The General Subject of Conversation

At the age of nineteen, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his younger sister Annabel a long letter instructing her on how to be a young lady. He covered the subjects of: Poise: Carriage: Dancing: Expression, Dress and Personality, and The General Subject of Conversation:

F. Scott

“Conversation like grace is a cultivated art. Only to the very few does it come naturally. You are as you know, not a good conversationalist and you might very naturally ask, ‘What do boys like to talk about?’

(1) Boys like to talk about themselves–much more than girls. A girl once named Helen Walcott, told me (and she was the most popular debutante in Washington one winter) that as soon as she got a man talking about himself she had him cinched and harnessed– they give themself away. Here are some leading questions for a girl to use.

a) You dance so much better than you did last year.

b) How about giving me that sporty necktie when you’re thru with it.

c) You’ve got the longest eyelashes!  (This will embarrass him, but he likes it)

d) I hear you’ve got a ‘line’!

e) Well who’s you’re latest crush!


a) When do you go back to school?

b) How long have you been home?

c) Its warm or the orchestras good or the floors good.

Also avoid any talk about relations or mutual friends. Its a sure sign you’re hard up for talk if you ask Jack Allen about Harriette or Tuby about Martha. Dont be afraid of slang–use it, but be careful to use the most modern and sportiest like ‘line,’ camafluage etc. Never talk about a boy about about his school or college unless he’s done something special or unless he starts the subject. In a conversation its always good to start by talking about nothing– just some fresh camafluage; but start it yourself–never let the boy start it: Dont talk about your school–no matter where you go. Never sing no matter how big the chorus.”

A Life in Letters, F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited and annotated by Matthew J. Bruccoli, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994.