Matthew J. Bruccoli; A Prolific Scholar Of Jazz Age Writers

Matthew J. Bruccoli
Matthew J. Bruccoli (University Of South Carolina - University Of South Carolina)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 7, 2008

Matthew J. Bruccoli, 76, an industrious researcher and editor who was one the foremost scholars of author F. Scott Fitzgerald and other literary figures of the 1920s and '30s, died June 4 of brain cancer at his home in Columbia, S.C.

Dr. Bruccoli, a longtime professor at the University of South Carolina, devoted his life to the study of 20th-century American writers and was the author or editor of more than 60 books about Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Ring Lardner, Raymond Chandler, John O'Hara and other writers.

His 1981 biography of Fitzgerald, "Some Sort of Epic Grandeur," chronicled the life of the young and vulnerable author of "The Great Gatsby," whose novels and short stories helped define the spirit and anxiety of the Jazz Age.

"By amassing more facts than anyone else has done, Bruccoli manages to dispel a great many misconceptions attending the Fitzgerald legend," critic Peter S. Prescott wrote in Newsweek. "Bruccoli brings Fitzgerald vividly alive: ambitious and desperate, self-destructive, yet essentially decent."

Dr. Bruccoli edited Fitzgerald's notebooks, letters and an unfinished novel, "The Last Tycoon," and wrote several books about Fitzgerald's friendship and rivalry with Hemingway. His ceaseless combing of the author's past was so thorough that a backlash began to form.

In an essay in the New York Review of Books, author Gore Vidal once dismissed Dr. Bruccoli as a "scholar-squirrel." Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley wrote in 1981 that Dr. Bruccoli "has been accused in various quarters of being the impresario behind a 'Fitzgerald industry.' The charge is not without merit, especially as it applies to his eagerness to edit and publish any scrap of Fitzgeraldiana, no matter how trivial."

Nonetheless, Dr. Bruccoli's contributions to literary history were beyond dispute. He showed that Hemingway's descriptions of his encounters with Fitzgerald were often exaggerated or erroneous. He defended Fitzgerald's literary reputation, even as he uncovered documents that proved his occasional cruelty to his mentally unstable wife, Zelda. (He also conclusively disproved rumors that Zelda had been her husband's ghostwriter and had contributed to his novels and stories.)

In a 1996 National Public Radio interview, Dr. Bruccoli said Fitzgerald "has been typecast as a writer who lived a glamorous, romantic, exciting life, and this image of Fitzgerald as the playboy of American literature has impeded the proper recognition of Fitzgerald, the artist."

Fitzgerald, who died at age 44 in 1940, was a troubled alcoholic. But Dr. Bruccoli maintained that he was, above all, a diligent professional who wrote 160 short stories, four novels, several screenplays and "an unfinished masterpiece" ("The Last Tycoon").

"The wit and warmth of his prose, appeal to me as much today as they did when I first began reading it," Dr. Bruccoli said in a 1996 University of South Carolina publication.

Matthew Joseph Bruccoli was born Aug. 21, 1931, in the Bronx, N.Y. In 1949, while riding in the back seat of his parents' Dodge, he heard a radio dramatization of Fitzgerald's story "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz."

He immediately set out to find books by Fitzgerald, whose literary star had fallen in the nine years since his death.

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