Friday, August 24, 2012

Thank You for the Light

Photograph: Carl van Vechten
The New Yorker recently ran an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story entitled “Thank You For the Light, “ which had originally been rejected in l936. One wonders how many times, if any, The New Yorker has ever run a previously rejected piece. Fitzgerald was a famous writer, albeit on the decline, when he submitted the story. So the rejection wasn’t simply a matter of turning down one of the thousands of submissions by unknown writers that pour into the magazine every year. In a piece about The New Yorker’s publication of the story, The Times' Clyde Haberman quoted the original rejection letter as saying that the story was “altogether out of the question” and “so curious and so unlike the kind of thing we associate with him, and really too fantastic.” (“Dismissed As ’too fantastic,’ a Fitzgerald Short Story Gets Another Chance," NYT, 8/9/12) According to Haberman, the story had come to light when Fitzgerald’s grandchildren were going through papers that were to be auctioned off by Sotheby's. It’s easy to see why the story may have been rejected. It was a bit ahead of its time, dealing with a corset and girdle saleswoman named Mrs. Hanson who we’d now say had a smoking problem. In the story her problem is NOT stopping smoking (by contrast, Zeno Cosini, the hero or anti-hero of Italo Svevo’s Confessions of Zeno is trying to stop), but starting since she meets with censure when she tries to smoke in some of the venues where she goes to sell her goods. In desperation she ducks into a church where she ends up getting “a light” from the Madonna. The ending is a bit cutesy with the double entendre centering around spiritual illumination and lighting up, but obsession and compulsion are definitely the terrain Fitzgerald is dealing with. Fitzgerald would have been even more advanced if he dealt with the subject as something his character sought to free herself from. Despite the modernist elements in the story, Fitzgerald was still of a generation that defended their compulsions.

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