Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.


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