Scott’s Case

The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald

edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 357 pp., $5.95 (paper)

Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald

edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, edited by Margaret M. Duggan, with Susan Walker
Random House, 640 pp., $25.00

Francis Scott Fitzgerald was born 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota; he died 1940 in Hollywood, California, at 1443 North Hayworth Avenue, within walking distance of Schwab’s drugstore, then as now a meeting place for those on their way up or down in what is still known in that part of the world as The Industry, elsewhere as the movies.

Between 1920 and 1940, Fitzgerald published four novels, 160 short stories, some fragments of autobiography. He worked on a dozen film scripts. He also wrote several thousand letters, keeping carbon copies of the ones most apt to present posterity with his side of a number of matters that he thought important. Although very little of what Fitzgerald wrote has any great value as literature, his sad life continues to provide not only English Departments but the movies with a Cautionary Tale of the first magnitude. Needless to say, Scott Fitzgerald is now a major academic industry. Currently, there are two new models in the bookstores, each edited by Professor Matthew J. Bruccoli. The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald contains all 2078 notebook entries while Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald includes letters to as well as from Fitzgerald.

A quick re-cap of the Fitzgerald career: in 1920, he published This Side of Paradise and married the handsome Zelda Sayre. In 1921, they set out for the territory—in those days, Europe. But the Fitzgeralds’ Europe was hardly the Europe of James’s “The Passionate Pilgrim.” The Fitzgeralds never got around to seeing the sights because, as Jazz Age celebrities, they were the sights. They wanted to have a good time and a good time was had by all for a short time. Then things fell apart. Crash of ‘29. Zelda’s madness. Scott’s alcoholism. As Zelda went from one expensive clinique to another, money was in short supply. Scott’s third and best novel The Great Gatsby (1925) did not make money. Novel number four did not come easily. Back to America in 1931: Baltimore, Wilmington. Fitzgerald made two trips to Hollywood where he wrote movie scripts for money; he made the money but no movies.

The relative failure of Tender Is the Night (1934) came at a time when Fitzgerald’s short stories no longer commanded the sort of magazine prices that had made the living easy in the Twenties. After a good deal of maneuvering, Fitzgerald wangled a six-month contract as a staff writer for MGM. At $1,000 a week, he was one of the highest paid movie writers. From 1937 to 1940, Fitzgerald wrote movies in order to pay his debts; to pay for Zelda’s sanitarium and for his daughter’s school; to buy time in which to write a novel. Despite a dying heart, he did pretty much what he set out to do.

In a sense, Fitzgerald’s final days are quite as heroic as those of General Grant, as described in General Grant’s Last Stand, a book that the Scribner’s …

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