All was quiet on the Riviera, and then the Fitzgeralds arrived, Scott and Zelda and Scotty. The summer season opened. There had been talk about their coming. They were coming; they were not. One day they appeared on the beach. They had played tennis the day before, and were badly burned. Everybody was concerned about their burns. They must keep their shoulders covered; they must rub on olive oil. Scott was too burned to go in the water, and much of the time, he sat aside from the rush of things, a reflective, staid paterfamilias.
That the Fitzgeralds are the best-looking couple in modern literary society doesn‘t do them justice, knowing what we do about beauty and brains. That they might be the handsomest pair at any collegiate houseparty, inspiring alumni to warnings about the pitfalls ahead of the young, is more to the point, although Scott really looks more as the undergraduate would like to look, than the way he generally does. It takes some years of training as the best host of the younger set, and as a much photographed and paragraphed author, to be quite so affable and perfectly at ease with all the world.
Scott feels that he is getting on in years, that he is no longer young. It weighs upon him, troubles him. He is almost thirty. Seldom has he allowed a person of such advanced age to enter his books.
“I have written a story. It is not about the younger generation. The hero is twenty-nine.”
It must be some comfort to him that he is so superbly preserved, so stocky, muscular, clear-skinned, with wide, fresh, green-blue eyes, hair blond not grey, with no lines of worry or senility, no saggings anywhere. Mrs. Fitzgerald doesn‘t show her age either; she might be in her teens. Perhaps Scotty does. Yes, there is no denying she looks her four.
There were rumors that Scott had had a sip or two of something up in Paris and had come South to rest. No one could have guessed it, but he is summary with any such doubts:
“Don‘t you know I am one of the most notorious drinkers of the younger generation?”
There have been whispers certainly. But the young man who drives his publicity manager into a lake, as Scott once did, is bound to get some reputation of that sort. There was no reason on this occasion why he should not have turned the car to the right as most people did, and as the publicity man comfortably expected, but having had perhaps a cocktail or two, it seemed more amusing to turn to the left off the road. The publicity man was not drowned however.
That was after one of those Long Island parties which established his place before the world as a host. If he is worried now about the advancing years he had better buy up two or three Biltmores before he extends that general invitation:
“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be—”
This popularity on two continents may explain something of the financial mystery which so appalls him. Ever since This Side of Paradise, money has poured in upon this young couple, thousands and thousands a month. And just as fast it has poured out.Where it goes, no one seems to know. Least of all, evidently, the Fitzgeralds. They complain that nothing is left to show for it. Mrs. Fitzgerald hasn‘t even a pearl necklace.
According to Scott he has known poverty. There was the terrible winter after the war, when he wanted to marry Zelda, and had only a ninety-dollar-a-month advertising job and no prospects. He had gone South to see her, and when they parted at the station he hadn‘t even enough money for a Pullman. He had to climb into a Pullman, and then sneak through into the day coach.
It was then that he saw that advertising did not pay, and he threw up that job and went home to St. Paul to write a novel. Statistics show that 12,536 young men annually throw up their jobs and go back home to write a novel. This has all come about since Fitzgerald set the example, for the book he wrote that winter was This Side of Paradise, and he was launched.
His success as an author was a great surprise to the home circle. He had always lived in St. Paul, but the Fitzgeralds were not what is known as literary people, in spite of their descent from the author of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Scott‘s father was in business, and Scott was never addicted to prowling about the public library. He was much too attractive a boy to be allowed much seclusion.
However he did enjoy scrawling notebooks full of various suggestions and impressions and witticisms, when the other faithful students of the St. Paul Academy and later those of the Newman School as well were busy adding and subtracting and wondering over what takes the ablative. In the Newman School he decided to run off a musical comedy, and two years later he spent his whole Freshman year at Princeton writing the Triangle Show, which left him no time for algebra, trigonometry, co-ordinate geometry and hygiene. But the Triangle Club accepted the show, and he tutored his way back to college and acted in his own work as a chorus girl.
The war came next, and as Aide-de-Camp to General J. F. Ryan he was able to spend his Saturday afternoons writing a hundred and twenty-thousand word novel, The Romantic Egotist, whichwas merely a preparatory exercise apparently. Publishers thought it original and very well written but not quite what they were looking for at the moment. A great many publishers were in that frame of mind about it, but they did not manage to extinguish the writing impetus in him. The winter after the war, before he took up advertising, he collected 122 rejection slips, and by way of encouragement sold one story for $30.
Never has he lived that amorphous affair known as the literary life. He is too active for that, and too gregarious. To the younger set of St. Paul he was known as a dining-out, dancing-out country-club boy, and it was a surprise when it was said about that he wanted to write. But literary people there didn‘t take his ambitions as a joke. He became a great friend of Charles Flandrau‘s, who twenty years ago published Harvard Episodes, stories of freshmen and sophomores, done somewhat in the Henry James manner. There is no resemblance between the Flandrau book and Fitzgerald‘s, but with Mr. Flandrau, Scott found a sympathetic and intelligent critic, someone who could understand why he chose rather to write than to sell bonds. He had already begun to work with an energy unflagging in spite of his invitations to dinner. It sustained him even through the arduous business of rewriting This Side of Paradise, changing it, at his publisher‘s advice, from the first to the third person.
Such application, of course, is not associated with the temperament of any merely clever young man. The popular picture of a blond boy scribbling off best sellers in odd moments between parties is nonsense. He‘s a very grave, hardworking man, and shows it. In fact there is definitely the touch of the melancholy often obvious upon him.
He is wary of the limitations of his experience.
Very deliberately he has taken as the field for his talent the great story of American wealth. His research is in the chronicles of the big business juntos of the last fifty years; and the drama of high finance, with the personalities of the major actors, Harriman, Morgan, Hill, is his serious study. He saw how the money was being spent; he has made it his business to ferret out how it was cornered.
Although Mrs. Fitzgerald once bought a bond, no young people, with such an income, are more far removed from the ordinary affairs of business. A twenty-dollar-a-week clerk must know more of the practical business world than Scott Fitzgerald who cannot live on thirty thousand a year, and yet who earns every cent he has.
His information, to be sure, on the general history of this American phase is remarkable. His most trivial stories have a substantial substratum of information.
It should yield more and more revealing, penetrating pictures of American life as he settles gravely down in the twilight of the thirties.
From The New Yorker magazine, 1926.