For a fellow who only had 44 years, the sad last of which ended 72 years ago, St. Paul-born F. Scott Fitzgerald continues to hold a powerful sway on pop culture.
“The Great Gatsby” is still widely assigned in high school English classes; all that scandalous drinking, dancing and smoking may have inoculated the novel from being booted from the modernized classics reading list. And it’ll stay put even longer, once Baz Luhrmann’s new film version of the book comes out (it’s been rescheduled for next summer). Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and an out-of-time soundtrack featuring Jay-Z and Jack White, it’s designed to dazzle — in 3-D, no less.
In 2011, Fitzgerald partied in the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris,” portrayed with center-parted hair (a style which has never really come back) by Tom Hiddleston (he played the evil god Loki in this year’s “The Avengers”). Fitzgerald was also in the news last year when Land’s End, the expansive Gilded Age estate that was the likely inspiration for West Egg in “The Great Gatsby,” was razed in Long Island. And Fitzgerald’s granddaughter, the writer and filmmaker Eleanor “Bobbie” Lanahan, directed “One Alcoholic to Another,” a 2011 documentary about Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization that was founded too late to help her grandparents.
This year, the New Yorker finally saw fit to publish Fitzgerald’s “Thank You for the Light,” a short story its editors rejected in 1936, but reconsidered after Fitzgerald’s grandchildren resubmitted it. Published in the Aug. 6 issue, it’s a tiny story that reads like a vignette from a larger work that perhaps was intended but never took shape. A tired woman steps into a church intending to sneak a quick cigarette in the vestibule, and experiences a miracle, of sorts.
“I found it fascinating that the story is about the Catholic Church,” said David P. Page, a professor of English at Inver Hills Community College and a noted Fitzgerald Scholar. He co-edited “The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald” with Trish Hampl (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004), and has been instrumental in establishing numerous landmarks and events recognizing Fitzgerald’s time in the Twin Cities.
“Fitzgerald claimed that he had stopped being a Catholic at the end of WWI, but obviously the morals, training and spirituality that were introduced to him by the church stuck with him. Although the miracle in the story is perhaps ironic, for a smoker (such as Fitzgerald), getting a light could be an important thing at times, and gaining spiritual light is always probably important. An odd story, but I’m glad The New Yorker printed it.”