Love providedFitzgerald with the emotional crises of his life and the raw material of his fiction. It was not a subject close to the mainstream of American literature. Among his rare antecedents, two very different writers stand out. Theodore Dreiser in his stumbling genius had—especially in An American Tragedy—ventured onto the ground Fitzgerald was to explore more thoroughly. This was ground that Henry James, master of awareness and nuance, had already staked out. Fitzgerald recognized the kinship with James. Both of them, he wrote Van Wyck Brooks in 1925, “have to have love as a main concern since our interest lies outside the economic struggle or the life of violence, as conditioned to some extent by our lives from 16-21.” What he did not add was that James and himself and Dreiser too were all interested in romantic love as it was complicated and compromised by a given social and financial context. In this respect, the three writers shared an unlikely forerunner in Jane Austen. “I write about Love and Money. What else is there to write about?” Austen had observed. “Everything is either love or money, “ Fitzgerald remarked. “There is nothing else that counts.”
Most authors continually repeat themselves, Fitzgerald knew. “We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives,” he observed, and on the basis of these experiences “we tell our two or three stories—each time in a new disguise—maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen.” One of thetwo or three stories Fitzgerald told was about the struggle of the poor young man to win the hand of the rich girl. That had always been his own situation. He’d grown up “a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy’s school; a poor boy in a rich man’s club at Princeton”—above all, a poor boy in love with a rich girl. “The theme comes up again and again,” he said, “because I lived it.”
Rudolph Miller in “Absolution” suffers a “furious” attack of shame when he has no money for the church collection box, since Jeanne Brady, in the pew behind him, might notice. As with Rudolph, so with Scott Fitzgerald as a boy: “In church one little girl made him frightfully embarrassed when he didn’t have a penny to put in the collection box.” And Dick Diver of Tender Is the Night suffered through a similar incident in his childhood, long before his marriage to the fabulously rich Nicole. What could happen if you had no money and the girl noticed? At worst: no money, no love. “If you haven’t got any money,” Philip Dean instructs the hapless Gorden Sterrett in “May Day,” “you’ve got to work and stay away from women.”
Sterrett is a weakling who commits suicide after waking from a sodden drunk to find himself rejected by the society girl who used to love him and married to a Jewel of the lower classes. Though he is the only Fitzgerald protagonist driven to this extremity, in many other stories the poor young man engages in unequal combat with a wealthy competitor. “Remember,” a precociously cynical Fitzgerald wrote at nineteen, “in all society nine girls out of ten marry for money and nine men out of ten are fools.” It did not matter that he himself was not poor in any absolute sense. In competing for the favor of the beautiful rich girl, he thought of himself as very poor indeed.
Those wealthy goats
In raccoon coats
can wolfe you away from me
as he complained in one jingle. Such levity was rare. He had been badly hurt. “It was one of those tragic loves doomed for lack of money…. In the years since then I have never been able to stop wondering where my friends’ money came from, nor to stop thinking that at one time a sort of droit de seigneur might have been exercised to give one of them my girl.”
Fitzgerald rang variations on this theme in his three best novels and in dozens of short stories. These were based, sometimes loosely, sometimes with almost photographic fidelity to the facts, on his pursuit of Ginevra King and Zelda Sayre. Time and again his fiction explored these related yet different relationships: the poor boy spurned by the rich girl, the poor boy put off by the not-so-rich girl until he demonstrates his financial capacities.
The stories he wrote to make the money to win the girl—stories The Saturday Evening Post published in 1919 and 1920—almost always dealt with young love in high society. As early as New Year’s Eve 1920, he was complaining to Perkins that he’d “go mad if I have to do another debutante, which is what they want.” Readers started a Fitzgerald story not always sure of a happy ending, but confident that he would provide a glimpse of a glamorous social world few of them had ever inhabited. So stereotyped was the social setting that illustrators usually presented his characters as handsome wraithlike creatures in full evening dress, though there might be no reason whatever, on the basis of the story itself, for them to be so togged out. In “The Bowl,” the male protagonist is described as customarily wearing tan or soft gray suits with black ties. In the illustrations he’s wearing a tuxedo.
The musk of money hung heavy around these early love stories, which usually fell into one of two classifications. One group depicted the success, or seeming success, of the poor young man in wooing the rich girl. In the other group the young man was rejected in his quest or subsequently disappointed.
The trouble with the stories of the first kind is that they are not persuasive. At least subconsciously, Fitzgerald must have realized this, for he often tricked out such tales with fantasy or with outrageous challenges to reader disbelief. “The Offshore Pirate” provides one example. It is—as the first sentence declares—the “unlikely story” of the winning of Ardita Farnam, a yellow-haired embodiment of the golden girl. Ardita is bored by the predictable round of her social life, and eager, so she says, to cast her lot with anyone who will show some imagination. That someone turns out to be Toby Moreland, a rich boy playing at poverty. He attracts her interest by pretending to be a musician who has risen to wealth first by way of his talent, then by stealing the jewels of society matrons. He commandeers Ardita’s yacht, but though fascinated she withholds her hand. “What sort of life can you offer me? I don’t mean that unkindly, but seriously; what would become of me if the people who want that twenty-thousand dollar reward ever catch up with you?”
It would be different if she were “a little poor girl dreaming over a fence in a warm cow country” and he, newly rich with ill-gotten gains, had come along to astonish her with his munificence. Then she’d stare into the windows of the jewelry store and want the “big oblong watch that’s platinum and has diamonds all round the edge” but would decide “it was too expensive and choose one of white gold for a hundred dollars.” And he’d say, “Expensive? I should say not!” and “pretty soon the platinum one would be gleaming” on her wrist. She wishes it were that way but it isn’t, and so Ardita turns her suitor down—until his identity is revealed at the end, and she finds to her relief that he is both imaginative and respectable.
A rich boy might charm his girl by pretending to have been poor, like Toby Moreland and like George Van Tyne in “The Unspeakable Egg,” who wins his Fifi by playing the role of a bearded and disheveled roustabout. It did not, of course, work the other way around.
Fitzgerald’s tales of rejection and disappointment are more deeply felt, more true to life than those where true love presumably conquers all. The stories of rejection also serve to demonstrate the author’s developing maturity of outlook, his disturbing sense that pursuit and/or capture of the golden girl wasn’t really worth all the trouble and heartache. He felt anything but philosophical about the matter when he wrote This Side of Paradise, however. The section of that novel called “The Debutante”—really a short story in the form of a playlet, with dialogue and stage directions—painfully relives Fitzgerald’s rejection by Ginevra King.
When Amory Blaine first meets Rosalind Connage, she describes herself as a commodity: “’Rosalind, Unlimited.’ Fifty-one shares, name, good-will, and everything goes at $25,000 a year.” Even before they meet, she’s inquired about his financial status. Nonetheless, though Amory is making a paltry $35 a week, they fall in love and she agrees to marry him.
“Amory,” she whispered, “when you’re ready for me I’ll marry you.”
“We won’t have much at first.”
“Don’t!” she cried. “It hurts when you reproach yourself for what you can’t give me. I’ve got your precious self—and that’s enough for me.”
Mrs. Connage puts a stop to the match. “You’ve already wasted over two months on a theoretical genius who hasn’t a penny to his name,” she tells Rosalind sarcastically, “but go ahead, waste your life on him. I won’t interfere.” Both mother and daughter know that Rosalind is extravagant, that Amory’s income wouldn’t even buy her clothes, and so the rich girl breaks her promise. “I can’t, Amory. I can’t be shut away from the trees and flowers, cooped up in a little flat, waiting for you.” And again, “I don’t want to think about pots and kitchens and brooms. I want to worry whether my legs will get slick and brown when I swim in the summer.” She marries the rich Dawson Ryder, instead. Her selfishness may seem appalling, but Fitzgerald does not condemn her. In the concluding stage direction, in fact, he assigns her a romantic capacity for feeling akin to his own: “(And deep under the aching sadness that will pass in time, Rosalind feels that she has lost something, she knows not what, she knows not why.)”
In Fitzgerald’s fiction of the 1920s, he gradually deromanticized the golden girl and de-emphasized the glory of the quest. At the beginning, Fitzgerald’s poor young men concentrated all their drive and ambition on but one goal. Like Dexter Green in “Winter Dreams” (1922), these young men were driven to possess not merely the beautiful rich girl but all she represented. Dexter “wanted not association with glittering things and glittering people—he wanted the glittering things themselves.”
To prove himself worthy the young man had to go out and make a financial success. Dexter’s money-making ability dramatically transforms his relationship with Judy Jones. On their first dinner date, she confesses that she’s had “a terrible afternoon. There was a man I cared about, but this afternoon he told me out of a clear sky that he was poor as a church-mouse.” Her interest in him had not been strong enough to stand the shock. Then this dialogue ensues:
“Let’s start right,” she interrupted herself suddenly. “Who are you, anyhow?”
For a moment Dexter hesitated. Then:
“I’m nobody,” he announced. “My career is largely a matter of futures.”
“Are you poor?”
“No,” he said frankly. “I’m probably making more money than any man my age in the Northwest. I know that’s an obnoxious remark, but you advised me to start right.”
There was a pause. Then she smiled and the corners of her mouth drooped and an almost imperceptible sway brought her closer to him, looking up into his eyes.
And then they kiss, her kisses “like charity, creating want by holding back nothing.” But Dexter does not win the girl after all. Some years later, when he hears Judy spoken of as “faded” and “a little too old” for her husband, he knows he has lost something precious. “Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.”
The loss of romantic illusions provides a central motif in other stories of this period. Jonquil Cary, in “’The Sensible Thing’” (1924), fends off the proposal of George O’Kelly until he is “ready” for her. By this code word—also used by Rosalind Connage to Amory Blaine and Zelda Sayre to Scott Fitzgerald—Jonquil meant that her suitor must first establish himself financially. Until he did, she would remain “nervous” (another code word uttered by both the real Zelda and the fictional Jonquil) about the prospect of marriage. The ambitious O’Kelly strikes out for South America, makes his pile, and returns to claim the girl. But the essential magic has gone. “As he kissed her he knew that though he search through eternity he could never recapture those lost April hours… There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.”
These ingredients—the unsuccessful quest, the loss of illusions—Fitzgerald blended into his greatest novel. “The whole idea of Gatsby,” as he put it, “is the unfairness of a poor young man not being able to marry a girl with money.” Gatsby really is a poor boy. As a child of poverty Jimmy Gatz grew up with Horatio Alger visions of attaining wealth and happiness and, therefore, the golden girl that Nick Carraway, the voice of Fitzgerald’s rational self, can only scoff at. He also is gullible enough to believe that the possession of wealth will enable him to vault over the middle class into a position of social eminence. He does not see—he never sees—that he does not belong in Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s world. Fitzgerald sees, all right. He’s in the middle class with Nick, looking down at Gatsby and up at the Buchanans with mingled disapproval and admiration, both ways.
Perspective makes all the difference here. As Henry Dan Piper has noted, Fitzgerald invariably wrote about the rich from a middle class point of view. If his work seemed preoccupied with money, that was because money was a preoccupation of the middle class. There stands Fitzgerald outside the ballroom, nose pressed to the window while the dancers swirl about inside. But this is no Stella Dallas, washerwoman, watching her daughter married to the rich boy. For Fitzgerald has been inside the ballroom and hopes to be there again; this is only a dance to which he has not been invited. Then he walks downtown to sneer at the lower classes, who smell bad and talk funny and put on airs when they come into a bit of money. This rather sniffy attitude toward the poor emerges most powerfully in Fitzgerald’s first two novels, and survives in The Great Gatsby through Nick’s snobbery.
What Gatsby does, magnificently well, is to show the way love is affected by social class in the United States. One early reviewer complained about Fitzgerald’s attributing Gatsby’s passion for Daisy to her superior social status. That was nonsense, the reviewer objected: “Daisy might have been a cash girl or a mill hand and made as deep a mark—it is Carmen and Don Jose over again.”
But this is not opera, and one lesson of Fitzgerald’s book is that love becomes degrading when it roams too far across class lines. Let the fences down and God knows who will start rutting withwhom. Tom Buchanan’s brutality to Myrtle, together with her pitiful attempt at imitating upper class speech and behavior, make their party and their affair almost entirely sordid. On the surface it seems like the same situation in reverse with Daisy Buchanan and Gatsby. On the day of their reunion after nearly five years, Gatsby shows Daisy his garish house and produces resident pianist Klipspringer for a little afternoon music. Leaping to the conclusion that a casual copulation is imminent, Klipspringer first plays “The Love Nest,” then “Ain’t We Got Fun?” But he misunderstands. The difference between the two affairs derives from the strength of Gatsby’s imagination. He is a parvenu, certainly, and it may be as Nick says that he had no real right to take Daisy since he lets her think he comes from “much the same stratum as herself,” but in the meantime he has so idealized her as to make their relationship seem almost chaste.
Daisy Fay she was, and fay she is. She and her friend Jordan Baker do not even observe the laws of gravity. They first appear atop an enormous couch in the Buchanans’ living room, “buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon.” Dressed in white, they seem to ripple and flutter in the breeze until the door is shut, the wind is caught, and the balloon and its passengers settle to earth. Money levitates.
Daisy is described: “Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget.” Over and over Nick Carraway tries to catch the essence of her “low, thrilling voice,” the voice that “with its fluctuating, feverish warmth” held Gatsby all through the years, “because it couldn’t be overdreamed.” Finally Gatsby instructs him:
“She’s got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of—” I hesitated.
“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.
That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money— that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’s song of it…. High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. …
What does Daisy do with the “warm human magic” of her voice? She talks nonsense, she strikes poses, above all she flirts—even with cousin Nick. “I love to see you at my table, Nick. You remind me of a—of a rose, an absolute rose.” As the somewhat literal-minded Nick objects, he is not even faintly like a rose. Daisy “was only extemporizing, but a stirring warmth flowed from her, as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words.”
When Nick calls to invite her to tea, she decides to treat it as an assignation with him.
“Don’t bring Tom,” I warned her.
“Don’t bring Tom.”
“Who is ’Tom’?” she asked innocently.
On arrival she inquires with an “exhilarating ripple” in her voice, “Is this absolutely where you live, my dearest one?” And then, low into his ear, “Are you in love with me, or why did I have to come alone?’ Later, at Gatsby’s party, she tells Nick in a voice that’s “playing murmurous tricks in her throat” that if he’d like to kiss her any time during the evening, she’d be glad to arrange it. “Just mention my name,” she proposes. “Or present a green card. I’m giving out green—”
Daisy feels nothing particularly for Nick. It’s just that flirting has become second nature. While Gatsby gazes worshipfully at the green light across Long Island Sound, she gives out green cards, or pretends to. Nick had sensed Daisy’s basic insincerity that first evening at the Buchanans when she stagily proclaimed, “Sophisticated—God, I’m sophisticated!” Generally, Daisy stays cool and pretends her emotions. She is offended at Gatsby’s party when the moving-picture director very slowly bends toward his Star and kisses her on the cheek—offended “because it wasn’t a gesture but an emotion.” It is a measure of Gatsby’s own powerful love that he can persuade her to contemplate leaving Tom. But when that prospect threatens to touch reality, to become more than a gesture, she slips back into her cocoon of wealth and position. As Tom elaborates on the sources of Gatsby’s fortune in the terrible heatof that day at the Plaza, Daisy gives up all heart and substance. Only “that lost voice across the room” remains, begging Tom to stop and for the scene to end.
While Daisy was obviously modeled on Ginevra King, Fitzgerald originally based the figure of Gatsby on a stock manipulator he’d encountered in Great Neck and then let the character gradually change into himself. “Gatsby was never quite real to me,” he admitted. “His original served for a good enough exterior until about the middle of the book he grew thin and I began to fill him with my emotional life.”
Fitzgerald did not really know the model for the early Gatsby, actually or imaginatively, and kept him off center stage until page 47, more than one-fourth of the novel’s length. Before his appearance this Gatsby is propped up with rumors. He’s the nephew of the Kaiser, it’s thought, or he’d been a German spy in the war. One girl has heard that Gatsby went to Oxford, but doubts it. Another has heard that he’s killed a man, and believes it. There’s a natural letdown when this mystery man turns out to be—so it seems at first—only another nouveau riche who drives a too-ornate cream-colored “circus wagon,” wears pink suits, and takes unseemly pride in the number and variety of his shirts. He also recites for Nick’s benefit a highly improbable tale about his distinguished origins and colorful past, which included—so he says—living “like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe” while collecting rubies, “hunting big game, painting a little… and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago.” It’s all Nick can do to keep from laughing, but the story continues. Gatsby had gone off to war, where he’d tried “very hard” to die but had instead fought so valiantly that “every Allied government” had decorated him.
This Gatsby is almost totally inept in dealing with social situations. His lavish parties are monuments to bad taste and conspicuous display; he thinks them splendid gatherings of the best and brightest. Moreover, he does not know when he is not wanted. Tom Buchanan, Mr. Sloane, and a lady friend stop off at his house during a horseback ride one day, and the lady invites Gatsby and Nick to come to dinner that evening. Nick at once realized that Mr. Sloane opposes this plan and politely declines, but Gatsby,eager to mingle with the plutocrats, accepts. While he’s upstairs changing, they ride off.
This Gatsby “represented everything,” Nick says, for which he feels “an unaffected scorn.” Even when he tells Gatsby, on their last meeting, that he’s “worth the whole damn bunch put together,” Nick continues to disapprove of him on a social level. So does Fitzgerald. Gatsby has redeeming qualities, however. (If he did not, the novel would amount to nothing more than the most obvious satire.) Parts of his fantastic story turn out to be true. He had been a war hero, and has the medal from Montenegro to prove it. He had actually attended Oxford—for five months, as a postwar reward for military service, and produces a photograph in evidence. Above all, there was nothing phony or insincere about his dream of Daisy.
The power of Gatsby’s imagination made him great. Parvenu though he was, he possessed “an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness” such as Nick had never found in anyone else. He even brought part of his dream to life. “The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.” The seventeen-year-old James Gatz invented just the kind of Jay Gatsby that a poor boy from the cold shores of Lake Superior was likely to invent: a man of fabulous wealth, like the Dan Cody who lifted him from the lake and installed him on his dazzling yacht. In the service of Cody and Mammon and by whatever devious means, Gatsby had won through to wealth. To fulfill his dream it remained only to capture the golden girl, the king’s daughter (the Kings’ daughter) he had idealized in his mind. He had come close during the war, but Daisy had married Tom (and produced a little girl in whose existence Gatsby can barely bring himself to believe, until he is confronted with her in reality) and so sullied the purity of the dream.
To restore his ideal, Gatsby attempts to obliterate time and return to that moment in Louisville when as they kissed “Daisy blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.” Nick warns Gatsby that he cannot repeat the past, but he cries incredulously, “Why of course you can!” All that’s required is for Daisy to tell Tom that she had never for one moment loved him, that she had never loved anyone but Gatsby. Then the impurity would be scrubbed away, and they could “go back to Louisvilleand be married from her house—just as if it were five years ago.” But Daisy fails him. In the confrontation scene at the Plaza, she cannot bring herself to repudiate Tom entirely.
“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now—isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once—but I loved you too.”
Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed.
“You loved me too?” he repeated.
Even then, Gatsby refuses to give up his dream. “I don’t think she ever loved him,” he tells Nick the next morning. Tom had bullied her into saying that she had. Or perhaps, he concedes, she’d “loved him for a minute, when they were first married—and loved me more even then, do you see?” In any case, Gatsby adds, “It was just personal.”
For Gatsby, the dream itself mattered far more than the person in whom the dream found expression. Toward the end Nick keeps insisting that Gatsby must have given up his dream, but there is no evidence that he did. He was still waiting for Daisy’s phone call when the man from the ashheaps came calling instead.
Fitzgerald transferred to Gatsby both a situation from his own emotional life—the unsuccessful pursuit of the golden girl—and an attitude toward that quest. Like Gatsby and the sad young men of his best love stories, Fitzgerald was remarkable for the “colossal vitality” of his capacity for illusion. “I am always searching for the perfect love,” he told Laura Guthrie in 1935. Was that because he’d had it as a young man? “No, I never had it,” he answered. “I was searching then too.’ Such a search worked to prevent him from committing himself fully to any one person, for, as common sense dictated and his fiction illustrated, there could be no such thing as the perfect love, up close.
Only at a distance could Fitzgerald idealize the girl of his dreams. Anthony Patch, in The Beautiful and Damned, looks out his window at a girl in a red negligee, drying her hair on a nearby roof. He feels sure the girl must be beautiful, but she rises and he has a better view of her: “fat, full thirty-five, utterly undistinguished.” The attraction derived from “her distance, not a rare and preciousdistance of soul but still distance, if only in terrestrial yards.” The worst disillusionment of all awaited Fitzgerald’s fictional alter egos who actually win the girl and then discover, as in stories like “Gretchen’s Forty Winks” and “The Adjuster,” that they have married creatures of exquisite irresponsibility and selfishness. For Fitzgerald as for Emily Dickinson, “It was the Distance—/Was Savory—”
It is easy enough to find flaws in Rosalind Connage or Daisy Buchanan or any other fictional embodiment of the golden girl, but clearly Fitzgerald’s attitude placed them in an untenable position. His young men either live in an eternal romantic dream, nursing the sorrow of their unrequited love for the magical girl in the distance, or they actually capture her and are inevitably disillusioned. It’s a no-win situation for the girl, either way. For the young men, however, the sorrow-dream is preferable. Dexter Green covets his “winter dreams” because they cannot be realized, while the summer variety might come true. He does not regret losing Judy Jones nearly so much as he regrets losing his dream of her.
As John Berryman, one of Fitzgerald’s first and best critics, realized, what Fitzgerald most valued was “a beauty and intensity of attachment, which his imagination required should be attachment to something inaccessible.” Anthony Patch laments that “you can’t have anything, you can’t have anything at all.” Desire was “like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it—but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone—.” Whether gilded by the sun or the glow of riches, the girl did not really matter. Her glitter did.
For all the futility and evanescence of their quest, at least Fitzgerald’s poor young men could dream. His one rich boy—“The Rich Boy” of the story he wrote immediately after The Great Gatsby—is deprived of even that consolation. Anson Hunter’s money confers on him a fatal incapacity for illusion. Understanding too soon and too well why people pay him deference, he suspects everyone’s motives and resolves to stand aloof. Like the Buchanans, Anson feels no compunction about behaving badly. Breaking Dolly Karger’s heart bothers him no more than getting drunk at a dinnerparty. He will not apologize in either case. Anson pays for these privileges, though. Not only is he incapable of idealizing any woman, he is also incapable of love. He cannot give, only receive. But how he receives!
What Anson Hunter seems to require of women, the story’s narrator speculates at the end, is that they “spend their brightest, freshest, rarest hours to nurse and protect that superiority he cherished in his heart.’ From these women he takes whatever contribution of emotion he can elicit. He becomes an emotional cannibal, a hunter in fact as in name. Fitzgerald underscores the point by emphasizing Anson’s increasing girth. He is tall and thick-set to begin with, next a little heavy without being definitely stout, and then—progressively—Anson’s shirt damps “upon his portly body in the deep heat” as he is about to accept Dolly’s love; he is “rather stout” in the Plaza bar where he can find no companions; his “increasing bulk” is obvious under a fairly tight cutaway coat on his last meeting with Paula Legendre and her husband.
In “The Rich Boy” (1926), money militates against true love, since those who possess too much of it “lose the capacity to feel for others.” Later stories like “The Swimmers” (1929), “The Bridal Party” (1930), and “Babylon Revisited” (1931) demonstrate the impotence of money to purchase either happiness or love. What money did do, in Fitzgerald’s mature view of the issue, was to facilitate corruption. The poor, overestimating its value, would cheat or steal or (like Dick Diver) compromise their integrity to acquire it. The rich, like the Buchanans, “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” Fitzgerald never portrayed the rich sympathetically in his fiction.
Yet this was the writer Hemingway took to task for romanticizing the rich as “a special glamorous race.” To illustrate this point, which Hemingway introduced into the opening paragraphs of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” he told a now-famous anecdote about how Scott Fitzgerald had once said, “The very rich are different from you and me,” and someone had replied, “Yes, they have more money.” Writing with remarkable self-control to his former friend, Fitzgerald objected that riches had never fascinated him, “unless combined with the greatest charm or distinction.” But he did not deny that he thought the very rich different from the rest of us. He knew they were. (Hemingway knew it too, and built A Moveable Feast around the difference.) They were different in character, since they were brought up spoiled, selfish, soft, egotistical, and irresponsible. If Jimmy Worthington had the bad luck to run over someone while drunk, he knew his father would “buy off the family and keep him out of jail.”
The rich were also different in having been granted the leisure to accomplish good and worthwhile things in politics, or art, or simply living well. The trouble was that the American rich did not realize that leisure was a privilege, not a right, “and that a privilege always implies a responsibility. “ In England, the rich ran the government; in America, they dissipated their time away. Fitzgerald knew very few rich people who, he thought, had managed to use the gift of leisure well. His total list of rich friends ran to only three names, he wrote Edmund Wilson in the mid-1930s: Tommy Hitchcock and Gerald and Sara Murphy. The Murphys and Fitzgerald became close friends on the Riviera during the mid-1920s. In doggerel Fitzgerald joshed the Murphys about their interest in art, but he always liked and respected them.
Dopey Sal and Penthouse Jerry
Pixilated and contrary
Took the money that the boss
Wrang from toilers in Mark Cross
Spent it—oh that wealthy set!—
On the galleries Lafayette
Still and all I call you “Pal”
Penthouse Jerry, Dopey Sal
Nonetheless, Fitzgerald felt uncomfortable around the Murphys and often acted outrageously at their parties. Their easy social self-assurance may have disturbed Fitzgerald, who invariably thought himself on trial. When he needed a small loan to pay for Scottie’s tuition at Miss Walker’s school in 1939, he hesitated before asking the Murphys. It was not that he feared they’d turn him down, forhe knew they wouldn’t. He simply did not want to confess his poverty to them. Sara Murphy had once seen him chew up hundred-franc notes in a Paris taxicab.
Fitzgerald’s attitude toward his own money betrayed more Gatsbyism than Murphyism. “It is the custom now,” he wrote during the Depression, “to look back [on] the boom days with a disapproval that approaches horror. But it had its virtues, that old boom___These eyes have been hallowed by watching a man order champagne for his two thousand guests, by listening while a woman ordered a whole staircase from the greatest sculptor in the world, by seeing a man tear up a good check for eight hundred thousand dollars.” The Murphys spent their inherited money tastefully, and Fitzgerald admired them for it. But he spent his own income, earned by writing stories and novels, as recklessly and ostentatiously as possible.
“Money and alcohol,” Scottie Fitzgerald Smith observed, “were the two great adversaries” her father battled all his days. As if to make his actual earnings seem the more impressive—and impressive they were—Fitzgerald exaggerated the extent of his initial poverty. In the opening paragraph of “Early Success” (later cut out of the 1939 essay), he insisted that he had been “both richly poor, which means a crazy state of large earnings, large expenditures and larger debts, and poorly poor which means that you know which shoe has the cardboard in it but hope nobody else does.” For a brief time at the start of his writing career in 1919, Fitzgerald may have walked about New York with cardboard in his shoes, but mostly he was “richly poor.”
According to his ledger, he made over $400,000 from 1919 to 1936. At the peak of his popularity as a writer of fiction for mass market magazines, Fitzgerald received $4,000 per story from The Saturday Evening Post. He also earned as much as $1,250 a week during his last years in Hollywood. In 1938 MGM paid him a total of $58,750. Fitzgerald made a fortune from writing. He also spent it all.
Where did the money go? If Fitzgerald were to* go over his expenses “with some kind of a celestial bookkeeper,” Fitzgerald’s agent Harold Ober believed, he’d discover that much of the money had been spent on things that brought him no return at all. Or notangible return, anyway. Unlike Gatsby, he did not buy an imitation Hotel de Ville on Long Island. Nor did he ever own a car to compare with Gatsby’s cream-colored monstrosity. Fitzgerald did not display the things money can buy. He displayed the money itself. In the first flush of financial success, he sallied forth onto the streets of New York with $20, $50, $100 bills poking out of his vest and coat pockets. For the benefit of grateful bellhops, he kept a plate of money on a table in his hotel room. At restaurants, he sometimes tipped more than the bill. In France, his pockets were always full of “damp little wads of hundred-franc notes that he dribbled out behind him… the way some women do Kleenex.” If anything, Zelda was even more extravagant. Money went through her fingers like water. They were headed for catastrophe, Alex McKaig warned them as early as 1920. He was right.
99 “love … main concern”: FSF to Van Wyck Brooks, 13 June 1925, Correspondence, p. 170.
99 “nothing else … counts”: Guthrie, p. 140.
99 “two or three… experiences”: FSF, “One Hundred False Starts,” All the Sad Young Men (New York: Scribner’s, 1926), p. 65.
100 “a poor boy … lived it”: Turnbull, p. 150.
100 “nine girls out of ten”: FSF, Apprentice, p. 126.
100 “Those wealthy goats”: FSF, Notebooks, p. 135.
100-101 “lack of money …my girl”: FSF, Crack-Up, p. 77.
101 “go mad… debutante”: FSF to MP, 31 December 1920, Letters, p. 145.
105 “whole idea of Gatsby”: Turnbull, p. 150.
108 “never… real… emotional life”: FSF, inscription in The Great Gatsby, in Matthew J. Bruccoli, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Descriptive Bibliography (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972), p. 255.
110 “searching … perfect love”: Guthrie, p. 82.
111 “Distance … Savory”: Emily Dickinson, poem 439, Final Harvest (Boston: Little, Brown, 1961), p. 103.
111 “a beauty… inaccessible”: John Berryman, “F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Kenyon Review, 8 (Winter 1946), 106-107.
112 Anson’s increasing girth: For this insight I am indebted to Vivian Breckenridge’s unpublished 1978 paper, “Anson the Hunter.”
112 “The very rich ...”: For a fuller discussion of this topic see Scott Donaldson, By Force of Will: The Life and Art of Ernest Hemingway (New York: Viking, 1977), pp. 212-13.
112-13 “riches … never fascinated”: FSF to Ernest Hemingway, August 1936, Letters, p. 311.
113 Jimmy Worthington: FSP, “What Kind of Husbands Do ’Jimmies’ Make?” Miscellany, pp. 186-92.
113 leisure … “responsibility”: Ibid. 113 list of rich friends: Turnbull, p. 315.
113 “Dopey Sal…”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
114 chew up … notes: Calvin Tomkins, “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” The New Yorker (28 July 1962), p. 57.
114 “boom days … dollars”: FSF, Notes, Firestone.
114 “Money and alcohol…”: Egoists, p. x.
114 “richly poor…”: FSF, draft of “Early Success,” Firestone.
114 “celestial bookkeeper…”: Harold Ober to FSF, 21 June 1939 (unsent), Egoists, p. 223.
115 sallied forth … “Kleenex”: Mizener, pp. 104, 219.
115 Zelda… extravagant: HDP, interview with MP, 22 June 1945; McKaig diary, Turnbull, p. 114.