75 years after the Jazz Age writer's death, his words still sparkle
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that ‘all good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath’. It creates a dreamlike vision of one of the greatest writers the world has ever known, diving into the blue expanse and fishing for words like rare oyster pearls. 75 years after Fitzgerald’s death, his words still sparkle on the surface where he left them.
It is apt that Fitzgerald is often associated with ‘the lost generation’ – a phrase popularised by Ernest Hemingway that refers to those bright young things who came-of-age during World War I. They dazzled and unraveled in the years that followed, none more spectacularly than Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Whatever clarity The Great Gatsby novelist struggled to achieve in his turbulent personal life, he created with words.
Even now, Fitzgerald holds a mirror up. He asks us – the reader – to take a closer look at ourselves and tell him what we find. Perhaps this is why so many of us still identify with his fiction and lap up the many (now published) letters he wrote to family and friends. The fragility is always there.
In the words of Hemingway, who wrote about Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast: ‘His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings.’
Those butterfly wings still flutter. Here are just a few of his most illuminating quotes…
‘You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.’
‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And then one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’
‘I like people and I like them to like me, but I wear my heart where God put it, on the inside.’
‘I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all she should be. I love her and it is the beginning of everything.’
‘In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.’
‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”‘
‘”Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now — isn’t that enough?”‘
‘Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.’
‘All life is just a progression toward and then a recession from one phrase – ‘I love you.”
‘Either you think — or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.’
‘There are no second acts in American lives.’
‘I’m a romantic; a sentimental person thinks things will last, a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t.’
‘Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know – because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.’
‘One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it.’
‘Think how you love me,” she whispered. “I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside me there’ll always be the person I am tonight.’