Friday, January 23, 2009

All Fitzgerald's Cracked Up to Be

3. The Crack Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald (a collection of his essays, notebooks, and letters), edited by Edmund Wilson

I picked up this old paperback in a used book store. It's inspired in me an even deeper connection to "Fitz." Even though, at times, he had an even more bitter, apathetic outlook than I would have imagined, he's still so...pure. He stays faithful to his boyhood dreams and writing scruples till the end.

He writes continuously about how he missed out on dreams of football and battlefield glory, and the profound effect it had on his life and writing. His notebooks, though admirably organized, were admittedly a bit of a bore. The editor, an old friend of Fitzgerald's, claims they are best read with Tender Is the Night and The Last Tycoon, the first of which I have just started for the first time. This was really my first exposure to Fitzgerald's older work, so far I've only read TSOP, Beautiful and Damned, and Gatsby.

There were plenty of great quotes in his essays, but most were snatched up immediately. A slightly less ubiquitous one I liked was "In the real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning."

I was particularly fascinated with his letters to his daughter. He addresses her so intimately and familiarly, and not altogether kindly. There is a marked difference between those letters and his letters to his friends. In the latter, he is often complimenting and seeking advice, and he prefaces any criticism with apologies. His letters to his daughter often veer straight into condescending advice about every part of her life. But apparently she takes it well, he responds to questions and thoughts of hers. I should have liked to see her side of the letters as well, whether she addresses him teasingly or dutifully. He obviously has a great love for her, he calls her "Pie," and mostly just wants her to avoid his mistakes.

The thing about F. Scott Fitzgerald is, he knew he was great. He thought Hemenway was better, and he recognized when he wrote a stinky article or story, but he slaved over his novels until they were perfect. He expresses his surprise in one of his letters when The Beautiful and the Damned doesn't sell as well as This Side of Paradise. Personally, it would have baffled me as well. At least up until Gatsby, he just keeps getting better and better. I'm having trouble relating to Tender Is the Night right now, but hopefully I'll learn to appreciate it too.

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