F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Contemporaries
by William Goldhurst


The following letters, all of which are taken from the correspondence files of The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers at Princeton Library, are examples of the tone of Fitzgerald's relations with literary people over the total span of his career. Several of them—such as those from James Branch Cabell, Thornton Wilder, and Louis Bromfield—are from writers to whom Fitzgerald was not particularly close; others reveal a deeper and more personal understanding between the correspondents. I have deliberately included here something of a random and varied sampling: the letters are from persons older and younger than Fitzgerald as well as from exact contemporaries, and they comment on works as different from each other as This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, and “The Crack-Up.” But they all show the mutual interest and spirit that characterized Fitzgerald's life and his era.


Dec. 29, 1920

Dear Mr. Fitzgerald:

When I received your wife's delightful letter telling of her need of a copy of Jurgen against your Christmasing, I was doubly glad of my forethought in having laid in a small “private stock” between the time of the book's suppression and the time the news reached the Richmond dealers. It enabled me, you see, to express tangibly the interest and hopes awakened by This Side of Paradise— Oh, yes, I admired a great deal and quite cordially, but I optimistically insist upon regarding the book as a prophecy forerunning even finer books.

I hope—though probably that is asking too much of human nature at your time of life—that you will not be very much spoiled by the book's, quite merited, success. I can imagine no book which, in view of all the circumstances, could be more interesting reading than your second novel will be perforce. For you seem to have all the gifts… .

James Branch Cabell, Dumbarton Grange, Dumbarton, Virginia


Jan. 12, 1928

I have been an admirer, not to say a student of The Great Gatsby too long not to have got a great kick out of your letter. It gives me the grounds to hope that we may sometime have some long talks on what writing's all about. As you see I am a provincial school-master and have always worked alone. And yet nothing interests me more than thinking of our generation as a league and as a protest tothe whole  cardboard generation that precedes  us from Wharton through Cabell and Anderson and Sinclair Lewis.

Thornton Wilder Lawrenceville


Letter of Introduction to Tristan Tzara

25 May, 1928

M. et Mme. Scott Fitzgerald. II est le romancier le plus doue non seulement de nos jeunes, mais de tous nos ecrivains, et quant a elle, vous verrez comme elle a une genie tout a fait particuliere.

Gilbert Seldes


Undated (c. 1934)

Dear Scott:

It is I should think permanent [the reference is to Tender Is the Night]. That we should see deeper into it than the older or younger reader is inevitable. They don't know what it's about. I've just embarked on a ponderous novel on the same theme… . I'm going the whole hog. My “hero,” surrounded by all the blessings in the world, simply goes out to the garage and shoots himself—fifteen years after the war. Anyway it is all a fascinating business, this writing. As to the “younger generation” most of them seem pretty “arty” and self-conscious and the hard-boiled school is the most tiresome of all. Perhaps when they become middle-aged like ourselves they'll outgrow it. We did have [?] the Golden Age. Hot or cold, we were very lucky. I never knew it more profoundly than during the past winter when a lot of Princeton undergraduates crossed my path.

Louis Bromfield


Feb. 7, 1935

Dear Scott:

There was no one whose opinion on Act of Darkness I waited for with more eagerness and trepidation. You can guess, therefore, with what pleasure and appreciation I read your long and generous letter… .

The matter of influences I shall ponder. I have my weakness that way. The remark on p. 148 is Ernest's: I adopted it from his conversation, when I talked to him about leaving Hadley; I did not know he had used it in a book. Perhaps he hasn't, but it still shows that writers cannot prey on each other, even as living beings. And there are a number of Charlie's remarks which came from literary guys: three at least from Cummings…

But I thank you from the bottom of my heart and from the top too and all the circumference for your kindness and your praise. It means so much to me that you approve the novel.


John Peale Bishop, New Orleans, La.


June 2, 1935

I greatly appreciated your letter. You are one of the two or three people who are generous enough to be concerned with my literary career, and you have done more than anyone else to forward it. And of this I am constantly aware and for it most grateful… .


John Peale Bishop, New Orleans, La.


Undated (c. 1936)

I've just finished “The Great Gatsby” again— You were wise so young— I'm only beginning to know some of the things you must have been born knowing— The book resolves itself into the strangest feeling of a crystal globe, or one of the immense soap bubbles we achieved as children, if it could hold its shape and color without breaking —it is so beautiful, it is so clairvoyant, it is so heartbreaking—

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings


Feb. 17, 1936

…being so completely in and of an era—for belonging so completely to the Jazz Age that when it went, I had to go…

Never again do I expect to write anything that I shall not be slightly ashamed of.

That is the deepest hurt of these depths; to know that never again… .

The present age is such a hollow mess of futility… . We were futile, of course, but we had gusto, a certain peculiar tenderness, a funny kind of idealism, and a good deal of background. If we tried to kick standards in the ass, at least the standards were there. Now there's nothing except excruciating vulgarity and smart-aleckism.

John V. A. Weaver

[Weaver, one of Fitzgerald's old friends from the twenties, wrote this letter soon after Fitzgerald's “Crack-Up” articles appeared in Esquire. Early paragraphs of the letter, omitted here, advise Fitzgerald that Weaver is in complete sympathy with Fitzgerald's pessimistic frame of mind during this period.]


April 5, 1939

Dear Mr. Fitzgerald:

I never thanked you for your kindness to me in the preface to the Modern Library edition of “The Great Gatsby.” When I read it, I got a great lift just at a time when I needed one badly, if I was to go on writing.

Somehow or other I seem to have slipped in between all the “schools.” My books meet no needs except my own, their circulation is practically private and I'm lucky to be published. And yet, I only have a desire to remedy all that before sitting down to write, once begun I do it my way. I forget the broad sweep, the big canvas, the shot-gun adjectives, the important people, the significant ideas, the lessons to be taught, the epic Thomas Wolfe, the realistic James Farrell;—and go on making what one critic called “private and unfunny jokes.” Your preface made me feel that they weren't completely private and maybe not even entirely jokes.

Nathanael West

West died on December 22, 1940—one day after the death of Fitzgerald. The previous year Fitzgerald had praised West's works in his Introduction to the Modern Library edition of The Great Gatsby.

The End.

Published in F. Scott Fitzgerald and His Contemporaries by William Goldhurst (Cleveland: World, 1963).