People have often asked me—sometimes almost reproachfully—why I haven't written more about my parents. The answer is very simple: I'd be a big disappointment if I did. The highs and lows of their short, dramatic lives have been examined under so many microscopes (including some pretty inaccurate ones) that I can't distinguish any longer between memories and what I read somewhere. I was much too young to do more than curtsey to Hemingway, Wolfe, Gertrude Stein, and other literary greats my parents came to know in Paris but seldom saw in later years; and, as is altogether too abundantly demonstrated on these pages, my childhood was that of a most pampered and petted doll. I remember being punished only once, for what misdemeanor I don't recall, and being sent to my room for the day without books or toys, a most cataclysmic deprivation! After a few hours my father tiptoed in to see how I was and caught me reading under the covers: a very popular French children's book called Jean Qui Grogne Et Jean Qui Rit. Instead of delivering the threatened spanking, he got so intrigued with the book's illustrations that I had to spend the rest of the afternoon reading it aloud to him in English. So much for the sort of reminiscences I would be able to contribute to literary scholarship…
The contents of my head must have come to resemble a doll's, too, for when the serious troubles came later, I was so enmeshed in the warm and hospitable cocoon that was pre-World War II Baltimore, a veritable paradise for teenagers, that I'm embarrassed to admit I was largely unaware of them. By the time I finally grew up enough to think of life as something other than a chain of hot fudge sundaes and Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies, Daddy was in Hollywood and our communication was largely epistolary; we have included samples of what I regarded then to be unnecessary parental bombardment. And so for me, collaborating on this book has been a double source of satisfaction: first, I've come to see my parents through my own pair of spectacles rather than through the eyes of others; and second, I've paid a tribute to them which was long overdue. Not that this is any candy-coated version of their lives: we have omitted nothing which rightfully belonged on these pages just because it might paint an unflattering picture.
Another rule we have tried to adhere to faithfully was to include nothing in the text which is not directly autobiographical—even the famous line about the very rich being “different from you and me” had to pass the test, and only did get included because it came back to haunt my father much later. Lovers of The Great Gatsby, for example, may be disappointed to find the green light missing, but we could neither illustrate nor integrate it. Similarly, no picture was added which could not have been in the albums at the time they were made; it was a temptation, for instance, to photograph the apartment buildings where we lived in Paris, since they have hardly changed …but we resisted it. Ninety percent of the illustrations in this book—and that includes reviews and letters to my father—was taken from the seven scrapbooks and five photograph albums we had to work from. The other ten percent were lent by relatives, friends, or, in a few instances, a library or museum. This is, in short, the real McCoy: their own story of their lives, rather than someone else's interpretation of them.
For a man who seems to have been congenitally incapable of balancing a budget, it is extraordinary how meticulous my father was about making and keeping personal records. The first scrapbook takes him from birth into the Army, the second takes my mother from birth through the first few years of marriage, and the remaining five contain reviews, interviews, letters, pictures, and memorabilia of all varieties; we have reproduced several pages exactly as they appear in the original volumes. These scrapbooks stop at 1936, when my father moved to North Carolina from Baltimore and put them temporarily in storage. Although he later sent for his scrapbooks in California, he did not add to them there. The photo albums mostly pertain to Europe and to “Ellerslie,” the house they rented near Wilmington, Delaware … fortunately, I started one of my own where they left off in 1931, after returning from their last trip abroad. We had also my father's baby book, my baby book, an album decorated with flowers which my mother made for me from the snapshots and postcards she sent home to her mother over the years, and the Ledger. This Ledger was the most invaluable source of all.
You will find portions of the Ledger sprinkled throughout this book, always in my father's handwriting. Nobody is quite sure when he started it, but it may have been as early as 1920. It contains a summary of each year of his life to 1937, with the memorable events of each month, and at the top of each page a capsule comment as to whether the year was fruitful, wasted, sad, happy, etc. It also contains a complete list of everything he wrote, where it was published (or not published), and what became of it: whether it was collected, made into a movie, “stripped” (his word for taking sentences out of a story for a novel), or translated. It also has a list of his earnings year by year, and another one of my mother's earnings: a true biographers' delight. Professor Bruccoli believes the Ledger proves that my father had intimations of literary immortality; I'm not sure about that, but it certainly shows that despite all the moving about and the disorder and confusion, he felt some deep need to keep the record straight.
Speaking of earnings, you'll find a great deal to do about money in this book; it is not out of proportion to the part that money played in my father's life. He worshipped, despised, was awed by, was “crippled by his inability to handle” (as he put it), threw away, slaved for, and had a lifelong love-hate relationship with, money. To have brought it less into this book in favor of more literary aspects of his career would have been to gloss over the fact that money and alcohol were the two great adversaries with which he battled all his life. Fortunately, there was no way to illustrate the latter!
The reader will also find a great many of my father's misspellings on these pages, often in his handwriting. I have a personal theory that one reason Hemingway became so exasperated with him was that Daddy almost never got his name right. He might have felt more tolerant had he seen the scrapbooks, with their headings of “Rivierra” or “Brittish Critisism.” We have not gone back and restored the errors in letters which were corrected when they were published in The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but we have kept all the ones in our original sources. Another decision was to save space by not stipulating the date and place of publication with the excerpts in the main body of the book. These are all included in the “Register” in the back, for those who wish to know where they can read a particular story or article.
Our hardest choice was probably what to call this “pictorial autobiography.” At first, we toyed with something rather complicated along the lines of “The Tender, Sad, Beautiful, Great, Damned Paradise of the Fitzgeralds,” but Burroughs Mitchell, the perspicacious editor of Scribners, who occupies the hallowed office of Maxwell Perkins, managed to temper his enthusiasm with practicality. Then we went to “Scott and Zelda,” which is certainly to the point, but that gave us a strong sense of deja vu … and finally we settled on The Romantic Egoists. The main reason was that (without the “s” on the end) it was the first title to my father's first novel, which later became This Side of Paradise; since this was the most autobiographical novel he wrote, the descriptive phrase clearly reveals how he thought of himself. We use the word “egoist,” of course, in a literary sense and not as a term of disparagement. More than most authors, my father drew on his personal experience, both trivial and tragic, for his fiction and his non-fiction; and my mother's novel, Save Me the Waltz, is such thinly disguised autobiography that it caused their most serious quarrel. This interweaving of the inner ego and the outward expression is what we were trying to convey, and we think they would have enjoyed our title. I know they would have enjoyed the maps on the endpapers of the book, which were drawn by their granddaughter, Eleanor Lanahan Hazard. And I hope they would have enjoyed the autobiography we've been presumptuous enough to put together for them, on the assumption that if they'd lived longer, it is what they might have done themselves: they were a couple of very honest people.