F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scott Fitzgerald's prolific output of stories for magazines early in his career was distinguished by one that was undoubtedly great, many that could be called interesting.... more
Unbelievably, few people read The Great Gatsby when it was first published. In the roaring Twenties, its questioning of the American Dream may not have been.... more
F. Scott Fitzgerald
On books, writers and writing
Who in hell ever respected Shelley, Whitman, [Edgar Allan] Poe, O. Henry, Verlaine, Swinburne, Villon, [William] Shakespeare etc when they were alive. Shelley + Swinburne were fired from college; Verlaine + O Henry were in jail. The rest were drunkards or wasters and told generally by the merchants and petty politicians and jitney messiahs of their day that real people wouldn’t stand it And the merchants and messiahs, the shrewd + the dull, are dust—and the others live on.
Just occasionally a man like Shaw who was called an immoralist 50 times worse than me back in the 90ties, lives on long enough so that the world grows up to him. What he believed in 1890 was heresy then—by now it's almost respectable. It seems to me I’ve let myself be dominated by "authorities" for too long—the headmaster of Newman, S.P. A, Princeton, my regiment, my business boss—who knew no more than me, in fact I should say these 5 were all distinctly my mental inferiors. And that’s all that counts! The Rosseaus, Marxes, Tolstois—men of thought, mind you, "impractical" men, ‘idealist’ have done more to decide the food you eat and the things you think + do than all the millions of Roosevelts and Rockerfellars that strut for 20 yrs. or so mouthing such phrases as 100% American (which means 99% village idiot), and die with a little pleasing flattery to the silly and cruel old God they’ve set up in their hearts.
Reply to letter writer Robert D. Clark
My idea is always to reach my generation. The wise writer, I think, writes for the youth of his own generation, the critic of the next and the schoolmasters of ever afterward. Granted the ability to improve what he imitates in the way of style, to choose from his own interpretation of the experiences around him what constitutes material, and we get the first-water genius....
There’s no great literary tradition.... There’s only the tradition of the eventual death of every literary tradition. The wise literary son kills his own father....
By style, I mean colour.... I want to be able to do anything with words: handle slashing, flaming descriptions like [H.G.] Wells, and use the paradox with the clarity of Samuel Butler, the breadth of Bernard Shaw and the wit of Oscar Wilde, I want to do the wide sultry heavens of [Joseph] Conrad, the rolled-gold sundowns and crazyquilt skies of Hichens and Kipling as well as the pastelle dawns and twilights of [G.K.] Chesterton. ‘All that is by way of example. As a matter of fact I am a professed literary thief, hot after the best methods of every writer in my generation.’
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 one 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 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....
Nothing any good isn’t hard....
Letter to daughter Scottie
You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.
This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for [Charles] Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child's passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway's first stories "In Our Time" went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In "This Side of Paradise" I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.
The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he'll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.
That, anyhow, is the price of admission.
Letter to college student Frances Turnbull
Why don't you publish [Pat Hobby story "Between Planes"] under a pseudonymn—say John Darcy. I'm awfully tired of being Scott Fitzgerald anyhow as there doesn't seem to be so much money in it and I'd like to find out if people read me just because I'm Scott Fitzgerald or, what is more likely, don't read me for the same reason.
Letter to Esquire editor Arnold Gingrich