I just finished reading the newly published collection of lost stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it brought back my decades-old teenage obsession with Scott and Zelda. My younger self was taken with the tragic progression of Zelda’s life, but in this book, I found a new respect for Fitzgerald as a writer and a man who could not break free from other people’s expectations.
This isn’t a review of the book, although I would tell anyone to read it, and not just for the stories, but for the insight into how one of the most celebrated American writers struggled just as we all do when trying to put a story onto paper.
These are stories of his later years, long past his fascination with young love, and the high-life party setting of Gatsby and friends. Fitzgerald is writing during a post-depression era now, while attempting to make ends meet financially. Supporting himself, and Zelda’s increasingly longer stays at institutions, Fitzgerald wrote about the national landscape in front of him at the time. His characters were trying to find themselves, amidst poverty, suicide, illness and more. Unfortunately, editors and publishers alike wanted him to write what had previously been successful. When he explained to them “that well has run dry,” they sent back rejection letters and edits that Fitzgerald refused to do.
The never-ending battle between artistry and commerce. Between artists and business people. Between the right and left sides of the brain.
Today, writers turn into marketers. Turning to self-publishing to ‘control’ their own destiny, packing up their backseats with boxes of books, tablecloths and multiple promotional items bearing their newest book’s title to travel to every event that could possibly bring them a sale.
And those who don’t, well, they understand the consequences and are all right with them. They don’t worry about what they’ve written before, or about what’s trending. They don’t think of how to stretch a simple story into a trilogy just because it’s what’s done so often. They write because the stories demand to be told.
I think Fitzgerald would be proud of both camps. He often refused to bend to what an editor wanted, and suffered the consequence of not being published in magazines who had clamored for his writing prior. He returned to Hollywood more than once when that seemed the only option, even helping to polish the screenplay for Gone With the Wind. He wasn’t afraid of self-promoting, but was just as likely to throw a story in the back of a desk drawer if someone wasn’t willing to take it the way he wrote it.
Many of the stories, including the titled I’d Die for You are wonderful. To me, it shows he had the talent to go even deeper than his past successes if only allowed. The book’s introduction and story previews also provide a lot of personal detail, and no matter the downsides of their marriage, it was clear that his daily thoughts centered around being able to care for Zelda and their daughter Scottie.
We’re lucky to have these stories. Who knows what he would have accomplished had he lived longer. It was a gamble – but i believe the time was right around the corner where the publishing world would have seen what he was trying to do, and acknowledge his later works as the important observations of society that they were intended to be.