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F. Scott Fitzgerald Responds to Hate Mail

29 September 2012

From Brain Pickings:

In 1920, shortly after the publication of his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, [F. Scott Fitzgerald] received a piece of “hate mail” criticizing the book as an affront to the respectable members of society, particularly those in power.

. . . .

Dear Bob:

Your letter riled me to such an extent that I’m answering immediatly. Who are all these ‘real people’ who ‘create business and politics’? and of whose approval I should be so covetous? Do you mean grafters who keep sugar in their ware houses so that people have to go without or the cheap-jacks who by bribery and high-school sentiment manage to controll elections. I can’t pick up a paper here without finding that some of these ‘real people’ who will not be satisfied only with ‘a brilliant mind’ (I quote you) have just gone up to Sing Sing for a stay — Brindell and Hegerman, two pillars of society, went this morning.

Who in hell ever respected Shelley, Whitman, Poe, O. Henry, Verlaine, Swinburne, Villon, Shakespeare ect when they were alive. Shelley + Swinburne were fired from college; Verlaine + O Henry were in jail. The rest were drunkards or wasters and told generally by the merchants and petty politicians and jitney messiahs of their day that real people wouldn’t stand it And the merchants and messiahs, the shrewd + the dull, are dust — and the others live on.

Just occasionally a man like Shaw who was called an immoralist 50 times worse than me back in the 90ties, lives on long enough so that the world grows up to him. What he believed in 1890 was heresy then — by by now its almost respectable. It seems to me I’ve let myself be dominated by ‘authorities’ for too long — the headmaster of Newman, S.P. A, Princeton, my regiment, my business boss — who knew no more than me, in fact I should say these 5 were all distinctly my mental inferiors. And that’s all that counts! The Rosseaus, Marxes, Tolstois — men of thought, mind you, ‘impractical’ men, ‘idealist’ have done more to decide the food you eat and the things you think + do than all the millions of Roosevelts and Rockerfellars that strut for 20 yrs. or so mouthing such phrases as 100% American (which means 99% village idiot), and die with a little pleasing flattery to the silly and cruel old God they’ve set up in their hearts.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

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4 Comments to “F. Scott Fitzgerald Responds to Hate Mail”

  1. “Brilliant” response? To me, this is a strong testimonial to the value of thinking twice before you send any letter driven by strong emotion.

  2. Hmm. So, according to current culture, F.Scott is a ‘bad author’. He should be swarmed by thousands of readers from Goodreads telling him he should never respond to a reader, and imply that he should never write anything again.

    I don’t know. I sort of like the honesty here. And I know that F. Scott was frustrated. It’s a sad story when a great writer doesn’t know his work was appreciated. Without validation, he may have felt defensive.

    He wasn’t really discovered until after his death, is my understanding.

    • Yeah, the whole “authors who respond to reviewers are scumbags” thing is a little overblown. But personally I would have considered just copying the hate mail into my writer’s notebook so I could use it as source material when creating a villain for a future story. >:-D

  3. What’s the point of being a writer if you aren’t allowed to write a well-worded passionate take-down of a moron with whom you disagree?

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