When F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940 at the age of 44, he was considered a tragic failure. The New York Times eulogized him by writing that “the promise of his brilliant career was never fulfilled.” Though he masterfully captured all the mad flash of the Jazz era and the damaged young men of the Lost Generation, Fitzgerald’s novels hadn’t been fully recognized for their greatness at the time of his death. Now, of course, one could make a plausible argument that The Great Gatsby is the great American novel of the 20th century. Nonetheless, there’s a lingering sense of what could have been that hangs over the author’s life. How many more great books could have been written if it weren’t for his alcoholism, his bouts with depression, or his famously tempestuous relationship with his wife Zelda?
As the facts of his biography ossify into legend, it’s always bracing to see some reminder of the man himself. In the clips above and below you can listen to his actual voice. For reasons that still remain unclear, Fitzgerald recorded himself reading the works of William Shakespeare and John Keats in 1940, the last year of his life.
Above, you can see listen to him read Othello’s speech to the Venetian Senators from Act 1, Scene 3 of Othello. While his delivery doesn’t have the polish of a trained Shakespearean actor, it does have a sonorous, emotive authority to it even when he stumbles and slurs.
And here Fitzgerald recites John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” from memory, which wasn’t quite as good, one imagines, as he hoped. Fitzgerald flubs a bit here, skips a bit there, before grinding to a halt somewhere around line 25. Still, it’s much better than I could have done.
Check the videos out. It might just give you a new appreciation for the author.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads. The Veeptopus store is here.