F. Scott Fitzgerald? Sheilah Graham? Apocryphal?
Dear 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.
The 1959 movie adaption of “Beloved Infidel” included a version of the quotation according to a subtitle database. QI has not yet directly verified this line in the audiotrack of the film: 3
00:44:20 The beauty of literature is that it’s ageless. You discover that your longings are universal longings that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.
In 1986 a compact volume titled “F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing” was released. The editor Larry W. Phillips gathered together the commentary and remarks made by Fitzgerald on the subject throughout his life. The statement reported by Graham was included: 4
“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.”
to Sheilah Graham, 1938
Beloved Infidel, p. 196
Page numbers vary in different editions, and the page number of 260 which is given in the bibliographical notes of this article was based on inspection of the first edition. The quote appeared near the beginning of chapter 22.
In conclusion, the quotation was spoken by F. Scott Fitzgerald to Sheilah Graham according to Graham’s memoir. The relationship between the two took place between 1937 and 1940. Yet, the memoir was released about two decades later in 1958. The accuracy of the statement hinges on the memory of Graham who treasured her time with the illustrious writer.
Image Notes: Drawing of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Gordon Bryant published in Shadowland magazine in 1921. File from the Wikimedia Commons. Low resolution image of movie poster for Beloved Infidel. See here for Fair Use rationale.
(Great thanks to Andrew Old whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 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) ↩
- 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) ↩
- Website: Subtitle database, Movie title: Beloved Infidel (1959), Website description: Subtitle information is uploaded by users is not verified or modified. (Website accessed on March 25, 2014) link ↩
- 1986 (Copyright 1985), F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing, Edited by Larry W. Phillips, Quote Page 10, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩