Pg. 42 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
On which Markson placed lines in the margin next to the following:
“And into Gatsby, the North Dakota parvenu with mysterious sources of wealth, went much that was pertinent to a Minnesota parvenu who had found he could write himself out of debt at will ($1,500 per story: $1,500 shreds sliced from his talent)—a knack denied to James Joyce and Joseph Conrad. Into Gatsby went much of his awe at his own Midas touch, and his knowledge of the complex bond that secured Zelda Sayre to him with hoops of gold, and guilt for his squandering of talent and material, squandering he was powerless to arrest because he was also powerless to manage money. ‘I don’t know anyone,’ he wrote Max Perkins, ‘who has used up so much personal experience as I have at 27’; used up, he also said, on ‘trashy imaginings’; but the new books (Gatsby), he said in the same letter, would not be like that.”
Oh, Fitzgerald squandering his talent on his “trashy imaginings.”
“I had been only a mediocre caretaker of most of the things left in my hands, even of my talent, Scott Fitzgerald said.”
From Markson’s Reader’s Block, pg. 179.
But Gatsby “would not be like that.”
Fitzgerald assured Max Perkins.
The Great Gatsby received positive reviews and was somewhat of a commercial success upon its release.
And yet, it never had the kind of commercial success his novels This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned received.
Gatsby and Fitzgerald were both pretty much forgotten by the time of his death.
“F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a sequence of heart attacks.
His most recent royalty statement showed seven copies of The Great Gatsby sold during the preceding six months.”
So says Markson in This Is Not A Novel, on pg. 114.
And on pg. 37 of Vanishing Point, Markson explained:
“Not long after Scott Fitzgerald’s death, Scribner’s let The Great Gatsby go out of print.
And then rejected the collection called The Crack-Up.”
Maybe Fitzgerald was “only a mediocre caretaker” of his talent, squandering plenty of it on “trashy imaginings,” but he was right:
Gatsby “would not be like that.”
Even if there were times when the book wasn’t appreciated, when it didn’t sell much, and when it went out of print, The Great Gatsby is now often cited as one of the greatest American novel of all time, if not THE greatest American novel.
Too often great artists aren’t appreciated til long after their deaths.
A point Markson makes throughout his oeuvre.
Sadly, Fitzgerald didn’t get to see the rise of his literary import in the last half of the 20th century, and died thinking of himself as somewhat of a failure, but still, it’s a happy ending for a “mediocre caretaker.”
He has been vindicated.
David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.