The Crack-Up Critical Reception History
“…it was funny coming into the hotel and the very deferential clerk not knowing that I was not only thousands, nay tens of thousands in debt, but had less than 40 cents cash in the world and probably a $13. deficit in the bank.” This entry in Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebooks, about the time he spent in Hendersonville, North Carolina – washing his own linen and living on canned meats and food (Cody) – is a good summation of the state he was in when he began to write his “Crack-Up” essays. Persuaded by Esquire editor Arnold Gingrich to write something to earn his advance from the magazine (Bitonti), Fitzgerald did just that and “The Crack-Up,” “Pasting it Together,” and “Handle with Care” appeared in the magazine in February, March, and April of 1936, respectively. The essays dealt with the “lesion of confidence” (Bruccoli 405) and the crippling sense of spiritual, authorial, and personal emptiness from which Fitzgerald was suffering during this period of his life. Their brutal honesty and the radical departure they meant for Fitzgerald as a literary figure elicited various reactions from his contemporaries and critics.
There was mixed initial reaction to the series of Esquire articles. The major positive initial reaction came from some of Fitzgerald’s old friends and fans, who implored him to both “cheer up, and … keep writing” (Prigozy 178). This response was offset by the troubles Fitzgerald’s literary agent, Harold Ober, soon found the essays created for his client. In the wake of the articles, “not only did [Fitzgerald] appear to be finished as a writer, but his name seemed to evoke shameful aspects of American experience” (Bruccoli 405). As a result, Ober encountered difficulty in locating magazine editors and Hollywood executives interested in and trusting of Fitzgerald’s abilities. Perhaps the most damaging and hurtful reactions came from some of Fitzgerald’s contemporaries in his literary circle. John Dos Passos wrote him to express his dismay: “Christ, man, how do you find time in the middle of the general conflagration to worry about that stuff? … if you want to go to pieces I think it’s absolutely o.k. but I think you ought to write a first rate novel about it” (Bruccoli 405). Maxwell Perkins was embarrassed for Fitzgerald himself and for Scribners, calling the articles an “indecent invasion of [Fitzgerald’s privacy]” (Prigozy 178). This negative reaction, which represented the general opinion of his contemporaries, was less than satisfactory to Fitzgerald, but the opinion that hurt the most was that of his friend Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway found Fitzgerald’s confessions in the “Crack-Up” essays nothing short of “cowardly and shameful” (Bruccoli 405). He went so far as to dub Scott, in a letter to Perkins, “the ‘Maxie Baer’ of writers” (Prigozy 178), equating him with a boxer he considered particularly yellow-bellied. While Fitzgerald...