Fool for Love: F. Scott Fitzgerald
by Scott Donaldson

A Man with No People

As aboy Scott Fitzgerald tried to persuade himself that he wasn’t the son of his parents at all but the son of “a king who ruled the whole world.” When his parents refused to be conjured out of existence, he repudiated their plans for him. Father thought his only son should go into business, Mother thought the army, neither thought writing. Fitzgerald resented their lack of faith as he resented their financial control. Many children have felt such resentments. He felt them with unusual vehemence. Publicly, he announced his independence in his fiction and in interviews where, posing as spokesman for the Younger Generation, he attacked the incompetence and ignorance of the Older. Privately, he proclaimed the shortcomings of Edward and Mollie Fitzgerald.

“Why shouldn’t I go crazy?” he wrote Max Perkins, his editor. “My father is a moron and my mother is a neurotic, half insane with pathological nervous worry. Between them they haven’t and never have had the brains of Calvin Coolidge.”

Fitzgerald condemned Mother and Father alike for their lack of intelligence and for its deleterious effect on him. “If I knew anything I’d be the best writer in America,” he once remarked. More often, though, he stressed the difference between them, particularly the social difference.

His father bequeathed to him a heritage he might have been prouder of, had not the man himself turned out so poorly. Edward Fitzgerald was descended on his mother’s side from prominentMaryland families who had settled in the colony in the seventeenth century. Francis Scott Key was the second cousin, twice removed, of the boy born in St. Paul on September 24, 1896, and christened Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. Scott’s mother took special pride in the connection and liked to talk about it. So did her son. Both of them got the facts wrong, and claimed a closer relationship to the famous Key than was actually the case. “My great grandmother visited Dolly Madison,” Scott observed in his notebooks. It mattered to him. He betrayed a measure of pride even in the mock genealogical chart he sent Edmund Wilson, wherein he traced the family tree of “F. Scott Fitzgerald (drunkard)” back to “Duns Scotus (philos.),” “Mary, Queen of Scotts (Queen),” “Edward Fitzgerald (The Rubiat),” “Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe),” and “Duke Fitzgerald (Earl of Lienster)” in addition to “Francis Scott Key (hymnalist).” [Author’s Note: Here, as elsewhere, I have reproduced Fitzgerald’s occasional errors in spelling.] On his mother’s side there was money but no social distinction. Philip Francis McQuillan, Scott’s maternal grandfather, had started from scratch and built a small fortune in the wholesale grocery business. The McQuillans also became pillars of the Catholic church. When Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald went to Europe in 1921, Archbishop Dowling of St. Paul tried to arrange an audience for Scott with the Pope. The archbishop confessed that he had not met young Mr. Fitzgerald himself, but pointed out that “none have merited more of the Church in this city” than his family “through several generations—staunch, devout, generous.” Scott Fitzgerald was unimpressed. To him his mother’s family remained “straight 1850 potato famine Irish.” (Actually, Philip Francis McQuillan emigrated in 1843.) In a letter to John O’Hara, another American writer with Irish roots, Fitzgerald vividly drew the contrast:

I am half black Irish and half old American stock with the usual exaggerated ancestral pretensions. The black Irish half of the family had the money and looked down upon the Maryland side of the family who had, and really had, that certain series of reticences and obligations that go under the poor old shattered word “breeding” (modern form “inhibitions”). So being born inthat atmosphere of crack, wisecrack and countercrack I developed a two-cylinder inferiority complex. So if I were elected King of Scotland tomorrow after graduating from Eton, Magdalene to Guards, with an embryonic history which tied me to the Plantaganets, I would still be a parvenu. I spent my youth in alternately crawling in front of the kitchen maids and insulting the great.

In short, Fitzgerald did not know how to act socially. Lacking social confidence, he felt he had to justify himself wherever he went. Often he tried too hard to impress people. Occasionally he refused to try at all.

“Mollie just missed being beautiful,” Edward Fitzgerald used to say of his wife, but then he was a Southern gallant. Mollie was not beautiful nor close to it. In photographs she looks forthrightly at the camera, but the dark circles under her eyes dominate the picture. Her hair appears frizzy and unkempt, and her clothing drab. She seemed, to one of Scott’s contemporaries, to have “worn the same dress all her life,” and she was given to extravagantly droopy hats. Sometimes her shoes did not quite match, for she used to break in a new pair one at a time. She went to the beauty parlor for a manicure of her right hand only; she could do the left herself. She looked rather like a peasant, her son used to say. Others thought her more witchlike in appearance. Betty Jackson recalls watching Mrs. Fitzgerald walk to daily Mass, frumpy and unsmiling, toting her invariable umbrella and “followed by a lot of little glooms. You didn’t get a lift when she went by.”

In conversation Mollie was eccentrically outspoken. Whatever came into her head came out of her mouth. “Why did you have your house painted that awful color?” she’d ask. “Lorena,” she demanded of her sister-in-law, “why do you put your table over there? We keep ours here.” Once she was riding a streetcar with a woman whose husband was ill. What are you thinking about, the woman asked. “I’m trying to decide,” Mollie Fitzgerald replied, “how you’ll look in mourning.”

In St. Paul Mrs. Fitzgerald was regarded as rather literary, since she was often seen carrying an armload of books home from thelibrary. In fact she read eclectically in popular books of the day, and especially admired the uplifting poems—so Scott wrote in “An Author’s Mother”—of Alice and Phoebe Cary. She sent her son religious books to read. When he began to publish his own books, she did not know what to make of them. For his part Scott relentlessly pilloried her taste. “It’s a masterpiece, Mother,” he scrawled in her copy of The Great Gatsby. “Write me how you like it.” He assured Alfred Dashiell, editor of Scribner’s magazine, that Tender Is the Night “must have some merit” since his mother “wasn’t interested in it.” Scott did dedicate Tales of the Jazz Age “Quite Inappropriately To My Mother”—inappropriately on at least two grounds. First, she hardly belonged to the Jazz Age herself. Second, she possessed little or no understanding of the stories in the collection, which included “The Camel’s Back,” “May Day,” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” “I wish,” he told Margaret Turnbull, the mother of his biographer Andrew Turnbull, “I had had the advantage when I was a child of parents and friends who knew more than I did.”

Mollie McQuillan was in her thirtieth year when she married Edward Fitzgerald in February 1890. The fine-featured, small Fitzgerald, then 36, looked a better catch than he turned out to be. Dapper in his Vandyke beard and well-cut clothes, Fitzgerald had beautiful manners but not much drive. He had come west from Maryland to run a wicker-furniture manufacturing business of his own in St. Paul. When it went under in 1897, Fitzgerald took a salesman’s job with Procter & Gamble, a post that moved the family to Buffalo and Syracuse, New York. When Scott’s father was fired ten years later, the Fitzgeralds returned to St. Paul to be supported by the McQuillan money. As a businessman Edward Fitzgerald failed twice, and it was characteristic of his son to take the emotional impact of his father’s failure personally, yet to admire the manner in which he confronted it.

To a sensitive boy like Scott Fitzgerald, it must have seemed that everyone in St. Paul knew of his father’s failure. Edward went regularly to an office in his brother-in-law’s real estate firm, where he presumably functioned as a wholesale grocery salesman. But he barely earned enough to pay the rent, and his personal credit wasso shaky that he had to charge his postage stamps to Mrs. Fitzgerald’s account at the drug store. Besides, he drank. “He couldn’t get anywhere with that fault,” as C. N. B. Wheeler, the headmaster of St. Paul Academy, put it. Scott was perfectly aware of his father’s fondness for alcohol. “Father used to drink too much and then play baseball in the back yard,” he recorded in his ledger for August 1905. But he refused to make the connection between drinking and business failure.

In a passage excised from “Early Success,” an article written in 1937, Scott Fitzgerald simultaneously celebrated his father’s unwillingness to make excuses for his lack of success and supplied him with excuses of his own. Never, the younger Fitzgerald wrote, did he hear his father “blame his failure on anything but his own incompetence, yet he might have since he was caught once in a panic… and once in the first rush to weed older men out of business.” Here he characterized his father as the victim of economic forces beyond his control. Elsewhere, he cited genetic forces. In his essay on “The Death of My Father” he described Edward Fitzgerald as the product of “tired old stock,” unaccommodated to the bustling world of business. In effect, Scott was trying to convert his father’s weakness into a virtue.

Such defensiveness testifies to a wound that refused to heal. Scott Fitzgerald grew up at the turn of the century reading the Alger books and believing in the gospel of success. Nothing he wrote or said could obliterate the fact of his father’s failure. Scott liked his father enormously, and proudly remembered dressing up in long trousers and a short cane and walking downtown with his father on a Sunday morning to get his shoes shined. He absorbed from Edward Fitzgerald a taste for romantic poetry, especially Poe and Byron. “Tell Father,” he wrote home from Lausanne in 1930, “that I visited the

’—seven pillars of Gothic mould
in Chillon’s dungeons deep and old’

and thought of the first poem I ever heard, or was [it] ’The Raven?’” He also acquired from him a sentimental attachment to the lost cause of the Confederacy, for though his father was brought up in Rockville, Maryland, technically Union territory, his sympathies lay with the South and he loved to tell his enthralled son tales of the Civil War, drawing on his own childhood recollections.

Like the fictional Dick Diver and his father, Scott attempted to emulate Edward Fitzgerald’s good manners—manners that were more the product of temperament than of calculation. And to the best of his ability, Edward served as his son’s “only moral guide.” Only once did he strike Scott, when the boy called him a liar. Edward was inordinately proud of his handsome son: proud of his boyhood accomplishments, proud of his (undistinguished) Army service in World War I, proud of his becoming a famous writer. Scott’s feelings toward his father remained forever ambiguous, however; for how could he respect a man who had failed so abjectly and was virtually emasculated through living off his wife’s income?

Mrs. Fitzgerald dominated the household. When they traveled to Washington to visit relatives, she’d take the sleeper and Edward would follow on the day coach. The neighborhood kids were terrified of her. Once when Scott’s friends Paul Ballion and Cecil Read came to lunch, Mr. Fitzgerald was having some difficulty cutting a pie that stuck to the tin. “Edward, let me cut the pie!” Mollie demanded, and snatched it away from him. “Where would we be,” she’d say, “if it wasn’t for Grandfather McQuillan?”

The ambivalence of Fitzgerald’s feelings about his father emerges in a letter sent to his agent, Harold Ober, after Ober had escorted the elder Fitzgerald to the Broadway production of The Great Gatsby. “He misses me, I think,” Fitzgerald wrote in acknowledging Ober’s courtesy, and then went on to touch the nerve. “His own life after a rather brilliant start back in the seventies has been a ’failure’—he’s always lived in mother’s shadow and he takes an immense vicarious pleasure in any success of mine.”

In his fiction, Scott Fitzgerald tended to depict fathers in hazy outlines. Often he disposed of the protagonist’s father precipitously. “My father is very much alive at something over a hundred,” he observed in his notebooks, “and always resents the fact that the fathers of most of the principal characters in my books are dead before the book begins. To please him I once had a father staggerin and out at the end of the book but he was far from flattered.” That must have been Henry Gatz, who appears briefly near the close of The Great Gatsby. But Mr. Gatz was clearly ignorant and declasse, hardly a character modeled on Edward Fitzgerald. Moreover, his values were blatantly materialistic. It is the father of Nick Carraway who serves as a kind of moral touchstone in that novel, as it is the minister with roots in old Virginia, Dick Diver’s father, who stands for honor and courage and courtesy in Tender Is the Night. Scott idealized the best of his father in the Reverend Diver; in that novel the parallels run closest. Like Dick Diver, Scott Fitzgerald sailed across the Atlantic to attend his father’s funeral. And like Diver he felt that with his father’s death an era had passed, and a sense of honor and duty, as well as a generation. “Good-by, my father—good-by, all my fathers”: Dick said it for them both.

Shadowy though the fathers are in Fitzgerald’s novels, the mothers are still more wraithlike. Only once did he portray a protagonist’s mother with any vividness. Beatrice Blaine, Amory’s mother in This Side of Paradise, was almost exactly the kind of mother Fitzgerald would have chosen for himself. But Beatrice Blaine and Mollie Fitzgerald have little in common. Beatrice possesses wit and charm derived from “a brilliant education. “ Her beauty is accentuated by “the exquisite delicacy of her features” and complemented by “the consummate art and simplicity of her clothes.” She is not merely rich, like Fitzgerald’s mother, but “a fabulously wealthy American girl” whose name is known to cardinals and queens. When Amory’s ineffectual father dies, Beatrice and her only child become boon companions, traveling around Europe together while she gaily drinks rather more than she should. Amory inherits this weakness, as he inherits his charm and his snobbery, from Beatrice Blaine. On one occasion he feels “a sudden great pride” in her and fears he will not be able to measure up to the standards she has established.

Amory Blaine represents a glamorized version of Scott Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald’s first and most openly autobiographical novel. One way Amory is glamorized is by eliminating his parents, even the engaging Beatrice. By the time Amory and Rosalind Connage fall in love, fate has orphaned him.

“I want to belong to you,” the rich and beautiful Rosalind tells him. “I want your people to be my people. I want to have your babies.”

“But I haven’t any people,” Amory replies.

Fitzgerald’s own parents lived out a normal life span, but metaphorically he had “no people” from the age of social awareness on: none he would have wanted to introduce to the immensely wealthy parents of Ginevra King, the real-life Chicago-Lake Forest belle he courted in 1915 and 1916, none he would have wanted to present to the parents of Zelda Sayre, the Montgomery, Alabama, girl with ties to the Southern aristocracy he married a week after the publication of This Side of Paradise in the spring of 1920. The groom’s parents did not come to the wedding in New York. Neither did the bride’s.

Fitzgerald launched a novel tentatively titled The Boy Who Killed His Mother after finishing The Great Gatsby in 1925. He also composed and performed on festive occasions a humorous ballad about matricide, with lyrics that ran

Just a boy that killed his mother
I was always up to tricks
When she taunted me I shot her
Through her chronic appendix

While Mollie Fitzgerald could not be disposed of so easily, Scott kept her at a distance. By the time he was ten years old, he had apparently begun to be ashamed of his mother. During the summer of 1907, he went to Camp Chatham in Ontario and might have been expected to feel the pangs of homesickness. These were not strong enough to keep him from discouraging her visit. “I’d like very much” to have you come, the boy’s letter began, but—he immediately added—“I don’t think you would like it as you know no one here except Mrs. Upton and she is busy most of the time” and there were no good hotels and “about the only fare” in the boarding houses consisted of lamb and beef. Confronted by such elaborate signals, Mollie Fitzgerald stayed put. Neither then nor later did Scott want her around much.

He was annoyed by her gaucheries of dress and behavior, which included “majestically dripping her sleeves in the coffee” and flopping about in high buttoned shoes with the top buttons unfastened for comfort. Scott preferred not to look. “Never noticed mother’s eyes after living with her 20 years,” one of his notes reads. “Example of observation when I don’t like to look at her.”

Like many another youth he rebelled against his mother’s overprotectiveness. Throughout his boyhood he was bundled up with hats and coats and scarves and overshoes at the least sign of outdoor chill. If he so much as hinted at a sore throat or cold, Mollie kept him home from school. Nor did her anxiety about his health lessen after he grew to manhood. “Report Here My Son Scott Fitzgerald very sick in Paris,” she wired Scribner’s in January 1926. Could his publishers supply any information? They could: the rumor was unfounded. Again in the spring of 1930, she wrote Maxwell Perkins seeking news of her son’s well-being in Paris. Scott was all right, as it turned out, but Zelda had collapsed, an event that inspired Mollie Fitzgerald to send her son a moralistic poem and a check. Scott returned both, with the scornful comment that her poem contained “good rules for a man who wanted to be a chief clerk at 50.”

Mollie was not only protective of her only son; she also spoiled him rotten. She may have been dowdy herself, but she saw to it that Scott wore the best. When he was two, she dressed him in bloomers and kept him in curls. Later there were silk bow ties to accompany his Eton collars and De Pinna suits. She liked to show him off in such finery, marching him around to the Convent of the Visitation in St. Paul to recite poetry for the nuns or producing him at home to sing popular ballads for visitors. “He used to sing for company—God!” Scott wrote in his ledger, stabbing the pen through the page in disgust. His mother could not bring herself to discipline her beautiful blue-eyed boy. “No matter what awful thing I did,” Scott told Sheilah Graham, “I was just a bad brownie.”

Perhaps the most permanent of the psychic difficulties his mother bequeathed to him, however, derived from her determined efforts to launch both Scott and his sister Annabel into St. Paul society. Scott went to Professor William H. Baker’s dancing school withthe sons and daughters of the city’s leading families. He was invited to dances at the three-story houses on Summit Avenue and to parties at the University Club, Town and Country, and the White Bear Yacht Club. But his family’s position was precarious. Grandfather McQuillan was respected for his success, but Edward Fitzgerald had never amounted to anything, and Mollie, though she attended the debutante teas, carried on no social intercourse with the Ordways and the Driscolls and the Clarksons.


He did not live there very long and never really had a home anywhere, but St. Paul, Minnesota, left its mark on Scott Fitzgerald. What sort of place was the St. Paul of Fitzgerald’s youth? Most accounts characterized the city then as conservative, traditional, somewhat smug in its provincialism. “St. Paul presents to the eye,” writer Thomas Boyd remarked in 1922, “the spectacle of a huge city clinging tenaciously to the east and alarmed over the danger of falling into the west.” The word for St. Paul, writer Grace Flandrau concluded in a 1925 essay, was “complacent,” and as a native daughter that was all right with her. “Complacency is what we need,” she insisted with an eye on the Twin City of Minneapolis across the river. “Americans and American cities suffer from a disguised inferiority complex” called boosterism. If St. Paul got any bigger, its citizens might as well be living in Minneapolis.

When Fitzgerald characterized his home town, he emphasized something largely ignored by his friends, Flandrau and Boyd: the social hierarchy of the city. St. Paul felt itself superior to Minneapolis—and to Kansas City and Indianapolis and other Midwestern cities—because it was, by the first decade of the twentieth century, a three-generation town, while the others could claim only two. In an early draft of his story, “A Night at the Fair” (1928), Fitzgerald elaborated on the social structure those three generations had forged.

There were the two or three nationally known families—outside of them rather than below them the hierarchy began. At the top came those whose grandparents had brought something with them from the East, a vestige of money and culture; then came the families of the big self-made merchants, the “old settiers” of the sixties and seventies, American-English-Scotch, or German or Irish, looking down upon each other somewhat in the order named…. After this came certain well-to-do “new people”—mysterious, out of a cloudy past, possibly unsound. Like so many structures this one did not survive the cataract of money that came tumbling down upon it with the war.

Besides demonstrating Fitzgeralds social sensitivity and compulsion to rank people and places, this passage indicates where he felt he belonged in St. Paul’s system of classification: not among the nationally known families, nor among those whose grandparents had brought money and culture from the East, but rather among the grandchildren of the “old settlers” who had come at mid-century to make their fortunes in the rude town on the banks of the Mississippi. One of these settlers was his Irish grandfather who took the steamboat upriver from Galena in 1857 and started his wholesale grocery business. “As Tarkington says,” Fitzgerald observed, “American children belong to their mother’s families,” and Scott was thus Mollie McQuillan’s son, even more so because his father had not achieved a successful career in business. Fitzgerald knew where he stood in St. Paul society, and since as a highly competitive youth he wanted nothing less than to reach the top, it troubled him.

As Mrs. C. O. (Xandra) Kalman—who with her husband remained the Fitzgeralds’ lifelong friends—rightly asserts, Scott was certainly not “a little boy from the other side of the tracks.” Edward Fitzgerald, wife Mollie, and Master Scott are all listed in the 1913 edition of the St. Paul Social Register. His father belonged to White Bear Yacht Club, and a few years later joined the new University Club in town. Nonetheless, young Fitzgerald understood that he did not rank with the elite. His parents were not included in either the 1909 or 1910 editions of the St. Paul Social Register (this may have been due to their recent return to the city from Buffalo). The family could not afford a second home at White Bear, so that Scott—and later, his sister Annabel—usually rode out on the trolley to visit friends at their summer houses. Money made in trade did not carry the same cachet as that accumulated through investment, though there was more than one kind of trade. A newspaper clipping in Fitzgerald’s scrapbook refers to his grandfather as “a pioneer grocery dealer of St. Paul.” In his own hand Fitzgerald added the word “wholesale.”

The Fitzgeralds’ position on the lower reaches of social prominence is neatly symbolized by their real estate habits. In a nostalgic passage in The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway evokes his personal vision of St. Paul:

That’s my Middle West—not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name.

Scott Fitzgerald also rode the trains back at Christmastime for the parties and the sleighrides and the dances, but his St. Paul is nothing like Nick’s. He did not feel complacent there. He lived in no one home, but rather a series of temporary domiciles. The city directories for 1909-19 list five different addresses for Edward Fitzgerald, broker, and the family is known to have occupied at least two other houses during this period. Brisk fall weather seemed to trigger their migration. In September 1909, the Fitzgeralds moved out of Grandmother McQuillan’s apartment on Laurel into a duplex at 514 Holly Avenue. The following September, they packed up and moved across the street into a row house at 509 Holly. In September 1911, they rented a house at 499 Holly, their third home on the same street in three years, all within a block’s compass.

In 1915 Scott’s parents moved into a row house at 593 Summit Avenue and three years later into another one a few doors away at 599 Summit. (This, the house where Scott rewrote This Side of Paradise, has been officially designated as a National Historic Landmark.) But the Fitzgeralds established no permanent residence on Summit or anywhere else, no house that could be identified “through decades by a family’s name.”

Summit Avenue was once called (by an architectural historian) “the best-preserved American example of the Victorian monumental residential boulevard.” Undoubtedly, it was and is St. Paul’s “show street.” On the eastern third of its course from the majestic Cathedral to the Mississippi River, Summit displayed the homes of its social and economic leaders, well set back from the street behind terraces of grass and canopies of fine old elms. Economic pressures have subsequently divided many of the old mansions into apartment warrens, and Dutch elm disease has stripped the street of its magnificent trees. But in Fitzgerald’s youth, Summit reigned serenely. His family’s residences on Holly and Laurel were respectable enough, but a house on Summit had special significance. Fitzgerald knew this, but he also knew that a rented row house hardly qualified as a family mansion. When he got word in September 1919 that Scribner’s would publish his first novel, he wrote a letter headed

(599 Summit Ave.)
In a house below the average
Of a street above the average

The depth of Fitzgerald’s antagonism toward his mother, and of the social insecurity she inspired in her ambitions for him, are suggested in a dream he set down on paper in the spring of 1931, shortly after returning to Switzerland from his father’s funeral. He recorded the details for Margaret Egloff, at that time an intimate friend of his who was “working with the Jung group” in Zurich. Most of this dream, “a recent snooze by F. Scott Fitzgerald,” follows:

I am in an upstairs appartment where I live with my mother, old, white haired, clumsy and in mourning, as she is today. On another floor are a group of handsome & rich, young men, whom I seem to have known slightly as a child and now want to know better, but they look at me suspiciously. I talk to one who is agreeable and not at all snobbish, but obviously he does not encourage my acquaintance—whether because he considers mepoor, unimportant, ill bred, or of ill renown I don’t know, or rather don’t think about—only I scent the polite indifference and even understand it. During this time I discover that there is a dance downstairs to which I am not invited. I feel that if they knew better how important I was, I should be invited.

Mother and I have been quarreling—perhaps she had been trying to be my mother in the sentimental way (which in life made her hang in my room such texts as “The world will judge largely of Mother by you”), or perhaps I was merely taking out on her my ill-humour at being neglected by the people downstairs.

A parade begins outside in a great square not unlike the Place de la Concorde—columns of magnificently drilled troops in dress uniform move silently past in the blue twilight—men in dark blue, like British marines, but not exactly, then cadets like American cadets, then others, and, after an interval, Italian carbonierri with their big napoleonic hats. By this time it is quite dark, save for street illumination.

I go downstairs again, wander into the doorway of a sort of ballroom, see caterers at work and then am suddenly shamed by realizing this is the party to which I am not invited. Meeting one of the young men in the hall, I lose all poise and stammer something absurd. I leave the house, but as I leave Mother calls something to me in a too audible voice from an upper story. I don’t know whether I am angry with her for clinging to me, or because I am ashamed of her for not being young and chic, or for disgracing my conventional sense by calling out, or because she might guess I’d been hurt and pity me, which would have been unendurable, or all those things. Anyway I call back at her some terse and furious reproach.

Nevertheless she follows me—I arrive a little after her at my Aunt Annabel’s—(the real matriarch of my family, a dried up old maid, but with character and culture. She was rude and domineering to all the family but especially to my mother, but she had a secret love for all the men in the family—it was she who offered to pay my way if I’d go to Georgetown).

Mother and I were hungry. We wanted bacon and eggs, but mother was given only bacon and I was only given eggs. On being reminded that she’d only just had a collation a little before, my mother objected that the portion had been small, and was met with an austere, characteristic snub.

We returned home. On entering the house mother gave me a book, asking me pathetically (but remember her patheticness almost always repelled me) if it wasn’t a particular book I’d loved and lost in my childhood. It was almost that book but not quite— after that she evidently gave up pleasing me for she passes, save for a last episode [in which she once more calls out to him and is answered angrily], out of the dream.

As Margaret Egloff observed, this “was a Big Dream.” In it Fitzgerald reveals the humiliation his mother had caused him through such inappropriate actions as calling out to him too loudly, clinging too close, and demanding—but not getting—the best of service. He will not be placated, at least in the dream, by his mother’s sentimental attempts to remind him of childhood joys. He tries to escape his bondage, to reject her as the aristocratic young men reject him. Yet no matter how nastily he speaks to her (another dream of Fitzgerald’s concludes: “Blunder into Mother who nags me. My mean remarks.”), she will not let him free. If Mollie Fitzgerald had been smart and well-bred and attractive, her son might have felt differently, for then, presumably, the young men would have welcomed him to their company and to the dance.

All of this connotes a strong sense of social inferiority. A continuing theme in Fitzgerald’s life, Egloff commented, “was that the rich, powerful and the chic were the people to identify with, and become one with. The fact that he was not born into that society galled him, and he hated himself for his own and everyone else’s snobbery. He hated his mother for her upward aspirations, and he despised his father for not setting his goal and his career in that direction. But with all his ambivalence his underlying value system was very similar to his mother’s. “ The first word he uttered as a baby was “Up,” which was where she wanted him to go. From her he inherited his compulsive drive for social success; from her he inherited “black Irish” roots that hardly facilitated such success. He had to make it on his own, through his own accomplishments. He had to prove himself over and over again, and there was always the danger that the right people—like the young men in the dream—would not take notice.

Lacking family background, he tried to achieve social acceptancethrough popularity, but his mother had ill equipped him for that route as well. She had given him “no habits of work,” he lamented. And she had spoiled him so badly that with other boys he showed off and bragged and belittled and was desperately unpopular. Later in life Fitzgerald came to resent his mother’s leniency, especially in contrast to his strict Aunt Annabel McQuillan, the “dried up old maid,” who provided him with almost his “first taste of discipline.” He felt fond of Aunt Annabel in a way he could not feel about the mother who let him have his way. “I didn’t know till 15 that there was anyone in the world except me,” he wrote his daughter.

That was an exaggeration, for in his ledger Fitzgerald recalled the boyhood traumas of repudiation by his peers. At seven, he “had a birthday party to which no one came.” At nine, some boys at “a potato roast told him they didn’t want him around.” At ten, he was a “desperately unpopular camper.” At St. Paul Academy he was known as the freshest boy in school. “If anybody can poison Scotty or stop his mouth in some way, the school at large and myself will be obliged,” a letter in the school paper observed. It was the same story at Newman, the Catholic boarding school in Hackensack, New Jersey, where he finished his secondary education: “Bill Agar says I’m fresh.” “Fight with Franciscus.” “A new start. Poor marks and on bounds.” “Growing unpopular.” Almost everything in Fitzgerald’s experience eventually found its way into his fiction, but it took 15 years to confront the painful recollection of his prep school unpopularity in “The Freshest Boy” (1928), the most moving of the Basil Duke Lee stories.

There was reason enough for Mollie Fitzgerald’s spoiling her son and fussing over his health, as Scott well knew. “Three months before I was born,” he wrote in “Author’s House,” “my mother lost her other two children…. I think I started then to be a writer.” Perhaps so: certainly the death of his two older sisters affected the way he was brought up. In “A Baby’s Biography,” the scrapbook his mother kept, she refers only once to that tragedy. Baby Scott first crawled on May 30, 1897, she noted, and then went on, “Louise and Mary’s little brother made his first attempt to walk and it seems as though they were nearer—” Three years later she gave birth to yet another girl who lived only an hour. Finally, Scott’s sisterAnnabel was born in July 1901, and survived. But her clever, handsome son was Mrs. Fitzgerald’s favorite and her constant care. She kept his scrapbook until he was twenty-one, weighed 150 pounds, and stood five feet eight inches tall—or so she claimed in maternal exaggeration. Other accounts list Scott at five feet seven and rather less than 150 pounds.


1 son of “a king”: FSF, “Author’s House,” Afternoon of an Author (New York: Scribner’s, 1958), p. 185 (hereafter Afternoon).

1 “Why shouldn’t… Coolidge”: FSF to MP, 20 February 1926, The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Andrew Turnbull (New York: Scribner’s, 1963), p. 199 (hereafter Letters).

2 “Dolly Madison”: The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), p. 267 (hereafter Notebooks).

2 family tree: FSF to EW, late 1920, Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Margaret M. Duggan (New York: Random House, 1980), p. 76 (hereafter Correspondence).

2 audience… Pope: Archbishop Dowling to Monsignor O’Hearn, 3 June 1921, Firestone.

2-3 “half black Irish…”: FSF to John O’Hara, 18 July 1933, Letters, p. 503.

3 “just missed”: AM, interview with Richard Washington, 19 December 1947.

3 Mollie …not beautiful: C. N. B. Wheeler to HDP, 22 March 1945; Mrs. Herbert Lewis to HDP, n.d.; Elizabeth Beckwith MacKie memoir, Firestone; SD, interview with Norris and Betty Jackson, 8 August 1978.

3 outspoken …“mourning”: AM, interview with Mrs. Lorena McQuillan and David McQuillan, 3 January 1948; Andrew Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald (New York: Scribner’s, 1962), p. 66 (hereafter Turnbull).

3-4 rather literary …“knew more”: Lloyd Hackl, “Fitzgerald in St. Paul: An Oral History Portrait,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1976, p. 120; FSF, “An Author’s Mother,” The Price was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979), pp. 736-739 (hereafter Price); F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Ledger (Washington: NCR/Microcard, 1972), p. 174 (hereafter Ledger); “Auction,” Fitzgerald Newsletter, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (Washington: NCR/Microcard, 1969), p. 164 (hereafter Newsletter); FSF to Alfred Dashiell, Christmas 1933, Letters, p. 238; FSF to Margaret Turnbull, 11 November 1936, Letters, p. 442.

5 he drank… “back yard”: C. N. B. Wheeler to HDP, 13 February 1945; FSF, Ledger, p. 160.

5 make excuses: FSF, typescript of “Early Success,” Firestone, pp. 10-11.

5 “tired old stock”: FSF, “The Death of My Father,” The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. John Kuehl (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1965), pp. 66-68 (hereafter Apprentice).

5 Poe and Byron: FSF to Mrs. Edward Fitzgerald, June 1930, Letters, pp. 495-96.

6 “only moral guide”: FSF, “Death,” Apprentice, p. 67.

6 “cut the pie”: AM, interview with Paul Ballion, 3 January 1948.

6 “He misses me…”: FSF to Harold Ober, May 1926, AsEver, Scott Fitz------, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Jennifer

M. Atkinson (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972), p. 91.

6-7 “My father… resents…”: FSF, Notebooks, p. 151.

8 “Just a boy...”: FSF, Notebooks, pp. 129-30.

8 discouraging… visit…: FSF to Mrs. Edward Fitzgerald, 18 July 1907, Letters, p. 449.

9 gaucheries: FSF, Notebooks, pp. 172, 202; Turnbull, p. 27.

9 overprotectiveness…“chief clerk”: Henry Dan Piper, F.

9 Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965), pp. 8-9, 182 (hereafter Piper); telegram, Mrs. Edward Fitzgerald to Scribner’s, 21 January 1926, and cable, FSF to Scribner’s, January 1926, Firestone; FSF to Mrs. Edward Fitzgerald, June 1930, Letters, p. 496. 9 DePinna …“bad brownie”: Turnbull, pp. 12-13; John J. Koblas, F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: His Homes and Haunts (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1978), p.12; Sheilah Graham and Gerold Frank, Beloved Infidel (New York: Henry Holt, 1958), p. 284 (hereafter lnfidel).

10 “falling into …west”: Thomas Boyd, “Literary Libels (One): F. Scott Fitzgerald,” St. Paul Daily News (5 March 1922).

10 “Complacency...”: Grace Flandrau, “The Untamable Twin,” The Taming of the Frontier, ed. Duncan Aikman (New York: Minton, Balch, 1925), p. 152.

10 three-generation town: FSF, review of Grace Flandrau’s Being Respectable, F. Scott Fitzgerald in His Own Time: A Miscellany, eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Jackson R. Bryer (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1971), p. 141 (hereafter Miscellany).

10-11 early draft…: FSF, Notebooks, pp. 267-68.

11 “Tarkington says …”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.

11 Kalman…“tracks”: Lloyd Hackl, interview with Xandra Kalman, Minnesota Historical Society.

11 Social Register: St. Paul Social Registers for 1909, 1910, 1913, 1916, 1919, 1921, 1922, Minnesota Historical Society.

12 “wholesale”: FSF, Scrapbooks, Firestone: Fitzgerald’s emendation was noted by John M. Allen, Candles and Carnival Lights: The Catholic Sensibility of F. Scott Fitzgerald (New York University Press, 1978), p. 146.

12 city directories … moved…: St. Paul city directories for 1890-98 and 1909-17, Minneapolis Public Library.

13 599 Summit: FSF to Alida Bigelow, 22 September 1919, Letters, p. 456.

13-15 dream …of 1931 …: FSF, “Mr. Consumer! Do you ever figure Cost Plus?”, Firestone.

15 Egloff.. “Big Dream”…: Margaret C. L. Gildea (Egloff), “Comments on the Dream,” Firestone.

15 “Up”: FSF, Ledger, p. 151.

16 “no habits of work”: FSF, notes for “The Crack-up,” Firestone.

16 Aunt Annabel: Turnbull, pp. 36-37; Arthur Mizener, The Far Side of Paradise (New York: Vintage, 1959), p. 4 (hereafter Mizener).

16 “till 15”: FSF to SF, summer 1935, Letters, p. 5.

16 “unpopular”: FSF, Ledger, pp. 158, 160, 161, 163, 166.

16 “my mother lost...”: FSF, “Author’s House,” Afternoon, p. 184.

16-17 death of… sisters: Mrs. Edward Fitzgerald, “A Baby’s Biography,” Scrapbook on FSF, Firestone.

Next Chapter 2 Princeton ’17