A few weeks ago I picked up a used copy of The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a collection of snippets compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli in the late 70’s.
I knew of the book only through Gore Vidal’s withering 1980 review for The New York Review of Books. Vidal characterizes the notebook entries as evidence that Fitzgerald was possibly gay (“Fitzgerald makes rather too many nervous references to fairies and pansies …. it is not entirely idle to speculate — but pretty idle, even so — on Fitzgerald’s sex life. There are very few youths as handsome as Fitzgerald who go unseduced by men or boys in the sort of schools that he attended”) and unquestionably racist. Above all, though, Vidal cites them as evidence that the novelist was “barely literate”:
As I read The Notebooks, I was struck by the lack of literary references (other than a number of quite shrewd comments about Fitzgerald’s contemporaries). Although most writers who keep notebooks make random jottings, they also tend to comment on their reading. Fitzgerald keeps an eye out for the competition and that’s about it. By the time I got to the section labeled “Epigrams, Wise Cracks and Jokes,” I wondered if he had ever read Gide. Whether or not he had read Gide is forever moot. But he had certainly heard of him. “Andre Gide lifted himself by his own jockstrap so to speak — and one would like to see him hoisted on his own pedarasty [sic].”
For Christ’s sake, they’re the man’s scribbled notes. And while it’s true that some of them are troubling and many are impenetrable, an observation caught my eye on nearly every page. A few favorites, tending toward the personal and gossipy:
Books are like brothers. I am an only child. Gatsby my imaginary eldest brother, Amory my younger, Anthony my worry. Dick my comparatively good brother but all of them far from home.
I can never remember the times when I wrote anything — This Side of Paradise time or Beautiful and Damned and Gatsby time for instance. Lived in story.
Ernest Hemingway, while careful to avoid cliches in his work, fairly revels in them in his private life, his favorite being Parbleu (“So what?”) French, and “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” Contrary to popular opinion, he is not as tall as Thomas Wolfe, standing only six feet five in his health belt. He is naturally clumsy with his body, but shooting from a blind or from adequate cover, makes a fine figure of a man. We are happy to announce that his work will appear in future exclusively on United States postage stamps.
I may as well spend this money now. Hell, I may never get it.
My sometimes reading my own books for advice. How much I knew sometimes — how little at others.
Zelda’s idea: the bad things are the same in everyone; only the good are different.
Man fascinated by girl finds she’s showing off for someone else.
Ernest would always give a helping hand to a man on a ledge a little higher up.
John O’Hara is in a perpetual state of just having discovered that it’s a lousy world. Medium is always as if the blow had struck him half an hour before and he’s still dulled by the effect. Nunally J— says that he’s like an idiot to whom someone has given a wonderful graflex camera and he goes around with it not knowing that to snap.
Eddie Mayer hates women — funny I didn’t notice it before. Like Tom Wolfe but for different reasons. He goes to them for sexual satisfaction, but he likes men emotionall more. I don’t know how far back it reaches but certainly women play a very mean and unstable role in his plays.
Sid Perleman is effete — new style. He has the manners of Gerald Murphy and almost always an exquisite tact in prose that borders on the precieuse. I feel that he and I (as will John O’Hara and the football-glamour-confession complex) have some early undisclosed experience in common so that at this point in our lives we find each other peculiarly sympathetic. We do not need to talk.
The English will never make snappy pictures until they stop breaking off football games to have tea.
I talk with the authority of failure — Ernest with the authority of success. We could never sit across the table again.
How to Read is the biggest fake since Van Loon Art. Now that Mencken has retired the boys who really hate books and pictures are creeping out of their ninecures again and trying to make them into specimens for dissection.
Story Idea: Find a drug good for two things and you have a climax. For instance: if pareldehyde or chloral were also ink eradicators.
An inferiority complex comes simply from not feeling you’re doing the best you can — Ernest’s “drink” was simply a form of this.
The purpose of a fiction story is to create passionate curiosity and then to gratify it unexpectedly, orgasmically. Isn’t that what we expect from all contacts?
Tender is less interesting toward the climax because of the absence of conversation. The eye flies for it and skips essential stuff for they don’t want their characters resolved in dessication and analysis but like me in action that results from the previous. All the more reason for emotional planning.
[For Whom the Bell Tolls] is so to speak Ernest’s Tale of Two Cities though the comparison isn’t apt. I mean it is a thoroughly superficial book which has all the profundity of Rebecca.