F. SCOTT FITZGERALD wrote from summer camp when he was 10 years old: "Dear Mother, I wish you would send me five dollars as all my money is used up." In the first pages of this new collection are thus sown the seeds for the myth of Fitzgerald's life. But these carefully edited letters both to and from Fitzgerald offer much more than myth. They provide a hard stare into the full breadth of Fitzgerald's life: the fiction and the literary and publishing world on the one hand, and the Jazz Age as backdrop for the flamboyant and tragic lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald on the other.
On Fitzgerald's professional side, the reader catches glimpses of the literary world. We see some of the sand in the gears of the publishing process; we see Fitzgerald's self-doubt, the monumental intrusion of his personal difficulties into his creative energies; and we see some of the petty jealousies, praise and pieties of Fitzgerald and his literary colleagues. For example, "[Sinclair] Lewis' prosperity makes me boil with envy," he writes in a 1924 letter, a sentiment given greater meaning by the reproduction of an inscription, written a year later, in a copy of The Great Gatsby: "Dear Sinclair Lewis: I've just sent for Arrowsmith. My hope is that this The Great Gatsby will be the second best American book of the Spring. F. Scott Fitzerald."
We have a jewel of a statement about Gertrude Stein: "I still believe Gertrude Stien [sic] is some sort of punctuation makr in literary history." We learn from Zelda Fitzerald that she found the title for "Save Me the Waltz" from the Victor record catalogue. We also learn that the French translation title of The Great Gatsby is Gatsby le magnifique and that Gatsby ran on Broadway for 112 perfomances in 1926.
The letters show Fitzgerald's enthusiasm for Hemingway's fiction and his responsibility for Hemingway's hooking up with Scribners. In 1925 Fitzgerald responded to a friend: "Sorry you didn't like Gatsby -- and thank you for being so nice about concealing the fact (I mean this); I think you're wrong but time will tell. Ever your friend Scott (P.S.) Watch for a book by young Ernest Hemmingway [sic]." There is correspondence with many of the authors, poets and critics of the '20s. We learn a good deal about Fitzgerald's attitude toward his magazine stories, which sustained him financially, and his Hollywood screenwriting, at which he kept trying his hand until his death at age 44.
On the personal side, this book contains a comprehensive look at the relationship between Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. There are intimate, sometimes rambling, pathetic letters from Zelda to her husband. Fitzgerald appears in these letters a nobler, more courageous and sympathetic figure than the legend which had grown up around him generally allows. His enormous considerateness of Zelda, shown in these letters, contrasts strikingly with the dapper Princetonian's lavish spending, his drinking, his life-long financial catching-up, his agonies of self-perceived literary failures, his glamorous exploits and his creative temperament.
In 1920, before his marriage, he wrote about Zelda: "Any girl who gets stewed in public, who frankly enjoys and tells shocking stories, who smokes constantly and makes the remark that she has 'kissed thousands of men and intends to kiss thousands more,' cannot be considered beyond reproach even if above it. But . . . I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self respect . . . ." After her first breakdown, in 1930, Zelda wrote: "If I can ever find the dignity and peace to apply myself, I am sure there must be something to fill the next twenty years of a person who is willng to work for it, so do not feel that you have any obligations toward me, sentimental or otherwise, unless you accept them as freely as you did when I was young and happy and quite different from how I am now --." The intensity of their feelings never diminished. Intimate letters through the years of Zelda's illness to Zelda, her family and her psychiatrists detail the personal disappointment and frustration and heartbreak which Zelda's illness caused. There was no blame; Fitzgerald wrote of the hectic days before Zelda's breakdown: "We ruined ourselves -- I have never honestly thought that we ruined each other."
Fitzgerald was, above all, considerate. Six years after Zelda's first breakdown he wrote to a friend: "In general the plans are vague . . . contingent, as always, on the condition of my invalid. I don't know what the gddam hell to do about that & I am trying to be hard-boiled about it, but as you know, it's a life-long consecration & all the friends I ever had couldn't argue me out of the idea that that's where my first duty lies." A year later, there is a letter showing him equally sincere and dignified. "Zelda is no better . . . there is always a gradual slipping. I've become hard there and don't feel the grief I did once -- except sometimes at night or when I catch myself in some spiritual betrayal of the past." Fitzgerald wrote to Zelda's psychiatrists at great length, taking responsibility for and participating in her treatment until his death. In 1938, he wrote, about the course of treatment: "I have, of course, my eternal hope that a miracle will happen to Zelda . . . with my shadow removed, perhaps she will find something in life to care for more than just formerly. Certainly the outworn pretense that we can ever come together again is better for being shed. There is simply too much of the past between us. When that mist falls -- at a dinner table, or between two pillows -- no knight errant can transverse its immense distance. The mainsprings are gone."
Both the filling in of the cracks in his literary life and the capturing of his humanity make this fourth collection of Fitzgerald's letter important for those interested in Fitzgerald and the literature of the '20s and '30s. The three earlier collections were selective, each in its own way, and it is the present collection which threads them all together. Turnbull's The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1963) collected the important letters, the ones which could stand by themselves; Brier and Kuehl's Dear Scott/Dear Max (1971), selected from Fitzgerald's correspondence with his career-long editor and helpmeet, Maxwell Perkins; and Bruccoli and Atkinson's As Ever, Scott Fitz -- (1972) published most of the correspondence between Fitzgerald and his literary agent, Harold Ober. Fitzgerald was a voluminous as well as passionate letter-writer, as the present collection shows once again. The editors, with concise, helpful and extremely knowledgeable footnotes, have made this large volume cohesive and readable, even for readers only slightly familiar with Fitzgerald's life.