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Introduction F. Scott Fitzgerald, “the Cultural World,” and the Lure of the American Scene

  • Michael Nowlin
Chapter
Part of the American Literature Readings in the 21st Century book series (ALTC)

Abstract

“My one hope is to be endorsed by the intellectually élite & thus be forced on to people as Conrad has,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald to his editor Maxwell Perkins late in 1921.1 Enjoying unusual early success as a twenty-five-year-old author of an autobiographical novel and a handful of well-placed stories, he was alerting Perkins that he was going to alienate a good portion of his readership with his more serious and mature follow-up novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922). His wish—or fear—did not come true: The Beautiful and Damned sold over thirty thousand copies within its first two months and proved Fitzgerald’s most commercially successful novel during his lifetime. Still, his unabashed statement of ambition spoke volumes about the contradictory nature of literary success as he understood it— and he understood it astutely. One was never really an artistic success until one risked commercial failure; and one could risk commercial failure because of the power invested in an authoritarian, cultural court-of-appeal to confer true and final value.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence, eds. John Kuehl and Jackson R. Bryer (New York: Scribner’s, 1971), 47.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Life in Letters, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), 67.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald on Authorship, eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Judith S. Baughman (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996), 83.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For a superb discussion of the voguish “difficulty” associated with the rise of modernist art, see Leonard Diepeveen, The Difficulties of Modernism (New York: Routledge, 2003), 1–42.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, tr. Susan Emanuel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 142.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    In his contribution to The Cambridge History of American Literature, Jonathan Arac demonstrates why Hawthorne “was the writer of prose narrative most important in establishing the kind of writing now recognized as ‘literary’”(693), though he also suggests that historical circumstances and antebellum literary institutions were not favorable to sustaining the position of the pure, disinterested artist. Hence Henry James’s need to establish again, more than a generation later and under new circumstances, the position Hawthorne very precariously enjoyed. James’s contact with the French literary scene was doubtless essential to the success of his effort. See Jonathan Arac, Narrative Forms, in The Cambridge History of American Literature, Vol. 2, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 693–777.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Matthew J. Bruccoli and Jennifer McCabe Atkinson, eds. As Ever, Scott Fitz-: Letters Between Scott Fitzgerald and His Literary Agent Harold Ober, 1919–1940 (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1972), 35–36.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Matthew J. Bruccoli, “The Man of Letters as Professional,” introduction to Fitzgerald on Authorship, 11. See also James L.W. West III, “F. Scott Fitzgerald, Professional Author,” in A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Kirk Curnutt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 49–68.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Willa Cather, “On the Art of Fiction,” in On Writing: Critical Studies on Writing as an Art (New York: Knopf, 1953), 103.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Cited in Mark Schorer, Sinclair Lewis: An American Life (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), 298.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Matthew Bruccoli, ed. The Only Thing That Counts: The Ernest Hemingway/Maxwell Perkins Correspondence, 1925–1947 (New York: Scribner’s, 1996), 119.Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    See F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up, ed. Edmund Wilson (New York: New Directions, 1945), 89.Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    Literary authors such as Fitzgerald were thus in fact not professionals in the sense that, e.g., lawyers, physicians, or university professors were: see West, “F. Scott Fitzgerald, Professional Author,” 49–51; and Thomas Strychacz, Modernism, Mass Culture and Professionalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 22–27.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    These are most helpfully discussed by Astadur Eysteinsson, The Concept of Modernism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 1–3Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    Select recent work in this vein includes Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995)Google Scholar
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  17. Michael North, Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)Google Scholar
  18. Chip Rhodes, Structures of the Jazz Age (London: Verso, 1998)Google Scholar
  19. Walter Benn Michaels, Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  20. Daniel Joseph Singal, “Towards a Definition of American Modernism,” American Quarterly 39 (March 1987): 7–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 26.
    Lawrence Rainey, Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Public Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998)Google Scholar
  22. Mark McGurl, The Novel Art: Elevations of American Fiction After Henry James (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  23. 30.
    See Alan Margolies, “Introduction” to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul Plays (Princeton: Princeton University Library, 1978), 3–9Google Scholar
  24. Chip Deffaa, “Introduction” to F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Princeton Tears (Fort Bragg: Cypress House, 1996), 3–16.Google Scholar
  25. 31.
    Ruth Prigozy, “Introduction: Scott, Zelda, and the Culture of Celebrity,” in The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Ruth Prigozy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 1–23.Google Scholar
  26. 33.
    Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1992), 47–48.Google Scholar
  27. 34.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon: An Unfinished Novel Together With “The Great Gatsby” and Selected Stories (New York: Scribner’s, 1941), 163.Google Scholar
  28. 35.
    Andrew Turnbull, ed. The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald (New York: Scribner’s, 1963), 503.Google Scholar
  29. 38.
    For other interpretations of the implications of Fitzgerald’s ancestry, see Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, 11–20; Scott Donaldson, Fool for Love: A Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald (NewYork: Delta, 1983), 1–17Google Scholar
  30. John Irwin, “Is Fitzgerald a Southern Writer?,” Raritan 16 (winter 1997), 2–6Google Scholar
  31. 40.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925; New York: Macmillan, 1991), 54.Google Scholar
  32. 41.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night (1934; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 133.Google Scholar
  33. 44.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 318.Google Scholar
  34. 45.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Love of the Last Tycoon, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Scribner’s, 1994), 138–39.Google Scholar
  35. 47.
    Richard Dyer, White (London: Routledge, 1997), 28.Google Scholar

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© Michael Nowlin 2007

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  • Michael Nowlin

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