F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Contemporaries
by William Goldhurst


William Goldhurst portrait“True criticism,” remarks Alfred Kazin, “only begins with books, but can never be removed from their textures. It begins with workmanship, talent, craft, but is nothing if it does not go beyond them.” My own interest in the novels and stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald was the true beginning of this study. Like so many university students of the past fifteen years, I was easily and willingly captivated by Fitzgerald's workmanship, talent, craft; and many of his unerring phrases became an unforgettable part of my education. But in the pages that follow I do indeed go beyond these qualities, for a relatively broad perspective is necessary if we are to understand Fitzgerald's achievement.

Fitzgerald, of course, has already been subjected to close scrutiny from a variety of approaches. His friends have left reminiscences which give us an intimate understanding of the man's personal habits and history. Fitzgerald himself wrote a series of remarkably candid autobiographical essays which add considerably to that understanding. Arthur Mizener's pioneering biography provided a full and richly detailed account of the novelist's life and career, while a recentbook by Andrew Turnbull has added a surprising amount of new material to a subject already well documented. From these works and others, persons interested can easily acquire elaborate information on Fitzgerald's schooling, his early success, his reckless ways with money, his fondness for cocktail parties, his struggle against alcoholism, his wife's mental collapse, his love affairs, and his unfortunate decline during the last few years of his life, At the same time critical commentary on Fitzgerald's fiction is fairly extensive and varied. While the most persistent critical strain has been biographical, a number of essays and books have explored the novelist's works from a sociological, textual, or historical point of view. Few of Fitzgerald's contemporaries, in fact, have been accorded such sustained and detailed treatment. Confronted with all this biography and criticism, students of Scott Fitzgerald might justifiably wonder if anything relevant remains to be said on the subject.

I believe, obviously, that a great deal does remain to be said about this writer whose works have become increasingly popular and important during the last two decades. It might be helpful to my readers if I make a few prefatory remarks about my procedure and intentions. As my own interest in Fitzgerald deepened, so did my awareness of the interconnections between his life and his art. From the beginning, however, I resisted the doctrine—so often misused of late—that fiction is a form of disguised and embellished autobiography; there has been more than enough emphasis on the idea that Fitzgerald told his own life story, and the life story of Zelda, over and over again in his novels and tales. I think it important now to balance the account by showing Fitzgerald in a different light; by showing that although he did indeed distill his personal experience into his works, he also derived a large proportion of his material from other sources. Fitzgerald's life in fact was a continuous, deliberate effort to refine his artistic competence and to increase his understanding of experience other than his own. Fitzgerald sought development. He wanted greater perfection of style and more complete knowledge of the materials available for fiction. For instruction in such matters Fitzgerald turned to the source which sooner or later compels the attention of all serious writers in varying degrees of absorption—he turned to the works of other writers. To say that he was particularly susceptible to influence, and especially to the influence of writers whom he knew personally, is to suggest the theme of the present study. Placed side by side with his contemporaries, Scott Fitzgerald emerges as a unique quantity in recent American literature, but he also takes shape as an inseparable part of a literary generation and its ideas.

To explore Fitzgerald's development in the light of these contentions, I have adopted a method which I hope will do at least partial justice to the complexity of the subject. The contemporary writers who influenced Fitzgerald most significantly were four: Edmund Wilson, H. L. Mencken, Ring Lardner, and Ernest Hemingway. To each of these writers and the part he played in Fitzgerald's life I have devoted a chapter. And since Fitzgerald's involvements with these men were both personal and professional, I have tried to examine them as fully as the available evidence allows. Each chapter takes up Fitzgerald's personal relations with the writer concerned, calls attention to the affinities in the works of the two authors, and attempts to show specific points of influence, which on occasion was reciprocal. My intention throughout is to show Scott Fitzgerald as an artist in the process of continual and dynamic development, and as an active member of an incredibly vital literary community. If I succeed at all perhaps I can effect some slight revision of a damaging and irrelevant attitude which has often exhibited Fitzgerald as a writer of “natural” or “intuitive” talent, a cocktail-party habitue whose creative achievements were more or less incidental episodes in a life devoted to champagne, adventure, and social recklessness. These elements comprise a part of the story, to be sure, but: emphasis, emphasis.

A few words about inclusions and omissions. All his life Fitzgerald formed deep attachments to men who were dedicated, as he was, to the literary craft; and for many of the editors, poets, novelists, and storytellers of his acquaintance he had profound respect. He listened to their counsel. He studied their works. He adopted as his own many of their perspectives and ideas. More specifically, Fitzgerald derived a number of important benefits from his literary companions. They gave him encouragement and advice; they helped, at the start of his career, to get him published; they reviewed his novels in the popular magazines of the day; they provided him with the inspiration for many of his fictional characters; they informed him on issues that he later incorporated into his novels and stories; they advised him on matters of technique. In a significant sense, Fitzgerald's friends helped establish the direction and tendency of his fiction from start to finish. Wilson, Mencken, Lardner, and Hemingway were the chief participants in the drama. But there were  others who stirred  Fitzgerald's  imagination, notably John Peale Bishop and Maxwell Perkins, whom I have not included here for various reasons: the specific influence was inconsiderable, or it was difficult to define without undue speculation, or the lack of available data makes an extended treatment impracticable. I have concentrated, therefore, on those writers with whom Fitzgerald was on terms of close friendship, and who left an impression on his work that is both manifest and significant.

But Fitzgerald's literary companionships, his indebtedness to the ideas of his contemporaries, and his development during successive stages of his career—these are but parts of a larger story. The literature of the 1920s, which forms the substance of the materials here considered, is so closely bound to its era that all efforts to separate the two, even by the most obstinate of the “pure” critics, will forever be incomplete, if not entirely futile. Fitzgerald and his contemporaries produced works of art, to be sure, and not documentaries; but their principal subjects remain rooted in the actual events and attitudes of their time. Furthermore, the spirit of mutual interest among writers of the period is a part of history too; at no other point in our tradition has there been such an atmosphere of intimacy, of shared exchange and stimulation. These are the qualities largely responsible for the enduring literature these men produced. It is no accident that more and more recent historians, biographers, and critics have turned to the twenties to rediscover the abundance and excitement of those years; it is rather a tribute to a kind of vitality conspicuously absent from the literary scene today. So the true protagonist of this account is not Scott Fitzgerald, who forms only a focal point of reference, but the age itself. In my first chapter I have attempted to crystallize its spirit by portraying some few of the interconnections, both personal and literary, among writers of the twenties and early thirties. But I hope the reader's initial impression of the setting will linger into succeeding chapters to inform the whole drama.

It is a pleasure to acknowledge my indebtedness to the Southern Fellowships Fund for a generous grant that enabled me to undertake a great deal more research than would otherwise have been possible. The Southern Fellowships Fund, however, is not responsible for the opinions expressed here. I should also like to thank the Directors ofPrinceton University Library for permission to examine the documents contained in The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers, which forms an impressive section of their Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Several individuals courteously submitted to interviews on the subject of Scott Fitzgerald's life and works. Among these are Carlos Baker, Chairman of the Department of English at Princeton; Arnold Gingrich, editor of Esquire magazine; Budd Schulberg; and the late Harold Ober, for many years Fitzgerald's friend and literary agent.

In addition to those individuals and firms noted on the copyright page, I should also like to express my gratitude to the following publishers and authors for permission to quote copyrighted material: Harper & Row for Only Yesterday, by Frederick Lewis Allen; John Abbot Clark and Twayne Publishers, Inc., for “The Love Song of F. Scott Fitzgerald” in American Literature in Parody, Robert P. Falk, ed.; Charles Angoff for H. L. Mencken: A Portrait from Memory, by Charles Angoff, Thomas Yoseloff, Publisher; Carlos Baker for Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, Princeton University Press; Donald Elder for Ring Lardner, by Donald Elder, Doubleday & Company, Inc.; Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc., for On Native Grounds, by Alfred Kazin; Philip Horton for Hart Crane: The Life of an American Poet, by Philip Horton, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.; John Richard Kuehl for “Scott Fitzgerald's Reading,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, XXIL2 (Winter, 1961), 58-89 and “Scott Fitzgerald's Critical Opinions,” Modern Fiction Studies, VII: 1 (Spring, 1961), 3-18; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., for Prejudices: First Series and Prejudices: Second Series, by H. L. Mencken; The Viking Press for Studies in Classic American Literature, by D. H. Lawrence; Arthur Mizener and Houghton Mifflin Company for The Far Side of Paradise by Arthur Mizener; Editors of Esquire for “Old Scott:The Mask, the Myth, and the Man,” by Budd Schulberg, Esquire LV: 1 (January 1961), 96-101; Edmund Wilson for Classics and Commercials and The Shores of Light, by Edmund Wilson, Farrar, Straus and Young, Inc.; Glenway Wescott for “The Moral of F. Scott Fitzgerald” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work, Alfred Kazin, ed., The World Publishing Company; Mrs. James Branch Cabell for Between Friends: Letters of James Branch Cabell and Others.

In addition, I would like to thank the following for generous permission to quote unpublished letters to Fitzgerald: Thornton Wilder, Estate of Louis Bromfield, Jonathan Bishop (John Peale Bishop), Estate of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Peggy Wood Weaver Walling (John V. A. Weaver), Laura West Perelman (Nathanael West), Mrs. Maxwell Perkins and Charles Scribner's Sons, Ring Lardner, Jr., Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos. And Gilbert Seldes (letter to Tristan Tzara), Katherine Gauss Jackson and Carlos Baker (letters from Christian Gauss to Mr. Baker), Donald Ogden Stewart and Carlos Baker (letter from Mr. Stewart to Mr. Baker), and T. S. Eliot and Charles Scribner's Sons (statement from dust jacket of Tender Is the Night).

Finally, I should like to make special mention of my debt to Samuel Hurwitz, of the Department of History at Brooklyn College; to Maxwell Geismar; and to George W. Meyer and Richard Harter Fogle, both of the English Department Faculty at Tulane University. These gentlemen read my manuscript, entire or in part, and offered valuable suggestions for revision.


In addition to primary sources cited in the text—the works of Fitzgerald, Wilson, Mencken, Lardner, and Hemingway—I have used numerous secondary sources in the preparation of this study. Below I list the books and articles which provide pertinent commentary, and upon which I drew for each chapter. I should begin by acknowledging my debt to Arthur Mizener's biography The Far Side of Paradise, Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1951, which I used consistently, from beginning to end. Occasionally I also drew upon Andrew Turnbull's recent work Scott Fitzgerald, New York: Scribner's, 1962; but the major portion of my book was completed before Mr. Turnbull's biography was released.

William Goldhurst, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, P.R.

Next: Chapter 1 Time, Place, and Spirit