In 1910, a fourteen-year-old Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald began recording his friendships, debaucheries, and many, many crushes in a diary known as his “thoughtbook.” It’s almost disturbing how perceptive he was of his social sphere at such a young age, and we can see his famous romantic idealization of women beginning to take flight with phrases like “she was very pretty with dark brown hair and eyes big and soft,” and moments where he grew so embarrassed over a crush that upon an unlikely meeting with one, he wrote, “I nearly fell down with embarrassment but I finally stammered ‘Give this to Kitty,’ and ran home.”
As a fourteen-year-old he penned two short stories for his prep school’s newspaper and had even written a mystery story as a thirteen-year-old entitled “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage.” In 1914, he enrolled in Princeton where he wrote two full plays for the Princeton Triangle Club, eight short stories for the Nassau Literary Magazine, and numerous short stories and articles for the Princeton Tiger. Then, dropping out as a senior (after being put on academic probation and generally growing bored with schoolwork), he joined the Army, wrote sixty pages of The Romantic Egoist, returned home to Minnesota to finish the book, and saw it published as This Side of Paradise on March 26th, 1920, when he was only twenty-three years old.
It’s clear that Fitzgerald had skill well beyond his age. For most writers it takes years, decades even, to find their voice. Reading through his diary, however, it’s clear that even at fourteen this is the Fitzgerald we would later get to know with works like The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and exceptional short stories like “Babylon Revisited,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz.”
It’s amazing to think that the man who gave us characters like Jay Gatsby, Rosemary Hoyt, and Amory Blaine had already begun to perfect his craft before his first period high school bell ever rang. A few excerpts from a prodigy’s diary:
1. A First Place Finish
We played postoffice, pillow, clapp in and clapp out and other foolish but interesting games. It was impossible to count the number of times I kissed Kitty that afternoon. At any rate when we went home I had secured the coveted 1st place. I held this until dancing school stopped in the spring and then relinquished it to Johnny Gowns a rival. On valentines day that year Kitty received no less than eighty four valentines. She sent me one which I have now as also one which Nancy gave me. Along in a box with them is a lock of hair—but wait I’ll come to that. That Christmas I bought a five pound box of candy and took it around to her house. What was my surprise when Kitty opened the door. I nearly fell down with embarrassment but I finally stammered “Give this to Kitty,” and ran home.
Violet Stockton was a niece of Mrs. Finch and she spent a summer in Saint Paul. She was very pretty with dark brown hair and eyes big and soft. She spoke with a soft southern accent leaving out the r’s. She was a year older than I but together with most of the other boys liked her very much. I met her through Jack Mitchell who lived next door to her. He himself was very attached as was Art. Foley and together they sneaked up behind her and cut off her hair that is a snip of it. e had a game we played called Indians which I made up. One side were the Indians and went off and hid somewhere. The cowboys then started off to find them and when the Indians saw their chance they would jump out and take them by surprise. We were all armed with croquet mallets. There were about fifteen of us. Kitty Shultz, Betty Mudge, Betty Foster, Elenor Mitchell, Marie Hersey, Dorothy Green, Violet Stockton and Harriet Foster. The boys were Adolph Sholtz, Wharton Smith, Jack Mitchell, Arthur Foley, Archer Mudge and Roger Foster. Every day for a month we played this and then we turned into truth. At that time I was more popular with girls than I ever have been befor. In truth Kitty Shultz, Dorothy, Violet, Marie and Catherine Tre all liked me best. At the present moment it is the reverse with probably most of these; with at least two, Kitty Shultz and Katherine Tre. However I am wandering from the subject. Finally Violet had a party which was very nice and it was the day after this that we had a quarrel. She had some sort of book called flirting by sighns and Jack and I got it away from Violet and showed it too all the boys. Violet got very mad and went into the house. I got very mad and therefor I went home. Imediatly Violet repented and called me up on the phone to see if I was mad. However I did not want to make up just then and so I slammed down the receiver. The next morning I went down to Jacks to find that Violet had said she was not coming out that day. It was now my turn to repent…
3. Sweet Revenge
“Violet,” I began, “Did you call me a brat.”
“Did you say that you wanted your ring and your picture and your hair back.”
“Did you say that you hated me”
“Of course not, is that what you went home for”.
“No but Archie Mudge told me those things yesterday evening.”
“He’s a little scamp” said Violet Indignantly.
At this juncture Elenor Mitchell almost went into hysterics because Jack was teasing her, and Violet had to go home with her. That afternoon I spanked Archie Mudge and finished making up with Violet.