When F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940, his New York Times obituary claimed, “the promise of his brilliant career was never fulfilled.” This is a sentence that may puzzle modern-day lovers of Fitzgerald’s enduringly-relevant fiction, but it was the judgment of the time on the exhausted, alcoholic writer’s career. And it was a judgment he often applied to himself, as he demonstrated publicly in his 1936 essay “The Crack-Up,” about his depression. Reduced at the end of his life to writing film scripts for money, a task he found degrading for a “successful literary man” such as himself, Fitzgerald also, at some time near his final year, made recordings of himself reading the work of Shakespeare, Keats, and others, presumably also for money, though it’s not exactly clear who produced the recordings or why.
In the first video (above), listen to Fitzgerald deliver a dignified reading of Othello’s speech to the Venetian Senators from Act 1, Scene 3 of Othello. Fitzgerald stumbles and slurs occasionally, and the speech may in fact be composed of several different takes edited together, suggesting that he may have had difficulty making it through. Nonetheless, his voice is seductive and sonorous; he reads the speech as a literary monologue, rather than a declaration. Hear more of him below, reading an edited version of John Masefield’s “On Growing Old,” a poem which may have had particular poignancy to the man who wrote in 1936, “of course all life is in a process of breaking down.” But even in decline, Fitzgerald was worth listening to. You can find major works by F. Scott Fitzgerald in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections.
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.