In 1918, not long past his twenty-first birthday, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a rather idiosyncratic list of the things he was interested in: 'The influence of night, rather bad women, personality, fanaticism, very good women and the supernatural.' Though, at the time, he still had to get his first novel published - indeed, his initial attempt entitled The Romantic Egotist had already been turned down by a New York publisher - in those few words he summarized virtually all the themes which in the years that followed were to make him one of the most famous figures of twentieth-century literature.
But while Fitzgerald's classic novels, such as This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned and The Great Gatsby, all of which typify the 'Jazz Age', are as familiar to modern readers as the basic facts of his legendary life style, his fascination with the supernatural - embodying as it does both fantasy and mystery - may come as something of a surprise. Yet the fact remains that he was a writer who was drawn to the subject in his childhood and never abandoned it during his rumbustious life which alternated from drunken playboy to writer of the highest literary talent.
Probably only one of Fitzgerald's fantasy stories is well-known, the novella 'The Diamond as Big as The Ritz' written in 1922, and subsequently used as the title story of a collection of his more typical stories of the lives and loves of America's gilded young men and women of the twenties. But in actual fact this 'wild sort of extravaganza' as Fitzgerald himself called it, was far from his first venture into the realms of fantasia - and its influence was not to stop there, as Malcolm Cowley declared in an introduction to a 1963 collection containing the story:
Written in the winter of 1921-22, 'The Diamond as Big as The Ritz' states a theme that would often recur in his work. A middle-class boy falls in love with the heiress to a great fortune and she returns his love, but the boy is murdered by her family or destroyed by her wealth. 'The Diamond' can have a happy ending - at least for the lovers - because it is a fantasy; but the fable would reappear in The Great Gatsby and there it would be carried to its tragic conclusion. Having fallen in love with the rich Mrs Buchanan, Gatsby would be murdered as efficiently as were the visitors to Braddock Washington's diamond mountain.
Paul Rosenfeld in his Men Seen: Twenty-Four Modern Authors (1925) has spotted a further significance in the tale that it could well be a satire. 'Mr Braddock Washington,' he wrote, 'the richest and most profoundly unsympathetic man in the world, looks dangerously like a jazz age portrait of the father of the country.'
Because it is so readily accessible, 'The Diamond as Big as The Ritz' is not included in these pages - but the earlier fantasy and mystery tales written during Fitzgerald's formative years as well as those of his maturity and decline most certainly are, both as memorial to the man on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, as well as to ensure him a place among the outstanding writers in this genre of fiction, among whom he has so far signally failed to be placed.
The origins of what Robert Sklar in his study F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoon (1967) has called the writer's 'feeling for the supernatural' can be traced to his youth, and even before that in the influence of his forebears.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald the only son of Edward and Mollie Fitzgerald was born on 24 September 1896 in St Paul, Minnesota. On his mother's side, Scott's grandfather had been an Irish immigrant who, by all accounts, was possessed of that instinctive love of folklore and superstition that is the inheritence of all Gaelic men and women; while on his father's side there was an actual skeleton in the cupboard: an aunt, Mrs Suratt, had apparently been hanged for complicity in the murder of President Lincoln!
Scott's father, Edward Fitzgerald, had been raised on a farm in Maryland and was a quiet, rather diffident man who for a time ran a small furniture business until it failed, and then became a salesman for Proctor and Gamble. Mollie Fitzgerald, however, was quite the opposite: an eccentric lady by nature, outspoken in her views, careless in her appearance, and an omnivorous reader. Friends of Scott Fitzgerald later recalled her as 'a witch-like old lady' who always seemed to be going to or from the local library with an armful of books under her arm. Perhaps not surprisingly, her son's attitude towards her alternated between embarrassment and devotion.
Both parents spoiled their precocious and imaginative son - a situation which may partly be explained by the fact that they had lost two of their older children, both girls. From an early age, too, the couple encouraged in him an interest in reading, though while his father favoured literature, his mother had a taste for what Scott later referred to as 'bad books', meaning the lurid, yellow-back fiction of the time.
Like most children, the first books which were read to him were fairy-tales - and the impression they had on him was to remain vivid throughout his life. Indeed, in one of his notebooks written years later can be found an observation inspired by such tales, as well as the evidence that he had something of a sweet tooth.
'In children's books forests are sometimes made out of all-day suckers,' he wrote, 'boulders out of peppermints and rivers out of gently flowing, rippling molasses taffy. Such books are less fantastic than they sound, for such localities exist, and one day a girl, herself little more than a child, sat dejected in the middle of one. It was all hers, she owned it, she owned Candy Town.'
Fitzgerald soon graduated from nursery tales to the adventure stories of Sir Walter Scott and G. A. Henty, by way of a thrilling series of paperback novels with the collective title, Raiding With Morgan, which were supplied by his mother. His father read him the poems of Edgar Allan Poe and Lord Byron's 'Prisoner of Chillon' - and 'their mystery echoed in his soul' according to one of his biographers, Andrew Turnbull, who adds that on a trip to Niagara the boy heard 'enchanting voices in the dusk.'
These ghostly voices were to echo through his work when the urge to become a writer consumed him.
A short while later, Fitzgerald senior introduced his pubescent son to the stories of Sherlock Holmes - and by so doing seemingly gave him the inspiration to write his first story, a tale of mystery, scribbled out in an exercise-book in 1908. Years later in 1934, in a letter to a friend, E.S. Oliver in Baltimore, Fitzgerald confessed:
Though no trace of this composition has survived, it is significant that Fitzgerald's first literary attempt should have been a story of this kind. The plot, apparently, concerned a necklace that had been hidden in a trap-door under a carpet, and described its recovery by the great sleuth of Baker Street. Imitative though the tale may have been - in its author's judgement - it sparked his desire to be a writer: and within a year another story, also a mystery, became his first published work.
The new story was called 'The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage' and it was published in the October 1909 issue of his school journal, The St Paul Academy Magazine. In introducing the story to its readers, a note about the author declared, 'young Scottie is always bubbling over with suppressed knowledge and has excelled in his English classes'. It didn't mention that he devoted himself to this study to the exclusion of many of his other lessons, and that several of the teachers had actually caught him writing stories behind the shield of mathematics and Greek textbooks!
According to Andre Le Vot in his biography F. Scott Fitzgerald (1984), the youngster's story for the Academy magazine 'reflected his taste for the mystery stories he devoured then.' Curiously, in the otherwise reliable Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection (1976), the authors, Chris Steinbrunner and Otto Penzler, describe the story as 'flawed in plot' and declare that his contribution to the mystery genre was 'negligible'. Another biographer, Arthur Mizener in The Far Side of Paradise (1951) is more accurate - as well as generous - in his assessment of this literary debut.
'Having become an expert on the detective story on his own initiative,' says Mizener, 'he wrote "The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage". It is, for a schoolboy, a skilfully plotted little murder story and, in its sedulous imitation of the style of such works, often unconsciously very funny.'
Though we have no record of how Fitzgerald's contemporaries reacted to his fiction, he was encouraged enough at seeing his work in print to produce three more tales for the magazine: two romantic stories set during the Civil War, 'A Debt of Honour' and 'The Room with the Green Blinds'; plus an all-action tale of schoolboy football, American-style entitled 'Reade, Substitute Right Half'.
It was when Fitzgerald entered Princeton University in September 1913 as a seventeen-year-old that he began to write in earnest. Coincidental with this, he came under the influence of two men who furthered his interest in mystery and the supernatural. The first was Father Sigourney Webster Fay, an Episcopalian who had been converted to Catholicism; and the second, a young Irish author and critic, Shane Leslie, a friend of Father Fay.
Aside from being a priest, Father Fay was a man of erudition and learning, and he was to have a profound effect upon young Scott until his sudden death in a flu epidemic in 1919. Leslie, also a Catholic, was then visiting America, and with Fay introduced the Princeton freshman to the apparently disparate traditions of Catholic intellectualism and ghost-stories. Leslie had himself discovered these traditions while studying at Eton where the Provost was the famed ghost-story writer, M.R. James. At Eton, too, he had come across the supernatural works of Robert Hugh Benson and the imaginative tales of H.G. Wells - both of which he promoted at Princeton in general and to Fitzgerald in particular.
Some years later, in 1935, Shane Leslie published his own Ghost Book into which he poured 'the drift and silt of a life-long interest in ghosts.' And in introducing the collection, he insisted that it was possible to believe in both religion and ghosts for, 'it is not impossible or uncomfortable to study psychical research while occupying a static view of revealed Faith', he wrote.
Such a belief intrigued and excited the young Fitzgerald, and when Father Fay described a ghost that he had himself seen, Scott's conviction about the supernatural was shaped for life. With the passing months, Fay and Leslie came to nurse high ambitions for their pupil as they read examples of his work - a fact which Shane Leslie confirmed years later in a letter to the Times Literary Supplement of 6 November 1959. He wrote,
States, a parallel to Hugh Benson in this country.
The first influence of these two men on Fitzgerald's work is to be seen in a short story that he wrote in 1915 entitled 'The Ordeal'. It is concerned with the temptations faced by a young novice about to take his monastic vows - and, apart from its elements of supernaturalism, which earn it a place in this collection, is also of note because of Fitzgerald's statement at this time that he was 'nearly sure that I will become a priest.'
'The Ordeal' was published in the University journal, the Nassau Literary Magazine, in June 1915, and the strange elements which emerge during this account of the clash between spiritual good and earthly evil have been described by Andrew Turnbull as 'powerfully dramatised'. It is perhaps only because the author chose to incorporate part of the story into another tale, 'Benediction' which was published by Smart Set in February 1920, that the story is today little known, although it is possible that Fitzgerald may have nursed misgivings about it because, as he said in a later letter to Shane Leslie, 'it has come in for the most terrible lashing from the American Catholic intelligentsia.'
Today's reader must judge for himself.
After Fitzgerald left Princeton, joining the regular army in November 1917, he still kept in touch with his two mentors. He corresponded regularly, enthusiastically reporting on his work in progress - in particular, his first novel which he planned to call The Romantic Egotist. In February 1918, for instance, he wrote to Shane Leslie from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas enclosing a section of the manuscript.
'"The Devil" is a chapter you can read without knowing the story', he said. 'What do you think of it?'
Leslie responded enthusiastically about the episode, in which the central character, Amory, has a nightmarish encounter with a mysterious, club-footed figure and is then haunted by footsteps in the street which seem to be leading rather than following him. The Irish writer promised to recommend the finished book to his own American publisher, Charles Scribner in New York.
Encouraged by these comments, Scott completed the book and in May 1918 dispatched it to Scribner's. At the same time he dropped a line to Shane Leslie with an appropriate aside, 'Well, may Saint Robert Hugh Benson appear to Scribner in a dream!'
Although there was to be no supernatural intervention on Fitzgerald's behalf, for The Romantic Egotist was rejected by Scribner's, it was returned with the suggestion that extensive rewriting might well make it publishable. Scott set about doing this with a will - and in September 1919, This Side of Paradise, as the work had now been retitled, was accepted. The young man from Minnesota was about to become a published novelist as well as a short-story writer.
One further curious tale remains to be recorded about this period of Scott Fitzgerald's life, and it concerns the death of Father Fay. For Fitzgerald was convinced he had a premonition of the Monsignor's passing.
By the beginning of 1919 Scott had met and fallen in love with the beautiful Zelda Sayre, and on the night of 10 January, as they sat together on a couch in the Sayres' living-room, 'we were seized by uncontrollable fear,' Zelda confessed later in a letter to H.D. Piper. 'The following day we learned of Father Fay's death …'
It was probably no surprise to those who knew of Fitzgerald's admiration for the father that he decided to dedicate This Side of Paradise, 'To Sigourney Fay'.
There is also another story which Fitzgerald wrote during his time at Princeton for the Nassau Literary Magazine which can be categorized as fantasy. It is 'Tarquin of Cheapside', published in the magazine in April 1917, and it has the distinction of being the first of his tales to be reviewed. This fact has come to light from a letter Fitzgerald wrote to Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribner's, in August 1922:
'Tarquin of Cheapside' first appeared in the Nassau Literary Magazine, and Katherine Fullerton Gerould reviewing the issue for the Daily Princetonian gave it high praise, called it 'beautifully written' and tickled me with the first public praise my writing has ever had. When H.L.Mencken reprinted it in the Smart Set (in February 1921), it drew letters of praise from George O'Neill, the poet, and Zoe Atkins. Structurally, it is almost perfect and next to 'The Offshore Pirate' I like it better than any story I have ever written.
Maxwell Perkins, however, did not share Fitzgerald's estimation of the tale, and asked him to exclude it from his short story collection, Tales of the Jazz Age, when this was to be published in September 1922. Perkins explained to his author, 'The crime is a repugnant one for it involves violence, generally requires unconsciousness, and is associated with negroes.'
But Scott, supported by Zelda, upon whose verdicts concerning his work he placed great store, stood by 'Tarquin of Cheapside', and it duly appeared in the book - where once again it caught the eye of critics and readers alike.
'The Offshore Pirate' to which Fitzgerald compared 'Tarquin of Cheapside' was a story that he had written just prior to his marriage to Zelda in April 1920, and again it is a tale with an interesting background that merits a place in this book.
It was early in 1920 while Scott was correcting the galley proofs for This Side of Paradise that he had the idea for 'The Offshore Pirate'. It is a mystery-story of a beautiful and wilful young girl, Ardita Farnam, who is cruising off the Florida coast with her wealthy uncle when their yacht is boarded by a group of criminals who have committed some terrible crime and are making their getaway by sea. These desperadoes are led by the dashing Curtis Carlyle, an ambitious poor boy who has turned to crime in his quest for wealth and the love of upper-class girls.
It was a story that flowed from Scott's pen, and the finished item delighted him. When, later, his early short stories were being assessed by the critics and 'The Diamond as Big as The Ritz' was specifically singled-out, Fitzgerald declared, 'One critic has been pleased to like this extravaganza better than anything I have written. Personally, I prefer "The Offshore Pirate".'
When the story was accepted for publication by the prestigious Saturday Evening Post and published on 29 May 1920, the public, too, shared the author's pleasure - as James E. Miller has commented in F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique (1965):
'The Offshore Pirate' could be used to document the fact that Fitzgerald was investing his characters with a glamour which they did not deserve. But the secret of the popular success of his stories is that they served as escape for all the bored five-and-ten-cent store clerks who dreamed of being glamorous Fitzgerald flappers, lavishly courted by disguised millionaire philosophers.
(The story was also reprinted in England in the fashionable Sovereign Magazine of February 1922 - from where it has been extracted for this book - and proved equally popular with readers on this side of the Atlantic.)
There are a number of other interesting points about 'The Offshore Pirate'. Initially, Scott had intended to call the story 'The Proud Piracy' and had planned an ending in which the kidnapping which occurs is revealed to have all taken place in Ardita's dream. Wisely, he resisted the temptation to weaken the story with this device. Fitzgerald also did not initially let on that there was a real-life original of his heroine.
She was a girl from St Paul named Ardita Ford who was clearly delighted when this secret emerged. The revelation was made in 1921, just before the story was brought to the screen as a silent movie by MGM directed by Dallas M. Fitzgerald (no relation) starring Viola Dana and Jack Mulhall. Seizing on this, Ardita arranged for a celebrity theatre party to be held in St Paul after the first night's screening, 'So that everyone can see what I am like in the movies!'
'The Offshore Pirate' was also optioned for a musical comedy, and though never produced on the stage, a number of the tunes and lyrics were actually written in 1930 and when played for Fitzgerald impressed him. Four years later, the Hollywood film maker Carl Laemmle also approached Scott with the idea of a 'talkie' version of the story, but this never materialized.
By the time Scott decided to write another tale of fantasy, he and Zelda had moved to New York and he had completed the first draft on his new novel, The Beautiful and the Damned. This change of pace from the demands of the novel was called 'His Russet Witch' and he forwarded the manuscript to his agent, Harold Ober, in October 1920, enthusing in an accompanying letter, 'I think it is the best thing I ever wrote.'
Later, when the euphoria of the moment had died down, Scott took another cooler look at what was undeniably an accomplished short story and revised his judgement.
'It was a natural reaction to revel in a story wherein none of the characters need be taken seriously', he said. 'I'm afraid that I was somewhat carried away by the feeling that there was no ordered scheme to which I must conform.'
'His Russet Witch' has been aptly described by Robert Sklar as 'more surreal than real' in the manner in which it recounts the experiences of a bookstore clerk named Merlin Grainger who for forty years continually encounters a mysterious beauty named Caroline who represents for him 'my romantic yearning for a beautiful and perverse woman'. But, as the reader will discover, Merlin's magical fantasy is to be cruelly crushed in the dramatic finale.
The story was published in one of New York's stylish new monthly periodicals, The Metropolitan Magazine, in February 1921. And such was the magazine's enthusiasm for Scott's stories that they signed an immediate contract via Harold Ober for six more. 'His Russet Witch' was also optioned to MGM - as was his next fantasy tale, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' - but sadly neither followed 'The Offshore Pirate' on to the screen.
'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' appeared in the spring of 1922, after the Fitzgeralds had taken their first trip to Europe, then moved back to St Paul, and celebrated the arrival of their daughter, Scottie. In the publisher's announcement for the short story it was also noted that the author had just released his second novel, The Beautiful and the Damned, to widespread critical acclaim.
Paul Rosenfeld is just one of several admirers of 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'. With this story, he has written, 'a very genuine gift of fantasy arrives in Fitzgerald's work.' The tale was inspired by its author's admiration for a group of fanciful stories by Mark Twain (another mainstream American literary figure who also wrote supernatural tales) and concerns a man who is born old and grows younger the longer he lives.
In a letter to Ober from his home on Goodrich Avenue in St Paul in December 1921, Scott explained that the idea had occurred to him some while before, but on the spur of the moment he had suddenly decided to take two days off to finish it. The recent arrival of Scottie in October may well have been the catalyst, but the story certainly lives up to Fitzgerald's estimate: 'It is a weird thing and I suppose the Metropolitan would be most likely to take it.'
In fact, the story was rejected by the magazine in the new year - an accompanying letter explaining that although six of the Metropolitan's editors had liked it, 'our readers, however, would be offended.' Collier's Magazine, to whom Ober then submitted it, obviously felt their readers were less susceptible to offence by Fitzgerald's fantasy, and published it in their issue of 27 May 1922.
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were by this time acknowledged celebrities in St Paul, and their regular parties, especially those which mirrored Scott's love of the fantastic, were legendary. On Friday 13 January 1922, for example, they organized a 'Bad Luck Ball' at the University Club in a room hung with black crepe. During the evening, copies of a newspaper written by Scott, The St Paul Dirge - Mortuary Edition were distributed to the revellers. One front-page story was headlined 'FRIGHTFUL ORGY AT UNIVERSITY CLUB', while another report stated, 'Business Better, Says Bootlegger.'
But such extravagances, plus the heavy drinking which both Scott and Zelda were now indulging in, were severely taxing their finances. Both were clearly bored with local life and hankered after New York. In fact, Scott had already begun to borrow money from his agent against future royalties from his books and payments for his short stories. As a writer it could be said that he was now coming into his maturity - but the tell-tale signs of the problems both financial and health-wise which lay ahead were also already becoming evident.
A month after Collier's publication of the Benjamin Button story, Smart Set magazine prominently featured 'The Diamond as Big as The Ritz', and Fitzgerald's mark on fantasy could be said to be assured. For the next two years, though, he turned his back on the genre, and although he continued to write short stories, he also tried his hand at writing a play, The Vegetable (which failed in November 1923) and attempted to write himself out of debt with a string of fashionable if unsatisfying non-fiction articles for magazines such as Vanity Fair and Ladies Home Journal which bore such self-explanatory titles as 'Imagination and a Few Mothers' and 'The Most Disgraceful Thing I Ever Did'.
It was in the spring of 1924 that the Fitzgeralds' restless spirits drove them to cross the Atlantic and begin a period of wandering about Europe. Two fantasies date from this period, 'Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr-nce of W-les' and 'The Adjuster'. Though both were written speedily to help Scott cope with his mounting debts, they have special qualities which even their author's anxiety and drinking could not dampen.
'Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr-nce of W-les' features John M. Chestnut, a rich, handsome playboy who controls a mysterious network of power and uses it to fulfil the extravagant wishes of his bored girlfriend. It has been described by John A. Higgins in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of The Stories (1971) as 'perhaps an unconscious parody of The Great Gatsby' - an interesting observation, indeed, for it was written in 1924 shortly before Scott began to work solely on Gatsby. True or not, the story's mixture of an exotic night club, an elevator boy posing as the Prince of Wales travelling incognito, and John Chestnut's curious murder accusation against himself, keeps the whole plot engrossing to the very end. The story appeared in Britain in Woman's Pictorial of 18 October 1924 where Fitzgerald was described as 'one of the foremost and cleverest of modern writers.'
'The Adjuster' is a rather more sinister tale about the machinations of a mysterious psychiatrist named Doctor Moon. Arthur Mizener believes this to be one of Fitzgerald's most successful fantasies - listing it with 'The Diamond as Big as The Ritz' and 'A Short Trip Home' - and makes a special point about the symbolism and allegory of the tale. Robert Sklar believes it to be especially significant, 'because it marks Fitzgerald's first explicit exorcising of his flapper creation, the beautiful, young, wilful girl … Luella Hemple's selfishness has caused her husband's breakdown and her child's death.' Still other experts have seen in it the signs of the marital troubles that were already besetting the Fitzgeralds themselves.
Scott admitted to his agent that the tale 'may seem too gloomy' to be easily placed, but believed it was 'a peach of a story'. His apprehensions were not entirely misplaced, either, for the tale did not find a publisher until September 1925 when it finally appeared in Red Book Magazine.
Two events were to highlight Scott Fitzgerald's three-year sojourn in Europe - in 1925 he wrote The Great Gatsby, and not long afterwards he became friendly with another famous expatriate American author, Ernest Hemingway, in Paris. In between the rounds of high living and all-night parties, he also began work on a new novel with murder as its central theme.
Scott's basic plot concerned a young man of evil temperament whose father is serving a long prison sentence for a crime of violence, and is himself driven to commit the same act against his unscrupulous and domineering mother while the pair are on vacation in France. It seems probable that a series of events connected with some of Scott's friends had inspired the proposed book, for in a letter to his publishers in New York while working on the manuscript, Fitzgerald commented:
Contemporaries of mine had begun to disappear into the dark maw of violence. A classmate killed his wife and himself on Long Island, another tumbled 'accidentally' from a skyscraper in Philadelphia, another purposefully from a skyscraper in New York. One was killed in a speak-easy in Chicago; another was beaten to death in a speak-easy in New York and crawled home to the Princeton Club to die; still another had his skull crushed by a maniac's axe in an insane asylum where he was confined.
Despite such 'inspiration', Fitzgerald worked disjointedly on the idea for almost four years, somehow never getting near completion. His problems with the idea were indicated by its changing title from, initially, The World's Fair, then to Our Type and, lastly, The Boy Who Killed His Mother. Whether the distractions of the life style he and Zelda were living, or a simple failure to make the plot work, ultimately caused him to discard what would have been his only mystery novel, we shall now never know.
But all was not quite lost, for Scott managed to pour some of the atmosphere of repressed violence and passion that he had planned for the novel into a short story of crime, 'The Dance', which he wrote in the spring of 1926. Set in a small Southern town and narrated by a young New York girl who is sensitive to the 'secret shapes of things' that exist just below the apparently sedate life of the community, the story has a mounting tension that makes it comparable with the best examples to be found in the detective story genre.
Fitzgerald, though, was sceptical of the merits of 'The Dance', and even after Harold Ober had briskly sold it to Red Book Magazine (where it was published in June 1926) and it had provided him with some much needed cash, he still wanted to tinker with it and even asked if the title could be changed to 'In a Little Town'. However, Ellery Queen, the doyen of American crime writers and editor of his own magazine, considered it one of the best short stories Fitzgerald ever wrote, and it is from the pages of his famous Mystery Magazine where it was prominently featured in the issue of March 1953 that it has been reprinted for this volume. (In August 1940 the story was also sold for broadcasting on the Philip Morris Radio Show - but Scott was dead before the transmission took place.)
The Fitzgeralds' financial plight was a major factor in bringing them back to America in December 1926, where Scott decided to concentrate his energies on the swift returns to be had from writing short stories as well as accepting the blandishments being made to him to move to Hollywood - as a number of his contemporaries had done - to write film scripts.
Not long after his return to his native land he published the appropriately titled 'A Short Trip Home', which again broke new ground in being his first fully fledged ghost-story. In it he again employs some of the supernatural mood he had used in This Side of Paradise, but he is now a much more skilful practitioner at this notoriously difficult kind of story to carry off - a verdict that the Saturday Evening Post also reached when accepting the story for its Christmas issue of 17 December 1927.
'Frankly, we did not find it easy to reach our decision with reference to "A Short Trip Home"', an editor of the magazine wrote. 'Ghosts are rather difficult to handle in the Post, but the story is so well done that we have not been able to resist it.'
Malcolm Crowley was among those readers also unable to resist the story, seeing it as being 'curiously Japanese in spirit'. He later wrote, 'There are many Japanese legends of re-embodied spirits who try to seduce the living and carry them off to a shadow world. In this case, however, the ghost has a social meaning. The living-dead man in high button shoes represents the lower order of humanity that offers a mysterious threat to the standards and the daughters of the rich people whose mansions rise above them on the hill.'
In my own opinion, the confrontation of the living and the dead on the railroad train in 'A Short Trip Home' is as chilling an episode as any to be found in the works of such masters of the ghost story as Charles Dickens and M.R. James.
The next story in this book, 'Outside the Cabinet-maker's' was also published at Christmas in 1928 in The Century magazine. It, too, harks back to childhood and the tales of fairies and ogres that so delighted Fitzgerald - and which he, in turn, related to his daughter.
Scott thought this little fantasy would be ideal for Woman's Home Companion, but though one editor on the magazine reported it to be 'delightful' it was none the less rejected, and it was not until several months later that it was bought by The Century for just $150. Though, yet again, it was a story the dispirited author held in low regard, it has since delighted every reader fortunate enough to come across a copy, as it has only been reprinted once.
The final decade of Scott Fitzgerald's life - the thirties - has, of course, been exhaustively documented: his wife Zelda's breakdown; his restless travelling both in America and abroad; the publication of Tender Is The Night in 1935; and his unhappy last years in Hollywood where he wrote scripts and worked on his novel, The Last Tycoon. Arthur Mizener has made an interesting comment that Fitzgerald was rather like his character Cecilia in that final book who 'accepted Hollywood with the resignation of a ghost assigned to a haunted house.'
Yet, despite all his problems at this time, Fitzgerald also wrote several more excellent short stories, three of which evolved from his fascination with fantasy in different forms, and it is these tales which complete this book.
'One Trip Abroad' is one of the most intriguing 'doppelganger' stories I have ever read - and it is doubly fascinating because the two central characters, an American couple Nelson and Nicole Kelly, who visit Europe to find their vision of the good life and instead fall victim to moral and physical decay, are so clearly modelled on Scott and Zelda. The ending of this tale of supernaturalism in which a flash of lightning strikes and the couple realize just who the other mysterious man and woman they have repeatedly encountered during their travels really are, is brilliantly handled.
James Miller has pointed out that the story is a treatment in miniature of the major line of action in Tender Is The Night.
'"One Trip Abroad",' he writes, 'presents the Dick Divers under the names of Nicole and Nelson Kelly … as year succeeds year on their trip and one sordid episode follows on the heels of another, the bloom fades and the atmosphere gradually shifts from the shabbily romantic to the sinister.'
Miller's final sentence about the couple's realization who the other elusive pair are I will not quote so as to avoid spoiling the reader's enjoyment of this story, which was published by the Saturday Evening Post on 11 October 1930, and again had to wait until after Fitzgerald's death for its true quality to be appreciated.
'The Fiend', the story of a brutal murderer which was published in Esquire magazine in January 1935 is an even more neglected tale. It is another example of Scott's interest in crime, which he had continued to discuss in his non-fiction in essays like 'Echoes of the Jazz Age' (November 1931) and 'My Lost City' (July 1932).
In 'Echoes', for instance, he tells us that at the time of the Leopold-Loeb murder, Zelda was 'arrested on the Queensborough Bridge on suspicion of being the "Bob-haired Bandit"'; while in 'My Lost City' he muses, 'Sometimes I imagine myself reading, with curious interest, a Daily News of the issue of 1945: MAN OF FIFTY RUNS AMUCK IN NEW YORK - Fitzgerald Feathered Many Love Nests, Cutie Avers - Bumped Off By Outraged Gunman.'
The title of 'The Fiend' is suggestive of horror, and it is interesting to learn that while he was in Hollywood, Fitzgerald enjoyed going to watch some of the series of outstanding horror movies produced by Universal Pictures which began with the 1931 production of Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff. Scott, in fact, mentioned the famous English actor in a letter to his daughter Scottie, which he wrote from Hollywood.
'I'm dashing around to a Boris Karloff movie to cheer up', he tells her. 'It is an inspirational thing called "The Corpse in the Breakfast Food"!'
Neither 'The Fiend', which was reprinted in the Evening Standard newspaper in London on 29 March 1935, or the final story, 'Shaggy's Morning', which again first appeared in Esquire in May 1935, and then on this side of the Atlantic in the Daily Express of 1 July 1935, has been collected in the intervening years. 'Shaggy's Morning' is a fanciful story quite unlike any other in this book, in that it is an animal story told from a dog's viewpoint which somehow burlesques that kind of animal yarn at which Scott's friend, Ernest Hemingway, excelled.
Fitzgerald had a childhood horror of cats, but loved dogs, and earlier in his career had written a ballad entitled, 'Dog, Dog, Dog'. In 'Shaggy's Morning', Scott reveals yet another facet of his diverse literary talent which will undoubtedly prove one more surprise for any reader who heretofore has solely associated his name with the Jazz Age.
Scott Fitzgerald died in Hollywood on 21 December 1940, his life extinguished by excess but his undeniable literary talent enshrined in the small clutch of novels and numerous short stories he had written. His body lay, appropriately, in the 'William Wordsworth Room' of a Los Angeles Chapel before it was transported for burial among his father's family in Rockville, Maryland.
After his death, among his possessions were found several notebooks full of scribbled ideas and the incomplete manuscript of The Last Tycoon. In both were further instances of his lifelong interest in the fantastic and the mysterious.
Among the ideas he had put down were several for what would have surely made excellent fantasy stories. On one page, for example, he had written: 'Dr X's story about the Emperor of the World'; on the next, 'The Fairy who Fell for a Wax Dummy'; and further on, 'A criminal confesses his crime methods to a reformer, who uses them that same night.'
In another entry he noted the plot for a story about a girl 'whose ear is so sensitive she can hear radio - Man gets her out of insane asylum to use her.' There is even more detail for another plot he has actually given a title: 'A FUNERAL' - 'His own ashes kept blowing in his eyes. Everything was over by six and nothing remained but a small man to mark the spot. There were no flowers requested or proferred. The corpse stirred faintly during the evening, but otherwise the scene was one of quietude.'
Perhaps, though, the most poignant of all was the final line he had written on the manuscript of The Last Tycoon. It read in his unmistakable hand, 'Don't wake the Tarkington ghosts.'
In the pages which follow it has been my pleasure to rewaken some of Fitzgerald's ghosts and reassemble them here to mark the anniversary of his death. At the same time, may Scott's own ghost rest easy in the knowledge that his fame and reputation are now truly assured.
Published in The Fantasy and Mystery Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald collection (1991).