The Lost Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

PG says this has been a big week for Fitzgerald and The New Yorker.

From The New Yorker:

I was invited to edit a collection of fifteen stories by the Trustees of the Fitzgerald Estate. There weren’t enough unpublished stories to constitute a collection until very recently. Fitzgerald scholars had known of the existence of some of these stories, like “Thank You for the Light,” for decades, but others were rediscovered by Fitzgerald’s family only a few years ago. To these fifteen, I added three more that I uncovered as I worked on the edition, including a fragment that allows an intimate look at Fitzgerald’s creative process.

“The I.O.U.” was written in 1920, when Fitzgerald was twenty-three. He’d just published “This Side of Paradise,” which was a huge success, but had he written many short stories?

He had. Fitzgerald is the best source for anyone writing about his professional life. He kept a ledger of everything he published from 1919 until 1938. You can page through this ledger online, thanks to the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of South Carolina Library; they have digitized it. Fitzgerald’s “Record of Published Fiction” lists dates and places of publication, what he was paid for stories, and whether or not he mined the stories later for use in his novels. (If he did, he often noted that such a story had been “Stripped and Permanently Buried.”) The songs he wrote for Triangle Club plays at Princeton from 1914 to 1917 were printed and sold by the John Church Company, but Fitzgerald’s first commercial sale of a short story was “Babes in the Woods,” sold to The Smart Set in 1919. The Smart Set was a major literary magazine, edited by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, both of whom continued to be champions of Fitzgerald’s writing; and surely Fitzgerald knew that they had published an idol of his, James Joyce, in 1915. While he was struggling to make a living in advertising in New York the year before, Fitzgerald had received his much-mentioned one hundred and twenty-two rejection slips for stories. But when “Babes in the Woods” ran, in the fall of 1919, he had arrived. The Smart Set and the Saturday Evening Post began buying his stories—“Head and Shoulders” and “Benediction” were two more he finished that fall—as fast as he could write them. By the summer of 1920, when he wrote “The I.O.U.,” he was a celebrity.

“The I.O.U.” is a kind of spoof on the cravenness of the publishing industry. Was Fitzgerald writing from personal experience?

Remember those hundred and twenty-two rejection slips! Fitzgerald’s initial experiences with the publishing industry were not sanguine. However, he had a friend in the Irish writer and Scribner author Shane Leslie. Leslie had met him when Fitzgerald was a student at the Newman School, a Catholic prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey. He read Fitzgerald’s poetry, and when Fitzgerald was in officer-training camp in 1918 he sent Leslie drafts of the novel he was working on, which would become “This Side of Paradise.” From Fort Leavenworth, Fitzgerald wrote to Leslie, “Think of a romantic egoist writing about himself in a cold barracks on Sunday afternoons . . . that is the way this novel has been scattered into shape—for it has no form to speak of.” Leslie showed a final draft to Charles Scribner II, who rejected it and sent it back to Fitzgerald to be rewritten. Scribner’s legendary editor Maxwell Perkins accepted “This Side of Paradise” after that revision—and became one of Fitzgerald’s best and most trusted friends for the rest of his life.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

3 thoughts on “The Lost Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald”

  1. Fitzgerald called his story “The I.O.U.” because he owes everyone who read the damn thing 15 minutes of their lives back. (As an aside, imho, Gatsby is insanely great and everything else he did was forgettable, including TSOP.)

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