F. Scott Fitzgerald: Don’t call him ‘Pappy’

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Fitzgerald

 

I love reading the personal letters of my favorite authors. Here’s one penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald to his 11-year-old daughter, Scottie, while she was away at summer camp. Among the many things evident is his absolute hatred for being called “Pappy”:

La Paix, Rodgers’ Forge
Towson, Maryland

August 8, 1933

Dear Pie:

I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy — but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed pages, they never really happen to you in life.

All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs “Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of getting up a Saturday Evening Post story. I think of you, and always pleasantly; but if you call me “Pappy” again I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?

I will arrange the camp bill.

Halfwit, I will conclude.

Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about. . .

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

With dearest love,

Daddy

P.S. My come-back to your calling me Pappy is christening you by the word Egg, which implies that you belong to a very rudimentary state of life and that I could break you up and crack you open at my will and I think it would be a word that would hang on if I ever told it to your contemporaries. “Egg Fitzgerald.” How would you like that to go through life with — “Eggie Fitzgerald” or “Bad Egg Fitzgerald” or any form that might occur to fertile minds? Try it once more and I swear to God I will hang it on you and it will be up to you to shake it off. Why borrow trouble?

Love anyhow.

This letter appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters and Letters of Note.

Notes on the origins of a book

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Fabian

Author’s Note: The Case That Foiled Fabian is the first book to examine one of Britain’s most infamous unsolved murders. It distills the facts from the many rumors and wild stories that are today accepted as the truth.

Several years ago, while visiting family in the Cotswolds, I had a drink in a pub outside Evesham. A friendly gentleman at the bar, upon learning I write books on crime and history, suggested I ‘do one on the Lower Quinton murder.’ He summarized the case for me: On Valentine’s Day 1945, 74-year-old farm labourer Charles Walton was found on the lower slopes of Meon Hill with a pitchfork plunged through his chest and a trouncing hook buried in his throat. Numerous crosses were carved into his flesh. Scotland Yard dispatched their best man, Chief Inspector Robert Fabian, who was stymied by superstitious villagers: they claimed Walton was a warlock who could converse with animals. Out of fear, they refused to cooperate with police. The case was never solved.

This immediately piqued my interest. I read numerous articles, all of which played up the witchcraft angle: Walton was found beneath a willow tree, he was killed in the middle of a stone circle once used for Black Magic rituals, he bred large toads he used to curse local crops, he was clairvoyant, he could communicate with birds, as a boy he was haunted by a headless woman and a black spectral hound. I paid several visits to Lower Quinton, but was warned villagers did not take kindly to questions about the ‘Pitchfork Murder’.

A section of the Rollright Stones, which feature prominently in the murder. Some accounts claim that Walton was killed in the middle of the ancient stone circle--but the stones are 12 miles away from the actual murder site.

A section of the Rollright Stones, which feature prominently in the murder. Some accounts claim that Walton was killed in the middle of the ancient stone circle–but the stones are 12 miles away from the actual murder site.

For research, I went straight to the source: the Scotland Yard case files and the detailed reports and notes kept by Fabian. What I found intrigued me. Rumour and myth had overshadowed the facts of the case and, because of retellings in books and newspapers over the years, had been accepted as the truth. Charles Walton’s murder was bloody and grotesque—but there were no crosses carved into his flesh. He was not murdered in the middle of a stone circle, nor did villagers—who spoke with investigators—believe the man to be a practitioner of Black Magic. Indeed, the witchcraft angle seems to be a device hatched by reporters and authors—including Fabian, himself, who references the case in two volumes of memoirs.

That’s not to say the case isn’t strange, for it very much is. The residents of Lower Quinton did not seem at all alarmed by the vicious murder in their backyard. In a village of 493 people, not one person could shed any light on the subject. Although locals answered Fabian’s questions, they never volunteered information. The seasoned detective thought they were hiding something and believed ‘some local history’ unknown to the police played a part in the murder. There is a definite element of the creepy in Charles Walton’s killing.

As to the murderer, the circumstantial evidence points heavily to one man—a man Fabian believed for the rest of his life to be the killer and whose family operates a successful Cotswolds pub to this day. But any concrete solution to the case has forever been lost to history. Perhaps this is why the story of what many believe to be Britain’s last ritual witchcraft killing continues to fascinate.

The book, released by UK publisher The History Press, is available now.