Posts Tagged ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’

F. Scott Fitzgerald to wannabe writers: “Nothing any good isn’t hard.”

Monday, July 18th, 2016
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fitzgerald-1921

“You’ve got to sell your heart”: the author at 25.

It is a strange thing to write for a living. I’ve never really done anything else, since I was a teenager. And because I do it for a living, I write whether I feel like it or not. It has its good days and it has its bad. The last few weeks have been particularly grinding. So I found the blunt advice of F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsbyto two young women writers of his acquaintance oddly bracing. “It is an awfully lonesome business,” he writes. And also, “Nothing any good isn’t hard.”

Letter #1 is to his to the daughter of a family friend, Frances Turnbull, a Radcliffe sophomore, who had sent the author a short story she had written. (You can read about the Turnbull home where famous writers visited, in an interview with her years later, here.) Letter #2 is to his own 15-year-old daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald. (She went on to write for The Washington Post and The New Yorker.)

The letters are from F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters. (And thanks to Maria Popova at Brain Pickings for finding them three-and-a-half  years ago.)

LETTER #1

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

LETTER #2

Grove Park Inn
Asheville, N.C.
October 20, 1936

Dearest Scottina:

… Don’t be a bit discouraged about your story not being tops. At the same time, I am not going to encourage you about it, because, after all, if you want to get into the big time, you have to have your own fences to jump and learn from experience. Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.

Let me preach again for one moment: I mean that what you have felt and thought will by itself invent a new style so that when people talk about style they are always a little astonished at the newness of it, because they think that is only style that they are talking about, when what they are talking about is the attempt to express a new idea with such force that it will have the originality of the thought. It is an awfully lonesome business, and as you know, I never wanted you to go into it, but if you are going into it at all I want you to go into it knowing the sort of things that took me years to learn. …

Nothing any good isn’t hard, and you know you have never been brought up soft, or are you quitting on me suddenly? Darling, you know I love you, and I expect you to live up absolutely to what I laid out for you in the beginning.

Scott

First-ever major exhibition on Hemingway – and it even has his wartime “Dear John” letter.

Saturday, January 30th, 2016
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Ernest Hemingway: Between Two wars. Entrance to the exhibit. Morgan Library & Museum. Jan/ 2016

Entrance to the exhibition. (Photograph: Zygmunt Malinowski)

From our roving New York City correspondent, photographer Zygmunt Malinowski filing from … Hawaii! You can read more of his posts here and here and here and here. Meanwhile:

When he was nineteen, young Ernest Hemingway enlisted as a Red Cross ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I. Within a month, he was severely injured with shrapnel wounds to his legs. Notwithstanding his trauma, he helped other soldiers to safety first and so was awarded medal for bravery.

Hemmingway

In Milan, 1918. (Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

The story behind the exhibition “Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars” begins about then. His personal letters (including his 1920s Paris letters correspondence with Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sylvia Beach), partial drafts of manuscripts, first edition books, and photographs can be found at New York City’s Morgan Library and Museum, located near Grand Central Station. It is in the first major exhibition ever for Hemingway (1899–1961), one of the major American writers of the twentieth century.

The war was not all suffering. While convalescing in the hospital, he fell in love and became engaged. Nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, seven years his senior, was the daughter of Polish-Russian-German émigré. However, she broke off the engagement with a Dear John letter – and that, too, is featured in the exhibition.

The romantic setback was only one episode during his war experience. He left a more enduring record with his successful wartime short stories and novels, including Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway later wrote to Fitzgerald, who read and commented on some of his drafts: “war is best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get.” And so it was with him.

The exhibition is a treasure trove of his written records, handwritten and printed, included in annotated notebooks, single pages, and letters. I felt I was standing over this literary giant’s shoulder, watching a work in progress (he received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954). Some of his handwritten pages in pencil give the impression that he was in a hurry to jot down his thoughts – his quick and careless handwriting runs slantwise on unlined pages.

The exhibition includes the drafts of Farewell to Arms, in which he rewrote the ending again and again. During an interview George Plimpton asked him why he reconfigured the ending so many times. Hemingway replied: “To get the words right.”

The exhibition, organized in collaboration with John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Library in Boston, ends its New York run on Jan. 31, and then continues to Boston where it will reopen in the spring at the JFK museum. (Read about it in the lower lefthand corner here.)

The Great Gatsby and the Roaring 20s: “There was a feeling that it couldn’t really last. And it didn’t.”

Friday, May 10th, 2013
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Exclusive - On Set of 'The Great Gatsby'

Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan in “The Great Gatsby”

Cynthia Haven:  Two novels from the same year.  One ends with marriage, the other with death – the comic and tragic sides of an era. Can you give us a little of the historical context that would help us understand the 1920s?

Gavin Jones:  The decade began in turmoil, with the end of World War I and with a mood of socialist revolution in the air. It ended with the Stock Market crash of 1929.

It was very much a boom time.  A time of intense competition as well.  In a way, American society began to look like it does today in the twenties.

Business became a kind of religion. By the end of the twenties, over 40 percent of the world’s manufactured goods came from the U.S.  The U.S. became an enormous global power during this decade.

Mass advertising campaigns began to dominate people’s lives.  The most famous advertisement was for Listerine. Its slogan has become a cliché: “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” In other words, halitosis was pitched as the cause of people’s social failure.

The salesman became a key figure.   Fitzgerald’s father had been a salesman for Proctor and Gamble, and was sacked when Fitzgerald was 12.  Fitzgerald described it as the central crisis of his youth, and became very interested in male failure in his writings.

Henry Ford became the cultural hero of this new business culture.  He claimed to make a new car every 10 seconds.  The road began to take over from the railroad.  There were 23 million cars in 1929, up from 7 million in 1919.  Perhaps the most important development was rise of the closed car.  It led to all sorts of new freedom – it provided a space where young people could become free from parental supervision.

yellowrolls

Rex Harrison in 1964’s “The Yellow Rolls Royce”

Haven:  Much like the internet has created a new social space today.

Jones:  Kind of like that, yes.  It’s a good comparison.

Haven:  I remember a rather so-so movie about the era, The Yellow Rolls Royce, written by the playwright Terence Rattigan.  The plot turned on an illicit affair that took place in the car of the title.

Jones:  Religious figures and social leaders saw the car as “a house of prostitution on wheels,” according to one judge.  It was a huge cultural shift to suddenly have all of these automobiles buzzing around society.

Haven:   And wasn’t there a yellow car in The Great Gatsby?

Jones:   The authorities are able to track Gatsby down because of his yellow car.  Initially all cars were black.  By the mid-20s, however, new finishing processes for cars led to a rainbow of colors.

THE GREAT GATSBY

Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Debicki in “The Great Gatsby”

HavenThe Great Gatsby ends with a car accident.  Oddly, the era marks the beginning of the car accident, and car fatalities, as a commonplace occurrence.

Jones:  It is very much a new thing.  It’s the emergence of modernity.  These novels describe a certain kind of modernity in which the fate of humans is intertwined with machines.  You can see it just the role of the accident – people are very much more prone to accident rather than intention.  There’s a loss of agency with the growth of industrial power.

Meanwhile, a self-conscious, isolated intellectual class came to the fore in America: H.L. Mencken was a huge figure.  Debunking popular myths was a popular pastime in the era, so intellectuals like Mencken would criticize bankruptcy of mass culture.

Read the rest here…

 

Hold the popcorn. Great Gatsby postponed.

Monday, August 6th, 2012
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The good news: he grew into his face.

Dinner guest tonight, and an interview to prepare for – but I had to take a moment to relay the awful news. The Great Gatsby, based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, will not be a 2012 Oscar contender.  The release has been postponed to summer 2013, rather than Christmas Day, 2012.

The Huffington Post called it a “shocking bit of news,” but I think they must be rather easily shocked.

“Based on what we’ve seen, Baz Luhrmann’s incredible work is all we anticipated and so much more,” Dan Feldman, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution said in a statement. “We think moviegoers of all ages are going to embrace it, and it makes sense to ensure this unique film reaches the largest audience possible.”

According to HuffPo:

Late-stage release date changes — particularly when there is already a marketing campaign in full swing — almost always raise eyebrows unless there are some extenuating circumstances to consider as well. (Warner Bros. just went through a release date shuffle with “Gangster Squad” following the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo.) On Twitter, prominent Oscar blogger Sasha Stone wondered whether “The Great Gatsby” was subpar.

The article speculates on a number of possible causes – one of them includes the surfeit of other releases on Christmas Day this year, including Les Misérables, which I’ve written about earlier.

I like the new date for another reason: It’s a better match with Gavin Jones‘s Stanford Book Salon presentation on the book in May.  Better a few months early than a few months late, after the buzz has died down.

I include the trailer below.  You’ll note the clip defiantly predicts a Christmas release, still.

What to say?  Music sounds off and distressingly un-period.  As HuffPo commented in May:

The Great Gatsby trailer has arrived with the familiar and era-appropriate tones of the Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration, “No Church in the Wild.” You crazy for this one, Baz Luhrmann! …

If you needed further proof that this isn’t your father’s “Gatsby,” — beyond the anachronistic music cue, of course — try this on for size: Luhrmann’s film will get released in 3D, since nothing needs an extra dimension like classic 1925 prose.

“I think it will be a spectacle, but not necessarily a good movie,” my daughter concluded, barely looking up from her smartphone.

The most surprising thing is that Leonardo DiCaprio has grown into an interesting face.  Not always a given.

Postscript on 8/8:  Jim Erwin offers the best comment on the soundtrack:  “Umm… The modern music stresses the timelessness of the story…ummm…By using Jay-Z, they underscore the emptiness of quickly acquired and flaunted riches…ummm..nope, it’s rubbish.”