F. Scott Fitzgerald Tells His 11-Year-Old Daughter What to Worry About (and Not Worry About) in Life, 1933


Born 117 years ago today in St. Paul, Minnesota, F. Scott Fitzgerald, that somewhat louche denizen—some might say inventor—of the “Jazz Age,” has been immortalized as the tender young man we see above: Princeton dropout, writer of The Great Gatsby, boozy companion to beautiful Southern belle flapper Zelda Sayre. Amidst all the glamorization of his best and worst qualities, it’s easy to forget that Fitzgerald was also the father of a daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, who went on to have her own successful career as a writer. Unlike the children of some of Fitzgerald’s contemporaries, Frances thrived, which must be some testament to her father’s parenting (and to Zelda’s as well, though she allegedly hoped, like Daisy Buchanan, that her daughter would become a “beautiful little fool”).

We get more than a hint of Fitzgerald’s fatherly character in a wonderful little letter that he sent to her in August of 1933, when Frances was away at summer camp. Fitzgerald, renowned for his extremes, counsels an almost Epicurean middle way—distilling, perhaps, hard lessons learned during his decline in the thirties (which he wrote of candidly in “The Crack Up”). He concludes with a list of things for his daughter to worry and not worry about. It’s a very touching missive that I look forward to sharing with my daughter some day. I’ll have my own advice and silly in-jokes for her, but Fitzgerald provides a very wise literary supplement. Below is the full letter, published in the New York Times in 1958. The typos, we might assume, are all sic, given Fitzgerald’s penchant for such errors:

AUGUST 8, 1933




I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy– but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed page, they never really happen to you in life.

All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds…

I think of you, and always pleasantly, but I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?…

Half-wit, I will conclude. Things to worry about:

Worry about courage

Worry about cleanliness

Worry about efficiency

Worry about horsemanship…

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion

Don’t worry about dolls

Don’t worry about the past

Don’t worry about the future

Don’t worry about growing up

Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you

Don’t worry about triumph

Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault

Don’t worry about mosquitoes

Don’t worry about flies

Don’t worry about insects in general

Don’t worry about parents

Don’t worry about boys

Don’t worry about disappointments

Don’t worry about pleasures

Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?

How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship

(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?

(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful intrument or am I neglecting it?

With dearest love,

Related Content:

F. Scott Fitzgerald Creates a List of 22 Essential Books, 1936

“Nothing Good Gets Away”: John Steinbeck Offers Love Advice in a Letter to His Son (1958)

Read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Story “May Day,” and Nearly All of His Other Work, Free Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Make knowledge free & open. Share our posts with friends on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms:

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

  • http://AyunHalliday.com/ AyunH

    The only time I’ve ever worried about horsemanship was when I was a kid at camp, and I was afraid one of them might bite my fingers off as I attempted to feed them watermelon rinds.

  • CrimsonCrow

    I don’t pretend to know much about Fitzgerald but the lines in this letter that I am stuck on and read over and over in disbelief are: “I think of you, and always pleasantly, but I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?…”

    Unless this is some longstanding joke between Fitzgerald and his daughter, the cruelty of those lines, the threat, stuns me.
    As an 11 year old girl, I would have been paralyzed, if one of my parents had threatened me with beating my beloved cat whenever I by being rude or impolite.

    To an 11 year old child this can be no less devastating a threat than as an adult being told by say, a captor, that your children will be beaten each time you misbehave.

    I am appalled.