Analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Pat Hobby Stories

In the last three years of his life, F. Scott Fitzgerald was under contract as a scriptwriter in Hollywood. During the week he worked for the film industry; on weekends he pursued his own writing projects. He began a novel about Hollywood, published as a fragment after his death (The Last Tycoon), and he regularly produced short stories, including a series that featured a burned-out Hollywood scriptwriter, Pat Hobby. The Pat Hobby stories—17 in all—were published in Esquire in 1939 and 1940, one posthumously. According to Arnold Gingrich, his editor at Esquire, Fitzgerald regarded the stories as “a collective entity,” regularly rearranging the order in which they would appear in the magazine so as to achieve a developmental effect. Because each story appeared in a different issue, however, the repetition of contextual details to orient the first-time reader prevents them from being a truly cumulative sequence. Although Fitzgerald considered publishing the Pat Hobby stories as a collection, after he died suddenly in 1940 they remained largely forgotten until 1962, when Scribner printed them as The Pat Hobby Stories with an introduction by Gingrich. They have yet to draw much critical commentary, although recently scholar-critics have begun to include them in the continuing reappraisal of Fitzgerald’s work in the short fiction genre.

As were many other Fitzgerald stories, these were written for money. Fitzgerald was in debt and in poor health at the end of his life; their hurried composition was a factor in their questionable quality. Gingrich has verified, however, that Fitzgerald took these stories seriously. He revised them numerous times, often cabling meticulous changes at the last minute. Even in the 1920s when his stories brought in over 10 times the amount Esquire could pay in the 1930s, money was never the exclusive motive for Fitzgerald. Nonetheless, these stories do not approach the quality of his best work. Many of the plots are contrived; an unbelievable surprise frequently forces a story’s end. More like sketches, the pieces are hard to classify, and some of the weaker ones seem too insubstantial to be considered serious fiction. Critical evaluation, however, has only recently begun.

Stylistically, the Pat Hobby sequence is a departure from Fitzgerald’s early lyricism. The objective narration is sparse, foreshadowing the minimalism of the 1970s. Fitzgerald had used humor in his stories from the beginning, but the dry, satirical, sometimes bitter tone of the narration in these pieces belongs to the fictional posture of his last years. Pat Hobby is a washedout scriptwriter at 49—lazy, conniving, stupid, selfish, and pathetic. We are invited to laugh at his absurdities, but the series is not pure comedy. All of Fitzgerald’s fiction mixes techniques from different genres; tonal ambiguity is present in these stories too. Recent critics describe them as social REALISM, emphasizing their panoramic scan of Hollywood. Others see Fitzgerald’s romantic strain still operative in Hobby’s delusional attempts to recreate his past glory. It is even possible in some of the stories to sympathize with Hobby as one who, despite his own failings, is also victimized by the vulgarity and greed of the Hollywood system—the game that has grown larger than any of its players, corrupting all but the lucky or exceptionally intelligent few. Parallels between Fitzgerald and his tired protagonist are obvious. As with Hobby, Fitzgerald no longer enjoyed the high visibility or financial returns on his work that had defined his career in the 1920s. As with Hobby, alcoholism, family problems, debt, and depression had left Fitzgerald emotionally exhausted. The Pat Hobby stories, however, are more than self-expression. In the next decade, as the critical reevaluation of Fitzgerald’s body of work continues, they are among the works most likely to receive new interpretations.

Daniels, Thomas E. “Pat Hobby: Anti-Hero.” Fitzgerald/ Hemingway Annual. Columbia: S.C.: Bruccoli Clark Layman, 1973.
Gingrich, Arnold. “Introduction.” In The Pat Hobby Stories. New York: Scribner, 1962.
Stern, Milton R. “Will the Real Pat Hobby Please Stand Up?” In New Essays on Fitzgerald’s Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.
West, James L. W. III. “Fitzgerald and Esquire.” In The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982.

Categories: Literature, Short Story

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