A Short Autobiography

A Short Autobiography

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by F. Scott Fitzgerald, James L. W. West III
     
 

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A self-portrait of a great writer. A Short Autobiography charts Fitzgerald's progression from exuberant and cocky with "What I think and Feel at 25", to mature and reflective with "One Hundred False Starts" and "The Death of My Father." Compiled and edited by Professor James West, this revealing collection of personal essays and articles reveals the

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Overview

A self-portrait of a great writer. A Short Autobiography charts Fitzgerald's progression from exuberant and cocky with "What I think and Feel at 25", to mature and reflective with "One Hundred False Starts" and "The Death of My Father." Compiled and edited by Professor James West, this revealing collection of personal essays and articles reveals the beloved author in his own words.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
At the time of his death, Fitzgerald had not published an autobiographical work of any sort—something almost unimaginable in today's climate. Now James L.W. West III, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, has gathered 19 personal essays written from 1920 to 1940 and arranged them chronologically to disclose Fitzgerald's life story. From "What I Think and Feel at 25" to "One Hundred False Starts," these essays would seem to serve as an intellectual autobiography and should inspire Fitzgerald readers new or returning. With all the maundering memoirs out there, it should be a pleasure to read something like this, which carries more weight.
Kirkus Reviews

The title suggests something more significant than this collection of magazine essays delivers.

While the preface promises that this is "as close as we can now come to an autobiography" of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), most of these pieces for the likes of the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, College Humor et al. are breezy and slight, lacking the scope, depth and detail of autobiography—you'd never know from this volume that he'd wed a woman named Zelda or the nature of the troubles that ensued—let alone the richness of his fiction. Frequently strapped for cash, Fitzgerald had apparently proposed such a volume on at least a couple of occasions to his legendary editor Maxwell Perkins, who didn't think it to be worthy of a book. In fact, the title comes from one of the shorter pieces, a New Yorker casual from 1929 that traces a life through a progression of drink ("1923: Oceans of Canadian Ale with R. Lardner in Great Neck, Long Island"). Yet Fitzgerald fans will delight in the book's engagingly playful tone (which has the author switching from first to third person in referring to himself), the struggles of the creative process ("It would be nice to be able to distinguish useful work from mere labor expended. Perhaps that is part of the work itself—to find the difference") and the sense of literary mission in speaking to and for one's own generation. In the cheeky "What I Think and Feel at 25," Fitzgerald writes, "As old people run the world, an enormous camouflage has been built up to hide the fact that only young people are attractive or important." But, as the same essay acknowledges, "When I'm thirty I won't bethisme—I'll be somebody else."

This volume will mainly interest those who have already read everything else by and about the author ofThe Great Gatsby.

From the Publisher
"An intellectual autobiography [that] should inspire Fitzgerald readers new or returning...a pleasure to read." -Library Journal

“Jaunty, funny, sparkling, and self-mocking, and beneath the glinting wit, deeply reflective.” –Booklist

“Frequently funny and fast-paced.” –Associated Press

“Fitzgerald never wrote an autobiography, but this is the next best thing: A collection of 19 personal essays written over the course of his career. They include lighthearted, amusing pieces clearly designed to appeal to magazine editors and casual readers, as well as grimmer fare carved from the center of a broken heart..” –Chicago Tribune

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439199060
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
08/02/2011
Edition description:
Original
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
863,500
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Who’s Who—and Why

The history of my life is the history of the struggle between an overwhelming urge to write and a combination of circumstances bent on keeping me from it.

When I lived in St. Paul and was about twelve I wrote all through every class in school in the back of my geography book and first year Latin and on the margins of themes and declensions and mathematic problems. Two years later a family congress decided that the only way to force me to study was to send me to boarding school. This was a mistake. It took my mind off my writing. I decided to play football, to smoke, to go to college, to do all sorts of irrelevant things that had nothing to do with the real business of life, which, of course, was the proper mixture of description and dialogue in the short story.

But in school I went off on a new tack. I saw a musical comedy called “The Quaker Girl,” and from that day forth my desk bulged with Gilbert & Sullivan librettos and dozens of notebooks containing the germs of dozens of musical comedies.

Near the end of my last year at school I came across a new musical-comedy score lying on top of the piano. It was a show called “His Honor the Sultan,” and the title furnished the information that it had been presented by the Triangle Club of Princeton University.

That was enough for me. From then on the university question was settled. I was bound for Princeton.

I spent my entire freshman year writing an operetta for the Triangle Club. To do this I failed in algebra, trigonometry, coördinate geometry and hygiene. But the Triangle Club accepted my show, and by tutoring all through a stuffy August I managed to come back a sophomore and act in it as a chorus girl. A little after this came a hiatus. My health broke down and I left college one December to spend the rest of the year recuperating in the West. Almost my final memory before I left was of writing a last lyric on that year’s Triangle production while in bed in the infirmary with a high fever.

The next year, 1916–17, found me back in college, but by this time I had decided that poetry was the only thing worth while, so with my head ringing with the meters of Swinburne and the matters of Rupert Brooke I spent the spring doing sonnets, ballads and rondels into the small hours. I had read somewhere that every great poet had written great poetry before he was twenty-one. I had only a year and, besides, war was impending. I must publish a book of startling verse before I was engulfed.

By autumn I was in an infantry officers’ training camp at Fort Leavenworth, with poetry in the discard and a brand-new ambition—I was writing an immortal novel. Every evening, concealing my pad behind “Small Problems for Infantry,” I wrote paragraph after paragraph on a somewhat edited history of me and my imagination. The outline of twenty-two chapters, four of them in verse, was made; two chapters were completed; and then I was detected and the game was up. I could write no more during study period.

This was a distinct complication. I had only three months to live—in those days all infantry officers thought they had only three months to live—and I had left no mark on the world. But such consuming ambition was not to be thwarted by a mere war. Every Saturday at one o’clock when the week’s work was over I hurried to the Officers’ Club, and there, in a corner of a roomful of smoke, conversation and rattling newspapers, I wrote a one-hundred-and-twenty-thousand-word novel on the consecutive week-ends of three months. There was no revising; there was no time for it. As I finished each chapter I sent it to a typist in Princeton.

Meanwhile I lived in its smeary pencil pages. The drills, marches and “Small Problems for Infantry” were a shadowy dream. My whole heart was concentrated upon my book.

I went to my regiment happy. I had written a novel. The war could now go on. I forgot paragraphs and pentameters, similes and syllogisms. I got to be a first lieutenant, got my orders overseas—and then the publishers wrote me that though “The Romantic Egotist” was the most original manuscript they had received for years they couldn’t publish it. It was crude and reached no conclusion.

It was six months after this that I arrived in New York and presented my card to the office boys of seven city editors asking to be taken on as a reporter. I had just turned twenty-two, the war was over, and I was going to trail murderers by day and do short stories by night. But the newspapers didn’t need me. They sent their office boys out to tell me they didn’t need me. They decided definitely and irrevocably by the sound of my name on a calling card that I was absolutely unfitted to be a reporter.

Instead I became an advertising man at ninety dollars a month, writing the slogans that while away the weary hours in rural trolley cars. After hours I wrote stories—from March to June. There were nineteen altogether, the quickest written in an hour and a half, the slowest in three days. No one bought them, no one sent personal letters. I had one hundred and twenty-two rejection slips pinned in a frieze about my room. I wrote movies. I wrote song lyrics. I wrote complicated advertising schemes. I wrote poems. I wrote sketches. I wrote jokes. Near the end of June I sold one story for thirty dollars.

On the Fourth of July, utterly disgusted with myself and all the editors, I went home to St. Paul and informed family and friends that I had given up my position and had come home to write a novel. They nodded politely, changed the subject and spoke of me very gently. But this time I knew what I was doing. I had a novel to write at last, and all through two hot months I wrote and revised and compiled and boiled down. On September fifteenth “This Side of Paradise” was accepted by special delivery.

In the next two months I wrote eight stories and sold nine. The ninth was accepted by the same magazine that had rejected it four months before. Then, in November, I sold my first story to the editors of the “Saturday Evening Post.” By February I had sold them half a dozen. Then my novel came out. Then I got married. Now I spend my time wondering how it all happened.

In the words of the immortal Julius Caesar: “That’s all there is; there isn’t any more.”

Saturday Evening Post, September 18, 1920

© 2011 James L. W. West III

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"An intellectual autobiography [that] should inspire Fitzgerald readers new or returning...a pleasure to read." -Library Journal

“Jaunty, funny, sparkling, and self-mocking, and beneath the glinting wit, deeply reflective.” –Booklist

“Frequently funny and fast-paced.” –Associated Press

“Fitzgerald never wrote an autobiography, but this is the next best thing: A collection of 19 personal essays written over the course of his career. They include lighthearted, amusing pieces clearly designed to appeal to magazine editors and casual readers, as well as grimmer fare carved from the center of a broken heart..” –Chicago Tribune

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