Category Archive 'F. Scott Fitzgerald'

09 Apr 2023

Harvard/Yale/Princeton, Then and Now

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My residential college (Berkeley) at Yale.

The images of Yale and Princeton seem to be at least slightly different today from what they were a century ago. Harvard’s, on the other hand, seems not to have changed really all that much.

Back in 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Princeton ’17, in This Side of Paradise described “The Yale Thing” this way:

“I want to go to Princeton,” said Amory. “I don’t know why, but I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be, and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes.”

Monsignor chuckled.

“I’m one, you know.”

“Oh, you’re different. I think of Princeton as being lazy and good-looking and aristocratic, you know, like a spring day. Harvard seems sort of indoors,”

“And Yale is November, crisp and energetic,” finished Monsignor.

“That’s it.”

They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.


Quora is loaded to the gills with questions about elite colleges (mostly from ambitious Third World residents).

Some common themes are prestige and college character comparisons. These inquiries are commonly jejune and amount to nothing more than presumptuous expressions of adolescent fantasy on the part of people with no chance of being admitted to these kinds of schools, and they generally are simply ignored.

But every now and then the question provokes an interesting response. Somebody asked:

What type of students does each Ivy League look for?

Harry Lee responded:

Just because a school has more choices in picking students does not guarantee the wisdom of its pick. Steve Jobs would have been rejected by all Ivies today. But since the same AO has been picking students over many many years, we do see some pattern that reflects the AO’s taste in part.

I will answer this based solely on my prejudice, for what its worth. Take it at your own peril. (Don’t give me which school is not Ivy stuff – I know.)

Harvard: Model human beings with presentable stats and characters (yes, they are genuinely nice), with no evidence of glaring mental disease (see Yale and Princeton for comparison). Most balanced Ivy. The only Ivy with human mascot; all others are beasts. Earth’s answer to alien invasions. Must be, and look, strong across the board, but more importantly, must have no weakness, nothing controversial, especially on paper. Certainly a fox type, not a hedghog type. (“A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.”) Righteous and virtuous. Downside: Naive, bookish, unresourceful, unresilient, weak mental, carrying self-congratulatory smile. Often fall preys to determined and/or scheming underdogs. Diploma likely to end up being life’s greatest achievement. Real life is very different from school. Too risk-averse to try something that may be “unworthy” of alma mater; looking respectible becomes a burden after a while. Unable to reject expectation of others. Haunted by the self-question: “What is ‘me minus Harvard’ worth?” Bullied abruptly by bosses: “Let’s test how smart a Harvard guy is.” Bullied abruptly by spouses: “[You don’t even know how to turn off the dang faucet] – tell me, did you really go to Harvard?”

Yale: Creative, Passionate Artists with ADHD. Most artistic Ivy. Possess one big thing, lack others and proud of it. Ivy with greatest number of mathematically challenged – you can still succeed in life without understanding calculus. Certainly the hedgehog type (“All I need is making one big hole”) – an outlier with a nuclear punch. Flexible, witty, resourceful, irreverant, pungent, unique. Capable of counter-intuitive, original thinking. Social and gregarious like wolves (in contrast to the tigers that come below) and carry “secret club” antic to life after college. Think they can beat nerdy Harvard any time. Think they cannot beat Princeton, but rarely think of Princeton anyway. Downside: George Bush, George (another) Bush. Can be too creative for own good. Superficial and/or scheming (Many early CIA members were Yalies). Lazy underachievers – and proud of it.

Princeton: Rigorously Trained Tripartite Aristocrats (Gentleman+Scholar+Athlete) – with OCD. Most analytic Ivy. No weakness in reality (ie, not just on paper). Most hard working among HYP. Superachievers and fierce competitors. Mathematically comfortable. Motto: Only paranoids survive. Regularly beat both Harvard and Yale in almost everything. Prefer working alone, like tigers (why collaborate when perfection is attainable as solo?). Downside: Robot. Can be too perfect for own good. Serious, ambitious, studious, logical, wicked smart. Brutally efficient like Amazon dot com, lacking idealistic, romantic, human touch. …

Way too complimentary to Princeton, of course. (You can tell that Harry Lee went there.) Yale beats Princeton all the time.

19 Mar 2020

F. Scott Fitzgerald on the Spanish Flu

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fake News Disclaimer: There are apparently reasons to suspect that this is not actually the authentic text of a letter written a century ago by F. Scott Fitzgerald while quarantined in the South of France during the great Spanish Flu pandemic but a more recent composition by someone just pretending to be FSF. But good reading regardless.

Dearest Rosemary,

It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloudline of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.


25 Sep 2018

Scott Fitzgerald Reads Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale

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07 Aug 2012

“Thank You For the Light”

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Risque postcard of nude woman smoking by Julian Mandel.

F. Scott Fitzgerald
‘s 1936 story, “Thank You For the Light,” was just published in the New Yorker.

Mrs. Hanson was a pretty, somewhat faded woman of forty, who sold corsets and girdles, travelling out of Chicago. For many years her territory had swung around through Toledo, Lima, Springfield, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne, and her transfer to the Iowa-Kansas-Missouri district was a promotion, for her firm was more strongly entrenched west of the Ohio.

Eastward, she had known her clientele chattily and had often been offered a drink or a cigarette in the buyer’s office after business was concluded. But she soon found that in her new district things were different. Not only was she never asked if she would like to smoke but several times her own inquiry as to whether anyone would mind was answered half apologetically with “It’s not that I mind, but it has a bad influence on the employees.”

“Oh, of course, I understand.”

Smoking meant a lot to her sometimes. She worked very hard and it had some ability to rest and relax her psychologically. She was a widow and she had no close relatives to write to in the evenings, and more than one moving picture a week hurt her eyes, so smoking had come to be an important punctuation mark in the long sentence of a day on the road.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to John W. Brewer.

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