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Damage The review Ui this issue of SaUy Cline's biography of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald reminds me of one of my favorite minor works of literature. In 1945, five years after F. Scott Fitzgerald's death, Edmund WUson collected eight of Fitzgerald's magazine essays, along with a scrapbook of formerly unpublished Fitzgerald material that included organized writer's notes, poems, letters and even a few recipes. Wilson named the book The Crack-Up, after the title of one of the essays. It is the source of some of Fitzgerald's best-remembered quotations, and it's also one of the most engaging collections of a writer's ephemera I've read— good reading Ui itself and fascinating in its demonstration of how hard Fitzgerald worked at his fiction. The title essay, along with two others, "Handle with Care" and "Pasting It Together," had been published in Esquire Ui the mid-'30s to a flurry of condemnation. They are Ui fact classic personal essays in the tradition of Montaigne, written by an author looking back on Ufe from a more seasoned viewpoint, trying to better understand the world, human nature and himself. However, Fitzgerald's key subjects were physical exhaustion, disülusionment and depression, which were not seemly topics for a middleclass writer to discuss. John Dos Passos caUed it an abuse of his talent to go "sptiling" out his life Uke that. Hemingway, who was always game for putting down his former friends, caUed the essays shameful and cowardly. Fitzgerald's editor at Scribner's, MaxweU Perkins, thought that they were exercises Ui self-pity. Harold Ober, his agent, noticed that magazine editors became standoffish to Fitzgerald's short stories, which, along with occasional jobs Ui Hollywood, had been the source of most of his income during his later career. The title essay Ui The Crack-Up is less a raw confession than a personably written modern-day exemplum. The author begins by speculating about the roles of trauma and regret Ui mental self-injury. He gently suggests that what we imagine comes entirely from the outside may be as much the result of our own error: "Of course aU We is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work— the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside—the ones you remember and blame things on and, Ui moments of weakness , tell your friends about, don't show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within—that you don't feel until it's too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that In some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick—the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed." Fitzgerald goes on to describe his own breakdown in some detail, beginning with his having "a strong sudden instinct that I must be alone. ... I was an average mixer, but more than average in a tendency to identify myself, my ideas, my destiny, with those of all classes that I came Ui contact with. I was always saving or being saved—m a single morning I would go through the emotions ascribable to Wellington at Waterloo." The contemporary reader of The Crack-Up can hardly avoid having a mixed response to these essays, written long before our widespread discussions of addiction and psychological disorders such as depression . Fitzgerald may appear to avoid the real issues—that both he and his then institutionalized wife had been alcoholics who weren't able to take care of themselves Ui the most basic ways. Yet by not being overly reductive or self-lacerating, Fitzgerald is able to speak more broadly and with a better sense of humor about his times. In "Echoes of the Jazz Age" he alludes to his generation's lingering excesses: "Though the Jazz Age continued, it became less and less of an affair of youth. The sequel was like a children's party taken over by the elders." He describes his and Zelda's aimless traveling, the vanity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 5-8
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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