November 9, 1938
I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.
This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.
The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.
That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.
In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,
Your old friend,
F. Scott Fitzgerald
P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.F. Scott Fitzgerald in response to Frances Turnbull, who had sent him some of her work to review. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters; via Letters of Note (via approximation)
At his call she would come up to him and give him a quick kiss with wide-open eyes, while he held her upright like a ladder, his hands on her two arms, as though she were a thing without equilibrium, and would, once he relinquished hold, fall stiffly backward to the floor. This is the kiss that comes in with the second year of marriage, succeeding the bridegroom kiss (which is rather stagey at best, say those who know about such things, and apt to be copied from passionate movies).
F. Scott Fitzgerald, “O Russet Witch”
Then came supper, and after that they went out for a walk, up two blocks and through Central Park, or sometimes to a moving picture, which taught them patiently that they were the sort of people for whom life was ordered, and that something very grand and brave and beautiful would soon happen to them if they were docile and obedient to their rightful superiors and kept away from pleasure.
Tender Is The Night
“Your wife does not love you,” said Tommy suddenly. “She loves me.”
The two men regarded each other with a curious impotence of expression. There can be little communication between men in that position, for their relation is indirect, and consists of how much each of them has possessed or will possess of the woman in question, so that their emotions pass through her divided self as through a bad telephone connection.
Tender Is The Night
She went up putting her arm around his shoulder and touching their heads together said: “Don’t be sad.”
He looked at her coldly.
“Don’t touch me!” he said.
Confused she moved a few feet away.
“Excuse me,” he continued abstractedly. “I was just thinking of what I thought of you — “
“Why not add the new classification to your book?”
“I have thought of it — ‘Furthermore and beyond the psychoses and the neuroses — ‘”
“I didn’t come over here to be disagreeable.”
“Then why did you come, Nicole? I can’t do anything for you any more. I’m trying to save myself.”
“From my contamination?”
“Profession throws me in contact with questionable company sometimes.”
She wept with anger at the abuse.
“You’re a coward! You’ve made a failure of your life, and you want to blame it on me.”
While he did not answer she began to feel the old hypnotism of his intelligence, sometimes exercised without power but always with a substrate of truth under truth which she could not break or even crack. Again she struggled with it, fighting him with her small, fine eyes, with the plush arrogance of a top dog, with her nascent transference to another man, with the accumulated resentment of years; she fought him with her money and her faith that her sister disliked him and was behind her now; with the thought of the new enemies he was making with his bitterness, her health and beauty against his physical deterioration, her unscrupulousness against his moralities — for this inner battle she used even her weaknesses — fighting bravely and courageously with the old cans and crockery and bottles, empty receptacles of her expiated sins, outrages, mistakes. And suddenly, in the space of two minutes, she achieved her victory and justified herself to herself without lie or subterfuge, cut the cord forever. Then she walked, weak in the legs, and sobbing coolly, toward the household that was hers at last.
Dick waited until she was out of sight. Then he leaned his head forward on the parapet. The case was finished. Doctor Diver was at liberty.
Tender Is The Night
“You’re a fetching kid, but I couldn’t fall in love.”
“You won’t give me a chance.”
The impertinence, the right to invade implied, astounded him. Short of anarchy, he could not think of any chance that Nicole Warren deserved.
“Give me a chance now.”
The voice fell low, sank into her breast and stretched the tight bodice over her heart as she came up close. He felt the young lips, her body sighing in relief against the arm growing stronger to hold her. There were now no more plans than if Dick had arbitrarily made some dissoluble mixture, with atoms joined and inseparable; you could throw it all out but never again could they fit back into atomic scale. As he held her and tasted her, and as she curved further and further toward him, with her own lips, new to herself, drowned and engulfed in love, yet solaced and triumphant, he was thankful to have an existence at all, if only as a reflection in her eyes.
“My God,” he gasped, “you’re fun to kiss.”
That was talk, but Nicole had a better hold on him now and she held it; she turned coquette and walked away, leaving him as suspended as in the funicular of the afternoon. She felt: There, that’ll show him, how conceited; how he could do with me; oh, wasn’t it wonderful! I’ve got him, he’s mine. Now in the sequence came flight, but it was all so sweet and new that she dawdled, wanting to draw it all in.
Tender Is The Night
“Have we got to go all the way to your hotel in Monte Carlo?”
He brought the car to a stop with a squeak of tires.
“No!” he answered. “And by God, I have never been so happy as I am this minute.”
They had passed through Nice following the blue coast and begun to mount to the middling-high Corniche. Now Tommy turned sharply down to the shore, ran out a blunt peninsula and stopped in the rear of a small shore hotel.
Its tangibility frightened Nicole for a moment. At the desk an American was arguing interminably with the clerk about the rate of exchange. She hovered, outwardly tranquil but inwardly miserable, as Tommy filled out the police blanks — his real, hers false. Their room was a Mediterranean room, almost ascetic, almost clean, darkened to the glare of the sea. Simplest of pleasures — simplest of places. Tommy ordered two cognacs, and when the door closed behind the waiter, he sat in the only chair, dark, scarred, and handsome, his eyebrows arched and upcurling, a fighting Puck, an earnest Satan.
Before they had finished the brandy they suddenly moved together and met standing up; then they were sitting on the bed and he kissed her hardy knees. Struggling a little still, like a decapitated animal, she forgot about Dick and her new white eyes, forgot Tommy himself and sank deeper and deeper into the minutes and the moment.
… When he got up to open a shutter and find out what caused the increasing clamor below their windows, his figure was darker and stronger than Dick’s, with high lights along the rope-twists of muscle. Momentarily he had forgotten her too — almost in the second of his flesh breaking from hers she had a foretaste that thing were going to be different than she had expected. She felt the nameless fear that precedes all emotions, joyous or sorrowful, inevitable as a hum of thunder precedes a storm.
Attractive women of nineteen and twenty-nine are alike in their breezy confidence; on the contrary, the exigent womb of the twenties does not pull the outside world centripetally around itself. The former are ages of insolence, comparable the one to a young cadet, the other to a fighter strutting after combat.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is The Night
But whereas a girl of nineteen draws her confidence from a surfeit of attention, a woman of twenty-nine is nourished on subtler stuff. Desirous, she chooses her apéritifs wisely, or, content, she enjoys the caviare of potential power. Happily she does not seem, in either case, to anticipate the subsequent years when her insight will often be blurred by panic, by the fear of stopping or the fear of going on. But on the landings of nineteen or twenty-nine she is pretty sure that there are no bears in the hall.