There’s a fine review by Patricia Hampl of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Essays from the Edge” in the American Scholar. While the excessive use of alcohol is often associated with an impulse to run away from feelings and, thus, an impulse towards cowardice, it is clear that it took great courage to expose his disease by writing these essays. While he did write fiction, it is clear from the writing that he had first-hand knowledge and that these are autobiographical events.
A generation later, Jack Kerouac came up with a novel called “Big Sur” which is a masterpiece of a chronicle of his own “crack up” with alcohol. I imagine he had read those essays of Fitzgerald’s. It’s amazing to me that great writing does not always require a sound mind. Perhaps writing is more than an intellectual exercise—ya think? The Crack-Up was published in 1945 and by then Fitzgerald was known as a great American writer. “Big Sur” was published in 1962 and by then Kerouac, too, was considered one.
Here’s a quote from Patricia Hampl’s piece:
“John Dos Passos was particularly exercised. “Christ, man,” he wrote to Fitzgerald in October 1936. “How do you find time in the middle of the general conflagration to worry about all that stuff?” The “general conflagration,” presumably, was the Great Depression, but also National Socialism and fascism in Germany and Italy, and the Spanish Civil War, which had ignited in July. “We’re living in one of the damnedest tragic moments in history,” Dos Passos steams on. “If you want to go to pieces I think it’s absolutely OK but I think you ought to write a first-rate novel about it (and you probably will) instead of spilling it in little pieces for Arnold Gingrich,” the editor of Esquire, who had commissioned the essays.”