So you see that old libel that we were cynics and skeptics was nonsense from the beginning. On the contrary we were the great believers.
—F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, “My Generation”
ZELDA AND SCOTT PUT THEIR FIRST wedding present, a Tiffany chocolate set, on the dresser in their Biltmore suite 2109, and beside it a wilting Easter lily, which remained in place throughout their honeymoon. One of the first things that Zelda did as the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald was to go shopping with a friend of Scott’s from St. Paul, Marie Hersey. Zelda’s trousseau had been put together in Montgomery with only the sketchiest notion of the fashionable requirements of cosmopolitan life. Somewhat painfully Scott saw Zelda for the first time against the background of the restrained chic of the East, and as he later wrote: “… no sooner does a man marry his reproachless ideal than he becomes intensely self-conscious about her.” Zelda had organdy dresses with great flounces and ruffles, and a glorious pair of velvet lounging pants, but very little that was appropriate for New York. Scott felt she needed the tactful guidance of Miss Hersey’s taste, and together they bought her a smart Patou suit. Zelda said it felt strange to be charging things to Scott.
Zelda seemed to be amenable to the shopping lesson, but her resentment was simply hidden. She wrote later: “It was the first garment bought after the marriage ceremony and again the moths have unsymmetrically eaten the nap off the seat of the skirt. This makes fifteen years it has been stored in trunks because of our principle of not throwing away things that have never been used. We are glad—oh, so relieved, to find it devastated at last.”
But in the spring of 1920 the Fitzgeralds were just beginning; they were young and happy, This Side of Paradise was becoming a brilliant success, and for the moment the angels were on their side. Zelda called Scott her “King of the Roses,” and themselves “The Goofos,” and ordered fresh spinach and champagne for midnight snacks at the Biltmore. Those days in New York were gaudy ones, and Zelda caught the spirit of the city when she wrote about it later,
Vincent Youmans wrote the music for those twilights just after the war. They were wonderful. They hung above the city like an indigo wash… Through the gloom, the whole world went to tea. Girls in short amorphous capes and long flowing skirts and hats like straw bathtubs waited for taxis in front of the Plaza Grill; girls in long satin coats and colored shoes and hats like straw manhole covers tapped the tune of a cataract on the dance floors of the Lorraine and the St. Regis. Under the sombre ironic parrots of the Biltmore a halo of golden bobs disintegrated into black lace and shoulder bouquets… It was just a lot of youngness: Lillian Lorraine would be drunk as the cosmos on top of the New Amsterdam by midnight, and football teams breaking training would scare the waiters with drunkenness in the fall. The world was full of parents taking care of people.
But there were no overseeing parents in Scott and Zelda’s world to protect them, and in 1920 they would have scoffed at the idea of needing any, for no young couple rode the crest of good fortune with more flair than they. Scott undressed at the Scandals, Zelda, completely sober, dived into the fountain at Union Square, and when they moved from the Biltmore to the Commodore they celebrated by spinning around in the revolving doors for half an hour. As she wrote in Save Me the Waltz, “No power on earth could make her do anything, she thought frightened, any more, except herself.”
Dorothy Parker never forgot meeting Zelda for the first time— astride the hood of a taxi with Scott perched upon the roof. “Robert Sherwood brought Scott and Zelda to me right after their marriage. I had met Scott before. He told me he was going to marry the most beautiful girl in Alabama and Georgia!” Mrs. Parker thought that even then their behavior was calculated to shock. “But they did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun; their youth was striking. Everyone wanted to meet him. This Side of Paradise may not seem like much now, but in 1920 it was considered an experimental novel; it cut new ground.” Within eight months the novel had sold 33,000 copies, but its sales alone were not what counted; it was reviewed and talked about everywhere. Scott was suddenly “the arch type of what New York wanted.” He wrote later, “I who knew less of New York than any reporter of six months’ standing and less of its society than any hall-room boy in a Ritz stag line, was pushed into the position not only of spokesman for the time but of the typical product of that same moment.” And it was not Scott alone, but Zelda, too, who was caught up in the swirl of publicity, and not knowing what New York expected of them they “found it rather confusing,” Scott wrote. “Within a few months after our embarkation on the Metropolitan venture we scarcely knew any more who we were and we hadn’t a notion what we were.”
Scott was the first of his group of Princeton friends living in New York to marry. Edmund Wilson was a hard-working journalist and co-editor with John Peale Bishop of Vanity Fair. Each of these men had made fine starts in the literary world, with Scott having the most commercially successful career. They were all quite naturally curious about his bride. Alexander McKaig, who was another Princeton classmate and friend of Scott’s, came to know the Fitzgeralds intimately during the first year of their marriage. He, Wilson, and Bishop, sometimes with Ludlow Fowler and Townsend Martin, met frequently for dinner parties and conversation. McKaig had a job in advertising and wrote on weekends and in the evening. Boyish looking with a snub nose and dark curling hair, he appeared more cherubic than he was. He kept a diary in which he made frequent entries concerning his life and the lives of his friends. Although it is a perceptive record, it is also an envious one. Nine days after Scott and Zelda’s marriage McKaig made the following entry: “Called on Scott Fitz and his bride. Latter temperamental small town, Southern Belle. Chews gum—shows knees. I do not think marriage can succeed. Both drinking heavily. Think they will be divorced in 3 years. Scott write something big—then die in a garret at 32.”
Dorothy Parker’s impressions of Zelda were similar: “I never thought she was beautiful. She was very blond with a candy box face and a little bow mouth, very much on a small scale and there was something petulant about her. If she didn’t like something she sulked; I didn’t find that an attractive trait.”
Lawton Campbell remembers being invited some time later to lunch with the Fitzgeralds; he was working and had only one hour to spare.
When I entered, the room was bedlam. Breakfast dishes were all about, the bed unmade, books and papers scattered here and there, trays filled with cigarette butts, liquor glasses from the night before. Everything was untidy and helter-skelter. Scott was dressing and Zelda was luxuriating in the bath-tub. With the door partly open, she carried on a steady flow of conversation.
“Scott,” she called out, “tell Lawton ’bout … tell Lawton what I said when … Now … tell Lawton what I did…”
Before Scott could comply, she would proceed to tell me herself about last night’s wild adventure. Scott would cue her and then laugh at her vivid description… Going back to the kitchens at the old Waldorf. Dancing on the kitchen tables, wearing the chef’s headgear. Finally, a crash and being escorted out by the house detectives. This badinage went on until Zelda appeared at the bathroom door, buttoning up her dress. I looked at my watch. It was five minutes of two. My lunch hour had gone.
When the Fitzgeralds moved into the Commodore, McKaig visited them there. Scott and Zelda were propped up on their bed, smoking. McKaig sat on a pillow on the floor eating sandwiches delivered from a delicatessen. They talked until dawn. Their own conversation ran playfully to theories, as Zelda wrote in Save Me the Waltz,
that the Longacre Pharmacies carried the best gin in town; that anchovies sobered you up; that you could tell wood alcohol by the smell. Everybody knew where to find the blank verse in Cabell and how to get seats for the Yale game… People met people they knew in hotel lobbies smelling of orchids arid plush and detective stories, and asked each other where they’d been since last time… “We’re having some people,” everybody said to everybody else, “and we want you to join us,” and they said, “We’ll telephone.”
All over New York people telephoned. They telephoned from one hotel to another to people on other parties that they couldn’t get there—that they were engaged. It was always tea-time or late at night… New York is a good place to be on the up-grade.
To their own surprise and delight, Scott and Zelda discovered that they were being heralded as models in the cult of youth. Scott was asked to lecture before audiences that were ready to adore him as their spokesman. A literary gossip column reported, “We watched him wave his cigarette at an audience one night not long ago, and capture them by nervous young ramblings, until he had the room (mostly ’flappers’) swaying with delight. Then the autograph hunters! This admiration embarrassed him much—but after we had escaped into the outer darkness he acknowledged, with a grin, that he rather liked it.” Still he and Zelda were safe, Scott thought, “apart from all that,” and if the city bewitched them by offering fresh roles for them, they played them because “We felt like small children in a great bright unexplored barn.”
In May they decided to buy a car. Scott was not getting to his writing in the city, and they thought that if they took a house in the country for the summer the peace and quiet would be conducive to work. For a part of Scott was aware that the sense of tranquillity he had once observed in Edmund Wilson’s New York apartment, where “life was mellow and safe, a finer distillation of all that I had come to love at Princeton,” would elude him forever if he did not soon make an effort to secure it for himself.
Swimming was a necessity for Zelda and as long as they found a place close to water she could be happy. A car would facilitate their search. Leon Ruth, an old Montgomery friend of Zelda’s, was in New York studying at Columbia and it was his advice the Fitzgeralds sought when they went car hunting. Ruth recalled: “Neither of them could drive much. Scott used to borrow my car in Montgomery when he was courting Zelda, so I knew fairly well the limits of his ability. As I remember it we went down to the Battery and it was a choice between a new sedan and a second-hand Marmon sports coupe. Of course, they couldn’t resist the Marmon. Well, we bought it and I drove them up to 125th Street. I showed Scott how to shift on the way and both of them knew something about steering. Then they put me out and struck off.”
Eventually, in Westport, Connecticut, a short distance from the Sound, they found the Wakeman cottage, a gray-shingled house surrounded by countryside. It seemed a perfect retreat and they took it. Zelda wrote Ludlow Fowler:
We have a house with a room for you and a ruined automobile because 1 drove it over a fire-plug and completely deintestined it … and much health and fresh-air which is all very nice and picturesque, although I’m still partial to Coney Island— And as soon as we get a servant and some sheets from Mamma you really must come out and recuperate and try to enjoy the home you helped so much to get organized. Only, by the time you do come I’ll probably have grown so fat like this [sketch of a circle with arms and legs and head] that you won’t be able to recognize me. I s’pose I’ll have to wear a [a measure of music with the words “Red, red rose” written beneath it] to disclose my identity—or condition— At present, I think it’s the home-cooking of Mrs. M—— but, of course, one never knows… But it’s a deep secret and you MUST keep very quiet and not laugh too hard and be VERY sympathetic—
As it turned out, she was not pregnant. Within a few weeks they arranged with the Japanese Reliable Servant Agency to hire a house-boy and began to invite their friends for weekend visits. It was going to be a relaxed and productive summer with guests coming out only on Saturday or Sunday. They joined one of the quieter bathing clubs; Zelda was to spend her time swimming and reading; Scott was fiddling with an idea for a new novel, The Flight of the Rocket. It would be about Anthony Patch and his wife, Gloria Gilbert: “How ? he and his beautiful young wife are wrecked on the shoals of dissipation…”
After McKaig’s first visit to Westport he wrote: “Fitz & Zelda fighting like mad—say themselves marriage can’t succeed.” By the fourth of July their partying had become as time-consuming in West-port as it had been in New York. McKaig noted that Scott spent |43 for liquor in one day and then left McKaig to pay for the food for dinner.
During one of their carnival nights in Westport, Zelda sounded the fire alarm. Within a few minutes three fire engines and a score of cars came into the Compo Beach area. There was no fire and no one could be found who knew anything about the alarm. Angrily the fire chief traced the call to the Wakeman house, but Scott and Zelda claimed they knew nothing about it. According to a newspaper report which Zelda clipped for her scrapbook, a member of the Fitzgerald family suggested to the chief that perhaps someone had come into their house during their absence and sent in an alarm. The article said that everyone was greatly worked up over the false alarm and that there was a statute which dealt with people who sent in false alarms for the fun of it. The Fitzgeralds were brought before court the following week, but because the evidence was only circumstantial no blame could be fastened to them. Scott gallantly said that he would bear the costs of the department’s run.
George Jean Nathan, who with Mencken edited The Smart Set, which had first published Scott, began to visit them frequently during the summer. An urbane and witty bachelor, Nathan quickly took to Zelda and began a flirtation that consisted of teasing Scott and writing gay notes to Zelda facetiously signed “Yours, for the Empire, A Prisoner of Zelda.” Zelda was delighted by the attention of a man whom Scott clearly admired and respected. Soon each of Nathan’s letters to Westport was addressed to Zelda alone; they ran along the following lines:
Dear Blonde: Why call me a polygamist when my passion for you is at once so obvious and so single? Particularly when I am lit. Is it possible that Southern Gals are losing their old perspicacity?
I am very sorry to hear that your husband is neglectful of his duties to you in the way of chewing gum. That is the way husbands get after five months of marriage.
During one of his weekends in Westport he had discovered her diaries. “They interested me so greatly that in my capacity as a magazine editor I later made her an offer for them. When I informed her husband, he said that he could not permit me to publish them since he had gained a lot of inspiration from them and wanted to use parts of them in his own novels and short stories, as for example ’The Jelly Bean.’” Zelda apparently offered no resistance to this rather high-handed refusal of Nathan’s offer, and the diaries remained Scott’s literary property rather than hers.
By the end of the summer the friendship between Nathan and the Fitzgeralds had cooled considerably and they did not see him for a while. Zelda was not always discreet in her show of affection and something had occurred to arouse Scott’s jealousy. The balance in their marriage was undergoing a subtle shift. During their courtship Zelda had consistently held the upper hand, and held it somewhat imperiously. Now Scott found that he did not entirely trust Zelda and was vexed by her flirtatiousness; the rift with Nathan was not serious because neither Nathan nor Zelda was serious, but the flirtation had irritated Scott.
Their differences began to surface. Zelda discovered that Scott was a fearful man and that he invented stories to cover himself. As there was not a particle of fear within Zelda she found it hard to fathom Scott’s sudden attacks of jitters. Zelda was finicky about her food and Scott was not. Scott could not fall asleep unless his bedroom was hermetically sealed; Zelda could not bear sleeping without a window open. Zelda did not have the vaguest notion about sewing on shirt buttons when they came off, or seeing that shirts went to the laundry. She simply let everything pile up in the recesses of a closet while Scott fumed about a lack of fresh laundry, for he was accustomed to changing twice a day if he felt like it. Minor though these differences were, they broke the spell of the honeymoon. What remained were the long talks throughout the night, those joint monologues like shared dreams which brought with them a closeness so binding that it was to last a lifetime.
By mid-July Zelda seemed both restless and homesick. The tug of the South soon became irresistible and impulsively Scott suggested that they take an automobile trip to Montgomery. He later wrote amusingly about the trials of their trip in a three-part article called “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk.” A rolling junk was exactly what their Marmon turned out to be; it was, to put it gently, past its prime. The decision to travel was Scott’s and he came about it quite casually—if one can believe the article.
Zelda was up. This was obvious, for in a moment she came into my room singing aloud. Now when Zelda sings soft I like to listen, but when she sings loud I sing loud too in self-protection. So we began to sing a song about biscuits. The song related how down in Alabama all the good people ate biscuits for breakfast, which made them very beautiful and pleasant and happy, while up in Connecticut all the people ate bacon and eggs and toast, which made them very cross and bored and miserable—especially if they happened to have been brought up on biscuits.
The song over, Zelda complained that even if there were biscuits in Connecticut there weren’t any peaches to go with them. Overwhelmed by the logic of her complaint, Scott suggested that they drive to Alabama, where there were both biscuits and peaches. Two months earlier Zelda had received the following telegram from a group of her Southern beaus.
HURRY BACK TO MONTGOMERY AS TOWN IS SHOT TO PIECES SINCE YOU LEFT. NO PEP. NO FUN. NO ONE T0 GIVE THE GOSSIPERS A SOURCE OF CONVERSATION. THE COUNTRY CLUB IS INTENDING FIRING THEIR CHAPERONE AS THERE IS NO FURTHER NEED FOR HER. KNITTING PARTIES PREVAIL. JAIL CONVERTED INTO SEWING ROOM. FOR THE SAKE OF SAVING DEAR OLD MONTGOMERY PEP UP AND HURRY BACK!
Now she would have a chance to show off her famous husband and to broadcast the things they had done together in New York. No one in Montgomery could match their exploits, and because she felt more at home in the South than she yet did in New York or Connecticut, it would be not only a triumphant return but a welcome respite.
The trip itself was a series of minor catastrophes: there were blowouts, lost wheels, and broken axles. Zelda, who was to navigate, had no idea how to read a map. Her white knickerbocker suit (which had been made to match Scott’s) was considered shocking enough in Virginia almost to keep them out of a good hotel. The manager eventually relented and Zelda compromised at the next stop by putting a skirt on over the outfit. At last they reached Alabama. “Suddenly Zelda was crying, crying because things were the same and yet were not the same. It was for her faithlessness that she wept and for the faithlessness of time.”
They stayed for less than two weeks and returned by train, having sold their battered Marmon to the first susceptible buyer. When they left they had persuaded the Judge and Mrs. Sayre to visit them in Westport.
The Sayres came North in the middle of August, and Scott and Zelda went to New York to meet them. When Zelda’s mother was an old woman she recalled an episode from this time:
I remember sitting in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel with Scott, waiting for Zelda to come down so we could all go out to dinner. (Zelda was always late for everything, and Scott was charming to be so patient with her. I always had an especially deep respect for that quality in him.)
As we were waiting, Scott said to me, “I’ll bet you don’t know half what you should about Zelda,” as though he was about to impart something shocking.
I said, “Why, Scott, what a thing to say! I know all there is to know about Zelda; I’m her mother.”
Then Scott grinned and said, “Well, you couldn’t know possibly how beautiful she is, could you? You just watch that elevator, because Zelda will be down in a minute, and then watch all the men here in the lobby… There must be 50 men here who will tell you exactly how beautiful Zelda is. Just watch them when Zelda gets off the elevator.”
Zelda appeared, and Scott stood there bursting with pride as she walked over to us, and I was amazed to see every man seem to watch her as she walked over to us. And Scott was right, she was a beautiful girl.
During the Sayres’ visit Zelda wrote the following note to Ludlow Fowler:
We’ve been in Alabama for two weeks… It’s been a tremendously long time since our parties at the Biltmore and I’d like to show you how much improvement I’ve made along the party line during the summer… The joys of motoring are more or less fictional, and, too, we had to leave the car in Alabama….
Please come out to see us— Scott’s hot in the midst of a new novel and Westport is unendurably dull but you and I might be able to amuse ourselves—and both of us want to see you dreadfully.
Mamma and Daddy are here this week and I can’t tell you how glad I was to see them—however I feel very festive and I guess it’s hardly conventional or according to Hoyle to take one’s family on a celebration of the kind I feel in dire need of.
It’s been a wild summer, thank God, and I have several anecdotes collected from the wreckage that I’ve been saving to tell you— At present, I’m hardly able to sit down owing to an injury sustained in the course of one of Nathan’s parties in N.Y. I cut my tail on a broken bottle and can’t possibly sit on the three stitches that are in it now— The bottle was bath salts—I was boiled— The place was a tub somewhere—none of us remembers the exact locality—
One can imagine the Judge’s glacial attitude toward the life Scott and Zelda were leading. The Sayres’ visit was not a success and they left a full week earlier than they had anticipated.
At the end of August Zelda and Scott reappear prominently in McKaig’s diary:
MIDNIGHT. Fitz & Zelda blew in noisily and offensively drunk as usual. Fitz advised me to stick to advertising business plus literature. Said I ought to make half a million a year. Said that everybody was now laughing at me and booing me since I had begun to sell stuff just as they did at him. Practically every one of us did boo him but I never did. . Fitz again told me I would never be able to do anything worth while in literature.
AUGUST 31: Discussing with John [Bishop] the fact that of entire group of 8 or 10 only one man believes in another—Wilson in him. Springs from the fact they were friends in college, not because of similarity in literary tastes, ideals, beliefs.
SEPTEMBER 4: Fitzgeralds came in, drunk. Scott says John Biggs sent him first four chapters of his novel and they are great… Fitz having declared John Biggs has done something wonderful John Bishop declares he knew it all along (he never said a word about it). We discussed what a boon for Princeton it would be if we all came through. In regard to passion and wisdom in American literature he said Amy Lowell was interested only in light and color and play of words; Frost had only weather wisdom of New England farmer; Masters a little superficial irony about the overtones of life but not nearly as much [in] his whole books as Masefield in one poem. Louis Untermeyer devoted part strength to jewelry and part to poetry so that both suffered—etc. Declared passion in literature impossible in America with its passion for business minutiae. I said it was impossible with England in its passion for conventions.
SEPTEMBER 11: Dinner with Bunny Wilson. Read his “Death of the Welfare Expert” for “Undertakers Garland.” Great stuff… Then he read me the intro.—which I don’t believe in at all. Says modern American civilization is death. I certainly will be glad when this book is finished. I’m sick of having unfinished portions read to me… Fitz second book out “Flappers and Philo” … Bunny W and I at dinner bewailed the misconception of his character (the omission of his Byronic trait which he claims but no one else sees except Edna Millet)
Met Edna Milley for a minute at Bunny Wilson’s, light dim. She seemed pleasant and better looking than I had been led to believe. Bunny evidently much in love with her. Not much chance to get impression from her myself though I think from her verse she. must be a genius. Modern Sappho. 18 love affairs and now Bunny is thinking of marrying her.
SEPTEMBER 15: In the evening Zelda—drunk—having decided to leave Fitz & having nearly been killed walking down RR track, blew in. Fitz came shortly after. He had caught same train with no money or ticket. They threatened to put him off but finally let him stay on—Zelda refusing to give him any money. They continued their fight while here… Fitz should let Zelda go & not run after her. Like all husbands he is afraid of what she may do in a moment of caprice. None of the men, however, she knows would take her for a mistress. Trouble is—Fitz absorbed in Zelda’s personality—she is the stronger of the two. She has supplied him with all his copy for women. —Fitz argued about various things. Mind absolutely undisciplined but guesses right,—intuition marvelous. Knows me better than any of the rest. Senses the exact mood & drift of a situation so surely & quickly—much better at this than any of rest of us.
What Scott’s friends did not see in Zelda was that part of her where she was not the stronger of the two. Shortly after the incident McKaig refers to, Zelda wrote Scott a letter, a fragment of which exists, in which she tried to express her dependence on him. (Scott was to work portions of her letter as well as the episode itself into The Beautiful and Damned.)
I look down the tracks and see you coming—and out of every haze & mist your darling rumpled trousers are hurrying to me— Without you, dearest dearest I couldn’t see or hear or feel or think—or live— I love you so and I’m never in all our lives going to let us be apart another night. It’s like begging for mercy of a storm or killing Beauty or growing old, without you. I want to kiss you so—and in the back where your dear hair starts and your chest— I love you—and I cant tell you how much— To think that I’ll die without your knowing— Goofo, you’ve got to try [to] feel how much I do—how inanimate I am when you’re gone— I can’t even hate these damnable people— Nobodys got any right to live but us—and they’re dirtying up our world and I can’t hate them because I want you so— Come Quick— Come Quick to me— I could never do without you if you hated me and were covered with sores like a leper—if you ran away with another woman and starved me and beat me— I still would want you I know—
Lover, Lover, Darling—
Increasingly, their friends were Scott’s friends, the pace of their life was being set by the demands of Scott’s work and his success, and Zelda, who had established the tone of their courtship, must have felt their marriage slipping precariously into unknown regions in which she might become lost. The passion of her letter, the wild and intense description of her love for Scott, was an indication not only of her need for him but also of her uncertainty about herself within the life they were leading. The woman who realized that she wanted to be two simple people at once was finding the “one who wants a law to itself” in ascendance in her marriage. Zelda was becoming entangled in the crosscurrents of a complex of opposing roles, making an effort to be both daring and loving, to not give a damn and to care deeply, to be proud of Scott’s drawing on her for his fiction while resenting it.
In January, 1921, when Scott was interviewed for a slick magazine called Shadowland, he drew a direct contrast between “the sexless animals writers have been giving us,” and his own wife. “Girls, for instance, have found the accent shifted from chemical purity to breadth of viewpoint, intellectual charm and piquant cleverness … we find the young woman of 1920 flirting, kissing, viewing life lightly, saying damn without a blush, playing along the danger line in an immature way—a sort of mental baby vamp… Personally, I prefer this sort of girl. Indeed, I married the heroine of my stories. I would not be interested in any other sort of woman.” That Zelda might find it a strain to be always this startling creature of Scott’s fiction, much as she also relished the attention it brought her, or that it placed her under a burden of performance, did not seem seriously to trouble either of the Fitzgeralds.
The day after McKaig’s entry about their quarrel and trip to New York he saw them again.
SEPTEMBER 16: Zelda came in & woke me sleeping on couch at 7:15 for no reason. She has no sense of decencies of living… Fitz picture and an article to go in Vanity Fair. Autobiographical note about him in Metropolitan this month—got $900 for it and had unhappy ending! His vogue is tremendous.
SEPTEMBER 17: Bunny Wilson and Edna Millet in intolerable situation. He wants her to marry him. She tempted because of her great poverty and the financial security he offers (he has private income). However, in addition to curse of Apollo she has curse of Venus. While her heart is still in the grave of one love affair she is making eyes at another man. It nearly kills her but she can’t help it.
SEPTEMBER 20: Bunnie has repeated to Edna … things John [Bishop] said about her… John is very distressed. I’ve come to think he’s damn stupid—interested only in himself, poetry, & women, and loves most the sound of his own voice, & liquor, & adulation (when he can get it).
SEPTEMBER 27: John spent weekend at Fitz—new novel sounds awful—no seriousness of approach. Zelda interrupts him all the time—diverts in both senses. Discussed his success complex—artists desire for flattery & influence—member of financially decadent family (“Four Fists”). John says my success complex more healthy—striving—test of powers (that’s wrong). Fitz bemoaning fact can never make more than hundred thousand a year—to do that have to become a Tarkington.
SEPTEMBER 28: One of younger Millay girls told this anecdote of his [Wilson’s] visit to them last summer— Offered coffee, Bunny declared he never drank coffee, a cigarette, Bunny said he never smoked—offered a drink, Bunny said he never drank. Other guest at dinner—a stranger— turned and said—“Ah—he must write the minor poetry.” (Bunny has never told this anecdote about himself.)
OCTOBER 7: Bunny came for evening—we discussed John’s lack of ideas & borrowing them. Bunny, being under stress & strain, did parlor magic tricks. Says he does them for hours in front of glass to quiet his nerves, instead of smoking. We discussed unreality of college—reality of army & navy life. Bunny said he did not think himself badly off having to work at Vanity Fair. Regrets lack of will power lately to work nights—since meeting Edna. She certainly has played hell with him.
In the late fall the Fitzgeralds moved back into New York and took a tiny apartment on West Fifty-ninth Street, which was conveniently close to the Plaza Hotel. Scott summarized his impression of the year’s progress in his Ledger: “Work at the beginning but dangerous at the end. A slow year, dominated by Zelda & on the whole happy.” There were first nights at the theater with Nathan (who had been forgiven), and they continued to see Alec McKaig. One evening Zelda and McKaig dropped in at Lawton Campbell’s apartment: she had come, she told Campbell, so that “Scott could write.”
“She would stretch out on the long sofa in my living room with her eyes to the ceiling and recount some fabulous experience of the night before or dream up some strange exploit that she thought would be a ’cute idea.’ One day she came in with the queerest looking hat. My mother asked her where she had found it. Zelda replied quite casually, ’Oh, I made it myself … out of blotting paper.’” No one knew whether she actually had or whether she was pulling their legs. Campbell says, “If her remarks were occasionally non sequitur one didn’t notice it at the time. She passed very quickly from one topic to another and you didn’t question her. It wouldn’t occur to you to stop her and ask what she meant.”
McKaig continued to record the undercurrents of discontent he noticed between Scott and Zelda.
OCTOBER 12: Went to Fitzgeralds. Usual problem there. What shall Zelda do? I think she might do a little housework—apartment looks like a pig-sty. If she’s there Fitz can’t work—she bothers him—if she’s not there he can’t work—worried what she might do. Discussed her relations with other men. I told her she would have to make up her mind whether she wanted to go in movies or get in with young married set. To do that would require a little effort & Zelda will never make an effort. Moreover, she and Fitz like only aristocrats who don’t give a damn what the world thinks or clever bohemians who don’t give a damn what the world thinks. That narrows the field. Nathan came and then Ludlow. Nathan left. Lud and Zelda went to a delicatessen store & got a good cold dinner—ate it in apartment. Fitz read me his bookshop story. Damn good. And part of his novel—fair… Walked home with Ludlow afterwards— great gross wonderfully human and sympathetic Ludlow. Fitzg makes a good criticism of himself—does not see more than lots of other people but is able to put down more of what he sees.
OCTOBER 13: Fitz made another true remark about himself … cannot depict how any one thinks except himself & possibly Zelda. Find that after he has written about a character a while it becomes just himself again.
OCTOBER 17: Fitz has been on wagon 8 days, talks as if it were a century. Zelda increasingly restless—says frankly she simply wants to be amused and is only good for useless, pleasure-giving pursuits; great problem— what is she to do? Fitz has his writing of course—God knows where the two of them are going to end up.
OCTOBER 18: Millay’s response to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s saying he wrote “The Camels Back” between 8 P.M. and 2 A.M. “Fitz affects all the attributes he believes a genius should have.”
OCTOBER 20: Fitz is hard up now but Zelda is nagging him for a $750 fur coat & she can nag. Poor devil.
OCTOBER 21: Went up to Fitzgeralds to spend evening. They just recovering from an awful party. Much taken with idea of having a baby. Have just planned a good baby and a bad baby—former has Scott’s eyes, Zelda’s nose, Scott’s legs, Zelda’s mouth etc. Latter has Zelda’s legs, Scott’s hair, etc. Scott hard up for money in spite of fact he has made $20,000 in past 12 months.
OCTOBER 25: Follies with Scott & Zelda. Fitzg very cuckoo. Lost purse with $50.00 & then after every one in place hunted for it, found it. He did not have enough money to pay check of course. Home 3 A.M.
NOVEMBER 7: Evening at Fitzgeralds. Tremendous argument—men of thought v. men of action. To decide, took characteristics of good minds —memory, attention, clarity (intelligence), imagination, curiousity and influence. Then selected 6 men of action and 6 men of thought and graded them. Results 26 to 27 favor men of thought… A very interesting talk. We both bawled out Bishop for his unassimilated literary patter. Damned interesting. Fitz admitted he had no “attention.”
NOVEMBER 13: Spent evening at Fitzgeralds. Scott told me how he had cried over two of his stories.
NOVEMBER 27: Fitz making … speeches before select audiences. I spent evening shaving Zelda’s neck to make her bobbed hair look better. She is lovely—wonderful hair—eyes and mouth.
NOVEMBER 28: Suggested to Scott and Zelda they save—they laughed at me. Scott said—to go through the terrible toil of writing man must have belief his writings will be eagerly bought forever. Terrific party with two Fitz…
DECEMBER 4: Lunch at Gotham. T. [Townsend Martin?] Zelda, Scott & 1. Then took Zelda to cocktail party at John Coles and then tea. in Biltmore. In taxi Zelda asked me to kiss her but I couldnt. I couldnt forget Scott—he’s so damn pitiful. Went to see “Enter Madame.” Zelda fell off seat—actors complained of our behaviour. Zelda got mad and left followed by Scott. I stayed. When I got home found telephone message from Scott to call him up. I did so. He said most awful thing had happened, just come up immediately—it would be a test of friendship. 1 rushed up expecting to find a death or serious accident. When I got there he was talking to Bernard. He said hello casually & went on talking. I asked him in Christs name what the matter was—it seemed they had a quarrel. Zelda went into the bathroom, turned on the water to hide noise of footsteps & walked out the door. Instead of trying to find her himself he sat in the middle of floor & telephoned all his friends. Finally Zelda called up & I went for her—she having had many adventures.
DECEMBER 11: Evening at Fitz. Fitz and I argued with Zelda about notoriety they are getting through being so publicly and spectacularly drunk. Zelda wants to live life of an “extravagant.” No thought of what world will think or of future. 1 told them they were headed for catastrophe if they kept up at present rate.
DECEMBER 18: John read me “Death of God.” Great stuff. Stupendous. Best thing he’s done… We discussed glamor of Fitz phrases. I mentioned his intuition. Also his dissipation all aimed to hand down Fitzgerald legend. His claiming now to be great grandson of Frances Scott Key is part of it. Never claimed that till recently—now it is being press-agented. I think he is really a grand nephew.
JANUARY 17 : Saw Fitz. He is drunk every night, but mentally is expanding and maturing rapidly.
FEBRUARY 6: Zelda, Fitz & I out for dinner. Very heated discussion about reality: if a girl has a crooked nose but sufficient charm to give her face an appearance of beauty, which is truthful, a photograph showing the girl ugly with her crooked nose or a painting showing her beautiful because of her charm. Fitz & I said painting—Zelda said photo.
APRIL 17: Fitz confessed this evening at dinner that Zelda’s ideas entirely responsible for “Jelly Bean” & “Ice Palace.” Her ideas largely in this new novel. Had a long talk with her this evening about way fool women can rout intelligent women with men. She is without doubt the most brilliant & most beautiful young woman I’ve ever known.
Zelda and Scott had spent a lonely Christmas together in New York and as Scott later wrote, “Finding no nucleus to which we could cling, we became a small nucleus ourselves and gradually fitted our disruptive personalities into the contemporary scene of New York.” On Valentine’s Day Zelda discovered she was pregnant and took a trip to Montgomery to visit her parents. While she was in Montgomery she was asked to take part in the annual Les Mysterieuses ball, which she did. This time a Hawaiian pageant was put on with the stage banked in palms and tropical plants. As it happened Law-ton Campbell, who was also in Montgomery visiting his relatives, had been invited to attend the ball. He remembers Zelda’s part in it:
During this number, the audience began to notice that one masker was doing her dance more daring than the others. All eyes were concentrated on her. Finally the dancer in question turned her back to the audience, lifted her grass skirt over her head for a quick view of her pantied posterior and gave it an extra wiggle for good measure. A murmur went over the auditorium in a wave of excitement and everybody was whispering “That’s Zelda!” It was Zelda and no mistake! She wanted it known beyond a doubt and she was happy with the recognition.
By the end of April Scott had nearly completed The Beautiful and Damned. It was the story of a ruined marriage, and it was not, Scott insisted, autobiographical. Serial rights were bought by the Metropolitan Magazine. With Zelda only two months pregnant, they decided to take a trip to Europe before the baby was born. During their courtship Zelda had wanted to go to Italy with Scott; now they would visit England and France as well, and stay perhaps until early fall.
Before their departure they accidentally ran into Lawton Campbell at the Jungle Club, a fashionable speakeasy with an elegant bar, dancing floor, and head waiters in white tie and tails. It also had a formidable bouncer. Campbell remembers:
I was sitting one evening at a table with three friends, when I spied Scott at the door of the bar. He was obviously under the influence and rather uncertain on his feet. I noticed that he was having words with the bouncer. Apparently the bouncer thought Scott had more than his share and would not permit him to go back into the bar. Fearing a scrap, I immediately went up to Scott and persuaded him to join me. He acquiesced and mumbled something about the bouncer, which was far from complimentary. In a few minutes, Zelda appeared at the door of the bar, looking around for Scott. I went over to her and escorted her to our table but she refused to sit down, because as she said, Scott had walked out on her. I told her that Scott had had a slight altercation with the bouncer and tried to divert her with a dance. No, thank you, she was going back to the bar and Scott was coming with her. She took Scott by the arm and demanded that he accompany her on grounds of desertion and said to us at the table
“No so-and-so bouncer can prevent Scott from going anywhere he pleases.”
Despite my entreaties, Scott and Zelda with heads high and with the grim determination of young Davids, went to the door of the bar. The bouncer let Zelda by but refused admittance to Scott. Zelda turned in the doorway and spoke to Scott wherewith he took a feeble punch at his opponent, which missed its mark. A few other phantom attempts were made and finally the bouncer lost his patience and gave Scott a shove that sent him half-way across the room, crashing into a table.
I ran over to Scott, lifted him to his feet and finally persuaded him to leave with me and my friends. As we were leaving, I looked around for Zelda but she had disappeared. I decided to get Scott down to a taxi and come back for Zelda. Downstairs we collected our coats and found a cab. Just as Scott was getting into the cab, Zelda dashed onto the sidewalk, hatless and wrapless and yelled
“Scott, you’re not going to let that so and so get away with that.”
She pulled him out of the taxi and led him unsteady as he was back into the Jungle Club.
The incident ended predictably with Scott being badly beaten by the bouncer. Zelda had not only egged Scott on, she had witnessed his defeat and could not understand it. She fully expected him to perform manfully in a situation where he was placed against considerable odds. Still, Scott understood Zelda’s reaction far better than anyone else could have and was willing to be manipulated by her. He had written in the manuscript of his new novel: “Herself almost completely without physical fear, she was unable to understand, and so she made the most of what she felt to be his fear’s redeeming feature, which was that though he was a coward under a shock and a coward under a strain—when his imagination was given play—he had yet a sort of dashing recklessness that moved her on its brief occasions almost to admiration, and a pride that usually steadied him when he thought he was observed.”
They sailed for Europe on May 3, and on arrival in England went first to London. Maxwell Perkins had arranged an introduction to John Galsworthy, who invited them to dine with St. John Ervine, the dramatist and novelist, and Lennox Robinson, the Irish playwright. They saw Lady Randolph Spencer Churchill and her son Winston, who was reportedly charmed by an hour’s dinner conversation with Zelda. But the most exciting event of their visit was a walking tour with Shane Leslie around the waterfronts of London. Scott, Shane Leslie later wrote, “wanted to see the real Dockland Stepney Lime-house Wapping where there was no taxis no police—We wore tweed caps and slacks. We had to be ready to carry Zelda—but she was light and enjoyed the adventure.” With Zelda dressed in men’s clothes and with no money or jewelry, they prowled the haunts of Jack the Ripper. From London they traveled to Windsor and Cambridge and Grantchester, where they took snapshots of each other: Scott standing in a garden path in three-piece suit, soft Knox hat, and silver-headed cane. Zelda wrote beneath Scott’s picture a line from Rupert Brooke, “The men observe the rules of thought,” and beneath her own, “And is there honey yet for tea?” Back to London, then, off to Paris for a few disappointing days—an evening at the Folies, a day at Versailles and Malmaison—and on to Italy. Venice. Florence. Rome and back to England. By July they had returned to the United States. Scott wrote Edmund Wilson, who had been telling them of the glories of the continent: “God damn the continent of Europe. It is of merely antiquarian interest… You may have spoken in jest about New York as the capital of culture but in 25 years it will be just as London is now. Culture follows money and all the refinements of aestheticism can’t stave off its change of seat (Christ! what a metaphor). We will be the Romans in the next generation as the English are now.”
After much discussion about where their baby should be born they settled on Montgomery; “—it seemed inappropriate to bring a baby into all that glamor and loneliness,” Scott wrote, explaining why they had rejected staying in New York. But Montgomery proved to be a poor choice. It was hot and Zelda, who at six months * looked as if she might be having twins, donned a tank suit and went swimming at one of the local pools. In 1921 women in Montgomery were still only rarely seen on the streets when they were in her condition, and she was asked to leave the pool. At the end of August, after only a month in Montgomery, they “played safe and went home to St. Paul.”
Zelda gained a great deal of weight during the final term of her pregnancy and did nothing to hide the fact when she wore a red jersey maternity dress to greet Scott’s friends. She did not make a good impression and made only one friend among the women, Xandra Kalman, who not only found the Fitzgeralds a summer house on White Bear Lake but also purchased all of the baby things the Fitzgeralds would soon require. Zelda seemed unaware of what would be needed and left the decisions up to Mrs. Kalman.
In his Ledger Scott described the year as a bad one. “No work. Slow deteriorating repression with outbreak around the corner.” In September he recorded that Zelda was all but helpless because of her weight. Zelda wrote: “In the fall we got to the Commodore in St. Paul, and while leaves blew up the streets we waited for our child to be born.” Finally on October 26, 1921, their baby was born. Zelda’s labor was long and difficult. Scott, as nervous as a cat, was not too unnerved by the waiting to miss recording Zelda’s groggy comment as she came out from under the anesthesia: “Oh, God, goofo I’m drunk. Mark Twain. Isn’t she smart—she has the hiccups. I hope its beautiful and a fool—a beautiful little fool.” She would never quite forgive him his detachment. He would later use the experience in describing Daisy Buchanan’s reaction to the birth of her daughter in The Great Gatsby.
They named their daughter Patricia, and then changed it almost immediately to Frances Scott Fitzgerald (although as late as 1926 Zelda would refer to her as “Pat”). Scottie, as she was nicknamed, was baptized a Catholic. As soon as Zelda was on her feet again she regained enough of her sass to write Ludlow Fowler: “We are both simply mad to get back to New York. This damn place is 18 below zero and I go around thanking God that, anatomically + proverbially speaking, I am safe from the awful fate of the monkey.” Adding later in the same letter, “Anyway, you are an excellent person to write me about my baby. She is AWFULLY cute and I am very devoted to her but quite disappointed over the sex—”
“We had run through a lot, though we had retained an almost theatrical innocence by preferring the role of the observed to that of the observer.”
—F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, “My Lost City”
BECOMING A MOTHER DID NOT HAVE a noticeably quieting effect on Zelda. Scottie’s care was left primarily to her nurse while Zelda fretted about being overweight. When the first photographs were taken of mother and baby for the society section of the St. Paul papers Zelda clipped them for her scrapbook and carefully shaded her nose, cheeks, and chin with a pencil in an effort to slim her face. As the winter season came into full swing Scott and Zelda moved from their hotel into a house in the middle of town. In January, on Friday the 13th, a Bad Luck Ball was given at the University Club, which was swathed in black crepe and decorated with undertakers’ advertisements. During the course of the evening a newspaper called The Daily Dirge was distributed, to be sold for the price of a “sweet kiss.” The Fitzgeralds were behind the spoof and together they wrote a gossip column as well as advertisements for themselves: “Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald had always wanted eyelashes. She had used every preparation, including stove-polish and black-berry wine with no result. She went into a store and bought a set of Pigman’s Portable Eyelashes and now she is not ashamed to go anywhere.”
There were weekly hops at the clubs, where the toddle was not yet passe and where rye flowed as though it were an elixir. The Fitzgeralds began to give parties; Zelda was a conspicuously uneager hostess, for she said the noise woke the baby and made her cry.
During the day, when Scott was not working at the office he had rented downtown, he and Zelda discussed last-minute changes in The Beautiful and Damned. He was not satisfied with the serialized version which was running in the Metropolitan Magazine prior to the book’s publication in March, 1922, by Scribner’s. But the changes he did make were not substantial ones and the novel remained seriously flawed; in December he was writing Perkins: “… I am almost, but not quite, satisfied with the book.” Then, with his usual burst of confidence he added: “I prophesy that it will go about 60,000 copies the first year—that is, assuming that Paradise went about 40,000 the first year. Thank God I’m thru with it.” The jacket sketch irritated him because he thought the drawing of the man on the cover was “a sort of debauched edition of me,” and Zelda drew her own version. It was a nude kneeling in a champagne goblet, her blond bobbed hair flying, her apricot coloring remarkably similar to Zelda’s—a childlike mermaid sloshing happily in a cocktail. But it was not used.
At the end of January Scott wrote Edmund Wilson that he was bored with St. Paul, and said he and Zelda would probably come East in March. “The baby is well—we dazzle her exquisite eyes with gold pieces in the hopes that she’ll marry a millionaire.” By February Scott noted in his Ledger that they had been sick and were drinking heavily. They longed for a change; Scott was restless and Zelda loathed the harshness of winter in Minnesota. A snapshot taken of her that winter shows her sitting on a sleigh surrounded by drifts of snow; she is clutching her sides with mittened hands and there are snowflakes on her hat and shoulders. When Scott’s novel was published on March 3 it gave them the excuse they were looking for to take a trip East. The New York holiday turned out to be a continual round of parties, with neither of them drawing a sober breath until they returned exhausted and irritable to St. Paul two weeks later.
There was something else which made them edgy. In late January (or early February) Zelda discovered that she was again pregnant. They apparently decided that they did not want another child so soon after the birth of Scottie. In Scott’s Ledger during March he cryptically entered “Zelda & her abortionist,” and it is not clear whether the abortion was performed in New York or in St. Paul.
In a section of his manuscript of The Beautiful and Damned Fitzgerald used a similar episode between Anthony and Gloria. In the first draft Gloria is with child and finds the situation intolerable. Anthony asks her if she can’t “’talk to some woman and find out what’s best to be done. Most of them fix it some way.’” Gloria asks if he wants her to have the child and he says he is indifferent, but he does want her to be a sport about it and not go to pieces. The situation is resolved almost offhandedly a few pages later when the reader finds out that Gloria is not pregnant. This ending was kept in the published version, but there were significant alterations in the material leading up to it. In rewriting the scene Scott reduced the pregnancy to only a probability, but, believing herself pregnant, Gloria’s role in the episode is essentially the same. It is Anthony’s that undergoes change. His comments about “fixing it” are cut and the decision to abort (although, delicately, the word is never used) the imagined baby is entirely Gloria’s.
As Scott weakened the scene the emphasis changed subtly and Gloria became unremittingly self-centered; a baby would ruin her figure and distort her idea of herself. Since Zelda’s second pregnancy and abortion occurred just before the publication of The Beautiful and Damned, it could not have provided the raw material for this scene. But the Fitzgeralds had thought that Zelda was pregnant on an earlier occasion; the letter Zelda wrote to Ludlow Fowler hinting at this (although it turned out to be a false alarm) was written at the time Scott was working on the first draft of his manuscript.
Gloria mirrored something of Scott’s understanding of Zelda. In January, Scott had written Edmund Wilson a letter concerning the important influences upon his life and writing, for Wilson was writing what Scott considered to be one of the first important critical essays on his fiction; it would be published in the Bookman. In it Wilson underlined what he thought were three significant influences upon Scott. These were the Midwest (specifically the society of St. Paul and country clubs), his Irishness, and liquor. At Scott’s request mention of the last influence was cut from the article. Even then Scott commented: “… your catalogue is not complete … the most enormous influence on me in the four and a half years since I met her has been the complete, fine and full-hearted selfishness and chill-mindedness of Zelda.”
While the Fitzgeralds were in New York at the Plaza, Burton Rascoe wrote to Zelda asking her to review The Beautiful and Damned. He had just begun a book department for the New York Tribune and wanted to include pieces that would add sparkle to his new venture. “I think if you could view it, or pretend to view it, objectively and get in a rub here and there it would cause a great deal of comment.” It would also help the sales of the book, he thought. Zelda accepted his challenge and wrote the review under her maiden name. It was her first published piece since high school.
The tone of the review was self-conscious as Zelda indulged in light mockery: she asked the reader to buy Scott’s book for a number of “aesthetic” reasons, which included her own desire for a dress in cloth of gold and a platinum ring. She humorously evoked a vision of herself as the author’s greedy and self-centered wife, and she saw the book as a manual of contemporary etiquette, an indispensable guide to interior decorating—and in Gloria’s adventures an example of how not to behave. About Anthony she said nothing at all; it was Gloria who dominated her attention. Zelda did not try to conceal the parallels between Gloria and herself:
It also seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters, which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.
We cannot know to what extent Scott used Zelda’s diary but we have her word for it (as well as George Jean Nathan’s) that he did. One such portion from the novel, called “The Diary,” reads:
April 24th—I want to marry Anthony, because husbands are so often “husbands” and I must marry a lover…
What grubworms women are to crawl on their bellies through colorless marriages! Marriage was created not to be a background but to need one. Mine is going to be outstanding. It can’t, shan’t be the setting—it’s going to be the performance, the live, lovely, glamorous performance, and the world shall be the scenery. I refuse to dedicate my life to posterity. Surely one owes as much to the current generation as to one’s unwanted children. What a fate—to grow rotund and unseemly, to lose my self-love.…
Scott’s portrayal of Gloria was hardly a flattering one, and by the close of Zelda’s review she had dropped her bantering tone:
I think the heroine is most amusing. I have an intense distaste for the melancholy aroused in the masculine mind by such characters as Jenny Gerhardt, Antonia and Tess (of the D’Urbervilles). Their tragedies, redolent of the soil, leave me unmoved. If they were capable of dramatizing themselves they would no longer be symbolic, and if they weren’t—and they aren’t—they would be dull, stupid and boring, as they inevitably are in life.
It becomes evident in the review that Zelda was defending that part of herself within the portrait of Gloria. Zelda had been wounded by the characterization, but she did not express that directly and instead tried to cover herself by flippancy—as in the opening of the review. Gloria, it would seem, though not entirely Zelda, was representative of something Zelda felt it necessary to stand up for.
John Peale Bishop was keenly aware of the connection between Fitzgerald’s fiction and his life. Bishop wrote that The Beautiful and Damned
concerns the disintegration of a young man who, at the age of twenty-six, has put away all illusions but one; this last illusion is a Fitzgerald flapper of the now famous type—hair honey-colored and bobbed, mouth rose-colored and profane.
He continued pointedly:
But, as with This Side of Paradise, the most interesting thing about Mr. Fitzgerald’s book is Mr. Fitzgerald. He has already created about himself a legend… The true stories about Fitzgerald are always published under his own name. He has the rare faculty of being able to experience romantic and ingenuous emotions and a half hour later regard them with satiric detachment. He has an amazing grasp of the superficialities of the men and women about him, but he has not yet a profound understanding of their motives, either intellectual or passionate.
Bishop cheated a little in his review; he knew very well, for Scott had admitted it to him in McKaig’s presence, that drawing on himself and Zelda was a problem in his writing. Bishop’s review included a sentence that Zelda clipped for her scrapbook, placing it beneath a photograph of herself.
Even with his famous flapper, he has as yet failed to show that hard intelligence, that intricate emotional equipment upon which her charm depends, so that Gloria, the beautiful and damned lady of his imaginings, remains a little inexplicable, a pretty, vulgar shadow of her prototype.
Either as a result of the favorable reaction to her review of The Beautiful and Damned or through Rascoe’s efforts Zelda was asked by McCall’s magazine for a 2,500-word article on the modern flapper, and they offered her ten cents a word. In October they sent her $300 for an article called “Where Do Flappers Go?” but they did not publish the piece. In June the Metropolitan Magazine did publish her “Eulogy on the Flapper.” Above the article was a sketch ? of Zelda done by Gordon Bryant. It is an astonishing likeness, which caught in profile the curiously savage intensity of her look. The caption beneath it again emphasized the connection between the real Zelda and the fictional one, stating that she had been put in both of Fitzgerald’s novels, and adding rather inanely, “Everything” Zelda Fitzgerald says and does stands out.“Zelda wrote that the flapper was dead and that she grieved the passing of so original a model, for she saw in the flapper a code for living well. Not too surprisingly, Zelda had taken the flapper quite seriously and saw in her someone who experimented with life, who was self-aware and did the things she did consciously for their effect and to create herself anew.
How can a girl say again, “I do not want to be respectable because respectable girls are not attractive,” and how can she again so wisely arrive at the knowledge that “boys do dance most with the girls they kiss most,” and that “men will marry the girls they could kiss before they had asked papa?” Perceiving these things, the Flapper awoke from her lethargy of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure, she covered her face with powder and paint because she didn’t need it and she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring. She was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do. Mothers disapproved of their sons taking the Flapper to dances, to teas, to swim and most of all to heart. She had mostly masculine friends, but youth does not need friends —it needs only crowds….
There were rights that only youth could give:
I refer to the right to experiment with herself as a transient, poignant figure who will be dead tomorrow. Women, despite the fact that nine out of ten of them go through life with a death-bed air either of snatching-the-last-moment or with martyr-resignation, do not die tomorrow—or the next day. They have to live on to any one of many bitter ends…
By the conclusion of her essay Zelda had fallen into the familiar position of the spirited young feminist who dislikes most women. “Flapperdom” was a curative against the ills of society and Zelda insisted that it made young women intelligent by “teaching them to capitalize their natural resources and get their money’s worth. They are merely applying business methods to being young.”
At twenty-one Zelda had formulated a sort of philosophy of life; it was remarkably like Gloria’s. It was an application of business acumen to femininity: you created yourself as a product and you showed yourself with all the flair of a good advertising campaign. Women were to dramatize themselves in their youth, to experiment and be gay; in their old age (in their forties) they would be magically content. What Zelda intended to avoid at all costs was her vision of the legion of unhappy women, saddled with domesticity, weary and yet resigned to it. She was perceptive enough to understand that in their apparent resignation they thought of themselves as martyrs, and that was a position she abhorred for its dishonesty. What she wrote was a protest, but it was also a defense of her own code of existence. That this code was potentially destructive and that it would demand its own continual and wearying performance she did not take into account.
In the summertime of 1922 the Fitzgeralds and Scottie’s nurse moved out of St. Paul to the Yacht Club on White Bear Lake; they lived there until, as one of their friends said, they “made such an unholy rumpus day and night that they were asked to move out.” They found a house nearby and the summer continued with Zelda swimming and golfing, and Scott working on a play, called first Gabriel’s Trombone and later The Vegetable. Mrs. Kalman, who had helped them settle in St. Paul the year before, played golf with Zelda every day. “She was very athletic and wanted to be out doing something. Zelda was rather a good golfer, or at any rate, far better than Scott. She was not at all interested in going out with the girls, and when Scott wanted to remain at home, Zelda stayed with him. Certainly she enjoyed being different and was definitely not our idea of a Southern belle—there just wasn’t a bit of the clinging vine about her. She and Scott were always thinking up perfectly killing things to do. You know, entertaining stunts which were so gay that one wanted to be in on them. Zelda didn’t seem so awfully different then. She was a natural person, who didn’t give a damn about clothes. But there weren’t many people whom she liked. I won’t say she was rude, but she made it quite clear. If she didn’t like someone or if she disapproved of them, then she set out to be as impossible as she could be.”
By September they had exhausted whatever interest St. Paul had held for them and decided to return East. Leaving Scottie with her nurse, they went to New York to hunt for a house. It was in New York, while they were temporarily living at the Plaza, that they first met Ring Lardner and John Dos Passos. Dos Passos had recently published Three Soldiers (1921) and had established his own literary reputation with that novel. It was natural that he should meet Fitzgerald, and he remembers:
“I met them together for the first time at the Plaza… Wilson had introduced us, I believe. Scott called and asked me if I would care to join him for lunch; Sherwood Anderson would be there, and it might be fun if I came along. I did. That was when I first met Zelda. She was very beautiful, [she possessed] a sort of grace— a handsome girl, good looking hair—everything about her was very original and amusing. But there was also this little strange streak.”
After they had finished lunch someone suggested that they all go house hunting with the Fitzgeralds. Dos Passos continues: “This was just before they moved into their house on Great Neck—so off we went. We wound up seeing Ring. Lardner was a very drunk and mournful man. Somehow, perhaps to cheer ourselves, we all decided to go to a carnival that was nearby. It was quite late by this time. At the carnival I remember thinking—Zelda and I had gone off together for a Ferris wheel ride—can you imagine that? Well, there we were up in the Ferris wheel when she said something to me. I don’t remember anymore what it was, but I thought to myself, suddenly, this woman is mad. Whatever she had said was so completely off track; it was like peering into a dark abyss—something forbidding between us. She didn’t pause as I recall, but went right on. I was stunned. I can honestly say that from that first time I sensed that there was something peculiar about her.” Not being able to recall a specific instance of what he meant, he added simply: “She would veer off; she wouldn’t exactly get mad… [Scott] would try to stop her if she went too far, you know, try to get her off the track.
“Sometimes she’d tell me how badly I danced; that sort of thing. We all used to go dancing together. I was never much for that kind of thing, but I’d go in those days. Zelda did have a manner of becoming personal that wasn’t really very amusing. You see, there was a lot of banter between all of us; it was the period of the great wisecrack. Her humor was good about minor things, but she’d go off into regions that weren’t funny anymore.
“There were also things about which one didn’t tease her, and you found them rather suddenly. Sometimes she would go on, but there was always a non sequitur in it. It stunned one for a moment. She seemed in such complete self-possession.”
At the time The Beautiful and Damned was published Scott was $5,600 in debt to Scribner’s. Although that was not much for Scribner’s to have advanced to such a popular author, the debt was nevertheless an indication of the Fitzgeralds’ inability to keep their expenses anywhere near in line with their income. His novel had been rather gently received by the critics and its sales were just over 40,000 copies for the first year—a little short of the sales of This Side of Paradise. Scott published a selection of short stories in September, 1922, called Tales of the Jazz Age, which would be bought, he predicted to Perkins, “by my own personal public—that is, by the countless flappers and college kids who think I am a sort of oracle.” And he was right; it sold 12,829 copies its first year, a good sale for a collection of stories. But still their expenditures far outran their income, and Scott borrowed frequently from both Scribner’s and his agent, Harold Ober, to keep abreast of his debts. As Zelda was to write, “[They] were proud of themselves and the baby, consciously affecting a vague bouffant casualness about the fifty thousand dollars they spent on two years’ worth of polish for life’s baroque facade. In reality, there is no materialist like the artist, asking back from life the double and the wastage and the cost on what he puts out in emotional usury.”
In October the Fitzgeralds found the house in Great Neck, which they rented for $300 a month (Zelda called it “our nifty little Babbit-home”), hired a nurse for Scottie at $90 a month, a couple to take care of the house for $160, and a laundress who came twice a week for another $36; they also bought a swank, although secondhand, Rolls coupe. Thus equipped they began the life of what Scott ironically called the newly rich: “That is to say, five years ago we had no money at all, and what we now do away with would have seemed like inestimable riches to us then. I have at times suspected that we are the only newly rich people in America, that in fact we are the very couple at whom all the articles about the newly rich were aimed.”
Frank Crowninshield, the editor of Vanity Fair, had introduced Scott to Ring Lardner earlier that fall. Now they discovered they were neighbors in Great Neck. The two men had liked each other immediately and begun a friendship which was important to both of them. Lardner too was a Midwesterner, and at thirty-seven (eleven years older than Scott), he was writing a syndicated weekly column out of New York. He was not only a successful sports writer, but also the author of satirical sketches and stories, poems and comic burlesques. At Scott’s suggestion, Lardner brought together a collection of his short stories, which Scott helped him select and which Scribner’s published under the title Fitzgerald had thought up, How to Write Short Stories. It did very well and brought Lardner his first taste of critical recognition as a serious observer of the American scene. Lardner and Fitzgerald also shared a liking for the bottle and quickly became drinking companions. They would sit up all night talking about writing and planning pranks they sometimes pulled off, such as the time they danced somewhat noisily around the Long Island estate where Joseph Conrad was staying in order to attract his attention. Instead, the caretaker threw them out.
Lardner enjoyed teasing Scott about Zelda, of whom he was equally fond. He made the Fitzgeralds Cinderella and the Prince in one of his burlesques: “Well, the guy’s own daughter was a pip, so both her stepmother and the two stepsisters hated her and made her sleep in the ash can. Her name was Zelda, but they called her Cinderella on account of how the ashes and clinkers clang to her when she got up noons.” At one of the Fitzgeralds’ dinner parties Zelda made Lardner a place card in the form of a winking red-headed nude wearing a gray fedora, kicking toward his name with one bright red-heeled slipper. At Christmas Lardner sent her a poem in an envelope with his photograph on the front, cut into the shape of a tear; he called it “A Christmas Wish—and What Came of It.”
Of all the girls for whom I care,
And there are quite a number,
None can compare with Zelda Sayre,
Now wedded to a plumber.
I read the World, I read the Sun,
The Tribune and the Herald,
But of all the papers, there is none
Like Mrs. Scott Fitzgerald.
God rest thee, merry gentlemen!
God shrew thee, greasy maiden!
God love that pure American
Who married Mr. Braden.
When Scott came to make his summary of 1922 for his Ledger, he wrote that it was a “comfortable but dangerous and deteriorating” time, “No ground under our feet.”
Although both Scott and Zelda had felt the urge for privacy when they returned to New York that autumn, and had taken their house in Great Neck to avoid the constant havoc of Manhattan, they were irresistibly drawn into the life of the city. Newspapers relished tidbits of gossip from the Fitzgerald household. In the Sunday section of the Morning Telegraph their slightest whims were reported: “F. Scott Fitzgerald prefers piquant hors d’oeuvres to a hearty meal. He is also fond of Charlie Chaplin, Booth Tarkington, real Scotch, old-fashioned hansom cab riding in Central Park and the ’Ziegfeld Follies.’ He admires Mencken and Nathan, Park & Tilford, Lord & Taylor, Lea & Perrins, the Smith Brothers, and Mrs. Gibson, the pig lady, and her Jenny mule.” A clipping found in Zelda’s scrapbook read: “We are accustomed enough to this kind of rumor in regard to stage stars, but it is fairly new in relation to authors. The great drinking bouts, the petting may be what the public expects of Fitzgerald whose books told so much of this kind of life.” When Reginald Marsh did an Overture curtain for The Greenwich Village Follies, he crowded his scene of Village life with portraits of the newly famous artists. In a truck tearing across Seventh Avenue were Edmund Wilson, Bishop, Dos Passos, Gilbert Seldes, and Scott. At the center of the curtain, diving into the fountain at Washington Square, was the dazzling Zelda.
There were parties where the Fitzgeralds did not arrive until midnight and Scott would wheel in performing card tricks he said he had learned from Edmund Wilson, and relate the plot of “the great American novel,” which he told everyone he was writing. Mencken was at one such party and insisted on calling Scott Mr. Fitzheimer. Scott brought the party to an end that evening by singing a sad ballad he had written, called “Dog, Dog, Dog.”
Gilbert Seldes, who was then editor of The Dial, met Scott and Zelda for the first time that winter in New York. There was what he calls “a long long party” at Townsend Martin’s, and Seldes had eventually and somewhat groggily lain down on Martin’s bed to recover. The room itself was lavishly decorated with painted screens and resplendent silk pillows thrown upon the bed into which Seldes sank. “Suddenly, as though in a dream, this apparition, this double apparition, approached me. The two most beautiful people in the world were floating toward me, smiling. It was as if they were angelic visitors. I thought to myself, ’If there is anything I can do to keep them as beautiful as they are, I will do it.’” The heavenly pair turned out to be the Fitzgeralds. That was how they struck people. There have been dozens of memoirs written wherein one catches glimpses of Scott and Zelda sleeping like children in each other’s arms at a party; Zelda necking with young men because she liked the shapes of their noses or the cut of their dinner jackets; Scott drinking and radiating his sunny charm. Everyone wanted to meet them, to have them for dinner guests, to attend their parties, and to invite them to their openings. The youthful handsomeness of the Fitzgeralds, their incandescent vitality were qualities they possessed jointly and effortlessly. Hearst’s International ran a full-page photograph of Scott and Zelda that was picked up by newspapers and magazines throughout the country. They were the apotheosis of the twenties: The F. Scott Fitzgeralds: Scott sitting behind Zelda, leaning slightly forward, his right hand casually holding her fingers, both of them pouting a little, dramatically; Zelda in a dress trimmed with white fur, wearing a long strand of pearls, with her hair parted uncharacteristically in the middle and falling back from her brow in deeply marcelled waves. Zelda, who rarely photographed well, and did not wear jewelry, not even her wedding ring, was always to refer to this portrait as her “Elizabeth Arden Face.”
Even the bearish H. L. Mencken was not immune to the aura of success that clung to them like gold dust, but he also noticed the signs of flaw. “Fitzgerald blew into New York last week. He has written a play, and Nathan says that it has very good chances. But it seems to me that his wife talks too much about money. His danger lies in trying to get it too rapidly. A very amiable pair, innocent and charming.” Zelda did talk too much about money, and Scott seemed in more of a hurry to get somewhere than to know his destination. There began to be a touch of the vaudeville team about their performances in public, and their privacy was almost nonexistent.
Scott’s drinking was also becoming a problem. In his Ledger at the beginning of 1923 he mentioned battling insomnia, and wrote of “My dream of the baseball player, football player and general to put me to sleep,” and in February he noted, “still drunk.” By their third anniversary he said he was on the wagon, but then they fought and he became “Tearing drunk.” There were two- and three-day binges in New York from which he returned shaken, not remembering where he had been or with whom. What he had written in The Beautiful and Damned had been an exaggerated view of themselves, but now they were drifting dangerously close to it: “The magnificent attitude of not giving a damn altered overnight; from being a mere tenet of Gloria’s it became the entire solace and justification of what they chose to do and what consequence it brought. Not to be sorry, not to loose one cry of regret, to live according to a clear code of honor toward each other, and to seek the moment’s happiness as fervently and persistently as possible.”
Carl Van Vechten (whom Zelda immediately chose to call “Carlos”) met the Fitzgeralds during one of their trips into New York City. After a successful career as a leading music and drama critic in New York, he was enjoying a certain vogue as a novelist. “You know, I was famous in my forties before I had even heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” he once remarked quietly. One of the things which Van Vechten noticed early in his friendship with them was Scott’s inability to hold his liquor. “He could take two or three drinks at the most and be completely drunk. It was incredible. He was nasty when he was drunk, but sober he was a charming man, very good looking, you know, beautiful, almost. But they both drank a lot—we all did, but they were excessive.”
Zelda had intrigued Van Vechten from the first time he met her. He just liked her. “She was an original. Scott was not a wise-cracker like Zelda. Why, she tore up the pavements with sly remarks. She taunted bell boys and waiters—just, maybe, to see what would happen. She didn’t actually write them down, Scott did, but she said them.” There is nothing quite so perishable as a wisecrack and Van Vechten had a hard time remembering specific remarks of Zelda’s: “She said something like this to me, ’Why do you always use in your books the perfume I used last year?’ And then she would look up at me with that little half smile.”
Rebecca West’s impressions of the Fitzgeralds were entirely different: “My relations with Mrs. Fitzgerald were few and fragmentary. I don’t know if you’ll find anybody to confirm my impression that she was very plain. I had been told that she was very beautiful, but when I went to a party and saw her I had quite a shock. She was standing with her back to me, and her hair was quite lovely, it glistened like a child’s. I am sure this was natural. Then she turned round and she startled me, I would almost go so far as to say that her face had a certain craggy homeliness. There was a curious unevenness about it, such as one sees in Gericault’s pictures of the insane. Her profile seemed on two different planes. Everybody told me how lovely she was, but that is and always has been my impression.
“We got on quite well, though our relationship was interrupted by Scott Fitzgerald’s anger at me because I did not come to a party … the trouble was that nobody had told me where the party was. Recently someone reminded me … that we had both been at a party where she had talked to us about her dancing. And there came back to me a very unpleasant memory. She had flapped her arms and looked very uncouth as she talked about her ballet ambitions. The odd thing to me always was that Scott Fitzgerald, who might have been expected from his writings to like someone sleek like Mrs. Vernon Castle, should have liked someone who was so inelegant. But she was not at all unlikable. There was something very appealing about her. But frightening. Not that one was frightened from one’s own point of view, only from hers.”
Zelda’s sister Rosalind spent some time with the Fitzgeralds during July and August of 1923, but it was not a comfortable visit. She remembers being taken to a party at a Long Island estate that lasted all night and into the morning; Scott would not leave and insisted on trying to drop an entire orange peel down his throat in front of an admiring audience that had gathered about him. In exasperation Zelda left without him. It was the only time that Rosalind could recall Zelda’s being in any way critical of Scott in front of her. When they left, Zelda said quietly, “I never did want to marry Scott.”
When the drinking got out of hand at their own home visitors would receive apologetic notes from Zelda the following day. “I am running wild in sack cloth and ashes because Scott and I acted like two such drunks the other night— Aside from the fact that you were horribly bored, I am sorry because we saw nothing of you. It’s been years since we three spent a satisfactory evening to-gether—so won’t you please come back Saturday or Sunday or whenever you will so we can astound you with our brilliant conversation and splendid example of what is known as tee-totalers?” That Zelda was straining to create an effect of gay abandon did not seem to occur to anyone. The appearance had not given way.
Although Scott was often the subject of newspaper articles, that autumn Zelda was also interviewed, by a reporter from the Baltimore Sun. The public, he had told her, wanted to know if she was the heroine of Scott’s books. When the reporter arrived he found Zelda sitting far back in the plastic overstuffed chair in the living room of their Great Neck house. She told him this was her first interview and then called out to Scott to come help her. The reporter described Scott as he came into the room as tall, blond, and broad-shouldered, towering over his petite wife. They began to speak about three short stories Zelda was writing. She said there were no typewriters in their house, for they both wrote their first drafts in longhand. “I like to write. Do you know, I thought my husband should write a perfectly good ending to one of the tales, and he wouldn’t! He called them ’lop-sided,’ too! Said that they began at the end.” Then she interrupted herself to talk about Scott’s writing; her favorite short story was his “The Offshore Pirate.” “I love Scott’s books and heroines. I like the ones that are like me! That’s why I love Rosalind in This Side of Paradise. You see, I always read everything he writes. It spoils the fun, the surprise, I mean, a bit… But Rosalind! I like girls like that… I like their courage, their recklessness and spendthriftness. Rosalind was the original American flapper.”
At this point in the interview Scott explained that Zelda’s youth was spent going to proms and living in Montgomery. “That’s a mighty long way from New York,” he added. The reporter asked him to describe his wife. “She is the most charming person in the world.” And, after receiving Zelda’s thanks, he continued: “That’s all. I refuse to amplify. Excepting—she’s perfect.”
Zelda said, “But you don’t think that… You think I’m a lazy woman.”
“No, I like it. I think you’re perfect. You’re always ready to listen to my manuscript, at any hour of the day or night. You’re charming—beautiful. You do, I believe, clean the ice-box once a week.”
Then Scott fired off several direct questions to Zelda: “Whom do you consider the most interesting character in fiction?”
Zelda’s answer was Becky Sharp of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. “Only I do wish she’d been pretty,” Zelda added somewhat wistfully.
“What would your ideal day constitute?”
She answered: “Peaches for breakfast… Then golf. Then a swim. Then just being lazy. Not eating or reading, but being quiet and hearing pleasant sounds—rather a total vacuity. The evening? A large, brilliant gathering, I believe.”
Asked if she was ambitious, she replied, “Not especially, but I’ve plenty of hope. I don’t want to belong to clubs. No committees. I’m not a ’joiner.’ Just be myself and enjoy living.”
Finally Scott asked her what she wanted Scottie (whom Zelda still referred to as Patricia Scott Fitzgerald) to be when she grew up. “Not great and serious and melancholy and inhospitable, but rich and happy and artistic. I don’t mean that money means happiness, necessarily. But having things, just things, objects makes a woman happy. The right kind of perfume, the smart pair of shoes. They are great comforts to the feminine soul… I’d rather have her be a Marilyn Miller than a Pavlowa. And I do want her to be rich.”
Zelda had said very little about their domestic life, other than “Home is the place to do the things you want to do. Here we eat just when we want to. Breakfast and luncheon are extremely move-able feasts. It’s terrible to allow conventional habits to gain a hold on a whole household; to eat, sleep and live by clock ticks.”
Scott’s last question was to ask Zelda what she would do if she had to earn her own living. Her answer was prophetic: “I’ve studied ballet. I’d try to get a place in the Follies. Or the movies. If I wasn’t successful, I’d try to write.”
Zelda worked harder at her writing than she admitted. During 1922-1923 she sold two short stories, a review, and at least two articles, earning $1,300 for her efforts. Scott helped her with one of her short stories, called “Our Own Movie Queen,” which she completed in the month after the preceding interview was published. When Scott listed the story in his Ledger he noted that “two thirds [were] written by Zelda. Only my climax and revision.” The story was not published until 1925, when it won two stars in O’Brien’s short-story collection for that year. Zelda was not, however, given credit for having written it, and the story was published under Scott’s name alone. He was paid $1,000 for it, which they split.
It has been assumed that Scott gave Zelda help with her writing, and various notations in the record-keeping section of his Ledger point to the times when he did. There was never, however, a similar record kept of Zelda’s assistance to him, and it is only from friends’ remarks and a close reading of Scott’s letters to his editor that a hint comes through of what it was. He once commented that he had to stop “Referring everything to Zelda—a terrible habit; nothing ought to be referred to anybody until it’s finished.” It was Zelda who insisted that the “happy ending” of the serialized version of The Beautiful and Damned be cut, and who told Scott to stick to his guns about the title of his last collection of short stories, Tales of the Jazz Age. And it was Zelda who would convince him of the aptness of the title for his next novel, The Great Gatsby, and while he was working on The Vegetable he wrote Edmund Wilson, who liked it very much, “Zelda and I have concocted a wonderful idea for Act II of the play.” Certainly, as we have seen, Fitzgerald drew almost ruthlessly upon her letters and diaries, although Zelda gave no sign that she disapproved; for Fitzgerald was the professional and not Zelda.
In June, 1923, Fitzgerald had begun his third novel, but in the press of summer guests and parties he could not seem to get on with it. By the fall all his effort went into his play, which, after having been turned down three times, was accepted for production. In October The Vegetable went into rehearsal in New York and Fitzgerald was completely involved in those rehearsals; for, besides being vastly intrigued with the theater, Scott staked everything on his having a Broadway hit. He counted on making $100,000 from it, and he considered that a conservative estimate. In November the play opened in Atlantic City, and he and Zelda went down and promenaded on the boardwalk with the Lardners for the photographers. “It was,” he wrote later, “a colossal frost. People left their seats and walked out… After the second act I wanted to stop the show and say it was all a mistake but the actors struggled heroically on.” He spent a week trying to revise it and then gave up and returned to Great Neck in gloom. They had made $36,000 that year, had spent all of it, and were $5,000 in debt. It took Scott the entire spring, writing in a large bare room over his garage, to work himself into a secure enough financial position to get back to his novel. When he summarized the year in his Ledger he labeled it “The most miserable year since I was nineteen, full of terrible failures and acute miseries.”
Zelda wrote in her unpublished novel, Caesar’s Things, that life during the one and a half years on Long Island was “a matter of rendez-vous and reward.” “There were many changing friends and the same old drinks and glamour and story swept their lives up into the dim vaults of lobbies and stations until, as one said, evenements accumulated. It might have been Nemesis incubating.”
They were tired of their friends, of the destructive pace of their lives, and of the unending struggle to get their finances in shape. They accepted Ring Lardner’s offer to help them rent their house, and by mid-April, with a capital of $7,000, deciding that they could live more cheaply in Europe, they sailed for France. Lardner said goodbye in a poem “To Z.S.F.”
Zelda, fair queel of Alabam’,
Across the waves I kiss you!
You think I am a stone, a clam;
You think that I don’t care a damn,
But God! how I will miss you!
So, dearie, when your tender heart
Of all his coarseness tires,
Just cable me and I will start
Immediately for Hyeres.
To hell with Scott Fitzgerald then!
To hell with Scott, his daughter!
It’s you and I back home again,
To Great Neck, where men are men
And booze is 3/4 water.
New York lay behind them. The forces that produced them lay behind them. That Alabama and David would never sense the beat of any other pulse half so exactly, since we can only recognize in other environments what we have grown familiar with in our own, played no part in their expectations.
—ZELDA FITZGERALD, Save Me the Waltz
THE FITZGERALDS WERE FLEEING Long Island and New York as they had previously fled Westport, Montgomery, and St. Paul, but this time it was in a conscious attempt to end the disarray of their lives. In May of 1924 Scott badly wanted to get back to work on his novel. It was with this in mind that they arrived in Paris, their expectations high. Paris that spring was, to use a favorite word of the twenties and of Scott’s, gorgeous. Lawton Campbell spotted them strolling on the Champs Elysees: “They were so smartly dressed and striking… They were beautiful—the loveliness…” Wearing an immaculately tailored suit, Scott stood beside Zelda, tapping a silver-headed cane on the sidewalk. And Zelda, catching sight of Campbell, stretched out her arms toward him, crying, “Lawton!”
“She was dressed in a lovely frock which she said she had designed; it was military blue and she told me at once it was brand new. ’This, Lawton, is my Jeanne d’Arc dress,’ she quipped. Zelda as St. Joan gave one a turn, but the dress did look innocent and sweet.”
During the several days they spent in Paris they acquired a nanny for Scottie (whom they had mistakenly “bathed … in the bidet … and she [Scottie] drank a gin fizz thinking it was lemonade and ruined the luncheon table next day”). They also met Gerald and Sara Murphy, who told them of a paradise in the South of France—the Riviera, off season.
The Murphys lived in Paris on private incomes from their families. Sara was a beautiful heiress from Ohio, and Gerald, who had been Skull and Bones at Yale, had been unable to decide upon a career for himself. He loathed the idea of entering his father’s prosperous New York leather-goods store, Mark Cross. They came to Paris in 1921 to escape formidable family pressures at home and because the rate of exchange in France was favorable to the dollar. Neither of the Murphys was as conventional as their backgrounds and wealth might have suggested. Gerald Murphy was a fair, slender, and precisely elegant man who sported a pair of flourishing sideburns. He had recently decided that he wanted to paint. He said they had left America because “there was something depressing to young married people about a country that could pass the Eighteenth Amendment. The country was tightening up and it was so unbecoming. You really resented being herded into the basements of old sandstone houses. It was, I suppose, the tone of life in America that we all found so uncongenial.” The nuances implicit in his phrase “the tone of life” distinguished the Murphys, for their own mastery of it was not essentially artistic, but social. They took the old Spanish adage “Living well is the best revenge” as their motto. They did not join the expatriates in the established American colony about the Etoile, because it had a decidedly Jamesian air about it, which they found stuffy. Instead the Murphys sought, cultivated, and entertained artists living in Paris whose paintings were utterly different from anything they had seen before. Soon they came to know Picasso, Miro and Juan Gris. Both of the Murphys studied scene design with Natalie Goncharova of the Ballet Russe of Diaghilev and through that contact came to know Stravinsky, Leon Bakst, and Braque. They met their friends at the new exhibitions, at recitals and at art galleries. Paris was, as Sara said, “like a great fair, and everybody was so young.”
By the time the Fitzgeralds first met the Murphys, Gerald and Sara were already close friends of Archibald MacLeish, John Dos Passos and an unknown young writer, Ernest Hemingway. Sara Murphy said, “You see, most of us had given up something to come to France. Archie, for instance, a law career; it took courage to simply chuck it and come to France to write. Now, Hemingway was without a penny.”
The Murphys discovered the Riviera off season through Cole Porter, who had been a friend of Gerald’s at Yale. They were so taken by the lushness of its gardens and the closeness of the sea that they were building their own villa at Antibes. They told the Fitzgeralds about it and the tiny beach—the Garoupe—which Gerald had begun to clear, and they made plans to meet there that summer.
Scott and Zelda left for the South of France at the end of May. Zelda’s description of their trip from Paris down to the Riviera in Save Me the Waltz evokes the spell Provence held for her: “The train bore them down through the pink carnival of Normandy, past the delicate tracery of Paris and the high terraces of Lyon, the belfries of Dijon and the white romance of Avignon into the scent of lemon, the rustle of black foliage, clouds of moths whipping the heliotrope dusk—into Provence, where people do not need to see unless they are looking for the nightingale.”
They stopped at Grimm’s Park Hotel in Hyeres, but the small city was primarily a resort for invalids taking the cure and it was mercilessly hot. In June they came to St. Raphael and Scott wrote, “It was a red little town built close to the sea, with gay red-roofed houses and an air of repressed carnival about it…” Although the Fitzgeralds had come to France to economize they forgot their resolutions once they found the Villa Marie. Situated high above the sea, surrounded by terraced gardens of lemon, palm, pine, and silver olive trees, with a winding gravel drive leading to its entrance and with Moorish balconies of brilliant white-and-blue tiles, it faced the Mediterranean like an exotic fortress.
The Murphys remembered the beautiful terraced rock garden at the Fitzgeralds’ villa, where one afternoon Zelda and Scott staged a mock crusaders’ battle. “Zelda must have spent days making the intricate cardboard battlements and castle. There were lead soldiers [from Scott’s collection] and Scott had fashioned a series of interconnecting moats that flooded at the proper time in the siege. The children loved it.” The summer seemed a perfect one, and the Murphys took an especial liking to Zelda. “I don’t think we could have taken Scott alone,” Gerald said. “Zelda had her own personal style; it was her individuality, her flair. She might dress like a flapper when it was appropriate to do so, but always with a difference. Actually, her taste was never what one would speak of as a la mode—it was better, it was her own.”
In many ways the climate of Provence was like that of Alabama. There were delirious heat and acid sunlight, a similar extravagance of greenery. But it was a far more dramatic setting than the American South, with the immediacy of the sea, the exotic food, and the foreignness of the French themselves. That summer the air of the Riviera was perfumed by the aroma of burning eucalyptus from a series of fires behind the beaches. Zelda loved the Riviera from the first. She wrote, “(Oh, we are going to be so happy away from all the things that almost got us but couldn’t quite because we were too smart for them!)” They bought beach umbrellas and bright-colored cotton bathing suits and espadrilles from the sailors’ quarter in Cannes and settled in for the summer.
It began well, with Scott writing every day. There was a nanny to look after Scottie and there was plenty of household help to run the spacious Villa Marie. They met a group of French aviators stationed nearby at Frejus, with whom they drank and danced at night in the casino behind the plage. Zelda swam and baked in the sun; she tried very hard to keep out of Scott’s hair during the day while he wrote; she read a little, but her eyes bothered her and she preferred being active to the immobility of reading. She was left alone with little to do. “After all, Scott had his writing. Zelda had Scott— and she didn’t have very much of him while he was working,” Gerald Murphy remarked. So she swam strenuously, as though it were necessary for her to have some form of physical release, and soon she was as deeply tanned as she had been in her girlhood. Yet the days were monotonous for her and when she recalled them in Save Me the Waltz Zelda had the heroine ask her husband, “’What’ll we do … with ourselves?’” He replies that “she couldn’t always be a child and have things provided for her to do.”
Zelda wrote Edmund Wilson: “… everything would be perfect if there was somebody here who would be sure to spread the tale of our idyllic existence around New York…” She felt, she said, “picturesque,” adding, “It’s fine to be away from the continual necessity of revolt of New York.” She had, however, begun a private revolt of her own.
Casually at first, Zelda and one of the young aviators, Edouard Jozan, began to meet in the afternoons to swim together. They were seen lying on the wide canvas beach mats in the sun, sunburned and laughing together while they “invented new cocktails.” No one paid much attention to them and they seemed content to be in each other’s company without joining the other bathers. Scott was pleased that Zelda had at last found someone to help her pass the time. Jozan was handsome, his hair dark and curling, his body even more deeply tanned than Zelda’s. He was, in contrast to Scott, tall and slender and athletic. It was astonishing how closely he resembled the dashing young officers from Montgomery who had adored Zelda and to whom she had been attracted before her marriage to Scott. Obviously infatuated with her, he stunted his airplane above their villa, dipping dangerously close to its red-tiled roof, as if emulating those Montgomery flyers who had paid her similar homage. His black hair gleamed from beneath its net in the bright sunlight.
It was June, 1924, Zelda was not quite twenty-four, and Jozan was a year and two days older than she. Edouard Jozan cannot remember any longer how he first met the Fitzgeralds, but a small group of young officers and friends—himself, Bellando, Rene Silvy (who was a civilian, the son of an attorney in Cannes)—all bachelors, would come down to the beach whenever they could to swim and have picnics. And because of their youth, he says, it was not necessary to have formal introductions. They just met. All the young men fell a little in love with Zelda, who was, Jozan remembers, “a shining beauty”; and they all admired Scott’s intelligence and quick conversation. Soon there were excursions taken together, dancing in the cabarets along the coast, and endless conversations about art and literature. Jozan recalls: “Zelda and Scott were brimming over with life. Rich and free, they brought into our little provincial circle brilliance, imagination and familiarity with a Parisian and international world to which we had no access.”
Scott seemed to Jozan very intellectual—“I would even say ’intellectualist’”—and from a far more sophisticated world than any Jozan had known. Fitzgerald was looking for an explanation of a world which had not yet stabilized itself after the upheaval of World War I. “But in his search for new trends Scott paid great attention to the resources of society: social position, the effectiveness and the force of money, of which, being a good American, he knew both the power and the burden. ’Ford,’ he said, ’runs modern society and not the politicians who are only screens or hostages.’” And their discussions together were often heated and passionate, for they did not share the same point of view. It was human bravery, the sort of courage he had seen displayed in the war, that turned Jozan toward an entirely different life. He wanted to earn honor and glory; he had a taste for risk, for knowledge without commercial profit. “In short, we were young romantics arguing with a man better versed in the practicalities of life.
“Zelda was a creature who overflowed with activity, radiant with desire to take from life every chance her charm, youth, and intelligence provided so abundantly.” And she did not seem like a complicated woman to him; her pleasures were simple ones: “the relaxed life on beaches gilded by the sun, trips by car, informal dinners.” The little group took her as their center and would come and go according to the demands of their missions. Then, suddenly, “One day the Fitzgeralds left and their friends scattered, each to his own destiny.”
Jozan went on to a distinguished military career, holding one of the highest ranks of the French navy. In 1940 he commanded a naval flotilla at Dunkirk; in 1952 he became Vice-Admiral of the French navy; and two years later he commanded the French maritime forces in the Far East. Among his numerous decorations were the Grand-Croix de la Legion d’honneur, the Croix de guerre 1939—45, and the Grand-Croix au Merite de l’Ordre de Malte.
Even in the summer of 1924, as a young officer, he showed that quality of leadership that was to distinguish him during his long military career. There was an air of assurance about him, a quality of natural leadership that Zelda respected and responded to. Leadership, athletic prowess, a smart military air were precisely those qualities Scott Fitzgerald lacked. It was as if Jozan and Fitzgerald were opposite sides of a coin, each admiring the other’s abilities, gifts, and talents, but the difference in the equipment they brought to bear on life was clear. When Zelda described him in Save Me the Waltz, she caught it: “Jacques moved his sparse body with the tempestuous spontaneity of a leader.”
Zelda called her young officer Jacques Chevre-Feuille in Save Me the Waltz: “The head of the gold of a Christmas coin … broad bronze hands… The convex shoulders were slim and strong…” And when she described the progress of their romance that summer it was in explicitly sensual terms. “He drew her body against him till she felt the blades of his bones carving her own. He was bronze and smelled of the sand and sun; she felt him naked underneath the starched linen. She didn’t think of David. She hoped he hadn’t seen; she didn’t care. She felt as if she would like to be kissing Jacques Chevre-Feuille on the top of the Arc de Triomphe.”
Scott was used to young men falling in love with his wife, and it amused, perhaps even flattered, rather than irritated him. He was not, however, prepared to find Zelda seriously reciprocating the attention. Sara Murphy thought that Zelda “always had to chase around after Scott, follow up after him,” and that she hadn’t liked to. Sara wondered whether “Jozan wasn’t someone for her to talk to; I must say everyone knew about it but Scott.” The Murphys had seen Zelda and the young officer on the beach together and dancing at the casino; they said it was impossible not to notice what was happening. Gerald Murphy said: “I don’t know how far it really went, I suspect it wasn’t much, but it did upset Scott a good deal. I wonder whether it wasn’t partly his own fault?”
Then, abruptly, Zelda and Jozan were no longer seen on the beach together. When Zelda reappeared she swam alone. No one knew exactly what had happened. Scott wrote in his Ledger: “The Big Crisis—13th of July… Zelda swimming everyday.” At that point not more than six weeks had passed since Zelda first met Jozan. At the beginning of August Gilbert Seldes and his bride arrived at St. Raphael to spend a few days of their honeymoon with the Fitzgeralds at the Villa Marie. There was not a hint of discord between Scott and Zelda apparent to either Seldes or his wife during their entire visit. They talked a good deal about the novel that Scott was working on; Seldes could recall only a few incidents from their time together.
One occurred the morning after their arrival. Seldes, upon opening the shutters of the window to his room, looked up and saw Scott standing on the balcony of his bedroom, which faced the sea. He was motionless as he gazed out, and then, sensing Seldes’s presence, he quietly said, “Conrad is dead.” Joseph Conrad had died in England on August 3 and Scott, who was a great admirer of his writing, would one day write in his introduction to The Great Gatsby (the novel he was working on that summer) that “never before did one try to keep his artistic conscience as pure as during the ten months put into doing it… I had just reread Conrad’s preface to The Nigger, and I had recently been kidded half haywire by critics who felt that my material was such as to preclude all dealing with mature persons in a mature world. But, my God! it was my material, and it was all I had to deal with.”
Seldes also remembers the trips he and his new wife made with the Fitzgeralds down to the beach together.”The road from their villa had been built for carriage traffic and there was one point at which it dangerously narrowed and curved. Every time, just at this point, Zelda would turn to Scott, who was driving, and say, ’Give me a cigarette, Goofo.’ “In the moments of terrified silence that followed, Scott always managed both to give Zelda her cigarette and to straighten out the Renault along the narrow turn, but it was harrowing and the Seldeses both thought it peculiar of Zelda to make her request repeatedly at just that hazardous point in the road.
It would appear that the “Big Crisis” Fitzgerald referred to in mid-July had not particularly disrupted their lives. Certainly they presented a united front to the Seldeses. In August Scott wrote in his Ledger, “Zelda and I close together.” But between the time the Seldeses left the Fitzgeralds’ villa and the beginning of September there was another crisis which went unrecorded in Scott’s Ledger.
The Murphys were still living in their temporary quarters at the Hotel du Cap, awaiting the completion of the Villa America. At about three or four one morning Scott knocked at the Murphys’ door.”He was green faced, holding a candle, trembling—Zelda had taken an overdose of sleeping pills. We went with him, and Sara walked her up and down, up and down, to keep her from going to sleep. We tried to make her drink olive oil, but Zelda said, ’Sara, … don’t make me take that, please. If you drink too much oil you turn into a Jew.’ “This attempted suicide occurred at approximately that period when Scott had written, “Zelda and I close together.” It throws into question not only their reconciliation but Scott’s understanding of how deeply Zelda had been affected by her romance with Jozan.
There were no explanations offered to the Murphys as to why Zelda had taken the pills, and the incident was never referred to again between the couples. From the Murphys’ point of view Zelda’s suicide attempt was inexplicable, but in retrospect they were certain it had some connection with Jozan. In Fitzgerald’s eyes she had broken the trust between them in their marriage, as indeed she had, but why she had, what had compelled her toward Jozan, he neither understood nor sought to understand. It was not until much later in his life that he would write, “That September 1924 I knew something had happened that could never be repaired.” But at the time even that “something” went unnamed and unadmitted. Refusing to acknowledge Zelda’s desperate unhappiness, her uneasiness at being locked out of his world as he wrote, her dependence upon him, his entries in his Ledger continued optimistically. In September he wrote, “Trouble clearing away,” and in October, “Last sight of Josanne.”
Years later Scott told a relative that Zelda had come to him that July, telling him that she loved Jozan and asking for a divorce. Furious, Scott insisted upon a showdown among the three of them. He told Zelda that Jozan had to face him in Zelda’s presence and ask for her himself. Then, in a burst of anger, he locked her in her rooms at the villa. The confrontation did not take place; Zelda apparently accepted Scott’s ultimatum passively and the subject of divorce was dropped. Jozan says that he was not involved in the scenes which took place between the Fitzgeralds, and it is altogether possible that he was unaware of Zelda’s predicament. He insists that Zelda’s infidelity was imaginary. “But they both had a need of drama, they made it up and perhaps they were the victims of their own unsettled and a little unhealthy imagination.” He left the Riviera without knowledge of what had passed between Scott and Zelda, and he never saw either of the Fitzgeralds again. In Save Me the Waltz, Alabama says: “Whatever it was that she wanted from Jacques, Jacques took it with him… You took what you wanted from life, if you could get it, and you did without the rest.”
The sea turned the color of gunmetal and the cold winds of the mistral blew down from the Alps Esterel. The Fitzgeralds remained on the Riviera while Scott tried to clear everything from his mind but the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, which he had nearly completed. He told Maxwell Perkins that it would not reach him before October 1 “as Zelda and I are contemplating a careful revision after a week’s complete rest.” He said the summer had been a fair one. “I’ve been unhappy but my work hasn’t suffered from it. I am grown at last.” That was the only clue he gave to any of his friends at that time of the blow that had been struck at their marriage. At the end of October Gatsby was sent to Scribner’s and the Fitzgeralds decided to follow what little sun there was to Italy. Zelda was reading Roderick Hudson and suggested to Scott that they winter in Rome. In November Scott entered in his Ledger: “… ill feeling with Zelda,” but there were no explanatory notes to accompany his comment.
Rome was an unfortunate choice for both of them. It was damp and cold and they were ill intermittently throughout the dreary winter months. Scott disliked the Italians, got in scrapes with the police, and began to drink heavily. Yet, when the proofs of Gatsby began to arrive from New York, he worked soberly and in full control as he revised them. He worried about the title of the novel. Should it have been Trimalchio in West Egg, the title he’d put on the book; simply Trimalchio, or Gatsby’? He had two alternative titles which he rejected for their lightness: Gold-hatted Gatsby and The High-bouncing Lover. But Zelda preferred The Great Gatsby and he trusted her instinct.
She read aloud to him from a novel by Will James about cowboys, in order, he said, to spare his mind, and when he had difficulty visualizing Gatsby, she drew pictures until her fingers ached, attempting to capture his image for Scott. The result was, he wrote Perkins, “I know Gatsby better than I know my own child.”
By the first of the new year they set off for Capri to recuperate. Zelda became ill with colitis and her attacks were painful. They were to come and go fitfully during the entire year and made them both anxious over her health. The ailment came on the heels of her failed love affair and there was probably a connection between the two. It was in Capri that Zelda first began to paint; it was to become a lifelong pursuit. Scott wrote, “… me drinking,” while he assured John Peale Bishop: “Zelda and I sometimes indulge in terrible four-day rows that always start with a drinking party but we’re still enormously in love and about the only truly happily married people I know.”
In April they traveled back to southern France in their Renault; its top had been damaged and was removed at Zelda’s insistence, for she preferred open cars. When the car broke down in Lyon they abandoned it and continued on to Paris by train. That spring in Paris was composed for them of “1000 parties and no work,” but they did meet Ernest Hemingway.
The previous fall, Fitzgerald, upon reading something of Hemingway’s in the transatlantic review, predicted to Perkins that he had “a brilliant future… He’s the real thing.” Meeting him in Paris, Scott took to Hemingway immediately; he liked his tough-guy charm, his engaging lopsided grin. Ernest Hemingway was three years younger than Scott and a half foot taller. There was an athletic swagger to his walk; he wore a mustache and swore in cliche French. “Parbleu!” and “Yes, we have no bananas!” were his favorite expressions. Soon Hemingway was calling Scott his best friend and a guy he liked to talk to most of the time.
Shortly after they met, Scott invited Hemingway to join him in a trip to Lyon to pick up the Fitzgeralds’ abandoned Renault. It was on the two-day trip that Scott first told Hemingway about Zelda’s romance with Jozan. Less than ten months had passed since the crisis in the Fitzgeralds’ marriage. According to Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir, A Moveable Feast, on their return from Lyon Scott tried to put a call through to Zelda in Paris. While waiting for the call he and Hemingway had several drinks and Scott began to talk about his life with Zelda. It was then that he revealed what Hemingway said “was truly a sad story and I believe it was a true story.” He was later in the same book to remark that during the course of his friendship with Scott the story of Zelda’s romance was told several times, and altered with each retelling. Hemingway said he heard about it so often that he could picture the tragic romance (it became increasingly tragic as Scott repeated it) in his mind’s eye. But this first time Scott was at pains to tell Hemingway everything about it—how it had disturbed him, and exactly what had happened.
Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, to whom he was married when he met the Fitzgeralds in 1925, remembers the Fitzgeralds’ joint recital of Zelda’s romance. She says: “It was one of their acts together. I remember Zelda’s beautiful face becoming very, very solemn, and she would say how he had loved her and how hopeless it had been and then how he had committed suicide.” That last detail was only one of the dramatic embellishments added to give the affair tragic significance. Hadley continued: “Scott would stand next to her looking very pale and distressed and sharing every minute of it. Somehow it struck me as something that gave her status. I can still see both of them standing together telling me about the suicide of Zelda’s lover. It created a peculiar effect.”
Scott had helped to fictionalize the affair, thereby giving it a heightened meaning and value, which he, having created, could come to share. It was all of a piece with his having married the heroine of his stories and novels; of his feeling, which by this time, dangerously, had become their feeling, that he somehow possessed a right to Zelda’s life as his raw material.
Hemingway perceptively noticed two kinds of jealousy in the Fitzgeralds’ marriage. Zelda was jealous, he said, of Scott’s work while Scott was jealous of Zelda. Zelda tried to keep Scott from writing, and Scott tried to keep Zelda from other people. Instinctively Zelda realized that a part of her attractiveness for Scott lay in her ability to provoke his jealousy, but that in no way mitigated her own. It might, in fact, have created a tension within her to maintain that ability, especially since it was something she could not wholly understand or control.
Hadley feels that Zelda “was a charming, lovely creature. She lived on what Ernest called the ’festival conception of life.’” She believes that Zelda was essentially “a frivolous kind of woman.” There were from the start problems between the two couples. Hadley says: “They were inconvenient friends. They would call on the Hemingways at four o’clock in the morning and we had a baby and didn’t appreciate it very much. When Scott wrote I don’t know.”
Their writing was what drew the two men into friendship, and Scott eventually succeeded in having Scribner’s take on the as yet largely unknown Hemingway. But it was never Hemingway’s considerable talent alone that attracted Scott to him. There was a purity about Hemingway then, a dedication to his art, a seemingly total lack of affectation that impressed Scott as it had others. And Hemingway, by his own admittance, was curious about Fitzgerald, the best-selling author, the writer of The Great Gatsby.
Gatsby, which was published in April, 1925, was a critical rather than a financial success. In the first week of its publication Perkins cabled Scott in Marseille that the reviews were superb, but the sales uncertain. When Scott had finished it he had written John Peale Bishop that “my book has something extraordinary about it. I want to be extravagantly admired again.” Fitzgerald had decided that Gatsby must sell seventy-five thousand copies, and he was depressed by Perkins’s wire. He told Perkins: “In all events I have a book of good stories for the fall. Now I shall write some cheap ones until I’ve accumulated enough for my next novel.” If that collection did not succeed, “I’m going to quit, come home, go to Hollywood and learn the movie business. I can’t reduce our scale of living and I can’t stand this financial insecurity. Anyhow there’s no point in trying to be an artist if you can’t do your best. I had my chance back in 1920 to start my life on a sensible scale and I lost it…” The reviews which he saw irritated him.
Then Gilbert Seldes reviewed it intelligently and sensitively in The Dial: “Fitzgerald has more than matured, he has mastered his talents and gone soaring in a beautiful flight, leaving behind him everything dubious and tricky in his earlier work, and leaving even farther behind all the men of his own generation and most of his elders.” In May Gertrude Stein wrote Scott: “You are creating the contemporary world much as Thackeray did his in Pendennis and Vanity Fair and this isn’t a bad compliment.” In June Fitzgerald learned that the dramatic rights to Gatsby were being sold and his financial worries were for the moment in abeyance. Although Gatsby sold less than twenty-five thousand copies, the personal letters Scott received about it from people like Wilson and Stein and especially T. S. Eliot made him rightly proud of his achievement. Eliot wrote him, “… it seems to me to be the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James…”
Hemingway and Fitzgerald were then “very thick” and they saw a lot of each other. Neither Zelda nor Hadley was included in their literary discussions, but met on a more purely social level, as the wives of writers. Zelda seemed to Hadley a canny woman, and she recalls Zelda saying with a smile, “’I notice that in the Hemingway family you do what Ernest wants.’ Ernest didn’t like that much, but it was a perceptive remark. He had a passionate, overwhelming desire to do some of the things that have since been written about, and so I went along with him—with the trips, the adventures. He had such a powerful personality; he could be so enthusiastic that I became caught up in the notions too. It could work in reverse, that persistence. Once he took a dislike to someone you could absolutely never get him back [to them]. If he took exception to anyone, that was it; there was no reasoning with him about it. He eventually turned on almost everyone we knew, all his old friends.”
In an anecdote which has become a part of the Fitzgerald-Hemingway canon, Ernest upon meeting Zelda for the first time is supposed to have drawn Scott aside and told him that Zelda was crazy. Zelda’s reaction to Hemingway on the other hand was no more complimentary, for she considered him “bogus.” Scott had hoped that Zelda would be as taken with Ernest as he himself was, and he was both puzzled and disappointed in their mutual distrust.
“At that time,” Gerald Murphy said, “the word [bogus] just didn’t seem to fit; there wasn’t anyone more real and more himself than Ernest. Bogus, Ernest? Of course, who knows how right she may prove to be?”
Hadley did not remember Ernest saying that Zelda impressed him as crazy, but he may, of course, have told only Scott. She said: “The portrait of Zelda—of both of them—in A Moveable Feast seemed quite brutal. But Ernest could be brutal. Zelda and he didn’t take to each other. He was too assured a male for her. Maybe she caught this and resented it… He was then the kind of man to whom men, women, children, and dogs were attracted. It was something.”
In August the Fitzgeralds left Paris for Antibes. They returned to the South of France because, as Scott wrote, “One could get away with more on the summer Riviera, and whatever happened seemed to have something to do with art.” They were to spend only a month there, but it was a month marred by a chilling episode.
The Fitzgeralds joined the Murphys one evening for dinner at an inn located at St.-Paul-de-Vence in the mountains above Nice. Its dining terrace was built about two hundred feet above the valley and there was a sheer drop from the outer walls of the terrace. Gerald Murphy took a seat with his back to the parapet and a series of ten stone steps. It was perhaps ten o’clock and they had just finished their meal. The only lights other than those that ringed the harbor like a necklace across the Bay of Angels were two candles on their table. At a nearby table sat Isadora Duncan surrounded by three admirers. Gerald Murphy said: “Scott didn’t know who she was, so I told him. He immediately went to her table and sat at her feet. She ran her fingers through his hair and she called him her centurion. But she was, you see, an old lady [she was 46] by this time. Her hair was red, no, purple really—the color of her dress—and she was quite heavy.”
Zelda was quietly watching Scott and Duncan together and then suddenly, with no word of warning or explanation, she stood up on her chair and leaped across both Gerald and the table into the darkness of the stairwell behind him. “I was sure she was dead. We were all stunned and motionless.” Zelda reappeared within moments, standing perfectly still at the top of the stone stairs. Sara ran to her and wiped the blood from her knees and dress. Gerald said, “I don’t remember what Scott did. The first thing I remember thinking was that it had not been ugly. I said that to myself over and over again. I’ve never been able to forget it.” Several years later, writing about the scene, Zelda severely altered her own role. She said that she was able to steal “Two glass automobiles for salt and pepper … from the cafe in Saint-Paul (Alpes-Maritimes). Nobody was looking because Isadora Duncan was giving one of her last parties at the next table. She had got too old and fat to care whether people accepted her theories of life and art, and she gallantly toasted the world’s obliviousness in lukewarm champagne.”
An incident such as this, so obviously self-destructive and shot through with gratuitous violence, was to blight subsequent meetings between the Murphys and Fitzgeralds. “You see,” Gerald Murphy commented, “they didn’t want ordinary pleasures, they hardly noticed good food or wines, but they did want something to happen.” It was as though the Fitzgeralds were straining for some definite mode of action that they barely understood, or, not needing to understand, acted out. Their code, which was never simply the hedonistic one of the twenties, had begun to make demands upon them.
In September Scott summarized the year: “Futile, shameful useless but [for] the $30,000 rewards of 1924 work. Self disgust. Health gone.” It got no better in Paris that winter. Their apartment, which was near the Etoile, had little charm and Zelda took no interest in decorating it or in preparing meals. It was a damp and cheerless place on the rue de Tilsit, a five-flight walk-up with faded gold-and-purple wallpaper. Its air of former elegance accented its current dilapidation and neglect. In January Zelda’s colitis again flared up and they decided to rest at Salies-de-Bearn, a small town in the Pyrenees, where Zelda took the cure. She wrote: “We had a play on Broadway and the movies offered $60,000, but we were china people by then and it didn’t seem to matter particularly.”
In early March, 1926, they returned to the Riviera, taking less elaborate living quarters in Juan-les-Pins at the Villa Paquita. A reporter for The New Yorker magazine captured something of the aura about Scott and Zelda that spring on the Riviera. He said that the Riviera was quiet until the Fitzgeralds arrived, sunburned from tennis the day before, with everyone waiting for them, talking about them. There were remedies for their burns, as if they were wayward children in need of benevolent advice. “That the Fitzgeralds are the best looking couple in modern literary society doesn’t do them justice… Scott really looks more as the undergraduate would like to look, than the way he generally does.”
Then Scott asked if the reporter knew that he was “one of the most notorious drinkers of the younger generation” as though it were an established fact, a feat in which one took pride. The money was pouring in too, Scott admitted, but he complained that they had nothing to show for it—Zelda hadn’t even a pearl necklace.
In May the Hemingways joined the Fitzgeralds, the Murphys and the MacLeishes on the Riviera. Each family was convinced that it was a perfect place to work and play. The Hemingways were to stay with the Murphys at their Villa America. Gerald and Sara had a small guesthouse, a bastide, at the foot of their property, which would suit them nicely. “Any place that Sara touched became exquisite,” Hadley recalls, and the bastide was hardly primitive. “Ernest, Bumby [their son], and I went to Antibes. Sara and Gerald were impressive friends, you know; they were both very good looking, fine featured and blond. Somehow they matched each other. We grownups would sit on mats in the sand in the sun and Sara and Gerald added their own particular charm to the Mediterranean’s.” There were games which Gerald, the perfect host, carefully organized, festive lunches on the beach brought down by Sara. However, as luck would have it, the Hemingways’ son came down with whooping cough after they had been in Antibes only about a week. Sara, according to Hadley, “was terrified; I really think their children had never had any of the ordinary childhood illnesses like measles and chicken pox. When Bumby became ill she told us that we’d have to go and I understood how difficult a position she was in. Then Scott and Zelda came in from their place, which was further away in Juan-les-Pins. Scott told us they had six weeks or so to go on their villa and offered it to us. It was terribly kind of them and we took the offer. Then we’d sit by ourselves on the beach; we were in quarantine and couldn’t go calling. I’ll never forget yardarm time with the MacLeishes, the Murphys, and the Fitzgeralds. Three cars would pull up outside our place just beyond the iron fence and by the time we left at the end of the summer that fence was covered with glass bottles artfully arranged. It was great fun.”
Having offered the Hemingways their villa, the Fitzgeralds took another larger place also in Juan-les-Pins called the Villa St. Louis, where they remained until the end of 1926. Scott wrote: “The mistral is raging outside like the end of the world and the idea of writing is anathema to me. We are wonderfully situated in a big house on the shore with a beach and the Casino not 100 yards away and every prospect of a marvelous summer.”
Zelda was not seen during the day and Mrs. MacLeish says: “I don’t know what she did or where she was. Sometimes we swam together, but I rarely saw her with Scottie at the plage. You’d see Scottie alone with her nanny.” In a film taken during the summer there is a glimpse of Zelda sitting with Scott and several friends around a large circular table with a beach parasol over them. She is wearing a brightly striped French sailor’s jersey, and her short hair is blowing back from her face and looks springy and dark. Nervously she plays with her hands on the table top, and looking up once into the camera, clearly embarrassed, she waves and laughs.
When Zelda indulged in high jinks that summer there was a quality about the performance that was striking; she seemed unconcerned about the presence of others and that gave her actions an unforgettable touch. One evening the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds were sitting at a table in the Casino at Juan-les-Pins. It was very late and nearly everyone had gone home. Zelda rose from the table and raising her skirts above her waist began to dance. Motionless, Scott sat watching her. When the orchestra caught on it played to her. At first the Murphys were startled, and then, Gerald said, “I remember it was perfect music for her to dance to and soon the Frenchmen who were left gathered about the archways leading to the small dance area near our table gaped at her—they expected to see a show, something spectacular. Well, it was spectacular, but not at all in the way they had expected it to be. She was dancing for herself; she didn’t look left or right, or catch anyone’s eyes. She looked at no one, not once, not even at Scott. I saw a mass of lace ruffles as she whirled—I’ll never forget it. We were frozen. She had this tremendous natural dignity. She was so self-possessed, so absorbed in her dance. Somehow she was incapable of doing anything unladylike.”
Scott’s impact on people was entirely different from Zelda’s. Mrs. MacLeish remembers: “Oh, you could talk to him. He was such a sunny man. But he’d ask the most personal questions. I remember one night out dancing when he followed two young French boys around the dance floor asking them if they were fairies. I think I was dancing with one of them. He could be terrible. Zelda was nothing like that.” Zelda was aloof and remote; it was not that she did not pay attention to what one was saying, but a strange little smile would suddenly, inexplicably cross her face. She answered questions if they were put to her, but otherwise she remained distant. Mrs. MacLeish remembers Zelda as a night person. “I remember how she’d do these things—dancing on tables and so forth. But there was no mirth. No fun. ’This is what we do and now I’ll proceed to do it.’ Those were the Fitzgerald Evenings which we learned to avoid like the plague. They seemed intent upon living this lurid life; the ordinary evening wasn’t enough.”
Gerald Murphy described the way Scott and Zelda seemed to work together that summer—like “a pair of conspirators.” “They would begin together in the evening; you would see some look come over them as though they had been drawn together—and then they were companions. Then they were inseparable. They would stay out all night. It was as though they were waiting for something to happen; they didn’t want entertainment, or exotic food; they seemed to be looking forward to something fantastic. That’s the only way I can put it; something had to happen, something extravagant. It was that they were in search of, and they went for it alone.”
That June Zelda had her appendix removed at the American hospital in Neuilly outside of Paris. It was not a serious operation and she recovered quickly; they were able to return to the Riviera by the beginning of July. Prior to the operation, however, Zelda had suffered not only from colitis but also from “ovarian troubles.” She and Scott had apparently been trying to have another child with no success. It was after the appendectomy that those ovarian troubles lessened, but she still did not become pregnant.
Sara Mayfield, who had known Zelda as a girl in Montgomery, was visiting in Paris while Zelda was in the hospital. She was having drinks one afternoon with the son of the Spanish ambassador to the United States and Michael Arlen, whose novel The Green Hat was creating a sensation abroad, when Scott saw her and joined them at their table. He complimented Arlen on his success, and told him that he would probably be his successor as the most popular fiction writer of the day. The compliment was a little backhanded, but Arlen took it debonairly. Politely he in turn praised The Great Gatsby. After an amiable half hour or so the two men crossed over their estimation of Ernest Hemingway’s writing. Scott angrily accused Arlen of being “’a finished second-rater that’s jealous of a corning first-rater.’” It was with difficulty that someone managed to interrupt the train of the conversation and steer Scott off the subject. At last Scott invited Miss Mayfield to join him for a visit to Zelda at the hospital. First, however, they would all have dinner together. They would stop at Harry’s New York Bar and see if Hemingway had returned from Pamplona. At the bar a newspaperman suggested that Scott was promoting Hemingway and a fight was narrowly avoided. They never did get around to visiting Zelda, for Scott passed out in Les Halles and Sara took a taxi back to her hotel without him. More and more Scott’s nights and days were passed in this way: no work done, drinking and talking with friends, passing out and being put into a taxi and sent home alone.
Miss Mayfield remembers a specific conversation involving the Fitzgeralds’ opposing attitudes toward Hemingway. Zelda had told her that the Hemingways had left the Riviera earlier in the summer because of domestic difficulties but that before they left Hemingway had brought over his novel The Sun Also Rises.
When I asked what his novel was about, Zelda said, “Bullfighting, bullslinging, and bullsh—”
“Zelda!” Scott cut her description short. “Don’t say things like that.”
“Why shouldn’t I? …”
“Say anything you please,” Scott growled, “but lay off Ernest.”
“Try and make me!” she retorted. “He’s a pain in the neck—talking about me and borrowing money from you while he does it. He’s phony as a rubber check and you know it.”
Zelda had become jealous of Hemingway, or more specifically, of his relationship with Scott. But it was not a one-way vendetta. Years later Hemingway wrote about her effect upon Scott, “If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby 1 was sure that he could write an even better one. I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him.”
There was a strong element of hero worship in Scott’s attitude toward Hemingway, and he deeply admired Hemingway’s physical prowess: his boxing, his hunting, his being wounded in Italy during the war. Scott had always had some friend whom he considered his mentor, but Hemingway was the first whom Zelda regarded as a threat to her relationship with Scott. She was unrelenting in her opinion that Hemingway was a poseur. But her jealousy also grew out of her own weakening tie to Scott. Perhaps it also had something to do with her lessening self-regard. She had accomplished very little during those two years abroad. She had written nothing, she had become entangled with Jozan, and as fond as she was of Scottie her relationship to her was remote.
They returned to the Riviera, to the parties, and to the Murphys, who now saw them every day. But Scott’s behavior sometimes irritated even their good friends. Sara Murphy remembered a time Fitzgerald casually began to cast their delicately blown Venetian glasses over the edge of their garden. When he had thrown two Gerald stopped him: “I think that was the time I told him he couldn’t come back for a while.”
And Murphy said: “You know, Scott liked people to be accessible and easy. He could be, for instance, very simple-minded about Zelda. I mean, even when he seems to use her as a fictional model she is so one-sided. But she was far more complex; he never really caught that. Somehow we always felt that her mind made different connections than most people’s—and it was this extraordinary, intuitive lucidity of hers which distinguished her. She very rarely said things lightly or for effect. She would say whatever occurred to her.” She once asked Gerald, out of the blue, “Gerald, don’t you think that Al Jolson is just like Christ?” Murphy was stunned. “There was someone else there with us at the time who did not know her and I didn’t want to embarrass her by pushing the topic further. She had a ruminative mind. She didn’t small-talk at all, and really no intellectual talk either. She spoke only of things that came into her mind at the time. It gave her conversation a freshness and a certain edge that was part of her charm.”
Sara added: “She never, never spoke personally—I mean about herself—and she never spoke a word about Scott. We knew they rowed, all married people row, don’t they? Oh, they did have terrific rows, but never in public and never in front of their friends. One heard of it the next day; or one saw Zelda’s trunk out on the street where she had left it the night before.” Whenever they fought, Zelda threatened to pack up and leave. She threw everything she owned into her trunk and dragged it out to the street. “There she would wait—one never knew what for. When she got sleepy she’d go back to bed, but the trunk was left behind. One always knew when the Fitzgeralds had rowed; the trunk marked the night.”
Still, she was absolutely loyal to Scott. Sara tells of a time in a taxi when Scott was sitting next to her: “He had been drinking and we were all crammed into the tiny back seat; Scott began to act silly, outrageous, grabbing at me and making terrible noises, so I said, ’Scott, stop that, you smell awful!’ Zelda immediately said, ’I think he smells wonderful.’ We all roared. What, after all, can one say back to that?”
The Murphys knew the Fitzgeralds at their peak; Scott had finished Gatsby and Zelda was still lovely. “She was not a legitimate beauty—thank God!” said Gerald Murphy. “Her beauty was not legitimate at all. It was all in her eyes. They were strange eyes, brooding but not sad, severe, almost masculine in their directness. She possessed an astounding gaze, one doesn’t find it often in women, perfectly level and head-on. If she looked like anything it was an American Indian. She couldn’t have been anything but American really. You know in their early days they were two beauties—I mean that—Scott’s head was so fine, really unbelievably handsome. They were the flawless people.”
Sara interrupted: “But Zelda could be spooky. She seemed sometimes to be lying in ambush waiting for you with those Indian eyes of hers.”
Gerald said, “She was the only woman I’ve ever known who could wear a peony in her hair or on her shoulder and not look silly. She would pluck a brilliant peony and put it square on the top of her head. To see her with that tousled dark blond hair, quite short in back but always a few pieces of it falling across her forehead, those piercing eyes peering from beneath the bangs—topped by a fuchsia peony, well, it was something!
“She could get away with it too,” Gerald added.
“She wasn’t trying to get away with anything,” Sara quickly put in.
“No, I guess not, and that’s exactly why she did.”
But there were times that summer when Zelda’s behavior was more cryptic and destructive. It was useless to play the cross aunt and uncle to the Fitzgeralds, but the Murphys did feel called upon once in a while as friends to caution them. One never got far with Zelda, for she simply did not let anyone close enough to criticize her. She did not allow a disagreement to surface—at least not to the point where it could be discussed. Sara once warned them about their diving from the rocks high above the sea. “One had to be a superb diver in order to make it during the day. There were notches cut in the rock at five feet, ten, up to thirty. Now, that’s a high dive, a dangerous dive any time, but especially at night, one had to have a perfect sense of timing or one would have been smashed on the rocks below. Zelda would strip to her slip and very quietly ask Scott if he cared for a swim. I remember one evening when I was with them that he was absolutely trembling when she challenged him, but he followed her. It was breathtaking. They took each dive, returning from the sea all shivering and white, until the last, the one at thirty feet. Scott hesitated and watched Zelda until she surfaced; I didn’t think he could go through with it, but he did.” When Sara remonstrated with them, Zelda said very sweetly in her low, husky voice,” ’But Sayra—didn’t you know, we don’t believe in conservation.’ And that was that!“
At the end of the year they left Europe for the United States. Zelda had been ill throughout the year and Scott’s Ledger bears witness to it: “Zelda sick,” “Zelda drugged,” “Zelda better,” “Zelda sick in Genoa.” (On one occasion at the Villa St. Louis, apparently after a considerable amount of drinking, Zelda went so completely out of emotional control that a doctor was sent for and she was given a shot of morphine to calm her. The episode terrified both of them.) Their money had nearly run out and Scott was returning home without the manuscript of the new novel. He stubbornly insisted, however, that the years abroad had not been wasted. “God,” he wrote Perkins, “how much I’ve learned in these two and a half years in Europe. It seems like a decade and I feel pretty old but I wouldn’t have missed it, even its most unpleasant and painful aspects.” Although they had indulged themselves, Scott had written Gatsby, and even if he had not completed his new novel, he was deeply absorbed by it.
It was Zelda who had little to show for those years in Europe. She was still insisting as she had in 1924 upon the benefits of being a flapper; they had not, however, accrued in value. Zelda was quoted ? in a newspaper article just before they left Europe as saying:” ’I’m raising my girl to be a flapper,’ says Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, [wife of] popular novelist of flaming youth fiction. ’I like the jazz generation, and I hope my daughter’s generation will be jazzier. I want my girl to do as she pleases, be what she pleases, regardless of Mrs. Grundy.’ “But there was something a little desperate in these plans for the child who was just five, and much as she loved Scottie and very much wanted and needed to draw closer to her, Zelda quite clearly saw in Scottie’s future only the mirroring of her own best dreams:” ’I think a woman gets more happiness out of being gay, light-hearted, unconventional, mistress of her own fate, than out of a career that calls for hard work, intellectual pessimism and loneliness. I don’t want Pat to be a genius. I want her to be a flapper, because flappers are brave and gay and beautiful.’”
Years later Zelda realized that for herself and Scott “there aren’t any roots. They asked a lot of life and gave freely of what they had… So they lived cutting off the complicated and replacing it with the simple till there was little left…” In December, 1926, there was still a lot left: they would return to America; they would not allow life to become a losing game; they would try to move through life more securely.
UPON THEIR RETURN TO AMERICA Scott was offered a job in Hollywood with United Artists to write a screenplay for Constance Talmadge. He had never written for the movies, but there was a fortune to be made writing film scripts and Scott was sure he could make it easily. He would be paid $12,000 if United Artists took his script, $3,500 if they didn’t use it. It was a tempting offer and, short of capital, Scott took the gamble and traveled West. As soon as they arrived, Zelda wrote Scottie, who had stayed with her nanny in Washington, where Scott’s parents were living:
It is so hot here we can’t wear coats and even Daddy sleeps under one blanket. It is the most beautiful country imaginable—just long avenues of palm trees and Eucalyptus and Poinsettas grow as tall as trees. It is really the tropics… Daddy got so nervous [on the train trip West] he thought he had an appendicitis so we had to get out and spend the night at a place called El Paso on the Mexican border—but he was all well by the time we got to the hotel.
The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles had a large central garden with bungalows grouped about it, one of which was the Fitzgeralds’. The setting was luxurious and Zelda liked it, but even with Pola Negri and John Barrymore as their neighbors, Zelda remarked to Scottie that Hollywood was not what the magazines said it was, for the stars were rarely seen in public. She tried to recreate something of the atmosphere of the city in her letters to her daughter:
Last night we went with some old friends to dance. It was all decorated with palm trees and had a real water-fall at the end of the room. On the ceiling of the place, clouds moved and there were stars that twinkled just as if they were real. And in every tree there was a huge stuffed monkey that had big lights for eyes.
Hollywood, however, palled rather quickly on Zelda and more than once she thought nostalgically of France:
This weather here makes me think of Paris in the spring and I am very homesick for the pink lights and the trees and the gay streets. So is Daddy, also for the wine and the little cafes on the sidewalk. I’d like more than anything to be touring from Paris to the Riviera along the white roads. I think we ought to buy us a gipsy caravan and start out. But most of all we are very lonesome for you. There are not many pie-faces in California and when you get used to having one around— Well! you know how it is! … I wish I were there to nibble a little teeny hole just in one side of your cheek. Maybe I’d find a diamond. That’s the way they found the Chantilly diamond: somebody bit on it while they were eating an apple.
Her letters to Scottie were adorned with charming sketches of round-faced smiling little creatures, snowmen, boys and girls playing, illustrating the points in her letters. After hearing that Scottie had visited the White House, Zelda admitted:
Personally, I think this country is awful and there’s nothing to do and I am trying to make “ole Massa” let me come east alone now—this very minute—but NO is all I get in answer. If we ever get out of here I will never go near another moving picture theatre or actor again. I want to be in New York where there’s enough mischief for everybody— that is, if I can’t be in Paris… There’s nothing on earth to do here but look at the view and eat. You can imagine the result since 1 do not like to look at views.
Although Zelda’s dislike of Hollywood seemed to stem from boredom and restlessness, there were other more serious causes which she could not express to the child. Scott had met a young actress, Lois Moran, with whom he was instantly charmed. The seventeen-year-old screen star was, as George Jean Nathan recalled, “a lovely kid of such tender years that it was rumored she still wore the kind of flannel nightie that was bound around her ankles with ribbons, and Scott never visited her save when her mother was present.” Whether they were chaperoned or not, Zelda did not take the infatuation lightly. Outwardly, she was polite and even friendly to the girl, but her irritation showed itself to Scott. At first he insisted that he simply admired Lois Moran, but as they quarreled about her, he told Zelda that at least the girl did something with herself, something that required not only talent but effort. Zelda was stung by his remark and in a moment of injured pride, while he was at dinner with the young star, she burned in the bathtub of their bungalow all of the clothes which she had designed for herself. It was an odd gesture of fury and Fitzgerald, ignoring the peculiarity, told her she was behaving childishly.
In Zelda’s letters to Scottie, there is only one mention of Lois Moran and that is in an offhand remark, apparently added as an afterthought: “Daddy was offerred a job to be leading man in a picture with Lois Moran!! But he wouldn’t do it. I wanted him to, because he would have made so much money and we could all have spent it, but he said I was silly.” Scott was actually rather eager and curious to see himself as an actor and did take a screen test, but he did not go through with the notion of making a film.
Fitzgerald’s attitude toward Lois Moran took material form in a story written that spring called “Jacob’s Ladder.” In the story the girl’s youth is seen as a shield against the passion of an older man who loves her: “She did not know yet that splendor was something in the heart; at the moment when she should realize that and melt into the passion of the universe he could lake her without question or regret.” Her lack of awareness eventually leads the man to indulge in a reverie of possession in which his passion is transformed: Silently, as the night hours went by, he molded her over into an image of love—an image that would endure as long as love itself, or even longer—not to perish till he could say, ’I never really loved her.’ Slowly he created it with this and that illusion from his youth, this and that sad old yearning, until she stood before him identical with her old self only by name.
“Later when he drifted off into a few hours’ sleep, the image he had made stood near him, lingering in the room, joined in mystic marriage to his heart.”
Zelda told Scottie that the weather had turned rainy and they no longer went swimming; they went to parties instead. “And we have seen so many pretty girls that I did not think there were so many in the world. How would you like to be a moving picture actress when you are a lady? They have pretty houses and lots of money. Last night we went to a house way way up in the hills and down below all the lights of Los Angeles were spread out like a beautiful field of daffodils.” She added that she wanted to learn to do the Black Bottom, “but it is very hard and I am sure I will fall right on my nose when I try. Everybody here is very clever and can nearly all dance and sing and play and I feel very stupid.”
Samuel Goldwyn gave a costume party for the Talmadge sisters at which Scott and Zelda appeared uninvited. They were found at the street door on all fours, barking, and said they were strangers to Hollywood and couldn’t they please come to the party? Colleen Moore remembers that as she was about to get her coat to leave Zelda came in, and they went upstairs together. To her surprise Zelda went into the bathroom and turned on the tub faucets. The young star waited to see what would happen next: Zelda slipped out of her clothes and took a bath. When she emerged, she patted her hair dry, put her clothes back on, and went downstairs to the party.
After nearly eight weeks of grueling work Scott’s script was finished. Zelda wrote Scottie: “He 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.” United Artists decided against using Scott’s story and the Fitzgeralds left California for the East. Zelda had come to that point in her life where she wanted a home of her own, and she told Scottie to make a drawing of the sort of house she would like to live in when they were settled. Zelda herself had been making a scrapbook with pictures of houses. “I am crazy to own a house. I want you to have a lovely little Japanese room with pink cherry-blossoms and a ducky little tea-table and a screen— Would you like it? And perhaps you could make a little garden— I want a garden full of lilac trees, like people have in France— Daddy says we must rent a house first, tho, to see if we are going to like America.”
On the train trip East, Zelda and Scott again quarreled about Lois Moran (he had invited her to visit them once they were settled) and Zelda threw her diamond and platinum wristwatch from the window of the train. The watch was the one he had given her during their courtship in Alabama and it was the first object of value, both sentimental and actual, that she received from him.
At the beginning of March the Fitzgeralds leased a house called Ellerslie near Wilmington, Delaware. It was through the assistance of Scott’s old friend and roommate from Princeton, John Biggs, that they discovered it. Biggs and Perkins thought that the atmosphere in Wilmington, which was not at all literary, might prove less distracting to Scott’s work on his novel than another move to the environs of New York. Scott and Zelda agreed, and were charmed by the huge old mansion with its pillared portico and great lawns stretching down to the Delaware River. The rent was reasonable and it was quiet. Before Scott left Europe he had predicted to Perkins, “I’ll be home with the finished manuscript of my book about mid-December.” He was now far behind schedule, and Ellerslie’s calm was just what he needed.
Zelda later evoked the archaic charm of the area: “A friend took us to tea in the mahogany recesses of an almost feudal estate, where the sun gleamed apologetically in the silver tea-service and there were four kinds of buns and four indistinguishable daughters in riding clothes and a mistress of the house too busily preserving the charm of another era to separate out the children. We leased a very big old mansion on the Delaware River. The squareness of the rooms and the sweep of the columns were to bring us a judicious tranquility.”
The tall and elegant rooms of Ellerslie proved difficult to decorate, for their size diminished the few pieces of furniture Scott and Zelda possessed after years of living in furnished houses and apartments. Zelda cleverly had outsized furniture made in Philadelphia. The giant couches and huge overstuffed chairs made the people sitting in them seem dwarfed and childlike, but it was a striking solution to the problem.
They had no sooner settled in Wilmington than Lois Moran visited them. She was staying in New York and managed a weekend at their home. Zelda must have concealed her resentment well, for Miss Moran sensed no conflict with her and recalls only “the very intent, piercing look in those marvelous eyes.” During the weekend, which included May 21, the day Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget, she remembers picnicking on the breakwater by the Delaware River and one glorious moment afterward when they all stood quietly out on the lawn gazing toward the sky as if they might at any moment miraculously see Lindbergh land.
It was shortly after their move to Wilmington that Zelda began to write again. She had done nothing since the pieces for McCall’s in 1924, but during the remainder of 1927 she worked energetically on four articles, three of which were published the following year. The first, “The Changing Beauty of Park Avenue,” was signed by both Fitzgeralds, but in his Ledger Scott gave Zelda credit for the article. The style was obviously hers and relied heavily on physical description. She captured the strutting elegance of the avenue when she described the morning promenade of nannies with their fashionable young charges: “They clutch in gloved hands the things that children carry only in illustrations and in the Bois de Boulogne and in Park Avenue: hoops and Russian dolls and tiny Pomeranians.” And she told of the small glass-fronted shops which looked like dolls’ houses from a dream, “where one may buy an apple with as much ritual as if it were the Ottoman Empire, or a limousine as carelessly as if it were a postage stamp.” There were minor corrections on the manuscript which are in Scott’s hand (he wrote in both the title and authors’ names, putting his own name first); one can see by comparing his revisions to the published version that the manuscript was, however, revised once more before publication, either by Zelda or by the editors, and some of Scott’s revisions were eliminated.
Zelda’s second article was called “Looking Back Eight Years,” and was also attributed to both Fitzgeralds. Two sketches of the Fitzgeralds done by James Montgomery Flagg framed the article. It was, as the title suggests, a reminiscence, but of the entire postwar period, not simply ofi their own lives. “Success,” Zelda wrote, “was the goal for this generation and to a startling extent they have attained it, and now we venture to say that, if intimately approached, nine in ten would confess that success is only a decoration they wished to wear; what they really wanted is something deeper and richer than that.” The sentiment of that sentence reminds one of the epigraph to Gatsby.
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry
“Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
For all visible purposes the Fitzgeralds had for some time worn the gold hat, yet as the piece continued their private bogies crept into it. It was not, Zelda wrote, prosperity or the softness of life, or any instability that marred the war generation; it was a great emotional disappointment resulting from the fact that life moved in poetic gestures when they were younger and had since settled back into buffoonery. “… surely some of this irony and dissatisfaction with things supposedly solid and secure proceeds from the fact that more young people in this era were intense enough or clever enough or sensitive or shrewd enough to get what they wanted before they were mature enough to want the thing they acquired as an end and not merely as a proof of themselves.”
Their retreat to Wilmington did not bring the hoped-for tranquillity. Soon Scott and Zelda were throwing what Dos Passos calls “Those delirious parties of theirs; one dreaded going. At Wilmington, for instance, dinner was never served. Oh, a complete mess. I remember going into Wilmington—they lived some miles out, trying to find a sandwich, something to eat. A wild time.” And that was not an exceptional party; it could have occurred on any given weekend when the Fitzgeralds were celebrating. They would assemble a collection of their literary and theatre friends in Wilmington on Friday and have them stay over until Monday. Edmund Wilson once remarked, “The aftermath of a Fitzgerald evening was notoriously a painful experience.” Still, their parties always began in a spirit of revelry and their invitations were sought after. Scott was splendidly ? at his ease with the women, charming them with his graciousness and his interest in them. If that charm soured, it was always because of his having drunk too much. Then it became apparent that what he wanted from the woman he was talking to was her story, and one sensed a certain coolness, a detachment in him, which could be chilling. Zelda, their friends noticed, might disappear at some point in the evening, and reappear later refreshed by a nap.
During those first several months at Ellerslie she wrote Carl Van Vechten frequently, and some of her letters contain an undercurrent of unhappiness and remorse.
May 27, 1927: From the depths of my polluted soul, I am sorry that the week-end was such a mess. Do forgive my iniquities and my putrid drunkenness. This was such a nice place, and it should have been a good party if I had not explored my abyses 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.
Two days later she sent him an amusing thank-you note for a cocktail shaker he had given them; she signed it, “Marie, Queen of Rommania” (who had been visiting in America).
June 9, 1927: I love “Squeeze Me” so much that it has distracted me from being taken up by Philadelphia society a little… These high-church agnostics remind me of something in the puzzle sections of the Sunday World… I shall see that you are rewarded with a moonskin full of wine and a shining sword which collapses like a rubber dagger— That your eyes are bathed with blackberry juice, which you know will make it so you never never want to sleep, and that all your shaving suds turn into whipped cream—
June 14, 1927: Cheer up— Nobody is ever going to be like we think they are— The only consolation I know is that my intuitions are always wrong. I cling to it desperately—
With great devotion and disloyalty,
I forgot something that will change the course of history: we got two dogs out of the 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.
June 24, 1927: “Crescent Ltd.” En Route. Dear Carl— We are getting away from it all.
Urgently, Scott and Zelda
September 6, 1927: [Zelda is trying to persuade Van Vechten to come to a party.] Anyway I will have the Coolidges and the Indian guide from the Stillman case and the bath-tub girl from Earl Carroll’s chorus and the Sistine Madonna and John Charles Thomas— Good Simple People and all intimate friends—
October 14, 1927: Please forgive my not writing sooner— It seems that life went to pieces. I joined the Philadelphia Opera Ballet and guests came and everybody has been so drunk in this country lately that I am just finding enough chaos to pursue my own ends in, undisturbed, again… You were very kind and thoughtful and unlike yourself to send it [Peter Whiffle, a novel of Van Vechten’s] and I couldn’t like it better—unless of course I’d written it myself.
—And now that we’ve got delirium tremens we are going to sit here and brood until Christmas. Our house is full of every ghost that Fanny Ward and Conan Doyle imagined and I hope that 1 will never again feel attractive—
Little Bright Eyes
At the beginning of summer Sara Murphy wrote Zelda:
But why Wilmington? … and your house—(according to Esther) [Mrs. Murphy’s sister-in-law]—is palatial and then some— You keep, it appears only 14 of the 27 bedrooms open and only 3 drawing rooms— and you and Scott have a system of calls and echoes to locate each other readily. Do you ever have a hankering for Villa St. Louis?
People have now started to crowd onto our beach,—discouragingly undeterred by our natural wish to have it alone. However, by means of teaching the children to throw wet sand a good deal, and by bringing several disagreeable barking dogs and staking them around—we manage to keep space open for sunbathers.
The old guard of last year has changed, giving place to a new lot of American Writers and Mothers… Every now and again I think I see your old rat Renault whipping around a corner. Is Scott working? And how’s the book coming on?
Scott did very little writing that summer and he and Zelda began to quarrel with increasing frequency. He was drinking heavily and Zelda, too, drank and smoked too much. One evening a doctor had to be called from Wilmington to give Zelda a morphine injection; it was the second time this had happened (the first was at the Villa St. Louis), and on both occasions the Fitzgeralds had been drinking heavily and quarreling. Zelda became hysterical. These bitter rows continued to center around the dispute that had begun with Lois Moran; Zelda felt Scott was reproaching her for not working at something professionally.
By the middle of the summer Zelda had decided to take dancing lessons again. She considered painting as a career, but her eyes bothered her and she refused to wear glasses. She determined on dancing, “to be,” in her own words, “a Pavlova, nothing less.” She was twenty-seven years old when she began her lessons as a student of Catherine Littlefield in Philadelphia. Miss Littlefield, who directed the Philadelphia Opera Ballet Corps, had studied in Paris with Ma-dame Lubov Egorova (the Princess Troubetskoy) of the Diaghilev ballet. Zelda’s decision to become a dancer did not at first trouble Scott. He knew that she had taken dancing lessons as a child, and had been highly praised in Montgomery. Obviously, that was a far cry from becoming a first-rate ballerina, but Zelda had dabbled in writing and painting in the past and Scott no doubt decided to go along with her dancing lessons as another whim. He once told John Biggs that a woman ought to have something to do in case she had to earn her keep, and he was trying to decide whether Scottie ought to learn to type or take dancing lessons. In the end she was sent to Philadelphia with Zelda to dance.
Anna Biggs accompanied Zelda during one of her frequent trips into Philadelphia. They shopped for furniture. “One of the objects that caught her fancy was a gigantic gilt mirror, nineteenth century, I think. It was surrounded by scrollwork and cherubs and wreaths in the best heavily decorated style. She loved it. At Ellerslie when I next saw it, it was hung in the front room beside her Victrola. She had run a ballet bar in front of it and practiced there all day. She would sometimes dance the entire time that we were there—whether it was for dinner, for a long afternoon’s talk, whatever. She’d perhaps stop for a few minutes for a drink or something, but then continue. It was madness.” Her husband added that he had heard “The March of the Wooden Soldiers,” which Zelda practiced to, so repeatedly that he suspected the melody was engraved on every organ he possessed.
Scott’s favorite cousin, Mrs. Richard Taylor, a pretty woman who was slightly older than he and with whom he had always been a little in love, had a daughter, Cecilia, who was her namesake. Scott was partial to her and invited the young girl up from Norfolk for a gala weekend at Ellerslie that autumn. Cecilia was just twenty-two and eager for adventure. Scott met her train, explaining that Zelda had a skin irritation (which may have been her first attack of eczema) and wouldn’t go to dinner with them that night because of it. He had decided to give a dinner dance for Cecilia and went to New York alone to pick up a suitcase of wine and gin for the festivities. Cecilia remembers that Zelda was not especially warm to her, but did not in any way make her feel unwelcome. “Scott seemed to be the moving spirit in almost everything… He hired an orchestra for the dinner dance. He 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. She was painting then. She had done a screen, which I vaguely remember had seashore scenes on it, and a lampshade of Alice-in-Wonderland characters for Scottie.”
One of Zelda’s first projects at Ellerslie had been to design a dollhouse for Scottie, which she had built herself, papering and painting it until it looked like a palace with elegant pieces of furniture and mirrors and glass windows. She was also busily painting a group of lampshades decorated with scenes from the various plates they had lived in Europe and America. Some were fanciful, with animals and illustrations of fairy tales; others were humorous sketches of members of their family. Cecilia recalled that it was Scott who paid attention to Scottie’s studies and who seemed in charge of correcting her when it was necessary.
Zelda’s taste in clothes had definitely improved from her earlier days in New York. She now dressed expensively and with chic, choosing simple lines in brilliant colors (reds and pinks were her favorites) and plain fabrics. Her Southern accent was very much in control. She seemed to enunciate carefully, with a special timing to . her phrases. She spoke very slowly, huskily, drawling her words slightly. It seemed to Scott’s cousin that she affected her accent, for she sounded like no other Alabaman this Virginian had heard. “She talked intensely when she was interested, but she was not terribly vivacious… Her features were rather large and to some extent she had the look of a grown-up child… I cannot say why she was so distinctive. Partly her sort of tawny coloring. Blond but nothing washed out about it.”
The weekend of the party was chaotic from beginning to end. A game of “croquet-polo on plow horses” was improvised on their lawn and an inscribed silver trophy was awarded to the winner, who was, of course, Cecilia. It read, “The Fitzgerald all Silver Beaker for fast and clean croquet, won by ———. God sees everything.”
Among the many people at the party were Dick Knight and John Dos Passes. Dick Knight, who was a lawyer from New York, was a strange fellow, with a peculiarly misshapen large head. He told the Fitzgeralds and Cecilia that he had had to identify his brother at the morgue before he came, but he said it merrily without a trace of sadness or seriousness. Zelda and he seemed quite fond of each other.
After the party Scott and Zelda and Cecilia went to New York and visited several speakeasies. There was also a theatre party and after that Zelda suggested a trip to Harlem. Young Cecilia was dropped off at their hotel, but to her surprise Scott and Zelda returned almost immediately. On their trip back to Wilmington the following day they stopped in Philadelphia for Zelda’s ballet lesson. To Scott’s young cousin, (who had taken ballet lessons herself) she appeared to be a dreadful dancer. Scott made it obvious that he did not feel that Zelda was any good and motioned to Cecilia that he wanted to leave the studio and go have a drink. By the time they caught the train for Wilmington later that afternoon Scott was on the verge of passing out. Zelda, who was entirely sober, seemed oblivious of the situation and completely ignored Scott. Cecilia was left to manage him, his wallet, and their baggage by herself. At last the conductor, who was rewarded with their last bottle of gin, got them off and into a taxi. And for Cecilia, who had expected gaiety, the weekend turned flat and even a little frightening.
During one of Scott’s trips to New York that fall H. L. Mencken and his young assistant on The American Mercury, Charles Angoff, visited him at his hotel. Angoff remembers that Scott had been drinking and was rather remote toward Mencken, which displeased the critic. After a little conversation about George Jean Nathan, Scott got up and paced the room. He said,
“Henry, I got another idea for a novel going through my head. Have a lot of it written up. It’s about a woman who wants to destroy a man, because she loves him too much and is afraid she’ll lose him, but not to another woman—but because she’ll stop loving him so much. Well, she decides to destroy him by marrying him. She marries him, and gets to love him even more than she did before. Then she gets jealous of him, because of his achievements in some line that she thinks she’s also good in. Then, I guess, she commits suicide—first she does it step by step, the way all people, all women, commit suicide, by drinking, by sleeping around, by being impolite to friends, and that way. 1 haven’t got the rest of it clear in my head, but that’s the heart of it. What do you think, Henry?”
“Well, it’s your wife, Zelda, all over again,” Mencken said.
Scott sat down for a moment, sipped his drink, then stood back up and without looking at Mencken told him it was not only the “’dumbest piece of literary criticism’” he’d ever heard, but “’I spill out my insides to you, and you answer with … Zelda.’” He said Mencken had no compassion. “’Of all the times to mention Zelda to me! Of all the goddamn times to mention her!’” Then he burst into tears. Mencken’s reaction after they left Fitzgerald was to tell Angoff that Scott would never amount to anything until he got rid of his wife.
In November, 1927, Scott wrote Ernest Hemingway that although he had wasted the summer insofar as his writing was concerned, he had accomplished a lot during the fall. He hoped, he said, to complete his novel by the first of December. Zelda was dancing three times a week in Philadelphia, as well as painting. “Have got nervous as hell lately—purely physical but scared me somewhat—to the point of putting me on the wagon and smoking denicotinized cigarettes.” The purpose of the letter was to congratulate Hemingway on the recent publication of his collection of stories Men Without Women. Scott wrote: “The book is fine. I like it quite as well as The Sun, which doesn’t begin to express my enthusiasm. In spite of all its geographical and emotional rambling, it’s a unit, as much as Conrad’s books of Contes were.” Zelda liked it a lot, he said, and thought his best story was “Hills Like White Elephants.” But, for all Scott’s genuine admiration, there was a defensiveness about his letter, the first sign of the professional competitiveness that was to mar his friendship with Hemingway. He let Hemingway know, for instance, that “The Post pays me $3500—this detail so you’ll be sure who’s writing this letter.”
In fact, Fitzgerald had done little writing of any sort in 1927. He had been working since the summer of 1925 on his novel and he now very much exaggerated his progress to Hemingway, for he was making almost none. The book had gone through various drafts and would go through more before its publication as Tender Is the Night in 1934. It was going to be a sensational novel about American expatriate life on the Riviera, and its hero, Francis Melarky, a film technician, would be driven to murder his mother. Fitzgerald had been stimulated by both the Ellingson and Leopold-Loeb [Dorothy Ellingson, who was a sixteen-year-old girl, murdered her mother in January of 1925 during a quarrel about the girl’s wild living. Both this case and the Lcopold-Loeb sensational murder in 1924 fascinated Fitzgerald and he followed the newspapers’ reporting with great interest. Later, according to Matthew Bruccoli, in his study The Composition of Tender Is the Night, he mentioned them as sources for the novel to both Harold Ober and Hemingway.-N.M.] cases as sources for his novel. The novel went through a number of titles, Our Type, The World’s Fair, and somewhat later The Melarky Case and The Boy Who Killed His Mother, which was apparently Zelda’s suggested title.
Zelda’s sister and brother-in-law Rosalind and Newman Smith spent a weekend with the Fitzgeralds in February, 1928. The visit was, Scott noted in his Ledger, a catastrophe. He had been invited to Princeton to speak at Cottage Club. There was an enormous amount of drinking and when he returned home late that night he was on a weeping jag. During the course of an argument Scott threw a favorite blue vase of Zelda’s into the fireplace. When Zelda cuttingly referred to his father as an Irish policeman, Fitzgerald retaliated by slapping Zelda hard across the face. As a result her nose bled and her sister, outraged by what she had seen, left the house the following morning. She was convinced that Scott was behaving basely toward her sister and felt that Zelda should leave him. Zelda, however, ignored her sister’s pleas and told her that she and Scott chose to live the way they did and she would tolerate no interference from her family.
Fed up with Wilmington and with themselves they decided upon another trip to Europe that spring. “They were on their way to Paris,” Zelda wrote. “They hadn’t much faith in travel nor a great belief in a change of scene as a panacea for spiritual ills; they were simply glad to be going.”
They took an apartment in the rue Vaugirard opposite the Luxembourg Gardens, so that Scottie could have a place to play. Zelda wrote Eleanor Browder, who had recently married, that they had left New York in too much of a mess to send her a present for her wedding; “we are vaguely floating about on the surface of a fancy French apartment. It looks like a setting for one of Mme Tausand’s gloomier figures but we have got moved in… It looks as if we’ll never stay anywhere long enough to see how we like it…”
Gerald Murphy introduced Zelda to Madame Lubov Egorova, who was the head of the ballet school for the Diaghilev troupe, the same woman who had been Catherine Littlefield’s teacher. Madame Egorova had a great gift for instruction, according to Murphy, and although she had once been a leading ballerina with the Ballet Russe, the most exciting group performing in the world at that time, it was as a coach that she excelled, for she was a superb technician. Murphy said, “I had the feeling that unless one went through with it [arranging Zelda’s introduction] something awful would happen. I suppose that was why I helped her to begin with. There are limits to what a woman of Zelda’s age can do and it was obvious that she had taken up the dance too late.” Nevertheless, Zelda worked feverishly under Egorova’s demanding supervision, practicing eight or more hours a day. What had begun as a defiant response to Scott’s praise of Lois Moran’s ambition and energy had become Zelda’s sole preoccupation. She was determined to become a superb ballerina.
Scott later said that it was at Ellerslie in 1928 that he first began to use liquor as a stimulant for his work. Until then he had drunk only when he was not working; now he drank in order to be able to work. In 1927 and again in 1928 he was making more money from his writing, nearly $30,000, than he ever had before. But his drinking was a serious problem for both Fitzgeralds; Zelda was unable to stop him and felt that he was growing indifferent to her because he preferred the company of his drinking companions. Scott felt that Zelda’s dancing was executed in a spirit of vengeance against him and needled her about her commitment to it. But it was not simply vengeance that motivated Zelda; it was a desire to find something of her own that might give her release from her life with Scott.
Zelda described in Save Me the Waltz what she sought from her dancing: “It seemed to Alabama that, reaching her goal, she would drive the devils that had driven her—that, in proving herself, she would achieve that peace which she imagined went only in surety of one’s self—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. She drove herself mercilessly….”
“Zelda wanted immediate success. She wanted to dance for the world,” Gerald Murphy said. One day she invited the Murphys to the studio to watch her dance. They went with trepidation. “The stage of the training room was built on an incline, it was perhaps two feet higher at one end than at the opposite. The effect was that one looked up at her the entire time she danced. The view was not a flattering one, for it made her 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. It was really terrible. One held one’s breath until it was over. Thank God, she couldn’t see what she looked like. When I watched Zelda that afternoon in Paris, I thought to myself, she’s going to try to hold on to her youth. You know, there’s nothing worse; it ruins a woman.”
The Murphys felt close to Zelda, which sometimes upset Scott; he would ask them if they liked Zelda better than they liked him. Or, if he felt they were giving her too much attention, he would say, “Sara, look at me!” Zelda didn’t like everybody, as Sara was well aware; “she was choosy, she didn’t take to many people.” Sara remembered being with Zelda once while they were introduced to several people at a luncheon. “Each time someone was brought to be introduced, she would smile at them sweetly and as she took their hands say under her breath, ’I hope you die in the marble ring.’ Of course no one suspected that she was saying anything but the usual pleasantries; I heard her because I was standing right next to her. She was so charming and polite as she said it—must have been one of her childhood taunts.” But it was not; it was an utterance from the interior.
None of them realized that Zelda was poised on the edge of a vast and troubling doubt about herself, and if she and Scott quarreled less, it was only because they had become silent and watchful toward each other. Zelda later recalled “long conversations about the ballet over sauerkraut in Lipp’s, and blank recuperative hours over books and prints in the dank Allee-Bonaparte. Now the trips away had begun to be less fun.”
Scott’s description of the summer was no less somber. His entry for July in the Ledger read: “Drinking and general unpleasantness.” In August the situation had not improved, “General aimlessness and boredom.”
When they returned to America in September of 1928 he wrote that they were “back again in [a] blaze of work and liquor.” And on the occasion of his thirty-second birthday he summarized the year as “Ominous [underlining it three times]. No Real Progress in any way and wrecked myself with dozens of people.” It was unfortunately not an exaggeration.
Back at Ellerslie, where they had a few more months to go on their two-year lease, Zelda began her dancing lessons in Philadelphia with renewed vigor. But at home she kept entirely to herself, brooding and silent. She practiced in front of the great ornate mirror, sweating profusely, stopping only for water, which she kept beside the Victrola, and ignoring Scott’s remarks as he watched her leap and bend. He hated the glass, which he called their “Whorehouse Mirror.”
Scott had brought back to the United States with them a Paris taxi driver and ex-boxer, Philippe, to be their chauffeur and his drinking companion. Zelda thoroughly disliked him; she said he was insubordinate to her and stupid. She hated it when he and Scott boxed together. Even John Biggs got a little tired of calls at three or four in the morning to pull Scott and Philippe out of the scrapes they always managed to get into. The household situation was further complicated by the presence of Mademoiselle, Scottie’s French governess, whom Zelda also disliked. Zelda’s relationship with Scottie had deteriorated to the point where they seemed to friends to be two children playing together. Zelda was obliquely describing how she felt about Scottie when she wrote:
And there was the lone and lovely child knocking a croquet ball through the arches of summer under the horse-chestnut trees and singing alone in her bed at night. She was a beautiful child who loved her mother. At first there had been Nanny but Nanny and I quarrelled and we sent her back to France and the baby had only its mother after that, and a series of people who straightened its shoes. I worried. The child was unhappy and thought of little besides how rich people were and little touching, childish things. The money obsession was because of the big house and going to play with the Wanamakers and the DuPont children. The house was too immense for a child and too dignified.
Their return to Wilmington brought them no more satisfaction than their period of departure had and the endless litany of their discontent continued. When the lease on Ellerslie ran out, with Scott’s novel still uncompleted, they again left America. In the brittle spring chill of 1929, nearly a decade since the beginning of the Jazz Age, the Fitzgeralds, with their blue-bound leather copies of Scott’s books and their scrapbooks, Scottie and her dolls, and Zelda in her old fur coat, boarded the ship for Genoa. Scott wrote Maxwell Perkins: “I am sneaking away like a thief without leaving the chapters … I haven’t been able to do it. I’ll do it on the boat and send it from Genoa. A thousand thanks for your patience—just trust me a few months longer, Max—it’s been a discouraging time for me too but I will never forget your kindness and the fact that you’ve never reproached me.”
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