Romance in Montgomery had seen Zelda as a celebrity dominating a struggling writer. Marriage in New York changed that. Scott was no longer struggling and she was no longer a celebrity. He had friends while she had none. Nor her family.
Scott’s career had taken a meteoric curve upward. This Side of Paradise had hit bestseller lists around the States. Serious papers serialized abridged versions. By the end of 1921 twelve printings totalled 49,075 copies. Although earnings of $6,200 for 1920 did not make him wealthy his book, reviewed everywhere, became a conversational subject. Considered ground-breaking, it captured youth’s essence as did its author. New York autograph-hunters loved F. Scott Fitzgerald and F. Scott Fitzgerald loved them. His wit and style caught the mood of the moment. As Zelda later wrote: ‘New York is a good place to be on the upgrade’ — especially for those who possess ‘a rapacious, engulfing ego’1 which Scott had, and used, to become youth’s incandescent spokesman.
She became his consort. A witty consort. An articulate consort. But for the first time in their relationship a decorative accessory, an epiphenomenal adjunct known as ‘the wife of Scott Fitzgerald’.
Their marriage began what was to become in certain respects a dramatic role reversal. Suddenly in control of his professional life, Scott exerted a new control over his personal one. The wedding with its lack of consideration for Zelda’s family was the first sign Zelda received. Neither Rosalind nor Clothilde ever forgave Scott or — for a long time — Zelda.
Zelda’s wardrobe was the second sign of the Fitzgeralds’ revised relationship. The flouncy organdie frocks in Zelda’s trousseau suddenly seemed out of place to Scott. From adoring her Southern Belle appearance he was now embarrassed by it. He telephoned his St Paul friend, Marie Hersey, who after her years as Ginevra King’s classmate at Westover had moved from Vassar graduate to New York sophisticate. ‘You’ve got to help me! … Zelda wants to buy nothing but frills and furbelows and you can’t go around New York in that kind of thing.’2 Take her shopping, he said to Marie. Get her the right kind of outfit. Marie did. They bought Zelda an original Jean Patou suit. Zelda, humiliated and incensed, bit back a retort until fourteen years later, when she reported to Esquire readers that she had never worn it, had stored it in trunks, and was ‘oh, so relieved, to find it devastated at last’.3
After shopping, she and Marie had tea in the Plaza Grill, where gusts of expensive perfume streamed from the coiffeur on the way to the elevator, and the hotel flowers, according to Zelda and Scott’s writer friend John Dos Passos, resembled goldbacked ten dollar bills.4 As Marie steered Zelda towards the Grill, the smell of creamy sweet butter prefaced teatimes far from those in Montgomery. Assorted teas melted indiscernibly into Bronx cocktails and coloured liqueurs. Stylish New York women taking tea would soon become Zelda’s models. In beaded dresses with hats like manhole covers they tapped tippy toes while sipping from tiny teacups before trotting off to the dance floors of the Lorraine or the St Regis. Girls with marcel waves dangled powder boxes, bracelets and lank young men from their wrists as they made their way from the warm orange lights of the Biltmore Hotel’s facade to the elegant silver teapots of the Plaza or the Ritz.5
Although during 1920 Zelda went regularly with Scott and his friends to the Plaza, it was that first unfamiliar, humiliating teatime with Marie that left its mark on her prose. Ten years later, in her story ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’, she recreates an indelible impression of fashionable New York where at dusky teatimes those girls inhabited the Plaza.6
Although Zelda soon discarded her small-town innocence and acquired a big-city gloss, becoming one of ‘the halo of golden bobs’ in those fashionable hotels,7 that occasion with Marie was the first in a series of shivery performances as Scott Fitzgerald’s wife.
Their life in New York in spring 1920 was a round of theatres and nightspots, for many celebrity names Zelda had merely conjured with were now eager to meet them. They lunched with George Jean Nathan in the Japanese Gardens of the Ritz where the Fitzgeralds, both stage-struck since adolescence, were particularly impressed by Nathan’s companion, Ziegfeld Follies star Kay Laurel. At the Montmartre nightclub they watched another Follies star, Lilyan Tashman, weave her way around the dance floor. The famous vamp Theda Bara was at the Shubert Theatre in the comedy The Blue Flame. All three Barrymores were starring on Broadway and the reigning theatrical queen was Marilyn Miller, whom Rosalind Sayre had seen the previous year and who Rosalind said could pass as Zelda’s twin.
The Fitzgeralds behaved appallingly during performances. They laughed at their own jokes, and at one comedy, Enter Madame, Zelda fell off her seat in hysterics of giggles and the management asked them to leave.
Zelda’s splashy displays were partly an overdose of high spirits, partly a feeling of being out of control in a new world.
Scottie told a friend later that her mother’s Southern upbringing made enormous difficulties for her in New York: ‘In the South, life was cosy and so full of love that it formed a cocoon. To step out into the world of New York … constantly exposed to parties where mother was supposed to be the witty and glamorous companion to a famous, difficult and demanding man, was something she was ill-equipped to cope with.’8
Outwardly Zelda did not acknowledge those difficulties. She exchanged her velvet lounging pants for slick city suits; her natural wit sustained conversations. Temporarily she hid any resentment about her role as ‘companion’.
Their marriage coincided with the beginning of the Boom, the era of the Roaring Twenties that Fitzgerald, though knowing little about jazz, inventively named the Jazz Age, in order to connote a mood of music, dance and reckless stimulation.
Zelda found herself inhabiting not one New York world but two. There was Bohemian New York: the Washington Square area of Greenwich Village, with its winding streets, crumbling brownstones turned into communal housing, its Bowery theatre, its cheap Italian and Hungarian cafes. In 1920 Bohemia’s marginal pleasures were becoming marketable. It was strident, dusty, full of racket and reporters, speakeasies, illicit alcohol, hushed whispers and promise. Zelda and Scott visited in yellow taxis or walked through it like photographers with flashing camera-eyes rather than as residents who bought their groceries in brown bags from the corner shop. Zelda wrote repeatedly she was not a kitchen sort of person.9 As she never exhibited any desire to tackle even the most rudimentary domestic chores she was delighted that their first few weeks were spent in the luxurious Biltmore Hotel, set in the second New York world, north of 42nd Street.
In this exclusive segment of the city bordered by Times Square, Central Park and the fashionable hotel and shopping districts, to which Fitzgerald restricted himself in his first novel and early stories, skyscraper windows sparkled in the sun. Zelda’s eye for colour saw a glowing city, a fantasy palace where the ‘tops of the buildings shine like crowns of gold-leaf kings in conference’.10 She saw Park Avenue flowing smoothly up Manhattan as a masculine avenue, subdued, subtle, solid, a fitting background for the promenades of men.11 She glimpsed Charlie Chaplin in a yellow polo coat, girls with piquant profiles who were mistaken for Gloria Swanson, shop assistants who looked like her idol Marilyn Miller, and bandleader Paul Whiteman who looked like his press photographs and played ‘Two Little Girls in Blue’ at the Palais Royal.
In both New York societies Zelda heard the sounds of the Twenties: monologues littered with adjectives, spoken by people who saw themselves as thoroughly amusing; conversations as sharp as her own with one wisecrack following another.
As a young woman from Alabama she had accurately imagined New York as a city of breathless postwar celebrity: ‘Moving-picture actresses were famous … Everybody was there. People met people they knew in hotel lobbies smelling of orchids and plush and detective stories … everybody was famous. All the other people who weren’t well known had been killed in the war; there wasn’t much interest in private lives.’12
Zelda fastened early on two symbols of the city that later she repeatedly used in her writing and painting. The first was the notion of a city in perpetual motion where life was lived at high speed. Bred on the dawdle and deliberations of the Deep South, she satirized the smart people spotting smarter people disinclined to be spotted; the relentlessly elegant people ruthlessly ignoring ignorable people who were dying to be spotted. ‘“We’re having some people”, everybody said to everybody else, “and we want you to join us”, and they said, “We’ll telephone.” All over New York people telephoned. They telephoned from one hotel to another to people on other parties that they couldn’t get there.’13
The city’s visual delights provided Zelda with twilights, the second significant symbol which fed her art. She imprinted their bluish haze, the way they shone on 57th Street where she and Scott held hands and swooped like hawks in and out of the traffic. She would recall spectacular violet-grey dusks which hovered mistily above the hood of a taxi on which she rode the breeze while Scott perched on its roof as they became the living, breathing, toe-tapping embodiment of the Roaring Twenties.
Zelda later used those New York gloamings in her fiction as a context to their escapades. Zelda’s dusks both hid and revealed the way the beautiful pair did appalling things with an air of breeding. Of course she had seen some pretty good twilights in Montgomery. She immortalized Montgomery’s incandescent globes, black inside with moths, with a ‘time and quality that appertains to nowhere else’.14 But those were old-hat twilights, too suffocatingly hot to enjoy. So magnetized was Zelda by her honeymoon twilights over Brooklyn Bridge, Fifth Avenue, Times Square and Central Park that she first fictionalized them, later painted them.15
One 1920 honeymoon sky stayed with her for years. In her short story ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’, written in 1929, she recalled: ‘Twilights were wonderful just after the war. They hung above New York like indigo wash, forming themselves from asphalt dust and sooty shadows under the cornices and limp gusts of air exhaled from closing windows, to hang above the streets with all the mystery of white fog rising off a swamp.’16
In 1932 she rewrote this for her first novel17 for, like Scott, Zelda was never averse to recycling a witty phrase — though usually she repeated her own, while Scott often repeated hers. Maybe in those twirling twilight Twenties they both saw her words as hanging in a communal closet. Maybe it was only later that Zelda wanted separate wardrobes.
Scott, spellbound by New York as a child, drew his symbolic New York landscape from three glimpses of New York prior to his arrival there in 1920.18 Scott’s first reported glimpse was when as a ten-year-old he saw a ferry boat at dawn moving slowly from the Jersey shore towards Manhattan. His second occurred when as a fifteen-year-old Newman schoolboy he saw two New York theatrical shows starring Gertrude Bryan and Ina Claire, who ‘blurred into one lovely entity, the girl. She was my second symbol of New York. The ferry boat stood for triumph, the girl for romance.’19 Scott found his third symbol as an adult when he saw his Princeton intellectual mentor, Bunny Wilson, striding confidently along a New York street, drawing strength from the city pavements and from a force Scott called ‘that new thing — the Metropolitan spirit’,20 a dynamic movement like a ‘tall man’s quick-step’.21
Scott links these three symbols through the idea of a romantic quickened pace, which parallels Zelda’s notion of romantic dusks hovering over a city constantly in motion. The Fitzgeralds shared the insider’s excitement mixed with the outsider’s awe. Zelda also shared, at one level, Scott’s frontier viewpoint of New York. She acted as a glamorous model for his Western tourist image of New Yorkers which he presented so skilfully in This Side of Paradise.22
In Scott’s words: ‘It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire.’23 At this level, Zelda was as amazed as Scott that overnight he was hailed not merely as the chronicler of an age he saw as the greatest, gaudiest spree in history, but also as the city’s laureate. Through his work and their joint escapades, they now embodied the spirit of a particular New York which bore little resemblance to Theodore Dreiser’s poor person’s New York or to Edith Wharton’s aristocratic New York. Changed by the building boom, it was a postwar luxurious metropolitan place, peopled by a new generation who arrived with ambition and riches from all over the States. Minnesota’s apprentice writer had become the ‘arch type’ of what New York wanted.24 ‘I, who knew less of New York than any reporter of six months standing and less of its society than any hall-room boy in the Ritz stag line, was pushed into the position not only of spokesman for the time but of the typical product of that same moment.’25
Although enjoying her role as a famous Fitzgerald, at a deeper level Zelda saw through it. Intelligently she pointed out that New York, speakeasy city of metallic urgency, was more full of reflections than of itself, that the only concrete things in town were the abstractions.26
There was nothing concrete about their domestic life during their first months. Zelda told Sara Mayfield it was fortunate her parents had decided not to accompany her to New York as they would have been shocked at Scott’s ‘monumental spree’ in the Biltmore Hotel, where he called up bellboys to bathe him and left taps running till they flooded the hotel.27 Before the management moved them on, several of Scott’s college chums came to visit them.
In 1919 Edmund Wilson had gone to New York to work for Vanity Fair, and as managing editor there he hired his Princeton friend John Bishop. By the time of the Fitzgeralds’ marriage Bishop was often staying at the opulent apartment of another Princetonian, Townsend Martin, a suavely dressed globe-trotting screenwriter. Unlike his uncle, the wealthy philanthropist Frederick Townsend Martin, young Martin, a womanizer, had no intention of becoming a reformer.
Wilson and Bishop were the first to meet Fitzgerald’s bride in room 2109. Zelda offered the bachelors Orange Blossom cocktails spiked with bootleg gin, then spread herself elegantly on a sofa. Wilson saw her initially as ‘very pretty and languid’, but soon decided she had a forceful interesting personality accompanied by wit, beauty, recklessness, unpredictability and Southern exoticism.28 Bishop saw her as a ‘barbarian princess’.29 Only later (when married himself to a wealthy efficient woman who encouraged his career) did he blame Zelda for encouraging Scott to drink and waste his talent.
Since their wedding both Fitzgeralds had begun drinking heavily. In their first few months together they often fell asleep when drunk, so they might arrive at a party and immediately take a nap. Zelda, who had annoyed her parents by rebellious drinking in Montgomery, now drank more because there were no parental checks. Scott drank because he was an incipient alcoholic. Scott admitted that when he first became rich he discovered that after a few drinks he was able to hold forth and please his audience. So he began to drink more heavily to attract a bigger audience.
Though this is not Scott speaking but one of his characters in ‘A New Leaf’ (1931), it aptly sums up his attitude in the early Twenties, when his desperate need to please people ran alongside his increasingly unpredictable drinking behaviour.
Zelda had mixed memories of her honeymoon, some glamorous, some rueful. Too much alcohol soaked the moonlight and roses. ‘People in the [hotel] corridors complained; there was a tart smell of gin over everything; for years the smell of her trousseau haunted [her] … corsages died in the ice-water tray and cigarettes disintegrated in the spittoon.’30
Among regular Princetonian visitors to the Fitzgeralds’ hotel suite was John Biggs Jnr, Scott’s former room-mate, ex-editor of the Princeton Tiger and Triangle Club collaborator, now an aspiring writer who would publish two novels with Scribner’s in the 1920s before settling firmly into his law career. He was often accompanied by Lawton Campbell, a writer and business executive, and Alex McKaig, who worked in advertising.
A former editor of the Daily Princetonian, Alex had a pudgy baby face with curly hair parted in the centre, and still lived with his mother. He had a waspish nature which came from envying his more gifted friends. He kept a constant diary of the Fitzgeralds’ movements which provides valuable glimpses of their first few weeks. His first entry, nine days after their marriage, is unflattering to Zelda and offers poor prospects for their marriage. ‘Called on Scott Fitz and his bride,’ he recorded, ‘latter temperamental small-town Southern belle. Chews gum — shows knees. I do not think marriage can succeed. Both drinking heavily. Think they will be divorced in 3 years. Scott write something big — then die in a garret at thirty-two.’31 McKaig’s and Wilson’s views of Zelda as a hick Southerner out of place in a big city say as much for their Northern stereotyped attitudes about the Deep South as they do about Zelda.
Lawton Campbell, a tall blond Southerner who had been in Princeton’s Triangle Club with Scott, felt great affection for Zelda. His aunt Margaret Booth ran the school of that name in Montgomery, and linked by their Alabama connections he and Zelda remained friends for years. She felt close enough to him later to give him one of her paintings, which he treasured and refused to sell after her death. In 1920 he was a wealthy executive with General Foods and author of two successful plays, Solid South and Immoral Isabella. He told Sara Mayfield that ‘Of all the people who ever came out of Alabama … Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald and Tallulah Bankhead [were] the most fascinating.’32
Several of their circle noticed Zelda’s curious speech patterns filled, according to Bunny Wilson, with ‘felicitous phrases and unexpected fancies’.33 Wilson observed: ‘She talked with so spontaneous a color and wit — almost exactly in the way she wrote — that I very soon ceased to be troubled by the fact that the conversation was in the nature of a “free association” of ideas and one could never follow up anything. I have rarely known a woman who expressed herself so delightfully and so freshly; she had no readymade phrases on the one hand and made no straining for effect on the other.’34 Although ‘it was difficult to talk to her consecutively about anything,’ said Wilson, ‘you were not led … to suspect any mental unsoundness’.35
Years later, Campbell also recollected Zelda’s singular speech. ‘She would stretch out on the long sofa in my living room … and recount some fabulous experience of the night before … If her remarks were occasionally non sequitur one didn’t notice it at the time. She passed very quickly from one topic to another and you didn’t question her. It wouldn’t occur to you to stop and ask what she meant.’36
It is important to recognize that Campbell’s delineation of Zelda’s speech patterns as ‘non sequitur’ or disordered, and Wilson’s determination to include (even if then to deny) hints of mental unsoundness, occurred not merely forty years after conversations with Zelda but after her many years of being publicly labelled as a schizophrenic whose medical diagnosis had used her ordinary speech patterns to indicate the disintegration of her thinking processes. It would have been hard for Campbell or Wilson so many years later to recall Zelda’s speech without that mental illness framework.
Lacking female friends, Zelda relied particularly on Ludlow Fowler, Scott’s best man, for company. Ludlow, wealthy and generous, spent time with Zelda and Scott at the theatre and the Follies. On the weekend of 24 April 1920 several friends, including Ludlow, who had been active in the Triangle Club with Scott, accompanied the Fitzgeralds to the Cottage Club, one of Princeton’s most prestigious eating clubs, to which Scott had belonged. On arrival Zelda somersaulted down sacrosanct Prospect Avenue then, on reaching the Cottage Club, insisted on having her breakfast omelette flamed in brandy with applejack which she provided.37 In order to shock the academic community Scott introduced her as his mistress, got drunk, started a fight and wound up with two black eyes. ‘We were there three days, Zelda and five men in Harvey Firestone’s car, and not one of us drew a sober breath,’ he confided later to Marie Hersey, adding it was ‘the damnedest party ever held in Princeton’.38 That Scott still had good women friends as confidantes whereas she suddenly had none was another blow to Zelda.
When the Biltmore evicted the Fitzgeralds they moved to the Commodore Hotel, two blocks down 42nd Street, and celebrated their arrival by whizzing round the revolving doors for half an hour. In mid-May they were forced to leave there too because of rowdy behaviour.
They filled their first weeks with antics, and the newspapers filled their pages with the Fitzgeralds. Scott undressed at George White’s Scandals, Zelda dived fully dressed into the Washington Square fountain.39 The media watched as the Fitzgeralds lived life on the wing. What could be better for headlines than a couple who did not go in for self-preservation? Journalists turned their bizarre behaviour into myth, which in turn encouraged the Fitzgeralds to invent further unseemly exploits. They were caught in a vicious circle which left them confused and alienated. Zelda wrote that in New York they needed ‘to absolve themselves in the waters of each other’s unrest’.40 Scott wrote retrospectively that within a few months of arriving in New York he and Zelda no longer knew who they were or what they were expected to do.
As enfants terribles they did provoke people, but they were never vulgar and often funny, so they got away with it. One writer friend said: ‘I couldn’t get mad at him and particularly not at Zelda; there was a golden innocence about them and they were both so hopelessly goodlooking.’41 Scott’s appeal lay in his charm and intuitiveness. This allowed people initially to look kindly on his clowning before he botched up their approval with even worse behaviour. His desire to impress people led him into some conspicuous acts. Take the afternoon in the Scribner Building when Scott, knowing Edith Wharton was in Charles Scribner’s office, rushed in and fell at Wharton’s feet in a parody of homage. Legend has it that despite Wharton’s stiff formality she took it well.
Their whirlwind antics of those first few months meant Scott accomplished very little new writing. But he reaped benefits from stories written earlier which together with sketches, plays and features appeared every month in the Saturday Evening Post, Metropolitan, Vanity Fair, the Nassau Lit, Scribner’s Magazine. The Smart Set in July published his brilliant naturalistic story ‘May Day’, whose core was the 1919 May Day Riots and the suicide of sensitive Gordon Sterrett, an artistic failure.
He did very little work on his second novel either, but despite this by June 1920 Metropolitan had advanced Scott $7,000 for serial rights for the as yet unwritten book The Flight of the Rocket, which became The Beautiful and Damned. Scott, under the literary influences of Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain and especially Theodore Dreiser’s deterministic realism, intended his new novel to emphasize, as ‘May Day’ had done, the idea that human behaviour is determined by forces beyond the characters’ control.
During 1920 his price for short fiction rose from $400 to $900 and eleven stories earned him $4,650. He was paid $7,425 from the movies for three stories (‘Head and Shoulders’, ‘Myra Meets His Family’ and ‘The Offshore Pirate’) and he was offered an option on future stories. That year, his first full year as a professional writer, he earned $18,850.42 He and Zelda were incapable of covering their expenses with his earnings; thus he began his lifelong habit of borrowing from Harold Ober and Scribner’s.
Both Fitzgeralds enjoyed thinking up new ways to burn money. Scott used five-dollar bills to light his cigarettes and folded five-hundred ones to show the figures when he wore them in his vest pockets. Though Zelda’s father had brought her up to see money as unimportant, suddenly exhilarated by the sheer amount they appeared to have, she consumed it eagerly on Manhattan-style expensive clothes.43 Neither of them knew how to manage finances.
Though Scott remained obsessed with and critical of the rich he was never averse to consorting with them, so he enjoyed their visits to Ludlow Fowler’s family’s rich New York mansion. Zelda was particularly intrigued by the elevator, having never seen one inside an ordinary house before.44
For Scott this was a time of storing up images, characters and situations which he would use after August when he started writing again. Zelda’s role was primarily as Scott’s muse, subsequently as his editorial eye. Scott’s literary friends were aware that he leant on her for invention and literary direction. McKaig, who assessed Zelda’s mind as undisciplined yet intuitive, asserted that she supplied Scott with all his copy for female characters. He also felt Scott was too absorbed in Zelda’s personality, indisputably the stronger of the two.45 This image, popular with Scott’s friends, was not entirely accurate. Zelda kept hidden those areas of dependence on Scott — her need for friendship and emotional support.
Scott based his protagonists almost entirely on Zelda and himself. As McKaig recorded in his diary, Scott ‘made another true remark about himself … cannot depict how any one thinks except himself & possibly Zelda. Find that after he has written about a character for a while it becomes just himself again.’46
Campbell, like McKaig, believed Zelda was the dominant influence on Scott’s writing. ‘I have always thought that Zelda did more for Scott than Scott did for Zelda. I have seen him many times write down the things she said on scraps of paper or the backs of envelopes.’47
Being a muse is not much of a job for a bright young woman and Zelda, isolated from her kin, grew bored. An outdoor person, never happier than when swimming, she was now living an entirely city life. One of Scott’s worries was the extent to which his male friends found her physically exciting. John Peale Bishop flirted openly with her in front of Scott who, voyeuristically, at first found it sexually stimulating.48 Zelda told John: ‘I like you better than anybody in the world; I never feel safe with you! — I only like men who kiss as a means to an end. I never know how to treat the other kind.’49
Scott’s short stories had achieved a certain notoriety for their lushly described passionate kisses, so Zelda’s remark might have been a specific marital goad; more likely, she was exhibiting her Southern role of a woman who erotically disturbed men. Certainly she also flirted with McKaig, who had entirely changed his negative impression of Zelda and now declared her the most brilliant, beautiful young woman he had ever known.
Wilson, formerly as sexually reticent as Scott himself, did not flirt with Zelda. He already coveted the poet Elinor Hoyt Wylie, while also in an impossible three-cornered romance with a second poet, Edna St Vincent Millay, and Bishop, his fellow editor at Vanity Fair.50 However, he did fall under Zelda’s mesmeric influence and was intrigued when she told him that hotel bedrooms erotically excited her.51 At this point Wilson gauged Fitzgerald to be ‘neurotically jealous’ of Zelda.52
Zelda flirted more seriously with screenwriter Townsend Martin, whose good looks and globe-trotting tales she admired. At first on the grounds that Townsend and John Bishop, who shared an apartment, had missed out on wedding kisses, Zelda playfully kissed both men whilst Scott remarked tolerantly: ‘Oh, yes, they really have kisses coming to them, because they weren’t at the wedding, and everybody at a wedding always gets a kiss.’53 Then, going further, Zelda captured Townsend in the bathroom where she asked him to give her a bath, and walked into John’s bedroom suggesting she crawl into bed with him — though only to sleep, she reassured everyone. Wilson reported that Scott’s tolerance faded and he became worried and huffy.54
Scott’s jealousy about Townsend Martin increased that summer when Zelda became, as she later admitted in a letter to Scott, ‘romanticly attached’.55 Scott’s Ledger for June 1920 thankfully records ‘Townsend goes abroad’ but it also discreetly mentions the ‘Jean Bankhead fuss’. Possibly in retaliation, Scott had gone further than Zelda and had a brief affair with Gene (Eugenia) Bankhead, who was engaged to the alcoholic Morton Hoyt, a drinking buddy of Scott’s and a Vanity Fair writer. This affair was close to home, as Gene of course was the elder sister of Zelda’s friend Tallulah, and Morton the brother of Wilson’s ‘poetic romance’, Elinor Hoyt Wylie.56
Zelda later expressed her complex feelings in Caesar’s Things: ‘Janno had always been jealous. Situations which had to be faced with dishonesty and endured for the sake of a code to which she did not subscribe made her sick. She couldn’t say to Jacob, “I don’t want you to go, you’re obligated to me. Anyway, she’s not as nice as I am.” She sat being … courageous … saying to herself … such was all in the game.’57
The game intensified when Zelda’s suspicions were accurately aroused about Scott’s affair with another Montgomery Belle, actress Miriam Hopkins. That this ‘game’ appeared part of a life of freedom confused her. In both her novels Zelda’s heroines, Alabama and Janno, equate lack of restrictions with lack of security. On her wedding night Alabama lies awake, thinking that ‘no power on earth could make her do anything, she thought frightened, any more except herself’.58 Janno says, ‘fright makes one realize [one’s] dependence on the formulas’.59 Initially a lifestyle where she was no longer tied down by tradition or taboos was what Zelda thought she wanted. But a life without limits brings its own fears.
Zelda flirted heavily with Scott’s friends partly from habit, but also partly because attracting men seemed the only familiar talent left to her. As well as lacking girlfriends with whom to share confidences, she had no mother to spoil her, no father to rebel against. Zelda’s role as a Flapper for Scott’s writing was exhausting, but she had not yet found an alternative. Without a solid base she settled for male admiration. She had regarded flirting as harmless so long as Scott remained loyal. But when his explorations led to sexual relationships her world rocked. Having no other support she had to suppress any anger and lean on Scott.
Already in their first few months of marriage the Fitzgeralds were encountering problems which would intensify. But they still had one constant bond: precious talks and dreams. This intimacy allowed them to guard against intruders and remained the one safeguard they never entirely lost. Scott recalled that the lengthy conversations he and Zelda had at bedtime which sometimes lasted until dawn were crucial to their relationship. During the daytime he felt they never achieved that same intimacy.60
After their heavy city socializing Scott felt a rural retreat would enable him to finish his second novel, promised to Perkins for September. In May 1920 Zelda’s Montgomery friend Leon Ruth, one of Scott’s early rivals, now studying at Columbia, helped them buy a second-hand Marmon sports coupe. They hoped a car would enable them to search for a house near water because, as Scott wrote to a friend, ‘If Zelda can’t swim, she’s miserable.’61
Zelda played havoc with the car but managed to find a suitable house near Long Island Sound in Westport, Connecticut, fifty miles from New York, in 1920 still country not suburbia. When Westport was constructed in 1835 as a new town along the Sangatuk river with pieces from neighbouring towns Fairfield, Norwalk and Weston, river and seafront took on a new significance as wharves, warehouses, mills, factories and, later, luxurious country estates, inns and restaurants sprang up. By the time the Fitzgeralds moved there, summer visitors and New York commuters swarmed the beaches. Their house, built in 1758, was originally the home of Wakeman Couch, an early farmer who grew onions on the surrounding acres. ‘Burritt Wakeman’s place’ was a two-storey grey shingled farm cottage on Compo Road which took its name from the old Compo Tide Mill building.62 The year before Zelda arrived, a wooden bathing pavilion opened at Compo beach, and wooden bath-houses lining the boardwalk could be rented by the hour, but Zelda ignored those facilities as their house had its own garden and stretch of beach. From a photograph taken in May 1920 we can see the house, its imposing veranda supported by elegant pillars, was set in a spacious garden surrounded by trees. It was a house of many windows, all with an attractive rural aspect. Another photo dated July 1920 shows Zelda in a black one-piece swimsuit stepping off their landing stage into the water.
They rented Wakeman Cottage from May through to September 1920. Domestic life there was no more orderly than it had been in Manhattan hotels. Dirty laundry piled up in closets. Neither Zelda nor Scott cooked. A servant was desperately needed. Zelda wrote to Ludlow Fowler that as soon as they acquired a servant and ‘some sheets from Mama’ he would be very welcome. ‘We have a house with a room for you and a ruined automobile because I drove it over a fire-plug and completely de-intestined it.’ This incident may have been partly caused by Zelda’s poor eyesight. The Montgomery family doctor had suggested that the retina of her right eye was missing.
Believing that she was pregnant, she added anxiously: ‘Only by the time you do come I’ll probably have grown so fat like this [drawing of fat stick woman] that you wont be able to recognize me … I’ll have to wear a [measure of music with words ‘Red, red rose’ beneath] to disclose my identity — or condition … But it’s a deep secret and you must keep very quiet and not laugh too hard and be very sympathetic.’63 In the event she was not pregnant.
They hired a houseboy, Tana, from the Japanese Reliable Employment Agency, but having a houseboy did not materially improve their domestic situation. In late June or early July Wilson visited Westport, told that ‘Zelda had decided to change her style and behave like a conventional lady, paying and receiving calls and making polite acknowledgments’.64 Wilson wrote that Zelda’s reform was shortlived as revels restarted in their rustic retreat. The Fitzgeralds and their friends were ‘revelling nude in the orgies of Westport’.65 Zelda’s later recollection bears this out: ‘The beach and dozens of men’.66
At one party given by theatrical producer John Williams, their Westport neighbour, Nathan, who accompanied them, flirtatiously played several choruses of ‘Cuddle Up A Little Closer’ for Zelda on the piano.
During another party in this quiet place they upset the authorities when they reported a false fire alarm. Legend has it that when the firemen asked where the fire was, Zelda pointed dramatically to her breast and said ‘Here!’
These alcoholic weekends often ended in rows. On 13 June 1920 McKaig noted: ‘Visit Fitz at Westport … terrible party. Fitz and Zelda fighting like mad. Say themselves marriage can’t succeed’.
In Westport Scott began on a new plot for The Flight of the Rocket (eventually The Beautiful and Damned), in which Westport served as the model for Marietta, New York. The Fitzgeralds’ grey shingled house becomes the model for Gloria and Anthony Patch’s rented grey honeymoon cottage, which was established at a time when any woman who kept a cat was thought to be a witch.
Zelda told Sara Mayfield she found Westport depressing and began to persuade Scott to attend parties in Gotham to break the monotony.67 Zelda as a restless woman did not fit easily into either of the two conflicting images prevalent during 1920 of her and Scott. One was the public image sponsored by the media of the golden couple glowing with success, happy in each other’s company. The other was the private image held by McKaig and other friends that their rows were so frequent and so embittered that their marriage seemed to be breaking up.
Scott and Zelda half-believed and lived out both images. Meanwhile Zelda, homesick for Montgomery, told Scott she hankered for Alabama peaches and biscuits for breakfast. Underneath, she wondered if her parents missed her as much as she missed them.
She hoped a return South would not only allow her to show off her new marital style and clothes, but also give her some stability and improve the elements that had unexpectedly started to go wrong. Scott suggested a trip to Montgomery in the car they had rechristened The Rolling Junk. They set off on 15 July 1920. Typically, they had not informed the Sayres of their plans.
1 ZSF, Waltz, Collected Writings, p. 49.
2 Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 118.
3 ZSF, ‘Auction — Model 1934’, Collected Writings, p. 436. First appeared in Esquire, July 1934, published as by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald but credited to Zelda in Scott’s Ledger.
4 John Dos Passos, The Best Times. An Informal Memoir, The New American Library, 1966, p. 128.
5 ZSF, ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’, Collected Writings, p. 327. First appeared in Saturday Evening Post, 7 May 1930. Published as by Scott but written by Zelda.
6 Ibid. In 1932 she still hadn’t forgotten the experience and revamped her impressions for her first novel (see Save Me The Waltz, p. 47).
7 ZSF, ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’, p. 327.
8 Winzola McLendon, ‘Interview: Frances Scott Fitzgerald to Winzola McLendon’, Ladies Home Journal Nov. 1974, pp. 59–60, 62.
9 Best descriptions in ZSF, ‘Miss Ella’, Collected Writings, pp. 343–9.
10 ZSF, Waltz, p. 41.
11 ZSF, ‘The Changing Beauty of Park Avenue’, Collected Writings, p. 403.
12 ZSF, Waltz, p. 48.
13 Ibid., p. 49.
14 ZSF, ‘Southern Girl’, Collected Writings, p. 301. First appeared in College Humor, July 1929 published as by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald but written solely by Zelda.
15 Later still she decorated wooden bowls with oils of the same scenes. Fiction 1930s, paintings early 1940s, wooden bowls late 1940s. ZSF’s Album of Slides and Art, CO183, Box 8, PUL.
16 ZSF, ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’, p. 327.
17 ‘Vincent Youmans wrote the music for those twilights just after the war. They were wonderful. They hung above the city like an indigo wash, forming themselves from asphalt dust and sooty shadows under the cornices and limp gusts of air exhaled from closing windows. They lay above the streets like a white fog off a swamp.’ ZSF, Waltz, p. 47.
18 James Mellow directed me to this idea.
19 Curiously, during Zelda and Scott’s first year in New York Ina Claire was appearing at the Lyceum in the comedy The Gold Diggers.
20 Mellow, Invented Lives, pp. 91, 506. In the PUL MS (CO187, Box 17) of ‘The Romantic Egotist’, ch. 2, Fitzgerald describes the ferry ride as occurring when he was thirteen on a journey from Manhattan to boarding school. See also The Crack-Up, with Other Uncollected Pieces, Note-Books and Unpublished Letters, ed. Edmund Wilson, New York, New Directions, paperback, 1945, 1956, pp. 23, 24.
21 FSF, Notebooks No. 158.
22 Biographer Henry Dan Piper pointed out this image had only just begun to emerge as the symbol of the most sophisticated cosmopolitan aspects of the national culture. Piper, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bodley Head, London, 1965, pp. 61, 62.
23 FSF, Crack-Up, p. 14.
24 Piper, F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 62. Also FSF, Crack-Up, pp. 26–7.
25 FSF, Crack-Up, pp. 26–7.
26 ZSF, Waltz, p. 49.
27 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 55.
28 Edmund Wilson, The Twenties: From the Notebooks and Diaries of the Period, ed. with introduction by Leon Edel, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1975, p. 53; Jeffrey Meyers, Edmund Wilson: A Biography, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1995, p. 109.
29 Milford, Zelda, p. 47.
30 ZSF, Caesar, ch. IV, CO183, Box 2A, Folder 5, PUL.
31 Alexander McKaig, Diary, 12 Apr. 1920.
32 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 62.
33 Wilson, Letters on Literature and Politics, p. 478.
34 Meyers, Edmund Wilson, p. 109; The Portable Edmund Wilson, ed. Lewis M. Dabney, Viking Press, New York, 1983, p. 191.
35 Wilson, Letters, p. 478.
36 Lawton Campbell to Milford, 19 Sep. 1965, quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 78.
37 Scott Donaldson, Fool for Love: A Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Delta, New York, 1983, pp. 28, 29.
38 FSF to Marie Hersey, May 1920, CO188, Box 4, Folder 25, PUL. The occasion was 25 Apr. 1920. The following week without Zelda to witness his renewed humiliation Scott drove back to Princeton with Bishop and Wilson for a banquet for former Nassau Lit editors. Attired in a foolish costume of halo and wings and carrying a lyre, Scott was ejected from a rear window and told he was suspended from the Cottage Club.
39 The New York press reported their infamous acts just the way the Montgomery Advertiser had reported Zelda’s youthful exploits.
40 ZSF, Waltz, p. 51.
41 Dos Passos, Best Times, p. 128. He was describing his time with Zelda and Scott in 1922.
42 On this he paid $1,444.25 federal tax.
43 Zelda said later that her two highly autobiographical novels accurately reflected her feelings about their time in New York in the early Twenties. In Save Me The Waltz David wakes up in the Biltmore groaning over their fame in the newspapers. Alabama says it is nice. David shouts ‘Nice! But it says we’re in a sanitarium for wickedness. What’ll our parents think …?’ Alabama, still ‘glad we’re famous anyway’, dances riotously and thinks up ways to spend money. Save Me The Waltz, p. 45.
44 Fowler’s affluence so deeply affected Scott that five years later he based Anson Hunter on Ludlow in ‘The Rich Boy’.
45 McKaig, Diary, 15 Sep. 1920.
46 Ibid., 13 Oct. 1920.
47 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 62. Wilson, who also recognized Zelda’s usefulness to Scott in the early Twenties, was the first of Scott’s friends to respect Zelda’s independent artistic talent as the decade wore on. Years later, when corresponding with Scott’s biographer, Wilson urged him to ‘make clear that even when her mind was going, the writing and painting she did had her curious personal quality of imaginative iridescence and showed something of real talent’ (Meyers, Edmund Wilson, pp. 109–10).
48 Meyers, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 72.
49 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 55.
50 Wilson wished to marry Millay, who had already gone through eighteen love affairs. McKaig called her ‘a modern Sappho’.
51 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 214.
52 Wilson to Arthur Mizener, 27 Jan. 1950, Yale University.
54 Later Wilson wrote to Scottie about these incidents that it was smart in the Twenties for attractive young married women to hold levees in their bathrooms. Wilson reassured Scottie that though Zelda did do this she always did it casually and only with good friends of Scott’s.
55 ZSF to FSF, c. late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 190.
56 Eugenia and Morton married in August possibly during her affair with Scott, and were to divorce and remarry three times. On one stormy ocean crossing with Eugenia the depressed Morton jumped overboard in an attempt to kill himself. Scott, always on the lookout for material, used that aborted death leap in several early versions of Tender Is The Night, and even after finally expunging it, he retained the name Hoyt for young Rosemary who poses the threat to Nicole and Dick Diver’s marriage.
57 ZSF, Caesar, ‘She Had A Right To It’ (ch. VI in author’s new edited structure), CO183, Box 2A, Folder 6, PUL.
58 ZSF, Waltz, p. 44.
59 ZSF, Caesar, ch. VI, CO183, Box 2A, Folder 6, PUL.
60 According to Scott, those healing conversations continued until their trip to Europe in the late Twenties.
61 FSF to Ruth Sturtevant, 14 May 1920.
62 The mill’s speciality was grinding kiln-dried corn for shipment to the West Indies. The house was later known as the Switch House because it was where the trolleys switched tracks to go on to Compo beach. Eve Potts, Westport — A Special Place, Westport Historical Society, 1985, p. 113.
63 ZSF to Ludlow Fowler, 9 May 1920, CO183, Box 5, Folder 4, PUL.
64 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 59.
65 Wilson to H. L. Mencken, 12 May 1922, Letters, p. 82.
66 ZSF to FSF, c. late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 190.
67 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 57. Gotham is a nickname for New York City.
Zelda was a reckless driver with few automotive skills and defective vision. Scott was equally incompetent. During the July 1920 trip their broken axles, flat tyres, speeding fines and high garage bills1 gave Scott sufficient material for ‘The Cruise of The Rolling Junk’, a witty travel series. Zelda told Ludlow Fowler their inability to read maps meant Connecticut to Montgomery (1,000 miles as the crow flies) ‘took us a week … The joys of motoring are more or less fictitious.’2
In Virginia their matching white knickerbocker suits were considered so shocking that a good hotel initially refused them entry. By Greensboro, North Carolina, Zelda felt obliged to pull on a skirt over her knickerbockers.3
As they finally neared Montgomery, the floral Southern scents and the sight of young belles in organdie dresses filled Zelda with nostalgia. Scott understood: ‘Suddenly Zelda was crying, crying because things were the same and yet were not the same. It was for her faithlessness that she wept and for the faithlessness of time.’4
Predictably, they were locked out of the Sayres’ house as Zelda’s parents were away. Swiftly they drove to Livye Hart’s, where Peyton Mathis gawped at Zelda’s knickerbockers. ‘What’s happened to you?’ he asked. ‘You went away in long skirts and you’ve come back in short pants.’5
Though displaced in the North, Zelda found, like Thomas Wolfe who also left the South for New York City, that on returning there is a deep sense in which you can’t go home again.
In the Sayres’ temporary absence they stayed initially at the Country Club before moving on to Katharine Elsberry’s in prestigious Felder Avenue. Zelda wandered through Katharine’s garden amongst familiar camellias, magnolias and roses before characteristically monopolizing Katharine’s bathroom. Before breakfast Katharine heard Zelda call out: ‘Scott, what did you do with the toothbrush?’ Later Katharine told Zelda’s granddaughter: ‘Didn’t have but one. I thought that was the sweetest, most romantic thing I had ever heard of.’6
Sharing a toothbrush was strangely untypical of Zelda, who was obsessive about cleanliness. ‘Zelda … looked like she’d always just had a bath,’ said one Montgomery friend.7 Bathrooms for Zelda were often a context to romance. Before she saw Katharine, she had already held court publicly from her own bath and preferred to have Scott nearby when she was bathing.8
Zelda believed that women who bathed constantly were morally pure, a symbolism borrowed by Scott for the novel he was writing about marriage.9 His heroine Gloria Gilbert cries: ‘I loathe women … They never seem clean to me — never — never.’10 When Gloria’s fiance Anthony Patch asks why she is prepared to marry him, Gloria, modelled on Zelda, replies: ‘Well, because you’re so clean. You’re sort of blowy clean, like I am. There’s two sorts … one’s … clean like polished pans. You and I are clean like streams and winds. I can tell whenever I see a person whether he is clean, and if so, which kind of clean he is.’11 In 1920 Zelda felt most men were more likely than women to be ‘blowy clean’, which might be why she felt able to share Scott’s toothbrush.
On the Sayres’ return Zelda re-settled into her baby role, noticing Scott’s coolness towards her parents. Scott felt Zelda’s home town no longer appreciated him, while her parents still saw him as unreliable. Feeling ill at ease in Montgomery, after only two weeks they sold the broken-down Marmon and departed by train. Zelda, sad to leave her parents, persuaded them to visit Westport later.
Scott returned North determined to work seriously on his novel, for which he had already signed a contract with Metropolitan Magazine for serialization. He told Harold Ober he would deliver the manuscript by October.
In mid-August Zelda wrote to Ludlow Fowler: ‘Scott’s hot in the midst of a new novel and Westport is unendurably dull but you and I might be able to amuse ourselves — and both of us want to see you dreadfully.’12
Though Zelda told Ludlow how glad she was to see her parents when they visited that month, they were less happy. Collected from New York by Zelda and Scott, they discovered two drunken friends of Scott’s asleep in the hammock who arose and danced drunkenly at the dinner table. Zelda was forced to borrow $20 from her mother to send them to a roadhouse. To her dismay they returned at 3 a.m. whereupon Scott began drinking gin and tomato juice with them. When Zelda appeared the kitchen was in a shambles; she tried to remove the gin bottle from Scott, he fended her off and her face caught in the swinging door. Her nose bled and her eyes swelled up. At breakfast when her parents saw her the Judge was stony with disapproval.
Matters worsened when the Sayres, having expected Zelda and Clothilde — who lived nearby in Tarrytown — to visit each other regularly, discovered Zelda had not seen her sister since Clothilde had borrowed Zelda’s new pigskin suitcase to carry away her baby’s wet diapers.13 Zelda, who even as a child had never wanted to share her toys with her siblings, was disproportionately annoyed. But there were also underlying reasons for the sisters’ estrangement: Clothilde was still seething over Scott’s treatment of the Sayres at the wedding, while the Fitzgeralds were angry that she had subsequently reprimanded them for overspending.
When the Sayres left in late August, a week earlier than planned, to visit their ‘good’ daughter, Zelda realized ‘she hadn’t been absolutely sure of how to go about anything since her marriage had precluded the Judge’s resented direction’.14 But despite the Judge’s disapproval, Zelda told Sara Mayfield she was ‘desolate’ at their departure.15
Scott renewed serious work on his novel in the Wakeman cottage while Zelda instigated a whirlwind social life in New York. First they saw Bunny Wilson and John Peale Bishop, who both still coveted the poet Edna St Vincent Millay. Edna was a brilliant, beautiful woman around whom clever men flocked but who, unlike Zelda, had learnt to escape from romantic messes by using her intellect. Whilst being courted by Wilson and Bishop, she carefully ensured they printed her poems in Vanity Fair. The two men were not above giving public displays of three-cornered heavy petting with Millay, who complained that her two ‘choir boys of Hell’ managed to maintain their joint affair with her without splitting up their own friendship. Sober observers noted that when petting on a couch Wilson, despite his Puritan rearing, ‘was assigned the lower regions of the poet, while Bishop was entrusted with the top half’.16
Edna and Zelda shared the quality of elusiveness, forceful personalities and serious natures beneath their wild frivolity. But when they met in 1920 Edna, already focused on her writing, drew male professional admiration, a possible obstacle to friendship with Zelda.
Though Bishop was attracted to the volcanic Millay, as a Southern aristocrat it was Zelda rather than Edna whom he understood. Bishop’s Southern background ensured he was never entirely at home in New York, but merely masked his insecurities by witty discourse, as did Zelda.17
In St Paul in 1919 Scott had read his work aloud to Donald Ogden Stewart, who, newly arrived in Manhattan, engaged Zelda with his wit. Scott introduced him to Wilson at Vanity Fair, where Stewart was subsequently offered work.18 Scott’s introduction of one friend to another who might prove useful professionally was characteristically generous.19
That season in New York Zelda and Scott met most of the established literati: popular novelist Edna Ferber (who later numbered Fitzgerald amongst her ‘Ten Dullest Authors’ in a Vanity Fair article);20 critic Burton Rascoe, who had given This Side of Paradise an excellent review in the Chicago Daily Tribune; James Branch Cabell, author of Jurgens and in 1920 among the most famous of living American novelists, with whom Scott entered into a correspondence. They also met 44-year-old Sherwood Anderson, who like Scott had moved from advertising to acclaimed fiction which exposed the damaging passions that underlay outwardly ordinary Americans.21
A friend of Anderson’s, Theodore Dreiser, eminent author of Sister Carrie, was giving a quiet publication party for a recent novel.22 Though Dreiser was another of Scott’s heroes, Anderson couldn’t procure him an invitation so the Fitzgeralds gatecrashed the party at St Luke’s Place. Scott, tipsy, waving a bottle of champagne, sang out: ‘Mr Dreiser, my name is Fitzgerald. I have always got a great kick out of your works.’ Dreiser curtly put the bottle and his disorderly guest on ice.23
Scott and Zelda kept up this constant round of party-going even though Scott told a journalist: ‘Parties are a form of suicide. I love them but the old Catholic in me secretly disapproves’.24 They met members of the Round Table, known as the Vicious Circle, the infamous weekday lunch club for irreverent humorists including Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott, dramatic critic of The World. The Fitzgeralds frequented their gatherings at the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street.25 Sherwood and Kaufman were writing a string of successful musical comedies, and Tallulah Bankhead was one actress associated with the group.
When Parker got fired from Vanity Fair for a contentious dramatic review her colleagues Benchley and Sherwood had resigned in protest. The vacancy was filled by Edmund Wilson, the solitary son of a moody melancholic lawyer father and deaf mother, who had turned to books for comfort from his oppressive background. Wilson saw the group as shallow and incestuous because they had all read the same children’s books and ‘all came from the suburbs and “provinces’”26, which of course enabled them successfully to promote each other’s literary reputations. Their caustic queen, Dorothy Parker, exemplified their tone of debunking bitchy wit which mocked their own or other people’s provincial upbringings.
Parker’s first glimpse of the Fitzgeralds was the now legendary one of Zelda riding on the hood of a taxi while Scott hung on to the roof. Parker, seven years older than Zelda, was a talented satirist whose barbed aphorisms delighted New York journalists. A short-story writer, playwright and essayist, her lasting work has been her light verse which cleverly mocked at failure, loneliness and despair, themes currently engaging Fitzgerald’s imagination. Parker said that after glimpsing the zany honeymoon pair she was introduced to them by Robert Sherwood. But Wilson claimed that he was the first to arrange a meeting because Parker, who had already met Scott briefly in 1919,27 ‘was beglamoured by the idea of Scott Fitzgerald’.28 Wilson said he arranged dinner at the Algonquin where they all ‘sat at one of those Algonquin tables, too narrow to have anyone across from you, so that one sat on a bench with one’s back to the wall’, and Parker quipped: ‘This looks like a road company of the Last Supper.’29
Wilson found Dorothy ‘fairly pretty’ but with a vulgarity which came from using too much perfume,30 less to his taste than Zelda, whom no one ever considered vulgar. Scott however was flattered by Parker, three years his senior. He did not mind her lethal drama reviews in Vanity Fair or her habit of warmly greeting presumed friends then later making acid comments about them. He did, however, record a joke about someone asking whether Parker had injured anyone that day. The answer was: ‘No, but don’t remind her. Maybe she hasn’t done her bad deed for the day.’31
Though Parker was later kind to Zelda, in general she had no use for dependent women. ‘Her view of Zelda,’ said Parker’s biographer Marion Meade, ‘formed in 1920 … was negative — and I don’t believe she ever changed her mind … She was also put off by Zelda’s foreign [Southern] accent which to a rabid Manhattan chauvinist meant the person must be a hillbilly.’32
Parker also disliked Zelda’s looks: ‘I never thought she was beautiful … candy box face and a little bow mouth … something petulant about her. If she didn’t like something she sulked.’33
Parker’s poisonous wit caught only part of Zelda’s personality. Momentarily Zelda would sulk, as she did when she noticed the fulsome attention Parker paid to Scott, but then with a strange shift of direction she would lose interest in what had gripped her and a remote evasiveness would subsume the petulance.
After the summer Scott wished to write seriously for the theatre, so the Fitzgeralds began to see more of playwrights Lillian Hellman and Charles MacArthur (a former journalist), film and stage actresses Lillian Gish (a year older than Zelda) and Helen Hayes (Zelda’s age), and screenwriter Anita Loos (born 1893), who in 1925 would write Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Gish, more positive than Parker about Zelda, said: ‘They were both so beautiful, so blond, so clean and clear — And drinking strait whiskey out of tall tumblers … Zelda could do outlandish things — say anything. It was never offensive when Zelda did it, as you felt she couldn’t help it, and was not doing it for effect.’34
Zelda’s particular friend was rough-haired Carl Van Vechten, then in his forties, a hulking, highly successful novelist, critic and photographer. The writer Djuna Barnes told Edmund Wilson she thought Carl was a ‘prissy’ literary name-dropper,35 but Zelda found Carl a ‘divine’ party host. Despite his devoted marriage to Russian actress Fania Marinoff, Carl had several well-established homosexual relationships, which possibly accounted for Zelda’s lasting non-flirtatious friendship with him. ‘Our relations were very impersonal,’ she said years later, ‘but Carl was a fine friend.’36
Early in their friendship, Van Vechten noticed Scott’s inability to hold alcohol. ‘He could take two or three drinks at most and be completely drunk … he was nasty when he was drunk, but sober he was a charming man.’ What he noticed about Zelda was her uniqueness. ‘She was an original … she tore up the pavements with sly remarks … She didn’t actually write them down, Scott did, but she said them.’37
Van Vechten summed up how friends saw the Fitzgeralds in his novel Parties, where David and Rilda Westlake, modelled on the Fitzgeralds, ‘love each other desperately, passionately. They [cling] to each other like barnacles cling to rocks, but they want to hurt each other all the time.’38 Rilda influences most of David’s behaviour: he acts only to aggravate or to please her. One complaint of Rilda’s to David shows genuine insight into the Fitzgeralds’ bond: ‘Our damned faithfulness … our clean “fidelity”, doesn’t get us very far. We follow each other around in circles, loving and hating and wounding. We’re both so sadistic.’39 Van Vechten has even replicated Zelda’s use of ‘clean’ to imply sexual purity.
Certainly Scott and Zelda were intensely jealous of each other. Zelda felt excluded by the literary attention he received; Scott felt excluded by the male admiration she received. Before their marriage Scott had confided to Wilson that ‘I wouldn’t care if she [Zelda] died, but I couldn’t stand to have anybody else marry her.’40
The rising tensions between the Fitzgeralds often exploded into heated disputes which either began in Westport, continued on the New Haven train and were sustained at friends’ Manhattan apartments, or began in New York and were maintained on the train journey home.
Alex McKaig, who that August had returned to reporting the Fitzgeralds’ activities in his diary, recorded one row he witnessed on 15 September 1920: ‘In the evening Zelda — drunk — having decided to leave Fitzgerald & having nearly been killed walking down RR track, blew in. Fitz came shortly after.’41 Sara Mayfield takes up the story. ‘Fitzgerald had boarded the train without money or a ticket. The conductor threatened to throw him off but finally let him stay when Scott promised to pay him upon his arrival in Westport. After Scott tore into Zelda for walking the tracks, she refused to give him the money for his ticket, and they joined in a verbal battle that was to continue intermittently for two decades.’42 McKaig’s judgement was: ‘Fitz should let Zelda go and not run after her … he is afraid of what she may do in a moment of caprice.’43
After this incident Zelda wrote Scott a letter which Mayfield considered a typical ‘passionate reconciliation’:
I look down the tracks and see you coming — and out of every haze & mist your darling rumpled trousers are hurrying to me — Without you, dearest dearest I couldn’t see or hear or feel or think — or live — I love you so and I’m never in all our lives going to let us be apart another night. It’s like begging for mercy of a storm or killing Beauty or growing old, without you. I want to kiss you so — and in the back where your dear hair starts and your chest — I love you — and I cant tell you how much — To think that I’ll die without your knowing — Goofo, you’ve got to try [to] feel how much I do — how inanimate I am when you’re gone — I can’t even hate these damnable people — Nobodys got any right to live but us — and they’re dirtying up our world and I can’t hate them because I want you so — Come Quick — Come Quick to me — I could never do without you if you hated me and were covered with sores like a leper — if you ran away with another woman and starved me and beat me — I still would want you I know — Lover, Lover, Darling — Your Wife.44
Though the letter idealizes the incident it also reveals Zelda’s dependency, an emotion that would have surprised their friends.
If readers of Fitzgerald’s novels who have never read Zelda’s letters find this particular note familiar, it is because Scott reproduced it almost word for word in The Beautiful and Damned. Zelda herself had no idea that Scott had used both the episode and her exact words until she saw the published version of The Beautiful and Damned in 1922.45 She bit back her shock and, unable at the time to voice her resentment over this appropriation, later did express her increasing discontent with her status as Scott’s assistant-wife. In Caesar’s Things she immortalizes Scott as the painter Jacob: ‘Jacob went on doing whatever it was that Jacob did … He was more important than Janno; she always felt as if she should be helpful about his tinkerings; they were intricate enough to need an assistant. She didn’t really do anything but wait on his will. While Jacob painted she went to the hair-dresser and bought things … She stated and tabulated and compared the shoes of 42nd Street with the shoes of Upper Broadway.’46 In 1920 Zelda felt shoe-shopping was insufficient for a young woman with brains, but still she hid her frustration while flirting wildly to arouse Scott’s jealousy.
She succeeded with George Jean Nathan, one witty constant visitor. Nathan, thirty-eight, short, dark and melancholic, was Scott’s model for the brilliantly original Maury Noble in The Beautiful and Damned whom Scott compares to ‘a large slender and imposing cat’. Nathan, according to biographer James Mellow, was also a self-acknowledged chauvinist who preferred under-educated women. He tested a woman’s capabilities by asking her directions to Grand Central Station. ‘If her answer was 50 percent correct she was intelligent enough for normal use.’47
Zelda, confident of her own intelligence, flattered by Nathan’s obvious interest, ignored this displeasing characteristic. Nathan soon addressed letters just to Zelda, beginning notes ‘Fair Zelda’ or ‘Dear Blonde’, signing them ‘Yours, for the Empire, A Prisoner of Zelda’.48
Acknowledging the seriousness of Zelda’s addiction to chewing gum, Nathan wrote: ‘I am very sorry to hear that your husband is neglectful of his duties to you in the way of chewing gum. That is the way husbands get after five months of marriage.’49
At one of Nathan’s excellent parties Zelda came to grief — typically when taking a bath. ‘At present, I’m hardly able to sit down owing to an injury sustained in the course of one of Nathan’s parties in N.Y.’, she reported to Ludlow Fowler. ‘I cut my tail on a broken bottle and can’t possibly sit on the three stitches that are in it now — The bottle was bath salts — I was boiled — The place was a tub somewhere.’50
Scrutinizing Nathan’s bathroom, Zelda found other women’s golden hair in Nathan’s combs, then discovered to her chagrin that he spent time with at least two other ‘dear blondes’. One was Hollywood screenwriter Anita Loos, the other Ruth Findlay, star of The Prince and the Pauper, a Mark Twain doppel-ganger tale of rags and royalty in sixteenth-century England.51
Unabashed, Nathan continued their correspondence: ‘Dear Misguided Woman: Like so many uncommonly beautiful creatures, you reveal a streak of obtuseness. The calling of a husband’s attention to a love letter addressed to his wife is but part of a highly sagacious technique … It completely disarms suspicion … Why didn’t you call me up on Friday? Is it possible that your love is growing cold? Through the ages, George.’52 By October Scott’s jealousy of Nathan temporarily cooled his friendship with him.53
Despite annoying Scott, Nathan enabled them to meet Scott’s ‘current idol’,54 the critic H. L. Mencken, who, disliking New York and its literati, only visited the Smart Set offices for a few days once a month from his home in Baltimore. He would book in at the Algonquin, then nip over to Nathan’s suite at the Royalton or share a hearty German lunch and beer at Luchow’s nearby. At the end of July Nathan laid in three cases of gin then invited Scott and Zelda to a New York party at his Royalton apartment to meet Mencken. The critic was enchanted by Zelda, whom he called ‘the fair Madonna’,55 but encountering the Fitzgeralds at their most extreme presented him with a challenge. All Mencken’s friends, according to his biographer Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, led ‘sane, systematic lives, their own personal code of conduct, like Mencken’s, being based on the avoidance of extremes’.56 Mencken recalls that in 1920, when he and Nathan gave cocktail parties, Zelda and Scott would drive over then, despite being drunk, to Mencken’s horror would insist on driving home.57
Baltimore born, two years older than Nathan, with a squat face and hair plastered back and parted down the middle, Mencken could hardly be termed handsome. Yet in 1920 he had become one of America’s most eligible bachelors, well-known for such cynical remarks as ‘any man who marries after 30 is a damn fool’.58 This light side, labelled The Bad Boy of Baltimore, contrasted with his serious side, tagged The Sage of Baltimore, which reflected his position as America’s most respected critic, journalist and editor. As the writer Sherwood Anderson said, receiving a letter from Henry Mencken felt ‘like being knighted by a king’.59 Mencken at the time was the only person in the USA for whom Fitzgerald had complete admiration.
Though Mencken’s comments were feared by authors, remembering his own first rejections the Sage treated writers with courtesy. Zelda’s friend Sara Haardt who, after graduating from Goucher College, was now back in Montgomery teaching history at the Margaret Booth school, had already submitted several stories to the Smart Set and had received several of Mencken’s gentle rejections. As Sara’s fiction focused on Southern culture she was not well disposed towards the Sage, who had recently labelled Alabama ‘The Sahara of the Bozart’, his teasing term for Beaux Arts.
Scott, being Northern, was better disposed than Sara to Mencken. He had already, in his own phrase, ‘bootlicked’ the great man, who would soon become one of his intellectual mentors, by sending him a flatteringly inscribed copy of This Side of Paradise and by adopting some of Mencken’s positive views on Dreiser and Conrad.
Flappers and Philosophers, Scott’s first volume of stories, which included ‘Benediction’ and ‘Dalyrimple’ already published by Mencken, came out on 10 September 1920, dedicated to Zelda.60 He nervously awaited Mencken’s review.61 Although it was a commercial success,62 Mencken now publicly called attention to the split in Fitzgerald’s work between serious fiction and entertainment.63 The Sage felt Scott had great talent but a suspect lifestyle, possibly influenced by Zelda’s extravagant tastes. Privately, he noticed Zelda’s enjoyment of money and Scott’s preoccupation with it: ‘His wife talks too much about money. His danger lies in trying to get it too rapidly.’64
Scott wished to be a serious artist but he was drawn to money. He had been thrilled when in May 1920 Metropolitan Magazine had taken an option on his stories at $900 each while the Saturday Evening Post paid only $500.65 High-paying popular magazines, however, wanted bland optimistic tales, while Scott’s real interest was in astringent satire or pessimistic fiction. Zelda, who could not see the profound difference between popular and literary fiction, was proud of him for making money from magazine stories. Whether this severe misjudgement was rooted in her lack of literary training or in her father’s disapproval of writers who could not pay their way, so that she assumed high fees were a sound criterion, is not clear.
Despite earning almost $20,000 that year, Scott owed $600 in outstanding bills and a further $650 to the Reynolds Agency.66 In desperation he wrote to Maxwell Perkins, who also blamed Zelda for Scott’s financial crisis, for a loan. ‘She wanted everything,’ he complained.67 Certainly, when Scott had been reduced to drawing steadily against future royalties for This Side of Paradise,68 Zelda’s request for a fur coat had not helped. Scott’s generosity meant they rapidly ran out of funds. His scheme of borrowing ahead from his publisher and agent had already established an insecure life pattern.
Though Zelda spent money easily, she had none of her own, and no bank account. Sara Mayfield felt Scott needed the power he gained from Zelda’s dependency but Zelda resented it. There is curious conflicting evidence. One anecdote suggests Zelda felt comfortable with the situation: she took Rosalind to lunch at the Plaza, pulled out a roll of banknotes the size of a baseball and said: ‘Scott gave it to me as I went out the door, so what else could I do with it but bring it along.’69 But sometimes ‘money vanished mysteriously’.70 In July 1920 Scott notes: ‘Zelda hides $500’, followed in November by: ‘Zelda hides $100 from Dorothy Parker.’71 This suggests that Zelda was resentful both about her lack of independent finance and perhaps about Parker.
Their dire finances left Zelda in a quandary about Scott’s Christmas present. With habitual ingenuity she wrote to James Branch Cabell, enclosing her photo, saying that when trying to steal Nathan’s first edition of Jurgens as a Christmas present for her husband ‘under pretence of intoxication’, she had been foisted off with a fencing foil which she would gladly exchange for a copy of the book.72 Cabell, highly amused, sent her an autographed copy.
As Scott attempted to complete The Beautiful and Damned his irritation with Zelda, who wanted to party, increased. The beady-eyed McKaig reported she was ‘increasingly restless — says frankly she simply wants to be amused and is only good for useless pleasure-giving pursuits; great problem — what is she to do? Fitz has his writing of course — God knows where the two of them are going to end up … If she’s there Fitz can’t work — she bothers him — if she’s not there he can’t work — worried what she might do.’73
Scott’s writer friends who encouraged Zelda nevertheless believed that women should be helpmates not distractions. McKaig reported Zelda’s next visit to New York:
September 16: Zelda came in & woke me sleeping on couch at 7.15 for no reason. She has no sense of decencies of living … Fitz picture and an article to go in Vanity Fair. Autobiographical note about him in Metropolitan this month — got $900 for it … His vogue is tremendous.
September 27: John [Bishop] spent weekend at Fitz — new novel sounds awful — no seriousness of approach. Zelda interrupts him all the time — diverts in both senses …
McKaig also kept up a running report on the affairs of Wilson, Bishop and Edna St Vincent Millay:
September 17: Bunny Wilson and Edna Millet in intolerable situation. He wants her to marry him. She tempted because of great poverty and the financial security he offers … However … she is making eyes at another man. It nearly kills her but she can’t help it.
September 20: Bunnie has repeated to Edna … things John [Bishop] said about her … John is very distressed.
But when John poured out his woes to Alex, McKaig remarked that Bishop was damn stupid, interested only in himself, poetry and women. Bishop, like Scott, was presumably insufficiently interested in McKaig’s attempts to leave advertising.
During the summer of 1920 Scott, overlooking these undercurrents, had written three stories: ‘The Jelly Bean’ (sold to Metropolitan), ‘The Lees of Happiness’ (Chicago Sunday Tribune) and an unsold story, ‘IOU’, focused on marital relationships.
Scott drew on Zelda’s Southern world, ‘a grotesquely pictorial country’, for the backdrop.74 ‘The Jelly Bean’, he told Ober, was ‘the first story to really recreate the modern southern belle’,75 Nancy Lamar, inspired of course by Zelda. Reckless Nancy meets and kisses Southern pool-hall loafer Jim Powell at a country club dance. In love, Jim decides to reform. But the following day, learning that Nancy got drunk and married her date from Savannah, he returns to loafing.
In ‘The Lees of Happiness’ writer Jeffrey Curtain, happily married for one year to former chorus girl Roxanne Milbank, suffers a stroke, lives like a vegetable for eleven years and is tended devotedly till death by Roxanne.76
A later story, ‘The Adjuster’, carries forward this miserable marital theme. Luella and Charles Hemple are drifting towards divorce when Charles suddenly has a nervous breakdown and Luella is forced to assume domestic responsibility. In The Beautiful and Damned too, Gloria’s husband Anthony is seized by ‘a sort of madness’ and ends up a ruined man being pushed along in a wheelchair.77
Though Scott professed himself content with their ‘revelry and marriage’ in his 1920 Ledger,78 his fictional treatment of marriage at this time is curiously ominous.79
By October 1920 the Fitzgeralds felt fall in Westport would be dreary, so they moved into an apartment at 38 West 59th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, conveniently near the Plaza Hotel from which they could order meals. Campbell and McKaig, as frequent visitors, were again made painfully aware of Zelda’s lack of housekeeping skills.
Campbell spent his one-hour lunch break there:
When I entered the room was bedlam. Breakfast dishes were all about, the bed unmade, books and papers scattered … trays filled with cigarette butts, liquor glasses from the night before … Scott was dressing and Zelda was luxuriating in the bath-tub. With the door partly open, she carried on a steady flow of conversation. ‘Scott,’ she called out, ‘tell Lawton ‘bout … tell Lawton what I said … tell Lawton what I did …80
Lawton’s lunch hour was over before Zelda was dressed. Her egotistic interruptions from the bathroom have a demented note as she fights for recognition.
That fall the Fitzgeralds smoked on their beds or those of their friends, ordered sandwiches from nearby delicatessens and entertained in their luxury slum. In October McKaig’s waspish diary records: ‘Went to Fitzgeralds. Usual problem there. What shall Zelda do? I think she might do a little housework — apartment looks like a pig sty.’81
As a man addicted to constant changes of shirts Scott grew irritable with his Southern Belle’s inability even to organize the laundry.82 His testiness may have increased because so many friends witnessed the increasing disorder.
Later, Zelda regretted how little she knew about marital responsibilities or Scott’s Northern expectations of Minnesota wives. ‘People really ought to be taught about marriage in the schools: what they expect as its rewards and which of the responsibilities they are willing to carry. Then they would be able to choose which pattern in which to pursue their destinies.’83
Fitzgerald alternated wild parties with bursts of energetic work. In November he wrote Perkins he had ‘done 15,000 words in last three days which is very fast writing even for me who write very fast’.84 Scott’s hard work meant that Part I of The Beautiful and Damned was finished by January 1921, a month later he gave Part II to Wilson to criticize. He completed it just before they sailed for Europe at the beginning of May.
McKaig, hitherto cynical towards Zelda, suddenly fell in love with her.85 On 27 November he told his diary: ‘I spent the evening shaving Zelda’s neck to make her bobbed hair look better … She is lovely — wonderful hair — eyes and mouth.’ But he would not betray Scott. On 4 December he recorded: ‘Lunch at Gotham. T. [probably Townsend Martin] Zelda, Scott and I. Then took Zelda to cocktail party … and then tea in Biltmore. In taxi Zelda asked me to kiss her but I couldn’t. I couldn’t forget Scott — he’s so damn pitiful.’86
During that winter of dissipation there were two more bathroom incidents. When McKaig arrived home after that taxi ride with Zelda on 4 December he found a telephone message from Scott: the most awful thing had happened, would he go to their apartment immediately, it would be a test of friendship.
‘I rushed up expecting to find a death or serious accident,’ McKaig reported. ‘When I got there … he said hello casually and went on talking … I asked him in Christs [sic] name what the matter was — it seemed they had a quarrel. Zelda went into the bathroom, turned on the water to hide noise of footsteps & walked out the door. Instead of trying to find her himself he … telephoned all his friends. Finally Zelda called & I went for her.’87
McKaig’s account is curious. It seems odd that the Fitzgeralds’ row should have occurred immediately after McKaig rejected Zelda’s advance, if indeed he had done so. It seems odd that Scott should have phoned McKaig instead of looking for Zelda himself. It seems odd that it was McKaig rather than Scott who finally went to fetch her. It is possible that McKaig’s diary offers an incomplete record for reasons of discretion. Or had Scott become suspicious of McKaig and phoned him at his home in case Zelda was there?
Certainly, during another quarrel that tense winter Scott broke down the bathroom door. In Zelda’s version he ‘hurt’ her eye; in Scott’s Ledger he notes the bathroom door incident and ‘the black eye’, but he puts a January rather than December date which, if accurate, may imply two fierce bathroom rows.88 Scott became so sensitive to the way Zelda always fled to a bathroom when distressed that later he picked the bathroom for a suicide attempt by Nicole Diver (partially based on Zelda) in Tender Is The Night.
On 11 December McKaig joined Scott in arguing with Zelda about the ‘notoriety they are getting through being so publicly and spectacularly drunk. Zelda wants to live the life of an “extravagant”. No thought of what world will think or of future … I told them they were headed for catastrophe if they kept up at present rate.’89
A few days later Bishop and McKaig decided cynically the Fitzgeralds’ drunken performances were possibly all contrived to ‘hand down [the] Fitzgerald legend’.90
That honeymoon year amply fed their increasing notoriety. Zelda later described the life they led as a ‘rickety world of aftermath … a rackety world of brow-beating the heart’. In her second novel she fictionalizes Scott’s friends as men who all knew what kind of cold cream she used, who confessed their preferences in women to her and who ‘slumbered over the grill-stairs and left their hats all over town and spent hours putting more acceptable interpretations on things … sensitive the while [to] a precariousness of the whole arrangement’. Precarious was an accurate word for that first year of marriage. In Caesar’s Things Zelda later reflected on what it had meant to be a star’s wife: ‘He owned her, bundled her up and set her in taxis beside him … showed her off to an inclusive set of college friends and made a big success of being impresario.’91 The star’s wife was expected to be compliant, courageous and ingratiating. Being seen as her husband’s glamorous possession after years of stardom as a Southern Belle was painful yet not unusual for a married woman.
Zelda had little time, however, to dwell on any discontent with her present role before she was thrust into a very different one. In February 1921 she discovered she was pregnant, and immediately went back to Montgomery where Scott joined her in March. For Zelda the transition from a lifetime of being her family’s ‘baby’ to thinking of herself as a baby’s mother was thorny. Still wishing to be considered a belle rather than a mother-to-be, she was delighted when asked to dance at the annual Les Mysterieuses Masked Ball, which that year was a Hawaiian pageant. Lawton Campbell, visiting his family in Montgomery, attended the ball:
one masker was doing her dance more daring than the others … Finally the dance … turned her back on the audience, lifted her grass skirt over her head for a quick view of her pantied posterior and gave it an extra wiggle for good measure … Everybody was whispering ‘That’s Zelda!’. It was Zelda and no mistake! She wanted it known … and she was happy with the recognition.92
Back in New York in April, Zelda’s bewilderment about motherhood increased. She felt incompetent and recognized that Scott and their bachelor friends were hardly more knowledgeable. Most of the ex-Princeton set knew where to find the blank verse in Cabell or how to get seats for the Yale game but knew nothing about having a baby.93
When Zelda was two months pregnant the Fitzgeralds decided to pack their incompetence and ignorance into a suitcase and take their first trip to Europe, returning before the birth.
They sailed for Europe on the Cunard liner Aquitania on 3 May 1921. From May to July 1921 they scanned life and culture in England, France and Italy. In London, after checking into the Cecil Hotel, Zelda’s greatest thrill came when Shane Leslie, Scott’s early mentor and Winston Churchill’s first cousin, took them on a night walk through Dockland along the waterfronts of Stepney, Limehouse, Wapping and on to the haunts once taken by Jack the Ripper. Zelda, dressed in men’s clothes, added the remarkable twilights along the Thames to her collection which she would paint later. It was an area with no taxis, no police, more appealing to Zelda’s sense of adventure than the staid lunch hosted by Lady Randolph Churchill, the famous Jenny Jerome, Winston’s mother. Though Zelda talked at length to Winston, what she recalled were dessert strawberries ‘as big as tomatoes’.94 The Fitzgeralds met Jack, the younger Churchill son, who took them to a cricket match which bored them; they left early. Tallulah Bankhead, then the toast of London, introduced them to the Marchioness of Milford Haven who Scott said indignantly was as near to royalty as they came.95
Zelda, an avid reader since childhood, was excited that Maxwell Perkins had arranged for them to meet John Galsworthy, who invited them to dinner in Hampstead96 with the Irish playwright Lennox Robinson and St John Ervine, the novelist and dramatist. Scott said sycophantically: ‘Mr Galsworthy, you are one of the three living writers that I admire most in the world,’ but told Wilson later Galsworthy hadn’t approved. ‘He knew he wasn’t that good.’97
They moved on to Paris, arriving on 17 May. Disappointed at not seeing Anatole France, another of Scott’s heroes, after waiting for an hour outside his house, they tried the Folies, Versailles and Malmaison, then decided sightseeing bored them.
Wilson, also on a European tour, reaching Paris on 20 June after the Fitzgeralds had drifted to Venice, felt the Fitzgeralds lived as tourists in France, as they had in New York. Zelda certainly did not feel at home in France until she had learnt French for her second trip. Scott’s view of France summed up their attitude to Europe: ‘France is a bore and a disappointment,’ he wrote to Shane Leslie, ‘chiefly, I imagine, because we know no one here.’98
Wilson, who had broken up with Edna Millay, decided to visit her in Paris that July and discovered that she had been his one romantic passion. ‘She was tired of breaking hearts and spreading havoc … she can no longer intoxicate me with her beauty or throw bombs into my soul … but … some glamour of high passion had gone out of life when my love for her died.’99
The Fitzgeralds glossed Venice from 26 May, Florence by 3 June and Rome by the 22nd, where ‘Zelda and I had an appalling squabble’.100 Zelda laconically took photos in each place with such labels as ‘Me and Goofo in a Gondola’ and ‘Goofo at Fiesole’, but their facial expressions show little enthusiasm for their surroundings. Italy brought some fierce words from Scott: ‘God damn the continent of Europe. It is of merely antiquarian interest.’101
Their last European stop was a return to London on 30 June, where they drifted from a gloomy room at Claridge’s to the Cavendish. Scott wanted to see if This Side of Paradise, published by Collins on 26 May in Britain, had been well received. He was disappointed to find most English critics dismissed it as trivial.
From London they went to Windsor, then on 4 July to Cambridge, where they sought out Rupert Brooke’s Grantchester haunts and took snapshots of each other. Scott took one of Zelda in sedate hat and long plaid skirt outside Trinity College. Zelda shot Scott in three-piece suit strolling down a leafy Grantchester path and labelled it with a Brooke quote: ‘The men observe the rules of thought’. Under her own Grantchester photograph she scribbled: ‘And is there honey yet for tea?’102
Mencken describes how Scott had confided to him and Nathan that their
coming child deserved to be born in some historic … romantic place. Paris seemed a likely choice, but when they got there they found it dull and shabby… Algiers and Tunis turned out to be even worse … Spain and Italy also disappointing, they began a frantic chase over Europe, looking for an ideal place for the nativity. In the end Zelda approached her time without any such ideal place being found, and in a sudden panic they sailed for home.103
Mencken depicted the Fitzgeralds’ feelings of ennui correctly as they scampered through Europe establishing one temporary base after another, Zelda’s restlessness increasing. As they migrated from America to Europe, and within the States from Northeast to South, then from Midwest to West, in search of Utopia, their marriage resembled nothing so much as a twenty-year odyssey. Zelda and Scott’s rootless wandering existence was a significant contribution — both a symptom and a cause — to Zelda’s later instability.104
For Scott this relentless travelling felt familiar, for his childhood pattern had never included security. His constant moves with parents searching for improved residences led him to expect in adulthood psychological and practical improvement with every move. But for Zelda their transitory life, albeit exciting, made her feel displaced. She came from an area where place is important, but so is standing still. As Eudora Welty and William Faulkner emphasized, Southerners move around less than Northerners, often remaining rooted to land, family and community. Faulkner said he would never live long enough to exhaust the stories that sprang from his ‘little postage stamp of native soil’. Zelda and Scott, who rarely stayed long enough in one place to till its soil, achieved their stories by obsessively mining their own lives and each other’s for material and created their fiction almost entirely from personal experience.
They travelled back to the USA in July on the Celtic, going first to Montgomery, where they felt a new confidence as proud parents-to-be. Scott, proud of Zelda’s new form, showed it off to Katharine Elsberry, who later told Zelda’s granddaughter the story. Zelda posed in a new handmade French slip from Paris. ‘Scott said: “Katharine, look at that.” … [I] looked and there was the bulge: Scottie was on the way.’105
Scottie herself recalled: ‘I was supposed to be born in Montgomery, Alabama, but there was a terrible heat wave in September of 1921 … and my father — I’m sure it was my father because he seems to have made all the decisions at all times — decided to wait for the event in St Paul, Minnesota, instead.’106
Zelda told Sara Mayfield’s mother: ‘Scott’s changed. He used to love to go to the cemetery to see the Confederate graves and say he loved the South, but now he wants to get as far away from it as he can.’107
Scott demurred, but after less than a month in Montgomery he and Zelda moved to Minnesota. Like New York it was, as Zelda had feared, a world away, psychologically as well as geographically, from Alabama.
1 They were so financially unprepared for motor bills that Scott had to send Bunny Wilson an emergency letter asking him to wire money ahead of them.
2 ZSF to Ludlow Fowler, 16 Aug. 1920, CO183, Box 5, Folder 4, PUL.
3 In Greensboro they stayed at the O. Henry Hotel.
4 FSF, ‘The Cruise of the Rolling Junk’, Motor, Feb. 1924.
5 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 61.
6 Eleanor Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 410.
7 Eleanor Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 411. The Montgomery friend was Julia Garland, who was with Zelda the day Scott died.
8 In Zelda’s story ‘Southern Girl’ Harriet, like her creator, sees bathing as an invitation to love. Wrapped only in a bath towel, she answers the front door to an unknown man who becomes her lover. When he eventually throws her over, again wrapped in a bath towel she throws open her front door, this time more effectively to a stranger who becomes her husband.
9 This would become The Beautiful and Damned.
10 FSF, The Beautiful and Damned, Penguin, 1966, p. 155.
11 Ibid., p. 111.
12 ZSF to Ludlow Fowler, postmarked 16 Aug. 1920, CO183, Box 5, Folder 4, PUL.
13 Sara Mayfield says that the incident is portrayed in Save Me The Waltz exactly in the way Zelda described it to her (Exiles, p. 57).
14 ZSF, Waltz, p. 51.
15 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 59.
16 Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 100.
17 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 20.
18 ‘I had lost my job in a Dayton, Ohio bank’, Stewart told Zelda’s friend Sara Mayfield, ‘and that is how I became a writer instead of a banker.’ Mayfield, Exiles, p. 65.
19 During the next few years when Scott met Ring Lardner, journalist and humorous writer, and Ernest Hemingway, he would go to even greater lengths than he had with Stewart to promote their talents.
20 Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 450.
21 Anderson’s stories and character sketches became Winesburg, Ohio (1919), preceded by Windy MacPherson’s Son (1916), Marching Men (1917) and two others. His best writing occurs in several volumes of short stories, including Horses and Men (1923).
22 At the height of his career Dreiser wrote An American Tragedy (1925), for which he was ultimately paid $90,000 for the film rights.
23 Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 183 and original sources in endnotes.
24 James Drawbell, An Autobiography, Pantheon Books, New York 1964, p. 173.
25 Members sometimes also met for Saturday evening poker games. This group was known as Thanatopsis Literary and Inside Straight Club.
26 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 45.
27 Marion Meade, Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? Minerva, London, 1991, p. 90.
28 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 45.
30 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 33.
31 FSF, Notebooks No. 314.
32 Marion Meade in correspondence with the author, Oct. 2000.
33 Dorothy Parker to Milford, 26 Aug. 1964, Milford, Zelda, p. 68.
34 Mayfield, Exiles, pp. 59–60.
35 Wilson, The Twenties, pp. 79–80.
36 ZSF, Autobiographical Sketch written 16 Mar. 1932 while in Phipps Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital.
37 Carl Van Vechten to Milford, 17 Apr. 1963, Milford, Zelda, pp. 98–9.
38 Carl Van Vechten, Parties, 1930, p. 224. Arthur Mizener is useful on Zelda’s distress when Scott was lionized (Far Side of Paradise, p. 133).
39 Van Vechten, Parties, p. 78. Jeffrey Meyers makes an interesting comment (Scott Fitzgerald, p. 102).
40 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 52.
41 McKaig, Diary, 15 Sep. 1920.
42 Mayfield, Exiles, pp. 62–3.
43 McKaig, Diary, 15 Sep. 1920.
44 ZSF to FSF, undated c. 1920, CO187, Box 42, Folder 32, PUL.
45 Gloria, miserable and lonesome, writes to Anthony Patch: ‘I can almost look down the tracks and see you going but without you, dearest, dearest, I can’t see or hear or feel or think. Being apart — whatever has happened or will happen to us — is like begging for mercy from a storm, Anthony; it’s like growing old. I want to kiss you so — in the back of your neck where your old black hair starts. Because I love you and whatever we do or say to each other, or have done, or have said, you’ve got to feel how much I do, how inanimate I am when you’re gone. I can’t even hate the damnable presence of PEOPLE, those people in the station who haven’t any right to live — I can’t resent them even though they’re dirtying up our world because I’m engrossed in wanting you so. If you hated me, if you were covered with sores like a leper, if you ran away with another woman or starved me or beat me — how absurd this sounds — I’d still want you, I’d still love you, I KNOW my darling.’ FSF, Beautiful and Damned, p. 293.
46 ZSF, Caesar, ch. V, CO183, Box 2A, Folder 6, PUL.
47 Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 113.
48 George Jean Nathan to ZSF: ‘Fair Zelda’, 12 July 1920; ‘Prisoner’, undated, 1920, CO183, Box 5, Folder 18, PUL. Both Arthur Mizener and Kendall Taylor suggest Zelda’s relationship with Nathan was sexual. This author finds insufficient evidence for this.
49 Nathan to ZSF, c. Sep. 1920, CO183, Box 5, Folder 18, PUL.
50 ZSF to Ludlow Fowler, 16 Aug. 1920, CO183, Box 5, Folder 4, PUL.
51 This film was so popular that six silent versions preceded the successful talkie.
52 Nathan to ZSF, 13 Sep. 1920, CO183, Box 5, Folder 18, PUL.
53 ‘Beginnings of coldness’ he records in his Ledger, Oct. 1920.
54 FSF to Mr and Mrs Philip McQuillan, 28 Dec. 1920.
55 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 64.
56 Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, Mencken and Sara: A Life in Letters, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1987, p. 4.
57 One evening the Fitzgeralds drove to have dinner with Mencken and Nathan at the Plaza, but by the end of the evening were far too drunk to drive their car. Their anxious friends suggested they sleep at the hotel but Scott refused. Mencken thought they would never reach home alive. To his surprise Scott telephoned next day to report they were recovered and whole.
58 This quotation is from the ‘Sententiae’ section of A Mencken Chrestomathy, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1949, pp. 619–21, quoted in Rodgers, Mencken and Sara, p. 1.
59 Sherwood Anderson’s Memoirs. A Critical Edition, ed. Ray Lewis White, University of North Carolina Press, 1969, p. 369.
60 The stories in Flappers and Philosophers had all been previously published in magazines so it seemed like extra money. They were: ‘The Offshore Pirate’; ‘The Ice Palace’; ‘Head and Shoulders’; ‘The Cut Glass Bowl’; ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’; ‘Benediction’; ‘Dalyrimple Goes Wrong’; ‘The Four Fists’.
61 Reviews were a mixed bunch, some critics finding it a letdown after This Side of Paradise.
62 Six printings (total 15,325 copies) by November 1922.
63 Mencken’s review called it ‘a sandwich made up of two thick and tasteless chunks of Kriegsbrot with a couple of excellent sardines between’. The Smart Set XLIII, Dec. 1920.
64 H. L. Mencken to James Branch Cabell, Mar. 1922, Between Friends: Letters of James Branch Cabell and Others, ed. Padraic Colum and Margaret Freeman Cabell, Harcourt Brace & World, New York, 1962, p. 25.
65 Metropolitan Magazine took ‘The Jelly Bean’, ‘His Russet Witch’, Two For a Cent’ and ‘Winter Dreams’ between 1920 and 1922.
66 To repay an advance for an unwritten story.
67 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 65.
68 They would not be due to him till January 1921.
69 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 65.
70 Andre Le Vot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Warner Books, New York, 1984, p. 90.
71 Fitzgerald, Ledger, July and Nov. 1920.
72 ZSF to James Branch Cabell, Dec. 1920, CO183, Box 5, Folder 2, PUL.
73 McKaig, Diary, 17 and 12 Oct. 1920.
74 FSF to Scottie Fitzgerald, 15 June 1940, Letters, ed. Turnbull, p. 97.
75 FSF to Ober (received 2 Feb. 1928), As Ever, Scott Fitz-: Letters Between F. Scott Fitzgerald and His Agent Harold Ober, 1919–1940, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli, Woburn Press, London, 1973, p. 109. ‘The Jelly Bean’, written May 1920, Metropolitan Magazine 52, Oct. 1920.
76 ‘The Lees of Happiness’, written July 1920, Chicago Sunday Tribune, 12 Dec. 1920, Blue Ribbon Fiction Section.
77 FSF, Beautiful and Damned, p. 343.
78 In his Ledger Scott summarized the year that brought him both Zelda and literary recognition as: ‘Revelry and Marriage. The rewards of the year before. The happiest year since I was 18.’
79 It contains what he himself called ‘a touch of disaster’. FSF, ‘Early Success’, The Crack-Up, New Directions, New York, 1945, p. 87.
80 Lawton Campbell, ‘The Fitzgeralds Were My Friends’, unpublished Memoir.
81 McKaig, Diary, 12 Oct. 1920.
82 Zelda in Caesar’s Things established Jacob as a ‘pouting’ Scott figure who says mildly: ‘I want to be totally unpredictable but I never can prevent wondering … what should be done about the suit at the cleaners.’
83 ZSF, Caesar, ch. IV, CO183, Box 2A, Folder 5, PUL.
84 FSF to Perkins, 10 Nov. 1920, Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 32.
85 Le Vot makes this point strongly. He says McKaig fell ‘hopelessly’ in love. F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 91.
86 McKaig, Diary, 27 Nov., 4 Dec. 1920.
87 Ibid., 4 Dec. 1920.
88 Zelda recalls the bathroom incident and hurt eye during a winter of dissipation, probably Nov./Dec. 1920, in a letter to Scott, late summer/early fall 1930. Scott writes up the incident in his Ledger, Jan. 1921.
89 McKaig, Diary, 11 Dec. 1920.
90 Ibid., 18 Dec. 1920.
91 ZSF, Caesar, ch. V, CO183, Box 2A, Folder 6, PUL.
92 Lawton Campbell, Memoir.
93 ZSF, Waltz, pp. 47–8.
94 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 190.
95 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 67.
96 At Grove Lodge.
97 Mellow, Invented Lives, pp. 136, 137. The other two writers were Conrad and Anatole France.
98 FSF to Shane Leslie, 24 May 1921, CO188, Box 4, Folders 33–4, PUL.
99 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 94.
100 FSF to J. F. Carter, spring 1922, Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Margaret M. Duggan, Random House, New York, 1980, p. 99.
101 FSF to Edmund Wilson, quoted in Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 138.
102 Bruccoli et al., eds., Romantic Egoists, pp. 84–5.
103 H. L. Mencken, My Life as Author and Editor, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1993, p. 258.
104 I am indebted to Koula Svokos Hartnett for the notion of an odyssey. Even in Zelda’s decade of hospitalization she would be moved nine times, never to have the benefit of continuity and familiarity of one particular setting such as she had experienced in Montgomery. Hartnett, Zelda Fitzgerald, p. 78.
105 Katharine Elsberry Haxton tells Scottie the story in Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 410.
106 Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 21.
107 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 71.
Zelda, seven months pregnant and steadily gaining weight, arrived with Scott at St Paul, Minnesota, in August 1921. ‘There were the Indian forests and the moon on the sleeping porch and I was heavy and afraid of the storms.’1 She felt acutely miserable in the cold North that seemed perpetually wet. Everywhere she looked she saw water, for Minnesota lives up to its Sioux name ‘land of sky-tinted water’. Now-extinct glaciers had gouged out more than 15,000 lakes, so that with the major rivers running along the eastern and western borders 95 per cent of its population live within ten minutes of a body of water. Abundant waterways and dense forests made it an ideal breeding ground for beavers and muskrats, ensuring that fur-trading, fishing and lumbering flourished from the sixteenth century.
When Zelda arrived with Scott, St Paul had grown from a frontier outpost to great prominence.2 From 1870 the railroads that augmented river craft had used St Paul as a railhead, so Zelda saw a significant example of the continuing transformation of America from a rural to an urban culture, from a society based on breeding and inherited wealth to one built up by salaried executives with images fostered through the new advertising industry, in which several of the Fitzgeralds’ circle worked. Though St Paul is a beautiful city, Zelda saw it permeated by Ibsenesque melancholy and perpetual chill. Its lack of ancestral roots felt alien. St Paul was only a three-generation town — though proud of the fact, like the town in Scott’s ‘The Ice Palace’ where ‘everybody has a father, and about half of us have grandfathers. Back of that we don’t go … Our grandfathers … founded the place, and … had to take some pretty queer jobs while they were doing the founding.’3 When Scott’s Irish emigrant grandfather, Philip Francis McQuillan, settled in St Paul in 1857, the Minnesota Territory was only in its eighth year. As it expanded, with a speculative boom that attracted 500 immigrants a day, McQuillan prospered by trading his first ‘queer job’ of bookkeeping for, in Zelda’s view, the more peculiar one of wholesale grocery. Scott, the grocer’s grandson, always retained a homey feeling about St Paul. Later he wrote to his former sweetheart Marie Hersey that ‘in spite of a fifteen year absence, it is still home to me’.4 Zelda, the grocer’s granddaughter-in-law, never saw St Paul as home, not least because Scott had a shared history with Marie Hersey from which she was excluded. Marie and Scott, dancing partners at Professor Baker’s dancing class, had acted together in the Elizabethan Dramatic Club and in 1915 Marie had accompanied Scott to a Triangle Club dance.
There were other things, too, that made Zelda feel left out.
In Montgomery, the Sayres’ social standing had assured Zelda’s place. In New York, Scott’s overnight fame had given them access to a highly regarded artistic milieu. But in St Paul, though there was a high society, it was created by business executives rather than landowning aristocrats familiar to Zelda. Most of those Northerners found Zelda’s Southernness alien. The first Northern woman Zelda met from that society, and the only one she liked, was Scott’s school-friend Xandra Kalman, now twenty-three, who though a Catholic had in 1917 married the divorced wealthy banker Oscar Kalman, twenty-five years her senior. As soon as the Fitzgeralds arrived at the end of August 1921, the Kalmans found them a rented house5 in Dellwood, a rich resort on White Bear Lake ten miles north-east of St Paul where they spent the summer.
‘All the people came who liked to play golf or sail on the lake,’ wrote Zelda, ‘or who had children to shelter from the heat. All the young people came whose parents had given them for wedding presents white bungalows hid in the green — and all the old people who liked the flapping sound of the water.’ When Zelda described those ‘summer people’ she admitted her contradictory feelings of safety and ensnarement. The visitors lived in ‘long, flat cottages … so covered by screened verandas that they made you think of small pieces of cheese under large meat safes.’6
Like Scott’s sister Annabel, Xandra had attended the Visitation Convent School, in her case from 1906 until 1912, and like Scott himself had joined Professor Baker’s dancing class7 and the Elizabethan dramatic group. The Kalmans frequently invited the Fitzgeralds to their large summer home in Dellwood. Scott, having known the couple for years, did not need to impress them and Xandra’s warmth meant that Zelda unfurled and became less aloof. Zelda called Xandra Sandy; they swam regularly together and played golf. ‘I was one of the few women that Zelda got close to,’ Xandra said. ‘We were together practically every day.’8
Xandra and Zelda, alike in their frank direct manner, also had similar backgrounds. Xandra came from one of St Paul’s most notable families. Her New Yorker great-grandfather Aaron Goodrich, who had become one of Tennessee’s most prominent lawyers and legislators, was appointed by President Zachary Taylor as Minnesota’s first Supreme Court Chief Justice in 1849. Like her great-grandfather Xandra was clever, energetic, artistic and highly organized. She inherited her wide-ranging knowledge from her grandfather, Canadian Daniel A. Robertson, who in 1850 served as a delegate to the Ohio constitutional convention, was a colonel in the Minnesota State militia, and as a lawyer and scholar served in Minnesota’s legislature before becoming mayor of St Paul in 1860 and three years later its sheriff.9 From her father, William C. Robertson, who was in real estate and finance, she learnt sound business sense. She and Oscar instantly took charge of the Fitzgeralds.
But when Zelda left the Kalmans and the lake and drove into St Paul, everywhere she looked she saw Scott’s footprints.
Walking with Scott along prestigious Summit Avenue, whose towering elms, leaded glass windows, stone facades and pillars make it one of America’s best surviving examples of Victorian Boulevard architecture, she knew that Scott, Marie and their circle had played outside 475, Marie’s family house, or near 623, where Scott’s widowed grandmother Louisa McQuillan had lived.10
In a small triangular park bordering Summit, Scott had played touch football with several boys now active in St Paul’s literary life. Thomas Boyd, a columnist with St Paul Daily News, immediately interviewed the returned celebrity and persuaded him to write book reviews. Other newspapers played up the arrival of his bride. A charming photo headlined ‘Bride On First Visit to St Paul’ shows Zelda’s hawk-like profile looking pensive.
As Boyd was a partner in the Kilmarnock Book Store at 84 East 4th Street, Scott spent free afternoons with him and his writer wife Peggy Woodward, catching up on literary gossip. Scott, in his role as talent scout, generously encouraged Scribner’s to publish both Boyd and Woodward. Scott was less generous (or consistent) about the phenomenal success of Main Street (1920) by the other local hero, Sinclair Lewis, who lived on Summit and who with visiting novelist Joseph Hergesheimer made up this tight-knit literary circle. Scott’s respectable bestseller This Side of Paradise achieved 49,000 copies in its first year, compared with Main Street’s phenomenal 300,000 copies. Though Scott wrote to Lewis that it was the best American novel so far, to critic Burton Rascoe he wrote, ‘Main Street is rotten.’11 However, now they were all St Paul literary boys together, rivalry was temporarily forgotten.
Zelda, not one of the boys, was seldom included in their afternoon club. Instead she read widely and hardly drank. Possibly influenced by meeting Galsworthy, she devoured his novels. Max Perkins sent her To Let. ‘[I]t makes our Galsworthy so complete’, Zelda answered immediately, ‘that we’re both quite impressed with the long line of purple books — I don’t do much but read so I’m awfully glad you sent it to me — We are quite popular out here and are enjoying our importance and temperance … but I’m homesick for Fifth Ave.’12
Meeting Scott’s parents, Edward and Mollie Fitzgerald, and his sister Annabel for the first time did little to reduce her homesickness. All three Fitzgeralds unendingly exhibited ‘Minnesota niceness’.13 Zelda, though appreciative, felt she had nothing in common with them. She told Sara Mayfield they had neither Southern charm nor New York sophistication, that Mollie Fitzgerald was badly dressed and painfully eccentric while Scott’s father with his cane, flowing cravats and Vandyke beard struck her as an ineffectual cardboard figure from a bygone age.
Annabel, born in 1901 in Syracuse, New York, was like her parents a staunch member of St Paul’s Catholic community, in whose Visitation Convent School Annabel had been enrolled from 1909 to 1913. Zelda saw her as a conventional convent girl who even returned as an adult to the convent for retreats. Annabel tried to be helpful to her sassy new sister-in-law but never saw her as a friend.
It came as a relief to the family as well as to Zelda when she and Scott settled into the young married circle who attended the White Bear Yacht Club, the University Club, the Town and County Club, and the Minnesota Club which held dances, discussion groups and golf tournaments. Zelda, secure in her friendship with the Kalmans, once again disturbed the peace. She smoked on the back platforms of trolleys, commented out loud at the movies, outraged young men who danced with her by whispering flirtatiously: ‘My hips are going wild; you don’t mind do you?’14 At that time pregnant women were expected to remain discreet if not to hide away. Though 1921 was the first year that American women enjoyed full voting rights, Zelda’s bold behaviour shocked Scott’s community.
To her horror Scott began to notice and comment on her increasing weight. In his September Ledger he described her as ‘helpless’ because of her extra pounds. In December his Ledger again tartly recorded ‘Zelda’s weight’ alongside a mention of ‘cottillion’ dances and bobsleigh rides which she was now more self-conscious about attending. Without her slim figure Zelda felt like ‘Alabama nobody’.15
Completely unprepared for the birth, she depended heavily on Xandra, who bought diapers, bassinet, cot, bathtub, booked doctor, nurse, hospital room, even a nanny, and made Zelda laugh at the bizarre baby business. Zelda wanted Xandra, her first woman friend since leaving Montgomery, to be her baby’s godmother, but Fitzgerald family intervention foiled this plan and Annabel was chosen. But neither this nor any subsequent setback disrupted Zelda’s lifelong friendship with the Kalmans, documented by the massive file of letters between them.16
The Fitzgeralds had rented the Dellwood house for a year, but in October 1921 they were asked to leave because their landlord claimed they had damaged the plumbing. They moved downtown to the Commodore, an apartment hotel near the Kalmans’ lavish residence on Summit, to await the birth.
On 26 October 1921, in the Miller Hospital, Frances Scott Key Fitzgerald was delivered. It was a hard long labour. Xandra said ‘Scott kept popping in and out of the delivery room jotting things down in the little notebook he always carried. When I asked him what he’d hurriedly scrawled during Zelda’s labor, he replied: “‘Help!’ and ‘Jesus Christ!’” When I asked why he wrote it down he said, “I might use it some time!”’17
Scott, told to wait outside the delivery room, threatened to kill himself if Zelda died. When he discovered suicide was unnecessary he collected his pencil, notebook and wits and, as Zelda emerged faint from the anaesthetic, coldly recorded her first comments: ‘Oh God, goofo, I’m drunk.18 Mark Twain. Isn’t she smart — she has the hiccups. I hope it’s beautiful and a fool — a beautiful little fool.’ Zelda ruefully acknowledged that her own life might have been simpler if she had been less sharp.
Two years later Scott coolly recycled her remark in The Great Gatsby, when Daisy says about the birth of her daughter: ‘“I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”’19
Zelda never forgot Scott’s detachment.
The security Zelda gained from her father’s protection meant she had never acquired necessary protective mechanisms. This had contributed to her belief that those close to her held her best interests. This episode with Scott was the first of several dents in that belief.
Zelda’s granddaughter Eleanor Lanahan said: ‘The little girl was called Scottie and was no fool. Zelda named her Bonnie in Save Me The Waltz. Scott called her Honoria in “Babylon Revisited”. She arrived in her parents’ lives not only as a baby whose life they scripted, but as an artist’s model with a fictitious persona and a fictitious world they invented as they went along.’20
Zelda, initially disappointed about the sex of the baby, within days wrote to Ludlow: ‘She is awfully cute, and I am very devoted to her.’21
Scott telegrammed everyone: ‘LILLIAN GISH IS IN MOURNING CONSTANCE TALMADGE IS A BACK NUMBER AND A SECOND MARY PICKFORD HAS ARRIVED.’22
Minnie Sayre behaved just like the mother in Zelda’s Save Me The Waltz: ‘“My blue-eyed baby has grown up. We are so proud.”’23 Zelda, now a mother in Minnesota, missed the slow creak of her garden swing. She missed the rusty croaking of the frogs in the cypress swamps. She felt strongly that ‘home’ was still Montgomery.
Zelda did not lose weight or self-consciousness. ‘Scottie was born and we went to all the Christmas parties and a man asked Sandy “who is your fat friend?”’24
She closeted herself with the baby, pasting into her scrapbook every ‘devoted mother and baby’ photograph taken by the St Paul newspapers. Meanwhile Scott produced short stories and a winter show for St Paul’s Junior League. When he invited friends home, Zelda would say: ‘You won’t come, will you? The baby wakes up and yells and the place is too small. We don’t want you.’ If Scott overheard he would say: ‘Zelda’s got this silly notion that we can’t have anyone in the place … you’ll come up, won’t you, and help me cure her of this idea.’25 But if they actually arrived, Zelda waved them away.
The only visitor Zelda consistently welcomed was Xandra, who came regularly for lunch or to play golf. Zelda pasted into her scrapbook a newscutting of them both outside the club house, under the headline ‘Society Women Compete in Golf Tournament’.26 Though Xandra had helped Zelda find a nanny, neither she nor Zelda was prepared for the tyrannical Anna Shirley, who acted like the baby’s warder. It was a dispiriting start to a series of bad relationships between Zelda and Scottie’s nannies.
In November 1921, again coming to their rescue, Xandra enabled them to lease the Victorian frame house at 626 Goodrich Avenue27 which belonged to Xandra’s parents, on vacation abroad. Zelda’s homesickness increased as she rattled about with only the baby and Nanny for company, because that winter Scott rented a room downtown to work with a stenographer on revisions to The Beautiful and Damned.
Scott insisted on having the baby baptized a Catholic in the Visitation Convent chapel28 and, never a precise chronologist, dates the baptism as November in his Ledger. But St Paul historical researcher Lloyd Hackl gives the date as 8 December 1921, borne out by the baptismal certificate which gives the baby’s sponsors’ names as Annabelle [sic] Fitzgerald, Scott’s sister, and Joseph Barron, who officiated.29 The baby’s name is listed as Frances Scott Fitzgerald but on the birth certificate it appeared as Scotty.30
Baptisms generally bring to mind pictures of attentive parents and friends gathered together solemnly. This baptism of Zelda’s only child was as curious as was her only wedding. According to Hackl, Zelda did not attend because Scott’s parents, who considered her eccentric, feared how she might act. Though others were nervous about how much the equally unpredictable father might drink, he did attend.31 More alarming was the fact that Anna Shirley refused to let the godparents hold the baby.32 She allowed only Annabel as godmother to place her hand on baby Scottie.
Zelda did not publicly reveal her feelings of exclusion, but watched as her husband’s pride in their child became more possessive. It was as if, by being born in St Paul, the baby had become more Scott’s than Zelda’s, with ultimate authority left to Anna Shirley. Xandra recalls how one evening she and Oscar stopped by and found that the baby, whom Zelda was breastfeeding, had hiccups. The angry nanny loudly blamed it on Zelda’s excessive gin consumption the previous night. Zelda, herself breastfed for years by Minnie Sayre, was uncomfortably aware of subtle pressure from both Scott and the nanny to adopt the more distant mothering style of his Northern culture.
The harsh winter of 1921, when biting cold infiltrated every pore, further dragged down Zelda’s spirits. There is a photo of her smiling bravely on a bone-chilling sleigh-ride over ‘grey and glassy’33 snow, but she wrote Fowler: ‘This damn place is 18 below zero and I go round thanking God that, anatomically + proverbially speaking, I am safe from the awful fate of the monkey … Ludlow, I certainly miss you + Townsend + Alec — in fact I am very lonesome.’34 When in January 1922 novelist Joseph Hergesheimer35 told Zelda he had lived off hominy grits in the wild Appalachians, she responded tartly: ‘But at least you didn’t have to live in St Paul on the edge of the Arctic Circle.’ She also told Hergesheimer that she felt lonely because Scott was immersed in writing his play The Vegetable.36
Zelda’s reaction to her first Northern winter was curiously anticipated by Scott in his 1920 story ‘The Ice Palace’, where Southern Belle Sally Carrol Happer wants to leave the South to ‘live where things happen on a big scale’. On a January trip to visit her Yankee fiance, Sally Carrol Happer nearly freezes to death in an ice palace at the Winter Carnival. She gratefully returns to the familiar South, to the spangled dust over which the heat waves rise.37
Zelda, however, cannot return.
After the Metropolitan serialization of The Beautiful and Damned, heavy revisions were necessary for the book publication.38 Zelda suggested cutting the serial’s didactic conclusion. Scott cabled Perkins on 23 December 1921: ‘LILDA [Zelda] THINKS BOOK SHOULD END WITH ANTHONY’S LAST SPEECH ON SHIP SHE THINKS NEW ENDING IS A PIECE OF MORALITY.’ Perkins decided Zelda was artistically ‘dead right’.39
Scott had told his publisher, Charles Scribner II, that his hero was a man with the tastes and weaknesses of an artist but with no creative inspiration who, with his beautiful young wife, is wrecked on the shoals of dissipation.40
The protagonists, Gloria Gilbert and Anthony Patch, move from their spoiled life as beautiful people to damnation caused by drinking and idle expenditure of unearned wealth. As Anthony’s alcoholism escalates his marriage to Gloria declines, a theme that aptly reflected the problems Scott and Zelda faced daily.
Zelda, more interested in abstract thought and descriptions than in emotions, found that concepts of beauty, damnation, and moral degeneracy came easily.41 Scott, who needed them in the writing of The Beautiful and Damned, ‘had almost no capacity for abstract ideas or arguments and could enter into other people’s attitudes only when he had known them [emotionally] in his own experience’.42 Scott therefore found this talent of Zelda’s very useful, and indeed told Alex McKaig ‘Her ideas largely in this new novel.’43
The novel’s autobiographical theme was pointed up by W. E. Hill’s recognizable Fitzgerald portraits on the jacket which depicted a fashionable young couple seated side by side but with heads and bodies turned away from each other. They appear bored, lifeless, sulky. Scott wrote a virulent letter to Perkins: ‘The girl is excellent … somewhat like Zelda but the man … is a sort of debauched edition of me.’44
After listening to Scott’s complaints Zelda painted an alternative book jacket: a witty depiction of a nude with bobbed hair, exactly like herself, splashing in a champagne glass. This was Zelda’s first professional drawing. In bright red, yellow and blue crayon over pencil, it vividly expresses the Roaring Twenties tempo. Crackling flames in the same hectic colours spurt and sizzle round the title. Unlike Hill’s world-weary illustration, Zelda’s ‘The Birth of the Flapper’ offers a dizzy symbol of the prosperous, youthful, insouciant mood.45 Scott loved its vivacity, typical of Zelda’s early sketches, which showed an illustrative skill she never lost. Unfortunately Zelda’s earliest surviving artwork was never used.
The Beautiful and Damned was published on 4 March 1922, dedicated to three early mentors: Shane Leslie, Maxwell Perkins and George Jean Nathan, to whom Scott had become reconciled despite Nathan’s insistence that baby Scottie looked like Mencken! Scott had written to Charles Scribner: ‘it’s really a most sensational book + I hope won’t disappoint the critics who liked my first one’.46 H. L. Mencken, the critic Scott most admired, wrote: ‘There are a hundred signs in it of serious purpose and unquestionable skill … Fitzgerald ceases to be a Wunderkind, and begins to come into his maturity.’47
The Fitzgeralds’ friends enjoyed the book not least because several saw themselves inside it. Nathan was Maury Noble; screenwriter Ted Paramore, whom Zelda labelled fun to be with,48 did not even get a name change when fictionalized.
Some believed the novel was an accurate portrait of the Fitzgeralds’ marriage. Edmund Wilson felt ‘It’s all about him and Zelda.’49 Others felt it was a cleverly vamped up version.
In several significant ways it did mirror their life.
Gloria discovers Anthony is ‘an utter coward toward any one of a million phantasms created by his imagination’. Anthony discovers Gloria is ‘a girl of tremendous nervous tension and of the most high-handed selfishness … almost completely without physical fear.’50 Gloria, suckled until she was three, nervously chewing gumdrops, is reminiscent of Zelda chewing gum or her lip. Film magnate Joseph Bloeckman’s courtship of Gloria is based on Nathan’s wooing of Zelda; Gloria’s movie test on an offer made to Zelda to star in a film version of Damned; and Gloria has a fling with aviator Tudor Baird, who suffers the habitual aviator fate in Scott’s novels: ‘Afterwards she was glad she had kissed him, for next day when his plane fell 1500 feet … gasoline engine smashed through his heart.’51
There are some distortions. While Scott’s ambitions were closely defined, Anthony wastes his days over ill-defined goals. Whereas Zelda’s thoughtfulness was constantly remarked on in Montgomery52, Gloria is utterly thoughtless. But one scene showing Anthony as a dilettante and Gloria as an obstruction has a wicked authenticity: ‘“Work!” she scoffed. “Oh, you sad bird! You bluffer! Work — that means a great arranging of the desk and the lights, a great sharpening of pencils, and ‘Gloria, don’t sing!’ … and ‘Let me read you my opening sentence’ … Two weeks later the whole performance over again.”’ It is razor-sharp in its depiction of Scott’s expectation that ‘Gloria would play golf “or something” while Anthony wrote.’53
Over time, Scott vacillated about how close a marital portrait the book was. In 1920 he had written: ‘I married her [the flesh and blood Rosalind-Zelda] eventually and am now writing a … more “honest” book about her.’54
Years later he wrote to Zelda: ‘I wish The Beautiful and Damned had been a maturely written book because it was all true. We ruined ourselves — I have never honestly thought that we ruined each other.’55
Later still, Fitzgerald told Scottie that Gloria had a more frivolous and certainly more vulgar nature than Zelda. Though Scott admitted he had drawn on events in their married life he denied any real resemblance between Gloria and Zelda except in facial beauty and style of speech. He told Scottie the focus was quite different. For instance, he said reassuringly, he and Zelda enjoyed their life together much more than Gloria and Anthony had.
The ‘truth’ lurks in the interstices. The Gilbert-Patches were not the Fitzgeralds, rather they were Scott’s internal fears of what they could become.
Several critics saw the relationship between Gloria and Zelda as merely superficial. John Peale Bishop felt Scott had created ‘a Fitzgerald flapper of the now most famous type — hair honey-colored and bobbed, mouth rose-colored and profane … he has as yet failed to show that hard intelligence, that intricate emotional equipment upon which her charm depends, so that Gloria … remains a little inexplicable, a pretty, vulgar shadow of her prototype.’56
Zelda pasted Bishop’s review in her scrapbook.
Lawton Campbell told Sara Mayfield: ‘The Beautiful and Damned was pure Zelda.’57
Scott had sent a manuscript copy to Wilson, who said it represented an advance over his earlier writings but, curiously, ignored the crucial influence he knew Zelda had on Scott’s work. He suggested that the three significant influences on Scott’s writing and character were firstly that he was Irish (romantic but cynical about romance); secondly that he came from the Midwest, so overvalued the East’s sophistication; thirdly that he drank heavily.58 Scott asked him to delete the reference to alcohol and to add in Zelda: ‘The most enormous influence on me … since I met her has been the complete, fine and full-hearted selfishness and chill-mindedness of Zelda.’59 It was a cold remark that captured an unnerving, even bleak, facet of Zelda’s nature, the antithesis to the effervescent artist who had drawn the champagne nymph.
In the last quarter of The Beautiful and Damned Scott used passages from novels and projects aborted in 1919. One project, ‘The Diary of a Literary Failure’, included the fifty-page ‘Diary of a Popular Girl’ based on Zelda’s journal, which Scott, without consulting Zelda, had not permitted Nathan to publish. Scott’s biographers who state that key passages in his novel were inspired by Zelda’s letters60 overlook the fact that it was not a matter of ‘inspiration’ but a direct borrowing of Zelda’s lines, which were then revised with the minor transposition of a few words. Scott admitted his practice to Perkins: ‘I’m just enclosing you the typing of Zelda’s diary … You’ll recognize much of the dialogue. Please don’t show it to anyone else.’61
Without acknowledging Zelda as his primary source Scott had sanitized one letter from spring 1919. Zelda had written that she and Scott were ‘soul-mates’ who had been mated since the time when people were ‘bi-sexual’, an idea Zelda had absorbed from her mother’s theosophical doctrines. Scott redesigned it: ‘“We’re twins! … mother says that two souls are sometimes created together and — and in love before they are born.”’62
In Scott’s novel the ‘Diary’ section rushes through in precisely Zelda’s style. Take these lines:
April 11th … I’m gradually losing faith in any man being susceptible to fatal injuries …
April 21st … Anthony … called and sounded sweet on the phone — so I broke a date for him … I feel I’d break anything for him, including the ten commandments and my neck …
April 24th … What grubworms women are to crawl on their bellies through colorless marriages! Marriage was created not to be a background but to need one.63
Quickwitted Zelda, though somewhat slow to catch on to the implications of this practice of unacknowledged ‘borrowing’, had begun to do so by the time she was asked by Burton Rascoe, the New York Tribune’s book critic, to review her husband’s book.
In her first published signed article, ‘Friend Husband’s Latest’, she remarked acidly: ‘on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters, which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar.’
In her review Zelda pointed out pleasantly: ‘Mr Fitzgerald … seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.’ Though Zelda’s review was partly a joke she made a serious criticism: ‘The other things I didn’t like … I mean the unimportant things — were the literary references and the attempt to convey a profound air of erudition. It reminds me in its more soggy moments of the essays I used to get up in school at the last minute by looking up strange names in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.’64 Matthew J. Bruccoli says Zelda’s ‘criticism is just, for the novel is intellectually pretentious’.65
Scott, amused and proud of Zelda’s review, ignored any serious undercurrent. Edmund Wilson wrote to Scott: ‘Convey all my recommendations to Zelda, whose review of The Damned I thought fine and whose thing in The Metropolitan I liked less.’66 Wilson was referring to Metropolitan Magazine which together with McCall’s had been sufficiently impressed by Zelda’s review to invite her to contribute articles on the Flapper. She wrote four features: ‘Eulogy on the Flapper’, ‘Does A Moment of Revolt Come Sometime To Every Married Man?’, ‘The Super-Flapper’ and ‘Where Do Flappers Go?’ All four were paid for, three were published.
It was the slow small start to her professional writing life, though it was hard for both Fitzgeralds to see it like that yet. However, Scott did devote a page of his 1922 Ledger to ‘Zelda’s earnings’, which totalled $815. She was paid $15 by New York Tribune for her review; $50 by Metropolitan Magazine for ‘Eulogy on the Flapper’ (June 1922), $250 by McCall’s for ‘Does A Moment of Revolt Come Sometime To Every Married Man?’ (March 1924) and $500 for ‘The Super-Flapper’, which remains unlocated, presumably unpublished. The articles appeared under Zelda’s by-line, but alongside ran the explanation that she was Scott Fitzgerald’s wife.
McCall’s commissioned her to write a 2,500-word article on the Flapper at ten cents a word. In October 1922 they sent her $300 for a feature, ‘Where Do Flappers Go?’, but did not publish it. There are two curious points: firstly, this $300 is not listed in Scott’s careful notes; secondly, McCall’s in October 1925 did publish ‘What Became of the Flappers?’, possibly the same article, with Scott’s piece ‘Our Young Rich Boys’, under the joint title ‘What Became of Our Flappers and Our Sheiks?’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.67
It is worth examining ‘What Became of the Flappers?’ to see how similar Zelda’s writing style was to her speech: witty, rhythmic, highly descriptive. Each sentence is balanced, with substantial repetition and a jaunty edge. ‘The flapper springs full-grown, like Minerva, from the head of her once-declasse father, Jazz, upon whom she lavishes affection and reverence, and deepest filial regard … The best flapper is reticent emotionally and courageous morally. You always know what she thinks, but she does all her feeling alone.’68
In ‘Eulogy’ Zelda held that the Flapper was deceased. Her outer accoutrements had been bequeathed to girls’ schools, shop girls, and small-town belles. Nothing could replace ‘the dear departed … who will live by her accomplishments and not by her Flapping’. Never again would a girl say ‘“I do not want to be respectable because respectable girls are not attractive.”’ Never again would a girl arrive at the knowledge that ‘“boys do dance most with the girls they kiss most”’ or that ‘“men will marry the girls they could kiss before they had asked papa”’.
Zelda lamented the death of the Flapper who bobbed her hair, put on ‘a great deal of audacity and rouge’, ‘flirted because it was fun to flirt’, ‘refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring’.69
Above the ‘Eulogy’ article is a marvellous sketch of Zelda by Gordon Bryant, who caught both her intense gaze and the flicker of regret in her eyes. The regret was about to intensify.
1 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 191.
2 St Paul itself, the state capital, known as ‘the last city of the east’, which housed many Fitzgerald residencies, was originally called Pig’s Eye after a shifty French-Canadian fur trader who sold whiskey at a Mississippi river landing in the 1840s.
3 Scott wrote the story in 1919 before Zelda visited St Paul, FSF, The Ice Palace, Babylon Revisited and Other Stories, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1971, p. 10.
4 FSF to Marie Hersey Hamm, 28 Oct. 1936, CO187, Box 49, PUL.
5 Owned by Mackey J. Thompson.
6 ZSF, ‘The Girl The Prince Liked’, Collected Writings, ed. Bruccoli, pp. 311–12.
7 Held at Ramaley Hall on Grand Avenue. Scott had joined in 1908.
8 Xandra Kalman to Lloyd Hackl; Hackl to the author, 1999.
9 Born in Pictou, Nova Scotia, 13 May 1813, Daniel A. Robertson became an editor and a US Marshal in Ohio. In Minnesota he founded the Horticultural Society, was editor of the Minnesota Democrat and served as a member of the Minnesota legislature 1859–60.
10 481 Laurel Ave: Scott’s birthplace. 623 Summit Ave: Scott’s grandmother Louisa McQuillan’s home. Scott visited for one month in summer 1899. 294 Laurel Ave: Louisa McQuillan’s next home. Scott and Annabel stayed there in 1908 when the family moved back to St Paul. Their parents stayed at the home of John A. Fulton at 239 Summit Ave. 514 Holly Avenue: Scott and family moved there September 1909. 509 Holly Ave: Scott and family moved to this rowhouse September 1910. 499 Holly Ave: Scott and family moved there in late 1911 and stayed until 1915. Between 1915 and 1922 the Edward Fitzgeralds lived at 593 Summit Ave and 599 Summit Ave.
11 FSF to Sinclair Lewis, 26 Jan. 1921, Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Turnbull, p. 487; to Burton Rascoe, Dec. 1920, Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Bruccoli and Duggan, p. 73.
12 ZSF to MP, 1921, Scribner’s Author Files, CO101, Box 53, Folder Zelda Fitzgerald 1921–1944, PUL.
13 This phrase, used by Minnesotans about their key characteristic of kindness, was explained by Lloyd Hackl to the author.
14 Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 150.
15 David Knight calls Alabama this in Save Me The Waltz. ZSF, Collected Writings, p. 39.
16 Once Zelda began painting seriously in 1925 she gave Xandra many of her favourite paintings.
17 Xandra Kalman to Lloyd C. Hackl, St Paul, as reported by Hackl to the author, St Paul, 1999. Hackl uses this in ‘Fitzgerald in St Paul: An Oral History Portrait’, Minnesota Historical Society.
18 In the early days of their marriage Zelda affectionately called Scott Goofo or Goofy. In later letters she called him Deo, or D.O. or Do-Do possibly from the Latin word for God.
19 FSF, The Great Gatsby, Abacus, London, 1992, p. 20.
20 Lanahan, Scottie …, p. 22.
21 ZSF to Ludlow Fowler, winter 1921, CO183, Box 5, Folder 4, PUL.
22 Bruccoli et al., eds., Romantic Egoists, p. 87.
23 ZSF, Waltz, Collected Writings, p. 57.
24 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 191.
25 Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 151.
26 Bruccoli et al., eds., Romantic Egoists, p. 92.
27 Until June 1922. The street was named after Aaron Goodrich, Xandra’s great-grandfather. St Paul historical researcher Lloyd C. Hackl calls it Goodrich Street in his ‘Still Home to Me’: F. Scott Fitzgerald and St Paul, Adventure Publications, Cambridge, Minnesota, p. 52.
28 This is curious because before Scottie’s birth, as they drove past the Catholic Church, Scott had muttered to himself: ‘God damn the Catholic Church: God damn the Church; God damn God.’ Reported by Scott’s friend Arthur Hartwell to Mizener (Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 151) and to Mayfield (Mayfield, Exiles, p. 74).
29 Barron had always encouraged Scott’s writing and had engaged with him in philosophical discussions.
30 Her family nickname was Scottie. The Fitzgeralds had initially thought of calling the baby Patricia and on a few occasions Zelda called her Pat but it never stuck.
31 Author’s conversations with Lloyd Hackl, 1998, 1999.
32 Hackl, F. Scott Fitzgerald and St Paul, p. 13.
33 ZSF, ‘The Girl The Prince Liked’, Collected Writings, p. 313.
34 ZSF to Ludlow Fowler, winter 1921, CO183, Box 5, Folder 4, PUL.
35 Hergesheimer had become suddenly famous for Cytherea.
36 Mayfield, Exiles, pp. 77–8.
37 FSF, ‘The Ice Palace’, written Dec. 1919, published Saturday Evening Post, 22 May 1920; Flappers and Philosophers, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, Sep. 1920.
38 The novel was initially called ‘The Demon Lover’ (1919), then ‘Darling Heart’ (1920), then ‘The Flight of the Rocket’ (Aug. 1920), then at Christmas 1920 ‘The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy’ and finally (Feb. 1921) The Beautiful and Damned. An abridged version in seven instalments was published in Metropolitan Magazine (Sep. 1921 to Mar. 1922). The Smart Set bought an excerpt from Book 2 ch. 2 (Feb. 1922).
39 MP to FSF, 27 Dec. 1921, Dear Scott/Dear Max, pp. 49–50. Due to Zelda’s suggestions the book ends on a sardonic note as the broken hero whispers to himself: ‘“I showed them … It was a hard fight, but I didn’t give up and I came through!”’ The Beautiful and Damned, p. 364.
40 FSF to Charles Scribner II, 12 Aug. 1920, Life in Letters, p. 41.
41 Mary Gordon, Introduction, Zelda Fitzgerald: The Collected Writings, p. xxiv, is very perceptive on this point.
42 Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 112.
43 Alexander McKaig, Diary, 17 Apr. 1921. Years later Zelda revealed in her letters the intellectual detachment Scott had depended upon: ‘Nobody has ever been able to experience what they have thoroughly understood — or understand what they have experienced until they have achieved a detachment that renders them incapable of repeating that experience.’ ZSF to FSF, Mar. 1932, PUL.
44 FSF to MP, c. 31 Jan. 1922, Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 52.
45 Carolyn Shafer compares Zelda’s crayon sketch thematically and in terms of its composition to Botticelli’s 1482 The Birth of Venus. Each work celebrates a particular era’s emerging female image. But whereas Botticelli’s Renaissance goddess rises from sea foam, nude but modest, hands held gracefully over breasts and vagina, Zelda’s naked Flapper figure rises from champagne bubbles, bold and brazen.
46 FSF to Charles Scribner II, 12 Aug. 1920, Life in Letters, p. 41.
47 H. L. Mencken, ‘Fitzgerald and Others’, The Smart Set, vol. XLVII, Apr. 1922, pp. 140–1.
48 He had called in at St Paul to see them during her pregnancy.
49 Wilson to Stanley Dell, 19 Feb. 1921, Letters on Literature and Politics, p. 56.
50 FSF, Beautiful and Damned, p. 132.
51 Ibid., p. 300.
52 Montgomery relatives and friends to the author, 1999.
53 FSF, Beautiful and Damned, pp. 175, 149.
54 FSF to Phyllis Duganne Parker, fall 1920, Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 71.
55 FSF to ZSF, ‘Written with Zelda gone to the Clinique’, c. summer 1930, Life in Letters, p. 189. He may not have sent this letter.
56 John Peale Bishop, ‘Three Brilliant Young Novelists’, Collected Essays of John Peale Bishop, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1948, pp. 229–30.
57 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 62.
58 Wilson was preparing an essay about Fitzgerald for The Bookman.
59 FSF to Wilson, Jan. 1922, Yale University.
6 °Critic Andre Le Vot suggests ‘there are the passages directly inspired by Zelda’s letters, which are attributed to Gloria [author’s italics]’. Le Vot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 98.
61 FSF to Perkins, c. 21 Feb. 1920, Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 29.
62 FSF, Beautiful and Damned, p. 111. Scott used a parody of Minnie Sayre’s belief in theosophy, a religion based on reincarnation, but reinvented it as ‘bilphism’ so as not to hurt her feelings.
63 FSF, Beautiful and Damned, pp. 121–5.
64 ZSF, ‘Friend Husband’s Latest’, New York Tribune, 2 Apr. 1922, section 5, p. 11; Collected Writings, pp. 387–9.
65 Bruccoli, Epic Grandeur, p. 192.
66 Wilson to FSF, 26 May 1922, Wilson, Letters, p. 85.
67 There is no mention of this piece in FSF’s Ledger.
68 ZSF, ‘What Became of the Flappers?’, McCall’s, Oct. 1925; Collected Writings, pp. 397–9.
69 ZSF, ‘Eulogy on the Flapper’, Metropolitan Magazine, June 1922; Collected Writings, pp. 391–2.
Zelda’s desperation to go East was satisfied when a Beautiful and Damned publication party was held in New York in March 1922. They left Scottie behind with her nurse for two weeks.1 They stayed at the Plaza, Zelda’s favourite: ‘an etched hotel, dainty and subdued’.2 Like the Plaza, the Fitzgeralds were subdued when Wilson met them. He felt Zelda was ‘more matronly and rather fat (about which she is very sensitive)’ but was more mellow and he liked her the better for it. He spotted that relations with Scott were strained.3 After New York Scott wrote to Wilson: ‘I couldn’t seem to get sober enough to be able to tolerate being sober … the whole trip was largely a failure.’4
Scott’s regrets were echoed by Zelda. The strain and failure (and her weight) may have been due to her discovery in late January or early February that she was pregnant again. One possible cause could have been that modern contraception was not freely discussed until the early 1920s and was not yet widely available. Zelda did not want a second child so soon. After all, Scottie was only three months old.
Despite the horror Zelda had shown before marriage about taking termination pills, she decided to have an abortion. In a later letter to Scott which analysed the events that led to her first asylum incarceration, Zelda specifies ‘pills and Dr Lackin’ in New York during a house-hunting stay while still officially resident in St Paul.5 While Scott’s March 1922 Ledger merely records: ‘Zelda and her abortionist’, Sara Mayfield states firmly that ‘this was the first of three similar incidents, each of which drove another wedge into their marriage’.6 Zelda’s sister Rosalind confirmed that there was more than one abortion and later asked Scott whether the abortions had contributed to Zelda’s mental breakdowns, a relevant question. Although Scott agreed to this abortion, it seems that years later he still resented it; just as Zelda deeply regretted it. There is a grim undated entry in Scott’s Notebooks where he states harshly: ‘His son went down the toilet of the XXXX hotel after Dr X — Pills.’7 As far as Zelda’s health was concerned, the termination was to have tragic effects on her ability to conceive and would result in many years of gynaecological problems.
The facts were hard for both Zelda and Scott to deal with but Scott, as so often, wove his fiction around the facts.
In The Beautiful and Damned, written during 1921, he focuses on Gloria’s pregnancy and the conflicts surrounding it. Though the dating of Zelda’s 1922 pregnancy meant it could not have provided the novel’s raw source, either Scott was illustrating the uncanny talent for prophecy which he had already shown in ‘The Ice Palace’, or his fictional scene did not reflect Zelda’s 1922 pregnancy but was based on her suspected pregnancy in Westport, which she mentioned to Ludlow at exactly the time Scott was writing his first draft.8
In Scott’s published novel, Gloria suspects she is pregnant and discusses the possibility of abortion with Anthony. He says: ‘“I’m neutral. If you have it I’ll probably be glad. If you don’t — well that’s all right too.”’ The decision is left to Gloria who is seen as a selfish woman: ‘“Afterward I might have wide hips — and no radiance in my hair.”’9
This published fictional interpretation of Gloria/Zelda’s reaction to another pregnancy is considerably more extreme than Zelda’s real-life response. In an earlier manuscript version, in which significant differences occur, Scott more accurately portrays Zelda’s responses. In that version Gloria is genuinely distressed. Anthony suggests she gets help: ‘“Why can’t you talk to some woman and find out what’s best to be done? Most of them fix it some way.”’10
This earlier, stronger manuscript version shows Anthony sharing the decision and stresses Gloria’s human qualities. In the published novel the problem is shelved rather than resolved when Gloria learns she is not pregnant.
It is also tenable that Scott might have based this episode in The Beautiful and Damned on Zelda’s fierce pre-marital denunciation of an abortion. Either way, Scott’s lingering Catholic beliefs and Zelda’s change of attitude feed into the changes in treatment from manuscript to publication.
Zelda and Scott returned from New York to Goodrich Avenue, St Paul, where Zelda, according to Xandra, was ‘not at all interested in going out with the girls, and when Scott wanted to remain at home, Zelda stayed with him.’11 Xandra later suggested to Lloyd Hackl that what kept Zelda at home in St Paul was the company of two literary men. They were Sinclair Lewis, at 516 Summit Avenue, whose Babbitt (1922) was repeating the success of Main Street, and humorist Donald Ogden Stewart opposite him at 513. Zelda told Xandra that both were more mentally stimulating than most Minnesota society women.12 Zelda said Stewart, still a clerk with the American Telephone Company in Minneapolis, who wrote comedy at nights on his return to Mrs Porterfield’s Boarding House, offered her intellectual stimulus. Xandra recalled that Zelda ‘wasn’t a belle-butterfly, that she was an extremely intelligent person’ whose intelligence largely serviced Scott’s work. Scott, ‘then writing religiously’, would go over everything he had written with Zelda, incorporating her suggestions.13
Zelda and Scott had been the first of their set to marry; but Bishop now announced his intention of marrying Margaret Hutchins, a wealthy Chicago socialite, before going abroad. Margaret was already the target of sour appraisals by the Fitzgeralds’ circle. Wilson wrote to Scott: ‘She [Margaret] will supply him with infinite money and leisure but, I fear, chloroform his intellect: I think her a prime dumb-bell with … an all too strong will which may lead John around by the balls.’14 Scott replied: ‘[H]aving the money, she’ll hold a high hand over him. Still I don’t think he’s happy and it may release him to do more creative work.’15 Zelda recognized that Scott felt distressed because after John’s marriage, his friendship with Scott waned.
Wilson himself, his passion for Edna Millay spent, had become attracted to Mary Blair, a successful actress in the Provincetown Players productions of Eugene O’Neill’s plays. Despite his mother’s disapproval of actress-wives, Wilson too was contemplating matrimony.
By the time Bishop married Margaret on 17 June 1922 the Fitzgeralds and Scottie, nanny in tow, had moved from Goodrich Avenue to the White Bear Yacht Club for Zelda to swim and sunbathe.
Xandra Kalman played golf daily with Zelda. ‘She was … rather a good golfer … far better than Scott.’16 Years later Zelda reminded Oscar: ‘I so often think of the happy times … the caddy house … the long somnolent summer hours at the lake.’17
Xandra respected Zelda because she seemed different from other women. ‘Certainly she enjoyed being different’: she was not a Southern ‘clinging vine’, yet despite those differences ‘she was a natural person’.18 Later Xandra told her friend Hackl that Zelda’s ‘naturalness’ included extreme frankness. ‘There weren’t many people whom she liked. I won’t say she was rude, but she made it quite clear. If she didn’t like someone or if she disapproved of them, then she set out to be as impossible as she could be.’19 Xandra suggested that another part of Zelda’s naturalness was that she had no affectations, no exaggerated Southern drawl.20 But most friends highlighted Zelda’s pronounced Southern speech: when mentioning Mayfield, Murphy or Haardt she drawled the name Sara so that it sounded like her own maiden name ‘Sayre-ah’.21 Xandra, perceptive however about Zelda’s remoteness, said she ‘never felt quite at “home” with Zelda’; she never reached the centre of Zelda’s identity.22
By August the Fitzgeralds had been evicted from the Yacht Club for boisterous behaviour.23 They never seemed to mind evictions, merely moving their rolling party on to the next location. Now they wheeled their pram laden with clothes a few blocks to another rented residence in Dellwood where partying continued while Scottie slept.
Financial strains beset them. Sales of The Beautiful and Damned were less good than Scribners’ prediction.25 They reached about 50,000 copies, similar to This Side of Paradise, but Scott was now indebted $5,600 to Scribner’s. Despite publication in September 1922 of Scott’s second story collection Tales of the Jazz Age,26 which sold 12,828 in its first year, the Fitzgeralds were unable to break even. A film offer seemed imperative. Scott’s ambiguous relation to Hollywood meant that sometimes he abjectly courted movie moguls, other times he patronizingly felt he alone could bring culture to commerce. Thus he jubilantly sold the film rights of The Beautiful and Damned to Warner Brothers for $2,500, but both he and Zelda disliked the movie when it appeared in 1922.27 Scott thought it cheap, vulgar, ill-constructed and shoddy. Zelda was ashamed of it.
The fall’s icy weather drove the Fitzgeralds back to St Paul’s Commodore Hotel. Scott had finished writing his play The Vegetable but since then had received a batch of rejections. His depression over this, and Zelda’s fears of ice floes and Arctic snow, made them decide to return to New York’s Plaza in September. They left Scottie with her nanny in St Paul and began house-hunting in Westchester and Long Island.
Wilson saw them in New York and reported Zelda had lost her fat, both were behaving rationally and Scott had hit on a scheme for preventing Zelda ‘from absorbing all his time, emotion and seminal juice … a compact … by which each is bound not to go out alone with another member of the opposite sex.’28
Scott was still preoccupied with the progress of The Vegetable. Sara Mayfield met Zelda for tea in the Palm Court,29 found her tanned, fit, ‘theoretically on the water wagon’ and thrilled that her plunge into the fountain had been commemorated by artist Reginald Marsh for his Greenwich Village Follies curtain. It also portrayed a truckload of literary celebrities including Scott, John Dos Passos, Gilbert Seldes, John Peale Bishop, Edmund Wilson and Don Ogden Stewart, zooming down Seventh Avenue. When Scott joined Sara and Zelda at the Palm Court he was determined to discuss The Vegetable. Despite its rejections he said ‘It’s going to be a big money-maker.’30
In New York the Fitzgeralds met everyone and everyone wanted to meet them. Later Hearst’s International ran a full-page photograph, circulated countrywide, of the couple posed dramatically, pouting charm. A long strand of pearls falls from Zelda’s neck. Her dress has ice-white fur trims. Her hair is waved and sleek. She called her image her Elizabeth Arden Face.
Scott had become reconciled with Townsend Martin, probably because Zelda no longer flirted with him, and at his ‘long long party’ they met Gilbert Seldes, editor of The Dial. Seldes, hung over, had lain on Townsend’s bed to recover. ‘Suddenly … this double apparition approached me. The two most beautiful people in the world were floating toward me … I thought to myself, “If there is anything I can do to keep them as beautiful as they are I will do it”.’31
For Zelda, the glamorous contrast between Minnesota’s harshness and New York’s soft focus made Manhattan seem like a palace. She wrote: ‘the city huddled in a gold-crowned conference. The top of New York twinkled like a golden canopy behind a throne.’32 John Dos Passos, whom she first met that October, agreed. Shy, stammering Dos Passos, ex-Harvard, born in Chicago the same year as Scott,33 wrote: ‘lunching at the Plaza with Scott and Zelda … marks the beginning of an epoch … it was a crisp autumn day. New York is at its best in October … The clouds are very white … Windows of tall buildings sparkle in the sun. Everything has the million dollar look.’34
Despite his shyness, radical views and dislike of stardom, Dos Passos was going through a million-dollar phase himself, having just leapt to fame with Three Soldiers (1921), based on his ambulance corps service in France and Italy, for which Scott envied him. Bishop had written to Wilson that Three Soldiers was a marvellous book and made ‘FSF look like a hack writer for Zelda’s squirrel coat’.35 Fortunately Scott had not sighted that phrase before he wrote a favourable review in the St Paul Daily News,36 but he did feel rivalrous towards him. Yet with typical generosity the Fitzgeralds invited writer Sherwood Anderson to meet Dos Passes at lunch.
To impress their guests the Fitzgeralds served Bronx cocktails then champagne, followed by lobster croquettes. ‘Scott always had the worst ideas about food … They were celebrities in the Sunday supplement sense of the word,’ recalled Dos Passos,’ … the idea of being that kind of celebrity set my teeth on edge.’37
Dos Passos found the shaggy-haired unkempt Anderson with his gaudy Liberty silk necktie ‘an appealing sort of man’38, with greying curls and strangely soft wrinkles in his face. Zelda, said Dos Passos, was ‘very beautiful [with] a sort of grace … very original and amusing. But there was also this little strange streak.’39
The Fitzgeralds’ interrogations also struck him as strange. ‘Scott and Zelda both started plying me with questions. Their gambit was to put you in the wrong. You were backward in your ideas. You were inhibited about sex … my attitude was that they were nobody’s goddamn business.’40
After lunch Dos Passos and the Fitzgeralds, who had rented a scarlet touring car and chauffeur, househunted on Long Island. In Great Neck Dos Passos suggested they call on the humorist and short-story writer, thirty-seven-year-old Ring Lardner, and his wife Ellis.41
Lardner’s reputation was rooted in his use of American vernacular, admired by Scott and Dos Passos. He also had a reputation as an alcoholic. When they arrived the American lingo was not in evidence but the whiskey was. Dos Passos recalls: ‘A tall sallow mournful man with a high arched nose stood beside the fireplace — dark hollow eyes, hollow cheeks, helplessly drunk. When his wife tried to get him to speak he stared at us without seeing us … Scott kept saying that Ring was his private drunkard; everybody had to have his private drunkard.’42 When they left, Zelda initially disliked Ring and told Sandy he was a typical newspaperman who happened to play the sax while Ellis was ‘common’ but more likeable.43 On becoming the Lardners’ neighbours their opinions rapidly improved. Scott particularly admired Lardner for bruises gained representing the Yale football team against Harvard.
En route back to New York they stopped for Zelda and Dos Passos to visit a carnival while Scott, drunk and morose, waited in the car. The carnival pair rode a Ferris wheel, but according to Dos Passos: ‘Zelda and I kept saying things to each other but our minds never met.’44 As this infamous Ferris Wheel Incident has become legendary for its first glimpse of Zelda’s ‘madness’, it is worth comparing two versions both authored by Dos Passos.
In 1963 he produced what appeared to be a straightforward, rather general account.
We were up in the Ferris wheel when she said something to me. I don’t remember anymore what it was, but I thought to myself, suddenly, this woman is mad. Whatever she had said was so completely off track; it was like peering into a dark abyss — something forbidding between us … from that first time I sensed there was something peculiar about her.
Dos Passos, who fails to give a specific instance of their conversation, without any evidence suggests to readers Zelda is mad. He continues:
She would veer off … Zelda did have a manner of becoming personal that wasn’t really very amusing … she’d go off into regions that weren’t funny anymore. There were also things about which one didn’t tease her … Sometimes she would go on, but there was always a non-sequitur in it. It stunned one for a moment. She seemed in such complete self-possession.45
The crucial point in this first account is that nowhere is there a hint of anything sexual between them.
Three years later in 1966 Dos Passos published a memoir which when focusing on the Ferris wheel ride firstly intensifies his belief in Zelda’s madness, but secondly introduces an ambiguous sexual undercurrent.
It wasn’t that she wanted me to make love to her: she was perceptive enough to know I wouldn’t make a pass at Scott’s girl. She may have thought it bourgeois but that was the way it was at that time. We’d only known each other ten hours, but for all our misunderstandings the three of us were really friends … The gulf that opened between Zelda and me, sitting up on that rickety Ferris wheel, was something I couldn’t explain … years later … it occurred to me that, even the first day we knew each other, I had come up against that basic fissure in her mental processes that was to have such tragic consequences. Though she was so very lovely I had come upon something that frightened and repelled me, even physically. Zelda kept insisting on repeating the ride and I sat dumb beside her, feeling more and more miserable. She was never a girl you could take lightly. Through it all I felt … a puzzled but affectionate respect.46
This version begs more questions than it answers. In a mere first meeting of ten hours, what were the misunderstandings? If it was bourgeois to make a pass at Scott’s girl ‘at that time’, was it less so later? Dos Passos states that Zelda had not wanted him to make love to her. He does not state whether he had wanted to. If he had, and if Zelda had ignored an outright advance or a subtle sexual hint, a ‘gulf’ might have opened between them.
The significant fact is that by the mid-Sixties writers like Dos Passos, who provided early evidence of Zelda’s bizarre behaviour, were already feeding their memories into a validated clinical framework.
Soon after the Ferris wheel incident, Zelda told Sandy that for $300 a month they had found ‘a nifty little Babbit-home’47 at 6 Gateway Drive, Great Neck, on the north shore of Long Island, fifteen miles from New York City, where they stayed from mid-October 1922 to April 1924. The Island’s lush farmland and sandy beaches, stretching 125 miles to the east of Manhattan, were an obvious target for a quick break. As you headed out from Brooklyn and Queens, sand dunes and countryside replaced dour urban boroughs. The north shore, less developed than the south, had a rural rugged feel as it cascaded in a series of bluffs, coves and wooded headlands. Magnificent cliffs were topped with estates built by wealthy New Yorkers. Labelled the Gold Coast, it became the hunting ground of the rich.
Zelda went West and fetched Scottie, relieved to be leaving Nanny Anna Shirley in St Paul. Zelda later recalled to Scott: ‘I brought Scottie to New York. She was round and funny in a pink coat and bonnet and you met us at the station.’48 At the time Zelda wrote to Sandy: ‘Scott met me with a nurse which I promptly fired and since then I have had the Baby myself’.49 The replacement nurse ($90 a month) failed to get on with the live-in servant couple ($160 a month) but the part-time laundress ($36 a month) pleased Zelda. The Fitzgeralds still couldn’t get their maths right. Nor were their finances helped by constant commuting to sample Manhattan night life. Scott wrote a witty article for the Saturday Evening Post, ‘How to Live on $36,000 a Year’, to show that they couldn’t and that $12,000 remained unaccounted for.
In Great Neck Scott revised The Vegetable, published in April 1923. In summer 1923 Sam M. Harris agreed to produce and direct it. Scott told Wilson: ‘Zelda and I have concocted a wonderful idea for Act II of the play.’50 Zelda’s ‘wonderful idea’ did not pay off, for when the play, scheduled for Broadway, opened in Atlantic City at the Apollo Theatre it failed dismally.51 Zelda, Scott and the Lardners, who had arrived to watch, were forced to see how badly the second act fantasy in particular worked on stage. Zelda wrote to Sandy that ‘the show flopped as flat as one of Aunt Jemima’s famous pancakes’.52 Scott admitted: ‘People left their seats and walked out.’53 Though he attempted improvements it never reached Broadway and Scott never wrote another play.
Both Fitzgeralds soon became close friends with the Lardners. Mid-Westerners Ring and Scott shared a dedication to writing and alcohol. Scott successfully promoted Ring’s literary reputation but failed to put brakes on Lardner’s drinking or his own. Zelda and Scott wrote to the Kalmans that Scott and Ring had got drunken and debauched a few nights earlier and stayed up for twenty-four hours. Zelda told Sandy that she was living in a town full of drunken people, many of whom were actresses.54 Ring’s drunken influence on Scott so distressed Zelda that she warmed to him only slowly, though according to Ring Lardner Jnr his father very soon became extremely fond of Zelda.55 Whereas Ring became more staid after drink, Scott became more abusive which gave Zelda a new role: apologizing to guests after parties in Great Neck, which Zelda described to Sandy as ‘Times Square during the theatre hour’.56
Though not especially interesting, Great Neck became Scott’s West Egg, the mysterious Gatsby’s home. In Zelda’s time palatial houses spawned show-business and press celebrities who included Herbert Bayard Swope, executive editor of New York World, Eddie Cantor, actors Leslie Howard and Basil Rathbone, theatrical producers Arthur Hopkins and Sam Harris, and millionaire songwriter Gene Buck and his wife Helen. ‘We drank Bass Pale Ale,’ Zelda recalled, ‘and went always to the Bucks or the Lardners or the Swopes when they weren’t at our house.’57 Zelda did not take to Helen Buck, who had the legs and mind of a ‘Dulcy-type chorus-girl’.58 This view was doubtless tainted by Scott’s interest in Helen, for according to biographer Scott Donaldson Helen was a ‘significant encounter’.59 Zelda later recalled: ‘In Great Neck there was always disorder and quarrels … about Helen Buck, about everything.’60
The biggest party they gave was for Rebecca West, whom Zelda never liked.61 Scott, anticipating West’s arrival with delight, told Thomas Boyd Zelda was scared.62 Though Scott had told West someone would drive her from New York to Great Neck, due to a misunderstanding no one collected her. Not knowing the Fitzgeralds’ address, West waited all evening in her hotel room to be fetched. Scott, insulted by his guest’s failure to appear, made loud fun of her. Scott and West were finally reconciled on the French Riviera in 1925, but by then Zelda, who had met West, thought she looked ‘like an advertisement for cauliflower ears and [was] entirely surrounded by fairies — male.’63
Ring Lardner, with Ellis’s approval, began an elaborate satirical courtship of Zelda, fascinated by her free speech and unconstrained behaviour. Perhaps in retaliation for the Helen Buck incidents Zelda encouraged Ring’s flatteringly witty poems. In What of It? he wrote: ‘Mr Fitzgerald is a novelist and Mrs Fitzgerald is a novelty’; in his fairy tale burlesque, Scott became Prince Charming and Zelda merited the line: ‘Her name was Zelda but they called her Cinderella on account of how the ashes and clinkers clung to her when she got up noons.’64 One Christmas Ring sent her a poem whose first verse ran:
Of all the girls for whom I care,
And there are quite a number,
None can compare with Zelda Sayre,
Now wedded to a plumber.65
Despite new friends Zelda missed Sandy, wrote to her regularly with appreciation for the way Sandy and Oscar had helped and amused her in St Paul, and in one note added seriously that ‘there’s something more that isn’t so easily expressed’.66
When the Baltimore Sun interviewed her the following fall in Great Neck, Zelda had started writing three short stories. ‘I like to write,’ Zelda said. ‘I thought my husband should write a perfectly good ending to one of my tales, and he wouldn’t! He called them “lop-sided”, too!’ Zelda called Scott to join the interview. Immediately the journalist moved on to discuss Scott’s stories and insisted Zelda did too. Did she admire ‘The Offshore Pirate’? Did she love Scott’s books and heroines? ‘I like the ones that are like me!’ said Zelda. ‘That’s why I love Rosalind.’ Yet again Zelda, with her own connivance, had been relegated to the role of Famous Author’s Wife.
Scott told the journalist Zelda ‘is the most charming person in the world … she’s perfect.’ Zelda said: ‘You don’t think that. You think I’m a lazy woman.’ Scott replied: ‘I think you’re perfect. You’re always ready to listen to my manuscript, at any hour of the day and night … You do, I believe, clean the ice-box once a week.’
Then Scott took over the interview. He asked Zelda if she was ambitious: ‘Not especially, but I’ve plenty of hope … I’m not a “joiner”.’ She wanted to ‘be myself and enjoy living’. When Scott asked what Zelda would do if she had to earn her own living, she said prophetically: ‘I’ve studied ballet. I’d try and get a place in the Follies … If I wasn’t successful, I’d try to write.’67
Scott had summed up 1922 as ‘a comfortable but dangerous and deteriorating year … No ground under our feet.’68 By February 1923, when deterioration merited a Ledger entry of ‘still drunk’, a violent note entered his drunken rages. Once when Anita Loos dined at Great Neck Scott locked Zelda and Anita in the dining room and threw a wine cooler, a lighted candelabra, a water carafe and a leg of lamb at them screaming ‘Now I’m going to kill you two!’ Anita, shaking and incredulous, and Zelda, highly distressed but still loyal to Scott, were forced to flee to Ring Lardner’s.69
In March 1923 Bunny Wilson married Mary Blair, and the Kalmans visited the Fitzgeralds. Zelda was so excited that the evening passed in a haze of alcohol, ending when Zelda rode out of the Kalmans’ hotel room in a laundry cart. Zelda and Scott’s third anniversary began ‘on the wagon’ but they finished April ‘tearing drunk’.70
In May they made two significant new friends: Esther Murphy and Tommy Hitchcock. Tommy, Zelda’s age, from a wealthy upper-class family, attended the Fay School and St Paul’s before Harvard. A military aviator awarded the Croix de Guerre, he became a celebrated polo player, idolized by Scott for the qualities he himself desired. Hitchcock became one of Scott’s models for Tommy Barban in Tender Is The Night.71
Zelda found Esther Murphy more radical because she had broken away from her family’s conventional Fifth Avenue leather-goods firm Mark Cross, worth two million dollars. They met through Edmund Wilson, who thought highly of Esther’s literary talents, and Alex McKaig, who for a time wanted to marry her. Esther’s circle included her brother Gerald, sister-in-law Sara and the Parisian lesbian feminist set dominated by writer Natalie Barney and painter Romaine Brooks, who would all play a significant part in the Fitzgeralds’ lives.
In July to Zelda’s delight Scottie began talking, and as Scottie developed Zelda found motherhood easier. Visitors swarmed the house: John Biggs, Scott’s lawyer friend, and Max Perkins visited in May and July, Scott’s Aunt Annabel and Don Ogden Stewart arrived in August.
Suddenly Scott forswore his role as Demon Lover. Zelda wrote sadly to Xandra: ‘Scott has started a new novel and retired into strict seclusion and celibacy. He’s horribly intent on it.’72
Left on her own, Zelda appreciated Montgomery visitors, who included Livye Hart’s mother and Eleanor Browder in June, and Rosalind in July and August. Several visits were disasters. Eleanor was appalled by Gateway Drive notices that announced ‘Visitors are requested not to break down doors in search of liquor, even when authorized to do so by the host and hostess.’ When Mrs Hart invited Zelda and Scott to tea at New York’s Astor Hotel, they arrived separately, too drunk to locate each other in the hotel lobby. Horrified, Mrs Hart forbade Livye, still at home in Montgomery, to visit Zelda.
Rosalind’s visits were worse. The first involved a ‘happening’ comparable to that which had greeted the Sayres in Westport; the second a raucous overnight party which Scott refused to leave. When Zelda and Rosalind, thoroughly exasperated, left without him, Zelda whispered: ‘I never did want to marry Scott.’73 Though Zelda did not explain or repeat the remark it was one her sister never forgot.
Montgomery visitors told Zelda that Sara Haardt had left her teaching post to return to Goucher as their youngest English instructor.74 In July 1922 her ‘Strictly Southern’ sketches of Alabama folk were bought by Emily Clark’s The Reviewer, whose advisers were James Branch Cabell, Joseph Hergesheimer and Mencken. The following spring Sara met Mencken for the first time when he presented the prize for the Goucher Freshman short story contest, won by Sara Mayfield.
Mencken, about to give his lecture ‘The Trade of Letters’ to the ‘250 virgins’ in the hall, suddenly spotted amongst the ‘no less than 27 appetizing cuties’75 the exquisite japonica-pale Sara Haardt. Instantly he changed his talk to ‘How to Catch a Husband’. Then he asked Sara Haardt to chaperone young Sara Mayfield (usually called Little Sara) for dinner with him.
Over dinner the Sage said diplomatically: ‘Miss Haardt, didn’t you send me a story for The Smart Set once?’ Sara’s diplomacy matched his: ‘Yes, and you read it very promptly.’ Mencken began their seven-year courtship: ‘As I recall, I found it most impressive. Unfortunately it didn’t fit our needs just then. Send me some more stories and mark them for my personal attention.’ Their conversation turned to Zelda: ‘What a girl!’ Mencken said. ‘Cleverer than Scott, if the truth were known.’
The following day Sara Haardt showed Little Sara Mencken’s In Defense of Women, which she found brazenly anti-women. Despite this, Sara Haardt was soon lunching with Mencken.76
Unlike the Fitzgeralds, Haardt and Mencken were each cynical about love and marriage. Mencken defined love as ‘the delusion that one woman differs from another’ while Sara said: ‘I would advise any woman to wait. There is so much in life — so much for a woman to see and do … marriage is a career, but it isn’t life, it isn’t everything.’77
Nevertheless stumpy dishevelled middle-aged Mencken and young reticent Sara were soon a familiar sight in Baltimore’s bars. That October Mencken bought Sara’s first story for The Smart Set.78
One month later Zelda finished her first serious story. She wrote the bulk of ‘Our Own Movie Queen’; Scott added the climax and revised it. Its satirical underlying message is that Hollywood stardom does not require brains or talent. Zelda’s heroine Gracie Axelrod was the daughter of a disreputable Swede, ‘the sole owner of a tumbledown shanty where fried chicken of dubious antecedents might be washed down by cold beer.’ Gracie’s talent was she ‘fried the chicken with such brown art that complaints were unknown’. Zelda’s talent was to show with wit, metaphors and intellectual bite that a nonentity in that society could rise to become the city’s movie queen.79
Though written in November 1923 the story was not published in the Chicago Sunday Tribune until 1925, when it won two stars in O’Brien’s short story collection. Zelda however received no credit at all. Her story was published under Scott’s name and Scott received $1,000, minus 10 per cent, which he shared with Zelda.
At the time Zelda made no comment but after publication she scored out Scott’s solo by-line and wrote in heavy black print ‘ZELDA’.80
Both Sara Haardt’s and Zelda’s stories were clever: the difference was not in their fiction but in their identity as writers. Sara’s serious work had been bought by a leading critic. Zelda’s work was still being produced under Scott’s by-line.
Zelda, Sara Haardt, Sara Mayfield and Tallulah Bankhead were products of a youthful upper-middle class that had ‘fermented since 1900 [and] exploded with passionate fervour during the 1920s’.81 Though Mayfield saw them as rebels born in a smug time and an ultraconservative place in which revolt was long overdue,82 Zelda’s three contemporaries were already practising the disciplines of their trade which would shape their rebellion while Zelda was not.
Scott’s Ledger noted his writing assistance to Zelda but he did not keep a similar record of Zelda’s assistance to him. This was doubtless due to their respective positions as professional and amateur. Professionals record and often charge for the help they give. Amateurs don’t.83
He used Zelda as a model, trusted her editorial skills, leant on her literary judgements and confessed he should stop ‘referring everything to Zelda — a terrible habit; nothing ought to be referred to anybody until it’s finished’.84
They were again $5,000 in debt, so Scott hibernated all winter in a chill room over the garage until he had produced eleven stories which netted him $17,000, enough to pay his debts and return to the novel.
By Christmas 1923 Sara Mayfield, in Montgomery, told Zelda that Sara Haardt had succumbed to the first of her serious illnesses; for months she would write little. The Fitzgeralds spent Christmas Day with Esther Murphy, Gilbert Seldes, Dos Passos and Mary and Edmund Wilson. Bunny wrote to Bishop: ‘I like Zelda better and better every year and they are among the only people now that I am always glad to see.’85 He spoke for most of the Fitzgeralds’ friends when he said: ‘the lively imaginations and entertainment value of Scott and Zelda preserved them through a certain amount of trouble making.’86
But Scott, tired of his friends, wrote: ‘The most miserable year since I was 19, full of terrible failures and acute miseries.’87 By April 1924, exhausted with drink and debt, they rented their house and sailed for France, where they felt they could live more cheaply and have better adventures.88
1 Scott hoped Nathan would read his Vegetable script while they were there.
2 ZSF, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. to Number —’, Collected Writings, p. 420. First Published Esquire, May — June 1934, as by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald but credited to ZSF in Scott’s Ledger.
3 Wilson, Letters on Literature and Politics, pp. 78–9.
4 FSF to Wilson, c. Mar. 1922.
5 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 191.
6 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 80. Mayfield later also told her cousin Camella this.
7 FSF, Notebooks No. 1564.
8 This would confirm the notion of several abortions about which Camella Mayfield, who typed her cousin Sara’s manuscript of the Fitzgeralds, is both convinced and convincing. Mayfield, Exiles, p. 80; Camella Mayfield, Tuscaloosa, USA, to the author, series of conversations, 1999 and 2000.
9 FSF, Beautiful and Damned, p. 169.
10 FSF, Beautiful and Damned, earlier MS version, CO187, Box 3, PUL.
11 Xandra Kalman to Milford, Sep. 1964, Milford, Zelda, p. 93.
12 Conversations between Xandra Kalman and Lloyd Hackl; between Hackl and the author, 1999.
13 Lloyd Hackl’s oral portrait of Fitzgerald in St Paul based on interviews with Xandra Kalman; Lloyd Hackl to the author, Minnesota, 1999.
14 Wilson to FSF, 26 May 1922, Wilson, Letters, p. 85. Margaret eventually purchased for Bishop and herself the Chateau de Tressancourt at Orgeval, Seine-et-Oise.
15 FSF to Wilson, postmarked 30 May 1922, Yale University.
16 Xandra Kalman to Milford, Sep. 1964, Milford, Zelda, pp. 92–3.
17 ZSF to Oscar Kalman, 1940, author’s collection and Minnesota Historical Society.
18 Xandra Kalman to Milford, Sep. 1964, Milford, Zelda, p. 93.
20 Xandra Kalman to Hackl, Sep. 1975; Hackl to the author, 1999.
21 The three friends were Sara Mayfield, Sara Haardt and Sara Murphy. It was Sara Murphy who pointed out Zelda s pronunciation of the name, as did the late Honoria Murphy Donnelly in interviews with the author, 1997 and 1998.
22 Xandra Kalman to Hackl and conversations between Hackl and the author, 1999.
23 A possible reason why the official history of the club has not listed their names.
24 Lloyd Hackl, F. Scott Fitzgerald and St Paul, p. 56.
25 Probably because of its serialization.
26 Tales of the Jazz Age included: Stories: My Last Flappers: ‘The Jelly Bean’, ‘The Camel’s Back’, ‘May Day’, ‘Porcelain and Pink’; Fantasies: ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz’, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, ‘Tarquin of Cheapside’, ‘O Russet Witch!’; Unclassified Masterpieces: ‘The Lees of Happiness’, ‘Mr Icky’, ‘Jemina’.
27 The film starred Marie Prevost and Kenneth Harlan.
28 Wilson to Bishop, 22 Sep. 1922, Wilson, Letters, p. 96.
29 At the Plaza (Sep. 1922): Sara Mayfield was en route back from Europe.
30 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 82.
31 Gilbert Seldes to Milford, 27 May 1965, Milford, Zelda, p. 97.
32 ZSF, Waltz, Collected Writings, p. 47.
33 Dos Passos was the illegitimate son of a Portuguese-American corporation lawyer.
34 Dos Passos, Best Times, p. 127.
35 Bishop to Wilson, 1921, Yale University.
36 Dos Passos told Bishop that the only two reviews he cared for were the ones by Bishop and Fitzgerald, Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 162.
37 Dos Passos, Best Times, pp. 128, 130.
38 Ibid., p. 128.
39 Dos Passos to Milford, 17 Oct. 1963, Milford, Zelda, p. 93.
40 Dos Passos, Best Times, p. 128.
41 Lardner, formerly a sports columnist and wit for the Chicago Tribune, had moved to Long Island to write a syndicated column and comic strip based on his successful short story collection You Know Me Al (1916).
42 Dos Passos, Best Times, p. 129.
43 Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 165.
44 Dos Passos, Best Times, p. 130.
45 Dos Passos to Milford, 17 Oct. 1963, Milford, Zelda, pp. 93–4.
46 Dos Passos, Best Times, p. 130.
47 ZSF to Xandra Kalman, c. 13 Oct. 1922, author’s collection and Minnesota Historical Society.
48 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 191.
49 ZSF to Xandra Kalman, c. Oct. 1922, author’s collection and Minnesota Historical Society.
50 FSF to Wilson, letter postmarked 13 July 1922.
51 19 Nov. 1923.
52 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 87.
53 FSF, Afternoon of an Author, ed. Mizener, pp. 93, 94. The disastrous one-week run in November left the Fitzgeralds in deeper debt. Help came through Townsend Martin, now a partner in the Film Guild. Scott wrote a script for $2,000 from which the Clara Bow film Grit was made.
54 FSF and ZSF to Xandra and Oscar Kalman, after 17 Nov. 1923.
55 Ring Lardner Jnr to the author, June 1999.
56 ZSF to the Kalmans, undated, author’s collection and CO183, Box 5, Folder 5, PUL.
57 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 191.
58 ZSF to the Kalmans, Oct. 1922, CO183, Box 5, Folder 5, PUL.
59 Scott Donaldson, Fool for Love, p. 53.
60 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 191.
62 FSF to Thomas Boyd, Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 138.
63 Quoted in Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 272. Forty years later when Zelda had been labelled Scott’s mad wife, West produced a description of Zelda’s appearance quite unlike anyone else’s: ‘my impression [was] that she was very plain … I would almost go so far as to say that her face had a certain craggy homeliness. There was a curious unevenness about it, such as one sees in Gericault’s pictures of the insane … We got on quite well … There was something very appealing about her. But frightening’ (West to Milford, 10 Aug. 1963, Milford, Zelda, p. 99).
64 Ring Lardner, What Of It? Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1925, pp. 18, 59. In return Zelda drew a dinner party place card for Ring on which a redheaded nude wearing a grey fedora kicks her scarlet slipper towards his name.
65 ZSF, Scrapbook, CO183, Box 7, PUL.
66 ZSF to the Kalmans, Oct. 1922, author’s collection and CO183, Box 5, Folder 5, PUL.
67 ‘What a “Flapper Novelist” Thinks Of His Wife’, Baltimore Evening Sun, 7 Oct. 1923, section 5, p. 2. This interview was syndicated to the Louisville Courier-Journal, 30 Sep. 1923. Reproduced in Romantic Egoists, p. 112. See also Milford, Zelda, pp. 100–1.
68 FSF, Ledger, summary of the year to Sep. 1922.
69 Anita Loos, Kiss Hollywood Good-by, Viking Press, New York, 1974, pp. 121, 122. Another version of the anecdote is in Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 130.
70 FSF, Ledger, Apr. 1923. Zelda confirmed ‘We drank always’ (ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 191).
71 Scott often watched Tommy play championship polo matches at Meadow Brook Club on Long Island. Like Jay Gatsby Hitchcock had done two terms at Oxford. He married a steel heiress and became a successful banker.
72 ZSF to Xandra Kalman, summer 1923, CO183, Box 5, Folder 5, PUL. Scott had long been haunted by the lure of the flesh versus Catholic ruminations on sexual abstinence and the idea of ‘the dark celibacy of greatness’ appealed. See also Wilson’s letter to Bishop, 22 Sept. 1922 about ‘seminal juice’ (note 28 above).
73 Milford, Zelda, p. 100.
74 Sara was also taking an advanced degree in psychology at Johns Hopkins.
75 Mayfield, Constant Circle, p. 3; Ann Henley, Introduction, Southern Souvenirs, p. 8.
76 Mayfield, Constant Circle, pp. 5, 56.
77 Rodgers, Mencken and Sara, p. 1.
78 Sara Haardt, ‘Joe Moore and Callie Balsingame’, Smart Set, Oct. 1923.
79 ZSF, ‘Our Own Movie Queen’, Collected Writings, pp. 273–292. The story is set in Minnesota where dull watery people ‘grew mushrooms and made incompetent whiskey’. Minnesota has several significant Swedish-American communities.
80 Seen and recorded by this author in the Princeton archives.
81 Wayne J. Flynt, Montgomery: An Illustrated History, Windsor Publications, Woodland Hills, California, 1980, p. 69.
82 Mayfield, Constant Circle, p. 25.
83 To discover the constant editorial assistance Zelda rendered him, one has to read in detail his letters to editor and agent and check his notebooks.
84 FSF to MP, c. 10 Apr. 1924, Life in Letters, p. 67. That year Zelda offered criticism on The Vegetable and insisted Scott keep the title Tales of the Jazz Age.
85 Wilson to Bishop, 15 Jan. 1924, Wilson, Letters, pp. 118–19.
86 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 95.
87 FSF, Ledger, summing up 1923.
88 Ring sent Zelda a farewell poem. Part of it ran: ‘Zelda, fair queen of Alabam’,/ Across the waves I kiss you! /You think I am a stone, a clam; / You think that I don’t care a damn, /But God! How I will miss you!/ …/ So, dearie, when your tender heart / Of all his coarseness tires, / Just cable me and I will start / Immediately for Hyeres’ (ZSF, Scrapbook, CO183, Box 7, PUL).