Publication of unseen short stories by F Scott Fitzgerald is a coup - but they were never lost

A collection of previously unpublished tales, to be titled I’d Die for You: And Other Lost Stories, will offer valuable insight into Fitzgerald’s mature work

News that Scribner is to publish a collection of F Scott Fitzgerald’s unpublished tales next year is great for book lovers, though it comes with a caveat: the title, I’d Die for You And Other Lost Stories, is – strictly speaking – misleading because these stories were never lost. They’ve been sitting safely in the Fitzgerald archives at Princeton University since his daughter donated his papers in the 1950s. The title story, “I’d Die for You,” for example, was described as far back as 1998, in Mary Jo Tate’s Critical Companion to F Scott Fitzgerald: “1935-36: About a movie star. Synopsis, considerable correspondence about the story and a typescript survive.”

As that “considerable correspondence” makes clear, the story wasn’t published at the time because of its dark subject matter. Fitzgerald referred to it as the “suicide story”, and it was written during the same period as his famous The Crack-Up essays, which described the depression he battled in the wake of his wife Zelda’s mental illness, the Great Depression and his alcoholism. Fitzgerald’s agent detailed five magazines that rejected the tale, adding: “One difficulty with the story seems to be the threat of suicide all the way through.” But Fitzgerald refused to sanitise it, preferring to leave it unpublished rather than sentimentalise his idea for a sale (a choice he had often made in the past, but could no longer bring himself to do).

The fact that they are not newly discovered in no way diminishes the collection, however: unlike much of the apprentice, unfinished or fragmentary posthumous writing cobbled together to capitalise on the reputations of classic authors, these stories are complete works, written in Fitzgerald’s maturity. Most importantly, he sought to publish them, which is the basic logic of this collection. These tales couldn’t find a market in their moment, but not necessarily because of aesthetic shortcomings.

That said, Scribner is not revealing which other stories will be included; with 320 pages promised, and given the way that Fitzgerald struggled personally and professionally during the years in question, it is quite probable they will prove as uneven as the other stories already published from this period. Contemporaneous tales such as “The Lost Decade”, “Financing Finnegan” and some of the Pat Hobby stories have become classics in their own right. Others that were published at the time, such as the risible “Philippe, Count of Darkness” – based on the berserk idea of turning Ernest Hemingway into a tough-talking French nobleman in the ninth century – have never been collected and don’t merit reading, much less republishing.

These new tales, however, have never been judged by anyone but their author, a few magazine editors and a handful of scholars. Although they weren’t lost, they were lost to the view of a reading public who will now, finally, get the chance to judge them for themselves.

Sarah Churchwell

The GuardianTramp

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