finished the book. Its gorgeous—I’d always wanted to read Sapho but I never realized it would be such a pleasure as you’ve made it.
Thank you, + for your courtesy in sending me a copy thanks again
Sincerely F. Scott Fitzgerald
Thanks for your letter about the book. I was awfully happy that you liked it and that you approved of the design. The worst fault in it, I think is a BIG FAULT: I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of their reunion to the catastrophe. However the lack is so astutely concealed by the retrospect of Gatsby’s past and by blankets of excellent prose that no one has noticed it— though everyone has felt the lack and called it by another name. Mencken said (in a most enthusiastic letter received today) that the only fault was that the central story was trivial and a sort of anecdote (that is because he has forgotten his admiration for Conrad and adjusted himself to the sprawling novel) and I felt that what he really missed was the lack of any emotional backbone at the very height of it.
Without making any invidious comparisons between Class A and Class C, if my novel is an anecdote so is The Brothers Karamazoff. From one angle the latter could be reduced into a detective story. However the letters from you and Mencken have compensated me for the fact that of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one had the slightest idea what the book was about and for the even more depressing fact that it was in comparison with the others a financial failure (after I’d turned down fifteen thousand for the serial rights!) I wonder what Rosenfeld thought of it.
I looked up Hemminway. He is taking me to see Gertrude Stein tomorrow. This city is full of Americans—most of them former friends—whom we spend most of our time dodging, not because we don’t want to see them but because Zelda’s only just well and I’ve got to work; and they seem to be incapable of any sort of conversation not composed of semi-malicious gossip about New York courtesy celebrities. I’ve gotten to like France. We’ve taken a swell apartment until January. I’m filled with disgust for Americans in general after two weeks sight of the ones in Paris—these preposterous, pushing women and girls who assume that you have any personal interest in them, who have all (so they say) read James Joyce and who simply adore Mencken. I suppose we’re no worse than anyone, only contact with other races brings out all our worse qualities. If I had anything to do with creating the manners of the contemporary American girl I certainly made a botch of the job.
I’d love to see you. God. I could give you some laughs. There’s no news except that Zelda and I think we’re pretty good, as usual, only more so.
Thanks again for your cheering letter.
My dear Fitzgerald:
Here we are and have read your book and it is a good book. I like the melody of your dedication and it shows that you have a background of beauty and tenderness and that is a comfort. The next good thing is that you write naturally in sentences and that too is a comfort. You write naturally in sentences and one can read all of them and that among other things is a comfort. You are creating the contemporary world much as Thackeray did his in Pendennis and Vanity Fair and this isn’t a bad compliment. You make a modern world and a modern orgy strangely enough it was never done until you did it in This Side of Paradise. My belief in This Side of Paradise was alright. This is as good a book and different and older and that is what one does, one does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure.. Best of good luck to you always, and thanks so much for the very genuine pleasure you have given me. We are looking forward to seeing you and Mrs. Fitzgerald when we get back in the Fall. Do please remember me to her and to you always
Dear Mr. Fitzgerald,
I have been wandering for the last weeks and found your novel—with its friendly dedication—awaiting me here on my arrival, a few days ago.
I am touched at your sending me a copy, for I feel that to your generation, which has taken such a flying leap into the future, I must represent the literary equivalent of tufted furniture & gas chandeliers. So you will understand that it is in a spirit of sincere deprecation that I shall venture, in a few days, to offer you in return the last product of my manufactory.
Meanwhile, let me say at once how much I like Gatsby, or rather His Book, & how great a leap I think you have taken this time—in advance upon your previous work. My present quarrel with you is only this: that to make Gatsby really Great, you ought to have given us his early career (not from the cradle—but from his visit to the yacht, if not before) instead of a short resume of it. That would have situated him, & made his final tragedy a tragedy instead of a “fait divers” for the morning papers.
But you’ll tell me that’s the old way, & consequently not your way; & meanwhile, it’s enough to make this reader happy to have met your perfect Jew, & the limp Wilson, & assisted at that seedy orgy in the Buchanan flat, with the dazed puppy looking on. Every bit of that is masterly—but the lunch with Hildeshiem , and his every appearance afterward, make me augur still greater things!—Thank you again.
I have left hardly space to ask if you&Mrs. Fitzgerald won’t come to lunch or tea some day this week. Do call me up.
Thank you for your most pleasant, full, discerning and helpful letter about The Great Gatsby. It is about the only criticism that the book has had which has been intelligable, save a letter from Mrs. Wharton. I shall only ponder, or rather I have pondered, what you say about accuracy—I’m afraid I haven’t quite reached the ruthless artistry which would let me cut out an exquisite bit that had no place in the context. I can cut out the almost exquisite, the adequate, even the brilliant—but a true accuracy is, as you say, still in the offing. Also you are right about Gatsby being blurred and patchy. I never at any one time saw him clear myself— for he started out as one man I knew and then changed into myself—the amalgam was never complete in my mind.
Your novel sounds fascinating and I’m crazy to see it. I’m beginning a new novel next month on the Riviera. I understand that MacLeish is there, among other people (at Antibes where we are going). Paris has been a mad-house this spring and, as you can imagine, we were in the thick of it. I don’t know when we’re coming back—maybe never. We’ll be here till Jan. (except for a month in Antibes), and then we go Nice for the Spring, with Oxford for next summer. Love to Margaret and many thanks for the kind letter.
The enclosed explains itself. Meanwhile I went to Antibes and liked Archie MacLeish enormously. Also his poem, though it seems strange to like anything so outrageously derivative. T. S. of P. was an original in comparison.
I’m crazy to see your novel. I’m starting a new one myself. There was no one at Antibes this summer except me, Zelda, the Valentinos, the Murphy’s, Mistinguet, Rex Ingram, Dos Passos, Alice Terry, the MacLeishes, Charles Bracket, Maude Kahn, Esther Murphy, Marguerite Namara, E. Phillips Openheim, Mannes the violinist, Floyd Dell, Max and Chrystal Eastman, ex-Premier Orlando, Etienne de Beaumont—just a real place to rough it and escape from all the world. But we had a great time. I don’t know when we’re coming home—
The Hemminways are coming to dinner so I close with best wishes
FABER AND GWYER LTD. Publishers 24 Russell Square, London, W.C.1. 31st December, 1925
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Esqre., % Charles Scribners & Sons, New York City.
Dear Mr. Scott Fitzgerald,
The Great Gatsby with your charming and overpowering inscription arrived the very morning that I was leaving in some haste for a sea voyage advised by my doctor. I therefore left it behind and only read it on my return a few days ago. I have, however, now read it three times. I am not in the least influenced by your remark about myself when I say that it has interested and excited me more than any new novel I have seen, either English or American, for a number of years.
When I have time I should like to write to you more fully and tell you exactly why it seems to me such a remarkable book. In fact it seems to me to be the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James….
By the way, if you ever have any short stories which you think would be suitable for the Criterion I wish you would let me see them.
With many thanks, I am,
Yours very truly, T. S. Eliot
P.S. By a coincidence Gilbert Seldes in his New York Chronicle in the Criterion for January 14th has chosen your book for particular mention.
(Autograph Letter Signed, 1 p., 10"x8")
probably to James Rennie, the actor who played the lead in the Broadway production of The Great Gatsby, regarding Fitzgerald's attempts to convert the book Brigham Young by M.R. Werner into a play.
Villa St. Louis, Juan-les-Pins, Alpes Maritime, France, 17 July 1926.
…I sobered up in Paris and spent three days trying to get Brigham into shape. Then down here I worked on it some more and made a tentative working outline. But I don't believe that I could make the grade and the more I struggle with it the more I'm convinced that I'd simply ruin your idea by making a sort of half-ass compromise between my amateur idea of 'good theat re' and Werner's book. I think your instinct has led you to a great idea but that my unsolicited offer was based more on enthusiasm than on common sense. So I bequeath you the notion of the girl which I think in other hands could be made quite solid, and rather ungracefully retire hoping that Connolly or Craig will make you the sort of vehicle of it that's in your imagination.
You're a man after my own heart and I feel that we have by no means seen the last of each other, even in a theatrical way. My love to Dorothy - it was so nice of you both to come and see Zelda…
Zelda was recovering from an appendectomy at this time. According to Fitzgerald biographer, Andrew Turnbull, the author went out on the town every night with James Rennie during the two weeks Zelda was in the hospital.
Scholars have long known that Fitzgerald was fascinated with actress Ina Claire from the moment as a teenager he first saw her on the stage. What has not been revealed before now is that Claire attended one of the Fitzgerald's notorious parties at the Ellerslie estate in Delaware, where the Fitzgeralds resided from 1927 to 1929. Ina Claire (1893-1985), born Ina Fagan, October 15, 1893, Washington, DC; died February 21, 1985, San Francisco, California; effervescent, blond star of sophisticated Broadway comedy in the late 1920s; American actress film and Broadway; films include: "The Awful Truth" 1929; "The Royal Family of Broadway" 1930; "Rebound" 1931; "Ninotchka" 1939; "Claudia" 1943. Married to actor John Gilbert 1920-1931. From the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel in Wilmington, Fitzgerald sends this letter to the actress.
Autograph Letter Signed ("F. Scott Fitzgerald") in black fountain pen ink on Wilmington, DE, n.d., on Du Pont Biltmore letterhead. 6" x 9 1/2", 1 page (recto only).
Fabulously beautiful Creature / Faultlessly groomed I shall be on hand a little after five and in one of my fleet of swift Rolls-Royces whisk you in a 3 1/2 minutes to our palace of delights upon the limpid Delaware. A thousand Cercassian girls and eunuchs will perform a march while we dine (at 6) upon bats wings and Chateau Yquem 1909.
Autograph Letter Signed ("Gene Marky") in black fountain pen ink on Edgemore, DE, n.d. (but the morning after the previous letter was written), on "Ellerslie" letterhead,8 1/2" x 11", 1 page (recto only).
Letter to Ina Claire, apologizing for his previous night's behavior. All the promise of the previous lot's letter evaporates in the first line of this note, written the next morning in the fog of a hangover.
Whether I passed out or was even more offensive I don't know - the only thing in my favor was that I had a dim foreboding of catastrophe from about the time the Hergesheimers left, & I wanted to get you home as soon as possible. What ho~! But nevertheless less I like you too much to endure the lousy impression you will inevitably carry away & this is wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa (& all that sentence & old fashioned time honored unacceptable, unwelcome inevitable apology, that you can doubtless fill out for yourself).
... Can you more or less have breakfast with me? I await below.
None of the published biographies record what went wrong at the dinner. It's possible that Zelda Fitzgerald, if she was present, could have engineered some sort of scene; or Fitzgerald my simply be embarrassed by his own clumsy pass at Claire that may or may not have succeeded.
Two page ALS. Fitzgerald writes to Gilbert Seldes from “Ellerslie,” Edgemoor, Delaware. Undated, but probably 1927. Fitzgerald is clearly in a jolly holiday mood. There is a marginal postscript in Fitzgerald’s hand regarding a letter sent by Zelda to Seldes.
The doll was beautiful – I sleep with it. You are the dearest grandmother a little girl ever had… As I sit here in my spacious twenty room mansion, hearing the howling of the winds outside and the groans of my toiling servants below, I think of how wonderful it is to be born a German princelet… I don’t blame either of you for being disgusted with our public brawl the other day… we are sober and almost the nicest people I ever met… our difference of opinion which had had been going on for a miserable fortnight for two weeks before we came to New York and led to all the unpleasantness, is settled and forgotten.
Dear Bunny: …
All is prepared for February 25th. The stomach pumps are polished and set out in rows, stale old enthusiasms are being burnished with that zeal peculiar only to the Brittish Tommy. My God, how we felt when the long slaughter of Paschendale had begun. Why were the generals all so old? Why were the Fabian society discriminated against when positions on the general staff went to Dukes and sons of profiteers. Agitators were actually hooted at in Hyde Park and Anglican divines actually didn’t become humanitarian internationalists over night. What is Briton coming to— where is Milton, Cromwell, Oates, Monk? Where are Shaftsbury, Athelstane, Thomas a Becket, Margot Asquith, Iris March. Where are Blackstone, Touchstone, Clapham-Hopewellton, Stoke-Poges? Somewhere back at G.H.Q. handsome men with grey whiskers murmured “We will charge them with the cavalry” and meanwhile boys from Bovril and the black country sat shivering in the lagoons at Ypres writing memoirs for liberal novels about the war. What about the tanks? Why did not Douglas Haig or Sir John French (the big smarties) (Look what they did to General Mercer) invent tanks the day the war broke out, like Sir Phillip Gibbs the weeping baronet, did or would, had he thought of it.
This is just a sample of what you will get on the 25th of Feb. There will be small but select company, coals, blankets, “something for the inner man.”
Please don’t say you can’t come the 25th but would like to come the 29th. We never receive people the 29th. It is the anniversary of the 2nd Council of Nicea when our Blessed Lord, our Blessed Lord, our Blessed Lord, our Blessed Lord—
It always gets stuck in that place. Put on “Old Man River” or something of Louis Bromfields.
Pray gravity to move your bowels. Its little we get done for us in this world. Answer.
Enjoyed your Wilson article enormously. Not so Thompson affair.
Dear Mr. Newman:
Thanks for your kind letter. Thinking you might like to know what I looked like I am sending you some pictures (on the other side) that I had taken.
Sincerely + Gratefully F Scott Fitzgerald
[And in lower left corner separated by a diagonal line:] The resemblance is said to be excellent.
On the verso of the card is an image depicting side-by-side photos of "Estomac dun alcoolique," on the left, and "Estomac sain" on the right (this card is from the "Ligue Nationale Contre LAlcoolisme 147, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris (VI)). Underneath the photo of the healthy stomach, Fitzgerald has put an arrow and notation, "at 22," and underneath the alcoholic stomach, Fitzgerald has put an arrow and notation, "at 32."
My depression over the badness of the novel as novel had just about sunk me, when I began the novellette—John, it’s like two different men writing. The novellette is one of the best war things I’ve ever read—right up with the very best of Crane and Bierce—intelligent, beautifully organized and written—oh, it moved me and delighted me—the Charles-town country, the night in town, the old lady—but most of all, in the position I was in at 4 this afternoon when I was in agony about the novel, the really fine dramatic handling of the old lady—and—silver episode and the butchering scene. The preparation for the latter was adroit and delicate and just enough.
Now, to be practical—Scribner’s Magazine will, I’m sure, publish the novellette, if you wish, and pay you from 250-400 therefore. This price is a guess but probably accurate. I’d be glad to act as your amateur agent in the case. It is almost impossible without a big popular name to sell a two-part story to any higher priced magazine than that, as I know from my experience with Diamond Big as the Ritz, Rich Boy, ect. Advise me as to whether I may go ahead—of course authority confined only to American serial rights.
The novel is just something you’ve learned from and profited by. It has occasional spurts—like the conversations frequently of Brakespeare, but it is terribly tepid—I refrain —rather I don’t refrain but here set down certain facts which you are undoubtedly quite as aware of as I am.
I’m taking you for a beating, but do you remember your letters to me about Gatsby. I suffered, but I got something like I did out of your friendly tutelage in English poetry.
A big person can make a much bigger mess than a little person and your impressive stature converted a lot of pottery into pebbles during the three years or so you were in the works. Luckily the pottery was never very dear to you. Novels are not written, or at least begun with the idea of making an ultimate philosophical system—you tried to atone for your lack of confidence by a lack of humility before the form.
The main thing is: no one in our language possibly excepting Wilder has your talent for “the world,” your culture and acuteness of social criticism as upheld by the story. There the approach (2nd and 3rd person ect) is considered, full scope in choice of subject for your special talents (descriptive power, sense of “le pays,” ramifications of your special virtues such as loyalty, concealement of the sensuality that is your bete noire to such an extent that you can no longer see it black, like me in my drunkeness.
Anyhow the story is marvellous. Don’t be mad at this letter. I have the horrors tonight and perhaps am taking it out on you. Write me when I could see you here in Paris in the afternoon between 2.30 and 6.30 and talk—and name a day and a cafe at your convenience—I have no dates save on Sunday, so any day will suit me. Meanwhile I will make one more stab at your novel to see if I can think of anyway by a miracle of cutting it could be made presentable. But I fear there’s neither honor nor money in it for you
Your old and Always
Excuse Christ-like tone of letter. Began tippling at page 2 and am now positively holy (like Dostoevsky’s non-stinking monk)
One page ALS. Fitzgerald writes to Gilbert Seldes from France. Undated, but likely in 1929. I was delighted, so was Zelda, to hear that you’re back in Europe. Ring [Lardner] sent me a clipping about your play – I know how it feels to see one go pop before your eyes and I deeply sympathized with you… Zelda has been sick on and off for a year and we’ve come to this little lost town for a widely famed salt cure for her…
[he writes of their plans for the coming months, inviting Seldes to visit]…
After that, our plans depend, as usual, on finance…
Always Your Friend,
Read Many Thousands over again (2nd time) and like it enormously. I think it hangs together as a book too. I like the first story—I think its damn good. I’d never read it before. Death and Young Desire doesn’t come off—as for instance the handling of the same theme in The Story of St. Michele. Why I don’t know. My favorite is The Cellar— I am still fascinated by the Conradean missing man—that’s real fiction. Bones seems even better in the respect-inspiring light thrown by Bunny’s opinion. I’m taking it to Zelda tomorrow.
Ever your Friend
One page ALS. Fitzgerald writes to Gilbert Seldes from Switzerland, where Zelda was being treated at a clinic. Undated, 1930-1931. Fitzgerald thanks him for a check.
The check that fell out of my mail this morning… …just emerging in company with Zelda from the biggest muddle we ever got into… Zelda is so near well that its now a question of a few weeks – but she had a damn narrow escape from permanent neurasthenia or worse. We have no plans. I am here in Switzerland near her… Your Affectionate Old Friend, Scott.
I am embroiled with the stupidest tax-collector since Louis XV. He refuses to allow me one cent of deductions for typing (though I can’t type a word myself)… Can you tell me if any writers pay taxes on magazine stories as un-earned income? Do not all writers that you know of list their stories as earned income and are they ever questioned? Is not the ruling vague and in practice haven’t the authorities in Washington recognized the money earned by a writer as earned income?
F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Your letter with the head of Vladimir Ulianov just received. Please come here the night of the inauguration&stay at least the next day. I want to know with what resignation you look forward to your role of Lunatcharsky&whether you decided you had nothing further worth saying in prose fiction or whether there was nothing further to say. Perhaps I should draw the answer to the last question from Axel’s Castle yet I remember stories of yours that anticipated so much that was later said that it seemed a pity. (Not that I don’t admire your recent stuff—particularly I liked Hull House.)
We had a most unfortunate meeting. I came to New York to get drunk … and I shouldn’t have looked up you and Ernest in such a humor of impotent desperation. I assume full responsibility for all unpleasantness—with Ernest I seem to have reached a state where when we drink together I half bait, half truckle to him…. Anyhow, plenty of egotism for the moment.
Dos was here,&we had a nice evening—we never quite understand each other&perhaps that’s the best basis for an enduring friendship. Alec came up to see me at the Plaza the day I left (still in awful shape but not conspicuously so). He told me to my amazement that you had explained the fundamentals of Leninism, even Marxism the night before,&Dos tells me that it was only recently made plain thru the same agency to the New Republic. I little thought when I left politics to you&your gang in 1920 you would devote your time to cutting up Wilson’s shroud into blinders! Back to Mallarme!
—Which reminds me that T. S. Eliot and I had an afternoon&evening together last week. I read him some of his poems and he seemed to think they were pretty good. I liked him fine...
However come in March. Don’t know what time the inauguration takes place but you find out&tell us the approximate time of your arrival here. Find out in advance for we may go to it too&we might all get lost in the shuffle.
Always Your Friend
Dear Mr. Roberts:
Thank you for your letter. My excuse for the long delay in answering is that a pile of letters were side tracked into an anwered file just before I moved from one house to another. Sorry. Haven’t had a photograph taken for five years. Again thank you for the interest that inspired your letter,
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy—but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed page, they never really happen to you in life.
All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of getting up a Saturday Evening Post story. I think of you, and always pleasantly; but if you call me “Pappy” again I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?
I will arrange the camp bill.
Half-wit, I will conclude. Things to worry about:
Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship…
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?
With dearest love,
Despite your intention of mild criticism in our conversation, I felt more elated than otherwise—if the characters got real enough so that you disagreed with what I chose for their manifest destiny the main purpose was accomplished (by the way, your notion that Dick should have faded out as a shyster alienist was in my original design, but I thot of him, in reconsideration, as an “homme epuise,” not only an “homme manque.” I thought that, since his choice of a profession had accidentally wrecked him, he might plausibly have walked out on the profession itself.)
Any attempt by an author to explain away a partial failure in a work is of course doomed to absurdity—yet I could wish that you, and others, had read the book version rather than the mag. version which in spots was hastily put together. The last half for example has a much more polished facade now. Oddly enough several people have felt that the surface of the first chapters was too ornate. One man even advised me to “coarsen the texture,” as being remote from the speed of the main narrative!
In any case when it appears I hope you’ll find time to look it over again. Such irrevelancies as * * * *’s nosedive and Dick’s affair in Ohnsbruck are out, together with the scene of calling on the retired bootlegger at Beaulieu,&innumerable minor details. I have driven the Scribner proofreaders half nuts but I think I’ve made it incomparably smoother.
Zelda’s pictures go on display in a few weeks&I’ll be meeting her in N. Y. for a day at least. Wouldn’t it be a good time for a reunion?
It was good seeing you&good to think that our squabble, or whatever it was, is ironed out.
With affection always,
Dear Dr. Slocum:
There are several things that I forgot to go into when you asked me had my wife ever had any long disease. She did have one case of colitis which was finally cured by an appendix operation almost ten years ago. Also, she has had two attacks of chronic asthma. The doctor who treated her in Montgomery, Alabama, firmly believes that it came from the hair of a dear’s head! Both times it happened we lived in a house with deer’s heads on the walls. He tested her for every other known irritant but we never did get to testing for the deer’s bead because at that time we came north fo Johns Hopkins where the asthma disappeared. By the way, in case of recurrence she is hypersensitive to adrenalin. Instead of stimulating her it has twice slowed down her pulse to the danger point.
Now about a financial element which I forgot to mention. Zelda has absolutely no sense about money, though she is not particularly self-indulgent. This is partly my fault as I gave word in Switzerland for her to have every luxury in the line of Paris clothes and so forth that she wanted, because I felt she needed cheering up after her long ascetic effort in the ballet. At that time I made a great deal of money (for me). Later at Hopkins, when my income had been curtailed, she went on another shopping spree, literally buying everything that caught her eye, so the doctors wrote me about it. Here she is liable to do the same thing and under present conditions it is no go any more. I want her to profit by all the facilities of the clinic but every extra must be curtailed as far as possible. What provoked this was a wire in which she seemed to want everything in the house except the kitchen utensil, sent to New York, a very expensive process added to all the cost of shipping the pictures for her exposition.
I have hopes that a little later, if she is still there, I can give her more leeway, but at present I am engaged in the most complicated negotiations with moving picture companies. Between that and Zelda and a state of rather ill health, I haven’t had time to cultivate my usual source of revenue, the source of revenue being the Saturday Evening Post.
As soon as you get any positive impression about her condition please let me know as it effects the very plans that I make day to day. If her hospitalization tends to extend further than two to three months, I should be inclined to go to Hollywood where an author can make a very quick turnover. Frankly I should hate it like hell, as we have just settled here.
It was a pleasure meeting you and feeling not only tremendously pleased with you beautiful plant but also coming to the conclusion that you are perhaps the very best man to help Zelda at present.
With all best wishes.
P.S. I might remind you that Zelda’s artistic materials alone, not including typing, come to approximately fifty dollars a month, so you see altogether she is getting about eight-tenths of the family income.
Dear Dr. Slocum:
Thanks for your letter. I have no preconceived idea of what length hospitalization is best and will always defer to your judgment.
A minor point: can a nurse bring Zelda to New York early on the 29th to hand her over to me to see her picture exhibit, and then escort her back to Craig House in the evening? It is, of course. little out of key, but not seeing her pictures hung after all this effort would be a disappointment. I will be responsible for her during the day (or night also if you think it not incompatible with her cure for her to stay in New York that long. In my opinion it would do no harm as there would be simply no time to set up the old machinery of quarreling).
Secondly, I had wanted to take my daughter to some quiet Adirondack place for her Easter holiday and my plans included the daughter spending a day and night with her mother at Craig House—a cot would be put in the room perhaps—wherefrom I would pick her up the following day and go to our destination. If I do not hear from you I will presume that both these projects are O.K. with you.
Small item that may or may not be of interest: Zelda is almost totally blind in one eye from some childish accident. Little by little things seem to leak out. (Eventually I will probably tell you she is she illegitimate daughter of Franz Joseph and the mother of Mari Hati and that I am Harpo Marx.)
As to her writing: there is no longer any competitive element involved. There was a time when she was romping in on what I considered ‘my’ material, disguising her characters under such subtle names as F. Scott Fitzpatrick, when I thought she was tearing at the very roots of my profession, in other words, of our existence. She finally gor she idea and desisted, but rather bitterly. At any rate all that element of competition in material which I had to turn into money, or if possible, into art, and which she was competent to turn only into essentially inefficient effort, we can now assume to be in the past.
She can write in the sense that all non-professionals who have a gift for words, can write. Somebody once said that every intelligent American thought that they could always sell a plot of Iand, make a good speech and write a play. Her equipment is better than that but it does boil down to the slang phrase she can’t take it. She can’t stand criticism: she hasn’t the patience to revise: she has no conception of how fast the world slips from under one’s feet and her getting up sophomoric Aristotliana in a few months cannot bridge the gaps in her education; nevertheless, she can write. She writes a brilliant letter and has made marked successes in short character studies and has an extraordinary talent for metaphor and simile. Along that line, with the realism of having to write her stuff to sell she could be, say, a regular contributor to the New Yorker and such magazines as publish short pieces.
A]so, since the failure of her dancing she has a complex about writing. She has seen me do it as apparently some automatic function of the human machine, lying dormant in everyone; she shares in this ply, the American vulgar opinion of the arts: that they are something that people do when they have nothing else to do. She takes heightened nervous sensitivity, the incorrigible instinct to make better and better as a matter of course in me, those being two, among many, of the things which she is incapable of ‘taking’ herself. When fronted with fait accompli she is as impressed as any yokel, and as a yokel she clings to the idea that the thing has all been done with a beautiful intention rather than with a dirty, sweating, heartbreaking effort extending over a long period of time when enthusiasm and all the other flowers have wilted.
The points for her writing are: the use of her verbal facility,the feeling of nor being hampered in what she wants to do by arbitrary decision of mins the possible great success, who knows! Against her writing there is the nervous strain of the work itself, the nervous strain of recapitulating old agonies best left forgotten, and the inefficient technique predicating years to perfect, which kills most of what she writes, and the melancholia depending upon unfavorable reception of her work by critics.
This, then, is the general line-up on the business of her writing as far an I have been able to analyze it, which may help Dr. Blankenship or whoever is most intimately in contact with her.
Thank you immensely for your letter.
Very Sincerely Yours,
Dear Dr. Slocum:
I didn’t come up because there seemed no particular necessity since so little has developed there. (Thank God!) The only times that my opinions are of any value are when I have spent protracted time with my wife and can see her tired and under the harassments of life, as well as in a holiday humor, as she was in New York.
The exhibition, as she may have told you, was a weird affair of sizable and enthusiastic clusters of people, and of long blanks where Zelda and the curator sat alone in the studio, waiting for someone to appear. Whether or not this the normal condition of art exhibits I am not familiar enough to know. Nor is she—and I can’t guess at her reaction, except she seemed sunk. Unfortunately her backer himself has also been a mental patient and seems to react to reverses in a melancholy way instead of being stimulated by them.
In the medley of chores that descended upon me in New York I am not sure whether or not I sent you a copy of my book [Note: Tender is the Night was just published that month], with what indirect light it may throw on my wife’s problem. In any case I am sending you another as soon as I can get a supply down here, also the long promised copy of my wife’s book.
I shall be in New York in about ten days and if you think it advisable I would like to bring my wife down again for a last look at her show. If my coming to Beacon seems to you of any practical benefit I am at your service any time.
With very best wishes,
Dear Dr. Slocum:
I have the last report about Zelda, telling of her reactions to New York. There is something about it that fills me with disquiet, and a disquiet associated with the first push of her sickness. I would like to ask you if there’s any well established theory about the recurrences of these acute phases where the patient must be hospitalized—are they provoked by once more having to face circumstances that were the ones they failed to face in ordinary life, or, are they more liable to be conditioned upon some pre-breakdown cause, such as a familial tendency—or upon both? If the rhythm of the recurrences of this patient’s serious breakdowns could be parallel, even roughly, to how well she survives a given day—if such a fantastic notion can be entertained—then I would like to know whether it has ever been observed and recorded and if there is a theory about it. Please believe that I am by no means begging you for a snap judgment upon Zelda’s case, particularly because I realize that not only is every case strongly individual but, also because you have not yet had adequate time to watch her in all manifestations of her illness.
However, since my life, my daughter’s life, my plans, and my financial arrangement have each time been determined by what happens to my wife, I would grasp eagerly at any theory which would dare to prophesy the number of and interval between these breakdowns. This would be of value to me in my dealings with her and eliminate some of the fumbling in a void which has made me often lose my temper at her irresponsibility and, at other times, have an unfortunate inability to reassure her about her condition. To some extent beyond all physicians, she turns to me, largely through habit, and when I can stand as one who is sure of his ground I am doubly reinforced in helping her.
As I said to you: the theory of dementia praecox is widely held in these parts, and most popularly set down in Henderson and Gillespie’s tex book, does not convince me. I would rather have Zelda a sane mystic than a mad realist, or as I expressed it in my book ‘better a sane crook than a mad Puritan.’ this seems to be going over into philosophy but my great worry is that time is slipping by, life is slipping by, and we have no life. If she were an anti-social person who did not want to face life and pull her own weight that would be one story, but her passionate love of life and her absolute inability to meet it, seems so tragic that it is scarcely to be endured.
To the advantage of what she describes contemptuously as ‘Teutonic morality’ there is at least an attempt at making (perhaps arbitrarily) a sort of hierarchy of the values so that the most desirable aims are placed in their proper relation to each other. This appeals to me more if only for the therapeutic utility of a patient organizing his mind this way. The danger, of course, would be that, once at liberty, the superimposed set of values would tend to grow dim and thin and the old habits of disorganization would fight through and reestablish their demonical dominance.
Nevertheless, just as in the wisdom of Europeans there are times when one does not explain things to a child but simply says they are true, so the re-education of an adult might be planned on some such line (given that adult’s proper respect for her mentor and the patience to instill this series of values).
The doubts and objections to such a theory are based on whether the real re-education of an adult person, such as my wife, is possible, but - there is also the question of ‘Any port in a storm.’ If this patient is sinking into a certain vagueness and apathy, is going down-hill, it might be advisable to revolutionize certain aspects of her treatment.
The brashness of this from an amateur may annoy you - its only excuse is that it comes from a very concerned and very worried mind.
Very sincerely yours,
Typed letter signed, 2 1/8 pages (280x215 mm), double-spaced on three sheets of beige paper, with two postscripts comprising about half of the letter signed "S." in ink, two small ink stains from corrections, a marginal note by Seldes on the first page.
Fitzgerald writes two weeks after the publication of Tender Is the Night:
Thank you for your appreciation of the novel. I never had any doubt after the weeks and months of half-sleepless work on the thing that it had some special merit and value but it is so nice to see an appreciation of it so early embodied - especially at the present moment when it can do so much good.
[Seldes gave the novel a rave review in the New York Evening Journal, 12 April 1934, the day of publication.]
On the whole the press has been very good except for one blank, in the case of the New York Times by some student who didn't seem to know what the thing was all about, so they carried it in a small block on the third page - the only tragedy of that to me is that it is the reference journal of the old maid librarians of the Great West. However, your review, more than any other, has given me the most satisfaction and again I thank you for liking the book… As ever, venomously, and even subtly, Scott.
P. S. I was too excited in New York to ask you how the editing of the Lardner book comes along.
[Seldes had edited a collection of Lardner's writings, First and Last, just about to be published.]
Tell me if anything new breaks in that line.
P. S. 2. You may be interested to know: I have just sold Amanda and Maxwell Perkins to the movies for a practically inexhaustible sum. I tried to throw you in - but no go! - they wouldn't take you so I'm keeping you for blotting paper or left field - but I don't even know if you'll blot! I broke all engagements and took you, fully dressed, around to the printery but there were no complications even if the cough does keep up! So you can stop worrying - or else begin! Amanda and I are very happy here. She does not regret her past life with you, regarding it merely as perfectly terrible! We have drowned the children! The mother didn't seem to mind it after the first few years! Then turn back and jog left and right back up into Westport, Connecticut and like it! - or like John [Peale] Bishop and forget Katherine Hepburn or whoever it was who came up against his burning loins. He and I and Amanda are happy! S.
Dear Dr. Blankenship:
I gather that you were in immediate charge of my wife’s case. I have just fully realized that her brother was not a schizophrenic but a manic depressive, that in fact the hospital in which he died simply characterized his condition as ‘depressed,’ though he had touches of suicidal and homicidal mania. If at any time it comes naturally to disassociate in my wife’s mind her own tendency to schizophrenia from her brother’s case I think it would be invaluable if you could do so. That is to say, there is a new defeatism in her arising from the fact that she believes the whole case to be familial and the whole family doomed. The only actual resemblance between the various sisters and the brother is that they are all unstable.
I think this might be important, in fact, very important because I have noticed a definite tendency in her to give up since her brother’s death.
With very best wishes.
3 pages (280x215 mm), double-spaced on three sheets of beige paper, a one-word pencilled revision and two typographical corrections by Fitzgerald, some slight marginal creasing. A fine and longish letter in which Fitzgerald discusses Seldes’s edition of Ring Lardner, a possible evening of one-act plays, and reviews of Tender Is the Night. The novel received mixed reviews and Fitzgerald was disappointed by this critical response and by what he saw as lacklustre sales, although the novel made the best-seller lists for that April and May. Bibliography: Printed in Letters, ed. A. Turnbull, pp. 512-13.
Just read the Lardner collection [First and Last]. At first I was disappointed because I had expected there would be enough stuff for an omnibus and I still feel that it could have stood more weight. However, looking over those syndicate articles I realize what you were up against – even many of those which you were compelled to use are rather definitely dated and I think you did the best you could with the material at hand. Anyhow, I’ve had a further hunch on the matter which is this: the short-one-act plays at the end do stand up but they would not play in any conventional sense because so much of the nonsense is embodied in the stage directions, but if they were done, as I believe one was, for the Authors’ League Fete or the Dutch Treat Club with [Robert] Benchley and [Donald Ogden] Stewart clowning the whole business I believe they would play very well.
Now doping along on the subject, it seems to me an evening of five nonsense plays would be monotonous no matter how funny they were, but just suppose taking over the technique of the Grand Guignol, two of those plays were alternated with something macabre. When the Grand Guignol failed in N.Y. it seems to me that I remember that all the plays were plays of horror and the minute the novelty wore off it closed up shop…mightn’t some enterprising producer be interested in a thoroughly balanced program if we could get the material together? I don’t know whether there are any good horror one-acters in America but we might pick up a couple of the Grand Guignol hits very cheaply or get somebody to dredge something out of Edgar Allen [sic] Poe. What do you think of this idea?… I am terribly tied up in work and also not being on the spot could not efficiently go into it. I hand you the suggestion for what it is worth and I wish you would let me know what you think of it …
My novel [Tender Is the Night, published on 12 April] seems to go pretty well. I haven’t been able to make up my mind entirely how good it is because most of the reviewers have been so entirely cuckoo in their effect of saying in one line that the thing comes off entirely because it is technically so well done and others say it comes off in spite of all its technical faults. No two reviewers – and I am speaking only of the big shots – agree who was the leading character. Malcolm Cowley in the New Republic seems to be chiefly impressed by a man who only appears once in the whole picture – in any case my total impression is that a whole lot of people just skimmed through the book for the story and it simply cannot be read that way. In any case, your review [in the New York Evening Journal] and Mabel Dodge Luhan’s enthusiasm [in a letter to the editor of the New York Herald-Tribune of 6 May praising the novel] made it all worthwhile to me.
I’ve had a big reaction from your last two articles in the New Republic. In spite of the fact that we always approach material in different ways there is some fast-guessing quality that, for me, links us now in the work of the intellect. Always the overtone and the understatement.
It was fun when we all believed the same things. It was more fun to think that we were all going to die together or live together, and none of us anticipated this great loneliness, where one has dedicated his remnants to imaginative fiction and another his slowly dissolving trunk to the Human Idea. Nevertheless the stress that you put upon this in your New Republic article—of forces never still, of rivers never ending, of clouds shifting their prophecies at evening, afternoon or morning—this sense of things has kept our courses loosely parallel, even when our references to data have been so disparate as to throw us miles apart.
The purport of this letter is to agree passionately with an idea that you put forth in a discussion of Michelet: that conditions irretrievably change men and that what looks purple in a blue light looks, in another spectrum, like green and white bouncing snow. I want you to know that one among many readers is absolutely alert to the implications and substrata of meaning in this new work.
Ever affectionately yours,
Single page (280 x 215 mm), about 60 words in Fitzgerald's hand in pencil (plus markings) sprawled over the page, including an inscription at upper left corner by him to Gilbert Seldes: "Dear Gilbert, make the best of this, Scott". Small marginal tear.
The questionnaire, which has "Mr. Fitzgerald" typed at the top, was sent to him by his friend, the writer and cultural critic Gilbert Seldes (1893-1970). It asks the recipient to
"make a quick survey of your whole life. Then suppose you are compelled to make the following decision, with no alternative:
1. Live through your whole life again, just exactly as before, with no opportunity to better it by your present experience, or 2. Die instantly. Which would you choose? To live again? To die at once? "
Fitzgerald has answered "Yes" to the question "To live again?" and has added: "Begs the question but I'll try to answer it."
The questionnaire follows up this basic question with seven additional ones, to which Fitzgerald's responses range from a simple check mark or a "Yes" to a full sentence.
To the query, "Do you think that the more sensitive a person is the more likely he or she is to choose the instant death?", Fitzgerald answers: "It's a question of vitality, not of experience or logic", and has added upside down (with a connecting line) in the top margin, "Read your 'Eclesiastes' [sic]".
To the question, "Do you think that the wiser or more philosophical a person is the more he would choose to live again? Or to die?", Fitzgerald writes: "Live in youth. Die at the proper time."
Asked to "Name the particular event or factor which most influenced your decision," he answers: "Death of what you loved [continued with a connecting line at the bottom of the page] and whether or not it was irreparable."
A highly unusual and revealing F. Scott Fitzgerald item, not noted in any of the standard references.
Autograph letter signed ("Scott Fitzg"), 2 pages, in pencil, 13 x 8 1/2 in. With original holograph envelope. About 200 words.
The Post story was begun & dished as I'm not sending out another doubtful, thank you. I'd Die for You evidently hasn't sold yet, nor the radio idea (which of course will be slow). This money came from Esquire. I can't see coming back with the Post story unfinished & trying to do it with the inevitable storms breaking around. Everything was going well until the offspring of my Tryon friend arrived with the idea that I was playing fast and loose with Mama. My God! when he probably couldn't be sure who his own father is --.... I had to let this snippy Etonian kid (and they're trained to be snooty) - I had to let him sass me when I could have killed him, this time without beer openers!....All is well now but it cost me three days work.
Fitzgerald's Tryon friend was Nora Phipps Flynn, one of the famous Langhorne girls of Virginia, and a sister of Nancy Astor. Her husband, Lefty, had been a football star at Yale, and a Hollywood actor and stuntman. It was her Etonian son, Tommy, who provided Anthony Powell with the title for his novel A Question of Upbringing.
I wrote you a month ago but it seemed a silly letter. I’ve had a strange two months trying to pull together the fragments of a lost year and I wonder if life will ever again make much sense… I wonder if you are happier—somehow you seemed so when I saw you, even to my alcoholic eye. God, I hope so—it was sad to see anyone so young and with so much stuff in such a state of depression. I wish I could have helped you as you tried to help me. Anyhow I want to see you… and talk to you and hear your adventures. Best to George [Pauline’s husband]
Always afftly Scott.
Last night, tossing into the wastebasket the tattered shreds of a sweater once brought back to life by you—remember?—It occurred to me that you took with you some shirts&things you said ought to be mended… will you stick it in a box&give it to the bus driver?… I still come to Ashville [sic] once a month but simply pick up Zelda&take her out… She is much better… Even tho you don’t answer letters I think of you and wonder about you… We did have a lot of good times mixed in with the bad.
I have never had so many things go wrong and with such defiant persistence. By an irony which quite fits into the picture, the legacy which I received from my mother’s death (after being too ill to go to her death bed or her funeral) is the luckiest event of some time. She was a defiant old woman, defiant in her love for me in spite of my neglect of her and it would have been quite within her character to have died that I might live.
Thank you for your wire today. People have received this Esquire article with mingled feelings—not a few of them think it was a terrific mistake to have written any of them from Crack-Up. On the other hand, I get innumerable “fan letters” and requests to republish them in the Reader’s Digest, and several anthologists’ requests, which I prudently refused.
My Hollywood deal (which, as it happened, I could not have gone through with because of my shoulder) was seriously compromised by their general tone. It seems to have implied to some people that I was a complete moral and artistic bankrupt.
Now—I come to some things I may have written you before. Did I tell you that I got the broken shoulder from diving from a fifteen-foot board, which would have seemed modest enough in the old days, and the shoulder broke before I hit the water—a phenomenon which has diverted the medicos hereabout to some extent; and that when it was almost well, I tripped over the raised platform of the bath room at four o’clock one morning when I was still surrounded by an extraordinary plaster cast and I lay on the floor for forty-five minutes before I could crawl to the telephone and get rescued by Mac. It was a hot night, and I was soaking wet in the cast so I caught cold on the tile floor of the bath room, and a form of arthritis called “miotosis” developed, which involved all of the joints on that side of the body, so back to the bed I went and I have been groaning and cursing without cessation until about three days ago, when the devil began to abandon me. During this time Mother died in the North and a dozen other things seemed to happen at once, so that it will take me several months to clear the wreckage of a completely wasted summer, productive of one mediocre short story and two or three shorts.
Why Scott—you poor miserable bastard, it was damn handsome of you to write me. Had just heard about your shoulder and was on the edge of writing when I got your letter. Must be damned painful and annoying. Let us know how you are. Katy sends love and condolences. We often talk about you and wish we could get to see you.
I’ve been wanting to see you, naturally, to argue about your Esquire articles—Christ, man, how do you find time in the middle of the general conflagration to worry about all that stuff? If you don’t want to do stuff on your own, why not get a reporting job somewhere. After all not many people write as well as you do. Here you’ve gone and spent forty years in perfecting an elegant and complicated piece of machinery (tool I was going to say) and the next forty years is the time to use it—or as long as the murderous forces of history will let you. God damn it, I feel frightful myself—I have that false Etruscan feeling of sitting on my tail at home while etcetera etcetera is on the march to Rome —but I have two things laid out I want to finish up and I’m trying to take a course in American history and most of the time the course of world events seems so frightful that I feel absolutely paralysed—and the feeling that I’ve got to hurry to get stuff out before the big boys close down on us. We’re living in one of the damnedest tragic moments in history—if you want to go to pieces I think it’s absolutely O. K. but I think you ought to write a first rate novel about it (and you probably will) instead of spilling it in little pieces for Arnold Gingrich—and anyway, in pieces or not, I wish I could get an hour’s talk with you now and then, Scott, and damn sorry about the shoulder. Forgive the locker room peptalk.
I am going North without fail for Thanksgiving and spend at least one day in Baltimore… If I have to have an all-day session with Ed Poe we will arrange some meeting that does not conflict with that, and I will stay two days. “On clothes he wants from storage”, and “there are other lost articles: (can’t you hear me say ’full colon’?) one is part of a silver set”, [and money matters].
I don’t know where you are living and I’ll be damned if I’ll believe anyone lives in a place called “The Garden of Allah,” which was what the address on your envelope said. I am sending this on to the old address we both know so well.
The unexpected loquaciousness of your letter struck me all of a heap. I was surprised to hear from you but I don’t know that I can truthfully say I was delighted. Your bouquet arrived smelling sweetly of roses but cunningly concealing several large-sized brick-bats. Not that I resented them. My resenter got pretty tough years ago; like everybody else I have at times been accused of “resenting criti[ci]sm” and although I have never been one of those boys who break out in a hearty and delighted laugh when someone tells them everything they write is lousy and agree enthusiastically, I think I have taken as many plain and fancy varieties as any American citizen of my age now living. I have not always smiled and murmured pleasantly “How true,” but I have listened to it all, tried to profit from it where and when I could and perhaps been helped by it a little. Certainly I don’t think I have been pig-headed about it. I have not been arrogantly contemptuous of it either, because one of my besetting sins, whether you know it or not, is a lack of confidence in what I do.
So I’m not sore at you or sore about anything you said in your letter. And if there is any truth in what you say— any truth for me—you can depend upon it I shall probably get it out. It just seems to me that there is not much in what you say. You speak of your “case” against me, and frankly I don’t believe you have much case. You say you write these things because you admire me so much and because you think my talent unmatchable in this or any other country and because you are ever my friend. Well Scott I should not only be proud and happy to think that all these things are true but my respect and admiration for your own talent and intelligence are such that I should try earnestly to live up to them and to deserve them and to pay the most serious and respectful attention to anything you say about my work.
I have tried to do so. I have read your letter several times and I’ve got to admit it doesn’t seem to mean much. I don’t know what you are driving at or understand what you expect or hope me to do about it. Now this may be pig-headed but it isn’t sore. I may be wrong but all I can get out of it is that you think I’d be a good writer if I were an altogether different writer from the writer that I am.
This may be true but I don’t see what I’m going to do about it. And I don’t think you can show me and I don’t see what Flaubert and Zola have to do with it, or what I have to do with them. I wonder if you really think they have anything to do with it, or if this is just something you heard in college or read in a book somewhere. This either—or kind of criticism seems to me to be so meaningless. It looks so knowing and imposing but there is nothing in it. Why does it follow that if a man writes a book that is not like Madame Bovary it is inevitably like Zola. I may be dumb but I can’t see this. You say that Madame Bovary becomes eternal while Zola already rocks with age. Well this may be true—but if it is true isn’t it true because Madame Bovary may be a great book and those that Zola wrote may not be great ones? Wouldn’t it also be true to say that Don Quixote or Pickwick or Tristram Shandy “become eternal” while already Mr. Galsworthy “rocks with age.” I think it is true to say this and it doesn’t leave much of your argument, does it? For your argument is based simply upon one way, upon one method instead of another. And have you ever noticed how often it turns out that what a man is really doing is simply rationalizing his own way of doing something, the way he has to do it, the way given him by his talent and his nature, into the only inevitable and right way of doing everything—a sort of classic and eternal art form handed down by Apollo from Olympus without which and beyond which there is nothing. Now you have your way of doing something and I have mine, there are a lot of ways, but you are honestly mistaken in thinking that there is a “way.” I suppose I would agree with you in what you say about “the novel of selected incident” so far as it means anything. I say so far as it means anything because every novel, of course, is a novel of selected incident. There are no novels of unselected incident. You couldn’t write about the inside of a telephone booth without selecting. You could fill a novel of a thousand pages with a description of a single room and yet your incidents would be selected. And I have mentioned Don Quixote and Pickwick and The Brothers Karamazov and Tristram Shandy to you in contrast to The Silver Spoon or The White Monkey as examples of books that have become “immortal” and that boil and pour. Just remember that although Madame Bovary in your opinion may be a great book, Tristram Shandy is indubitably a great book, and that it is great for quite different reasons. It is great because it boils and pours—for the unselected quality of its selection. You say that the great writer like Flaubert has consciously left out the stuff that Bill or Joe will come along presently and put in. Well, don’t forget, Scott, that a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoevsky were great putter-inners—greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers and will be remembered for what they put in—remembered, I venture to say, as long as Monsieur Flaubert will be remembered for what he left out.
As to the rest of it in your letter about cultivating an alter ego, becoming a more conscious artist, my pleasantness or grief, exuberance or cynicism, and how nothing stands out in relief because everything is keyed at the same emotional pitch—this stuff is worthy of the great minds that review books nowadays—the Fadimans and De Votos—but not of you. For you are an artist and the artist has the only true critical intelligence. You have had to work and sweat blood yourself and you know what it is like to try to write a living word or create a living thing. So don’t talk this foolish stuff to me about exuberance or being a conscious artist or not bringing things into emotional relief, or any of the rest of it. Let the Fadimans and De Votos do that kind of talking but not Scott Fitzgerald. You’ve got too much sense and you know too much. The little fellows who don’t know may picture a man as a great “exuberant” six-foot-six clodhopper straight out of nature who bites off half a plug of apple tobacco, tilts the corn liquor jug and lets half of it gurgle down his throat, wipes off his mouth with the back of one hairy paw, jumps three feet in the air and clacks his heels together four times before he hits the floor again and yells “Whoopee, boys I’m a rootin, tootin, shootin son of a gun from Buncombe County—out of my way now, here I come!”—and then wads up three-hundred thousand words or so, hurls it back at a blank page, puts covers on it and says “Here’s my book!” Now Scott, the boys who write book reviews in New York may think it’s done that way; but the man who wrote Tender Is the Night knows better. You know you never did it that way, you know I never did, you know) no one else who ever wrote a line worth reading ever did. So don’t give me any of your guff, young fellow. And don’t think I’m sore. But I get tired of guff—I’ll take it from a fool or from a book reviewer but I won’t take it from a friend who knows a lot better. I want to be a better artist. I want to be a more selective artist. I want to be a more restrained artist. I want to use such talent as I have, control such forces as I may own, direct such energy as I may use more cleanly, more surely and to better purpose. But Flaubert me no Flauberts, Bovary me no Bovarys. Zola me no Zolas. And exuberance me no exuberances. Leave this stuff for those who huckster in it and give me, I pray you, the benefits of your fine intelligence and your high creative faculties, all of which I so genuinely and profoundly admire. I am going into the woods for another two or three years. I am going to try to do the best, the most important piece of work I have ever done. I am going to have to do it alone. I am going to lose what little bit of reputation I may have gained, to have to hear and know and endure in silence again all of the doubt, the disparagement and ridicule, the post-mortems that they are so eager to read over you even before you are dead. I know what it means and so do you. We have both been through it before. We know it is the plain damn simple truth. Well, I’ve been through it once and I believe I can get through it again. I think I know a little more now than I did before, I certainly know what to expect and I’m going to try not to let it get me down. That is the reason why this time I shall look for intelligent understanding among some of my friends. I’m not ashamed to say that I shall need it. You say in your letter that you are ever my friend. I assure you that it is very good to hear this. Go for me with the gloves off if you think I need it. But don’t De Voto me. If you do I’ll call your bluff.
I’m down here for the summer living in a cabin in the country and I am enjoying it. Also I’m working. I don’t know how long you are going to be in Hollywood or whether you have a job out there but I hope I shall see you before long and that all is going well with you. I still think as I always thought that Tender Is the Night had in it the best work you have ever done. And I believe you will surpass it in the future. Anyway, I send you my best wishes as always for health and work and success. Let me hear from you sometime. The address is Oteen, North Carolina, just a few miles from Asheville, Ham Basso, as you know, is not far away at Pisgah Forest and he is coming over to see me soon and perhaps we shall make a trip together to see Sherwood Anderson. And now this is all for the present—unselective, you see, as usual. Good bye Scott and good luck.
I shall somehow manage not to appear in a taxicab on Thanksgiving and thus disgrace you before all those “nice” girls. Isn’t it somewhat old-fashioned to describe girls in expensive backgrounds as “nice?” I will bet two-thirds of the girls at Miss Walker’s School have at least one grandparent that peddled old leather in the slums of New York, Chicago, or London, and if I thought you were accepting the standards of the cosmopolitan rich, I would much rather have you in a Southern school, where scholastic standards are not so high and the word “nice” is not debased to such a ludicrous extent. I have seen the whole racket, and if there is any more disastrous road than that from Park Avenue to the Rue de la Paix and back again, I don’t know it.
They are homeless people, ashamed of being American, unable to master the culture of another country; ashamed, usually, of their husbands, wives, grandparents, and unable to bring up descendants of whom they could be proud, even if they had the nerve to bear them, ashamed of each other yet leaning on each other’s weakness, a menace to the social order in which they live—oh, why should I go on? You know how I feel about such things. If I come up and find you gone Park Avenue, you will have to explain me away as a Georgia cracker or a Chicago killer. God help Park Avenue.
Collection of correspondence from Fitzgerald to William Hodapp, Fitzgerald's co-writer for the theatre and television productions of Diamond As Big As the Ritz. Hodapp's dramatization of Diamond As Big as the Ritz, or, as Fitzgerald refers to it, "the Hodapptation," would see a second running on television during the Kraft Television Theatre, January 28, 1955. (Season 9, Episode 1) The accompanying pages of notes, which go into great detail concerning Fitzgerald's opinion on the story and his own writing style, are undated and, therefore, one cannot tell whether they were meant to enhance the theatre production for television, or whether they were the first draft of what would be the first theatre production. Creased from the folds; minor toning to some pages; otherwise fine. Collection comprising the following:
(1) Autographed letter signed, undated, 6 pp, in pencil, signed "Scott Fitzgerald." Comprising numerous edits to Hodapp's original script and commentary regarding Fitzgerald's opinion of the original and adapted piece.
(2) Typed letter signed, 1p., on Metro Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. letterhead, signed "Scott Fitzgerald" to "Bill Hodapp," dated February 8, 1938. Fitzgerald informs Hodapp of the poor reception of the first production of "Diamond As Big As the Ritz" at the Pasadena Playhouse. He states:
"I wish I could give you better news. Again, this lightness I felt was no fault of your dramatization but a skimpiness inherent in the novelette. Perhaps another production in some professional hands would leave a different story to tell. What are your plans for it next?"
I am certainly glad that you’re up and around, and sorry that your selection of Post-Flaubertian realism depressed you. I certainly wouldn’t begin Henry James with The Portrait of a Lady, which is in his “late second manner” and full of mannerisms. Why don’t you read Roderick Hudson or Daisy Miller first? Lord Jim is a great book—the first third at least and the conception, though it got lost a little bit in the law-courts of Calcutta or wherever it was. I wonder if you know why it is good? Sister Carrie, almost the first piece of American realism, is damn good and is as easy reading as a True Confession.
I’m glad you’re living in the country. I know you’re extremely adaptable but I do believe you’ll be happier there. I think, anyway, you’ll have your usual calm intelligence and good humor… I am working on the script of “Madam Curie” which I find very interesting.
That was always my experience—a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy’s school; a poor boy in a rich man’s club at Princeton … However, I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works.
News that you and Mary had a baby reached me rather late because I was out of California for several months. Hope he is now strong and crawling. Tell him if he grows up any bigger I shall be prepared to take him for a loop when he reaches the age of twenty-one at which time I shall be sixty-three…
Believe me, Bunny, it meant more to me than it could possibly have meant to you to see you that evening. It seemed to renew old times learning about Franz Kafka and latter things that are going on in the world of poetry, because I am still the ignoramus that you and John Bishop wrote about at Princeton. Though my idea is now, to learn about a new life from Louis B. Mayer who promises to teach me all about things if he ever gets around to it.
Ever your devoted friend,
I want to have you out here for part of the summer. I have a nice cottage in the country, but very far out in the country, and utterly inaccessible if one doesn’t drive well. Whether a piano here would be practical or not I don’t know (remember how I felt about radio) but all that might be arranged if the personal equation were not doubtful (a situation for which for the moment I take full blame). Since I stopped picture work three months ago, I have been through not only a T.B. flare-up but also a nervous breakdown of such severity that for a time it threatened to paralyze both arms— or to quote the doctor: “The Good Lord tapped you on the shoulder.” While I am running no fever above 99, I don’t know what this return to picture work is going to do, and when and if my health blows up, you know what a poor family man I am….
I am of course not drinking and haven’t been for a long time, but any illness is liable to have a certain toxic effect on the system and you may find me depressing, over-nervous about small things and dogmatic—all these qualities more intensified than you have previously experienced them in me. Beyond this I am working very hard and the last thing I want at the end of the day is a problem, while, as it is natural at your age, what you want at the end of the day is excitement. I tell you all this because lately we had planned so many meetings with anticipation and they have turned out to be flops. Perhaps forewarned will be forearmed….
If the experiment proves upsetting, I will have no further choice than to pack you off East somewhere again, but there are several friends here whom you could visit for a time if we failed to make a satisfactory household. So the trip will be worthwhile. Also I am more of a solitary than I have ever been, but I don’t think that will worry you, because you had your dosages of motion picture stars on two other trips. To describe how humorless I feel about life at this point you have simply to read the Tarkington story called Sinful Dadda Little in the Post issue of July 22 (still current I believe), and remember that I read it without a particle of amusement, but with a complete disgust at Dadda for not drowning the two debutantes, at the end.
1 page, quarto. Isabel Horton, sister of actor Edward Everett Horton from whom F. Scott Fitzgerald rented a cottage in Encino, California during 1939. Fitzgerald had come to Hollywood to make money screenwriting and collect himself as a writer after series of troubled times. He was very cash strapped and Fitzgerald writes Mrs. Horton and asks her for help.
“...Things are still difficult here and your are very kind to let me pay this month’s rent by degrees. The check enclosed makes 3/4 of the month’s rent....”
Fitzgerald was busy writing his final unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, at this time, and he tells Mrs. Horton of his hopes for it.
“...Am making a deal for a serial novel in the East which I hope will shortly lift my worries from off my somewhat bowed shoulders...”
Signed in full in blue ink “Scott Fitzgerald.”
1 page, quarto.
...Things look a little brighter. My health is better and I really think I am going to work at the studios within a week. All this illness has, however, put me in debt and it may be some months before I am straightened out. In our conversation several weeks ago you mentioned the possibility of temporarily reducing the rent to $150. I believe that at this rental I could carry on here. Is the offer still open? I hate to ask it in this winter season when the valley is at its most attractive, but Miss Kroll [Frances Kroll, his secretary] and I have figured that in order to get straight with the world we will have to cut down on about everything. On the assumption that this offer is open I am enclosing a draft for $150, to cover the rent from December 19th to January 19th. Ever yours, sincerely and gratefully...
P. S. Scott Fitzgerald - Very best to Eddie if you’re with him.
I think it was you who misunderstood my meaning about the comrades. The important thing is this: they had best be treated, not as people holding a certain set of liberal or conservative opinions, but rather as you might treat a set of intensely fanatical Roman Catholics among whom you might find yourself. It is not that you should not disagree with them—the important thing is that you should not argue with them. The point is that Communism has become an intensely dogmatic and almost mystical religion, and whatever you say, they have ways of twisting it into shapes which put you in some lower category of mankind (“Fascist,” “Liberal,” “Trotskyist”), and disparage you both intellectually and personally in the process. They are amazingly well organized. The pith of my advice is: think what you want, the less said the better...
You must have some politeness toward ideas. You can neither cut through, nor challenge nor beat the fact that there is an organized movement over the world before which you and I as individuals are less than the dust. Some time when you feel very brave and defiant and haven’t been invited to one particular college function, read the terrible chapter in Das Kapital on The Working Day, and see if you are ever quite the same.
Spring was always an awful time for me about work. I always felt that in the long boredom of winter there was nothing else to do but study. But I lost the feeling in the long, dreamy spring days and managed to be in scholastic hot water by June. I can’t tell you what to do about it—all my suggestions seem to be very remote and academic. But if I were with you and we could talk again like we used to, I might lift you out of your trouble about concentration. It really isn’t so hard, even with dreamy people like you and me—it’s just that we feel so damned secure at times as long as there’s enough in the bank to buy the next meal, and enough moral stuff in reserve to take us through the next ordeal. Our danger is imagining we have resources— material and moral—which we haven’t got. One of the reasons I find myself so consistently in valleys of depression is that every few years I seem to be climbing uphill to recover from some bankruptcy. Do you know what bankruptcy exactly means? It means drawing on resources which one does not possess. I thought I was so strong that I never would be ill and suddenly I was ill for three years, and faced with a long, slow uphill climb. Wiser people seem to manage to pile up a reserve—so that if on a night you had set aside to study for a philosophy test, you learned that your best friend was in trouble and needed your help, you could skip that night and find you had a reserve of one or two days preparation to draw on. But I think that, like me, you will be something of a fool in that regard all your life, so I am wasting my words.
Anyhow I am alive again—getting by that October did something—with all its strains and necessities and humiliations and struggles. I don’t drink. I am not a great man but sometimes I think the impersonal and objective quality of my talent and the sacrifices of it, in pieces, to preserve its essential value has some sort of epic grandeur. Anyhow after hours I nurse myself with delusions of that sort….
And I think when you read this book, which will encompass the time when you knew me as an adult, you will understand how intensively I knew your world—not extensively because I was so ill and unable to get about. If I live long enough, I’ll hear your side of things, but I think your own instincts about your limitations as an artist are possibly best: you might experiment back and forth among the arts and find your niche as I found mine—but I do not believe that so far you are a “natural.”
You are doing exactly what I did at Princeton. I wore myself out on a musical comedy there for which I wrote book and lyrics, organized and mostly directed while the president played football. Result: I slipped way back in my work, got T.B., lost a year in college—and, irony of ironies, because of a scholastic slip I wasn’t allowed to take the presidency of the Triangle…
From your letter I guess you are doing exactly the same thing and it just makes my stomach fall out to think of it. Amateur work is fun but the price for it is just simply tremendous. In the end you get “Thank you” and that’s all. You give three performances which everybody promptly forgets and somebody has a breakdown—that somebody being the enthusiast.
Musical comedy is fun—I suppose more “fun” than anything else a literary person can put their talents to and it always has an air of glamor around it...
I was particularly interested in your line about “feeling that you had lost your favorite child.” God, haven’t I felt that so many times. Often I think writing is a sheer paring away of oneself, leaving always something thinner, barer, more meagre. However, that’s not anything to worry about in your case for another twenty years. I am glad you are going to Princeton with whom you are going. I feel you have now somehow jumped a class. Boys like * * * * and * * * * are on a guess more “full of direction” than most of the happy-go-luckies in Cap and Gown. I don’t mean more ambition, which is a sort of general attribute at youth and is five parts hope to five parts good will, but I mean some calculated path, stemming from a talent or money or a careful directive or all of these things, to find your way through the bourgeois maze—if you feel it is worth finding. Remember this, though, among those on both sides of the fence there are a lot of slow developers, people of quality and distinction whom you should not overlook.
You are always welcome in California, though. We are even opening our arms to Chamberlain in case the British oust him. We need him for Governor, because we are afraid the Asiatics are going to land from Chinese parasols. Never mind—Santa Barbara will be our Narvik and we’ll defend it to our last producer. And remember, even England still has Noel Coward.
I actually have a formulating plan for part of your summer—if it pleases you—and I think I’ll have the money to make it good. I’m working hard, guiding by the fever which now hovers quietly around the 99.2 level, which is fairly harmless. Tell Frances Kilpatrick that, though I never met her father, he is still one of my heroes, in spite of the fact that he robbed Princeton of a football championship single-handed—he was probably the greatest end who ever played football. In the future please send me clippings even though you do crack at me in the course of your interviews. I’d rather get them than have you send me accounts of what literary sourbellies write about me in their books. I’ve been criticized by experts including myself.
I think I’ve about finished a swell flicker piece. Did you read me in the current Esquire about Orson Welles? Is it funny? Tell me. You haven’t answered a question for six letters. Better do so or I’ll dock five dollars next week to show you I’m the same old meany.
You asked me whether I thought that in the Arts it was greater to originate a new form or to perfect it. The best answer is the one that Picasso made rather bitterly to Gertrude Stein:
“You do something first and then somebody else comes along and does it pretty.”…
In the opinion of any real artist, the inventor—which is to say Giotto or Leonardo—is infinitely superior to the finished Tintoretto, and the original D. H. Lawrences are infinitely greater than the Steinbecks.
I’m glad you didn’t start going to Princeton at sixteen or you’d be pretty jaded by this time. Yale is a good year ahead of Princeton in sophistication, though—it should be good for another year. Though I loved Princeton, I often felt that it was a by-water, that its snobby institutions were easy to beat and to despise, and unless a man was a natural steeplechaser or a society groom, you’d find your own private intellectual and emotional life. Given that premise, it is a lovely quiet place, gentle and dignified, and it will let you alone. Of course, it is at its absolute worst in the * * * * atmosphere you described. Some time go down with a boy on one of those weekends when there’s almost nothing to do.
I could agree with you as opposed to Dean Thompson if you were getting “B’s.” Then I would say: As you’re not going to be a teacher or a professional scholar, don’t try for “A’s”—don’t take the things in which you can get “A,” for you can learn them yourself. Try something hard and new, and try it hard, and take what marks you can get. But you have no such margin of respectability, and this borderline business is a fret to you. Doubt and worry—you are as crippled by them as I am by my inability to handle money or my self-indulgences of the past. It is your Achilles’ heel— and no Achilles’ heel ever toughened by itself. It just gets more and more vulnerable. What little I’ve accomplished has been by the most laborious and uphill work, and I wish now I’d never relaxed or looked back—but said at the end of The Great Gatsby: “I’ve found my line—from now on this comes first. This is my immediate duty—without this I am nothing.”
Meanwhile I have another plan which may yield a bonanza but will take a week to develop, so there’s nothing to do for a week except try to cheer up your mother and derive what consolation you can in explaining the Spenglerian hypotheses to Miss … and her fellow feebs of the Confederacy. Maybe you can write Something down there. It is a grotesquely pictorial country as I found out long ago, and as Mr. Faulkner has since abundantly demonstrated.
I wish I were with you this afternoon. At the moment I am sitting rather dismally contemplating the loss of a three year old Ford and a thirty-three year old tooth. The Ford (heavily mortgaged) I shall probably get back, according to the police, because it is just a childish prank of the California boys to steal them and then abandon them. But the tooth I had grown to love…
In recompense I found in Collier’s a story by myself. I started it just before I broke my shoulder in 1936 and wrote it in intervals over the next couple of years. It seemed terrible to me. That I will ever be able to recover the art of the popular short story is doubtful. At present I’m doing a masterpiece for Esquire and waiting to see if my producer can sell the Babylon Revisited screen play to Shirley Temple. If this happens, everything will look very much brighter...
The police have just called up telling me they’ve recovered my car. The thief ran out of gas and abandoned it in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard. The poor lad was evidently afraid to call anybody to help him push it to the curb. I hope next time he gets a nice big producer’s car with plenty of gas in it and a loaded revolver in each side pocket and he can embark on a career of crime in earnest. I don’t like to see any education left hanging in the air.
I’m terribly sorry that my letter about Zelda’s Scandalabra crossed yours, because she does want it. It is a pure concession to an invalid because it will never be produced again… The days at La Paix in 1933 seem comparatively tranquil now. You remember how we used to take time out in the middle of the summer mornings to go swimming in the quarry. The people out here don’t realize yet that there’s a war on.
Haven’t you got a carbon of the New Yorker article? I’ve heard that John Mason Brown is a great favorite as a lecturer and I think it’s very modern to be taking dramatic criticism, though it reminds me vaguely of the school for Roxy Ushers. It seems a trifle detached from drama itself. I suppose the thing’s to get really removed from the subject, and the final removal would be a school for teaching critics of teachers of dramatic criticism…
Isn’t the world a lousy place—I’ve just finished a copy of Life and I’m dashing around to a Boris Karloff movie to cheer up. It is an inspirational thing called “The Corpse in the Breakfast Food.”…
Once I thought that Lake Forest was the most glamorous place in the world. Maybe it was.
I wonder if you’ve read anything this summer—I mean any one good book like The Brothers Karamazov or Ten Days That Shook the World or Renan’s Life of Christ. You never speak of your reading except the excerpts you do in college, the little short bits that they must perforce give you. I know you have read a few of the books I gave you last summer—then I have heard nothing from you on the subject. Have you ever, for example, read Pere Goriot or Crime and Punishment or even The Doll’s House or St. Matthew or Sons and Lovers? A good style simply doesn’t form unless you absorb half a dozen top-flight authors every year. Or rather it forms but instead of being a subconscious amalgam of all that you have admired, it is simply a reflection of the last writer you have read, a watered-down journalese.
This job has given me part of the money for your tuition and it comes so hard that I hate to see you spend it on a course like English Prose since 1800. Anybody that can’t read modern English prose by themselves is subnormal— and you know it. The chief fault in your style is its lack of distinction—something which is inclined to grow with the years. You had distinction once—there’s some in your diary —and the only way to increase it is to cultivate your own garden. And the only thing that will help you is poetry, which is the most concentrated form of style…
Example: You read Melanctha, which is practically poetry, and sold a New Yorker story—you read ordinary novels and sink back to a Kitty-Foyle-Diary level of average performance. The only sensible course for you at this moment is the one on English Poetry—Blake to Keats (English 241). I don’t care how clever the other professor is, one can’t raise a discussion of modern prose to anything above tea-table level. I’ll tell you everything she knows about it in three hours and guarantee that what each of us tells you will be largely wrong, for it will be almost entirely conditioned by our responses to the subject matter. It is a course for Clubwomen who want to continue on from Rebecca and Scarlett O’Hara…
Strange Interlude is good. It was good the first time, when Shaw wrote it and called it Candida. On the other hand you don’t pass an hour of your present life that isn’t directly influenced by the devastating blast of light and air that came with Ibsen’s Doll’s House. Nora wasn’t the only one who walked out of the Doll’s House—all the women in Gene O’Neill walked out too. Only they wore fancier clothes… Well, the old master wearies—the above is really good advice, Pie, in a line where I know my stuff. Unless you can break down your prose a little, it’ll stay on the ill-paid journalistic level. And you can do better.
It isn’t something easy to get started on by yourself. You need, at the beginning, some enthusiast who also knows his way around—John Peale Bishop performed that office for me at Princeton. I had always dabbled in “verse,” but he made me see, in the course of a couple of months, the difference between poetry and non-poetry. After that, one of my first discoveries was that some of the professors who were teaching poetry really hated it and didn’t know what it was about. I got in a series of endless scraps with them, so that finally I dropped English altogether…
Poetry is either something that lives like fire inside you— like music to the musician or Marxism to the Communist— or else it is nothing, an empty, formalized bore, around which pedants can endlessly drone their notes and explanations. The Grecian Urn is unbearably beautiful, with every syllable as inevitable as the notes in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or it’s just something you don’t understand. It is what it is because an extraordinary genius paused at that point in history and touched it. I suppose I’ve read it a hundred times. About the tenth time I began to know what it was about, and caught the chime in it and the exquisite inner mechanics. Likewise with the Nightingale, which I can never read through without tears in my eyes; likewise the Pot of Basil with its great stanzas about the two brothers: “Why were they proud, etc.”; and The Eve of Saint Agnes, which has the richest, most sensuous imagery in English, not excepting Shakespeare. And finally his three or four great sonnets: Bright Star and the others...
Knowing those things very young and granted an ear, one could scarcely ever afterwards be unable to distinguish between gold and dross in what one read. In themselves those eight poems are a scale of workmanship for anybody who wants to know truly about words, their most utter value for evocation, persuasion or charm. For awhile after you quit Keats all other poetry seems to be only whistling or humming.
Working among the poor has differing effects on people. If you’re poor yourself, you get their psychology and it’s broadening—for example, when a boy of the bourgeoisie ships before the mast on a tramp schooner where he has to endure the same privations as the seamen, undoubtedly he achieves something of their point of view forever. On the contrary, a Bennington girl spending a month in slum work and passing the weekend at her father’s mansion in Long Island gets nothing at all except a smug feeling that she is Lady Bountiful.
I can imagine the dinner party. I remember taking Zelda to the young * * * *’s when we were first married and it was a pretty frozen dish, though in general the places we went to even from the beginning were many flights up from the average business man’s menage. Business is a dull game, and they pay a big price in human values for their money. They are “all right when you get to know them.” I liked some of the young Princeton men in business, but I couldn’t stand the Yale and Harvard equivalents because we didn’t even have the common ground of the past. The women are empty twirps mostly, easy to seduce and not good for much else. I am not talking about natural society women like * * * * and * * * * and some others, who made their lives into pageants, almost like actresses.
However, you seem wise enough to see that there is something in …’s angle. College gives you a head start, especially a girl, and people are not in any hurry to live and think your way. It’s all a question of proportion: if you married an army officer you would live half a lifetime of kowtowing to your inferiors until your husband made his way to the top. If, as the chances are, you marry a business man—because for the present business absorbs most of the energetic and attractive boys—you will have to play your cards properly in the business hierarchy. That was why I have always hoped that life would throw you among lawyers or men who were going into politics or big time journalism. They lead rather larger lives.
Advertising is a racket, like the movies and the brokerage business. You cannot be honest without admitting that its constructive contribution to humanity is exactly minus zero. It is simply a means of making dubious promises to a credulous public. (But if you showed this letter to …, it would be the end of everything in short order, for a man must have his pride, and the more he realizes such a situation, the less he can afford to admit it.) If I had been promoted when I was an advertising man, given enough money to marry your mother in 1920, my life might have been altogether different. I’m not sure, though. People often struggle through to what they are in spite of any detours—and possibly I might have been a writer sooner or later anyhow.
I suppose anybody our age suspects what is emphasized —so let it go. But I was flat in bed from April to July last year with day and night nurses. Anyhow as you see from the letterhead I am now in official health.
I find, after a long time out here, that one develops new attitudes. It is, for example, such a slack soft place—even its pleasure lacking the fierceness or excitement of Provence —that withdrawal is practically a condition of safety. The sin is to upset anyone else, and much of what is known as “progress” is attained by more or less delicately poking and prodding other people. This is an unhealthy condition of affairs. Except for the stage-struck young girls people come here for negative reasons—all gold rushes are essentially negative—and the young girls soon join the vicious circle. There is no group, however small, interesting as such. Everywhere there is, after a moment, either corruption or indifference. The heroes are the great corruptionists or the supremely indifferent—by whom I mean the spoiled writers, Hecht, Nunnally Johnson, Dotty, Dash Hammet etc. That Dotty has embraced the church and reads her office faithfully every day does not affect her indifference. So is one type of commy Malraux didn’t list among his categories in Man’s Hope—but nothing would disappoint her so vehemently as success.
I have a novel pretty well on the road. I think it will baffle and in some ways irritate what readers I have left. But it is as detached from me as Gatsby was, in intent anyhow. The new Armegeddon, far from making everything unimportant, gives me a certain lust for life again. This is undoubtedly an immature throw-back, but it’s the truth. The gloom of all causes does not affect it—I feel a certain rebirth of kinetic impulses—however misdirected…
I would like to have some days with you and Sara. I hear distant thunder about Ernest and Archie and their doings but about you not a tenth of what I want to know.
Honey—that goes for Sara too:
I have written a dozen people since who mean nothing to me—writing you I was saving for good news. I suppose pride was concerned—in that personally and publicly dreary month of Sept. last about everything went to pieces all at once and it was a long uphill pull.
To summarize: I don’t have to tell you anything about the awful lapses and sudden reverses and apparent cures and thorough poisoning effect of lung trouble. Suffice to say there were months with a high of 99.8, months at 99.6 and then up and down and a stabilization at 99.2 every afternoon when I could write in bed—and now for 2 1/2 months and one short week that may have been grip—nothing at all. With it went a psychic depression over the finances and the effect on Scotty and Zelda. There was many a day when the fact that you and Sara did help me at a desperate moment… seemed the only pleasant human thing that had happened in a world where I felt prematurely passed by and forgotten. The thousands that I’d given and loaned—well, after the first attempts I didn’t even worry about that. There seem to be the givers and the takers and that doesn’t change. So you were never out of my mind—but even so no more present than always because this was only one of so many things.
In the land of the living again I function rather well. My great dreams about this place are shattered and I have written half a novel and a score of satiric pieces that are appearing in the current Esquires about it. After having to turn down a bunch of well paid jobs while I was ill there was a period when no one seemed to want me for duck soup —then a month ago a producer asked me to do a piece of my own for a small sum ($2000) and a share in the profits. The piece is Babylon Revisited and an old and not bad Post story of which the child heroine was named Honoria! I’m keeping the name.
It looks good. I have stopped being a prophet (3rd attempt at spelling this) but I think I may be solvent in a month or so if the fever keeps subservient to what the doctors think is an exceptional resistance…
So now you’re up to date on me and it won’t be so long again. I might say by way of counter-reproach that there’s no word of any of you in your letter. It is sad about … . Writing you today has brought back so much and I could weep very easily.
With dearest Love,
Glad you liked Death in Venice. I don’t see any connection between that and Dorian Gray, except that they both have an implied homosexuality. Dorian Gray is little more than a somewhat highly charged fairy tale which stimulates adolescents to intellectual activity at about seventeen (it did the same for you as it did for me). Sometime you will re-read it and see that it is essentially naive. It is in the lower ragged edge of “literature” just as Gone With the Wind is in the higher brackets of crowd entertainment. Death in Venice, on the other hand, is a work of art, of the school of Flaubert —yet not derivative at all. Wilde had two models for Dorian Gray: Balzac’s Le Peau de Chagrin and Huysmans’ A Rebours.
It’s odd that my old talent for the short story vanished. It was partly that times changed, editors changed, but part of it was tied up somehow with you and me—the happy ending…
It’s a fine novel, better than anybody else writing could do. Thanks for thinking of me and for your dedication. I read it with intense interest, participating in a lot of the writing problems as they came along and often quite unable to discover how you brought off some of the effects, but you always did. The massacre was magnificent and also the fight on the mountain and the actual dynamiting scene. Of the sideshows I particularly liked the vignette of Karkov and Pilar’s Sonata to death—and I had a personal interest in the Moseby guerilla stuff because of my own father. The scene in which the. father says goodbye to his son is very powerful. I’m going to read the whole thing again.
I never got to tell you how I like To Have and to Have Not either. There is observation and writing in that that the boys will be imitating with a vengeance—paragraphs and pages that are right up with Dostoiefski in their undeflected intensity.
Congratulations too on your new book’s great success. I envy you like hell and there is no irony in this. I always liked Dostoiefski with his wide appeal more than any other European—and I envy you the time it will give you to do what you want.
With Old Affection,
P.S. I came across an old article by John Bishop about how you lay four days under dead bodies at Caporetto and how I flunked out of Princeton (I left on a stretcher in November—you can’t flunk out in November) … What I started to say was that I do know something about you on the Italian front, from a man who was in your unit—how you crawled some hellish distance pulling a wounded man with you and how the doctors stood over you wondering why you were alive with so many perforations. Don’t worry—I won’t tell anybody. Not even Allan Campbell who called me up and gave me news of you the other day.
P.S. (2) I hear you are marrying one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. Give her my best remembrance.
I think my novel is good. I’ve written it with difficulty. It is completely upstream in mood and will get a certain amount of abuse but it is first hand and I am trying a little harder than I ever have to be exact and honest emotionally. I honestly hoped somebody else would write it but nobody seems to be going to.
With best to you both,
P.S. This sounds like a bitter letter—I’d rewite it except for a horrible paucity of time. Not even time to be bitter.
My novel is something of a mystery, I hope. I think it’s a pretty good rule not to tell what a thing is about until it’s finished. If you do, you always seem to lose some of it. It never quite belongs to you so much again.
A great social success is a pretty girl who plays her cards as carefully as if she were plain.
I felt all my life the absence of hobbies, except such for me abstract and academic ones as military tactics and football. Botany is such a definite thing. It has its feet on the ground. And after reading Thoreau I felt how much I have lost by leaving nature out of my life.
So many writers, Conrad for instance, have been aided by being brought up in a metier utterly unrelated to literature. It gives an abundance of material and, more important, an attitude from which to view the world. So much writing nowadays suffers both from lack of an attitude and from sheer lack of any material, save what is accumulated in a purely social life. The world, as a rule, does not live on beaches and in country clubs.
One time in sophomore year at Princeton, Dean West got up and rolled out the great lines of Horace:
“Integer vitae, scelerisque purus
Non eget Mauris iaculis neque arcu”—
—And I knew in my heart that I had missed something by being a poor Latin scholar, like a blessed evening with a lovely girl. It was a great human experience I had rejected through laziness, through having sown no painful seed.
It has been so ironic to me in after life to buy books to master subjects in which I took courses at college and which made no impression on me whatsoever. I once flunked a course on the Napoleonic era, and I now have over 300 books in my library on the subject and the other A scholars wouldn’t even remember it now. That was because I had made the mental tie-up that work equals something unpleasant, something to be avoided, something to be postponed. These scholars you speak of as being bright are no brighter than you, the great majority not nearly as quick, nor, probably, as well endowed with memory and perception, but they have made that tie-up, so that something does not stiffen in their minds at the mention that it is a set task. I am so sure that this is your trouble because you are so much like me and because, after a long time milling over the matter, I have concluded that it was mine. What an idiot I was to be disqualified for play by poor work when men of infinitely inferior capacity got high marks without any great effort.
I never blame failure—there are too many complicated situations in life—but I am absolutely merciless toward lack of effort.
The first thing I ever sold was a piece of verse to Poet Lore when I was twenty.
While my picture is going to be done, the producer is going to first do one that has been made for the brave …, who will defend his country in Hollywood (though summoned back by the British Government). This affects the patriotic and unselfish Scott Fitzgerald to the extent that I receive no more money from that source until the company gets around to it; so will return to my old standby Esquire.
How you could possibly have missed the answer to my first question I don’t know, unless you skipped pages 160 to 170 in Farewell To Arms. There’s nothing vague in these questions of mine but they require attention. I hope you’ve sent me the answer to the second question. The third question is based on the Book Ecclesiastes in the Bible. It is fifteen pages long and since you have it in your room you ought to get through it carefully in four or five days. As far as I am concerned, you can skip the wise-cracks in italics on pages 766, 767 and 768. They were written by somebody else and just stuck in there. But read carefully the little introduction on 754 and note also that I do not mean Ecclesiasticus, which is something entirely different. Remember when you’re reading it that it is one of the top pieces of writing in the world. Notice that Ernest Hemingway got a title from the third paragraph. As a matter of fact the thing is full of titles. The paragraph on page 756 sounds like the confession of a movie producer, even to the swimming pools.
Am glad you were reading about Twentieth Century Sophists. You meet them every day. They see their world falling to pieces and know all the answers, and are not going to do anything about it.
We have reached a censorship barrier in Infidelity, to our infinite disappointment. It won’t be Joan’s next picture and we are setting it aside awhile till we can think of a way of halfwitting halfwit Hayes and his legion of decency. Pictures needed cleaning up in 1932-33 (remember I didn’t like you to see them?), but because they were suggestive and salacious. Of course the moralists now want to apply that to all strong themes—so the crop of the last two years is feeble and false, unless it deals with children. Anyhow we’re starting a new story and a safe one.
About adjectives: all fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences. They make sentences move. Probably the finest technical poem in English is Keats’ Eve of Saint Agnes. A line like:
The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass, is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement—the limping, trembling, and freezing is going on before your own eyes. Would you read that poem for me, and report?
Don’t be a bit discouraged about your story not being tops. At the same time, I am not going to encourage you about it, because, after all, if you want to get into the big time, you have to have your own fences to jump, and learn from experience. Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together...
Let me preach again for a moment: I mean that what you have felt and thought will by itself invent a new style, so that when people talk about style they are always a little astonished at the newness of it, because they think that it is only style that they are talking about, when what they are talking about is the attempt to express a new idea with such force that it will have the originality of the thought. It is an awfully lonesome business, and, as you know, I never wanted you to go into it, but if you are going into it at all, I want you to go into it knowing the sort of things that took me years to learn.
All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.
The conclusion is: it will not win you financial independence or immortality. But you will be wise to publish it, if you can—if for no gain and only in a college magazine. It will give you a sense of your own literary existence, and put you in touch with others trying the same thing. In a literary way I cannot help you beyond a point. I might say that I don’t think anyone can write succinct prose unless they have at least tried and failed to write a good iambic pentameter sonnet, and read Browning’s short dramatic poems, etc.— but that was my personal approach to prose. Yours may be different, as Ernest Hemingway’s was. But I wouldn’t have written this long letter unless I distinguished, underneath the sing-song lilt of your narrative, some traces of a true rhythm that is ear-marked Scottina. There is as yet no honesty—the reader will say “So what?” But when in a freak moment you will want to give the low-down, not the scandal, not the merely reported but the profound essence of what happened at a prom or after it, perhaps that honesty will come to you—and then you will understand how it is possible to make even a forlorn Laplander feel the importance of a trip to Carrier’s!
Most of my contemporaries did not get started at twenty-two, but usually at about twenty-seven to thirty or even later, filling in the interval with anything from journalism [or] teaching [to] sailing a tramp-schooner and going to wars. The talent that matures early is usually of the poetic [type], which mine was in large part. The prose talent depends on other factors—assimilation of material and careful selection of it, or, more bluntly: having something to say and an interesting, highly developed way of saying it.
I’m going into a huddle on this script and probably won’t be able to write you again at length before Vassar starts. I read the story in College Bazaar and was very pleased with it. You’ve put in some excellent new touches and its only fault is the jerkiness that goes with a story that has often been revised. Stories are best written in either one jump or three, according to the length. The three-jump story should be done on three successive days, then a day or so for revise and off she goes. This of course is the ideal—in many stories one strikes a snag that must be hacked at, but, on the whole, stories that drag along or are terribly difficult (I mean a difficulty that comes from a poor conception and consequent faulty construction) never flow quite as well in the reading.
Again let me repeat that if you start any kind of a career following the footsteps of Cole Porter and Rogers and Hart, it might be an excellent try. Sometimes I wish I had gone along with that gang, but I guess I am too much a moralist at heart, and really want to preach at people in some acceptable form, rather than to entertain them.
I started Tom Wolfe’s book on your recommendation. It seems better than Time and the River. He has a fine inclusive mind, can write like a streak, has a great deal of emotion, though a lot of it is maudlin and inaccurate but his awful secret transpires at every crevice—he did not have anything particular to say! The stuff about the GREAT VITAL HEART OF AMERICA is just simply corny.
He recapitulates beautifully a great deal of what Walt Whitman said and Dostoevsky said and Nietzsche said and Milton said, but he himself, unlike Joyce and T. S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway, has nothing really new to add. All right—it’s all a mess and it’s too bad about the individual— so what? Most writers line themselves up along a solid gold bar like Ernest’s courage or Joseph Conrad’s art or D. H. Lawrence’s intense cohabitations, but Wolfe is too “smart” for this, and I mean smart in its most belittling and modern sense. Smart like Fadiman in the New Yorker, smart like the critics whom he so pretends to despise. However, the book doesn’t commit the cardinal sin: it doesn’t fail to live. But I’d like you to think sometime, how and in what way you think it is superior to such a piece of Zolaesque naturalism as Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” or if it is superior at all….
I’m taking a day off from my novel to go to the dentist, the doctor and my agent, to the latter in order to discuss picture business when and if I go back to it in February.
Once one is caught up into the material world, not one person in ten thousand finds the time to form literary taste, to examine the validity of philosophic concepts for himself or to form what, for lack of a better phrase, I might call the wise and tragic sense of life.
By this I mean the thing that lies behind all great careers, from Shakespeare’s to Abraham Lincoln’s, and as far back as there are books to read—the sense that life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming things are not “happiness and pleasure” but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle. Having learned this in theory from the lives and conclusions of great men, you can get a hell of a lot more enjoyment out of whatever bright things come your way.
You speak of how good your generation is, but I think they share with every generation since the Civil War in America the sense of being somehow about to inherit the earth. You’ve heard me say before that I think the faces of most American women over thirty are relief maps of petulant and bewildered unhappiness.
“Those debutante parties in New York are the rendezvous of a gang of professional idlers—parasites, pansies, failures, the silliest type of sophomores, young customers’ men from Wall Street and hangers-on. The very riff-raff of social New York who would exploit a child like Scottie with flattery and squeeze her out until she is a limp colorless rag. In one more year she can cope with them. In three more years it will be behind her. This year she is still puppy enough to be dazzled. She will be infinitely better off here with me than mixed up with that sort of people. I’d rather have an angry little girl on my hands for a few months than a broken neurotic for the rest of my life.” But I don’t have to tell you this —you probably read the Life article on the dim-witted … girl and the razz on her in the New Yorker.
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