The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 The Pat Hobby Stories cover

The first of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s Pat Hobby stories was published in the January 1940 issue of Esquire magazine. Pat Hobby is a hack writer in Hollywood, long past the glory days when he was writing for silent movies and being very well paid for it. Twenty years on he’s scraping a living getting a week’s employment now and again from a studio, mainly because people feel sorry for him.

His red rimmed eyes say it all, after having had several wives it’s the bottle which is the most important thing in his life now, and everyone in the movie industry knows it. In the past he earned thousands a week for his work and he’s down to getting $250 a week, if he’s lucky. He’s gone from having his own house with a swimming pool and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ronald Colman to living in his car.

This is a funny book but at the same time is sometimes unbearably painful to read, when you realise that the author is writing about his own experiences. He became very famous and wealthy, too young to appreciate how lucky he had been. The money ran through his fingers, booze, drugs and general high living had taken their toll on him. Early in his career he had been hailed as a brilliant writer for The Great Gatsby, and since then he had been trying to write something as good, never quite managing it. This book is well worth reading though, and it has a gorgeous cover.

Careless People by Sarah Churchwell

Careless People cover

The subtitle of this book is Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby and the blurb on the cover says: A suggestive, almost musical evocation of the spirit of the time – from the London Review of Books.

The book is the story of the Fitzgeralds’ life and the places and happenings which shaped it, including the story of a local murder which took place just ten miles from where they were living and which the author thinks gave F. Scott the idea for Gatsby.

It goes into detail about their lives over the years and given the amount of booze which they both guzzled in those prohibition days it is quite amazing that they didn’t both peg out a lot earlier than they did. It was the days when it was sensible to have your alcohol checked out by a chemist, just to make sure that it wasn’t going to make you go blind overnight as apparently happened to lots of people.

This was a bit of library serendipity for me as I had been meaning for ages to read Save Me the Waltz and Tender is the Night in tandem to compare the two and when I picked them off the shelf I saw this one out of the corner of my eye on my way out, it was sitting on the ‘new books’ shelf.

I enjoyed reading about what was going on in the US at the time, it was when modern America was coming into being, but for me that local murder played too large a part in the book. Really it wasn’t that interesting and in my experience most authors don’t travel that far from what is going on in their lives or in the news for inspiration.

I was incensed on Zelda’s behalf when her husband went nuts because she had the temerity to write a book too, and of course his main gripe was that she had been too autobiographical and had told too many secrets. As if he hadn’t done that in all of his fiction over the years – no wonder Zelda suffered from mental anguish and ended up in mental hospitals.

It was very interesting to read that just before F. Scott died at the age of 44 he received his last royalty statement which reported the sale of nine copies of Tender is the Night and seven of The Great Gatsby. He had not sold a single book outside the US in the last year of his life. The royalty cheque added up to $13.13.

When he died he wanted to be buried beside his father but the Catholic priest refused to allow him to be buried there. In the end an Episcopalian minister buried him and took the opportunity to say, “The only reason I agreed to this service was to get the body in the ground. He was a no good drunken bum and the world was well rid of him,” – a bit harsh I would say. His funeral was spookily similar to that of Gatsby.

Death for an artist is often a great career move of course and it just shows you that reviewers can be powerful people, it was only when an influential critic, Lionel Trilling started to compare Fitzgerald with 19th century French novelists, English Romantic poets and Goethe that people began to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books again. Barbara Pym was another writer who benefitted from the vocal praise of an influential personage.

All in all it seems that success for Fitzgerald came too early and went to his head, he was so well paid for writing short stories that he could afford a sumptuous lifestyle on the French Riviera. At one point he realised that in a whole year he had averaged only 100 words per day when he was supposed to be writing a novel. All his time was taken up by partying and entertaining crowds of hangers-on. Does that remind you of anything?!

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

I read The Great Gatsby when I was at school but I didn’t know anything about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, so when I was browsing in the library and I came across this book which was written by his wife, I was drawn by the blurb to borrow it: One of the great literary curios of the twentieth century, Save Me the Waltz is the only novel by the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. During the years when Fitzgerald was working on Tender is the Night, which many critics consider to be his masterpiece, Zelda Fitzgerald was preparing her own story, which strangely parallels the narrative of her husband, throwing a fascinating light on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and work.

This book did not get good reviews when it was published and Zelda wrote no more books, mind you she might not have had anything else to write about because this is really an account of her life with Fitzgerald, completely autobiographical, which must have come in handy for any Fitzgerald scholars, it’ll have thrown some light onto their movements.

Zelda was a glamorous flapper with a huge capacity for alcohol, as everyone seemed to have in those days of prohibition in the US. She had a penchant for taking her clothes off at parties, dancing naked on the tables and such but she also had a brain and I found her to be likeable. Fitzgerald was obviously besotted by Zelda and their was never any question of him divorcing her, but the poor soul had many demons and was probably what would be described as bi-polar nowadays.

Anyway, to the book. The main character, Alabama Beggs(Zelda) is the youngest of a family of daughters, born in the deep south, and she’s the wildest of them. Early on in the book Alabama gets married to David Knight, a successful young artist and they move to the Riviera where they are feted as a famous and glamorous couple. David spends all of his spare time with a fashionable but vacuous set of people who are basically hangers-on and Alabama seems to be sidelined. They are both tempted to dally with people who give them more attention than they have been getting from each other.

She decides that she needs to do something for herself and takes up ballet dancing again, determined to make a success of it, despite the fact that she hasn’t done ballet for years. With hard work she manages to get a job in a production of Faustus, but meantime David is furious at what he sees as her neglect of him and their small daughter, in the pursuit of a career for herself.

I must admit that I had some sympathy with David/Scott Fitzgerald as I did feel that the ballet classes were a bit too much of the book, but I enjoyed it and I intend to read Tender Is the Night now as both books were being written around the same time, although this one was published two years earlier.

Apparently Fitzgerald was not amused when he read this book as he realised that it was giving away so much of their private lives. That’s a bit of a cheek when you consider that he had been using Zelda for years in his books and short stories, he even used chunks from letters which she had written in his books, and Zelda hadn’t complained about that!

I also went on to read a book called Careless People by Sarah Churchwell which was published in 2012, which is well worth reading if you’re at all interested in the Fitzgeralds and that period of American history.

The Popular Girl by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve been neglecting to read anything from my 2011 Reading List over the past few weeks, which is not good because I had aimed to read one book from the list every week. So I’ve got a wee bit of catching up to do.

The Popular Girl is a book of short stories and was a very quick read. I know quite a few people who aren’t at all keen on F.Scott Fitzgerald but I enjoyed the two which I had read previously, the ubiquitous The Great Gatsby and The Last Tycoon. I read them for school, getting on for a shocking 40 years ago. I’ve just had to re-read that and re-calculate and shockingly I was correct the first time – 40 YEARS!

My two sons also read those ones for school, about 10 years ago for them I think, which seems a bit strange to me, you would think that there would have been some changes in the curriculum over all those years.

Anyway, back to the book. Apparently these short stories are amongst his lesser well known ones, which is a surprise to me because I really enjoyed them. Again Scott Fitzgerald is writing about class and money.

The five stories in the compilation are:

The Popular Girl
Love in the Night
The Swimmers
A New Leaf
What a Handsome Pair

I think my favourite one is Love in the Night which is about a young Russian prince who flees to the south of France after the Russian Revolution and has to eke out a living as a taxi driver there. A meeting with someone from his past changes everything.

I must say that I enjoy short stories, they’re good for journeys or times when you don’t feel up to plunging into anything which you might have to concentrate on. I hate it if I have to keep picking up and putting down a novel and only get the chance to read small amounts at a time.

Library Book Sale

There was another mad withdrawn library book sale at the Adam Smith Theatre today. Surely they will have to re-think the book buying policy soon. There are so many cuts going on in other council departments, especially education. Anyway, I shouldn’t really complain as I bought another 5 fiction books plus a pasta cookery book.

I’ve only read 2 of the books that I bought in last month’s sale though, so the TBR pile is growing at an alarming rate.

This month, I couldn’t say no to:

Not the End of the World – Kate Atkinson
The Shipping News – Annie Proulx
Life Class – Pat Barker
April Lady – Georgette Heyer
The Popular Girl – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

No doubt I’ll get around to reading them at some point. At the moment I’m reading Vanity Fair, it’s a very old copy from the second-hand book shop. Unfortunately I didn’t realise how long it is when I started it. It dawned on me as I was turning the pages that they are nearly bible thin and there are 883 pages of them.

I could be some time.