F. Scott’s last year of letters to Zelda

Hey all. Continuing to make my way through the first large collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters to be released, which were published in 1963. I went over the first section – his letters to his daughter Scottie – in a recent post, and today want to look at the second section, his letters to Zelda.

This section holds a number of flaws. First, and one that penetrates the whole book, is that we are only getting his letters and no responses. Another thing that hurts this collection is the very minimal explanatory footnotes. Now, in particular to this section to his wife, only letters from 1939 to 1940 are included – the last year of his life. This obviously ignores their entire courtship and essentially entire marriage. I imagine one possible reason for this is because a lot of people involved were still alive – it is for this reason that editor Andrew Turnbull inserts blanks for names at certain points, but he never makes clear that this is why there are so few letters to Zelda in this collection. This was remedied years later with the publication of Dear Scott, Dear Zelda, (affiliate link) but as I don’t have that book yet today we’re only going to look at that last year of letters.

While some of these are perfunctory, there are still notes of tenderness, alongside many discussions about their daughter. Below are a number of quotes I enjoyed from these letters. Especially touching is the last one, written very shortly before his death, where he discusses his heart. Enjoy.

“You are the finest, loveliest, tenderest, most beautiful person I have ever known, but even that is an understatement because the length that you went to there at the end would have tried anybody beyond endurance.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, May 6, 1939

“All of which boils down to the fact that my physical energy is at an absolute minimum without being definitely sick and I’ve got to conserve this for my work. I am as annoyed at the unreliability of the human body as you are at the vagaries of the nervous system. Please believe always that I’m trying to do my best for us all.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, August 18, 1939

“I have many times wished that my work was of a mechanical sort that could be done or delegated irrespective of morale, for I don’t want or expect happiness for myself – only peace enough to keep us all going. But your happiness I want exceedingly, just as I want Scottie’s safety.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, August 18, 1939

“I ask only this of you – leave me in peace with my hemorrhages and my hopes, and what eventually will fight through as the right to save you, the permission to give you a chance.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, October 6, 1939

“I write these ‘Pat Hobby’ stories – and wait. I have a new idea now – a comedy series which will get me back into the big magazines – but my God I am a forgotten man. Gatsby had to be taken out of the Modern Library because it didn’t sell, which was a blow.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, March 19, 1940

“I wish you were going to brighter surroundings but this is certainly not the time to come to me and I can think of nowhere else for you to go in this dark and bloody world. I suppose a place is what you make it but I have grown to hate California and would give my life for three years in France.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, April 11, 1940

“As soon as I feel I am writing to a cheap specification my pen freezes and my talent vanishes over the hill, and I honestly don’t blame them for not taking the things that I’ve offered to them from time to time in the past three or four years.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, May 18, 1940

“Twenty years ago This Side of Paradise was a best seller and we were settled in Westport. Ten years ago Paris was having almost its last great American season but we had quit the gay parade and you were gone to Switzerland. Five years ago I had my first bad stroke of illness and went to Asheville. Cards began falling badly for us much too early.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, June 14, 1940

“I think the nine years that intervened between The Great Gatsby and Tender hurt my reputation almost beyond repair because a whole generation grew up in the meanwhile to whom I was only a writer of Post stories.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, October 11, 1940

“I am deep in the novel, living in it, and it makes me happy. It is a constructed novel like Gatsby, with passages of poetic prose when it fits the action, but no ruminations or side-shows like Tender. Everything must contribute to the dramatic movement.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, October 23, 1940

“It’s odd that my old talent for the short story vanished. It was partly that times changed, editors changed, but part of it was tied up somehow with you and me – the happy ending. Of course every third story had some other ending, but essentially I got my public with stories of young love. I must have had a powerful imagination to project it so far and so often into the past.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, October 23, 1940

“The cardiogram shows that my heart is repairing itself but it will be a gradual process that will take some months. It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does not repair itself.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda, December 13, 1940

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