A Life in Letters

Overview

"I doubt if, after all, I'll ever write anything again worth putting in print." F. Scott Fitzgerald was twenty-six when he wrote this lament to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, in 1923 - two years before Scribners published The Great Gatsby. Soon after Gatsby appeared, Fitzgerald wrote to H. L. Mencken, "I think the book is so far a commercial failure - at least it was two weeks after publication - hadn't reached 20,000 yet." Gatsby turned out all right in the end. But while Fitzgerald's roller-coaster reputation fell precipitously in the years
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Overview

"I doubt if, after all, I'll ever write anything again worth putting in print." F. Scott Fitzgerald was twenty-six when he wrote this lament to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, in 1923 - two years before Scribners published The Great Gatsby. Soon after Gatsby appeared, Fitzgerald wrote to H. L. Mencken, "I think the book is so far a commercial failure - at least it was two weeks after publication - hadn't reached 20,000 yet." Gatsby turned out all right in the end. But while Fitzgerald's roller-coaster reputation fell precipitously in the years approaching his death in 1940, his stature in American literature has risen steadily in the five decades that followed - the strongest restoration in American literary history. Yet his life and work have remained obscured by myth and misconceptions. In this new collection of his letters, edited by leading Fitzgerald scholar and biographer Matthew J. Bruccoli, we see through his own words the artistic and emotional maturation of one of America's most enduring and elegant authors. A Life in Letters is the most comprehensive volume of Fitzgerald's letters - many of them appearing in print for the first time. The fullness of the selection and the chronological arrangement make this collection the closest thing to an autobiography Fitzgerald ever wrote. While many readers are familiar with Fitzgerald's legendary "jazz age" social life and his friendships with Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Edmund Wilson, and other famous authors, few are aware of his writings about his life and his views on writing. Letters to his editor Maxwell Perkins illustrate the development of Fitzgerald's literary sensibility; those to his friend and competitor Ernest Hemingway reveal their difficult friendship. The most poignant letters here were written to his wife, Zelda, from the time of their courtship in Montgomery, Alabama, during World War I to her extended convalescence in a sanatorium near Asheville, North Carolina. Fitzgerald is by turns affe
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Organized chronologically, this correspondence--edited by eminent Fitzgerald scholar Bruccoli and freelance writer, Baughman--offers an accessible self-portrait of the writer 1896-1940. Early letters to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, and friends, Edmund Wilson and Ernest Hemingway, document Fitzgerald's devotion to craft, exemplified by The Great Gatsby 1925, as well as the novelist's ever-present financial problems, which kept him churning out short stories for the magazine market. Letters to his wife, Zelda--when she was hospitalized for mental illness--detail the destruction of their marriage. Fitzgerald felt it was caused by Zelda's problems, while she blamed Fitzgerald's alcoholism a letter giving her version is included. A bitter letter Fitzgerald wrote to their daughter, Scottie, accuses Zelda of wrecking his health and talent. Despite his lack of perspective and his difficult life, Fitzgerald comes across, unsurprisingly, as warm, witty and effervescent. July
Library Journal
With a series of definitive editions of his novels currently in production and the recent release of a major biography Scott Fitzgerald, LJ 4/1/94, the Fitzgerald renaissance is on. Although collections of Fitzgerald's letters have appeared before, the intent of this assemblage is to unfurl Scott's life through his private words. To that end, these missives, which range from brief telegrams to lengthy gospels, are divided into five sections by years and major episodes in Scott's life, e.g., ``Europe, The Great Gatsby: 1924-1930.'' Also included throughout are facsimiles of several of the originals. The surprisingly pleasant tone of the letters belie all the horrors Fitzgerald had stored up in his ghostly heart, including the alcoholism and madness lurking backstage. Essential reading for a full understanding of Fitzgerald as an artist and a man, this collection should be purchased by serious American literature collections.-Michael Rogers, ``Library Journal''
Donna Seaman
There's a bit of a Fitzgerald resurgence going on what with Jeffrey Meyers' excellent new biography , and now this, the first collection of Fitzgerald's letters to be published in 30 years. Bruccoli is a productive and enthusiastic Fitzgerald maven, having edited collections of Fitzgerald's poems and stories as well as critical literature and a collection of Zelda Fitzgerald's writings before putting together this utterly fascinating volume. Fitzgerald was a profoundly literary man who wrote remarkably forceful and revealing letters. He's sly and charming, blunt and cocky, insecure and ambitious, and capable of a bone-chilling objectivity about everyone, even those closest to him. Naturally, the most compelling letters analyze his catastrophic marriage. Zelda's severe mental illness placed a tremendous emotional, financial, spiritual, and artistic burden on Fitzgerald, and his letters to various psychiatrists and friends disclose just how tangled up he and Zelda were and how much it impacted his writing. His stern yet concerned letters to his daughter, Scottie, are also of great interest. On the more professional front are Fitzgerald's detailed letters to Maxwell Perkins, Edmund Wilson, John O'Hara, and Ernest Hemingway. In all, this is a powerful form of autobiography.
From the Publisher
James Dickey A Life in Letters is the closest thing to an F. Scott Fitzgerald autobiography, which is much to be cherished.

J.T. Barbarese Philadelphia Inquirer The letters reveal a powerful and unsparing literary intelligence...extraordinary.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684195704
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 7/18/1994
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1896, attended Princeton University, and published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920. That same year he married Zelda Sayre and the couple divided their time among New York, Paris, and the Riviera, becoming a part of the American expatriate circle that included Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos. Fitzgerald was a major new literary voice, and his masterpieces include The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night. He died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of forty-four, while working on The Love of the Last Tycoon. For his sharp social insight and breathtaking lyricism, Fitzgerald is known as one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century.

Biography

The greatest writers often function in multifaceted ways, serving as both emblems of their age and crafters of timeless myth. F. Scott Fitzgerald surely fits this description. His work was an undeniable product of the so-called Jazz Age of the 1920s, yet it has a quality that spans time, reaching backward into gothic decadence and forward into the future of a rapidly decaying America. Through five novels, six short story collections, and one collection of autobiographical pieces, Fitzgerald chronicled a precise point in post-WWI America, yet his writing resonates just as boldly today as it did nearly a century ago.

Fitzgerald's work was chiefly driven by the disintegration of America following World War I. He believed the country to be sinking into a cynical, Godless, depraved morass. He was never reluctant to voice criticism of America's growing legions of idle rich. Recreating a heated confrontation with Ernest Hemingway in a short story called "The Rich Boy," Fitzgerald wrote, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."

The preceding quote may sum Fitzgerald's philosophy more completely than any other, yet he also hypocritically embodied much of what he claimed to loathe. Fitzgerald spent money freely, threw lavish parties, drank beyond excess, and globe-trotted with his glamorous but deeply troubled wife Zelda. Still, in novel after novel, he sought to expose the great chasm that divided the haves from the have-nots and the hollowness of wealth. In This Side of Paradise (1920) he cynically follows opulent, handsome Amory Blaine as he bounces aimlessly from Princeton to the military to an uncertain, meaningless future. In The Beautiful and the Damned (1922) Fitzgerald paints a withering portrait of a seemingly idyllic marriage between a pair of socialites that crumbles in the face of Adam Patch's empty pursuit of profit and the fading beauty of his vane wife Gloria.

The richest example of Fitzgerald's disdain for the upper class arrived three years later. The Great Gatsby is an undoubted American classic, recounting naïve Nick Carraway's involvement with a coterie of affluent Long Islanders, and his ultimate rejection of them when their casual decadence leads only to internal back-stabbing and murder. Nick is fascinated by the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who had made the fatal mistake of stepping outside of his lower class status to pursue the lovely but self-centered Daisy Buchanan.

In The Great Gatsby, all elements of Fitzgerald's skills coalesced to create a narrative that is both highly readable and subtly complex. His prose is imbued with elegant lyricism and hard-hitting realism. "It is humor, irony, ribaldry, pathos and loveliness," Edwin C. Clark wrote of the book in the New York Times upon its 1925 publication. "A curious book, a mystical, glamorous story of today. It takes a deeper cut at life than hitherto has been essayed by Mr. Fitzgerald."

Gatsby is widely considered to be Fitzgerald's masterpiece and among the very greatest of all American literature. It is the ultimate summation of his contempt for the Jazz-Age with which he is so closely associated. Gatsby is also one of the clearest and saddest reflections of his own destructive relationship with Zelda, which would so greatly influence the mass of his work.

Fitzgerald only managed to complete one more novel -- Tender is the Night -- before his untimely death in 1940. An unfinished expose of the Hollywood studio system titled The Love of the Last Tycoon would be published a year later. Still The Great Gatsby remains his quintessential novel. It has been a fixture of essential reading lists for decades and continues to remain an influential work begging to be revisited. It has been produced for the big screen three times and was the subject of a movie for television starring Toby Stephens, Mira Sorvino, and Paul Rudd as recently as 2000. Never a mere product of a bygone age, F. Scott Fitzgerald's greatest work continues to evade time.

Good To Know

In 1937, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood to pursue a screenwriting career. He only completed a single screenplay Three Comrades during this time before being fired for his excessive drinking.

He held a very romantic view of Princeton before attending the university in 1913. However, his failure to maintain adequate grades or become the football star he dreamed to be lead to an early end to his studies in 1917.

Fitzgerald owes a his name to another famous American writer. He was named after Francis Scott Key, the composer of "The Star Spangled Banner," who also happened to be a distant relative of Fitzgerald's.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (real name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 24, 1896
    2. Place of Birth:
      St. Paul, Minnesota
    1. Date of Death:
      December 21, 1940

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
A Brief Life of Fitzgerald
Letters: 1907-1940
1907-1919
1919-1924
1924-1930
1930-1937
1937-1940
Biographical Notes
Index
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