When the Leonardo Di Carpio-powered The Great Gatsby came out in 2013, reviewers treated F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel with appropriate respect, but, like those before them, had also designated it the only reason he stands with Hemingway as a major novelist. The familiar story of Fitzgerald never being able to do a repeat performance because of his descent into alcoholism and dealing with his wife, the crazed Zelda is part of folklore. By the 1930s, the story goes, he was out of step with that decade of political commitment.
But despite not being taken seriously by his literary contemporaries, Edmund Wilson and Hemingway, Fitzgerald was alone among Lost Generation novelists who saw through communism early on and thus didn’t fall for it hook line and sinker.
In an age where Ernest Hemingway proclaimed “We are all communists now,” Fitzgerald declined membership. Despite being given a Marxist curriculum by Edmund Wilson, a writer he always looked up to as a mentor, Fitzgerald early on ascertained what it took Wilson and company years to discover: that communism was a religion every bit as rigid as Catholicism. He noted with amusement about his friend the Stalin-worshipping Dorothy Parker taking her “religious orders every day.”
In the Left Coast circa 1940, Fitzgerald had obviously clashed with Communists and saw them as hate merchants:
“The important thing is that you should not argue with [Communists],” …Whatever you say, they have ways of twisting it into shapes which put you in some lower category of mankind, ‘Fascist,’ ‘Liberal,’ ‘Trotskyist,’ and disparage you both intellectually and personally in the process.”
In his last novel, the uncompleted The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald created a communist screenwriter. The character was a slogan-spouter whose stances changed according to Soviet policy. It was apparent that Fitzgerald ‘s time in Hollywood was not wasted; he had apparently studied those around him who slogan-spouted for the Soviets.
Fitzgerald once famously wrote that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
Like Orwell, Fitzgerald was able to do both. He could view the rich ambivalently, even critically, and at the same time criticize their supposed alternative, the Stalinists.
Such insight that those who mocked him as a non-intellectual, namely Hemingway, lacked.
Running out of usable material, Fitzgerald, used his own failure as a theme in his writing. Beginning in 1936, with the “Crack-Up,” the writer detailed how he had failed in everything–in writing, and in life by not reaching maturity. Hemingway seconded this, stating that Fitzgerald went from youth to old age, without the maturing interval of middle age. But ultimately Fitzgerald was more mature politically than his contemporaries, who, until the end of the 1930s were unable to see through Josef Stalin. During his love affair with communist soldiers in the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway, in his private utterances and his fiction, decided, in the face of communist treachery to put his thinking on hold. Wilson even held out until the early 1970s about his rosy-eyed view of Lenin.