Accounting in Ancient Times with F. Scott Fitzgerald

The American Scholar is currently featuring a very detailed analysis of tax records obtained from the estate of the late, great F. Scott Fitzgerald. Author William J. Quirk scrutinizes Scott’s financial ledgers from 1919 to 1940, including short story royalties, expenses relating to crazy wife Zelda, and his years spent in Hollywood. Excruciating, yes, but enlightening, also yes. We’ve crunched the numbers for you and present the highlights after the jump.

$5.10: In 1929, the author recorded every penny that entered or exited his account, including royalties trickling in from the American edition of The Great Gatsby

$1,444: Amount Fitzgerald paid in taxes in 1920 — an overall rate of about 8 percent

$6,200: Royalties received in royalties from This Side of Paradise

49,075: Number of copies of This Side of Paradise printed in its original run in 1920, more than any other book published in Fitzgerald’s lifetime

1%: Fitzgeralds’s tax bracket, as of 1923

7%: The percentage of Americans who even filed tax returns in the early 1920s

$85,000: Fitzgerald’s salary at MGM in 1937 and 1938, roughly $1,100 per week

$300: Weekly salary of William Faulkner at Warner Bros. Studios in the 1940s , in the 1940s

$24,000: The writer’s average annual income for the last 15 years of his working life

$500,000: That income, estimated in today’s dollars. (Compare to, uh, Dan Brown, whose net income in 2007 was $10 million — to which we can likely add one bajillion dollars since the release of his latest film adaptation.)

Many more financial anecdotes here, including an article titled “How to Live in Practically Nothing” from 1925.

Now after all that math, how’s about a little history?


Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, whom he called “The First Flapper,” in happier days.