Friday, August 30, 2013

Once more into notebooks--but this time Fitzgerald's!

I mentioned the abundance of F. Scott Fitzgerald's notebooks in Wednesday's post, which of course meant that I had to go pull them off the shelf and spend some time with them. Fitzgerald's notebooks differ from Anthony Powell's not only in their extent, but in their substance: in addition to single lines and ideas, they include many more developed thoughts, often running to a paragraph or more of prose. This one is fairly typical:
779 I went on one of those Armistice Day bats and the girl I was with drove my car into a hotel lobby and knocked down a major. He really wasn't hurt but he was shocked and they put me in Leavenworth to see whether he'd die or not. Only a couple of months--the girl's father was a big man in Kansas and they acted very well about it.
I won't quote extensively from Fitzgerald's notebooks the way I did from Powell's on Wednesday; I'll instead simply say that if you enjoy the form, and Fitzgerald, you'll enjoy this volume.

I do, however, want to share three entries that jumped out at me today as being reminiscent of Powell:
627 His old clothes with their faint smell of old clothes.

992 Family explained or damned by its dog.

1491 "Why, she's your wife--I can't imagine touching your wife." Having heard this said to a husband ten minutes before the most passionate attempts to maneuver the wife into bed.
I realize that some of what I'm reading as similarity of thought is simply the nature of the form, but even so, don't those seem like lines Powell would have enjoyed?

All of which leads me to not be able to resist closing with Powell's description of Fitzgerald, whom he met while on his brief, unsatisfactory sojourn there as a screenwriter. It's found in his memoir, To Keep the Ball Rolling:
He was smallish, neat, solidly built, wearing a light grey suit, light-coloured tie, all his tones essentially light. Photographs--seen for the most part years later--do not do justice to him. Possibly he was one of those persons who at once become self-conscious when photographed. Even snapshots tend to give him an air of swagger, a kind of cockiness, which, anyway at that moment, he did not at all possess. On the contrary, one was at once aware of an odd sort of unassuming dignity. There was no hint at all of the cantankerous temper that undoubtedly lurked beneath the surface. His air could be thought a trifle sad, not, as sometimes described in this period, in the least brokendown. When, years later, I came to know Kingsley Amis, his appearance recalled Fitzgerald's too me, a likeness photographs of both confirm.
More amusingly typical of Powell is the following observation, made before he'd managed to meet Fitzgerald:
One could not fail to notice the tone in which people in Hollywood spoke of Fitzgerald. It was as if Lazarus, just risen from the dead, were to be looked on as of some doubtful promise as a screenwriter.
Later, Powell shares a charming note that Fitzgerald sent him in thanks for a copy of From a View to a Death. Noting the manners and courtesy indicated by Fitzgerald's having taken time to send the note, he offers this aside:
I discovered only much later that a lot was happening in his own life which would have excused forgetfulness.
And thus is a Powellian plot built: in life we only learn later, and often at second-hand, what furies were secretly driving our friends and peers to distraction even as we were attempting to outpace the furies on our own tails.

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