The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Big Read Author in the News: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Carl Van Vechten. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-54231]

With a new movie of The Great Gatsby in the works, F. Scott Fitzgerald is showing up more and more in the news these days. But even outside of the Hollywood press, outlets such as the New Yorker and NPR are shining a new light onto this great literary figure.

In the August 6, 2012 issue, the New Yorker included a previously unpublished short story by Fitzgerald, Thank You for the Light. In 1936 Fitzgerald submitted this story about a traveling corset saleswoman, Mrs. Hanson, whose only comfort is in cigarettes. But although the magazine published three short stories and two poems of his between 1929 and 1937, they declined this story with a note that reads: "We’re afraid that this Fitzgerald story is altogether out of the question. It seems to us so curious and so unlike the kind of thing we associate with him, and really too fantastic. We would give a lot, of course, to have a Scott Fitzgerald story and I hope that you will send us something that seems more suitable. Thank you, anyhow, for letting us see this." You can read the full story on the New Yorker's website. And learn why the New Yorker gave this story a second life in this podcast with New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman.

The website Letters of Note included two features on Fitzgerald this summer. The first is a series of letters between Fitzgerald and his editor about The Great Gatsby. Despite becoming his most well-known masterpiece, in the first letter Gatsby writes, "(I think that at last I've done something really my own), but how good 'my own' is remains to be seen." In his reply, the editor, Maxwell E. Perkins, assures his anxious writer, "I think the novel is a wonder. I'm taking it home to read again and shall then write my impressions in full;---but it has vitality to an extraordinary degree, and glamour, and a great deal of underlying thought of unusual quality." It is fascinating to read the discourse between the two as they discuss such details as the vagueness about how Gatsby acquired his wealth and how Fitzgerald reveals that his favorite chapter of the novel is where Daisy and Gatsby meet.

Letters of Note also features a letter from Fitzgerald to an aspiring writer and friend of the family. Speaking frankly, Fitzgerald tells the writer that her story isn't ready to be published and also reveals his own outlook into the price that must be paid to be a successful writer: "[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. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is 'nice' is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the 'works.' You wouldn't be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave."

Lastly, it's a little-known fact to those in the Washington, DC, area that Fitzgerald's grave is just outside of DC in Rockville, Maryland, where he is buried in a family plot with his wife Zelda and daughter Scottie. NPR's Morning Edition tells the story of how Fitzgerald came to rest at Rockville's St. Mary's Church after first being refused burial on the grounds that he wasn't a "practicing" Catholic at his death. Fresh Air's books critic Maureen Corrigan describes how when finally gaining permission for Fitzgerald to be buried alongside his father at St. Mary's, Scottie chose to inscribe the final lines of The Great Gatsby on Fitzgerald's grave stone: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Corrigan believes these lines were chosen as a challenge to Americans: "What those last lines are asking us to think about is whether or not it's a worthless effort to try to get ahead, run faster, be stronger, in light of the fact that ultimately we all die and are pulled back into the past, or whether that's what makes us great, that we do try."



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