I’ve already discussed the Modernists a bit, but was hoping to take a look a more in-depth look at some of famous, infamous, and relatively unknown figures of the movement. For the inaugural Special Edition *wink wink* I thought it would be fun to take a look at one of the more super famous Modernists: F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Perhaps best known for The Great Gatsby
, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because he was named for his famous, and far flung second cousin, Francis Scott Key), is largely remembered for his portrayal of the unreachably rich of the 1920s. Born in the St. Paul, Minnensota, Fitzgerald’s stories of the upper class are almost always tinged with a certain Midwestern reproach, though he and his wife Zelda were active participants in the rigorous social scene of both New York and Paris.
That the Fitzgerald’s were such a fixture of the high class social scene is, in large part, the main reason his work is considered great and not hyper-great. I realize that sounds odd, but hear me out; Fitzgerald is one of the greatest American writers, “lousy with talent” as his friend Hemingway put it, but he could have been even better had he given himself the time and space.
It’s no secret that his wife, Zelda, wanted and quickly grew accustomed to a certain style of life, a level of style that Fitzgerald was constantly in danger of being unable to provide. In a 1934 letter to Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway makes mention of Fitzgerald feeling as if he has to “publish crap to make money,” a bold statement when discussing the writer of one of the most famous American novels. But, I think Hemingway has a point.
In Flannery O’Connor’s essay
“The Nature and Aim of Fiction” she makes mention of those potential authors that “are interested in publishing something, and if possible in making a ‘killing.’ They are interested in being a writer, not in writing.” She goes on to speak of the importance of honest writing, as “the basis of art is truth,” and anything else is going to be inherent disingenuous. There is something to the idea of art and truth, even if sometimes we find that truth can be subjective. I think the root is that when producing anything, one has to be honest with oneself.
Goddamn it you took liberties with peoples’ pasts and futures that produced not people but damned marvellously faked case histories. You, who can write better than anybody can, who are so lousy with talent that you have to—the hell with it. Scott for gods sake write and write truly no matter who or what it hurts but do not make these silly compromises. – Hemingway to Fitzgerald (all spelling is original to the letter)
Hemingway certainly makes no bones about the importance of truth no matter the cost. He feels that Fitzgerald is cheating himself in an effort to manufacture a masterpiece, when the masterpiece would come through an honest approach to the writing.
The amazing thing about Fitzgerald is that when looking at the list of books he’s written, just about everyone of them is not only well known, but amazingly written as well. It’s interesting to think how those books might have been changed had he been a different situation throughout his life.