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The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Secret Boyhood Diary

The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Secret Boyhood Diary

by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dave Page (Editor)

When F. Scott Fitzgerald was fourteen and living in the Crocus Hill neighborhood of St. Paul, he began keeping a short diary of his exploits among his friends, friendly rivals, and crushes. He gave the journal a title page—Thoughtbook of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald of St. Paul Minn. U.S.A.—and kept it securely locked in a box under his bed. He


When F. Scott Fitzgerald was fourteen and living in the Crocus Hill neighborhood of St. Paul, he began keeping a short diary of his exploits among his friends, friendly rivals, and crushes. He gave the journal a title page—Thoughtbook of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald of St. Paul Minn. U.S.A.—and kept it securely locked in a box under his bed. He would later use The Thoughtbook as the basis for “The Book of Scandal” in his Basil Lee Duke stories, and brief sections were copied over the years for use by scholars and even published in Life magazine.

“Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?” Here, for the first time, is a complete transcription of this charming, twenty-seven-page diary highlighting Fitzgerald’s escapades among the children of some of St. Paul’s most influential families—models for the families described in The Great Gatsby. Presented in a simple format for both scholars and general readers alike, The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald includes a new introduction by Dave Page that covers the history and provenance of the diary, its place and meaning in Fitzgerald’s literary development, and its revelations about his life and writing process.

One of the earliest known works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Thoughtbook provides a unique glimpse of Fitzgerald as a young boy and his social circle as they played among the grand homes of Summit Avenue, making up games, starting secret societies, competing with rivals, and (at all times) staying up-to-date on who exactly is vying for whose attention.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The Thoughtbook is a fascinating document. You can see the social analyst, the novelist of manners, just beginning to develop.

—James L. W. West III, General Editor, Cambridge Fitzgerald Edition

Kirkus Reviews
A very short, incomplete diary in which ardent devotees of the novelist might find a glimmer or two of significance. By the standards of even what the editor's introduction terms "juvenilia," this diary or memoir or notes on girls by the 14-year-old "Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald of St Paul Minn U.S.A." is barely marginalia from a boyhood that had yet to turn literary. Though the afterword argues for literary significance in the dialogue, lists and some of the characters, readers will strain to unearth a glimmer of the fiction that would later flower in the tone of the manuscript (considerably shorter than the framing essays, even after padding with period photos). The book deals almost exclusively with what concerns most 14-year-old boys: girls--where he stands with them and they with him. Missing its first seven pages, the "Thoughtbook" has plenty of rankings of who likes whom and why. Early on, the boy writes, "I was more popular with girls than I have ever been befor" [sic--spelling is not his strong suit]. A few months later, "I have two new crushes, to wit--Margaret Armstrong and Marie Hersey. I have not decided which one I like the best. The 2nd is the prettiest. The 1st is the best talker." Talk prevailed, as two weeks later he gushes, "I am just crazy about Margaret Armstrong and I have the most awful crush on her that ever was." Elsewhere, Fitzgerald writes of being third in a girl's ranking of affections but working his way toward first. Such rankings changed as often as the weather, and this "Thoughtbook" is like the weather report of budding romance. Scholars could make use of this material, but it should otherwise interest only Fitzgerald completists.

Product Details

University of Minnesota Press
Publication date:
Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Series
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Secret Boyhood Diary

By F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dave Page

University of Minnesota Press

Copyright © 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4529-4049-6


Dave Page

In the summer of 1910, just before his fourteenth birthday, F. Scott Fitzgerald began keeping a memoir that he titled Thoughtbook of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald of St Paul Minn U.S.A. Perhaps inspired by Violet Stockton, whose "Flirting by Sighns" (the misspelling is Fitzgerald's) figures prominently in the Thoughtbook, Fitzgerald penned a somewhat haphazardly organized series of observations until February the following year.

Although most of the vignettes in the Thoughtbook are set in St. Paul, where Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, several occur in Buffalo, New York, where his family resided for a decade after repercussions from the financial panic of 1893 caused the failure in 1898 of the wicker furniture business run by Scott's father, Edward. In consequence, Edward was forced to take a sales job for Proctor & Gamble in Buffalo. Bouncing between Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, Edward managed to hold his position until 1908, when the family returned to St. Paul. Having developed an early propensity for writing, Scott Fitzgerald set down in pencil snippets of dialogue, lists, and narrative threads from and about his old life in Buffalo and his new one in St. Paul. He complained later that his mother, Molly, had tossed some of his juvenilia, but the Thoughtbook was saved.

When Scott and Zelda's daughter Frances (better known as Scottie) donated her father's papers to Princeton University in 1950, the Thoughtbook was not included with the original gift, perhaps because it was on loan at the time to Arthur Mizener, a professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, who was completing research for his immensely influential 1951 biography of Fitzgerald.

Due to his proximity to his subject's home town, Mizener made frequent trips to St. Paul to interview friends and acquaintances of Fitzgerald. It was "widely known" in those circles, Mizener wrote in The Far Side of Paradise, "that Scott kept, locked in a box under his bed, a manuscript known as the 'Thoughtbook,' which was believed to contain candid and destructive accounts of all his contemporaries. This document still exists, fourteen pages torn from a notebook and covered with Fitzgerald's boyish scrawl. It was the source for the 'Book of Scandal' Basil kept." This last sentence refers to a series of Saturday Evening Post stories penned by Fitzgerald; known as the Basil stories, some are set at the same time as events described in the Thoughtbook. Because Mizener transcribed sample passages from the Thoughtbook for his biography, including such "destructive" "destructive" comments as "I think Una Baches is the most unpopular girl in dancing schools," he must have had access to the pages before 1951. With Scottie's permission, parts of the Thoughtbook later appeared on February 16, 1959, in a Life magazine story called "The Spell of Scott Fitzgerald Grows Stronger." The claim by Life's editors that this was the first time the Thoughtbook had been transcribed is simply not true, because passages had appeared earlier in The Far Side of Paradise. Written in conjunction with the Broadway success that winter of The Disenchanted, a play loosely based on Fitzgerald's life by his friend Budd Schulberg, the article featured the first publication of snippets of letters Fitzgerald wrote to Scottie.

Two years later, Modern Fiction Studies included a brief excerpt from the Thoughtbook in an essay by Donald Yates titled "The Road to 'Paradise': Fitzgerald's Literary Apprenticeship." Yates does not indicate where he obtained the passage, but because he includes portions of the Thoughtbook not incorporated in Mizener's book or the Life article, he likely had access to the original or a complete copy.

At some point after 1950, Fitzgerald scholar John Kuehl obtained the original Thoughtbook from Scottie. According to Eleanor Lanahan (Scottie's daughter), Kuehl commented about "how casually [Scottie had] lent it to him in the early 50's (left it in a screen door for him)." When Kuehl received the Thoughtbook, he noted that, while it still contained fourteen pages, several pages were missing from the beginning. A reproduction of the Thoughtbook along with an introduction written by Kuehl appeared in the Winter 1965 issue of the Princeton University Library Chronicle. Later that year, a hard-bound reprint of the Princeton University Library Chronicle piece was released by the Princeton University Library in a limited edition of three hundred copies. The book suffered from a lack of transcription and the poor quality of its reproduction, as well as from its small press run.

Lanahan assumed that Scottie had given the Thoughtbook to Princeton after loaning it to Kuehl. Henry Dan Piper, in his biography of Fitzgerald first published in July 1965, indicated the Thoughtbook was located in the Fitzgerald Papers at the Firestone Library, Princeton University. Many scholars presumed the original was there, but it was actually a Photostat copy. The original Thoughtbook ended up with biographer Matthew Bruccoli and was donated to the Irvin F. Hollings Special Collections Library at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Buried deep below ground in a humidity-sensitive room protected by fingerprint- and eye-scan-controlled doors reminiscent of a James Bond film, the Thoughtbook is made available only rarely to scholars and the curious. The University of South Carolina provided digital copies to help with the process of transcription for this edition.

I thank the University of Minnesota Press and its editor Erik Anderson for asking me to participate in this project. My sleuthing to discover the provenance of the Thoughtbook often took me in unexpected directions, but everyone was as excited as I was about the quest.

By suggesting new paths for me to follow, eminent Fitzgerald scholars Alan Margolies, Jackson Bryer, and James West III helped immensely when I hit dead ends. Without their assistance, this project would have been significantly less complete.

Finally, I thank Mecca Manz, who patiently and calmly listened to my frustrations, often gave me encouragement, and provided the space and time for me to finish this endeavor, a task that began in February 2012 and took one year to complete.


Excerpted from The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dave Page. Copyright © 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota. Excerpted by permission of University of Minnesota Press.
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Meet the Author

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and spent much of his youth living in the Crocus Hill neighborhood. He went on to become one of the most famous American novelists of the twentieth century, often drawing on his youthful experiences in St. Paul in his stories and novels.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
September 24, 1896
Date of Death:
December 21, 1940
Place of Birth:
St. Paul, Minnesota
Princeton University

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