F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finances, for all to see
Less than two weeks before the highly anticipated movie, “The Great Gatsby,” opens in theaters, researchers at the University of South Carolina’s library have made a digital version of author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s handwritten financial ledger available on their website.
The ledger, posted by researchers from the Thomas Cooper Library last week, is being made available to students, readers and scholars for the first time and provides insight into Fitzgerald’s finances and personal life.
“This is a record of everything Fitzgerald wrote, and what he did with it, in his own hand,” director of the Ernest F. Hollings Library and Rare Books Collection Elizabeth Sudduth told the Associated Press.
The original ledger currently sits in the library’s below-ground, rare-book vault but will be on display at the library for about a month starting May 6 in anticipation of the “Gatsby” movie, Suddith said. The library timed the ledger’s online display with the movie’s release in order to call more attention to the collection.
The ledger shows Fitzgerald’s tallies of his earnings for each of his works, including “The Great Gatsby.” The ledger also lists his short stories, other books and film and theater adaptations. In careful columns, Fitzgerald laid out his works, the location they were printed and the income they produced.
Intermingled in the ledger are Fitzgerald’s comments. One comment describes the year 1919 as “the most important year of my life. Every emotion and my life work decided. Miserable and ecstatic but a great success.” In 1919, Fitzgerald’s first novel was accepted for publication and his wife Zelda agreed to marry him.
Suddith said the ledger shows that Fitzgerald was “far more on top of his affairs than people thought.”
"He was keeping a record of his work for the future," Suddeth said. "He kept it, he updated it."
The Thomas Cooper library has the world’s most comprehensive Fitzgerald collection, which includes more than 3,000 publications, manuscripts, letters, books, screenplays and memorabilia. The library houses Fitzgerald’s walking stick, briefcase and engraved silver flask given to him by Zelda.
The library acquired the ledger in 1994 from Matthew Bruccoli, a professor at the University of Southern California and preeminent Fitzgerald scholar, who began to acquire Fitzgerald items in the 1950s. Bruccoli received the ledger from Fitzgerald’s daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald. Bruccoli donated the ledger to the university to be used as a teaching and research tool.
USC English professor Park Bucker told the Associated Press that he is eager to discuss the ledger with his students. Barker said the ledger might be unique among American authors.
“This is going to be an amazing thing for students to pore over and dip into,” Bucker said. “He created his own database. We do it on computers now, but he did it for himself.”
Bucker also pointed out that the ledger shows that Fitzgerald was able to make a living as an author, mostly from his short stories.
In 1925, the ledger shows that Fitzgerald earned less than $2,000 for “The Great Gatsby” — the same amount he earned for a short story published in the “Saturday Evening Post.”
As the years went on, Fitzgerald added more “Gatsby” earnings. He recorded the $16,666 he received for the foreign motion picture rights and the $5,000 he earned when “Gatsby” ran as a play in New York, Chicago and other cities.
Almost a century later, BoxOffice.com predicts that “The Great Gatsby” will make $24 million on opening weekend and a cumulative $73 million. But unfortunately, those figures won’t make it into the ledger.