ONE LONG SWEET LIE
A new book collects the ‘lost stories’ of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Following is one of them, which he wrote in 1920, aged 23. The story was never published. Five years later he delivered The Great Gatsby
The above is not my real name — the fellow it belongs to gave me his permission to sign it to this story. My real name I shall not divulge. I am a publisher. I accept long novels about young love written by old maids in South Dakota, detective stories concerning wealthy clubmen and female apaches with “wide dark eyes,” essays about the menace of this and that and the color of the moon in Tahiti by college professors and other unemployed. I accept no novels by authors under fifteen years old. All the columnists and communists (I can never get these two words straight) abuse me because they say I want money. I do — I want it terribly. My wife needs it. My children use it all the time. If someone offered me all the money in New York I should not refuse it. I would rather bring out a book that had an advance sale of five hundred thousand copies than have discovered Samuel Butler, Theodore Dreiser and James Branch Cabell in one year. So would you if you were a publisher.
Six months ago I contracted for a book that was undoubtedly a sure thing. It was by Harden, the psychic research man — Dr Harden. His first book — I published it in 1913 — had taken hold like a Long Island sand-crab and at that time psychic research had nowhere near the vogue it has at present. We advertised this new one as being a fifty heart-power document. His nephew had been killed in the war and Dr Harden had written with distinction and reticence an account of his psychic communion through various mediums with this nephew, Cosgrove Harden. Dr Harden was no intellectual upstart. He was a distinguished psychologist, Ph.D Vienna, LLD Oxford and late visiting professor at the University of Ohio. His book was neither callous nor credulous. There was a fundamental seriousness underlying his attitude. For example he had mentioned in his book that one young man named Wilkins had come to his door claiming that the deceased had owed him three dollars and eighty cents. He had asked Dr Harden to find out what this deceased wanted done about it. This Dr Harden had steadfastly refused to do. He considered that such a request was comparable to praying to the saints about a lost umbrella.
For ninety days we prepared for publication. The first page of the book was set up in three alternative kinds of type and two drawings each were ordered from five sky-priced artists before the jacket par excellence was selected. The final proof was read by no less than seven expert proof-readers lest the slightest tremble in the tail of a comma or the faintest cast in a capital eye should offend the fastidious eyes of the Great American Public.
Four weeks before the day set for publication huge crates went out to a thousand points of the literate compass. To Chicago alone went twenty-seven thousand. To Galveston, Texas, went seven thousand. One hundred copies apiece were hurled with sighs into Bisbee, Arizona, Redwing, Minnesota and Atlanta, Georgia. The larger cities having been accounted for stray lots of twenty and thirty and forty were dropped here and there across the continent as a sandartist fills in his nearly completed picture by fine driftings from his hand.
The actual number of books in the first printing was three hundred thousand.
Meanwhile the advertising department were busy from nine to five six days of the week, italicizing, underlining, capitalizing, double-capitalizing; preparing slogans, headlines, personal articles and interviews; selecting photographs showing Dr Harden thinking, musing and contemplating; choosing snapshots of him with a tennis racket, with a golf stick, with a sister-inlaw, with an ocean. Literary notes were prepared by the gross. Gift copies were piled in stacks, addressed to the critics of a thousand newspapers and weeklies.
The date set was April 15th. On the fourteenth a breathless hush pervaded the offices and below in the retail department the clerks were glancing nervously at the vacant spaces where the stacks were to rest and at the empty front windows where three expert window dressers were to work all evening arranging the book in squares and mounds and heaps and circles and hearts and stars and parallelograms.
On the morning of April 15th at five minutes to nine Miss Jordan, the head stenographer, fainted from excitement into the arms of my junior partner. On the stroke of nine an old gentleman with Dundreary whiskers purchased the first copy of The Aristocracy of the Spirit World. The great book was out.
It was three weeks after this that I decided to run out to Joliet, Ohio, to see Dr Harden. This was a case of Mohammed (or was it Moses?) and the mountain. He was of a shy and retiring disposition; it was necessary to encourage him, to congratulate him, to forestall the possible advances of rival publishers. I intended to make the necessary arrangements for securing his next book and with this in mind I took along
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original manuscript