The Fitzgeralds married in April 1920, Scott published The Great Gatsby in April 1925 and Zelda-following this momentous five-year pattern-had her first mental breakdown in April 1930. Fitzgerald identified himself with the Jazz Age, which he helped to define and called "the most expensive orgy in history." If, as Arthur Miller observed, "the 30s were the price that had to be paid for the 20s," then that decade was much more costly than Fitzgerald had ever imagined. Just as his literary career spanned the Twenties and Thirties, so his personal life-which began to collapse at the same time as Zelda's breakdown, soon after the Wall Street Crash of October 1929-ran precisely parallel to the boom and bust phases of the decades between the wars.
Fitzgerald felt partly responsible for Zelda's illness and was intimately involved in her treatment. He was inextricably connected to her by bonds of love and guilt; by the hope that she would recover and they could resume their life together; by his fear that she would remain ill and he would continue to suffer with her. Scott's artistic career was also bound up with Zelda, who had provided inspiration for so much of his work. His unfinished novel would soon focus on her insanity and his stories would be written to pay for her treatment. All paths seemed to lead to Zelda: the destructiveness of their past, the sterility of their present, the uncertainty of their future.
No matter how close to or far away from Zelda he might be during the next ten years, Fitzgerald lived in the phases of her madness and remained deeply involved in the specifics of her treatment: the individual doctors, the different psychiatric approaches, the particular setting and atmosphere of each clinic. Zelda-whose apparent recovery was always followed by another breakdown and who constantly sought a way back to sanity-was treated in seven different hospitals in only six years. She repeatedly had to adjust to new people and strange surroundings while suffering hallucinations, depression and suicidal impulses.
Fitzgerald also went through the anguish of the husband of a mental patient: the soul-searching and self-reproach, the loss of his wife and difficulty of bringing up his daughter on his own, the financial strain, loneliness, alcoholism and creative sterility. Gradually, he lost all confidence in the future and left his "capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda's sanitarium."1
Zelda's first breakdown was so sudden (the warning signs only became clear retrospectively), the need for restraint and rest so urgent, that there was no time to make careful inquiries about the best psychiatric care. On April 23, 1930, she entered the ominously named Malmaison Hospital, just west of Paris, still desperately concerned about losing time in her ballet career. She was slightly intoxicated when she arrived at the hospital, confessed that she had recently drunk a great deal and explained that she needed alcohol to stimulate her work. Professor Claude-the doctor whom she tried to seduce-gave a vivid report of her mental condition:
[She entered] in a state of acute anxiety, unable to stay put, repeating continually, "It's frightful, it's horrible, what's going to become of me, I must work and I no longer can, I must die and yet I have to work. I'll never be cured, let me go, I have to see 'Madame' (the dancing teacher), she has given me the greatest joy in the world." …
In sum, it is a question of a petite anxieuse worn out by her work in a milieu of professional dancers. Violent reactions, several suicidal attempts never pushed to the limit.
Professor Claude also reported that Zelda had an obsessional "fear of becoming a homosexual. She thinks she is in love with her dance teacher (Madame X) as she had already thought in the past of being in love with another woman." Zelda's breakdown forced her to admit, for the first time, her own homosexual desires. It seems clear from this confession that she had projected her own homosexual impulses onto Fitzgerald, and blamed him for her sexual frigidity.
On May 2, after only ten days in Malmaison, Zelda left the hospital, against the doctor's advice, in order to resume the dancing lessons that had precipitated her breakdown. Alluding to Malmaison in Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald wrote of her "unsatisfactory interlude at one of the whoopee cures that fringed the city, dedicated largely to tourist victims of drug and drink."2
Zelda tried to go back to dancing in Paris. But she became dazed and incoherent, had fainting fits, heard frightening voices and was tormented by nightmares. She had (as Professor Claude noted) previously attempted suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills after her affair with Jozan ended in 1925, by throwing herself down the stone staircase in Vence in 1926 and by trying to drive a car off the steep cliffs above Cannes in 1929. Three weeks after leaving Malmaison, she became terrified by her hallucinations and again tried to kill herself. On May 22 she entered the Valmont Clinic in Glion, above Montreux, on the eastern end of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
In early June Dr. H. A. Trutman wrote his report on Zelda. Though she was now more seriously ill than when she entered Malmaison, she denied her illness and still wanted to return to dancing. Ballet, she said, was a way to independence and a compensation for her unhappy marriage:
At the beginning of her stay Mrs. F. said she hadn't been sick and had been brought to the sanatorium under duress. Every day she repeated that she wanted to return to Paris to resume the ballet in which she thinks she finds the sole satisfaction of her life.
From the organic point of view nothing to report, no signs of neurological illness. It became clearer and clearer that a simple rest cure was absolutely insufficient, and that psychiatric treatment by a specialist in a sanatorium was indicated. It was evident that the relations between the patient and her husband had been shaky for some time and that for this reason the patient had tried to create a life of her own through the ballet (since family life and obligations were not sufficient to satisfy her ambition and her artistic leanings).
Zelda did not mention her homosexual desires at Valmont. But one of the nurses at the clinic had to repulse her "overly affectionate" gestures, and in her next hospital she developed an infatuation for an attractive red-headed girl.
Since Valmont specialized in gastrointestinal illness and Dr. Trutman thought she needed psychiatric treatment, Zelda was examined by a specialist in nervous disorders from the nearby Prangins Clinic. On June 4 she transferred to her third hospital in six weeks. For the next fifteen months, while she was in Prangins, Scott lived near Zelda in Switzerland and visited Scottie, who remained with her governess in Paris, for four or five days every month.
Les Rives des Prangins was situated on the shore of the lake, fourteen miles north of Geneva, in Nyon. The grounds were spacious, the gardens immaculately tended; and it had farms, tennis courts and seven private villas for super-rich patients. "With the addition of a caddy house," as Fitzgerald wrote of Dick Diver's clinic in Tender Is the Night, "it might very well have been a country club." The clientele was international, and many of the patients came from families of distinguished ancestry and great wealth. The cost of treatment at Prangins, during the first year of the Depression, was an astronomical one thousand dollars a month. Fitzgerald assured Zelda's parents that Dr. Forel's clinic, which had just opened that year, "is as I thought the best in Europe, his father having had an extraordinary reputation as a pioneer in the field of psychiatry, and the son being universally regarded as a man of intelligence and character."3
Auguste Forel, the head of this eminent scientific family (his face appears on the Swiss thousand-franc note), was Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Zurich and an authority on the treatment of alcoholics. His son Oscar, Zelda's doctor and the director of Prangins, was an exceptionally talented and versatile man. Oscar Forel was born in 1891 at Burgholzli, an insane asylum in Zurich where his father was director, and had five brothers and sisters. He studied at the Sorbonne and at the Faculty of Medicine at Lausanne, and believed that religion was incompatible with science. After marrying a lady from Riga, Latvia, he had a son and two daughters, but separated from his wife in 1932. A faculty member at the University of Geneva for more than twenty-five years, he published a number of books, including La Psychologie des nevroses (1925) and La Question sexuelle (1931). Later in life he became a naturalist and a professional photographer; and he was awarded the Legion of Honor by Charles de Gaulle in 1945. Forel's autobiography, La Memoire du chene, appeared in 1980.
According to his son Armand (who was also a doctor as well as a member of the Swiss parliament), Oscar Forel was a tall, thin, well-dressed and highly cultured gentleman. He was very interested in literature, the theater, the arts and music, especially the violin, and gave concerts in the large hall at the clinic. Careful with money and susceptible to flattery, he surrounded himself with a court of sycophants, tended to impose his will on others and was a social dictator. But he was also very sensitive and persuasive, and had a remarkable organizational gift.
Dr. Forel used physical as well as psychiatric methods to cure mental illness, and introduced electric shock and insulin shock treatments at Prangins. Electroconvulsive therapy applies electricity to the brain in order to induce epileptic seizures that are supposed to unsettle whatever brain patterns have caused psychopathic behavior and allow healthier ones to take their place. During insulin shock treatment, the doctor injects insulin into the patient in order to reduce the bloodsugar level and induce a hypoglycemic coma, which also releases inhibitions and allows her to speak freely.4 Since Oscar Forel cared for Zelda and employed these treatments, it is quite likely that she was subjected to the effects of electric and insulin shocks.
The Sayres, especially her sister and brother-in-law Rosalind and Newman Smith, deliberately misled Dr. Forel by stating that there was no history of insanity in their family. Dr. Forel, focusing on Zelda rather than on her heredity, believed that her recovery depended on her giving up ballet. With the help of a letter from Lubov Egorova, who said Zelda could never become a prima ballerina, she was eventually persuaded to abandon what she wanted most in life: a professional career in dance.
Like his father, Dr. Forel was a great fighter against alcoholism. He believed that Scott was involved in Zelda's illness and wanted him to have therapy to cure his drinking. But Fitzgerald, who thought his mind was already too analytical and depended on intuition for his creative impulse, felt psychoanalysis would destroy his talent. When Dr. Forel treated James Joyce's schizophrenic daughter, Lucia, at Prangins in 1933, he also unsuccessfully urged Joyce to accept treatment for alcoholism.
Fitzgerald knew that his drinking haunted Zelda in her delirium, but excused himself by stating: "I was alone all the time and I had to get drunk before I could leave you so sick and not care." In the summer of 1930 he sent Dr. Forel a long letter explaining why he could not give up alcohol. He said he was devastated by the effect of Zelda's illness, had to struggle to support his family, experienced listlessness, distraction and dark circles under his eyes when he stopped drinking, and noticed a physical improvement when he took moderate quantities of wine. He also maintained that Zelda did not use her talent and intelligence, that she was interested in nothing but dance and dancers, that drink helped him endure her long, boring monologues on this subject as well as her wild accusations that he was a homosexual. Since they had had sexual problems before her breakdown, and he had not been allowed to see her from April to August 1930, it is not surprising that Fitzgerald now drank more than ever. Samuel Johnson once explained how alcohol compensated for sexual deprivation. When asked what he thought was the greatest pleasure in life, he replied: "Fucking; and the second was drinking. And therefore he wondered why there were not more drunkards, for all could drink tho' not all could fuck."5
At the end of June, on a visit to town with her nurse, Zelda tried to run away. Restrained and brought back to Prangins, she was transferred from the main building to the Villa Eglantine and, ill with the other ill, confined with the most disturbed and intractable patients. While she was locked up, Zelda sent Scott some despairing letters that intensified his guilt and misery, and shattered his hopes for her quick recovery: "I never realized before how hideously dependent on you I was… Every day it seems to me that things are more barren and sterile and hopeless… At any rate one thing has been achieved: I am thoroughly and completely humiliated and broken if that was what you wanted." Villa Eglantine and Zelda's last sentence would reappear in Tender Is the Night.
Zelda's nervous disease now began to have physical manifestations. She lost her old vivacity, seemed to age suddenly and sat like a listless invalid in a long, blank trance. From June until August her face, neck and shoulders were covered with severe eczema, which made her existence a living hell. "For two months she had lain under it," Scott wrote in his novel, comparing the skin disease to a medieval instrument of torture, "as imprisoned as in the Iron Maiden. She was coherent, even brilliant, within the limits of her special hallucinations."
Though Dr. Forel eventually cured Zelda's eczema by hypnosis, her hallucinations, depression and mental anguish continued unabated. She poured out her sorrows in letters to Scott, who was powerless to help her:
For months I have been living in vaporous places peopled with one-dimensional figures and tremulous buildings… .
I wish I could see you: I have forgotten what it's like to be alive with a functioning intelligence… .
Dancing has gone and I'm weak and feeble and I can't understand why I should be the one, amongst all the others, to have to bear all this-for what? …
I can't read or sleep. Without hope or youth or money I sit constantly wishing I were dead. Mamma does know what's the matter with me. She wrote me she did. You can put that in your story to lend it pathos. Bitched once more… .
I wonder why we have never been very happy and why all this has happened… .
Please help me. Every day more of me dies with this bitter and incessant beating I'm taking.6
After Zelda's breakdown Fitzgerald had to remain close to her for consultations and visits as well as protect Scottie from the effects of her mother's illness, support the family by writing stories for the Post and try to finish the long-neglected Tender Is the Night. Fitzgerald inevitably suffered the consequences of Zelda's prolonged psychotherapy. He found it intensely unpleasant to have her doctors probing and analyzing every aspect of their emotional and sexual life, and to endure frequent recriminations as her therapy uncovered their past. In the late summer of 1930, for example, Zelda reminded him, in vague but suggestive terms, of an occasion when he had deeply wounded her. Referring to the time they had "slept together" at the Hotel Miramare in Genoa in November 1924, she bitterly declared: "I think the most humiliating and bestial thing that ever happened to me in my life is a scene that you probably don't remember even, in Genoa." She also said that the incident had brought on an attack of asthma and that she had "almost died in Genoa." Perhaps Scott did not remember this incident because he was drunk at the time. But he probably wanted to take revenge on Zelda for her recent affair with Jozan. In his drunken state, his sexual inhibitions released, he may have attempted a sexual act-possibly sodomy-that they both considered unnatural. In any case, Zelda associated it with homosexuality and with animals, and found it "humiliating and bestial."
Scott had to defend himself yet accept responsibility, and try to explain "why all this has happened" without accusing her. Old friends like John Peale Bishop, who had often seen the Fitzgeralds during the 1920s and remained loyal to Scott, blamed Zelda for the disaster that had overwhelmed them. Bishop later told Edmund Wilson, who seemed to share his views: "I agree with you as to Zelda's partial responsibility for the earlier debacle. In those years in Paris, I came to detest her. She was really a very evil creature and like all evil people, deficient in the common emotions."
Troubled by his own guilty conscience, Scott was more sympathetic to Zelda. But he also blamed her for not taking responsibility for her own actions-even when she tried to kill others by driving a car over a cliff: "Never in her whole life did she have a sense of guilt, even when she put other lives in danger-it was always people and circumstances that oppressed her." Mentioning another flaw in Zelda's character, he also told Scottie: "the insane are always mere guests on the earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read." In this cryptic statement, Scott meant that Zelda had rejected the moral laws (her "broken decalogues") that were universally accepted by mankind and had always tried "to solve all ethical and moral problems on her own."7
In her more lucid moments Zelda realized that mental illness was always worse for the family of the patient than for the person who was ill. Like Miranda in The Tempest, Scott could truly say: "O, I have suffered / With those that I saw suffer!" He even felt in danger of losing his own reason when torn by the agonizing, never-ending oscillation between hope and despair. Paradoxically, however, his participation in Zelda's treatment matured and strengthened Fitzgerald's character. Though he could be irritating and self-indulgent, he now achieved, through emotional isolation and intense self-scrutiny, a sweeter temperament, a deeper understanding of others and a more dignified demeanor.
As she burned out her bitterness and achieved new insight, Zelda gradually accepted rather than resented her inevitable dependence on Scott, and expressed gratitude for his sacrifice and support: "I realize more completely than ever how much I live in you and how sweet and good and kind you are to such a dependent appendage." Many years later, after his death, Zelda finally realized how much he had loved her and had done for her when she was ill, and praised him for "keeping faith" and remaining loyal under the pressure of her inescapable necessities. John Dos Passos, who had perceived Zelda's insanity before her breakdown and criticized Fitzgerald's madcap life at Ellerslie, spoke for most of Scott's friends who discerned his nobility of character when faced with personal tragedy: "Scott was meeting adversity with a consistency of purpose that I found admirable. He was trying to raise Scottie, to do the best possible thing for Zelda, to handle his drinking and to keep a flow of stories into the magazines to raise the enormous sums Zelda's illness cost. At the same time he was determined to continue writing firstrate novels. With age and experience his literary standards were rising. I never admired a man more."
Scott always wanted to give Zelda the very best medical care that was available. In late November 1930 Dr. Forel wished to call in Dr. Eugen Bleuler-a professor at Zurich (and teacher of Carl Jung), who had coined the word "schizophrenia" in a famous paper of 1911-to confirm his diagnosis and treatment. Scott agreed to pay the five-hundred-dollar consultation fee, a staggering sum at that time. Bleuler agreed with the current treatment and said Zelda had borderline insanity. No one knew the cause of her illness or how to cure it. He vaguely suggested rest and re-education, and said Zelda should be allowed to go skiing in the nearby mountains and to visit the shops, theater and opera in Geneva. Bleuler also told Fitzgerald that three out of four patients like Zelda were eventually discharged: one recovered completely and two others remained delicate and slightly eccentric. Zelda, however, eventually joined the unfortunate quarter who never recovered. Though discharged from three mental institutions, she had three more breakdowns and would end her days in an insane asylum.
Bleuler thought Zelda was crazy; she thought he was a "great imbecile." But after the confusion, pain, bitterness, anguish, accusations, she slowly got better and, with zany humor, even began to joke about her illness. She said she had gone to Geneva with a "fellow maniac," signed her letter "Zelda, the dowager duchess of detriment" and said they could give their next child the Latin name for schizophrenia: "Dementia Praecox Fitzgerald-Dear how gruesome!"
But Scott's meetings with Zelda, during which he tried to ease her back into normal social and sexual life, were often much worse than not seeing her at all. In January 1931, after nine months of treatment, he told her doctors that when they spent time together she unnervingly slipped in and out of moods and madness, that seeing him had a bad effect on her and that he was repelled by her appearance and behavior: "Then she went into the other personality and was awful to me at lunch. After lunch she returned to the affectionate tender mood, utterly normal, so that with pressure I could have manoeuvered her into intercourse but the eczema was almost visibly increasing so I left early. Toward the very end she was back in the schizophrenia."
The doctors did not know what caused her illness. But in the summer of 1930, Fitzgerald had an artist's brilliant intuition about the etiology of her disease, which he described in the same terms he had used to explain the genesis of his best stories ("there was one little drop of something, not blood, not a tear, not my seed …"): "I can't help clinging to the idea that some essential physical thing like salt or iron or semen or some unguessed at holy water is either missing or is present in too great quantity."8 Fitzgerald rightly perceived, before the doctors discovered it, that a great deal of mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the body. The drug lithium, for example, which is a salt, corrects this imbalance and is now used to control the cycles of manic depression.
"One Trip Abroad" contains one of Fitzgerald's finest, and saddest, aphorisms: "Switzerland is a country where very few things begin, but many things end."9 Sensitive to the accusations of Zelda and of Robert McAlmon that he was a homosexual, and associating Paris with "swarms of fairies," he now came to loathe that city. As he told Edmund Wilson, he preferred the straightforward clinical air of Switzerland, "where nuts are nuts and coughs are coughs." "One Trip Abroad" also describes the gentle and rather moribund life he tried to share with Zelda on the days when she was well enough to leave the hospital, visit the Casino and read popular novels in English that were printed in Germany. Their life turned "on the daily visits of their two doctors, the arrival of the mail and newspapers from Paris, the little walk into the hillside village or occasionally the descent by funicular to the pale resort on the lake, with its Kursaal, its grass beach, its tennis clubs and sight-seeing buses. They read Tauchnitz editions and yellow-jacketed Edgar Wallaces; at a certain hour each day they watched the baby being given its bath; three nights a week there was a tired and patient orchestra in the lounge after dinner, that was all."
Fitzgerald's routine life in Switzerland was frequently interrupted, however, by moves to various hotels around the lake and in the mountain villages, by two encounters with Thomas Wolfe, by a love affair and by an unexpected voyage to America. In June 1930, soon after Zelda entered Prangins, Fitzgerald, on his monthly trip to Paris to see Scottie, ran into Thomas Wolfe-who had published Look Homeward, Angel with Scribner's in 1929-in the Ritz Bar. Wolfe, who had been to Harvard, found Fitzgerald's collegiate coterie both snobbish and superficial. "I finally departed from his company," Wolfe wrote, "at ten that night in the Ritz Bar where he was entirely surrounded by Princeton boys, all nineteen years old, all drunk, and all half-raw… I heard one of the lads say 'Joe's a good boy, Scotty, but you know he's a fellow that ain't got much background.' "
In July the two novelists met again in Vevey on Lake Geneva. Fitzgerald was impressed by the six-foot-six-inch-tall Wolfe, whom Sinclair Lewis described as "a Gargantuan creature with great gusto of life." Hemingway had more caustically called him "a glandular giant with the brains and the guts of three mice."10 While Fitzgerald and Wolfe were arguing about books in a mountain village above the town, Wolfe gesticulated so vigorously that he snapped an electric power line and plunged the whole place into darkness. In September 1930 Fitzgerald wrote Perkins, their "common parent," that he found Wolfe comparable to Hemingway: "You have a great find in him-what he'll do is incalculable. He has a deeper culture than Ernest and more vitality, if he is slightly less of a poet that goes with the immense surface he wants to cover. Also he lacks Ernest's quality of a stick hardened in the fire."
In July 1937 Fitzgerald resumed their literary debate in a letter to Wolfe. Focusing on the issue he had often discussed with Hemingway, Fitzgerald urged Wolfe, whose sloppy works were put into coherent order by Perkins, to become a more conscious artist. Echoing Hemingway's famous theory of omission (in which the seven-eighths of the iceberg hidden below the surface of the water give full strength to the essential tip that shows), Fitzgerald allied himself with Flaubert and Hemingway, as opposed to Zola and Wolfe, and expressed an important aesthetic principle: "The more, the stronger, man's inner tendencies are defined, the more he can be sure they will show, the more necessity to rarefy them, to use them sparingly. The novel of selected incidents has this to be said: that the great writer like Flaubert has consciously left out the stuff that Bill or Joe (in his case, Zola) will come along and say presently. He will only say the things that he alone sees. So Madame Bovary becomes eternal while Zola already rocks with age."
Wolfe, unhappy about being relegated with Bill and Joe to antiquated Zolaesque fiction, replied by portraying Fitzgerald as Hunt Conroy in You Can't Go Home Again (1941). Speaking to Foxhall Edwards (based on Perkins), Wolfe's hero George Webber clearly dissociates himself from the American expatriate writers of the 1920s. Gertrude Stein had called them the Lost Generation and Hemingway popularized the phrase by adopting it as one of the epigraphs of The Sun Also Rises. Webber says: "You have a friend, Fox, named Hunt Conroy. You introduced me to him. He is only a few years my senior, but he is very fixed in his assertion of what he calls 'The Lost Generation'-a generation of which, as you know, he has been quite vociferously a member, and in which he has tried enthusiastically to include me. Hunt and I used to argue about it."11
In August 1930, the month after he met Wolfe in Vevey, Fitzgerald saw Zelda for the first time since their long separation. Their meeting convinced him that she was still very ill and would remain so indefinitely. So he was particularly responsive to Bijou O'Conor, a sophisticated and scandalous Englishwoman whom he met at the Grand Hotel de la Paix in Lausanne that fall. Though their affair was brief, and encouraged Fitzgerald's uncontrolled drinking and wild behavior, it also, during one of the darkest periods of his life, distracted him from his pain. A great character, almost as alcoholic and self-destructive as himself, Bijou was far more reckless, a true bohemian without Fitzgerald's conscience and capacity for remorse. He found her utterly fascinating, and would enshrine her in his fiction.
Bijou, whose real name was Violet Marie, was the granddaughter of the second Earl of Minto and the youngest daughter of the diplomat Sir Francis Elliot, a strait-laced, Calvinistic Scot. She was born in 1896 (the same year as Fitzgerald) in Sofia, Bulgaria, where her father was serving as British consul-general. A French nurse provided her nickname just after she was born, but when she was presented to Sir Francis, he exclaimed that she looked more like a toad than a jewel. Educated privately by governesses and tutors, and extremely intelligent, Bijou became an outstanding linguist. Very different from her three older sisters, she passionately rejected her conventional family background.
During the Great War Bijou entertained her friends, who would have been bored by their very proper elders downstairs, in her bedroom in the Athens legation. Compton Mackenzie (whom Fitzgerald had met on Capri in 1925) was then engaged in espionage in Greece and recalled her arty set in his First Athenian Memories: "She was the youngest of Sir Francis' daughters and the only one not yet married. In her room tucked away at the top of the Legation the social observer could have discovered the trend of the postwar generation's decorative taste." She represented, to Mackenzie, "the restless advance of youth in spite of the war."
In 1920 Bijou married Lieutenant Edmund O'Conor, a professional naval officer from Dunleer, County Louth, in Ireland, and accompanied him when he was stationed in China. She acquired an expert knowledge of Chinese and, claiming that she had been given two Pekinese by the former Empress of China, developed a lifelong passion for the pets, which followed her everywhere. Lieutenant O'Conor had been infected with tuberculosis during the war and died of that disease in Australia in 1924. Though widowed at twenty-eight, Bijou never remarried.
Bijou had abandoned her son, Michael, who was born after her husband's death. He was brought up in the south of France by her stern Scottish parents and cared for by a nanny until he was sent to school in England. During their rare meetings Bijou always spoke French to the boy. He learned his first spoken word, merde, from listening to Bijou exclaim whenever she made a mistake in typing. Though Bijou felt sorry for the lonely and unsettled Scottie Fitzgerald, who had been ignored and rejected by her mother and also brought up by nannies, she lacked maternal feeling for her own child.
Bijou resembled Edith Sitwell. She was thin, chic and jolie-laide, with fine features and soft brown eyes. Very social, a bit intolerant and rather snobbish, she had rare charm and an air of mystery. An amusing raconteuse, who kept her circle of intelligent and often homosexual friends riveted by her fascinating conversation, she smoked heavily and enjoyed drinking binges. The publisher Anthony Blond recalled that "she was quite small, quite sharp and quite drunk."
In the early 1930s Bijou told her cousin Sir Brinsley Ford that Michael had a bad case of whooping cough and needed to recover in the mild climate of Penzance. Moved by her story, he gave her fifty pounds to take the boy on a recuperative holiday. A few days later a friend, who did not know where Bijou had obtained the sudden windfall, told Sir Brinsley that she had lavishly entertained a group of friends at the Ritz. Wildly extravagant whenever she had any money, Bijou always left a trail of debts behind her and may even have served time in prison for this offense.
Bijou lived on a small naval pension and on whatever cash she could extract from her unwilling father. She may have caught tuberculosis from her late husband, for she spent some time in a sanatorium in Davos, and was also treated for alcoholism in Switzerland, where she met Fitzgerald. The reckless Bijou-whom he had first met in the south of France and at the Closerie des Lilas in the Latin Quarter in the mid-1920s-reminded Fitzgerald of Zelda. And like Scott, Bijou was often irresponsible, lived beyond her means, borrowed money, drank heavily and did not care what people thought of her. Though she encouraged his worst characteristics, she also alleviated his tormenting guilt about Zelda, provided affection and gave him sexual reassurance in what she described as their "roaring, screaming affair."
The aristocratic Bijou smoked cigarettes in a long amber holder, carried around a half-paralyzed Pekinese, and frightened all the hotel guests and servants. She remembered Fitzgerald typing away in her hotel room, fueled by bottle after bottle of gin. Bijou later claimed, in a taped interview, that she and Fitzgerald had visited Prangins together (though they could have precipitated another breakdown if Zelda had guessed they were lovers), where she saw all the patients dressed for a formal dinner and seated between the doctors and nurses. Bijou also recalled that Fitzgerald bought a Persian kitten for Zelda, who, in a moment of uncontrolled rage, killed it by bashing its head against a wall.
Fitzgerald portrayed Bijou and her friend Napier Alington-whose birth and death dates (1896-1940) were the same as his own-as the widowed Lady Capps-Karr and Bopes, the Marquis of Kinkallow, in "The Hotel Child" (1931). Alington, a dark, good-looking baron and wealthy landowner, belonged to a fast set and was regarded by some as a wicked man. He was painted by Augustus John in 1938, wearing an elegant smoking jacket and bow tie, with a long face, creased cheeks, full lips and prominent oval chin.
"Practically the whole damn [story] is true, bizarre as it seems," Fitzgerald said. "Lord Alington and the famous Bijou O'Conor were furious at me putting them in."12 In real life, in about 1918, Bijou, careless with a cigarette, had burnt the ceiling of the guest room in her uncle's house. She must have told Fitzgerald about this embarrassing incident, for in his story Lady Capps-Karr and the Marquis of Kinkallow are ejected from the Swiss hotel for starting a fire while attempting to cook some potato chips in alcohol.13
In "The Hotel Child" the sympathetic heroine Fifi Schwartz, a wealthy Jewish-American teenage girl, is courted by the bogus Hungarian Count Borowki, who wants to elope with her. But when she discovers he has slipped into their hotel room and stolen her mother's money, she rejects him. (A bogus East European count who lies and steals money from the heroine's room had also appeared in "The Swimmers.") So Borowki elopes instead with a snobbish English girl, Miss Howard, who has been extremely rude to the young American. When they are caught by the Swiss police, the count is arrested and Miss Howard's reputation is ruined. Fifi then moves on to Paris and America to find a suitable husband.
The young Fifi, whose flashy style has been created by her mother, is repeatedly wounded by the bitchiness of Lady Capps-Karr and the other English guests. They audibly whisper about her "ghastly" and "rotten" taste, about the "gratuitous outrage" (a phrase borrowed from Conrad's "Author's Note" to The Secret Agent) of her noisy parties and about the undesirable acquaintances who, they fear, will "contaminate" the public rooms of the hotel.
When the Marquis Kinkallow, a tall, stooped Englishman familiarly known as Bopes, appears in the hotel bar, Lady Capps-Karr, the widow of a baronet, pathetically begs him to "Stay here and save me!" But he abandons her, pursues the much-younger Fifi and, like the count, tries to persuade her to run away with him. After a hasty courtship by Kinkallow, who is fired by "smoldering resentment" because "the whole world had slid into your power," Fifi fights off his crude advances by scoring his face with her nails. At the end of the story Fifi is triumphant, and Lady Capps-Karr and the Marquis Kinkallow are ejected from the hotel. "The whole thing's an outrage and Bopes is furious," she indignantly exclaims. "He says he'll never come here again. I went to the consulate and they agreed that the whole affair was perfectly disgraceful, and they've wired the Foreign Office."14 The satiric caricatures of Lord Alington and Bijou O'Conor seem to have been inspired by Fitzgerald's powerful reaction against Bijou after their stormy affair had ended.
Soon after he left Bijou, Fitzgerald heard that his seventy-seven-year-old father had died of a heart attack in Washington. In January 1931 he sailed home to attend the funeral in Rockville, Maryland. Arthur Miller has perceptively observed that most modern American male authors-from Fitzgerald and Hemingway to Lowell and Berryman-have tried to compensate for their own weak fathers: "One rarely hears of an American writer … whose father was to be regarded as, in any way, adequate or successful. The writer in America is supplanting somebody, correcting him, making up for his errors or failures, and in the process he is creating a new world. He is the power that the father had lost." In Tender Is the Night Fitzgerald describes Dick Diver's shock when he receives a telegram, forwarded through Zurich-"Your father died peacefully tonight"-as well as Dick's fond memories of his childhood and of his gentle father, who taught his son to believe in "honor, courtesy, and courage."
Sailing on the New York, Fitzgerald noticed a small, dark, attractive and vivacious young woman, who played bridge all day and night with the entourage of a Texas oil man. When they all stood on the deck to see the new liner Bremen pass in the night, Fitzgerald overheard her say: "Papa, buy me that!" He was even more intrigued when she convinced him, for a time, that she earned her living as a professional card sharp. Fitzgerald thought she would have many good stories to tell and, impressed by her dramatic impersonation of a gambler, urged her to collaborate with him. The woman, who called herself Bert Barr, was born Bertha Weinberg in a Brooklyn slum in 1896. She was the sister of Sidney Weinberg, who became a powerful Wall Street investment banker and adviser to several presidents. Bert later married Louis Goldstein, a prominent Brooklyn judge.
In his story "On Your Own" (1931) Fitzgerald portrayed the attractive Bert as Evelyn and described her as a "girl of twenty-six, burning with a vitality that could only be described as 'professional.' … She had enormous, dark brown eyes. She was not beautiful but it took her only about ten seconds to persuade people that she was. Her body was lovely with little concealed muscles of iron. She was in black now and overdressed-but she was always very chic and a little overdressed." It seems, from Fitzgerald's letters to Bert, that they were attracted to each other, but that their clash of temperaments and egos precluded a shipboard romance: "It was too bad about us this time-we met like two crazy people, both cross & worried & exhausted & as we're both somewhat spoiled we took to rows & solved nothing… All of which doesn't mean that my tenderness toward you is diminished in the slightest but only that I want it to go on, & one more siege like those three days would finish us both & spoil everything for ever."15
After his father's funeral in St. Mary's Church, Fitzgerald traveled south to Montgomery to try to reassure the Sayres about Zelda. Despite his bereavement, he received more hostility than sympathy from her family. They could not conceive how much he had suffered, and secretly thought that Scott was the crazy one. Ignoring the pervasive history of mental illness in their family, the Sayres blamed him for Zelda's insanity and accused him of putting her in an asylum in order to get rid of her. In December 1930, a month before Edward Fitzgerald's death, Scott had defended himself in a letter to the Sayres by alluding to one of his father's moral touchstones: "I know you despise certain weaknesses in my character and I do not want during this tragedy that fact to blur or confuse your belief in me as a man of integrity."
Scottie later idealized Fitzgerald's uneasy relations with Zelda's mother (the judge had always disapproved of him). In a letter to Mizener, she said that Grandmother Sayre "always trusted and loved Daddy. She liked his writing and she never blamed him for anything that happened to Mamma." But Fitzgerald, contradicting this view, told Zelda's doctor that the sweet old lady had quite a ruthless streak: "Mrs. Sayre, when it comes to Zelda, is an entirely irrational and conscienceless woman with the best intentions in the world." When questioned about Fitzgerald late in life, after both Scott and Zelda had died, Mrs. Sayre praised his good looks. But she criticized his character and ignored all the sacrifices he had made for Zelda after her breakdown: "He was a handsome thing, I'll say that for him. But he was not good for my daughter and he gave her things she shouldn't have. He was a selfish man. What he wanted always came first."16
Fitzgerald's relations with Zelda's older sister Rosalind-who had witnessed their drunken quarrel at Ellerslie when Scott slapped Zelda and gave her a bloody nose-were infinitely worse. While the Sayres merely hinted at Fitzgerald's guilt, the strait-laced, moralistic Rosalind exacerbated the tragedy by condemning Scott's past behavior and forcing him to justify himself. On June 8, 1930, four days after Zelda entered Prangins, Fitzgerald told Rosalind that the breakdown had taken him by surprise and destroyed his life:
After three agonizing months in which I've given all my waking & most of my sleeping time to pull Zelda out of this mess, which itself arrived like a thunderclap, I feel that your letter which arrived today was scarcely necessary. The matter is terrible enough without your writing me that you wish "she would die now rather than go back to the mad world you and she have created for yourselves." I know you dislike me, I know your ineradicable impression of the life that Zelda and I led, and your evident dismissal of any of the effort and struggle, success or happiness in it.
He also wrote (but did not send) a much harsher response that distinguished between Rosalind's and her husband's view of the matter, counterattacked more vigorously and threatened to satirize her in a story: "Your sanctimonious advice was well received. I think without doubt Newman's instincts were to do the decent thing, but knowing the very minor quantity of humanity that you pack under that suave exterior of yours I do not doubt that you dissuaded him. Do me a single favor. Never communicate with me again in any form and I will try to resist the temptation to pass you down to posterity for what you are."17
Fitzgerald was willing to accept his share of responsibility for Zelda's breakdown. But when attacked by her family, he quoted the eminent Professor Bleuler, who had wanted to keep Scott as stable as possible and had truthfully declared: "Stop blaming yourself. You might have retarded [your wife's illness] but you couldn't have prevented it." As Scottie later explained to Mizener, though Fitzgerald had contributed to Zelda's tragedy, his guilt was excessive: "Daddy knew he hadn't caused it, and that no events after the age of twelve could possibly have caused it, but he felt a sense of guilt at having led exactly the wrong kind of life for a person with such a tendency." In one of his most lucid letters Fitzgerald, trying to come to terms with the problem of her recrimination and his remorse, told one of Zelda's doctors that he was being torn apart by her illness and wondered how long they would have to go on paying for their mutual destruction: "Perhaps 50% of our friends and relatives would tell you in all honest conviction that my drinking drove Zelda insane-the other half would assure you that her insanity drove me to drink… Liquor on my mouth is sweet to her; I cherish her most extravagant hallucinations."18
While turning out a string of tales that he called "absolute junk," amidst family strife and conflicting accusations, Fitzgerald wrote his greatest story. The deeply moving and perfectly realized "Babylon Revisited" appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in February 1931. The immediate inspiration for this story-which concerns his own responsibility, guilt and retribution-was Scottie's visit, during Zelda's illness, to her Aunt Rosalind and Uncle Newman Smith, who worked for the Guaranty Trust bank in Brussels. Rosalind and Newman Smith were the models for Marion and Lincoln Peters, just as Scottie was for Honoria Wales, who is given the unusual first name of the Murphys' daughter. Fitzgerald could not resist the temptation to satirize Rosalind in a story that expresses his fears that she might try to take Scottie away from him.
The title of the story is complex and allusive. Babylon is not only modern Paris. It is also the decadent and corrupt city in ancient Iraq where the exiled Jews, longing to return to the Promised Land, have been enslaved. The surname of the hero, Charlie Wales, puns on "wails" and suggests the lamentation in Psalm 137 of the Jews in Babylonian captivity. Wales is not only captured and enslaved by his past. He also, by adopting "the chastened attitude of the reformed sinner," recalls Saint Luke's description of the return of the Prodigal Son. In this story, however, he is punished rather than rewarded for his virtuous change of character.
The opening pages vividly evoke the mood of Paris. But they are shot through with nostalgia for the happier times before the Wall Street Crash and the Depression destroyed American expatriate life. Yet Wales, like Fitzgerald, also thinks: "I spoiled this city for myself. I didn't realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone." After leaving the Ritz Bar, Wales goes to his sister-in-law's flat on the rue Palatine (where Scott and Zelda had lived unhappily in the spring of 1929) to see his daughter. But his happiness is ruined when he encounters the "unalterable distrust" and "instinctive antipathy" of Marion Peters. At the end of section I, as Wales rejects the offer of a prostitute but treats her to supper, we learn that Honoria had been taken away from him after his wife's death and during his treatment for alcoholism in a sanatorium.
Wales' lunch with Honoria (who, like Scottie in 1930, is nine years old and speaks excellent French) recalls the tenderness and insight of "Outside the Cabinet-Maker's." Their affectionate conversation is defined, as in the earlier story, by a series of adverbs-expectantly, resignedly, politely, vaguely, tranquilly-that suggest they have inevitably grown apart during their year-and-a-half separation. Their brief idyll is interrupted by the unwelcome appearance of the drunken and parasitic Duncan Shaeffer and Lorraine Quarrles, who (like the characters who feed on the vitality of Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night) are attracted to Wales "because he was functioning, because he was serious; they wanted to see him because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength." These intrusive friends ultimately prevent Wales from putting a little of his own character and values into his daughter "before she crystallized utterly."
Wales' second visit to the rue Palatine, to discuss the custody of his daughter, provides a striking contrast to the happy lunch and visit to the theater with Honoria. It also reveals the difference between Marion's hostile and Lincoln's sympathetic attitude. Wales insists that he has radically changed. Marion still holds him responsible for his wife's pneumonia and death, which occurred after he had worked himself into a jealous rage and locked her out of the house during a snowstorm. Marion also resents the fact that she and Lincoln had been pinched for money while Charlie and Helen Wales were living a wildly extravagant life. Echoing Rosalind's bitter letter to Fitzgerald, Marion exclaims: "I think if it were my child I'd rather see her [dead]." Despite her anger, Wales eventually persuades Marion that he has expiated his sins. He has become a successful businessman, has invited his sister to live with him, will hire a governess and be a responsible father. After some discussion, Marion finally agrees to let Honoria live with him.
When Wales returns to Marion's flat for the third time, they are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Duncan and Lorraine, who have found the address he had left at the Ritz Bar. Wales desperately tries to dissociate himself from his disreputable friends and persuade them to leave the flat. But Marion-a nervous wreck who dominates her weak husband-is convinced that he has returned to his dissipated way of life. She suddenly changes her mind and refuses to surrender custody of his daughter. Her distrust has indeed been "unalterable," and their bitter family quarrel has been, in Fitzgerald's striking simile, "like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material."
The emotionally compressed and extremely effective story ends, as it began, at the Ritz Bar. Its circular structure suggests that Wales is irrevocably trapped by his own past. Without the hope of reunion with his daughter to sustain him, he well may revert (as Marion suspects) to his self-destructive existence. His present life in Paris now seems as unreal as his past life had been: "The men locked their wives out in the snow because the snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be snow, you just paid some money."19 But the snow was real enough to kill Wales' wife, who, like Michael Furey in Joyce's "The Dead," died after standing outside in the snow. Repeating what Fitzgerald had said to Zelda's doctor, Wales, who has lost more in the boom than in the bust, thinks "they couldn't make him pay forever." But Wales has ironically caused his own destruction by leaving his address at the bar, and the story ends in a mood of bitterness, desolation and loss. Though Charlie Wales brought himself back from bankruptcy, alcoholism and broken health, Fitzgerald was never able to achieve this kind of regeneration. Zelda remained permanently ill, and he did have to pay forever.
In the midst of bitter disputes between her husband and her family, and after more than fifteen months of treatment, Zelda seemed to recover sufficiently to be discharged from Prangins on September 15, 1931. By this time, Zelda's breakdown had affected her appearance as well as her mind and she was no longer the great beauty she had been when she entered the clinic. Her expression, once romantic and innocent, was now cynical and embittered. Her face, having lost its softness and gentleness, was now tense, coarse and severe. Her hair was roughly cut, her clothes plain; and she now looked institutional rather than chic. Though Fitzgerald had not followed Dr. Forel's advice about dealing with his own problems, he trusted and respected the doctor, and sought his counsel about Zelda's treatment long after she had left his clinic.
In Save Me the Waltz Zelda described their return to Montgomery in late September and suggested that the sluggishness, even entropy of the place might soon overwhelm the new arrivals: "The Southern town slept soundless on the wide palette of the cotton fields. Alabama's ears were muffled by the intense stillness as if she had entered a vacuum. Negroes, lethargic and immobile, draped themselves on the depot steps like effigies to some exhausted god of creation. The wide square, masked in velvet shadows, drowned in the lull of the South, spread like soft blotting paper under man and his heritage." They rented a large, comfortable house at 819 Felder Avenue, near her parents' home, and tried to settle down to a quiet, recuperative life of golf and tennis with a few old friends. Fitzgerald, suffering the steely glances of the Sayres, hoped they would relieve him of some of the anxious burden of caring for Zelda.
In November 1931 Fitzgerald, bored with Montgomery, accepted an offer from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to adapt Red-Headed Woman, a light sexual comedy, for $1,200 a week. He was particularly eager to work under the producer Irving Thalberg, who had a genius for developing stars and scripts. Thalberg had been put in charge of production at Universal Studios when he was only twenty and had created MGM with Louis Mayer in 1923. Three years younger than Fitzgerald, he was a small, sickly, middle-class Jewish boy from Brooklyn who had received very little education beyond high school. But he had rare taste, self-assurance, decisiveness, respect for excellence and a shrewd commercial sense; and was responsible for the actors, screenplays, shooting and editing of fifty films a year.
Budd Schulberg, who called Thalberg "the intellectual high priest of Hollywood," thought he was superior to the other studio heads, but had more ability to use literary works than to understand them. Ring Lardner, Jr., agreed that Thalberg, though brighter and more intellectual than the other producers, was just as interested in achieving box office success and just as ruthless in getting his own way. Thalberg believed the more writers who worked on a script the better, and felt that he, as producer of the film, would provide the necessary unity. Fitzgerald was moved by the knowledge that Thalberg had a damaged heart and would probably die young.
In mid-December 1931, about a month after he arrived in Hollywood for the second time, Fitzgerald was invited to join a group of distinguished guests at the house of Thalberg and his actress wife, Norma Shearer. Fitzgerald's awareness of what was at stake made him nervous. Bolstered by drink and reverting to behavior that had once endeared him to others (he had been forced to sing for company as a child), he rashly tried to upstage a roomful of movie stars with one of his old party turns: a ludicrous song called "Dog! Dog! Dog!" which he had written in the early 1920s. Buttoning up his jacket, posing as a dog lover and gesticulating wildly, he sang it with "imbecile earnestness." The second stanza suggests the sophomoric flavor of the song:
Dog, dog-I like a good dog-
Towser or Bowser or Star-
Clean sort of pleasure-
A four-footed treasure-
And faithful as few humans are!
Here, Pup: put your paw up-
Roll over dead like a log!
Larger than a rat!
More faithful than a cat!
Dog! Dog! Dog!
Dwight Taylor, the son of the stage actress Laurette Taylor, has left a lively account of Fitzgerald's humiliating performance. Fitzgerald first insulted the actor Robert Montgomery, who appeared at the party in riding breeches and high boots, by asking: "why didn't you bring your horse in?" After several drinks, Fitzgerald drew attention to himself by announcing that he wanted to sing a song about a dog, and Norma Shearer's pet was brought downstairs as a live stage prop. The other guests, surprised by his strange offer, gathered round the piano like people "at the scene of an accident" and watched him plunge into an awkward situation from which he was unable to escape:
The song was so inadequate to the occasion, or, indeed, to any occasion that I could think of, that the company stood frozen in their places, wondering how to extricate themselves from an unbearable situation. Scott seemed to sense by this time that he was not a success and small beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead. But he was no more able to break the tension than the others and he plunged into the fourth verse of this interminable song like a desperate man plunging into the rapids… .
I could see the little figure of Thalberg standing in a doorway at the far end of the room, with his hands plunged deep into his trouser pockets, his shoulders hunched slightly in that characteristic posture of his which seemed to be both a withdrawal and a rejection at the same time. There was a slight, not unkind smile on his lips as he looked down toward the group at the piano.20
After the party Norma Shearer graciously tried to soften the pain by sending him a telegram that said: I THOUGHT YOU WERE ONE OF THE MOST AGREEABLE PERSONS AT OUR TEA. But as soon as Fitzgerald sobered up, he realized he had made a fool of himself in front of a group of influential people and had irrevocably damaged his film career.
Thalberg thought Fitzgerald had tried "to turn the silly book [Red-Headed Woman] into a tone poem" instead of "making fun of its sex element." So he rejected Fitzgerald's screenplay, which was eventually rewritten by Anita Loos and made into a mediocre film. To assuage Scott's feelings, everyone at the studio pretended that his script was a great success. But when he came to MGM to say goodbye, the Rumanian-born director Marcel de Sano-with whom Fitzgerald had quarreled, as he had quarreled with Constance Talmadge in 1927-told him he had been deceived and brutally declared: "Anita Loos is starting over from the beginning."
A week after Thalberg's party and five weeks after he arrived in Hollywood, Fitzgerald was suddenly fired. But he had earned six thousand dollars, and was back in Montgomery in time for Christmas. He later summarized this experience in a letter to Scottie. Putting on a brave face, he pretended he had done a good job, been betrayed by the director and been asked to remain in Hollywood instead of being sent home:
I was jittery underneath and beginning to drink more than I ought to. Far from approaching it too confidently [as he had done in 1927] I was far too humble. I ran afoul of a bastard named de Sano, since a suicide, and let myself be gypped out of command. I wrote the picture and he changed as I wrote. I tried to get at Thalberg but was erroneously warned against it as "bad taste." Result-a bad script. I left with the money, for this was a contract for weekly payments, but disillusioned and disgusted, vowing never to go back, tho they said it wasn't my fault and asked me to stay. I wanted to get East when the contract expired to see how your mother was. This was later interpreted as "running out on them" and held against me.21
Personal humiliations seemed to inspire Fitzgerald's greatest art, and he managed to salvage a story as well as a check from his unhappy experiences in Hollywood. He had completed The Great Gatsby while Zelda was cuckolding him with Jozan. He had transformed the accusations of the Sayre family and his guilt about Zelda into "Babylon Revisited." Now he used his degrading experience at Thalberg's party as the central episode in "Crazy Sunday" (1932). These two stories of the early 1930s represent Fitzgerald's greatest work in this genre. A few years later, he would transfigure his alcoholism and decline into Tender Is the Night and his own nervous breakdown into "The Crack-Up" essays.
The first two sections of "Crazy Sunday" accurately portray Fitzgerald's behavior at Thalberg's party. The hero, Joel Coles, has a few drinks despite his resolution to stay sober. But instead of singing about dogs, he burlesques the cultural limitations of his bosses, Sam Goldwyn and Louis Mayer. Coles is hissed by a "Great Lover" as Fitzgerald had been by the romantic idol John Gilbert: "It was the resentment of the professional toward the amateur, of the community toward the stranger, the thumbs-down of the clan." Stella Calman (whose name Fitzgerald borrowed from his friend Oscar Kalman) sends a consoling telegram just as Norma Shearer did.
The three scenes in the story take place, mainly in the Calmans' house, on three successive Sundays. At the second party on the second Sunday, Miles and Stella Calman arrive in riding clothes like those worn by Robert Montgomery at the Thalbergs' party. Miles Calman (based on Thalberg) is "nervous, with a desperate humor and the unhappiest eyes Joel ever saw… One could not be with him long without realizing that he was not a well man." Fitzgerald reveals his scepticism about Zelda's treatment when Stella mentions that Miles is being psychoanalyzed. He is devoted to his mother, who lives with him and attends his parties. He has a "mother complex" and, since his father seems to be dead, hires as a substitute father an actor with a long beard who drinks tea with him all afternoon. Having transferred his mother complex to his wife, Miles has now turned his libido toward another woman, and Stella is shocked to discover that he is having an affair with one of her best friends. The revelation of Miles' adultery and Stella's jealousy makes Coles realize that he is in love with her. Since Miles will be out of town the following Saturday, Stella asks Coles to escort her to a party. When he brings her home that night, they become lovers.
The next day (and third Sunday), while Joel is in bed with Stella, with whom he has had unsatisfactory sexual relations ("He had made love to Stella as he might attack some matter to be cleaned up hurriedly before the day's end"), a phone message announces that Miles has died in a plane crash on his way back to Hollywood. Joel expresses his admiration by calling Miles "the only American-born director with both an interesting temperament and an artistic conscience."22 He also thinks that he made his role-playing wife come alive and turned her into his dramatic masterpiece. Severely shocked, first by her husband's adultery and then by his sudden death, Stella orders Joel to spend that Sunday night with her. He rather bitterly agrees to submit to her wishes, to become a substitute for Miles and to give up his independence. The heroes of "Babylon Revisited" and "Crazy Sunday" have similar names-Wales and Coles-and the stories have similar themes: betrayal, bad conscience, guilt and retributive judgment.
Montgomery, especially after Hollywood, was restful-even soporific. But Zelda's return to her family and to the scene of her early life brought her back to the source of her illness and awakened the disturbing memories she had often discussed during analysis at Prangins. Judge Sayre had been ill with influenza when the Fitzgeralds first arrived in September. He continued to decline and, while Scott was working in Hollywood, died on November 17 at the age of seventy-three. The effect of his death on Zelda, though not immediately apparent, was devastating. Her novel, written early the following year, begins with a reference to her father, who gave her a sense of security and "was a living fortress," and ends with his death and the heroine's statement: "Without her father the world would be without its last resource."
Idealizing the end of Zelda's stay at Prangins (which had included a pleasant two-week holiday at Lake Annecy in France) and their quiet months in Montgomery (when they had been separated for nearly two months), Fitzgerald told her doctor: "The nine months [mid-May 1931 to mid-February 1932] before her second breakdown were the happiest of my life and I think, save for the agonies of her father's death, the happiest of hers."
While mourning for her father Zelda had noticed the recurrence of ominous symptoms: insomnia, asthma and patches of eczema. In January 1932, traveling back to Montgomery after a holiday in St. Petersburg, Florida, she drank everything in Scott's flask and then woke him up to say that horrible things were being secretly done to her. Fitzgerald, who kept in touch with Forel, told him that in February Zelda experienced two hours of psychotic delusions and hysteria. A passage in Save Me the Waltz-in which the concept of madness becomes embodied in menacing crows, disemboweled pigs and gouged eyeballs-gives a vivid sense of Zelda's hallucinations: "Crows cawed from one deep mist to another. The word 'sick' effaced itself against the poisonous air and jittered lamely about between the tips of the island and halted on the white road that ran straight through the middle. 'Sick' turned and twisted about the narrow ribbon of the highway like a roasting pig on a spit, and woke Alabama gouging at her eyeballs with the prongs of its letters." Zelda knew she had lost her reason and asked to be admitted to a mental asylum. On February 12, 1932, the day she entered the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic of Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, she hopelessly asked Scott: "Isn't it terrible when you have one little corner of your brain that needs fixing?"23
In America, as in Europe, Fitzgerald provided the finest medical care for Zelda, who was treated in Phipps by the eminent psychiatrist and director of the clinic, Dr. Adolf Meyer. Like Professor Bleuler, Meyer was considered a leading authority in the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia. Born near Zurich of Protestant stock in 1866, he came to the United States at the beginning of his career in 1892 and became president of the American Psychiatric Association in 1928. An elderly, distinguished-looking man with a high forehead, dark eyes, heavy mustache and white goatee, Meyer was praised by a colleague for his energy, insight and originality: "From the first moment you met him you felt you were in touch with a great man, a man of mark, a man whose honesty of purpose and determination to get things done could not be questioned… It is no exaggeration to say that in the space of a few years, Adolf Meyer transformed American psychiatry from a dull, drab, stereotyped routine to a live, vital organization which has set a standard of care for the mentally disordered which has never been surpassed."
Like Dr. Forel, Adolf Meyer wanted to treat both Zelda's insanity and Scott's alcoholism. Fitzgerald once again refused psychotherapy on the grounds that it would interfere with his creative work. But he was unable to give up drinking without psychiatric help. Dr. Meyer, despite his great reputation, had no more success with Zelda than he did with Scott. He was too heavy, ponderous and Germanic to establish an intimate rapport with her, and lacked the wit and humor that would have encouraged her sympathetic response. In a letter to yet another doctor, Fitzgerald unfavorably compared Meyer to Forel, criticizing the former's vague, ineffective theories, and maintaining that he had not been able to help Zelda: "Dr. Forel's treatment of this problem was very different from Dr. Meyer's and all my sympathies were with the former. During the entire time with Dr. Meyer, I could never get from him, save in one letter, an idea of his point of view… In Zelda's case the first [treatment] worked because it gave her hope and refuge at the same time, while Dr. Meyer's theoretical plan was, in her case, a failure. He gave back to me both times a woman not one whit better than when she went in."
Fitzgerald's view of Dr. Meyer's failure was confirmed in a characteristically disturbed letter from Zelda, written a month after she had entered the clinic. She recognized her own illness, and hinted that Scott was also in danger of cracking up. The oddities in her character that had once been attractive were now tragic, and her expressions of love were as painful as her bitter accusations: "I adore you and worship you and I am very miserable that you be made even temporarily unhappy by those divergencies of direction in myself which I cannot satisfactorily explain and which leave me eternally alone except for you and baffled."
After Dr. Meyer had failed to reach Zelda, she was also treated by two other doctors at Phipps-though he remained in charge of the case. She felt close to Dr. Mildred Taylor Squires, a woman thirty years younger than Dr. Meyer, who had been trained at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Dr. Squires, who did not specialize in psychiatry and left Phipps after a few years, practiced in New York until the early 1940s. Zelda was grateful for her help and dedicated Save Me the Waltz to her in 1932.
Zelda's third doctor at Phipps was Thomas Rennie. He was born in Scotland in 1904, came to America as a child in 1911 and earned a medical degree at Harvard in 1928. He wrote several books on mental illness and became professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School. Zelda, who had not had sexual relations with Scott since their unfortunate holiday in St. Petersburg, soon established emotional rapport with the warm, handsome, Nordic-looking young bachelor.
Fitzgerald, who also considered Rennie a kindly friend during his own struggles, needed all the help he could get. During their joint interview with Dr. Rennie in May 1933, Zelda was in a very different mood than when she wrote her tender, grateful letters to Scott. She now bitterly accused him of hating her and prolonging her illness: "You sat down and cried and cried. You were drunk, I will admit, and you said I had ruined your life and you did not love me and you were sick of me and wished you could get away, and I was strained and burdened… It is impossible to live with you. I would rather be in an insane asylum where you would like to put me."24 While Zelda was still in Phipps, Fitzgerald traveled between Baltimore and Montgomery, where Scottie stayed until the end of the school year. At the end of March he left Alabama, moved into the Hotel Rennert, near Phipps and in the center of town, and began to look for a house on the outskirts of Baltimore.
The prohibition of ballet, the death of her father, the separation from Fitzgerald, the renewal of psychotherapy, the boredom and isolation in the clinic, the mental turmoil, the rivalry with Scott and the desire for self-expression suddenly awakened Zelda's creative impulse while she was being treated at Phipps in the spring of 1932. In Prangins in 1930 she had completed three stories (now lost) "in the dark middle of her nervous breakdown." Fitzgerald told Perkins that they were beautifully written and had "a strange, haunting and evocative quality that is absolutely new." Though her stories were too strange for Scribner's Magazine, she began a novel in Phipps-to control her feelings as much as to express them.
Save Me the Waltz, which was aptly abbreviated to Save Me, faithfully relates the story of Zelda's girlhood, marriage, husband's youthful success, childbirth, travels in Europe, brief affair with a French aviator and husband's retaliatory affair as well as her passion for dancing and invitation to the San Carlo Theater in Naples, where (in the novel) she gets blood poisoning from an infected foot and is forced to give up her ballet career. She returns to her home in the South and, after the death of her father, must begin her life again.
Alabama's physical illness obviously represents Zelda's insanity, and estranges her both from her husband and from other people. For David "felt of a different world to Alabama; his tempo was different from the sterile, attenuated rhythms of the hospital." The novel is not a personal attack on Fitzgerald, though it expressed considerable resentment, but a tragedy of stagnation and frustration. Its most remarkable feature is perhaps Zelda's ingenuous portrayal of her own extravagance, domestic incompetence, recklessness, jealousy, infidelity, ambition and responsibility for the dissolution of their marriage. Save Me the Waltz, which suffered from over-writing and under-editing (Perkins' weakest point), had mixed reviews when it appeared in October 1932, did not sell well and earned only $120 in royalties.
Zelda herself was highly critical of the novel. Though it had an extremely idiosyncratic and sometimes brilliant style, it imitated both Fitzgerald and Hemingway. "It is distinctly Ecole Fitzgerald," she told Scott, "though more ecstatic than yours. Perhaps too much so. Being unable to invent a device to avoid the reiterant 'said' I have emphasized it a la Ernest much to my sorrow." Hemingway wrote of Brett Ashley, for example, "She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht"; Zelda elaborated his simple but effective simile into her own baroque cadenza: "[Alabama] was gladly, savagely proud of the strength of her Negroid hips, convex as boats in a wood carving."25
Scott was deeply wounded by Zelda's novel. He felt she had not only stolen the clinical material and European locales of the novel he had been working on for seven years but also, during the illness that had delayed the completion of Tender Is the Night, had completed her own work, in the spring of 1932, in only six weeks. She had sent it to Perkins without showing it to Scott, and had it accepted for publication by his own faithful editor at Scribner's. Fitzgerald later told Ober that Save Me the Waltz was "a bad book" because the potentially promising material lacked artistic focus, structure and control: "By glancing over it yourself you will see that it contains all the material that a tragedy should have, though she was incapable as a writer of realizing where tragedy lay as she was incapable of facing it as a person."26
Scott's just criticism of Zelda's uneven but always lively and perceptive novel raises the question of the comparative merit of their work. Fitzgerald undoubtedly used Zelda's speech, diaries, letters, personal experience and mental illness in his fiction, and published her lively but derivative stories and essays under his own name. Though Zelda had ideas, style and wit, she did not have the professional knowledge and discipline to perfect her stories and novel. Her stories would not have appeared in print if she had not been married to Fitzgerald and if he had not revised them for publication. Zelda's best stories may have been equal to Scott's mediocre tales, but she was utterly incapable of equaling his finest work. There is a vast qualitative difference between the deeply flawed Save Me the Waltz and the high art of Tender Is the Night.
On June 26, 1932, after four and a half months in Phipps, Zelda was discharged from the clinic. Though Scott retrospectively felt she was "not one whit better than when she went in," her doctors thought she was well enough to go home. After her treatment in Prangins, Zelda had managed to survive in Montgomery for only five months before suffering her second breakdown. After a much shorter and less successful treatment at Phipps, she remained relatively well for twenty more months before experiencing her third mental breakdown. Zelda's phases of remission aroused Scott's hope that she would recover. But she spent eight out of the last ten years of Fitzgerald's life in mental hospitals.
1. Fitzgerald, "Echoes of the Jazz Age," Crack-Up, p. 21; Arthur Miller and Company, ed. Christopher Bigsby (London, 1990), p. 201; Fitzgerald, Notebooks, p. 204. For a chronology of Zelda's illness, see Appendix II.
2. Quoted in Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 199; Quoted in Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, p. 293; Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night, p. 183.
3. Quoted in Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 199-200; Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night, p. 181; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 253.
4. The information about Dr. Oscar Forel, who has hitherto been a shadowy figure, is based on a long letter of June 4, 1992, from his son, Dr. Armand Forel, to Jeffrey Meyers, and on Armand Forel's fascinating autobiography, Medecin et homme politique: Entretiens avec Jean-Bernard Desfayes (Lausanne: Editions de L'Aire, 1991), which he kindly sent me. See also "Oscar Louis Forel," Macmillan Biographical Encyclopedia of Photographic Artists and Innovators, ed. Turner Browne and Elaine Partnow (New York, 1983), p. 202.
5. Quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 222; Quoted in Thomas Campbell, Dr. Campbell's Diary of a Visit to England in 1775, ed. James Clifford (Cambridge, England, 1947), p. 58.
6. Quoted in Milford, Zelda, pp. 205-207; Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night, p. 183; Quoted in Milford, Zelda, pp. 226, 213, 209, 217.
7. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, pp. 247-248; Quoted in Elizabeth Spindler, John Peale Bishop: A Biography (Morgantown, West Virginia, 1980), p. 223; Fitzgerald, Letters, pp. 46, 117, 95.
8. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 279; Dos Passos, Best Times, pp. 209-210; Quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 228; Fitzgerald, Notebooks, p. 131; Quoted in Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 201-202.
9. Fitzgerald, "One Trip Abroad," Afternoon of an Author, p. 161. Fitzgerald's statement was also prophetic, for a great many foreign writers, seeking both refuge and first-rate doctors, have ended their lives in Switzerland: Rilke, Stefan George, Joyce, Musil, Mann, Hesse, Remarque, Nabokov, Silone, Irwin Shaw, Borges, Simenon and Graham Greene.
10. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 364; Fitzgerald, "One Trip Abroad," Afternoon of an Author, p. 162; Thomas Wolfe, Letters, ed. Elizabeth Nowell (New York, 1956), p. 263; Sinclair Lewis, quoted in Hamilton Basso, "Thomas Wolfe," in After the Genteel Tradition, ed. Malcolm Cowley (New York, 1937), p. 202; Hemingway, Selected Letters, p. 726.
11. Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 168; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 572; Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again (New York, 1941), p. 715.
12. Compton Mackenzie, First Athenian Memories (London, 1931), p. 320; Letter from Anthony Blond to Jeffrey Meyers, September 7, 1992; For a portrait of Lord Alington, see John Rothenstein, Augustus John (Oxford, 1945), plate 53; As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 174.
13. The intriguing Bijou has received very little attention from Fitzgerald's biographers. Mizener, Turnbull, Milford and Mellow do not even mention her. Bruccoli devotes one sentence, LeVot and Donaldson one paragraph each to her. My account of Bijou's life is based primarily on her taped interview, Bijou O'Conor Remembers Scott Fitzgerald (London: Audio Arts, 1975) and on interviews in England during August 1992 with her cousins The Earl of Minto and Sir Brinsley Ford; her son, Michael O'Conor; her former daughter-in-law, Gillian Plazzota; and her great-nephew, Sir William Young.
Bijou, a great gossip, told Fitzgerald many interesting stories about her cosmopolitan background. He refers to two of them, as well as to her imperious character, in his Notebooks, pp. 219, 104, 18: "Sir Francis Elliot, King George, the barley water and champagne"; "Bijou as a girl in Athens meeting German legacy [?Legation] people in secret. Representing her mother"; "Bijou, regarding her cigarette fingers: 'Oh, Trevah! Get me the pumice stone.' " For more on Bijou, see Appendix III.
14. Fitzgerald, "The Hotel Child," Bits of Paradise, ed. Matthew Bruccoli (1974; New York, 1976), pp. 273-274, 289.
15. Arthur Miller and Company, p. 15; Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night, pp. 203-204; Fitzgerald, "On Your Own," The Price Was High, p. 325; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 262. Matthew Bruccoli, "Epilogue: A Woman, a Gift and a Still Unanswered Question," Esquire, 91 (January 30, 1979), 67, reproduces a photograph of Bert Barr.
16. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 254; Letter from Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan to Mizener, March 10, 1950, Princeton; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 488; Helen Blackshear, "Mama Sayre, Scott Fitzgerald's Mother-in-Law," Georgia Review, 19 (Winter 1965), 467.
17. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 236; Letter from Fitzgerald to Rosalind Smith, n.d. (c. June 1930), Princeton.
18. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 255; Letter from Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan to Mizener, July 5, 1950, Princeton; Quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 269.
19. "Babylon Revisited," The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Malcolm Cowley (New York, 1951), pp. 386, 391, 396, 399, 402.
20. Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz, Collected Writings, p. 181; Interview with Budd Schulberg; Interview with Ring Lardner, Jr.; Fitzgerald, Poems, p. 141; Dwight Taylor, Joy Ride (New York, 1959), pp. 242, 244-246.
21. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 282; Anita Loos, Cast of Thousands (New York, 1977), p. 113; Samuel Marx, A Gaudy Spree: Literary Life in Hollywood in the 1930s (New York, 1987), p. 66; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 31.
22. Fitzgerald, "Crazy Sunday," Stories of Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 407, 408-409, 415, 416.
23. Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz, pp. 9, 181; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 308; Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz, p. 180; Quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 255.
24. Sir David Henderson, Introduction to The Collected Papers of Adolf Meyer (Baltimore, 1950-52), 2:ix-x; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, pp. 380, 382, 285; Quoted in Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, p. 351. For more on Rennie, see his obituary in the New York Times, May 22, 1956, p. 33.
25. Dear Scott/Dear Max, pp. 166-167; Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz, p. 180; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 286.
26. Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, p. 22; Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz, p. 127; As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 249.
Next: chapter 10.
Published as Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (NY. Harper-Collins, 1994).