The General Subject of Conversation
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The General Subject of Conversation

Conversation like grace is a cultivated art. Only to the very few does it come naturally. You are as you know, not a good conversationalist and you might very naturally ask, “What do boys like to talk about?”

(1) Boys like to talk about themselves—much more than girls. A girl once, named Helen Walcott, told me (and she was the most popular debutante in Washington one winter) that as soon as she got a man talking about himself she had him cinched and harnessed—they give themself away. Here are some leading questions for a girl to use.

a) You dance so much better than you did last year.

b) How about giving me that sporty necktie when you’re thru with it.

c) You’ve got the longest eyelashes! (This will embarrass him, but he likes it)

d) I hear you’ve got a “line”!

e) Well who’s you’re latest crush?


a) When do you go back to school?

b) How long have you been home?

c) Its warm or the orchestra’s good or the floor’s good.

Also avoid any talk about relations or mutual friends. Its a sure sign you’re hard up for talk if you ask Jack Allen about Harriette or Tuby about Martha. Dont be afraid of slang—use it, but be careful to use the most modern and sportiest like “line”, camafluage etc. Never talk to a boy about about his school or college unless he’s done something special or unless he starts the subject. In a conversation its always good to start by talking about nothing —just some fresh camafluage; but start it yourself—never let the boy start it. Dont talk about your school—no matter where you go. Never sing no matter how big the chorus.


As you get a little old you’ll find that boys like to talk about such things as smoking and drinking. Always be very liberal—boys hate a prig—tell them you dont object to a girl smoking but dont like cigarettes yourself. Tell them you smoke only cigars—kid them!— When you’re old still you want always to have a line on the latest books plays and music. More men like that than you can imagine.

In your conversation always affect a complete frankness but really be only as frank as you wish to be. Never try to give a boy the affect that you’re popular—Ginevra always starts by saying she’s a poor unpopular woman without any beaux. Always pay close attention to the man. Look at him in his eyes if possible. Never effect boredom. Its terribly hard to do it gracefully Learn to be worldly. Remember in all society nine girls out of ten marry for money and nine men out of ten are fools.

Poise: Carriage: Dancing: Expression

(1) Poise depends on carriage, expression and conversation and having discussed the last and most important I’ll say a few words on the other two.

(2) A girl should hold herself straight. Margaret Armstrong’s slouch has lost her more attention than her lack of beauty. Even Sandy is critiscized for stooping. When you cross a room before people nine out of ten look at you and if you’re straight and self contained and have a graceful atheletic carriage most of them will remark on it. In dancing it is very important to hold yourself well and remember to dance hard. Dancers like Betty and Grace and Alice work hard. Alice is an entirely self made dancer. At sixteen she was no better than you, but she practised and tried. A dancer like Elizabeth Clarkson looses partners. You can not be lazy. You should try not to trow a bit of weight on the man and keep your mind on it enough to follow well. If you’d spent the time on dancing with me as I’ve often asked you instead of playing the piano you’d be a good dancer. Louis Araway taught Kit to dance the Castle walk one summer and as long as it lasted she was almost rushed at dances. And dancing counts as nothing else does.

(3) Expression that is facial expression, is one of your weakest points. A girl of your good looks and at your age ought to have almost perfect control of her face. It ought to be almost like a mask so that she’d have perfect control of any expression or impression she might wish to use.

(a) A good smile and one that could be assumed at will, is an absolute necesity. You smile on one side which is absolutely wrong. Get before a mirror and practise a smile and get a good one, a “radiant smile” ought to be in the facial vocubulary of every girl. Practise it—on girls, on the family. Practise doing it when you dont feel happy and when you’re bored. When youre embarrassed, when you’re at a disadvantage. Thats when you’ll have to use it in society and when you’ve practised a thing in calm, then only are you sure of it as a good weapon in tight places

(b) A laugh isn’t as important but its well to have a good one on ice. You natural one is very good, but your artificial one is bum. Next time you laugh naturally remember it and practise so you can do it any time you want. Practise Anywhere.

(c) A pathetic, appealing look is one every girl ought to have. Sandra and Ginevra are specialists at this: so is Ardita, Its best done by opening the eyes wide and drooping the mouth a little, looking upward (hanging the head a little) directly into the eyes of the man you’re talking to. Ginevra and Sandra use this when getting of their “I’m so unpopular speeches and indeed they use it about half the time. Practise this.

(d) Dont bit or twist your lips—its sure death for any expression

(e) The two expressions you have control over now are no good. One is the side smile and the other is the thoughtful look with the eyes half closed.

I’m telling you this because Mother and I have absolutely no control over our facial expressions and we miss it. Mother’s worse than I am—you know how people take advantage of what ever mood her face is in and kid the life out of her. —Well you’re young enough to get over it—tho’ you’re worse than I am now. The value of this practise is that whenever you’re at a disadvantage you dont show it and boys hate to see a girl at a disadvantage.

Practise Now

Dress and Personality.

(A) No two people look alike in the same thing, but very few realize it. Shop keepers make money on the fact that the fat Mrs. Jones will buy the hat that looked well on the thin Mrs. Smith. You’ve got to find your type. To do so always look at girls about your size and coloring and notice what they look well in. Never buy so much as a sash without the most careful consideration. Study your type. That is get your good points and accentuate them. For instance you have very good features—you ought to be able to wear jaunty hats and so forth.

(B) Almost all neatness is gained in man or woman by the arrangement of the hair. You have beautiful hair—you ought to be able to do something with it. Go to the best groomed girl in school and ask her and then wear it that way— Dont get tired and changed unless you’re sure the new way is better. Catherine Tie is dowdy about her hair lately. Dont I notice it? When Grace’s hair looks well—she looks well When its unkempt it looks like the devil. Sandy and Betty always look neat and its their hair that does it.


(C) I’ll line up your good points against your bad physically.

HairTeeth only fair
Good General SizePale complexion
Good FeaturesOnly fair figure
 Large hands and feet.

Now you see of the bad points only the last cannot be remedied. Now while slimness is a fashion you can cultivate it by exercise— Find out how from some girl. Exercise would give you a healthier skin. You should never rub cold cream into your face because you have a slight tendency to grow hairs on it. I’d find out about this from some Dr. who’d tell you what you could use in place of a skin cream.

(D) A girl should always be careful about such things as underskirt showing, long drawers showing under stockings, bad breath, mussy eyebrows (with such splendid eyebrows as yours you should brush them or wet them and train them every morning and night as I advised you to do long ago. They oughtn’t to have a hair out of place.

(E) Walk and general physical grace. The point about this is that you’ll be up against situations when ever you go out which will call for you to be graceful—not to physically clumsey. Now you can only attain this by practise because it no more comes naturally to you than it does to me. Take some stylish walk you like and imitate it. A girl should have a little class. Look what a stylish walk Eleanor and Grace and Betty have and what a homely walk Marie and Alice have. Just because the first three deliberatly practised every where until now its so natural to them that they cant be ungraceful— This is true about every gesture. I noticed last Saturday that your gestures are awkward and so unnatural as to seem affected. Notice the way graceful girls hold their hands and feet. How they stoop, wave, run and then try because you cant practise those things when men are around. Its too late then. They ought to be secretive then

(F) General Summing Up.

(1) Dress scrupulously neatly and then forget your personal appearance. Every stocking should be pulled up to the last wrinkle.

(2) Dont wear things like that fussy hat that aren’t becoming to you— At least buy no more. Take someone who knows with you—some one who really knows.

(3) Conform to your type no matter what looks well in the store

(4) Cultivate deliberate physical grace. You’ll never have it if you dont. I’ll discuss dancing in a latter letter.

G. You see if you get any where and feel you look alright then there’s one worry over and one bolt shot for self-confidence—and the person you’re with, man, boy, woman, whether its Aunt Millie or Jack Allen or myself likes to feel that the person they’re sponsoring is at least externally a credit.

Not Published (written in 1918 in a form of letter to Scott's siter Annabelle).