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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Earnings

2013 May 11
by Ben Jones

F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and many other works of classic American literature, kept a fairly complete (though not always arithmetically accurate) ledger of the earnings he collected by title from the time he left the army until 1936, just a few years before his death. You can see the ledger at the University of South Carolina’s digital collections website here.

I was able to convert the record of the dollars he actually made to 2012 dollars using, appropriately, a website called “Westegg“. West Egg is the setting for the novel The Great Gatsby. I found that he made over $37K in 1931, or approximately $564K in today’s dollars. Not too bad. Of course the movie The Great Gatsby will likely net much, much more than Fitzgerald’s tally, but he wasn’t exactly a starving artist.

Here are his earnings visualized in three tabs: one showing a history over time, another showing the ledger for each year, and finally a third showing the top titles in terms of income collected by Fitzgerald:

A few notes on the making of this interactive graphic:

 

  • Converting the data from pdf to spreadsheet form was painstaking work. I tried a few methods – pdftoexcel.com, saving the pdf to txt and then importing to Excel. These methods really didn’t work out too well. In the end, it was copy-paste from pdf to Excel, rearrange the fields to a raw data table, and then double/triple check the figures.
  • Cross-checking the tallies, I found that many years Fitzgerald wasn’t as good at math as he was at writing fiction. No big surprise there, I suppose. It was funny to see that in one place, he actually blames a bout of bad health with his arithmetic errors.
  • Categorizing the titles was a little tricky. For example, he used a category called “Books” in some years, and “From Books” in other years. I gave it my best shot to combine these where it seemed like it made sense, but his system would probably cause most accountants a good deal of heartburn. You will find “The Beautiful and Damned” in no less than four different categories – “Books”, “Movies”, “English Rights”, and “Miscellaneous”. This is the way Fitzgerald cataloged the income, so I tried to keep it as true to his record as possible.

Thanks for stopping by! If you’re going to see the movie this weekend, I hope it’s better than what the critics say,

Ben

 

One Response leave one →
  1. May 11, 2013

    A fresh reading, great information from Fitzgerald’s earning in both original and 2012 dollars and nice data visualization.

    It would be interesting to see Data Scientist’s today earning having Fitzgerald’s earning as context.

    Great work Ben!! Thanks

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