‘I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald ****

All eighteen short fictions collected here were lost in one sense or another: physically lost, coming to light only recently; lost in the turbulence of Fitzgerald’s later life; lost to readers because his editors sometimes did not understand what he was trying to write. These fascinating stories offer a new insight into the arc of Fitzgerald’s career, and demonstrate his stylistic agility and imaginative power as a writer at the forefront of Modern literature. ‘There are ostensibly bleak currents running through these stories … but what really makes an impression is the humour… In the period he was writing these stories he talked of his desire to open up a “new vein” in his writing.’

9781471164705Like many fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I expect, I was very excited to get my hands on I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories. Released last year, the volume is comprised of eighteen stories in all, including two uncollected fragments; they are the ‘last remaining unpublished short stories’ which will be published. Fitzgerald was prolific in writing short stories, and also a shrewd fellow; he recognised that he could make a great deal more money more quickly in selling them to magazines, than he could with writing and then serialising a full-length novel.

A lot of the tales in I’d Die for You were rejected by editors who had previously published his work; some are a little experimental, and veer away from the themes and character studies which seem characteristic of Fitzgerald’s prose. Each of the stories is preceded with details of its writing process, and details those magazines which Fitzgerald approached to publish them.

As I expected, some of the stories here are far better than others, but each has a lot to discover and discuss. Overall, the quality is unsurprisingly high, and it is fascinating to chart Fitzgerald’s progress as a short story writer. It is clear to the discerning reader that Fitzgerald refined early techniques over time, and a lot of these fragments and short stories are echoed within the likes of The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. I’d Die for You is a must read for all fans of Fitzgerald’s longer work, and is sure to make the perfect gift.

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The Gregory Peck-a-Long: ‘The Beautiful and Damned’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald **** (Classics Club #55)

Book number 55 on my Classics Club list is another by the wonderful F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned.  It slotted in with my reading plans with the lovely Belinda, and is thus part of this week’s Gregory Peck-a-long spectacular.

The heir to his grandfather’s relatively large fortune, protagonist Anthony Patch is ‘led astray from the path to gainful employment by the temptations of the 1920s Jazz Age.  His descent into dissolution and profligacy is accelerated by his marriage to the attractive but turbulent Gloria, and the couple soon discover the dangerous flip side of a life of glamour and debauchery’.  The gorgeous Alma Classics edition which I read heralds The Beautiful and Damned ‘a tragic examination of the pitfalls of greed and materialism and the transience of youth and beauty’.

The novel, Fitzgerald’s second, was published in 1922, and is split into three separate books.  It takes place in New York City, and paints rather a ‘satirical portrait of the Jazz Age’.  As with much of his fiction, The Beautiful and Damned contains parallels to the fascinating and rather heartbreaking lives of F. Scott and his wife, Zelda.  It is possible to see certain characteristics of Fitzgerald himself in his initial description of Anthony, for instance: ‘As you first see him he wonders frequently whether he is not without honour and slightly mad, a shameful and obscene thinness glistening on the surface of the world like oil on a clean pond, these occasions being varied, of course, with those in which he thinks himself rather an exceptional young man, thoroughly sophisticated, well adjusted to his environment and somewhat more significant than anyone else he knows’.

The writing is beautiful, as one might expect, and those sentences and paragraphs which focus upon the young couple are sublime.  One could easily imagine scenes such as the following featuring F. Scott and Zelda: ‘They were stars on this stage, each playing to an audience of two: the passion of their pretence created the actuality.  Here, finally, was the quintessence of self-expression – yet it was probable that for the most part their love expressed Gloria rather than Anthony.  He often felt like a scarcely tolerated guest at a party she was giving’.

The Beautiful and Damned does feel quite different to some of Fitzgerald’s later work, but it is possible – and rather enjoyable, too – to view the progression from one work to the next, and also to pinpoint those aspects of his writing which he bettered over time.  Whilst the prose itself is stylish, it does not always have the feel to it of a Fitzgerald novel, and perhaps lacks a little of the sparkle which I have come to expect from his stories.  There is something a little less tight about its feel than in his later novels, but it is certainly worth reading, and is a most enjoyable novel nonetheless.

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‘Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’, edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Bates *****

I am a touch obsessed with the Fitzgeralds at present.  Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda is one of the books which I have most looked forward to reading – ever, I think.  I spotted it quite by chance in Cambridge Central Library whilst I was browsing the biography section, and may have given a tiny squeal of joy before snapping it up.  To add to my excitement, it is also the favourite book of one of my absolute favourite musicians, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie.

‘Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda’ (Bloomsbury)

The letters in Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda have never before been published in the same volume.  The informative preface which the editors of the book, Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Bates have penned, states the way in which they have chosen to adopt a chronological approach to present the correspondence of the husband and wife.  This is certainly my preferred form for letter collections and works of non-fiction, and it has been used to great effect here.

Elements of biography can be found before each letter, and it is clear that Bryer and Bates have greatly respected the material which they have presented in the volume.  So much thought has been put into how the letters are presented, and each section has a nicely written introduction, which sets out the point at which the lives of the Fitzgeralds were in each particular period.  Eleanor Lanahan, the granddaughter of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, has written the introduction to Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda, and its inclusion feels so very fitting for a number of reasons.  Her words are touching, and it is pleasing that she sets such stock by the work of her grandparents.

Throughout, I felt privileged to be able to read the correspondence of Scott and Zelda.  Their letters to one another, even in the more troubled years of their marriage, are just darling.  The prose is beautiful, the similes and metaphors gorgeous, and the spontaneity in each and every letter is marvellous.  What characters both Scott and Zelda were, and how lucky we are as readers to be able to read their most private of works.  I admire the way in which the editors have kept the original spellings and punctuation in the letters.  The photographs and facsimiles of letters are a lovely addition to the text too.

The story of Scott and Zelda is often very sad, with Zelda being hospitalised for mental illness during the later years of her life, and Scott’s alcoholism, but their love is always there, no matter which situations they may find themselves in.  Love is the enduring factor here, in all of its many forms.

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda is a fascinating collection of correspondence, which continually exemplifies the depths of Scott and Zelda’s love for one another.  Many of the letters here were penned by Zelda, and she writes beautifully.  Some of the sentences which she crafts are breathtaking and heartfelt, such as this, written in November 1931:

“… if you will come back I will make the jasmine bloom and all the trees come out in flower and we will eat clouds for des[s]ert[,] bathe in the foam of the rain – and I will let you play with my pistol and you can win every golf game and I will make you a new suit from a blue hydrangea bush and shoes from pecan-shells and I’ll sew you a belt from leaves like maps of the world and you can always be the one that’s perfect.”

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda comes highly recommended, and it is certainly a book which I will be purchasing my own copy of in future, so that I can read it all over again.

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Women of The Jazz Age

I have a slight obsession with inter-war novels and the lives of those people who culturally helped shape the Jazz Age. There are some amazing women who played public and literary roles whose stories I have enjoyed greatly and in honor of International Women’s day in March I thought I would list some of my forever favorite bios.

Zelda by Nancy Milford

If there was ever a muse to an author, it was surely Zelda to Scott. She was the idealized flapper to the pubic and for a while they were the enchanted couple. Hadley Hemingway once said that to watch Scott and Zelda dance the Charleston in Paris was to see it done to perfection and not to be forgotten. From the early years to the glory years and the decline of her mental health, this book has her story wonderfully compiled, and is the most complete of anything I’ve read yet on Zelda.

Rating: 5 stars

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Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s critical approval was years long in coming, despite her first piece’s success. To say she lived life on her own terms doesn’t even apply. She was a terrific and wild force. Her exploits sexually are legendary, but her relationships with her mother and anyone strong enough to get close to her, are complicated to extremes.  This is a must read for Jazz Age enthusiasts.

Rating: 5 stars

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‘Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin’ by Marion Meade

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin by Marion Meade

Not technically biography, but more a chronicle of the lives of four pillars of the Jazz Age woman. Dorothy Parker, Edna Thurber, Zelda Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay are followed yearly from 1920 through 1929. This is a mixture of social history, biography, gossip and overview of their lives. I did like how it was done one year at a time. It was a nice way to show parallels in their lives and careers. A fun addition to full biographies, it is less formal and is a quick read.

Rating: 4 stars

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