“READING IS A MEANS of thinking with another person’s As a fledgling editor, I had the good fortune to work closely

mind; it forces you to stretch your own…For learning purposes with Fitzgerald’s talented and delightful daughter, Scottie,
there is no substitute for one human mind meeting another on together with her dedicated adviser Matthew J. Bruccoli, whose

F. SCOTT
the page of a well-written book.” I found this quote of my prolific scholarship and infectious enthusiasm have long fanned
late Dad’s via Google. (I never write about our most famous the flames of Fitzgerald studies. The day I met Matt, four decades
authors without consulting first with him.) and many books ago, I asked him what had prompted him to

FITZGERALD:
Born in 1896 on the brink of a new century, Fitzgerald’s life devote the lion’s share of his scholarly life to Fitzgerald. He told
and career would alternate between success and setbacks like me exactly how it happened.
the alternating current of major and minor keys in a Mozart One Sunday afternoon in 1949 Bruccoli, then a high-

A PERSONAL
symphony. Just as his life bridged two centuries, so his work school student, was driving with his family along the Merritt
has a Janus-like aspect, looking back to the romantic lyricism Parkway from Connecticut to New York City when he heard a
and expansive dreams of 19th-century America, and forward dramatization of The Diamond as Big as the Ritz on the car radio.
to the syncopated Jazz strains of the 20th. “My whole theory He later went to a library to find the story; the librarian had never

PERSPECTIVE of writing,” he said, “I can sum up in one sentence. An author
ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics
of the next, and the schoolmasters of
heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald. But finally he managed to locate a
copy—“and I never stopped reading Fitzgerald,” he added.
This story struck a familiar chord—for I too remember where I
ever afterward.” How magnificently—if was when I first encountered that same
# :   $ ) " 3 - & 4  4 $ 3 * # / & 3  * * *
posthumously—he fulfilled that ideal. His literary jewel “as big as the Ritz.”
fleeting literary fortunes—a dozen years of It was an evening train ride from
commercial and literary success followed Princeton to Philadelphia: A commute
by distractions and disappointments— was converted into a fantastic voyage.
ended in 1940 with a fatal heart attack at Fitzgerald later converted my profes-
the age of 44. He was then hard at work sional life just as profoundly, claiming
on the Hollywood novel he hoped would more of me than any living author. There
restore his reputation. At the time of his are worse fates in publishing than to be
death his books were not, as is so often “curator of literary classics,” especially if
claimed, out of print with Scribner, his one’s own scholarly training is in Baroque
publisher. The truth is even sadder: art. Placed aside my other specialties,
They were all in stock at our warehouse Rubens and Bernini, Fitzgerald seems very
and listed in our catalogue; but no one young indeed: a newcomer in the pantheon
was buying them. of creative genius.
When his daughter, Scottie, first There is something magical about
approached the Princeton University Fitzgerald. Much has been written—and
Library and offered to give them her dramatized—about the Jazz-Age personas
father’s papers she was turned down. of Scott and Zelda. But the real magic lies
They couldn’t be the repository, embedded in his prose, and reveals itself
someone said, for every failed in his amazing range and versatility. Each
alumnus author’s papers. Fortunately novel or story partakes of its creator’s poetic
she gave them a second chance, years later, to reconsider, and imagination, his dramatic vision, his
today those archives are the most avidly consulted holdings of painstaking (if virtuoso and seemingly effortless) craftsmanship.
the library, by scholars who come there, as if on pilgrimage, Each bears Fitzgerald’s hallmark, the indelible stamp of grace.
from all over the world. He is my literary candidate to stand beside the demigods
A half-century later, more copies of Fitzgerald’s books are Bernini, Rubens, and Mozart as artists of divine transfigurations.
sold each month than the entire cumulative sale throughout The key to Fitzgerald’s enduring enchantment lies, I submit,
his lifetime. His novels and stories are studied in virtually in the power of his romantic imagination to transfigure his
every high school and college across the country. I am the characters and settings—as well as the very shape and sound
fourth Charles Scribner to be involved in publishing his of his prose. There is a sacramental quality—one that did not
works since my great-grandfather first signed him up, at the wane along with the formal observance of his Roman Catholic
'4DPUU'JU[HFSBME  prodding of Max Perkins, in 1919. My grandfather, Fitzgerald’s faith. I say “sacramental” because Fitzgerald’s words transform
QIPUPHSBQIFECZ$BSMWBO contemporary and friend as well as publisher, died on the their external geography as thoroughly as the realm within. The
7FDIUFO 0QQPTJUF  eve of the critical reappraisal and the ensuing revival of his ultimate effect, once the initial reverberations of imagery and
JOTFU5IF(SFBU(BUTCZXBT works that gained momentum in the 1950s and has continued language have subsided, transcends the bounds of fiction. I can
SFSFMFBTFEXJUIJUT in full force down to the present time. It was my father who testify from firsthand experience.
PSJHJOBMDPWFSBSUCZ'SBODJT presided over a literary apotheosis unprecedented in modern When I arrived at Princeton as a freshman in the fall of 1969,
$VHBU±QFSIBQTUIF American letters. I am struck by the realization that I am the I was following the footsteps of four generations of namesakes
NPTUJDPOJDCPPLDPWFSJO first generation—of no doubt as many to come—to have been before me. Yet, surprisingly, I did not feel at home. It seemed
"NFSJDBOMJUFSBUVSF introduced to this author’s work in a classroom. a big impersonal place: more than 10 times as big as my old

OCTOBER 2011 
musical comedies for the Triangle Club before he flunked Fitzgerald’s version of a presidential address. (Perhaps some
out (chemistry was the culprit), joined the army, and wrote might picture a present candidate as the speaker?) Fitzgerald
his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which debuted in 2005 whips up a delicious confection of mixed metaphors.
as a musical in the East Village under a new title: The Pursuit After approving my introduction to the play, Scottie wrote
of Persephone. me a touching note about her parents’ reburial service in the
“Start out with an individual and you find that you have Catholic cemetery of Rockville, Md. I had been unable to attend,
created a type—start out with a type and you find that you have and instead had arranged for a memorial mass to be said that
created nothing.” Fitzgerald started out with himself—a good day in the once exclusively Protestant Princeton chapel. No
choice. “A writer wastes nothing,” he said—and he proved doubt Fitzgerald smiled at the delicious irony of both liturgies.
it by mining his early years at St. Paul, Minn. and Princeton “Surely it was the Princeton prayers,” Scottie later wrote to me,
to forge his early stories, poems, and dramatic skits into that “which made our little ceremony go so smoothly. The day was
witty autobiographical novel that launched his fame. perfect; a mild breeze rustling the fallen leaves, and there were
Fitzgerald’s first novel was turned down—can you believe— just the right number of people, about 25 friends and relatives,
twice by my great-grandfather, 25 press, 25 county and church
until after several revisions by ‘officials,’ and 25 admirers who
a young writer who refused to just popped up from nowhere.
give up, it was published to great As most of the guests had never
acclaim. Years later, writing to before had bloody marys in
his daughter, Fitzgerald offered a church basement, the party
the following advice: “Don’t be afterward was a jolly affair, too.
a bit discouraged about your I’m sorry you weren’t there, but
story not being tops...Nobody loved knowing we were having
became a writer just by wanting a backup ceremony in his real
to be one. If you have anything spiritual home.”
to say, anything you feel nobody I cannot resist contrasting
5IF²DPVOUSZDMVC³DBNQVTPG1SJODFUPO XIFSF'JU[HFSBMEµTDIBSBDUFS"NPSZ#MBJOFBUUFOET6OJWFSTJUZJO5IJT4JEFPG1BSBEJTFBOEXIFSFUIFXSJUFS¾STU has ever said before, you have Scottie’s gracious note with
FYQFSJFODFEBUSBOTDFOEFOUNPNFOUXJUI'JU[HFSBMEµTQSPTF0QQPTJUFUIF'JU[HFSBMET '4DPUU ;FMEB BOE4DPUUJFJO1BSJT  got to feel it so desperately that what Edmund Wilson wrote to
you will find some way to say me when I had first proposed
boarding school, St. Paul’s. There I had first been exposed among shop-keepers, and topping all, climbing with clear blue it that nobody has ever found that he reintroduce the play
to Fitzgerald in English class, where we studied The Great aspiration, the great dreaming spires of Holder and Cleveland before…” Fitzgerald had dedicated to
Gatsby. But my first encounter at Princeton was dramatically towers. From the first, he loved Princeton—its lazy beauty, A couple years later, he him. Wilson had given its
extracurricular. One day that fall, soon after the Vietnam its half-grasped significance, the wild moonlight revel of the added some more technical publication a rave newspaper
Moratorium and the ensuing campus turmoil, I returned to rushes. advice: “About adjectives: All review—a fact he now
my dormitory room to find that some anonymous wit had For me it was not love at first sight; but thanks to Fitzgerald, it fine prose is based on the verbs conveniently chose to forget:
taped to my door that infamous paragraph from Fitzgerald’s was love at first reading. Oscar Wilde was right: Life imitates art, carrying the sentences. They “I cannot write an introduction
The Rich Boy: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are not the other way around. We view our world through a prism make sentences move.” to The Vegetable. The version I
different from you and me.” (My next-door neighbors in the of words. During my sojourn there, my friends and I would Unlike Scott’s brisk prose, read and praised was something
dorm represented a cross section of campus radicals; and religiously recite Fitzgerald’s sonnet of farewell to Princeton: I did not move; I stayed on entirely different from the
while I was hardly “very rich” by Fitzgerald’s lights—closer “The last light fades and drifts across the land—the low, long at Princeton for two more version he afterwards published,
to Nick Caraway than to the Buchanans—I was still the son land, the sunny land of spires...” graduations, leaving the university only when there were no and I did not approve of this version. The trouble was he took
of a university trustee.) Stung as I was by this welcome note, From his earliest days, Scott wanted nothing more than to be more degrees to be had, but not before I had the pleasure of too much advice and ruined the whole thing. I was not, by the
curiosity got the better of me. So off I went to Firestone a writer: “The first help I ever had in writing was from my father teaching undergraduates. Since my field was art history, the way, as you say, closer to Fitzgerald than anybody else. I was not
Library, looked up the story, and read it. who read an utterly imitative Sherlock Holmes story of mine next transition into the family publishing business was abrupt, even in his class at college, though people still think and write as
Now hooked by Fitzgerald, I bought a copy of This Side and pretended to like it.” It was his first appearance in print, at but once again facilitated by Fitzgerald. Ensconced at Max if I had been...”
of Paradise, his youthful ode to Princeton. Though university age 13. Here’s the chilling denouement (which proves we can all Perkins’s old desk at Scribner (which I was given because the When I lamented this letter to my father, he said that for
officials to this day bemoan its satirical depiction of their college write as well as Fitzgerald): senior editor complained that it ran her stockings!), I dreamed Wilson it wasn’t so bad, jesting that “after God created the
as a country club (if there was any book they could ban, this “I forgot Mrs. Raymond,” screamed Syrel, “Where is she?” up as my first book project in 1975, a revival of Fitzgerald’s rattle snake, he created Edmund Wilson.” Not long afterward,
would be it), they miss the point—the poetry, the sacramental “She is out of your power forever,” said the young man. obscure and star-crossed play The Vegetable, which featured a I unwittingly allowed Wilson’s first name to be misspelled
effect of this early, flawed novel on their majestic campus. For Syrel brushed past him and, with Smidy and I following, presidential impeachment too true to be good: Can you believe “Edmond” in huge letters on the cover of our paperback
me, this book infused the greenery and gothic spires with a burst open the door of the room at the head of the stairs. We the play had opened—and closed—in 1922 at Nixon’s Apollo edition of Axel’s Castle. My Freudian slip is now a collector’s
spirit, with a soul, with life. Fitzgerald transfigured Princeton. I rushed in. On the floor lay a woman, and as soon as I touched Theatre in Atlantic City? My post-Watergate project not only item, which fortunately for me, Edmund did not live to see!
now saw it not as a stranger, but through the wondering eyes of her heart I knew she was beyond the doctor’s skill. justified repeated revisits to the Princeton University Library for Fitzgerald considered his year and a half spent on The
freshman Amory Blaine: “She has taken poison,” I said. Syrel looked around; the research in the Scribner and Fitzgerald archives—the Mecca for Vegetable a complete waste, but I disagree. For he followed it
Princeton of the daytime filtered slowly into his young man had gone. And we stood there aghast in the Fitzgerald scholars—but, more important, it brought me into a with a new novel, written with all the economy and tight structure
consciousness—West and Reunion, redolent of the sixties, presence of death. happy working relationship with Scottie. It was published during of a successful play—The Great Gatsby. Both The Vegetable and
Seventy-nine Hall, brick-red and arrogant, Upper and Lower No surprise that he next took to writing plays, one a the election year of 1976, and since we find ourselves again in Gatsby shared the theme of the American Dream (first as a spoof
Pyne, aristocratic Elizabethan ladies not quite content to live summer, for a local dramatics group. At Princeton, he wrote the dusty deritus of election politics, I’d like to recommend for a comedy, finally as the leitmotif of a lyric novel). 

 Q U E S T OCTOBER 2011 
I don’t think there has ever been a more elusive, mysterious, who has used up so much personal experience as I have at 27.”
intriguing character than Gatsby. He’s pure fiction—and pure Perkins, for his part, had grave reservations about the proposed
Fitzgerald: the hopeful, romantic outsider looking in. title, Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires, and suggested that
He smiled understandingly—much more than Fitzgerald return to The Great Gatsby, which he called effective
understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a and suggestive. He also commissioned at this early date—seven
quality of eternal reassurance in it that you may come across months before the author completed his manuscript—the most
four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the famous jacket painting of the past century, which we’ll consider
whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated as bit later. He continued to revise his draft from September
on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It to October, “working at high pressure to finish,” he wrote in
understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, his ledger. In November 1924, he mailed the manuscript to
believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and Perkins with a new title, Trimalchio in West Egg. He was to
assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, run through several others—Trimalchio, Gold-Hatted Gatsby,
at your best, you hoped to convey. Gatsby, The High-Bouncing Lover, and On the Road to West
Who cares how James Gatz became Jay Gatsby—bootlegger, Egg—before Perkins’s steady favorite was restored in time for
or worse? Who would not want to be in such a presence, and publication. Most of the final revising was done directly on the
call him friend? But it was years later—eight years ago—when printed galley proofs, which Fitzgerald treated almost as a clean
I first met Bill Clinton through my Princeton classmate and typescript. (In fact the uncorrected galleys, titled Trimalchio,
friend Queen Noor of Jordan that those sentences came to life were published a decade ago, as if a distinct novel.) Then, just
and recorded my experience of mortal, if presidential, charisma I three weeks before publication on April 10, 1925, the nervous
could never have imagined outside the bounds of fiction. Clinton author cabled his editor from Paris: “Crazy about title Under
made Gatsby real; or perhaps Gatsby prefigured Clinton? the Red, White, and Blue.” But fortunately it was too late to
Fitzgerald wanted his book to be a “consciously artistic change the title and our book was spared the fate of sounding
achievement...I want to write something new—something like a George M. Cohan song.
extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately pat- While writing an introduction to a new paperback edition of
terned.” And he succeeded in spades. He later said that what Gatsby, I decided to revive the original jacket, which is now an
he cut out of it, “both physically and emotionally, would icon of the Jazz Age, and was most recently enlarged as a huge
make another novel.” poster for Harbison’s opera at the Met. When Matthew Bruccoli
In his first letter to Perkins—summer of 1922—about his discovered Cugat’s preliminary sketches for the Gatsby dust
“new” novel, Fitzgerald wrote that it would “concern less jacket in a country shop, serendipity allowed me at last to merge
superlative beauties than I run to usually,” and “would center art history and literature. I’m a Gemini. For this once, thanks to
on a smaller period of time.” He was to change the period and Fitzgerald, my dual careers came into sync.
locale as he began writing (it was originally set in the Midwest Francis Cugat’s painting is the most celebrated and widely
and New York around 1885), but he never abandoned his disseminated jacket art in 20th-century American literature,
determination to limit the time frame and thus give a sharper and perhaps of all time. After decades of oblivion, and
focus to his plot and characters than he had done in his earlier several million copies later, like the novel it embellishes, this
two novels. And this, I think, was the result of his failed attempt Art Deco tour de force has established itself as a classic of
to be a Broadway playwright. The special demands imposed by graphic art. At the same time, it represents a unique form
a play—a short work defined by acts and scenes, limited in time of “collaboration” between author and jacket artist. Under
and setting—proved an ideal exercise in literary craftsmanship, normal circumstances, the artist illustrates a scene or motif -FHFOEBSZFEJUPS.BY1FSLJOTBUIJTEFTLBU$IBSMFT4DSJCOFSµT4POT"OFBSMZDIBNQJPOGPS'JU[HFSBME 
which the young novelist sharpened through the long series of conceived by the author; he lifts, as it were, his image from a 1FSLJOTTFSWFEBTFEJUPSUP&SOFTU)FNJOHXBZ 5IPNBT8PMGF BOE'4DPUU'JU[HFSBME
revisions while the play was in rehearsal. page of the book. In this instance, however, the artist’s image
From Fitzgerald’s long-lost first draft of 1923, only a preceded the finished manuscript and Fitzgerald actually prologue to the novel. At the end of the story, a priest encourages Island, where my family and I were transplanted 28 years ago
fragment survives in the form of the short story Absolution and maintained that he had “written it into” his book. the boy who eventually developed into Jay Gatsby to go see an after several generations on the other side of the Hudson River.
two handwritten pages I discovered 30 years ago in a rare book Cugat’s small masterpiece is not illustrative, but symbolic, amusement park—“a thing like a fair only much more glittering” From our new vantage point, I cannot look out over the Sound,
shop here in New York: They reveal that Fitzgerald had already even iconic: The sad, hypnotic, heavily outlined eyes of a with “a big wheel made of lights turning in the air.” But, “don’t as I do each week, without smiling at Fitzgerald’s description:
settled on the essential plot and locale of the final version, but woman beam like headlights through a cobalt night sky. Below, get too close,” he cautions, “because if you do you’ll only feel the “The most domesticated body of salt water in the western
the story was told in the third person. The next year he wrote on earth, brightly colored lights blaze before a metropolitan heat and the sweat and the life.” hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound.”
to Perkins that he was now working on a “new angle”—I’m skyline. Cugat’s carnival imagery is especially intriguing in view Daisy’s face, says Nick, was “sad and lovely with bright There is no longer a dock at the beach in Lattingtown, and, as
sure he meant through the eyes of his inspired narrator Nick of Fitzgerald’s pervasive use of light motifs throughout his novel; things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth.” In the crow flies, we are in fact several miles east of East Egg. But
Carraway. (It’s worth renting the video of the famous Redford specifically, in metaphors for the latter-day Trimalchio, whose Cugat’s final painting, her celestial eyes enclose reclining occasionally I catch a glimpse of a green light reflected in the
film just to hear Sam Watterson tell the story—36 years before parties were illuminated by “enough colored lights to make a nudes and her streaming tear is green—like the light “that water, and each time I drive through the Valley of Ashes and
the final episodes of Law & Order!) Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden.” Nick sees “the burns all night” at the end of her dock, reflected in the water approach the twinkling Manhattan skyline, I feel very much at
In the flush of creativity, Fitzgerald wrote to his editor: “I whole corner of the peninsula...blazing with light” from Gatsby’s of the Sound that separates her from Gatsby. What Fitzgerald home. The novel has made me a native.
feel I have enormous power in me now, more than I’ve ever house “lit from tower to cellar.” When he tells Gatsby that drew directly from Cugat’s art and “wrote into” the novel One wise teacher once told me that the ultimate function of art
had in a way, but it works so fitfully and with so many bogeys his place “looks like the World’s Fair,” Gatsby proposes that must ultimately remain an open question. is to reconcile us to life. Fitzgerald’s prose is life-enhancing; its
because I’ve talked so much and not lived enough within myself they “go to Coney Island.” Fitzgerald had already introduced The multicolored lights of Gatsby—whether votive or festive— evocative power endures. That is why I have no doubt he must
to develop the necessary self-reliance. Also I don’t know anyone this symbolism in his story Absolution, originally intended as a seem a suitable image for a Fitzgerald banquet on Gatsby’s be beaming—from the other side of Paradise. ! 

 Q U E S T OCTOBER 2011