The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books but I have never known much about F Scott Fitzgerald. The other day I came upon some of his private letters on this website, I was a gonner - after about three hours of reading and extreme voyeurism, I was left feeling rather empty and sad. He died at the young age of 44 and ill, troubled and unhappy man.
Zelda and ScottI have two letters to share with you, the first being a letter written to him by Zelda.
From Zelda Sayre, Spring 1919
Please, please don’t be so depressed—We’ll be married soon, and then these lonesome nights will be over forever—and until we are, I am loving, loving every tiny minute of the day and night—Maybe you won’t understand this, but sometimes when I miss you most, it’s hardest to write—and you always know when I make myself—Just the ache of it all—and I can’t tell you. If we were together, you’d feel how strong it is—you’re so sweet when you’re melancholy. I love your sad tenderness—when I’ve hurt you—That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels—and they bothered you so—Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget—
Scott—there’s nothing in all the world I want but you—and your precious love—All the materials things are nothing. I’d just hate to live a sordid, colorless existence-because you’d soon love me less—and less—and I’d do anything—anything—to keep your heart for my own—I don’t want to live—I want to love first, and live incidentally…Don’t—don’t ever think of the things you can’t give me—You’ve trusted me with the dearest heart of all—and it’s so damn much more than anybody else in all the world has ever had—
How can you think deliberately of life without me—If you should die—O Darling—darling Scott—It’d be like going blind…I’d have no purpose in life—just a pretty—decoration. Don’t you think I was made for you? I feel like you had me ordered—and I was delivered to you—to be worn—I want you to wear me, like a watch—charm or a button hole bouquet—to the world. And then, when we’re alone, I want to help—to know that you can’t do anything without me…
All my heart—
I love you
He subsequently married Zelda (who was the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice) but Scott always had feelings of inadequacy. He made more money out of his 160 short stories for magazines than his novels and lived a fast paced lifestyle beyond his means. He and Zelda only had one daughter Frances (Scottie). Their marriage was turbulent. Scott drank too much. Zelda tried pursuing her dream of becoming a dancer and instead suffered breakdowns and spent time in and out of psychiatric hospitals. From a young age their daughter Frances went to boarding school. With Zelda hospitalised, Scott performed the functions of concerned father, wrote her letters and attempted to parent by correspondence.
Here is a bit more about Scott and Zelda (if you want).
This next letter must be one of the saddest I have ever read:-
To Frances Scott Fitzgerald August 8, 1933 La Paix, Rodgers’ Forge, Towson, Maryland
I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy—but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed page, they never really happen to you in life.
All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of getting up a Saturday Evening Post story. I think of you, and always pleasantly; but if you call me “Pappy” again I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?
I will arrange the camp bill.
Half-wit, I will conclude. Things to worry about:
Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship…
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?
With dearest love,
P.S. My come-back to your calling me Pappy is christening you by the word Egg, which implies that you belong to a very rudimentary state of life and that I could break you up and crack you open at my will and I think it would be a word that would hang on if I ever told it to your contemporaries. "Egg Fitzgerald." How would you like that to go through life with — "Eggie Fitzgerald" or "Bad Egg Fitzgerald" or any form that might occur to fertile minds? Try it once more and I swear to God I will hang it on you and it will be up to you to shake it off. Why borrow trouble?
Concern or cruelty? Maybe both. Just so sad and particularly as it came from a man who had a way with words and who wrote words like this:-
"He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete." F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 6
Pretty sad. I now need to find out more about what kind of a life Frances had and what happened to her. There is a biography. My tastebuds have been tempted.
And the trailer to the new version of the movie to be released later this year.