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

Spires and Gargoyles

4 A Princeton Freshman [1913-1914]

The news from Princeton was that Fitzgerald’s performance on the entrance exams was not good enough to warrant admission. Make-up exams and a personal interview were required. Fitzgerald traveled to Princeton and persuaded the admissions committee to accept him by pleading that it would be too cruel to deny him a place in the Class of 1917 on his birthday. On 24 September 1913 he wired home: admitted send football pads and shoes immediately please wait trunk. It was a near thing; he was admitted with conditions in algebra, Latin, French, and physics—which had to be made up by passing exams in December. (Of the 430 freshmen, 66 percent were admitted with conditions.)

Fitzgerald described pre-World War I Princeton as “the pleasantest country club in America,” where he planned to succeed according to the guidelines set forth in Owen Johnson’s Stover at Yale. The town was not yet a bedroom community for New York commuters; “the loveliest riot of Gothic architecture in America” was an academic town surrounded by country estates. “Horsing,” a mild form of hazing, was practiced, and freshmen were forbidden to wear soft shirts or cuffed trousers. Presbyterian Princeton was still a strait-laced university. Although there were undergraduates who frequented the fleshpots of New York, organized Christianity was a strong force on campus. The Philadelphian Society was an influential campus religious organization, and chapel was required until 1915. In the 1917 class survey, only 182 out of 333 seniors claimed to have kissed a girl, and 41 stated that they regarded kissing as morally wrong. Only 117 admitted that they drank, and 61 regarded drinking as morally wrong. The campus tennis nets were taken down on Sunday.

The Big Man on Campus at certain Eastern universities was a figure of almost national prominence among the prep school and Ivy League population. Social success was regarded with intense seriousness. The quickest way to campus recognition was on the football field, and Fitzgerald reported for freshman practice at five foot seven and 138 pounds. In those days 140- or 150-pounders played first-string football, but it required physical toughness and ability which Fitzgerald did not have. Hobey Baker ’14, captain of the football team during Fitzgerald’s freshman year, was the greatest athlete in Princeton’s history. At five foot nine and 167 pounds, playing without a helmet, the star halfback seemed like a Galahad figure on and off the field and was the most exciting ball carrier of his time. Baker was precisely the sort of hero Fitzgerald could identify with, and he was one of the players who made Big Three football glamorous in the days when it was regarded as a gentleman’s sport.

According to one report, Fitzgerald wrenched his knee in practice and had to withdraw; another report is that he was cut from the squad on the first day of practice. In either case, within a week the road to gridiron glory was closed—leaving him with a “dream of a defeated dream” that he used to induce sleep for the next twenty years:

“Once upon a time” (I tell myself) “they needed a quarterback at Princeton, and they had nobody and were in despair. The head coach noticed me kicking and passing on the side of the field, and he cried: “Who is that man—why haven’t we noticed him before?’ The under coach answered, ’He hasn’t been out,’ and the response was: ’Bring him to me!

“…we go to the day of the Yale game. I weigh only one hundred and thirty-five, so they save me until the third quarter, with the score—”

Again Fitzgerald turned to his pencil for compensatory recognition, going out for the Triangle Club and the Princeton Tiger, the humor magazine. College humor magazines were then approaching the peak of reputation they would occupy in the Twenties when the Tiger, the Yale Record, and the Harvard Lampoon had national readerships and were training schools for writers. The first fall 1913 issue of the Tiger had an unidentified Fitzgerald contribution. He almost certainly contributed to the Tiger throughout his freshman year, but none of his contributions before 1915 has been identified because there were few bylines. Most of his Tiger work is known only by the clippings he saved. Fitzgerald entered Princeton with no clear career plans beyond the determination to earn his living by writing, probably as a newspaperman. Students preparing for journalism usually worked on The Daily Princetonian, but Fitzgerald did not heel the Prince.

Although Princeton was regarded as a college for the sons of the rich, and most of its students came from prep schools, the fees were not higher than at other colleges of its class. Tuition was $160 per year; room, board, and other fees averaged $350. Fitzgerald never lacked for money at Princeton, and his expenses may have run as high as $2,000 a year—roughly a third of his family’s income.

During his first year Fitzgerald roomed alone off campus at 15 University Place because there was not enough dormitory space for freshmen. Two of his Newman classmates, Sap Donahoe and Paul Nelson, also roomed there. Norris Jackson from the St. Paul Academy was in the Class of ’17, and another St. Paul friend, Joe McKibbin, was a popular and prominent member of the Class of 1915. Through his work with the Triangle Club, Fitzgerald met two wealthy freshmen, Townsend Martin and Ludlow Fowler, who were roommates. Alexander McKaig ’17, a new friend with literary ambitions, was active on the Prince and The Nassau Literary Magazine. Although Fitzgerald was not friendless, he was up against the most complex system of social stratification he had yet encountered. The delegations from the Princeton feeder schools—Lawrenceville, Hill, Hotchkiss, Exeter, Andover—arrived with inside knowledge about Princeton and provided each other with support. The boy from an obscure Catholic prep school felt that he was a member of the lower class. He did not resent the existence of an exclusive system, but he wanted to be at the top of the Princeton social ladder.

On 15 November 1913 Fitzgerald went to New Haven to watch Princeton and Yale play a 3-3 tie as Hobey Baker drop-kicked a 43-yard field goal. The lasting impression of the game for Fitzgerald was Princeton’s Buzz Law kicking from behind his own goal line with a bandage around his head.

There were classes. As a candidate for a Litt. B. or a B.S. degree (the A.B. required Greek), Fitzgerald was assigned six compulsory courses: Latin 103 (historical literature of Rome—Livy, Sallust, Cicero), Mathematics 101 (plane trigonometry), English 101 (readings in English literature—composition and rhetoric), Physics 101 (general physics), French 203 (survey of French literature), and Hygiene 101 (personal hygiene). In addition there was physical education as well as a seventh academic course in Mathematics 105 (algebra) to prepare him to clear his entrance conditions in math.

The method of instruction was the preceptorial system, a modification of the Oxford-Cambridge tutorial system introduced by Woodrow Wilson when he was president of Princeton. The lectures in each course were supplemented by weekly one-hour meetings with preceptors on the assignments; three to six students attended each preceptorial session. The Princeton grading system was by groups: First group, highest standing; Second group, high standing; Third group, satisfactory; Fourth group, below average; Fifth group, poor; Sixth group, unsatisfactory; Seventh group, very unsatisfactory. Fitzgerald’s record for the first term of his freshman year shows 5 in Latin; failed/failed/passed in trigonometry (he took the exam three times); 4 in English; 5 in physics; 5 in French; failed/passed in hygiene; failed/ failed/passed in algebra. His average of 5.17 for the term was barely passing. Since failed courses had to be made up, in addition to his entrance conditions, Fitzgerald established a pattern of having to make up for past failures while failing current courses. It was a predicament that would get worse every term.

The Princeton English department—though by no means a great department—included Henry Van Dyke, George MacLean Harper, Thomas Marc Parrott, J. Duncan Spaeth, Charles G. Osgood, and Gordon Hall Gerould. The English poet Alfred Noyes, author of “The Highwayman,” joined the department in 1914. Fitzgerald found most of his teachers disappointing and characterized them as having “an uncanny knack of making literature distasteful to young men.” The only one of his English teachers he acknowledged a debt to was Court-land Van Winkle, who taught him in freshman year: “… he gave us the book of Job to read and I don’t think any of our preceptorial group ever quite recovered from it.” Fitzgerald gave Professor Spaeth credit for arousing “interest and even enthusiasm for the romantic poets, an interest later killed in the preceptorial rooms where mildly poetic gentlemen resented any warmth of discussion and called the prominent men of the class by their first names.”

Fitzgerald managed to remain in college by luck and by all-night cramming sessions with wet towels and pots of coffee. He regarded the Princeton honor system as a “sacred tradition.” “I can think of a dozen times when a page of notes glanced at in a wash room would have made the difference between failure and success for me, but I can’t recall any moral struggles in the matter.” The attrition rate was fairly high: 10 percent of the Class of 1917 did not survive freshman year. The removal of prep school or parental supervision enabled somestudents to do no work at all, and the easy commute to Broadway terminated other undergraduate careers.

Christmas vacation was splendid. As a Princeton man Fitzgerald was invited to so many parties and dances in St. Paul that he had to keep an engagement book. This may have been the holiday when, having gotten tight on Christmas Eve, he felt the need to hear hymns and went to St. John Evangelist Episcopal Church. With clinking overshoes he walked the aisles searching the congregation for a friend, remarking to the minister, “Don’t mind me, go on with the sermon.”

Once he was away at school, Fitzgerald gradually stopped thinking of himself as a Midwesterner. The McQuillan connection became increasingly remote. The family roots that mattered to him were in Maryland, and he felt an immediate affinity with New York City. Yet his memories of Minnesota could exert an emotional pull on him. He evoked his sense of the Midwest as a place of exciting vacation returns in The Great Gatsby:

One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those of us who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o’clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This-or-That’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings for invitations: “Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?” and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate.

He returned to Princeton in January 1914 to take his midyear exams and begin hard work on the competition for the 1914-15 Triangle Club show. His book and lyrics for Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! won the competition over the submission of Lawton Campbell ’ 18 from Montgomery, Alabama. The selection of the script was up to Walker Ellis ’15, the Triangle Club president, who may—as Campbell believed— have picked Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! because it had a good part for him. Ellis, whom Edmund Wilson charged with “brazen duplicities,” revised it with the author until he decided to award himself credit for the dialogue and characters. The published libretto credits Fitzgerald with only the plot and lyrics. It is impossible to determine from the acting script how much of the produced play Ellis changed. The plot dealswith an American con man, who has become prime minister of Monaco, and his abandoned wife, the manicurist in a Monte Carlo hotel; a love subplot involves an Englishman and an American dancer. Ellis cast himself in the female lead as the manicurist, and the role of the dancer Celeste was reserved for Fitzgerald. The dialogue shows the influence of Oscar Wilde as the characters epigrammatize between song cues. Fitzgerald’s seventeen song lyrics were impressive work for a freshman who had never written a musical.

A Slave to Modern Improvements
A victim to modern improvements am I,
I’ve a silver chest and a crystal eye;
A platinum lung and a grafted nose,
Aluminum fingers,
Asbestos toes.
And when I walk I clank and clash,
And rust when damp you see:
And the wildest lot of anonymous trash
That ever crossed the sea.

In April 1914 Fitzgerald began his friendship with a Princetonian who would shape his college education, most of which was acquired outside of classrooms. John Peale Bishop ’17 was three and a half years older than Fitzgerald, having started college late because of boyhood illness. Their meeting probably occurred very much as the meeting between Amory Blaine (Fitzgerald) and Thomas Park d’Invilliers (Bishop) is reported in This Side of Paradise. Amory strikes up a conversation with a Princetonian at the Peacock Inn and discovers that the student is d’Invilliers, the author of highbrow poetry in the Lit:

So he found “Dorian Gray” and the “Mystic and Sombre Dolores” and the “Belle Dame sans Merci”; for a month was keen on naught else. The world became pale and interesting, and he tried hard to look at Princeton through the satiated eyes of Oscar Wilde and Swinburne—or “Fingal O’Flaherty” and “Algernon Charles,” as he called them in precieuse jest. He read enormously every night—Shaw, Chesterton, Barrie, Pinero, Yeats, Synge, Ernest Dowson, Arthur Symons, Keats, Sudermann, Robert Hugh Benson, the Savoy Operas—just a heterogeneous mixture, for he suddenly discovered that he had read nothing for years.

Bishop provided Fitzgerald with intensive tutoring in poetry. Writing to his daughter when she was in college, Fitzgerald acknowledged Bishop’s influence on his understanding of poetry:

It isn’t something easy to get started on by yourself. You need at the beginning, some enthusiast who also knows his way around—John Peale Bishop performed that office for me at Princeton. I had always dabbled in “verse” but he made me see, in the course of a couple of months, the difference between poetry and non-poetry. After that one of my first discoveries was that some of the professors who were teaching poetry really hated it and didn’t know what it was about. I got in a series of endless scraps with them so that finally I dropped English altogether.

Bishop was the first friend who fully shared Fitzgerald’s commitment to writing, and under his influence Fitzgerald began to develop more serious literary ambitions. For his part, Fitzgerald considered it his obligation to bring Bishop out—to direct him toward Princeton success. Since Bishop was from Charles Town, West Virginia, Fitzgerald regarded him as socially deprived. In point of fact, Bishop had attended Mercersburg, a better-known school than Newman.

It is not known when Fitzgerald met another member of the Lit staff, Edmund Wilson ’16, who became a more enduring influence on him; but Bishop probably provided the connection. A graduate of the Hill School, Bunny Wilson had an imposing campus reputation as a scholar and literary critic. Fitzgerald’s friendship with Wilson was close but not intense at Princeton; the reserved Wilson was put off by Fitzgerald’s antics. An indication of Fitzgerald’s position at the university is Wilson’s admission that Fitzgerald was the only Catholic he knew at Princeton. Fitzgerald subsequently delegated his intellectual responsibilities to him, admitting at the time of “The Crack-Up” in 1936: “… I had done very little thinking, save within the problems of my craft. For twenty years a certain man had been my intellectual conscience. That was Edmund Wilson.”

While not overwhelmingly literary, the Class of 1917 included—in addition to Fitzgerald and Bishop—other men who would become writers. Elliott White Springs used his experiences as a World War I ace to write aviation fiction (War Birds, Nocturne Militaire, Leave Me with a Smile) but later became better known for his Spring Maid sheet ads. George R. Stewart became a professor of English who wrote scholarly and popular books {Storm). Townsend Martin wrote for the movies and had a Broadway success, A Most Immoral Lady.

In June 1914 Fitzgerald took his second-term exams and managed to pass everything but coordinate geometry, in which his grade was “a-” indicating that he was absent from the exam and that his term grade was unsatisfactory. His best grade was a 3 in English; his other grades were 4’s and 5’s. Fitzgerald’s Ledger summary for his freshman year at Princeton was “A year of work and vivid experience.”

While compiling a poor academic record, Fitzgerald was nonetheless acquiring an education through wide reading. The lessons he needed were not to be found in coordinate geometry or qualitative analysis classes. The strongest influences on him were the novels he called “quest” books:

In the “quest” book the hero sets off in life armed with the best weapons and avowedly intending to use them as such weapons are usually used, to push their possessors ahead as selfishly and blindly as possible, but the heroes of the “quest” books discover that there might be a more magnificent use for them. “None Other Gods” [Robert Hugh Benson], “Sinister Street” [Compton Mackenzie], and “The Research Magnificent” [H. G. Wells] were examples of such books…

The son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson was a Catholic convert who wrote religious novels. In None Other Gods (1910) a young English aristocrat forsakes his heritage when he converts to Catholicism and becomes a tramp, seeking spiritual fulfillment on the road. Benson, who had been at Cambridge with Shane Leslie, spoke at Princeton in March 1914. The social reform literature of Wells and George Bernard Shaw made a strong impression on Fitzgerald and his friends. Although Fitzgerald admired Wells for the power of his intelligence, and in 1917 cited The New Machiavelli to Wilson as “the greatest English novel of the century,” it wasCompton Mackenzie’s Sinister Street that most clearly influenced him. (Sinister Street was published in two volumes in London, 1913-14; it was published in America as Youth’s Encounter (1913) and Sinister Street (1914)) Sinister Street traces Michael Fane’s history at school and Oxford, until he ends his quest in the arms of Rome as a priest. In the Oxford chapters the young gentlemen analyze and intellectualize with little interference from the university. No doubt this was Fitzgerald’s notion of how a university should be run. When he came to write his own quest novel, Fitzgerald imitated Mackenzie and to a lesser extent Wells. What Fitzgerald took from Sinister Street was an aristocratic egotism combined with a sense of noblesse oblige. Michael Fane and Amory Blaine (there is a name echo) share a concept of duty to their unique abilities. Both characters require goals that will employ their talents to serve some higher purpose—as did Fitzgerald.

It was probably later on at Princeton that Fitzgerald discovered the American realists. Two novels that made a strong impression on him were Stephen French Whitman’s Predestined (1910) and Charles G. Norris’s Salt (1917)—both deterministic novels of character deterioration. Charles Norris’s work led Fitzgerald to the naturalistic novels of his brother, Frank Norris.

Father Fay kept in touch with his protege, inviting him to his mother’s home at Deal Beach, New Jersey, and introducing him to prominent figures in Catholic society. Fitzgerald remained a practicing—but not devout—Catholic at Princeton. He told Wilson, “Why I can go up to New York on a terrible party and then come back into the church and pray—and mean every word of it, too!” He retained a strong sense of evil and sexual corruption. In This Side of Paradise Fitzgerald summarized: “The problem of evil had solidified for Amory into the problem of sex… Inseparably linked with evil was beauty… Amory knew that every time he had reached toward it longingly it had leered out at him with the grotesque face of evil.” Though a connoisseur of kisses, Fitzgerald retained the capacity to be shocked by blatant sexuality. When Bishop and McKaig went off with two pickups, he primly announced to Wilson, “That’s one thing that Fitzgerald’s never done!”

In the summer of 1914 Fitzgerald wrote his fourth and last play for the St. Paul Elizabethan Drama Club, Assorted Spirits, a complicated ghost comedy in which he took a leading role and served as stage manager. It was performed at the Y.W.C.A. on 8 September and thenext night at the White Bear Yacht Club—raising $500 for the Baby Welfare Association. There was the possibility of panic when a fuse blew at the yacht club performance. According to a local paper, “Fitzgerald proved equal to the situation, however, and leaping to the edge of the stage quieted the audience with an improvised monologue.”

5 Sophomore Year [1914-1915]

Fitzgerald was tutoredin August 1914 and probably returned to Princeton early in September to attend cram school for the make-up exam in coordinate geometry. He failed the exam and was ruled ineligible for extracurricular activities—which did not prevent him from devoting most of the fall term to the Triangle Club, although he was not permitted to appear in Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! He roomed alone at 71 Patton Hall. His program for the first term of his sophomore year required five courses: philosophy (logic); Latin (Roman comedy, Plautus and Terence); chemistry (inorganic); English (survey of English literature); French (seventeenth-century literature). In addition, Fitzgerald was assigned a sixth course in Latin to make up for an entrance deficiency.

When the European war broke out in the summer of 1914 Fitzgerald was not particularly excited or strongly partisan, although he was moved by the death of Johnny Poe ’95 with the Black Watch—the first Princetonian to die in the war. Like most of his friends he expected America to remain neutral, which was the policy of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson.

The chief concern of Fitzgerald’s sophomore year—apart from the Triangle show—was the club elections in the spring. There were eighteen eating clubs, most of which occupied impressive buildings on Prospect Street. In the absence of fraternities and secret societies, the eating clubs marked an undergraduate’s social standing; and there was an elaborate stratification among them. Each club took in about twenty-five sophomores. Only 75 percent of the class received bids. Some of the clubs were firmly established at the top of the system: Ivy, Cottage, Tiger Inn, Cap and Gown. Others were places where the obscurebanded together for mutual comfort. Failure to make a club or making a weak club meant that a sophomore had failed at Princeton and that his life would be clouded by this rejection—or so it seemed. The snobbery of the system did not bother Fitzgerald; he simply wanted to make one of the top clubs. During that year Fitzgerald and his classmates had the sense of being scrutinized by the upperclassmen. He had decided that he wanted the University Cottage Club, which he regarded as the most powerful as well as the most social. Walker Ellis, his collaborator on Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi!, was president of the club.

Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! premiered at Princeton on 19 December 1914 and went on a 3,500-mile Christmas tour, from which Fitzgerald was excluded by the Committee on Non-Athletic Eligibility. The Princetonian reviews gave most of the credit to Walker Ellis, but the Baltimore Sun singled out Fitzgerald: “The lyrics of the songs were written by F. S. Fitzgerald, who could take his place right now with the brightest writers of witty lyrics in America.”

Fitzgerald went home for Christmas a celebrity—the local boy who had made good at Princeton and was on his way to becoming one of the gods of his class. On January 4 he capped a splendid term by meeting Ginevra King. Marie Hersey of St. Paul was attending West-over, a Connecticut girls’ school, and had invited her schoolmate for a Christmas visit. A sixteen-year-old beauty from Lake Forest, Illinois, Ginevra King already had a string of conquests among Ivy Leaguers. Fitzgerald met her at a party in her honor at the Town and Country Club, followed by supper at the McDavitt home. He secured a movie date for the next afternoon before his departure for Princeton and promptly fell in love with Ginevra, who matched his dreams of the perfect girl: beautiful, rich, socially secure, and sought after. The last qualification was important. His ideal girl had to be one pursued by many men; there had to be an element of competition. Ginevra later remarked that Fitzgerald thought she knew the way up. He recorded in his Notebooks: “I didn’t have the two top things—great animal magnetism or money. I had the two second things, tho’, good looks and intelligence. So I always got the top girl.”

His style with girls involved an elaborate line (“Please fall in love with me”), and they responded to him because he gave them the impression that he was concentrating wholly on them. He made them feel interesting as well as attractive. There was a touch of exhibitionism in almost everything Fitzgerald did, and with the right sort of girl he had a stimulating audience.

Fitzgerald managed to pass five out of his six courses in January 1915, cutting the chemistry exam. He received Third groups in English and logic, and Fifths in his other courses. In the second term of his sophomore year he took seven courses—the five required courses plus a repeat of coordinate geometry and a seventh course as a penalty for exceeding the fifty-cut limit while working on the Triangle production. His spring 1915 program was psychology, Latin (Horace and Catullus), chemistry (qualitative analysis), English (survey of English literature), French (seventeenth-century literature), coordinate geometry, and an unidentified history course for exceeding the cut limit.

Upon returning to Princeton after Christmas, Fitzgerald began writing Ginevra King almost daily letters—some so long that they had to be mailed in two envelopes. None of these letters survives. (At the same time he was also corresponding with several St. Paul girls.) Ginevra tried to keep up her end of the correspondence, but she was clearly outclassed. What was easy for him became a chore for her. In February Fitzgerald visited her at Westover.

On 26 February 1915 Fitzgerald was elected secretary of the Triangle Club for 1915-16; this meant that he would almost certainly be president in his senior year—if he could remain in college and be eligible for extracurricular activities. His social success at Princeton was satisfactorily established in March when he received bids from Cap and Gown, Quadrangle, Cannon, and Cottage. The night of the club elections he romped in the snow with Sap Donahoe and passed out at the club dinner. Donahoe was Fitzgerald’s only close friend to join Cottage with him; his other friends—Alexander McKaig, Town-send Martin, Ludlow Fowler, and John Bishop—went to Quadrangle, the club for literary types.

Although he got drunk at the Cottage election dinner, Fitzgerald was not regarded as a heavy drinker. He would take Bronxes and daiquiris during trips to New York, but in Princeton he confined himself to beer. When he got tight, his friends suspected him of pretending to be drunker than he really was—that it was a way of getting attention. All his life he would play the clown when he found himself in a social situation that he felt he could not handle.

While he was emerging as a campus figure, Fitzgerald devoted thought to achieving personal perfection. He analyzed his classmates and cataloged the qualities of the most prominent undergraduates. Observing that a tenor voice seemed to be one of the hallmarks, he tried to develop one. A February 1915 Ledger entry reads: “If Icouldn’t be perfect I wouldn’t be anything.” This acute self-consciousness was poor training for an exemplary citizen “but good material for those who do much of the world’s rarest work,” as he later wrote.

Fitzgerald continued to contribute unsigned jokes, parodies, and poems to the Tiger and was elected to the editorial board in 1915. He began appearing in the Lit in 1915, commencing his serious literary apprenticeship as he worked with more difficult material and refined his technique. Under the editorships of Wilson and Bishop, the Lit was then at the peak of its prominence and was regarded respectfully on and off campus. Fitzgerald’s first Lit appearance came in spring 1915 with “Shadow Laurels”—a one-act play about an American who goes to Paris to find out about his dead father, a drunken failure, and discovers that the father was loved by his friends because he gave expression to their lives. At the end the American offers this toast: “I drink to one who might have been all, who was nothing—who might have sung; who only listened—who might have seen the sun; but who watched a dying ember—who drank of gall and wore a wreath of shadow laurels—” “Shadow Laurels” was the first story in which Fitzgerald explored his feelings about his father; a series of weak fathers would appear in his work. The second Fitzgerald Lit appearance that spring was “The Ordeal” (later rewritten as “Benediction”), a symbolic piece about a Jesuit novice’s waverings before taking his vows. The story reveals Fitzgerald’s awareness of evil—not just sin—and his sense of the supernatural. “The Ordeal” probably expresses his concern about his own destiny. Whether or not Fitzgerald seriously considered entering the priesthood, he was searching for some ideal, a concept of perfection, to which he could dedicate himself.

As a Lit contributor, Fitzgerald developed a closer friendship with Bunny Wilson, its chairman in 1915-16. They decided to collaborate on a Triangle show—one that would be different and have a real plot. Wilson wrote the book and Fitzgerald provided the lyrics for The Evil Eye, the club’s 1915 production. Set in a Normandy fishing village, the plot dealt with an amnesiac shipwreck survivor and her rescuer, who is reputed to have the evil eye. As the Princetonian put it: “The taking of the girl by Boileau and the arrest of Jacques on the instigation of the peasants form a tangle from which the hero and heroine are able to extricate themselves only in time for the last curtain”—which indicates that The Evil Eye was not so very different from other Triangle shows, although it was regarded as rather literary. Fitzgerald’s lyrics again attracted favorable notice:

The Girl of the Golden West
Ride your horse right to my heart
(All a-whirl, all a-whirl, for my little girl.)
Tied am I by cowgirl art
(To a tree, to a tree, hanging over me,)
We await the hour
When we can round ’em up again
In that operatic style.
I’m happy while Caruso twirls his rope
(While the hills, while the hills, ring with tenor trills)
You could swear he had the dope
(On the names, on the names, such as Jesse James,)
Don’t know whether to bide or go
To the borders of Idaho
Oh—Puccini, do it some more.

Fitzgerald’s showing on his June 1915 exams was his worst yet. Of his seven courses he managed to pass only four on the first try: psychology (4), English (3), French (4), history (5). He failed the Latin exam twice before passing it and failed coordinate geometry again before passing a make-up exam. He failed qualitative analysis three times. Fitzgerald summarized his sophomore year in his Ledger as “A year of tremendous rewards that toward the end overreached itself and ruined me. Ginevra-Triangle year.”

In June, Ginevra came to the Princeton prom chaperoned by her mother. Fitzgerald took her to New York, where they dined at the Ritz, saw Nobody Home, and attended the Midnight Frolic cabaret. He then visited her at Lake Forest on his way back to St. Paul. His stay at home was short; he had been invited to the Donahoe ranch in Montana, where he thoroughly enjoyed himself—getting drunk with the cowhands and winning $50 in a poker game. The trip provided the setting for “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” in 1922.

6 Junior Year [1915-1916]

Fitzgerald’s junior year,1915-16, was a disaster. He began the college year by failing the make-up exam in qualitative analysis, thereby again becoming ineligible for campus offices—and in particular for the presidency of the Triangle Club, which went to Paul Nelson. Twenty years later Fitzgerald analyzed the permanent results of that disappointment:

To me college would never be the same. There were to be no badges of pride, no medals, after all. It seemed on one March afternoon that I had lost every single thing I wanted—and that night was the first time that I hunted down the spectre of womanhood that, for a little while, makes everything else seem unimportant.

Years later I realized that my failure as a big shot was all right—instead of serving on committees, I took a beating in English poetry; when I got the idea of what it was all about, I set about learning how to write. On Shaw’s principle that “If you don’t get what you like, you better like what you get,” it was a lucky break—at the moment, it was a harsh and bitter business to know that my career as a leader of men was over.

Since that day I have not been able to fire a bad servant, and I am astonished and impressed by people who can. Some old desire for personal dominance was broken and gone. Life around me was a solemn dream, and I lived on the letters I wrote to a girl in another city. A man does not recover from such jolts—he becomes a different person and, eventually, the new person finds new things to care about.

Fitzgerald’s expression for sexual intercourse with a whore—“I hunted down the spectre of womanhood”—is noteworthy. As late as 1936 fornication would still carry connotations of supernatural corruption in his fiction.

That Fitzgerald’s reaction to the deprivation of a college honor was so extreme as to cripple his whole life may seem incredible; but his analysis of the loss provides a gauge of the intensity of his commitment to the prizes of life—not just the prizes of Princeton. For Fitzgerald the prizes of life were more than badges of position or even fame. He measured himself against personal standards of character and will, believing that “life was something you dominated if you were any good.” His Princeton failure provoked another seizure of self-assessment in which he tried to develop new ways to realize his aspirations. If This Side of Paradise can be trusted as autobiography, Father Fay helped him to reach the concept of the “personage,” the man who is known by his achievements. Monsignor Darcy—the Fay figure— counsels Amory Blaine in the novel:

“A personality is what you thought you were… Personality is a physical matter almost entirely; it lowers the people it acts on—I’ve seen it vanish in a long sickness. But while a personality is active, it overrides ’the next thing.’ Now a personage, on the other hand, gathers. He is never thought of apart from what he’s done. He’s a bar on which a thousand things have been hung—glittering things sometimes, as ours are; but he uses those things with a cold mentality back of them.”

Fitzgerald would always display a perplexing ability to do “the next thing” and then disregard it. He wanted to be both a personality and a personage, a magnetic individual and an achiever.

In the fall of 1915 Fitzgerald roomed alone at 32 Little Hall. He scribbled wake-up notes on the dorm wall, and Dale Warren, a freshman who roomed across the hall, became his alarm clock. Warren remembered that manuscripts were piled all around Fitzgerald’s room. The first term of his junior year Fitzgerald’s courses included English (the Renaissance—Spenser, Marlowe, Sidney), English (Chaucer), Italian (grammar, composition, and reading), French (the Romantic Movement from Rousseau to France), philosophy (history of philosophy), and a sixth course in ancient art for exceeding the fifty-cut limit.

The French literature course was taught by Christian Gauss, the only Princeton professor with whom Fitzgerald maintained a friendship after college. Gauss later observed that at Princeton Fitzgerald reminded him of all of the Karamazov brothers at once. Fitzgerald acknowledged this mixture of unreconciled qualities in his character in a letter to Wilson: “I don’t think you ever realized at Princeton the childish simplicity that lay behind all my petty sophistication and my lack of a real sense of honor.” The need for values or codes was much on Fitzgerald’s mind at college, and he told Norris Jackson and Joe McKibbin that he wanted five good principles to live up to.

Although still ineligible to hold office or perform in the Triangle Club show, Fitzgerald became involved in the production of The Evil Eye, impressing the cast with his ability to write new lyrics on demand during rehearsals. Perhaps as compensation for his ineligibility, the Triangle Club used a publicity photo of Fitzgerald costumed as a showgirl. It appeared in several newspapers, including The New York Times, and brought him fan letters from men who wanted to meet him and from an agent who offered to book him for a vaudeville tour as a female impersonator—a popular act at the time. There is no evidence that Fitzgerald especially delighted in dressing as a woman. All the female roles in the Triangle Club shows were played by male undergraduates, which was regarded as part of the fun. It was conventional collegiate humor and elicited no ominous comment.

Fitzgerald continued to write steadily for the Tiger in his junior year. In October 1915 there was a competition for a new Princeton football song, which Fitzgerald won with “A Cheer for Princeton”:

Glory, Glory to the Black and Orange,
It’s the Tiger’s turn to-day.
Glory, glory it’s the same old story
Soon as Princeton starts to play.
Eli, Eli, all your hopes are dead
For the Tiger’s growling in his lair.
Don’t you hear him?
You’ll learn to fear him,
Try to face him if you dare.

Princeton, cheer for Princeton,
Raise your voices loud and free
Strong and steady
Ever ready
For defeat or victory.
Princeton, cheer for Princeton,
Always sure to win renown,
So we’ll raise our praise to Nassau
To the pride of the Tiger town.

“A Cheer for Princeton” seems unique in its genre for anticipating defeat—which may be why it never caught on.

Fitzgerald went to the Yale game at New Haven in October, perhaps to hear “A Cheer for Princeton,” and had dinner with Ginevra in Waterbury, Connecticut. His epistolary courtship continued unabated,some of his letters running to thirty pages. He paid less attention than ever to his classes, for the loss of the “badges of pride” made the effort of studying seem worthless. His dissipations took the form of conversation, unrequired reading, and writing. He found his English professors lacking in real enthusiasm for literature, as shown by two of the poems he incorporated into This Side of Paradise:

Good-morning, Fool…
Three times a week
You hold us helpless while you speak,
Teasing our thirsty souls with the
Sleek ’yeas’ of your philosophy…

The hour’s up … and raised from rest
One hundred children of the blest
Cheat you a word or two with feet
That down the noisy aisle-ways beat …
Forget on narrow-minded earth
The Mighty Yawn that gave you birth.
—“In a Lecture Room”

Fitzgerald wrote a four-stanza poem during a lecture on Tennyson’s “A Song in the Time of Order” and handed it to the teacher, Alfred Noyes:

Songs in the time of order
You left for us to sing,
Proofs with excluded middles,
Answers to life in rhyme …

Fitzgerald was in the infirmary twice in November with what was diagnosed as malaria, but which may have been a mild case of tuberculosis. On 28 November he attended his last class and went home early for Christmas vacation. The Triangle Club’s tour with The Evil Eye was a great success. In Chicago 300 girls occupied the front rows; after the final curtain they gave the Princeton locomotive cheer and tossed bouquets at the cast. In St. Paul and Minneapolis the shop windows and trolleys were decorated with Princeton colors; but Fitzgerald was in the audience and not on the stage.

He dropped out of college for the rest of the year to recuperate, a decision dictated by his academic situation. His Princeton transcript notes that “Mr. Fitzgerald was required to withdraw from the University January 3, 1916 for scholastic deficiencies”; but in May he persuaded Dean Howard McClennan to provide him with a To-Whom-It-May-Concern letter stating that he had voluntarily withdrawn “because of ill health and that he was fully at liberty, at that time, to go on with his class.” The dean sent this letter with a note saying, “This is for your sensitive feelings. I hope you will find it soothing.” For the rest of his life Fitzgerald remained touchy about remarks that he had flunked out of Princeton, insisting that he had left on a stretcher. The Ledger judgment for 1915-16 is: “A year of terrible disappointments + the end of all college dreams. Everything bad in it was my own fault.”

In February, Fitzgerald cooked up a locally famous hoax when, with Gus Schurmeier, he attended a Psi U dance at the University of Minnesota dressed as a girl and shocked his dancing partners with a racy line. (The joke supposedly ended when Fitzgerald tried to use the men’s room.) He spent the spring of 1916 in St. Paul ostensibly studying, but mostly loafing and writing. His book for a Triangle Club show was declined, and he continued to send contributions to the Tiger and the Lit. Fitzgerald’s only Lit appearance in the spring was “To My Unused Greek Book,” an imitation of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

Fitzgerald was never close to his sister Annabel, who did not share his intense self-awareness. Five years younger than he, Annabel did not interest him during his boyhood, and while he was at Newman and Princeton she was at convent schools. When she was a teenager, Fitzgerald turned his attention to refining her social skills—he always wanted to educate or improve the women he knew. He provided detailed written instructions on how to improve her image and make herself more popular with boys.


(C) I’ll line up your good points against your bad physically.

HairTeeth only fair
Good general sizePale complexion
Good featuresOnly fair figure
 Large hands and feet.

Now you see of the bad points only the last cannot be remedied. Now while slimness is a fashion you can cultivate it by exercise—Find out now from some girl. Exercise would give you a healthier skin. You should never rub cold cream into your face because you have a slight tendency to grow hairs on it. I’d find out about this from some Dr. who’d tell you what you could use in place of a skin cream.

(D)   A girl should always be careful about such things as underskirt showing, long drawers showing under stocking, bad breath, mussy eyebrows (with such splendid eyebrows as yours you should brush them or wet them and train them every morning and night as I advised you to do long ago. They oughtn’t to have a hair out of place.

(E)   Walk and general physical grace. The point about this is that you’ll be up against situations when ever you go out which will call for you to be graceful—not to be physically clumsy. Now you can only attain this by practise because it no more comes naturally to you than it does to me. Take some stylish walk you like and imitate it. A girl should have a little class. Look what a stylish walk Eleanor and Grace and Betty have and what a homely walk Marie and Alice have. Just because the first three deliberately practised every where until now its so natural to them that they cant be ungraceful—This is true about every gesture. I noticed last Saturday that your gestures are awkward and so unnatural as to seem affected. Notice the way graceful girls hold their hands and feet. How they stoop, wave, run and then try because you cant practise those things when men are around. Its two late then. They ought to be incentive then

(F)   General summing up.<

(Fitzgerald later noted on this ten-page document: “Written by me at 19 or so Basis of Bernice.” But Annabel would have been thirteen or fourteen then, and his instructions seem to apply to an older girl. In “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” written in 1919, the heroine is given popularity lessons.)

Fitzgerald’s remote relationship with his sister can be seen in the comment of the hero of “The Romantic Egotist” on his younger brother: “I was intensely critical about him and tried desperately to keep him from falling into a severe self-complacency. I succeeded only too well and finally forced him into a state of self-defence where he leaned almost wholly on mother. All through the next ten years, close as we were thrown together, we never really understood each other.”

In March 1916 Ginevra was dismissed from Westover. Fitzgerald regarded it as a calamity and later incongruously paired it with hiswife’s insanity in one of his admonishing letters to his daughter when she was at school: “It was in the cards that Ginevra King should get fired from Westover—also that your mother should wear out young.” He visited Ginevra at Lake Forest in August 1916, but the meeting was unsatisfactory. Fitzgerald was no longer her number one suitor, and the competition included sons of wealth. It was pointedly remarked in Fitzgerald’s hearing that poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.

7 Another Junior Tear [1916-1917]

When Fitzgerald returned to Princeton in September 1916 to repeat his junior year, he was officially a member of the Class of 1918 but continued to regard himself as Princeton ’17. He roomed with Paul Dickey, who wrote the music for his Triangle songs, at 185 Little Hall. Although his Triangle book had been rejected, he provided the lyrics for the 1916—17 show, Safety First, which was written by John Biggs, Jr., ’18 and J. F. Bohmfalk ’17.

Fitzgerald repeated four of the courses he had taken the year before—the English Renaissance, Chaucer, the French Romantic Movement, and history of philosophy—and also took European history and qualitative analysis (which he had failed as a sophomore). The English Renaissance literature preceptor was Nathaniel Griffin, whom Fitzgerald resented for dissecting the language of poetry. In his textbook edition of Sidney’s Defense of Poesy Fitzgerald recorded this protest:

Gee but this man Griffin is terrible. I sit here bored to death and hear him pick English poetry to pieces. Small man, small mind. Snotty, disagreeable Damn him. “Neat” is his favorite word. Imagine Shakespeare being neat. Yesterday I counted and found that he used the expression “Isn’t that so” fifty four times. Oh what a disagreeable silly ass he is He’s going to get married. God help his wife. Poor girl. Shes in for a bad time. They say Griffin has made more men leave the English department than any other praeceptor in College. The slovenly old fool! I have the most terrible praeceptors.

Ginevra came to the Yale game in November 1916, but their relationship was clearly wearing out. The final break would occur in January.

Fitzgerald worked on the December Lit “Chaopolitan” issue, a burlesque of Cosmopolitan magazine, supplying unsigned parodies of popular writers John Fox, Jr., and Robert W. Chambers: “Jemina A Story of the Blue Ridge Mountains by John Phlox, Jr.” and “The Usual Thing by Robert W. Shameless.” He liked the Fox parody so much that he later reprinted it in Vanity Fair and collected it in Tales of the Jazz Age (1922). Fox, the author of the best-selling Trail of the Lonesome Pine, wrote sentimental novels about Southern mountaineers. Fitzgerald’s burlesque is routine: “Her feet were bare. Her hands, large and powerful, hung down below her knees. Her face showed the ravages of work. Although but sixteen, she had for over a dozen years been supporting her aged pappy and mappy by brewing mountain whiskey.”

Fitzgerald was again ineligible for the Christmas Triangle tour. Safety First, a satire set in “a Futurist art community,” had some of Fitzgerald’s most admired lyrics.

It Is Art
Art, Art, the period is o’er
When your standards stand apart;
Mister Comstock’s indignation
Gives a picture reputation
And doubles its sale as Art.
Art, Art, you’re getting rather deep,
Common sense and you must part;
For a complex cubist dimple
Makes the “Mona Lisa” simple,
There’s no “Safety First” in Art.

The January 1917 Lit published Fitzgerald’s “The Debutante,” a play inspired by Ginevra King in which he admiringly delineates the selfishness of a society belle. Helen Halcyon’s admission of her enjoyment in playing the love game anticipates the attitude of a string of Fitzgerald’s heroines: “I like the feeling of going after them, I like the thrill when you meet them and notice that they’ve got black hair that’s wavey, but awfully neat, or have dark lines under their eyes, and look charmingly dissipated, or have funny smiles that come and go and leave you wondering whether they smiled at all. Then I like the way they begin to follow you with their eyes. They’re interested. Good! Then I begin to place him. Try to get his type, find what he likes; right then the romance begins to lessen for me and increase for him.” “The Debutante” was reprinted by The Smart Set in 1919 and rewritten into This Side of Paradise for Amory Blaine’s first meeting with the heroine, Rosalind.

Fitzgerald came close to flunking out in January 1917 when he failed three of his six courses: English Renaissance (2), Chaucer (3), history (F), French (2), philosophy (absent), chemistry (F). The two second groups (the equivalent of b’s) were the highest grades he received at Princeton; one came in Louis Miles’s English Renaissance poetry course and the other in Christian Gauss’s French romantic literature course. Despite his strong interest in history, Fitzgerald failed Walter Hall’s European history course. This failure still rankled in 1938 when he wrote his daughter: “It has been so ironic to me in after life to buy books to master subjects in which I took courses at college which made no impression on me whatsoever. I once flunked a course on the Napoleonic era, and now I have over 300 books in my library on the subject + the other A scholars wouldn’t even remember it now.”

Like many undergraduates who have not trained for a profession, Fitzgerald brooded over the problem of what to do after college, and his problem was intensified by the conviction that a high destiny awaited him. He wanted to be a great man, if not a leader of men. When he spoke about his writing ambitions, he astonished Edmund Wilson by announcing: “I want to be one of the greatest writers who ever lived, don’t you?” He meant it. Wilson later observed: “I had not myself really quite entertained this fantasy because I had been reading Plato and Dante. Scott had been reading Booth Tarkington, Compton Mackenzie, H. G. Wells and Swinburne; but when he later got to better writers, his standards and his achievement went sharply up, and he would always have pitted himself against the best in his own line that he knew. I thought this remark rather foolish at the time, yet it was one of the things that made me respect him; and I am sure that his intoxicated ardor represented the healthy way for a young man of talent to feel.”

Before America entered the war, Princetonians were joining the Allies or the American-sponsored ambulance units serving with the Allies, and Fitzgerald considered going to war—not for patriotic reasons but as a way to end what had become a pointless college career. In the spring of 1917, during what should have been his graduating term, he took only five courses, indicating that he (or Princeton) had abandoned trying to make up his failed courses. His courses were Shakespeare, history of the English language, French (the second termof the Romantic Movement), history of philosophy (Descartes to Kant), and again qualitative analysis. His poor scholastic record does not betray indifference to Princeton. He loved it and became almost a caricature of the loyal alumnus. For the rest of his life he returned to Princeton as though looking for some irrecoverable part of himself.

That spring Fitzgerald concentrated on the Lit instead of the Triangle Club and appeared thirteen times, with a play, four stories, three poems, and five reviews of books by Shane Leslie, E. F. Benson, H. G. Wells, and Booth Tarkington. “The Spire and the Gargoyle” (February 1917), which he regarded as his first mature writing, is a story into which he put his feelings about Princeton—his love for the physical place itself and his sense of having failed to take advantage of all that the university offered. The story is built around three encounters between an undergraduate who flunks out and a preceptor who is compelled for financial reasons to resign his position and teach at a Brooklyn, New York, high school. Both regret their exile from Princeton, but the ex-student’s feeling of loss is the greater because for him the campus symbolizes blocked aspiration. “Tarquin of Cheapside” (April 1917), which Fitzgerald later collected in Tales of the Jazz Age, relates how Shakespeare wrote “The Rape of Lucrece” after committing the same offense. “Babes in the Woods” (May 1917), a companion story to “The Debutante,” was incorporated into This Side of Paradise for the first encounter between Amory and Isabelle. Based on Fitzgerald’s meeting with Ginevra King in St. Paul, it describes how a pair of well-matched young veterans play the love game. The most ambitious of the four Lit stories in terms of Fitzgerald’s development as a social historian—that is, as a moralist—is “Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge” (June 1917), which examines the change in sexual conduct among the upper-class English during the war and a dying young officer’s longing for meanings in a meaningless slaughter: “Well, he’d find out the whole muddled business in about three minutes, and a lot of good it’d do anybody else left in the muddle. Damned muddle—everything a muddle, everybody offside, and the referee gotten rid of—everybody trying to say that if the referee were there he’d have been on their side. He was going to go and find that old referee—find him—get hold of him, get a good hold—cling to him—cling to him— ask him—.”

The three poems—“Rain Before Dawn” (February), “Princeton—-The Last Day” (May), and “On a Play Twice Seen” (June)—are mood pieces that show Fitzgerald’s heavy reliance on poetic diction.He had developed a prose style, but his poetry was derivative and self-conscious.

Princeton—The Last Day
The last light wanes and drifts across the land,
The low, long land, the sunny land of spires.
The ghosts of evening tune again their lyres
And wander singing, in a plaintive band
Down the long corridors of trees. Pale fires
Echo the night from tower top to tower.
Oh sleep that dreams and dream that never tires,
Press from the petals of the lotus-flower
Something of this to keep, the essence of an hour!

No more to wait the twilight of the moon
In this sequestrated vale of star and spire;
For one, eternal morning of desire
Passes to time and earthy afternoon.
Here, Heracletus, did you build of fire
And changing stuffs your prophecy far hurled
Down the dead years; this midnight I aspire
To see, mirrored among the embers, curled
In flame, the splendor and the sadness of the world.

“Princeton—The Last Day” was included in This Side of Paradise, but in prose format. Although Wilson praised the poem for its “depth and dignity of which I didn’t suppose you capable,” Fitzgerald’s ear for the cadence and color of language would be put to better use in prose. He admitted that he could never become a great poet because he was “not enough of a sensualist” and noticed only the obvious in beauty. Nonetheless, his apprenticeship to poetry helped to form his prose style: “… I don’t think anyone can write succinct prose unless they have at least tried to write a good iambic pentameter sonnet, and read Browning’s short dramatic poems, etc.—but that was my personal approach to prose.” Fitzgerald reveled in the alliterative rhythms of Swinburne, but the rich imagery of Keats became his standard for great poetry.

When his daughter was in college, Fitzgerald tried to imbue her with his love of Keats:

Poetry is either something that lives like fire inside you—like music to the musician or Marxism to the communist—or else it is nothing, an empty, formalized bore around which pedants can endlessly drone their notes and explanations. The Grecian Urn  is unbearably beautiful withevery syllable as inevitable as the notes in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or it’s just something you don’t understand. It is what it is because an extraordinary genius paused at that point in history and touched it. I suppose I’ve read it a hundred times. About the tenth time I began to know what it was about, and caught the chime in it and the exquisite inner mechanics. Likewise with The Nightingale which I can never read through without tears in my eyes; likewise the Pot of Basil with its great stanzas about the two brothers “Why were they proud, etc.”; and The Eve of St. Agnes which has the richest, most sensuous imagery in English, not excepting Shakespeare. And finally his three or four great sonnets, Bright Star and the others.

Knowing those things very young and granted an ear, one could scarcely ever afterwards be unable to distinguish between gold and dross in what one read. In themselves those eight poems are a scale of workmanship for anybody who wants to know truly about words, their most utter value for evocation, persuasion or charm. For awhile after you quit Keats all other poetry seems to be only whistling or humming.

Fitzgerald would presently try to become a prose Keats, imitating the poet’s rhythms and enriching his own style with lush Keatsian imagery. He later observed that “all fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences. Probably the finest technical poem in English is Keats’ Eve of St. Agnes. A line like: The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass, (He imitated this line in “The limousine crawled crackling down the pebbled drive” (“Love in the Night”).) is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement—the limping, trembling and freezing is going on before your own eyes.”

Keats became an enduring presence in Fitzgerald’s life, providing him with a model of creative sensibility. Like Keats, Fitzgerald was painfully responsive to the mutability of beauty and the evanescence of youth. Both yearned for immortality through art, and Keats’s early death imbued Fitzgerald with a sense of urgency. Above all, Fitzgerald identified with the Keatsian archetype—the handsome youth acclaimed for his genius. Literature was a glamorous thing for Fitzgerald. He aspired to early triumph and the fame that went with it. Grub Street and la vie boheme were not for him. He was not prepared to starve for art or to endure neglect. Fitzgerald’s commitment to the dream of the literary life that has entertained many undergraduates was disingenuously immaculate. He knew he had talent; he wondered whether he had the quality of genius to match his ambitions.

Despite his concern that he was marking time at Princeton, the spring 1917 term was stimulating. A visit to Wilson—now a literary journalist living in Greenwich Village—provided him with a possible model for his own career, strengthening New York’s pull on him. The great event at Princeton that term was the anti-club movement led by sophomores Henry H. Strater, David K. E. Bruce (the son of a U.S. senator), and Richard F. Cleveland (the son of Grover Cleveland), which brought about resignations from the eating clubs on the grounds that they were not only snobbish but inimical to the ideals of Princeton. Fitzgerald did not become involved in the controversy, but he was friendly with Bruce and Strater—and was impressed by the latter’s Whitmanesque-Tolstoyan principles.

On 6 April 1917 America entered the war, rather to Fitzgerald’s relief, for it solved the problem of his future. He did not volunteer immediately, although the aviation service attracted him as the romantic equivalent of the Civil War cavalry. Instead, he signed up in May for three weeks of intensive military training under a plan by which students were given full credit for their dropped academic courses. Fitzgerald thereby passed all his courses with straight Third group grades.

Fay and Leslie maintained their interest in their protege, and Fitzgerald saw them in Washington and New York. Leslie took him to visit his brother-in-law, Congressman Bourke Cockran, on Long Island, where Fitzgerald delivered a late-night oration to the Cockrans’ Pekingese, climaxing with the declaration that “A man only wants to know for certain that his children are his own!”

Fitzgerald was included in the Nassau Herald Class of 1917, the graduating class yearbook, in which his statement of future plans reads (on page 100): “He will pursue graduate work in English at Harvard, then he will engage in newspaper work.” In the class poll he received two votes for Most Brilliant (Bishop received fifty), two for Handsomest, five for Prettiest, seven for Wittiest, fifteen for Thinks He Is Wittiest, two for Thinks He Is Best Dressed, eight for Thinks He Is Biggest Politician, and six as the class’s Favorite Dramatist. At the Princeton ’17 graduation John Peale Bishop carried off most of the literary honors: he was class poet, collaborated on the class ode, and won English prizes. Fitzgerald’s Ledger summary of what should have been his senior year at Princeton was “pregnant year of endeavor. Outwardly failure, with moments of anger but the foundation of my literary life.”

Fitzgerald spent July with Bishop at Charles Town, West Virginia, writing poetry and discussing literature and religion. Then he went home to St. Paul, where he took the exam for an infantry commission at Fort Snelling. Father Fay, who had been engaged in a scheme for securing Ireland’s independence in return for American Catholic support of the Allies, was slated for a secret mission to Russia aimed at unifying the Catholic Church, using the cover of a Red Cross mission. Proposing to take Fitzgerald along as his aide, Fay instructed him to apply for a passport and wait until plans were firm. The priest’s letters to Fitzgerald show his relish in playing the role of secret agent:

Deal Beach, New Jersey
August 22nd, 1917.
Dear Fitz:—
I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have gotten your letter.

First of all as to money: Your $3600 will cover everything except your uniforms. There is no salary for any of us; they expect us to take it out in glory, and really there will be glory enough if we manage to do what I hope we will.

Now, in the eyes of the world, we are a Red Cross Commission sent out to report on the work of the Red Cross, and especially on the State of the civil population, and that is all I can say. But I will tell you this, the State Department is writing to our ambassador in Russia and Japan, the British Foreign Office is writing to their ambassador in Japan and Russia, and I have other letters to our ambassador in Japan and Russia, and to everybody else in fact who can be of the slightest assistance to us. Moreover I am taking letters from Eminence to the Catholic Bishops.

The conversion of Russia has already begun. Several millions of Russians have already come over to the Catholic Church from the schism in the last month. Whether you look at it from the spiritual or temporal point of view it is an immense opportunity and will be a help to you all the rest of your life.

You will be a Red Cross Lieutenant, and I will let you know as soon as I get your commission what your uniform will be.

Will you come on and join me in New York and get your uniforms there at the regular Red Cross place, where you can get them in 24 hours. You are measured at dawn, fitted at noon and fitted out at sunset. Or will you join me in Chicago and we can go thence to San Francisco and bid affectionate farewell to Peevie, and get to Vancouver in time for the 27th. Or shall I come to St. Paul, and will we go by the C.P.R. But what will Peevie do then, poor fellow. It is hard enough on him in any case.

I think the best thing you and I can do is to write a. book while we areaway. I am going to take a Corona typewriter. I am so glad you know how to work one.

We shall have to work very hard going over on your French. Get a Rosenthal method at once and go right through it.

You will have to take plenty of warm clothes as we shall be in a very cold climate most of the time. You will be in Russia three months, not away only three months. Your money ought to be in this form: It costs $1600 for our traveling over and back, and $2000 in a letter of credit while we are living in Russia, as we shall have to keep at least some state.

Now, do be discreet about what you say to anybody. If anybody asks you say you are going as secretary to a Red Cross Commission. Do not say anything more than that, and if you show this letter to anybody, show it only in the strictest confidence. I would not show it to anybody but your mother, father and aunt.

To my mind the most extraordinary thing about it is that we may play a part in the restoration of Russia to Catholic unity. The schismatic church is crumbling to pieces; it has now no State to lean on.

I am tremendously glad you are going to have this experience. It really will change your whole life. Poor Peevie could not go. I was hoping that he might and I would have taken you both in that case.

Leslie cannot go as he is not an American citizen, and the Red Cross is now the Government, so they cannot send anybody who is not an American. Besides he could not leave the Dublin; we cannot all be away.

I think the Dublin Review will be jolly glad to get anything we send them, signed with any initials we care to put to it. But I think we had better save our efforts for a book which we will write together, and to which we will put both our names.

Though we get no salary we all have to work hard, and you will have to help me with an enormous amount of correspondence. As you would elegantly express it, “the whole thing is a knock-out.” I sincerely hope the war will be over long before you take to flying.

Now, last of all, whatever you surmise about the commission, keep your brilliant guesses to yourself. You guess far too well. Above all be careful what you say about religion. It is for that very reason that the attaches are Protestant. There will be no Catholice except yourself, myself and my servant. Whatever is done A.M.D.G. will be done by you and me. For this reason I shall arrange for you to share my cabin, and we can take a room together when we get to Russia, as it will save some money at least and give us a chance to talk the things over which must be strictly confidential between us.

About your commission—give it up now, and say that as you have heard nothing you have decided to wait until you are of age and then go in foraviation. But I hope to goodness, as I said before that the war will be over before you take to that.

As soon as you have read this letter and shown it at home, burn it.
With best love,
S. W. Fay

After Fitzgerald obtained his passport for “secretarial work” in Russia, Fay’s mission was canceled. Fay went to Rome as a Red Cross major (“Followed by the Secret Service of three nations,” according to Leslie), but was unable to take Fitzgerald. After reporting to the Pope on a discussion with President Wilson about Vatican participation in the postwar peace conference, he was elevated to monsignor.

That summer Fitzgerald tried to tutor himself in philosophy, reporting to Wilson that he was reading James, Schopenhauer, and Bergson, as well as drinking gin. He returned to Princeton in September 1917 and roomed in Campbell Hall with John Biggs, Jr., the editor of the Tiger, while waiting for his commission. Although he must have registered for classes, his Princeton transcript has no courses listed for that term. He wrote for the Tiger and the Lit and had his first professional acceptance when Poet Lore magazine took “The Way of Purgation,” which it did not publish. When the Tiger was short of copy that fall, Biggs and Fitzgerald wrote the whole issue overnight. Fitzgerald claimed that his “Intercollegiate Petting-Cues”—“You really don’t look comfortable there”—in the Tiger attracted wide collegiate attention. Only seven of the Fitzgerald Tiger contributions are signed; twenty-seven others have been attributed to him on the basis of clippings in his scrapbooks. The contributions include parodies, jokes, cartoon ideas, and verse.

Robert Frost
A rugged young rhymer named Frost,
Once tried to be strong at all cost
The mote in his eye
May be barley or rye,
But his right in that beauty is lost.

Though the meek shall inherit the land,
He prefers a tough bird in the hand,
He puts him in inns,
And feeds him on gins,
And the high brows say, “Isn’t he grand?”

Fitzgerald appeared in the October issue of the Lit with a long poem, “The Cameo Frame,” and a story, “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw.” The story develops a major theme in Fitzgerald’s fiction: the gifted man ruined by a selfish woman. The hero is a scandalous middle-aged novelist who lost his Ginevra as a young man and never got over it. When he marries her after she is widowed, he stops writing. Much of Fitzgerald’s fiction would take the form of self-warnings or self-judgments, and this story is the first in which he analyzed the conflicting pulls of love and literature. The girl is the writer’s inspiration, but only when she is unattained. The satisfied artist is unproductive. Yet Fitzgerald was determined to pursue both love and literature because his idealized girl was an integral part of his ambitions.

It is impossible to determine the extent to which Fitzgerald’s attitudes toward women were shaped by Irish-Catholic Jansenism. Cornelis Jansen (1585-1638) maintained the doctrine of total human depravity. His followers were notable for their rigidly puritanical sexual views and misogyny, and Jansenist priests were influential in Ireland. Fitzgerald created a procession of female destroyers of men, but his judgment was not misogynistic. His women—even at their most destructive—are warmly attractive. If his men become their victims, it is the fault of the men for being weak. Given the romantic temperament of his male characters, it is clear they seek destruction—or at least welcome its potentiality. The romantic pattern of behavior expresses itself in defeat as well as triumph; and the noble failure who throws himself away for a gesture is a familiar romantic figure. Fitzgerald made a distinction which clearly pleased him since he used it twice (pp. 189, 246) in This Side of Paradise: “the sentimental person thinks things will last— the romantic person has a desperate confidence that they won’t.”

Fitzgerald’s attitude toward women as agents of destruction has little to do with sexual corruption, although he remained puritanical about sex. His women do have strong sexual appeal, of course; but that does not account for the conduct of his men who come to the battlefield of love hampered by a romantic disposition usually associated in fiction with the feminine nature. His men—not his women—render allegiance to the notion of the world well lost for love.

The literary traditions for Fitzgerald’s male lovers may be traced to the code of courtly love and to Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” His heroes, like Shakespeare’s Troilus, are betrayed or destroyed by women who lack the capacity for total romantic commitment. Thus Gatsby idealizes Daisy, who is unworthy of his devotion. Indeed, a strain of masochism can be detected in some of Fitzgerald’s men— almost as though they deliberately choose destructive women. Yet his condemnation of feminine selfishness is often mixed with respect for female strength of character.

Next Part 3 The Last of the Belles [1917-1920]

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).