We know more about F. Scott Fitzgerald than about any other American writer of this century because he was a compulsive self-historiographer. More than authorial ego compelled him to document himself so fully and so painfully. These Notebooks were his workshop and chronicle. They were his literary bankroll. They were also his confessional.
Fitzgerald had a keen awareness of history—and of himself as the product of history. He understood that he was an exemplary figure (serving as a pattern; serving as a warning; serving as a type). Perhaps he even sensed what the mytho-historical process would later make of him. The Notebooks were assembled not during the Twenties when Fitzgerald seemed to have the Midas touch, but during the Thirties when everything that he touched crumbled. They document three periods: the writing of Tender Is the Night (1932-1934), the Crack-Up (1935-1937), and the Hollywood exile with the comeback of The Last Tycoon (1937-1940). This was a time of self-assessment for Fitzgerald—a time of endings. The concept of “lastness” echoes through Fitzgerald’s life and work. He wrote about “The Last of the Belles” and The Last Tycoon. In the Notebooks he observed, “I am the last of the novelists for a long time now. “This designation may be understood in terms of his allegiances to older American values. Fitzgerald may have been the last novelist committed to belief in the promises and possibilities of American life. He saw himself as coming at the end of a complex American historical process and identified with it. Malcolm Cowley has noted that it was as though Fitzgerald wrote in a room full of clocks and calendars. (He did, in fact, have an historical chart on his study wall.) Moreover, Fitzgerald accepted the symbolic roles that were assigned to him. He was fortune’s darling in the Jazz Age—which he named. He was the shell-shocked casualty of the Depression.
The term “fragile” has often been applied to Fitzgerald. But, as these Notebooks show, his talent had tensile strength. It may have been the strength of weakness, but his talent did not break. At the end of his life Fitzgerald was writing as well as ever, and The Last Tycoon endures as the most heart-breaking fragment in American literature.
There are many impressive qualities in the Notebooks—wit, pathos, imagination, sensitivity—yet the dominant impression is of Fitzgerald’s literary intelligence. One of his stereotyped images is that he was an ignorant genius who did not understand his gift. His Notebooks correct that sloppy assumption. Although he bitterly regretted that he had been an indifferent custodian of his genius, he understood profoundly well the claims of his craft. F. Scott Fitzgerald on the subject of writing merits close attention. As James Dickey has testified, “These Notebooks make writers of us all.”
As a Princeton undergraduate F. Scott Fitzgerald acquired a copy of The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (New York: Dutton, ) on 14 April 1917. At this time he had formed the ambition to become one of the greatest writers who ever lived and was seeking models for literary conduct. On 19 September 1919 Fitzgerald inscribed his copy: “The most interesting human document ever written.” This testimonial was written the day after Fitzgerald received Maxwell Perkins’s letter accepting This Side of Paradise for publication by Scribners—indicating that he had returned to Butler’s Note-Books for guidance.
It is not known when Fitzgerald began assembling his Notebooks. The evidence suggests that it was after May 1932, when he moved to “La Paix” outside of Baltimore. One of the binders was purchased from Meyer & Thalheimer, a Baltimore stationer. At “La Paix” Fitzgerald hired his first secretary, one of whose duties was to type the entries for the Notebooks. Fitzgerald did not type; all the entries were typed by his secretaries. Although he added to them for the rest of his life, Fitzgerald does not seem to have been compulsive about maintaining his Notebooks—as the miscellaneous late notes appended here indicate. The Notebooks were probably regarded as something to occupy his secretaries whenever there was no pressing work.
Fitzgerald began keeping his Notebooks with a special purpose in mind. He needed a place in which to bank the strippings from his short stories—as well as to record ideas or observations. When Fitzgerald determined that one of his stories was not to be reprinted, he culled from it the passages he regarded as worth using in a novel. These passages were preserved in his Notebooks. One of the main functions of the editorial material in this edition is to identify the story strippings. Some are from abandoned stories and cannot be identified. Others have no doubt eluded the editor.
Edmund Wilson included sixty percent of the Notebooks entries in The Crack-Up (New York: New Directions, 1945), with alterations. The present edition publishes the complete Notebooks, to which is appended a selection from the loose notes that are now with The Last Tycoon manuscripts at the Princeton University Library. Most of these loose notes—typed or in Fitzgerald’s hand— are related to the work-in-progress on the unfinished Hollywood novel, but some are of a general nature. The editor has made a selection from these miscellaneous notes, restricting himself to those which do not seem to bear directly on The Last Tycoon.
The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald is not “The most interesting human document ever written”; but it is one of the most interesting and usable documents we have from a writer from whom we can never have too much.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebooks at the Princeton University Library are in two spring binders with alphabetized index separators. The pages are typed on 8 1/2’’x 11” white paper—except for yellow sheets 1-17 inserted after Z. The white sheets are unnumbered, and it is possible that they are not now in their original order.
Fitzgerald did not number the entries in his Notebooks. The identification numbers have been supplied by the editor to facilitate reference.
This volume publishes the complete Notebooks from the two binders with a selection of miscellaneous notes. The notes are printed without emendation—except for obvious typewriter spacing problems and strike-overs (”inthe” is printed as “in the”; “t he is printed as “the”). Spaced hyphens are treated as dashes. All brackets are Fitzgerald’s brackets. Notes that he deleted have been omitted. Because the Notebooks were typed by secretaries from batches of Fitzgerald’s holograph notes and magazine tearsheets, a number of entries were repeated. This edition of the Notebooks does not include repeated entries—except in cases where the repetition may have been intended for use in different contexts: see entries 348 and 1179, 512 and 1903. Notes that Fitzgerald marked for transfer to other sections have been moved. The “Supplementary Notes” include Fitzgerald’s letter designations indicating the Notebooks sections into which he intended to insert each entry. When Fitzgerald corrected a typed entry in holograph, it has been printed as he corrected it. The significance of Fitzgerald’s starred notes has not been determined, but his stars have been retained. Check marks have been omitted. (Andrew Turnbull added circles or zeros in the margins of the Notebooks to indicate entries that were not included in The Crack-Up. These marks have not been retained.)
The following people helped me: Alexander Clark, Glenda Fedricci, Michael Havener, Carol Johnston, Laura Myers, Harriet Oglesbee, Mardel Pacheco, Jean Rhyne, Peter Shepherd, Agnes Sherman, Willard Starks, Susan Walker, Joyce Werner, and Cara White. I owe a great debt to the Department of Special Collections at the Princeton University Library: this volume could not have been published without the generous assistance of Richard Ludwig and his efficient staff. And I am especially obligated to Karen Rood, who collaborated with me on the explanatory notes.