Egyptian Proverb: The worst things: To be in bed and sleep not,To want for one who comes not, To try to please and please not.
Scott Fitzgeralddid not think highly of himself. As a child he read a nursery book about a battle between the small animals, like the fox, and the large ones, like the elephant. The book was no David-and-Goliath story: The big animals wore down the smaller ones and won. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald identified with the fox and many years later could still be moved by remembering its plight. In adolescence he conceived an admiration for various lost causes; like Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise, he was for Bonnie Prince Charlie and Hannibal and the Southern Confederacy. Rather romantically he thought of himself as condemned to lose, despite a valiant effort. Each actual or imagined defeat could move him to tears, but they were tears of sorrow and not of indignation. Losing, he believed, was no more than he deserved.
Looking back on himself during his adolescence, Fitzgerald set down a self-assessment that is remarkable for its judgmental tone:
… Physically—I marked myself handsome; of great athletic possibilities, and an extremely good dancer…. Socially… I was convinced that I had personality, charm, magnetism, poise, and the ability to dominate others. Also I was sure that I exerciseda subtle fascination over women. Mentally… I was vain of having so much of being talented, ingenious and quick to learn. To balance this, I had several things on the other side: Morally— I thought I was rather worse than most boys, due to a latent unscrupulousness and the desire to influence people in some way, even for evil… lacked a sense of honor, and was mordantly selfish. Psychologically… I was by no means the “Captain of my fate”… I was liable to be swept off my poise into a timid stupidity. I knew I was “fresh” and not popular with older boys… Generally—I knew that at bottom I lacked the essentials. At the last crisis, I knew I had no real courage, perserverance or self respect.
In this devastating catalogue, committed to paper for the first draft of This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald allowed himself certain talents but no important virtues. Like Amory Blaine he “despised his own personality”: his lack of courage, his selfishness, his weakness.
During a football game at Newman, second-stringer Fitzgerald once shied away from a tackle so obviously as to provoke his teammates to call him “yellow.” He never forgot the incident, and as an adult sometimes went to extremes to demonstrate his courage, even though basically he considered himself a coward. By the time he’d reached his late thirties, Fitzgerald was deathly afraid of cars. He was frightened crossing streets on foot, and liked to have a woman take his arm as if she wanted protection. He was also terrified when riding in cars, and used to cry out “like a nervous woman” as they put on speed. Yet when he was at the wheel, he sometimes drove fast and recklessly. He would arm himself with Dutch courage before sallying forth, and a wild ride would ensue. “Mr. Fitzgerald was one real bad driver,” Aquila Keating, his Negro chauffeur during the early 1930s, laconically remarked.
Fitzgerald considered himself terribly self-indulgent. If he’d inherited enough money, he told Laura Guthrie in 1935, he would have killed himself with dissipation years earlier. He longed for physical power and “hardness.” “If it wasn’t for Zelda,” he wrote Max Perkins in 1921, he’d like to disappear for three years. “Ship as a sailor or something and get hard.” That would have requireda discipline—and a scorn for conventionality—he did not possess. The knowledge of psychology he acquired as a consequence of Zelda’s illness made Fitzgerald feel somewhat better about his failings. The “salient points of character,” he observed in an April 1932 letter to the Princeton Alumni Weekly, were “fixed before the age of twelve.” In college a young man might be subjected to broadening or narrowing influences, “but the deeper matters of whether he’s weak or strong, strict or easy with himself, brave or timid—these things are arranged in the home, almost in the nursery.” His parents, especially his mother, had made him what he was.
They had also provided him with a physical appearance he did not find entirely satisfactory. In particular, he felt ashamed of his feet (which seemed perfectly normal, though his legs were rather short for his torso). At six, a neighbor boy “went barefoot in his yard and peeled plums,” he wrote in his ledger. “Scott’s Freudian shame about his feet kept him from joining in.” He often refused to go swimming for the same reason, and not just in boyhood. “All the time I knew him,” Sheilah Graham commented, “he always refused to take off his shoes and socks on the beach.” Phobic though he was about his own feet, he found women’s feet particularly erotic. It was one of the categories he graded when revisiting in his mind the women he’d known, along with looks, age, profession, social position, and shape of breasts.
As for the rest of his appearance, Scott was vain of his good looks—sharply chiseled profile, blond hair, and pale complexion— without considering them ideal. “Perfection—black hair, olive skin and tenor voice”: He listed all the things he didn’t have in a ledger entry, and underlined the point by adding, “My fake tenor.” Hemingway concentrated on the weakness of Fitzgerald’s mouth in the course of his savage description in A Moveable Feast. Fitzgerald shared those reservations. The face of the autobiographical Nelson Kelly, in “One Trip Abroad,” he described as “so weak and self-indulgent that it’s almost mean—the kind of face that needs half a dozen drinks really to open the eyes and stiffen the mouth up to normal.”
Scott wrote and talked about his weakness so much that he seemed not only resigned to it, but almost to revel in it. His uncertain social position troubled him more. Of relatively humble origins herself, Mollie Fitzgerald had ambitions for her children. Scott despised her for these aspirations, and despised himself for sharing them.
He could not help thinking—and acting—with these aspirations in mind; he even joined the Army on that basis. “About the army please lets not have either tragedy or Heroics,” he wrote home after receiving his commission. “I went into this perfectly cold bloodedly and purely for social reasons.” The urbane Father Fay, the mentor Fitzgerald had met at Newman, did in fact lay plans for his protege’s social success abroad. “The Honorable Mrs. Guinness and Lady Margaret Orr Ewing will take you on in London. Ronald Guinness will put you up at my Club, which is also one of his.’ With such a giddy prospect in view, the twenty-year-old from the Midwest felt doubly deprived when he did not in fact cross the Atlantic. His only story that deals with the war, the 1936 “’I Didn’t Get Over,” is concerned with social snobbery. Captain Hibbing, who is closely modeled on Fitzgerald, causes Abe Danzer, a fellow officer and former college classmate, to take the blame for a fatal training camp accident. As a consequence, Danzer is incarcerated and commits suicide. The motive for Hibbing’s despicable conduct is that when he’d first joined the company, his old classmate Danzer “acted as if he’d never seen me before.”
Though he longed for a card of admission to the world of the wealthy and socially secure, Fitzgerald was not blind to the shortcomings of its inhabitants. In articles and notes Fitzgerald consistently made satirical comments on the rich as a group. As the graduate of a little-known Catholic prep school, he singled out more fashionable schools as special targets. “You could tell a St. Mark’s boy by his table manners,” he noted. “You see they ate with the servants while their parents divorced and remarried.” And: “At Groton they have to sleep in gold cubicles and wash at an old platinum pump. This toughens them up so they can refuse to help the poor.” In a June 1923 article, Fitzgerald imagined pompous dowagers on a charity mission, advocating to a poverty-strickenItalian that he spend his evenings playing family charades: “Suppose some night your wife and the girls take the name ’Viscountess Salisbury,’ or the words ’initiative and referendum,’ and act them out—and you and the boys guess what words they’re acting. So much more real fun than the saloon.”
Despite such satirical thrusts, he still dreamed of an ideal aristocracy. About the poor he felt no such ambivalence. In his early fiction, especially, he portrayed the lower classes as brutish, dirty, lazy, and unintelligent. “Yet,” as critic John Kuehl has pointed out, “he once said that if he were unable to live with the rich, his next choice would be the poor. Anything was better than the unstable middle class.” Sprung from the higher levels of that middle class, he could not make the final leap upward.
“A person always of contrasts,” Elizabeth Beckwith MacKie wrote of him. “A split social level. Very shy & very bold. Success or failure. Never in-between. “ Xandra Kalman of St. Paul sensed his inferiority complex. Nora Flynn did too, and traced to it “a certain streak of something queer in him—gaudy, blatant, almost vulgar.” After reading Emily Post’s Etiquette he’d considered writing “a play in which the whole motivation and conflict should arise from the hero’s trying to do the right thing.” He remembered the socially incorrect things he’d done, like sending the orchestra second-rate champagne, and masochistically recorded them into his notebooks. And he was inordinately sensitive to snubs and putdowns by others. He was never angrier in his life than one evening in Italy, in 1924, when he was removed from his restaurant table to make way for a Roman aristocrat. In his papers at Princeton are at least three lists of snubs, with the longest of them naming a total of sixty-six people who had snubbed him during the 1925-29 period. To have been put down by so many in so short a time suggests (1) that some of the snubs were imaginary rather than real, though it was during these years he and Zelda became personae non gratae because of their drinking and quarreling, and (2) that out of masochism or self-hatred he was actually courting the disapproval of others.
When he put on airs himself, the manner almost always rang false. In Paris he gave Chicago Tribune correspondent Henry Wales the dubious information that while at Princeton he’d turned down innumerable invitations to New York coming-out parties. In London he concealed how much mingling with the nobility had meant to him by belittling the occasion. He’d gone on some very high-tone parties with the Mountbattens “and all that sort of thing,” he wrote Perkins in 1925. “Very impressed, but not very, as I furnished most of the amusement myself.” At Ellerslie in 1927 and 1928 he struck a neighbor as rather ridiculous in the role of squire of the manor, strutting about the grounds and asking nearby residents in for drinks. And he was capable, without intentional irony, of writing a story in 1932 that hinged on the mistake of the heroine in marrying beneath her social station. “Aghast, Caroline realized [on meeting her in-laws for the first time] that she had stepped down several floors. These people had no position of any kind.” Anyone in American fiction who thinks like that can expect to get her comeuppance, but not Fitzgerald’s heroine. In an improbably happy ending she is liberated from her bad marriage and launched toward a new one with a rich beau whose social position is higher than her own.
That was pretty much the future Fitzgerald had in mind for his daughter when he sent her first to Ethel Walker’s school in Connecticut and then on to Vassar. There was some trouble getting Scottie into Vassar, since she’d gone off bounds during her last days at Miss Walker’s. But Fitzgerald wrote letters and cajoled connections and pulled strings. “He never wanted anything more in his life,” writer Margaret Culkin Banning believed, than for his daughter to go to Vassar. He wanted Scottie to have the best, which to him obviously meant contact with the best families, yet he disapproved of them as a group. So, after placing Scottie in intimate proximity to the daughters—and, through the connections of Vassar with the Ivy League schools, to the sons—of the plutocracy, he then inveighed against them, warning Scottie not to have anything to do with the Park Avenue crowd and attacking the exploiters on Wall Street. In this case, as in all his attitudes toward the upper class, he was a man divided.
That division—the two-sidedness that complicated his life and gave his fiction its particular flavor—undoubtedly derived in part from his Irishness. In his 1922 article about Fitzgerald, EdmundWilson stressed his Irish background, along with his Midwestern origins, as essential to understanding the man and his work. Like the Irish, Wilson observed, “Fitzgerald is romantic, but also cynical about romance; he is bitter as well as ecstatic; astringent as well as lyrical. He casts himself in the role of playboy, yet at the playboy he incessantly mocks. He is vain, a little malicious, of quick intelligence and wit, and has an Irish gift for turning language into something iridescent and surprising.” Sent the article in advance for comment, Scott hastened to point out that he was Irish, common Irish, on his mother’s side alone. This was inaccurate: His paternal grandfather was Irish too, but he chose not to acknowledge the fact. Clearly he was sensitive about his Irishness. For that reason he had difficulty reading James Joyce with pleasure. The picture of middle-class Ireland in Ulysses gave him “a sort of hollow, cheerless pain,” he wrote Wilson a few months after the article appeared. “Half of my ancestors came from just such an Irish strata or perhaps a lower one. The book makes me feel appallingly naked.’ Not all Irish were afflicted by “intense social self-consciousness,” Fitzgerald realized. But he definitely was; it helped to account for many things about him, not least his snobbery.
The most virulent form of snobbery traditionally occurs in the reaches of the middle class where upward mobility becomes an obsessive goal. The already situated upper class can afford to be democratic, while the aspiring need others to look down on. Hence it is not surprising that Fitzgerald’s early fiction is full of ethnic slurs. Yet apparently, judging from the treatment of Jews and Negroes in his novels and stories, he was able to shed this ugly and uncharitable snobbery as he grew older.
To begin with, Fitzgerald depicted Jews as grasping and calculating. The Beautiful and Damned is full of unflattering vignettes about Jews; one of the major figures is the unpleasantly aggressive Joseph Black (born Bloeckman), theatrical producer. Then, in The Great Gatsby’s Meyer Wolfsheim, he created his most memorable and despicable Jewish character. Wolfsheim is personally repulsive. Luxuriant hairs grow out of his “expressive” nose and he sports cufflinks made of “finest specimens of human molars.” Interested solely in making money, he defies legal and moral standards atwill. He is “the man who fixed the World Series.” He refuses to attend the funeral of his supposed close friend Gatsby, since to acknowledge the “gonnegtion” might be bad for business.
In private utterances too, Fitzgerald revealed his dislike of Jews. They ruined the best resorts. All the “marvellous” places like Majorca, he wrote Tom Boyd in March 1923, “turn out to have one enormous disadvantage—bugs, lepers, Jews, consumptives or philistines.” They would adopt whatever manners were profitable. “You begin by pretending to be kind (politeness). It pays so well that it becomes second nature. Some people like Jews can’t get past the artificiality of the 1st step.” They could not be trusted in business. “You know that the merest discussion of [story] ideas among the Yids would mean they were public property,” he wrote Harold Ober in February 1936.
During his last three and a half years in Hollywood, this attitude changed. Originally, he had regarded the men who ran Hollywood’s studios with scorn. “I am about to sell my soul to a certain wretched Semite named Goldwyn and go to the coast to write one moving picture,” he wrote James Branch Cabell in February 1920. “I have a scurvy plot in my mind suitable to his diseased palate and leprous brain.” During his subsequent visits in 1927, 1931, and 1937-40, Fitzgerald learned that it required considerable talent to make successful movies. In particular, he came to admire Irving Thalberg, perhaps the greatest of Hollywood producers. It was the legend of Thalberg that inspired him to create the charismatic figure of the last tycoon, Monroe Stahr, by far his most sympathetic Jewish character.
Individually, Fitzgerald managed to rid himself of the ingrained stereotypes he’d been brought up with. Collectively, it was another matter. “Hell, the best friend I have in Hollywood is a Jew [Eddie Mayer]—” one of his notes begins, and
another of my best dozen friends is a Jew. Two of the half dozen men I admire most in America are Jews and two of my half dozen best men in History are Jews. But why do they have to be so damned conceited. That minority conceit—like fairies. They go. ostrich about their faults—magnify their virtues which anyone is willing to grant in the first place. They point at Benny Leonard[a champion prize-fighter] or this war hero here and say we got pugnacity. When the nurses in the hospital admit that a Jewish patient groans at the sight of a needle.
And so on. At the same time he had come to respect their achievement and their power. Taking “whacks at Jews”—as he had done all his life—was “a moron’s game,” he cautioned his daughter.
With Negroes, it is easier to establish the growing maturity of Fitzgerald’s outlook. Initially, he regarded blacks as figures of fun called “coons” or “niggers” or “pickaninnies.” They are so portrayed in much of his fiction, and that is how he treated them himself to start with. At five, he made friends with a “colored boy, name forgotten—name Ambrose.” At six, after performing his duties as ringbearer at his cousin Cecilia’s wedding in Maryland, he “turned on his two black friends Roscoe and Forrest and with the help of a bigger boy tried to tied them up with ropes.” Thirty years later, he was still capable of playing pranks on Negroes. At La Paix—his house near Baltimore—he bewildered a Negro clergyman, who had come to solicit funds for a local orphanage, by introducing him as a distinguished visitor from Africa. The clergyman fled in panic.
The case of Aquila, Fitzgerald’s chauffeur at La Paix, is more ambiguous. Aquila suffered from a speech impediment so that he pronounced th as if it were s, and Fitzgerald devised a sentence full of th’s, which he made his chauffeur practice over and over. It may be, as critic Robert Forrey has suggested, that he did so as a continuing joke at Aquila’s expense. Margaret Turnbull saw the practice, however, as an example of Fitzgerald’s desire to help people. “Aquila… had a bad lisp, and Scott would try to work with him everyday to correct it.”
Whatever one’s interpretation of the Aquila incident (there may be some truth in both versions), it is clear that as a young man Fitzgerald adopted the conventional, stereotypical Southern view of Negroes. They had rhythm. One was so talented at teaching white ladies how to play guitar that after “two lessons, you’d think some of em was colored.” They stole chickens. They were casual about sexual morality. They got drunk on Saturday night and cut each other up.
Blacks, in short, were happy, amoral children, and yet there was something frightening about them. Running out of gas in a small Virginia town “which bore the sinister name of Niggerfoot,” Fitzgerald was at first unable to purchase fuel from the recalcitrant Negroes. The incident is described in detail in “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk” (1924):
They shook their heads. They mumbled melancholy and ineffectual protests. As I grew more vehement, their stubborn stupidity grew hazy rather than gave way—one of the old men vanished into the darkness to return with a yellow buck of reasonable age. Then there was more arguing until finally one of the little boys went sullenly in search of a pail. When he returned a second boy carried the pail up the road, and fifteen minutes later an absolutely new boy arrived with three quarts of gasoline.
Meanwhile I had gone into the store for cigarettes and found myself enclosed immediately in a miasmatic atmosphere which left on me a vivid and unforgettable impression. I could not say clearly even now what was going on inside that store—a moonshine orgy, a pay-day gambling bout, something more sinister than these or perhaps not sinister at all. Nor could I determine whether the man who waited on me was black or white. But this I know—that the room was simply jammed with negroes and that the moral and physical aura which they cast off was to me oppressive and obscene.
That this aura might have an unacknowledged sexual source (Zelda was traveling with her husband when the car stalled in Niggerfoot) is suggested by an incident in the abortive novel, “The World’s Fair,” an early version of what became Tender Is the Night. The protagonist of the fragment is Francis Melarky, who is a Southerner by origin. Visiting a Paris nightclub, Melarky sees “a huge American negro, with his arms around a lovely French tart,” roaring “a song to her in a rich beautiful voice and suddenly Melarky’s Tennessee instincts remembered and were aroused.” Melarky begins looking at everyone “disagreeably and truculently,” and slugs “another colored man” who has the ill luck to brush against him accidentally. After knocking out the innocent black, Melarky is immediately contrite: “God, what a son-of-a-bitch I am. He was a nice-looking fellow.” But he had been powerless to stem the tide of anger and antipathy that welled up within him.
During the 1930s Fitzgerald came to regard Negroes as dignified beings whose stoic behavior gave him an example to follow. In “One Hundred False Starts,” a 1933 article, he goes to “Uncle Bob,” an old Alabama Negro, for advice. “When things get so bad that there isn’t any way out,” he asks (thinking of his own recent literary and personal problems), “what do you do then?” Halfcynically expecting “a platitudinous answer, a reflection of something remembered from Uncle Remus,” Fitzgerald is pleasantly disappointed. “Mr. Fitzgerald,” Uncle Bob said, “when things get that-away I wuks.” That was good advice, and during his last years in Hollywood, working to pay his debts, he turned for help in his bouts of nervousness to Gay Lloyd Smith, a Negro he had employed. Smith talked to him—and joined him in putting golf balls on a rug—to make the sleepless nights pass.
Still, Uncle Bob and Gay Smith were blacks who could be safely categorized as servants, like the “very best negro nurses in the South” who proved an exception, he wrote Helen Hayes in 1936, to his rule that “it is impossible to get a first rate American governess who will not make home a hell.” Furthermore, his stories continued to describe Negroes in derogatory terms. Earl W. Wilkins, referring to “No Flowers,” a July 1934 Saturday Evening Post story, wrote to Fitzgerald in mild protest. “Must all male Negroes in your books and stories be called ’bucks’?” he asked. Why couldn’t he treat Negroes with dignity, as Sinclair Lewis had in Arrowsmith? Perhaps influenced by this letter, in two late pieces of fiction Fitzgerald went one step further and did portray Negroes as characters deserving of sympathy and respect. In The Last Tycoon Stahr meets a Negro intellectual walking along the beach. A serious person who reads Emerson and thinks for himself, the black man tells the producer that he never goes to the movies and never lets his children go because he considers the movies a waste of time. Then he goes away, unaware that he has “rocked an industry.” This Negro is not a “poor old Sambo,’ nor can members of his race be described by any such belittling nicknames: “We don’t call them anything especially,” Stahr remarks.
The second instance is that of “Dearly Beloved,” a story that wasfirst published in 1969. A miniaturized biography in format, “Dearly Beloved” tells in three pages the life history of Beauty Boy and Lilymary, Chicago blacks. Like the Negro on the beach, Beauty Boy is an intellectual whose reading runs to Plato and Thoreau. He is also colored golf champion of Chicago, though he works in a menial capacity as steward of the club car on the railroad. One night, after his long-awaited son is born, Beauty Boy loses a leg to the iron monster, and things are never the same again. Finally both Beauty Boy and Lilymary die in an influenza epidemic and go to heaven where his leg grew whole “and he became golf champion of all heaven, both white and black, and drove the ball powerfully from cloud to cloud through the blue fairway. Lilymary’s breasts became young and firm, she was respected among the other angels, and her pride in Beauty Boy became as it had been before.” But something is missing, and they cannot quite find what it is. “So,” Fitzgerald ends his story in an anticipation of Kurt Vonnegut, “things go.”
What they miss in heaven, apparently, is the capacity to dream, the romantic readiness that had given brightness to their youth as it had to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s. The loss of this gift of illusion is a persistent theme in Fitzgerald’s fiction, and it is an index of his maturity that he should have applied the theme to a Negro couple, in the realization that blacks and whites share the same hopes and the same disillusionments.
Unhappily, Fitzgerald had few illusions about the kind of man he was. And what kind was that? Obviously far too complex to be forced into any psychological pigeonhole, he corresponded in his behavior rather closely to what psychologist Avodah K. Offit has described as the “histrionic personality.” Drama is the essence of life to such people, Offit points out. They covet attention and become actors to get it. Their “primary art” is seduction, but since some resist seduction, the histrionic often “turns to less artful but more direct maneuvers for attention,” such as bemoaning cruel fate. Often the histrionic personality plays the role Samuel Johnson’s dictionary defined as that of a “seeksorrow,” one who is certain that no one else has ever suffered so much and determined that others should realize this. No amount of sympathy or attention or love is ever enough to satisfy such a person.
Generally, according to Offit, histrionics tend to be women. Whatever the sex, however, the pattern was much the same: an opening attempt to please others with one’s lovableness, and, should that fail, insistence “on the limelight for [one’s] black vapors.” But how could such people—seductive, demanding, manipulative, shallow or overemotional, time-consuming, and unrewarding— manage to seem attractive? The answer, Offit believes, lies in their “uncanny ability to make sensitive and perceptive observations about others,” their “intuitive insight into the ways of engaging other people.”
Fitzgerald’s compulsion to attract women fits into this description, and so too do his frequent attempts to enlist sympathy for the (admittedly harsh) blows life had dealt him. That’s the whole programme of “The Crack-Up” articles. The closest tie of all, though, lies in the area of performance. Throughout his life Fitzgerald thought of himself as a dramatist. At ten, he was making up shows and assigning himself parts where he could wear his red sash and tricornered hat. During teen-age years, he wrote, produced, and acted in four different plays for an amateur dramatic club in St. Paul. At Princeton, he wrote book and/or lyrics for several Triangle club shows. His 1922 play, The Vegetable, opened and closed in Atlantic City, but he continued to think he had a particular gift for the theater. “If I ever get out of debt,” he wrote Ober in 1935, “I want to try a second play. It’s just possible I could knock them cold if I let go the vulgar side of my talent.” And as late as February 1939 he and Sheilah Graham entered into a 50-50 contractual agreement to write a play that was never completed.
Moreover, he loved to show off. As a boy he learned Mark Antony’s speech, and would spout “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” to whatever audience of admiring middle-aged ladies his mother could muster. Sometimes he’d recite without being asked. Zelda’s similar streak of exhibitionism was one of the things that appealed to him about her. Together—at least during the first years of their marriage—they demonstrated a virtual “genius for imaginative improvisations” to delight their guests. The gaiety, of course, was not always sincere. He recognized the actor in himself as Rosemary did in Dick Diver. “I am an actor,” he’d say. Or “I have two sides: the worker and the showoff. I like to show off.”
When he wasn’t playing the lover or the entertainer, he’d descend into highly public melancholy. Near the end of her long, painful stay at Prangins, Zelda wrote trying to cheer her husband up. “Can’t you possibly be just a little bit glad that we are alive and that all the year that’s coming we can be to-gether and work and love and get some peace for all the things we’ve paid so much for learning? Stop looking for solace: there isn’t any, and if there were life would be a baby affair.” But he did not change. As Arnold Gingrich observed, Fitzgerald was “melodramatic and always in the middle of a tragedy.” Admittedly, he suffered tragic blows in his life, but if he hadn’t, Gingrich thought, he would have gone looking for them. He “had a queer Keltic tendency to enjoy ill-luck as some people enjoy ill-health. He liked to dramatize to himself the inevitability of both his latest and his next defeats.”
However it could be gotten, what he wanted—what he demanded—was attention. He would tell Laura Guthrie how to act: do this, sit here, don’t talk. Once he startled her by commanding, “Take that necklace off.” She did so immediately; she’d been thinking of doing it when he spoke. One function he demanded of Laura and of several nurses was that of rubbing his head. Fitzgerald was particularly fond of such massage. He liked sitting in the barber chair, “rather happy and sensually content at the strong fingers on his scalp.” The experience relaxed him. On one occasion he fell asleep while Laura was rubbing his head. When he’d been drinking, though, mere rubbing wasn’t enough. His scalp would itch so badly that he’d plead with her to scratch it. “As hard as I could claw,” she remarked, “I never got him to say it was hard enough.” No such service could be too much.
For Fitzgerald as for the histrionic personality, the goal was to attract the admiration of others. During most of his life he measured success in terms of popularity and approbation rather than accomplishment. Though he disliked or even scorned its members, he wanted to be accepted into a social elite that kept its doors shut against him. As a youth, he fantasized about gaining entrance as a great athlete or a war hero, but physical capabilities and circumstances militated against him there. As a writer, he found the door opened a crack, then shut again once his fame began to fade. Itwas primarily as an actor, an eternally charming entertainer, that he commanded the approval and admiration he needed. Almost everyone who knew him was struck by his obvious—even painfully obvious—desire to please.
In the army, Fitzgerald had been at best an indifferent officer. The most distinctive thing about him, fellow officer Devereux C. Josephs recalled, was that he “was eager to be liked and almost vain in seeking praise.” Twenty years later, he struck Margaret Culkin Banning in much the same way. “He wanted everyone to like him,” she said, “and was afraid they wouldn’t.” Everyone included children as well as adults: usually they were easier to please. One day in Antibes, Robert Benchley remembered, Fitzgerald got down on his stomach and crawled around all afternoon playing tin soldier with a lot of kids. Anyone who’d do that shouldn’t be unhappy, he wrote Scott after reading Tender Is the Night. When Fitzgerald visited his cousin Cecilia Taylor in Norfolk, he would bring a small corsage for each of her three little daughters. “Naturally they thought he hung the moon,” a friend of theirs observed. He even courted the good opinion of servants. “I must be loved,” he told Laura Guthrie in 1935. “I tip heartily to be loved. I have so many faults that I must be approved of in other ways.”
As that last remark suggests, his insatiable quest for popularity sprang from a basic insecurity about himself. In company he would try to conceal the insecurity through “a constant effort to be brilliant, amusing and inventive.” Often the effort succeeded in charming people, but not always. Perhaps he was most winning, where women were concerned, when he simply listened, for—as Margaret Turnbull has said—he “had this extraordinary quality of giving you his undivided attention.” At the beginning of their romance, Sheilah Graham wrote, Scott made her feel that simply dancing with her was “the most extraordinary privilege.” He directed his words to her alone (“You can stroke people with words,” he wrote in his notebooks) and above all gave “rapt attention” to everything she said. Like Gatsby, Fitzgerald had a way of “concentrating on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.” “As far as I know,” Margaret Egloff observed, “everyone who was really exposed to him loved him. He simply couldn’t bear it if they didn’t.” NoraFlynn, keenly aware though she was of his self-centeredness, still admired Fitzgerald’s special charm. “Some people waltz with rubbers on and some as if they were walking on air,” she said. “That’s the way talking with Scott was, and being with him at its best.”
Trying hard to be at his best sapped Fitzgerald’s energy and left him drained and exhausted. Then the effort began to show, as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling, detected during their meeting in 1936. “He was not interested in me as a writer or as a woman, but he turned on his charm as deliberately as a water-tap, taking obvious pleasure in it. The irony was there, too, as though he said, ’This is my little trick. It is my defiance, my challenge to criticism, to being shut out. “ He had overspent his quota of charm and was left “emotionally bankrupt,” as he called it in “The Crack-Up.” He was left as well with an inner awareness that approached self-disgust. He wrote about that feeling too, in “The Crack-Up” and elsewhere.
Intellectually, he was fully aware of the dangers inherent in seeking popularity. Hollywood’s Elsa Maxwell, he observed in his notebooks, “was a social impressario of considerable ability but her ambition had driven her to please so many worthless people that she had become, so to speak, a sort of lowest common denominator of all her clients.” The same thing, he feared, might happen to him. He resolved not to go around “saying I’m fond of people when I mean I’m so damned used to their reactions to my personal charm that I can’t do without it. Getting emptier and emptier.” At one time in the past, he wrote Perkins in May 1940, he had thought he could “make people happy and it was more fun than anything. Now even that seems like a vaudevillian’s cheap dream of heaven, a vast minstrel show in which one is the perpetual Bones.” The self-contempt in that remark Fitzgerald managed, to some degree, to transplant to his fiction.
As Henry Dan Piper, one of Fitzgeralds most perceptive critics, has commented, his fictional heroes “are destroyed because they attempt to fulfill themselves through their social relationships. They cannot distinguish between social values like popularity, charm, and success, and the more lasting moral values. “ Their creator did make that distinction, however, and so was constantly surroundinghis characters with a mist of admiration and then blowing it away. In This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine attempts to change himself from a “personality” into a “personage.” A personality, as the book defines it, depends for his self-image on the approval of others. A personage, on the other hand, “is never thought of apart from what he’s done.” It is the difference between the charmer and the achiever, and at the end of the novel Fitzgerald rather unpersuasively announces that Amory has at last become a personage.
Presumably he has progressed further than Basil Duke Lee, another autobiographically based character whom Fitzgerald follows only through the high school years. In “The Perfect Life,” Basil begins to think of himself as a leader of men, one who can influence younger boys for good or ill, and then drifts off into romantic visions of climbing the heights of society and receiving applause as he goes. When in his daydream he is tapped last man for Skull and Bones and turns it down, instead pointing to another man who wanted it more, “a burst of sobbing would break from the assembled crowd.” At his inauguration as president (at 25!), “all around him his people would lift up their faces in admiration and love.” Fitzgerald then underlines the ridiculousness of the dreams by bringing Basil back to earth, where he is consuming crackers and milk stolen from the school pantry. In Tender Is the Night, however, the hero’s plight is much more poignant because he realizes but cannot abandon his shoddy ambition to court the love of others at all costs. Basil is amusing, Amory unconvincing, Dick Diver painfully to the life.
Tender Is the Night is a book about charm. Immediately after the appearance of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald began considering a novel on the topic. An April 1925 letter from Willa Cather served as a catalyst. Anyone swept away by personal charm, she observed, was likely to be amazed that the effect was so much greater than the cause, and in writing it was much easier to describe the effect than the person who produced it. Fitzgerald repeated the thought in describing Diver: “He won everyone so quickly with an exquisite consideration and politeness that moved so fast… that it could be examined only in its effect.” That effect, or rather those effects, were what he set about to explore in his novel, though he was worried—rightly, as it turned out—that the book would not be properly understood or appreciated. “About five years ago I became, unfortunately, interested in the insoluble problems of personal charm and have spent the intervening time on a novel that’s going to interest nobody and probably alienate the remaining half dozen who are kind enough to be interested in my work,” he commented.
The first hundred pages of Tender, as Piper has pointed out, constitute “one of the best guides ever written on the theory and practice of charm.” Diver presents himself to Rosemary with ingratiating wit. “It’s not a bad time,” he says on first meeting. “It’s not one of the worst times of the day.” The next time they speak, he asks her to lunch with his party, his voice promising “that he would take care of her, and that a little later he would open up whole new worlds for her.” He introduces her smoothly, without reference to her film success. He is considerate, and moves the beach umbrella to “slip a square of sunlight” off her sunburned shoulder. With his reddish hair and complexion, bright, hard blue eyes, and somewhat pointed nose, “there was never any doubt at whom he was looking or talking—and this is a flattering attention, for who looks at us?… His voice, with some faint Irish melody running through it, wooed the world, yet she [Rosemary] felt the layer of hardness in him, of self-control and of self-discipline, her own virtues.” In Paris she walks a step behind to admire and adore him:
His step was alert as if he had just come from some great doings and was hurrying on to others. Organizer of private gaiety, curator of a richly incrusted happiness. His hat was a perfect hat and he carried a heavy stick and yellow gloves. She thought what a good time they would all have being with him tonight.
Superlatively, Dick Diver has the gift of making others happy; he also has a compulsion to exercise this gift. At the very beginning of his career as a doctor, he has supper with Franz Gregorovius and his bride, and goes out of his way to charm Kaethe Gregorovius, though she smells of cauliflower and he hates himself for takingthe trouble. There was “a pleasingness about him that simply had to be used,” a charm that he cannot help dispensing.
In considering personal charm, Fitzgerald is most concerned about the consequences for Doctor Diver himself. In the end his obsessive need to please leads to ruination. Baby Warren initially thinks Dick “toothsome,” yet in her Anglophilia decides that he “put himself out too much to be really of the correct stuff.” In time even those who loved him to begin with develop similar reservations. Toward the end Nicole analyzes her husband dispassionately as he starts “to play with Rosemary, bringing out his old expertness with people, a tarnished object of art.” And Rosemary herself sees that the game of love between them is really only a charade. “Oh, we’re such actors—you and I,” she says at the moment of their deepest intimacy. “When people have so much for outsiders,” she wonders, “didn’t it indicate a lack of inner intensity?”
A greater loss to Dick than that of women’s love was the loss of his vitality. To the extent that Tender Is the Night can be regarded as a psychological novel, the most interesting case study is not of Nicole, or of the poor artist, tortured by eczema, who was modeled on Zelda, but of Dick Diver himself. He transfers his energy and wholeness not only to Nicole but to everyone else as well, giving up a piece of himself here and a crumb there until there is nothing left with which to work his magic. “I guess I’m the Black Death,” he tells Rosemary in Rome. “I don’t seem to bring people happiness any more.” A hollow man, he fades away in the towns of upstate New York, bereft even of self-respect.
During his young manhood Diver had gone through “a heroic period” when “he had no idea that he was charming, that the affection he gave and inspired was anything unusual among healthy people.” Such innocence did not last; eventually Diver dispenses his charm mechanically or even cynically. In the last scene of the book Diver summons up his old fatal pleasingness for Mary Minghetti. Though it’s not yet noon on the beach he’s been drinking anisette and has
arrived at where a man should be at the end of a good dinner, yet he showed only a fine, considered, restrained interest in Mary. His eyes, for the moment clear as a child’s, asked hersympathy and stealing over him he felt the old necessity of convincing her that he was the last man in the world and she was the last woman.
His glance fell soft and kind upon hers, suggesting an emotion underneath; their glances married suddenly, bedded, strained together. Then, as the laughter inside of him became so loud that it seemed as if Mary must hear it, Dick switched off the light and they were back in the Riviera sun.
The laughter was not simply or entirely at Mary’s expense. Much of it Dick directed at his own shallow self.
In the portrait of Diver, Fitzgerald came close to confronting what he most disapproved of in himself. Originally he had intended to model Diver on Gerald Murphy, but before long made the shift to what John O’Hara called “a tall Fitzgerald.” This close identification of author and character accounts for a critical shortcoming in this brilliant novel. At the time the book came out, a number of reviewers thought Diver’s decline and his rapid acceptance of it unconvincing. That was not precisely the problem: The problem is that one does not know how to respond to Diver. On the one hand, he emerges as a sympathetic character, well-intentioned, generous, exploited by the rich. On the other hand, during the course of his downfall he becomes progressively less admirable and likable.
Attempts to construct a successful play or film based on the novel have foundered on this point. Zelda suggested immediately after Tender was published that if Scott undertook to write a play version he should “make the man weak and charming from the first, always gravitating towards the center of things: which would lead him, when he was in the clinic, to Nicole and later to Rosemary.” That was not at all what Fitzgerald had in mind. He thought, for example, that Mrs. Edwin Jarrett’s adaptation failed to make Diver an attractive enough figure. Rosemary shouldn’t express her distaste for the battlefield scene, he instructed Mrs. Jarrett in February 1938, since “she had a good time and it belittles Dick’s power of making things fun… Dick’s curiosity and interest in people was real—he didn’t stare at them—he glanced at them and felt them.” In fact, he insisted, Diver “is after all a sort of superman, an approximation of the hero seen in overcivilized terms—taste is no substitute for vitality but in the book it has to do duty for it “ It was one thing for Fitzgerald to dissect the weakness in himself through Diver, and another to let others do it. He wanted only the good and kind and innocently charming doctor on the stage or screen.
177 “Egyptian Proverb ...”: FSF, Notebooks, p. 10. 177 small animals…: Turnbull, p. 14.
177 lost causes: FSF, This Side of Paradise (New York: Scribner’s, 1920), p. 25.
177-78 “Physically ...”: Mizener, p. 23.
178 “yellow”… cars: Guthrie, pp. 61, 146, 12; Infidel, p. 235.
178 “one real bad driver”: John Sherwood, “’A Beautiful Time, Baby,” Baltimore Sun, 18 September 1960, Sec. A, p. 3.
178 killed… dissipation: Guthrie, p. 99.
178-79 “Ship as a sailor...”: FSF to MP, 25 August 1921, Letters, p. 148.
179 “salient points of character…”: FSF, “Confused Romanticism,” letter to Princeton Alumni Weekly (22 April 1932), pp. 647-48.
179 feet… “Freudian”: FSF, Ledger, p. 157; Mizener, p. 12.
179 “refused to take off...”: Sheilah Graham, The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald Thirty-Five Years Later (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1976), p. 33.
179 women’s feet… erotic: SD, interview with Sheilah Graham, 7 February 1983.
179 vain of… looks: Turnbull, p. 40. 179 “Perfection ...”: FSF, Ledger, p. 169.
179 weakness … mouth: Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (New York: Scribner’s, 1964), p. 149.
180 “About the army …”: FSF to Mrs. Edward Fitzgerald, 14 November 1917, Letters, p. 451.
180 social success abroad...: Father Fay to FSF, 6 June 1918, Firestone.
180 St. Mark’s .. .Groton: FSF, Notebooks, pp. 204, 302.
181 family charades: FSF, “Imagination—and a Few Mothers,” Ladies’ Home Journal (June 1923), pp. 21, 80-81
181 “unstable middle class”: John Kuehl, Apprentice, pp. 46-57.
181 “split social… almost vulgar”: Elizabeth Beckwith MacKie, “Fitzgerald Notes,” Firestone; Lloyd Hackl, interview with Xandra Kalman, Minnesota Historical Society; HDP, interview with Nora Flynn, 10 February 1947.
181 Emily Post’s .. “a play ...”: Noted by EW in Classics and Commercials (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1950), p. 374.
181 second-rate champagne: FSF, Crack-Up, p. 216.
181 never angrier…: Mizener, pp. 181-82.
181 lists of snubs: FSF, Notes, Firestone: partly encompassed in FSF, Notebooks, pp. 103, 259.
181-82 turned down … invitations: Henry Wales, “N.Y. ’400’ Apes Chicago Manners; Fails; So Dull,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 December 1925, p. 12.
182 “impressed, but not very”: FSF to MP, c. 27 December 1925, Letters, p. 195.
182 ridiculous … squire: HDP, interview with Michael Fisher, 24 May 1950.
182 “Aghast, Caroline …”: FSF, “Flight and Pursuit,” Price, p. 309.
182 “never wanted anything”… Vassar: HDP, interview with Margaret Culkin Banning, 7 April 1947.
182 man divided: SD, interview with SFS, 21 May 1978.
183 Irish … “romantic, but… cynical...”: EW, “F. Scott Fitzgerald,” The Shores of Light (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1952), p. 31.
183 mother’s side alone: FSF to EW, January 1922, Letters, p. 331.
183 “hollow, cheerless pain”: FSF to EW, 25 June 1922, Letters, p. 337.
183 “intense social self-consciousness”: FSF to John O’Hara, 18 July 1933, Letters, p. 503.
184 private utterances… Jews…: FSF to Thomas Boyd, March 1923, Correspondence, pp. 126-27; FSF, Note, Firestone; FSF to Harold Ober, 8 February 1936, Letters, p. 402.
184 “Semite … Goldwyn”: FSF to James Branch Cabell, 23 February 1920, Firestone.
184-85 “Hell, the best friend...”: FSF, Notebooks, p. 333.
185 “a moron’s game”: Quoted in Milton R. Stern, The Golden Moment: The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970), p. 20.
185 At five …six…: FSF, Ledger, pp. 156-57.
185 Negro clergyman …: Turnbull, p. 232.
185 Aquila … “lisp”: Turnbull, p. 236; Robert Forrey, “Negroes in the Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Phylon, 28 (Fall 1967), 293-98; Thelma Nason, “Afternoon (and Evening) of an Author,” Johns Hopkins Magazine (February 1970), p. 5.
186 “They shook their heads ...”: FSF, “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk,” Motor (March 1924), p. 58.
186-87 Melarky … antipathy. Mizener, pp. 198-99, 206.
187 “When things get so bad...”: FSF, “One Hundred False Starts,” Afternoon, p. 135.
187 Smith … putting: Turnbull, p. 304.
187 “negro nurses...”: FSF to Helen Hayes, 16 September 1957, Letters, pp. 554-55.
187 “Must all male …”: Earl W. Wilkins to FSF, 23 July 1934, Firestone.
187-88 “Dearly Beloved…”: FSF, “Dearly Beloved,” Fitzgerald /Hemingway Annual 1969, pp. 1-3.
188-89 “histrionic personality”: Avodah K. Offit, The Sexual Self (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1977), pp. 57-64.
189 making up shows …: FSF, Ledger, p. 161.
189 “out of debt… vulgar side”: FSF to Harold Ober, before 2 July 1935, Letters, p. 399.
189 contractual agreement: Document, 28 February 1939, Firestone.
189 “genius .. .improvisations”: EW to AM, 3 March 1950, Letters on Literature and Politics 1912-1972, ed. Elena Wilson (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977), p. 478.
189 “actor… show off: Guthrie, pp. 6, 130.
190 “Can’t you possibly…”: Milford, p. 191.
190 “melodramatic… defeats”: HDP, interview with Arnold Gingrich, 29 March 1944; Arnold Gingrich, “Editorial: Salute and Farewell to F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Miscellany, p. 479.
190 “necklace off...”: Guthrie, p. 12.
190 rubbing … “hard enough”: William Katterjohn, “An Interview with Theodora Gager, Fitzgerald’s Private Nurse,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1974, pp. 79, 84; FSF, “Afternoon of an Author,” Afternoon, p. 181; Guthrie, pp. 18, 106.
191 “eager to be liked”: Devereux C. Josephs to HDP, 1 May 1947.
191 “wanted everyone...”: HDP, interview with Margaret Culkin Banning, 7 April 1947.
191 playing tin soldier: Robert Benchley to FSF, 29 April 1934, Correspondence, p. 358.
191 “hung the moon”: Frances M. Martin to SD, 7 February 1978.
191 “must be loved”: Turnbull, p. 261.
191 “a constant effort…”: Brian Way, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Art of Social Fiction (New York: St. Martin’s, 1980), p. 20.
191 “undivided attention”: Nason, Johns Hopkins Magazine, p. 7.
191 Sheilah… Scott made her feel…: Infidel, pp. 177-78; FSF, Crack-Up, p. 207.
191 “simply couldn’t bear it”: Margaret C. L. Gildea to Andrew Turnbull, 16 December 1958.
192 “rubbers … air...”: HDP, interview with Nora Flynn, 10 February 1947.
192 “not interested… shut out”: Mizener, p. 291.
192 “social impressario …”: FSF, Crack-Up, p. 171: Elsa Maxwell’s name is deleted in this volume.
192 He resolved not…: FSF, Notebooks, p. 17.
192 “make people happy ...”: FSF to MP, 20 May 1940, Letters, p. 288.
192 heroes “are destroyed…”: Piper, p. 297.
193 swept away by …charm: Willa Cather to FSF, 28 April 1925, Firestone. See this idea expressed in FSF, Tender Is the Night (New York: Scribner’s, 1934), p. 35: “He won everyone…”
194 “About five years ago …”: FSF to Betty Markell, 16 September 1929, Letters, p. 495.
194 “one of the best guides …”: Piper, p. 214.
196 “a tall Fitzgerald”: John O’Hara to Gerald Murphy, 30 July 1962, Selected Letters of John O’Hara, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Random House, 1978), p. 402.
196 “make the man weak...”: ZF to FSF, n.d., Firestone.
196-97 instructed Mrs. Jarrett…: FSF to Mrs. Edwin Jarrett, 17 February 1938, Letters, pp. 566-67.