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Burgess/Observer Prize entry
2020 marks the hundredth anniversary of the publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s debut novel, This Side of Paradise, and 80 years since his death in 1940 at the age of 44. He is among the authors whom Burgess found most impressive and most infuriating.
Our library contains the following books by, or relating to, Fitzgerald which were owned by Burgess:
Scott Fitzgerald, volume 4: The Beautiful and Damned and Two Short Stories (Bodley Head, 1951)
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Other Stories (Penguin 1967) and (Penguin, 1974)
Babylon Revisited and Other Stories (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960)
The Price was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Quartet Books, 1979), edited by Matthew Bruccoli
This Side of Paradise (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960)
The Great Gatsby (Penguin, 1953) and (Penguin, 1992)
The Last Tycoon (Penguin, 1960)
F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Andre Le Vot (Doubleday, 1983) and (Allen Lane, 1984)
Scott Fitzgerald by Andrew Turnbull (Penguin, 1970)
Zelda by Nancy Milford (Avon Books, 1971)
Three of the books have been inscribed by Liana Burgess, “Anthony Liana Burgess New York, Oct[ober] 1972”, and others contain Burgess and Liana’s distinctive personalised bookplate.
A library of books from Burgess’s home in Malta, now held at the University of Angers in France, contains further editions of The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Other Stories and The Beautiful and the Damned. Taken together these books reveal Burgess’s lengthy engagement with Fitzgerald’s work. His earliest engagement appears to date from his childhood in Manchester: in an article about Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, titled ‘A Movie that Changed my Life’, Burgess describes having seen the first film version of The Great Gatsby, which was released in 1926.
As well as reading Fitzgerald, Burgess wrote about him in his literary histories, such as They Wrote in English (Tramontana, 1979); reviewed an edition of his short stories and Andre Le Vot’s biography; and wrote an introduction to the 1992 Penguin edition of The Great Gatsby, edited by David Crystal.
Burgess described The Great Gatsby (1925) as “one of the few perfect novels in any language”; Tender is the Night (1934) as “especially moving”; The Last Tycoon (1941) as “masterly” and as giving us “probably the best picture of Hollywood in its great days that we possess.” Yet, when reviewing Matthew Bruccoli’s The Price Was High for the Observer in 1979, Burgess describes many of the stories as slick and contrived, a kind of “subliterary prostitution” of which Fitzgerald was himself aware. Like many, Burgess regarded Fitzgerald as a somewhat tragic figure who had compromised his talent for money: “The price the Post paid [for Fitzgerald’s stories] was indeed high, but it was only money. The price Fitzgerald paid remains incomputable.”
Burgess draws a brief comparison between himself and Fitzgerald in a speech delivered at the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco in 1990, titled ‘Joyce as Novelist’: “I call myself a novelist who is forced to write other things on the side: the situation is more Fitzgeraldian than Joycean.” In other words, Burgess, like Fitzgerald, was a “working writer aware of market forces”. The speech has recently been published for the first time in The Ink Trade: Selected Journalism 1961-1993, edited by Will Carr.
Fitzgerald is one of a number of American authors whom Burgess read. Our library also contains novels by writers such as Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Thomas Pynchon, and biographies of authors such as John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler and James Jones. Our website has more of Burgess’s engagement with American fiction and American culture in general.