by Ryan Marshall
Fitzgerald is buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church on Veirs Mill Road, along with his wife Zelda, daughter “Scottie” and other relatives.
The festival is not a typical literary conference geared toward academics, said Eleanor Heginbotham, one of the festival’s organizers. The panels and discussions are geared to be friendly toward the public, she said.
Fitzgerald has continued to capture people’s imagination partly because he and Zelda lived a very glamorous life, said Jackson Bryer, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Maryland and president of the organization that sponsors the festival.
The tumultuous marriage has become part of popular culture “for all the wrong reasons as well as the right reasons,” he said.
The enduring appeal of Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and other works have also driven people’s fascination.
People fall in love with the story and characters in “Gatsby,” as well as the poetry and style of the writing, Bryer said.
The novel often divides students along the lines of those who think Gatsby is a fool and others who see him as a yearning idealist, he said.
“It kind of separates the business majors from the English majors,” Bryer said.
The event will actually begin Thursday, with a literary luncheon at the Mansion at Strathmore in Bethesda.
Friday will feature readings and discussion on “Writing the War Experience” with writers Ron Capps, Katey Schultz and James T. Matthews at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.
Saturday will include a full schedule of events, discussions and workshops, including a master’s class by writer James Salter and a discussion with panelists sharing their favorite passages in Fitzgerald’s work, including journalist Jim Lehrer and author Alice McDermott.
Salter will also receive the 2014 F. Scott Fitzgerald Award, which since 1996 has been given to writers including William Styron, Joyce Carol Oates, E.L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, John Updike and Elmore Leonard.
Heginbotham is a professor emerita at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn., the city where Fitzgerald was born in 1896.
When she moved back to Maryland, she got involved in the festival to help celebrate one of her favorite authors.
Fitzgerald had deep roots in Maryland, and did a lot of writing in the state, Heginbotham said.
His father Edward Fitzgerald was from a prominent family in the county, and young Scott often visited the family’s farm, Locust Grove.
The festival is about bringing people together who love Fitzgerald, said Roberta Mandrekas of Montgomery College.
Any time you read Fitzgerald, something is bound to resonate with you, Mandrekas said.
When Fitzgerald died in 1940, sales of his books were infinitesimally small, Bryer said.
But his legend was still big enough that between 20 and 30 papers wrote obituaries or editorials, although most celebrated him simply as a bard of the Jazz Age, an “exemplar of a time gone by,” Bryer said.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that critics began to regard Fitzgerald as more than just a naturally talented dilettante, and “The Great Gatsby” became recognized as a classic of American literature, Bryer said.
Fitzgerald’s reputation also suffered during his lifetime through comparisons to his contemporary, rival and sometime-friend Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway was larger than life, and his books sold much better, Bryer said.
As result, Fitzgerald envied Hemingway’s commercial success and Hemingway thought Fitzgerald was the superior stylist.
In its 18th year, the festival honoring Fitzgerald’s legacy continues because even today Heginbotham believes people have a tangible connection to the author.
“In our culture, in our ethos, we breathe him,” she said.
In a new book, So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, literary scholar Maureen Corrigan explains why the novel failed in its author’s day but has since enthralled millions
By: Jennifer Hunter The Reader
“His life was depressing at times, but there is the consolation of art for those of us who believe he created a masterpiece.”
Maureen Corrigan has an unabashed passion for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. For more than 30 years, the Georgetown University professor and NPR (National Public Radio (NPR) book reviewer has taught Gatsby, lectured about it across the United States and researched Fitzgerald’s life and times. She spoke with the Star about her new book, So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures. The interview has been edited for length.
Every five years I read all of Jane Austen, but The Great Gatsby is not something I’ve thought about picking up since university. Why are you so affected by this particular Fitzgerald novel? Why do you read it again and again?
The first time I read it was in high school, which is when most American students read it. I didn’t love it; I thought it was kind of boring. It was about rich people and I wasn’t particularly drawn to these wealthy characters, coming from a blue- collar background myself.
I did my master’s degree in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania and then, of course, I had to teach Gatsby to freshmen. As I re-read Gatsby, the language drew me in.
It’s that odd kind of novel. It is not a character-driven novel or a plot-driven novel, but Nick Carraway’s voice drew me in, and Fitzgerald’s language captures aspiration and yearning and regret. He does so in ordinary American diction and even slang sometimes, but it is made unearthly because he is a poet and his use of words is just stunning.
To give you an example, the first time you see Gatsby in the novel, at the end of Chapter 1, he is standing and looking up at the “silver pepper of the stars.” That’s a phrase that lodges in my mind.
Who thinks like that except a poet? It is a perfect phrase to describe how Gatsby is standing because he is a character who is about aspiration, about stretching his arms farther and looking up to the stars, even if that aspiration is doomed to failure.
That’s a very long answer to your question. But it is the language that drew me in and it is the language that keeps me coming back.
I have never thought of Fitzgerald as a poet.
Maybe you have to hear it read out loud. When you read those passages out loud they hit you a different way than when you are just reading to yourself. You can even catch the humour of Gatsby.
I teach a course on New York literature, and one of the ways I teach it is to make students read Gatsby out loud. That famous Queensboro Bridge passage where Nick and Gatsby are driving into Manhattan from Long Island, Fitzgerald sticks a joke in there. He talks about the skyscrapers rising up like sugar lumps built with non-olfactory money, money that doesn’t smell.
Of course he is being ironic, especially because in the next scene you meet Meyer Wolfsheim, who is a gangster. There are moments like that when Fitzgerald is very wry.
It was astonishing to learn that after Gatsby was published, it wasn’t a bestseller. Sales were dismal. You note that “by the time Fitzgerald died in 1940, his greatest novel had pretty much disappeared.” And while he was alive, he couldn’t even buy the book to give to friends. It wasn’t in bookstores.
A lot of the popular press read Gatsby as a crime story. They focused on the three violent deaths, the bootlegging, the gangster aspect.
Fitzgerald himself had a lot of theories about why his book didn’t sell. His main theory was that the novel didn’t have a favourable female character. He says in a letter to Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribner’s, that women drive the fiction market.
He always thought the title wasn’t appealing enough and that the book was too short. Perkins shared that opinion. It wasn’t enough book for a buck.
There was one beautiful review by literary critic Gilbert Seldes. Ernest Hemingway (supposedly Fitzgerald’s best friend) was such a nasty man, and he told Fitzgerald that the positive review was bad for him psychologically, saying, ‘Too bad about the Gilbert Seldes review. How could you possibly write anything that is going to garner a review like that again?’ He was such an awful friend.
What brought Gatsby back to life in the 1960s?
During World War II, publishers and librarians got together in New York and decided the army and the navy needed books to read, and they produced the Armed Services Editions. That included 1,000 titles, from Moby Dick to My Friend Flicka.
Gatsby was chosen as one of those. He goes from mouldering in Scribner’s to having 155,000 copies distributed to the army and navy. You have to believe that had an effect in bringing Fitzgerald back.
By 1949, there is a second Gatsby film (the first was a silent), made with Alan Ladd, and in the 1950s you begin to get people writing about Fitzgerald. There was Arthur Mizener’s biography and in 1951 Alfred Kazin (writer and critic) brought out a book of essays about Fitzgerald which are beautiful.
Unfortunately, Fitzgerald never got to enjoy his later success. He died thinking he was a failure, that no one wanted to read his stories and novels.
In my book I quote a letter where Fitzgerald has made an assessment of his library. He was going to leave it to Sheilah Graham (the Hollywood gossip columnist who became his girlfriend), and the forced sale, he figured, would add up to $300.
There are a couple of heroines in terms of preserving Fitzgerald’s papers and work. Frances Kroll Ring was his secretary in Hollywood, and when Fitzgerald died she boxed everything up, letters and manuscripts, and sent it to Harold Ober, Fitzgerald’s literary agent.
Scottie Fitzgerald (his daughter) is a heroine in terms of literary history. When Fitzgerald died, she and Zelda (Fitzgerald’s wife) were determined not to sell things off piecemeal. In the 1940s, she offered all of Fitzgerald’s papers to Princeton (where Fitzgerald had studied).
They weren’t interested and finally they made an offer of $1,000 for his manuscripts, including The Great Gatsby. Ultimately Scottie ended up just giving them to Princeton.
It’s heartbreaking. When Fitzgerald died, he had a heart attack in Hollywood. He was reading the Princeton alumni bulletin. And you could see his pencil marks as he was checking off the names of football players who he thought were promising on the Princeton team. And suddenly the pencil zigzags off the page.
Today the Fitzgerald papers are the treasure of Princeton University’s library.
Tiffany’s recently offered Daisy-style necklaces as Baz Luhrmann’s film came out; there is a computer game in which Nick Carraway searches for Gatsby; there is an indie rock band called Gatsbys (sic) American Dream, etc. I don’t think Hemingway’s books have had that impact, nor Herman Melville. Why does Gatsby?
It’s an acknowledgement of how many people have read it. I don’t think most high school kids read Moby Dick. When I ask my class each year about it, only a few freshmen raise their hands. And there don’t seem to be as many Hemingway readers. Gatsby remains on high school and college curriculums.
Gatsby is a tragic novel and Fitzgerald had a tragic life.
There is an aspect of The Great Gatsby that seems to step out of the realm of being a novel and is prescient about Fitzgerald’s life.
It is eerie when you think Zelda had her first breakdown in 1929, four years after Gatsby was published. And Fitzgerald’s own life takes a short downward turn in the 1930s, when his books are out of fashion. He wasn’t considered a proletarian author. He is seen as someone who glorifies the rich.
Most eerie of all is the way that Gatsby’s funeral anticipates Fitzgerald’s, where he is buried in the rain by a Protestant minister who doesn’t even know who Fitzgerald is. And there are only a couple of people at the service.
His life was depressing at times, but there is the consolation of art for those of us who believe he created a masterpiece. Maybe he didn’t have happiness in life, but look what he left behind.
By H.L. Mencken
AuthorsF. Scott FitzgeraldH.L. MenckenBooksBooks and MagazinesLiterature
Time Machine: A look back at H.L. Mencken's 1925 review of "The Great Gatsby"
Time Machine is a new Printers Row Journal feature offering a look at past Tribune books coverage. This week, we offer H.L. Mencken's 1925 review of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Scott Fitzgerald's new novel, "The Great Gatsby" is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that. The scene is the Long Island that hangs precariously on the edges of the New York City trash dumps — the Long Island of the gandy villas and bawdy house parties. The theme is the old one of a romantic and preposterous love — the ancient fidelis ad urnum motif reduced to a macabre humor. The principal personage is a bounder typical of those parts — a fellow who seems to know every one and yet remains unknown to all — a young man with a great deal of mysterious money, the tastes of a movie actor and, under it all, the simple sentimentality of a somewhat sclerotic fat woman.
This clown Fitzgerald rushes to his death in nine short chapters. The other performers in the Totentons are of a like, or even worse, quality. One of them is a rich man who carries on a grotesque intrigue with the wife of a garage keeper. Another is a woman golfer who wins championships by cheating. A third, a sort of chorus to the tragic farce, is a bond salesman — symbol of the New America! Fitzgerald clears them all off at last by a triple butchery. The garage-keeper's wife, rushing out upon the road to escape her husband's third degree is run down and killed by the wife of her lover. The garage keeper, misled by the lover, kills the lover of the lover's wife — the Great Gatsby himself. Another bullet, and the garage keeper is also reduced to offal. Choragus fades away. The crooked lady golfer departs. The lover of the garage keeper's wife goes back to his own consort. The immense house of the Great Gatsby stands idle, its bedrooms given over to the bat and the owl, its cocktail shakers dry. The curtain lurches down.
This story is obviously unimportant and, though, as I shall show, it has its place in the Fitzgerald canon, it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf with, say, "This Side of Paradise." What ails it, fundamentally, is the plain fact that it is simply a story — that Fitzgerald seems to be far more interested in maintaining its suspense than in getting under the skins of its people. It is not that they are false: it is that they are taken too much for granted. Only Gatsby himself genuinely lives and breathes. The rest are mere marionettes — often astonishingly lifelike, but nevertheless not quite alive.
What gives the story distinction is something quite different from the management of the action or the handling of the characters; it is the charm and beauty of the writing. In Fitzgerald's first days it seemed almost unimaginable that he would ever show such qualities. His writing then was extraordinarily slipshod — at times almost illiterate. He seemed to be devoid of any feeling for the color and savor of words. He could see people clearly and he could devise capital situations, but as writer qua writer he was apparently little more than a bright college boy. The critics of the Republic were not slow to discern the fact. They praised "This Side of Paradise" as a story, as a social document, but they were almost unanimous in denouncing it as a piece of writing.
It is vastly to Fitzgerald's credit that he appears to have taken their caveats seriously, and pondered them to good effect. In "The Great Gatsby," highly agreeable fruits of that pondering are visible. The story, for all its basic triviality, has a fine texture, a careful and brilliant finish. The obvious phrase is simply not in it. The sentences roll along smoothly, sparklingly, variously. There is evidence in every line of hard and intelligent effort. It is a quite new Fitzgerald who emerges from this little book, and the qualities that he shows are dignified and solid. "This Side of Paradise," after all, might have been merely a lucky accident. But "The Great Gatsby," a far inferior story at bottom, is plainly the product of a sound and stable talent, conjured into being by hard work.
Reversing the Order
I make much of this improvement because it is of an order not witnessed in American writers; and seldom, indeed, in those who start off with popular success. The usual progression indeed, is in the opposite direction. Every year first books of great promise are published — and every year a great deal of stale drivel is printed by the promising authors of year before last. The rewards of literary success in this country are so vast that, when they come early, they are not unnaturally somewhat demoralizing. The average author yields to them readily. Having struck the bull's-eye once, he is too proud to learn new tricks. Above all, he is too proud to tackle hard work. The result is a gradual degeneration of whatever talent he had at the beginning. He begins to imitate himself. He peters out.
There is certainly no sign of petering out in Fitzgerald. After his first experimenting he plainly sat himself down calmly to consider his deficiencies. They were many and serious. He was, first of all, too facile. He could write entertainingly without giving thought to form and organization. He was, secondly, somewhat amateurish. The materials and methods of his craft, I venture, rather puzzled him. He used them ineptly. His books showed brilliancy in conception, but they were crude and even ignorant in detail. They suggested, only too often, the improvisations of a pianist playing furiously by ear, but unable to read notes.
These are the defects that he has now got rid of. "The Great Gatsby," I seem to recall, was announced a long while ago. It was probably several years on the stocks. It shows, on every page, the results of that laborious effort. Writing it, I take it, was painful. The author wrote, tore up, rewrote, tore up again. There are pages so artfully contrived that one can no more imagine improvising them than one can imagine improvising a fugue. They are full of little delicacies; charming turns of phrase, penetrating second thoughts. In other words, they are easy and excellent reading — which is what always comes out of hard writing.
Pen of Accuracy
Thus Fitzgerald, the stylist, arises to challenge Fitzgerald, the social historian, but I doubt that the latter ever quite succumbs to the former. The thing that chiefly interests the basic Fitzgerald is still the florid show of modern American life — and especially the devil's dance that goes on at the top. He is unconcerned about the sweatings and sufferings of the nether herd; what engrosses him is the high carnival of those who have too much money to spend, and too much time for the spending of it. Their idiotic pursuit of sensation, their almost incredible stupidity and triviality, their glittering swinishness — these are the things that go into his notebook.
In "The Great Gatsby," though he does not go below the surface, he depicts this rattle and hullabaloo with great gusto and, I believe, with sharp accuracy. The Long Island he sets before us is no fanciful Alsatia; it actually exists. More, it is worth any social historians study, for its influence upon the rest of the country is immense and profound. What is vogue among the profiteers of Manhattan and their harlots today is imitated by the flappers of the Bible Belt country clubs weeks after next. The whole tone of American society, once so highly formalized and so suspicious of change, is now taken largely from frail ladies who were slinging hash a year ago.
Fitzgerald showed the end products of the new dispensation in "This Side of Paradise." In "The Beautiful and the Damned," he cut a bit lower. In "The Great Gatsby" he comes near the bottom. Social leader and jailbird, grand lady and kept woman, are here almost indistinguishable. We are in an atmosphere grown increasingly levantine. The Paris of the Second Empire pales to a sort of snobbish chautauqua; the New York of Ward McAllister becomes the scene of a convention of Gold Star Mothers. To find a parallel for the grossness and debauchery that now reign in New York one must go back to the Constantinople of Basil I.
This story originally appeared in the Chicago Sunday Tribune on May 3, 1925.