Fitzgerald's grandmother Louise McQuillan died in the summer of 1913 and left her daughter Mollie $125,000. This legacy rescued Fitzgerald from the lumpenproletariat at the University of Minnesota or a parochial education at Georgetown University (where his father had been a student). It allowed him, instead, to become a gentleman scholar at Princeton.
Fitzgerald chose the image as much as the reality of Princeton. It was in the same state as his prep school and-to a young man who identified with his Maryland ancestors-was more social and "Southern" than Harvard or Yale. Harvard, which he associated with New England puritans and brainy Jews, seemed too "indoors" and intellectual. Yale men, like Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, were too brawny and brutal. Even the Yale Daily News conceded, in the spring of 1913, that the Yale type dressed correctly and had fine manners but lacked intellectual ability: "Sometimes it has tremendous dumb energy. And it has nearly the mental power of the original Yale Bull Dog." Fitzgerald imagined the Princeton man, by contrast, as lazy, good-looking and aristocratic: "Princeton drew him most, with its atmosphere of bright colors and its alluring reputation as the pleasantest country club in America."
Fitzgerald also imagined himself a great football player and strongly identified with the heroes of the Princeton team. In a draft of his first novel, Fitzgerald said that seeing the Princeton end Sam White block a Harvard field goal and run ninety-five yards for a winning touchdown decided him for Princeton in 1911. This glorious image was reinforced four years later, while Fitzgerald was an undergraduate, when he saw the romantic Buzz Law kicking from behind his goal line with a bloody bandage round his head. Fitzgerald, the mediocre prep school player, always reveled in college football as spectator, statistician and would-be participant.
Most importantly, Fitzgerald-who had been publishing stories and poems in his school newspapers since 1909 and had had four plays produced by the Elizabethan Dramatic Club in St. Paul-was attracted by the Princeton Triangle Club. This undergraduate club wrote and produced a lively if slightly antiquated musical comedy each fall and, during the Christmas vacation, performed it-with chorus, orchestra and scenery-in a dozen large cities across the country. "That was enough for me," Fitzgerald wrote. "From then on the university question was settled. I was bound for Princeton."1
Since Fitzgerald's school grades were deficient, he had to take a college entrance examination. The student who staunchly defended the honor system and had never heard of a Princeton man cheating, gained admission by some judicious cribbing and by convincing the examiners that they could not possibly reject him on September 24, his seventeenth birthday. Conditionally admitted to the Class of 1917, he immediately wired his mother for football pads and shoes. Weighing only 138 pounds, he tried out for the freshman team and was cut from the squad on the first day.
Princeton had been founded in 1746 as a Presbyterian college and Jonathan Edwards, the Yale-educated theologian, had been an early president. In the 1770s its students included Aaron Burr, who later killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel; James Madison, who became the fourth president of the United States; the novelist H. H. Brackenridge and the poet Philip Freneau. Booth Tarkington, an influence on Fitzgerald's early work, had founded the Triangle Club in the early 1890s; and Eugene O'Neill had failed out, after a rebellious and dissipated year, in 1907.
The spire-filled college, surrounded by luxurious estates, rose out of the flat midlands of New Jersey. "The loveliest riot of Gothic architecture in America" was modeled on the Oxford quads just as the system of preceptors, founded by Woodrow Wilson (who had been president of the university before becoming governor of New Jersey and then wartime president of the United States), was based on the Oxford tutors. Anglophilia prevailed at Princeton, whose fifteen hundred students cultivated a tradition of gentility, charm and honor that reaffirmed the values of Fitzgerald's old-fashioned father.
After meeting privileged beings like Richard Cleveland (son of former president Grover Cleveland) and David Bruce (son of a United States senator, who himself later became a distinguished ambassador), Fitzgerald soon discovered that there was a vast difference between young men from St. Paul's School and a young man from St. Paul, Minnesota. Surrounded by rich, Eastern, Anglo-Saxon Protestants from the most elite private schools, the poor, provincial Irish Catholic from obscure and undistinguished Newman felt socially and financially inferior. As Fitzgerald later told a friend, he never had the money to sustain the precarious position he had struggled to achieve: "That was always my experience-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."2 He also became, after his fortunes failed in the 1930s, a poor man at a luxurious resort in North Carolina and a poor writer among the fabulously rich film stars in Hollywood.
While Fitzgerald's more polished and self-assured classmates glided through Princeton with apparently effortless ease, the ambitious Midwestern schoolboy threw himself into college life with unusual seriousness and made strenuous efforts to distinguish himself by social and literary-if not athletic and academic-achievements.
Considered deficient in Latin, French, algebra and physics, Fitzgerald (like two-thirds of the 430 freshmen) had to pass examinations in these subjects in December as well as do his ordinary course work. During his freshman year he was required to take an unusually heavy schedule: Latin (Roman historians), survey of French literature, English composition and rhetoric, trigonometry, physics, and hygiene, in addition to physical education and an extra course in algebra to prepare for the make-up exam.
Since math and physics were boring and obstructive, and foreign languages remained a mystery, he was most keenly interested in his courses in English literature. Alfred Noyes, a popular conventional poet and author of "The Highwayman," was Murray Professor and gave two lectures a week for half the college year. Fitzgerald naively asked Noyes if he should write for fame or for money (a question that troubled him throughout his life). On another occasion he was permitted to carry the vintage port into the dining room during a formal dinner for John Galsworthy.
The other English teachers were deeply disappointing. His talented classmate John Peale Bishop thought most of them were old boys with a weakness for pedantry. Fitzgerald, even more critical, complained that none of his English teachers ever mentioned contemporary American writers. The surprisingly pallid English department was "top-heavy [and] undistinguished, with an uncanny knack for making literature distasteful to young men." The dead academic hand touched passionate poetry and made it wither: "one of my first discoveries was that some of the professors who were teaching poetry really hated it and didn't know what it was about. I got in a series of endless scrapes with them so that I finally dropped English altogether"3-and was left with little else in the classroom that interested him.
The lectures in each course were supplemented by weekly meetings with the preceptors, who were supposed to strengthen the course by teaching small groups of students. But Fitzgerald's English tutor, far from inspiring him, merely offered pedantic analyses. Instead of dutifully paying attention and taking notes, Fitzgerald vented his anger in his copy of Sidney's Defence of Poesie: "this man Griffin is terrible. I sit here bored to death and hear him pick English poetry to pieces. Small man, small mind. Snotty, disagreeable. Damn him… They say Griffin has made more men leave the English department than any other praeceptor in College. The slovenly old fool! I have the most terrible praeceptors." Though repeatedly warned about his lateness to class, Fitzgerald refused to change his habits to please his teacher and excused himself by declaring: "Sir-it's absurd to expect me to be on time. I'm a genius!"
Though Fitzgerald's grades were predictably terrible, he managed to survive his freshman year. But he established the disastrous pattern of trying to make up past deficiencies while failing his current courses. Christian Gauss, who taught French Romantic poetry and was one of the few teachers Fitzgerald admired, gave a perceptive analysis of the character, ambitions and defects of his bright but wayward student: "He was impatient of discipline … and was fascinated by the operatic pageantry of the pre-World War campus… He yearned rather consistently to dominate the world, become president of the Triangle Club and be a Big Man on the Campus. He possessed a far less solid background of reading than his friends but was deeply interested in the problems of art and its techniques… He pursued his studies only spasmodically."4
Fitzgerald's Princeton friends, as Gauss suggested, were more intellectual than he was. Sap Donahoe, a serious student who had been a friend at Newman and remained close to Fitzgerald, invited him in the summer of 1915 to his family ranch in White Sulphur Springs, sixty-five miles north of Bozeman, in the highlands of central Montana. Togged in Western clothes, Fitzgerald had a good time drinking with the cowboys and winning fifty dollars in a poker game.
Henry Strater, a pacifist devotee of Tolstoy and Edward Carpenter, was the model for the "fair-haired, silent, and intent" Burne Holiday in This Side of Paradise. A popular man who liked to champion unpopular causes, Strater led an influential protest against the discriminatory club system at Princeton and also opposed America's entry into World War I. He later became a mediocre painter, and a hunting and fishing companion of Hemingway.
John Biggs, whose grandfather had been governor of Delaware and whose father was attorney general, had a booming voice and an impressive head and build. Biggs roomed with Fitzgerald in 1917; wrote many issues of the college humor magazine, the Princeton Tiger, with him; and collaborated with him on the 1916 Triangle Club play, Safety First! Biggs published two novels with Scribner's in the 1920s, and was the youngest judge named to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He remained Fitzgerald's faithful friend and eventually became his literary executor.
Fitzgerald's most literary companions (who also remained lifelong friends) were John Peale Bishop and Edmund Wilson. Born in West Virginia in 1892, Bishop had been an invalid as a child and entered Princeton several years later than his contemporaries. Christian Gauss said that "even as a freshman John had a self-possession and self-mastery which gave him the poise and bearing of a young English lord." Fitzgerald was intrigued by Bishop's scholarly and aesthetic persona, so different from his own boyish enthusiasm, and found him exquisite, anachronistic and decadent. In This Side of Paradise he portrayed the cracked-voiced Bishop as Thomas Parke D'Invilliers, "an awful high-brow … who signed passionate love-poems in the [Nassau] Lit. He was perhaps nineteen, with stooped shoulders, pale blue eyes, and … without much conception of social competition." Bishop-partly deceived and wholly delighted by Fitzgerald's pretentious talk about books he had not read-directed Fitzgerald's reading, guided his literary taste and, with Wilson, taught him more about poetry than all the teachers at Princeton.
Bishop, who won all the literary prizes as an undergraduate, cultivated his precious persona and later remarked: "As to my tastes, I like to eat and drink, and above all to talk; I am fond of looking at paintings, sculpture, architecture and formal gardens; in a very modest way, I paint and garden myself. In particular, I like the architecture of humanism and the music of the eighteenth century. I prefer the ballet-at its best-to the theatre. I no longer care very much for reading, except for information."5 Bishop published his first volume of poems in 1917, served overseas during the war, married a rich and rather stuffy wife, and lived mostly in France in the 1920s. Though he turned out novels and poems, he was weakened by wealth, became desiccated and depressed, and never fulfilled his literary promise. He died on Cape Cod of a heart attack in 1944. Though aware of Bishop's limitations as a writer, Fitzgerald was always eager to earn his praise.
Edmund Wilson, like Bishop, was Fitzgerald's antithesis. Born in New Jersey in 1895, the son of a brilliant Princetonian trial lawyer and sometime attorney general of the state, Wilson was a solid member of the Eastern gentry. Haughty and aloof, he attended the Hill School, graduated from Princeton with an outstanding record in 1916 and served overseas with the ambulance corps in World War I. Plain in appearance, the stocky, auburn-haired Wilson was intellectual and sternly rational, stiff and self-conscious. The dazzlingly handsome Fitzgerald, by contrast, had an imaginative and intuitive mind, a spontaneous and impetuous approach to experience.
At Princeton Wilson had all the advantages. A year ahead of Fitzgerald and editor of the Nassau Lit., he corrected Fitzgerald's one-act play "Shadow Laurels" and his story "The Ordeal," and published them in the college magazine in 1915. They collaborated that year on a musical comedy for the Triangle Club, Wilson writing the book and Fitzgerald the lyrics for The Evil Eye. To Fitzgerald, Wilson seemed self-conscious and pedantic; a well-dressed, withdrawn grind, smug and superior about his intelligence and erudition. It was understood between them that Fitzgerald was the brash, superficial upstart, destined to make a risky splash in the world, while Wilson was the solid intellectual who would set him straight.
Despite their friendship, Wilson and Bishop maintained a rather condescending attitude toward Fitzgerald's considerable literary achievement at Princeton: two dozen pieces for the Nassau Lit., three dozen for the Tiger and the lyrics for three absurdly plotted musicals of the Triangle Club-the most powerful organization, outside of athletics, on campus. Some of these early stories were good enough to rewrite and publish in H. L. Mencken's Smart Set at the beginning of Fitzgerald's professional career.
Fitzgerald studied the "amazing lyrics" of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe and Patience when writing his own songs and modeled his witty dialogue on the plays of Oscar Wilde. In 1924 Fitzgerald recalled: "I spent my entire freshman year writing an operetta for the Triangle Club. I failed in algebra, trigonometry, coordinate geometry and hygiene, but the Triangle Club accepted my show, and by tutoring all through a stuffy August I managed to come back a sophomore and act in it as a chorus girl."
Though Fitzgerald reserved for himself the role of the sexy and seductive show girl, his poor grades made him ineligible to act in the play. He had to be content with dressing up for the part in a blond wig, glamorous hat, tulle shawl and flowered gown, and having his theatrical photograph published in the newspapers of all the cities in the Christmas tour. Fitzgerald was five feet eight inches tall, with blond hair, green eyes, perfect features and a smooth, almost honeyed voice. He was "pretty" without being effeminate (his class poll gave him two votes for handsomest and five for the prettiest man), and had the same Irish beauty as Wilson's future wife Mary McCarthy. In this photograph, with his head tilted fetchingly back, Fitzgerald looks for all the world like a charming drag queen. A St. Paul friend recalled: "He was strikingly good-looking and when his eyes sparkled and his face shone with that powerful interior animation it was truly an exciting experience." And a Princeton contemporary, noting that all the female parts in the musicals were played by male students, agreed that "besides being one of the prettiest girls in the shows, he looked exactly like a beautiful lady and acted like one."6
In Minneapolis, Fitzgerald again put on his costume, falsies and make-up. Escorted by a St. Paul friend, he created a sensation by appearing at a fraternity party at the University of Minnesota. He brazenly smoked cigarettes on the dance floor, took a powder compact from the top of his blue stocking and was not unmasked until, after several drinks, he had to use the men's room. His ambitions at the Triangle Club also ended badly, as he later warned his daughter while minimizing his own academic failures: "You are doing [at Vassar] exactly what I did at Princeton. I wore myself out on a musical comedy there for which I wrote the book and lyrics, organized and mostly directed while the president played football. Result: I slipped way back in my work, got T.B., lost a year in college-and, irony of ironies, because of the scholastic slip I wasn't allowed to take the presidency of the Triangle."
Though the football-playing club president took credit for Fitzgerald's book and Scott failed to succeed him in office when forced to leave in the middle of his junior year, he did at least achieve the desired social success. Toward the end of each year the eighteen eating clubs on Prospect Street elected about three-quarters of the second-year students, while the rejected men continued to eat in the university dining halls. The Princeton eating clubs had no other function, Arthur Mizener noted, than "to provide a system of grading people according to social distinction at the middle of the sophomore year."
Fitzgerald was elected to Cottage, which-with Ivy, Tiger, and Cap and Gown-was one of the "big four" clubs. It had been founded in 1887, was the most architecturally sumptuous of the clubs and had a large Southern following from St. Louis and Baltimore. Cottage was "an impressive melange of brilliant adventurers and well-dressed philanderers,"7 he wrote in This Side of Paradise. Its lavish weekend parties in impressive surroundings, which attracted girls from New York, Philadelphia and beyond, may well have provided the first grain of inspiration for Fitzgerald's portrayal of Jay Gatsby's fabulous parties on Long Island.
Apart from Father Fay, whom he continued to see at the priest's family home on the New Jersey coast, Fitzgerald had no significant social connections in the East and no girlfriends at Princeton. But at a Christmas dance in St. Paul in 1914 (the middle of his sophomore year) he met Ginevra King, who was visiting her roommate from Westover School, and immediately fell in love with the sophisticated sixteen-year-old girl. "I didn't have the top two things-great animal magnetism or money," Fitzgerald later wrote in his Notebooks. "I had the two second things, tho', good looks and intelligence. So I always got the top girl." In This Side of Paradise Fitzgerald also observed that his autobiographical hero Amory Blaine lacked animal magnetism-the basis of physical attraction-and that Isabelle (based on Ginevra) had this admirable quality: "Flirt smiled from her large black-brown eyes and shone through her intense physical magnetism." It is significant that in his Notebooks Fitzgerald valued money more than intelligence, and did not even mention artistic ability. And he did not get Ginevra, the top girl. She was too self-absorbed to notice his unusual talent and played an indifferent Fanny Brawne to Fitzgerald's suffering Keats.
Ginevra came from Lake Forest, north of Chicago on Lake Michigan, a suburb which epitomized the zenith of upper-class Midwestern society. She grew up among the country mansions of the Swifts, the Armours and the McCormicks, and impressed the middle-class, socially insecure Fitzgerald with her sense of privilege and innate superiority. Ginevra's sensual, seductive manner (which promised much and gave nothing) had a powerful impact on the older college boy. In a letter to his young sister, Annabel, he recommended Ginevra's languid artifice as an ideal mode of behavior: "Never try to give a boy the [impression] that you're popular-Ginevra always starts by saying that she's a poor unpopular woman without any beaux… A pathetic, appealing look is one every girl ought to have. Sandra and Ginevra are specialists at this… It's best done by opening the eyes wide and drooping the mouth a little, looking upward (hanging the head a little) directly into the eyes of the man you're talking to."8
Though Scott was smitten by Ginevra, she considered him an amusing but by no means exclusive suitor. The narcissistic girl was more interested in attracting a series of boyfriends than in restricting herself to only one. She rather callously considered courtship a kind of stock market in which the wise investor bent the rules and bought shares in several promising prospects: "I can't remember even kissing Scott. I imagine I did. But it wasn't exactly a big thing in my life! … I guess I was too busy adding to my string to analyze my reaction to one suitor… He was mighty young when we knew each other. I just never singled him out as anything special… I was [later] engaged to two other people. That was very easy during the war because you'd never get caught. It was just covering yourself in case of a loss."9
The one-sided romance continued for the next two years during dances, dinners and plays in Lake Forest and New York, at Westover and Princeton. Though doomed in August 1916, when Fitzgerald overheard someone say that poor boys should not think of marrying rich girls, it was kept alive by hundreds of letters from Fitzgerald (some of them, thirty pages long, had to be stuffed into a series of envelopes). Fitzgerald kept Ginevra's letters typed and bound into a 275-page book; she considered his clever but unimportant and destroyed them in 1917.
The following year she sent Fitzgerald an announcement of her marriage to a naval ensign. She had no regrets about rejecting Fitzgerald, and later showed some insight into his youthful character: "As I remember him, he was like a great many truly shy people, who give a feeling of conceit and self-importance as a cover up and an escape… I truly feel that my part in Scott's college life was a detriment to him-I certainly kept him from his work… My attitude didn't help an already supersensitive and sentimental person… Scott's and my temperaments would have clashed dreadfully & I would have undoubtedly driven him to drink a great many years earlier." Ginevra's younger sister, Marjorie Beldon of Santa Barbara, never understood how any girl could have been interested in a nobody like Scott Fitzgerald.10
After divorcing her first husband in 1936, Ginevra married the heir to the Carson, Pirie, Scott department store in Chicago. In 1937, just before his apprehensive meeting with Ginevra, who was then between marriages and whom he had not seen for twenty years, Fitzgerald told his daughter, with a mixture of nostalgia and regret: "She was the first girl I ever loved and I have faithfully avoided seeing her up to this moment to keep that illusion perfect, because she ended up by throwing me over with the most supreme boredom and indifference." Though heartbroken at the time, Fitzgerald answered Yeats' crucial question-"Does the imagination dwell the most / Upon a woman lost or a woman won?"11-by using his lost love as imaginative inspiration. He re-created Ginevra as Isabelle in This Side of Paradise (1920), as Judy Jones in "Winter Dreams" (1922), as Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (1925) and as Josephine in the Basil and Josephine stories (1930-31).
In his first novel Fitzgerald revealed that Ginevra was less a reality than an imaginative construct and gave his own reasons for the end of the affair. There was "nothing at all to her except what I read into her… I convinced her that she was smarter than I was-then she threw me over. [Truly] said I was critical and impractical." But her rejection inspired him much more than if she had surrendered herself to him. As he wrote in "Basil and Cleopatra" (1929) of the character based on the intensely idealized and voraciously virginal Ginevra: "Radiant and glowing, more mysteriously desirable than ever, wearing her very sins like stars, she came down to him in her plain white uniform dress, and his heart turned out at the kindness of her eyes." Acknowledging her colossal vanity and egoism, Ginevra later confessed: "I read with shame the very true portrait of myself in my youth in the Josephine stories."
Fitzgerald's greatest tribute to the elusive, unattainable Ginevra appeared in The Great Gatsby, in which he portrayed her as Daisy Fay Buchanan. He punned on Ginevra's name ("High in a white palace [lived] the king's daughter, the golden girl") and throughout the novel described her as an almost disembodied voice which, Gatsby realizes at the end, was "full of money." "Her face," Fitzgerald wrote, "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."12 Gatsby's ability, like Fitzgerald's, "to keep that illusion perfect" sustains his self-deceptive and ultimately self-destructive quest, with the help of his own fabulous money, to win Daisy back from her husband.
Fitzgerald's emotional upheavals with Ginevra, his devotion to the Triangle Club, his social striving at Cottage Club, his disappointment with the English department and his complete lack of interest in other subjects led to academic disaster in the middle of his junior year. He once remarked that "Princeton is still the hardest institution to get in to and stay in (and leave!) in America." But he got into it with only mediocre qualifications and left it all too easily.
While at Princeton Fitzgerald maintained the careless indifference to academic life that had characterized his years at Newman and would continue during his training in the army. He did not even attempt the minimum work required to pass many of his courses and took the maximum of forty-nine absences allowed during his freshman year. He failed three courses in both his freshman and sophomore years, failed his makeup exams in Latin and chemistry at the beginning of his junior year, which again made him ineligible for Triangle, and barely managed to survive without expulsion. He never even learned how to spell and, despite his training in Latin and French, was hopeless at foreign languages.
In November 1915 Fitzgerald entered the infirmary with a touch of malaria, then endemic in the marshlands around Princeton. Though his illness (which he preferred to call tuberculosis) was real, it also provided an excellent excuse to leave college honorably as an invalid instead of failing out after his midyear exams. "After the curriculum had tied me up," he defensively explained to the president of Princeton in 1920, "taken away the honors I'd wanted, bent my nose over a chemistry book and said, 'No fun, no activities, no offices, no Triangle trips-no, not even a diploma if you can't do chemistry'-after that I retired." He was extremely sensitive about his failure and persuaded the dean to give him a letter stating that he had voluntarily withdrawn "because of ill health and that he was fully at liberty, at that time, to go on with his class, if his health had permitted." At the same time the exasperated dean rubbed salt in the wound by including a caustic note to Fitzgerald: "This is for your sensitive feelings. I hope you will find it soothing."13
After idling away the spring of 1916 in St. Paul, he returned to Princeton to repeat his junior year. But his spirit was crushed. He felt it was stupid to spend four hours a day in his tutor's stuffy room enduring the infinite boredom of conic sections. He had been deprived of the recognition he craved and had lost all chance of winning honors during his final years. "After a few months of rest I went back to college," he explained in The Crack-Up. "But I had lost certain offices, the chief one was the presidency of the Triangle Club, a musical comedy idea, and also I dropped back a class. To me college would never be the same. There were to be no badges of pride, no medals, after all." If he could not achieve great success at Princeton, Fitzgerald did not see the point of struggling through his courses.
He confessed that when his morale was at its lowest point he had even sought solace from a prostitute. "It seemed on one March afternoon [in 1917] that I had lost every single thing I wanted-and that night was the first time that I hunted down the spectre of womanhood that, for a little while, makes everything else seem unimportant." But this kind of behavior was out of character. On one occasion, when Bishop and another Princeton friend, Alexander McKaig, had gone off to pick up two girls, Scott priggishly told Edmund Wilson: "That's one thing that Fitzgerald's never done."14
In 1916 Wilson and Bishop, his fellow highbrow, published a cruel satiric poem that put the popular but cheeky Fitzgerald in his proper place. They contrasted his shallowness to their learning, and deflated his flashy cleverness, superficial reading, derivative cynicism and unworthy ambition by having Fitzgerald exclaim:
I was always clever enough
To make the clever upperclassmen notice me;
I could make one poem by Browning,
One play by Shaw,
And part of a novel by Meredith
Go further than most people
Could do with the reading of years;
And I could always be cynically amusing at the expense
Of those who were cleverer than I
And from whom I borrowed freely,
But whose cleverness
Was not the kind that is effective
In the February of sophomore year… .
No doubt by senior year
I would have been on every committee in college,
But I made one slip:
I flunked out in the middle of junior year.
In his Ledger Fitzgerald honestly characterized 1916 as "a year of terrible disappointments & the end of all college dreams. Everything bad in it was my own fault." But he never completely accepted his share of the blame. In 1937, when Bishop truthfully stated that Fitzgerald had failed out of Princeton and used illness as an excuse for his departure, Fitzgerald became furious and melodramatically claimed that he had been carried out on a stretcher.
Glenway Wescott once observed that "Fitzgerald must have been the worst educated man in the world."15 It was ironic, Fitzgerald later told his daughter, that he had failed "Buzzer" Hall's course in modern European history, but now owned more than three hundred books on the subject. Aware of his own intellectual limitations, he struggled to improve his mind until the very end of his life.
Fitzgerald dedicated the summer of 1917 to drinking gin and reading Schopenhauer, Bergson and William James. But the gin had a more powerful effect than the philosophy, and he returned to Princeton to await his commission in the army rather than to get his degree. The most famous alumnus of the college never graduated. Though bitter about his failures, he always remained intensely idealistic about and deeply devoted to Princeton.
1. Quoted in Scott Donaldson, Archibald MacLeish: An American Life (Boston, 1992), p. 52; Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, p. 36; Fitzgerald, "Who's Who-and Why," Afternoon of an Author, p. 84.
2. Fitzgerald, "Princeton," Afternoon of an Author, p. 72; F. Scott Fitzgerald, As Ever, Scott Fitz: Letters Between F. Scott Fitzgerald and His Literary Agent, Harold Ober, 1919-1940, ed. Matthew Bruccoli and Jennifer Atkinson (Philadelphia, 1972), p. 357.
3. Fitzgerald, "Princeton," Afternoon of an Author, p. 75; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 104. See also Alfred Noyes, "Princeton Days," Two Worlds for Memory (Philadelphia, 1953), pp. 98-103.
4. Quoted in Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, p. 68; Letter from an unidentified English professor to Arthur Mizener, January 28, 1951, Princeton; Christian Gauss, "Edmund Wilson: The Campus and the Nassau Lit.," Princeton University Library Chronicle, 5 (February 1944), 49.
5. Gauss, Princeton University Library Chronicle, p. 50; Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, p. 50; Quoted in Robert White, John Peale Bishop (New York, 1966), p. 25.
6. Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, p. 269; Letter from Cornelius Van Ness to Henry Dan Piper, May 25, 1947, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Letter from Whitney Landon to Jeffrey Meyers, January 12, 1992.
7. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 85; Mizener, The Far Side of Paradise, p. 34; Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, p. 44.
8. Fitzgerald, Notebooks, p. 205; Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, p. 63; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, pp. 15-17.
9. Quoted in Elizabeth Friskey, "Visiting the Golden Girl," Princeton Alumni Weekly, 75 (October 8, 1974), 10-11; Letter from Ginevra King Pirie to Arthur Mizener, December 4, 1947, Princeton.
10. Letter from Ginevra King Pirie to Henry Dan Piper, May 12, 1946, Southern Illinois University; Letters from Ginevra King Pirie to Arthur Mizener, November 7, 1947 and January 14, 1958, Princeton; Telephone conversation with Richard Lehan, February 19, 1992, based on his interviews with Ginevra King Pirie and her sister Marjorie Beldon.
11. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 34; William Butler Yeats, "The Tower," Collected Poems, Definitive Edition (New York, 1956), p. 195.
12. Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, p. 184; Fitzgerald, "Basil and Cleopatra," Afternoon of an Author, p. 59; Letter from Ginevra King Pirie to Henry Dan Piper, May 12, 1946, Southern Illinois University; Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, pp. 120, 9.
13. Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, p. 171; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 482; The Romantic Egoists: Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, ed. Matthew Bruccoli, Scottie Fitzgerald Smith and Joan Kerr (New York, 1974), p. 29.
14. F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Handle With Care," The Crack-Up, ed. Edmund Wilson (New York, 1945), p. 76; Edmund Wilson, A Prelude (New York, 1967), p. 148.
15. Mizener, The Far Side of Paradise; Fitzgerald, Ledger, p. 170; Glenway Wescott, in Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up, p. 329.
Next: chapter 3.
Published as Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (NY. Harper-Collins, 1994).