Max Perkins, 38, has been here at Scribner’s for 12 years now. He’s mostly worked on his authors’ novels, short story collections and non-fiction works as well. This is the first time he’s been asked to edit a play.
Scribner’s star novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 26, has had his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, followed by his second story collection, Flappers and Philosophers, published this year. Both are doing well.
Scott is working on a third novel, but is currently sidetracked by writing this play, originally titled Gabriel’s Trombone. He has now decided on a new title, The Vegetable: From President to Postman.
Perkins agreed to read it and give Scott some feedback, which he sent to him yesterday:
I’ve read your play three times and I think more highly of its possibilities on the third reading than ever before;—but I am also more strongly convinced that these possibilities are far from being realized on account of the handling of the story in the second act [in which the main character has drunken fantasies of becoming president]…You seem to lose sense of your true motive…Satirize as much as you can…but keep one eye always on your chief motive. Throughout the entire wild second act there would still be a kind of ‘wild logic.’…
“My only excuse for all this verbiage is, that so good in conception is your motive, so true your characters, so splendidly imaginative your invention, and so altogether above the mere literate the whole scheme, that no one could help but greatly desire to see it all equal in execution. If it were a comparative trifle, like many a short story, it wouldn’t much matter…To save space, I’ve omitted most of the ‘I thinks,’ ‘It seems to mes,’ and ‘I may be wrong buts’: They would be, however, understood.”
Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Midwestern bond salesman Nick Carraway, 30, is spending the summer working in Manhattan and living in a rented bungalow out on Long Island. Slowly, he is getting to know his neighbors:
At 9 o’clock one morning late in July, [Jay] Gatsby’s gorgeous car lurched up the rocky drive to my door and gave out a burst of melody from its three-noted horn. It was the first time he had called on me, though I had gone to two of his parties, mounted in his hydroplane, and, at his urgent invitation, made frequent use of his beach.
Rolls Royce Silver Ghost
‘Good morning, old sport. You’re having lunch with me today and I thought we’d ride up together.’
…He was never quite still; there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand.
He saw me looking with admiration at his car.
‘It’s pretty, isn’t it, old sport?’ He jumped off to give me a better view. ‘Haven’t you ever seen it before?’
I’d seen it. Everybody had seen it.”
Gatsby and Carraway have an interesting lunch in the city with one of Gatsby’s friends, which ends when the friend gets up to leave:
’I have enjoyed my lunch,’ he said, ‘and I’m going to run off from you two young men before I outstay my welcome.’
‘Don’t hurry, Meyer,’ said Gatsby without enthusiasm. Mr. Wolfsheim raised his hand in a sort of benediction.
‘You’re very polite, but I belong to another generation,’ he announced solemnly. ‘You sit here and discuss your sports and your young ladies and your—’ He supplied an imaginary noun with another wave of his hand. ‘As for me, I am 50 years old, and I won’t impose myself on you any longer.’
As he shook hands and turned away his tragic nose was trembling. I wondered if I had said anything to offend him.
‘He becomes very sentimental sometimes,’ explained Gatsby. ‘This is one of his sentimental days. He’s quite a character around New York—a denizen of Broadway.’
‘Who is he, anyhow, an actor?’
‘Meyer Wolfsheim? No, he’s a gambler.’ Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: ‘He’s the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919.’
‘Fixed the World Series?’ I repeated.
The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of 50 million people—with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing up a safe.
‘How did he happen to do that?’ I asked after a minute.
‘He just saw the opportunity.’
‘Why isn’t he in jail?’
‘They can’t get him, old sport. He’s a smart man.’”
Back home in St. Paul, where he has started work on his third novel, best-selling writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, 25, has received an interesting offer.
A leading Hollywood producer wants to buy the rights to Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, published two years ago. And he has suggested that the lead characters could be played on screen by Scott and his wife, Zelda, just turned 22.
This Side of Paradise
Scott is considering it. Even though he tells his editor at Scribner’s, Maxwell Perkins, 37, that this would be their “first and last appearance positively,” Max knows the Fitzgeralds better than that. He manages to talk Scott out of it.
This is a very different letter that Max Perkins, 37, editor at Scribner’s publishing house, is getting ready to write.
Usually, he’s writing letters of encouragement to his authors, like hit novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 25.
This letter is personal.
Earlier this month he and his wife Louise, 34, met a private school music and dance teacher from Middleburg, Virginia, Elizabeth Lemmon, 28, on her annual visit to her family in Plainfield, New Jersey.
Elizabeth, who also manages a local baseball team in Virginia, left quite an impression on Max. He has been looking for a reason to write to her and found that she had left behind a few cigarettes. He writes,
Dear Miss Lemon [Max is a terrible speller]:—When I found these cigarettes you had left I thought at first to keep them as a remembrance. But I am far from needing a remembrance. I then recalled that you had said you meant to stop smoking because cigarettes of this brand were no longer made & I thought I must save you from that dreadful heart-broken feeling you have when you don’t smoke…Next year [when you visit], please remember I sent these and thank me. And I now thank you for all the pleasure you gave me—& I suppose, everyone else in the neighborhood—by being here this year.
P.S. [I have always liked Virgil’s phrase] ‘and she revealed herself to be a goddess.’ But I never really knew its meaning till I saw you coming toward me through our hall the other night.”
Welbourne, Elizabeth Lemmon’s family estate in Virginia
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 25, hopes that his recently launched second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, will do at least as well as his first, This Side of Paradise, published two years ago.
Of course this one is based on his relationship with Zelda Sayre, 21, their romance, their marriage. After all, look at the picture on the cover…
The Beautiful and Damned
But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “blubberingly sentimental” as one early reviewer called it.
Fitzgerald still owes his publisher, Scribner’s, almost $6,000, but early sales seem to be going well. He just wasn’t prepared for the hostility of some of the critics who had praised him last time.
Scott and Zelda have come to New York for the launch party—well, parties, actually—leaving their four-month-old daughter. Scottie, with Fitzgerald’s parents back in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they have been living for the past year or so.
Scott is excited to be back in Manhattan, but Zelda seems out of sorts.
Fitzgerald’s classmate from Princeton, critic Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, 26, was quite impressed with The Beautiful and Damned when Scott asked him to read it in manuscript. But now he is a bit disappointed with the finished product. Who cares about the newlyweds’ fights back in Westport, Connecticut, last summer?
When they first arrived back in New York City, Wilson was pleased to see Scott and Zelda again. But it has become clear that there is a lot of tension between the two. Motherhood has robbed Zelda, the original “flapper,” of a lot of her jazz. Wilson thinks she’s looking matronly, and, frankly, fat.
Zelda is pissed off. It’s not just that she doesn’t want to be pregnant again. Scott is totally indifferent to their first child—what will he be like with a second? She’s solving that problem with a pill some New York friends have given her.
She’s also angry about the way her husband has portrayed her in this new novel. Spoiled brat. Selfish bitch. And to top it off, he has stolen some of her writing. Zelda used to enjoy playing the role of muse. But this time Scott has used her diaries and letters word for word—there are three pages in the novel labeled “The Diary.” It’s her diary!
Zelda knows one thing for sure. She’s not going to have this baby.
On the train from New Haven, Connecticut, into Manhattan, New York City’s top columnist, FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams], 40, of the World newspaper, is reading his review copy of The Beautiful and Damned. He falls asleep.
Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins, 37, is thinking about how to word this letter to one of his star authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 25, currently with his wife and newborn daughter in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Scott’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, is set to be published this spring. Max believes it will do at least as well as his first, This Side of Paradise, which was a Scribner’s best-seller of 1920.
Fitzgerald is also continually publishing short stories in widely read magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and Metropolitan.
Perkins likes following a hit novel with a collection of stories by the same author, feeling that the sales of each will help both. This was true of Paradise.
For the follow up collection, Fitzgerald suggested a number of titles: We Are Seven. A La Carte. Journeys and Journey’s End. Bittersweet. Or Flappers and Philosophers.
Flappers and Philosophers
Perkins has chosen the last one, although Charles Scribner II, 67, president of the company, was aghast.
Like Scribner, Perkins doesn’t want to mess with success. Nevertheless, he wants to suggest to Fitzgerald that it might be time to take a different turn.
He knows Scott is in the beginning stages of thinking about his third novel. And Max is also concerned that his own four daughters might want to become flappers.
We ought to…get away altogether from the flapper idea.”
On February 3, 2022, we will be celebrating the 148th birthday of my fellow Pittsburgher Gertrude Stein, at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill. You can register for this free event, or sign up to watch it via Zoom, here.
The communication between editor Maxwell Perkins, 37, and his hit novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 25, has continued as publication of Scott’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, draws closer.
Last month Perkins had written to Fitzgerald about a passage in which one of the characters makes disparaging remarks about the Bible. Max wasn’t offended, but Scribner’s has never published such heresy.
Max told Scott that he is concerned that some readers will believe Fitzgerald feels that way, writing,
I think I know exactly what you mean to express…but I don’t think it will go. Even when people are altogether wrong, you cannot but respect those who speak with such passionate sincerity.”
Fitzgerald, working from a rented office in St. Paul, Minnesota, to avoid his wife and newborn daughter at home, took offense, replying:
If this particular incident was without any literary merit…I should defer to your judgment without question. But that passage belongs beautifully to that scene.”
That statement worried Perkins. He wrote back,
Don’t ever defer to my judgment. You won’t on any vital point, I know, and I should be ashamed if it were possible to have made you, for a writer of any account must speak solely for himself.”
Fitzgerald agreed to compromise. A little. He changed “Godalmighty” to “deity,” cut “bawdy,” and edited “Oh, Christ” to “Oh, my God.”
But now Fitzgerald has sent Perkins a whole new ending, which his wife Zelda, 21, hates. Scott has cabled Max to get his opinion:
ZELDA THINKS BOOK SHOULD END WITH ANTHONY’S LAST SPEECH ON SHIP—SHE THINKS NEW ENDING IS A PIECE OF MORALITY. LET ME KNOW YOUR ADVICE IF YOU AGREE LAST WORD OF BOOK SHOULD BE I HAVE COME THROUGH OR DO YOU PREFER PRESENT ENDING I AM UNDECIDED JACKET IS EXCELLENT”
So today Perkins cables him,
I AGREE WITH ZELDA,”
and then sits down to write a more detailed explanation in a follow-up letter:
I think she is dead right about that…[The intended satire] will not of itself be understood by the great simple-minded public without a little help. For instance, in talking to one man about the book I received the comment that Anthony was unscathed; that he came through with his millions and thinking well of himself. This man completely missed the extraordinarily effective irony of the last few paragraphs.”
Perkins sends off the letter and edits the copy for the dust jacket so as to underline the irony.
Throughout the fall, Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins, 37, has been corresponding with his star author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 25, currently back in his hometown of St. Paul with his wife awaiting the arrival of their first child.
626 Goodrich Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota
Scott had dropped off the completed manuscript of his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, at the end of April and then headed off to London and Paris with his pregnant wife, Zelda, 22.
Last month Fitzgerald, like most authors, had been complaining to Max about the minimal advertising for his first novel, last year’s hit This Side of Paradise. Perkins had encouraged him to express any of his dissatisfactions and to keep sending suggestions. He assured Scott that
the more you help us in connection with the make-up of these advertisements, the better. I think we did more advertising, very probably, than you were aware of, but it was not as effective or as plainly visible as it should have been. But we have now a man with excellent experience whom we believe will do the work with skill and vigor…I only want to ask you always to criticize freely….and to convince you that, in the case of The Beautiful and Damned, we will work the scheme out with you so that…you will feel satisfaction both with the copy and the campaign.”
Of course, say what you will about the advertising, Paradise was Scribner’s biggest success last year.
Then, while Scott was correcting page proofs, he asked Perkins for some help with details about student life at Harvard that he wanted to include. Having graduated from there in 1907 with a degree in economics, Perkins was happy to oblige.
Last month, the editor was also pleased to pass on to Fitzgerald that he had seen one of the stenographers
taking some proofs out to lunch with her…because she could not stop reading it. That is the way with all of them who are near enough to get their hands on the proofs—not only the stenographers.”
Two years ago, Perkins had to fight the Scribner’s editorial board to have them publish a novel as different as Paradise. Now the whole house is anticipating that they have another hit on their hands with Beautiful and Damned.
Today Max is writing Scott an even cheerier letter, congratulating him on the birth of his daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, one week old. When “Scottie” was born, Scott telegraphed his parents,
LILLIAN GISH IS IN MOURNING
CONSTANCE TALMADGE IS A BACK NUMBER
A SECOND MARY PICKFORD HAS ARRIVED.”
Assuming that Zelda had wanted a girl, Perkins writes to the new father,
if you are like me,…you will need some slight consolation and having had great experience with daughters—four of them, I can forecast that you will be satisfied later on.”
In St. Paul, Scott has rented an office in town so he can work away from his recuperating wife, the hired nurse, and the screaming baby. He’s working on a satiric play.
You don’t have to wait for this blog to work its way through the year.
Just order “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s, Volume II—1921, the second in the series collecting these blog postings about this amazing decade. The print version is available now on Amazon; the e-book will be available in a few weeks.
You’ve certainly put a lot of work into this. It is a panorama of the period…Look forward to reading your future work”—Richard, Hemingway fan
Following less than eight months after the publication of Volume I, this collection of more than 100 vignettes has the same easy to dip in and out of layout. Or you can read straight through from January 1st to the upcoming December 31st.
Interior pages of “Such Friends”
Spoiler alert: It’s got a great ending [and two recipes]!
I have really been enjoying your book…Because of the way it’s set up with episodes corresponding to dates of the year, it’s a great one for reading a bit from on a daily basis.”—Emily, British writer fan
And what about your book-loving friends? You may know which early 20th century writers they love, but are you sure which works they have read or not read at gift-giving time? The series “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s is the perfect present because they sure haven’t read this! Give them the gift of great gossip about their favorite creative people.
The series “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s is based in part on my research for my Ph.D. in Communications from Dublin City University in Ireland. which focused on the legendary writers and artists who socialized in salons in the early years of the 20th century—William Butler Yeats and the Irish Literary Renaissance, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Gertrude Stein and the Americans in Paris, and Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table. For the blogs and books I have expanded the cast of characters to also include those who orbited around them such as T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Edna St. Vincent Millay and others.
My investigations into creative writers in the early 20th century began with Manager as Muse, a case study of Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, the topic of my MBA thesis at Duquesne University in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This is also available on Amazon in print and e-book formats.
The “Such Friends” book series has been beautifully designed by Lisa Thomson [LisaT2@comcast.net] and produced on Amazon by Loral and Seth Pepoon of Selah Press [email@example.com].
The cover art on Volume II is a painting by Virginia Woolf’s sister, painter Vanessa Bell, A Conversation.
A Conversation by Vanessa Bell, 1913-1916
If you are in Pittsburgh, and easily accessible by bus, I will hand deliver your personally signed copy!
Everyone is reading “Such Friends”!
I read it in chronological order and found the vignettes most interesting. A sort of behind the scenes look into the thoughts, character, and personalities of the writers and artists affiliated with the individual salons in the beginning of the decade. I do believe the 20s sparked a Renaissance of thought and ideas in the literary and artistic world. I must admit that there were a few of their associates that I was not familiar with which may merit further study.”—Robert, Wisconsin fan
For complimentary review copies of both volumes of “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This fall I will be talking about Writers’ Salons in Dublin and Ireland Before the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins, 36, knows that he has to be really upbeat and optimistic.
He has received a letter from his star author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 24, whose second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, will be serialized in Metropolitan magazine next month. Scribner’s predicts it will be as big a hit as his first book, published last year, This Side of Paradise.
Fitzgerald is back home in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he and his wife, Zelda, 21, have moved to await the birth of their first child.
626 Goodrich Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, which the Fitzgeralds rented
With the royalties from Paradise, the Fitzgeralds sailed to Europe earlier this year, but the trip was pretty disastrous as Zelda was sick the whole time.
Thanks to Perkins, they did meet with one of Scribner’s older stars, English novelist John Galsworthy, 54, when they were in London. Perkins had written to Galsworthy that their meeting “may turn out to have done [Fitzgerald] a great deal of good, for he needs steering.”
Now Perkins is worried about the latest letter from Scott. He says that he has had a “hell of a time” trying to write again.
Loafing puts me in this particular obnoxious and abominable gloom. My third novel, if I ever write another, will I am sure be black as death with gloom…I should like to sit down with half dozen chosen companions and drink myself to death but I am sick alike of life, liquor and literature. If it wasn’t for Zelda I think I’d disappear out of sight for three years. Ship as a sailor or something & get hard—I’m sick of the flabby semi-intellectual softness in which I flounder with my generation.”
Max puts as much enthusiasm as he can into his reply:
Everybody that practices the last [literature] is at uncertain intervals weary of the first [life], but that is the very time they are likely to take strongly to the second [liquor].”
Perkins also extols the benefits of being in the St. Paul weather because Scott will want to stay inside and write most of the time.
Harvard undergraduate Virgil Thomson, 24, is thrilled to be headed to Paris for the first time on the European tour of the Harvard Glee Club—the first such extensive tour by any American university choral group. He’s the accompanist, but also an understudy for the conductor, Dr. Archibald T. “Doc” Davison, 37, who has led the 63-year-old choir for the past two years.
But what Virgil is looking forward to most is staying on in Paris after the Glee Club goes back to America.
This tour came about because French history professor Bernard Fay, 28, who had been at Harvard, managed to get the French Foreign Office to issue an official invitation to the Club.
In addition to meeting their steamer when they dock at 2 am, Fay will be able to introduce Virgil to those in Paris who he needs to know, particularly French composers such as Darius Milhaud, 28, and Francis Poulenc, 22.
Thanks to a teaching fellowship, Virgil will be staying on in Paris for a full year to study composition with renowned composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger, 33. What an opportunity. He’ll be staying with a French family at first, but then hopes to find his own flat near Boulanger’s studio on the Right Bank.
Artist Marcel Duchamp, 33, on the other hand, is heading for home.
Marcel has been living in and around New York City for the past six years. After his painting Nude Descending a Staircase was such a big hit at the 1913 Armory Show, he was able to finance a trip to the States and leverage his newfound fame to acquire artist friends and valuable patrons, Walter, 43, and Louise Arensberg, 42. As owners of the building where he has a studio, the Arensbergs agreed to take one of Duchamp’s major paintings, The Large Glass, in lieu of rent.
Duchamp’s English wasn’t good at first, but supporting himself by giving French lessons helped to improve it quickly.
Marcel feels it’s time to go back home to Paris. Even just for a few months.
The Large Glass by Marcel Duchamp
After a stop in London, the Fitzgeralds are now in Paris.
In England, Scott, 24, wasn’t particularly impressed with his fellow Scribner’s novelist John Galsworthy, 53, whom he met at his home in Hampstead.
Scott and his wife Zelda aren’t really impressed with Paris either. The managers of the Hotel Saint-James-et-d’Albany where they are staying complain when Zelda blocks the elevator door on their floor so it will be available for her.
The real problem with this trip, though, is that Zelda is sick all the time. And pregnant.
American novelist Sherwood Anderson, 44, and his wife, Tennessee, 47, on the other hand, are having a ball on their first trip to Paris. They’ve seen a terrific exhibit of work by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, 39. Visited Chartres. Met American ex-patriate poet Ezra Pound, 35. They were more impressed by the Chartres cathedral than they were by Pound.
What Sherwood is really looking forward to, however, is using the letter of introduction he just received from the American owner of Shakespeare & Co., Sylvia Beach, 34, to meet her friend and fellow American, writer Gertrude Stein, 47. He has read some of Stein’s pieces in the “little mags” that he’s found back in Chicago and has learned so much from her radical style.
In exchange, Sherwood is helping Sylvia send out prospectuses to all the Americans he can think of, soliciting subscriptions for her upcoming publication of Ulysses, the scandalous novel by the Irish ex-patriate, James Joyce, 39.
Prospectus for Ulysses
Recent Yale graduate Thornton Wilder, 24, and his sister, Isabel, 21, both writers, have been in Paris since the beginning of the month. During his recent eight-month residency at the American Academy in Rome, where he studied archaeology and Italian, Thornton started on his first novel, The Cabala.
Now that they are in Paris, Thornton and Isabel are signed up as members of Shakespeare & Co.’s lending library and they have made friends with Sylvia, thanks to a letter of introduction he carried from his friend, poet Stephen Vincent Benet, 22.
Sylvia has offered to introduce Thornton to Joyce, whom he has seen in her shop.
Thornton refused. Joyce always looks as though he doesn’t want to be interrupted.
Right now, Thornton’s biggest concern is finding a new place to live. The Hotel du Maroc, where they have been since they arrived, is crawling with bedbugs.