Fatherly advice from F. Scott Fitzgerald

“You have got two beautiful bad examples for parents. Just do everything we didn’t do and you will be perfectly safe.”F. Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to his daughter, December 1940

I recently started working my way through The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the first large collection of his letters to be released. Published by Scribners in 1963, the book is divided into 13 parts, 12 of which are devoted to letters to one or two persons, with the last part a collection of miscellaneous letters.

Summarizing the collection, editor Andrew Turnbull said, “Fitzgerald’s attachment to those who had shared his time and experience here on earth, his sense of identity with them, his caring – that is perhaps the final burden and beauty of these letters.” Indeed they’re a great read, although I see two major flaws:

  1. There are only letters that he sent, no replies, giving an incomplete picture
  2. There are very few explanatory notes and so, if you don’t know his life well, much will be lost

From other books I’ve read both of these criticisms were addressed and fixed in later volumes, which was the right way to go. Those two things notwithstanding, this is a great introduction to his personal correspondence and offers some more insight to his fascinating life and relationships.

One of the longest sections in the book is the letters to his daughter, Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald, which date from 1933 to his death in December 1940. For my full selection of great quotes from these letters check out this page, but for now here is a selection of words of wisdom from father to daughter:

“I am glad you are happy – but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed page, they never really happen to you in life.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter, August 8, 1933

“Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blended as one matter– as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter, October 20, 1936

“You have got to devote the best and freshest part of your energies to things that will give you a happy and profitable life. There is no other time but now.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter, October 8, 1937

“If you will trust my scheme of making a mental habit of doing the hard thing first, when you are absolutely fresh, and I mean doing the hardest thing first at the exact moment that you feel yourself fit for doing anything in any particular period, morning, afternoon or evening, you will go a long way toward mastering the principle of concentration.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter, April 18, 1938

“Everything you are and do from fifteen to eighteen is what you are and will do through life.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter, September 19, 1938

“Try something hard and new, and try it hard, and take what marks you get.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter, June 12, 1940

“Anybody that can’t read modern English prose by themselves is subnormal – and you know it.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter, July 29, 1940

“Once one is caught up into the material world not one person in ten thousand finds the time to form literary taste, to examine the validity of philosophic concepts for himself, or to form what, for lack of a better phrase, I might call the wise and tragic sense of life.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter, October 5, 1940

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