The Curious Case of Misquotation
Yes, here we are in the middle of a pandemic, but we never stop looking for an author to this quote. Turns out we are not the only ones to investigate who might have said “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” According to Garson O’Toole, author of Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations George Eliot was also said to be the author of these words. Turns out LOTS of people have possibly said this quote. You can read his complete article here. Many thanks to Garson O’Toole for all of his work.
Happy New Year all you Scott F. Fitzgerald and Brad Pitt fans! I just wanted to share with you the most recent sharing of this post which was with two fellows who appear to be living in New Zealand. You can read their blog entry on Fitzgerald and Pitt here. As they write: “The above quote is a quote from the movie adaption of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, even though F.Scott Fitzgerald gets a lot of the credit.” Thanks Wayne and Jackson for taking the time to correct the record. This librarian salutes you both!
Update 11/07/14: We have gotten more responses to this blog entry, than any other blog entry we have ever written. The most recent commenter writes: “It’s from a letter Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter, Scottie.” I just looked through Scott Fitzgerald’s Letters to His Daughter, and I couldn’t find any such quotation. Although there are some lovely tidbits of advice! Here is one such tidbit, as he asks his daughter about the man that interested her when she was eighteen. The letter is dated August 24, 1940.:
“You haven’t given me much idea of __________. Would he object to your working—outside the house I mean? Excluding personal charm, which I assume, and the more conventional virtues which go with success in business, is he his own man? Has he any force of character? Or imagination and generosity? Does he read books? Has he any leaning toward the arts and sciences or anything beyond creature comfort and duck-shooting? In short, has he the possibilities of growth that would make a lifetime with him seem attractive? These things don’t appear later—they are either there latently or they will never be there at all.”
Heavens to Murgatroyd, I’ve come across another faux quotation on the Internet. Actually in this case, it was actually a quotation that a friend of mine posted (not knowing putting up faux quotations in front of a Reference Librarian is like putting a red flag in front of a bull). Trouper that she is, she was happy to correct the attribution once I explained the details.
This was the quote as she wrote it:
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
And it was attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Well, it didn’t sound exactly like F. Scott Fitzgerald to me, so I thought I’d investigate. As it turned out my friend believed that it was a quotation from Fitzgerald’s short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. Happily we had a copy of the short story on the shelf … no such quotation in the story.
So … where else might it be? Well, I knew there had been a movie, and I found a copy of the screenplay. Here is the quotation I found:
“For what it’s worth … it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
The screenplay for the film was written by a fellow named Eric Roth, so I think it is safe to say that he wrote these lines. (Although my favorite attribution of the quote is Brad Pitt … because he said the lines, so he must have written them? ) You’ll notice there are some differences between even these two quotations … the most significant being the word strength substituted for the word courage. But guess what … Brad Pitt actually says the word strength when he says the line … so did he make the change or did someone on the set make the change? Even with a straightforward quote, there seem to always be questions. Want to see Brad Pitt say the lines? You can see that on Youtube.
Just another cautionary tale … don’t believe everything you read on the Internet! (And if you want to read about a faux E. B. White quotation you can read my blog entry here.)