On 26 March 1920Scribners published This Side of Paradise in a first printing of 3,000 copies at $1.75. The first ads featured the slogan a novel about flappers written for philosophers, which was the author’s contribution. Scribners would have been satisfied to sell out the first printing, and 5,000 was regarded as more than respectable for a first novel. The first 3,000 copies were sold within three days. Fitzgerald was not surprised. As he had predicted, he was famous almost overnight. The twenty-three-year-old novelist became a newspaper celebrity and began to keep scrapbooks of his clippings, memorabilia, and correspondence with prominent writers. (Fitzgerald eventually filled five large scrapbooks: for the years before his marriage (“A Scrap book record compiled from many sources of interest to and concerning one F. Scott Fitzgerald”); for This Side of Paradise and Flappers and Philosophers; for The Beautiful and Damned, The Vegetable, and Tales of the Jazz Age; for The Great Gatsby and All the Sad Young Men; and for Tender Is the Night and Taps at Reveille. In addition, there are Zelda’s scrapbook and family photo albums. The scrapbooks and photo albums at the Princeton University Library provided the basis for The Romantic Egoists.) Fitzgerald’s appearance accelerated his elevation to celebrity status. His striking good looks combined with his youth and brilliance to complete the image of the novelist as a romantic figure. He photographed handsomely, especially in profile; and, though never a dandy, he dressed well in Brooks Brothers collegiate style. During the Twenties he often carried a cane, as did many young men. It was frequently remarked that Fitzgerald looked like a figure in a collar ad.
Most of the reviewers were warmly receptive, and the few unfriendly reviews helped sell the book because they generated interest. Harry Hansen of the Chicago Daily News sent Scribners a fan letter that began, “My, how that boy Fitzgerald can write!” The Chicago Tribune review by Burton Rascoe announced, “‘This Side of Paradise’ gives him, I think, a fair claim to membership in that small squad of contemporary American fictionists who are producing literature. … it bears the impress, it seems to me, of genius. It is the only adequate study that we have had of the contemporary American in adolescence and young manhood.” In The Smart Set H. L. Mencken called it “The best American novel that I have seen of late.” The most prominent disparaging review was by Heywood Broun in the New York Tribune, which ridiculed the novel as callow and self-consciously overwritten.
When Frances Newman called This Side of Paradise a “desecration” of Mackenzie’s Sinister Street in the Atlanta Constitution in February 1921, Fitzgerald defended himself in a letter to the critic. While acknowledging the influence of Sinister Street, he denied that he had borrowed details or imitated characters. “But I was also hindered by a series of resemblances between my life and that of Michael Fane which, had I been a more conscientious man, might have precluded my ever attempting an autobiographical novel… When I was twenty-one and began This Side of Paradise my literary taste was so unformed that Youth’s Encounter was still my ’perfect book.’ My book quite naturally shows the influence to a marked degree… You seem to be unconscious that even Mackenzie had his sources such as Dorian Gray and None Other Gods and that occasionally we may have drunk at the same springs.”
Although This Side of Paradise now seems naive after sixty years, it was received in 1920 as an iconoclastic social document—even as a testament of revolt. Surprisingly, it was regarded as an experimental or innovative narrative because of the mixture of styles and the inclusion of plays and verse. The variety of techniques includes Amory’s stream-of-consciousness passage near the end of the novel:
Wonder where Jill was—Jill Bayne, Fayne, Sayne—what the devil—neck hurts, darned uncomfortable seat. No desire to sleep with Jill, what could Alec see in her? Alec had a coarse taste in women. Own taste the best; Isabelle, Clara, Rosalind, Eleanor were ail-American. Eleanor would pitch, probably southpaw. Rosalind was outfield, wonderful hitter, Clara first base, maybe. Wonder what Humbird’s body looked like now. If he himself hadn’t been bayonet instructor he’d have gone up to line three months sooner, probably been killed. Where’s the darned bell—
The loose form of This Side of Paradise resulted from the circumstance that Fitzgerald did not yet know how to structure a novel. The New Republic review made a valid point in describing the novel as “the collected works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Drawing on his undergraduate writings as well as his reading, Fitzgerald assembled a montage of scenes and poses. Along with structure his main technical problem in writing This Side of Paradise was controlling the point of view—the relation of the narrative voice to the story, or how the story is told by the novelist. There are two points of view in This Side of Paradise: Amory’s within the novel and the author’s own omniscient voice, which are not always consistent. Fitzgerald was still under the influence of the Wellsian problem novel, which made it difficult for him to resist editorializing. (See James E. Miller’s F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique (New York: New York University Press, 1954) for a thorough examination of the influence of Wells’s saturation techniques on This Side of Paradise.) He remained an author who interpolated his own comments into his narratives, but he would learn to avoid or control blatant intrusions.
This Side of Paradise is now read as a romantic novel. Romanticism is an open-ended term: according to the authorities, it embraces such elements as primitivism, love of nature, imagination, individualism, mysticism, intuition, humanitarianism, political revolution, idealism, love of the past, escapism. The most obvious romantic quality in Fitzgerald is imaginative aspiration or illusion, the theme of all his best work. Fitzgerald and his heroes aspire to an emotional perfection, to a level of experience that transcends the “unreality of reality.” The closest he came to explicating this yearning was in his analysis of Jay Gatsby: “… there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness has nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the ’creative temperament’—it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness…” Fitzgerald believed in the individual’s capacity to seek a unique destiny, although the quest is doomed in his best work. Disenchantment or disillusionment are the concomitants of aspiration. The quest often appears as the ideal of heroism; but Fitzgerald noted, “Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.” Lionel Trilling, one of Fitzgerald’s justest critics, observed that he “was perhaps thelast notable writer to affirm the Romantic fantasy, descended from the Renaissance, of personal ambition or heroism, of life committed to, or thrown away for, some ideal of self.”
Romanticism is frequently defined in terms of oppositions: intuition vs. reason, imagination vs. realism. These neat contrasts do not work for Fitzgerald. His life and writings reveal a constant process of judgment and a search for values. Character is a moral problem for Fitzgerald. Far from being unrealistic or anti-realistic, his fiction is distinguished by accuracy of observation. His contemporary readers frequently acknowledged the effectiveness of Fitzgerald’s social presentation by saying, “That’s the way it was.” When his daughter was trying to make a start as a writer of fiction, he provided her with a theory of realism that characteristically involved the author’s emotional commitment to his material: “But when in a freak moment you will want to give the low-down, not the scandal, not the merely reported but the profound essence of what happened at a prom or after it, perhaps that honesty will come to you—and then you will understand how it is possible to make even a forlorn Laplander feel the importance of a trip to Cartier’s!” Fitzgerald’s concern for the “forlorn Laplander” contributed to his achievement as a social historian, but his historical method did not utilize extensive documentation. As a chronicler he relied on evocative details to convey the moods of time and place, and these effects were intensified through style.
In his 1926 review of Hemingway’s In Our Time, Fitzgerald stated that “material, however closely observed, is as elusive as the moment in which it has its existence unless it is purified by an incorruptible style and by the catharsis of a passionate emotion.” It is too much to claim that This Side of Paradise has an incorruptible style; there are several styles—one of which is Fitzgerald’s. What is recognizable in his first novel as the authentic Fitzgerald is the warm voice of his prose: the tone or inflection that expresses a generous and acute sensitivity. Though he was still a self-conscious or self-indulgent writer with a weakness for the ostentatious passage, he was a natural writer. Fitzgerald’s own feelings—as distinguished from Amory’s poses— permeate his novel. In 1925 he wrote in his copy: “I like this book for the enormous emotion, mostly immature and bogus, that gives every incident a sort of silly ’life’… But the faked references and intellectual reactions + cribs from MacKenzie, Johnston, Wells, Wilde, Tarkington give me the pip.” Yet despite its debts This Side of Paradise is Fitzgerald’s novel.
Every great writer writes like no one else. Whatever differentiates one great writer from another is most truly expressed not by his material or themes, but by his style—those inevitable combinations of words and tones that produce lines only Hemingway or Faulkner or Fitzgerald could have written. Near the end of his life Fitzgerald offered his daughter another hard-learned lesson:
If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desparately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.
Let me preach again for a moment: I mean that what you have felt and thought will by itself invent a new style, so that when people talk about style they are always a little astonished at the newness of it, because they think that it is only style that they are talking about, when what they are talking about is the attempt to express a new idea with such force that it will have the originality of the thought.
For Fitzgerald, style was inseparable from the emotion it expressed. His rationale of style was to multiply meaning through lyrical language, and the liquefaction of his prose becomes an incantation. The obvious marks of his style are its flowing rhythms, sense of color, striking imagery, wit, delicate modulations of mood, and clarity. Gertrude Stein observed that Fitzgerald was “the only one of the younger writers who wrote naturally in sentences.” His remarkably flexible style permitted him to be playful, profound, or poetic. At its best it was always the vehicle for the emotions inherent in his material.
This Side of Paradise is the 300-page history of Amory Blaine from his indulged childhood with his eccentric mother through prep school and Princeton, culminating in an unhappy love affair and a renewed quest for values upon which to erect a fulfilling life. The novel is divided into two sections which trace the formulation of the two concepts that shape the hero.
“Book One: The Romantic Egotist” takes Amory through Princeton and the inception of his quest for a great destiny. Aristocratic individualism is as accurate a term for his attitudes as romantic egotism, for Fitzgerald nurtured a code of aristocracy founded on duty, courage, and honor. Amory is motivated by a sense of noblesse oblige. He does not doubt that a great destiny is reserved for him, but the exact nature of his destiny remains unclear. The greatest influence on the evolving Amory is Monsignor Darcy, the Fay figure, who responds to his ambitions and encourages his compulsive self-analysis. While unsuccessfully trying to point him toward Rome, Darcy intensifies Amory’s sense of evil, which is dramatized by supernatural occurrences in the novel. The most puzzling and unconvincing episode occurs when it becomes clear to Amory that he and a Princeton classmate are expected to spend the night at the apartment of a couple of New York showgirls: Amory, who is sober, hallucinates. He sees a devil figure that pursues him in the streets until he recognizes the apparition as Humbird, a Princetonian who was killed in a car wreck. The meaning of this Bensonian episode remains obscure, but the idea seems to be that Humbird has come not to warn Amory but to possess him. It is not clear why the inoffensive Humbird has become the embodiment of “infinite evil,” but the explanation may be that he did not aspire to high goals. The episode isunconvincing and faintly absurd; nonetheless, it dramatizes the connection in Amory’s mind between sex and evil.
Each of the books of This Side of Paradise has a love story. Book One describes Amory’s unsuccessful courtship of Isabelle Borge, who is based on Ginevra King. Separating the two books is a six-page “interlude” which reports that Amory has been overseas in the Great War but provides no details. Having no firsthand knowledge of the war, Fitzgerald did not attempt to invent Amory’s battle experiences.
“Book Two: The Education of a Personage,” which covers most of 1919, is built on Monsignor Darcy’s distinction between a personality and a personage, and traces Amory’s revived quest for personagehood after the loss of Rosalind Connage because of his poverty. Reared in the expectation of wealth, Amory finds himself penniless after the family fortune has been dissipated. Amory’s feelings about Rosalind are obviously drawn from Fitzgerald’s for Zelda, but the girls’ backgrounds differ markedly; Rosalind is a New York debutante. (Rosalind’s break with Amory echoes the language of Beatrice Normandy’s break with George Ponderevo in Wells’s Tono-Bungay. Rosalind: “I can’t be shut away from the trees and flowers, cooped up in a little flat, waiting for you. You’d hate me in a narrow atmosphere. I’d make you hate me.” Beatrice: “It’s because I love you that I won’t go down to become a dirty familiar thing with you amidst the grime.”) Book Two includes the chapter “Young Irony,” in which Amory encounters self-destructive Eleanor Savage after losing Rosalind: “Eleanor was, say, the last time that evil crept close to Amory under the mask of beauty, the last weird mystery that held him with wild fascination and pounded his soul to flakes.” She is the kind of reckless romantic that Amory cannot be. Fitzgerald later commented on the Eleanor material in his marked copy of This Side of Paradise: “This is so funny I can’t even bear to read it.”
Another supernatural manifestation occcurs in Book Two when Amory makes a “supercilious sacrifice,” taking the blame for Alex Connage, Rosalind’s brother, who is caught with a whore in a hotel room. Here Amory perceives that “over and around the figure crouched on the bed there hung an aura, gossamer as a moonbeam, tainted as stale, weak wine, yet a horror, diffusively brooding over the three of them … and over by the window among the stirring curtains stood something else, featureless and indistinguishable, yet strangely familiar…” Five days later Amory learns that Monsignor Darcy had died that night: “He knew then what it was that he had perceived among the curtains of the room in Atlantic City.” These apparitions in This Side of Paradise were intended to dramatize Amory’s sense of spiritual corruptibility—for, despite the novel’s iconoclastic reputation, he is committed to moral and social order. Amory is fundamentally conservative. His individualism is not of the Nietzschean Übermensch variety. He yearns to lead, but he expects to serve the race by leading. In fulfilling his destiny, he will fulfill his talents. For Amory Blaine failure is a form of death-in-life, a mark of spiritual bankruptcy.
This Side of Paradise ends with a burst of rhetoric as Amory walks to Princeton at the beginning of a pilgrimage:
Long after midnight the towers and spires of Princeton were visible, with here and there a late-burning light—and suddenly out of the clear darkness the sound of bells. As an endless dream it went on; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation, the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world, still fed romantically on the mistakes and half-forgotten dreams of dead statesmen and poets. Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all God’s dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken…
Amory, sorry for them, was still not sorry for himself—art, politics, religion, whatever his medium should be, he knew he was safe now, free from all hysteria—he could accept what was acceptable, roam, grow, rebel, sleep deep through many nights…
There was no God in his heart, he knew; his ideas were still in riot; there was ever the pain of memory; the regret for his lost youth—yet the waters of disillusion had left a deposit on his soul, responsibility and a love of life, the faint stirring of old ambitions and unrealized dreams. But— oh, Rosalind! Rosalind! …
“It’s all a poor substitute at best,” he said sadly.
And he could not tell why the struggle was worth while, why he had determined to use to the utmost himself and his heritage from the personalities he had passed…
He stretched out his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky.
“I know myself,” he cried, “but that is all.”
Fitzgerald had not really met Perkins’s objection that the hero of “The Romantic Egotist” did not get anywhere. It is arguable whether Amory does know himself, but it is appropriate for a quest novel to end with the hero embarking on a new quest.
Although This Side of Paradise is autobiographical, Fitzgerald assembled a cast of copied and invented characters. Amory Blaine is a rather idealized Fitzgerald; Monsignor Darcy is Fay; Thomas Parke d’Invilliers is John Peale Bishop; and Burne Holiday is loosely based on Henry Strater. Other Princetonians are composites, as Fitzgerald combined several of his friends to form one character. Of the principal women, Isabelle is recognizably Ginevra King, but Rosalind is a combination of Zelda and Beatrice Normandy from Tono-Bungay. Eleanor Savage was invented from Fay’s experiences, and Beatrice Blaine was drawn from the mother of one of Fitzgerald’s friends. In writing his first novel Fitzgerald worked toward the method of “transmuted autobiography,” which subsequently allowed him to combine his own emotions with the qualities of an actual figure in his most enduring characters. Fitzgerald worked close to life, but after This Side of Paradise he rarely transcribed real people.
The Princeton material generated some of the popularity of This Side of Paradise, which was regarded as the first realistic American college novel. Moreover, it was about Princeton at a time when Princeton was a glamorous and exclusive place. (Stover at Yale , which preceded it as an Ivy League document, was populated by unconvincing characters.) As a Princeton novel, This Side of Paradise appealed to young readers who wanted inside information about the American Oxbridges, and it was read as a handbook for collegiate conduct. Fifteen-year-old John O’Hara, dreaming of Ivy League triumphs in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, never forgot his first reading of This Side of Paradise. Twenty-five years later he wrote in his introduction to the Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald that half a million men and women between fifteen and thirty fell in love with the book. The timing was perfect. In 1920 America was entering the collegiate decade memorialized in the drawings of John Held, Jr. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald’s aristocrats would have been appalled by Held’s creatures. This Side of Paradise is set at a pre-World War I Princeton committed to restrained behavior. (“Running it out” was the Princeton term of censure for overdoing things.)
Fitzgerald later described his novel as “A Romance and a Reading List,” for it is virtually a bibliography of the books that shape Amory Blaine. Sixty-four titles and ninety-eight writers are mentioned. Amory and his friends are bookish if not necessarily scholarly; they seek codes and personal models in literature. This approach to literature became one of the characteristics of the American college novel.
Much of the impact of This Side of Paradise derived from its depiction of the new American girl in rebellion against the strictures of her mother. The novel was even credited, incorrectly, with having invented the American flapper. Newspapers and magazines of 1920 announced that girls read it as an instruction book. Yet Fitzgerald’s sexual revolution amounted to a few pre-engagement kisses. (“Petting” in This Side of Paradise refers to what later generations would call “necking.”) Amory is as chaste as the girls he loves. This Side of Paradise seemed fresh—and even sensational—because it was the first American novel of the postwar period to treat college life and the liberated woman with a mixture of realism and romanticism. It was a serious book, and Fitzgerald’s audience took it seriously.
On 27 May 1920 John Grier Hibben, the president of Princeton, wrote Fitzgerald a pained letter. After praising “The Four Fists,” he expressed his distress over This Side of Paradise.
It is because I appreciate so much all that is in you of artistic skill and certain elemental power that I am taking the liberty of telling you very frankly that your characterization of Princeton has grieved me. I cannot bear to think that our young men are merely living for four years in a country club and spending their lives wholly in a spirit of calculation and snobbishness.
Your descriptions of the beauty and charm of Princeton are the most admirable that I have ever read and yet, I miss something in the book which I am sure you, yourself, could not wholly have missed in your college course.
You must not think that my point of view is merely that of an older man and that that accounts for my differing with you in reference to the Princeton life. From my undergraduate days I have always had a belief in Princeton and in what the place could do in the making of a strong vigorous manhood. It would be an overwhelming grief to me, in the midst of my work here and my love for Princeton’s young men, should I feel that we have nothing to offer but the outgrown symbols and shells of a past whose reality has long since disappeared.
Fitzgerald replied on 3 June:
I want to thank you very much for your letter and to confess that the honor of a letter from you outweighed my real regret that my book gave you concern. It was a book written with the bitterness of my discovery that I had spent several years trying to fit in with a curriculum that is after all made for the average student. After the curriculum had tied me up, taken away the honors I’d wanted, bent my nose over a chemistry book and said “No fun, no activities, no offices, no Triangle trips—no, noteven a diploma if you can’t do chemistry”—after that I retired. It is easy for the successful man in college, the man who has gotten what he wanted to say
“It’s all fine. It makes men. It made me, see”—
—but it seems to me it’s like the Captain of a Company when he has his men lined up at attention for inspection. He sees only the tightly buttoned coat and the shaved faces. He doesn’t know that perhaps a private in the rear rank is half crazy because a pin is sticking in his back and he can’t move, or another private is thinking that his wife is dying and he can’t get leave because too many men in the company are gone already.
I don’t mean at all that Princeton is not the happiest time in most boys lives. It is of course—I simply say it wasn’t the happiest time in mine. I love it now better than any place on earth. The men—the undergraduates of Yale + Princeton are cleaner, healthier, better-looking, better dressed, wealthier and more attractive than any undergraduate body in the country. I have no fault to find with Princeton that I can’t find with Oxford and Cambridge. I simply wrote out of my own impressions, wrote as honestly as I could a picture of its beauty. That the picture is cynical is the fault of my temperment.
My view of life, President Hibben, is the view of the Theodore Driesers and Joseph Conrads—that life is too strong and remorseless for the sons of men. My idealism flickered out with Henry Strater’s anti-club movement at Princeton. “The Four Fists,” latest of my stories to be published, was the first to be written. I wrote it in desperation one evening because I had a three inch pile of rejection slips and it was financially nessesary for me to give the magazine what they wanted. The appreciation it has received has amazed me
I must admit however that This Side of Paradise does over accentuate the gayiety + country club atmostphere of Princeton. For the sake of the readers interest that part was much overstressed, and of course the hero, not being average, reacted rather unhealthily I suppose to many perfectly normal phenomena. To that extent the book is inaccurate. It is the Princeton of Saturday night in May. Too many intelligent classmates of mine have failed to agree with it for me to consider it really photographic any more, as of course I did when I wrote it.
One of the problems with This Side of Paradise was that it was full of errors—misspellings and misusages. Even the dedication to “Sigorney Fay” misspelled the Monsignor’s first name. Franklin P. Adams devoted two of his “Conning Tower” columns in the New York Tribune to listing “instances of Mr. Fitzgerald’s disregard for accuracy.” Eventually, forty-two corrections were made in the first edition. The sloppy text of This Side of Paradise established the imageof Fitzgerald as a careless or illiterate writer. (Fitzgerald was not unique among major authors in being an orthographic phenomenon. John Steinbeck is reported to have been a poor speller, and Hemingway’s manuscripts look like the work of a child.) He was a bad speller (he never learned the i-before-e rule and all his life he wrote “ect.,” “apon,” “critisism,” and “yatch”); but the printed texts of Fitzgerald’s books had errors because they were not properly copy-edited. At a trade house a book normally goes through a separate copy-editing process apart from literary editing; Perkins was reluctant to let anyone else work on Fitzgerald, and the great editor was a poor proofreader. Fitzgerald’s manuscripts provide abundant evidence that he spelled and punctuated by ear. They also provide abundant evidence |hat he was a painstaking reviser. Fitzgerald was concerned with sentence structure and word choice when he polished his prose; he left spelling to editorial hands.
On 30 March 1920—four days after publication of This Side of Paradise—Fitzgerald wired Zelda:
TALKED WITH JOHN PALMER AND ROSALIND AND WE THINK BEST TO GET MARRIED SATURDAY NOON WE WILL BE AWFULLY NERVOUS UNTIL IT IS OVER AND WOULD GET NO REST BY WAITING UNTIL MONDAY FIRST EDITION OF THE BOOK IS SOLD OUT ADDRESS COTTAGE UNTIL THURSDAY AND SCRIBNERS AFTER THAT LOVE SCOTT
Zelda came to New York with her sister Marjorie Brinson. (Rosalind Smith and Clothilde Palmer were living in New York.) The marriage service took place in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday, 3 April, at noon. Zelda’s three sisters were present, but neither the bride’s nor the groom’s parents attended the wedding. Fitzgerald was nervous and insisted that the ceremony begin before the Palmers arrived. Ludlow Fowler was the best man, and Rosalind Smith was the matron of honor. (The service was performed by Father William B. Martin—not by Father Thomas Delihant, as has been claimed.) There was no party or wedding lunch—an uncharacteristic discourtesy for which Rosalind never forgave Fitzgerald. Mr. and Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald simply left the church together. They honeymooned at the Biltmore Hotel at 43rd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue. Zelda later wrote: “Alabama lay thinking in room twenty-one-o-nine of the Biltmore Hotel that her life would be different with her parents so far away. David David Knight Knight Knight, for instance, couldn’t possibly make her put out her light till she got good and ready. No power on earth could make her do anything, she thought frightened, any more, except herself.”
Their marathon talks provided one of the pleasures of marriage. Fitzgerald later recalled in a memo: “I have often thought that those long conversations we used to have late at night, that began at midnight + lasted till we could see the first light dawn that scared us into sleep, were something essential in our relations, a sort of closeness that we never achieved in the workaday world of marriage. We talked usually about abstractions but at a pitch where no personalities scarcely intruded and revelations were as free as alcoholic revelations but were revealing, illuminating and essentially healing rather than merely defiant. They stopped somewhere in Europe about five years ago.”
Another pleasure for Zelda was spending her husband’s money, at which she became adept with his encouragement. Since she had arrived in New York with frilly Southern dresses, one of their first priorities was to purchase a chic New York wardrobe—including a Patou suit.
Their marriage coincided with the beginning of the Boom, the Era of Wonderful Nonsense, the Roaring Twenties, what Fitzgerald named the Jazz Age and described as “the greatest, gaudiest spree in history.” In point of fact, Fitzgerald knew almost nothing about jazz and did not write about it. His explication of the term in “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (1931) reveals that he used it to connote a mood or psychological condition: “The word jazz in its progress toward respectability has first meant sex, then dancing, then music. It is associated with a state of nervous stimulation, not unlike that of big cities behind the lines of a war.” Fitzgerald began as a spokesman for the Jazz Age and became its symbol. With his capacity for becoming identified with his times, he came to represent the excesses of the Twenties—its Prince Charming and its fool.
The Twenties have been called a decade of confidence, of cynicism, of disillusionment, of ebullience, of moral upheaval. “It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess and it was an age of satire,” Fitzgerald wistfully proclaimed in 1931. America emerged from the Great War as the most powerful nation, but the war left a sour aftertaste as the ideals for which Americans fought—or had been told they were fighting for—were sacrificed to expediency and European corruption. The war generation was supposed to feel embittered, betrayed, lost—and some did. But Fitzgerald insisted that “we were the great believers.” One of the things they believed in was literature, and the Twenties produced an American Renaissance. Some of the younger writers who achieved recognition in the Twenties are Hemingway, Faulkner, Dos Passos, Lewis, Wolfe, Cozzens, Barry, O’Neill, Cummings, Stevens, Williams.
Fitzgerald’s generation also believed in heroes. An era that requires heroes will create them. The Twenties produced a configuration of quasi-mythic figures: Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, George Gershwin, Greta Garbo, Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbeck, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin. Al Capone was the gangster. Man O’ War was the horse. Another young Minnesotan flew the Atlantic and became the most admired American of his time.
The Roaring Twenties were typified by the bull market and Prohibition. Because of the small margin requirements, stock speculation could be strikingly successful. Some bootblacks, bartenders, and barbers did make paper fortunes. Not everyone was in the market—Fitzgerald wasn’t. Nonetheless, the stories about quick fortunes made on a tip gave the big cities a boom-town mentality. Even if it didn’t happen to you, it happened to somebody you knew or knew about. Anything was possible.
Although revisionist historians now argue that Prohibition was a success because it reduced alcohol consumption in rural areas and among the working class, it was a distinct failure among the urban upper classes. Drinking increased among people for whom defying the bluenose Prohibitionists was a gesture of intellectual respectability. Many of the new crop of expatriates would claim that life seemed intolerable in a country where alcohol was banned, because the enactment of the Prohibition law indicated that America was controlled by ignorant reformers who would stifle culture. A then-current definition was that a reformer was someone who was afraid that somebody somewhere was having a good time.
The Twenties brought about the first American children’s crusade as the youth cult altered manners and morals; and the elders sometimes tried to imitate liberated youth. “Flaming youth,” given currency by novelist Samuel Hopkins Adams, started as a term of disapproval but soon evolved into an unpejorative slogan.
The Fitzgeralds’ first months in New York were heady. Any couple might have been spoiled by the same exciting circumstances. The twenty-three-year-old author and the nineteen-year-old Alabama girl were celebrities—young, handsome, rich (so it seemed), with no oneto exercise authority over them. They were interviewed; they rode on the roofs of taxis; they jumped into fountains; there was always a party to go to. Regarding the days of his conquest of New York from the perspective of 1932, Fitzgerald wrote: “… I remember riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall buildings under a mauve and rosy sky; I began to bawl because I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again.” The Fitzgeralds found themselves cast as the models for the new worship of youth. At first it may have rather bewildered them, but they soon accepted their roles as pioneers. Yet all the while a judging process was operating in Fitzgerald’s mind. Like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald was simultaneously within and without, participating and observing. He later admitted to his daughter: “Sometimes I wish I had gone along with that gang [musical comedy writers], but I guess I am too much a moralist at heart, and really want to preach at people in some acceptable form, rather than to entertain them.”
Zelda drank along with her husband, and their social activities were fueled by alcohol. But there was a difference in the way they handled drink. Zelda got tight because she enjoyed it. Fitzgerald was an incipient alcoholic whose drinking behavior became increasingly unpredictable. In the early days of their marriage they simply fell asleep when they were tight. They would arrive at parties a little drunk and take a nap before joining the other guests. Zelda would sometimes come to a party and take a bath. Fitzgerald’s growing dependence on alcohol is reflected by the admission of a character in “A New Leaf” (1931): “’About the time I came into some money I found that with a few drinks I got expansive and somehow had the ability to please people, and the idea turned my head. Then I began to take a whole lot of drinks to keep going and have everybody think I was wonderful.’” His need to impress people sometimes seemed desperate. If he couldn’t please them, then he would try to get attention through conspicuous behavior. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald had the ability to perform spontaneous acts of high-spirited charm. When he was in the Scribner Building and learned that Edith Wharton was in Charles Scribner’s office, he burst into the room and knelt at her feet in homage.
As at Princeton, in New York Fitzgerald’s friends were convinced that he pretended to be drunker than he was in order to excuse his outrageous conduct. The celebrating Fitzgeralds were not just nuisances; and people did not put up with them only because they were celebrities. Edmund Wilson has described their authentic appeal: “Theremarkable thing about the Fitzgeralds was their capacity for carrying things off and carrying people away by their spontaneity, charm, and good looks. They had a genius for imaginative improvisations…” Wilson has also testified to the attraction of Zelda’s conversation as “so full of felicitous phrases and unexpected fancies that, in spite of the fact that it was difficult to talk to her consecutively about anything, you were not led, especially if you yourself had absorbed a few Fitzgerald highballs, to suspect any mental unsoundness from her free ’flight of ideas.’” Others were put off by her habit of making personal comments about the people she was talking to.
At parties Fitzgerald enjoyed performing “Dog! Dog! Dog!”, a song he had written with Wilson’s assistance:
In Sunny Africa they have the elephant
And in India they have the zebera—
Up in Canada the Rocky Mountain goat
And in Idaho the shoat
(You’ve heard about it!)
But of all these animals
You will find the best of pals—
Dog, dog—I like a good dog—
Towser or Bowser or Star—
Clean sort of pleasure—
A four-footed treasure—
And faithful as few humans are!
Here, Pup: put your paw up—
Roll over dead like a log!
Larger than a rat!
More faithful than a cat!
Dog! Dog! Dog!
The Fitzgeralds’ marriage brought an ascendancy change in their relationship. Before the wedding Zelda was a Montgomery celebrity and Fitzgerald was one of a crowd of suitors. In New York, Fitzgerald was the famous one. At first Zelda did not appear to mind the role reversal because her stronger personality dominated their marriage; but it became increasingly difficult for her to accept the subordinate role of wife to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
This Side of Paradise went through printing after printing: April, 3,025 and 5,000; May, 5,000; June, 5,050; July, 5,000; August, 5,000; September, 5,000; October, 5,000. The novel achieved additional exposure when abridged versions were serialized in the Chicago Herald and Examiner, the Atlanta Georgian, and the New York Daily News. By the end of 1921 it had required twelve printings totaling 49,075 copies. Even so, it was not one of the ten best-selling novels for 1920—although it would prove to be Fitzgerald’s most popular book. This Side of Paradise made the Publishers Weekly best-seller list only twice: it was fourth in August and eighth in September. (The best-selling novels of 1920 included The Man of the Forest by Zane Grey, Kindred of the Dust by Peter B. Kyne, The Re-Creation of Brian Kent by Harold Bell Wright, and books by James Oliver Curwood, Irving Bacheller, Eleanor H. Porter, Joseph C. Lincoln, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Ethel M. Dell, and Kathleen Norris.) Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, published in 1920, became the best-selling novel of 1921 with 295,000 copies.
The sales of This Side of Paradise did not make Fitzgerald rich. Scribners paid a royalty of 10 percent on the first 5,000 copies and 15 percent thereafter. For a $1.75 novel, this meant royalties of 17½¢ and 26¼¢ per copy. In 1920 the income from the novel was $6,200. Most of Fitzgerald’s 1920 money came from other sources. Eleven stories brought $4,650 as Fitzgerald’s price rose from $400 to $900; the movies paid $7,425 for three stories (“Head and Shoulders,” “Myra Meets His Family,” and “The Offshore Pirate”) and an option on future stories. Fitzgerald earned $18,850 after commissions during his first full year as a professional writer—on which he paid $1,444.25 federal income tax. His income did not cover expenditures, and he began the custom of borrowing from Harold Ober and from Scribners. (Ober received a 10 percent commission on Fitzgerald’s magazine and movie sales, but for his books Fitzgerald always dealt directly with Scribners.)
In March 1920 Fitzgerald had made an attempt to provide for the future, probably in anticipation of his responsibilities as a husband. He invested in two $500 bonds of Fair & Co., which paid 7½ percent interest. These bonds became a travesty of prudence when Fitzgerald was unable to sell them. He claimed that they were returned to him when he left them in the subway. In 1924 he managed to dispose of them for a $600 loss.
When the Biltmore asked the Fitzgeralds to leave because they were disturbing other guests, they transferred two blocks to the Commodore Hotel on 42nd Street, where they celebrated their move by spinning in the revolving door. New York seemed full of Princetonians whojoined the group the Fitzgeralds partied with. Wilson and Bishop were on the staff of Vanity Fair (Fitzgerald sent Donald Ogden Stewart to them when he was trying to get started as a writer); Townsend Martin, Alexander McKaig, Lawton Campbell, and Ludlow Fowler were also in the city. A new friend was George Jean Nathan, co-editor of The Smart Set. Nathan instituted an elaborate wooing of Zelda, which sometimes annoyed Fitzgerald. Zelda “cut my tail on a broken bottle” during one of Nathan’s parties.
They met Nathan’s partner, H. L. Mencken, on his trips from Baltimore. Then at the peak of his influence as a literary critic, Mencken had fought for the recognition of Theodore Dreiser and was one of Joseph Conrad’s staunchest partisans. Although the stolid Mencken and the flamboyant Fitzgerald were too different to become close friends, they developed mutual respect. Fitzgerald said that Mencken was the only man in America for whom he had complete admiration. Mencken recognized Fitzgerald’s potential but suspected that he would be deflected from great work by his style of living.
Another 1920 influence on Fitzgerald was the work of Mark Twain, resulting from Perkins’s present of The Ordeal of Mark Twain. Since Van Wyck Brooks’s study argued that Twain had been damaged by the forces of respectability, the volume may have been Perkins’s sly way of warning Fitzgerald against selling out to popularity. Fitzgerald was impressed by it and subsequently read Albert Bigelow Paine’s biography of Twain. He admired Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (the Duke and the Dauphin were his favorite characters in the novel) and once ranked “The Mysterious Stranger” among the “10 Best Books I Have Read”; but Twain’s direct influence on Fitzgerald’s writing was minimal. (None of Twain’s books appears on the reading lists Fitzgerald later prepared for Sheilah Graham.) He cited Twain as the source for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (1922), and the idea for “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” (1922) may have been suggested by the mountain of coal in The Gilded Age. When Fitzgerald was asked to provide a statement for the banquet marking the centenary of Samuel Langhorne Clemens’s birth in November 1935, he wrote: “Huckleberry Finn took the first journey back. He was the first to look back at the republic from the perspective of the west. His eyes were the first eyes that ever looked at us objectively that were not eyes from overseas. There were mountains at the frontier but he wanted more than mountains to look at with his restless eyes—he wanted to find outabout men and how they lived together. And because he turned back we have him forever” (Bruccoli Collection).
Scribners arranged for Fitzgerald to speak at Wanamaker’s department store and at the National Arts Club. Surprisingly, he found that he was ill at ease addressing an audience and thereafter avoided public speaking engagements. In April, Fitzgerald prepared a self-interview for Scribners. Despite his brilliant-young-author pose, this document reveals Fitzgerald’s sense of career and his ambition to place himself in the line of great writers:
“… The scope and depth and breadth of my writings lie in the laps of the Gods. If knowledge comes naturally, through interest, as Shaw learned his political economy or as Wells devoured modern science—why, that’ll be slick. On study itself—that is, in “reading up” a subject—I haven’t ant-hill moving faith. Knowledge must cry out to be known—cry out thatonly I can know it, and then I’ll swim in it to satiety, as I’ve swum in—in many things.”
“Please be frank.”
“Well, you know if you’ve read my book, I’ve swum in various seas of adolescent egotism. But what I meant was that if big things never grip me—well, it simply means I’m not cut out to be big. This conscious struggle to find bigness outside, to substitute bigness of theme for bigness of perception, to create an objective Magnum Opus such as ’The Ring and the Book’—well, all that’s the antithesis of my literary aims.
“Another thing,” he continued. “My idea is always to reach my generation. The wise writer, I think, writes for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward. Granted the ability to improve what he imitates in the way of style, to choose from his interpretation of the experiences around him what constitutes material, and we get the first-water genius.”
“By style, I mean color,” he said. “I want to be able to do anything with words: handle slashing, flaming descriptions like Wells, and use the paradox with the clarity of Samuel Butler, the breadth of Bernard Shaw and the wit of Oscar Wilde. I want to do the wide sultry heavens of Conrad, the rolled-gold sundowns and crazy-quilt skies of Hichens and Kipling as well as the pastel dawns of Chesterton. All that is by way of example. As a matter of fact I am a professed literary thief, hot after the best methods of every writer in my generation.”
When Heywood Broun included this interview in his Tribune column, he commented: “Having heard Mr. Fitzgerald, we are not entirely minded to abandon our notion that he is a rather complacent, somewhat pretentious and altogether self-conscious young man.” Fitzgerald liked this self-interview so much that he borrowed from it for “The Author’s Apology,” a signed leaf inserted in copies of This Side of Paradise distributed by Scribners at the May 1920 meeting of the American Booksellers Association, in which he announced: “I don’t want to talk about myself because I’ll admit I did that somewhat in this book. In fact, to write it took three months; to conceive it—three minutes; to collect the data in it—all my life. The idea of writing it came on the first of last July: it was a substitute form of dissipation.”
During the spring of 1920, Fitzgerald tried to be a writer in the confusion of hotel rooms. Zelda was not interested in housekeeping. She was bored when he was writing and would go off by herself to seek amusement; then Fitzgerald couldn’t write because he was worried about what she was doing. Nonetheless, he admired her escapades and reported them with pride. Zelda’s attentions to Fitzgerald’s friends sometimes upset him. She would neck with party acquaintances. Once she tried to sleep with Bishop, although her intentions were not sexual; another time she wanted Townsend Martin to bathe her. The pattern of quarrels and reconciliations established during their courtship continued.
Fitzgerald was unable to work on his second novel. The only substantial piece he produced in New York was the long story “May Day,” which may have been salvaged from an abandoned novel. Probably written in March, before his marriage, “May Day” is one of Fitzgerald’s best stories; but he discovered that it was too pessimistic for the popular magazines, and it went to The Smart Set for $200. At this time Fitzgerald was under the influence of naturalism—the deterministic development of realism that he had found in Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser—but “May Day” is the only story in which he fully developed this method. An account of the events culminating in the suicide of Gordon Sterrett, a poverty-ridden failed artist, in New York on the morning after 1 May 1919, the story is built around the contrast between the anti-socialist riots and the Yale dance at Delmonico’s on May Day. Sterrett feels his hopelessness when he meets old college friends and is humiliated when he tries to borrow money from a wealthy classmate. He shoots himself when he wakes up married to adomineering lower-class girl. Although the material is naturalistic, the style is far richer and more flexible than the ploddings of Dreiser. Fitzgerald rapidly mastered the art of conveying meanings through tone. Here is the author setting the mood in a quasi-Biblical preamble:
There had been a war fought and won and the great city of the conquering people was crossed with triumphal arches and vivid with thrown flowers of white, red, and rose. All through the long spring days the returning soldiers marched up the chief highway behind the strump of drums and the joyous, resonant wind of the brasses, while merchants and clerks left their bickerings and figurings and, crowding to the windows, turned their white-bunched faces gravely upon the passing battalions.
Never had there been such splendor in the great city, for the victorious war had brought plenty in its train, and the merchants had flocked thither from the South and West with their households to taste of all the luscious feasts and witness the lavish entertainments prepared—and to buy for their women furs against the next winter and bags of golden mesh and varicolored slippers of silk and silver and rose satin and cloth of gold.
So gaily and noisily were the peace and prosperity impending hymned by the scribes and poets of the conquering people that more and more spenders had gathered from the provinces to drink the wine of excitement, and faster and faster did the merchants dispose of their trinkets and slippers until they sent up a mighty cry for more trinkets and more slippers in order that they might give in barter what was demanded of them. Some even of them flung up their hands helplessly, shouting:
“Alas! I have no more slippers! and alas! I have no more trinkets! May Heaven help me, for I know not what I shall do!”
But no one listened to their great outcry, for the throngs were far too busy—day by day, the foot-soldiers trod jauntily the highway and all exulted because the young men returning were pure and brave, sound of tooth and pink of cheek, and the young women of the land were virgins and comely both of face and of figure.
So during all this time there were many adventures that happened in the great city, and, of these, several—or perhaps one—are here set down.
Fusing several stories into a single narrative, “May Day” displays the marked technical advances Fitzgerald made during his first months as a professional writer.
The speculation whether Fitzgerald would have persevered with naturalistic material if it had been remunerative raises the more important problem of whether he trivialized his stories for the slick market. Over the next twenty years Fitzgerald put the major part of his writing time into 160 short stories, which he resented and disparaged.Most of them were written just for money; but admitting that he wrote potboilers is not the same as demonstrating that Fitzgerald deliberately spoiled stories to make them marketable. In A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway reports that he warned Fitzgerald in 1925 the Post stories would ruin his ability to write seriously. Fitzgerald explained that he wrote the real story first, then cheapened it for the Post—thereby nullifying the damage to his artistic judgment. Fitzgerald may have made this claim; he often said unlikely things when he was drinking. But there is no evidence in Fitzgerald’s preserved manuscripts of a story in which this process occurred.
In May 1920 Metropolitan magazine, which was fighting a losing circulation war, took an option on Fitzgerald’s stories at $900 each— when the Post was paying him $500. The proposition, intended to capture Fitzgerald from the Post, provides an indication of the rapid popularity of his stories. Five were submitted under this contract in 1920-21—“The Jelly Bean,” “His Russet Witch,” “Two For a Cent,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (declined), and “Winter Dreams”—before the Metropolitan went into receivership.
Fitzgerald did not regard his novels as uncommercial endeavors written for literature’s sake; he expected them to make a great deal of money while bringing him artistic satisfaction and acclaim. He denigrated his stories because they interfered with his recognition as a serious writer. Early in his professional career Fitzgerald developed the rationale that he would do magazine stories only to underwrite his novels—to get financially ahead so that he could devote six months or a year to uninterrupted work on a novel. Like most of his practical plans, this one did not work out. He was rarely ahead; when he was, he usually wasted his time and money. It may well be that the stories are what we have, not instead of more novels but instead of nothing.
Fitzgerald wanted to show off his success and his bride at Princeton. On 25 April they went down in the implausible capacity of chaperones for a house party weekend. Fitzgerald shocked undergraduates by introducing Zelda as his mistress and during the course of the visit received a black eye during a scuffle in Harvey Firestone’s car. He returned to Princeton on 1 May with Wilson and Bishop to attend a Nassau Lit banquet. Having provided themselves with lyres and wreaths, they called on Professor Gauss. Then Fitzgerald went to the Cottage Club, where he was told that he had been suspended from membership because he and his wife had disgraced the club. The members expressed their moral outrage by shoving him out a window.Fitzgerald was bitterly hurt and left on the first train. Wilson wrote a verse report of their Princeton trip:
Poor Fitz went prancing into the Cottage Club
With his gilt wreath and lyre,
Looking like a tarnished Apollo with the two black eyes
That he had got, when far gone in liquor, in some unintelligible fight,
But looking like Apollo all the same, with the sun on his pale yellow hair;
And his classmates who had been roaring around the campus all day
And had had whiskey, but no Swinburne,
Arose as one man and denounced him
And told him that he and his wife had disgraced the club and that he was nolonger worthy to belong to it
(Though really they were angry with him
Because he had achieved great success
Without starting in at the bottom in the nut and bolt business).
The suspension was later lifted, and Fitzgerald always thought of himself as a member of Cottage, visiting the house whenever he was in Princeton.
After a month of New York hotel life the Fitzgeralds were in need of a place where he could work without distractions and she could swim and amuse herself. They bought a secondhand Marmon touring car and headed up U.S. I in search of tranquillity. Fitzgerald soon discovered that his bride was a terrifying driver, only partly because she had defective vision in one eye and refused to wear glasses. At Westport, Connecticut, they rented the Wakeman house, a gray-shingled eighteenth-century farmhouse on Compo Road near the Long Island Sound. About fifty miles from the city, Westport was still country, not suburbia. A Japanese houseboy named Tana was hired, and the Fitzgeralds intended to settle down to an orderly life, allowing for only an occasional guest. Instead, there were alcoholic weekend parties that had a way of lasting through Monday. The Westport authorities were not understanding when a false fire alarm was turned in from the Fitzgerald residence during one of their parties. Legend has it that when the firemen asked where the fire was, Zelda pointed to her breast and said, “Here!” It may not have happened that way, but it was the kind of anecdote people liked to tell about the Fitzgeralds. George Jean Nathan was a regular visitor. He and Fitzgerald cooked up the gag that Tana was really a German spy named Tannenbaum; they improved the joke by sending him messages from the German High Command. Inevitably the Fitzgeralds made frequent excursions to New York, leaving a trail of impulsive checks.
Fitzgerald planned to complete a novel, a play, and a story by 16October 1920. He was a methodical planner all his professional life, preparing schedules and charts for his work; that he rarely kept to these plans did not discourage him from making them. The summer work schedule was interrupted by a trip to Montgomery. Zelda was homesick for the South and complained that she missed peaches and biscuits for breakfast. Perhaps she too wanted to show off her marriage—to return to Montgomery as one who had conquered the North as well as the South.
They departed on 15 July in the Marmon, now called “the Rolling Junk,” and managed to get to Montgomery after many mechanical problems and a few social ones as they scandalized the “surrounding yokelry” with their matching knickers. After celebrating in Montgomery for two weeks, they abandoned the Marmon and returned to Westport by train. In 1922 Fitzgerald wrote “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk,” a humorous three-part travel article about the trip, which also expresses his response to the underside of the Twenties, that he found in the Main Streets of the South.
Fitzgerald wrote three stories during the summer: “The Jelly Bean” (Metropolitan), “The Lees of Happiness” (Chicago Tribune), and “The I.O.U.” (unsold). The two published stories show him working with different kinds of material. In “The Jelly Bean” a Southern loafer is temporarily inspired to reform by his love for a reckless girl. Although Fitzgerald quickly came to be regarded as a writer of entertaining short stories about young love, many of his stories had what he called “a touch of disaster.” An attempt at pathos that does not rise above sentimentality, “The Lees of Happiness” treats a young wife’s eleven-year devotion to her paralyzed husband.
The Sayres came to Westport in August, but the visit was uncomfortable because the Judge did not conceal his disapproval of the way the Fitzgeralds lived. That month Fitzgerald got down to work on his next novel, which had as working titles “The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy” and “The Flight of the Rocket.” On the twelfth he explained to Charles Scribner that it “concerns the life of one Anthony Patch between his 25th and 33d years (1913-21). He is one of those many with the tastes and weaknesses of an artist but with no actual creative inspiration. How he and his beautiful young wife are wrecked on the shoals of dissipation is told in the story. This sounds sordid but it’s really a most sensational book + I hope won’t disapoint the critics who liked my first one.” He stuck to his plan and made steady progress through the fall.
Fitzgerald summarized his twenty-third year, which brought him both Zelda and literary recognition, as “Revelry and Marriage. The rewards of the year before. The happiest year since I was 18.” In October 1920 they moved to an apartment at 38 West 59th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues—conveniently near the Plaza Hotel, from which they could order meals.
It was thecustom for Scribners to follow a successful novel with a volume of short stories. On 10 September 1920 they published Fitzgerald’s first collection, Flappers and Philosophers. (The rejected titles for the volume included “We are Seven,” “Table d’hote,” “A La Carte,” “Journeys and Journey’s End,” “Bittersweet,” and “Shortcake.”) Dedicated to Zelda, Flappers and Philosophers included eight stories: “The Offshore Pirate,” “The Ice Palace,” “Head and Shoulders,” “The Cut-Glass Bowl,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” (illustrated on the dust jacket), “Benediction,” “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong,” and “The Four Fists.” Only three—“Pirate,” “Bernice,” and “Ice Palace”—are really first-rate, but the volume sold surprisingly well for a collection of stories. By November 1922 there were six printings with a total of 15,325 copies. The income seemed like found money to Fitzgerald because all the stories had appeared in magazines. The reviews of Flappers and Philosophers were mixed, with some critics finding it a letdown after This Side of Paradise. Mencken in The Smart Set was among the first to call attention to the split in Fitzgerald between the entertainer and the serious novelist: “Fitzgerald is curiously ambidextrous. Will he proceed via the first part of This Side of Paradise to the cold groves of beautiful letters, or will he proceed via ’Head and Shoulders’ into the sunshine that warms Robert W. Chambers and Harold McGrath?” Fitzgerald sent Mencken a copy of the collection with an inscription rating the stories. Worth reading: “The Ice Palace,” “The Cut-Glass Bowl,” “Benediction,” “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong”; Amusing: “The Offshore Pirate”; Trash: “Head and Shoulders,” “The Four Fists,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” Fitzgerald’s ranking of “Benediction” and “Dalyrimple” was no doubtinfluenced by the circumstance that they had been published in The Smart Set.
The fall and winter in New York were relatively dull for the Fitzgeralds as he worked on his novel, and they began to feel lonely after quarreling with some of their friends. While writing his novel in the fall Fitzgerald produced only one story, “His Russet Witch” [Metropolitan, February 1921), claiming that he wrote this fantasy to relax from the discipline of his novel. (Fitzgerald changed the title to “O Russet Witch!” when he collected the story.) The story deals with the response of a dreary bookstore proprietor to a woman who represents youth and daring.
Fitzgerald became interested in other projects while he was working on his novel. He considered converting This Side of Paradise into a play and wrote an unidentified movie scenario for Dorothy Gish that was rejected. The scenario may have been submitted to D. W. Griffith, whom he tried to persuade that the public would be interested in a movie about the movies, but Fitzgerald reported that Griffith was “contemptuous” of the idea. In October Fitzgerald tried to enlist Mencken’s support for a collected edition of Frank Norris; Mencken offered to help, but the project never developed. (In 1928 Doubleday published a ten-volume Norris edition, in which Fitzgerald was not involved.) Fitzgerald was convinced that Norris was forgotten. During a lunch with George Horace Lorimer he asserted that he was probably the only one in the room who had heard of Norris; Lorimer replied that he had serialized two of Norris’s novels in The Saturday Evening Post. Norris’s Vandover and the Brute (1914), a study of character deterioration in which a promising young Harvard man becomes a derelict, obviously influenced the conception of Anthony Patch in Fitzgerald’s second novel. (During their courtship Fitzgerald had tried to interest Zelda in Frank Norris’s McTeague, but she complained that “All authors who want to make things true to life make them smell bad—” Fitzgerald remained a Norris partisan. At the end of his life he sent Edmund Wilson a copy of McTeague marked to show how John Steinbeck had imitated it in Of Mice and Men.)
When Bob Clark, a St. Paul friend, sent him a letter urging him to write about “real people,” Fitzgerald wrote a Menckenian reply in February: “The Rousseaus, Marxes, Tolstois—men of thought, mind you, ’impractical’ men, ’idealist’ have done more to decide the food you eat and the things you think + do than all the millions of Roosevelts and Rockerfellars that strut for 20 yrs. or so mouthing suchphrases as 100% American (which means 99% village idiot), and die with a little pleasing flattery to the silly and cruel old God they’ve set up in their hearts.” His letter included a purported historical document:
June 8th 1595
Your family here are much ashamed that you could write such a bawdy play as Troilus and Cressida. All the real people here (Mr. Beef, the butcher and Mr. Skunk, the village undertaker) say they will not be satisfied with a brilliant mind and a pleasant manner. If you really want to ammount to something you’ve got to be respected for yourself as well as your work
Your Mother, Mrs. Shakespeare
Zelda found she was pregnant in February 1921. After she visited Montgomery, where Fitzgerald joined her in March, they planned a trip to Europe before Zelda’s pregnancy became too advanced. At this time they were considering an extended stay in Italy and the trip was in the nature of a scouting expedition. By the end of April, Fitzgerald was able to send Harold Ober a typed draft of the novel—now titled The Beautiful and Damned—for serialization. They sailed on the Cunard liner Aquitania on 3 May 1921, traveling first class. Before their departure Fitzgerald was beaten in the Jungle Club speak-easy when Zelda egged him into fighting the bouncer; it is impossible to tell whether she wanted to see her husband get hurt, whether she believed he could handle the bouncer, or whether they were both too drunk to be responsible for their behavior. When Fitzgerald reached a certain stage of insobriety he was ready to fight anyone—all five foot seven of him. He thought he was—or should be—a proficient fighter. He wasn’t, and his bar fights usually resulted in beatings for him.
The Aquitania docked at Southampton on 10 May, and the Fitzgeralds checked into the Cecil Hotel in London. Perkins had provided an introduction to John Galsworthy; and Charles Kingsley, the Scribners London representative, arranged for the Fitzgeralds to meet other literary people. They were invited to tea by Galsworthy, who disappointed Fitzgerald: “I can’t stand pessimism with neither irony nor bitterness.” There was a reunion with Shane Leslie, who conducted them on a nighttime walking tour of the London docks with Zelda dressed in men’s clothing for safety in this criminal district; when shetired, the two men took turns carrying her. Lady Randolph Churchill had them to lunch, and Zelda talked at length with Winston Churchill. In London Fitzgerald invested in English tailoring, ordering suits from Davies & Sons and shirts from Hilditch and Key. Oxford—the setting of Sinister Street—impressed Fitzgerald as the most beautiful place he’d ever seen, and for a while he considered living there.
While the Fitzgeralds were abroad, Ober sold the serial rights for The Beautiful and Damned to the Metropolitan for $7,000. The novel appeared in seven installments, from September 1921 to March 1922. On 17 May the Fitzgeralds were in Paris, where they unsuccessfully waited outside Anatole France’s house for a glimpse of him. They were in Venice on 26 May, in Florence on 3 June, and in Rome on the twenty-second. In Italy, Fitzgerald wrote an unidentified scenario for Metro Pictures that was rejected.
The trip to the Continent was disappointing. For the Fitzgeralds places were associated with people they knew, and they were bored with unrelieved sightseeing. Apart from his emotional response to the house by the Spanish Steps in Rome where Keats had died, Fitzgerald was appalled by Italy. He was not prepared to make obeisance to European civilization, and he wrote Wilson in July:
God damn the continent of Europe. It is of merely antiquarian interest. Rome is only a few years behind Tyre + Babylon. The negroid streak creeps northward to defile the nordic race. Already the Italians have the souls of blackamoors. Raise the bars of immigration and permit only Scandinavians, Teutons, Anglo Saxons and Celts to enter. France made me sick. It’s silly pose as the thing the world has to save. I think its a shame that England and America didn’t let Germany conquor Europe. Its the only thing that would have saved the fleet of tottering old wrecks. My reactions were all philistine, anti-socialistic, provincial + racially snobbish. I believe at last in the white man’s burden. We are as far above the modern frenchman as he is above the negro. Even in art! Italy has no one. When Anatole France dies French literature will be a silly rehashing of technical quarrels. They’re thru + done. You may have spoken in jest about N. Y. as the capital of culture but in 25 years it will be just as London is now. Culture follows money + all the refinements of aestheticism can’t stave off its change of seat (Christ! what a metaphor). We will be the Romans in the next generation as the English are now.
On 30 June they were back in London, where they stayed at Claridge’s and at the Cavendish. One of the reasons for the return to London was that This Side of Paradise had been published by Collinson 26 May and Fitzgerald wanted to witness the English reception of his novel. If he expected a repetition of the New York response, he was disappointed. A few reviews were uncomprehendingly favorable, but mostly the English critics dismissed This Side of Paradise as trivial and unconvincing. The Times Literary Supplement, the most influential English review journal, commented: “As a novel it is rather tiresome; its values are less human than literary, and its characters, men and women alike, with hardly an exception, a set of exasperating poseurs, whose conversation, devoted largely to minute self-analysis, is artificial beyond belief.” The Manchester Guardian review concluded: “But what people! What a set! They are well lost.” None of Fitzgerald’s books sold well in England during his lifetime. After a Fourth of July trip to Cambridge, which was combined with a pilgrimage to Grantchester to pay homage to Rupert Brooke, the Fitzgeralds cut short their tour and returned to America on the White Star liner Celtic.
They were inMontgomery on 27 July, intending to stay there for the birth of their child in October; but the combination of the Alabama heat and the Montgomery attitude toward pregnancy drove them north. In those days a lady in the family way was expected to stay home when her “delicate condition” became obvious. Zelda shocked the locals by swimming in a public pool when she was large with child.
Fitzgerald’s Ledger summary for his twenty-fourth year was: “Work at the beginning but dangerous at the end. A slow year, dominated by Zelda + on the whole happy.” At the end of August 1921 the Fitzgeralds were at Dellwood on White Bear Lake outside St. Paul; they had rented the Mackey J. Thompson house for a year, but the owner asked them to leave in October because of damage involving a burst water pipe, for which he held Fitzgerald responsible. The Thompson house had been found for them by Xandra Kalman, who also helped with the preparations for the impending birth. Xandra and her husband, banker Oscar Kalman, were a wealthy St. Paul couple with homes on Summit Avenue and at Dellwood. Considerably younger than Oscar, who was forty-eight, Xandra was the only close friend Zelda made in St. Paul. Zelda’s reaction to the Midwest was similar to Sally Carrol Happer’s in “The Ice Palace”: she found the women dull and missed the attention that she had received from men in the South and in New York.
The stay in St. Paul apparently occasioned Zelda’s first meeting with her husband’s family. She and Fitzgerald had made three trips to Montgomery before they went to St. Paul. The reason for the delay is not known, for Fitzgerald was not estranged from his parents. Thecircumstance that Zelda was not a Catholic would hardly have kept Mollie away from her son for a year and a half. The separation was almost certainly of Fitzgerald’s making. As a child he had discouraged his mother from visiting him at camp and had entertained the fantasy that he was a royal foundling; now as a young literary star he was embarrassed by his mother because she did not fit the glamorous image that was evolving about him. He loved his father, but Fitzgerald was always sensitive to—and perhaps resentful of— Edward’s failure. There is a report that Edward Fitzgerald enjoyed being driven in his son’s Buick touring car to the Grotto Pharmacy, where his favorite Tom Moore cigars were available. Fitzgerald and Zelda saw little of his parents and Annabel in St. Paul, but not because there were family clashes. Zelda was bored by her husband’s family, and she and her husband were active in the so-called young married set.
Fitzgerald relished his return to St. Paul as a famous author. In August he was interviewed by Thomas A. Boyd, literary editor of the St. Paul Daily News, under the headline scott fitzgerald here on vacation; “rests” by outlining new novels, and he was frequently mentioned in the St. Paul papers. Despite his discomfort as a public speaker, he addressed the St. Paul Women’s City Club on 1 December 1921. His announced topic, “South America,” was a joke; he spoke about his work and literary enthusiasms. After denying that he was especially interested in flappers, he praised Mencken as having done more for American letters than any other man. Fitzgerald became friends with Boyd and his wife Peggy, who wrote as Woodward Boyd. Boyd was also a partner in the Kilmarnock Bookstore at 84 East Fourth Street, which was a regular stop for Fitzgerald.
In St. Paul, Fitzgerald assumed the self-appointed role of talent scout or acquisitions editor for Scribners—partly out of his desire to help other writers and partly out of a sense of loyalty to his publisher. Fitzgerald came to regard Scribners as a literary club in which he wanted to assemble all the promising young American writers. His first find was Peggy Boyd’s novel The Love Legend, which Scribners published in the fall of 1922. Fitzgerald knew the novel was not important but felt that the author was worth encouraging. He was far more impressed by Through the Wheat, twenty-three-year-old Thomas Boyd’s novel about the Marines in World War I, which Scribners published in the spring of 1923.
Fitzgerald’s identification with the house of Scribner—as well as hisdesire to be thought of as a man of affairs—is demonstrated by the plan for a cheap reprint series he sent Charles Scribner in April 1922. Impressed by The Modern Library and the Lambskin Library, he proposed a series restricted to the Scribners list and recommended eighteen titles: The House of Mirth or Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, Predestined by Stephen French Whitman, This Side of Paradise, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox, Jr., In Ole Kentucky [In Ole Virginia] by Thomas Nelson Page, Sentimental Tommy by J. M. Barrie, Saint’s Progress by John Galsworthy, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel by George Meredith, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Stolen Story or The Frederic Carrolls by Jesse Lynch Williams, The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic, Soldiers of Fortune by Richard Harding Davis, Simple Souls by John Hastings Turner, and novels by “George Barr Cable” [George Washington Cable], Henry Van Dyke, Jackson Gregory, and Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews. This list does not represent Fitzgerald’s favorite novels; rather, it is a sampling of titles from the Scribners backlist that he thought would have a steady sale at less than a dollar. Arthur Scribner replied that it was too late to compete with the established reprint series.
When they were evicted from the lake house, the Fitzgeralds moved to the Commodore, an apartment hotel in the Summit Avenue area, and Fitzgerald rented a downtown office. His first project in St. Paul was to revise The Beautiful and Damned for book publication. (He was not responsible for the serial version, which had been cut by some 40,000 words and edited at Metropolitan.)
A novel of character deterioration, The Beautiful and Damned chronicles Anthony and Gloria Patch as they wait to inherit his grandfather’s fortune. It opens in 1913 with Anthony, four years out of Harvard, idling gracefully on his income and fostering his self-image as an immaculate intellectual. He marries Gloria Gilbert, and they both undergo an inexorable decline fueled by alcohol and the spending of capital. Anthony’s grandfather, a rabid reformer, invades one of their drunken parties and disinherits him. After the grandfather’s death the Patches initiate a long process of breaking the will. Anthony is drafted during the war and has an affair with a lower-class Southern girl. While the inheritance case is being decided after the war, Anthony becomes a sloppy drunk and Gloria’s beauty coarsens. They get the money in 1921, but Anthony’s mind and health are broken.
Because Fitzgerald did not share the Patches’ conviction that theonly lesson to be learned from life is that there is no lesson to be learned from life, the novel does not maintain a consistent attitude toward its characters. At times the author seems to credit Anthony and Gloria with a certain integrity of irresponsibility, casting them as victims of philistia; but Fitzgerald’s moralizing compulsion takes over as the novel becomes a warning prophecy for the Fitzgeralds’ own marriage. When he began the novel after six months of marriage, Fitzgerald perceived that his wife was not prepared to build her life around his work and that she was the stronger—or less flexible—character. He wrote to Zelda in 1930: “I wish the Beautiful and Damned had been a maturely written book because it was all true. We ruined ourselves—I have never honestly thought that we ruined each other.” But in 1940 he told his daughter: “Gloria was a much more trivial and vulgar person than your mother. I can’t really say there was any resemblance except in the beauty and certain terms of expression she used, and also I naturally used many circumstantial events of our early married life. However the emphases were entirely different. We had a much better time than Anthony and Gloria had.” Fitzgerald’s self-disapproval in The Beautiful and Damned is divided between Anthony Patch and Dick Caramel, a writer who becomes a supplier of commercial entertainment. (Caramel’s complaint about the success of This Side of Paradise represents a lapse in Fitzgerald’s judgment.) Both Anthony and Caramel are projections of what Fitzgerald feared for himself. Another character, Maury Noble, represents the successful cynic that Anthony cannot become.
Although Fitzgerald’s second novel is not structurally distinguished, it marks an improvement over the looseness of This Side of Paradise. Nevertheless, he was still relying on subtitles to separate episodes within chapters; and The Beautiful and Damned is flawed by sideshows as well as by inconsistencies in tone and style. Fitzgerald was unable to resist interpolating passages of philosophizing—sometimes in playlet form. The “Flash-Back in Paradise,” in which Beauty (Gloria) is sent to earth by The Voice, is a violation of the novel’s naturalistic or deterministic approach.
The point-of-view problems in The Beautiful and Damned result from Fitzgerald’s ambivalent narrative stance as he fluctuates between approval of Anthony’s adherence to the doctrine of futility and contempt for Anthony’s weakness. The novel is told by a third-person omniscient author, but Fitzgerald does not maintain his perspective.The authorial voice is intrusive and usurps the qualities of a first-person narrator; it analyzes, soliloquizes, and engages in discourses with the reader. This indulgent narrative manner was encouraged by Fitzgerald’s magazine story market. He would not become a complete novelist until he learned the techniques for controlling point of view and disciplining his habit of obtruding into the narrative.
Fitzgerald had proofs of The Beautiful and Damned by mid-October. He regarded proofs as a kind of typescript and used them as an opportunity to make final alterations that went far beyond corrections. Like many writers, Fitzgerald felt he could not make final decisions about his prose until he saw it in print. He told both Ober and Wilson that he had “almost completely rewritten parts” of his novel in St. Paul; but it is impossible to be certain about the extent of his proof revisions because the setting typescript and the proofs do not survive. The only pre-publication form of The Beautiful and Damned is Fitzgerald’s manuscript with typed inserts at the Princeton University Library. (The manuscript has two title pages. The first has the title “The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy” changed to The Beautiful and Damned with a canceled epigraph from Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and another epigraph credited to Samuel Butler (“Life is one long process of getting tired.”). This page lists seven other possible titles: “The House of Pain,” “Misfortune’s Street,” “O, Beautiful,” “The Broken Lute,” “The Corruption of Anthony,” “A Love Affair,” and “Corruption.” The second title page uses The Beautiful and Damned with the Butler epigraph, which was replaced in the book with “The victor belongs to the spoils.—Anthony Patch.” In the manuscript table of contents the three books of the novel are titled “The Pleasant Absurdity of Things,” “The Romantic Bitterness of Things,” and “The Ironic Tragedy of Things.” These headings were not retained in the published volume.) If the typescript that Scribners used as setting copy for the galley proofs was an unrevised copy made from Fitzgerald’s manuscript, collation of the book text against the manuscript reveals that he made no proof deletions or additions that change the meaning of the novel—except for the conclusion. There were more cuts than insertions in proof. Passages were shifted (“A Flash-Back in Paradise,” for example), and thousands of spot changes were made as Fitzgerald polished his wording. Maury Noble’s account of his education in the “Symposium” chapter was rewritten. Almost every page was revised, but the published novel did not alter the plot or structure of the manuscript. Anthony and Gloria Patch were not significantly changed, although in a few places Fitzgerald made Gloria less culpable for Anthony’s deterioration. At the opening of the “Symposium” chapter, after the statement “Gloria had lulled Anthony’s mind to sleep,” Fitzgerald deleted the manuscript comment: “This, of course, was desparately bad; halting that play and interplay of ideas which is at all times the salvation of such men as he.” In the manuscript Anthony urges Gloria to have an abortion during what proves to be a false pregnancy. Fitzgerald also cut the manuscript analysis of Anthony and Gloria’s despair after his grandfather’s intrusion on their drunken party:
And then, two evil people finding themselves ringed round by high portentous walls, ran to and fro in a panic, each crying out that the other had built the walls or that this agency and that had built them—then, sitting down to weep, confessed piteously that they had built the walls themselves. Who can doubt that they were wicked people? For if they were not wicked, who is—And what is there we may call evil?
The moralistic tone of this authorial invasion is confusing, and it is not clear whether Fitzgerald intended irony in his application of the word “evil.”
One of the chief purposes of Fitzgerald’s revisions was to clarify the novel’s judgment of Anthony and Gloria. He did not succeed, and his work with the ending reveals his uncertainty about the final impression he wanted to leave with the reader. The manuscript closes with Beauty’s return to Paradise:
“Back again,” the voice whispered.
“After fifteen years.”
The voice hesitated.
“How remote you are,” it said, “Unstirred … You seem to have no heart. How about the little girl? The glory of her eyes is gone—”
But Beauty had forgotten long ago.
Fitzgerald replaced this finale with the didactic conclusion of the serial, which unconvincingly pays tribute to Anthony’s and Gloria’s idealism:
That exquisite heavenly irony which has tabulated the demise of many generations of sparrows seems to us to be content with the moral judgments of man upon fellow man. If there is a subtler and yet more nebulous ethic somewhere in the mind, one might believe that beneath the sordid dress and near the bruised heart of this transaction there was a motive which was not weak but only futile and sad. In the search for happiness, which search is the greatest and possibly the only crime of which we in our petty misery are capable, these two people were marked as guilty chieflyby the freshness and fullness of their desire. Their disillusion was always a comparative thing—they had sought glamor and color through their respective worlds with steadfast loyalty—sought it and it alone in kisses and in wine, sought it with the same ingenuousness in the wanton moonlight as under the cold sun of inviolate chastity. Their fault was not that they had doubted but that they had believed.
The exquisite perfection of their boredom, the delicacy of their inattention, the inexhaustibility of their discontent—were disastrous extremes— that was all. And if, before Gloria yielded up her gift of beauty, she shed one bright feather of light so that someone, gazing up from the grey earth, might say, “Look! There is an angel’s wing!” perhaps she had given more than enough in exchange for her tinsel joys.
… The story ends here.
On 23 December 1921 Fitzgerald wired Perkins: LILDA THINKS BOOK SHOULD END WITH ANTHONYS LAST SPEECH ON SHIP SHE THINKS NEW ENDING IS A PIECE OF MORALITY LET ME KNOW YOUR ADVICE… Perkins agreed with Zelda. The book text ends with the sardonic view of the broken Anthony whispering to himself: “’I showed them,’ he was saying. ‘It was a hard fight, but I didn’t give up and I came through!’”
Perkins’s editorial manner with Fitzgerald is revealed in their disagreement about Maury Noble’s account of the Bible as a work of skepticism and irony, which Perkins thought would offend readers unnecessarily. Fitzgerald reacted with an emotional letter invoking Mark Twain, Anatole France, and George Bernard Shaw, charging Perkins with cowardice. On 12 December, Perkins replied: “Don’t ever defer to my judgment. You won’t on any vital point, I know, and I should be ashamed, if it were possible to have made you; for a writer of any account must speak for himself.” Fitzgerald then apologized: “The thing was flippant—I mean it was the sort of worst of Geo. Jean Nathan. I have changed it now—changed ’godalmighty’ to deity, cut out ’bawdy’ + changed several other words so I think it is all right.” The revised version was included in the novel. Fitzgerald liked Noble’s oration so much that he also published it in the February Smart Set. In 1922 Perkins was troubled by including “Tarquin of Cheapside” in Tales of the Jazz Age because it dealt with rape, but he yielded when Fitzgerald reminded him that the story had appeared in the Nassau Lit without trouble. Perkins confined himself to offering structural suggestions or spot queries and did not attempt to rewrite Fitzgerald. As their editorial relationship developed, he became the strongest influence on Fitzgerald’s professional life. It has been suggested that Perkins, who had five daughters and wanted a son, saw his authors as surrogate sons— of whom Fitzgerald was the firstborn. Despite their mutual affection, they did not reach the Max and Scott stage until 1923. (The process took longer with Harold Ober. In 1925 they dropped “Mr.” in their letters and moved to “Dear Ober”/“Dear Fitzgerald”; not until 1927 were they on a first-name basis).
The Fitzgeralds’ daughterwas born on 26 October 1921 at the Miller Hospital in St. Paul. Fitzgerald made a note in his Ledger on Zelda’s post-delivery remarks while she was still partly anesthetized: “Oh God, goofo I’m drunk.[Zelda called Fitzgerald “Goofo” or “Goofy” in the early years of their marriage; in her letters she later addressed him as “Deo” or “D.O.” or “Do-Do”—possibly from the Latin word for god.] Mark Twain. Isn’t she smart—she has the hiccups. I hope its beautiful and a fool—a beautiful little fool.” These words were subsequently given to Daisy in The Great Gatsby. Writers waste nothing. Fitzgerald wired the Sayres: LILLIAN GISH IS IN MOURNING CONSTANCE TALMADGE IS A BACK NUMBER AND A SECOND MARY PICKFORD HAS ARRIVED. Mencken recommended that the child be named Charlotte in honor of Charles Evans Hughes. The parents had been hoping for a boy and had not settled on a girl’s name. The baby was named Scotty on her birth certificate and christened Frances Scott Fitzgerald at the Convent of the Visitation; but for several years Zelda also referred to her daughter as Patricia.
During the fall Fitzgerald wrote three stories for ready cash: “Two for a Cent,” “The Popular Girl” (a long story about St. Paul which the Post published in two parts), and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” The masterpiece, “Diamond,” was declined by the high-paying magazines to which Ober offered it, even after Fitzgerald cut it from 20,000 words to 15,000. The story seemed baffling to some editors and blasphemous to others. Those who understood “Diamond” saw it as a satirical attack on the American success ethic or at least on the simple faith that equates wealth with virtue—a message that might offend theadvertisers. Commercial magazines exist to sell advertising space, not to publish great fiction. Fitzgerald reported to Ober, “I am rather discouraged that a cheap story like The Popular Girl written in one week while the baby was being born brings $1500.00 + a genuinely imaginative thing into which I put three weeks real enthusiasm like The Diamond in the Sky [the original title] brings not a thing. But, by God + Lorimer, I’m going to make a fortune yet.” The story went to The Smart Set for $300.
“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” Fitzgerald’s most brilliant fantasy, is much more than a supreme fairy tale. The diamond of the title is a diamond mountain in the West owned by the Washingtons, making them by far the richest family in the world. Nevertheless, the necessity of protecting the secret of the diamond interferes with the benefits of ownership. The Washington children routinely invite schoolmates for vacations, knowing that the visitors will be murdered. When the diamond is discovered by the authorities, Braddock Washington offers God a bribe before blowing it up. The story is susceptible to allegorical interpretations, but it is unlikely that Fitzgerald intended it as allegory. The meanings of “Diamond” are sufficiently clear. Absolute wealth corrupts absolutely and possesses its possessors.
In November 1921 the Fitzgeralds rented a Victorian frame house at 626 Goodrich Avenue in the Summit Avenue neighborhood. The winter was a difficult time for them. Zelda hated the Minnesota cold and wrote Ludlow Fowler that she was grateful to be spared the fate of the monkey—referring to the current expression that it was cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. She was sensitive about the weight she had gained during her pregnancy. At a time when ladies did not smoke on the streets, Zelda enjoyed making a point of it. When Fitzgerald asked people to the house, Zelda told them not to come because company noise made the baby cry; Fitzgerald would then insist that the invited people come because Zelda needed diversion. There were parties and dances. A Bad Luck Ball was held at the University Club on Friday the 13th of January 1922, and Fitzgerald was responsible for a parody newspaper, The St. Paul Daily Dirge, distributed at the dance. The Dirge reported the dance under the headline cotillion is sad failure and included gag stories about St. Paul friends. In April he wrote and directed a musical revue, Midnight Flappers, for the Junior League Frolic vaudeville—with Zelda cast as one of the flappers.
Between 1921 and 1923, Fitzgerald wrote eleven book reviews forthe St. Paul Daily News, the New York papers, and literary magazines. (H. L. Mencken’s Prejudices. Second Series, John Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers, Charles Norris’s Brass, Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow, Booth Tarkington’s Gentle Julia, John V. A. Weaver’s Margey Wins the Game, Shane Leslie’s The Oppidan, Woodward Boyd’s The Love Legend, Grace Flandrau’s Being Respectable, Sherwood Anderson’s Many Marriages, and Thomas Boyd’s Through the Wheat.) Some of these reviews were written as friendly gestures to the authors; but Fitzgerald’s responses were not perfunctory, as his assessment of Booth Tarkington’s Gentle Julia shows: “It is a pity that the man who writes better prose than any other living American was brought up in a generation that considered it a crime to tell thetruth.” He called Sherwood Anderson’s Many Marriages “a rather stupendous achievement” for creating a hero who exists in a vacuum, but complained: “I do not like the man in the book. The world in which I trust, in which I seem to set my feet, appears to me to exist through a series of illusions.” His review of Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers is significant in announcing his renunciation of the H. G. Wells influence; after rating Dos Passos “the best of all the younger men on this side,” Fitzgerald warns, “such a profound and gifted man as John Dos Passos should never enlist in Wells’ faithful but aenemic platoon along with Walpole, Floyd Dell and Mencken’s latest victim, Ernest Poole. The only successful Wellsian is Wells. Let us slay Wells, James Joyce and Anatole France that the creation of literature may continue.”
While waiting for publication of The Beautiful and Damned by Scribners, Fitzgerald decided to write a play that “is to make my fortune.” In January 1922 he sought Ober’s advice about the commercial value of another project: “When I finish my play I plan to write a series of twelve articles which will ostensibly be the record of a trip to Europe but will really be a mass of impressions and heavily laden with autobiography… The twelve will not be connected and could go to different magazines if advisable, though I intend to publish them afterwards in one book.” Ober’s reply is lost, and the travel series was never begun.
The Beautiful and Damned was published on 4 March 1922 in a first printing of 20,600 copies. The Fitzgeralds went to New York for publication of the novel and for Zelda to have an abortion because she did not want a second child so soon. (Sara Mayfield, one of Zelda’s childhood friends, states that Zelda had three abortions during her marriage. When Zelda suffered a mental breakdown in 1930, her sister Rosalind asked Fitzgerald, “Do you think Zelda’s abortions could have had anything to do with her illness?” There is no documentation for the chronology of the abortions.) The reception of The Beautiful and Damned was disappointing. Some reviewers—and readers—had expected a sequel to This Side of Paradise or a novel like it. They were put off by Fitzgerald’s naturalistic material in this novel, which showed the influence of Dreiser and the Norris brothers. The deterioration of Anthony Patch from immaculate intellectual to ruined drunk drew upon similar treatments in Sister Carrie, Vandover and the Brute, and Salt. Some reviewers mistakenly thought the novel was intended as satire, possibly because of the dust-jacket copy: “… it reveals with devastating satire a section of American society which has never before been recognized as an entity.” The more perceptive critics—among them Henry Seidel Canby—recognized that The Beautiful and Damned was a transitional novel and that it revealed Fitzgerald’s attempt to improve on the loose structure of This Side of Paradise.
Mencken commented in The Smart Set:
Opportunity beckoned him toward very facile jobs; he might have gone on rewriting the charming romance of “This Side of Paradise” for ten or fifteen years, and made a lot of money out of it, and got a great deal of uncritical praise for it. Instead, he tried something much more difficult,and if the result is not a complete success, it is nevertheless near enough to success to be worthy of respect. There is fine observation in it, and much penetrating detail, and the writing is solid and sound. After “This Side of Paradise” the future of Fitzgerald seemed extremely uncertain. There was an air about that book which suggested a fortunate accident. The shabby stuff collected in “Flappers and Philosophers” converted uncertainty into something worse. But “The Beautiful and the Damned” delivers the author from all those doubts. There are a hundred signs in it of serious purpose and unquestionable skill. Even in its defects there is proof of hard striving. Fitzgerald ceases to be a Wunderkind, and begins to come into his maturity.
Although Mencken was not included in the triple dedication TO SHANE LESLIE, GEORGE JEAN NATHAN AND MAXWELL PERKINS IN APPRECIATION OF MUCH LITERARY HELP AND ENCOURAGEMENT, he may have been the strongest influence on Fitzgerald’s attempt to write a deterministic novel; and Mencken’s admiration for Conrad strengthened Fitzgerald’s concern with structure and form.
The longest review was by Bishop in the New York Herald, which called The Beautiful and Damned an advance over This Side of Paradise but made just charges against it:
… Fitzgerald is at the moment of announcing the meaninglessness of life magnificently alive. His ideas are too often treated like paper crackers, things to make a gay and pretty noise with and then be cast aside; he is frequently at the mercy of words with which he has only a nodding acquaintance; his aesthetics are faulty; his literary taste is at times extremely bad. The chapter labeled “Symposium,” pictorially good, does not seem clearly thought out or burdened with wisdom. The episode entitled “Flash Back in Paradise” might, except for its wit, have been conceived in the mind of a scenario writer. But these are flaws of vulgarity in one who is awkward with his own vigor.
Edmund Wilson wrote a long unsigned “Literary Spotlight” analysis of Fitzgerald’s career for the March Bookman, citing the Midwest and his Irishness as two key influences on Fitzgerald’s work. Before publication he sent the article to Fitzgerald, who asked him to cut a third influence: alcohol. Fitzgerald felt that publicizing his drinking would hurt him both with “respectable friends” and financially. About his Irishness, Fitzgerald noted: “I’m not Irish on Father’s side—that’s where Francis Scott Key comes in.” His claim is curious as well as incorrect because his paternal grandfather, Michael Fitzgerald, wasIrish. Fitzgerald’s attempt to rewrite his pedigree supports Wilson’s theory that his erratic social behavior resulted from his insecurity as an Irish Catholic. Wilson complied with Fitzgerald’s request to remove the drinking material and an unidentified anecdote about his army days; but he did not act on Fitzgerald’s assertion that “the most enormous influence on me in the four + ½ yrs since I met her has been the complete fine and full hearted selfishness and chill-mindedness of Zelda.”
Wilson’s assessment of Fitzgerald’s literary intelligence was harsh. It opened by repeating the comment by “a celebrated person” (Edna St. Vincent Millay) that he was like “a stupid old woman with whom someone has left a diamond.” Wilson concurred that Fitzgerald did not know what to do with his gifts: “For he has been given imagination without intellectual control of it; he has been given the desire for beauty without an aesthetic ideal; and he has been given a gift for expression without very many ideas to express.” This condescending judgment provided a standard approach to Fitzgerald for the next thirty years—that he was a natural, but not an artist. The blame cannot be attributed solely to Wilson, of course, for it was shared or repeated by other critics who refused to take Fitzgerald seriously. The effects not only damaged Fitzgerald’s contemporary reputation, but perhaps also impeded the fulfillment of his genius by depriving him of the critical esteem he sought. The popular or mythic view of Fitzgerald still retains the idea that he threw away his genius in orgiastic revelry.
The review of The Beautiful and Damned that has attracted the most attention is Zelda Fitzgerald’s “Friend Husband’s Latest” in the New York Tribune—her first professional publication. Although the review is partly a joke, it points out the inconsistencies in Gloria’s birth date and makes one serious literary judgment: “The other things I didn’t like in the book—I mean the unimportant things—were the literary references and the attempt to convey a profound air of erudition. It reminds me in its more soggy moments of the essays I used to get up in school at the last minute by looking up strange names in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.” Her criticism is just, for the novel is intellectually pretentious, particularly in the set-piece seminars conducted by Anthony, Maury Noble, and Dick Caramel. At this stage Fitzgerald was still self-conscious about his spotty education.
Zelda’s review also includes her claim that some of her writing went into The Beautiful and Damned by the back door: “It seems to methat on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. [In February 1920—before his marriage—Fitzgerald wrote Perkins: “I’m just enclosing you the typing of Zelda’s diary… You’ll recognize much of the dialogue. Please don’t show it to anyone else.” The diary does not survive.] In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.” In view of the later competition between the Fitzgeralds, this charge requires examination. Indeed, there is a school of Zelda partisans which asserts that she was his collaborator on his best work. It should be noted that Zelda does not say she collaborated on The Beautiful and Damned: only that Fitzgerald incorporated a portion of her diary “on one page” and that he revised “scraps” of her letters. None of Fitzgerald’s surviving manuscripts shows her hand, though Zelda’s manuscripts bear his revision. She did play an important role in his work—apart from providing him with a model—because he trusted her literary judgment and acted on Zelda’s criticisms. But she was never his collaborator.
In addition to her $15 review of The Beautiful and Damned, Zelda sold three articles in 1922—“The Super-Flapper” (presumably unpublished), “Eulogy on the Flapper” (Metropolitan), and “Does a Moment of Revolt Come Sometime to Every Married Man?” (a companion piece to a Fitzgerald article in McCall’s)—for which she received a total of $815. The articles appeared under Zelda’s byline with the explanation that she was the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She does not seem to have harbored any literary ambitions at this time, and her articles were just part of the fun of being married to a celebrity.
While in New York, Fitzgerald was interviewed by the New York World and delivered some surprisingly conventional remarks about Prohibition society. He said that the young married set could only be saved by work: “I think that just being in love, really in love—doing it well, you know—is work enough for a woman. If she keeps her house the way it should be kept and makes herself look pretty when her husband comes home in the evening and loves him and helps him with his work and encourages him—oh, I think that’s the sort of work that will save her.” His comments about a wife’s duties have a rueful sound.
The three Scribners printings of The Beautiful and Damned in 1922 totaled 50,000 copies, and the novel made the Publishers Weeklymonthly best-seller lists for March (tenth), April (sixth), and May (tenth). (The most successful novel of 1922, If Winter Comes by A. S. M. Hutchinson, sold more than 350,000 copies. Other best sellers of the year were Edith M. Hull’s The Sheik, Tarkington’s Gentle Julia, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Head of the House of Coombe, Robert Keable’s Simon Called Peter, Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Breaking Point, Hutchinson’s This Freedom, Louis Hemon’s Maria Chapdelaine, Zane Grey’s To the Last Man, Lewis’s Babbitt, and Harold Bell Wright’s Helen of the Old House. Simon Called Peter, a sensational religious novel which Fitzgerald detested, sold 152,000 copies.) Nonetheless, Fitzgerald was disappointed because the $15,000 (plus $7,000 for the serial rights) from royalties was not enough to free him from his bondage to the magazines. Scribners had increased his royalty rate to a straight 15 percent, but it was 15 percent of $2. In the Twenties, the main income from a book stopped with the cloth sale. There were no paperback or lucrative book club deals (the Book-of-the-Month Club began in 1926), and movie rights brought modest figures—only $2,500 in 1922 for The Beautiful and Damned.
In March 1922 Thomas Boyd published a three-part interview with Fitzgerald in the St. Paul Daily News that provided a description of his working habits: “His writing is never thought out. He creates his characters and they are likely to lead him into almost any situation. His phrasing is done in the same way. It is rare that he searches for a word. Most of the time words come to his mind and then spill themselves in a riotous frenzy of song and color all over the page. Some days he writes as many as 7,000 or 8,000 words; and then, with a small Roget’s Thesaurus, he carefully goes over his work, substituting synonyms for any unusual words that appear more than once in seven or eight consecutive pages.” This article is the only indication that Fitzgerald ever relied on the Thesaurus, a dependency he seems to have broken.
Fitzgerald worked steadily on his play in the early months of 1922. Originally titled “Gabriel’s Trombone,” The Vegetable is a flapper comedy combined with political satire and parody of the American success story. When it was published, the title page carried an epigraph attributed to “a current magazine”: “Any man who doesn’t want to get on in the world, to make a million dollars, and maybe even park his toothbrush in the White House hasn’t got as much to him as a good dog has—he’s nothing more or less than a vegetable.”
Jerry Frost, a railway clerk who really wants to be a postman, is nagged by his wife because he lacks large ambitions. In an alcohol-induced delirium he becomes President and makes a terrible mess of it. At the end of the play he is a happy postman. The Vegetable was ready for circulation in March 1922, and Fitzgerald informed Ober that “Acts I + III are probably the best pieces of dramatic comedy writtenin English the last 5 years.” The second act, the White House fantasy, gave Fitzgerald trouble throughout the history of the play. Wilson was sent a copy and responded with warm praise: “As I say, I think that the play as a whole is marvelous—no doubt, the best American comedy every written. I think you have a much better grasp on your subject than you usually have—you know what end and point you are working for, as isn’t always the case with you. … I think you have a great gift for comic dialogue—even if you never can resist a stupid gag—and should go on writing plays. … By the way, the great question is, have you read James Joyce’s Ulysses! Because if you haven’t, the resemblance between the drunken-visions scene in it and your scene in the White House must take its place as one of the great coincidences in literature.” Fitzgerald had not read Ulysses and asked Wilson how he could obtain a copy of the book, which was then banned in America.
Since two leading Broadway producers, William Harris and Charles Frohman (for whom Alec McKaig worked), had expressed interest in his play, Fitzgerald anticipated little difficulty in getting it staged. Wilson submitted it to the Theatre Guild and to actor Frank Craven, and Wilson and Nathan sought Eugene O’Neill’s advice. No one was willing to produce the play, and Fitzgerald revised it through the summer of 1922, reworking the Presidential fantasy in Act II. In one of the omitted scenes America is at war with the Buzzard Islands, and Jerry distinguishes himself by capturing the buzzards with worms. Another canceled scene shows the effects of the announcement by Jerry’s senile father, the Secretary of the Treasury, that the end of the world is imminent—for which he has prepared by buying up the world supply of coffins. The play is just not very funny, scarcely rising above the level of an undergraduate production. Despite Fitzgerald’s apprenticeship as a playwright, his talent was novelistic—not dramatic. His stage dialogue does not stand up alone, and many of his jokes depend on the stage directions.
Fitzgerald wrote only one story in the first half of 1922, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which traces the life of a man who is born old and grows up into infancy. The story was hard to place, but Collier’s took it for $1,000. While his play was making the rounds of the producers, Fitzgerald considered moneymaking projects—including another play, which never developed.
He still regarded the movies as a potential source of easy money. During the March 1922 trip to New York David O. Selznick asked Fitzgerald to write a movie synopsis for actress Elaine Hammerstein. In April he submitted a 1,500-word synopsis for “Trans-Continental Kitty.” If Selznick accepted it, Fitzgerald was to be paid $2,500 for expanding the synopsis into an 8,000-word screen story; but the synopsis was declined. It is not hard to understand why Fitzgerald’s movie ventures failed. Although he had no trouble inventing plots, his magazine stories depend upon verbal elements that were lost on the silent screen. Moreover, he did not take the movies seriously as a vehicle for his own work and supplied synopses or plots that were trivial or imitative. After the advent of the talkies Fitzgerald came to see the movies as having a greater potential than the novel, but even then he could not adapt his techniques to the screen.
In June 1922 Fitzgerald sent Ober “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk,” a 25,000-word serial based on the 1920 car trip to Montgomery and intended for the Post. After the Post rejected it and Ober was unable to place it in any of the other high-paying magazines, Fitzgerald cut it down to 17,000 words and sold it to Motor for $300. Gag photos of the Fitzgeralds illustrated the three-part article, which was published in 1924.
The Fitzgeralds spent the summer of 1922 at the White Bear Yacht Club in Dellwood. It was mostly a time of relaxation, although Fitzgerald began planning his third novel. In June he informed Perkins: “… I may start my novel and I may not. Its locale will be the middle west and New York at 1885 I think. It will concern less superlative beauties than I run to usually + will be centered on a smaller period of time. It will have a catholic element. I’m not quite sure whether I’m ready to start it quite yet or not.” And to Perkins in July: “I want to write something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned.” But a year would go by before Fitzgerald started serious work on the novel that became The Great Gatsby.
During the summer of 1922 he prepared his second story collection for Scribners. Tales of the Jazz Age was published on 22 September 1922 with eleven stories divided into three groups: My Last Flappers (“The Jelly Bean,” “The Camel’s Back,” “May Day,” “Porcelain and Pink”); Fantasies (“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Tarquin of Cheapside,” “O Russet Witch!“); Unclassified Masterpieces (“The Lees of Happiness,” “Mr. Icky,” “Jemina”). Despite the inclusion of two major stories, “MayDay” and “Diamond,” the collection was a grab bag; Fitzgerald did not have enough good material for a volume and padded it with pieces that had been left out of Flappers and Philosophers, including a parody that had appeared in the Nassau Lit. “Myra Meets His Family,” “The Smilers,” and “The Popular Girl” were omitted from the new collection because Fitzgerald regarded them as “cheap.” Tales of the Jazz Age was attractively—if inappropriately—packaged in a dust jacket by popular cartoonist John Held, Jr., and sold well. John O’Hara’s 1961 comment in his story “Mrs. Stratton of Oak Knoll” is instructive: “ ’For years I’ve been hearing and reading people talking about John Held’s girls and Fitzgerald’s, as though they were one and the same thing. They just simply weren’t. From the literary point of view, one of the worst things that ever happened to Fitzgerald was the simultaneous popularity of John Held’s drawings. Those damn editorial writers were largely to blame. Who would ever want to take Fitzgerald seriously if all they ever knew about him was that he wrote about those John Held girls? Held was a very good satirist, and he didn’t want his girls to be taken seriously. Of course Fitzgerald was partly to blame. He called one book Flappers and Philosophers, and in the public mind the flapper was the John Held girl. Actually, of course, Fitzgerald and Held and the editorial writers were all misusing the word flapper. A flapper was English slang, and it meant a society girl who had made her debut and hadn’t found a husband. On the shelf, they used to say. It wasn’t an eighteen-year-old girl with flapping galoshes.’” The first printing was 8,000 copies, and there were two more 1922 printings. Royalties on this volume amounted to $3,056 in 1922.
The working titles for the collection had been “Youth and Death,” “In One Reel,” and “Sideshow.” Against the advice of the Scribners salesmen, Fitzgerald decided on Tales of the Jazz Age after convincing himself that it would not damage his reputation as a serious novelist. Fitzgerald claimed the phrase “jazz age” as his contribution to the language. The volume was dedicated QUITE INAPPROPRIATELY TO MY MOTHER. None of Fitzgerald’s books was dedicated to his father.
A feature of Tales of the Jazz Age that attracted attention and probably helped sales was the annotated table of contents in which Fitzgerald commented on each piece—mostly with tongue in cheek. Thus:
These next stories are written in what, were I of imposing stature, I should call my “second manner.” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” which appeared last summer in the “Smart Set” was designed utterly for my own amusement. I was in the familiar mood characterized by a perfect craving for luxury, and the story began as an attempt to feed that craving on imaginary foods.
One well-known critic has been pleased to like this extravaganza better than anything I have written. Personally I prefer “The Off-Shore Pirate.” But, to tamper slightly with Lincoln: If you like this sort of thing, this, possibly, is the sort of thing you’ll like.
Though widely reviewed, the collection was judged as popular entertainment. Neither “May Day” nor “Diamond” was recognized as a masterpiece. Edmund Wilson’s Vanity Fair review pronounced Tales of the Jazz Age much better than Flappers and Philosophers because “he lets his fancy, his humor and his taste for nonsense run wild.” Wilson described “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” as “a sustained and full-rounded fantasy” but made no attempt to identify its meanings. His record as a judge of Fitzgerald’s early work is spotty, showing a preference for Fitzgerald’s entertainments—revealed by his praise of The Vegetable. It is likely that their Princeton association interfered with Wilson’s ability to gauge Fitzgerald’s work. For Wilson, Fitzgerald remained the undergraduate who had submitted material to him for the Nassau Lit. Indeed, Wilson never broke the habit of patronizing Fitzgerald. Although his affection was genuine, he was finally unable to believe that Fitzgerald was a major writer—in fact, a greater figure than himself.
Taken together, Fitzgerald’s two story collections, which drew upon three years of writing, exhibit an impressive range of material and technique. He was not writing sheik-meets-flapper stories to magazine specifications. He was mastering his trade and refining his style as he wrote entertainments (“The Camel’s Back,” “The Offshore Pirate”), didactic stories (“The Four Fists,” “The Cut-Glass Bowl”), realistic or naturalistic stories (“The Lees of Happiness,” “May Day”), and fantasies (“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” “O Russet Witch!”). In addition to demonstrating the fecundity of his ideas and flexibility of style, this variety of material and techniques suggests that Fitzgerald was deliberately testing his talents.
During the summer of 1922 Fitzgerald became involved in another movie project. Outlook Photoplays, which had made a movie of Sinclair Lewis’s Free Air in St. Paul, took a $3,000 option on This Side of Paradise; and there was some consideration of having the Fitzgeralds take the roles of Amory and Rosalind. The scheme fell through when Outlook failed to pay the option money. The rights were sold to Famous Players-Lasky in 1923 for $10,000, but the movie was never made.
The Fitzgeralds were asked to leave the White Bear Yacht Club in August because their rowdy parties disturbed the other members. They were ready to leave St. Paul anyway; they missed New York, and Fitzgerald wanted to be there for the anticipated Broadway production of his play. Before moving east, Fitzgerald wrote his second 1922 story in September, “Winter Dreams” (Metropolitan, December). The most important of the Gatsby cluster stories—that is, those 1922-24 stories related to the germinating novel—“Winter Dreams” is virtually a preview of The Great Gatsby. Dexter Green, a caddy at Black Bear Lake, encounters the rich and imperious eleven-year-old Judy Jones, who intensifies his dreams of success. He meets her again when he is twenty-three and on his way to a fortune. After Judy jilts him twice, Dexter moves to New York and becomes richer. When he is thirty-two, he hears a report that Judy’s beauty has faded and that she is unhappily married:
For the first time in years the tears were streaming down his face. But they were for himself now. He did not care about mouth and eyes and moving hands. He wanted to care, and he could not care. For he had gone away and he could never go back any more. The gates were closed, the sun was gone down, and there was no beauty but the gray beauty of steel that withstands all time. Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.
One distinction of “Winter Dreams” is Fitzgerald’s control of the narrative voice. The story is told by the third-person omniscient author, who freely comments on the action but whose sensibility is scarcely distinguishable from the hero’s; Fitzgerald thereby achieved the effect of immediacy while retaining the impression of perspective. As Dexter Green’s meditation on mutability demonstrates, “Winter Dreams” is one of the stories in which Fitzgerald strikingly achieved what is the mark of his best work: the multiplication of meaning through style and tone.
“Winter Dreams” clearly anticipates the major ideas and emotions in The Great Gatsby: the ambitious boy whose dreams of success become blended with the image of a rich girl; her inconstancy; his faithfulness; and the inevitable sense of change and loss. Although Dexter Green does not match Jay Gatsby’s romantic commitment, heis a preliminary sketch for Gatsby. So close are the reactions of Green and Gatsby to the rich girl’s ambiance that the description of Judy’s home was lifted from the magazine text of the story and written into The Great Gatsby for Daisy Fay’s house. In April 1943 Zelda wrote Oscar Kalman that “Scott’s story ’Winter Dreams’ written about you and Sandra has just been published in an anthology.” Kalman replied: “I could not see how it in any way described Xandra or me but that may be because I was too close to the situation or perhaps don’t know what goes on.” There is no other evidence to connect the Kalmans with “Winter Dreams.”
Fitzgerald felt that the year in St. Paul had been largely wasted; the only substantial work he had accomplished was an unproduced play. The Ledger summary for his twenty-fifth year was: “A bad year. No work. Slow deteriorating repression with outbreak around the corner.”
In September 1922 the Fitzgeralds left the baby in St. Paul while they went house-hunting in New York. They met John Dos Passos and took him along to look at houses in Great Neck, Long Island, where they called on Ring Lardner, who was helplessly drunk. There is no record of a previous meeting between Fitzgerald and Lardner, but Dos Passos’s report of the visit indicates that they were already acquainted at this time. Dos Passos’s first impressions of Fitzgerald parallel those of other friends; annoyance at his personal quizzing yielded to a surprised recognition of his literary intelligence: “When he talked about writing his mind, which seemed to me full of preposterous notions about most things, became clear and hard as diamond.” At Zelda’s insistence they stopped at an amusement park on the way back to New York. Fitzgerald remained in the car with a bottle while Zelda rode the Ferris wheel with Dos Passos, who sensed that there were unreachable territories of her mind: “The gulf that opened between Zelda and me, sitting up on that rickety Ferris wheel, was something I couldn’t explain. It was only looking back at it years later that it occurred to me that, even the first day we knew each other, I had come up against that basic fissure in her mental processes that was to have such tragic consequences. Though she was so very lovely I had come upon something that frightened and repelled me, even physically… Through it all I felt a great respect for her, a puzzled but affectionate respect.”
In New York, Fitzgerald learned that his play had been declined by all the producers who had read it. For $300 a month the Fitzgeralds rented a small house at 6 Gateway Drive in Great Neck which Zelda described as a “nifty little Babbit-home.” About fifteen miles from the city, on the Long Island Sound side or North Shore of Long Island, Great Neck was favored by show business types. Among the residents were Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor, Herbert Bayard Swope, Tom Mieghan, Gene Buck, and Lew Fields. Zelda went to St. Paul for Scottie, and the family settled down with a live-in servant couple ($160 a month), a nurse for the baby ($90 a month), and a part-time laundress ($36 a month).
Fitzgerald’s friendship with Lardner, who lived nearby, became very close. It was an unlikely friendship because the thirty-seven-year-old humorist was a reserved man who shared few of Fitzgerald’s interests and none of his ebullience. Fitzgerald later admitted that he never penetrated his friend’s “noble dignity.” After achieving prominence as a sports columnist and humorist on the Chicago Tribune, Lardner had moved east to write a syndicated humor column and a comic strip based on his You Know Me Al stories. Although his use of the American vernacular in his fiction was beginning to attract critical attention, Lardner did not regard himself seriously as a writer. Fitzgerald, who does not seem to have been a Lardner fan before they met, soon became one of his strongest admirers and tried to promote Lardner’s reputation. He saw Lardner as a writer whose achievement fell short of his potential because of a cynical attitude toward his work, and concluded that Lardner had been stunted by his early years as a baseball reporter. “A writer can spin on about his adventures after thirty, after forty, after fifty, but the criteria by which these adventures are weighted and valued are irrevocably settled at the age of twenty-five.” Lardner and his wife Ellis were intrigued by Zelda; and he began an elaborate mock courtship of “The Queel of Alabam,” addressing humorous poems to her. Here is the first stanza of a Christmas poem he sent her, probably in 1923:
Of all the girls for whom I care,
And there are quite a number,
None can compare with Zelda Sayre,
Now wedded to a plumber.
Fitzgerald and Lardner had liquor in common—Lardner was an alcoholic—and they spent nights talking and drinking. When JosephConrad was visiting the Doubleday estate at Oyster Bay, Long Island, they decided to pay homage to him by performing a dance on the lawn; the anticipated meeting did not occur because the two votaries of Bacchus and Terpsichore were thrown off the property for trespassing. In April 1923 Fitzgerald contributed to the newspaper feature “10 Best Books I Have Read,” citing Conrad’s Nostromo as “The great novel of the past fifty years, as ’Ulysses’ is the great novel of the future.” The other books on Fitzgerald’s list were Samuel Butler’s Notebooks, Mencken’s The Philosophy of Frledrich Nietzsche, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson, Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, The Oxford Book of English Verse, France’s Thais, and Tarkington’s Seventeen (“The funniest book I’ve ever read”).
A source of amusement for Fitzgerald and Lardner was the behavior of Gene Buck, a songwriter of almost impenetrable egocentricity who worked with Florenz Ziegfeld. Lardner wrote Buck into his story “The Love Nest” and worked the Fitzgeralds into his articles. His retelling of “Cinderella” explains that “Her name was Zelda, but they called her Cinderella on account of how the ashes and clinkers clung to her when she got up noons”; Prince Charming is named Scott. Lardner’s article “In Regards to Geniuses” includes this comment:
Another prominent writer of the younger set is F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mr. Fitzgerald sprung into fame with his novel This Side of Paradise which he turned out when only three years old and wrote the entire book with one hand. Mr. Fitzgerald never shaves while at work on his novels and looks very funny along towards the last five or six chapters. His hobby is leashing high bred dogs and when not engaged on a book or a story, can be seen most any day on the streets of Great Neck leashing high bred dogs of which there is a great number. He cannot bear to see any of them untied.
Fitzgerald’s interest in advancing other writers’ careers found ready material in Ring Lardner. Despite Lardner’s large newspaper and magazine following, his books had never sold well—not even the classic You Know Me Al—and he had given up on reaching a book-reading audience. Fitzgerald was dismayed to learn that Lardner considered his stories dead once they had appeared in magazines and did not bother to keep copies of them. He brought Lardner and Perkins together and conceived the plan for a new collection of Lardner’s stories. Evidence of Fitzgerald’s efforts survives in the form of an 11 December 1923 Chatham Hotel lunch menu on which he and Perkins made notes for possible Lardner collections. Fitzgerald provided the title for the first Lardner volume under the Scribners imprint, How to Write Short Stories, which initiated a reappraisal of Lardner’s fiction when it was published in May 1924. Scribners published six more Lardner volumes and a collected edition during his lifetime.
In Great Neck, Fitzgerald started reading Dostoevski, probably at Lardner’s recommendation. He was impressed by The Brothers Karamazov and later said he reread it before starting work on a new novel. He acknowledged to Mencken the indirect effect of Dostoevski on The Great Gatsby: “the influence on it has been the masculine one of The Brothers Karamazof, a thing of incomparable form, rather than the feminine one of The Portrait of a Lady.” Lardner may also have encouraged Fitzgerald to read Dickens; and Bleak House became his favorite Dickens novel.
Fitzgerald revised The Vegetable for at least the third time in Great Neck (he later claimed the play was revised six times) and decided to publish it as a book before it was produced. He believed that his name on the book was sure to bring sales; moreover, the exposure of the book might result in a stage production. Writing to Perkins about publication plans for The Vegetable, Fitzgerald admitted what was wrong with the play: “To be advertised, it seems to me rather as a book of humor, like the Parody outline of History or Seventeen than like a play—because of course it is written to be read.”
While the latest version of The Vegetable was being considered by impresarios, Fitzgerald again tried to earn what he regarded as easy money from the movies. At that time movies were still being produced in New York, and Fitzgerald made contact with movie people living in the Great Neck area. Townsend Martin was a partner in the Film Guild, which paid Fitzgerald $2,000 for his original story for Grit (The scenario was written by James Ashmore Creelman; Fitzgerald received credit for the “source.” Fitzgerald’s screen story does not survive.)Starring Glen Hunter and Clara Bow, the crook melodrama shows that Fitzgerald approached movie work with the conviction that the movies required cheap plots. A young man overcomes his fear of guns to expose a gang of criminals and win an underworld girl named Orchid McGonigle. In 1923 Fitzgerald also earned $500 by writing the titles for the silent version of Edith Wharton’s Glimpses of the Moon. With the sale of This Side of Paradise, the movies paid him a total of $13,500 in 1923. Part of the movie money was put into $4,000 worthof Liberty Bonds, which were soon cashed in to meet the expenses of Great Neck life.
The March 1923 contract with Famous Players-Lasky for This Side of Paradise required Fitzgerald to prepare a treatment for the silent movie. A typed synopsis survives among Fitzgerald’s papers, but there is no way to be sure that it is his work. In this proposed movie version Rosalind betrays Amory by eloping with the wealthy Burne Holiday, who is killed immediately after the wedding. Rosalind renounces a fortune by concealing the marriage and thereby sets up a noble happy ending: “Amory takes her in his arms and we realize that, at last, he is strong enough to work out the destinies of both of them.” Fitzgerald was to be paid an additional $2,500 for collaborating on the scenario or continuity, but the movie project was dropped.
Scribners published The Vegetable or from President to postman on 27 April 1923 in a printing of 7,650 copies at $1.50. Again the dust jacket was by Held. The dedication read: TO KATHERINE TIGHE AND EDMUND WILSON, JR. WHO DELETED MANY ABSURDITIES FROM MY FIRST TWO NOVELS I RECOMMEND THE ABSURDITIES SET DOWN HERE. The book was widely reviewed, but most of the critics regarded it as minor Fitzgerald and found the political satire labored. There was only one printing.
Eager to increase his short-story price from the $900 Metropolitan figure, Fitzgerald sold the Hearst organization an option on his 1923 output for $1,500. Under the terms of the agreement Hearst was to accept at least six stories for $1,500 each. The deal proved to be complicated and unsatisfactory. (In 1923 and 1924 Fitzgerald submitted “Dice, Brass Knuckles & Guitar” (Hearst’s International), “Hot and Cold Blood” (International), “Our Own Movie Queen” (mostly written by Zelda; declined but published under Fitzgerald’s name by the Chicago Sunday Tribune), and “One of My Oldest Friends” (declined; published by Woman’s Home Companion). “‘The Sensible Thing’” (Liberty) and “Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr-nce of W-les” (McCall’s) were paid for by International but later returned; “Diamond Dick and the First Law of Woman” and “The Baby Party” were accepted in their place.) The first of the Hearst stories, “Dice, Brass Knuckles & Guitar,” was written in January. While not a major story, it has connections with The Great Gatsby. A farce, “Dice” does not make a serious statement; but the story deals with the cruelty of the rich toward the outsider. A Southerner comes north with the improbable scheme of teaching the arts of crap shooting, jazz, and self-defense to the children of the wealthy. His school is a success, but heis bitterly hurt to discover that he is thought of as a servant. He is befriended by a girl who belongs with the rich by virtue of family though not of money. She delivers the judgment “You’re better than all of them put together”—anticipating Nick Carraway’s tribute to Gatsby. (One of the wealthy families in the story is named Katzby, which may have provided the sound for the name Gatsby that James Gatz invents for himself— combined with “gat,” the slang word for a pistol.) “Hot and Cold Blood,” written in April 1923, shows Fitzgerald reverting to his early didacticism. A young businessman is rebuked by his wife for allowing people to take advantage of his generosity and he decides to harden himself. After inadvertently making her the victim of his new selfishness, he reverts to his natural kindness.
The first half of 1923 was a time of parties and drinking while Fitzgerald waited for The Vegetable to be accepted by a producer; he was reluctant to start his third novel because it would be interrupted when the play went into rehearsal. During the early months of 1923 he conferred with Perkins about the publication of Thomas Boyd’s Through the Wheat. When the book appeared in May he wrote a strong review for the New York Evening Post, describing it as the only novel that gave him the feeling of Conrad’s “Youth” and praising its unintellectualized realism “and unmistakable note of heroism.” Fitzgerald’s review concluded: “To my mind this is not only the best combatant story of the great war, but also the best war book since ’The Red Badge of Courage.’ “ Fitzgerald had reviewed Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers for Boyd’s St. Paul Daily News book page in 1921, placing it above Red Badge. In the interval Fitzgerald decided that Dos Passos had falsified the reactions of American soldiers “and in so doing attributed the emotions of exhausted nations to men who for the most part were neither exhausted nor emotional.” Some of his praise for Boyd must be discounted as an act of friendship; nonetheless, Fitzgerald’s patriotic stance seems sincere. Perhaps it was an expression of his regret at having missed battle or perhaps it represented his disappointment with Europe, but Fitzgerald concluded that the American soldiers of the Great War were different from the Europeans. Although Through the Wheat achieved a period of respect, its reputation did not last. Boyd became a productive novelist and biographer, but none of his later books matched the success of his first novel.
Despite his own fame, Fitzgerald was almost boyishly eager to meet great writers. In the spring of 1923 he pleaded with Mencken, ErnestBoyd, and Carl Van Vechten to take him along to a party Theodore Dreiser was giving at his Greenwich Village apartment. They declined; but Fitzgerald later arrived tight at the extremely dull stag gathering, bearing a bottle of champagne as a gift for Dreiser—who carefully put it away. Fitzgerald was unable to start a conversation with his taciturn host.
During 1923 the Fitzgeralds developed a friendship with Carl Van Vechten, who would record his impressions of them as David and Rilda Westlake in his 1930 novel Parties: “Rilda and David tortured each other because they loved one another devotedly.”
Long Island provided material for Fitzgerald’s third novel as impressions from that “riotous island” went into the writer’s process of cerebration. Jay Gatsby was partly inspired by a local figure, Max Gerlach. Near the end of her life Zelda Fitzgerald said that Gatsby was based on “a neighbor named Von Guerlach or something who was said to be General Pershing’s nephew and was in trouble over bootlegging.” This identification is supported by a newspaper photo of the Fitzgeralds in their scrapbook, with a note dated 7/20/23: “En route from the coast—Here for a few days on business—How are you and the family old Sport? Gerlach.” Here is Gatsby’s characterizing expression, old sport, from the hand of Gerlach. Attempts to fill in the history of Max Gerlach have failed; the only clue is a 1930 newspaper reference to him as a “wealthy yachtsman.” [Edmund Wilson’s “gentleman bootlegger” named Max Fleischman in his 1924 play The Crime in the Whistler Room drew upon Fitzgerald’s ideas. In his copy of the play Fitzgerald noted “I had told Bunny my plan for Gatsby” in the margin of Wilson’s description of Fleischman: “He lives like a millionaire. Gosh, I haven’t seen so much to drink since prohibition… Well, Fleischman was making a damn ass of himself bragging about how much his tapestries were worth and how much his bathroom was worth and how he never wore a shirt twice—” See Zelda Fitzgerald’s reference to a bootlegger named Fleischman in her summer 1923 letter to the Kalmans on p. 184.] (“Yachtsman” was sometimes a euphemism for rumrunner. )
Some fifteen years after writing The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald noted the sources for the chapters on the endpaper of his copy of Andre Malraux’s Man’s Hope (1938):
[Sculptor and polo player Charles Cary Rumsey was married to heiress Mary Harnman; they had an estate at Westbury, Long Island. Polo player and war hero Tommy Hitchcock was one of Fitzgerald’s permanent idols. Goddard may have been screenwriter and playwright Charles William Goddard. Allan Dwan was a movie director. Herbert Bayard Swope was executive editor of the New York World and a famous Great Neck host.]
The material for Jay Gatsby’s association with Dan Cody was provided by a Great Neck friend, Robert Kerr, who as a fourteen-year-old had warned Major Edwin R. Gilman that his yacht would break up when the tide ran out in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. Gilman hired him and Kerr lived aboard the yacht for three years. In the summer of 1924 Fitzgerald wrote Kerr: “The part of what you told me which I am including in my novel is the ship, yatch I mean, + the mysterious yatchsman whose mistress was Nellie Bly.”
Meyer Wolfsheim, “the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919,” was obviously based on gambler Arnold Rothstein, whom Fitzgerald had met. Ring Lardner, who had inside information on the Black Sox scandal, could have provided additional material on Roth stein. Aspects of Gatsby’s criminal career were suggested by the Fuller-McGee case of 1922, in which a brokerage house’s assets were misappropriated by its owners—one of whom, Edward M. Fuller, had an estate at Great Neck and was involved with Rothstein.
In the summer of 1923 Zelda reported to the Kalmans, who had visited the Fitzgeralds at Great Neck: “I have unearthed some of the choicest bootleggers (including Fleischman)… But Scott has started a new novel and retired into strict seclusion and celibacy… Besides, any minute he may have to start going over to Famous Players about T.S.O.P.’”
The earliest draft of Fitzgerald’s third novel has not been preserved, so it is impossible to determine whether he began working on his planfor a novel set in the Midwest in the nineteenth century. The only clue to the 1923 draft is provided by a 1925 letter to Willa Cather in which Fitzgerald accounts for “an instance of apparent plagiarism” from A Lost Lady (1923) in The Great Gatsby by explaining that a description of Daisy Buchanan was written before he read Cather’s description of Mrs. Forrester. Fitzgerald enclosed two pages of his first draft—all that survive. The locale is not specified in these pages. The characters named are Jordan Vance, Ada, and Carraway—who is not the narrator. The story is told by an omniscient authorial voice. Fitzgerald was not able to concentrate on his novel because of the distractions at Great Neck. Here, for example, is his Ledger entry for July 1923: “Tootsie [Rosalind] arrived Intermittent work on novel Constant drinking. Some golf. Baby begins to talk. Parties at Allen Dwans. Gloria Swanson and the movie crowd. Our party for Tootsie The Perkins arrive. I drive into the lake.”
By 1923-24 Fitzgerald had progressed from a party drinker to a steady drinker with increasingly erratic behavior. In Tender Is the Night, commenting on the alcoholic Abe North, he described the pleasurable effects he felt at a certain stage of drunkenness: “The drink made past happy things contemporary with the present, as if they were still going on, contemporary even with the future as if they were about to happen again.” Although Fitzgerald has the reputation of being one of the heaviest drinkers among American writers, his tolerance for alcohol was low and he became drunk on relatively small amounts of alcohol. He was not an expert drinker, and his palate for wine was untrained. His preferred tipple was straight gin, which gave him the quickest lift and which he thought was difficult to detect on his breath.
One textbook definition is that alcoholism is “a chronic behavioral disorder manifested by an undue preoccupation with alcohol and its use to the detriment of physical and mental health, by loss of control when drinking is begun, and by a self-destructive attitude in dealing with personal relationships and life situations. Alcoholism results from a disturbance and deprivation in early life of experiences and the associated related alterations in basic physiochemical responsiveness; from the identification by the alcoholic person with significant figures who deal with life problems through an unhealthy preoccupation with alcohol, and from a sociocultural milieu that causes ambivalence, conflict and guilt in the use of alcohol.”
Alcoholism runs in families, but it is not clear that it is hereditary.Although it was formerly thought that the incidence of alcoholism among children of alcoholics was mainly the result of role emulation, recent studies have indicated that there may be genetic factors. This line of investigation cannot be developed in Fitzgerald’s case because nothing is known about his father’s drinking habits except that he went on occasional mild benders. There are also unconfirmed reports that Mollie’s brothers were heavy drinkers.
Of the several psychoanalytic theories, R. P. Knight’s formulation of the psychodynamics of alcoholism seems applicable to Fitzgerald:
His [the alcoholic’s] childhood experiences have given him a personality characterized by excessive demands for indulgence. These demands are doomed to frustration with intolerable disappointment and rage. The reaction impels him to hostile acts and wishes against the thwarting individuals for which he then feels guilt and punishes himself masochistically. As reassurance against guilt feelings and fears of dangerously destructive masochism and reality consequences of his behavior, he feels excessive need for affection and indulgence as proof of affection. Again, the excessive claims, doomed to frustration, arise, and the circle is complete. The use of alcohol as a pacifier for disappointment and rage, as a potent means of carrying out hostile impulses to spite his parents and friends, as a method of securing masochistic debasement, and as a symbolic gratification of the need for affection is now interweaving itself in the neurotic vicious cycle.
Dr. Richard Hoffmann, a psychiatrist who saw Fitzgerald while he was recovering from a 1939 bender, diagnosed that Fitzgerald suffered from hypoglycemia or hyperinsulinism, a condition in which the body produces an excess of insulin that causes a craving for sugar. Alcohol is one way to replenish body sugar. True hypoglycemia results from a tumor on the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, but the diagnosis can only be confirmed by a post-mortem examination or blood glucose tests. After examining Fitzgerald’s medical records, pathologist William Ober concludes: “There is no evidence for hypoglycemia whatsoever. The discharge note from Johns Hopkins Hospital on 3 January 1937 states that a blood sugar determination was done and reported as 78 mg. per 100 cc. This is perfectly normal, and the specimen was drawn after he had been in the hospital and not drinking for a couple of days.” Dr. Ober points out that all alcoholism induces hypoglycemia. “However, the alcohol-induced low blood sugar levels were responsible for Fitzgerald’s idiosyncratic eating habits, e.g. ice cream for breakfast, etc. He did not drink because his blood sugar level was low; he drank because he was a drunkard. ’Drunkard’ is theold-fashioned term for alcoholic, and, as we know today, it is an addiction, a form of escape for people with inadequate personalities, people with deep-seated insecurities, people with unresolved intra-psychic conflicts (often sexual but by no means always so), as well as people … who use it to drown out the still small voice of self-reproach. The superego can be defined as that portion of the personality that is soluble in alcohol.” Fitzgerald’s guilt about drinking may have generated the self-perpetuating situation whereby he sometimes drank to alleviate the feelings of guilt provoked by his drinking.
In his twenties Fitzgerald was partly playing a role. Writers were supposed to drink. His difficulty in controlling it—which in his case meant staying on the wagon—was compounded by the circumstance that his society ran on alcohol. His friends were drinkers, and the social gatherings he attended were drinking occasions. Zelda, though never an alcoholic, enjoyed getting tight.
The studies of literary alcoholism are inconclusive. Many of the best American writers of the twentieth century have had alcohol problems: Fitzgerald, Faulkner, O’Neill, O’Hara, Wolfe, Lardner, Hemingway, Lewis, Chandler, Hammett. There is evidently a connection between alcoholism and the creative personality; but it remains unclear whether writers drink because they are writers. Writing and drinking are both forms of exhibitionism and escapism.
In the summer of 1923 Sam H. Harris agreed to produce The Vegetable (Fitzgerald’s May 1923 Ledger entry “Play accepted by Williams” has not been explained). The director was Sam Forrest, and the leading role of Jerry Frost was acted by Ernest Truex. Fitzgerald was involved in rehearsals, and in November he and Zelda went with the Lardners to Atlantic City, New Jersey, for the tryout. The play opened for a one-week run at Nixon’s Apollo Theatre on 19 November 1923. Opening night was a disaster; and people walked out during the second act fantasy, which didn’t work on the stage. Zelda reported to Xandra Kalman:
In brief, the show flopped as flat as one of Aunt Jemimas famous pancakes—Scott and Truex and Harris were terribly disappointed and so was I as I had already spent the first weeks N.Y. royalty for a dress to wear to the opening night that could not be exchanged… The first act went fine but Ernest says he has never had an experience on the stage like the second. I heard one woman hit the roof when the bible was mentioned. Theyseemed to think it was sacreligious or something. People were so obviously bored! And it was all very well done, so there was no use trying to fix it up. The idea was what people didn’t like—Just hopeless! Scott suggested fixing it up by having Ernests teeth fall out when he heard about the Buzzard Islands, but I don’t think anybody liked the suggestion except us—It is too terrible to contemplate.
Fitzgerald did what he could to improve the play during the week at Atlantic City, but it was dead when its out-of-town tryouts ended (When the enormously successful Gershwin musical Of Thee I Sing was produced in 1931, Fitzgerald became convinced that the political satire by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind had been lifted from The Vegetable, and considered a plagiarism suit). The failure of The Vegetable terminated Fitzgerald’s serious interest in the stage and its financial rewards. Although he would occasionally talk about writing another play, he never went beyond outlines. Superficially considered, it seems surprising that Fitzgerald did not persevere with the theater. His theatrical apprenticeship in St. Paul and Princeton had won him his first recognition; and his ability to write dialogue promised eventual success as a playwright. Nevertheless, much of the effectiveness of Fitzgerald’s stories depends on elements of style and narrative technique that cannot be transferred to the stage. He was a storyteller, relying heavily on tone, style, and authorial presence. A Fitzgerald story or novel in dramatic form loses many of the qualities that make it a Fitzgerald work—as the disappointing movie versions of his novels have demonstrated.
The Vegetable left Fitzgerald in debt, for he had written only two stories for Hearst’s International in 1923 before the Atlantic City debacle. He went on the wagon at the end of 1923 and wrote ten stories by March 1924: “Gretchen’s Forty Winks,” “Diamond Dick and the First Law of Woman,” “The Third Casket,” “ ’The Sensible Thing,’ “ “Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr-nce of W-les,” “The Unspeakable Egg,” “John Jackson’s Arcady,” “The Baby Party,” “The Pusher-in-the-Face,” and “One of My Oldest Friends.” They brought $16,450, which paid off Fitzgerald’s borrowings from Harold Ober and financed a summer of uninterrupted work on The Great Gatsby.
The 1924 stories were written on pots of coffee that made him irritable and sleepless, initiating the insomnia that troubled him for the rest of his life. Most of these stories were submitted to Hearst’s International Magazine under the option agreement, but the magazine delayed payments. Fitzgerald resumed his association with The Saturday Evening Post, which for the next dozen years became his primary story market. After 1924 Ober gave the Post first refusal on the stories. Of Fitzgerald’s 113 published stories during the period he was a Post contributor, from 1920 to 1937, 65 (plus four articles) were in the Post—an average of 3.8 appearances a year. But he was not the Post’s most productive writer. That distinction belonged to Ben Ames Williams, with 160 fiction appearances during the Twenties; and Joseph Hergesheimer, Octavus Roy Cohen, Hugh McNair Kahler, Clarence Buddington Kelland, and John P. Marquand all appeared more often than Fitzgerald. Despite his boast that he was the highest-paid short-story writer in America, it is unlikely that he was ever the Post’shighest-paid fiction contributor. In 1924 the Post paid Fitzgerald $1,750 for a story. His top price of $4,000 was not reached until 1929.
Most of Fitzgerald’s 1924 stories are routine commercial efforts. He admitted to Mencken: “my whole heart was in my first trash. … I never really ‘wrote down’ until after the failure of the Vegetable.” “Gretchen’s Forty Winks,” written in January, describes how a man with an important project drugs his spoiled wife until his work is done. At this time Fitzgerald could still turn his domestic problems into moneymaking humor. “Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr-nce of W-les” was an obvious reprise of “The Offshore Pirate”: a wealthy young man wins a bored heiress by staging an elaborate spectacle for her. “The Baby Party,” a story about parental anger resulting from a children’s party, was written overnight.
“ ’The Sensible Thing’ “ is the only one of the ten stories with particular merit, and it is one of the strongest Gatsby cluster stories. Drawing on his courtship of Zelda, Fitzgerald wrote about a young man who loses a Southern girl because he is too poor to marry her. After one of the sudden reversals of fortune that characterize Fitzgerald’s stories, George O’Kelley comes back for Jonquil Cary a year later with money and a promising future. Now she is ready to marry him; but O’Kelley realizes that during the year something has been irretrievably lost:
All the time in the world—his life and hers. But for an instant as he kissed her he knew that though he search through eternity he could never recapture those lost April hours. He might press her close now till the muscles knotted on his arms—she was something desirable and rare that he had fought for and made his own—but never again an intangible whisper in the dark, or on the breeze of night…
Well, let it pass he thought; April is over, April is over. There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.
O’Kelley can accept the mutability of love, but Gatsby will insist on nothing less than total restoration: he wants the same love twice.
The 1923 start on the novel had included an account of the hero’s boyhood in the Midwest. In April 1924 Fitzgerald told Perkins that he had converted part of the discarded opening into the story “Absolution” for the American Mercury, Mencken’s and Nathan’s new magazine. The connection between “Absolution” and The Great Gatsby has engendered considerable speculation, with the common assumptionthat the boy is young Gatsby. This view is supported by Fitzgerald’s 1934 statement to a critic: “It might interest you to know that a story of mine, called ’Absolution’ … was intended to be a picture of his [Gatsby’s] early life, but that I cut it because I preferred to preserve the sense of mystery.” Nonetheless, it is not certain that Rudolph Miller, the boy whose dreams of metropolitan glamour are reinforced by his encounter with the deranged priest, is Jimmy Gatz. As Fitzgerald told Perkins, “Absolution” was salvaged from a discarded version before he approached the novel from “a new angle”—by which he meant a new plot. While Miller and Gatz share a romantic disposition, there is no clear evidence that they are the same characterization from the same novel. Fitzgerald’s 1922 plan was that his third novel would have a “catholic element”—which is entirely absent in The Great Gatsby, though central to “Absolution.” Indeed, there is no clue to Gatsby’s religious background beyond the fact that his funeral is conducted by a Lutheran minister. The safest way to regard Rudolph Miller is as a preliminary treatment of the figure who developed into Jay Gatsby; they share the conviction that “There was something ineffably gorgeous somewhere that had nothing to do with God.”
Because Fitzgerald was regarded as a spokesman for his generation, he was asked to write articles about love, marriage, and sex—four of which appeared in 1924: “Why Blame It on the Poor Kiss if the Girl Veteran of Many Petting Parties Is Prone to Affairs After Marriage?” “What Kind of Husbands Do ’Jimmies’ Make?” “Does a Moment of Revolt Come Sometime to Every Married Man?” (with a companion article by Zelda), and “Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own!” “What Kind of Husbands Do ’Jimmies’ Make?” is an attack on the American “wasting class,” in which Fitzgerald cites the lack of an American aristocracy. “Here we come to something that sets the American ’leisure class’ off from the leisure class of all other nations— and makes it probably the most shallow, most hollow, most pernicious leisure class in the world. It has frequently no consciousness that leisure is a privilege, not a right, and that a privilege always implies a responsibility.”
Great Neck proved to be expensive. Any place was expensive for the Fitzgeralds, but the proximity to New York City encouraged improvident evenings on the town. Although Fitzgerald earned $28,754.78 in 1923, it was not enough to pay his bills. With his penchant for making schedules, Fitzgerald worked out a budget proving that $2,000 was ample to cover their monthly expenses. But they were spending $3,000—with $12,000 a year unaccounted for (Fitzgerald’s monthly budget for 1923 includes the following categories: “House Liquor” ($80), “Wild Parties” ($100), “Subway (ect.)” ($29), “Miscelaeneous Cash” ($276).). The only thing to do was to write about it; and the Post bought “How to Live on $36,000 a Year” for $1,000. Since $36,000 was an impressive figure in those days, the article attracted attention when it appeared in April 1924. Although “How to Live on $36,000 a Year” was intended as humor, it provided an accurate view of Fitzgerald’s circumstances and work habits at that time:
Over our garage is a large bare room whither I now retired with pencil, paper and oil stove, emerging the next afternoon at five o’clock with a 7,000-word story. That was something; it would pay the rent and last month’s overdue bills. It took twelve hours a day for five weeks to rise from abject poverty back into the middle class, but within that time we had paid our debts, and the cause for immediate worry was over.
I wanted to find out where the $36,000 had gone. Thirty-six thousand is not very wealthy—not yacht-and-Palm-Beach wealthy—but it sounds to me as though it should buy a roomy house full of furniture, a trip to Europe once a year, and a bond or two besides. But our $36,000 had bought nothing at all.
That was the mystery of the Fitzgeralds’ finances: they never knew where their money had gone because they had nothing to show for it. The cycle of debt kept Fitzgerald in bondage to the magazines. It seemed he could always write another story, and his story price kept going up. Writing stories provided Fitzgerald with no satisfaction and generated guilt because he knew that his chance for greatness depended on novels. Even if Zelda understood her husband’s potential, she did not share his contempt for his short stories and was pleased that they brought in what she regarded as easy money. After Fitzgerald’s death Zelda said, “I always felt a story in the Post was tops; a goal worth seeking. It really meant something, you know—they only took stories of real craftsmanship. But Scott couldn’t stand to write them.” Increasingly, Fitzgerald resented her inability to share his high literary ambitions. He later ruefully remarked: “A strange thing was that I could never convince Zelda that I was a first rate writer. She knew I could write well, but she didn’t recognize how well. When I was making myself from a popular story writer into a serious writer, ’a big shot,’ she did not understand or try to help me.”
Every serious writer should ideally have a wife who puts his work ahead of everything, who runs an organized household and protects him from distractions—though such a wife would probably have bored Fitzgerald. He knew that Zelda was not domestically inclined when he married her. Despite his distress over the financial insecurity and the interruptions of his novels that were concomitants of life with Zelda, he shared the responsibility for the way they lived because it was what part of him wanted. They were collaborators in extravagance.
In April 1924 Fitzgerald noted in his Ledger: “Out of the woods at last + starting novel.” He sent Perkins a stock-taking letter declaring his resolves for The Great Gatsby:
A few words more relative to our conversation this afternoon. While I have every hope + plan of finishing my novel in June you know how those things often come out. And even if it takes me 10 times that long I cannot let it go out unless it has the very best I’m capable of in it or even as I feel sometimes, something better than I’m capable of. Much of what I wrote last summer was good but it was so interrupted that it was ragged + in approaching it from a new angle I’ve had to discard a lot of it—in one case 18,000 (part of which will appear in the Mercury as a short story.) It is only in the last four months that I’ve realized how much I’ve—well, almost deteriorated in the three years since I finished the Beautiful and Damned. The last four months of course I’ve worked but in the two years—over two years—before that, I produced exactly one play, half a dozen short stories and three or four articles—an average of about one hundred words a day. If I’d spent this time reading or travelling or doing anything—even staying healthy—it’d be different but I spent it uselessly, niether in study nor in contemplation but only in drinking and raising hell generally. If I’d written the B. + D. at the rate of 100 words a day it would have taken me 4 years so you can imagine the moral effect the whole chasm had on me.
What I’m trying to say is just that I’ll have to ask you to have patience about the book and trust me that at last, or at least for the 1st time in years, I’m doing the best I can. I’ve gotten in dozens of bad habits that I’m trying to get rid of
I feel I have an enormous power in me now, more than I’ve ever had in a way but it works so fitfully and with so many bogeys because I’ve talked so much and not lived enough within myself to develop the nessessary self reliance. Also I don’t know anyone who has used up so [much personal] experience as I have at 27. Copperfield + Pendennis were written at past forty while This Side of Paradise was three books + the B. + D. was two. So in my new novel I’m thrown directly on purely creative work—not trashy imaginings as in my stories but the sustained imagination of a sincere and yet radiant world. So I tread slowly and carefully + at times in considerable distress. This book will be a consciously artistic achievment + must depend on that as the 1st books did not.
If I ever win the right to any liesure again I will assuredly not waste it as I wasted this past time. Please believe me when I say that now I’m doing the best I can.
Fitzgerald’s working title was “Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires”—which establishes that he had found one of the central symbols for the novel—but Perkins thought it was weak. In April, Perkins told Fitzgerald that he “always thought that ’The Great Gatsby’ was a suggestive and effective title,” indicating that it was also an early possibility.
The Ledger records “Decision on 15th [April] to go to Europe.” The move was not based on a fondness for Europe or on cultural needs; it was mainly a financial imperative. Since he could not settle down to steady work on his novel at Great Neck, the Fitzgeralds would go to the Riviera where life was simple and inexpensive. (The rate of exchange was nineteen francs to the dollar, and a meal with wine could be had for three francs.) His five months of story work had gotten him $7,000 ahead, and he hoped to be able to write The Great Gatsby on the Riviera without story interruptions.
Ring Lardner wrote Zelda an eight-stanza farewell poem:
Zelda, fair queel of Alabam’,
Across the waves I kiss you!
You think I am a stone, a clam;
You think that I don’t give a damn,
But God! how I will miss you!
My heart goes with you as you sail.
God grant you won’t be seasick!
The thought of you abaft the rail,
Diffusing meat and ginger ale,
Makes both my wife and me sick.
The Fitzgeralds sailed early in May on the Minnewaska with seventeen pieces of luggage, a hundred feet of copper screen, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The selection of a dry ship indicates Fitzgerald’s resolve. After nine days in Paris—where they had a reunion with Bishop and interviewed nannies for Scottie—they were at the Grimm’s Park Hotel in Hyeres on the Riviera. Fitzgerald sent Thomas Boyd a glowing report soon after his arrival at Hyeres:
Your letter was the first to reach me after I arrived here. This is the lovliest piece of earth I’ve ever seen without excepting Oxford or Venice or Princeton or anywhere. Zelda and I are sitting in the cafe l’Universe writing letters (it is 10:30 P.M.) and the moon is an absolutely au fait Mediteraenean moon with a blurred silver linnen cap + we’re both a a little tight and very happily drunk if you can use that term for the less nervous, less violent reactions of this side.
I’m going to read nothing but Homer + Homeric literature—and history 540-1200 A.D. until I finish my novel + I hope to God I don’t see a soul for six months. My novel grows more + more extraordinary; I feel absolutely self-sufficient + I have a perfect hollow craving for lonliness, that has increased for three years in some arithmetical progression + I’m going to satisfy it at last.
Well, I shall write a novel better than any novel ever written in America and become par excellence the best second-rater in the world.143
The “summer Riviera,” as it was called, was unfashionable because the Riviera was then a winter resort; the hotel was populated by elderly English invalids. The Fitzgeralds rented the elegant Villa Marie in Valescure, 2.5 kilometers above St. Raphael, for $79 a month and bought a Renault for $750. The English nanny, Lillian Maddock, was paid $26 a month; and the cook and maid received $16 and $13 a month. Still, the Riviera was not as cheap as the Fitzgeralds expected because the servants and the local merchants took advantage of them. As always, a good deal of money was spent in restaurants and cafes.
Fitzgerald worked steadily on his novel, interrupting it to write an account of life on the Riviera, “How to Live on Practically Nothing aYear,” for the Post in July. Although his sanguine progress reports were exaggerated—for example, the mid-July claim to Ober that “the novel is almost done”—he made rapid progress on the manuscript draft. At first Zelda seemed satisfied with their quiet life; but in Julyshe became involved with a French naval aviator, Edouard Jozan, one of a group of young men the Fitzgeralds socialized with on the beach and in the evenings. The Frenchmen competed for Zelda’s attention, and it must have seemed to her like a replay of Montgomery in 1918. Like the American pilots who had stunted above the Sayre house, Jozan buzzed the Villa Marie in his plane. The extent of this romantic attachment will probably never be known. Jozan has insisted that it was only a flirtation. Both Fitzgeralds wrote fictionalized versions of the events. In Zelda’s novel, Save Me the Waltz, the affair is not consummated; the aviator wants a mistress but does not encourage her to leave her husband. Fitzgerald’s Ledger notes “The Big crisis—13th of July.” He later reported that when Zelda asked him for a divorce he demanded a confrontation with Jozan, which the aviator avoided. (Both Fitzgeralds embroidered the details of the Jozan crisis in subsequent years. Zelda said Fitzgerald had locked her in the villa for a month. Near the end of his life Fitzgerald told Sheilah Graham the fabrication that he had fought a duel with Jozan and that this duel had been written into Tender Is the Night.) Fitzgerald persuaded Zelda to drop her divorce plans, and in August he was able to write in his Ledger: “Zelda and I close together.” He later wrote in his Notebooks: “That September 1924, I knew something had happened that could never be repaired.” Whether or not Zelda had slept with Jozan, Fitzgerald felt she had destroyed the basic trust that was essential to their marriage.
With their need for drama, the Fitzgeralds developed the Jozan affair into what was virtually a routine they performed, separately and jointly, for their friends. Ernest Hemingway reports his initial response to Fitzgerald’s account: “This first version that he told me of Zelda and a French naval aviator falling in love was truly a sad story and I believed it was a true story. Later he told me other versions of it as though trying them for use in a novel, but none was as sad as this first one and I always believed the first one, although any of them might have been true. They were better told each time; but they never hurt you the way the first one did.” Hemingway is not always trustworthy on the Fitzgeralds, but his recollection is confirmed by his first wife Hadley: “It was one of their acts together. I remember Zelda’s beautiful face becoming very, very solemn, and she would say how he had loved her and how hopeless it had been and then how he had committed suicide. Scott would stand next to her looking very pale anddistressed and sharing every minute of it.” Jozan did not commit suicide; he remained at St. Raphael until he was transferred to Indo-China in October and he went on to a distinguished military career, becoming vice-admiral of the French navy in 1952.
Writing to Ludlow Fowler in August, Fitzgerald admitted: “I feel old too, this summer—I have ever since the failure of my play a year ago. That’s the whole burden of this novel—the loss of those illusions that give such color to the world that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory.” One of the lost illusions that informed The Great Gatsby was Fitzgerald’s certainty in Zelda’s fidelity.
The novel allowed Fitzgerald to dramatize the most powerful experiences in his love for Zelda: his courtship in 1918, the break in 1919, his triumphant restoration in 1920 (with its attendant financial rewards), and her betrayal in 1924. It is not known how much of The Great Gatsby had been written before the July 1924 Jozan crisis. The typescript was not sent to Scribners until the end of October, so Fitzgerald had at least three and a half months in which to write his disillusionment with Zelda into the novel. Like Fitzgerald, during the war Jay Gatsby falls in love with a girl who is incapable of matching his commitment. Daisy marries the wealthy Tom Buchanan, and Gatsby convinces himself that he lost her only because he was poor. He makes a fortune through mysterious and extralegal means, and sets himself up as a giver of lavish parties on Long Island, near Daisy’s house. His parties are intended to attract Daisy, for he anticipates that some night she will appear at a party and his conspicuous show of affluence will win her back. The plan fails, and Gatsby arranges to meet Daisy through Nick Carraway, the narrator. Moved by Gatsby’s fidelity, Daisy agrees to leave her adulterous husband. In a confrontation at the Plaza Hotel, Buchanan breaks Daisy’s resolve by revealing that Gatsby is engaged in criminal activities. On the drive back to Long Island, Daisy kills her husband’s mistress, Myrtle, in a hit-and-run accident. Gatsby takes the blame, and Buchanan sends Myrtle’s husband to murder him. Jay Gatsby, the great believer, dies bereft of his illusions.
Despite the marital upset, Fitzgerald pushed ahead with his novel. But he did not work all the time, for—notwithstanding his claim to Boyd that he wanted a summer of isolation—he shared with Zelda a need for amusement and company. There were trips to Monte Carlo, Antibes, and Cannes.
During the summer of 1924 the Fitzgeralds met Gerald and Sara Murphy, who would become their closest friends in France. They were probably introduced by Gerald’s sister Esther, whom the Fitzgeralds had known in America. The Fitzgeralds could have met the Murphys in Paris in May, but it is more likely that the meeting came later on the Riviera, where the Murphys were staying at Cap d’Antibes, thirty miles east of St. Raphael. Donald Ogden Stewart, who had met the Murphys in Paris in 1923, could have provided a connection. Since the Murphys do not appear in Fitzgerald’s Ledger until August 1924, they may not have met until critic Gilbert Seldes and his bride came to visit the Fitzgeralds and the Murphys on their wedding trip in August.
Gerald and Sara Murphy were an American couple of independent means who had determined to make an art of life, taking for their motto the Spanish saying “Living well is the best revenge.” Gerald was the son of the owner of the Mark Cross leather goods store; Sara was one of the admired Wiborg sisters from Cincinnati, daughters of a wealthy ink manufacturer. Gerald had graduated from Yale in 1912— where he had been tapped for Skull & Bones—and had worked in the family business, which he hated. Sara had spent much of her childhood touring Europe with her mother and had been presented at the Court of St. James in 1914. They were married in 1915. After Gerald was discharged from the army (he was trained as a pilot but never got overseas), the Murphys decided to make a break with American commercial life and family pressures. Gerald studied landscape architecture at Harvard, and in 1921 they settled in France with their three children to live well.
Eight years older than Fitzgerald, Gerald was handsome, witty, and charming—with a touch of elegance. Sara matched his intelligence andhad a strong streak of directness in her speech. Although the Murphys lived in luxury, with great originality and impeccable taste, they were not big rich. Gerald invaded his capital to maintain their good life, and Sara’s income was only $7,000 a year. Their houses in Paris and at Cap d’Antibes were beautifully furnished and run by competent servants. Both were seriously interested in the arts. They studied painting with Natalie Goncharova and were active supporters of the Russian and Swedish ballets in Paris. Their close friends included Pablo Picasso, Philip Barry, Cole Porter, John Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish, and Fernand Leger. Between 1922 and 1930 Murphy completed ten paintings that combined minute detail with abstract techniques. His first work was a large-scale arrangement of a safety razor, a fountain pen, and a matchbox; and art historians have credited him with anticipating the pop art school. Fitzgerald admired Murphy’s virtuosity with people and felt that their shared Irish backgrounds provided a link between them. In Tender Is the Night he transferred Murphy’s “power of arousing a fascinated and uncritical love” to Dick Diver: “… people believed he made special reservations about them, recognizing the proud uniqueness of their destinies, buried under the compromises of how many years.” Murphy was what one part of Fitzgerald wistfully longed to be, and Fitzgerald came to regard him as his social conscience: “… a fourth man had come to dictate my relations with other people when these relations were successful: how to do, what to say. How to make people at least momentarily happy… This always confused me and made me want to go out and get drunk, but this man had seen the game, analyzed it and beaten it, and his word was good enough for me.”
Initially the Murphys were attracted more to Zelda. Fitzgerald’s drinking behavior put them off, and the Murphys found it difficult to believe in him as a serious writer. The Fitzgeralds visited the Murphys, who were staying at the Hotel du Cap while renovating their Villa America at Cap d’Antibes, and considered moving to Antibes to be near the Murphys. One night Fitzgerald woke the Murphys with the report that Zelda had taken an overdose of sleeping pills, and they helped him keep her awake. It is not clear whether her suicide gesture was related to the Jozan crisis.
During the summer of 1924 Fitzgerald found a new intellectual enthusiasm in Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. In 1940 he wrote Perkins, “I read him the same summer I was writing ’The Great Gatsby’ [Fitzgerald could not have read The Decline of the West at this time because it was not translated into English until 1926 and he did not read German. Nevertheless, there were prominent magazine articles about Spengler in 1924 that Fitzgerald probably read, e.g., W. K. Stewart’s “The Decline of Western Culture: Oswald Spengler’s ’Downfall of Western Civilization’ Explained” in the July 1924 Century. Three installments of The Decline of the West appeared in The Dial from November 1924 to June 1925, after Fitzgerald had completed The Great Gatsby.] and I don’t think I ever quite recovered from him… [Spengler] prophesied gang rule, ’young peoples hungry for spoil,’ and more particularly ’The world as spoil’ as an idea, a dominant supersessive idea.” It is unlikely that Spengler’s synthesis of history, politics, and culture had a direct influence on The Great Gatsby. Because Fitzgerald was excited by large ideas about the movement of civilizations and felt insecure about his own education, he regarded The Decline of the West as a summation of intellectual history. (In The Last Tycoon Kathleen would explain that her lover had been educating her to read Spengler.) The Decline of the West presented an organic overview of Western history, contending that there has been a pattern of cultural movements that repeat the same cycle of development and collapse—with the twentieth-century Western world in the phase of decay.
By late August 1924 Fitzgerald was able to tell Perkins: “The novel will be done next week. That doesn’t mean however that it’ll reach America before October 1st. as Zelda + I are contemplating a careful revision after a weeks complete rest.” The reference to Zelda’s editorial participation meant that Fitzgerald utilized her criticisms in revising the novel—not that she collaborated in rewriting it. In this letter Fitzgerald made another remark that has received attention: “For Christs sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.” Taking their lead from this statement, critics have assumed—on no firm evidence—that Fitzgerald borrowed the symbol of Dr. Eckleburg’s billboard from the dust jacket that appeared on the published novel. However, it is unclear whether Fitzgerald was referring to a preliminary dust jacket or the final one. If it was the jacket that appeared on the book, then there is no reason why Fitzgerald did not want anyone to see it. Since Fitzgerald refers to a dust jacket Perkins is “saving” for him, it may well have been a lost trial sketch. Perkins replied on 10 September: “There is certainly not the slightest risk of our giving that jacket to anyone in the worldbut you.” Moreover, the book jacket does not present a billboard or any other scene from the novel. The striking painting by Francis Cugat shows a woman’s face over an amusement park night scene; naked figures form the irises of her eyes, which do not at all resemble the bespectacled eyes of Dr. Eckleburg’s billboard at the Valley of Ashes. Perkins’s response when he read the manuscript does not clarify the problem: “good as the wrap always seemed, it now seems a masterpiece for this book.” After Fitzgerald saw the published book in 1925 he wrote Perkins: “Thought the new jacket was great.” The word “new” almost certainly indicates that the Cugat dust jacket replaced the preliminary jacket that Fitzgerald wrote into The Great Gatsby. A more probable source for the Eckleburg figure (who “sank down himselfinto eternal blindness”) and for the valley of ashes was T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), which Fitzgerald greatly admired. Eckleburg can be read as a Long Island version of the blind seer Tiresias, and the ash heaps are actually and symbolically a waste land.
On 10 September, Fitzgerald informed Perkins: “Now for a promise—the novel will absolutely + definately be mailed to you before the 1st of October. I’ve had to rewrite practically half of it—at present its stored away for a week so I can take a last look at it + see what I’ve left out—there’s some intangible sequence lacking somewhere in the middle + a break in interest there inevitably means the failure of a book. It is like nothing I’ve ever read before.” While the novel was put aside, the Lardners came to the Riviera for a visit. In a series of articles about his European trip Lardner remarked, “Mr. Fitzgerald is a novelist and Mrs. Fitzgerald a novelty.” If Lardner read the manuscript of The Great Gatsby during his visit, nothing is known about his response. In March 1925 Lardner sent Fitzgerald corrections after reading the page proof; Lardner’s letter does not indicate that he had any prior familiarity with the novel.
In September a Princeton friend, Frederick Yeiser, stopped off at St. Raphael for a week. He detected no fissure in the Fitzgeralds’ marriage, but he witnessed their heated arguments about religion and literature—after which they would not speak to each other. Fitzgerald and Yeiser had long talks about the Princeton social system. Although there was little literary conversation, Fitzgerald urged him to read Ulysses, The Diary of Otto Braun, and The Journal of a Disappointed Man by W. N. P. Barbillion. Braun was a young German intellectual killed in the war; Fitzgerald viewed him as a culture hero and was moved by his early death.
In his capacity as volunteer acquisitions editor for Scribners, Fitzgerald alerted Perkins to a promising writer in October 1924: “This is to tell you about a young man named Ernest Hemmingway, who lives in Paris, (an American) writes for the transatlantic Review + has a brilliant future. Ezra Pount published a collection of his short pieces in Paris, at some place like the Egotist Press, I havn’t it hear now but its remarkable + I’d look him up right away. He’s the real thing.” The work that prompted Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm was in our time (Paris: Three Mountains Press, 1924), which Edmund Wilson had probably called to Fitzgerald’s attention. It is possible that Bishop,who had met Hemingway in 1922, told Fitzgerald about him during their May reunion in Paris. Donald Ogden Stewart also knew Hemingway. A thirty-two-page volume published in an edition of 170 copies, in our time consisted of eighteen vignettes or short impressionistic prose sketches. Hemingway’s published work, which included another limited edition, 3 Stories & 10 Poems (Paris: Contact, 1923), hardly justifies Fitzgerald’s prediction of a “brilliant future”; but Hemingway was already demonstrating his ability to attract attention, and he was regarded as one of the most promising American writers in Paris. Fitzgerald had not yet met Hemingway at the time he began promoting his career. He reminded Perkins about Hemingway through the fall and winter, but Perkins delayed making contact because he was unable to find a copy of in our time until February 1925, when he wrote to Hemingway at an old Paris address.
Zelda had beenreading Henry James’s novel Roderick Hudson and decided they would spend the winter of 1924-25 in Rome—despite their unfavorable impression of Italy in 1921. Since they had not economized on the Riviera, Italy also recommended itself because the rate of exchange was even more favorable there than in France. After the typescript of the novel was sent to Perkins on 27 October, the Fitzgeralds drove to Rome. Unable to find a suitable apartment, they settled at the Hotel des Princes in the Piazza di Spagna for $525 a month. The move proved a disaster. Fitzgerald disliked the Italians, whom he regarded as arrogant and dishonest. He drank heavily and was beaten by the police—an experience he regarded as the worst thing that had ever happened to him and which he later wrote into Tender Is the Night. In reply to Ober’s suggestion that he write an article on Rome as a companion to “How to Live on Practically Nothing a Year,” Fitzgerald announced: “I hate Italy and the Italiens so violently that I can’t bring myself to write about them for the Post.— unless they’d like an article called ’Pope Siphilis the Sixth and his Morons’ or something like that.” Eventually he wrote “The High Cost of Macaroni,” an article which Ober was unable to place. The Fitzgeralds quarreled in Rome and were both sick. Zelda had an operation to enable her to become pregnant, which resulted in a lingering infection. The Jozan wound was temporarily healed; Fitzgerald was able to write Bishop in spring 1925 that “Zelda and I sometimes indulge in terrible four-day rows that always start with a drinking party but we’re still enormously in love and about the only truly happily married couple I know.” An American movie crew was making Ben-Hur in Rome and the Fitzgeralds joined their parties, forming a friendship with actress Carmel Myers.
Fitzgerald had been uncertain about the title while he was writing the novel. At various times he considered “The Great Gatsby,” “Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires,” “Trimalchio,” “Trimalchio in West Egg,” “On the Road to West Egg,” “Gold-Hatted Gatsby,” “The High-Bouncing Lover,” and “Gatsby.” Two of these tentative titles were taken from his epigraph poem for the book.
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
(This poem is credited to Thomas Parke d’Invilliers, the character in This Side of Paradise based on Bishop.) Both Zelda and Perkins preferred “The Great Gatsby,” and Fitzgerald reluctantly settled on it in December. His own choice was “Trimalchio” or “Trimalchio in West Egg”—after the ostentatious party-giver in Petronius’s Satyricon—but he was persuaded by Lardner and others that the reference to Trimalchio would puzzle readers, who in any case would not know how to pronounce it.
The $7,000 stake they had brought to France was gone before they moved to Rome, and it was necessary for Fitzgerald to write stories during the time he was polishing his novel. Although “Love in the Night” (Post, March 1925) is not an important work, it marks his first use of the Riviera setting. This love story about an American heiress and a half-American Russian aristocrat pauperized by the Revolution includes an evocation of the lost Russian winter colony on the Riviera that was later incorporated into Tender Is the Night.(The young hero of the story was partly based on Prince Val Engalitcheff, a friend of Fitzgerald’s who committed suicide in 1923.)It was followed by “The Adjuster” (Red Book, September 1925), written in Rome— one of the stories in which Fitzgerald seems to be lecturing at his wife. When a bored and selfish young woman is compelled to accept responsibilities after her husband’s nervous collapse, she is instructed by a mysterious Dr. Moon: “ ’We make an agreement with children that they can sit in the audience without helping to make the play,’ he said, ’but if they still sit in the audience after they’re grown, somebody’s got to work double time for them, so that they can enjoy the light and glitter of the world.’”
On 20 November, Perkins sent Fitzgerald a long letter congratulating him on the novel and making three suggestions about the treatment of Gatsby: that his past be made less vague, that the source of his money should be indicated, and that a long section of his autobiographical narrative should be broken up.
I think you have every kind of right to be proud of this book. It is an extraordinary book, suggestive of all sorts of thoughts and moods. You adopted exactly the right method of telling it, that of employing a narrator who is more of a spectator than an actor: this puts the reader upon a point of observation on a higher level than that on which the characters stand and at a distance that gives perspective. In no other way could your irony have been so immensely effective, nor the reader have been enabled so strongly to feel at times the strangeness of human circumstance in a vast heedless universe. In the eyes of Dr. Eckleberg various readers will see different significances; but their presence gives a superb touch to the whole thing: great unblinking eyes, expressionless, looking down upon the human scene. It’s magnificent!
I could go on praising the book and speculating on its various elements and meanings, but points of criticism are more important now. I think you are right in feeling a certain slight sagging in chapters six and seven, and I don’t know how to suggest a remedy. I hardly doubt that you will find one and I am only writing to say that I think it does need something to hold up here to the pace set, and ensuing. I have only two actual criticisms:-
One is that among a set of characters marvelously palpable and vital—I would know Tom Buchanan if I met him on the street and would avoid him—Gatsby is somewhat vague. The reader’s eyes can never quite focus upon him, his outlines are dim. Now everything about Gatsby is more or less a mystery i.e. more or less vague, and this may be somewhat of an artistic intention, but I think it is mistaken. Couldn’t he be physically described as distinctly as the others, and couldn’t you add one or two characteristics like the use of that phrase “old sport”, not verbal, but physical ones, perhaps. I think that for some reason or other a reader— this was true of Mr. Scribner and of Louise—gets an idea that Gatsby is a much older man than he is, although you have the writer say that he is little older than himself. But this would be avoided if on his first appearance he was seen as vividly as Daisy and Tom are, for instance;- and I do not think your scheme would be impaired if you made him so.
The other point is also about Gatsby: his career must remain mysterious, of course. But in the end you make it pretty clear that his wealth came through his connection with Wolfsheim. You also suggest this much earlier. Now almost all readers numerically are going to be puzzled by his having all this wealth and are going to feel entitled to an explanation. To give a distinct and definite one would be, of course, utterly absurd. It did occur to me though, that you might here and there interpolate some phrases, and possibly incidents, little touches of various kinds, that would suggest that he was in some active way mysteriously engaged. You do have him called on the telephone, but couldn’t he be seen once or twice consulting at his parties with people of some sort of mysterious significance, from the political, the gambling, the sporting world, or whatever it may be. I know I am floundering, but that fact may help you to see what I mean. The total lack of an explanation through so large a part of the story does seem to me a defect;- or not of an explanation, but of the suggestion of an explanation. I wish you were here so I could talk about it to you for then I know I could at least make you understand what I mean. What Gatsby did ought never to be definitely imparted, even if it could be. Whether he was an innocent tool in the hands of somebody else, or to what degree he was this, ought not to be explained. But if some sort of business activity of his were simply adumbrated, it would lend further probability to that part of the story.
There is one other point: in giving deliberately Gatsby’s biography when he gives it to the narrator you do depart from the method of the narrative in some degree, for otherwise almost everything is told, and beautifully told, in the regular flow of it,- in the succession of events or in accompaniment with them. But you can’t avoid the biography altogether. I thought you might find ways to let the truth of some of his claims like “Oxford” and his army career come out bit by bit in the course of actual narrative. I mention the point anyway for consideration in this interval before I send the proofs.
The general brilliant quality of the book makes me ashamed to make even these criticisms. The amount of meaning you get into a sentence, the dimensions and intensity of the impression you make a paragraph carry, are most extraordinary. The manuscript is full of phrases which make a scene blaze with life. If one enjoyed a rapid railroad journey I would compare the number and vividness of pictures your living words suggest, to the living scenes disclosed in that way. It seems in reading a much shorter book than it is, but it carries the mind through a series of experiences that one would think would require a book of three times its length.
The presentation of Tom, his place, Daisy and Jordan, and the unfolding of their characters is unequalled so far as I know. The description of the valley of ashes adjacent to the lovely country, the conversation and the action in Myrtle’s apartment, the marvelous catalogue of those who came to Gatsby’s house,- these are such things as make a man famous. And all these things, the whole pathetic episode, you have given a place in time and space, for with the help of T. J. Eckleberg and by an occasional glance at the sky, or the sea, or the city, you have imparted a sort of sense of eternity.You once told me you were not a natural writer—my God! You have plainly mastered the craft, of course; but you needed far more than craftsmanship for this.
Perkins’s suggestion that Fitzgerald “let the truth of some of his claims like ’Oxford’ and his army career come out bit by bit” called for an extension of the narrative plan already present. Fitzgerald gave Perkins too much credit for improving the novel when he wrote after publication: “Max, it amuses me when praise comes in on the ’structure’ of the book—because it was you who fixed up the structure, not me.” Perkins did not restructure the novel. Fitzgerald did his own work, acting on Perkins’s advice.
Around 20 December while waiting for the galley proofs—which were sent from New York in two batches on 22 and 30 December— Fitzgerald wrote Perkins from Rome that he knew how to improve his novel and that he planned a virtual rewrite in proof.
With the aid you’ve given me I can make “Gatsby” perfect. The chapter VII (the hotel scene) will never quite be up to mark I’ve worried about it too long + I can’t quite place Daisy’s reaction. But I can improve it a lot. It isn’t imaginative energy that’s lacking—its because I’m automaticly prevented from thinking it out over again because I must get all those characters to New York in order to have the catastrophe on the road going back + I must have it pretty much that way. So there’s no chance of bringing the freshness to it that a new free conception sometimes gives.
The rest is easy and I see my way so clear that I even see the mental quirks that queered it before. Strange to say my notion of Gatsby’s vagueness was O.K. What you and Louise + Mr. Charles Scribner found wanting was that:
I myself didn’t know what Gatsby looked like or was engaged in + you felt it. If I’d known + kept it from you you’d have been too impressed with my knowledge to protest. This is a complicated idea but I’m sure you’ll understand. But I know now—and as a penalty for not having known first, in other words to make sure I’m going to tell more. [This idea anticipates Hemingway’s iceberg theory of composition which asserts that an author can omit anything he knows from a story without damaging it. Using the iceberg analogy, Hemingway argued that the force of a story results from its hidden part.]
Anyhow after careful searching of the files (of a man’s mind here) for the Fuller Magee case + after having had Zelda draw pictures until her fingers ache I know Gatsby better than I know my own child. My first instinct after your letter was to let him go + have Tom Buchanan dominatethe book (I suppose he’s the best character I’ve ever done—I think he and the brother in “Salt” + Hurstwood in “Sister Carrie” are the three best characters in American fiction in the last twenty years, perhaps and perhaps not) but Gatsby sticks in my heart. I had him for awhile then lost him + now I know I have him again. I’m sorry Myrtle is better than Daisy. Jordan of course was a great idea (perhaps you know its Edith Cummings [Golfer Edith Cummings was a friend of Ginevra King.]) but she fades out. Its Chap VII thats the trouble with Daisy + it may hurt the book’s popularity that its a man’s book.
Anyhow I think (for the first time since The Vegetable failed) that I’m a wonderful writer + its your always wonderful letters that help me to go on believing in myself.
Now some practical, very important questions. Please answer every one.
1. Montenegro has an order called The Order of Danilo. Is there any possible way you could find out for me there what it would look like— whether a courtesy decoration given to an American would bear an English inscription—or anything to give versimilitude to the medal which sounds horribly amateurish. [The Order of Danilo medal is enameled on both sides and could not have been engraved for Gatsby.]
2. Please have no blurbs of any kind on the jacket!!! No Mencken or Lewis or Sid Howard or any thing. I don’t believe in them one bit any more.
3. Don’t forget to change name of book in list of works
4. Please shift exclamation point from end of 3d line to end of 4th line in title page poem. Please! Important!
5. I thought that the whole episode (2 paragraphs) about their playing the Jazz History of the world at Gatsby’s first party was rotten. [The typescript for The Great Gatsby does not survive. Fitzgerald’s revised galleys are at Princeton; a set of the unrevised galleys is in the Bruccoli Collection. The manuscript and specimens of the revised galleys are reproduced in The Great Gatsby: A Facsimile of the Manuscript. Nick Carraway’s account of the “Jazz History of the World” was deleted in galley 16: “I know so little about music that I can only make a story of it—which proves, I’ve been told, that it must have been low-brow stuff. I don’t mean that it had lonely music for the prehistoric ages, with tiger-howls from the traps and a strain from “Onward Christian Soldiers” to mark the year 2 B.C. It wasn’t like that. It started out with a weird spinning sound, mostly from the cornets. Then there would be a series of interruptive notes which colored everything that came after them, until before you knew it they became the theme and new discords were opposed outside. But just as you’d get used to the new discord one of the old themes would drop back in, this time as a discord, until you’d get a weird sense that it was a preposterous cycle, after all. Long after the piece was over it went on and on in my head—whenever I think of that summer I can hear it yet.”] Did you? … Tell me frank reaction—personal, don’t think! We can all think!
This letter mentions: “I’ve got a new novel to write—title and all, that’ll take about a year.” Nothing further is known about the projected work.
The first batch of galley proofs was returned by Fitzgerald on 24 January 1925, and in February he reported to Perkins:
After six weeks of uninterrupted work the proof is finished and the last of it goes to you this afternoon. On the whole its been a very successful labor
Before deciding on the Plaza Hotel for the setting of the confrontation between Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, Fitzgerald wrote scenes set at the Polo Grounds during a baseball game and in Central Park. After the chapter was finished, he continued to worry that Daisy’s reactions were unclear. Every chapter was revised in proof, and Chapters VI-VIII were rewritten. The most important structural alteration was shifting parts of Gatsby’s history from Chapters VII and VIII to Chapter VI, thereby eliminating his autobiographical summary in Chapter VII as Perkins had recommended. The revised galleys with typed inserts reveal that the novel achieved its structural distinction during the time Fitzgerald reworked the proof in Rome.
Fitzgerald’s technique in polishing his prose is demonstrated by Nick’s closing meditation, which was moved and expanded from the first chapter of the manuscript.
MS, CHAPTER I, pp. 37-38
The sense of being in an unfamiliar place deepened on me and as the moon rose higher the unessential houses seemed to melt away until I was aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors eyes—a fresh green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the very trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams—for a transitory and enchanted moment man must have held his breath in this presense of this continent, compelled into anaesthetic contemplation he niether understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old unknown world I too held my breath and waited, until I could feel the motion of America as it turned through the hours—my own blue lawn and the tall incandescent city on the water and beyond that the dark fields of the republic rolling on under the night.
Book, CHAPTER IX, pp. 2I7-2l8
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
When Perkins queried “orgastic,” Fitzgerald replied: “ ’Orgastic’ is the adjective from ’orgasm’ and it expresses exactly the intendedecstacy.” (Edmund Wilson incorrectly changed it to “orgiastic” in 1941.)
While working on the proofs Fitzgerald explored magazine serialization with Ober. He hoped to get $15,000 or $20,000, and serialization was a way to generate interest in the book before publication. The Hearst magazines had first refusal on serial rights under the 1923 option contract, and editor Ray Long declined the novel in December. Inoffensive as the material now seems, it was regarded as too strong for magazines whose readership was largely female. Fitzgerald thought John Wheeler would take it for Liberty, a weekly that was spending money to build circulation; but Wheeler informed Ober: “It is too ripe for us. Running only one serial as we do, we could not publish this story with as many mistresses and as much adultery as there is in it.” In January College Humor offered $10,000, which Fitzgerald turned down because he didn’t want to delay book publication for the five months it would take to serialize it. He was also concerned about cheapening his novel: “Most people who saw it advertised in College Humor would be sure that Gatsby was a great halfback and that would kill it in book form.”
After dispatching the revised proofs in February, the Fitzgeralds moved to the Hotel Tiberio on Capri to get away from the damp winter of Rome. On Capri, Zelda spent time in bed with what was variously diagnosed as colitis and an ovarian problem, which she would be troubled by for the next two years. Fitzgerald drank while Zelda took painting lessons—her first formal art instruction. He was disappointed by his meeting with a former literary idol, Compton Mackenzie, whom he reproached for abandoning serious fiction. He also met aesthete Ellingham Brooks and Norman Douglas, the author of South Wind. A minor story, “Not in the Guidebook” (Woman’s Home Companion) was sent from Capri, and the novelette “The Rich Boy” was started there.
On 7 March, Fitzgerald cabled Perkins to ask if it was too late to change the novel’s title because he wanted to revert to “Gold-Hatted Gatsby” or “Trimalchio.” Perkins replied on 9 March: “Title change would cause bad delay and confusion.” And on the nineteenth Fitzgerald cabled again: CRAZY ABOUT TITLE UNDER THE RED WHITE AND BLUE STOP WHART WOULD DELAY BE. By then it was too late.
After two monthson Capri the Fitzgeralds left in April for Paris. As publication date approached, Fitzgerald became increasingly jittery. On 11 April, the day after publication, he cabled Perkins for any news. The best Perkins could do was to report on 20 April: “Sales situation doubtful excellent reviews.” Perkins suspected that the thin size of the 218-page novel hurt its sales. Fitzgerald had two explanations:
lst The title is only fair, rather bad than good.
2nd And most important—the book contains no important woman character and women controll the fiction market at present. I don’t think the unhappy end matters particularly.
This April letter to Perkins concluded with a depressed self-assessment: “In all events I have a book of good stories for the fall. Now I shall write some cheap ones until I’ve accumulated enough for my next novel. When that is finished and published I’ll wait and see. If it will support me with no more intervals of trash I’ll go on as a novelist. If not, I’m going to quit, come home, go to Hollywood and learn the movie business. I can’t reduce our scale of living and I can’t stand this financial insecurity. Anyhow there’s no point in trying to be an artist if you can’t do your best. I had my chance back in 1920 to start my life on a sensible scale and I lost it and so I’ll have to pay the penalty. Then perhaps at 40 I can start writing again without this constant worry and interruption.”
The Great Gatsby was published at $2 in a first printing of 20,870 copies. It was dedicated ONCE AGAIN TO ZELDA. A second printing of 3,000 copies was ordered in August, and some of these copies werestill in the Scribners warehouse when Fitzgerald died. (The ten best-selling novels of 1925 were Soundings by A. Hamilton Gibbs, The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy, The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter, Glorious Apollo by E. Barrington, The Green Hat by Michael Arlen, The Little French Girl by Anne Douglas Sedgwick, Arrow smith by Sinclair Lewis, The Perennial Bachelor by Anne Parish, The Carolinian by Rafael Sabatini, and Our Increasing Purpose by A. S. M. Hutchinson. Lewis’s three novels published in the same years as This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, and The Great Gatsby vastly outsold Fitzgerald’s novels.) At a 15 percent royalty, the first printing earned $6,261, canceling Fitzgerald’s $6,000 debt to Scribners.
The reviews of The Great Gatsby were the best for any of Fitzgerald’s books, although a few critics thought it was just a sensational story. Gilbert Seldes’s outstanding Dial review did not appear until August: “Fitzgerald has more than matured; he has mastered his talents and gone soaring in a beautiful flight, leaving behind him everything dubious and tricky in his earlier work, and leaving even farther behind all the men of his own generation and most of his elders.” Other receptive reviews were written by William Rose Benet in The Saturday Review of Literature, Laurence Stallings in the New York World, Herbert S. Gorman in the New York Sun, and Harry Hansen in the Chicago Daily News. Especially gratifying were the letters of congratulation that came from writers Fitzgerald respected: Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, and T. S. Eliot—who declared, “In fact it seems to me to be the first step American fiction has taken since Henry James.” (Fitzgerald had sent Eliot a copy of The Great Gatsby inscribed to the “Greatest of Living Poets from his entheusiastic worshipper.”) H. L. Mencken’s long review in the Baltimore Sun dismissed the story as “a glorified anecdote” but praised “the charm and beauty of the writing” as well as Fitzgerald’s social accuracy. Fitzgerald responded to Mencken: “I think the smooth, almost unbroken pattern makes you feel that. … It is in protest against my own formless two novels, and Lewis’ and Dos Passos’ that this was written.”
Fitzgerald believed that the flaw in The Great Gatsby was the missing sequence he had told Perkins about in September 1924. He admitted to Wilson: “The worst fault in it, I think is a BIG FAULT: I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of their reunion to the catastrophe. However the lack is so astutely concealed by the retrospect of Gatsby’s past and by blankets of excellent prosethat no one has noticed it—tho everyone has felt the lack and called it by another name.”
The Great Gatsby marked an advance in every way over Fitzgerald’s previous work. If he could develop so rapidly in the five years since This Side of Paradise, if he could write so brilliantly before he was thirty, his promise seemed boundless. Instead of addressing the reader, as he had done in The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald utilized the resources of style to convey the meanings of The Great Gatsby. The values of the story are enhanced through imagery as detail is used with poetic effect. Thus the description of the Buchanans’ house reveals how Fitzgerald’s images stimulate the senses: “The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run.” In his richest prose there is an impression of movement; here the lawn runs, jumps, and drifts. Again and again, sentences are made memorable by a single word—often a color word, as in “now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music.”
The technique in Gatsby is scenic and symbolic. There are scenes and descriptions that have become touchstones of American prose: the first description of Daisy and Jordan, Gatsby’s party, Myrtle’s apartment, the shirt display, the guest list, Nick’s recollection of the Midwest. Within these scenes Fitzgerald endows details with so much suggestiveness that they acquire the symbolic force to extend the meanings of the story. Gatsby’s car “was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns.” Its ostentation expresses Gatsby’s gorgeous vulgarity. There is something overstated about everything he owns, and Daisy recognizes the fraudulence of his attempt to imitate the style of wealth. His car, which Tom Buchanan calls a “circus wagon,” becomes the “death-car.”
Jimmy Gatz / Jay Gatsby confuses the values of love with the buying power of money. He is sure that with money he can do anything—even repeat the past. Despite his prodigious faith in money, Gatsby does not know how it works in society and cannot comprehend the arrogance of the rich who have been rich for generations. As a novelist of manners Fitzgerald was fascinated by the data of class stratification, which he perceived from a privileged outsider’s angle. In The Great Gatsbysocial commentary is achieved by economy of means as detail is made to serve the double function of documentation and connotation. The 595-word guest list for Gatsby’s parties provides an incremental litany of the second-rate people who used Gatsby’s house for an amusement park:
Clarence Endive was from East Egg, as I remember. He came only once, in white knickerbockers, and had a fight with a bum named Etty in the garden. From farther out on the Island came the Cheadles and the O. R. P. Schraeders, and the Stonewall Jackson Abrams of Georgia, and the Fish-guards and the Ripley Snells. Snell was there three days before he went to the penitentiary, so drunk out on the gravel drive that Mrs. Ulysses Swett’s automobile ran over his right hand. The Dancies came, too, and S. B. Whitebait, who was well over sixty, and Maurice A. Flink, and the Hammerheads, and Beluga the tobacco importer, and Beluga’s girls.
The inventory ends with Nick’s understated summation: “All these people came to Gatsby’s house in the summer.”
This famous catalog is the most brilliant expression of Fitzgerald’s list-making habit. He compiled chronological lists of girls, football players, songs, and even of the snubs he had suffered. One of his major resources as a social historian was his ability to make details evoke the moods, the sensations, and the rhythms associated with a specific time and place. Fitzgerald referred to the “hauntedness” in The Great Gatsby, He was haunted by lost time and borrowed time.
Much of the endurance of The Great Gatsby results from its investigation of the American Dream as Fitzgerald enlarged a Horatio Alger story into a meditation on the New World myth. He was profoundly moved by the innocence and generosity he perceived in American history—what he would refer to as “a willingness of the heart.” Gatsby becomes an archetypal figure who betrays and is betrayed by the promises of America. The reverberating meanings of the fable have never been depleted.
The greatest advance of The Great Gatsby over his previous novels is structural. Fitzgerald’s narrative control solved the problem of making the mysterious—almost preposterous—Jay Gatsby convincing by letting the truth about him emerge gradually during the course of the novel. Employing a method he learned from reading Joseph Conrad, Fitzgerald constructed Nick Carraway as the partially involved narrator who is reluctantly compelled to judgment. Everything that happens in the novel is filtered through Nick’s perceptions, therebycombining the effect of first-person immediacy with authorial perspective. As Carraway remarks, “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” This sense of perspective became one of the distinguishing qualities of Fitzgerald’s finest fiction.