Fool for Love: F. Scott Fitzgerald
by Scott Donaldson


A poster promoting “Zelda and Scott: The Beautiful and Damned,” a 1980 exhibition of Fitzgeraldiana at the National Portrait Gallery, displays the famous couple in 16 photos or sketches: Zelda in tu-tu atop a steamer trunk, the two in black tie and evening dress, Scott in the David Silvette painting of the mid-1930s. At the opening party for that show, the band played the Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman numbers from the 1940s that have come to be associated, wrongly, with the Jazz Age. Some of the men wore white suits, though no one came in a Gatsbyesque pink suit. One chap, inexplicably, danced while wearing a pith helmet. Champagne flowed. An enormous crowd attended, just as unusually large crowds came to see the exhibition in the succeeding weeks. Zelda and Scott, Scott and Zelda—they are fixed so securely in the collective mind as lovable, reckless youths for whom it all went wrong that, in a sense, Fitzgerald’s greatest victory has been, finally, to be regarded very seriously indeed as one of the major literary artists of the twentieth century.

In the last thirty years the Fitzgerald legend has taken hold on the American imagination. Biographers have told and retold the story of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and as an aftercomer I am indebted to them all—to Arthur Mizener, Henry Dan Piper, Andrew Turn-bull, Nancy Milford, and Matthew J. Bruccoli, who besides writing a biography of Fitzgerald has been instrumental in restoring Fitzgerald’s critical reputation and in bringing much of his writing, including his stories, letters, and notebooks, into print. None of these, however, is responsible for the particular approach of this book, or for much of the material in it.

Fool for Love, F. Scott Fitzgerald attempts to seek out what Leon Edel calls the figure under the carpet, the special set of mind that made Fitzgerald the kind of man and writer he was. The book’s thesis is that F. Scott Fitzgerald was driven to please other people, especially rich and prominent people. He derived that propensity from his mother, who was also largely responsible for his social insecurity. Fitzgerald didn’t belong anywhere. He never had a permanent home or secure position. In every social situation, with every new person, he tried to prove his worth by exercising his charm. He was not very good at pleasing men, who thought he talked too much or tried too hard. He was much more successful with women, who liked his looks, his way of flattering them, and his gift for nuance. Married or single, he courted many women. He couldn’t help it. He needed their approval, which meant their love and adoration. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was the most important woman in his life, but she was not and could not be the only one. Like Dick Diver, the character in his fiction whose psychological makeup most clearly resembled his own, Fitzgerald despised himself for his persistent and demeaning compulsion to attract the attention and admiration of others. This self-disgust typically emerged under the influence of alcohol. After a few drinks he could charm the girls right out of their stockings. After a few more he would ruin himself with them by breaking crockery and uttering obscenities. Purgation came hard, but to Fitzgerald’s credit it finally did come.

As Henry James observed, “The whole truth about anything is never told; we can only take what groups together.” This book does not claim to tell the whole truth about F. Scott Fitzgerald: he was too complicated for that. Instead it presents an interpretation based on a great many pieces of evidence that seemed to me to group together, an interpretation that, I hope, provides an understanding of the man and opens up a fresh perspective on his work.

Along with a number of his stories, Fitzgerald’s two great novels, The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, serve to illustrate the argument of Fool for Love. But the most valuable resource, containing memoirs, letters, and hundreds upon hundreds of notes, is the voluminous Fitzgerald collection at the Princeton University Library. For six months in 1978, while a visiting fellow at Princeton, I read through those papers. Before beginning to write I also tried to read everything Fitzgerald wrote, in print or out, and almost everything written about him. Both Mizener and Piper kindly let me examine the notes they’d accumulated in writing their books. Interviews and correspondence with Scottie Fitzgerald Smith (who has been extremely helpful and generous), Sheilah Graham, Norris and Betty Jackson, Budd Schulberg, Margaret Egloff, and others yielded important insights. Much of what follows appears here for the first time: highly illuminating letters to Fitzgerald, for example, including some extremely poignant ones from his wife, and reminiscences about him previously unconsulted, unused, or used only in part.

Five years have gone into the making of Fool for Love. During visits to the MacDowell Colony in 1980 and 1981 I put most of the words down on paper. A semester research grant from William and Mary enabled me to complete much of the final section. I owe thanks to those institutions collectively, as well as to librarians who allowed me to see copies of letters or manuscripts, students who contributed their ideas while letting mine bounce off them, and colleagues and friends who suggested lines of approach and commented on the work in progress. Most of these debts are acknowledged in the notes at the back, but here I want to express particular gratitude to Richard M. Ludwig, Jean Preston, Ann Van Arsdale, and Charles E. Greene at Princeton, Christopher Barnes at MacDowell, and John Kuehl of New York University. Special recognition is reserved for the one person who made and makes the most difference. Her name is Vivian.
Scott Donaldson


The notes have two purposes: to document what is said in this book and to indicate where the documentation can be found. Hence there is no annotation to Fitzgerald’s novels and stories that are readily available in standard editions. As much as possible I’ve tried to locate letters and notes originally read at Princeton in such recently published collections as Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, two of the several volumes of Fitzgerald’s work made available through the dedicated scholarship of Matthew J. Bruccoli. Yet a good many letters cited here, both to and from Fitzgerald, have not been previously published anywhere; almost all of these are at Princeton. As a rule I’ve used such new material where it combines insight with freshness, and have preferred primary to secondary sources. Among secondary sources, however, particular acknowledgment is due to Arthur Mizener’s The Far Side of Paradise, Henry Dan Piper’s F. Scott Fitzgerald, Andrew Turnbull’s Scott Fitzgerald, Nancy Milford’s Zelda, and Sheilah Graham and Gerold Frank’s Beloved Infidel. In addition, the files of Mizener and Piper—at Cornell and Southern Illinois, respectively—provided much important evidence. On a few occasions I’ve cited information from current biographies by Bruccoli (Some Sort of Epic Grandeur) and Andre LeVot (F. Scott Fitzgerald).

The following abbreviations are used:

FSF F. Scott Fitzgerald
ZF (and ZS) Zelda Fitzgerald (and Zelda Sayre)
SF (and SFS) Scottie Fitzgerald (and Scottie Fitzgerald Smith)
MP Maxwell Perkins
EW Edmund Wilson
HDP Henry Dan Piper
AM Arthur Mizener
SD Scott Donaldson
Firestone Fitzgerald Collection, Firestone Library, Princeton University.

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