Fitzgerald’s commission asa second lieutenant in the infantry is dated 26 October 1917. Before leaving Princeton, he attitudinized for his mother: “If you want to pray, pray for my soul and not that I won’t be killed—the last doesn’t seem to matter particularly and if you are a good Catholic the first ought to.” Having outfitted himself at Brooks Brothers, he reported in November for training at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Fay sent a keen on 10 December, which Fitzgerald later incorporated into This Side of Paradise:
A Lament for a Foster Son, and He going to the War Against the King of Foreign
He is gone from me the son of my mind
And he in his golden youth like Angus Oge
Angus of the bright birds
And his mind strong and subtle like the mind of Cuchulin on Muirtheme.
Jia du Vaha Alanav
May the Son of God be above him and beneath him, before him and behind him
May the King of the elements cast a mist over the eyes of the King of Foreign,
May the Queen of the Graces lead him by the hand the way he can go through the midst of his enemies and they not seeing him
May Patrick of the Gael and Collumb of the Churches and the five thousand Saints of Erin be better than a shield to him
And he go into the fight.
Like all infantry lieutenants at the time, Fitzgerald expected to be killed in battle. He began writing a novel in training camp, hoping to leave evidence of his genius (Christian Gauss later recalled that Fitzgerald showed him the manuscript for a novel before leaving Princeton, which Gauss dissuaded him from publishing. Gauss’s memory was almost certainly inaccurate on this point. There is no evidence that Fitzgerald had written any substantial portion of his novel before reporting to Leavenworth. Fitzgerald probably showed Dean Gauss “The Romantic Egotist” when he was working on it at the Cottage Club in March 1918. In a 1934 letter Fitzgerald thanked Gauss for putting in a good word “for my first book, then bound for Scribners.”): “Every evening, concealing my pad behind Small Problems for Infantry, I wrote paragraph after paragraph on a somewhat edited history of me and my imagination. The outline of twenty-two chapters, four of them in verse, was made, two chapters were completed; and then I was detected and the game was up. I could write no more during study period.” Working in the officers’ club from I p.m. to midnight on Saturdays and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, he completed a 120,000-word novel in about three months.
Fitzgerald wrote into his manuscript an explanation of his sense of urgency, indicating his conception of himself as a spokesman for his generation:
A week has gone here in the aviation school just hurried by with early rising by the November moon, and here I am with not one chapter finished—scrawled pages with no form or style—just full of detail and petty history. I intended so much when I started, and I’m realizing how impossible it all is. I can’t re-write and all I do is form the vague notes for chapters that I have here beside me and the uncertain channels of an uneven memory. I don’t seem to be able to trace the skeins of development as I ought. I’m trying to set down the story part of my generation in America and put myself in the middle as a sort of observer and conscious factor.
But I’ve got to write now, for when the war’s over I won’t be able to see these things as important—even now they are fading out against the back-ground of the map of Europe. I’ll never be able to do it again; well done or poorly. So I’m writing almost desperately—and so futily.
On 22 December 1917 he informed Leslie:
—My novel isn’t a novel in verse—it merely shifts rapidly from verse to prose—but it’s mostly in prose.
The reason I’ve abandoned my idea of a book of poems is that I’ve only about twenty poems and cant write any more in this atmosphere—while I can write prose so I’m sandwitching the poems between rheams of autobiography and fiction.
It makes a pot-pouri especially as there are pages in dialogue and in verse libre but it reads as logically for the times as most public utterances of the prim and prominent. It is a tremendously concieted affair.
On 10 January 1918 he reported to Edmund Wilson:
There are twenty-three chapters, all but five are written and it is poetry, prose, verse libre and every mood of a tempermental temperature. It purports to be the picaresque ramble of one Stephen Palms from the San Francisco fire, thru school, Princeton to the end where at twenty one he writes his autobiography at the Princeton aviation school. It shows traces of Tarkington, Chesterton, Chambers Wells, Benson (Robert Hugh), Rupert Brooke and includes Compton-McKenzie like love affairs and three psychic adventures including an encounter with the devil in a harlots apartment.
It rather damns much of Princeton but its nothing to what it thinks of man and human nature in general. I can most nearly describe it by calling it a prose, modernistic Childe Harold and really if Scribner takes it I know I’ll wake some morning and find that the debutantes have made me famous over night. I really believe that no one else could have written so searchingly the story of the youth of our generation…
The manuscript for “The Romantic Egotist” does not survive. There are only the five carbon-copy typescript chapters at Princeton that Fitzgerald sent to Sap Donahoe in October 1918. (Since Fitzgerald’s cover note to Donahoe says, “Book is back at Scribner’s,” it is impossible to determine whether these carbon copies represent the revised or the original version. One of the drafts of the novel was typed in the law office of John Biggs’s father.)
These first-person chapters show that “The Romantic Egotist” was so close to This Side of Paradise as to be a working draft for the novelFitzgerald published in 1920. Every major episode in these five chapters was salvaged—except for Stephen and Eleanor’s unconvincing supernatural encounter with her levitating fur coat in Chapter XII, based on an experience that Fay had related to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was a poor soldier, for he regarded the army as an impediment to his writing. The captain in charge of Fitzgerald’s training platoon at Fort Leavenworth was Dwight D. Eisenhower, but neither man made an impression on the other. When he received leave at the end of February 1918, Fitzgerald went to Princeton, where he finished his novel at the Cottage Club. (In 1936 he presented a page of the manuscript to the Cottage Club library.) He sent the typescript to Shane Leslie, who had offered to recommend it to his publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons. Fitzgerald hoped his novel would receive favorable attention because the Scribners were Princetonians and the house maintained close relations with the university. After correcting the grammar and spelling, Leslie sent “The Romantic Egotist” to Charles Scribner on 6 May with a cover letter describing the author as an American prose Rupert Brooke: “Though Scott Fitzgerald is still alive it has a literary value. Of course when he is killed, it will also have a commercial value.” Fitzgerald circulated chapters to Fay and Bishop as well.
On 15 March, Fitzgerald reported to the 45th Infantry Regiment at Camp Zachary Taylor, near Louisville, Kentucky. He was scheduled to be given a platoon; but his superior officers felt he couldn’t be entrusted with a command, and for several weeks he served as assistant to the regimental school officer. In April the 45th was transferred to Camp Gordon, Georgia, and in June was combined with the 67th Infantry Regiment of the Ninth Division at Camp Sheridan near Montgomery, Alabama, to be built up for overseas service. Fitzgerald was promoted to first lieutenant at Camp Sheridan, but his brother officers declined to take him seriously and made him the victim of pranks. On their advice he forced a conscientious objector in his platoon to drill at gunpoint—unaware that he was committing a prison offense. As a leader of enlisted men, he was an arbitrary disciplinarian: when his platoon complained about the food, he ordered a punishment march.
With his novel out of the way, Fitzgerald was able to pay more attention to soldiering and social activities. He was still unreliable in the field. There was a near disaster when his mortar group was practicing, and a live shell jammed in a Stokes mortar; another officer picked up the mortar and threw it away from the soldiers. Fitzgerald diddistinguish himself by preventing men from drowning when a barge sank during an exercise crossing the Talapoosa River.
The Montgomery girls welcomed the Yankee officers, who were more sophisticated than the local swains. Two of the top girls were May Steiner and Zelda Sayre, and Fitzgerald dated both of them. He met eighteen-year-old Zelda at the Country Club of Montgomery in July 1918, where she performed the “Dance of the Hours.” During their later years of bitter recriminations Fitzgerald insisted that Zeldawas reeling drunk the first time he saw her. Zelda recorded her early impression of Fitzgerald in her autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz. “There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretly enjoyed the ability to fly but was walking as a compromise to convention.” It was not love at first sight for Fitzgerald. He stipulated in his September 1918 Ledger entry: “Fell in love on the 7th”—two months after their first encounter.
On 19 August 1918 Scribners rejected “The Romantic Egotist.” The long letter—not a form rejection—signed “Charles Scribner’s Sons” was almost certainly written by Maxwell Perkins, who had moved from the advertising department to the editorial staff. Perkins was inclined to publish the novel but was overruled by the senior editors, Edward L. Burlingame and William C. Brownell. After stating that “no ms. novel has come to us for a long time that seemed to display so much originality,” the letter made suggestions for revisions and invited Fitzgerald to resubmit the novel:
… the story does not seem to us to work up to a conclusion:—neither the hero’s career nor his character are shown to be brought to any stage which justifies an ending. This may be intentional on your part for it is certainly not untrue to life; but it leaves the reader distinctly disappointed and dissatisfied since he has expected him to arrive somewhere either in an actual sense by his response to the war perhaps, or in a psychological one by “finding himself” as for instance Pendennis is brought to do. He does go to war, but in almost the same spirit that he went to college and school,—because it is simply the thing to do. It seems to us in short that the story does not culminate in anything as it must to jusify the reader’s interest as he follows it; and that it might be made to do so quite consistently with the characters and with its earlier stages.
It seems to us too that not enough significance is given to some of those salient incidents and scenes, such as the affairs with girls. We do not suggest that you should resort to artificiality by giving a significance inconsistent with that of the life of boys and girls of the age of the hero, but that it would be well if the high points were heightened so far as justifiable; and perhaps this effect could partly be gained by pruning detail you might find could be spared elsewhere. Quite possibly all that we have said is covered by your own criticism of the ms. as at present a little “crude” and that the revision you contemplate will itself remove the basis of our criticism, and if when you make this you allow us a second reading we shall gladly give it. We do not want anything we have said to make you think we failed to get your idea in the book,—we certainly do not wish to “conventionalize” it by anymeans in either form or manner, but only to do those things which it seems to us important to intensify its effect and so satisfy a reader that he will recommend it,—which is the great thing to accomplish toward a success.
Fitzgerald undertook a rapid revision. In a 1919 preface written for This Side of Paradise he explained how he tried to provide the conclusion that Scribners wanted (This preface, not used in the novel, was published separately in 1975):
At length I took a tip from Schopenhauer, Hugh Walpole, and even the early Wells—begged the question by plunging boldly into obscurity; astounded myself with an impenetrable chapter where I left the hero alone with rhapsodic winds and hyper-significant stars: gemmed the paragraphs with neo-symbolic bits culled from my own dismantled poems—such awe-inspiring half-lines as***the dark celibacy of greatness***Youth, the Queen Anne clavichord from which age wrings the symphony of art***the tired pitying beauty of monotony that hung like summer air over the gate of his soul***
And finding that I had dragged the hero from a logical muddle into an illogical one, I dispatched him to the war and callously slew him several thousand feet in the air, whence he fell ’not like a dead, but a splendid life-bound swallow* * * *down* * * *down* * * *’
Ginevra King married Ensign William Hamilton Mitchell in September. Fitzgerald saved the wedding invitation and a piece of her handkerchief in his scrapbook with the note “THE END OF A ONCE POIGNANT STORY.” His summary for 1917-18, his twenty-first year, read: “A year of enormous importance. Work and Zelda. Last year as a Catholic.”
Perkins rejected the revised novel in October, and in his scrapbook Fitzgerald captioned the telegram “The end of a dream.” Fitzgerald believed that the unfavorable decision had been partly based on the circumstance that his material was too strong for a conservative publisher and asked Perkins to send it to another publisher, who also declined it.
Zelda Sayre, born24 July 1900, was four years and two months younger than Fitzgerald. She had been named for a gypsy heroine in a novel. The daughter of Minnie Machen Sayre and Judge Anthony D. Sayre of the Alabama Supreme Court, Zelda knew exactly who she was and what she could get away with—which was almost anything. She later observed: “When I was a little girl I had great confidence in myself, even to the extent of walking by myself against life as it was then. I did not have a single feeling of inferiority, or shyness, or doubt, and no moral principles.” At eighteen she was a celebrated belle with a domain that extended over Alabama and Georgia. She was like nobody else and practiced a don’t-give-a-damn code. Even more dramatically than Ginevra, Zelda possessed the qualities that Fitzgerald required in a girl. She was beautiful, independent, socially secure (but not wealthy), and responsive to his ambitions. More than any girl he had ever known, Zelda shared his romantic egotism. She and Fitzgerald wanted the same things—metropolitan glamour, success, fame. It is surprising that her ambitions so closely matched his, because she had no background for them. At eighteen she had never been out of the South, and her formal education had terminated at Sidney Lanier High School. She was not well-read, but her mind had a brilliant quality in its ability to make unlikely connections and express itself in fresh or startling ways. One of her attractions for Fitzgerald was her conversational stamina. Both were talkers for whom nothing was entirely meaningful until they had analyzed it. Although Fitzgerald later claimed that she was sexually reckless when he met her, Zelda’s Montgomery friends deny the charge: “No one to my knowledge ever questioned her good reputation as to morals.” She was unconventional and even wild, but she maintained her reputation within the boundaries of Southern feminine conduct. Later Zelda wrote of the heroine of Save Me the Waltz: ” ’she’s the wildest of the Beggs, but she’s a thoroughbred,’ people said… ’Thoroughbred!’ she thought, ’meaning that I never let them down on the dramatic possibilities of a scene—I give a damned good show.’ ”
Zelda’s beauty does not emerge in her photographs. Indeed, she had a chameleon quality; it is sometimes hard to be certain that any two photos of her are really of the same person. Part of her impact was what she projected. Her hair was a dark-blond honey color—like a chow’s, as Fitzgerald described it. She had blue eyes, thin lips, and a straight nose that gave her an almost hawklike profile. Standing two or three inches shorter than Fitzgerald’s five feet seven, her erect posture made her seem taller than she was, and she moved with a dancer’s grace. She had taken ballet lessons and was the star of local dance recitals.
Minnie Machen Sayre, the daughter of Kentucky Senator Willis B. Machen, had been musical and literary as a girl. She had once been offered a stage role by Georgia Drew, but her father—who was being considered as a dark-horse Presidential candidate—refused to countenance his daughter’s entering what he regarded as the demimonde. It is not clear that Minnie Sayre tried to compensate for her frustrated career hopes through Zelda, but she did indulge her daughter. Minnie’s fifth surviving child, born when she was forty, Zelda was breastfed until she was three. She was not close to her siblings. Her three sisters, Marjorie, Rosalind, and Clothilde, were eighteen, eleven, and nine when she was born; her brother, Anthony, was six. Rosalind (Tootsie) and Clothilde (Tilde) were beautiful and popular; but Marjorie, who had been a delicate child, was subject to nervous illness most of her life. Though Zelda had girlfriends, she preferred the company of boys because they were less bound by convention. Indifferent to Montgomery society, Minnie allowed Zelda considerable freedom and abetted her daughter’s defiance of the Judge.
Zelda was one of the most popular girls in town because she was known as a good sport who would do anything for the fun of it. She once phoned the fire department that there was a child trapped on the roof of the Sayre house, then climbed up to await her rescuers. She mounted the driver’s seat of Judge Mayfield’s carriage and took it for a short, wild ride. By the age of eighteen Zelda had started a legend that extended to the campuses of the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and Georgia Tech. When the chaperones at a Christmas party reprimanded her for dancing too affectionately, she pinned mistletoe to her dress over her backside. As Camp Sheridan and Camp Taylor filled up with young officers, the Sayre residence at 6 Pleasant Avenue became an obligatory calling-place. The commander at the Camp Taylor airfield is supposed to have issued an order against stunting planes over her house.
Like Fitzgerald, Zelda had an exhibitionistic streak. But there was a difference: Fitzgerald wanted admiration or at least attention; Zelda did not care what people thought. His behavior indicated insecurity; hers seemed to display defiance. Nonetheless, she clung to the securities of the Southern establishment. As she wrote in her novel, “… it’s very difficult to be two simple people at once, one who wants to have a law to itself and the other who wants to keep all the nice old things and be loved and safe and protected.” She was, after all, Judge Sayre’s daughter.
Anthony Dickinson Sayre was remote from his family. Zelda described him as a “living fortress.” His devotion to the law excluded all other interests, and he was regarded as a pillar of rectitude. Judge Sayre was the son of Daniel Sayre, editor of the Montgomery Post and an influential figure in Masonic politics, and Musidora Morgan Sayre, the sister of Alabama Senator John Tyler Morgan. It was in part due to Senator Machen’s friendship with Senator Morgan that Minnie Machen was sent to school in Montgomery. There she met Morgan’s nephew, the studious Anthony Sayre, whom she married in 1884. After a career in the Alabama legislature—he was president of the State Senate for a term—and as judge of the City Court of Montgomery, Sayre was appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court in 1909. He was elected to the court in 1910 and reelected for the rest of his life, although he refused to campaign because he regarded electioneering as beneath the dignity of the bench. An austere figure, Judge Sayre read Homer, Hesiod, Sallust, and Juvenal in the original for pleasure. The Judge, who was sixty in 1918, was upset by his youngest daughter’s conduct. Because he retired at 8 p.m., he was unaware of most of Zelda’s nocturnal activities. If he forbade her to do something, she would ignore his prohibitions—usually with her mother’s connivance.
Providing for his large family (at one time the household included the Judge’s brother and Minnie’s sister and mother) on his $6,ooo-a-year salary caused Judge Sayre severe worry. Since he abhorred any form of debt, the Sayres lived in rented houses. He suffered a nervousbreakdown that was rarely mentioned. Nor was the suicide of Minnie’s mother ever referred to.
During the summer of 1918 Fitzgerald worked his way up to the position of Zelda’s number-one suitor, but she continued to date other men. Fitzgerald’s jealousy did not deter her, and he suspected that she enjoyed his distress. From Fitzgerald’s later remarks it seems clear that he and Zelda consummated their romance before he left Camp Sheridan for presumed battle in France. His response was probably the same as Jay Gatsby’s after taking Daisy: “He felt married to her, that was all.” A sheet with his 1934 Philippe stories has this note: “After yielding she holds Phillipe at bay like Zelda + me in summer 1917”. (The year was 1918; Fitzgerald was not in Alabama in 1917.)
On 26 October the 67th Infantry was shipped north for embarkation to France. As supply officer, Fitzgerald was supposed to supervise the unloading of equipment at Hoboken, New Jersey, but he got off the train to visit Princeton. His unit went to Camp Mills on Long Island preparatory to embarkation. Fitzgerald claimed that he boarded a train for a Canadian port before his orders were canceled, but he also claimed that he was on a troop ship when the war ended. He was disappointed because he wanted to test himself in battle, and he saw the war as a great romantic experience from which he was being excluded. In “The Offshore Pirate” (1920) Fitzgerald wrote of a young man who also misses out on action: “It was not so bad—except that when the infantry came limping back from the trenches he wanted to be one of them. The sweat and mud they wore seemed only one of those ineffable symbols of aristocracy that were forever eluding him.” For the rest of Fitzgerald’s life “I didn’t get over” was an expression of regret. The dream of war became another wish fulfillment that he used to seek sleep during his years of insomnia: “—my division is cut to rags and stands on the defensive in a part of Minnesota where I know every bit of the ground. The headquarters staff and the regimental battalion commanders who were in conference with them at the time have been killed by one shell. The command devolved upon Captain Fitzgerald. With superb presence…”
Camp Mills officers had leave in New York City, where Fitzgerald engaged in alcoholic escapades that may have been a response to his disappointment at missing the war. On one occasion he was caught by the Hotel Astor house detective with a naked girl. Fitzgerald was confined to Camp Mills to keep him out of trouble; but when the 67th wasordered back to Montgomery in November, he was AWOL in New York and was left behind. When the troop train arrived in Washington, Fitzgerald was waiting at trackside with a bottle and two girls. He explained that he had commandeered an engine at Pennsylvania Station by claiming that he had a message for President Wilson.
At Camp Sheridan he was made aide to General J. A. Ryan. Again he was the target of a prank when his fellow officers instructed him that he should sleep late to rest up for the late-night socializing required by his new position. The general was not amused when he found his aide in bed during an inspection tour. Fitzgerald also fell off his horse at parade and was ordered to take riding lessons.
While he was awaiting discharge, Fitzgerald had ample time to devote to Zelda. At first he resisted the idea of early marriage because it would interfere with his literary ambitions. On 4 December 1918 he wrote to his friend Ruth Sturtevant: “… my mind is firmly made up that I will not, shall not, can not, should not, must not marry—still she is remarkable. I’m trying desperately exire armis—” Despite his resolves, it was not long before Fitzgerald regarded himself as engaged; then he wanted Zelda to marry him as soon as possible. Zelda’s friends did not believe she would marry him, and her family did not encourage the match. Although there was strong anti-Catholic prejudice in the South, the Episcopalian Sayres were not opposed to Fitzgerald because he was Catholic and a Yankee. They felt that he lacked stability and would not be able to take proper care of their daughter.
Reckless and impulsive about many things, Zelda was cautious about marriage to an unpublished writer with no money. His $141-a-month army pay went far in Montgomery, but he had no other income and no financial expectations. She was ready to marry Fitzgerald when he was a success in New York—it was understood they would live there—but she knew that love on a budget would be impossible for them. Fitzgerald was hurt by her lack of faith in his destiny; yet at the same time he recognized that her stand was consistent with her refusal to compromise on what she required from life. They quarreled about her refusal to gamble on his future and her insistence that she had every right to date other men—going to a dance or party with someone else, she said, had nothing to do with her love for him. Fitzgerald responded to their quarrels by getting drunk, the worst tactic he could have chosen. Zelda admired confidence, and Fitzgerald’s displays of weakness eroded her belief that he would really be able to achieve all the great things he promised.
Monsignor Fay diedof pneumonia in New York on 10 January 1919. On that day, before he learned the news, Fitzgerald had a seizure of trembling. The element of the supernatural in Fitzgerald’s experience apparently ended with Fay’s death; but it found continuing expression in his fiction. Fitzgerald could not attend the funeral. In late January he wrote Leslie from the base hospital, where he was being treated for influenza.
Your letter seemed to start a new flow of sorrows in me. I’ve never wanted so much to die in my life—Father Fay always thought that if one of us died the others would and now how I’ve hoped so.
Oh it all seemed so easy, life I mean—with people who understood and satisfied needs. Even the philistines seemed very good and quiet always ready to be duped or influenced or something and now my little world made to order has been shattered by the death of one man.
I’m beginning to have a horror of people; I can quite sympathize with your desire to be a Carthusian.
This has made me nearly sure that I will become a priest—I feel as if his mantle had descended apon me—a desire, or more, to some day recreate the atmosphere of him—I think he was the sort of man St. Peter was, so damned human.
Think of the number of people who in a way looked to him and depended on him—His faith shining thru all the versatility and intellect.
I think I did feel him but cant tell you of it in a letter. It was rather ghastly—
This letter was mostly a pose for Leslie’s benefit. Fitzgerald’s priestly vocation had never been strong, and his talk about the priesthood was a way of getting attention. Despite the generalization that no Irishman ever really leaves Holy Mother Church, Fitzgerald left without a backward glance or lingering guilt. His spells of devoutness had come when his imagination was stimulated by some religious role or some priest. Fitzgerald’s Catholicism died with Fay. Zelda replaced the influence of Fay and the Church.
Fitzgerald was discharged early from the army because he was expendable. On his way to seek rapid success in New York he wired Zelda from Charlotte, North Carolina, on 21 February 1919: YOU KNOW I DO NOT YOU DARLING. The message was probably a reference to their quarrel about her insistence on attending a party at Auburn as the date of a football player. The next day he wired from New York: DARLING HEART AMBITION ENTHUSIASM AND CONFIDENCE I DECLARE EVERYTHING GLORIOUS THIS WORLD IS A GAME AND WHILE I FEEL SURE OF YOU LOVE EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE I AM IN THE LAND OF AMBITION AND SUCCESS AND MY ONLY HOPE AND FAITH IS THAT MY DARLING HEART WILL BE WITH ME SOON.
His plan was to succeed at a job that would allow them to marry as soon as possible. That was what poor young men did in novels, and, as Fitzgerald once remarked, he could always do what people did in books. After applying unsuccessfully for newspaper work, he took a job with the Barron Collier advertising agency composing trolley-car cards at a salary he variously reported as $90 a month and $35 a week. He spent most of his nights writing stories, verse, jokes—anything that might sell—until the walls of his room at 200 Claremont Avenue, near Columbia University, were covered with rejection slips. During the spring of 1919 he wrote 19 stories and accumulated 122 rejections. His only sale was a revision of the 1917 Lit story “Babes in the Woods,” which The Smart Set took for $30. The check was used to buy a pair of white flannels and a present for Zelda. (In her letters Zelda thanked Fitzgerald for pajamas (“They’re the most adorably moon-shiney things on earth—I feel like a Vogue cover in ’em—I do wish yours were touching—”) and a feather fan (“Those feathers—those wonderful, wonderful feathers are the most beautiful things on earth—”). “Early Success” states that the $30 Fitzgerald earned from The Smart Set for “Babes in the Woods” in spring 1919 was spent “on a magenta feather fan for a girl in Alabama.” But “Auction—Model 1934” notes that the Smart Set money was used to buy Fitzgerald’s flannels and that the fan was “paid for out of a first Saturday Evening Post story”—which was “Head and Shoulders,” written in the fall of 1919.) On 24 March he sent her his mother’s engagement ring; she wore it to a dance and enjoyed the attention it attracted, but still no one in Montgomery believed she would marry her Yankee.
They had promised to write each other every day, and Fitzgerald had no trouble keeping his part of the bargain.(Zelda did not preserve Fitzgerald’s letters. He saved hers, but they are difficult to place in a chronology because she rarely dated letters.) Zelda’s first letters were loving and longing, but she soon began skipping days and expressing irritation with his epistolary requirements. She was not prepared for a long engagement and apparently assumed that it would be a matter of a month or two before Fitzgerald could provide for her. By April she was showing strain:
Scott, you’ve been so sweet about writing—but I’m so damned tired of being told that you “used to wonder why they kept princesses in towers”— you’ve written that verbatim, in your last six letters! It’s dreadfully hard to write so very much—and so many of your letters sound forced—I know you love me, Darling, and I love you more than anything in the world, but if its going to be so much longer, we just can’t keep up this frantic writing. It’s like the last week we were to-gether—and I’d like to feel that you know I am thinking of you and loving you always—I hate writing when I haven’t time, and I just have to scribble a few lines—I’m saying all this so you’ll understand—Hectic affairs of any kind are rather trying, so please let’s write calmly and whenever you feel like it.
When Zelda sent him her photograph inscribed for another man Fitzgerald was not sure whether it was a mistake.
Wild with disappointment and jealousy, Fitzgerald made three weekend trips to Montgomery in April, May, and June to try to persuade Zelda to marry him immediately. After one of his visits, Zelda wrote:
Scott, my darling lover—everything seems so smooth and restful, like this yellow dusk. Knowing that I’ll always be yours—that you really own me— that nothing can keep us apart—is such a relief after the strain and nervous excitement of the last month. I’m so glad you came—Like Summer, just when I needed you most—and took me back with you. Waiting doesn’t seem so hard now. The vague despondency has gone—I love you Sweetheart.
Why did you buy the “best at the Exchange”?—I’d rather have had 10c a quart variety—I wanted it just to know you loved the sweetness—To breathe and know you loved the smell—I think I like breathing twilit gardens and moths more than beautiful pictures or good books—It seems the most sensual of all the sences—Something in me vibrates to a dusky, dreamy smell—a smell of dying moons and shadows—
I’ve spent to-day in the grave-yard—It really isn’t a cemetery, youknow—trying to unlock a rusty iron vault built in the side of the hill. It’s all washed and covered with weepy, watery blue flowers that might have grown from dead eyes—sticky to touch with a sickening odor—The boys wanted to get in to test my nerve—to-night—I wanted to feel “William Wreford, 1864.” Why should graves make people feel in vain? I’ve heard that so much, and Grey is so convincing, but somehow I can’t find anything hopeless in having lived—All the broken columnes and clasped hands and doves and angels mean romances and in an hundred years I think I shall like having young people speculate on whether my eyes were brown or blue—of cource, they are neither—I hope my grave has an air of many, many years about it—Isn’t it funny how, out of a row of Confederate soldiers, two or three will make you think of dead lovers and dead loves—when they’re exactly like the others, even to the yellowish moss? Old death is so beautiful—so very beautiful—We will die together—I know—
Zelda’s letters were remarkable for a nineteen-year-old with only a high school education. Her epistolary technique was based on free association in response to a mood, and she was keenly sensitive to place.
Fitzgerald went apartment hunting in April: telda found knockout LITTLE APARTMENT REASONABLE RATES I HAVE TAKEN IT FROM TWENTY SIXTH SHE MOVES INTO SAME BUILDING EARLY IN MAY BETTER GIVE LETTER TO YOUR FATHER IM SORRY YOURE NERVOUS DONT WRITE UNLESS YOU WANT TO I LOVE YOU DEAR EVERYTHING WILL BE MIGHT FINE ALL MY LOVE. He had written to Judge Sayre, formally requesting Zelda’s hand in marriage. Although he was bitterly hurt by her inconstancy, he understood that “the girl really worth having won’t wait for anybody.”
New York was full of Princeton friends who were not committed to an increasingly hopeless pursuit of love and money. Princeton was sharing the Yale Club on Vanderbilt Avenue across from Grand Central Station, and Fitzgerald spent time there discoursing on his tragic love affair. When he climbed out on a window ledge and threatened to jump, no one tried to stop him. In May he went on an alcoholic party during which he and Yale undergraduate Porter Gillespie rolled empty champagne bottles along Fifth Avenue on Sunday morning. It was a time of discouragement in everything. He was losing his girl. He disliked his work, which he couldn’t take seriously. His writing wasn’t selling. The next year he would put his feelings about that spring intoone of his most brilliant stories: Gordon Sterret, the failed artist in “May Day” (1920), is an obvious projection of Fitzgerald’s despair during the days when New York was celebrating the birth of the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald called this unhappy time “the four most impressionable months of my life.” In “My Lost City” (1936), a chronicle of his responses to New York, he recalled the anxiety of 1919:
As I hovered ghost-like in the Plaza Red Room of a Saturday afternoon, or went to lush and liquid garden parties in the East Sixties or tippled with Princetonians in the Biltmore Bar I was haunted always by my other life— my drab room in the Bronx, [There is no evidence that Fitzgerald lived in the Bronx. Claremont Avenue is on Manhattan’s West Side.] my square foot of the subway, my fixation upon the day’s letter from Alabama—would it come and what would it say?—my shabby suits, my poverty, and love. While my friends were launching decently into life I had muscled my inadequate bark into midstream. The gilded youth circling around young Constance Bennett in the Club de Vingt, the classmates in the Yale-Princeton Club whooping up our first after-the-war reunion, the atmosphere of the millionaires’ houses that I sometimes frequented—these things were empty for me, though I recognized them as impressive scenery and regretted that I was committed to other romance. The most hilarious luncheon table or the most moony cabaret—it was all the same; from them I returned eagerly to my home on Claremont Avenue—home because there might be a letter waiting outside the door. … I was a failure—mediocre at advertising work and unable to get started as a writer.
Fitzgerald did not work on a novel during this time because he was seeking quick money from magazine fiction. He almost certainly consulted Maxwell Perkins at Scribners, but the meeting has not been documented. Perkins is supposed to have recommended that Fitzgerald rewrite his novel in the third person to achieve more control over the material. (In The Making of Many Books (New York: Scribners, 1946), a history of Scribners, Roger Burlingame notes that during the summer of 1918 Perkins suggested that Fitzgerald shift to the third person.)
In June, Fitzgerald made his third trip to Montgomery and tried to compel Zelda to marry him by threats and pleading. She broke off the engagement, and he returned to New York, where he went on a lachrymose bender that took him to see Stephan Parrott in Boston and ended when the country went dry on 1 July. During this attempt atalcoholic convalescence, he quit his job and decided to return to St. Paul. He had probably already determined to stake everything on his novel, though he claimed that reading Hugh Walpole convinced him he could write a better novel: “After that I dug in and wrote my first book.”
Back in St. Paul,Fitzgerald holed up on the top floor of his parents’ house at 599 Summit Avenue and wrote steadily. Although they disapproved, his parents left him alone and brought meals to his room. Since they refused to provide an allowance, he was forced to borrow small sums from his friends for cigarettes and Cokes. Fitzgerald eschewed alcohol and parties during this period of intense work. His main relaxation was conversation with Father Joseph Barron, dean of students at St. Paul Seminary, and Donald Ogden Stewart, a Yale graduate who was working for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and living at a nearby boarding house. Fitzgerald recited poetry to Stewart, including his favorite line from John Masefield: “Be with me, Beauty, for the fire is dying.” Another boarder, John De-Quedville Briggs, headmaster of the St. Paul Academy, sometimes joined their discussions. Stewart had embarked on a business career, but he had literary leanings and would become—with a boost from Fitzgerald—one of the most popular humorists of the Twenties. Fitzgerald shared his work-in-progress with his friend Katharine Tighe, whose editorial advice he found helpful. His parents were upset when Fitzgerald declined an impressive salary as advertising manager at Griggs Cooper & Co., a St. Paul wholesaler. He didn’t want to write ad copy and was not attracted by the cycle of wholesaler to wholesaler in two generations.
Although he was not corresponding with Zelda, Fitzgerald had the lingering hope that publication of his novel might win her back. About this time he told Wilson, “I wouldn’t care if she died, but 1 couldn’t stand to have anybody else marry her.” Fitzgerald remembered the summer of 1919 as a time when certain of his attitudes were permanently fixed:
During a long summer of despair I wrote a novel instead of letters, so it came out all right, but it came out all right for a different person. The man with the jingle of money in his pocket who married the girl a year later would always cherish an abiding distrust, an animosity toward the leisure class—not the conviction of a revolutionist but the smoldering hatred of a peasant. In the years since then I have never been able to stop wondering where my friends’ money came from, nor to stop thinking that one time a sort of droit de seigneur might have been exercised to give one of them my girl.
That summer Fitzgerald achieved his first appearance in a book when Princeton Verse II was published. His three contributions— “Marching Streets,” “The Pope at Confession,” and “My First Love”—were reprinted from the Nassau Lit. The pleasure of publication may have been diminished by the circumstance that all of his poems were signed “T. Scott Fitzgerald.”
By 26 July, Fitzgerald reported to Maxwell Perkins that he had finished the first draft of a novel called “The Education of a Personage,” which he inaccurately stated was “in no sense a revision of the ill-fated Romantic Egotist but it contains some of the former material improved and worked over and bears a strong family resemblance besides.” Characteristically, he wanted to know if his novel could be published in October if he sent the final draft by 20 August. Perkins expressed interest in seeing the novel but explained that it would have to be put on the spring 1920 list. On 16 August, Fitzgerald informed Perkins that the title was now This Side of Paradise.(The title was taken from Rupert Brooke’s “Tiare Tahiti,” the last lines of which appeared on the title page of the novel: “Well this side of Paradise! … / There’s little comfort in the wise.” The second epigraph was adapted from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: “Experience is the name so many people give to their mistakes.”) The Ledger summary for Fitzgerald’s twenty-second year is: “The most important year of my life. Every emotion and my life work decided. Miserable and exstatic but a great success.”
On 4 September the typescript of This Side of Paradise was entrusted to a friend, Thomas Daniels, for delivery to New York. That day Fitzgerald sent Perkins a letter detailing the extent to which the novel had been salvaged from “The Romantic Egotist”:
Chap I Bk I, + Chaps I, II, IV + V of Bk II are entirely new.
Fitzgerald was therefore able to claim that five chapters out of nine represented fresh material. Eighty pages of typescript were transferred into This Side of Paradise from “The Romantic Egotist.” While waiting for Scribners’ decision, the novelist took a laborer’s job at the Northern Pacific Railroad car barns, where he had his new overalls stolen and was reprimanded for sitting while hammering.
When This Side of Paradise came up at the Scribners editorial meeting, only Perkins supported it. After Charles Scribner said he could not put his name on a book without literary merit and Brownell dismissed the material as frivolous, Perkins in effect offered his resignation: “My feeling is that a publisher’s first allegiance is to talent. And if we aren’t going to publish a talent like this, it is a very serious thing. … If we’re going to turn down the likes of Fitzgerald, I will lose all interest in publishing books.” Scribner said he would reconsider. On 16 September, eight days before Fitzgerald’s twenty-third birthday, Perkins accepted the novel:
I am very glad, personally, to be able to write you that we are all for publishing your book, “This Side of Paradise”. Viewing it as the same book that was here before, which in a sense it is, though translated into somewhat different terms and extended further, I think that you have improved it enormously. As the first manuscript did, it abounds in energy and life and it seems to be to be in much better proportion. I was afraid that, when we declined the first manuscript, you might be done with us conservatives. I am glad you are not. The book is so different that it is hard to prophesy how it will sell but we are all for taking a chance and supporting it with vigor.
Fitzgerald had found the editor who would back him for the rest of his life, and Perkins had made his first great find and was launched on his career as America’s legendary literary editor.
Fitzgerald’s 18 September response to Perkins repeated his plea for early publication: “I have so many things dependent on its success— including of course a girl—not that I expect it to make me a fortune but it will have a psychological effect on me and all my surroundings and besides open up new fields. I’m in that stage where every month counts frantically and seems a cudgel in a fight for happiness against time.” Seventeen years later Fitzgerald described his euphoria in “Early Success”:
Then the postman rang, and that day I quit work and ran along the streets, stopping automobiles to tell friends and acquaintances about it— my novel This Side of Paradise was accepted for publication. That week the postman rang and rang, and I paid off my terrible small debts, bought a suit, and woke up every morning with a world of ineffable toploftiness and promise.
While I waited for the novel to appear, the metamorphosis of amateur into professional began to take place—a sort of stitching together of your whole life into a pattern of work, so that the end of one job is automatically the beginning of another.
The essay draws the conclusion: “The compensation of a very early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter.”
In November, Wilson read This Side of Paradise in typescript, pronouncing it “an exquisite burlesque of Compton Mackenzie with a pastiche of Wells thrown in at the end.” Always magisterial, he warned Fitzgerald against becoming a “very popular trashy novelist.”
That fall Fitzgeraldhad two connected ambitions: to get his girl back and to make money on the strength of his novel. It appears that he had not corresponded with Zelda since June, but now he wrote her the news about This Side of Paradise and asked if he could visit her. She replied: “ ’s funny, Scott, I don’t feel a bit shaky and ’do-don’t’ish like I used to when you came—I really want to see you—that’s all——” Fitzgerald did not rush to Montgomery because he had not yet earned any money (there was no advance from Scribners for the novel) and possibly because his parents discouraged a resumption of the engagement.
Another concern that fall was finding material for a second novel; Fitzgerald had used up most of his personal experiences in This Side of Paradise. Hoping for quick financial returns, he revised his rejected stories and salvaged stories from the Nassau Lit. At first he submitted stories to The Smart Set, which took “The Debutante” (published November 1919), “Porcelain and Pink” (January 1920), “Benediction” (February 1920), and “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong” (February 1920). “The Debutante” and “Benediction” (“The Ordeal”) were both revised Nassau Lit pieces. “Dalyrimple,” in which a war hero rises to the state senate after a career of burglary, was Fitzgerald’s earliest ironic treatment of the Horatio Alger success story. These acceptances were encouraging because the magazine had an influential position under the editorship of H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, although its circulation was not large. Surprisingly, Fitzgerald does not seem to have been aware of Mencken’s position as the most powerful critic in America. (When Fitzgerald sent Mencken a copy of This Side of Paradise in March 1920, he explained in the inscription: “As a matter of fact Mr. Menken, I stuck your name in on Page 224 in the last proof—partly I suppose as a vague bootlick and partly because I have since adapted a great many of your views. But the other literary opinions, especially the disparagment of Cobb, were written when you were little more than a name to me—“This is a bad book full of good things, a novel about flappers written for Philosophers, an exquisite burlesque of Compton McKenzie with a pastiche of Wells at the end—” The final phrase about Mackenzie and Wells was lifted from Wilson’s comment on the novel.
The Smart Set paid only $35 or $40 for a story, so Fitzgerald began trying to crack more lucrative markets. At the same time that he was sending “sophisticated” or realistic stories to The Smart Set, he exploited his connection with the house of Scribner by offering another kind of story to Scribner’s Magazine. Robert Bridges, the editor of Scribner’s, preferred didactic stories and took “The Cut Glass Bowl” and “The Four Fists” at $150 each. In “The Four Fists” a young man is cured of his bad qualities by four punches. But Fitzgerald needed more money than Scribner’s paid. As a monthly it could not accept much fiction, and Bridges declined most of the stories Fitzgerald submitted. This Side of Paradise would not be published until March, and the income from the novel was problematical—although Fitzgerald had great expectations for it. He believed his writing should bring a good deal of money as well as celebrity.
Through St. Paul writer Grace Flandrau, Fitzgerald was introduced in October to the New York literary agency of Paul Revere Reynolds. A leading agent who specialized in placing fiction with the popular magazines, Reynolds sold “Head and Shoulders” to The Saturday Evening Post for $400. The publication of this story in the 21 February 1920 issue marked Fitzgerald’s first appearance in a mass-circulation magazine. In “Head and Shoulders” the marriage of a brilliant scholar to a chorus girl results in a role reversal: the scholar becomes a vaudeville acrobat and the girl becomes a celebrated writer. The story was intended as pure entertainment, but it has an ominous note—as though Fitzgerald was speculating on the consequences of his renewed hope for marrying Zelda.
By the end of 1919 Fitzgerald had earned $879 from six stories, three plays, and a poem. At the Reynolds agency he was the special client of Harold Ober, a partner in the firm. His connection with the agency strongly influenced the shape of Fitzgerald’s career. Because of his early sales to the high-circulation magazines, he developed the pattern of regarding his career as double or divided—separated intocommercial short stories and serious novels. The problem would be to keep his two careers separated.
The Saturday Evening Post became the basic market for Fitzgerald’s short stories. Under the editorship of George Horace Lorimer, the Post dominated the slick magazines (The slicks were the high-paying magazines printed on coated paper. The pulps were printed on cheap paper and paid a penny a word.) with a combination of fiction and general-information articles. The issues frequently offered more than200 pages for five cents. As circulation climbed to 2,750,000 copies a week in the Twenties, advertising revenues permitted the Post to pay top prices and thereby attract the best commercial literary talent. In addition to its stable of crowd-pleasers (Ben Ames Williams and Octavus Roy Cohen, for example), in the Twenties and Thirties the magazine published Joseph Hergesheimer, John P. Marquand, William Faulkner, Ring Lardner, and Thomas Wolfe. [The 226-page Post issue for 8 October 1927 included the first part of a serial by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an historical article by Joseph Hergesheimer, Fitzgerald’s “The Love Boat,” an article on the Uncle Tom plays, a story by Ben Ames Williams, a travel article by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., a story by Nunnally Johnson, a story by Horatio Winslow, an article on foreign policy by Henry L. Stimson, an animal story by Hal G. Evarts, a story by Thomas Beer, an article about Caruso, a story by Octavus Roy Cohen, an article about German recovery by Isaac Marcosson, the continuation of a serial by Donn Byrne, the continuation of a serial by Frances Noyes Hart, an article on international affairs by Alonzo E. Taylor, a story by F. Britton Austin, and an article on crime by Kenneth Roberts. Magazine readers of that time had a large appetite for fiction: this issue included eight short stories, three serial installments, and eight articles.]
In 1919 Fitzgerald equated cynicism or pessimism with realism and asked his agent whether realistic stories could be sold to the slicks, but Lorimer did not restrict Fitzgerald to flapper stories. He appreciated good writing and bought Fitzgerald stories that had unhappy endings if they were not too iconoclastic for a family readership. Over the next seventeen years some of Fitzgerald’s best stories appeared in the Post, although three of his masterpieces—“May Day,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and “The Rich Boy”—were rejected. While competing magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Collier’s, and Red Book also published his work, the Post was his most dependable story market. Fitzgerald came to regard himself as a Post author, as did his readers.
Fitzgerald delayed his trip to Montgomery until late November 1919 and stopped off in New York for four days to meet with Maxwell Perkins and Harold Ober, the two men who would manage his literary and financial affairs for the next twenty years. At thirty-five, Perkins was twelve years older than Fitzgerald. He had been raised in New Jersey, but came from Vermont stock and had graduated from Harvard in the Class of 1907. Conservative in everything except his literary judgments, Perkins was an unlikely sponsor for the ebullient young novelist. As was almost inevitable with Fitzgerald, their professional relationship became a warm personal friendship. Ober, Harvard ’05, was another conservative New Englander. Again, despite their differences in temperament, business became friendship. These two Yankees shared Fitzgerald’s heady success in the Twenties and assumed responsibility for him in the desperate Thirties.
The reunion with Zelda, which Fitzgerald may have concealed from his parents, went well. They did not renew the engagement, but their intimate correspondence resumed. Fitzgerald was confident that he could win back his girl. The best of the stories he wrote after returning to St. Paul in December is “The Ice Palace” (Post, May 1920), in which he drew upon his trip to Montgomery. He was functioning as a professional writer, regarding everything that happened to him as material. “The Ice Palace” tells about a belle who wants to leave the somnolent South. She visits her fiance in Minnesota and nearly dies when she gets lost in an ice palace—convincing her that she belongs in the South. Though the character was based on Zelda, the story was written before she saw the North. Always sensitive to the moods of place, Fitzgerald examined the Deep South in several stories, later implying that he had anticipated Faulkner in discovering the literary uses of the South. (“It is a grotesquely pictorial country as I found out long ago, and as Mr. Faulkner has since abundantly demonstrated.”) Fitzgerald’s Southern stories drew on Zelda and the responses to her world that were generated by his love for her.
While Fitzgerald waswriting commercial stories, he was planning more ambitious projects and seeking models for the management of his career. In the letter that acknowledged Perkins’s acceptance of This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald mentioned that he was beginning “a very ambitious novel called ’The Demon Lover’” and reading Samuel Butler’s Notebooks—which on the following day, 19 September 1919, he inscribed as “the most interesting human document ever written.” Fitzgerald soon abandoned “The Demon Lover”; nothing is known about its plot. At this time he was forsaking the English quest novelists for American realists and naturalists, and studying the technique of Joseph Conrad. His new literary enthusiasms were shaped partly by Mencken. Fitzgerald admitted to Perkins in February 1920: “Another of my discoveries is H. L. Menken who is certainly a factor in present day literature. In fact I’m not so cocksure about things as I was last summer—this fellow Conrad seems to be pretty good after all.”
In October 1919 Fitzgerald had asked Robert Bridges if Scribner’s would consider serializing “a literary forgery purporting to be selections from the note-books of a man who is a complete literary radical. … It will be in turns cynical, ingenious, life saturated, critical and bitter. It will be racy and startling with opinions and personalities. I have a journal I have kept for 3½ yrs. which my book didn’t begin to exhaust…” Nothing survives from “The Diary of a Literary Failure”; if it existed, Fitzgerald’s journal has been lost. It is not known whether another abandoned novel from this time, “The Drunkard’s Holiday,” developed beyond the planning stage.
Fitzgerald returned to St. Paul from his trip east “in a thoroughlynervous alcoholic state.” He was anxious to build on This Side of Paradise with a second novel and in January 1920 asked Perkins: “Do you think a book on the type of my first one would have any chance of being accepted for serial publication by any magazine? I want to start it but I don’t want to get broke in the middle + start in and have to write short stories again—because I don’t enjoy it + just do it for money.” This complaint about story work initiated a refrain that echoed the rest of Fitzgerald’s life. Even before his first novel was published, the financial connection between his short stories and novels was established in Fitzgerald’s career plans: he regarded stories as a way to subvene novels.
Between November 1919 and February 1920, Fitzgerald wrote “Head and Shoulders,” “Myra Meets His Family,” “The Camel’s Back,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” “The Ice Palace,” and “The Offshore Pirate”—all of which were sold to the Post. After the rejection slips of spring 1919 it was exciting for Fitzgerald to find that his stories were now welcome at the best markets. At first he enjoyed writing the commercial stories that were making him famous. Clever stories about young love, written with facility, they established the tone of Fitzgerald’s early popular fiction. He wrote plot stories but created fresh characters who were not magazine types. What differentiated his stories from those of other writers mining the same lode was that Fitzgerald treated the concerns of youth seriously. In “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” the game of popularity is played in earnest, and the reader understands that the characters—especially the girls—are playing for high stakes. Typical of his early commercial stories, “Bernice” examines the tutelage of a stodgy girl in the art of attracting boys. For Fitzgerald’s girls marriage is the only future, and they are determined to make the best matches possible because their lives depend on whom they marry. As one of Fitzgerald’s heroines explains to the man she loves in “New Leaf” (1931), “Remember, I’m also deciding for my children.” The early stories often introduce an element of fantasy or heightened imagination. In “The Offshore Pirate” a young man devises an elaborate plot, pretending to be a pirate, in order to win an imperious girl he has never seen. When the Post complained about the weakness of the original ending, which explained that the story was just a dream, Fitzgerald obliged with a new ending that accepts the whole thing as real while wittily reminding the reader that the story is really just a story: “reaching up on her tiptoes she kissed him softly in the illustration.”
Worried that he was risking tuberculosis in the Minnesota winter, he decided to go to New Orleans to write. The proximity of New Orleans to Montgomery no doubt influenced the move. By 21 January 1920 he was living in a rooming house at 2900 Prytania Street, where he corrected proofs for This Side of Paradise, wrote stories, and started a seduction novel called “Darling Heart,” of which nothing survives. Perkins is regarded as a collaborative editor because of his subsequent labors with Thomas Wolfe, but the nature of his contributions to This Side of Paradise is impossible to determine. The final setting typescript and proofs do not survive (The only extant typescript of This Side of Paradise comprises forty-eight pages of carbon copy for Chapter I and part of Chapter II that Fitzgerald sent to Stephan Parrott, probably in the fall of 1919 (Bruccoli Collection). Every page was revised before book publication, but the alterations are not major.), and the correspondence between author and editor gives no indication that anything beyond routine editing was required; however, they may have worked on the novel together during Fitzgerald’s November visit to New York.
Fitzgerald made two trips from New Orleans to Montgomery in January, bringing Zelda sazarac cocktails, her first orchids, and a $600 platinum-and-diamond wristwatch paid for by writing “The Camel’s Back” in one day. He told Perkins that he started at 8 a.m. and finished at 7 p.m., then recopied the manuscript by 4:30 a.m. and mailed it a half-hour later. Fitzgerald was not proud of this trick story about a masquerade party; but it brought his first inclusion in the O. Henry Prize Stories series and was later bought by the movies. The young author must have thought he could write a popular story anytime he needed to. His best story ideas came to him as complete structures, and by writing them in concentrated bursts of effort he was able to preserve the spontaneity of the narrative. He later explained, ’’stories are best written in either one jump or three, according to the length. The three-jump story should be done in three successive days, then a day or so for revise and off she goes. This is of course the ideal—In many stories one strikes a snag that must be hacked at but on the whole, stories that drag along or are terribly difficult (I mean a difficulty that comes from a poor conception and consequent faulty construction) never flow quite as well in the reading.”
An understanding developed that Zelda would marry him when This Side of Paradise was published, but the engagement announcement did not appear in the Montgomery Journal until 28 March—six days before the wedding. Her reconsideration was not entirely a mercenary matter: she was not committing herself to a famous and wealthy author. The reception of his novel was uncertain, and neither of them had any idea what Fitzgerald’s income would be. Zelda responded to his regained confidence, to his ability to fulfill his ambitions. As she later wrote, he made life “promisory.”
During his visits to Montgomery they slept together. (For years Fitzgerald would annoy friends and new acquaintances by asking whether they had slept with their wives before they were married.) When Zelda suspected she was pregnant, he sent her pills that were supposed to induce menstruation. Her response was characteristic of her attitude toward consequences:
I wanted to for your sake, because I know what a mess I’m making and how inconvenient it’s all going to be—but I simply can’t and won’t take those awful pills—so I’ve thrown them away I’d rather take carbolic acid. You see, as long as I feel that I had the right, I don’t much mind what happens—and besides, I’d rather have a whole family than sacrifice my self-respect. They just seem to place everything on the wrong basis—and I’d feel like a damned whore if I took even one, so you’ll try to understand, please Scott—and do what you think best—but don’t do anything till we know because God—or something—has always made things right, and maybe this will be.
Zelda was not pregnant.
Despite the geographical advantages of New Orleans, Fitzgerald was bored there and in February 1920 moved to New York, where he stayed at the Murray Hill Hotel and then the Allerton. He was in New York when “Head and Shoulders” appeared in the 21 February Post issue and Metro Films bought it for $2,500. His first movie sale encouraged him to expect that such windfalls would continue. New York was the right place to be a winner, and Fitzgerald fueled the intoxication of success with bootleg liquor. He flashed large bills and spent them carelessly, establishing a pattern for his treatment of money. Having suffered because his happiness was nearly destroyed by the lack of money and having grown up with the spectacle of his father’s failure, Fitzgerald responded to money by showing contempt for it— much like a man in a dangerous occupation deliberately taking risks. He became a big tipper, admitting that it was an expression of his need to be loved. In the early months of 1920 his income doubled everymonth, and it seemed to him during his first success that more money would always be forthcoming.
Fitzgerald and Zelda corresponded about their impending marriage, although characteristically no firm date was set until just before the ceremony. In February she wrote him:
Darling Heart, our fairy tale is almost ended, and we’re going to marry and live happily ever afterward just like the princess in her tower who worried you so much—and made me so very cross by her constant recurrence—I’m so sorry for all the times I’ve been mean and hateful—for all the miserable minutes I’ve caused you when we could have been so happy. You deserve so much—so very much—
I think our life together will be like these last four days—and I do want to marry you—even if you do think I “dread” it—I wish you hadn’t said that—I’m not afraid of anything—To be afraid a person has either to be a coward or very great and big. I am neither. Besides, I know you can take much better care of me than I can, and I’ll always be very, very happy with you—except sometimes when we engage in our weekly debates—and even then I rather enjoy myself. I like being very calm and masterful, while you become emotional and sulky. I don’t care whether you think so or not—I do.
There are 3 more pictures I unearthed from a heap of debris under my bed—Our honored mother had disposed of ’em for reasons of her own, but personally I like the attitude of my emaciated limbs, so I solict your approval. Only I waxed artistic, and ruined one—
Sweetheart—I miss you so—I love you so—and next time I’m going back with you—I’m absolutely nothing without you—Just the doll that I should have been born—You’re a necessity and a luxury and a darling, precious lover—and you’re going to be a husband to your wife—
At the end of February, Fitzgerald moved to the Cottage Club because he wanted to be in Princeton when This Side of Paradise was published. On the twenty-sixth he wrote Isabelle Amorous, the sister of a Newman friend, who had congratulated him when he broke off with Zelda:
No personality as strong as Zelda’s could go without getting critisisms and as you say she is not above reproach. I’ve always known that. Any girl who gets stewed in public, who frankly enjoys and tells shocking stories, who smokes constantly and makes the remark that she has “kissed thousands of men and intends to kiss thousands more,” cannot be considered beyond reproach even if above it. But Isabelle I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self respect and its these things I’d believe in even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all that she should be.
But of course the real reason, Isabelle, is that I love her and that’s the beginning and end of everything. You’re still a catholic but Zelda’s the only God I have left now.
This letter indicates, possibly, that the puritanical side of Fitzgerald—the part of his mind that retained the capacity to be shocked by departures from rectitude—had reservations about the wisdom of his marriage. Any doubts were overruled by the circumstance that Zelda was an integral element in his dream of success. Fitzgerald was determined to wipe out the humiliations and failures of spring 1919, and for him everything had to be the way he had wanted it to be then. He wanted to repeat the past and would settle for nothing less than complete restoration. Any missing element would mar the perfection of his triumph.