A salty take on F. Scott Fitzgerald in a 1945 New York Times article

Casual backyard get-together from The Wolf of Wall Street

Speaking of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and his delicate and moving personal essay The Crack-Up…

I unearthed a 1945 book review on the collection of Fitzgerald writings of the same name, that had just been published.

The review is by a one William Du Bois, who thought Fitzgerald was more or less a useless, immature, pretty-boy hack who, if he arguably had some promise as a great literary talent, never lived up to it.

More or less.

Apparently afraid we’ll think he actually likes Fitzgerald (a wholly unfounded fear), Mr. Du Bois assures us it’s “quite true” that Fitzgerald’s “cosmos was bounded by a yokel-cum-Princeton snobbery.”

(But what’s the name for Mr. Du Bois’s kind of snobbery, I wonder?)

He sums up poor Fitzgerald as “one of those artists who simply lacked the mental equipment to adjust to the demands of maturity.”

You’re ruthless, Mr. Du Bois, ruthless!

But isn’t it funny how an author so revered in our day was so casually disparaged then? The appreciation of art — or disappreciation as the case may be — is so conditional and subjective. We sometimes forget that and take it for granted that a work is worthy or unworthy, good or bad, when of course the objective validity of such judgments are anything but. Authors fall in and out of popular favor like last season’s culottes — but we deceive ourselves into thinking there’s a rhyme or reason to it.

Anyway, Mr. Du Bois was ruthless, but not prescient. I was tickled by what came next in his hit-job of a review.

Apparently one who measures out praise to the fifth decimal point, Mr. Du Bois granted that, “within the range of his talent,” Fitzgerald was an accomplished novelist. Mr. Du Bois was even willing to entertain the notion (despite Fitzgerald’s many faults, helpfully listed by Mr. Du Bois) that one day, The Great Gatsby or another Fitzgerald novel would be “devoured” by younger readers — but only when “the gaudy milieux that made these books possible seem as remote as the reign of Caligula.”

Mr. DB was half right. The Great Gatsby is read by literally every high school student in the United States, moodily sighing over Jay Gatz and Daisy’s unfulfilled love. (And mostly missing the point. I know. I was one too once.)

But no, the “gaudy milieux” of The Great Gatsby doesn’t seem all that foreign.

Read it: Review of Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up, by William Du Bois, the New York Times (July 23, 1945)


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