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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some bathtub-gin-spiked birthday cake for an icon of the Jazz Age.
** Linger to ponder over a question of class in America.
** Savor a last ½ cup marveling over the biggest book-give-away ever!
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I’m one of those people
who go through the world giving
other people thrills, but getting few myself
except those I read into men on such nights as these.
I have the social courage to go on the stage,
but not the energy;
I haven’t the patience to write books;
and I never met a man I’d marry.
However, I’m only eighteen.
– Eleanor Savage
in This Side of Paradise
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Slice of Cake:
A couple of years ago, I gave this next quote to some friends and I asked them two questions:
Who wrote this? And when?
thing of all is me—
oh, why am I a girl?
Why am I not a stupid—?
Look at you; you’re stupider than I am,
not much but some,
and you can lope about and get bored and
then lope somewhere else,
and you can play around with girls without being
involved in meshes of sentiment, and you can
do anything and be justified—
and here I am with the brains to do everything,
yet tied to the sinking ship
of future matrimony.
If I were born
a hundred years from now, well and good,
but now what’s in store for me—
I have to marry, that goes without saying.
Who? I’m too bright for most men, and yet
I have to descend to their level
and let them patronize my intellect in order to
get their attention.
Every year that I don’t marry
I’ve got less chance for a first-class man.
At the best I can have my choice from one or two cities
and, of course, I have to marry
into a dinner-coat.
Here were the guesses:
Elizabeth: Katherine Mansfield, she definitely stepped out with her opinions.
Tamsin: Well, the subject is entirely Austen, but the style doesn’t seem right.
Katherine: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emily Dickenson, Walt Whitman?
Me: Your last choice is the right gender.
Me: Wait, wait. Walt Whitman??
Has he ever strung a sentence together that looked anything like…
I mean I love the guy but…
Me: Well, actually, the
“lope about and get bored and then lope somewhere else”
line does sound a bit ‘Song of Myself’-ish,
now that I look at it…
But no. Not Whitman
Want to guess another man?
Katherine: Oscar Wilde
Tamsin: And if not him then Shaw!
F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Yeah! I would never have guessed Fitzgerald either!
It’s from his novel, This Side of Paradise
published 100 years ago, in 1920.
The quote is from the character Eleanor in a chapter called Young Irony.
She’s the same 18-year-old who said the quote in First Sip above.
(Don’t get too fond of her, though. Especially if you love animals.)
** Here are five things I learned this week **
about F Scott Fitzgerald
1. Rich and Poor Relations
When Fitzgerald was born, his family was solidly middle class.
His father owned his own business. Until it failed. He was then fired from his next job.1
His mother’s inheritance and help from an aunt supported the family.
His grandfather paid Fitzgerald’s tuition to Princeton.1
Once at the university, Fitzgerald was more interested in writing fiction than in studying for his classes.1
In 1917, F Scott Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton
and joined the Army.
He was sent to train at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas. While his division was preparing to go to France, the war ended.
2. Historic Cousins
Fitzgerald’s full name is Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald.
He was named after his second cousin thrice removed,2
Francis Scott Key, who wrote America’s national anthem,
The Star-Spangled Banner in 1814.
(Though that was over 80 years before Fitzgerald was born.)
Fitzgerald also had an infamous first cousin twice removed: Mary Surratt.3
Surratt ran a boarding house in Washington DC, and
she either did or did not conspire to assassinate Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
She was tried, along with seven other conspirators, convicted and executed.
(John Wilkes Booth, who shot Lincoln, had been shot himself before the trial began.)
Mary Surratt’s guilt is contested to this day.
3. Early Success
F Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel met with enormous popular success.
But not an easy success.
He originally wrote it during his time stationed in Kansas.
He submitted it, and the publisher rejected it.
Out of the army, he reworked the novel and sent it back to the same publisher.
They rejected it again.
He reworked it a third time and sent it back again.1
This time it fell onto the desk of Maxwell Perkins—
an assistant editor at the time.
Perkins liked it, and
This Side of Paradise was published in 1920.
Fitzgerald later introduced Max Perkins to an
unknown writer named Ernest Hemingway.
After publishing The Sun Also Rises (1926)
and A Farewell to Arms (1929)
both Perkins’ and Hemingway’s reputations were made.1
This Side of Paradise is a young book full of young people
written by a very young author.
And is very worth reading.
This novel is quite the gemisch!
It starts with a coming of age story,
then has poetry, a song, letters—
To introduce one of the characters there’s even
a short stage play, which I very much enjoyed.
But, of course, it’s no Gatsby.
I didn’t find the main character particularly appealing,
and the ending kind of driveled off into nowhere.
Yet, as always, Fitzgerald’s lyrical prose is a joy to read.
4. Very Young
F Scott Fitzgerald was quite young.
He got hold of success early with his first novel when he was only 24.
He quickly married and had a child—all before the age of 25.
The Great Gatsby was written when he was 28.3
Fitzgerald spent years scrambling to support himself and his family.
He even tried working as a screenwriter in Hollywood,
something that gave him some money but little creative satisfaction and almost no screen credit.1
I just couldn’t make the grade as a hack.
That, like everything else, requires a
certain practiced excellence.
– F Scott Fitzgerald 2
Unfortunately, neither his Hollywood work, nor The Great Gatsby, nor any of his later novels ever made quite enough money to comfortably cover his family obligations (his wife’s ongoing medical bills, his daughter’s school expenses).
F Scott Fitzgerald died in poverty at the early age of 44 from a heart attack.
5. Late Success
To the very end, Fitzgerald believed in the quality of his 1925 novel The Great Gatsby.
He felt it was his masterpiece.
Yet it sold only 22,000 copies—
less that half of the sales of This Side of Paradise. Its second printing moldered in a warehouse and by the 1930s, it was unavailable to buy in bookstores.
He continued to take himself seriously as a writer
even when Hollywood treated him as little better than a hack.
putting him to work for a few weeks on one picture and then
pulling him off that and assigning him to another one.
– Maureen Corrigan 1
Fitzgerald doggedly continued to write to his publisher, suggesting new marketing strategies to promote it.
Three years after Fitzgerald died—and 20 years
after it was published—a most unusual marketing strategy
finally delivered The Great Gatsby into the hands of more than 150,000 readers.4
(See ‘Half-Cup More‘ below
to read more about this!)
By the late 1940s, a new demand for The Great Gatsby
finally sealed its reputation as one of the Great American Novels.
Happy 124th Birthday
** F Scott Fitzgerald **
– born September 24, 1896
in Saint Paul, Minnesota
It’s interesting to me
that this is so celebrated as a novel
about the high life,
but it is also a novel that very much
notices people who are not rich,
who are not white.
– Maureen Corrigan5
Been thinking this week about America’s changing (and unchanging) class system.
From the first line of The Great Gatsby, we know that this is going to be a story about money, about class distinctions, and ‘ambiguously’ about race.5
In my younger and more vulnerable years
my father gave me some advice that I’ve been
turning over in my mind ever since.
‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me,
‘just remember that all the people in this world
haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’
– from ‘The Great Gatsby’
by F Scott Fitzgerald
Book critic Maureen Corrigan talks about the image of the Queeensboro Bridge.5 As the two white protagonists, Nick and Gatsby, are driving into Manhattan over the bridge,
they are passed up—
First by three ‘modish’ African-Americans
with their white chauffeur.
Then by another car of Southeast European immigrants.
This is a novel that is very concerned
about who might be speeding by the white guys…
about what’s happening in America in the 1920s…
Fitzgerald, as he so often does, he has it both ways.
You can look at those passages and say: They’re so racist—
you can go down the list, homophobic, sexist.
It’s too bad we have to forgive The Great Gatsby
before we can enjoy it.
On the other hand, the character who is the most racist
is Tom Buchanan…who we’re not supposed to like.
He’s a nasty guy.
– Maureen Corrigan5
Jay Gatsby remakes himself and becomes very wealthy. Still,
there’s a theme running through the novel that money alone can’t give Gatsby what those around him (Nick, Daisy, Tom, Jordan) were born with: Old Money.
F Scott Fitzgerald also remade himself, changing class more than once.
I don’t know that I remade myself, but I did change class.
I think I could be a good woman
if I had five thousand a year.
– Becky Sharp
in Vanity Fair
by William Makepeace Thackeray
I am a person who has been rich and poor. I’ve sat at family dinners across from multi-millionaires and welfare moms. Over the years I have thought quite a lot about what money can and cannot do.
I got myself to college,6
Unlike everyone around me, I had no parental help. And yet—
Unlike everyone around me, I had no parental expectations, either.
My parents were certainly happy if I called and told them when I got an A.
But they weren’t angry—and calling me—when I got a D.
So, at nineteen, poverty was tough, but it also gave me some freedoms.
Freedom to set my own course, unencumbered by anybody else’s directions.
Freedom to, as F Scott Fitzgerald put it, ‘lope about and get bored and then lope somewhere else.’
(In fact, I loped about quite a bit. In that first five years of adulthood I lived in six different towns.)
But I was nineteen.
I had no responsibilities other than to myself.
By the time I began to have family obligations (kids, elderly parents),
I had a lot more money to help me out.
In other words, I was lucky.
Lucky in love, lucky in health, lucky in timing, and lucky in my career.
Must be nice to
have so much money you don’t notice
if a pocketful of Galleons goes missing.
– Ron Weasely
in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
by J K Rowling
‘Rich’ is a useless word,
since everyone has her own definition.
Mine is this: I had so much money
that I no longer knew exactly, down to the last dollar,
how much I had.
– Ann Patchett
in The New Yorker Magazine
October 5, 2020
Over the years, my socioeconomic class changed.
And here’s something I’ve learned:
There are two lines to cross over as you change class.
One is the poverty line.
Below this line, life is hard in ways that almost no one understands if they haven’t been there themselves.
Worrying about money takes so much time and mental energy.
You spend all day, every day trying to juggle impossible choices.
Do you buy socks for your kid or medicine for yourself? How many days until that check clears? What can we sell to buy some groceries?
Poverty is exhausting. Even without the overtime hours. And the 2nd job.
You learn only so much from poverty;
it quickly becomes a redundant lesson.
– William O’Rourke
I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor.
Believe me, honey,
rich is better.
– Sophie Tucker
Cross the poverty line the other direction and you’re the working poor, still busting your butt,
but bills get paid, and with luck, things get better.
The other line you cross is the comfort line.
Step over this one and suddenly money starts to help with problems instead of causing problems.
(Working less hours for more pay—what a concept!)
More money can’t solve every problem—but it’s surprising how many troubles go away if you “just throw money at it” as my sister once said.
For me, I knew I’d crossed this line when the weekly job of trying to balance the checkbook and pay bills stopped making my stomach hurt.
More money can’t make you fool-proof happy, but it can provide a much pleasanter place to be unhappy in.
When Barbara Walters first
interviewed me, in Chicago in 1988, and asked
if there was an extravagance I’d given myself…
I gave her a tour of my linen closet.
She didn’t seem too impressed. But I was thrilled.
For a girl who grew up sharing a bath towel with two half-siblings,
to have a closet of lush Ralph Lauren towels in every color, in an
apartment overlooking Lake Michigan, was a beautiful thing indeed.
– Oprah Winfrey7
Here’s another thing I learned: People with money rarely talk about money.
Money brings some happiness.
But after a certain point
it just brings more money.
– Neil Simon
F Scott Fitzgerald had money early in his career and he talked (and wrote)
about money a lot.
But he also talked about class apart from money—
something he believed he could never have.
It reminds me of a philosophical discussion
Ernest once had with Scott Fitzgerald…
He once said, in an admiring wistful way,
‘The rich are not like us, Ernest.’
And Ernest said, ‘No, they have more money.’
– war correspondent Martha Gellhorn
Even when they enter deep into our world
or sink below us, they still think
that they are better than we are.
They are different.
– from ‘The Rich Boy’
a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald
I’m not buying this one. Not that I’ve been around much ‘old money.’
Or even minor royalty.
But I’m too American to believe in ‘breeding.’
Good breeding consists in concealing
how much we think of ourselves and how
little we think of the other person.
– Mark Twain
Although my grandmother did talk about ‘shanty Irish’ and ‘lace-curtain Irish.’
(I’m pretty sure she believed she was the latter—while standing in her
tar-paper house with no indoor plumbing.)
My grandmother actually attended
‘finishing’ school in Ohio as a girl—
but that’s a story for another time…
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
I guess the main thing I’ve learned is that there is no basis for snobbery.
Money doesn’t add value to human beings, and it can’t make anyone better.
It just makes problems easier to solve, and gives a person
a little more freedom and a lot more choices in life.
I woke to look out my window
at a saba tree…and hear the palms rattling
in the morning wind…
It seems, somehow, shameful
to be so well off in such a tragic world,
but I console myself by saying that
my money will run out in due course
and I’ll be back working hard for it, and paying
again for this brief breathing spell.
– Martha Gellhorn
Cuba, March 18, 1939
in a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt
“Half Cup More”
During World War 2, an odd coalition of librarians, paper manufacturers,
the US military, and book publishers were looking for
a way to get books to soldiers.4
This is such a feel good story for anybody who loves books
and who wonders sometimes as I do, well,
what practical purpose does this great
love of literature really serve?
– Maureen Corrigan5
They called themselves the Council on Books in Wartime and
what they came up with has been called
The Biggest Book Giveaway in History
The Red Cross was administering a program to send books to soldiers, but these tended to be used hardbacks—bulky, unwanted titles, often in poor condition, and way too few in number.4
The Council realized they needed new books that were sturdy and small and easy to carry.
The solution was to print their own. They used magazine presses to print two copies on each page, slice the book in half perpendicular to the binding, and then bind the short edge to hold the pages together.4
As an aside, this program
essentially invented the popular paperback,
which took off in the post-war years.
Books that previously available only as
expensive hardbacks began to be printed on lower-grade paper
with paper covers—a form that previously been used
only for cheap mysteries, gothic horror serials,
and comic books.4
The books are tiny—
About the height and width of a postcard.
As Maureen Corrigan wrote, they look like ‘a thicker version of a child’s flip book.’ 1
The books vary in length. A few titles were abridged (like Moby Dick). A few were censored. (Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage was rejected because of a scene of violence against Mormons.)1
But almost all were faithfully printed as originally published—
as is proudly stated on most covers:
ARMED SERVICES EDITION
THIS IS A COMPLETE BOOK—NOT A DIGEST
Printed for just six cents a volume, these newly minted Armed Services Editions delivered almost 123 million books to American troops stationed all over the world including to Americans in POW camps in Germany and Japan.
The books were a mix of genres:
Literature, poetry, science, history, westerns, mysteries, and cartoons. In all, there were over 1300 separate titles.4
By the spring of 1945, the program shipped 155,000 crates of these Armed Services Editions each month, with 40 new books packed into each box. Whenever they arrived the soldiers tore into them, eager for something new to read.4
Stranded in overseas bases, fighting off boredom,
many readers picked up books they might not otherwise have touched,
grateful to have anything to read at all…
The books were “as popular as pin-up girls.”
– historian Yoni Appelbaum4
The books belonged to the soldiers themselves. They passed them around. They sliced them apart to share in installments. They read them aloud to their buddies. Literature became theirs—no longer reserved only for people who could afford it.4
During the lulls in the battle
I would read [poetry] about
another war and found
a great deal of comfort and reassurance.
– Arnold Gates
who carried a book by Carl Sandburg
in his helmet during the Battle of Saipan1
There was some worry among the publishers. What if these books don’t stay overseas? A flood of cheap books at home would surely hurt their future sales.
Or what if soldiers became used to getting books for free and won’t want to pay for books when they get back home?
The opposite later proved to be true, but even at the time, those complaints were successfully countered with patriotism.
The Council said: The Nazis are taking books away from people and burning them—
We are giving books to our soldiers for free.4
“Dog-eared and moldy
and limp from the humidity those books go up the line,”
wrote a war reporter from the southwest Pacific.
“Because they are what they are, because they can be packed
in a hip pocket or snuck into a shoulder pack,
men are reading where men have never read before.”
A lieutenant in the Marshall Islands wrote of
seeing men devour books “by a dim flashlight under a shelter half,
even after the air-raid siren has already blown and they
should be in a foxhole.” Another soldier reported
that “the books are read until they fall apart.”
– historian Yoni Appelbaum4
In 1945, the Council chose an out-of-print novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
They printed 155,000 Armed Service Edition copies of The Great Gatsby, more that all its previous print runs combined.1 The book became very popular with the soldiers, it was re-printed back in the states, and has never gone out of print since.
The Armed Service Edition books
are such an amazing testimate to what books can
mean to people at critical times in their lives.
– Maureen Corrigan5
in the green light, the orgastic future
that year by year recedes before us.
It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—
tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further…
And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past.
– from ‘The Great Gatsby’
by F Scott Fitzgerald
Thank you for reading!
— Kelly J Hardesty
Scroll down to the end—and you can leave me note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.
You Can Read More…
notes & footnotes
So We Read On (2014)
by Maureen Corrigan
Corrigan’s book is described as a ‘critique of The Great Gatsby,’
but I think she herself would admit
it’s basically a love letter to Fitzgerald’s greatest novel.
about race Corrigan says:
One big reason why Fitzgerald set The Great Gatsby in
the mixing bowl of New York is that he wanted to weigh in,
albeit ambiguously, on some core American issues,
and the city was the center for debates in the 1920s.
10 Things You May Not Know About F. Scott Fitzgerald
by Evan Andrews
Mar 24, 2015
Sincerely F Scott Fitzgerald
Jul 24, 2015
A video with novelist with Jay McInerney exploring the life and writing of F Scott Fitzgerald
Publishers Gave Away 122,951,031 Books During World War II
And, in the process, they created a nation of readers.
by Yoni Appelbaum
September 10, 2014
Maureen Corrigan, an NPR book critic,
was interviewed by her boss Terry Gross
about Corrigan’s 2014 book.
How ‘Gatsby’ Went From A Moldering Flop To A Great American Novel
on NPR’s Fresh Air
September 8, 2014
I got myself to college.
But I had plenty of help. My mother was proud of me.
My sister-in-law let me sleep on her couch for five months and
my sister let me sleep on her couch (not once, not twice, but three times),
where I could live rent-free and work and save money.
The father of a dear friend offered ‘help whenever I needed’
(and one time I took them up on it).
My hometown gave me 4 scholarships during my first 3 years of college.
The governor of my state and the president of my country
approved real money to support colleges and students.
Without Pell Grants I would never have
made it through—or even to—college.
(Pell was a robust program in the 1980s. It’s anemic at best now.
Plus tuition is more than 30x more expensive.
Kids without family money now haven’t got a chance.)
This Is the First Thing Oprah Ever Splurged On
by Oprah Winfrey
O, The Oprah Magazine
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© Kelly J Hardesty 2023