YOU don’t need to be a wizard at spelling — or, for that matter, punctuation — to be a literary genius. This, I say on the basis of the personal ledger of Scott Fitzgerald, now available online.
I had read about Fitzgerald’s weakness in this area before, but what drew my attention to it today was a comment from a librarian who I assume helped pull together some of the novelist’s personal documents:
“He didn’t spell very well. And his arithmetic wasn’t much better.”
So I did a quick trawl through the ledger, and, yes, the man did have an issue with some words. Here’s an example:
Fell in love on the 7th My collar. Quarrel. Silence. Zelda sick. Bill Flemming. Tarbox takes controll.
He had a birth day party to which no one came. He moved to Buffalo, New York, possibly in consequence where he had a dog named “Beautiful Joe,” a black cocker spaniel, and also a bycycle – a girl’s bycycle.
Yet another, another, and another:
He remembers Ted Keating, Dodo Clifton, Jack Kimberly and Dexter Rumsey, and their facinating army.
He went twice to see Paul Revere, the second time the lights went off to his great dissapointment.
He remembers a pair of mocasins and a rifle (b-b-) and believes it was at this point he discovered the non-existance of Santa Clause
This is a gray area, I admit, but Fitzgerald seemed unsure when to use ‘that’ and when ‘who’. He certainly was quite unbothered about the possessive apostrophe:
At Chautaqua or somewhere an old lady that was like a witch stole his little boat & gave it to her own little boy
About this time he started going to Mr. Van Arnums dancing class at the Century Club.
Here’s a double-whammy:
The appartment of Reginald Vanderbilts mistress
Fitzgerald’s inability to spell the name of his good friend ‘Earnest Hemmingway’ is well documented. So it was interesting to look out for evidence on that front. In the seven mentions he makes of Hemingway and his wife, never once does he manage to get the name correct or consistent, spelling it variously as ‘Hemminway’, ‘Hemmngways’ and ‘Hemmingways’.
Other things that struck me? True to reputation, Fitzgerald appears to have led a pretty unhappy life. He talks often about the many ‘quarrels’ he had with one or another, the many times he was short of money. And his many, many mentions of being ‘on the wagon’ give you an idea of how hard it was for him to lay off the stuff.
Take a look at this transcript of his ledger. See what else you find interesting.