F. Scott Fitzgerald Says “Read This!”


F. Scott Fitzgerald was very ill in 1936 and was recovering at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina with the help of a private nurse.  In addition to his failing health, the author was struggling with the decision to commit his wife, Zelda, to a mental institution at a nearby hospital.  His essay about his own decline, The Crack-Up, had just been published in Esquire.  Here, Fitzgerald voices an incredibly sad awareness of his own decline:  “[M]y life had been a drawing on resources that I did not possess, that I had been mortgaging myself physically and spiritually up to the hilt,” he wrote.

It didn’t seem that anything could go right that year.  Fitzgerald’s drinking had become increasingly problematic and he had significant money problems.  That summer, he “fractured his shoulder while diving into the hotel swimming pool, and sometime later, according to Michael Cody at the University of South Carolina’s Fitzgerald Web site, “he fired a revolver in a suicide threat, after which the hotel refused to let him stay without a nurse.” (Source)

Eventually, the hotel relented and allowed Fitzgerald to have an attendant, a woman named Dorothy Richardson, who, in addition to tending to his physical needs, had the unenviable task of keeping the writer from drinking too much.

The two developed a friendship during his convalescence. At one point, apparently Dorothy asked what she should read.  Here is the list Fitzgerald gave her, written in her own hand as he reeled off the titles and author’s names:


Here is a  more legible list.


Arthur Conan Doyle Can’t Be Bothered with Your Questions

Ever heard of the Proust Questionnaire? It’s a list of questions about one’s personality, named not because Marcel Proust, the French writer, wrote the questionnaire, but because he took it. (You can see a full list of the questions and Proust’s response at this Wikipedia page.)

The idea is that the person sitting down to answer the questions does so in the spirit of playfulness and generosity of personality. Think the ending of “Inside the Actors Studio,” or two schoolkids huddled over a magazine questionnaire. Not so with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the late author of the Sherlock Holmes series and, apparently, very taciturn old grump. In his day, the questionnaire was a bit of fun, a parlor game. Seemingly, though, not one Doyle was keen to be roped into.

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At every turn, Doyle seems to be scoffing at the pretense of it all. Asked what he likes most in a man, it’s “Manliness.” And his favorite qualities in a woman? “Womanliness.” (Funnily enough, those are the exact opposite responses Proust provided in his own questionnaire.) He is “Quite impartial” to your query on his favorite color, thank you very much. But best of all is the totally tongue in cheek response to the question, “If not yourself, who would you be?” Doyle scribbles something, we don’t know what, completely illegibly, only to top it off with the taunting side note, “(Hope this is clear).”

All in all it’s an amusingly annoying response, and an insight into Arthur Conan Doyle, the man. Probably the only kind of answer to be expected of the man who joined an Arctic whaling expedition at the age of twenty, the journal of which can be seen here. A Kipling-loving, manliness-embodying Hemingway figure before Hemingway ever existed.

What do you think of Doyle’s answers? Know of any other authors’ responses to the Proust Questionnaire? Tell us in a comment!