Whatever legendmay have made of it, the relationship between Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre hardly began as a romantic idyll. On the rebound from Ginevra King, Fitzgerald was playing the field. “My army experience,” he commented, “consisted mostly of falling in love with a girl in each city I happened to be in.” There were several cities and not much time. When he learned he was to be transferred to Camp Sheridan outside Montgomery, he wrote Lawton Campbell—an Alabaman he’d known at Princeton—asking for the name of the “fastest” girl in town. (The editors of the Birmingham News, doing their genteel part in myth-making, changed the adjective to “prettiest.”)
Campbell supplied two or three names, but not Zelda’s. She was too young, not yet eighteen to Fitzgerald’s almost twenty-two when they met at the Montgomery Country Club’s Saturday night dance early in July 1918. But the petite seventeen-year-old with the rose-pink coloring and red-gold hair immediately caught his eye. They danced. She refused a late date. They quarreled. She consented to a meeting a few days later. She reminded him of “Isabelle” in the novel he was writing, he told her. She was impressed. He did not tell her that Isabelle was modeled on Ginevra.
Scott and Zelda had begun their game of courtship, but neither of them ceased other maneuvers. Fitzgerald’s ledger testifies to his involvement with at least three other girls during the summer and fall. July: “May Stiener [Steiner]. Zelda. .. HelenDent… Ginevra married… May and I on the porch. Her visiting hours.” August: “Zelda & May.” September: “Fell in love [with Zelda] on the 7th… Zelda sick… Discovery that Zelda’s class voted her prettiest & most attractive.” October: “May Stiener… left for North on 26th. Helen Dent’s Frenchman” November: “Wild letters … Return to Montgomery. Ruth [Sturtevant] in Washington. Zelda’s friend Dent & the stolen kiss on the stairs.”
In Zelda, Fitzgerald more than met his match. Much the youngest of Judge and Mrs. A. D. Sayre’s five children, she became a free-spirited tomboy in childhood, leading the neighborhood girls in climbing trees, roller-skating on the Whitfields’ paved-over backyard, and sneaking into the pool at Huntingdon College for a swim. “Any time she said frog, I jumped,” one of her friends remarked. Zelda didn’t like “sissy ladylike” girls. She liked boys instead, though she teased them unmercifully as she grew older. In high school English class she read a jingle about shy, handsome Charles Wolfork:
I do love my Charlie so
It nearly drives me wild
I’m so glad that he’s my beau
And I’m his baby child
Poor Charlie reddened, everyone else howled.
Boys liked her anyway, as much for her daring as her beauty. The teen-aged Zelda brooked no authority. On occasion her father attempted to rein her in, but with little success. If he forbade her to leave the house, she’d puncture his dignity by calling him “old Dick” and go out anyway, often with the connivance of her mother. She did what she pleased and made sure that people noticed. At dances she reveled in attention, turning cartwheels or performing a solo Highland Fling. At Tuscaloosa, when the chaperones objected to her antics, she pinned a sprig of mistletoe to the tail of her flannel coat and flipped the coat tail at them as she danced by. In Atlanta, she “left the more or less sophisticated beaux and belles… gasping for air.”
This was the girl—defiant, lovely, irresponsible, brave—that Fitzgerald fell in love with in Montgomery. Characteristically, she soon confounded his expectations by letting him seduce her. It may have happened as early as her eighteenth birthday on July 24, “a radiant night, a night of soft conspiracy” (as she later remembered) when the three pines on one side and four on the other “agreed it was all going to be for the best.” Or it may have happened on another summer night—again, the recollection is Zelda’s—
when you invited me to dine and I had never dined before but had always just “had supper.” The General was away. The night was soft and gray and the trees were feathery in the lamp light and the dim recesses of the pine forest were fragrant with the past, and you said you would come back from no matter where you are. So I said and I will be here waiting.
It was me who said:
“I feel as if something had happened and I don’t know what it is.”
—“Well”—and you smiled—”… if you don’t know I can’t possibly know.”
Then I said “I guess nobody knows—”
you hoped and I guessed
Everything’s going to be all right
Fitzgerald’s feelings about the seduction were ambivalent: in 1920 he began and abandoned a novel in which he attempted to come to terms with the issue. But when he left Montgomery in October 1918, he felt committed to Zelda emotionally and apprehensive about her morally. He knew that she drank more than other girls: she’d been drinking the first night they met. He knew that she flirted wildly and was pursued by dozens of men. But he did not know how far she went with them, and she was not about to tell him. Years later, she confessed—and it is possible that the confession was contrived more to disturb Scott than to provide him with the truth—that she had “been seduced and provincially outcast” even before they met. Fitzgerald’s notebook entry confirms her admission: “There was an elaborate self-consciousness about our seduction which told of deep intuition that you were playing a role, though my one-track mind didn’t choose to notice it, and I should have guessed… there had been old emotional experience for you had learned to feel before I did.” A letter he wrote but did not send to Zelda’s sister Marjorie in December 1938 revealed something of the outrage he felt. “Your mother took such rotten care of Zelda,” he wrote, “that John Sellers was able to seduce her at fifteen and she was so drunk the first time I met her at the country club that her partners were carrying her around in their arms.” Probably Fitzgerald exaggerated here in the course of arguing against the Sayres’ conviction that he’d driven Zelda insane. But the bitterness seems real enough, and must have been compounded by the years he’d spent wondering—and worrying— about Zelda’s sexual behavior.
The wondering began almost at once. Zelda understood that her attractiveness to other men mattered a good deal to Fitzgerald and repeatedly let him know of her adventures. At a dance the week after they met, she dragged her escort into a lighted phone booth and began passionately kissing him. “What’s the idea?” he asked. “Oh,” she airily replied, “Scott was coming and I wanted to make him jealous.” When Fitzgerald left Montgomery in the fall, she continued her efforts in correspondence, “In desperation, yesterday Bill LeGrand and I drove his car to Auburn and came back with ten boys to liven things up—Of course, the day was vastly exciting—and the night even more so—” “’Red’ said last night that I was the pinkest-whitest person he ever saw, so I went to sleep in his lap— Of course, you dont mind because it was really very fraternal, and we were shaperoned by three girls—” “I’m just recovering from a wholesome amour with Aubern’s ’startling quarterback’ so my disposition is excellent as well as my health… Please bring me a quart of gin—I haven’t had a drink all summer, and you’re already ruined along alcoholic lines with Mrs. Sayre—” Yet soon her mother was berating her about drinking, “all on account of a wine-stained dress—Darling heart [Fitzgerald’s proposed novel about seduction was to be called “Darling Heart”]—I won’t drink any if you object—Sometimes I get so bored—and sick for you— It helps then—”
In nearly every letter Zelda provoked Scott’s jealousy. He responded frantically, making repeated trips to Montgomery fromhis advertising job in New York and suggesting in correspondence that she might moderate her amorous activities. In March 1919 he sent her an engagement ring as a consequence of which, she wrote him, the “whole dance was completely upset last night.” Then she added that the 37th Ohio Division was apparently coming down to Montgomery in May, and it would seem “dreadfully peculiar not to be worried over the prospects of the return of at least three or four fiancees.”
Engaged or not, Zelda did not intend to give up her social life. Fitzgerald came to Montgomery in April, in May, and in June 1919, but she would not set a wedding date and continued to torment him through the mails. She was “damned tired” of being told that he “used to wonder why they kept princesses in towers,” which he’d written, verbatim, in his “last six letters!” If he had to strain so hard for something to say, maybe they ought to correspond less often. When he proposed a June visit she advised him to come “any time except the week of June 13. I’m going to Georgia Tech to try my hand in new fields—You might come on the 20th and stay till we go to North Carolina—or come before I go to Atlanta, only I’ll be mighty tired, and they always dance till breakfast.” But now there was more than coquetry involved. When Scott did arrive in Montgomery, she broke things off. “I’ve done my best and I’ve failed,” he wrote Ruth Sturtevant on June 24. “It’s a great tragedy to me and I feel I have very little left to live for…. Unless someday she will marry me I will never marry.”
Zelda’s decision was largely a practical matter. As of June 1919 Fitzgerald’s prospects were dim. He had not graduated from Princeton. He did not like his job in advertising and was not doing particularly well in it. His novel had been rejected by Scribner’s. His parents were well off but not wealthy, while the Sayres had very little money indeed. It made excellent sense for Zelda, as a belle of good family, to seek a husband whose financial success was assured. Mama Sayre made the point clear to Zelda, and Zelda made it more subtly to Scott. “All the material things are nothing,” she told him, yet she’d “hate to live a sordid, colorless existence” for he would surely soon love her less and less.
Fitzgerald got the message, and resented it. Despite her customary recklessness, he confided to his notebooks, “Zelda was cageyabout throwing in her lot with me before I was a money-maker.” Moreover, she withheld the sexual favors she had earlier granted. “After yielding,’ he wrote in his plan for the 1934 “Count of Darkness” stories, “she holds Phillipe at bay like Zelda & me in Summer 191.” Such behavior smacked of calculation, and the romantic side of Fitzgerald objected. By the time she finally said yes, some of the magic had dissipated.
One effect of his broken engagement was to send Fitzgerald back to St. Paul to rewrite his novel. When Scribner’s changed its mind about This Side of Paradise and offered to publish it in the fall of 1919, he decided to try to change Zelda’s mind as well. Not only did he have a contract for a novel to show, but his stories had started selling for good prices. By November he was ready to go to Montgomery and woo Zelda once again. “I may be a wreck by the time I see you,” he wrote Princeton classmate Ludlow Fowler in New York. “I’m going to try to settle it definitely one way or the other.” He didn’t succeed. Zelda slept with him but would not promise to marry him. “I’ll tell you what the situation is now,” he told Edmund Wilson. “I wouldn’t care if she died, but I couldn’t stand to have anybody else marry her.”
Zelda married Scott soon enough, but not before they were both convinced that she had become pregnant. In January he secured some pills that were supposed to solve the problem, but Zelda refused to take them:
I wanted to for your sake, because I know what a mess I’m making and how inconvenient it’s all going to be—but I simply can’t and won’t take those awful pills—so I’ve thrown them away; I’d rather take carbolic acid. You see, as long as I feel that I had the right I don’t much mind what happens—and besides, I’d rather have a whole family than sacrifice my self-respect. They just seem to place everything on the wrong basis—and I’d feel like a damned whore if I took even one, so you’ll try to understand, please Scott—and do what you think best—but don’t do ANYTHING till we know because God—or something—has always made things right, and maybe this will be.
God, or something, did make things right, and the crisis passed.
Meanwhile, Mama Sayre kept leaving “stories of young authors,turned out on a dark and stormy night,” on Zelda’s pillow. But all the Sayres capitulated when the movie studios began buying film rights to Fitzgerald stories for four-figure sums. “Darling Heart, our fairy tale is almost ended,” Zelda wrote him then, “and we’re going to marry and live happily ever afterward just like the princess in the tower who worried you so much—and made me so very cross by her constant recurrence.” She was sorry for the times she’d been “mean and hateful,” Zelda added, but Fitzgerald didn’t expect her to change simply because they were getting married. He knew that “any girl who gets stewed in public, who frankly enjoys and tells shocking stories, who smokes constantly and makes the remark that she has ’kissed thousands of men and intends to kiss thousands more “ would be widely criticized and even thought immoral. But he’d fallen in love with Zelda’s “courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect” and that was the only thing that mattered. Scott went up to New York to find an apartment. Zelda went to the country club, where—she wrote her husband-to-be—one man tried to elope to New York with her and told her she’d “make a fortune Shaking-It thusly up Broadway.” On March 20 the engagement was announced in the Montgomery newspapers. On March 26 This Side of Paradise came out to good reviews and excellent sales. On April 3 Scott and Zelda were married in the rectory of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.
The week before his wedding, Fitzgerald wrote Ruth Sturtevant that he wanted her to meet Zelda “because she’s very beautiful and very wise and very brave as you can imagine—but she’s a perfect baby and a more irresponsible pair than we’ll be will be hard to imagine.” He was right to stress their mutual immaturity. Like an insecure child he needed approval. Like a willful one she demanded attention. Both sought to occupy the center of the stage, sometimes in collaboration but often in competition. It made for incessant quarreling, and always had. “When Zelda Sayre and I were young,” Fitzgerald remarked, “the war was in the sky.” Between them they brought it down to earth too, to the dance floor of the country club and the Sayres’ front porch. These arguments distressed Scott, but Zelda rather enjoyed them. “I love your sad tenderness—when I’ve hurt you,” she wrote Scott in 1919. “That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels—andthey bothered you so—Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget.’
Almost always sexual jealousy was at the root of the trouble. Fitzgerald might call it something else: “The most enormous influence on me in the four and a half years since I met her has been the complete, fine and full-hearted selfishness and chill-minded-ness of Zelda,” he wrote Edmund Wilson in January 1922. But the selfishness usually expressed itself in a search for amusement involving other men. In his notebooks of the mid-1980s, Scott outlined a sample plot:
A person perfectly happy succumbing to the current excitement and looking for trouble. Each time he or she is rescued. … Begin with her attempt to achieve a real point with her husband—and with her losing it because of this superimposed excitement hunting. One scene where she’s pathetic Zelda-Gemma natural—another where you want to wring her neck for ignorant selfishness.
Actually, he had already depicted that girl many times in his earlier fiction, as, for example, in the reckless trouble-making of the title character in “Gretchen’s Forty Winks” and of the hopelessly selfish Luella Hemple in “The Adjuster. ’ In fact, as critic Milton Hindus has pointed out, almost all of Fitzgerald’s leading female characters, from Rosalind Connage through Gloria Patch and Daisy Buchanan to Nicole Diver, are intensely self-centered. And yet if his readers condemn these women, they do so without any warrant from Fitzgerald himself, who seems to have admired them despite their failings.
“It is one of the many flaws in the scheme of human relationships that selfishness in women has an irresistible appeal to many men,” he commented in “The Adjuster.” Such women might be exasperating at times, but they had their charm. “I wish I was dead—God forbid!” Fitzgerald has a character remark in a 1924 article. Then he adds: “In the same spirit I have often wished that I had never laid eyes on my wife—but I can never stand for her to be out of my sight for more than five hours at a time.” Zelda well understood this attitude. In one of her courting letters to Scott, she speaks ofthe woman’s function as providing a “disturbing element” to men. Given her willfulness and beauty and thirst for adventure, she found it easy to keep her husband disturbed.
Soon after their marriage, Zelda told him “a terrible thing… that if he were away she could sleep with another man and it wouldn’t really affect her, or make her really unfaithful to him.” This thought stayed with him while she continued the flirtations that had become a way of life. In the summer of 1920 they moved up to Westport from New York, and Zelda became restless. “Scott’s hot in the middle of a new novel, and Westport is unendurably dull,” she observed in inviting Ludlow Fowler to visit, “but you and I might be able to amuse ourselves—and both of us want to see you dreadfully.” The major flirtation of the summer was with George Jean Nathan, not Fowler. Nathan bantered gaily with her, in person and by mail:
Dear Misguided Woman:
Like so many uncommonly beautiful creatures, you reveal a streak of obtuseness. The calling of a husband’s attention to a love letter addressed to his wife is but part of a highly sagacious technique…. It completely disarms suspicion. I refer you, by way of proof, to cases of Beethoven, General McLellan and Gaby Deslys…
Why didn’t you call me up on Friday? Is it possible that your love is growing cold?
In comparison with Montgomery standards this was high-style courting, and Zelda was flattered and amused. Scott was not, and angrily broke off the friendship with Nathan.
The Fitzgeralds were back in New York by fall, where they saw a good deal of former Princetonian Alec McKaig. Out of loyalty to Scott, McKaig refused to kiss Zelda during a taxicab ride and tried to persuade her to lead a less “extravagant” life. But as his diary attests, she bewitched him nonetheless. “She is without doubt the most brilliant & most beautiful young woman I’ve ever known,” he noted in April 1921.
By that time she was three months pregnant, and the Fitzgeralds decided to take their first trip to Europe before the baby arrived.On board the Aquitania, they encountered the Howard MacMillans and Crawford Johnstons, couples from Minneapolis on their honeymoons, and liquid reunions took place. Several days out at sea, the newlywed ladies came upon Zelda huddled in a robe in a deck chair and looking rather the worse for wear. Gently, they said they hoped she’d feel better soon. “You wouldn’t look so good, either,’ Zelda responded, “if you were seasick, hungover, and pregnant.” Upon returning to St. Paul to await the birth, she put on a great deal of weight. “Who’s your fat friend?” someone asked Xandra Kalman about her, and Zelda did not forget. Pregnancy did not agree with her.
Scottie was born in October. Three months later Zelda discovered she was pregnant once more, and though both she and Scott had wanted a son, it was just too soon. In March 1922 she had an abortion. Perhaps something of her attitude may be gleaned from the fragment of Gloria’s diary Fitzgerald quotes in The Beautiful and Damned, published the month after the abortion. “I refuse to dedicate my life to posterity,” the fictional Gloria wrote. “Surely one owes as much to the current generation as to one’s unwanted children. What a fate—to grow rotund and unseemly, to lose my self-love.” Later in the novel, when she thinks she’s pregnant, Gloria determines to have an abortion, but it turns out to be a false alarm.
But it may also be true, as Nancy Milford suggests, that Fitzgerald was attempting in The Beautiful and Damned to transfer any guilt he may have felt to Zelda (or her fictional counterpart). What did he have to feel guilty about? His attitude toward his wife’s abortion in 1922 is not on record, though in The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony Patch goes along with the idea. But Fitzgerald had secured miscarriage-inducing pills for Zelda a few months before their marriage and an abortion may actually have taken place at that time. “Do you think Zelda’s abortions could have had anything to do with her illness?” her sister Rosalind inquired in 1930. The plural reference probably was to a time before March 1922, since during the fall of 1924, in Rome, Zelda underwent “a minor operation” to enable her to become pregnant and—in her words— she “became horribly sick from trying to have a baby.” She could not do so, and apparently suffered more than one miscarriage tryingin the years immediately thereafter. But the attempt in late 1924 had a special significance, for it came on the heels of her affair with the French naval aviator Edouard Jozan.
Whatever it was that drove Zelda into her romance with the young French officer, it marked a turning point in the Fitzgeralds’ marriage. They had sailed for Europe in May 1924, and by June were settled in St. Raphael, where Scott was working with concentrated intensity, “living in the book,” on The Great Gatsby. Bored by lack of company, Zelda spent long afternoons on the beach with Jozan, who with his air of military command and physical hardness represented everything her husband did not. At the beginning she may have intended only a casual flirtation. It did not stay that way. Both in Save Me the Waltz, the novel she wrote in 1932, and in Caesar’s Things, the fragment of a novel she worked on in subsequent years, Zelda recreated her lover in sensual terms. “He drew her body against him till she felt the blades of his bones carving her own. He was bronze and smelled of the sand and sun; she felt him naked underneath the starched linen.” Eventually Scott found out—“The Big Crisis” came on the “13th of July”— and took immediate action. “So she told her husband that she loved the French officer and her husband locked her up in the villa,” as Zelda described it.
According to Fitzgerald’s ledger, he and Zelda grew close together in the aftermath of the affair and the trouble cleared away with a last sight of Jozan in October. But Zelda did not stop feeling her loss: “Whatever it was that she wanted from [Jozan, he] took with him.” Nor would her marriage be the same again. “That September 1924,” as Scott wrote with the advantage of hindsight, years later, “I knew something had happened that could never be repaired.” It marked the beginning of a permanent rift between them. “Her affair with Edouard [Jozan] in 1925 and mine with Lois Moran in 1927, which was a sort of revenge shook something out of us,” he wrote her psychiatrist in 1932, “but we can’t both go on paying and paying forever.”
Fitzgerald paid most agonizingly through not knowing exactly what had happened. Interviewed by Nancy Milford for her book on Zelda Fitzgerald, Jozan maintained that his relationship with Zelda had not resulted in adultery. That denial may have beenGallic gallantry, but perhaps not. Certainly Fitzgerald never knew. Eleven years after the Jozan summer, he came to grips with his lingering doubt in a story called “Image on the Heart.” Tom, the male protagonist, is about to marry Tudy, though he realizes that she has been deeply attracted to Riccard, a young French aviator. Immediately after their wedding Tom discovers that Tudy and Riccard had taken a train trip together the previous day. She tells him it hadn’t been her idea, that she’d been furious with Riccard, and offers Tom an annulment. But he decides to accept her story and promises not to reproach her. Then they ride off on their honeymoon, “silent for a while each with a separate thought. His thought was that he would never know—what her thought was must be left unfathomed—and perhaps unfathomable in that obscure pool in the bottom of every woman’s heart.”
There are some things, clearly, that men and women can never know about each other, and a confession—true or false—would hardly have eased Fitzgerald’s torment. But unlike Tudy of “Image on the Heart,” Zelda would neither deny nor confirm her unfaithfulness. His imagination took over and conjured up visions—like Dick Diver’s of Rosemary being seduced in a Pullman car—more vivid and terrifying than reality. When critic and biographer Henry Dan Piper went to see Zelda in 1947, she told him she regretted having flirted so much with other men and never telling Scott how far she’d gone with them, letting him guess the worst and neither denying nor correcting his suspicions.
Scott tended to internalize his jealousy, Zelda to express hers histrionically. But both, as accomplished competitors in the struggle between the sexes, knew how to retaliate when wounded. Thus while Zelda aroused her husband’s jealousy during the early and mid-1920s, he carried on various flirtations—according to Zelda’s recollections—with a number of women and especially, after they had returned to the United States from their long trip abroad late in 1926, “further apart than ever before,” with the young actress Lois Moran (in Hollywood, Delaware, and New York). The previous year, Zelda had flung herself down a flight of stone steps when Isadora Duncan had called Fitzgerald to her dinner table at St. Paul de Vence and begun a public wooing. Confronted by her husband’s infatuation with the seventeen-year-old Lois Moran, sheburned her clothes in the bathtub and threw from the window of a train the platinum and diamond wristwatch Scott had given her during their courtship.
Such gestures commanded attention, but did not stop Fitzgerald from inviting the affection and admiration of other women. With exquisite insensitivity he traveled to Hollywood alone in November 1931, leaving Zelda behind to cope with her own lingering malady, her father’s severe illness and death, and the demon of suspicion. It troubled her to think of him in Hollywood “with all those beautiful women,” and he did little to reassure her through the mails. “I had the most horrible dream about you last night,” she wrote Scott. “You came home with a great shock of white hair and you said it had turned suddenly from worrying about being unfaithful.” The dream had made her angry all day, she added. In another letter she treated the matter humorously.
D.O. [for Dear One] if you will come back I will make the jasmine bloom and all the trees come out in flower and we will eat clouds for desert bathe in the foam of the rain—and I will let you play with my pistol and you can win every golf game and I will make you a new suit from a blue hydrangea bush and shoes from pecan-shells and I’ll sew you a belt from leaves like maps of the world and you can always be the one that’s perfect. But if you write me about Lily Dalmita and Constance I will go off to Florida for a week and spend our money and make you jealous of my legs a la Creole when you get home.
Soon after he did return, Zelda suffered a serious relapse and they took the train north to Baltimore, where she was treated at the Phipps clinic of Johns Hopkins University. Only then did he begin to grasp the power he held over her. In fifteen minutes of “well-planned conversation,” he told Dr. Thomas A. C. Rennie, he could bring on her insanity again. “I would only need intimate that I was interested in some other woman.” For whatever it was worth, he had won their battle for sexual supremacy.
During 1928 and 1929, as Scott drank more and more heavily and Zelda threw herself into the discipline of the ballet, physical relations between them virtually ceased. Her appeal as a womanchallenged, she lashed out with accusations. He had never satisfied her, she said. His penis was too short. In A Moveable Feast Hemingway wrote a wickedly funny account of how Fitzgerald asked him about his sexual equipment at lunch, and how Hemingway then used the lavatory mirrors and works of painting and sculpture in an attempt to reassure Scott. To many this anecdote rings false, and Hemingway may well have elaborated on the truth, but there is no reason to doubt that Fitzgerald told him about the supposed deficiency in the size of his penis. He told many people that he was worried about it, women as well as men. The problem seems to have been imaginary; Sheilah Graham found him perfectly normal.
In 1929 Zelda assigned another reason to her husband’s lack of interest in her. He was, she decided, a homosexual. The accusation struck a nerve, not because it was true but because he recognized in himself certain indications—his appearance, his cast of mind, even his latent tendencies—that might lead others to believe it was true. In boyhood Scott had been thought “too pretty, too feminine” by many observers. He was cast as a chorus girl for two Princeton Triangle shows. On his own he dressed up as a woman and attended a dance at the University of Minnesota. This was all in good fun, but as he grew older the humor palled. When told that he looked like someone else, he ruefully remarked in 1935, it usually turned out that the someone else was a fairy.
Not only did the fine-featured Fitzgerald rather look like a woman, he often thought like one too. “I’m half feminine—at least my mind is,” he observed. Like Anthony Patch in The Beautiful and Damned, his mind was “Not strongly gendered either way.” For example, he took a rather prudish attitude toward sex. He was shocked by the talk of his fellow undergraduates at Princeton. He disapproved of explicit sex in novels. He told John Peale Bishop that he’d devoted far too much space to “sex-in-the-raw” in Act of Darkness. He refused to send a blurb about Butterfield Eight to John O’Hara’s publishers: O’Hara should have used sex more sparingly, he thought. Frank Harris’s pornographic memoirs disgusted him. “It’s the kind of filth your sex is often subjected to,” he told a woman.
In his own fiction, Fitzgerald’s tendency was either to write around the issue, as in Gatsby’s seduction of Daisy, or to investsex with overtones of revulsion, as in young Amory Blaine’s sudden loathing for Myra St. Claire, the girl he has just kissed, in This Side of Paradise. He deleted a phrase about “making love to dry loins” from Tender Is the Night. Only once, in The Last Tycoon episode involving Stahr and Kathleen at the beach house, did he write an adult sex scene, and—as it turns out—he had left that scene understated as well until Sheilah Graham showed him how to make it provocative.
If Fitzgerald evaded depicting heterosexual acts in his fiction, he was far from condoning any less conventional behavior. Homosexuals like Royal Dumphry, Luis Campion, and the unfortunate Chilean Francisco are portrayed satirically in Tender Is the Night, while a long passage excised from the novel served to segregate the author firmly from the world they inhabited. Dick and Nicole are in a hotel that houses a virtual “battalion of the Boys”:
She saw the males gathered down at the bar, the tall gangling ones, the little pert ones with round thin shoulders, the broad ones with the faces of Nero and Oscar Wilde, or of senators— faces that dissolved suddenly into girlish fatuity, or twisted into leers—the nervous ones who hitched and twitched, jerking open their eyes very wide, and laughed hysterically, the handsome, passive and dumb men who turned their profiles this way and that, the pimply stodgy men with delicate gestures, or the raw ones with very red lips and frail curly bodies, their shrill voluble tones piping their favorite word “treacherous” above the hot volume of talk; the ones over-self-conscious who glared with eager politeness toward every noise; among them were English types with great racial self-control, Balkan types, one small cooing Siamese. “I think now,” Nicole said, “I think I’m going to bed.”
“I think so too.”
—Goodby, you unfortunates. Goodby, Hotel of Three Worlds.
Zelda provoked her husband’s anger by accusing him of homosexuality. She outraged him by naming Ernest Hemingway as the man he loved. Here she struck very close to home, for Fitzgerald not only made a hero of Hemingway—a job Ernest said he’d gladly renounce—and worked with vigor to promote his career, but obviously felt a deep affection for him. The much-repeated story ofScott and Ernest’s friendship hardly bears further repeating, but one quotation from Fitzgerald’s notebooks is apropos. “I really loved him, but of course it wore out like a love affair. The fairies have spoiled all that.”
When Zelda suffered her mental breakdown and was hospitalized in the spring of 1930, she was housed in three different institutions within a month’s time. At each of them she related the same tale. Her husband was a homosexual, in love with a man named Hemingway. Scott did not want to see her again until she disabused herself of such notions, he insisted by letter. She knew what she knew, Zelda responded. She’d like him to come see her, “but there’s no good telling lies.”
He was especially troubled by her conviction, which served to make her story more credible. For the first month after she moved to Prangins, he later maintained, Zelda “had Dr. [Oscar] Forel convinced that I was a notorious Parisian homosexual.” She almost convinced Scott as well. “My instinct,” he commented, “is to write a public letter to the Paris Herald to see if any human being except yourself and Robert McAlmon [who characterized Hemingway the same way] has ever thought I was a homosexual. The three weeks after the horror of Valmont when I could not lift my eyes to meet the eyes of other men in the street after your stinking allegations and insinuations will not be repeated.”
Zelda’s delusions about him, Fitzgerald believed, were intimately bound up with her own homosexual leanings. The “idea began,” he wrote, “in an attempt to implicate me in what you thought were your own tendencies (i.e. your first accusation about Ernest occurred exactly one month after the Dolly Wilde matter).” One cause of her breakdown was her inability to confront those tendencies. As her first doctor at Malmaison reported, “she believes herself in love with her dance teacher (Madame X), she already believes herself to have been in love with another woman.” The other woman was probably a “friend in the Paris Opera” whom Zelda admitted she loved. Dolly Wilde was the niece of Oscar Wilde, and a libertine who practiced her lesbianism publicly in Paris. In a fragment cut out of Tender Is the Night, she appears as the wicked Vivian Taube. “Zelda & Dolly Wilde,” Scott’s ledger for May 1929 reads. Whatever happened then was enough that herebuked Zelda for it, but he was wrong to do so, she thought, since he’d sat her beside Dolly in the first place and then “disparaged and belittled the few friends” she had “whose eyes had gathered their softness at least from things that I understood.” Besides, in “all that horror Dolly Wilde was the only one who said she would do anything to be cured.” Dolly Wilde was the particular friend of the notorious Natalie Barney, whose salon the Fitzgeralds attended at least twice during 1928 and 1929. They also were taken to visit the studio of lesbian artist Romaine Brooks, whose paintings depicted men in women’s attire and vice versa. A self-portrait revealed the artist in riding coat and top hat; Natalie Barney was portrayed brandishing a whip. Zelda described the studio as “a glass-enclosed square of heaven swung high above Paris.”
Madame X was Madame Lubov Egorova, head of the ballet school for the Diaghilev troupe. Gerald Murphy had recommended Egorova to Zelda as an excellent coach and technician. In the summer of 1928 the lessons—and the attraction—began. On the boat going back to the United States in September, Zelda was to remind Scott, “I told you I was afraid there was something abnormal in the relationship and you laughed.” When they returned to Paris in May she “became dependent on” her teacher. There were group lessons in the morning, individual ones in the afternoon. Daily she stopped at the flower stall to take Egorova a fresh bouquet. Zelda invited her teacher and her husband to dinner, and became annoyed when Scott flirted with her inamorata.
When the Fitzgeralds went to North Africa in February, Zelda could not get Egorova out of her head and felt miserable, nervous, and unhappy. Back in Paris once more, she drove herself past the limits of exhaustion at her lessons. As she later tried to explain matters, she felt an “intense love” for Egorova:
I wanted to dance well so that she would be proud of me and have another instrument for the symbols of beauty that passed in her head that I understood, though apparently could not execute. I wanted to be first in the studio so that it would be me that she could count on to understand what she gave out in words and… I wanted to be near her because she was cool and white and beautiful.
She loved Egorova more than anything in the world, she told Dr. Forel. Egorova “had everything of beauty in her head, the brightness of a greek temple, the frustration of a mind searching for a place, the glory of cannon bullets.” To Scott she wrote that she could not sleep and was going through hell and could not grasp why God had imposed this torture on her “except that it was wrong, of course, to love my teacher when I should have loved you. But I didn’t have you to love—not since long before I loved her.”
Whatever the accuracy of Zelda’s accusations about Scott, she was not imagining about herself. At Val-Mont in April 1930 one of her nurses was forced to repulse her “overly affectionate” gestures. At Prangins in October 1930 she conceived an “infatuation for [a] red-haired girl.” Nor did she obliterate the image of her ballet teacher. She painted a portrait of Egorova, in fact, and displayed it at her 1934 show in New York. But, she instructed Scott, that was one painting she did not want sold.
60 “army experience”: Michel Mok, “The Other Side of Paradise” (interview with FSF), Miscellany, p. 297.
60 “fastest” girl: C. Lawton Campbell to HDP, 18 August 1956 (?).
60 “Isabelle”… Ginevra: Piper, p. 40.
60-61 three other girls: FSF, Ledger, pp. 172-73.
61 “frog … jumped”: SD, interviews with Katherine Elsberry Haxton and Eugenia McGough Tuttle, 6 November 1980.
61 “love my Charlie”: Lurline Pierson Weatherby produced this jingle during an interview with SD, 6 November 1980.
61 “old Dick … gasping”: Milford, pp. 16-17; Turnbull, p. 89; interview with Haxton; Mizener, p. 81.
62 “radiant night …all right”: ZF to FSF, 1934-35 (two letters), Firestone.
62-63 “elaborate self-consciousness”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
63 “John Sellers”: FSF to Marjorie Sayre Brinson, December 1938 (unsent), Firestone.
63 phone booth: AM, note for revision.
63 “car to Auburn”: ZS to FSF, 1919, Firestone.
63 “pinkest-whitest”: ZS to FSF, 1919, Firestone.
63 “amour… helps then”: ZS to FSF, 1919 (two letters), Firestone.
64 ring … “fiancees”: ZS to FSF, March 1919, Firestone.
64 “princesses in towers”: ZS to FSF, summer 1919, Firestone.
64 “Georgia Tech”: ZS to FSF, spring 1919, Firestone.
64 “great tragedy”: FSF to Ruth Sturtevant, 24 June 1919, Letters, p. 455.
64 “sordid… existence”: Quoted in Mizener, p. 96.
64-65 “Zelda … cagey”: Quoted in Mizener, p. 84.
65 “holds … at bay”: FSF, notes for “Count of Darkness,” Firestone.
65 “may be a wreck”: FSF to Ludlow Fowler, 10 November 1919, Correspondence, pp. 48—49.
65 “situation is now”: FSF to EW, quoted in EW, “The Twenties,” The New Yorker (28 April 1975), p. 46.
65 pills … “wanted to”…: ZS to FSF, February 1920, Correspondence, p. 50.
65-66 “young authors”: ZS to FSF, early 1920, Firestone.
66 “fairy tale”: ZS to FSF, February 1920, Correspondence, p. 51.
66 “stewed in public”: Quoted in Milford, p. 60
66 tried to elope: ZS to FSF, February-March 1920, Firestone.
66 “perfect baby”: FSF to Ruth Sturtevant, 26 March 1920, Letters, p. 459.
66 “war in … sky”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
66-67 “dear little fusses”: ZS to FSF, 1919, Firestone.
67 “most enormous”: FSF to EW, January 1922, Letters, p. 331.
67 “perfectly happy”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
67 self-centered: Milton Hindus, F. Scott Fitzgerald: An Introduction and Interpretation (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968), p. 33.
67 “dead… five hours”: FSF, “Does a Moment of Revolt Come Some Time to Every Married Man?” Miscellany, pp. 185-86.
67-68 “disturbing element”: Milford, p. 44.
68 “a terrible thing”: FSF, Notebooks, p. 64.
68 “Scott’s hot”: ZF to Ludlow Fowler, 16 August 1920, Firestone.
68 “Dear Misguided…”: George Jean Nathan to ZF, 13 September 1920, Firestone.
68 McKaig… diary: Milford, pp. 80-81.
69 “seasick, hungover…”: SD, telephone conversation with Mrs. Howard I. MacMillan, Sr., 28 June 1978.
69 transfer any guilt: Milford, pp. 89-90.
69 “Zelda’s abortions”: Rosalind Sayre Smith to FSF, 21 November 1930, Firestone.
69 “minor operation… horribly sick”: Milford, note 121, p. 394; ZF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Correspondence, p. 247.
70 “He drew her body …”: Milford, p. 110.
70 “Big Crisis”: FSF, Ledger, p. 178.
70 “locked her up”: Milford, p. 366.
70 “Whatever... she wanted”: Milford, p. 112.
70 “That September...”: FSF, Notebooks, p. 113.
70 “Her affair… and mine”: Milford, p. 222.
71 “silent for a while …”: FSF, “Image on the Heart,” Price, p. 678.
71 regretted having flirted: HDP, Interview with ZF, 13-14 March 1947.
71 various flirtations: ZF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Correspondence, pp. 245-51.
71-72 steps … clothes … wristwatch: Sheilah Graham, The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald Thirty-Five Years Later (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976), p. 68; Milford, pp. 127, 129.
72 suspicion… “Creole”: ZF to FSF, November 1931, Correspondence, p. 271; ZF to FSF, fall 1931, Firestone.
72 In fifteen minutes …: Milford, p. 268.
73 sexual equipment: Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (New York: Scribner’s, 1964), pp. 189-93; AM, interview with Xandra Kalman, 13 December 1947; AM, interview with EW, n.d.
73 “too pretty …”: Lloyd Hackl, interview with Xandra Kalman, who did not agree.
73 looked like … a fairy: Guthrie, p. 8.
73 “half feminine”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
73 shocked.. .at Princeton: Mizener, p. 179.
73 “sex-in-the-raw”: FSF to John Peale Bishop, 30 January 1935, Letters, p. 366.
73 refused… blurb: John O’Hara to David Brown, 9 December 1961, Selected Letters of John O’Hara, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Random House, 1978), p. 380.
73 Frank Harris: Turnbull, p. 69.
74 sex scene… provocative: Graham, The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 180.
74 “She saw the males …”: FSF, Notebooks, pp. 234-35.
75 “really loved him”: FSF, Crack-Up, p. 99.
75 “telling lies”: ZF to FSF, 1930, Firestone.
75 “had… Forel convinced”: FSF to Dr. Adolf Meyer, 10 April 1933, Correspondence, p. 306.
75 “My instinct… repeated”: FSF to ZF, 1930, Firestone.
75 “idea began …Dolly Wilde”: FSF to ZF, 1930 (unsent?), Firestone.
75 “believes herself in love”: “From the doctor at Malmaison,” Firestone.
75 “friend…Opera”: Milford, pp. 252, 373.
76 sat her beside Dolly: ZF to FSF, 1930-31, Firestone.
76 “only one…cured”: ZF to FSF, 1930-31, Firestone.
76 studio… Brooks: Andre LeVot, F. Scott Fitzgerald (New York: Doubleday, 1983), pp. 235-36.
76 On the boat: ZF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Correspondence, pp. 248-49.
76 flower… flirted: Milford, pp. 147-48.
76 “I wanted… beautiful”: Milford, p. 168. The passage Milford omitted reads: “Perhaps it is depraved, but…”
77 “everything of beauty”: Milford, p. 175.
77 “wrong… to love my teacher”: ZF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Correspondence, p. 249.
77 “overly affectionate”: Dr. H. W. Trutman, “Mrs. Z. S.Fitzgerald—Rapport sur son Sejour a Val Mont du 22.5 au 4.6.1930,” Firestone.
77 “red-haired girl”: FSF to Dr. Oscar Forel, 29 January 1931, Firestone.
77 one painting: ZF to FSF, 1934, Firestone.