College of One
by Sheilah Graham

The Master Plan

There would be no maths, botany, biology, Latin, or French. This education was for a woman who had to learn in a hurry, who wanted to be familiar with what in a broad sense was taught in a liberal arts college. It would embody Scott Fitzgerald's ideas on what should be taught and his personal method for getting the most from what he considered essential subjects in the shortest possible time. It would take between eighteen months and two years, he estimated. The student would be ready for her diploma in May 1941, after taking written and oral examinations on what she had learned. As the sole graduate of the F. Scott Fitzgerald College of One, class of “41, I would wear blue stockings and a cap and gown, and I would receive a unique scroll presented with due ceremony by the founder himself. It would also be a reeducation for Scott. He would be taking every course with me. We would study history, literature, poetry, philosophy, religion, music, and art. He was as eager to brush up on his own knowledge as I was to learn from the beginning.

The first part of the plan had two sections, a sketchy outline and a detailed list of the books I would actually be reading. The various courses were given to me by Scott one at a time as the education progressed, and apparently—unless there really was a copy of the curriculum that was stolen or lost—I returned each section to him as it was completed.

The courses were tentative and changed as we went along, since the main objective at the beginning was to get the plan on paper, to get started. French Drama (with some instruction), planned as the first course, to occupy six weeks, was postponed and then abandoned after some discussion of Racine. Proust had written about Phedre in his Remembrance of Things Past, and I was anxious to know what it was about. Scott read me Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. But there were other courses I needed more urgently than I did the French dramatists.

His knowledge of serious music was much greater than mine, but he needed help for this course. He turned to his newly acquired secretary, Frances Kroll, a gentle slender brunette recently out of college. Her brother, Nathan Kroll, conducted a symphony orchestra, and he decided which of the great composers I should study. Like all women in contact with Scott, Frances was speedily under his spell and was as much his admirer as I was; perhaps she showed more understanding of him in some respects.

Frances soon became Franny or Francois. At the beginning, until he was convinced of her complete capitulation, he inconsiderately telephoned her in the middle of the night to moan, “No one is reading me; what's the point of all this writing?” Or sometimes he awakened her to explain a change in the courses. Later he sent telegrams or left notes. Two have survived:

Dear Franny—oh how I regret this. Oh how my heart bleeds, but the arrival of Great Expec threw off page 2 of my poetry schedule. Oh how my heart bleeds and bleeds.

It meant a retyping of the entire poetry course.

Dear Francois, this is a development of the earlier chart. It will still just go on one big page, that is if the first column (the English stuff) will. Notice it's a little different in categories. Am sleeping.

The time allotment of three weeks only for the Greek and Roman History course surprised me. Scott explained that he was merely giving me a skim—through, a smattering of names, places and dates. When his daughter was planning to take Greek Civilization and Literature at Vassar, he wrote her: “It seems to me to be a profound waste of time.” At Princeton, Scott had written a parody of “Ode on a Grecian Urn' titled “To My Unused Greek Book',

Thou still unravished bride of quietness,
Thou joyless harbinger of future fear,
Garrulous alien, what thou mightest express
Will never fall, please God, upon my ear.

He was more interested in “Medieval History (500—1500)', although the time allowed was also three weeks. In 1935 Scott had made a careful plan for a medieval novel, tentatively titled Philippe, Count of Darkness. It was to run to 90,000 words. Later he considered rewriting three Philippe stories into a 30,000—word novelette. 'He is one of the best characters I have ever drawn,” he wrote Max Perkins in January 1939. Nothing came of it because he decided it would be more profitable for him to write a novel about Hollywood—now tentatively titled The Last Tycoon. He might have changed the title, had he lived. He was never quite sure of it. He explained to me why Stahr's first name was Monroe; “Jewish parents often give their sons the names of American Presidents.”

Again, Scott allowed three weeks for “History of France 100 b.c. to 1st World War”. He wrote a poem, “Lest We Forget (France by Big Shots)', for me to fix the rogues, the rulers, and the siecles in my mind, starting with the Gallo—Roman period. I found it a great aid to remembering events and learned it by heart. Among the verses were

Brennus, amid Roman wails,
Threw his sword into the scales …
Saint Louis was a pious blade
Who vainly led the last crusade …
Henry of Navarre, no ass,
Knew that France was worth a mass.
[For longer excerpts from this poem, see Beloved Infidel, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1958, pages 312—14.]

Elie  Faure's  courses  on  architecture  and  art  weredropped. Instead, I learned about capitals, pediments, and the round Roman arches that evolved into the Gothic architecture of the twelfth century in Prentice's Heritage of the Cathedral

“Decorative Art and Furniture” was to have lasted three weeks, but that too was abandoned, and it is only in the last decade that I have known the difference between Sheraton, Chippendale, Louis Quatorze, Regency, Victorian and Early American furniture.

According to “Possible Lines of Study', there were to be six weeks of “Readings in Foreign Literature (excluding French and Russian, Greek, Roman, Italian, Spanish, German)”—what was left? Scott changed the plan later to include the French and Russian authors—in fact, nearly all the foreigners.

I cannot remember what happened to “Cushman's Philosophy, with readings', to take twelve weeks. It is not anywhere on the philosophy course. “Spengler and Modern Philosophers” was to be the culmination of my education, as it had been for Kathleen and her ex—king in The Last Tycoon. “When you have completed Spengler you will know more of history than Scottie at Vassar,” he promised me. After he explained Spengler to me, I wondered whether I could ever read him. How could one man know so much of cultures and civilizations? And how alarming he was, with his prophecies of wars that would ravage Europe, then America, and spiral across the Pacific until Asia was master of the world.

By now I might have forgotten the order of the courses but for my correspondence with Johnny, in which I gave detailed accounts of my studies (without ever mentioning Scott Fitzgerald, as Scott never wrote of me to Zelda). Johnny would have been unhappy if he had known of Scott's importance in my life, as Zelda would have been if she had known of my existence. I showed Scott all my letters from Johnny, whom he found enchanting, with the dreams and hopes that never materialized. He read me most of the letters from Zelda. They were beautiful, Ithought, with brilliant imagery, although, as Scott pointed out, the unusual prose led to a vast nowhere.

I quote from a letter I wrote to Johnny on 3 March 1940:

I am now reading Ernest Renan's Life of Jesus. He debunks the mystical and miraculous part and leaves a good, great and simple personality. I have also re—read the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. I have been going to some Art Exhibitions. There is a fine building in Los Angeles called the Huntington Library. In it are most of the 18th Century painters—Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney and lovely landscapes by Constable and Turner. What a pity the British let them get away. I have been reading books on art as well. As you have probably guessed, I have been trying to make up for my lack of education. My studies are arranged in little courses. I started with History. Course No. 2 is dedicated to Poetry. No. 3 to Religion and Fiction. No. 4 Philosophy, History and Economics. No. 5 is Music with Spengler to follow. Interrupting each course, when possible, are novels and biographies pertaining to or having a background to the subject.

Another letter to Johnny, dated 22 April 1940:

I am currently reading Morton's A People's History of England, which gives the complete story of England from the people's point of view, not from those above looking down. It gives the reasons for the formation of Parliament and the evolution of the bourgeoisie as a class. It is pretty hard going, but I'm learning quite a lot from it.

This was only a year after the start of College of One, two years after I had sat silent and anguished while Scott, Eddie Mayer, Buff Cobb, and her husband, Cameron Rogers, had discussed in detail Marlborough and the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which had given war—torn Europe thirty years of peace. It had seemed unbearable that they knew more of European history than I did.

Scott was aware that what I lacked most was a knowledge of history. It was important for me to get a smattering of this inexhaustible subject as quickly as possible. H. G. Wells's Outline of History is not hard to understand,and this is why he chose it for me. At the same time, it does give a complete account of the major events of the known world to the time of its publication in 1920—a revised edition takes it to 1931. (After the death of Wells in 1946, the history was brought up to date by Raymond Postgate.)

I was pleased that on the master plan the English section was longer than any of the others. When I had confided to A. P. Herbert my longing to learn French, he had remarked, “Why don't you first learn English?” And now I would read a great deal of English, with a man who was proud of the emphasis his family had placed on education. In the Fitzgerald Section of the Rare Books Department at Princeton, there is the note he wrote for his daughter:

Variety in American Education

You went to Vassar

Your father to Princeton

Your grandfather Fitzgerald to Georgetown

Your grandfather Sayre to Roanoke College, Va.

Your great—grandfather Scott to St Johns, Annapolis

Your great—great—grandfather to Washington College, Md.—I have his B. A. Diploma dated 1797

Some of the Keys went to Wm and Mary

And  some  of the Tylers to the  University  of Virginia but I haven't the data at hand at this moment.

This is apropos of nothing.

But it was apropos of a great deal. Education obviously meant as much to Scott as it did to me. He was Princeton, his daughter was Vassar, and I was College of One.

Bleak House, the fifth book in the English section, was, Scott told me, “Dickens” best novel”. I knew he knew better than I did, and for years I would parrot: 'Bleak House is Dickens” best novel.” I recently reread the two volumes and found Esther Summerson too good to be real, as I found most of Dickens” young women, two—dimensional to the point of mawkishness. I liked Mr Jarndyce, but isanyone ever so completely without any vices whatsoever? In today's world Lady Dedlock would have claimed her daughter much earlier, without so much groaning on the grave of her love. Bleak House may be Dickens” best book, but I prefer A Tale of Two Cities, although Lucie is almost a counterpart of Esther. Great Expectations rather frightened me with the terrifying Magwitch, but I loved Pip and was pleased that the boy had received a good education and come out all right in the end. Actually the book of Dickens I have always liked best is David Copper—field—especially the first part, ending with the dirty, tired Copperfield finding his Aunt Betsy, who took him in and gave him shelter and love. Nevertheless I still like to read Bleak House, chiefly because of Miss Flite, Lawyer Tulkinghorn, the Jellybys and their children, the Smallweeds, and the marvellous descriptions of the alleys and the jumbled shops of London.

I realize now that I liked or disliked the characters in Dickens for the wrong reasons; I have always related to myself. I was not advanced enough in those early days of the education to understand how Dickens had created the characters, or the structure of his novels. I was interested chiefly in the story. I was aware that Dickens was a master of his craft only when Scott told me that he saturated himself in Dickens and Dostoyevsky before starting a new novel. Before The Last Tycoon he also read Froude's Julius Caesar.

It seems incredible that before Scott's College of One I had not read Vanity Fair, the first of the novels in the curriculum. It was easy to read in the good edition Scott bought me in three volumes with thick paper and strong print. Again my enjoyment was for the simple reason of pleasure. I did not consider the “how' of Becky Sharp. I found her interesting and she was somewhat like me. I much preferred her to the meek Amelia, who was put upon repeatedly without protesting. Becky fought for what she wanted, as I did. Her ambitions had been somewhat different from mine; she had wanted money andposition, I had wanted acceptance. Perhaps they are related. The rest of Thackeray I found less absorbing. Even then I realized that Pendennis and The Virginians were not in the same class with Vanity Fair.

I had read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking—Glass at the orphanage. As I always dealt in facts, Alice's shrinkages and enlargements were worrying, and I hoped they wouldn't happen to me. I had feared the Duchess, with her strangely wrapped—up head in the Tenniel drawings, and had thought the Cheshire Cat ridiculous. The Mad Hatter's tea party had interested me only because of its connexion with food. Alice with Scott was a totally new experience. He explained the satire, which I had not understood before. I never had much of a sense of humour. Life had always been a serious matter. In spite of some dreadful times, it never really had been for Scott. He laughed at so many things, with a sort of choking amusement. He was always puncturing the pomposity of important people and deriding the sheep—like the following of tradition. With Scott I found a way to smile at things that had seemed solemn or frightening. I went even further than Scott. I learned to laugh at myself, which he was never able to do.

Studying the lists of the books I was to read, I saw there were a few authors with whom I was already familiar. I had not heard of George Moore, but I knew Arnold Bennett. I had met him during my stage career. He was a friend of C. B. Cochran and always came to the opening nights. I had heard of H. G. Wells but had read nothing by him. Compton Mackenzie's name was familiar because of the articles he sometimes wrote for the London newspapers. The drama and poetry sections might as well have been in Greek, except for Byron, Browning, and Wordsworth. At the orphanage I had won sixpence when I was thirteen for being the first to memorize the segment in Byron's Childe Harold

There was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium's capital had gathered then
Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men. …
And all went merry as a marriage bell,
But hush! hark!

The Shot, then: “On with the dance! let joy be unconfined.” This was on the order of the heroic poems I loved. I remembered Waterloo and Wellington from the history lessons. A line in Vanity Fair was marked by Scott: George Osborne killed at Waterloo and, “Amelia was praying for him while George was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through the heart.” “I can never forget this sentence,” said Scott.

I had met George Bernard Shaw briefly. Mr Cochran, who sometimes escorted his 'young ladies” to the theatre, had taken me to a matinee and Mr Shaw was sitting immediately in front of us. When I was introduced to the white—bearded satyr he looked at me so fiercely that I was more frightened than thrilled. I knew of Kipling—the Just So Stories, “Mandalay', and “If. As for Shakespeare, my knowledge of his work was confined to a few songs from his plays, although at RADA I had stuttered through a scene in Hamlet as the Queen to Charles Laughton's King and had been eliminated quickly from the role.

In the other sections, I had read one book by Hemingway. I had been embarrassed when I first came to America by not knowing who Willa Cather was. In London, Randolph Churchill had given me Stendhal's Charterhouse of Parma—two volumes, beautifully bound, but I had not read them. Proust. Ah, here was my familiar Proust, all seven volumes. De Maupassant. Johnny had said his stories were naughty, but not as wicked as The Decameron and A Thousand and One Nights. Johnny and I had read them at the Gargoyle Club in London. The Bible I knew. We had read a great deal of it at the orphanage. “Since Autumn 1937,” Scott noted on his “Revised List of 40 Books', I had read, in addition to Proust, Henry James's Daisy Miller and The Reverberator, AFarewell to Arms, The Maltese Falcon, plays by Molnar and Wilde, with some technique (for our play), and a life of Wilde.

Reading the master plan in detail, I realized that a great portion of it would be very hard work. But I was eager to begin. With Scott's enthusiastic promise that he would help me every step of the way, I was sure I could do it.

Next Chapter 7

Published as College Of One by Sheilah Graham (New York: Viking, 1967).