January 16, 2011

The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edited by Andrew Turnbull

A Life in Letters – Here is F. Scott Fitzgerald multi-tasking: managing his career as he writes to Maxwell Perkins; navigating a rocky but resilient relationship with his friend and competitor, Ernest Hemingway; offering advice and guidance to his daughter, Frances, and his wife, Zelda; negotiating with his agent, Harold Ober; and sharing stories with his friends Edmund Wilson and Gerald and Sara Murphy while exchanging ideas, opinions, apologies and thanks with numerous others, including Gertrude Stein, H.L. Mencken and Charles Scribner. The letters are full of wisdom, wisecracks and even some whining; they also contain more than a few true gems. An example? Look at a letter to Dayton Kohler penned about 18 months before Fitzgerald’s untimely death in 1940. Kohler had written Fitzgerald with the idea of publishing a survey of contemporary literature. In replying, Fitzgerald suggests that Kohler’s project “would depend rather on its unity than its variety.” And Fitzgerald continues: “… your list includes so much of the mediocre, so many men who are already covered with dust, that I cannot find a line through it. If you’d confine yourself to twelve contemporaries, instead of fifty, you would find, I think, that they swept up everything worth saying. Perhaps I am wrong. Some people seem to look on our time as a sort of swollen Elizabethan age, simply crawling with geniuses. The necessity of the artist in every generation has been to give his work permanence in every way by a safe shaping and a constant pruning, lest he be confused with the journalistic material that has attracted lesser men.” Good advice, then and now, from one of America’s greatest writers.


Anonymous Mark Wukas said...

What I found great about these letters is all the lacunae, e.g., his saying that "Winter Dreams" was a first draft of The Great Gatsby, something that stuck to my ribs. In his college fiction, though, I think I found the real first draft of Gatsby in a story titled, "The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw." But I digress. These letters just made my heart ache for this "poor son of a bitch."

January 17, 2011  

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