Gertrude Stein Sends a “Review” of The Great Gatsby to F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)


“Here we are and have read your book and it is a good book.” That sen­tence about The Great Gats­by may read, in iso­la­tion, like one out of a par­tic­u­lar­ly unmo­ti­vat­ed high school stu­den­t’s sum­mer-read­ing report. But it actu­al­ly comes from astute woman of let­ters Gertrude Stein in a let­ter — and, in its way, a review of the then-new nov­el — to F. Scott Fitzger­ald him­self. This mis­sive from one dis­tin­guished lit­er­ary mem­ber of Amer­i­ca’s “Lost Gen­er­a­tion” to anoth­er con­tin­ues as fol­lows:

I like the melody of your ded­i­ca­tion and it shows that you have a back­ground of beau­ty and ten­der­ness and that is a com­fort. The next good thing is that you write nat­u­ral­ly in sen­tences and that too is a com­fort. You write nat­u­ral­ly in sen­tences and one can read all of them and that among oth­er things is a com­fort. You are cre­at­ing the con­tem­po­rary world much as Thack­er­ay did his in Pen­den­nis and Van­i­ty Fair and this isn’t a bad com­pli­ment. You make a mod­ern world and a mod­ern orgy strange­ly enough it was nev­er done until you did it in This Side of Par­adise. My belief in This Side of Par­adise was alright. This is as good a book and dif­fer­ent and old­er and that is what one does, one does not get bet­ter but dif­fer­ent and old­er and that is always a plea­sure. Best of good luck to you always, and thanks so much for the very gen­uine plea­sure you have giv­en me. We are look­ing for­ward to see­ing you and Mrs. Fitzger­ald when we get back in the Fall. Do please remem­ber me to her and to you always

Gtde Stein

Stein’s words, come to think of it, might make just the tick­et for the afore­men­tioned Eng­lish-class slack­er who may have actu­al­ly read The Great Gats­by, and might even have enjoyed it, but can’t pin down what every­one expects him to respect about it. “You write nat­u­ral­ly in sen­tences and one can read all of them” tells you every­thing you need to about why so many oth­er skilled writ­ers have made a habit of re-read­ing the nov­el every decade, every year, even every few months. “You are cre­at­ing the con­tem­po­rary world” sums up much of Fitzger­ald’s the­mat­ic accom­plish­ment, and that bit about “a mod­ern orgy” makes the point much more vivid indeed. And think­ing in the longer term, this hypo­thet­i­cal teenag­er might well ben­e­fit from the piece of all-pur­pose wis­dom that “one does not get bet­ter but dif­fer­ent and old­er and that is always a plea­sure.”

You can find much more plea­sure of the lit­er­ary-his­tor­i­cal vari­ety at Let­ters of Note, which orig­i­nal­ly post­ed this one. While there, do con­sid­er tak­ing a look at what Fitzger­ald’s edi­tor said about an ear­ly Gats­by draft, and a rejec­tion of Stein’s The Mak­ing of Amer­i­cans.

via Let­ters of Note

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejec­tion Let­ter from Pub­lish­er (1912)

The Wire Breaks Down The Great Gats­by, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Clas­sic Crit­i­cism of Amer­i­ca (NSFW)

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Trans­lates The Great Gats­by, the Nov­el That Influ­enced Him Most

83 Years of Great Gats­by Book Cov­er Designs: A Pho­to Gallery

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (4)
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  • Patrick Murphy says:

    I find TGG unread­able. I hate the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters and I hate their raisons d’e­tre. Even the nar­ra­tor is annoy­ing. Does any­one else find that? Or do you think I’m los­ing my crit­i­cal mind?

    • Pochy says:

      most peo­ple hate it. very lit­tle peo­ple like it. I nev­er read it in school, and i am nos­tal­gi­cal­ly attached to it. The lan­guage alone was great to many peo­ple, not any more, but to many then and to some now.

  • Kevin says:

    Gertrude Stein is cer­tain­ly *not* a mem­ber of “the list gen­er­a­tion.” In fact, the term is one that she (pur­port­ed­ly) invent­ed to describe the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can expat writ­ers to come to Paris.

  • David says:

    Last week I was at Yale’s Bei­necke Library of Rare Books and spent time with the pre­sen­ta­tion first edi­tion of ‘The Great Gats­by’ that Fitzger­ald gave to Stein and per­son­al­ly inscribed.
    I’ve also seen a let­ter to Stein from Fitzger­ald after her review of ‘Gats­by’ but until now had­n’t seen Stein’s review. Thank you for com­plet­ing this cir­cle.

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