Aeolian Wall Lizard

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-09-24 – 1940-12-21) was an Irish-American novelist and short story writer.
See also: The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night


  • All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.
    • Undated letter to his daughter "Scottie" (Frances Scott Fitzgerald).

  • The idea that to make a man work you've got to hold gold in front of his eyes is a growth, not an axiom. We’ve done that for so long that we've forgotten there’s any other way.
    • "Amory Blaine" in This Side of Paradise (1920) Bk. 2, Ch. 5

  • Whenever you feel like criticizing any one... just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.
    • The Great Gatsby (1925)

  • So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
    • The Great Gatsby (1925)

  • Sometimes it is harder to deprive oneself of a pain than of a pleasure.
    • Tender is the Night (1934)

  • One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pinprick, but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it.
    • Tender Is the Night (1934) Bk. 3, Ch. 13

  • Either you think — or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.
    • Tender Is the Night (1934)

  • I hate the place like poison with a sincere hatred.
    • Responding to a suggestion that he return to Hollywood to work on a script of Tender is the Night in a letter to his agent (10 January 1935)

  • In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day.
    • The Crack-Up (1936)

  • Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
    One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the "impossible," come true.
    • The Crack-Up (1936)

  • I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to "succeed" — and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions of the future.
    • The Crack-Up (1936)

  • My generation of radicals and breakers-down never found anything to take the place of the old virtues of work and courage and the old graces of courtesy and politeness.
    • Letter to his daughter Frances Scott Fitzgerald (July 1938)

  • Once one is caught up into the material world not one person in ten thousand finds the time to form literary taste, to examine the validity of philosophic concepts for himself, or to form what, for lack of a better phrase, I might call the wise and tragic sense of life.
    • Letter to his daughter Frances Scott Fitzgerald (5 October 1940)

  • Isn’t Hollywood a dump — in the human sense of the word. A hideous town, pointed up by the insulting gardens of its rich, full of the human spirit at a new low of debasement.
    • Letter to Alice Richardson (29 July 1940)

  • How strange to have failed as a social creature — even criminals do not fail that way — they are the law's "Loyal Opposition," so to speak. But the insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read.
    • Letter to his daughter Frances Scott Fitzgerald (December 1940)

  • Great art is the contempt of a great man for small art.
    • Notebook L (1945) edited by Edmund Wilson

  • Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.
    • Notebook E (1945) edited by Edmund Wilson

  • It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know they won't save us any more than love did.
    • Notebooks

  • There are no second acts in American Lives.
    • The Last Tycoon, "Hollywood, ETC.," ed. Edmund Wilson (1941)

This Side of Paradise (1920)

  • Faint winds, and far away a fading laughter...
    And the rain and over the fields a voice calling...

  • The shadow of a dove
    Falls on the cote, the trees are filled with wings;
    And down the valley through the crying trees
    The body of the darker storm flies; brings
    With its new air the breath of sunken seas
    And slender tenuous thunder . . .
    But I wait . . .
    Wait for the mists and for the blacker rain —
    Heavier winds that stir the veil of fate,
    Happier winds that pile her hair;
    They tear me, teach me, strew the heavy air
    Upon me, winds that I know, and storm.

  • "I simply state that I'm a product of a versatile mind in a restless generation — with every reason to throw my mind and pen in with the radicals. Even if, deep in my heart, I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones. I've thought I was right about life at various times, but faith is difficult. One thing I know. If living isn't seeking for the grail it may be a damned amusing game.

  • A big man has no time really to do anything but just sit and be big.

  • People try so hard to believe in leaders now, pitifully hard. But we no sooner get a popular reformer or politician or soldier or writer or philosopher — a Roosevelt, a Tolstoi, a Wood, a Shaw, a Nietzsche, than the cross-currents of criticism wash him away. My Lord, no man can stand prominence these days. It's the surest path to obscurity. People get sick of hearing the same name over and over.

  • Look at you; you're on The New Democracy, considered the most brilliant weekly in the country, read by the men who do things and all that. What's your business? Why, to be as clever, as interesting, and as brilliantly cynical as possible about every man, doctrine, book, or policy that is assigned you to deal with. The more strong lights, the more spiritual scandal you can throw on the matter, the more money they pay you, the more the people buy the issue.

  • And he could not tell why the struggle was worth while, why he had determined to use the utmost himself and his heritage from the personalities he has passed....

  • Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken. . . .

  • He stretched his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky. "I know myself," he cried, "but that is all — "

  • There was no God in his heart, he knew; his ideas were still in riot; there was ever the pain of memory; the regret for his lost youth — yet the waters of disillusion had left a deposit on his soul, responsibility and a love of life, the faint stirring of old ambitions and unrealized dreams.

  • “The truth is that the public has done one of those startling and amazing things that they do about once in a hundred years. They’ve seized an idea.”
    “What is it?”
    “That however the brains and abilities of men may differ, their stomachs are essentially the same.”

The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

  • The victor belongs to the spoils.

  • In 1913, when Anthony Patch was twenty-five, two years were already gone since irony, the Holy Ghost of this later day, had, theoretically at least, descended upon him.

  • As you first see him he wonders frequently whether he is not without honor and slightly mad, a shameful and obscene thinness glistening on the surface of the world like oil on a clean pond, these occasions being varied, of course, with those in which he thinks himself rather an exceptional young man, thoroughly sophisticated, well adjusted to his environment, and somewhat more significant than any one else he knows.
    This was his healthy state and it made him cheerful, pleasant, and very attractive to intelligent men and to all women. In this state he considered that he would one day accomplish some quiet subtle thing that the elect would deem worthy and, passing on, would join the dimmer stars in a nebulous, indeterminate heaven half-way between death and immortality. Until the time came for this effort he would be Anthony Patch — not a portrait of a man but a distinct and dynamic personality, opinionated, contemptuous, functioning from within outward — a man who was aware that there could be no honor and yet had honor, who knew the sophistry of courage and yet was brave.

  • To Anthony life was a struggle against death, that waited at every corner. It was as a concession to his hypochondriacal imagination that he formed the habit of reading in bed — it soothed him. He read until he was tired and often fell asleep with the lights still on.

  • Curiously enough he found in senior year that he had acquired a position in his class. He learned that he was looked upon as a rather romantic figure, a scholar, a recluse, a tower of erudition. This amused him but secretly pleased him — he began going out, at first a little and then a great deal.

Tales of the Jazz Age (1922)

  • Jim Powell was a Jelly-bean. Much as I desire to make him an appealing character, I feel that it would be unscrupulous to deceive you on that point. He was a bred-in-the-bone, dyed-in-the-wool, ninety-nine three-quarters per cent Jelly-bean and he grew lazily all during Jelly-bean season, which is every season, down in the land of the Jelly-beans well below the Mason-Dixon line.
    • "The Jelly-Bean"

  • "Jelly-bean" is the name throughout the undissolved Confederacy for one who spends his life conjugating the verb to idle in the first person singular — I am idling, I have idled, I will idle.
    • "The Jelly-Bean"

  • The street was hot at three and hotter still at four, the April dust seeming to enmesh the sun and give it forth again as a world-old joke forever played on an eternity of afternoons. But at half past four a first layer of quiet fell and the shades lengthened under the awnings and heavy foliaged trees. In this heat nothing mattered. All life was weather, a waiting through the hot where events had no significance for the cool that was soft and caressing like a woman's hand on a tired forehead.
    • "The Jelly-Bean"

  • This somewhat unpleasant tale, published as a novelette in the "Smart Set" in July, 1920, relates a series of events which took place in the spring of the previous year. Each of the three events made a great impression upon me. In life they were unrelated, except by the general hysteria of that spring which inaugurated the Age of Jazz, but in my story I have tried, unsuccessfully I fear, to weave them into a pattern — a pattern which would give the effect of those months in New York as they appeared to at least one member of what was then the younger generation.
    • On "May Day"

  • There had been a war fought and won and the great city of the conquering people was crossed with triumphal arches and vivid with thrown flowers of white, red, and rose.
    • "May Day"

  • Mr. In and Mr. Out are not listed by the census-taker. You will search for them in vain through the social register or the births, marriages, and deaths, or the grocer's credit list. Oblivion has swallowed them and the testimony that they ever existed at all is vague and shadowy, and inadmissible in a court of law. Yet I have it upon the best authority that for a brief space Mr. In and Mr. Out lived, breathed, answered to their names and radiated vivid personalities of their own.
    During the brief span of their lives they walked in their native garments down the great highway of a great nation; were laughed at, sworn at, chased, and fled from. Then they passed and were heard of no more.
    • "May Day"

  • You're a historian. Tell me if there are any bath-tubs in history. I think they've been frightfully neglected.
    • "Porcelain and Pink"

  • One well-known critic has been pleased to like this extravaganza better than anything I have written. Personally I prefer "The Offshore Pirate." But, to tamper slightly with Lincoln: If you like this sort of thing, this, possibly, is the sort of thing you'll like.
    • On "The Diamond As Big As The Ritz"

  • John T. Unger came from a family that had been well known in Hades — a small town on the Mississippi River — for several generations.
    • "The Diamond As Big As The Ritz"

  • "The Schnlitzer-Murphys had diamonds as big as walnuts — "
    "That's nothing." Percy had leaned forward and dropped his voice to a low whisper. "That's nothing at all. My father has a diamond bigger than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel."
    • "The Diamond As Big As The Ritz"

  • It was an amazing predicament. He was, in one sense, the richest man that ever lived — and yet was he worth anything at all? If his secret should transpire there was no telling to what measures the Government might resort in order to prevent a panic, in gold as well as in jewels. They might take over the claim immediately and institute a monopoly.
    • "The Diamond As Big As The Ritz"

  • At any rate, let us love for a while, for a year or so, you and me. That's a form of divine drunkenness that we can all try. There are only diamonds in the whole world, diamonds and perhaps the shabby gift of disillusion.
    • "The Diamond As Big As The Ritz"

  • There's a right way of doing things and a wrong way. If you've made up your mind to be different from everybody else, I don't suppose I can stop you, but I really don't think it's very considerate.
    • "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

  • You're simply stubborn. You think you don't want to be like any one else. You always have been that way, and you always will be. But just think how it would be if every one else looked at things as you do — what would the world be like?
    • "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

  • It was no affair for the watch: Satan was at large tonight and Satan seemed to be he who appeared dimly in front, heel over gate, knee over fence. Moreover, the adversary was obviously travelling near home or at least in that section of London consecrated to his coarser whims, for the street narrowed like a road in a picture and the houses bent over further and further, cooping in natural ambushes suitable for murder and its histrionic sister, sudden death.
    • "Tarquin of Cheapside"

  • He read at wine, he read in bed, He read aloud, had he the breath, His every thought was with the dead, And so he read himself to death.
    • "Tarquin of Cheapside"

  • The years between thirty-five and sixty-five revolve before the passive mind as one unexplained, confusing merry-go-round. True, they are a merry-go-round of ill-gaited and wind-broken horses, painted first in pastel colors, then in dull grays and browns, but perplexing and intolerably dizzy the thing is, as never were the merry-go-rounds of childhood or adolescence; as never, surely, were the certain-coursed, dynamic roller-coasters of youth. For most men and women these thirty years are taken up with a gradual withdrawal from life, a retreat first from a front with many shelters, those myriad amusements and curiosities of youth, to a line with less, when we peel down our ambitions to one ambition, our recreations to one recreation, our friends to a few to whom we are anaesthetic; ending up at last in a solitary, desolate strong point that is not strong, where the shells now whistle abominably, now are but half-heard as, by turns frightened and tired, we sit waiting for death.
  • "O Russet Witch!"

  • Merlin went up-stairs very quietly at nine o'clock. When he was in his room and had closed the door tight he stood by it for a moment, his thin limbs trembling. He knew now that he had always been a fool.
    "O Russet Witch!"
    But it was too late. He had angered Providence by resisting too many temptations. There was nothing left but heaven, where he would meet only those who, like him, had wasted earth.
    • "O Russet Witch!"

  • Of this story I can say that it came to me in an irresistible form, crying to be written. It will be accused perhaps of being a mere piece of sentimentality, but, as I saw it, it was a great deal more. If, therefore, it lacks the ring of sincerity, or even, of tragedy, the fault rests not with the theme but with my handling of it.
    • On "The Lees of Happiness"

  • Those were the days of "Florodora" and of sextets, of pinched-in waists and blown-out sleeves, of almost bustles and absolute ballet skirts, but here, without doubt, disguised as she might be by the unaccustomed stiffness and old fashion of her costume, was a butterfly of butterflies. Here was the gayety of the period — the soft wine of eyes, the songs that flurried hearts, the toasts and tie bouquets, the dances and the dinners. Here was a Venus of the hansom, cab, the Gibson girl in her glorious prime. Here was...
    • "The Lees of Happiness"

  • It was a marriage of love. He was sufficiently spoiled to be charming; she was ingenuous enough to be irresistible. Like two floating logs they met in a head-on rush, caught, and sped along together.
    • "The Lees of Happiness"

  • There is a sort of waking nightmare that sets in sometimes when one has missed a sleep or two, a feeling that comes with extreme fatigue and a new sun, that the quality of the life around has changed. It is a fully articulate conviction that somehow the existence one is then leading is a branch shoot of life and is related to life only as a moving picture or a mirror — that the people, and streets, and houses are only projections from a very dim and chaotic past.
    • "The Lees of Happiness"

  • That Kitty was capable of any deep grief was unbelievable. He had gradually grown to think of her as something unapproachable and callous. She would get a divorce, of course, and eventually she would marry again. He began to consider this. Whom would she marry? He laughed bitterly, stopped; a picture flashed before him — of Kitty's arms around some man whose face he could not see, of Kitty's lips pressed close to other lips in what was surely: passion.
    • "The Lees of Happiness"

  • Summer was gone and now Indian summer. The grass was cold and there was no mist and no dew. After he left she would go in and light the gas and close the shatters, and he would go down the path and on to the village. To these two life had come quickly and gone, leaving not bitterness, but pity; not disillusion, but only pain.
    • "The Lees of Happiness"

  • They're all deserting me. I've been too kind. Spare the rod and spoil the fun. Oh, for the glands of a Bismarck.
    • "Mr. Icky"

  • The farmers may be the backbone of the country, but who wants to be a backbone?
    • "Mr. Icky"

  • I care not who hoes the lettuce of my country if I can eat the salad!
    • "Mr. Icky"

  • Thirty — the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair.
    • The Great Gatsby(1925) ch. 7.

  • Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They are not like aches or wounds; they are more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there is not enough material.
    • "Babylon Revisited"

About F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • You can take off your hats now, gentlemen, and I think perhaps you had better. This is not a legend, this is a reputation — and seen in perspective, it may well be one of the most secure reputations of our time.
    • Stephen Vincent Benét, The Saturday Review of Literature (1941-11-06) about the Edmund Wilson edition of The Last Tycoon (1941)

  • He had one of the rarest qualities in all literature, and it's a great shame that the word for it has been thoroughly debased by the cosmetic racketeers, so that one is almost ashamed to use it to describe a real distinction. Nevertheless, the word is charm — charm as Keats would have used it. Who has it today? It's not a matter of pretty writing or clear style. It's a kind of subdued magic, controlled and exquisite, the sort of thing you get from good string quartettes.
    • Raymond Chandler in a letter to Dale Warren (1950-11-12)

  • His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.
    • Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (1964)

  • Fitzgerald was a better just plain writer than all of us put together. Just words writing.
    • John O'Hara to John Steinbeck, Selected Letters of John O'Hara (1978)

  • The real Scott is to be found in his notebooks and working papers, where he elaborated so patiently at turning the mess of his life to gold. "To observe one must be unwary," he wrote, so he took experience straight without a notebook. But he later hoarded it like a miser and pored over it like a monk illuminating a manuscript and produced enduring work. When a writer explores emotions to danger point like Scott, it is worse than philistine to talk about weakness of character. The whole moral test is in the books. The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night are all the character reference a writer could want.
    • Wilfrid Sheed, "F. Scott Fitzgerald" (1973), from The Good Word & Other Words (1978)
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