Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald
by Matthew J. Bruccoli

To Scottie For 9 October 1964


Many of us share Samuel Johnson’s admission that “the biographical part of literature … is what I love most,” because great writers perform the world’s most precious and enduring work. But the popularization of the Fitzgerald myth has diminished his stature and cheapened his work. He is regarded by a certain kind of Twenties buff as having scribbled his masterpieces during the course of a lifelong bender. Given the kind of writer he was, it is proper to identify Fitzgerald with his material; but it is a distortion of the record to portray him as an uncritical reveler. There was always a judging process operating in him—combined, in his finest work, with a quality of aspiration. Zelda Fitzgerald observed after her husband’s death: “I do not know that a personality can be divorced from the times which evoke it … I feel that Scott’s greatest contribution was the dramatization of a heart-broken + despairing era, giving it a new raison-d’etre in the sense of tragic courage with which he endowed it.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald created his own legends. His life overshadows his work as he has become an archetypal figure—or a cluster of overlapping archetypes: the drunken writer, the ruined novelist, the spoiled genius, the personification of the Jazz Age, the sacrificial victim of the Depression. These images were largely his own fault because he dramatized his success and failure. Loving attention, he embraced his symbolic roles. The glamour, the triumph, the euphoria, the heartbreak, and the tragedy of his life were genuine; but the most important thing is what he wrote. Everything else matters only to the extent that it explicates his work or clarifies his career. But it is impossible to dissociate a great writer from his work, and Fitzgerald was one of the most personal authors.

This volume is the third biography of Fitzgerald in English, in addition to shelves of reminiscences and critical studies. Its justification is that research has provided new evidence in the twenty years since the publication of Andrew Turnbull’s Scott Fitzgerald (1962). I have corrected and augmented the record. When asked what is new in thisbiography, I reply, “More facts.” My intention was to focus on Fitzgerald as writer by tracing the ontogeny of his major work while providing a detailed account of his career as a professional author.

My understanding of the responsibility of a biographer is that he should assemble a great many details in a usable way, relying heavily on the subject’s own words. Even when Fitzgerald’s testimony is less than totally reliable, it is his testimony and reveals how he saw himself or wanted to be regarded. His exaggerations have been corrected here, but mostly he was a truthful man—exceptionally so for a writer. Quotations from letters and manuscripts have been transcribed from the original documents. There are no silent emendations.

A biographer’s first duty is to get things right. Accordingly, I have tried to rescue events from the myth-making process that encapsulates Fitzgerald. Readers who are familiar with the writings about Fitzgerald—which occasionally degenerate into the underworld of literary gossip—will find that well-known anecdotes are repeated here. The repetition is necessary because Fitzgerald has become the subject of what might be called defining anecdotes that seem to epitomize certain aspects of his character. Moreover, some of these standard vignettes require clarification or correction. The most widely repeated Fitzgerald anecdote is untrue: Ernest Hemingway did not tell him that the rich have more money when Fitzgerald remarked, “The very rich are different from you and me.” Yet this apocryphal piece of lore has acquired the force of literary history.

I do not practice psychiatry. No doubt Andre Maurois was correct in decreeing that “the need to express oneself in writing springs from a maladjustment to life, or from an inner conflict, which the adolescent (or grown man) cannot resolve in action.” The maladjustment may account for the compulsion to write, but not for genius. There is no way to explain why the son of an unsuccessful manufacturer of wicker furniture wrote the best American prose.

Inevitably a Fitzgerald biography becomes a joint biography of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. She was the strongest influence on his life after 1919, and the conditions of their marriage shaped his career. Without Zelda he might or might not have been a better caretaker of his genius; but it is folly to assign blame to either partner. They conspired in a dangerous game for which only they knew the rules.

As its title indicates, this biography has a thesis or bias: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life had “some sort of epic grandeur.” He was a hero with many flaws, but a hero. His life was a quest for heroism. In a professional career of twenty years he wrote three of the best American novels (one of them unfinished) and a score of brilliant stories while afflicted with a host of troubles—many of his own making. He was honorable and generous. His words endure.


My wife, Arlyn, has accepted her subordination to Fitzgerald for twenty-three years; she vetted two drafts of this biography and made many discouraging recommendations. I have neglected my children, who retaliated by taking my pencils.

Sometimes the cliches of acknowledgment rhetoric are accurate: William Jovanovich made it possible for me to undertake this work. Frazer Clark, my partner, provided support and many books. This volume was completed after the death of Vernon Sternberg, who would have improved it—as he improved my work-in-progress. Julian Muller of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich has many times proved himself my friend—as well as a shrewd editor. Alexander Clark, curator emeritus of the Princeton University Library Manuscript Department, has helped me in every possible way for twenty-six years. This biography could not have been written without the generous collaboration of the excellent people at the Princeton University Library: Richard M. Ludwig, Jean F. Preston, Ann Van Arsdale, Margarethe Fitzell, Charles E. Greene, Barbara Taylor, Mardel Pacheco, Wanda Randall, Agnes Sherman.

I am grateful to my colleagues and masters at the University of South Carolina, who have allowed me to do my work. George Geckle, chairman of the Department of English during the time I wrote the last drafts, provided me with all the help I dared ask for.

Meredith Walker not only typed three drafts of this book but improved it each time she touched it. I have relied on her editorial skills and sound judgment. Miss Walker’s forbearance commands my admiration.

Lynn Strong is the best copy editor I have ever worked with.

These research assistants helped me: Jennifer Atkinson, Heather Barker, Linda Berry, John Clewis, Margaret Duggan, Glenda Fedricci, Cara White Irvin, Carol Johnston, Inge Kutt, Richard Layman, Karen Rood, Katherine Wade, Susan Walker.

These are some of the institutions that provided material: the Bodleian Library, Oxford University; the British Library; the John F. Kennedy Library; the Library of Congress; the Lilly Library, Indiana University; the New York Public Library; the Enoch Pratt Free Library; the United States Copyright Office; the University of VirginiaLibrary; Yale University Library. The interlibrary loan and reference staff at the Thomas E. Cooper Library, University of South Carolina, is a marvel of patience and efficiency: Lori Finger, Harriet B. Ogles-bee, Joyce C. Werner. Through the permission of Frances Scott Fitzgerald Smith access was granted to me by the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions to study the medical records of her late parents which are on deposit at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Nancy McCall, Assistant Archivist, provided crucial assistance.

The following are only some of the people who helped me during the years I have worked on Fitzgerald: Sally Taylor Abeles, Jo August, Dr. Benjamin Baker, Carlos Baker, Jeanne Bennett, Judge John Biggs, Jr., John Biggs III, Fredson Bowers, Mario Braggiotti, Joseph Bryan, Anthony Buttitta, William Cagle, Lawton Campbell, Andre Chamson, Duncan Chaplin, Theodore Chanler, James Charters, Robert Clark, Morrill Cody, Malcolm Cowley, James Dickey, Honoria Murphy Donnelly, John Dos Passos, Charles Fenton, George Frazier, Donald Gallup, Arnold Gingrich, Sheilah Graham, Joseph L. Greenberg, John Guilds, Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich Hackett, Marise Hamilton, Muriel Hamilton, Laura Guthrie Hearne, Mary Welsh Hemingway, Jay B. Hubbell, Norris Jackson, William Johnson, John S. Van E. Kohn, James Laughlin, Roger Lewis, Elizabeth Taylor Little, Harold Loeb, A. E. LeVot, Helen Hayes MacArthur, Margaret Finney MacPherson, Dr. Paul McHugh, Paul McLendon, Charles Mann, Elizabeth Manning, Alan Margolies, Alice Lee Meyers, Frances Mitchell, Dr. Harold Morgan, Gerald Murphy, Anne Ober, Dr. William Ober, Isabelle Palmer, Ginevra King Pirie, Landon T. Raymond, Joan Redington, Frances Kroll Ring, Anthony Rota, Dr. Thomas Rowland, Waldo Salt, R. L. Samsell, Budd Schulberg, Charles Scribner III, Peter Shepherd, Dr. D. Loren Southern, Annabel Fitzgerald Sprague, Dr. Michael Sribnick, Donald Ogden Stewart, Robert Stocking, Allen Tate, Cecilia Taylor, Virginia Taylor, Willard Thorp, Courtney Vaughan, Henry Wenning, Alden Whitman, Edmund Wilson, John Cook Wyllie, Lois Moran Young.

My concern with F. Scott Fitzgerald began on 27 March 1949 when I heard a radio dramatization of “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” Then I read The Great Gatsby and my work was determined. My mother and father—who were certain that literature was a waste of time—extravagantly supported what they regarded as their only child’s cruel derangement.


Taps at reveille [21 December 1940]

F. Scott Fitzgerald, an unemployed screenwriter, spent 21 December 1940 with his companion, Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham, at 1443 North Hayworth Avenue in Hollywood. After a heart attack some six weeks earlier he had moved to her apartment from his apartment a block away at 1403 North Laurel Avenue.

Fitzgerald slept late that Saturday morning. When Sheilah brought him coffee, he sat up in bed and made notes for The Last Tycoon, his novel-in-progress. Then he dressed in slacks and a sweater and loafed while waiting for Dr. Clarence H. Nelson, who was due in the afternoon with a portable electrocardiograph.

Sheilah was sending Fitzgerald’s nineteen-year-old daughter Scottie, a Vassar junior, her silver fox fur jacket and the dress she had worn to the premiere of The Westerner. Concerned about offending Scottie with hand-me-downs, Sheilah asked Fitzgerald to help phrase the letter. He dictated a joking message about the mortality rate of Scottie’s wardrobe, with the postscript: “Your father has not been well, but he’s getting better now. He hasn’t had a drink in over a year.”

Frances Kroll, Fitzgerald’s secretary, brought the mail, which included the 9 December issue of The Princeton Alumni Weekly. Fitzgerald ate a late sandwich lunch and read the newspapers, predicting that the German-Italian pact would force America into the war. He said he’d like to cover the war from Europe after his novel was completed, adding, “Ernest won’t have that field all to himself, then.” After three and a half years in Hollywood, Fitzgerald felt a rueful desire to reestablish himself as Hemingway’s equal.

Fitzgerald wanted to go to nearby Schwab’s drugstore on Sunset Boulevard for ice cream. As a dried-out alcoholic, he craved sweets.Sheilah reminded him that he might miss the doctor and gave him a chocolate bar, which he ate in the living room while making notes on the 1941 football prospects in The Princeton Alumni Weekly. Sheilah listened to Beethoven’s Eroica symphony on the phonograph while reading a book on the history of music Fitzgerald had assigned in his program for educating her. She saw him start out of his chair, clutch the mantelpiece, and fall to the floor. After trying to force brandy through his clenched teeth, she ran for the manager of the building, Harry Culver, who said when he saw Fitzgerald, “I’m afraid he’s dead.” Sheilah phoned the fire department and the police to bring oxygen equipment.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was pronounced dead of a coronary occlusion at 5:15 p.m. by Dr. Nelson. He had lived forty-four years, two months, and twenty-seven days. The body was removed to the Pierce Brothers Mortuary, 720 West Washington Boulevard, in Los Angeles.

Sheilah phoned Harold Ober, Fitzgerald’s former agent, in Scars-dale, New York, where Scottie Fitzgerald was spending part of her Christmas vacation. Ober called Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, in Montgomery, Alabama. During their courtship she had written Fitzgerald, “ We will die together—I know—” Their marriage ended with a 3,000-mile separation when F. Scott Fitzgerald died in the apartment of his last love while Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was a discharged mental patient in the Southern city where their love story had begun in 1918. Their love was one of a century, he had said.

The newspapers gave Fitzgerald’s death prominent treatment. His obituaries combined nostalgia with a patronizing tone, as in The New York Times.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, novelist, short story writer and scenarist, died at his Hollywood home yesterday. His age was 44. He suffered a heart attack three weeks ago.

Epitomized “Sad Young Men”

Mr. Fitzgerald in his life and writings epitomized “all the sad young men” of the post-war generation. With the skill of a reporter and ability of an artist he captured the essence of a period when flappers and gin and “the beautiful and the damned” were the symbols of the carefree madness of an age.

Roughly, his own career began and ended with the Nineteen Twenties. “This Side of Paradise,” his first book, was published in the first year ofthat decade of skyscrapers and short skirts. Only six others came between it and his last, which, not without irony, he called “Taps at Reveille.” That was published in 1935. Since then a few short stories, the script of a moving picture or two, were all that came from his typewriter. The promise of his brilliant career was never fulfilled.

The best of his books, the critics said, was “The Great Gatsby.” When it was published in 1925 this ironic tale of life on Long Island at a time when gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession (according to the exponents of Mr. Fitzgerald’s school of writers), it received critical acclaim. In it Mr. Fitzgerald was at his best, which was, according to John Chamberlain, his “ability to catch * * * the flavor of a period, the fragrance of a night, a snatch of old song, in a phrase.”

Symbol of “Jazz Era”

This same ability was shown in his first book and its hero, Amory Blaine, became as much a symbol of Mr. Fitzgerald’s own generation as, two years later, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt was to become a symbol of another facet of American culture. All his other books and many of his short stories (notably “The Beautiful and the Damned”) had this same quality.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (he was named after the author of the National Anthem, a distant relative of his mother’s) was a stocky, good-looking young man with blond hair and blue eyes who might have stepped from the gay pages of one of his own novels. He was born Sept. 24, 1896, at St. Paul, Minn., the son of Edward and Mary McQuillan Fitzgerald.

At the Newman School, in Lakewood, N.J., where he was sent, young Fitzgerald paid more attention to extra-curricular activities than to his studies. When he entered Princeton in 1913 he had already decided upon a career as a writer of musical comedies. He spent most of his first year writing an operetta for the Triangle Club and consequently “flunked” in several subjects. He had to spend the Summer studying. In his sophomore year he was a “chorus girl” in his own show.

War came along in 1917 and Fitzgerald quit Princeton to join the Army. He served as a second lieutenant and then as a first lieutenant in the Forty-fifth and Sixty-seventh Infantry Regiments and then as aide de camp to Brig. Gen. J. A. Ryan.

Wrote Novel in Club

Every Saturday he would hurry over to the Officers’ Club and there “in a room full of smoke, conversation and rattling newspapers” he wrote a 120,000-word novel on the consecutive week-ends of three months. He called it “The Romantic Egotist.” The publisher to whom he submitted it said it was the most original manuscript he had seen for years—but he wouldn’t publish it.

After the war he begged the seven city editors of the seven newspapersin New York to give him a job. Each turned him down. He went to work for the Barron Collier advertising agency, where he penned the slogan for a Muscatine, Iowa, laundry:

“We keep you clean in Muscatine.”

This got him a raise, but his heart was not in writing cards for street cars. He spent all his spare time writing satires, only one of which he sold— for $30. He then abandoned New York in disgust and went back to St. Paul, where he wrote “This Side of Paradise.” Its flash and tempo and its characters, who, in the estimation of Gertrude Stein, created for the general public “the new generation,” made it an immediate success.

At the same time he married Miss Zelda Sayre of Montgomery, Ala., who has been called more than once “the brilliant counterpart of the heroines of his novels.” Their only child, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, was born in 1921.

His next two books were collections of short stories: “Flappers and Philosophers” (1920) and “Tales of the Jazz Age” (1922). In 1923 he published a satirical play, “The Vegetable; or, From President to Postman,” and then for the next two years he worked on “The Great Gatsby.” He had gathered material for it while living on Long Island after the war, and all its characters were taken compositely from life. He wrote most of it in Rome or on the Riviera, where he also wrote his most successful short stories. These, in 1926, were gathered under the title “All the Sad Young Men.”

Only two other books were to follow: “Tender Is the Night” (1934) and “Taps at Reveille” (1935). After that, for several years, he lived near Baltimore, Md., where he suffered a depression of spirit which kept him from writing. He made several efforts to write but failed, and in an autobiographical article in Esquire likened himself to a “cracked plate.”

“Sometimes, though,” he wrote, “the cracked plate has to be retained in the pantry, has to be kept in service as a household necessity. It can never be warmed on the stove nor shuffled with the other plates in the dishpan; it will not be brought out for company but it will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the ice-box with the left overs.”

(There are errors in this obituary: the Francis Scott Key connection was on his father’s side; The Beautiful and Damned was a novel, not a short story; the Newman School was in Hackensack, New Jersey, when Fitzgerald was a student there.)

The Times and the New York Herald Tribune accompanied their obituaries with editorials that assessed Fitzgerald as a failed writer. Both papers identified him with the alcoholic “lost generation,” and the Times offered the diagnosis that he had been unable to adjust to the changes after the Twenties. The New Yorker protested the condescending obituaries in the 4 January 1941 issue; but even this tribute regarded Fitzgerald as a ruined man: “The desperate knowledge that it was much too late, that there was nothing to come that would be more than a parody of what had gone before, must have been continually in his mind the last few years.” Referring to the last sentence of Tender Is the Night, the eulogy ended with the admission that at forty-four Fitzgerald had outlived his fame: “In a way, we are glad he died when he did and that he was spared so many smaller towns, much further from Geneva.”

There was agreement that F. Scott Fitzgerald was an exemplary and monitory figure—that he epitomized his generation, that he had not fulfilled his promise, that his history provided a warning. It would have seemed absurd in 1940 to suggest that his elegy had been written in 1821 when Shelley mourned Keats—Fitzgerald’s favorite poet—in Adonais:

… till the Future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!

None of the obituaries anticipated that Fitzgerald would be resurrected like Adonis, the beautiful youth adored by the goddess of love.

В. М. Толмачев
Брукколи М. Дж. Эпическое великолепие. Жизнь Фицджеральда. (Bruccoli M. J,. Some sort of epic grandeur: The life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. — L. etc: Hodder a. Stoughton, 1981. — XXXI, 524p. — Bibliogr.:p. 545-569)

Мэтью Брукколи — автор работ о творчестве Э. Хемингуэя, Р. Ларднера, Дж. О'Хара, других писателей США. Его книга о Ф. С. Фицджеральде основана на богатом фактическом материале (переписка, записные книжки, рукописи писателя, воспоминания о нем современников), во многом до сих пор не опубликованном. В заглавие книги вынесены слова писателя: «Несмотря на недочеты, многое в моем творчестве свидетельствует об эпическом великолепии» (с. IV). Приложение к монографии содержит: конспект киносценария, написанного Фицджеральдом в соавторстве с Ч. Уорнером к фильму «Ночь нежна»; записи из Гроссбуха (Ledger) 1919-1934 гг.; полный список произведений и интервью Фицджеральда и его жены З. Сейер.

М. Брукколи полагает, что Фицджеральд — один из самых автобиографичных писателей в американской литературе первой половины XX в. Отправная точка исследования — личное пристрастие Фицджералда к «романтическому героизму» наложившее отпечаток на большинство его произведений.

Первый роман — «По эту сторону рая», книга начинающего писателя, основанная преимущественно на личном опыте и впечатлениях от прочитанных книг, был своего рода «капустником», где преобладал достаточно произвольный монтаж сцен. Фицджеральд впервые столкнулся с проблемой выбора повествовательной «точки зрения». В романе их две: «точка зрения» Амори (как бы «внутри» произведения) и наблюдательная позиция «вездесущего автора». Они не всегда между собой скорректированы: авторский комментарий; иногда слишком навязчив.

Во втором романе — «Прекрасные и проклятые» — Фицджералд сделал значительный шаг вперед по сравнению с предыдущим произведением. Проблема «точки зрения» решена здесь двояко: «вездесущий автор» восхищается цельностью идеалистической жизненной программы Энтони и вместе с тем осуждает героя за его слабость, фатально не дающую ему эту программу реализовать. Однако писатель смог выдержать роман в едином повествовательном ключе. «Авторский» голос то и дело берет на себя функцию повествователя от первого лица.

На следующем этапе Фицджералд пересмотрел свое отношение к повествовательной технике. Важную роль сыграл в связи с этим прочтение им новеллы «Сердце тьмы» и романов «Лорд Джим» и «Негр с «Нарцисса» Дж. Конрада.

Рассказчик в «Великом Гэтсби» пытается понять, в какой степени события прошлого повлияли на его представления о [жизни. Эти воспоминания не претендуют на абсолютную точность, они своего рода заметки для самого себя. Конечная версия событий, требующая творческого участия читательского сознания, не обязательно должна совпадать с тем, что произошло в действительности. Фигуры повествователей у Конрада и Фицджеральда (Марлоу и Ник Каррауэй) отмечены сходством, сходна их функция в структуре повествования.

Своему другу, известному критику и публицисту Г. Менкену Фицджералд признавался, что косвенное» воздействие на формирование концепции «Великого Гэтсби» оказало чтение «Братьев Карамазовых». Фицджералд полагал, что роман Достоевского — очень «мужская» (с. 179) книга, непревзойденная с точки зрения своего построения. Другой важный для него роман — «Женский портрет» Г. Джеймса — «женская» книга. Одним из любимых его произведений во время написания «Великого Гэтсби» был роман Диккенса «Холодный дом».

Творческое осмысление писательского опыта Диккенса, Достоевского, Теккерея, Конрада помогло Фицджералду созвать его самый совершенный роман «Великий Гэтсби». герой его — Джей Гэтсби — не в состоянии разграничить магию денег и магию любви. Он уверен, что за деньги способен достичь всего — даже вернуть прошлое и как бы заново прожить свою жизнь, соединившись с той, которая Вежде была для него недостижима в силу социального положения. Несмотря на веру во власть денег, герой имеет весьма неточное представление о реальной власти в функционировании капитала в обществе. «Романтик»-нувориш, он не в состоянии понять потомственных богачей, бездельников, паразитирующих на капитале. Причина трагедии Гэтсбив том, что за своим вымыслом он не видит подлинной реальности и не в состоянии отличить цели своей деятельности от ее средств. Его погоня за «мечтой» аморальна по методам. Это неизбежно приводит к неразрешимому противоречию. Гэтсби «архетипическая» (с. 223) фигура: он изменил идеальной сути «американской мечты» и та вместо путеводной звезды, «маленького зеленого огонька» стала грозной разрушительной силой. В этом романе своеобразное «двойное зрение» (по выражению американского критика М. Каулн) повествователя и стоящего за ним автора дало возможность непосредственно изображать «текущее» действие и снабжать его общеисторическим комментарием.

В следующем романе — «Ночь нежна» — Фицджералд продолжил эксперимент с романной формой. Главный стержень художественной структуры здесь — «наплыв» в прошлое, прием, к которому часто прибегал Конрад: повествователи передают друг другу «эстафетную палочку» рассказа, в результате чего психологические мотивировки становятся особо убедительными. Фицджеральд назвал свое произведение философским я психологическим, тогда как роман «Великий Гэтсби» он считал «драматической» книгой. Манера письма в романе «Ночь нежна» «размыта»; автор конструировал образ импрессионистически.

В незаконченном романе «Последний магнат» Фицджералд обратился к излюбленной теме «романтического» индивидуализма. Он в полной мере проявил себя здесь точным и зорким социальным критиком. Образ главного героя книги — киномагната Стара — не типичен для американской действительности 30-х гг. Стар — последний пионер американского «фронтира», поэтому его гибель закономерна.

Опубликовано в «Общественные науки за рубежом«. Серия 7. Литературоведение. Реферативный журнал. № 1, 1984, 84.01.035

Next: Part 1 The Romantic Egotist [1896-1913]

Published as Some Sort Of Epic Grandeur: The Life Of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1991 - second edition; 1981 - first edition).