1927 started modestly. Though in an immodest place: Hollywood, home of stars, melodrama and if you were lucky, mighty big bucks.
It was the lure of the bucks that tempted Scott when United Artists invited him to Los Angeles to write an original flapper comedy for Constance Talmadge. They offered an advance of $3,500 and a further $12,000 if they accepted his script.
Zelda and Scott left Scottie and her nanny with Scott’s parents, who now lived in Washington and were nearer than Zelda’s parents. They travelled West on the Twentieth Century Limited train, where Zelda’s painter’s eye took in ‘the red and purple streaks of a Western dark’ and later described the landscape feather-stitching along the tracks. She saw ‘a green and brown hill, a precipitate tunnel … an odd gate, a lamppost; and a little lead dog’, trees and houses on green mountains that ‘seemed on probation’.1 Hollywood itself, as they approached, appeared provisional.
‘We reached California in time for an earthquake …’ she wrote. ‘White roses swung luminous in the mist from a trellis outside the Ambassador windows; a bright exaggerated parrot droned incomprehensible shouts in an aquamarine pool … geraniums underscored the discipline of the California flora.’2
From their luxurious bungalow in the hotel’s grounds Zelda wrote constantly to five-year-old Scottie, illustrating notes with drawings of Hollywood events or memories of her darling ‘Boo Boo’.3 Boo Boo bounces on her head in a tutu, legs high. Zelda’s and Scottie’s heads peep through a heart while the word love spirals the drawing. Boo Boo is lost in the woods, hanging soulfully on to a tree. Sometimes she draws ‘love’ with wings flying towards Scottie thousands of miles away.
Like her winged affection, Zelda’s letters and drawings flowed.
January 1927: ‘Dearest Darlingest Little Boo Boo … It is so hot here … even Daddy sleeps under one blanket … It is the most beautiful country … Eucalyptus and Poinsettias grow as tall as trees … this is … the biggest and most beautiful hotel that I have ever seen … John Barrymore lives next door and Pola Negri across the way.’ As well as the ‘two leading vamps of the cinema’, other neighbours were Zelda’s friend Carl Van Vechten and Scott’s friend from Rome Carmel Myers.
Late January 1927: ‘Dear dearest Little Boo Boo, Mummy is sitting out here without a coat in the most glorious sunshine … wishing you were here … I would love to show you the lovely red and blue parrot on the terrace … If you were here you would not like the little pool because it’s very shallow and not for people who can swim so beautifully, like you. You and I could go in the big one.’
Hollywood, she told Scottie, ‘is not gay like the magazines say but very quiet. The stars almost never go out in public and every place closes at midnight … Daddy let me buy a very very pretty black suit that makes me look very proud and prosperous … [but] I am crazy to get back East … I want so badly to see my Boo-Boo … write to me, you old lazy bones.’
Scottie, however, did not write for several weeks. But still Zelda’s letters poured out. After mixing daily with film celebrities, among whom Ronald Colman particularly impressed her, a wave of inferiority swept over her: ‘Everybody here is very clever and can nearly all dance and sing and play and I feel very stupid.’
Zelda became sceptical about Hollywood’s improbability: ‘At first,’ she told Scottie, ‘it was very lovely and impressive, but … everything is on the surface and we soon began to feel there was nothing here but decorations …’ Hollywood was peddling fake fun and implausible dreams but Zelda did not buy them. The more she missed Scottie, the more unrealistically demanding became her letters.
By February Zelda, having been ‘properly moved by the fragility of Lillian Gish’, having ‘dined at Pickfair to marvel at Mary Pickford’s dynamic subjugation of life’,4 still pined for Scottie’s answer. ‘I am as cross as a bear and two elephants, a crocodile, a lizard and a kangaroo with you for never writing to me — I do not believe you know how to write.’
Zelda told Scottie Scott’s movie about a prison was ‘very good’ but that The Great Gatsby movie which they watched was ‘ROTTEN and awful and terrible.’ Zelda was nostalgic for Paris in the spring. ‘I am very homesick for the pink lights and the trees and the gay streets … But most of all we are very lonesome for you.’
Scottie managed two letters to Zelda, who instantly responded: ‘It was more fun to read them than eating or diving or having a new dress … Lady Diana Manners … is out here now playing in the theatre … we are going to have dinner with her Saturday if Daddy ever ever ever finishes his work.’ Scott was finding scriptwriting tougher than he’d imagined. It would take him two months to complete the assignment. ‘[Daddy] says he will never write another picture because it is too hard, but I do not think writers mean what they say about their work.’
Zelda worried about her daughter. ‘Please, nanny, write me if everything is all right — if you and Scottie are comfortable and happy. I’m in a panic, I want to get home and start house-hunting so bad … I am crazy to own a house. I want you to have a lovely little Japanese room with pink cherry blossoms.’
Zelda filled a scrapbook with pictures of houses. But her panic did not solely arise from homesickness.
The Fitzgeralds had met Lois Moran, a seventeen-year-old actress, at a luncheon given for them by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.5 Scott was captivated immediately by Lois’s innocence, intelligence, beauty and self-discipline. Zelda said sardonically that Lois’s appeal to Scott was that of a ‘young actress [who is] like a breakfast food that many men identified with whatever they missed from life’.6
Though Scott never visited Lois unless her mother was in attendance, nevertheless they met frequently. Zelda resented Scott’s escalating admiration for Lois while Scott began to compare Zelda adversely with the starlet. Finally something in Scott burst and he told Zelda he respected Lois because at least she did something with herself which required effort as well as talent. Underneath her Southern courtesy to Lois, Zelda was furious. Had Scott not noticed her own efforts with her writing and painting? Had he not recognized how little space he gave her to concentrate her attention on her own work rather than his? She was acute enough to perceive that Scott’s anger with her partly reflected his frustration that after two years abroad he had less money than when they set out and his novel was still unfinished.
One evening when Scott left to dine with Lois, Zelda, unable to contain her distress and fury, in a fit of violence burned in the bath all the clothes she had herself designed.7 It was an extraordinary gesture, as self-destructive as those she had made the previous year on the Riviera, but this time she savaged something she had already achieved. Over the years this frenzied act of burning would gain in symbolic significance as it became merely the first of several acts of destruction by fire.
Zelda’s jealous anger and Scott’s barely-concealed resentment were the undercurrents to a series of wild pranks they engaged in. At a cocktail party to which Lois Moran invited them Scott collected the guests’ watches, bangles and rings and boiled them in tomato soup. At a party given by Goldwyn to which nobody had invited them, Scott and Zelda gate-crashed, appearing at the street door on all fours barking like dogs. Once inside, Zelda, characteristically, stole upstairs to take a bath before joining the guests. When visiting William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon, Scott shocked his host by borrowing a brassiere from Zelda to clothe one of Hearst’s nude garden statues.
While writing his screenplay, ‘Lipstick’, Scott quarrelled with Constance Talmadge, which probably injured its chances, for when it was finished in March it was rejected. Scott had to face the fact that more than his $3,500 advance had already been used up. The Fitzgeralds slunk back East, barely surviving a quarrel over Lois Moran on their journey. In a newspaper article Moran had revealed she admired philosophers, adored bathing suits (as did Zelda) and her favourite authors were Frederick Nietzsche, Rupert Brooke and Scott Fitzgerald.8 Patently Scott had spent time on his favourite pursuit: ‘re-educating’ a young woman, giving her reading lists.
Zelda, accustomed to that ploy, was justifiably angry, more so when Scott revealed he had invited Lois to visit them. In a rage she threw her diamond and platinum watch, which Scott had given her in 1920, out of the train window. It was her most expensive sentimental keepsake, costing $600 in 1920, worth about $12,000 today.9
Moran had certainly left her mark on Scott. Though he met her only a few more times, she nestled securely in his fiction, first as the sixteen-year-old shop girl Jenny in ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, then as eighteen-year-old ingenue Helen Avery in ‘Magnetism’, before her final transformation into Rosemary Hoyt in Tender Is The Night.10
For Zelda, who still found Scott’s attentive fictionalization of herself in his novels flattering, it would have come as a shock to see him do something similar with Lois Moran.
Zelda’s and Scott’s autobiographical fiction had always held messages and warnings for each other, sometimes recriminations, occasionally prophecies. In ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ the hero Jake, a failed tenor who has made a fortune in real estate, perceives himself, like Scott, as Pygmalion, and promotes young Jenny to Hollywood stardom. Scott made Zelda see what he saw in Lois: ‘the face of a dark saint with tender, luminous eyes’, the face of ‘an intense little Madonna’, a beautiful young woman who was ‘somehow on the grand scale’. Initially the disillusioned older Jake neither finds her desirable nor sleeps with her, but finally he ‘rode away in a mood of exultation, living more deeply in her youth and future than he had lived in himself for years’.11 This was not a line calculated to increase Zelda’s sense of security.
In ‘Magnetism’ George, a charismatic thirty-year-old film actor, is married to Kay, a former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl, now burdened with child and English nanny. They, like the Fitzgeralds, are seen as the ideal celebrity couple. But as George and Kay’s marriage wears out George studies eighteen-year-old Helen. Helen staves off George’s sexual passion with the light line ‘O, we’re such actors, George — you and I’, a line echoed by Rosemary in Tender Is The Night. But just as it is hard for Kay to be content that her husband did not have a sexual encounter with Helen when he views Kay as ‘one of those people who are famous beyond their actual achievement’12, so it was for Zelda to take comfort from Scott’s platonic dalliance with Lois, accompanied by the same bitter accusation.
Zelda would also use that Hollywood episode in ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’, but she waited three years to retaliate. That too becomes a story of a young film actress, Caroline, who rises to stardom. But Zelda intends her heroine to be a more forceful character who achieves not merely movie star status but also marriage to a man with millions. Zelda’s story ends with a description of the marriage three years on, when ‘so far they have kept their quarrels out of the divorce courts, but … [they] can’t go on forever protecting quarrels’.13 What Zelda published in 1930 she already knew in 1927.
Zelda had begun dreaming repetitively about her daughter,14 so it was with great relief that they went to collect her from Washington, stopping in Baltimore to see Mencken. Scott did not endear himself to the Sage by singing Hemingway’s praises, then informing him Ernest was all set to beat him up. Nor did Scott endear himself to Sara Haardt and Sara Mayfield when he made ‘scathing remarks’ about Zelda.15
Sara Haardt’s tuberculin infection had temporarily cleared and she had resettled into a room in Charles Street, Baltimore, writing and surviving her up-and-down romance with Mencken. Gossip columnists, having linked his name with actress Aileen Pringle, were now linking it with evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and novelist Rebecca West. Angrily Sara Haardt told Mayfield that Mencken was now ‘a closed chapter in my book’.16 Mencken, however, continued to promote Sara’s writing, and at Joseph Hergesheimer’s literary party Zelda and Scott overheard Sara referred to as ‘the future Mrs Mencken’.
Scott felt that in rural peace he could complete his novel so, after collecting Scottie, the Fitzgeralds stayed at the Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, while they house-hunted, helped by Scott’s Princeton roommate John Biggs and his wife Anna.17 In late March Biggs, now a Washington lawyer and writer, found them Ellerslie, a nineteenth-century colonial-style house at Edgemoor, near Wilmington, on the banks of the Delaware River. Zelda later described in detail the four Doric columns, the portico, the ‘sombre horse chestnuts in the yard and a white pine bending as graciously as a Japanese brush drawing’ which surrounded Ellerslie.18 It was a house whose thirty rooms were so enormous that Zelda had to design outsize furniture, then have it especially made in Philadelphia. With characteristic flair she painted maps of France on the garden furniture and Scottie remembers her painting stars and flowers on wooden lawn chairs. Zelda planted hedges of her favourite tissue-paper white roses and trailed yellow climbing roses over fences. Her imagination was endless. Scottie recalled how ‘she painted my bed with red and white stripes’ and the bedroom walls with fairytale scenes.19
Zelda’s first impression of Ellerslie was that the ‘squareness of the rooms and the sweep of the columns were to bring us a judicious tranquility’.20 Ellerslie became her earliest known oil on canvas, in which the tonal values she employs confidently convey that peace. She bathes the facade of the house in amber light against a strange green sky. There are no sharp lines; brushed soft colours give the house a moody atmosphere. The house in the top two-thirds of the canvas is warm and glowing, protected by its bright white columns and massive tree trunks which line the yard. But those trees cast ominous black shadows along the gritty path. The lingering impression is of a cosy secure home fringed by unpredictable terrors.
Zelda and Scott paid an incredibly low rent of $150 a month for eighteen months for this sprawling mansion which needed the attention of two black maids: Ella, who sang Deep South spirituals in the kitchen and sat like ‘a dark ejection of the storm in the candlelight’; and Marie, ‘a wonderful negro maid, high and gawky, who laughed and danced barefoot about the Christmas tree on the broken balls’.21
When the daughter of Scott’s favourite cousin Ceci, twenty-two-year-old Cecilia Taylor, visited she noticed that Scott ‘seemed to tell the several colored servants what to do. I think Zelda was perfectly capable of handling things but she seemed perfectly willing to let Scott do it.’22
Cecilia also observed Zelda had less control than Scott over Scottie’s education and discipline. After Nanny left they hired Mademoiselle Delplangue, whom Zelda described as reeking of sachet, with large brown eyes that ‘followed a person about like a mop’.23 Zelda confessed to Van Vechten: ‘She is a great trial, but … I am afraid to fire her.’24
Cecilia thought Zelda’s immersion in her art led Scott to take domestic and parental responsibility: ‘She was painting then. She had done a screen … [with] seashore scenes … and a lampshade of Alice-in-Wonderland characters for Scottie.’25
It is equally likely that Scott’s control, which led to Zelda’s renewed insecurities over both servants and child care, was a cause not a consequence of her working so hard at her art. Whatever the primary motive, and there must have been several intertwined in a complex network, Zelda’s creative output remained steady. Scottie thought Ellerslie was where Zelda felt most imaginatively domestic. Zelda has been repeatedly criticized for her poor house management but, as Scottie always said, Zelda was a marvellously creative mother. 1927 was dedicated to artworks designed for Scottie. Zelda began what over many years would be several series of thick watercolour and gouache paper dolls with costume changes.26
She embarked on a series of accurate historical figures: the Courts of Louis XIV (the King, Cardinal Richelieu, courtiers and ladies), King Arthur’s Round Table, and Joan of Arc. A second series of fairy tales included Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks, and in a third series of paper dolls Zelda, Scott and Scottie become witty lifelike paper people who display themselves in several changes of natty underwear. Another paper Scott has angel’s wings, an umbrella and a satirical pink tie.
When Zelda’s paper dolls or fairy-tale drawings are examined, a pencil sketch is visible beneath the layer of watercolour and gouache. Scottie remembered: ‘These dolls had wardrobes of which Rumpelstiltskin could be proud. My mother and I had dresses of pleated wallpaper, and one party frock of mine had ruffles of real lace cut from a Belgian handkerchief … it was characteristic of my mother that these exquisite dolls, each one requiring hours of artistry, should have been created for the delectation of a six-year-old.’27
The paper dolls show Zelda’s strong whimsical and sardonic illustrational skills. Her gifts flourished in this smaller scale, especially when her ideas were grounded in fantasy, myth or memory. Over the years she developed several noticeable features in these early paper dolls for use in her human figures and in her later paper-doll series. Most striking is their gender ambiguity. Both sexes have heavy muscles, exaggerated shoulders, bosomy chests, powerful thighs, massive feet and enlarged calves. Male courtiers with frothy clothes, high heels, red lips and feet in ballet poses could be women. This gender ambiguity is even more obvious in the fairy tales, where the big bad wolf sports a party dress, Papa Bear minces in a skirt, and Little Red Riding Hood has a male muscular body and large feet topped by golden hair like a transvestite’s wig.
The doll-making allowed Zelda to feel young again. It was as if she was trying to repeat her childhood, but this time feminized in a way that her tomboy girlhood was not.28
This children’s art, begun in 1927, became a lifelong preoccupation. Over the years she made several hundred paper dolls which, together with fairy-tale scenes, formed a quarter of her 1974 retrospective exhibition at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. In 1927 she immersed herself in historical texts of each period she drew, while her knowledge of fairy-tale literature became prodigious. Her skill was to give it a nonconformist lift. Red Riding Hood, no longer innocent, becomes a sophisticated teenager while the wolf has several personae. One wolf wears a carnivorous red jumpsuit and an evil scowl. Another, in black hood and cape, menaces children with his arsenal of firearms. But Zelda turns the tables by showing his gentle side in flowing white party frock, elbow-length gloves and yellow wings. Wolf into angel becomes a counterpoint to Scott as writer into angel. Though Zelda is partly making children’s art for Scottie, she is at the same time subverting the conventional childhood approach by using dolls to transgress male/female boundaries.
Critic Jane S. Livingston suggests Zelda was directly influenced by a certain strain of nineteenth-and twentieth-century French illustrational art. It is not surprising that a large part of Zelda’s art belongs to the French culture she admired and understood.
Zelda used as a major source for her paper dolls two historical handbooks.29 The first, L’Histoire du Costume Feminin Francais de l’an 1037 a l’an 1870 (compiled by Paul Louis de Giafferri), catalogues hundreds of costumes and accessories from capes to corsets, bodices to brollies from the Middle Ages through to the Victorian era. More interesting even than the historical material that informs Zelda’s paper dolls are the changes her transforming imagination made to her models. Her figures are considerably more lifelike, have greater fluidity and are more inventive than the historical costume drawings she was consulting.30
If we compare the second book she used, another French volume from the 1920s, L’Enfance de Becassine (illustrated by J. Pinchon), it is clear that Zelda’s dramatic flair and draughtsmanship have revitalized Pinchon’s somewhat flat drawings.
One emotional reason that lay behind Zelda’s early paper-doll drawings was that they offered her a special way to communicate with Scottie, from whom she felt increasingly distanced. Watercolour and gouache as an intimate medium may be particularly effective for communication with a child. The historical dolls were also an educational medium. And for Scottie they worked as such. ‘Her [Zelda’s] paper dolls were works of art,’ she said, but ‘the whole court of Louis XIV … weren’t to play with’.31
During the year Zelda designed and built an elaborate dolls’ house ostensibly for Scottie. But her little-girl’s concentration made it seem as if she was also building herself a home. For months she worked on it secretly in a third-floor hideaway where she meticulously painted, papered and furnished the house with elegant furniture, stylish mirrors and glass windows. It was finished in November, ready for Scottie to unveil it at Christmas.
During the next two years Zelda also painted a series of extraordinary lampshades, some wittily depicting members of their family or friends, others illustrating fanciful fairy tales. The most famous lampshade shows Zelda, Scott, Scottie, servants and friends on a merry-go-round. Those who can be identified are George Jean Nathan on a lion, Tana the butler on a turtle, Scott on an elephant, Scottie on a horse, Zelda on a rooster, Nanny on a mouse, probably on the kangaroo one of their negro maids, on the pig Amy Rupert Thomas and on the goose their male servant Philippe.32 Behind them are images of several places in America and Europe the Fitzgeralds had visited: Villa St Louis, Juan-les-Pins, White Bear Lake Yacht Club, Minnesota, Ellerslie, New York’s Plaza Hotel, Capri, Villa Marie, St Raphael, Rome’s Spanish Steps, and the Westport cottage.
‘I am painting again,’ Zelda wrote to Carl, ‘and will have to work if I am to turn two apples and a stick of gum into an affair of pyramids and angles and cosmic beauty before the fall.’33 She attended regular art classes in Philadelphia, an extension of the formal tuition she had had in Capri.34 She contemplated art as a profession but her bouts of eyestrain intensified, and because she refused to wear corrective eyeglasses a full-time painting career seemed questionable.
The Fitzgeralds’ first large house party at Ellerslie took place the weekend of 21 May 1927. Guests included Scott’s parents, Carl Van Vechten, Ernest Boyd and Teddy Chanler, as well as Lois Moran on her much-heralded visit accompanied by her mother. Zelda behaved impeccably towards the starlet who noticed no hint of jealousy or distress. But Amy Thomas observed Zelda’s efforts to feel like a star before Moran’s arrival. Zelda placed ‘at her dressing table, gold and silver stars leading up to the ceiling, ten feet high, like a milky way’.35 Zelda’s strongest memory was of Lois’s appearance, recalled with irony. ‘She had no definite characteristics … save a slight ebullient hysteria about romance. She walked in the moon by the river. Her hair was tight above her head and she was lush and like a milkmaid.’36
Private rivalries and tensions however were thrust aside as the news came that Lindbergh had landed at Le Bourget airport. Lois’s strongest memory was of the houseguests, picnicking on the river bank, all looking upward towards the sky in great excitement.
Zelda’s letters to Van Vechten suggest some emotional turmoil (probably about Lois) did accompany the weekend’s drinking: ‘From the depths of my polluted soul, I am sorry that the weekend was such a mess. Do forgive my iniquities and my putrid drunkness … it should have been a nice party if I had not explored my abyss in public. Anyhow, please realize that I am sorry and contrite and thoroughly miserable with the knowledge that it would be just the same again if I got so drunk.’37
Scott’s Ledger offers no judgement on that weekend but records that he saw Lois again in May in New York.
Zelda’s contrition appeared short-lived. A few days later she thanked Carl for his gift of a cocktail shaker in her usual droll vein: ‘You were very sweet to make such a desirable contribution to the Fitzgerald household … It’s such a nice one that I have been looking about to see what damage you must have done.’38 Zelda kept up a running commentary on Ellerslie life for Carl’s delectation. They had acquired Chat the cat and two dogs from the local pound. ‘One of them is splotchy but mostly white with whiskers although he is sick now, so his name is Ezra Pound. The other is named Bouillabaisse or Muddy Water or Jerry. He doesn’t answer to any of them so it doesn’t matter.’39
Their notes were playful but Zelda’s friendship with Carl remained sturdily platonic, unlike her more teasing friendship with Teddy Chanler, their friend from Paris days. During the Moran house-party weekend the Fitzgeralds took Teddy and the other guests to a local amusement park. Amy Thomas and Scott were photographed on one carousel horse while Teddy and Zelda took a ride on another. Zelda reported: ‘He [Teddy] could understand why an amusement park is the best place to be amorous — it’s something about the whitewashed trees and the smell of peanuts and the jogging of the infernal machines for riding.40 Zelda’s report of this incident is reminiscent of her Ferris wheel ride with Dos Passos.
Esther Murphy, a frequent visitor to Ellerslie, told Gerald and Sara how impressed she was with its grandeur. In early summer Zelda received a letter from Sara:
your house — (according to Esther) — is palatial and then some — You keep, it appears, only 14 of the 27 bedrooms open + only 3 drawing rooms — and you + Scott have a system of calls + echoes to locate each other readily. Do you ever have a hankering for Villa St Louis? … Is Scott working? And how’s the book coming on?41
Scott was making little progress with the novel that would become Tender Is The Night and had returned to short stories. Ironically, his income in 1927 was better than his negligible professional output would indicate. He earned $29,737, of which $15,300 came from stories for the Saturday Evening Post, which now paid him $3,500 per story. However, royalties from his published fiction totalled only $169, while his book earnings were $5,911.64, of which $5,752.06 was an advance against the novel he seemed incapable of moving forward. He cabled Ober every week for advances of $500 or $800 for projected stories he never actually delivered. Their Ellerslie expenses, already enormous, escalated with trips to New York, Virginia Beach, Princeton, Quebec, Norfolk (where Cousin Cecilia lived), and Long Island during the polo-playing season to visit Tommy Hitchcock. The figures — yet again — did not match up. It is no surprise that Scott began to have nervous attacks which in his Ledger he calls ‘Stoppies’.42
Zelda, who had not written since 1924, began writing again, although despite the size of the house she did not have a study of her own. During 1927 she produced four more articles to which Scott gave cursory editorial supervision, three of which were published the following year. The first, ‘The Changing Beauty of Park Avenue’, which appeared in Harper’s Bazaar in January 1928, was credited to Scott and Zelda, but in his Ledger Scott acknowledges Zelda alone wrote it. On the manuscript Scott wrote the title and both names, putting his first. The minor revisions he made on the manuscript were removed before publication and new revisions inserted, perhaps by the editor, possibly by Zelda.
Her unique, sensuous style with its lush physical description and fairy-tale references catch the elegance of the avenue that flows from ‘the pool of glass that covers the Grand Central tracks’ then smoothly through Manhattan. It is a street for satisfied eyes with ‘crystalline shops, lying shallow against buildings, [which] exist on sufferance so long as they are decorative … It is full of nuances and suggestions of all New York, but they are shaped and molded into an etched pattern. There are disciplined, cool smells … of hot motors and gusty dust — of violets and brass buttons … gay awnings in the rarefied sunlight.’ It is a street for strutting and in the centre ‘floats, impermanently, a thin series of watercolor squares of grass — suggesting the Queen’s Croquet Ground in Alice in Wonderland’.
Zelda makes some offbeat but accurate observations: ‘this is a masculine avenue … subdued and subtle and solid and sophisticated in its understanding that avenues and squares should be a fitting and sympathetic background for the promenades of men’, yet she sees it also as an international avenue, where tradespeople are accustomed to a clientele ‘who need nothing, want nothing, and buy freely because they have large leisure and filled purses’.43
The second article, ‘Looking Back Eight Years’, which looks back to the postwar period then forward to the younger generation, appeared in College Humor in June 1928. Publicly attributed to Scott as well as Zelda, once more it is privately credited by Scott to Zelda. Artist James Montgomery Flagg drew two sketches of the Fitzgeralds which framed the feature. This article is more analytic than Zelda’s previous writings. She dissects those feelings of frustration her peers have suffered from: how to survive youth and reach some kind of wisdom. ‘It is not altogether the prosperity of the country and the consequent softness of life which have made them unstable … It is a great emotional disappointment resulting from the fact that life moved in poetic gestures when they were younger and has now settled back into buffoonery … sensitive young people are haunted and harassed by a sense of unfulfilled destiny.’44
The third article, ‘Who Can Fall In Love After Thirty?’, a cynical shot at romantic realism, also bought by College Humor (October 1928), was published as by Scott and Zelda, yet again shown in Scott’s Ledger to have been written by Zelda.
Zelda told readers that after thirty the ‘most vital contacts lay in a community of working interests’, and that the mystery she once thought lay in other people was in fact one’s own youthful wonder. She did not suggest youth’s excitement and promise must necessarily be abandoned, but the ‘whole varied glamour of existence can no longer be concentrated at will into another person’.45
The fourth feature, ‘Paint and Powder’, initially called ‘Editorial on Youth’, an amusing invective against the rouge pot and the marcel iron, was written solely by Zelda for Photoplay in 1927. It was bought not by Photoplay but by The Smart Set, which published it in May 1929 under Scott’s name only.46
Most of Scott’s biographers casually record these intellectual property thefts as being an inconsequential feature of marketing. ‘Most of her work was published under the joint by-line … because the magazines insisted on using his name’, runs a typical phrase.47 These same biographers are fulsomely quick to point out that ‘Fitzgerald punctiliously identified’ Zelda’s stories in his Ledger.48 Scott himself assured Ober in a letter that ‘My wife got $300 apiece for articles she wrote entirely herself for College Humor and Harpers Bazarre. The editors knew this but insisted my name go on them with her.’49
It is worth speculating how Scott might have felt if he alone had written one of those articles, if Zelda alone had been credited for it, and if she had punctiliously acknowledged his ‘contribution’ in her diary.
In contrast to Scott’s poor productivity, Hemingway, still living in Gerald’s Paris studio, was writing well. His book of short stories, Men Without Women, was due out with Scribner’s in October. He reported to Scott that for the last two months he had been broke. He topped and tailed his letter with assurances that Scott was his ‘devoted friend’ and ‘the best damn friend I have’.50 Scott replied at once, sending him $100.
Scott generously sent Hemingway’s book to Mencken for his approval, describing Hemingway as ‘really a great writer … the best we have I think’.51 Scott told Ernest that Zelda’s favourite story was ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ and curiously, considering their mutual animosity, Zelda clipped a copy of Ernest’s story to the back of one of her articles in her scrapbook.
Zelda and Scott did not find the tranquillity they needed in Ellerslie. Instead they plunged into new depths of dissipation and marital discord. Amy Thomas reported ‘one party after another’.52 One September weekend Scott organized a croquet-polo match for Fowler, Martin and yet more houseguests. A dance band was laid on for the evening; there was bootleg whiskey but no food. So hungry and fretful was Dos Passos that he rushed into Wilmington to buy sandwiches.
Van Vechten reported to Mencken that the Fitzgeralds were ‘keeping a very wet house in Delaware’.53 As James Thurber saw them, ‘There were four or five Zeldas and at least eight Scotts so that their living room was forever tense with the presence of a dozen desperate personalities, even when they were alone in it.’54 The constant quarrels with Scott, the entertaining and excess took their toll on Zelda. Dr Lewis ‘Lefty’ Flynn, their family physician there, recalled Zelda’s frequent need of bed-rest, already showing signs of what he considered premature ‘burn-out’.55 One evening the doctor had to be summoned from Wilmington to give her a morphine injection for hysteria, the second time this had occurred. During parties not much attention was paid to Scottie who stood at doors or windows shyly observing.
Family members visited Ellerslie: Scott’s mother in May; Zelda’s sister Marjorie, Marjorie’s daughter Noonie and Scott’s sister Annabel in late July; Zelda’s parents in August. Zelda took the Sayre contingent to Atlantic City, where the photo of them on the boardwalk shows Zelda in dark dress with white scalloped edges and a bleak look on her face. The grand house impressed her family more than Zelda’s exhausted condition.
By September, when they entertained Perkins and Dos Passos to what guests described as a debauched chaotic house party for cousin Cecilia, Zelda was intermittently ill. She had developed a skin irritation which may have been her first attack of eczema.
At the house party was a New York lawyer, Dick Knight, who was to become increasingly attached to Zelda. Scott disliked him at once. Knight was considered odd, with a huge misshapen head and quirky manner. On his arrival he told Zelda and Cecilia he was late because he had been identifying his brother at the morgue. From his amused tone one would have thought he had just said something funny. Edmund Wilson believed that Knight was an unpredictable bounder — and at one Ellerslie party Knight threw a pot of mustard at the dining room door. Yet Zelda had a soft spot for him. On one trip to New York, when Scott met Lois Moran, Zelda spent several hours with Dick, seeing him again later at a party for Paul Morand, the French diplomat and writer. Scott was so jealous he forbade Zelda to see Dick again.56
Due to the disorderly chronicling of the Fitzgeralds’ lives, it is not clear what first roused Scott’s jealousy, but what is apparent is that he kept it up. Zelda herself wrote in an autobiographical sketch: ‘I do not know why he [Dick Knight] is attractive … his head is too big for his body [but] [o]ne lost afternoon … we drank cocktails in a New York apartment and sat afterwards a long time on the stairway, oblivious with a kind of happy desperation.’57
Zelda grew more desperate. She and Scott visited New York later in September for the first time for several months, quarrelling incessantly and apologizing afterwards to Gilbert and Amanda Seldes, who were disgusted with their ‘public brawl’.58 In Manhattan they met and were each fascinated by socialite Emily Vanderbilt, who would make a significant impression on both their lives.59
As another bout of eyestrain led her away from the path of professional painting, Zelda determined to make dancing her career. By midsummer she had enrolled, with Scottie, in ballet classes with Catherine Littlefield, Director of the Philadelphia Opera Ballet Corps and former student of Madame Lubov Egorova. Although Zelda had not taken ballet lessons since she was a girl in Montgomery she was determined to be ‘a Pavlova, nothing less’.60 By November she was dancing three times a week and still painting daily. Anna Biggs went with her on a shopping trip to Philadelphia where Zelda purchased a large Victorian gilt mirror, which she hung in their front room. In front of it she installed a ballet bar where she practised to ‘The March of the Toy Soldiers’, playing the record over and over until Scott was wild with exasperation. She practised all the time. During meals, even when guests were there, she paused only to wipe away sweat or gulp some water. Scott worried that dancing was bad for her health as well as for his well-being.61
Scott saw her ballet as a vengeful act against him. Later he told a writer friend, Tony Buttitta, that he attributed Zelda’s dancing ambition in 1927 not to the desire to compete with Lois Moran, but to a desire to ‘replace Isadora Duncan now that she was dead, and outshine me at the same time’.62
Zelda cared little for his opinion. Only the opinions of those who danced now mattered to her. To a large extent she had created her own world, separate from Scott’s world of drinking and debauchery. In a letter to Van Vechten she described her attempts to preserve her own spirit amidst the chaos: ‘I joined the Philadelphia Opera Ballet,’ she wrote, ‘and everybody has been so drunk in this country lately that I am just finding enough chaos to pursue my own ends in, undisturbed.’63
After Zelda had restarted dancing, Sara Haardt visited her. Sara had followed the Fitzgeralds to Hollywood on her first stint as a screenwriter. While there Sara had spent several hours defending the Fitzgeralds from the bad reputation they had left behind. To one Hollywood writer who criticized Scott’s insulting manner Sara loyally protested: ‘Scott’s basically a sweet, nice person.’ When that critic called Scott arrogant, Sara stood up for him: his arrogance, she said, was ‘a kind of defense mechanism … He’s trying to cover up a feeling of social inferiority he’s always had. Underneath it, he’s a nice, sensitive boy, who’s pathetically eager to have people like him.’64
On Sara’s return to Baltimore in late 1927, healthier and more financially secure, she resumed her relationship with Mencken who moved her into a new apartment;65 they spent most evenings together there, while Sara wrote The Diary of an Old Maid.
In Ellerslie Zelda and Sara discussed Zelda’s articles and Sara’s projected series on wives of famous men. Then Zelda talked about ballet. The room they sat in with its tall ceilings, wide windows and pier glasses reminded Sara of the last place she had seen Zelda dance: ‘The walls of this old house in Wilmington … fell away, and I was back in the ball-room of the Old Exchange Hotel in Montgomery.’ Zelda told Sara she took four lessons a day. ‘I thought Scottie had more time to do the work than I had,’ Zelda said, ‘and that I had better get it in!’ She described the work as ‘a highly artificial and enormously exacting science … so rigid and with such an elaborate technique that the artist is lost’. Zelda had already confessed she felt ‘whatever women do is certain to be lost. They remind me of the Japanese beetle in their slow tedious processes — their endless exploitation of little instead of big things.’ Yet Sara noticed that despite this attitude Zelda was now studying ballet with absolute absorption. ‘She [Zelda] says … ballet dancers have the sensitivity of musicians and the savagery of acrobats, but … that kind of dancing is to self-expression in woman what violin and piano playing is to man.’ Sara believed the dancing had given Zelda new self-esteem. Zelda had sounded confident: ‘Of course, it requires youth, especially the resilience of youth — but I feel much younger than I did at sixteen, or any other age.’ Sara saw them as brave words. ‘With her bronze-gold hair and rose and ivory coloring, it seemed to me she looked as young too. She has changed … since 1918, of course; she is charming rather than glamorous, with all the deep sense of tragedy and beauty of the aristocratic South to which she was born — together with that fine ruthlessness the South has always had for the things it loved.’
Being with a Southern friend relaxed Zelda and before Sara left, she said dreamily: ‘I’d like to have a pink villa high on a hill full of mirrors and done in black and white.’
Later, Sara wrote: ‘Who but Zelda Fitzgerald could be so sure of her youth — so oblivious of a time when she would look fearfully and sadly past the haunting gleam of mirrors.’66
Zelda was in fact less sure than she sounded of her youth and less certain she had sufficient resilience for her belated ambitions. She told Amy Thomas, who remembers her in Wilmington as ‘serious and cautious’, that she already felt ‘old’ in her late twenties.67
What Zelda did was to pin her hopes on acquiring the two skills Scott had berated her for lacking: effort, mighty effort, and self-discipline, monumental self-discipline. Confident of her talent, now she determined to anchor it. No matter what the cost.
1 ZSF, ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’, Collected Writings, pp. 331–2.
2 ZSF, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. To Number —’, Collected Writings, p. 424.
3 ‘Boo Boo’ was Zelda’s new name for Scottie. All these letters are from Ambassadors Hotel, Los Angeles, CO183, Box 4, Folders 4–13, PUL.
4 ZSF, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. To Number —’, p. 424.
5 Lois Moran joined the Paris Opera as a ballerina aged only fourteen. At fifteen she acted in her first (French) film. She made her US debut in 1925 in Goldwyn’s Stella Dallas.
6 ZSF, ‘Autobiographical Sketch’, 16 Mar. 1932, written at Phipps Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, for her psychiatrists, in particular Dr Mildred T. Squires.
7 As an expert seamstress she had designed her own clothes for years following Manhattan fashions.
8 Radie Harris, ‘Movie Monotypes’, reproduced in Bruccoli et al., eds., Romantic Egoists, p. 150.
9 This is the version given by Bruccoli (Epic Grandeur, pp. 300–1) and Milford (Zelda, p. 131). There are other versions. In Fitzgerald’s Ledger he makes the enigmatic note ‘The watch’ in January, when they were in fact still in Hollywood, and in July: ‘Rows. New watch’. These sparse notations suggest there was a watch incident two months earlier than the train journey, and a loss that involved a renewal purchase, though no indication as to whether the loss was accidental or deliberate. Zelda’s friend Livye Hart recalled: ‘Zelda was very careless with her personal effects, clothes, jewelry etc. and so very thoughtlessly she laid the watch on the commode in the bathroom, from where it was accidentally brushed and flushed. Zelda caring very little for jewelry, most casually informed me of what had happened’ (Livye Hart Ridgeway, ‘A Profile of Zelda’, Sara Mayfield Collection, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa). This version is adopted by Koula Hartnett (Zelda Fitzgerald, p. 123). Livye also told Mayfield she never knew Zelda to deny any story about herself no matter how absurd or damaging, so Zelda may have given credence to the train window disposal story (Mayfield, Exiles, p. 122). It may even have been true. Certainly the deliberate disposal of the watch is psychologically in line with Zelda’s other 1926–28 destructive actions against things she considered of value. That it was her wristwatch Zelda threw away may have much to do with the fact that Moran’s hobby was collecting wristwatches because she kept breaking them (Radie Harris, ‘Movie Monotypes’).
10 ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, Saturday Evening Post, 20 Aug. 1927; ‘Magnetism’, ibid., 3 Mar. 1928. In Tender Is The Night many of the words and much of the content from ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ are repeated. For instance lines relating to the ‘grand scale’ and to the older man ‘chilled by the innocence of her kiss’ are repeated almost verbatim. Tender Is The Night (first published 1934), Penguin, 1986 (first edition with emendations), p. 74.
11 FSF, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, Bits of Paradise, Penguin Books, 1982, pp. 145, 147, 149, 153.
12 The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. with introduction by Malcolm Cowley, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1952, p. 226.
13 ZSF, ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’, Collected Writings, p. 336.
14 Scottie had sent Zelda a cross and in Hollywood Zelda had begun obsessively kissing it.
15 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 119.
16 Ann Henley, ‘Sara Haardt and “The Sweet Flowering South”’, Alabama Heritage 31, Winter 1994, p. 16.
17 John had married Anna Rupert, a childhood neighbour and the daughter of a successful manufacturer, in 1925.
18 ZSF, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. to Number —’, Collected Writings, p. 425.
19 Frances Fitzgerald Smith in Carolyn Shafer, ‘To Spread a Human Aspiration’, p. 36.
20 ZSF, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. to Number —’, Collected Writings, p. 425.
21 ZSF, ‘Autobiographical Sketch’, 16 Mar. 1932.
22 Cecilia Taylor to Milford, 10 Aug. 1965, Milford, Zelda, pp. 136–7.
23 ZSF, ‘Autobiographical Sketch’, 16 Mar. 1932.
24 ZSF to Van Vechten, 6 Sep. 1927, Beinecke Library, Yale Collection of American Literature.
25 Cecilia Taylor to Milford, 10 Aug. 1965, Milford, Zelda, p. 137.
26 In Montgomery where ‘paper dolls … were homemade and a tradition’, Zelda as a child had made and designed them for other children. Catalogue, Retrospective Exhibition, Montgomery, 1974, p. 7.
27 Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, Foreword to Bits of Paradise, pp. 8–9.
28 I am indebted to Rebecca Stott’s suggestion that Zelda’s dancing and doll-making are reminiscent of Sylvia Plath’s feminization of her childhood: ballet, piano, sewing — women’s accomplishments.
29 Zelda eventually left these books to Scottie, who handed them on to her painter daughter Eleanor Lanahan who still owns them.
30 Jane S. Livingston has a full discussion of this point, Zelda: An Illustrated Life, ed. Eleanor Lanahan, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1996, p. 84.
31 Winzola McLendon, ‘Scott and Zelda’, Ladies Home Journal 91, Nov. 1974, p. 60.
32 Kendall Taylor suggests that it is Amy Thomas on the goose. This author however feels it is unlikely that Amy wore a butcher’s apron, trousers or moustache.
33 ZSF to Carl Van Vechten, 6 Sep. 1927.
34 Carolyn Shafer to the author, Mar. 2001.
35 Amy Thomas to Koula Hartnett, 23 Dec. 1981, Hartnett, Zelda Fitzgerald, p. 148.
36 ZSF, ‘Autobiographical Sketch’.
37 ZSF to Van Vechten, 27 May 1927.
38 ZSF to Van Vechten, 29 May 1927.
39 ZSF to Van Vechten, 14 June 1927.
40 ZSF, ‘Autobiographical Sketch’.
41 Sara Murphy to ZSF, 28 June 1927, CO183, Box 5, Folder 17, PUL.
42 ‘Stoppies’ mentioned in Ledger for August and September in the context of rows and little writing.
43 ZSF, ‘The Changing Beauty of Park Avenue’, Collected Writings, pp. 403–5.
44 ZSF, ‘Looking Back Eight Years’, Collected Writings, p. 409.
45 ZSF, ‘Who Can Fall in Love After Thirty?’, Collected Writings, pp. 412–13.
46 Scott’s alleged reason was that in order to get Photoplay magazine to pay up he wrote to Paul Reynolds at the Reynolds agency claiming that Zelda’s article was his. He further claimed that the reason he hadn’t asked his agent to handle it for him was it was too small a matter. When Harold Ober later placed the article he too did not want to reveal Zelda was the author.
47 Bruccoli, Epic Grandeur, p. 304.
49 FSF to Ober, received 2 Feb. 1928, As Ever, p. 94.
50 Quoted in Donaldson, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald, p. 111.
51 Ibid., p. 112.
52 Hartnett, Zelda Fitzgerald, p. 122. John and Anna Biggs, Ernest Boyd, Edmund Wilson, Thornton Wilder, Gilbert Seldes, Zoe Atkins, Joseph Hergesheimer were among regular visitors in 1927.
53 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 119.
54 James Thurber, Credos and Curios, Harper & Row, New York, 1962, p. 154.
55 Hartnett, Zelda Fitzgerald, p. 148.
56 Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 305.
57 ZSF, ‘Autobiographical Sketch’.
58 FSF to Gilbert Seldes, fall 1927. In New York they saw George Jean Nathan, Teddy Chanler, Charles Angoff, Tommy Hitchcock and H. L. Mencken.
59 FSF, Ledger, Sep. 1927.
60 Calvin Tomkins, Living Well, pp. 25–6.
61 In a later letter to one of Zelda’s doctors Scott wrote: ‘Began dancing at age 27 and had two severe attacks of facial eczema cured by electric ray treatment’ (FSF to Dr Oscar Forel, 29 Jan. 1931, Life in Letters, p. 204). There is no corroboration for this statement, but if Zelda’s skin was her vulnerable feature there was already sufficient trauma in her life to produce a skin disease without locating the cause in her ballet classes.
62 Quoted in Hartnett, Zelda Fitzgerald, p. 123.
63 ZSF to Van Vechten, 14 Oct. 1927.
64 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 120.
65 16 West Read Street, Baltimore.
66 Conversation between ZSF and Sara Haardt at Ellerslie which Sara turned into an article, submitted in 1928 to Good Housekeeping which bought but never published it.
67 Amy Thomas to Koula Hartnett, Hartnett, Zelda Fitzgerald, p. 164.
As Zelda’s self-discipline strengthened, Scott’s grew weaker. He later recalled 1928 as the year he started drinking as a stimulant for his writing. Previously he drank when he wasn’t working; now he drank to write. Zelda had no influence over him and he had no control over himself. Mixed loyalties beset her. In the eyes of her Deep South community and family, she had gone out on a limb to marry Scott. Her parents had never thought highly of him, but once he had made a name for himself as a novelist, Zelda felt her marriage was justified. At the time it had not occurred to her that she might justify her own existence. Although Scott, at present, could hardly be termed a successful novelist, their household still revolved around his role as ‘the writer’.
Scott remained her closest friend, but as a friend he failed her daily. He had usurped her narrative, he took credit for her writing, now he resented her dedication to ballet. As much as she needed him, she needed also to get away from him. Living inside his orbit stifled her. Living with a drunk terrified her.1 Her release she saw through ballet, which she practised ferociously; when not dancing she continued to paint, though at a steadier pace.
In his Ledger Scott misspelt (thereby characteristically devaluing) Zelda’s dance teacher’s name as ‘Katherine’ for Catherine (Littlefield), an act consistent with his misspelling of every name significant in their joint lives. Angry that Zelda chose to dance rather than join him in bars, Scott drank with men he hardly knew.
Scott’s resentment of Zelda’s productivity, a dark reminder of his own minimal progress with the novel, underlay their fierce rows. Better at inventing titles for the book than developing chapters, he swung through a variety: Our Type, The World’s Fair, The Melarky Case (when its hero was Francis Melarky, a film technician who murders his mother) and one dreamed up by Zelda, The Boy Who Killed His Mother.
If Scottie was frightened by the severity of her parents’ quarrels that year — and many children would have been — she never admitted it. She remembers instead her first formal education which took place at Ellerslie. ‘Every week a packet would arrive from the Calvert School in Baltimore,2 complete with wonderful stickers to be pasted in workbooks and red and gold stars to be dispensed when a poem was memorized or a dictation properly taken down. I had a tutor named Miss Miller, about whom I remember nothing except she was young and pretty.’ She was one of the few household members with whom Zelda felt at ease but unfortunately she left in March 1928. The Calvert School, ‘heavy on the temples of Cambodia and the jungles of Africa’, enthused Scottie with a love of geography. ‘I wanted to go everywhere that Calvert took me.’3
In February the Fitzgeralds left Scottie for a few days to go to Quebec as guests of the Canadian tourist office. Despite besieging six-year-old Pie with postcards, illustrated by Zelda, signed Easter Bunny, Jupiter and A. Rhinoscerous, they were unable to ease the tension between them. They stood shivering outside the Chateau Frontenac which Zelda described as ‘built of toy stone arches, a tin soldier’s castle’. She remembers their voices ‘truncated by the heavy snow, [as] the stalactite icicles on the low roofs turned the town to a wintry cave’.4 The photos of the couple also have an icy air. Zelda, in fur coat and hat, looks especially stern and gloomy.
On their return, Rosalind and Newman Smith visited them for a weekend in February which Scott’s Ledger describes as a ‘catastrophe’. Scott had been invited to speak at a Princeton Cottage Club dinner but was so drunk with nerves that after a few incoherent sentences he gave up. He returned home, hurt and humiliated, on a drunken crying jag. He picked a fight with Zelda in front of their guests, throwing a favourite blue vase of hers into the fireplace. When she retaliated by calling his father an Irish cop he hit her across the face. Her nose bled and she suffered a black eye. Newman intervened while Rosalind, shaken and appalled, decided that her sister’s marriage was far worse than the family had suspected and advised her to leave Scott. Zelda’s loyalty was severely tested: despite her ambivalence she still wanted to prove she had made a good marriage. She told Rosalind she and Scott chose to live in that manner and she would brook no family interference. The Newman Smiths, outraged, left the next day.
On 25 February Scott invited Thornton Wilder, one of his new literary heroes, who unfortunately had witnessed Scott’s Princeton debacle, for the weekend. Scott also invited Wilson to the gathering he described as small but select. The selection included Esther Murphy, Gilbert and Amanda Seldes, John and Anna Biggs and two actresses, Zoe Atkins and Laurette Taylor, in Wilmington for the tryouts of the play The Furies, plus some of their theatrical staff including a temperamental set designer. At dinner Wilson decided Zelda was at ‘her iridescent best’.5 But she then left the party to take a nap, and on re-emerging her iridescent best turned rapidly to her acid worst. When the moody stage designer told her to go away because he was thinking, Zelda’s instant riposte, ‘Oh, you’re not really thinking, you’re just being homogeneous!’, upset him so much that he and his team departed in a huff. As Wilson later reported: ‘The aftermath of a Fitzgerald evening was notoriously a painful experience.’6
Desperate about their life in the US, the Fitzgeralds decided to return to Europe, worrying as usual about the cost. In March, however, Scott suddenly produced a highly profitable short-story project based on the adventures of Basil Duke Lee, a bossy Midwestern boy who longs for a New York life. Harold Ober sold ‘The Scandal Detectives’, the first story in the series which follows Basil from fourteen-year-old stripling to Yale, for $3,500 to the Saturday Evening Post. Between March 1928 and the following February Scott wrote eight Basil Duke tales, which brought him $31,500 and financed their Paris trip.
Before they left Scott saw both Ober and Perkins, to whom he promised to deliver the new stories regularly. Secretly he hoped that Europe would work the same magic on his new novel as it had on Gatsby. Perkins reported to Hemingway (in Key West) that though Scott had got over his nervous ‘Stoppies’ he was very depressed. Hemingway, sympathetic about the nerves, was hardline about Scott’s lack of progress. He felt because Scott was frightened he used defence mechanisms such as writing stories only to make money. Ernest felt Scott should have written three novels by now. Even if only one was Gatsby standard it would have been worth it.
On 21 April Zelda, Scottie and Scott sailed on the Paris. They hadn’t much faith in travel, nor a great belief in a change of scene as a panacea for spiritual ills, but were simply glad to be going. In the photo taken on board ship, Scottie smiles as she cuddles a doll into her furry jacket, but Scott looks as though it would be too much effort to smile; he even holds his hat with a depressed gesture. As for Zelda, her photo is one of the harshest taken in the twenties: the scowling severity of her face matches the severe grey cloak and tight cloche hat restraining her ears.7
The Murphys eagerly awaited their arrival. Gerald had written to Scott: ‘We are very fond of you both … The fact that we don’t always get on has nothing to do with it … To be able to talk to people after almost two years is the important thing.’8 After the couples reconciled Scott wrote to Ernest: ‘We are friends with the Murphys again. Talked about you a great deal.’9
Initially the Fitzgeralds stayed at the Hotel de Palais, but the Murphys, who had taken one apartment on the quai des Grands-Augustins and a second at 14 rue Guynemer overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens, offered to lend them their second apartment while they were in Antibes that summer.10 Zelda told her Montgomery friend Eleanor Browder that the decor reminded her of a setting for one of Madame Tussaud’s gloomier figures.11
Scottie recalls her first school, the Cours Dieterlin. ‘You went two days a week and the rest of the time you did your lessons at home with your “institutrice”, in my case Mlle Serez to whom I was devoted.’ Scottie’s education was that of privileged French girls: mainly memorizing whole scenes from plays by Corneille or Racine. ‘[We also learnt] the names of not only the French kings but their wives … I have been trying to remember whether we also committed the names of the mistresses to mind.’ Scottie said she had had a speaking acquaintance with Mme de Pompadour and Mme de Montespan long before she understood their professional proclivities.12
From Paris Zelda wrote to Eleanor Browder, recently married, apologizing for not sending a wedding present and describing her restlessness: ‘We are vaguely floating about on the surface of a fancy French apartment … It looks as if we’ll never stay anywhere long enough to see how we like it.’13
Scottie liked it at once, partly because she had a safe play area. ‘When we were not in school,’ she remembered, ‘we would meet each other at the Luxembourg Gardens to sail the toy boats or ice skate at the Grande palace or roll hoops … under the Eiffel Tower … It was a delightful time.’14
Zelda liked it better when the Kalmans visited, and she confided in Sandy her new plan of becoming a professional dancer. She had told Gerald, who had deeper reservations than Sandy, feeling that at Zelda’s age there were limits to her potential achievement. Nevertheless, impressed by her determination, he arranged for her to study with Madame Lubov Egorova, director of the Ballets Russes school, whom Zelda had already met. Egorova had previously taught Alexandra Danilova, Anton Dolin and James Joyce’s schizophrenic daughter Lucia.
Zelda worked to Lubov’s demanding schedule of eight to ten hours a day with absolute seriousness. As a Southern Belle, it had been a big leap for her to accept the idea that women’s need for professional achievement rather than amateur ‘self-expression’ was essential if they were to have a healthy identity. But she had made it and the six stories she wrote that year and the next mirrored this very notion: that women need to work. The Murphys, who empathized with this view, resolved to support her despite their growing misgivings. Scott of course believed in the work-as-a-profession ethos, but for himself rather than for his wife. Some of their friends later thought he believed in it if necessary at the expense of his wife.
What Zelda had not told Gerald, doubtless because he was a joint friend, was that her desire to perfect this art was also rooted in the belief that it would release her from dependence on Scott. To this end, like Alabama in Save Me The Waltz, Zelda drove herself mercilessly, dancing to ‘drive the devils that had driven her’, believing that ‘in proving herself, she would achieve that peace which she imagined went only in surety of one’s self’. She felt ‘that she would be able, through the medium of the dance, to command her emotions, to summon love or pity or happiness at will, having provided a channel through which they might flow.’15
One afternoon Zelda invited the Murphys to Egorova’s studio to watch her dance. The studio floor was raked to resemble a stage so that spectators had to gaze upwards at the dancers, which was a most unflattering view. ‘It made her [Zelda] seem taller, more awkward than she was. There was something dreadfully grotesque in her intensity — one could see the muscles individually stretch and pull; her legs looked muscular and ugly … One held one’s breath until it was over. Thank God, she couldn’t see what she looked like.’16
In fact Zelda knew exactly what she and the other practising dancers looked like and how they felt: exhausted. Streaming with sweat. Muscles bulging. Limp and drained. Yet withal on fire with the passion of the dance. Later in one of her most successful oil paintings, Ballerinas Dressing,17 which she gave to Sandy Kalman, she attempted to draw precisely that experience, those emotions, that appearance. The limbs of the five naked ballet figures are again elongated in a quasi-mannerist style, feet are enlarged, big hands knotted with muscles, several heads sag with fatigue. This characteristic distortion of extremities is reminiscent of American artists Thomas Hart Benton or Paul Cadmus or, like her paper dolls, could have been influenced by the popular illustrator Maxfield Parrish. When Zelda was asked why she painted her dancers, typically depicted as graceful and delicate, with alarmingly exaggerated limbs, she said ‘Because that’s how a ballet dancer feels after dancing.’18 She believed strongly the depiction of the swollen physical flesh had to reveal psychological emotions, and by creating her forms in this way Zelda consciously rejected traditional feminine shapes. Her nude figures in this oil painting, as in many of her dance paintings, appear strong and asexual despite two figures with what look like stuck-on breasts. This could be related to Zelda’s preoccupation with dance as work and may be trying to show that female dancers strive as hard professionally as men.
The close links between Zelda’s visual and verbal arts are shown especially in the area of dance. In Save Me The Waltz she recreates in words the vision of Ballerinas Dressing and the experience which horrified Gerald Murphy. ‘Alabama’s work grew more and more difficult. In the mazes of the masterful fouette her legs felt like dangling hams; in the swift elevation of the entrechat cinq she thought her breasts hung like old English dugs. It did not show in the mirror. She was nothing but sinew. To succeed had become an obsession. She worked till she felt like a gored horse in the bull ring, dragging its entrails.’19
Honoria Murphy recalls her parents ‘were always very fond of her but that year when she started with Egorova they worried more about her. She was still very affectionate with that sense of magic that drew them to her … but suddenly she’d turn strangely silent. My father always blamed her breakdown on the dancing. I’ll never forget his pacing up and down as he said: “She’s overdoing it dammit! … In Russia they start at age seven and she’s nearly thirty! She’s killing herself.”20
Zelda’s friends Dick and Alice Lee Myers felt the same. Fanny recalls her parents saying ‘It was good for her to have an occupation of her own, but she took it too hard. She wanted to be a creative person in the public eye but she pushed too hard. She overdid it. She was so determined. Yes, she was driven.’ Fanny believes Zelda ‘was desperate to make up for the time she hadn’t been dancing’.21
It became a summer of drinking, boredom and rows. Scott’s anger about the ballet increased week by week. He wrote miserably: ‘drinking and general unpleasantness’, followed by: ‘general aimlessness and boredom’, which led to him landing in jail twice.22 Later Zelda reproached him for his behaviour: ‘You were constantly drunk. You didn’t work and you were dragged home at night by taxi-drivers when you came home at all. You said it was my fault for dancing all day. What was I to do?’23 Zelda confided to Sara Mayfield, who was at the Sorbonne: ‘Scott and I had a row last week, and I haven’t spoken to him since … When we meet in the hall, we walk around each other like a pair of stiff-legged terriers spoiling for a fight.’24
Scottie suffered from complete lack of parental attention and was left alone with her French governess Mlle Delplangue, whom Zelda disliked.
Scott had promised Perkins he would post two chapters a month, but when he did force himself to work it was not on his novel but on the Basil Duke stories. These stories reveal Scott had become much affected by remembrances of things past.25 The first, ‘The Scandal Detectives’, was based on a club he had founded in St Paul where he and his schoolfriends had gathered in the magical Midwestern dusks. After the second story, ‘The Freshest Boy’, still attempting to recover the past, he tackled ‘A Night at the Fair’ in May, managing ‘He Thinks He’s Wonderful’ in July and in September ‘The Captured Shadow’ to coincide with the publication of the first Duke tale. But he ‘passionately hated [that work] and found [it] more and more difficult to do. The novel was like a dream, daily farther and farther away.’26
Zelda too made a shot at recapturing the past, but hers was rather more sinister. She and Sara Murphy attended a Paris luncheon together at which several people came up to them courteously. Zelda smiled, took their hands, then muttered under her breath ‘I hope you die in the marble ring.’ Sara recalled how charming and polite Zelda was. ‘No one suspected that she was saying anything but the usual pleasantries; I heard her because I was standing right next to her.’27 Previous biographers have failed to find any meaning in Zelda’s statement; but in discussions with remaining Montgomery friends and family a reasonable suggestion emerged that this was a childhood taunt relating to the area of the State Capitol, where Zelda, Sara Mayfield and the others played in a ring around the marble rotunda circular staircase.
A great many friends in Paris that summer helped the Fitzgeralds escape their own desperation. They saw the three Murphys and Cole Porter constantly, and Zelda was thrilled when Sandy and Oscar Kalman returned. They spent time with Thornton Wilder, his companion Gene Tunney, and John and Margaret Bishop, in Paris while renovations were completed on their chateau in Orgeval. Margaret chattered more them ever; Scott and Zelda disliked her more than ever. She was not the only acquaintance to upset Scott, who found it hard to look as pleased as Zelda did when Dick Knight visited. Zelda recalled later that even when Scott himself was ‘entangled sentimentally’ he would forbid her to see Dick.28
At a dinner given by Sylvia Beach on 27 June29 they met James Joyce, after which Scott hosted a dinner for him and his wife Nora at their apartment. Zelda, however, did not share her husband’s adulation for Joyce which drove another wedge between them.
Unable to placate each other or find any harmony of spirit, they began to look around. Both began to notice and pay attention to Esther’s exotic friend Emily Vanderbilt, who according to Scott’s Ledger dallied with members of the Ballets Russes as well as with a number of ‘fairies’.30 The artistic homosexual set was unleashing Zelda’s emotions. Although she continued to row with Scott about his sexual inadequacy, she was in fact coming slowly to terms with her own sexual loss of interest in him. Zelda’s devotion to Egorova began in her mind to have a sexual component. Fantasies followed. In a letter to Scott in which she tried to unpick the summer patchwork that Scott called ‘Ominous’ (which he underlined three times)31 she wrote:
You made no advances towards me and complained that I was unresponsive. You were literally eternally drunk the whole summer. I got so I couldn’t sleep and I had asthma again … it made you angry that I didn’t care any more. I began to like Egorowa.32
At that point Scott denied the mounting importance of Egorova — or perhaps he simply didn’t see it, being more concerned, as his birthday approached, with the fact that he had made ‘no real progress in any way and wrecked myself with dozens of people’.33
Attempting to leave the wreckage behind them, the Fitzgeralds made a stormy crossing back to the US in September 1928 on the Carmania. During the boat trip Zelda, increasingly anxious, told Scott she was disturbed at the nature of her devotion to Egorova. ‘I was afraid that there was something abnormal in the relationship and you laughed.’34 He dismissed her remark, but they were taking the wreckage home with them.
1 She told Sara Mayfield this on several occasions. It emerged during discussions with Montgomery residents, including relatives of the Haardt family, and in conversation with Camella Mayfield.
2 The school was aimed primarily at children of Americans overseas.
3 Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, Memoir, written for her daughters and owned by Cecilia Ross, p. 24.
4 ZSF, ‘Show Mr and Mrs F. To Number —’, Collected Writings, p. 425.
5 Edmund Wilson, The Shores of Light, New York, Farrar, Straus & Young, 1952, p. 379.
6 Ibid., p. 382.
7 Fitzgeralds’ photo album, PUL. Reproduced in Bruccoli et al., eds., Romantic Egoists, p. 160.
8 Gerald Murphy to FSF, May 1928, CO187, Box 51, Folder 13, PUL.
9 FSF to EH, July 1928, Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Library.
10 Vaill, So Young, p. 195. The apartment’s address was also 58 rue de Vaugirard as it was on the corner of Vaugirard.
11 Milford quotes Zelda as saying ‘Madame Tausand’s’ which is patently a mistranscription or printer’s error. Milford, Zelda, p. 140.
12 Scottie recalls she was placed in ‘the equivalent of third and fourth grade’. Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, Memoir, p. 24.
13 ZSF to Eleanor Browder Addison, postmarked 29 May 1928.
14 Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, Memoir, p. 25.
15 ZSF, Waltz, Collected Writings, p. 118.
16 Gerald Murphy to Nancy Milford, interview, 2 Mar. 1964, Milford, Zelda, p. 141.
17 Ballerinas Dressing, c.1941 though it could be much earlier, oil on canvas, 42” ? 30”. Xandra Kalman had it on show in her St Paul house for many years. Owned by Kristina Kalman Fares; also CO183, Box 8, Fg. 23, PUL.
18 Jerry and Robbie Tillotson, ‘Zelda Fitzgerald Still Lives’, The Feminist Art Journal, spring 1975, p. 32.
19 ZSF, Waltz, p. 144.
20 Honoria Murphy Donnelly to the author, New York, 1999.
21 Fanny Myers Brennan to the author, New York, 1999.
22 FSF, Ledger, July, Aug. 1928.
23 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 193.
24 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 131.
25 He had been reading Proust. FSF, Ledger, Mar. 1928.
26 FSF to ZSF, summer? 1930, Life in Letters, p. 188.
27 Sara Murphy to Milford in 1963, Milford, Zelda, p. 142; to Calvin Tomkins who was writing a memoir of the Murphys.
28 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 193.
29 Other guests were Nora Joyce, Adrienne Monnier (proprietor of bookstore La Maison des Amis des Livres and Sylvia Beach’s lover) and Andre and Lucie Chamson.
30 FSF, Ledger, June 1928.
31 FSF, Ledger, summary of year Sep. 1927–Sep. 1928.
32 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 193.
33 FSF, Ledger, summary of year Sep. 1927–Sep. 1928.
34 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 193.
On their return to Ellerslie in September 1928, their lives in a mess, Scott took to drink … as was to be expected. Zelda took to her paintbrush and ballet bar … what else? Hemingway meanwhile took to blaming Zelda. Everyone was being predictable.
Hemingway wrote to Perkins that every stupid action Scott had taken had been influenced by Zelda. Scott might have been the world’s best writer had he been married to someone else. Zelda was to blame for everything.
Perkins held a higher opinion of Zelda. ‘[She] is so able and intelligent,’ he replied, ‘and isn’t she also quite a strong person? … I’m surprised she doesn’t face the situation better, and show some sense about spending money.’1 But Hemingway’s critical attitude to Zelda had by now become obsessive. He was not prepared to recognize any evidence to the contrary, no matter which of their friends produced it.
Unaware equally of Hemingway’s diatribe or Perkins’ praise, Zelda mixed her paints thicker and thicker, and danced on the carpet, wearing it thinner and thinner, as if she could paint over or stamp out her turbulent thoughts. Scott may have shared some of his uneasy reflections with his new drinking companion, Philippe, a former French taxi-driver and boxer whom Scott had brought back to Ellerslie as a chauffeur/butler. Zelda, who found him stupid and insubordinate, despised him, Mademoiselle fell for him and Scott’s tolerant lawyer friend John Biggs frequently bailed him and Scott out of jail.
Zelda, who had not seen Hemingway for two years, had not missed him, but Scott felt his friend’s absence keenly and was delighted they were meeting in November. Pauline had given birth to baby Patrick, who according to Ernest was built like a brick shithouse, slept through the night and laughed constantly. Hemingway informed the Fitzgeralds he was available for hire as a sire of perfect children: a remark calculated to make Zelda and Scott feel inadequate. Though their sexual relationship was fast deteriorating and Zelda repeatedly told Scott he was a poor lover, both were still anxious to give Scottie a sibling. Hemingway, aware of the Fitzgeralds’ marital problems, would have known his remark had a bitter edge. If Mayfield overstated the view that the terrible troubles that would crack the Fitzgeralds apart had their roots in quarrels with and over Hemingway, nevertheless Hemingway’s methods of baiting and bad-mouthing Zelda, and undercutting Scott while still keeping him on a faithful string, accelerated the Fitzgeralds’ vulnerability towards Hemingway and each other.2
The Fitzgerald — Hemingway reunion occurred on the 17th, the weekend of the Princeton — Yale game. Scott and Zelda were already ensconced at the Cottage Club when Ernest, Pauline and a painter friend, Henry Mike Strater,3 arrived. Princeton won the game, Ernest was polite, Pauline friendly, and Zelda engaged the artist in conversation. Strater found Zelda ‘a lovely person, a lovely, lovely person’ who was having a tough time dealing with Scott’s drinking, which in his view ‘was out of control’.4
Zelda’s easy relaxation with Strater was ruthlessly interrupted when trouble started on the post-game journey from Princeton to Philadelphia. Scott raced up and down the train asking vulgar questions of total strangers. To Zelda’s embarrassment he accosted a passenger reading a medical book by shouting: ‘Ernest I have found a clap doctor!’ At Philadelphia they were met by Philippe, whom Scott forced to drive his overheating Buick without stopping for oil or water. As the Buick steamed so did Zelda. She and Scott rowed all the way to Ellerslie where they paused in their recriminations to offer Pauline and Ernest six bottles of excellent burgundy over dinner. Unfortunately Scott soon started a stream of insults aimed at their friendly black maid. ‘Aren’t you the best piece of tail I ever had?’ he asked her repeatedly. ‘Tell Mr Hemingway.’5
Another version of this dreadful Ellerslie weekend was given by Zelda to Sara Mayfield who later reported:
To add to Zelda’s troubles, the Hemingways arrived for a visit. Ernest was immensely pleased by his title for his new book, Men Without Women, because he thought it would sell well to the ‘gay’ boys and the old Vassar girls. His jokes with Scott about pederasty, anal eroticism, and other forms of perversion annoyed and frightened Zelda … to judge from Ernest’s unpublished letters to Scott, she had reason to be alarmed. Fitzgerald and Hemingway went on a bender, got in a fight … landed in jail. Zelda was further outraged when she learnt that Ernest had borrowed a hundred dollars from Scott before he left.6
The subsequent publication of those letters indicates their indisputable vulgarity. Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s favourite banter was about their book titles. One Hemingway riposte, ‘The Sun Also Rises (like your cock if you have one)’, provoked Fitzgerald’s crude rejoinder: ‘This tough talk is not really characteristic of me — it’s the influence of All The Sad Young Men Without Women In Love … “Now I Lay Me” was a fine story — you ought to write a companion piece, “Now I Lay Her”. Excuse my bawdiness but I’m oversexed.’7 Scott’s established reputation for the reverse suggests his puerile jokes were a defence.
When those two overgrown schoolboys continued their raunchy behaviour that weekend, Zelda, reared on Southern gentlemen’s verbal courtesy, would have been shocked or disturbed. Her awareness of her growing emotions towards Egorova would have increased her sense of being threatened by Scott’s and Ernest’s lewd intimacy with each other.
Mike Strater, who felt that after the weekend he never wanted to see Fitzgerald or Hemingway again, spoke for all the guests. ‘A bullfight is sedative in comparison … Those two … brought out the worst in each other.’8
Though Strater was referring to Ernest and Scott, the remark was equally apt in reference to Zelda and Scott. The Fitzgeralds still remembered the best in each other, but in 1928 they had lost the way to find it.
Bunny Wilson was also having marital problems. Admitting ‘I had found it impossible to be married to an actress,’9 he had separated from Mary Blair and was now subject to severe bouts of depression, though he still managed to start a book of essays, Axel’s Castle, and a novel, I Thought of Daisy.10 Wilson soon afterwards entered Clifton Springs Sanitarium for three months’ treatment for a nervous breakdown, which made him highly sympathetic towards Zelda’s depression. He was given hydrotherapy, electric shock and an addictive amount of paraldehyde.11
In November 1928 Scott had sent the first two chapters of his novel to Perkins, who enthusiastically replied that the first was ‘excellent’, the second contained ‘some of the best writing you have ever done’. He eagerly awaited more.12 He waited in vain. Scott stalled again, returning instead to his ‘lousy Post stories’ about Basil Duke Lee. He supplemented his income in other ways, too. During 1928 and 1929 he garnered $1,500 by lending his name to a soap beauty contest.13 He also took out a life insurance policy for $60,000 which he found hard to maintain, but ultimately it constituted the majority of his estate.14
At Ellerslie, Christmas 1928 was cold in every sense. Scott’s Ledger reported: ‘Xmas night with family & Mlle & Phillipe. Coldness Amy. Car freezing. Mother there Xmas.’ Even Amy Thomas, who had warmly tolerated Scott’s drinking, had a chill air matched sadly by that of her host and hostess.
Zelda resumed both her painting and dance lessons in Philadelphia. She had a new dance instructor, thirty-six-year-old Alexandre Gavrilov, former dancer with Diaghilev’s ballet, stand-in for Nijinsky and leader of New York’s Ballet Moderne.15 Again she threw herself into ballet with Gavrilov as she had with Egorova. Perhaps he was less protective of her (or of himself), for she once found herself in a potentially dangerous situation with him.16 ‘My dancing teacher was a protege of Nijinsky. I ate lunch with him and went with him to his apartment. There was nothing in the commercial flat except the white spitz of his mistress and a beautiful collection of Leon Bakst. It was a cold afternoon. He asked me if I wanted him to kill me and said I would cry and [he] left me there. I ran to my lesson through the cold streets.’17 Gavrilov and Zelda spoke French together so it is possible that the phrase ‘if I wanted him to kill me’ might refer to the French expression ‘the little death’, meaning orgasm.
Her description evokes a surreal film echoed in several paintings. At this stage she protested that her art was too personal to be shown in public but over the next three years, though her paintings continued blatantly autobiographical, she became as keen to exhibit as she was to publish.18
Using thick, turgid brush strokes she attempted highly emotional canvases, repetitiously returning to ballet themes. Her aim was to blast the viewer into an appreciation of the ballerina’s physical-emotional reality, irrespective of its ugliness; so many canvases displayed hardworking ballerinas caught in a ‘frozen movement’ which became her particular trademark. This concept is also found consistently in modernist images. As the art critic Giles Neret pointed out: ‘Artists transformed the notion of speed — particular to the decade — into a stereotype of “frozen movement”.’19 That element was frequently used by Leon Bakst, a painter Zelda met through the Murphys, who may have influenced her dance figures. Later Zelda told Henry Dan Piper: ‘What I do is paint the basic, fundamental principle so that everyone will be forced to realize and experience it — I want to paint a ballet step so all will know what it is — to get the fundamental essence into the painting.’20 This was highly significant because it was a huge departure from the way most male artists of that period, influenced by Degas, portrayed the same subject. Their ballerinas hardly seemed to work and were largely objects of exquisite femininity.21
As Zelda’s dancers collapsed on the canvas, so she too began to collapse as she held the brush hour after hour. She lost 15 lb in weight, and her nerves stretched like elastic. Snapping point never seemed far off. But despite her exhaustion from dancing and painting, that winter of 1928–9 she returned ferociously to writing, beginning a series of six stories about the lives of six young American women. Initially all six were commissioned by H. N. Swanson of College Humor magazine who bought five, though the sixth was ultimately sold to the Saturday Evening Post.
These stories were accompanied by new sketches and new ballet routines. What is most striking about Zelda’s three arts is that they first come to fruition within a period of five years from 1929 to 1934 and these, the years of her most single-minded discipline, coincided with the start of her mental breakdown and her initial hospitalization. It was as if she was living only through creative work and everything else in her life was either on hold or dead. That included her husband and daughter. Her relationship with seven-year-old Scottie became even more distant, as though she was loving her through a veil of muslin. Often Scottie was left in the charge of her governess whom both her parents disliked. But though Scott’s November 1928 Ledger recorded ‘Delplangue gets on our nerves’, the governess in fact lasted until the following April. This left Zelda free to work on her six stories, which were united by a common theme: women’s failure to achieve a balance between work and marriage.
Collectively, Zelda’s fiction at that point makes a public statement about women’s need to work professionally if they are to survive.22 Privately, the stories may have conveyed to Scott the strength of her aspirations and her anger over her frustrations.
The six tales concern a poor working girl, a girl liked by a prince, a millionaire’s girl, and three near to Zelda’s heart: an original Follies girl, a girl with talent as a dancer and a Southern girl.
Zelda began the first, ‘The Original Follies Girl’, that winter, finishing it by March 1929, the month their lease expired on Ellerslie. By now the Fitzgeralds’ restlessness had an almost pathological quality and they were determined to set off with Scottie again for Europe. This time the reason they offered friends was that Zelda could continue ballet with Egorova and fit her writing and painting in between classes. Their plan was to see Genoa first, then move on to Nice before going to Paris in April.
They sailed on the Conte Biancamano where, Zelda recalled, Scott ‘paid absolutely no attention of any kind to me’.23 Scott did pay attention to other women and embarrassed Zelda by asking a woman passenger if women liked men’s penises small or big. Zelda interrupted: ‘Shut up, Scott, you fool,’24 but her humiliating experiences were not over. In Genoa, perhaps fired by fears of his own impotence, he attempted sodomy. Zelda was disgusted and not a little afraid. ‘I think the most humiliating and bestial thing that ever happened to me in my life is a scene that you probably don’t remember even in Genoa … You were constantly drunk.’25
Scott himself, depressed at his inability to finish his novel, had written to Perkins before leaving that he was sneaking away just like a thief, failing yet again to give Perkins further chapters. He swore he would write them on the boat and he begged Max to trust him a little longer. Neither Max nor Scott could foresee that this trust would be forced to endure for several more years.
Despite Scott’s novel-writing block he managed to produce seven short stories for the Post in 1929, dealing, inevitably, with marriage problems. They included three fine fictions: ‘The Rough Crossing’, ‘The Swimmers’ and ‘Two Wrongs’. He did mail Perkins ‘The Rough Crossing’ in March from the Hotel Beau Rivage, Nice. Almost certainly based on the Fitzgeralds’ recent crossing on the Conte Biancamano, it involves a young couple, Eva and Adrian Smith, whose marriage disintegrates as they cross the Atlantic. Both playwright Adrian and his jealous wife have foolish affairs with people they despise whom they ditch by the end of the voyage. The woeful conclusion is that the Smiths agree to deny that anything sordid took place by pretending the affairs happened to two other Smiths. Unchanged by events, they are as ill at ease with each other as Zelda and Scott had been at the end of their voyage.
In Nice Zelda began ballet classes with the Russian dancer Nevalskaya, ballet coach at the Nice Opera, while Scott drank and gambled at the casino. Her productivity must have fired Scott with resentment, but they did not discuss the issue. It surfaces, though, in Zelda’s newly-completed story ‘The Original Follies Girl’ with its focus on achievement.
Zelda’s sad heroine, ironically named Gay, who receives $5,000 a year alimony from an ex-husband ‘with a gift of fantasy’,26 has little need to work or marry, a state Zelda judges harshly. Without those two anchors that can lend women purpose or order, Gay drifts abroad as a New York showgirl, dreaming she can become a London theatre actress yet never settling to serious work. Instead she falls into aimless alcoholism and dies in childbirth. There is a sense of sin in Gay’s highly decorated dilettantism and Zelda’s heroine, like the style in which she is depicted, is evasive, elliptical and polished.
This story, like the others, is written in Zelda’s characteristic associative ‘spoken’ language. There is a guarded singular tone predicated on alienation from the familiar. There is a sense in which all six heroines wear masks, as Zelda does. Never sufficiently plot-driven and rather impressionistic, the stories are distinguished by trademarks similar to those in her paintings: an overload of visual metaphors, fragmentation, descriptive non sequiturs, caustic observation and bubbling non-linear ideas. They leave the reader with more questions than they answer. Zelda’s sensuous descriptions allow readers to smell the flowers in her writings, just as viewers can feel the texture of flesh in her paintings. Zelda never labelled herself a Southern writer in the way that she felt she was a Southern painter, yet in both arts her intensely Southern temperament focused on the dissolution of form into colour and the representation of emotion through colour.
There was already a startling congruence between Zelda’s untamed paintings and her tumultuous ballet life. Then came her sudden determination to extend this verbally in stories with the same focus on appearances. In her six ‘Girl’ stories, as in her painting, she looked at people’s souls through their appearance. ‘The Original Follies Girl’ is suffused with sounds, scents and scenery. Gay, a ‘very kaleidoscopic’ girl, who ‘made the rest of the chorus look like bologna sausages’, lived in a ‘silver apartment with mulberry carpets and lots of billowing old-blue taffeta’, which allowed the narrator and readers to ‘see how bored she must have been with her Louis XVI tea service and her grand piano, the huge silver vase that must have calla lilies in it and the white bearskin rug’. When the narrator last glimpsed Gay before she died tragically, leaving a small baby and an empty blue velvet trunk plastered with hotel labels that symbolized the activity of isolation, ‘she looked like a daffodil. She was taking a yellow linen sports thing for an airing and she reeked of a lemony perfume and Bacardi cocktails.’27
If the financial security in which Gay was embedded was one impediment to fulfilling work, Zelda saw poverty as another. In ‘Poor Working Girl’, the second story to be written between winter 1928 and April 1929,28 twenty-year-old Eloise lives in a newly industrialized community with which she is as out of touch as she is with solid rural values. The possessor of a downstate college education, a talent for the ukulele, a fumbling grasp of shorthand and a flawless skin, she yearns for a Broadway career.
As Zelda is consistently ironic throughout all six stories about acting careers, which she proposes as the goal only of shallow young women, it is hard not to view the irony in ‘Poor Working Girl’ as a barbed attack on Lois Moran.
Eloise works as a babysitter while saving up for drama school in New York but never earns enough for the financial independence she needs (and Zelda herself craves). Inevitably she gives up the job, fails to achieve stardom, and we leave her working as a ‘pretty girl in the local power plant … [who] couldn’t really imagine achieving anything’.29
In a third story, ‘Southern Girl’, Harriet, Zelda’s heroine from Jeffersonville (modelled on Montgomery), is unique among Zelda’s aspiring heroines in that she holds two authentic remunerative jobs: one as a schoolteacher, the other supervising her family’s lodging house. Though single, she also has a more realistic appraisal of the compromises needed for marriage. Engaged to Dan, a laughing Northerner, she gives him up when she realizes, like Sally Carrol Happer in Scott’s ‘Ice Palace’, that she can never fit into Northern society or live up to a life of ‘leagues and organizations and societies for the prevention of things’ stipulated by Dan’s mother, a woman as formal and black and white as a printed page. But Zelda sees Harriet’s return to her patchwork of mundane responsibilities in the vine-clad smouldering deep South as ultimately unfulfilling, because her determination about ‘sticking to things’ meant she never attempted to ‘turn them into one bigger unit of a job’. When later Harriet meets Charles, a replica of Dan, she agrees to the compromise of a life ‘working for leagues and societies’ alongside Charles’s black-taffeta-clad widowed mother.30
‘Southern Girl’ is remarkable for its sensuous description of long clay roads, straggling pines, isolated cabins in sand patches and ‘far off in the distance the blue promise of hills.’ The city where ‘wistaria meets over the warm asphalt’ is a young world that every evening moves out of doors, a world where ‘telephones ring, and the lacy blackness under the trees disgorges young girls in white and pink, leaping over the squares of warm light toward the tinkling sound with an expectancy that people have only in places where any event is a pleasant one’.31
It is the world in which Zelda grew up, the world in which she flourished, the world of pink and white and organdie events, now a world rewritten from an entirely different place where many events have become unpleasant ones.
Zelda was not alone in trying to recapture Southern magic in her fiction. Both Scott and Sara Haardt had been attempting it.
In November 1928 Scott had written ‘The Last of the Belles’, set in Tarleton, his version of Montgomery. Like Zelda’s ‘Southern Girl’ it has a nostalgic mood of loss. It offers a similar narrative of a popular Southern Belle jilted by a Northern soldier.32
That Scott might have felt anxious about Zelda following so closely on his heels is shown by a strange slip of his pen. In summer 1929, Ober asked Scott to choose one of his stories for a Literary Digest anthology. Scott, we assume inadvertently, suggested Zelda’s ‘Southern Girl’. Hastily he wrote again to Ober: ‘When I suggested story for Lit Digest I accidentally said Southern Girl meaning Last of the Belles.’33
Sara Haardt’s Southern fiction, which covered similar territory to Zelda’s, had struggled into print while she combated illnesses even more serious than before. When Sara, who had missed Montgomery on a recent trip to Hollywood,34 returned home she found Mencken had missed her.35 They mended their temporary rift and she, like Scott and Zelda, began to recreate in her fiction the Southern homeland about which both she and Zelda felt so ambivalent. But in October 1928, before the Fitzgeralds had left for Europe, disease had once more shattered Sara’s hopes. Mencken rushed her into Union Memorial Hospital, Baltimore, for emergency surgery for gynaecological problems exacerbated by appendicitis. In November, Scott, perhaps linking Sara’s operation with Zelda’s surgery in Paris, wrote Sara a curious note. He congratulated her as he often did, on her ‘absolutely lyric’ writing, and added: ‘Terribly sorry to hear you’re sick. Please get well. Name it after me. Yours with insatiable Passion. Old Hot Shot Fitzgerald.’36 Sara did not get well. By July 1929 tuber culosis had infected her left kidney. There seemed no hope of total recovery. The doctors told Mencken she might live at best three years. Shocked and unutterably saddened, Mencken told Sara Mayfield he had vowed to marry his Sara as soon as she was strong enough, to make her last years the happiest of her life. He asked little Sara to be discreet; thus it was more than six months before Zelda and Scott or any Baltimore friends suspected they were engaged.
In hospital that summer, believing death was imminent, Sara repeated her final wish to be buried in Baltimore far from Alabama. Yet ironically, despite or perhaps because of her love-hate relationship with the sweet flowering tyrannical South, which only Zelda and Sara Mayfield fully understood, when she emerged from hospital in late 1929 she determined to rush out her Deep South novel The Making of a Lady.
The Fitzgeralds reached Paris in April 1929 and settled into an apartment on rue Mezieres near St Sulpice, to be greeted by several old friends. Esther Murphy had a surprise for them. For some years Esther’s sexual inclinations had led her towards women. Wickedly portrayed as the lesbian Bounding Bess in Djuna Barnes’s chronicle Ladies Almanack,37 she had been a rival for Natalie Barney’s sexual affections with Dolly Wilde, and had ended up in bed with Barney.38 But suddenly in March Esther had become engaged to the English economist and political writer John Strachey, and was eagerly planning her May wedding.
The Bishops now had an apartment in Paris as well as their Orgeval chateau, so the Fitzgeralds saw John as often and Margaret as little as possible, and met frequently with Townsend Martin. That spring Zelda met the English art critic Clive Bell whose avant-garde ideas impressed and influenced her. Sandy and Oscar Kalman were in Paris and Zelda instantly took them off to her ballet classes, where she had resumed rigorous group sessions in the mornings and a private class every afternoon with Egorova at the hot studio in rue Caumartin. ‘I worked constantly and was terribly superstitious and moody about my work, full of presentiments,’ she wrote. ‘I lived in a quiet, ghostly, hypersensitized world of my own. Scott drank.’39 Zelda saw herself as a priestess who had found an impersonal escape into a new world of self-expression.40
Egorova had become the focus of Zelda’s life, for whom she practised every evening and most of Sunday. ‘I had to work,’ wrote Zelda later, ‘because I couldn’t exist in the world without it.’41 Idealizing Egorova, seeing her as poor, pure and dedicated, she presented her daily with a symbolic bouquet of white gardenias. One evening in June, however, the intense Madame appeared to Zelda in a less pleasing light. The Fitzgeralds had taken her to dine at the luxurious George V restaurant. During dinner when Egorova responded with appreciation to Scott’s flirtation, Zelda moved from shock to anger.
Pauline and Ernest were now living at 6 rue de Ferou, but Pauline had begun to disapprove of the Fitzgeralds and Hemingway had given Perkins strict instructions not to give Scott their address. The previous year Fitzgerald had insulted Ernest’s landlord, pissed on their front porch, almost broken down their front door at 4 a.m. and finally got Hemingway evicted. Ernest was determined Scott should not get them thrown out of this new apartment. Scott’s persistence persuaded Ernest to relent and invite them to dinner. Ernest and Zelda kept their mutual antagonism under wraps, but Scott registered a ‘certain coldness’ towards him from Ernest.42 Hemingway was completing A Farewell to Arms, which Scott saw as another slight to his own slow progress.43 When Scott finally read it he wrote an officious undiplomatic letter admitting it was a ‘beautiful book’ but suggesting more than fifty cuts and corrections.44 Hemingway was furious. On the bottom of Scott’s letter he wrote ‘Kiss my ass. E.H.’45
Sara Mayfield, temporarily in Paris, stopped at the Deux Magots to find Zelda only just surviving a week-long party. ‘Nobody knows where it started, when it’ll end, or whose party it is,’ Zelda told Sara. ‘All of the people were white … But one of the women had slept with a Negro, a six-day bicycle racer, and a prizefighter that sniffs cocaine … Another one says she sleeps with men for money and women for fun.’46
Sara was disturbed at Zelda’s appearance. ‘There were triangular hollows under her cheek bones, and she was thin as a rail.’ Had her friend stopped eating? ‘No, I eat everything in sight,’ Zelda said. ‘But I work it off at the studio, straining and stretching and ending in nothing.’ She ached to begin life over again. ‘Really I do. I’d try so hard. Scott and I had it all — youth, love, money — and look how we’ve ended up, sitting around cafes, drinking and talking and quarreling with each other.’ Sara saw Zelda as ‘a soul lost in the mist on the moor’.47
Zelda admitted that most of their quarrels were about Hemingway. When Scott lurched over to join the women he told Sara that he and Ernest were quarrelling too, ‘like a pair of jealous prima donnas’, over the unsavoury machinations of Robert McAlmon.48 Scott, highly disturbed, had written to Max Perkins: ‘McAlmon is a bitter rat … Part of his quarrel with Ernest some years ago was because he assured Ernest I was a fairy — God knows he shows more creative imagination in his malice than in his work. Next he told Callaghan that Ernest was a fairy. He’s a pretty good person to avoid.’49
Morley Callaghan was a twenty-six-year-old Canadian writer, now published by Scribner’s, who with his wife met the Fitzgeralds that spring. Callaghan, insufficiently deferential to Fitzgerald, found him cold and Zelda watchful and depressed. At an early meeting Scott read Morley one passage that had impressed him from A Farewell to Arms. Morley, less impressed, said it was too deliberate, which annoyed Scott but pleased Zelda, who aired her view that Hemingway’s prose was ‘pretty damned Biblical’. Scott immediately told Zelda she was tired from dancing and sent her to bed, leaving the Callaghans startled at Zelda’s meek acquiescence. Later the couples dined together and Zelda talked animatedly about her writing, saying she wrote well; Scott offered no comment, and she disconcerted them all by laughing to herself until Scott again sent her to bed. On another occasion with the Callaghans Zelda again talked about her writing before suggesting they all went roller skating, whereupon Scott grabbed Zelda’s wrist and sent her home in a taxi. ‘It was if she knew he had command over her,’ Morley said, ‘she agreed meekly … suddenly she had said good night like a small girl and was whisked away from us.’ When Morley asked about Zelda’s dancing, Scott explained edgily that Zelda wanted to ‘have something for herself, be something herself’.50
Zelda ignored Scott’s antipathy to her ballet classes and also worked on her remaining three stories, ‘The Girl The Prince Liked’, ‘The Girl With Talent’ and ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’. All three heroines possess talent or energetic driving ambition but still have not found appropriate outlets for a satisfying career.
Helena, heroine of ‘The Girl The Prince Liked’, has her father’s ambition, mystic deep-set eyes and eight million dollars. This allows her to dominate her husband, two children, people of importance ‘whom Helena wore like a string of glass beads’ and a golf course at which she collects second prizes.51 Ultimately she collects the Prince of Wales with whom she has an affair. Zelda satirizes England’s most romantic hero to reveal Helena’s triumphant story as essentially tragic. The Prince goes away, as princes do, leaving her a memory and a bracelet that she is acute enough to have valued. Inherently sharp, Helena realizes meaningful work, not money or contacts, might have given her life fulfilment.
Encouraged by the Murphys, the Fitzgeralds decided to leave Paris and spend the summer on the Riviera. From July till October they rented the Villa Fleur des Bois on boulevard Eugene Gazagnaive, in Cannes, where Zelda finished ‘The Girl The Prince Liked’ while studying under Nevalskaya. She also danced professionally in several engagements in Nice and Cannes.52 Gerald, who constantly urged Zelda to meet prima ballerina Nemchinova in Antibes, reported Zelda looked haggard and had a strange laugh. On one occasion they went to see a documentary film about underwater life shot in an aquarium. When an octopus moved into view Zelda shrieked and threw herself against Gerald, screaming ‘What is it? What is it!’ Gerald saw nothing frightening and wondered whether Zelda saw it as a distortion of something horrific.53 Zelda, unable to explain, seemed to be withdrawing into a private world. Yet she completed the ‘Prince’ story in late August.
On 23 September 1929 her ballet endeavours were rewarded. She received a formal invitation from Julie Sedowa to join the San Carlo Opera Ballet Company in Naples, Italy. Her Aida debut at San Carlo, which Sedowa described as ‘a very worthwhile solo number’, would be followed by other solo performances as the season progressed. Sedowa wrote that if Zelda stayed for the whole season she would received a monthly salary. She told Zelda the theatre was magnificent, it would be useful experience to accept this offer, life in Naples was not expensive and she could have full board and lodging for 35 lire a day.54
It was the chance Zelda had been waiting for.
Inexplicably she turned it down. She had agonized over whether or not to accept. If she went to Naples she would go alone. The idea scared her, as did leaving Scottie, now almost eight, entirely in Scott’s custody. Since girlhood she had been dependent on Scott. Could she live alone on a meagre salary and succeed without his backing? Could she face his anger? She had worked for months to reach this point, only to be suddenly assailed by self-doubt. Her sister Rosalind vividly recalled not only Zelda’s ambivalence but also Scott’s implacable disapproval. ‘This frantic effort on Zelda’s part, towards a professional career in the thing she did best, was motivated by the uncertainty of their situation … perhaps also by unhappiness, which she refused to admit … beneath an always brave front, and by her desire to put herself on her own. She told me that she received an offer from one of the Italian Opera companies as a premiere ballerina, but that Scott would not allow her to accept it.’55 Only a few years earlier, Zelda would rebelliously have gone ahead and overruled Scott. Her strange passivity at this critical moment implies an emotional fatigue from many months of professional subservience to him.
Scott never acknowledged, at the time or later, not only how close Zelda had come to a serious ballet career but how he had stopped her.
The scorn Zelda had shown towards Helena in ‘The Girl The Prince Liked’ for not making use of her ambitions and skills turned inward on herself for not having the courage to take the long-awaited opportunity. Zelda’s guilt and confusion over rejecting the San Carlo offer are hinted at in ‘The Girl With Talent’, completed in October 1929 and sold only weeks later.
Lou, the dancer heroine, has genuine talent, a good job in New York, a rich successful husband, a baby. Like Zelda she is not domestic so the baby is largely cared for by the nanny. She is the one heroine of the six whose dreams of stardom in the dance field are attainable. So what does she do? In the middle of an ‘unprecedented hit’ she runs off to China with a tall blond Englishman with whom she has a second beautiful baby. Her dream could have come true, as could Zelda’s. Only weeks before this event Lou told the narrator: ‘I am going to work so hard that my spirit will be completely broken, and I am going to be a very fine dancer … I have a magnificent contract in a magnificent casino on the Cote d’Azur, and I am now on my way to work and make money magnificently.’ The narrator did not believe her: ‘those were excellent defense plans that would never be carried out because of lack of attack.’ Is that what Zelda felt about her own self-destructive action? In the story Zelda makes one of her most characteristic comments: ‘To my mind, people never change until they look different.’56 Lou had looked exactly the same. The photos of Zelda in May 1929 and September 1929 also look much the same: tense and frozen-faced. But Zelda was a mistress of deceptive appearances and elusive effects.
Zelda’s remorse over rejecting Sedowa’s offer turned to raging grief when she learnt that Sergei Diaghilev had died in Venice. ‘Diaghilev died,’ wrote Zelda. ‘The stuff of the great movement of the Ballets Russes lay rotting in a French law court … some of his dancers performed round the swimming pool of the Lido to please the drunk Americans … some … worked in music-hall ballets; the English went back to England. What’s the use?’57 For Zelda, whose dreams of dancing with the Ballets Russes had died with Diaghilev, nothing was of use.
That October, while Scott was driving along the Corniche, the most treacherous stretch of road in that locality, Zelda grabbed the steering wheel and attempted to force the car off the cliff. She almost killed herself and her husband. Later she said the car acted wildly on its own.
There is an obvious and illuminating connection, which has not previously been made, between these three events: firstly, Zelda’s rejection of the ballet company offer; secondly, Diaghilev’s death; and thirdly, the steering-wheel incident. One of Zelda’s biographers, Milford, omits Diaghilev’s death and even reverses the chronology of job offer and steering-wheel incident, so that no psychological sense can be made of it.58 There is also the highly significant fact that all three events occurred during a period of enormous literary productivity for Zelda, every piece of which was published under Scott’s name as well as hers or under Scott’s name alone.
In October 1929 the Fitzgeralds returned to Paris where Zelda continued writing, working on her sixth story, ‘The Millionaire’s Girl’, which would be sold in March 1930. The story, Zelda’s witty answer to Scott’s fictionalized treatment of the Lois Moran romance, is generally considered her best.59
Caroline, its heroine, is lower down the social register than her fiance Barry. ‘You could see that he was rich and that he liked her, and you could see that she was poor and that she knew he did.’ But Barry’s father likes her not, tries to buy her off. When Caroline accepts his cheque without realizing she is expected to break her engagement Barry, furious, does it for her, at which point Caroline decides to become a Hollywood superstar! Her reason, however, is not to find remunerative fulfilling work but to bring back the errant Barry. Though her first film is a big hit he doesn’t return until she makes a dramatic suicide bid. As Zelda comments acidly: ‘She married him, of course, and since she left the films on that occasion, they have both had much to reproach each other for.’60 It sounded familiar even at the time.
Throughout the ‘Girl’ series the narrator has remained unidentified either by name or gender. But there is a nice touch in this sixth story: Caroline and Barry drive out to see their narrator friend on Long Island. On arrival Caroline asks: ‘Is this Fitzgerald’s roadhouse?’, ensuring that readers now suspect that the narrator is either Zelda or Scott.61 Rereading the series, particularly ‘Southern Girl’, it becomes obvious the narrator, too, is a Southern Girl: Zelda.
Zelda said she wrote these stories to pay for her dancing so that she would not be financially dependent on Scott. The money was good. But the deal organized by Scott on Zelda’s behalf was not. Harold Ober recorded the transaction Scott made with College Humor for Zelda’s stories. ‘SF said that Z would do six articles for College Humor, that he would go over them … and that the articles would be signed with both their names.’62
Although College Humor had already bought two of Zelda’s articles and considered her talented in her own right, five of the six stories were published with joint by-lines. Scott’s justification for joint credits was not only that they would reap a higher fee, but that even if he didn’t actually write the stories he might have done so at any moment! He assured Ober that most of the stories were ‘pretty strong draughts on Zelda’s and my common store of material. This [the heroine of ‘The Girl With Talent’] is Mary Hay for instance + the “Girl The Prince Liked” was Josephine Ordway — both of whom I had in my notebook to use.’63 He probably did. However, he did not in fact take Mary or Josephine out of his notebook and turn them into fiction, whereas Zelda took two role models out of her notebook and did turn them into stories.
‘The Original Follies Girl’ was sold in March 1929 to College Humor for $400. Published in July 1929, it was credited to Scott and Zelda. Scott had made no revisions. It was the cause of a fight between them. Zelda had finished it in the Philadelphia library, after which she celebrated with some women from the dance school, got drunk in an Italian restaurant and returned home to find Scott furious. Scott delivered it to Ober instead of a Basil story that was due. ‘This is a poor substitute,’ Scott wrote, ‘tho it is a beautifully written thing.’64 That story and the next four were highly praised by Swanson, the editor.
‘Poor Working Girl’ was sold to College Humor via Ober in April 1929 for $500. Published in January 1931, it was credited to Scott and Zelda, but written entirely by Zelda.
‘Southern Girl’ followed in June, was sold to College Humor for $500, published in October 1929, credited to Scott and Zelda but written entirely by Zelda.
‘The Girl the Prince Liked’ was sold to College Humor in September 1929 for $500, published in February 1930, credited to both Fitzgeralds but written entirely by Zelda. Scott asked Ober: ‘Don’t you think that Zelda’s Girl-the-Prince-liked thing is good?’65
‘The Girl With Talent’ was sold to College Humor October 1929 for $800, published April 1930, credited to both Fitzgeralds but written by Zelda.
The credit surrounding ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’ was even more contentious. Both Ober and Scott behaved in a shockingly high-handed manner. It was sold to the Saturday Evening Post in March 1930 for $4,000, and published on 17 May. Though it was entirely written by Zelda, the name under the story was F. Scott Fitzgerald alone. Scott’s reason was that the Post had offered to pay $4,000 if Zelda’s name was omitted. Ober later said that when he had received it he believed it to be one of Scott’s and sent it off to the Post, which accepted it On 5 March 1930 Ober wrote to Scott: ‘Dear Scott, A Millionaires Girl has just come in and I have just finished reading it. I like it a lot and some of your lines about California are very amusing, indeed.’
As soon as the error was discovered Ober cabled Scott that the Post would only pay that amount if Zelda’s name was dropped.66 Scott agreed. Ober managed an apologetic line: ‘I really felt a little guilty about dropping Zelda’s name from that story … but I think she understood that using two names would have tied the story up with the College Humor stories and might have got us into trouble.’ Ober insisted it was so good that it ‘would have been recognized as your [Scott’s] story no matter under what name it was published’. Attempting to placate Zelda, who might not have understood the Ober — Scott view that what mattered was the highest possible fee, Ober asked Scott to tell Zelda that it was ‘a mighty good piece of work’.67 By publication in mid-May 1930 Zelda was terribly ill, so Scott on her behalf told Ober: ‘Zelda was delighted with your compliments about the Millionaires Girl!’68
Later, Scott confessed that the story ‘appeared under my name but actually I had nothing to do with it except for suggesting a theme and working on the proof of the completed manuscript’. He also admitted to taking over the other material published ‘under our joint names’. He said: ‘I had nothing to do with the thing from start to finish except supplying my name.’69
One view of these events is that Scott lent his name to Zelda’s work in order to help her, to reap more money for them as a couple, that Zelda did not mind, indeed was proud to be the recipient of such a famous name on her work, and that Scott had no hidden malevolent agenda. This is the view taken by most of Scott’s male biographers.
The opposing view is that Scott ruthlessly took fraudulent credit for Zelda’s work, partly instigated by his own insecurities due to his own procrastination over his novel Tender Is The Night. The events are seen as entirely selfish literary poaching.
There is a third view, to which this biographer subscribes. That Zelda was not surprised at the deal that had been struck, for when you live intimately with a famous artist you become accustomed to a life in the shadows. The only experience Zelda had to set against this prevalent attitude was that of her fellow writers Sara Haardt and H. L. Mencken. Though Mencken was better known than Sara he never at any point took credit for Sara’s work and attempted constantly to get Sara a place in the sun. Zelda, perhaps because of this awareness, was resentful and frustrated. The original manuscripts of all six stories show her vigorous black handwriting scrawling out Scott’s name on every by-line. Words like ‘No!’ and ‘Me’ are inserted where appropriate.
In this third view Scott did not act malevolently, because he had no need to. His actions fell within the gender expectations and conventions of the period, which gave full rein to his need to control their literary endeavours (and his wife) while allowing Zelda’s reasonable resentments no outlet. That Scott acted with a strong self-focus is not in question. That he could not afford to act generously towards this fellow writer struggling to maintain her professional identity is interesting in view of his acknowledged generosity towards many other writers, including Sara Haardt whose work he praised. But Zelda was his wife, she was straying on to his territory, albeit often with his own muddled encouragement, and must be contained. The feminist framework that would have given Zelda the strength to resist was not in place in her circle, nor was it sufficiently acknowledged publicly in 1929 to give her a context for resistance.
By the time ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’ was published under Scott’s name, Zelda was in hospital. But previous biographies have made no link between the damage to Zelda’s professional ambitions and her sudden breakdown. One lone literary voice in the years between 1928 and today has been that of Alice Hall Petry, who pointed out that Zelda’s was a constant story of ‘frustration and denial of thwarted ambitions and usurped achievements’.70 In 1929 that story, that struggle to acquire both a coherent sense of her personal identity and to maintain a sense of her professional identity, was only just beginning and would be forced to continue inside a series of asylums.
There was another crucial incident before Zelda’s collapse which she said helped to trigger it. Zelda and Scott’s sexual problems had steadily worsened. Scott, jealous of Zelda’s attentions to Egorova, saw the dance teacher and himself in a contest to dominate his wife. ‘I’ve seen that everytime Zelda sees Egrova and me in contact, Egrova becomes gross to her. Apart, the opposite happens.’71
Zelda had become increasingly jealous of Scott’s attentions towards Hemingway despite the sour note that had entered the men’s relationship. Zelda’s own sexual fears, as well as her disgust at the idea of her husband being homosexual, made McAlmon’s taunts about the two men being ‘fairies’ more disturbing to her than she admitted.
The climax had occurred in Paris one night in June 1929 when Scott and Ernest had been out drinking without Zelda. Scott stumbled home drunk, crawled into bed, passed out, then in his sleep he muttered: ‘No more baby’. Zelda took this as complete vindication of her suspicions that Scott and Ernest were having an affair.72 Later she listed this event as among the causes of her breakdown. ‘We came back to the rue Palatine and you, in a drunken stupor told me a lot of things that I only half-understood: but I understood the dinner we had at Ernests’. Only I didn’t understand that it matterred.’73
Scott was shocked, perhaps terrified. She had forced him to wonder if there was any truth in her words. Later he admitted: ‘The nearest I ever came to leaving you was when you told me you thot I was a fairy in the Rue Palatine.’74
It is plausible that Scott and Ernest at some level had sexual feelings about each other, but Ernest’s hostility to his mother’s lesbianism, and Scott’s awareness of how other men found his appearance camp, would have been enough to make them back off. The McAlmon accusations had so disturbed Scott that when Morley Callaghan in Paris had offered his arm to Scott to cross a street Scott, believing that Morley had slightly resisted, drew back and said: ‘You thought I was a fairy, didn’t you?’75 Scott and Ernest came from a generation hypersensitive about homosexuality to the point of paranoia. Gerald Murphy’s lifelong fears about his own ambivalent nature, and the way that Fitzgerald, MacLeish and Hemingway talked about certain men as fairies, meant they all saw sexuality in absolute terms: either men were ‘queer’ or they were not.76 If they were, it was a hideous matter.
In Scott’s Notebooks, referring to Hemingway, he wrote wistfully: ‘I really loved him, but of course it wore out like a love affair. The fairies have spoiled all that.’77 But though McAlmon, in Scott’s view Chief Fairy, asserted the two writers were homosexuals, he never made the leap from that to suggesting they were lovers. Zelda, who made that leap, continued to taunt Scott while he continued to neglect her. On two occasions Scott left her bed saying ‘I can’t. Don’t you understand?’78 But she didn’t. During the summer he came into her room only once. But blindly involved with her dance teacher, she no longer minded. She knew if she looked around in Paris she could find actual or potential lovers. There were at least three other ‘solutions’ as well as ‘the whole studio’ who were all women.79 ‘In Paris again I saw a great deal of Nemchinova after classes, and my friend at the Opera.’80 These women helped to stabilize her. As Scott recognized this he recalled the number of incidents relating to her women friends which had happened during 1929 leading up to their present point of hostility, then he began to throw Zelda’s accusations of homosexuality back at her.
1 MP to EH, 2 Oct. 1928, The Only Thing That Counts: The Ernest Hemingway/Max Perkins Correspondence 1925–1947, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1996, p. 81.
2 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 142. Mayfield was referring especially to quarrels that year and the following year.
3 Strater, an early Princeton hero of Scott’s, is the role model for Burne Holiday, the campus radical, in This Side of Paradise. Strater and Father Fay had been very impressed with each other when Fitzgerald introduced them.
4 Robert Taylor, ‘A Strater Retrospective: No Faces of Fame’, Boston Globe Magazine, 6 Aug. 1981, pp. 22–4.
5 A. E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway, Random House, New York, 1966, p. 121.
6 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 133. There is another version: on 6 Dec. 1928 Hemingway was suddenly informed his father had died. He wired Scott and also Perkins for money so that he could go West. Most reports say Scott delivered the money in person in December. Scott’s Ledger says he delivered it in January.
7 ‘The Sun Also Rises’: EH to FSF, c. 24 Nov. 1926, EH, Selected Letters, p. 231; ‘This tough talk’: FSF to EH, Dec. 1927, The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 302–3.
8 Quoted in Donaldson, Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald, p. 122.
9 Wilson, The Twenties, p. 354.
10 The Daisy novel would be published by Scribner’s the following year.
11 Wilson entered the sanatorium in 1929. On leaving he went to live on Cape Cod for the summer; there he became involved with Margaret Canby, who had been the lover of Ted Paramore in the early Twenties when Wilson and Paramore had shared a flat on Lexington Avenue, New York, and Wilson had courted Edna St Vincent Millay. Mellow, Invented Lives, pp. 100, 372.
12 MP to FSF, 13 Nov. 1928, Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 154.
13 Together with co-judges Cornelius Vanderbilt Jnr and John Barrymore.
14 Scott took out the policy in Feb. 1929.
15 Gavrilov had graduated from the Maryinsky School in 1911 and left the Imperial Ballet that year to join Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, where he understudied Nijinsky and alternated several roles with him.
16 Zelda ate with him at Reuben’s lunch bar then returned to the apartment he shared with his mistress at 5–2 °Chestnut Street.
17 ZSF, ‘Autobiographical Sketch’, 16 Mar. 1932, Johns Hopkins Hospital records. In Zelda’s address book (CO183, Box 6, Folder 1, PUL) there is a listing for Gavrilov at the Cortissoz studios in Philadelphia.
18 Carolyn Shafer, ‘To Spread a Human Aspiration’, p. 45, and author’s correspondence with Shafer, 2001.
19 Giles Neret, The Arts of the Twenties, Rizzoli, New York, 1986, p. 14.
20 Interview between ZSF and Henry Dan Piper, 1947. See also Shafer, ‘To Spread a Human Aspiration’, p. 96.
21 Degas admitted that he had painted dance classes without ever having attended one. Shafer, ‘To Spread a Human Aspiration’, p. 98.
22 Alice Hall Petry makes a fascinating case along these lines in her article ‘Women’s Work: The Case of Zelda Fitzgerald’, Literature-Interpretation-Theory, vol. 1, Gordon and Breach Science Publishers S.A., USA, 1989, pp. 69–83.
23 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall, 1930, Life in Letters, p. 193.
24 Diary of Geneva Porter, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.
25 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall, 1930, Life in Letters, p. 193.
26 ZSF, ‘The Original Follies Girl’, Collected Writings, p. 294.
27 Ibid., pp. 294, 296.
28 It was however the last to be published (Jan. 1931).
29 ZSF, ‘Poor Working Girl’, Collected Writings, p. 342.
30 ZSF, ‘Southern Girl’, Collected Writings, pp. 305, 304, 301, 307.
31 Ibid., p. 299.
32 It was published in March 1929, four months before Zelda’s story.
33 FSF to Ober, c. Aug. 1929, As Ever, Scott Fitz—, ed. Bruccoli with Jennifer McCabe Atkinson, p. 142.
34 Sara had been in Hollywood in 1927. On her return she began work as Joseph Hergesheimer’s researcher on his Southern novel Swords and Roses.
35 Rodgers, Mencken and Sara, and Carl Bode, Mencken, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1969, both discuss this in detail.
36 FSF to Haardt, 6 Nov. 1928, PUL, copy lent to the author by Vincent Fitzpatrick, Curator, H. L. Mencken Collection, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore.
37 Djuna Barnes, Ladies Almanack (1928), Dalkey Archive Press, Illinois, 1992.
38 Barney called Esther a ‘brilliant, didactic’ woman. Joan Schenkar, Truly Wilde, Virago, London, 2000, pp. 158, 353.
39 ZSF, Autobiographical Sketch, 16 Mar. 1932, Johns Hopkins Hospital Records.
40 Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 337.
41 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 194.
42 FSF, Ledger, June 1929.
43 Scott felt snubbed that Hemingway did not show it to him before it was in galley proofs ready for serialization in Scribner’s Magazine.
44 FSF to EH, June 1929, John F. Kennedy Library.
45 Ibid. More than 20 years later Hemingway was still angry. In 1951 he told Scott’s biographer Arthur Mizener that Scott’s letter was ‘one of the worst damned documents I have ever read and I would give it to no one’ (EH to Mizener, 11 Jan. 1951).
46 Mayfield, Exiles, p. 138.
47 Ibid., p. 139.
48 Ibid., p. 140. McAlmon was married to British heiress Winifred Ellerman who wrote under the name Bryher. It was a marriage of convenience, as Bryher was bisexual and wanted freedom from her upper-class family and McAlmon was homosexual. McAlmon used his father-in-law’s wealth to set up Contact Editions, a vanguard publishing company in Paris, which published among others Djuna Barnes, William Carlos Williams and Nathaniel West.
49 FSF to MP, c. 15 Nov. 1929, Dear Scott/Dear Max, pp. 158–9. Though McAlmon had published Hemingway’s first book Three Stories and Ten Poems, its author agreed with Scott that McAlmon was a poisonous piece of body fungus.
50 Morley Callaghan, That Summer in Paris, Coward-McCann, New York, 1963, pp. 152, 160–3.
51 ZSF, ‘The Girl The Prince Liked’, Collected Writings, pp. 309–10.
52 FSF, Ledger, July 1929.
53 Gerald Murphy to Milford, 26 Apr. 1963, Milford, Zelda, p. 155.
54 Julie Sedowa, Naples, to ZSF, 13 Sep. 1929, CO183, Box 5, Folder 22, PUL.
55 Rosalind Smith, unpublished documentation on ZSF, Mayfield Collection, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.
56 ZSF, ‘The Girl With Talent’, Collected Writings, pp. 324, 325.
57 Quoted in Petry, ‘Women’s Work: The Case of Zelda Fitzgerald’, p. 82.
58 Milford, Zelda, p. 156.
59 Some of Scott’s biographers considered ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’ a story that approached Fitzgerald’s standard. Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 340.
60 ZSF, ‘A Millionaire’s Girl’, Collected Writings, pp. 328, 336.
61 Ibid., p. 329.
62 Ober’s notes on Scott’s deal with College Humor stated that ‘as he remembered, they paid $200 for one article that Zelda did and $250 for another. He said we had better leave the price until they did the first article … I should think they ought to pay $500 for them, if they are 4 or 5 thousand words in length.’ 14 Feb. 1929, As Ever, p. 127. (Ober often uses the term ‘article’ both for features and for stories.)
63 FSF to Ober, received 8 Oct. 1929, As Ever, pp. 146–7.
64 FSF to Ober, received 2 Mar. 1929, As Ever, p. 130.
65 FSF to Ober, c. Aug. 1929, As Ever, p. 142.
66 A wire from New York told Scott: ‘Millionaires Girl can sell Post four thousand without Zeldas name cable confirmation’, 12 Mar. 1930.
67 Ober to FSF, 8 Apr. 1930, As Ever, p. 166.
68 FSF to Ober, received 13 May 1930, ibid., p. 167.
69 FSF to ZSF, 13 June 1934, CO187, Box 41, PUL.
70 Petry, ‘Women’s Work: The Case of Zelda Fitzgerald’, p. 69.
71 FSF, Notebooks, No. 1293.
72 Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 359.
73 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 194.
74 FSF to ZSF, c. summer 1930, Life in Letters, p. 189.
75 Callaghan, That Summer in Paris, p. 207. Callaghan and the bisexual writer Robert McAlmon had each been challenged to write stories about two homosexuals for This Quarter. Callaghan’s entry, ‘Now that April’s Here’, dealt with a gay man leaving his lover for a woman. This commission may have made Scott over-sensitive.
76 Vaill, So Young, p. 228.
77 FSF, Notebooks No. 62.
78 ZSF to FSF, late summer/early fall 1930, Life in Letters, p. 194.
79 Ibid., p. 195.
80 ZSF, ‘Autobiographical Sketch’, 16 Mar. 1932.