Category Archives: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Write Drunk, Revise Sober

Ernest Hemingway? Gowan McGland? Dylan Thomas? Peter De Vries? F. Scott Fitzgerald? James Joyce? Stephen Fry? Anonymous?

writing08Dear Quote Investigator: “Alcohol loosens the tongue” is an old saying that some authors treat with reverence. But the resultant lubricated poetry and prose may require a red pencil. The famous writer Ernest Hemingway reportedly made one of the following remarks:

  1. Write drunk, edit sober.
  2. Write drunk, revise sober.

I cannot find a solid citation. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have been unable to find this saying in the output of Ernest Hemingway who died in 1961, and it is unlikely that he ever said it or wrote it.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1964 novel “Reuben, Reuben” by the humorist Peter De Vries which included a character named Gowan McGland whose behaviors and eccentricities were partially modeled on the prominent Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

At the beginning of chapter twenty-one McGland was reviewing a previously written draft of a poem. Now that he was sober he excised two lines that he considered dreadful. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He remembered something he had told a New York journalist in an interview about his “working habits,” a dull subject about which people remained curiously interested in the case of writers and artists. “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober,” he had said, “and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

QI conjectures that the words of De Vries evolved and were reassigned to the more prominent Hemingway who was certainly known to take a drink.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1964, Reuben, Reuben by Peter De Vries, Chapter 21, Quote Page 242, Chapter 30, Published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)

Drunk on the Idea That Love, Only Love, Could Heal Our Brokenness

F. Scott Fitzgerald? Christopher Poindexter? Anonymous?

embrace07Dear Quote Investigator: Goodreads is one of the most popular community websites for readers, and it includes a massive collection of quotations. Since anyone can share a quotation it is unsurprising that some of them are misattributed or inaccurately stated. Recently, I came across the following words which were credited to the classic novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

And in the end, we were all just humans, drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness.

This statement has been propagated through social media channels such as Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook with an ascription to Fitzgerald, but I know it definitely is not in the “The Great Gatsby”. This is confusing. What do you think?

The Quote Investigator: The poet Christopher Poindexter crafted this expression. The earliest evidence located by QI was a tweet dated May 14, 2013 from the account @healthesebones. This account is currently inactive, but in the past it was used by Poindexter. 1

The tweet referred to the fourth short poem in a cycle called “The blooming of madness” written by the artist, and the link within the tweet pointed to an image shared by Poindexter via his Instagram account that displayed the verse as a typewritten palimpsest fragment using black and red ink. See here. 2

When QI used twitter to ask Poindexter about the quotation he replied emphatically via his current account @ChristopherPoin: 3

. . . this is my quote. It has been misquoted everywhere on the Internet. You will not find it in Fitzgerald’s books.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. Tweet, From: Chris Poindexter ‏@healthesebones, Time: 6:31 AM, Date: May 14, 2013, Text: ” The blooming of madness” poem #4 #poetry #poem #art #artist #inspire #inspiration #typewriter… http://instagram.com/p/ZSYU6aTNe-/ (Accessed on twitter.com on May 28, 2015) link
  2. Instagram Photo Sharing Web Service, Account: christopherpoindexter, Date: “25 months ago” (Approximate date presented by Instagram on May 28, 2015), Description: “The blooming of madness” poem #4 #poetry #poem #art #artist #inspire #inspiration #typewriter #vintage #words #write (Accessed on instagram.com on May 28, 2015) link
  3. Tweet, From: Christopher @ChristopherPoin, Time: 3:18 PM, Date: May 27, 2015, Text: @QuoteResearch this is my quote. It has been misquoted everywhere on the Internet. You will not find it in Fitzgerald’s books. (Accessed on twitter.com on May 28, 2015) link

An Exclamation Point Is Like Laughing at Your Own Joke

Mark Twain? F. Scott Fitzgerald? Anonymous?

exclam08
Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please explore the provenance of a piece of writing advice that I’ve seen several times. Here are two versions:

One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.

Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.

The first remark has been attributed to Mark Twain and the second to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sometimes the term “exclamation marks” is used instead of “exclamation points”. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Mark Twain did mention exclamation points in his essay titled “How to Tell a Story”, but the context only partially matched the statements above. Details are given further below.

In the final years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short life he began a love affair with Hollywood journalist Sheilah Graham. He acted as her mentor in the domain of literature according to Graham’s 1958 memoir “Beloved Infidel”. She wrote a five-minute script for her inaugural radio program, and she showed it to Fitzgerald who spoke the words of advice under investigation. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“You don’t mind if I reword it here and there?” he asked. And though tired from his own writing at the studio, he sat down with a stubby pencil and a pack of cigarettes and painstakingly—and completely—rewrote my copy. He worked with the utmost concentration and as he worked he twisted the hair above his forehead so that a tuft stood up, as on a kewpie doll. It gave him a strangely boyish appearance. “Cut out all these exclamation points,” he said. “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” He underlined words I should emphasize, corrected my grammar.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1958, Beloved Infidel: The Education of a Woman by Sheilah Graham and Gerold Frank, (First Edition), Chapter 18, Quote Page 197 and 198, Henry Holt and Company, New York. (Verified on paper)

That Is Part of the Beauty of All Literature. You Discover that Your Longings Are Universal Longings

F. Scott Fitzgerald? Sheilah Graham? Apocryphal?

beloved05Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, on the blog of a teacher I saw a quotation about the humanities that was attributed to one of the best American writers of the previous century. It began:

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings…

Are these the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald who famously penned “The Great Gatsby”? I have not found this quotation in his writings, and it is not currently listed on the Wikiquote page for Fitzgerald.

Quote Investigator: Near the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragically brief 44 years on Earth he met the Hollywood journalist Sheilah Graham and they began a tumultuous affair. Fitzgerald enjoyed sharing poems with Graham such as “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats and “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell. Graham was filled with wonder at the depiction of love in these works of the distant past. Fitzgerald responded: 1

“Sheilo,” said Scott. “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

The above episode was recounted in the best-selling 1958 memoir by Graham titled “Beloved Infidel: The Education of a Woman”. Graham confessed to Fitzgerald that she had not been candid with others about her true background. In childhood she had been placed in an orphanage, and her formal schooling had halted at the eighth grade. She was embarrassed by the “tremendous gaps” in her knowledge. Fitzgerald happily agreed to tutor her: 2

For Scott treated his teaching of me—which was finally to grow into a project beyond anything either of us anticipated—as a challenge as exciting as screen writing. He made out careful lists of books and gave me daily reading schedules.

Fitzgerald wrote lengthy notes in the margins of the texts he gave to Graham. The couple discussed the readings extensively, and he even quizzed her. The affair ended after a few short years in 1940 with the death of Fitzgerald from a heart attack.

In 1959 “Beloved Infidel” was made into a film starring Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr. In subsequent years Graham’s gossip column emerged as the most powerful and long-lived in Hollywood.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1958, Beloved Infidel: The Education of a Woman by Sheilah Graham and Gerold Frank, (First Edition), Chapter 22, Quote Page 260, Henry Holt and Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1958, Beloved Infidel: The Education of a Woman by Sheilah Graham and Gerold Frank, (First Edition), Chapter 22, Quote Page 261, Henry Holt and Company, New York. (Verified on paper)