In the summer of 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald was in his second year in Asheville. His daughter Scottie, away at boarding school, had written him to say she’d submitted a short story to a magazine but been rejected. The story doesn’t survive but Fitzgerald’s response does:
Grove Park Inn
October 20, 1936
Don’t be a bit discouraged about your story not being tops. At the same time, I am not going to encourage you about it, because, after all, if you want to get into the big time, you have to have your own fences to jump and learn from experience. Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.
It is an awfully lonesome business, and as you know, I never wanted you to go into it, but if you are going into it at all I want you to go into it knowing the sort of things that took me years to learn.
He was always trying to show people how it was done: writing or living or coming to grips with Marx and Spengler. He autographed a copy of his new story collection Taps at Reveille for a youthful fan who’d found him at The Grove Park Inn:
For Anna Williamson—
Other people were young once, just like you. They broke their hearts over things that now seem trivial. But they were their own hearts, and they had the right to meddle with them in their own way.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Zelda was an inmate at the Highland Hospital, a mile distant, where Scott had moved her in order to have her close by, so they could share Asheville, for whom was Asheville made if not the mad and the desolated? Sometimes the doctors suggested Scott not visit her; that it would only disturb her further or perhaps that she would disturb him; drive him to exceed the twenty bottles of beer per day (as opposed to two quarts of scotch) that he considered being “on the wagon”. Then she would write him, the letter transiting itself the mile between them:
The wall was damp and mossy where we crossed the street and said we loved the south. I thought of the south and a happy past I’d never had and I thought I was part of the south. You said you loved this lovely land. The wistaria along the fence was green and the shade was cool and life was old.
I wish I had thought something else–but it was a confederate, a romantic and nostalgic thought. My hair was damp when I took off my hat and I was safe and home and you were glad that I felt that way and you were reverent.. We were gold and happy all the way home.
I wish you had a little house with hollyhocks and a sycamore tree and the afternoon sun imbedding itself in a silver teapot. Scottie would be running about somewhere in white, in Renoir, and you will be writing books in dozens of volumes. And there will be honey still for tea…
Who wrote as tenderly about The South as this–even Thomas Wolfe, the genius of the place, the genius of the age? And who wrote of loss and the long craving for what might have been better–even Scott, even Scottie in her wildest dreams?