I received the following letter from a reader, who said that we are not alone, that F. Scott Fitzgerald suffered a like fate during the the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, that infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 20 -50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.
A LETTER FROM F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, QUARANTINED
IN 1920 IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE DURING THE
SPANISH INFLUENZA OUTBREAK.
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
months’ 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-stick
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.
In a March 2020 Esquire story “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Letter from Quarantine’ and the Collective Optimism of Viral Literature,” the author writes, “The problem is that it [the letter] isn’t written by Fitzgerald, nor was it penned in 1920. The parody letter in fact first appeared a week ago on the humour website McSweeney’s, written by Nick Farriella.
“‘I think it speaks to the strangeness of the times,’ Farriella told Esquire. ‘Where many can’t leave their homes, there’s no sports going on, barely any distraction. So, for this parody to get some attention shows people’s yearning for some answer from someone from the past, someone who’s made it through something like this before. But even though it wasn’t an actual letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald, I think the sentiment is still true, and we could all benefit from the way he lived his life, a relentless optimist.’”