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?
© 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

by | Permalink | Comments (7) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (7)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • AyunH says:

    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 says:

    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.

  • Meredith G says:


    F Scott had quite the sense of humor, maybe even dark at some times. I think it was more in good fun and his daugh­ter, I am sure, would have known this about him. 11-year-olds, espe­cial­ly the chil­dren of lit­er­ary genius­es, were much more mature in that time, too.

    He goes onto say this:

    P.S. My come-back to your call­ing me Pap­py is chris­ten­ing you by the word Egg, which implies that you belong to a very rudi­men­ta­ry state of life and that I could break you up and crack you open at my will and I think it would be a word that would hang on if I ever told it to your con­tem­po­raries. “Egg Fitzger­ald.” How would you like that to go through life with — “Eggie Fitzger­ald” or “Bad Egg Fitzger­ald” or any form that might occur to fer­tile minds? Try it once more and I swear to God I will hang it on you and it will be up to you to shake it off. Why bor­row trou­ble?

    Love any­how.

    Def­i­nite­ly some light-heart­ed­ness in there.

  • Donna Savage says:

    How I’d love a let­ter or let­ters like this from my dad as a young girl. What a delight Fitzger­ald must’ve been as a dad­dy and his advice was pret­ty darn good. My dad did­n’t start writ­ing to me until I was a twen­ty-some­thing liv­ing on the oppo­site coast from him. Absence sure­ly made his heart grow fonder towards me. Thanks for this, J. Jones!

  • Ralph shelley says:

    The line I use most from Fitzger­ald to Scot­tie is’ work is dig­ni­ty!’ Through all the trou­bles he worked very hard! Is father was not to suc­cess­ful and maybe that was his moti­va­tion!

  • Deboshmita says:

    I love the quotes of Fitzger­ald than his books movies and let­ters

  • Haley Marshall says:

    Lol it was tot­tal­ly a joke when I was 11 me and my father had jokes like that and he had a sense of humor with his daugh­ter. They were very close.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.