Shortly after the publication of his first novel in 1920 titled This Side of Paradise, young F. Scott Fitzgerald received a scathing letter from a critic. The author, who would later enthrall the world with his sociopolitical commentaries through works such as The Great Gatsby, was unperturbed by this hate mail.
In a fantastic and fiesty reply, found in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, Fitzgerald touches upon the superficial and lofty ideals of high societies in relation to the creative minds. It’s a letter worth reading, time and again, particularly if you’re feeling discouraged by the negative criticisms pervasive in mainstream media.
TO: Robert D. Clark
38 W 59th St.
New York City
Feb 9th 1920
Your letter riled me to such an extent that I’m answering immediately. Who are all these ‘real people’ who ‘create business and politics’? And of whose approval I should be so covetous? Do you mean grafters who keep sugar in their ware houses so that people have to go without or the cheap-jacks who by bribery and high-school sentiment manage to control elections. I can’t pick up a paper here without finding that some of these ‘real people’ who will not be satisfied only with ‘a brilliant mind’ (I quote you) have just gone up to Sing Sing for a stay — Brindell and Hegerman, two pillars of society, went this morning.
Who in hell ever respected Shelley, Whitman, Poe, O. Henry, Verlaine, Swinburne, Villon, Shakespeare ect when they were alive. Shelley + Swinburne were fired from college; Verlaine + O Henry were in jail. The rest were drunkards or wasters and told generally by the merchants and petty politicians and jitney messiahs of their day that real people wouldn’t stand it. And the merchants and messiahs, the shrewd + the dull, are dust — and the others live on.
Just occasionally a man like Shaw who was called an immoralist 50 times worse than me back in the 90ties, lives on long enough so that the world grows up to him. What he believed in 1890 was heresy then — by by now its almost respectable. It seems to me I’ve let myself be dominated by ‘authorities’ for too long — the headmaster of Newman, S.P. A, Princeton, my regiment, my business boss — who knew no more than me, in fact I should say these 5 were all distinctly my mental inferiors. And that’s all that counts! The Rousseaus, Marxes, Tolstois — men of thought, mind you, ‘impractical’ men, ‘idealist’ have done more to decide the food you eat and the things you think + do than all the millions of Roosevelts and Rockerfellars that strut for 20 yrs or so mouthing such phrases as 100% American (which means 99% village idiot), and die with a little pleasing flattery to the silly and cruel old God they’ve set up in their hearts.