F. Scott Fitzgerald Recites “Ode to a Nightingale”

70 years ago today, F. Scott Fitzger­ald died an untime­ly death, his life cut short by alco­holism, tuber­cu­lo­sis, and even­tu­al­ly a series of heart attacks. He was only 44 years old. Today, we remem­ber Fitzger­ald with some vin­tage audio – the author of The Great Gats­by recit­ing John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightin­gale” from mem­o­ry. (Lis­ten here or here.) Fitzger­ald devi­ates sev­er­al times from the text before going com­plete­ly off the rails. And then the poem, a med­i­ta­tion on mor­tal­i­ty and the tran­sience of beau­ty, cuts off abrupt­ly halfway through. A rather fit­ting metaphor for Fitzger­ald’s own life.

Accord­ing to Park Buck­er, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South Car­oli­na, the record­ing was like­ly made around 1940, dur­ing Fitzger­ald’s last year, per­haps in a self-record­ing phono­graph booth in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. When Fitzger­ald died, he was liv­ing in Los Ange­les, a washed-up Hol­ly­wood screen­writer, hop­ing to write one last great nov­el. In her Paris Review inter­view, Dorothy Park­er described Fitzger­ald’s bleak last days: “It was ter­ri­ble about Scott; if you’d seen him you’d have been sick. When he died no one went to the funer­al, not a sin­gle soul came, or even sent a flower. I said, ‘Poor son of a bitch,’ a quote right out of The Great Gats­by, and every­one thought it was anoth­er wise­crack. But it was said in dead seri­ous­ness.”

You can find more Fitzger­ald audio record­ings on this Uni­ver­si­ty of South Car­oli­na web site. Also, find sev­er­al texts by Fitzger­ald in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books.

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