F. Scott Fitzgerald Responds to Hate Mail

This is why you don't troll a literary genius.

AP

F. Scott Fitzgerald—literary legend, master of the muse, star of early book ads, and one amazing dad—was born 116 years ago today.

In 1920, shortly after the publication of his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, he received a piece of "hate mail" criticizing the book as an affront to the respectable members of society, particularly those in power. Fitzgerald's feisty, brilliant response, found in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters (public library), pulls into question—just as his fiction famously does—the superficial values high society holds so dear, touching on everything from education to ethics to politics to creative legacy with equal parts insight and irreverence:

TO: Robert D. Clark
38 W 59th St.
New York City

Feb 9th 1920

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.

brainpickingslogo.jpg

This post also appears on Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Entertainment

Just In