After riding through “the pink carnival of Normandy,” the Fitzgeralds arrived at the Saint-Lazare station in Paris on a May evening in 1924 under more promising auspices than their first visit had offered three years earlier. Many of their friends knew the city well, and their address book was full of the names of expatriates who were thoroughly at home there. They moved into the Hotel des Deux Mondes, on the Avenue de l'Opera, where, still unfamiliar with French customs, they took the bidet for a baby's bathtub and proceeded to bathe Scottie in it. She celebrated her arrival in Paris by inadvertently guzzling a gin fizz instead of her lemonade.
Among the Americans they were to look up was the older brother of elegant New Yorker Esther Murphy, whom they had entertained at Great Neck. Gerald Murphy, his wife, Sara, and their three children lived on the Quai des Grands-Augustins, near the Boulevard Saint-Michel on the Left Bank. They were deeply involved in the French capital's artistic life. The two couples hit it off together, and the Murphys strongly urged the Fitzgeralds to go to the Riviera, where they themselves were planning to spend their second summer.
John Bishop, who had married an heiress and lived in baronial ease near Paris, invited them to lunch in the Bois de Boulogne. They talked about literature, and Bishop suggested that they read the biographies of Byron and Shelley by Andre Maurois. Everywhere they went, the Fitzgeralds ran across old acquaintances. While strolling up the Champs-Elysees one day, they were recognized by Lawton Campbell, who was impressed by their elegance and distinction. When he complimented Zelda on her well-cut, military-blue dress, she told him she had designed it herself and was wearing it that day for the first time. “This, Lawton, is my Jeanne d'Arc dress,” she told him.
The train ride south was a voyage of discovery, of the springlike green of the Burgundian and Rhone Valley countryside that Zelda would later call up in her novel Save Me the Waltz, the varnished roofs and bell towers of Dijon, “the high terraces of Lyon … the white of Avignon … the scent of lemon, the rustle of black foliage.”
They stopped at Hyeres, perhaps because Edith Wharton owned a housethere, a gauge of the city's hospitality. But they were disappointed with the Grimm's Park Hotel, where there was never anything but lamb on the table d'hote menu and where the Fitzgeralds were received with hostility by the British tourists who seemed to have made the hotel their private preserve. The city's stifling heat drove them to look elsewhere for a place to light. Leaving Scottie with an English nanny used to service with the English gentry, Zelda and Scott went off in search of a summer villa. In Cannes, in Monte Carlo, they were taken in taxis that were invariably driven by exiled Russian aristocrats to inspect lavish homes. Either the places required too many servants, or the plumbing was defective, or … The tale of their troubles made a funny story designed as a sequel to “How to Live on $36,000 a Year,” entitled “How to Live on Practically Nothing a Year.” At last, weary of it all, they stepped out on the tiny station at Saint-Raphael. An hour later an efficient housing agent showed them their dream villa nestled in a pine woods high above the sea in Valescure, “a clean, cool villa set in a large garden on a hill above town. It was what we had been looking for all along.”
Huge and well laid out, Villa Marie had two bathrooms and windows opening on big blue-and-white-tiled balconies, pleasant places to breakfast in the sun. A terraced garden where palms, lemon trees and olive trees grew was studded with rocky outcroppings that gave it a forest-primeval look-even though you could see a summer house through the trees. When he spied the Fitzgeralds, the gardener doffed his straw hat and addressed Scott as “milord.” The deal was closed on the spot.
In her autobiographical novel Zelda recalls the euphoria that flooded them when they found this earthly Eden. On taking possession of the villa, her heroine, Alabama, exclaims, “Oh, we are going to be so happy away from all the things that almost got us but couldn't quite because we were too smart for them!” But life's problems weren't outside them, they were inside, mixed up with the Fitzgeralds' impatience to live.
Scott could satisfy this need of intensity by plunging wholeheartedly into his novel, protected by the enchanted silence of his estate. There he was once again possessed by the strength and fervor of his most creative hours; he was again the young man who had written This Side of Paradise in a few summer weeks. To give this renascence a new look, he grew a mustache, like the Henry James who grew a beard when he began writing the great novels of his last period.
But Zelda? Nanny looked after Scottie, the servants took care of the house and the meals. What was she to do with all the time on her hands? How was she to fill the summer hours when carnival sounds drifted up from the shore below? This is what Alabama asks a David absorbed in his painting: ”'What'll we do, David,' she asked, 'with ourselves?'” It was Daisy's question, too, in The Great Gatsby as she saw the promising moments go sterile and disappear. As the first day of summer neared, she asked, “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?” And, a few chapters later, she anticipates Zelda's complaint: “What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon… And the day after that, and the next thirty years?”
To give her more freedom of movement, Scott bought Zelda a Renault car, and while he worked alone, she spent hours on the beach with Scottie and Nanny. Scott went down to the beach with them in the evening, sometimes had a quick swim, and then they dined together to the music of an orchestra that went heavy on American tunes, especially the sempiternal “Yes, We Have No Bananas!,” the rage of New York the year before. The owner of the casino introduced them to a group of young officers from the French naval air station at nearby Frejus. They liked each other, they danced, they discussed the world's future in fractured French-English supplemented with sign language when the words wouldn't come.
This was the Fitzgeralds' first contact with foreigners of their age and class. Moreover, a neighboring villa was inhabited by bachelors. Obviously, the Fitzgeralds had to give a party. Zelda perked up, and Scott was relieved to see her surrounded by people again. Being with these young aviators gave him the feeling of belonging in France. He wrote a page then that radiated all his satisfaction, his delight in being one with the spirit of the place: “It is twilight as I write this, and out of my window darkening banks of trees, set one clump behind another in many greens, slope down to the evening sea. The flaming sun has collapsed behind the peaks of the Esterels and the moon already hovers over the Roman aqueducts of Frejus, five miles away.” He was waiting for his guests to arrive. “In half an hour Rene and Bobbe, officers of aviation, are coming to dinner in their white ducks… Afterward, in the garden, their white uniforms will grow dimmer as the more liquid dark comes down, until they, like the heavy roses and the nightingale in the pines, will seem to take an essential and indivisible part in the beauty of this proud gay land.”
“Rene” was Rene Silvy, the son of a Cannes notary public; Rene had literary ambitions and he wrote, he told the Fitzgeralds, for his own satisfaction. “Bobbe” was the group's veteran: he had fought at Verdun in the Great War. He too was a lover of literature. The most endearing of the bunch was Edouard Jozan, a lieutenant, son of a middle-class family in Nimes with a long military tradition. He was to make a fine career for himself in the navy, would become a vice admiral in 1952, would command France's Far Eastern fleet and wind up with the Legion of Honor and the Grand Cross of the Order of Malta.
All the young men were attentive to the beautiful American. Being surrounded by officers vying for the favor of dancing with her carried Zelda back to her carefree years in Montgomery. As the pilots from Camp Taylor had done there, Jozan here buzzed the Villa Marie in his plane. “Do you think he actually is a god?” Alabama asks David in Zelda's novel. “He looks like you—except that he is full of the sun, whereas you are a moon person.” With his blond hair, a face like something on a medallion, and his bronzed, well-modeled body, Jozan really did look like a god of Summer.
The group dissolved and re-formed as camp duty dictated. There were auto excursions, picnics, rides on the merry-go-rounds at fun fairs, dancing at the casino in the evenings. Zelda made a habit of swimming with the bunch, but more and more often with Jozan alone. She bought the year's best-seller in France, Raymond Radiguet's Le Bal du comte d'Orgel, and a dictionary to help her learn the language. Save Me the Waltz shows clearly the magnetism of the good-looking, ardent and available young Frenchman who brought a nick-of-time answer to the question “what'll we do with ourselves this afternoon?”:
He drew her body against his till she felt the blades of his bones carving her own. He was bronze and smelled of the sand and sun; she felt him naked underneath the starched linen… She felt as if she would like to be kissing Jacques Chevre-Feuille on top of the Arc de Triomphe.
Everyone knew about the affair, even the Murphys, who had come visiting from Cap d'Antibes and who could not mistake the relationship of Zelda and Edouard when they saw them on the beach together, or dancing at the casino. Only Scott, working with a joy he had rarely felt before, seemed unaware of what was going on. He was used to seeing Zelda flirt, but she usually did it so outrageously and so innocently that the very exuberance she brought to it absolved her of any guilty intent.
Then, in mid-July, things went sour. Scott's first Ledger entry for July 1924 reads, “The Big Crisis—13th of July…” Exactly what form the crisis took seems impossible to reconstruct now; all that's certain is that Fitzgerald was terribly upset to learn of Zelda's infidelity and that their married life was deeply marked by that summer's events. A remark by Ernest Hemingway gives us an idea of how manipulated and, in effect, fictionalized the “crisis” was to be. “He told me … about something tragic that had happened to them at Saint-Raphael about a year ago,” Hemingway reported. “The first version that he told me of Zelda and a French naval aviator falling in love was a truly sad story and I believe it was a true story. Later he told me other versions of it as though trying them for use in a novel, but none was as sad as this first one and I always believed the first one, although any of them might have been true. They were better told each time, but they never hurt you the same way as the first one did.”
We might be tempted to question the accuracy of Hemingway's report if his first wife, Hadley, who can hardly be suspected of wanting to slight Fitzgerald, had not confirmed her husband's account in a conversation with Nancy Milford. Indeed, she went even further, turning Scott's remarks into a kind of ritual in which Zelda took part. “It was one of their acts together,” she said. “I remember Zelda's beautiful face becoming very, verysolemn, and she would say how he had loved her and how hopeless it had been and then how he had committed suicide… Scott would stand next to her looking very pale and distressed and sharing every minute of it. Somehow it struck me as something that gave her status. I can still see both of them standing together telling me about the suicide of Zelda's lover. It created a peculiar effect.”
Admiral Jozan did not remember the incident in detail. To him, after all, his affair with Zelda was just another summer flirtation on the beach. A transfer to Hyeres put a prosaic end to his contacts with the Fitzgeralds. He was unaware of the drama that was to resound so loudly in Zelda's imagination. In her novel she simply has Chevre-Feuille leaving for Indochina; of all the possible versions, she chose the soberest. How, then, should we take the tale Fitzgerald later told a relative? He said Zelda had come to him, had confessed that she loved Jozan and asked him for a divorce. Scott allegedly then delivered an ultimatum: Zelda and Jozan were to face him together for a showdown. This never happened, and Zelda was confined to Villa Marie while Scott resumed work on his novel.
In his notes, under the heading “Ideas,” was the remark, “That September 1924, I knew something had happened that could never be repaired.” This was probably written long after the event. For in August 1924 he noted in his Ledger, “Zelda and I close together” and in September, “Trouble clearing away.”
Was this irreparable “something” Zelda's transgression, her violation of an unstated code of complicity, of constant connivance that cemented their marriage together? The lateness of that September dating suggests that it wasn't Zelda's infidelity itself that troubled them, but its resonance in their memories. Two months after the event Scott noted an improvement in his relationship with Zelda; indeed, in early August they had shown a serenely united front to the Seldeses, who spent a few days with them. All along, however, Scott knew how deeply shaken Zelda had been. Two weeks after the Seldeses left, the Fitzgeralds went to stay with the Murphys, and Zelda attempted suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills.
What was irreparable was the crack spreading in Zelda's mind, the feeling of sacrilege and guilt that would mark her forever. The marriage was cracked, too, but even more irreparable was the rift in Zelda's self-image, her awareness that without Scott she had no life of her own. That he could not live without her, either, that they were part of each other. And that the focal point of their common identity, the hinge on which their lives swung, was a badly healed wound that ached anew with the slightest strain. Little was needed henceforth to fan in Zelda a feeling of interdependence at blissful moments, or to damp it in more sober ones, but she was always now to be self-conscious, aware of her need and her vulnerability.
When she was placed in a psychiatric hospital in 1930, she wrote an autobiography for her doctor revealing that the two most important emotionalevents in her life were her marriage, which thrust her into a world “for which I was not qualified or prepared, because of my inadequate education,” and her affair with Jozan, “a love affair with a French aviator in Saint-Raphael. I was locked in my villa for one month to prevent me from seeing him.”
The affair was central to Save Me the Waltz, which Zelda wrote eight years later, and to the unfinished novel called “Caesar's Things,” which occupied the last six years of her life, after Scott's death. It is obsessive in that second work. Chevre-Feuille reappears in the book, along with an artist husband still absorbed in his work. In it Zelda stressed the similarity between them she had already noted in her first novel—two sides of the same coin, one solar, the other lunar—by giving them similar first names, Jacques and Jacob. Even the heroine's name, Janno, places her in this anaphoric community. Jacob and Janno are “twins,” just as Gloria and Anthony were in The Beautiful and Damned, too much alike; in fact, their very similarity invites temptation by Another, who is merely a third image of the same person. And Jacques is another Jacob, the one Janno wants, whose work is not a rival to her and who is free to give her as much as she longs to receive. With him she enters existence, breaks out of the purgatory in which Jacob has confined her. For this is her prime grief: being dispossessed by the paintings to which Jacob gives all his vitality; she merely sits and waits; cloistered in his personality and cut off from the source of life, she withers. Even when Jacob learns of her betrayal, he postpones dealing with the problem, simply shuts her in, a concrete metaphor for their relationship. “I'll get out of here as soon as I can,” he tells her. ” 'In the meantime you are not to leave these premises. You understand?' Of course she understood, a locked door is not difficult of comprehension. So she told her husband that she loved the French officer and her husband locked her up in the villa.”
Fitzgerald notes somewhere that a bone is strongest at the point of an old fracture. Perhaps he was thinking of the break that occurred that July. Until then he had never questioned the inviolability of his marriage. He had raised his conviction that only monogamy is moral to a kind of credo. “Upon the theme of marital fidelity his eloquence has moved me to tears,” wrote Ernest Boyd in a book published in that very year, 1924. “… when so many others are conscious only of sex, he is conscious of the soul… His Catholic heaven is not so far away that he can be misled into mistaking the shoddy dreams of a radical millennium as a substitute for Paradise.”
Scott had been hit hard by the Jozan incident, but he felt too close to Zelda, too much like her not to understand and absolve her. With his strongly proclaimed belief in marital fidelity went an awareness of what made Zelda try to seduce all their close friends. There was a sort of connivance, too, as though, with his consent, she took on the dangerous job of shaking their alliance to prove how sturdy it was. In the same section ofScott's notebooks as his remark about the “something … that could never be repaired” are two other phrases that certainly refer to the same situation, since they are part of a paragraph devoted to the year 1924 that begins, “Going to the Riviera.” The first expresses compassion for the moral anguish Zelda will experience: “He was sorry, knowing how she would pay.” The other is more devious; it reflects the ambivalence that kept Fitzgerald from ever feeling wholehearted reproach or pity. Zelda's dereliction had not occurred independently of him, it concerned him directly, as though in his imagination he took her place, or Jozan's. He too was the tempted or the tempter, seducer or seduced, perhaps the procurer, if not in fact, then in passing impulse. When we relate it to the crucial events of July 1924, this sibylline notation brings us deep into the labyrinth of a conscience that was at once detached and ravaged: “Feeling of proxy in passion; strange encouragement.”
Nearly twenty years later, with a still irresistible need to confess her part in what had happened, Zelda made this “encouragement” explicit in “Caesar's Things”: when Janno and Jacob meet Jacques for the first time, he is standing apart from a group of officers, and it is Jacob who insists, despite her reluctance, that she strike up a conversation with him.
This is the kind of transference and permutation that, applied to fiction, gave the ring of truth to the stormy scenes in The Great Gatsby in which Tom Buchanan learns of Daisy's affair with Gatsby. Instead of distracting Fitzgerald's attention from his work, his personal crisis gave him the stuff, the passion that would electrify the end of his novel. He never complained of being interrupted that summer; in fact, he thought of what happened as beneficial and dynamic to his creativity. The flare of that July passion fit into his plans; the crisis echoed a fictional situation that had already fed on his relations with Zelda. Experience and creation converged: Fitzgerald's effort to finish his book and the isolation this imposed on him encouraged the progress of the intrigue toward its painful denouement. Fitzgerald quickly gained control of the situation, diverting it from his private sphere and channeling it toward his work.
“The author would like to say that never before did one try to keep his artistic conscience as pure as during the ten months put into doing it,” Fitzgerald would write in the preface to a new edition of Gatsby ten years later. Gatsby's idealized love of Daisy was partly Scott's for Zelda, which no sexual adventure could stain. Yet through Tom, the novelist projects his own astonishment, his own indignation and his determination to force a showdown; Buchanan is intent on breaking off Daisy's affair, on making her confess that she never really loved Gatsby, that she had merely felt a passing attraction to him for which Tom bore some of the responsibility. Daisy's vacillation was a bit Zelda's as she waited for someone to make up her mind for her. The showdown that never happened was felt as something lacking, and it finally took place in Fitzgerald's novel. He put intoGatsby's mouth the words he himself dreaded to hear, and he would give them again later, word for word, to Nicole's lover Barban in Tender Is the Night: “Your wife doesn't love you… She's never loved you. She loves me.” Jozan, Buchanan, Barban—the three names rhyme, the three men are of the same breed: conquerors, heroes of the sun. That the second is the heroine's husband and the third her lover (for “she” is always Zelda) only emphasizes the “feeling of proxy in passion.”
A letter dated August 25 informed Perkins that the novel would be completed the following week, but that another month would be needed for revision. Three short sentences summed up Fitzgerald's stay at Valescure: “It's been a fair summer. I've been unhappy but my work hasn't suffered from it. I am grown at last.” In a previous letter, written on July 10, three days before the “big crisis,” he told his editor he had begun reading War and Peace; in the second he recommends he Bal du comte d'Orgel, which he was halfway through. It was a strange coincidence that he should be reading that story of love and renunciation; if he looked at the final pages, in which Mahaut d'Orgel tells her husband of her love for Francois de Seryeuse, Fitzgerald must certainly have been struck by their pertinence to his situation. Would he have seen his own attitude mirrored in the Count of Orgel's? “Unlike other men who give in to their feelings and think only later of how to forestall scandal, the Count of Orgel proceeded professionally to do what was most urgent, that is, he exploited his shock, his stupor and, beginning at the end, kept his heartache for later, when he was alone.”
Fitzgerald, too, put his heartache in parentheses and worked feverishly to finish his novel. When that was done, he spent a few days in Avignon with Zelda; then they both settled down to rereading and correcting the manuscript. Their money was running out, and Scott wrote a story for the Post; Zelda, meanwhile, read Henry James's Roderick Hudson and, enticed by its descriptions of Rome, persuaded Scott that they should go to Italy from Valescure. The fact that the currency exchange rate was more favorable in Italy than in France, making living costs lower there for tourists, helped convince him.
Ring Lardner and his family came to visit in October, breaking the chain of long workdays. The Lardners were winding up a tour of Europe that Ring had also seen as a way to break away from the destructive life of Long Island. Scott's efforts to get Ring's work published had borne fruit; Lardner was now a successful author. But he knew he had tuberculosis and his mood was blacker than ever. After they left, Scott went over his manuscript once more before sending it to Perkins October 27. He was pleased with it (“I think that at last I've done something really my own”) and could turn now to practical details of publication: the book was to have the same format and binding as his previous books, but there were to be no critical blurbs, not even from Mencken or Lewis, on the jacket. Fitzgerald wanted to change his image. “I'm tired of being the author of This Side of Paradise,” he informed Perkins, “and I want to start over.”
The five-month lease he had signed on the Villa Marie expired and the family moved into the Lardners' hotel, the Continental, on November 3. There Scott finished his short story “Love in the Night”; he hoped that if it and two others he wrote sold well, they would bring him enough money to pay for a winter in Rome.
“Love in the Night” recreates the charms of the Riviera after dark, its lights and its orchestras, as seen through the eyes of a young Russian exile fallen from his princely rank but proud of his ancestry; he announces, “I am Russian” as though he were saying, “I am an archangel.” This allowed Fitzgerald to trace a parallel between the opulence of Russian tourists in czarist days and of Americans in the twenties. The Russians, he observed, were the ones who lived high before the war. Of the three peoples that made France their fairground, they were by far the most gifted for making grand gestures; the English were too matter-of-fact, the Americans, although they spent lavishly, had no romantic tradition. But the Russians, he thought, had a sense of magnificence, like the Latins, and they were rich to boot.
Of all the Americans he met in Europe, only the Murphys, perhaps, had style and could be compared, in a less ostentatious way, with the grand dukes of the past. In this story Fitzgerald said a sad farewell to this corner of the earth where he had once thought he could live happily. Some descriptive material would resurface in Tender Is the Night, when Rosemary, like Fitzgerald when he arrived in Saint-Raphael, took a taxi driven by “a Russian czar of the period of Ivan the Terrible” and was overwhelmed with nostalgia for a bygone era: “Ten years ago, when the season ended in April, the doors of the Orthodox church were locked, and the sweet champagnes they favored were put away until their return. 'We'll be back next season,' they said, but this was premature, for they were never coming back any more.”
The image foreshadows another fate, that of Dick Diver, who will also leave the Riviera at the end of the book, a dispossessed king condemned to exile.
Around the middle of November 1924 the Fitzgeralds drove their Renault in easy stages to Rome. They checked into the Quirinal Hotel, which was as infested with Britons and fleas as the Grimm's Park Hotel in Hyeres. A few days later they found a smaller hotel on the Piazza di Spagna, at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Full board for three, including wine and service, was $525 a month. But money flowed out faster than Scott expected and he telegraphed a request to Perkins for a $750 advance, which brought his debt to Scribner's to $5,000. Because Scott found writing difficult in a hotel room, he and Zelda looked for an apartment, but in vain:Pope Pius XI had just proclaimed 1925 a Holy Year and all Italy was caught up in a fever of preparation for the ceremonies; visitors poured in from everywhere, making housing scarce. All the talk was about the coming canonization of Sister Therese of the Christ Child and the beatification of Bernadette Soubirous.
This Catholic ferment reminded Scott of his distaste for the piety and bigotry of the St. Paul Irish. In Italy Mussolini had been in power for two years, and the Fitzgeralds were offended by the haughtiness of officers, government officials and the Roman aristocracy. This was the period when Scott wrote “The Adjuster,” a short story reflecting his marital troubles. The story was also a screen in which to examine his xenophobia, which he ascribed to a peculiarly American cultural lag. “They were of that enormous American class who wander over Europe every summer, sneering rather pathetically and wistfully at the customs and traditions and pastimes of other countries, because they have no customs or traditions or pastimes of their own,” he wrote. “It is a class sprung yesterday from fathers and mothers who might just as well have lived two hundred years ago.”
Except for walks in the Pincio and sporadic visits to bars patronized by Americans, Scott took no part in Roman life. When he knocked off work, he began drinking, another way to reject the outside world. And he thought about his next novel, which he estimated would take a year of work. Meanwhile, he was waiting for the proofs of Gatsby, due in late December, and planning extensive changes in them. Through Ober he tried to sell the serial rights to his book to Liberty magazine for $15,000. The offer was turned down on the grounds of the novel's immorality: “We could not publish this story,” the magazine said, “with as many mistresses and as much adultery as there is in it.” Early in January College Humor offered $10,000, but Fitzgerald refused it because the magazine was a monthly and serialization in it would have pushed publication of the book back to the autumn. Besides, he feared that the general silliness of College Humor would damage his reputation and reduce sales of the book. Most of all he dreaded “the gaudy and ill-advised advertising” the magazine's editor, H. N. Swanson, would use, exploiting Fitzgerald's name to promote readership.
The winter was cold and wet. Scott caught the grippe and Zelda suffered from persistent abdominal pain, which a local doctor diagnosed as colitis. Fitzgerald had planned to write a follow-up to his two articles on their financial problems; the Post had run “How to Live on Practically Nothing” in September and had asked for a third installment on Italy. But his animosity toward the country and its people spoiled the poetic and humorous tone in which he had told of his first contact with France. “I hate Italy and the Italians so violently that I can't bring myself to write about them for the Post—unless they'd like an article called 'Pope Siphilis the Sixth and His Morons' or something like that. But we're resolutely trying to economize,so we wouldn't move back to France till March even if we could afford it.” He was not to turn out “The High Cost of Macaroni” until the end of his stay, and it was so poor that the Post refused it.
The article, nevertheless, is biographically interesting. In it Fitzgerald recounted his troubles with Roman taxi drivers who tried to cheat him one drunken evening on the fare for taking him and Zelda to their hotel; the row became a brawl and Scott unfortunately slugged a plainclothes policeman who tried to intervene. He was arrested, roughed up and tossed into a cell from which Zelda and a friend managed only with great difficulty to extract him the next morning. The incident figures in a first draft of Tender Is the Night, written shortly after, which opens with a chapter on it. Ten years later he would mention it in a letter as “just about the rottenest thing that ever happened in my life.” Was he subconsciously seeking humiliation, making a scandal in the unavowed hope of punishing himself? Did he feel guilty about Zelda, whose colitis seemed to indicate how much trouble she was having in recovering from the summer's “big crisis”?
He also devoted a few pages of his new novel to the Roman studios on the Appian Way, where Fred Niblo was filming Ben Hur for M-G-M, the first of the historical superproductions—250 extras, a $6 million budget, three years in the making. The Fitzgeralds became friendly with Carmel Myers, who costarred in the film with Ramon Novarro, and they celebrated Christmas together. Writing about their meeting and the Viennese shawl the actress gave her, Zelda noted that the film's action was set “in bigger and grander papier-mache arenas than the real ones.”
In January the Fitzgeralds took a few excursions, to Tivoli, Frascati and, later, Naples. Sunny Capri seemed the ideal place in which to wait out the winter. They soon went back there and took a room in the Tiberio Hotel, on a hill overlooking the sea. But their two months there were spoiled by Zelda's fragile health and Scott's constant drinking. They quarreled frequently, but this does not seem to have diminished their love for each other. “The cheerfulest things in my life,” Scott wrote to John Peale Bishop, “are first Zelda and second the hope that my book has something extraordinary about it. I want to be extravagantly admired again. Zelda and I sometimes indulge in terrible four-day rows that always start with a drinking party but we're still enormously in love and about the only truly happily married people I know.”
With Scott absorbed in correcting the proofs of Gatsby, Zelda took up painting. And they met a few people who broke their solitude. Aunt Annabel, who maintained the Fitzgerald family tradition of travel in Italy, had come to Rome for the Holy Year observances and spent several days with Zelda and Scott in Capri. Chance brought Fitzgerald in touch with one of his former idols, Compton Mackenzie, who had been living on the island for the past seven years. Despite his excitement, Scott judged the writer lucidly and considered him completely out of date. But it was Mackenzie who introduced him into the British colony the Fitzgeralds had never known existed.
At the end of the nineteenth century, after Oscar Wilde's imprisonment, Capri had become a haven for British homosexuals who, following Tiberius, had made it a pagan paradise sheltered from Victorian hypocrisy. Norman Douglas, Somerset Maugham and his friend John Ellingham Brooks, novelist Edward Frederick Benson, son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, had made the island famous. After the war two more British novelists arrived to nurse their war-shattered health: Francis Brett Young and Mackenzie. The latter, suffering from chronic dysentery he contracted in the Middle East, lived with his wife, Faith, in the Villa Solitaria, perched on a cliff above the sea. There, around a table that had once belonged to Maxim Gorki, Fitzgerald met some of the island's rare fauna and was fascinated by some of the expatriate folklore Mackenzie would record in his Memoirs and in his roman a clef Extraordinary Women. There Scott saw Romaine Brooks, the immensely wealthy heiress and talented painter who had just broken off her affair with pianist Renata Borgatti; John Brooks, whom she had married a quarter of a century earlier and left after a year of marriage; Benson and Mary Roberts Rinehart, who, like Mackenzie, had been heroes of Scott's youth; and even Axel Munthe, a youthful sixty-seven-year-old who would publish his best-selling The Story of San Michele four years later.
Mackenzie, whom Fitzgerald considered finished, was only forty-two and would produce his best books in the forty-seven years of life remaining to him. But Scott saw him only as a survivor of a fabulous era and thought of how far he himself had come since the days when he considered Sinister Street the summit of romantic literature. “I found him cordial, attractive and pleasantly mundane,” Fitzgerald said in his letter to Bishop. “You get no sense from him that [he] feels his work has gone to pieces. He's not pompous about his present output. I think he's just tired. The war wrecked him as it did Wells and many of that generation.”
Now sure of himself, Fitzgerald also included Mencken in his repudiation of the men who had most influenced him. He reiterated to Perkins that he wanted to owe nothing to his elders' approval: “Please have no blurbs of any kind on the jacket!!! No Mencken or Lewis or Sid Howard or anything. I don't believe in them one bit any more.”
He received the final batch of proofs in the second week of January and worked on them uninterruptedly for six weeks, then returned them with extensive changes after giving strict instructions to Perkins: “The conditions are two. a) That someone reads it very carefully twice to see that every one of my inserts are put in correctly. There are so many of them that I'm in terror of a mistake, b) That no changes whatsoever are made in it except in the case of a misprint so glaring as to be certain, and that only by you.”
Perkins reacted to the manuscript with an enthusiasm he had never shown before. “I think you have every right to be proud of the book,” he wrote to Fitzgerald. “It is an extraordinary book, suggestive of all sorts of thoughts and moods. You adopted exactly the right method of telling it, that of employing a narrator who is more of a spectator than an actor: this puts the reader upon a point of observation on a higher level than that on which the characters stand and at a distance that gives perspective. In no other way could your irony have been so immensely effective. … In the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg various readers will see different significances; but their presence gives a superb touch to the whole thing: great, unblinking eyes, expressionless, looking down upon the human scene. It's magnificent!”
Aside from his aesthetic pleasure, Perkins had other reasons, moral ones, for admiring Fitzgerald. Knowing the writer's constant need of money, the editor was amazed that Scott had been strong enough to refuse College Humor's offer: “I congratulate you on resisting the $10,000. I don't see how you managed it. But it delighted us…”
In reading Fitzgerald's frequent letters to Perkins that winter, one is struck by their lack of complaints about money that had spattered the period preceding the publication of The Beautiful and Damned three years earlier. He suggested no advertising for floating the new book. He even refused a renewal of the favorable contract he had imposed on Scribner's for his previous novel (17.5 percent royalties after the first 20,000 sales and 20 percent after 40,000) and settled for 15 percent after 40,000 to show his gratitude, he explained, for the big advances the publisher had granted him.
Fitzgerald lingered on Capri for several more weeks, sending letters and telegrams to change details even though the novel was already being printed. He could have gone to Paris or London to be available when the book came out, but he did not leave the island until a week after its appearance on April 10. To avoid the long drive, the Fitzgeralds put their car aboard a ship in Naples; the roof was damaged while it was being onloaded. In Marseilles they stayed at the Hotel Regina, where they found a telegram from Perkins, sent ten days after the book's release and prefiguring its subsequent fate: “Sales situation doubtful. Excellent reviews.”
Scott immediately fired off a letter expressing his disappointment and trying to anticipate why it might not sell well. The title was bad, he thought. More serious was the novel's lack of a major female character; it was women readers who determined a book's popularity. He was already resigned to having to write a clutch of stories to wipe out his debts and live in France until he completed his next book. And if that one did not end his financial problems, he was ready to abandon literature and head for Hollywood.
Thus unburdened, he felt free to roam with Zelda through the streets of Marseilles, savoring again the familiar scenes and voices of southern France. On Zelda's recommendation—she preferred convertible cars—a mechanic removed the Renault's roof instead of trying to fix it. Then the Fitzgeralds started off for Paris. They got as far as Lyons, where torrential rains prevented them from driving any farther in their now irrevocably open car. Too impatient to wait around before learning what reception his book was getting, Scott abandoned the Renault in a Lyons garage and the family continued north by train. As soon as they reached Paris, Scott rushed to his bank, the Guaranty Trust, and found a second telegram modifying the earlier message's pessimism about the book's sales; with it was a letter containing the first favorable reviews. Perkins had prudently omitted the New York World critic's verdict, offered under the headline “F. Scott Fitzgerald's Latest a Dud,” as well as the Brooklyn Eagle's opinion that there was not “one chemical trace of magic, life, irony, romance or mysticism in all of 'The Great Gatsby.'“
While waiting to move into the apartment they had rented as soon as they arrived, the Fitzgeralds established headquarters in the Hotel Florida, on the Boulevard Malesherbes. Scott immediately cabled Scribner's with a request for $1,000. The next day, May 1, he wrote to Perkins, seemingly resigned to the relative failure of Gatsby. His only hope now was that it would sell well enough to cover his advances, and he calculated the breakeven point at 23,000 copies. He thought that, with one exception, the critics had not understood his book at all. But he seemed to have overcome his earlier bitterness; he dealt at length in the letter with other new books out, the critical success of Lardner's work and Scribner's lack of initiative, which allowed rival publishers to filch its promising young writers. Why, he wanted to know, hadn't they followed his advice about Hemingway? Meanwhile, he was readying his next collection of stories, All the Sad Young Men.
On May 12 he moved into a new apartment at 14, Rue de Tilsitt, near the Arc de Triomphe. Certain that he would rapidly finish his next novel, he signed a lease for eight months, approximately the time he had spent on Gatsby. The apartment, a sixth-floor walk-up with windows that gave on a courtyard, was furnished with fake, mass-produced Louis XV furniture. It was all rather dreary. What mattered, though, was that they were in Paris, close to the sun-warmed cafe terraces and chestnut trees on the Champs-Elysees. The Fitzgeralds were at home in Paris now and highly critical of unenterprising American tourists—the kind they themselves had been four years earlier. Scott may have thought back on the letters he had exchanged with Wilson in those early days. In any case, the one he wrote two weeks after reaching the French capital this time contrasted sharply with them: “This city is full of Americans—most of them former friends—whom we spend most of our time dodging, not because we don't want to see them but because Zelda's only just well and I've got to work; and they seem incapable of any sort of conversation not composed of semi-malicious gossip about New York courtesy celebrities. I've gotten to like France… I'm filled with disgust for Americans in general after two weeks' sight of the ones in Paris—these preposterous, pushing women and girls who assume that you have any personal interest in them, who have all (so they say) read James Joyce and who simply adore Mencken. I suppose we're no worse than anyone, only contact with other races brings out all our worst qualities.”
Fitzgerald was mistaken, for he still knew little about Paris and even less about the Americans who had more or less entered its artistic life. Not the moneyed Americans who, like him, patronized the big Right Bank hotels from the Opera to the Etoile, but those on the Left Bank who followed in the wake of Joyce and Gertrude Stein, trying to find forms of expression appropriate to the twentieth century. In his letter to Wilson Fitzgerald mentioned two names: “I have met Hemingway. He is taking me to see Gertrude Stein tomorrow.” These were the two keys that would open to him a world whose existence he scarcely suspected. Even on the Right Bank his education continued despite the time wasted at the Ritz in “1,000 parties and no work,” as he twice noted in his Ledger. Esther Murphy was there; her brother Gerald had rented Gounod's house for her on the heights of suburban Saint-Cloud. Gerald and his wife, Sara, were opening other perspectives to the Fitzgeralds in music, ballet and painting. Through these contacts Scott was at least sensitized to the spirit of freedom and innovation that had developed in all the arts since the war, even if he did not participate directly in it.
Paris then was the capital of imagination, the promised land of artists from all over the world. How timid and backward the rebellious New York intelligentsia seemed amid Paris's fecund and stimulating upheavals. This was the high place where all the world's scattered and repressed aspirations converged and flowered. And 1925 was a year of intellectual euphoria, the peak of a decade that ironist Maurice Sachs called “the decade of illusion” and “a perpetual Fourteenth of July.”
Except for jazz, the arts were stagnating in the United States. The whole country had eyes only for Wall Street, where financial speculation had reached fever pitch. The dollar was god and Babbitt was his prophet. This unprecedented wave of prosperity was matched by the profound disaffection of America's intellectual elite. Even in the last third of the nineteenth century, writers unhappy with the country's triumphant materialism had sought refuge in Europe, Henry James permanently and Henry Adams in a way that, for all his coming and going between Europe and the United States, was no less a rejection of an America in which he no longer felt he had a place. When good Americans die, he said in effect, they go to Paris. In the postwar years their example was followed by a handful of pioneers in search of a new cultural context. Gertrude Stein and her brothers settled in Paris in 1903, Edith Wharton in 1907; Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot were established in London in 1912. When the United States entered the war in 1917, volunteers flooded into France to serve as ambulance drivers and stretcher-bearers with the Norton-Harjes organization and the American Ambulance Service under French Army command. Many of these volunteers were young writers who had just been graduated from Harvard and Yale and for whom the theaters of military operation would be—in the words of one of them, Malcolm Cowley, who was to become their historian —“college-extension courses for a generation of writers.” Among the best-known: Dos Passos, Hemingway, e. e. cummings, Julian Green, Harry Crosby, Louis Bromfield, Dashiell Hammett, Edmund Wilson.
What lessons did they learn on the roads of France? Cowley summarized them very well: “[These courses] carried us to a foreign country, the first that most of us had seen; they taught us to make love, stammer love, in a foreign language… They made us more irresponsible than ever. Livelihood was not a problem; we had a minimum of choices to make; we could let the future take care of itself, feeling that it would bear us into new adventures. They taught us courage, extravagance, fatalism, these being the virtues of men at war; they taught us to regard as vices the civilian virtues of thrift, caution and sobriety; they made us fear boredom more than death. [And] ambulance service had a lesson of its own: it instilled into us what might be called a spectatorial attitude.”
After brief efforts to readapt to American values, these young men, spectators of exotica, lovers of change, collectors of the unusual, returned to Europe. Europe's capitals, especially Paris, offered them freedom, stimulation, infinite possibilities for contacts that made Main Street henceforth uninhabitable for them. A favorable dollar exchange rate bought them the right to idleness and reverie, to the leisure that fosters creation, at a price low enough to perpetuate all this, to make it a life-style. Climbing exchange rates released a flow of American intellectuals to France: one dollar bought eight francs in September 1919, fifteen a year later; in July 1925 it hit twenty-two francs, and after a brief halt during the 1926 financial crisis, the rate settled at around twenty-five francs until 1932. By the time it dropped back to fifteen francs to the dollar in 1934, the great American invasion had long since ended.
In his autobiography poet William Carlos Williams recalled how surprised he was that he and his wife could live comfortably in a pension in Villefranche-sur-Mer, not far from Monte Carlo, for twenty dollars a week. Although he did not have much money, he and his American friends could afford to lunch in the best restaurants in Paris. And prices in France were high compared with those in Italy, Germany and Austria. Hemingway spent his winters in the Tyrol and his summers in Spain; even Fitzgerald went to Italy in the fall and winter of 1924 “to economize.”
Montparnasse became the artistic and intellectual capital where a new, gilded bohemia could live at ease on an income that would have qualifiedthem as poor in the United States. In place of the gloomy solitude of America's shady and clandestine speakeasies, they found the welcoming terraces of the Dome, the Rotonde, the Select, where everybody eventually knew everybody. There were the old-timers, like Man Ray, who knew the painters, the models, the surrealists. Some of these, including writers Tristan Tzara, Rene Crevel, Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon, would sometimes turn up at soirees given by Nancy Cunard and Etienne de Beaumont. Joyce could be seen dining at the Trianon; the laughter of the surrealist brotherhood soared above the shrubbery at the Closerie des Lilas. Angry young men spit on the corpse of Anatole France and acclaimed the Surrealist Revolution. Oh, yes, Paris in 1925 was a ball for American expatriates.
The wealthiest among them assumed the roles of patrons, founding publishing houses, presiding over salons. Little avant-garde magazines proliferated: in Vienna 500 copies of Secession could be printed for twenty dollars. The low cost of publishing fertilized such growths as Harold Loeb's Broom, Ford Madox Ford's Transatlantic Review, Ernest Walsh's This Quarter and, later on, Eugene Jolas's Transition and Samuel Putnam's The New Review. Robert McAlmon set up Contacts Editions, William Bird the Three Mountain Press, Harry and Caress Crosby the Black Sun Press, which published the works of such innovators as Joyce, Stein, Pound, Djuna Barnes, McAlmon, Hemingway.
Literary life was concentrated on the Left Bank under the aegis of three women living in three different places: 27, Rue de Fleurus, 12, Rue de l'Odeon, and 20, Rue Jacob. Since the war Gertrude Stein's studio on the Rue de Fleurus had become a rallying point and filter for new arrivals. Paintings on the walls by Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Gris and Braque warned these young writers fresh from the Middle West that, as Miss Stein announced, “Paris was where the twentieth century was.” Refugees from the American desert passed along the address, scribbled the passwords; Sylvia Beach recommended Sherwood Anderson, who in turn wrote a letter of introduction for Hemingway, who introduced Fitzgerald to the Steins; a whole network stretched out from the Pythian recess on the Rue de Fleurus. There a sculptural, massive, enigmatic Gertrude, ensconced in a huge armchair, held court under the portrait Picasso painted of her in 1905 (other artists were also fascinated by her impenetrable expression, Felix Vallotton in 1907, Jacques Lipchitz in 1921, Francis Picabia in 1928), and conducted her interrogations. On the other side of the fireplace her companion, Alice B. Toklas, dark and dry as a prune under Joan of Arc bangs, knitted quietly, listening and sharpening her comments, which would bubble up after their visitor had left.
The second contact point, more easily accessible, was Shakespeare and Company, the English-language bookstore Sylvia Beach founded on the Rue Dupuytren in 1919 and moved two years later to 12, Rue de l'Odeon, where she officiated until 1941. She was a different Egeria. Gertrude was fifty-oneyears old in 1925, Sylvia thirty-eight. Gertrude's silences contrasted with Sylvia's exuberance. Enthusiastic, generous, this quicksilver woman helped writers get started, comforted, encouraged, advised, enlightened them. It was she who published Joyce's Ulysses in 1922 with money from her own pocket that she never recovered. Shakespeare and Company was a bookstore, a lending library, a place where the penniless could float a loan and where checks were cashed after the banks closed. Most of all, it was a place where ideas were exchanged, a literary club.
There had been a falling-out with Gertrude when Sylvia consented to share an apartment with Adrienne Monnier, who ran another bookstore, the Maison des Amis des Livres, across the street from Shakespeare and Company. In compensation Sylvia made new friends, for the Friends of Books included some of the period's leading literary figures: Andre Gide, Paul Valery, Lion-Paul Fargue, Valery Larbaud, Jules Romains, and a few young novelists like Andre Chamson. The Rue de l'Odeon became a tiny cultural Atlantic bringing Sylvia's friends and Adrienne's into a common current. There were musicians as well as writers; Eric Satie, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc liked to linger at the American's shop, where they could meet the new generation's young lions, cummings, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Glenway Wescott, Bromfield, as well as such visiting veterans as Conrad, Eliot and, of course, the man they all respected, Joyce.
At 20, Rue Jacob a third woman without a man, Natalie Barney—writer Remy de Gourmont's “Amazon”—received on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 8. She was forty-nine years old then; for thirty years more she would remain the tireless seductress, the “Popess of Lesbos,” whose tumultuous career began early in the century with Liane de Pougy and Renee Vivien. Here the Franco-American exchanges were on the highest level, bringing together everyone who was anyone in cosmopolitan, social and political Paris: diplomat Philippe Berthelot and fashion designer Paul Poiret rubbed elbows there with Colette and Gide, Gabriele d'Annunzio, Rilke, poet Oscar Milosz, Jean Cocteau, Pierre Louys and Robert de Montesquieu. Among the Americans deemed suitable to mix with such an assemblage were Eliot, Pound, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carl Van Vechten, Wescott, Bromfield, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. As a gauge to the tone of these gatherings, note that Valery read his then unpublished and difficult novel La Jeune Parque there in 1917.
The more elaborate receptions might draw as many as two hundred guests to the Barney garden, where stood a Temple of Friendship secretly dedicated to Sappho. Among Miss Barney's ambitions was to bring to 20, Rue Jacob the models who inspired certain passages of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Fitzgerald would have all this in mind when he drew his portraits of lesbians for Tender Is the Night. Natalie's salon, however, was a world away from Gertrude's studio: here the cubist angularities of Art Deco never deposed the vaporous softness of the Belle Epoque. Onlypaintings by Raoul Dufy and Marie Laurencin were allowed to interject a modern note.
In the background, eclipsed by these three vigorous women, was Edith Wharton, then sixty-three; she owned a chateau near the Forest of Montmorency, where she received a small circle of more solemn celebrities, notably Paul Claudel and novelist Paul Bourget. Margaret Winthrop Chanler, Sigourney Fay's friend, and her son, composer Theodore Chanler, as well as Esther Murphy, were regulars there. Fitzgerald, as we shall see, would attend one such gathering, to his great mortification.
Rich American women allied to princely European houses liked to patronize the arts. Princesse Marguerite de Bassiano, nee Chapin, founded the quarterly review Commerce, which was edited by Valery, Fargue and Larbaud from the summer of 1924 until the winter of 1932. Another American, Princesse Edmond de Polignac, the Singer sewing machine heiress, preferred musicians: she commissioned ballets by Igor Stravinsky and helped Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe, which had been appearing in Paris since 1909.
American entertainers were all the rage. Bricktop opened her Montmartre nightclub in 1924. In October 1925 Josephine Baker, just turned nineteen, was a smash hit at the Champs-Elysees Theater. She had come to Paris with the Negro Revue, a troupe of twenty-five black performers (the saxophonist's name was Sydney Bechet) put together by Caroline Dudley, the future wife of surrealist Joseph Delteil, with the express aim of conquering Europe. It was Fernand Leger, then the set designer for the Swedish Ballet Company in Paris, who persuaded the company's director, Rolf de Mare, to stage an all-black American show.
Paris audiences went wild over it; soon everyone was doing the Charleston in the dance halls that had mushroomed since the war. The troupe won more notoriety than popularity in Germany, where Josephine was viewed as the incarnation of expressionism. Max Reinhardt wanted to be Josephine's impresario, but Paul Derval, who ran the Folies-Bergere, brought her back to Paris on an irresistible contract to be the pivot of his new show. Surrounded by 500 performers, she was to dance to music by Spencer William and Irving Berlin. A follow-up show confirmed her success; she was now a star in her own right. In December 1926 she opened her own nightclub, Chez Josephine; movie producer Rex Ingram dreamed up a lavish spectacle for her, Maurice Dekobra wrote “The Siren of the Tropics” for her—it was all glory. Five years later, in a story called “Babylon Revisited,” Fitzgerald's hero would watch “Josephine Baker go through her chocolate arabesques” at the Casino de Paris.
A center of more general attention in that early summer of 1925 was the Decorative Arts Exposition, inaugurated July 18 by President Gaston Doumergue even before the rubble of preparation had been cleared away. Sprawling on both banks of the Seine between the Hotel des Invalides andthe Grand Palais, it formalized every aspect of the cultural revolution that had radically changed the way people saw and felt things since the 1900 Universal Exposition. The lines and volumes of cubism had triumphed; of the fin-de-siecle spirit, only the floral motifs in ornamentation survived. Architecture, furniture, accessories all proclaimed the victory of the new spirit. Furniture by Emile Ruhlmann and Rene Lalique's crystal fountains testified to both the innovations and survivals of the period. Robert Delaunay made the Eiffel Tower dance on his canvases, while Leger glorified cogwheels and piping. Poiret, who had dethroned fashion designers Jacques Doucet and Philippe Worth, was in turn being threatened by the new wave; he had virtually given up dress designing for interior decoration. Moored near the Invalides bridge, his three houseboats, Amours, Delices and Orgues, blazed with light like an Oriental vision, but the elegant Europe of the Belle Epoque was gone: Sarah Bernhardt died in 1923 and Eleanora Duse the following year. There were new fashion czars now, Lanvin and Callot and Jenny; Coco Chanel, who had opened her house in 1922, the year of the Victor Margueritte book La Garconne, simplified the line popularized by Mistinguett: bobbed hair, shaved armpits, exposed knees, flat bust and boyish hips. African rhythms replaced the vaguely genteel measures aboard the Orient Express, not only in painting but in music too, from Stravinsky to Milhaud.
In this electrified atmosphere the Fitzgeralds felt they were alive again after their months in a bigoted, reactionary Italy. Scott found that the misty yearnings that had made the young men of his generation rebels without a cause in New York in 1922-23, squandering their energies in futile gestures, were systematized in Paris, incandescent, crystallized in action and creation. In self-abnegation and solitude, he had finally succeeded in channeling into his book this hitherto unfocused energy that rejected a social system only to succumb to the system's mercenary values. Fitzgerald also recognized the new spirit in the integrity, the total lack of concessions in the few things he had read by the still unknown Hemingway. All the people he had admired until now had been influential elders, tradition bearers, and even in Scott's most exaggerated praise of them there had lurked a kind of reserve and a touch of opportunism. There was a symbolic value in the impetus that swept him toward Hemingway: it bespoke a complete break with the way the older generation had expressed itself. When he went looking for Hemingway one day in May 1925, he was turning to the future, to the beginner he would have liked to be, whose career he would encourage as ardently as he could.
Fitzgerald's interest in Hemingway had been stimulated by an article by Edmund Wilson in the October issue of The Dial, hailing the newcomer's entrance into American literature under the guidance of Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson. Fitzgerald, in an essay published in The Bookman inMay 1926, would tell of his pleasure in reading the vignettes interspersed between the tales in In Our Time: “these interpolated sketches … fascinated me, as they did when Edmund Wilson first showed them to me in an earlier pamphlet, over two years ago.” On October 18, 1924, although he was feverishly busy revising the Gatsby manuscript that he was to send to Perkins ten days later, he nonetheless found time to write “a hurried scrawl as I am working like a dog,” calling Perkins's, and Scribner's, attention to this clearly promising young writer whose genuine artistry was praised in the Jamesian expression, “He's the real thing.” (Zelda would always disagree; to her Hemingway was always “bogus.”)
Thanks to Wilson's endorsement, then, Fitzgerald took an active interest in his junior's career after the publication of Gatsby. Most of what we know about their relationship derives from Hemingway's account in three chapters of A Moveable Feast, written over thirty years later. But the letters the two men exchanged reveal a very different Fitzgerald from the one caricatured in Hemingway's memoirs as a sort of wan, broken puppet who seemed a fugitive from a silent film that was—what? A tragic farce, or a grotesque tragedy? Scott's contemporaries thought he was subjugated by Hemingway in his humble and enthusiastic pursuit of the promotional campaign begun in his letter to Perkins.
In his reminiscences on the period, Glenway Wescott, whose first novel, The Apple of the Eye, was published in 1924, depicted Fitzgerald in Antibes, impatient to win recognition for Hemingway's talent, which he considered superior to his own and to Wescott's: “Obviously, Ernest was the one true genius of our decade, he said; and yet he was neglected and misunderstood and, above all, insufficiently remunerated. He thought I would agree that The Apple of the Eye and The Great Gatsby were rather inflated market values just then. What could I do to help launch Hemingway? Why didn't I write a laudatory essay on him? With this questioning, Fitzgerald now and then impatiently grasped and shook my elbow.”
Nevertheless, encouraged by the favorable critical reception given Gatsby and, especially, by his new friends' approval (“Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein are quite enthusiastic”), Fitzgerald placed great hopes in the novel he was preparing to write. He saw it as something entirely new in conception, form and structure. Before he had gotten very far into it, he was convinced that the writing experience he had assimilated during the previous year would make him “much better than any of the young Americans, without exception.” Yet, at that point his thoughts immediately turned to Hemingway: the paragraph directly following his boast in his letter to Perkins begins, “Hemingway is a fine, charming fellow.”
Hemingway was beginning to be talked about. In Spain during the summer of 1925 he wrote a first version of The Sun Also Rises; a second draft of In Our Time, much better fleshed out than the first, was published in New York by Boni and Liveright. He was dissatisfied with his publisher, however. Only 1,300 copies of his book had been printed and it was selling badly. He now regretted having been unable to accept Perkins's offer, which arrived too late, especially since Scribner's ran a literary magazine, which could have published his stories. The Transatlantic Review, which ran his stories in Paris, was defunct, and he had not stayed long with Walsh's This Quarter; it ran only one of his stories, “The Undefeated,” the first to bring him a little money. “He's anxious to get a foot-hold in your magazine,” Fitzgerald wrote to Perkins; “One story I've sent you, the other, to my horror, he'd given for about $40 to an 'arty' publication called This Quarter, over here.” About a month later Scott mentioned Hemingway's feelings toward Liveright: “To hear him talk you'd think Liveright had broken up his home and robbed him of millions—but that's because he knows nothing of publishing, except in the cuckoo magazines, is very young and feels helpless so far away. You won't be able to help liking him— he's one of the nicest fellows I ever knew.”
At the end of 1925 Hemingway wrote The Torrents of Spring, a parody of Sherwood Anderson's novels. Liveright refused it: Anderson was one of its authors, a more important one than Hemingway then. This broke their contract with Hemingway, and he asked Fitzgerald to intercede for him at Scribner's, even though Bromfield had promised him that Harcourt was willing to take him on. He went to New York a month later to complete his separation from Liveright and find a new publisher who would publish both the parody and his novel, by then almost completely rewritten. Fitzgerald was busy in the background, advising Perkins on how best to snare Hemingway and dissuade him from accepting the attractive offers put forth by both Harcourt and Knopf. Hemingway finally followed Fitzgerald's counsel and signed a satisfactory contract with Scribner's. After rereading it early in March, on returning to Paris, Fitzgerald implied that the deal was his work: “I'm glad that you got Hemingway … ,” he wrote Perkins. “I've brought you two successes (Ring and Tom Boyd) and two failures… Ernest will decide whether my opinions are more of a hindrance or a help.”
Nor did Scott limit himself to acting as his friend's volunteer literary agent. Through his criticism of Hemingway's work, he labored actively to make him recognize precisely where his talent lay. He recommended cutting passages in which the author's comments weighed down his terse narrative and descriptive language. This persuaded Hemingway to eliminate long introductory passages to “Fifty Grand” and “The Killers,” which had slowed their pace and diluted their dramatic impact. And the advice was soon confirmed: Hemingway's earlier version of “Fifty Grand” had been refused by Scribner's Magazine, but “The Killers” was accepted in the version corrected by Fitzgerald.
Equal vigilance was brought to bear on the manuscript of The Sun Also Rises. Out of pride or modesty, Hemingway could not bring himself toshow Scott a carbon until he had sent the original to Perkins in June 1926. Fitzgerald was immediately struck by the long biographical backgrounds Hemingway had used to introduce his characters. Aside from the heaviness caused by mistakes in tone, the sections clearly violated the aesthetic implicitly developed in Hemingway's short stories: confining action to the present and showing it exclusively through the characters' words and gestures at a specific moment and in a specific place. The characters' historical, cultural or biographical contexts were merely suggested by their behavior. Introductions trying to establish a time perspective were, therefore, artistic errors.
Fitzgerald was applying here the criteria he had adopted to explain why Hemingway's stories were so good. The dominant principle in Hemingway's literary world is not time. Its fundamental unit is the moment, and the overall effect is not procured by accumulation of these units but by their juxtaposition, their constant recurrence, their uninterrupted, closely meshed sequence. This is an aesthetic diametrically opposed to Fitzgerald's, which was based on a keen sense of the past's survival in the present. In Fitzgerald's work the present moment is always charged with nostalgia or hope, is necessarily defined by the past or the future whether of a character, a group or a civilization. The time perspective that dictates action and the fate of the heroes in Fitzgerald's work justifies long backward glances and precise historical patterning; in Hemingway's work these would violate his aesthetic laws. Jake Barnes cannot allow himself the rumination and commentary natural to Nick Carraway or to the narrator of “The Rich Boy,” who are observers fed on history, have a sense of social distinctions and whose world has not been radically fragmented by a traumatic war.
Fitzgerald put his criticism in writing with sometimes brutal firmness: “careless and ineffectual,” “flat as hell,” “O.Henry stuff,” “from p. 30 I began to like the novel, but Ernest, I can't tell you the sense of disappointment that beginning with its elephantine facetiousness gave me. Please do what you can about it in proofs.” Most of his criticism concerned those opening pages, especially the long historical and social analyses of the aristocratic circles in which Brett Ashley moved during the war. “It hasn't even your rhythm and the fact that it may be 'true' is utterly immaterial…” He knew that the originality of Hemingway's work lay precisely in his use of language in translating his personal experience undidactically, and that his first duty was to eliminate all time elements not implicit in the dialogue and action. Fitzgerald took his mentorship seriously, and he took the implacable tone Wilson had used in commenting on his own work. Hemingway recognized the soundness of his remarks and eliminated the first fifteen pages of his novel, including the biographies of Mike Campbell and Brett as well as the autobiography of narrator Barnes.
This relationship of influential master to ambitious disciple characterized the first phase of their friendship. In fact, the professional gap separating them was soon closed. The Sun Also Rises was published in October, two years after Fitzgerald's letter to Perkins recommending the unknown young author. By the time Fitzgerald left Europe at the end of the year, 7,000 copies of the book had been sold; a year later the figure stood at 23,000, or 3,000 more than Gatsby had sold. In the farewell letter he wrote Hemingway from the ship en route to New York, Fitzgerald summarized his feelings about his friend: “I can't tell you how much your friendship has meant to me during this year and a half—it is the brightest thing in our trip to Europe for me. I will try to look out for your interests with Scribners in America, but I gather that the need of that is past now and that soon you'll be financially more than on your feet.”
Fitzgerald's natural generosity informed his interest in Hemingway's career, the same sort of generosity he had already shown toward Boyd and Lardner and would show in future for others. Probably, too, he felt the urge of a more or less successful writer to use his influence on behalf of a younger author who was less experienced in the ways of publishing.
But the attachment he felt for Hemingway for the rest of his life, despite serious strains on their relationship, exceeded mere professional respect or the impulse to grease a career he thought was off to a sticky start. Real as these motives were, deeper ones are discernible. Personality counts for more than talent here, or, rather, Hemingway's talent was simply an aspect of his personality, the means by which it was expressed in literary terms, a happy conjunction of temperament, experience and style.
We have seen Fitzgerald defend the purity and integrity of that style against Hemingway himself. It was a metaphor for Hemingway's life and, in the final analysis, the key to the man. It was probably the fact of this metaphoric key to Hemingway's temperament and experience that most attracted Fitzgerald when he came to know the man after having discovered the stylist. The next chapter will show the ambiguity of this friendship, spontaneous on one side, reticent on the other. An attraction of opposites, fascination with a complementary personality worked strongly in Fitzgerald's enthusiasm, which, while not unprecedented in his experience, was nevertheless the most important and revealing such impulse in his adult life. For Hemingway represented everything Fitzgerald was not and could never be. Christian Gauss, who was in Paris in 1925 and to whom Fitzgerald eagerly introduced Hemingway, clearly saw how antithetical these men and their talents were. Nine years later, writing to his former student to congratulate him on the publication of Tender Is the Night, Gauss rejoiced at seeing the two friends' names combined in the blurb from T. S. Eliot printed on the jacket: “I have been waiting impatiently for another book by Mr. Scott Fitzgerald with more eagerness and curiosity than I should feel towards the work of any of his contemporaries except that of Mr. Ernest Hemingway.” This gave Gauss a pretext to draw a parallel between the man he had described in 1925 as “naive” and “Balzacian” and the Princetonian whose sensibility was closer to his own. “You two take your places at the opposite ends of the modern spectrum,” he wrote. “Without disrespect to him I put Hemingway down at the infrared side and you on the ultra-violet. His rhythm is like the beating of an African tom-tom—primitive, simple, but it gets you in the end. You are on the other end. You have a feeling for musical intervals and the tone-color of words which makes your prose the finest instrument for rendering all the varied shades of our complex emotional states.”
Fitzgerald had met Hemingway in Le Dingo, a bar on the Rue Delambre 300 yards from the corner on which the Cafe du Dome stands. He knew nothing about him except what the Murphys had told him; all he had read of Hemingway's were the few poems and stories McAImon had published and Wilson's article about him. When Fitzgerald walked into Le Dingo with a Princeton baseball star who was functioning as his guide, he saw Hemingway seated at the bar. He was a husky, casually dressed fellow, over six feet tall, with a weathered face, bright, laughing eyes and brown, brushed-back hair. With him were a couple of British expatriates slightly older than he: a long, straight, boyish woman with gray eyes and very short blond hair, whose name was Duff Twysden, and her escort, Pat Guthrie, slim and bent, with the battered-looking face of a heavy drinker. Both were Montparnasse regulars who were to have pivotal places in The Sun Also Rises, of which Hemingway would write the first draft that summer.
Scott Fitzgerald, as Hemingway first saw him, frail and elegant in his impeccably cut Brooks Brothers suit and white shirt with button-down collar, also seemed a character in search of an author, a little incongruous among the ragtag bohemians of Montparnasse. In A Moveable Feast, a settling of accounts published by Scribner's in 1964, three years after its author's death and twenty-four after Fitzgerald's, Hemingway told about that meeting, suggesting in his preface that the reader read it as he would a piece of fiction. His portrait of Scott is as much his own as it is the model's. The close attention paid to Fitzgerald's features, especially his mouth, is singularly revealing: “Scott was a man who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of beauty.” Hemingway's scrutiny lingered on that mouth, that “worried you until you knew him and then it worried you more.” Then the author's eye, sharp as a fashionable woman's vivisecting a rival's outfit, inspected his subject's figure, searching for a flaw that would confirm his sense of his own superiority. He found it at once. This handsome, slightly effeminate young man was ill-proportioned. “When he sat down on one of the bar stools,” Hemingway wrote, “I saw that he had very short legs. With normal legs he would have been perhaps two inches taller.”
Scott ordered a bottle of champagne and launched on a dithyrambic speech in praise of Hemingway while Ernest watched him coldly. He asked some overly personal questions that the other man avoided with joking answers. Suddenly, Fitzgerald's face was covered with sweat; it puckered, took on a deathly look. Then he passed out. He was taken home in a taxi.
He saw Hemingway again a few days later at the Closerie des Lilas. All his affectation was gone; he behaved simply, spoke of his books with detachment, aware of their weaknesses. Of Gatsby he spoke with modesty and humility, “puzzled and hurt that the book was not selling well,” but comforted by the praise it had received from the critics. The two Scotch highballs he drank did not appear to bother him, and Hemingway seemed amazed to be dealing with a rather appealing human being. Scott “asked no shameless questions, did nothing embarrassing, made no speeches, and acted as a normal, intelligent and charming person.” When Fitzgerald told him about the Renault he had abandoned in a Lyons garage, Ernest agreed to accompany him on the train ride down to retrieve it.
The trip is described in detail in A Moveable Feast: how Fitzgerald failed to show up at the station and did not meet Hemingway until the next morning in Lyons, how incessant rain forced them to spend a night on the way back at Chalon-sur-Saone, where Scott, rain-soaked in his roofless car, thought he was getting pneumonia. Fitzgerald is allowed a great deal of charm and some virtues, but the account stresses his irresponsibility and childishness. We feel that Hemingway was prodigiously annoyed by his spoiled-brat behavior. Yet when he read The Great Gatsby a few days later, it showed him an unexpected side of Fitzgerald and he decided to cultivate Scott's friendship. “When I had finished the book,” he wrote, “I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend. He had many good, good friends, more than anyone I knew. But I enlisted as one more, whether I could be of any use to him or not. If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby, I was sure that he could write an even better one.”
Before the trip Hemingway had brought Fitzgerald to the Rue de Fleurus to introduce him to Gertrude Stein, whom Ernest had known for three years. They came across her in the street while she was looking for a place to park her car. The meeting was probably cordial, Fitzgerald charmingly modest, Stein kindness itself. At least this is how the roles were assigned in the few letters they later exchanged. The one she wrote to him from her summer home in Belley on May 22 after reading Gatsby clearly suggests the teacher-master relationship Fitzgerald allowed to grow up between them. “Here we are and have read your book and it is a good book. I like the melody of your dedication and it shows that you have a background of beauty and tenderness and that is a comfort. The next good thing is that you write naturally in sentences and that too is a comfort.”
In his reply he adopted a tone of humility and deference, leaving it, he said, to superior people like her to think for him. This the better to express his surprise that a mind such as hers could place This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby on the same level. Yet she insisted on the parallel in her autobiography, just as she recalled that “Fitzgerald was the only one of the younger writers who wrote naturally in sentences.” Her tone seven years after their meeting was less doctoral, less pontifical than it was in her letter: “Gertrude Stein and Fitzgerald are very peculiar in their relation to each other… She thinks Fitzgerald will be read when many of his well-known contemporaries are forgotten. Fitzgerald says that he thinks Gertrude Stein says these things just to annoy him by making him think she means them, and he adds in his favorite way, and her doing it is the cruellest thing I ever heard. They always, however, have a very good time when they meet. And the last time they met they had a good time with themselves and Hemingway.”
Fitzgerald also had sent his book to Edith Wharton, at whose feet he had once thrown himself in Charles Scribner's office. She and Conrad, both inspired by Henry James's theory of the novel, had replaced Mackenzie et al. in his pantheon of great novelists. He maintained his respect for Ethan Frome; its construction in scenes and tableaux, inherited from James, perhaps had something in common with the structure of The Great Gatsby. And he had always been drawn to the sacred cows of literature.
The letter she wrote him early in June differed in every particular from Stein's. Instead of appearing oracular, Wharton, then in her sixties, modestly stressed her kinship with a bygone world. “To your generation,” she wrote, “which has taken such a flying leap into the future, I must represent the literary equivalent of tufted furniture and gas chandeliers. So you will understand that it is in a spirit of sincere deprecation that I shall venture, in a few days, to offer you in return the last product of my manufactory.” The reference was probably to “The Writing of Fiction,” an essay in which she paid tribute to the methods of Henry James, who had been her friend and confidant.
Instead of putting Gatsby on the same plane as Fitzgerald's previous books, she stressed its novelty, not in vague terms, but in detailed analysis of its strong points and explanation of her judgment. The letter ended with an invitation to the Fitzgeralds to lunch or tea at her chateau de Saint-Brice.
Versions vary concerning this expedition, too; several people have claimed the privilege of having accompanied Fitzgerald on his pilgrimage to the distinguished New York aristocrat's home. Biographer Andrew Turn-bull reports the assertion by Theodore Chanler that he served as guide on the short trip. But Esther Murphy told me that she was the one who rode in the Renault with Fitzgerald to show him the way. Whoever thepassenger may have been, all the accounts agree on the essentials regarding the visit.
Zelda, not very interested in being judged by a woman of the world known for her caustic wit, refused to go along, and Fitzgerald, full of apprehension, went without her. He stopped frequently in cafes along the road for quick drinks to calm his nerves. According to Miss Murphy, this took so much time that she had to phone Saint-Brice to warn that they would be late for lunch. She said this was an important affair, to which the Bourgets and the Claudels had also been invited.
Fitzgerald's reception was distinctly cool. Mrs. Wharton was more spontaneous in her letters than in her encounters with people she did not know. After a protracted series of opening compliments and niceties, the conversation lagged and Fitzgerald, already a little tight, decided to shock his hostess. He remarked that her isolation in her country palace cut her off from the realities of life. One had to live to know the world. By way of illustration, he asked permission to tell a “rough story.” This was graciously granted and he sailed into an account of something that, he said, had happened to a couple of friends of his. They had taken a quiet hotel room and it was not until three days later that, puzzled by the furtive air of the baggageless guests they encountered on the stairs, they realized they were in a brothel.
His story ended, Scott noticed that his companions were not at all shocked, as he expected, but were waiting with interest to know what had happened next. Instead of coming to his rescue, Mrs. Wharton remarked after a long silence that his story had ended rather abruptly and that his experience of Paris fancy houses had not produced anything very new. Who were these furtive couples, why were they there, how did they act? A novelist should know such things. Unable to go on in the same vein, embarrassed by the questioning looks converging on him and thrown off stride by his indignant hostess's direct questions, Fitzgerald stammered, lost countenance and said nothing more until lunch was over. Back in Paris, he at first tried to present the day to Zelda as a success, but he suddenly slumped against a table and pounded it with his fist. “They beat me!” he shouted. “They beat me!”
Mrs. Wharton wrote a single word opposite Fitzgerald's name in her diary that evening: “Horrible.”
Fitzgerald's mortification was soon swept away, however, on the flood of letters as flattering as Mrs. Wharton's he received from everywhere. One was from another, lesser imitator of James, Willa Cather, whose technique and nostalgic grace in her best book, A Lost Lady, anticipated those in Gatsby; the letter was so complimentary that Fitzgerald got the Gausses out of bed at one o'clock in the morning to celebrate. Similar missives came from Gilbert Seldes, Nathan, Alexander Woollcott, Van Wyck Brooks and Paul Rosenfeld, all of them difficult readers to please. T. S. Eliot, who was away from London, did not read the book until later, but it was of his letter that Fitzgerald was proudest. “The Great Gatsby,” Eliot said, “… has interested and excited me more than any new novel I have seen, either English or American, for a number of years. … In fact, it seems to me the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James…” This was enough to cancel out the haughty irony of a Jamesian disciple.
Moreover, his humiliation was softened by the presence of friends who accepted him with all his faults and virtues. He celebrated the Fourth of July with two Princetonians, Sap Donahoe and Ludlow Fowler, who were among the many friends in Paris that year. Scott was probably most eager for the company of Gauss, who had just been appointed Dean of the College at Princeton. They discussed Gatsby at length. Gauss considered it a masterpiece; nine years later, after the appearance of Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald still remembered word for word some of his former teacher's remarks, which, he wrote, “had a large and valuable influence in some of my problems.” He lost no time in introducing Gauss to Hemingway, whose stories he gave him to read. Gauss was unimpressed by both the writing and the man, whom, we recall, he saw as a “naive, earnest, Balzacian-type boy.” The three men dined together several times and Fitzgerald, knowing that Hemingway had always regretted not having gone to college, tried to get him to profit from his mentor's knowledge. Every time they scheduled a meeting, they chose a subject for discussion for which each prepared.
On June 25, 1925, Ernest and Hadley Hemingway left Paris by train for the feria of San Fermin in Pamplona, where they were to join Don Stewart, Harold Loeb, Bill Smith and the Dingo couple, Duff Twysden and Pat Guthrie. Loeb's unhappy love affair with Duff would give Hemingway the main vehicle for his first novel, which he was to begin in Madrid, continue in Hendaye and complete in Paris on September 21, after six weeks of work.
The Fitzgeralds, in turn, set off by car on August 4 for Antibes after putting Scottie and her nurse on a southbound train. Scott had worked very little in Paris, merely revising and completing “The Rich Boy,” which he had begun in Italy. At the end of August he gave Perkins a few details about the novel he was planning. Its working title was Our Type, and it was about the murder of a possessive mother by her unstable son. “Incidentally, it is about Zelda and me and the hysteria of last May and June in Paris (confidential).” The idea sprang generally from the Fitzgeralds' meeting with the Murphys, from their way of living and its setting in their Cap d'Antibes villa. Initially, the plan revolved around the central character of the son, Francis Melarky; this idea would be dropped and revived several times in the next five years. Violent and disobedient, Francis receives the same treatment from Rome's police that Fitzgerald did. Arriving on the Riviera with his mother, he is taken up by a rich American couple, Seth andDinah Roreback, who are obviously drawn from the Murphys. Having been trained as a Hollywood technician, Francis wants to find a job in the movie studios in Nice, but his mother, fearful that film people might be a harmful influence on him, opposes the idea. He then returns to Paris with the Rorebacks and falls in love with Dinah, who does not flatly discourage his attentions. A friend of Seth, a composer of genius ruined by alcohol, goes with them. All these elements were to appear in the novel's final draft after the matricide theme was abandoned. Melarky would change sex, become Rosemary and fall for Seth-Dick in Paris.
Melarky's excesses of violence and moral disintegration are attributed in Tender Is the Night to Dick Diver, who is demoralized by his idleness and the corruptive power of Nicole's wealth. Francis is the first sketch of a theme that was to develop over the years, that of the degradation of a rootless creator who succumbs to facility and becomes an alcoholic. The musician—Abe North in the final version of the novel—gives the theme at the beginning. This was obviously a subject that closely concerned Fitzgerald and became more important as time went by with no novel being produced.
That summer at Cap d'Antibes Scott met the young composer Theodore Chanler at the Murphys' villa; Chanler told him that he felt his talent dissolve in that atmosphere of permanent carnival, that he was becoming dissipated, he was drinking and disgusted with himself. Finally, he decided to break with the Murphys and their circle and try to pull himself together. This is the real subject of Fitzgerald's novel, as Matthew Bruccoli, who tells of the incident, underlines. The matricidal theme, which would block progress on the book until 1930, was a dead end, a decoy that, instead of revealing some secret impulsion, simply postponed solution of Fitzgerald's greatest problem; it masked the dilemma that had already arisen in the past. He could live with Zelda in a festival tumult, or live as he would have preferred and as he did live while writing The Great Gatsby. He could accept the pleasure of existing with no responsibility except writing for The Saturday Evening Post, or heed the call of a higher vocation that could be answered only through self-abnegation. The basic alternative appeared in almost allegorical terms after he came to know the Murphys and Hemingway: to expend his talent in living or in writing. Until 1930 the exemplary fates of the dandy and the writer would tug dialectically at his imagination.
Murphy is still the unknown quantity in the equation; it is time to train our spotlight on him. Gerald Murphy, eight years older than Fitzgerald, incarnated a life-style, became the model to which the writer aspired in a muddled way. They had enough in common to cement a quick friendship. Both were of Irish ancestry and both had been subjected to a strict Catholic education. Like Fitzgerald, Murphy had tried to shine at college by cornering as many campus honors as he could. He had been elected to Yale's most exclusive club, the Skull and Bones, and directed the Glee Club—Yale's equivalent to Princeton's Triangle; there he had introduced a young sophomore named Cole Porter, who was as fascinated as he by Gilbert and Sullivan and whose music made hits of the club's annual revues. But Murphy had been as deeply disappointed in his university career as Fitzgerald had; he felt that he had gained nothing from his four years at Yale. The two men's common disappointment also extended to the war. After months spent in learning to fly a plane, Murphy too was about to sail for Europe when the armistice was signed.
The two shared a love of elegance, of the social whirl. But whereas Fitzgerald remained on its outer edges, with a chronic feeling of being shut out, his elder was deeply immersed in high society, not merely accepted but liked and sought after. Murphy's father headed the exclusive New York leather-goods firm of Mark Cross; his older brother ran the firm's factory in England, and after Gerald came out of Yale in 1912, he worked with his father until the war. Retail trade, even the carriage trade, did not interest him, however, and the upholstered existence of moneyed New York bored him. A sort of centrifugal movement carried him toward the out-of-doors, toward botany and garden architecture. Where Fitzgerald had failed to land Ginevra King, the more fortunate Murphy had realized a boyhood dream in 1915 by marrying Sara Wiborg, whom he had met ten years earlier, when he was sixteen. The father of Sara and her two sisters, Olga and Mary, was an extremely rich Cincinnati manufacturer; all the girls had been presented at court in England and, under Lady Diana Cooper's sponsorship, were the rage of London in 1914.
Different reasons persuaded Fitzgerald and Murphy to leave the United States and live in Europe, and they were distinguished once they got there by the way they lived; the Murphys were well supplied with funds, and their culture, infinitely broader than the Fitzgeralds', naturally involved them in France's intellectual and artistic life.
Murphy arrived in Paris in the fall of 1921 and was at once impressed by the painting of Braque, Gris and Picasso, whose work he saw at the Rosenberg Gallery. He decided that he too would paint. He had studied under Natalia Goncharova, the set designer for the Ballets Russes, and when the troupe's sets were damaged by fire, he volunteered to help repaint them in their Paris warehouse. This brought Murphy in touch with Diaghilev and his scene designers, among them Picasso, Braque and Andre Derain, who were in charge of restoring the sets. In 1923 Murphy had his first showing at the Salon des Independents with a painting called “Razor,” a precursor of pop art that showed a blown-up matchbox, fountain pen and mechanical razor; it was original enough to elicit from Leger the comment that Murphy was the only real painter among the Americans in Paris, that is, the only one who had shaken off the influence of the School of Paris. Heshowed again in 1925 and 1926 and, until 1929, turned out ten canvases, most of which were exhibited at the Bernheim Jeune Gallery in 1936.
Soon the Murphys were friendly with Diaghilev, Stravinsky and the painters who gravitated around the Ballets Russes. They attended all the rehearsals of Stravinsky's The Wedding and, on June 17, 1923, gave a memorable opening-night party aboard a houseboat anchored in the Seine near the Concorde bridge; it drew Paris's artistic elite, including orchestra conductor Ernest Ansermet, pianists Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric, Vittorio Rieti and Marcelle Meyer, as well as painters and such writers as Tzara, Blaise Cendrars and Cocteau.
Also present was Darius Milhaud, whose La Creation du Monde was to be given that fall by the Swedish Ballet with costumes and a curtain designed by Leger. The company's director, Rolf de Mare, asked Murphy if he knew a young American musician who could compose a curtain raiser for the occasion. Gerald immediately thought of Porter, who had invited the Murphys the previous summer to the chateau d'Antibes, which he had rented for the season. The deal went through, and Murphy was to do the backdrop and costumes for it as well as supply the scenario. The story line of Within the Quota, devised five years before George Gershwin's An American in Paris, could have been called A European in New York, the story of a Swedish immigrant's first impressions of Manhattan. The ballet opened in October at the Champs-Elysees Theater. Picasso congratulated Murphy on his original curtain for it, a parody of a Hearst front page bearing such huge headlines as “UNKNOWN BANKER BUYS ATLANTIC.”
Remember the miserable failure of The Vegetable that same autumn in Atlantic City; Murphy, the rich and brilliant amateur, had scored again while Fitzgerald, after two years of work, had seen his hopes of fortune collapse.
It was far from Paris's scandals and social jockeying, however, that the Murphys crafted their true masterpiece: a subtle art of living. Their apartment at 23, Quai des Grands-Augustins was soon no more than a pied-a-terre, for they had found the ideal place in which to display their talents. In 1922, after a cold, wet winter in Houlgate, on the Channel coast, they had been introduced by Porter to the charms of the Riviera, then deserted in favor of the Norman beaches. They returned there after The Wedding and moved into the Hotel du Cap, at Cap d'Antibes, near the beach of La Garoupe. The owner, who had closed his hotel for the summer to spend a season in the Italian Alps, leased part of the establishment to them during his absence, leaving them the chef, a waiter and a chambermaid, all of whom they shared with a Chinese family.
A few friends came to visit: Gertrude Stein, with the inescapable Alice B. Toklas; Picasso, his mother, his son Paolo and his wife Olga, a ballerina with the Diaghilev company. The place pleased the Picassos, who rented avilla in Antibes and spent part of almost every day at La Garoupe, where the Murphys had cleaned a patch of beach of the seaweed and pebbles covering the sand. Picasso, curious about Americans and a great admirer of Lincoln, whose photographs he collected, liked to be with the Murphys, enjoyed their sense of carnival and their gift for improvising on the most humdrum circumstances. And his clowning and disguises amused them. There he is in Murphy's photos with a big fig leaf pinned to his bathing suit, or posing in the same suit with a hat in his hand, extending his arm to Sara with a conquering air; in another he is wearing a huge white hat faced with feathers, garlands crossed on his chest and a long necklace of white balls. He was struck by the way Sara wore her pearl necklace on the beach, dangling down her back to expose them, she said, to the sun. In Picasso's neoclassical paintings from this period—he was just back from a trip to Rome with Olga and the Diaghilev company—his gigantic women all wear pearl necklaces crossed between their shoulders. Nicole, “the young woman with the string of pearls,” is pictured in the opening pages of Tender Is the Night with “her brown back hanging from her pearls.”
Picasso was also a born storyteller who delighted his hosts with his curious tales—the one about the owner of his villa who was so indignant because Picasso painted a fresco on his wall that he demanded payment to have it removed. And about Gertrude Stein, who wrote to him to ask that he trade the portrait he had done of her in 1905 for a painting she had seen at Rosenberg's. When Gertrude arrived, the meeting of these titans enchanted the Murphys. “She and Picasso were phenomenal together. Each stimulated the other to such an extent that everyone felt recharged witnessing it.”
The place, peaceful and isolated, pleased the Murphys so that they decided to settle there. They bought a villa from an officer in France's colonial army. It stood on the heights overlooking the La Garoupe lighthouse and was surrounded by a big garden full of exotic plants that trailed down the hill. The Murphys spent most of the summer of 1924 at the Hotel du Cap overseeing the remodeling of the house. There they received their friends, the Picassos again, the Count and Countess de Beaumont, the Seldeses on their honeymoon. Rudolph Valentino came, too, on his way back from an Italian tour. He drove down to the beach in an open Voisin automobile with his wife, Natasha Rambova, who owned a splendid chateau at nearby Juan-les-Pins. Her real name was Winifred Hudnut and she was the adopted daughter of an American millionaire, but she had been so influenced by her romantic Russian friend Alia Nazimova, who had performed for the Imperial Court before the war and was now a star in Hollywood, that she chose a Russian name that chimed more sweetly with the name Rudolph—which was also an invention.
Quickly, then, a nucleus of celebrities formed around the Americans on the beach of La Garoupe, composed of a Spanish painter, a Russianballerina, an Italian actor, a French patron of the arts, and Natasha, whose phantom name raised echoes of another age, other splendors. This was the period when the Fitzgeralds formed the habit of crossing the Esterel, the range of cliffs bordering the coast, to visit their friends. “4th trip to Monte-Carlo again and often to Antibes,” we read in the August 1924 section of the Ledger. “Good work on novel. Zelda and I close together.” Yet it was at the end of that month, when they were staying overnight at the Hotel du Cap, that Zelda took her overdose of sleeping pills. In the middle of the night Scott, holding a candle in one trembling hand, knocked at the Murphys' door. Zelda's sick, he told them. He thought it was an accident. To keep her awake, they walked her up and down the corridors of the hotel until dawn. No explanation was asked or given. After Zelda was examined by a doctor the next day, no one said any more about the incident.
Other events showed the suicidal impulse that moved not only Zelda but Scott as well. A year later, during a dinner on the terrace of the Colombe d'Or at Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds saw Isadora Duncan, her dyed red hair blending with her flame-colored dress, seated at a nearby table dining by candlelight with three men. While the others stared at them, Zelda filched the salt and pepper shakers, which were shaped like toy cars. “Nobody was looking because Isadora Duncan was giving one of her last parties at the next table. She had got too old and fat to care whether people accepted her theories of life and art, and she gallantly toasted the world's obliviousness in lukewarm champagne.”
The dancer was forty-seven years old then, still two years away from the day when her trailing scarf caught in the wheel of a roadster and broke her neck. Murphy had just been remarking that Saint-Paul had been one of the relay stations at which Roman soldiers lighted fires to signal their victories against the Gauls. When Scott was told who the woman at the next table was, he bounded up and knelt at Isadora's feet. He repeated what Murphy had said while she stroked his hair and called him her centurion. Zelda watched silently. Later, when she heard Isadora give Scott the name of her hotel as she left, Zelda got up, scaled the low wall bordering the terrace and leaped into the stairwell below, tumbling down the stone steps. She was on her feet and climbing back up before her friends could reach her. At the edge of the parapet she stopped briefly, then, still wordless, headed for the lavatory to clean her skinned knees.
When she returned—calmly, as though nothing had happened—she and Scott agreed that it would be fun to put every chicken in the restaurant's coop on the spit and roast them in the huge, wood-burning fireplace. They were dissuaded from this by the Murphys, and the two couples left the Colombe d'Or. The Fitzgeralds' car followed their friends' for a moment, then Scott turned off at a grade crossing and began driving along the rails. The Renault bounced over the ties for a few yards, then stalled. There, heedless of the danger, they fell asleep. A farmer going to market found them there at dawn. He hitched his team to the car and hauled it off the tracks moments before the day's first train went by.
Seldes was also struck by the deliberate risks the Fitzgeralds took. There was a particularly nasty blind curve on the narrow, twisting road that led down from Valescure to the beach at Saint-Raphael. Every time they approached it, with Scott hunched over the wheel (he was always a bad driver), Zelda invariably said, “Give me a cigarette, Goofo.” Without slowing down, Scott would fumble in his pockets with one hand, fish out a package of Chesterfields, then a lighter, steering desperately with one hand while Seldes and his bride huddled in their seats, expecting the worst.
On another occasion Zelda lay down in front of their car just as it was about to start rolling. “Scott,” she called, “run me over.” He coldly grasped the wheel, stepped on the accelerator and was about to shift into first gear when someone reached over and put on the hand brake.
Yet again, when she was driving her car along the cliff road, Zelda turned to her passenger and, glancing at the drop alongside them, said, “I think I'll turn here.” Her companion had to grab the wheel to keep them from going over. Another time, driving up to Paris through the Cevennes mountains of central France, it was she who tried to grab the wheel from Scott to send the Renault off the road. “When the car swerved to the crest of a hill,” she later recounted, “it seemed to me it was going into oblivion beyond and I had to hold the sides of the car.” The incident was picked up in Tender Is the Night, placed first on the Riviera, then shifted to Switzerland, during the visit of Nicole and Dick to the festival at Agiri.
When the Fitzgeralds stayed with the Murphys at Cap d'Antibes, Zelda liked to dive into the sea from the high rocks, especially at night; as she had in Montgomery, she insisted that Scott follow her. There were narrow ledges cut into the rock at regular intervals to a height of around ten yards. Watching the Fitzgeralds climb to the top frightened Sara. “One had to be a superb diver in order to make it during the day … especially at night, one had to have a perfect sense of timing or one would have been smashed on the rocks below. Zelda would strip to her slip and very quietly ask Scott if he cared for a swim.” Everyone recognized this as the prelude to the usual challenge. “I remember one evening when I was with them that he was absolutely trembling when she challenged him, but he followed her. It was breathtaking. They took each dive, returning from the sea all shivering and white, until the last, the one at thirty feet. Scott hesitated and watched Zelda until she surfaced; I didn't think he could go through with it, but he did.” When Sara scolded them, Zelda replied calmly, “But Sayra—didn't you know, we don't believe in conservation.”
In contrast with this restlessness, this morbid fascination with self-destruction, the Murphys offered a model of serenity and balance; they embodied a standard inaccessible to the Fitzgeralds. But Scott saw too much of himself in Gerald to be completely fooled by the role he was playing. Scottwatched him, studied him, trying to pry out the secret that enabled Murphy to overcome the weaknesses one guessed he had. Fitzgerald sensed that if that secret was to be found anywhere, it was with Sara. As a novelist, Scott was fascinated by this man so like him in his vulnerability, but who had created a role to play, who protected his deepest self by erecting an imposing series of obstacles and tricks between himself and whatever might threaten him.
Gerald was posing. His look was untroubled, distant, his chin was up just a little, showing his better profile; he never let himself be surprised by a camera. He was the one who wanted to do the surprising. Tall, slender, slim-wristed and relaxed, his head erect, he would have been a perfect model for a Roman sculptor seeking to capture imperiousness. His jaw was imperious, his neatly trimmed, reddish-blond hair flamboyant. He dressed with casual care. As the corsair of La Garoupe in his fisherman's striped jersey and plasterer's peaked cap, leaning nonchalantly on his bamboo cane, he was the very picture of elegance. It was in street clothes that he really triumphed, however. In these he was the unapproachable fashion plate, with his trilby hat pulled dreamily low, his straight-cut, belted jackets, his leather carrying case designed to save his pockets from bulging and spoiling his line, his felt spats over polished pumps and, always, the cane that lent the figure distinction and poise.
Under the hint of haughtiness, a trace of uneasiness: there was a naked soul beneath the frosting of poses and it was subject to fits of deep sadness. A photo shows Murphy, shadowy under his hat, in a hall of mirrors, looking at himself look at himself from the back, in profile, in a three-quarters view, fragmented into five planes. He was too purposefully balanced to have a strong point, and his many skills left no room for a single strong talent. He admired rugged people who obeyed their genius and left the rest of their garden unweeded, those who were wholly commandeered by their life-force, the Legers and Picassos and Hemingways. He let himself be consumed by aestheticism, a frivolousness he pretended was serious and that he knew was vulnerable. This sense of decorum and ceremony pervaded his private life; he would be the high priest of the private festival, prophet of the unusual and the exclusive, deprecating what was shopworn, a fount of fashions and discoverer of talent. There was something in him of the impresario and of the great clothes designer.
It was Sara, however, who was the planet Murphy's center of gravity. She was the wind and Gerald the sail, their friends said, she the source of imagination and inventiveness; through her husband she steered the ship, maintained its course and looked out for squalls. To uneasy Gerald she represented permanence, the nest, the center, moral security. Feminine, sensual, worldly, in perfect harmony with things and people, blending with her flower garden, her Provencal crockery, the ritual of baths and meals, she was the image of the kind of tranquillity and well-being that is satisfied by the simplest pleasures. All her other qualities, it seemed, were extras. Hating the affectation of conventional, boring society, she avoided her sisters, who had married into the English nobility. But she was at ease with people who contributed to the festival of wit, such friends as the Princesse de Polignac and the Count and Countess de Beaumont. This discernment comforted those she accepted into her small circle of friends; they were aware of their privileges and duties, stimulated by the tacit contract that made them members of a community of people whose company they chose.
With her clear profile, her long blond hair worn in a knot on her neck and her figure molded in dresses of brightly colored floral patterns, she impressed people by her easy grace and natural generosity, charmed them effortlessly. Nor was this seductiveness limited to her person; it was diffuse; it seemed to arise also from the beauty of her three children, the pleasantness of her home, from Gerald's conversation. She melted happily into the background, refusing to be distinguishable from everything she had created around her, refusing personal compliments that would have separated her from her setting. Fitzgerald understood her unwillingness to provide a ground for the disjunctive power that scrutiny generated. “You hate anyone to examine any single part of your person, no matter how appreciatively,” he wrote to her. “That's why you wore bright clothes.”
Ever present but inaccessible, she inspired in the men around her the longing that is aroused by the contemplation of utter fulfillment. By just being herself, she captivated Picasso, charmed Leger, overwhelmed Fitzgerald. In Gerald, Scott recognized his own ambitions and weaknesses; he admired the impeccable surface his friend showed the world, his unquestioned assurance, the natural grace that Scott lacked. And, sensing Sara's part in creating the character of Gerald, he compared it with Zelda's corrosiveness. The united front the Murphys turned to the world contrasted with the widening crack between the Fitzgeralds, between Scott's self-image and the person he was becoming. Sara and Zelda were so close in their awareness of what escaped him, in their fundamental sense of the present, of the earth and the elements. In Sara he thought he recognized what he knew of Zelda. But Sara was generous, self-effacing. Gerald-Scott, Sara-Zelda, Scott-Sara in juxtaposition, permutation, fascination with themselves and each other. The identification would be complete in the various phases of Tender Is the Night; the novel's subject would be the degradation of the Murphys in Fitzgerald, the insensible passage from pole to pole. Seen through the worshiping eyes of Rosemary against a background of sea and sun, Dick Diver in the opening chapters is Gerald, serene and magnanimous, ready to dare anything and do anything. And Nicole resembles Sara.
Harassing them with questions, importuning them intolerably, rejected, recalled, Scott was passionate in his relationship with the Murphys. It was an impossible romance in which the beloved's face was sometimes Gerald's, sometimes Sara's, seen in shifting moods of admiration and despite anddefiance. Jealous of their interest in others, Fitzgerald, like an aggrieved child, tried to force them to pay attention to him.
Not that this was a one-way attachment. The Murphys were sincerely fond of the Fitzgeralds, and the transferences we have just analyzed were not merely fantasies secreted in Scott by feelings of anxiety and insecurity. Gerald wrote a kind of love letter to the Fitzgeralds on September 19, 1925, shortly after their return to Paris. After stressing “the hush and the emptiness” left by their departure, he described exactly that process of symbiosis that would form the composite character of the Divers in Tender Is the Night. “We four communicate by our presence,” he wrote, “rather than any means; so that where we meet and when will never count. Currents run between us regardless: Scott will uncover for me values in Sara, just as Sara has known them in Zelda through her affection for Scott.”
He included the Fitzgeralds among the elect: “Most people are dull, without distinction and without value, even humanly, I believe (even in the depths of my expansive Irish heart). For Sara most people are guilty of the above until they are proved innocent. All this one can believe without presumption or personal vanity—and the proof that it's true is found in the fact that you two belong so irrevocably to that rare race of people who are valuable. As yet in this world we have found four.”
There is a recollection of shared happiness: “whenever you were coming to dinner in the garden we were happy, and showed it to each other. We were happy whenever we were with you. My God how rare it is. How rare.” The letter ends on an unquestionably sincere note of anxious affection: “Take care of yourselves, please. Thank God for you both.”
Scott, meanwhile, was reunited with Hemingway, who had just finished the first draft of The Sun Also Rises, but who refused to show him the seven copybooks he had filled with his writing during the summer. Proudly he showed the Fitzgeralds a painting by Miro, “The Farm,” which he had bought for five thousand francs for Hadley's thirty-fourth birthday. Used to a regular schedule, Hemingway did not always look kindly on Fitzgerald's habit of dropping in at any hour of the day or night at Ernest's apartment at 118, Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, a few steps away from the Closerie des Lilas. Especially since Scott was sometimes so drunk that he had to be taken home to the Rue de Tilsitt in a taxi.
Scott wrote to a friend that he had written the first chapter of his own novel and thought it was “marvelous,” adding that “you may recognize certain things and people in it.” In the context the allusion is doubtless to the Murphys and their circle. But the end of the year came and the work had gone no further. Scott made two trips to the World War I battlefields in the Lorraine region, paid brief visits to Brussels and London, where he seems to have been guilty of the same mistakes he made at Mrs. Wharton's: “Saw Leslie also, and went on some very high-tone parties with Mountbattens and all that sort of thing. Very impressed, but not very, as I furnishedmost of the amusement myself.” Zelda fell ill again, and they left in January 1926 for Salies-de-Bearn, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, to take the waters. Her fragile health forced them to refuse an invitation to visit Gertrude Stein at the end of December, but they did spend Christmas Eve with the Archibald MacLeishes and the Bromfields.
In his December 27 letter to Perkins, Fitzgerald sounded a mournful note. “I write to you from the depth of one of my unholy depressions,” he confessed. “The book is wonderful—I honestly think that when it's published I shall be the best American novelist (which isn't saying a lot) but the end seems far away… You remember I used to say I wanted to die at thirty—well, I'm now twenty-nine and the prospect is still welcome. My work is the only thing that makes me happy—except to be a little tight— and for those two indulgences I pay a big price in mental and physical hangovers.”
His eight-month lease on the apartment on the Rue de Tilsitt ran out two weeks later. He had barely begun the novel he had hoped to write there. All his plans for his stay in Paris, all his hopes were dashed. He had let Hemingway steal a march on him, and he had not been able to match the Murphys in harmonious living.
Despite his warm relationship with the Murphys, Fitzgerald's attitude toward them was ambivalent. He admired them as elders with easy entree into the fabulous world of music and painting. Not that these interested him: Picasso, Stravinsky and Diaghilev had only symbolic value for him, but that the Murphys were intimate with them was a gauge of their position at the top of the social ladder. They were among the most discerning of the American expatriates, friends of Dos Passos, whom they had met while working on The Wedding, and of MacLeish, a fellow Yale man who had quit the law for poetry and moved to Paris in 1923. In confirmation of their sure taste, they shared Fitzgerald's enthusiasm for Hemingway's early stories. They would be his guides, therefore, his initiators, the people who would fill the role Edmund Wilson would have liked to play during Scott's first visit to Paris four years earlier. Scott refused to be annoyed that the Murphys had read nothing he had written, or that they had shown no enthusiasm when The Great Gatsby appeared. After all, he did not care about Gerald's paintings; it was enough to know that they had created a sensation at the Salon des Independents.
So much for the late summer of 1924, when the Fitzgeralds' frequent visits to Antibes had brought them from their trouble at Saint-Raphael into the shelter of an idyll. The two couples met again in Paris in June 1925. And in August in Antibes their friendship deepened; it was then that the Fitzgeralds came to appreciate fully the Murphys' magic. In a letter to a young woman he had met at the Murphys' still unfinished house, Villa America, Fitzgerald contrasted the uneasiness and disappointment of American life (“America is the story of a moon that never rose”) with thefullness of life with the Murphys. America, he remarked, did not fulfill its promise, it was not even capable of living in the present. “Nor does the 'minute itself ever come to life either,” he wrote, “the minute not of unrest and hope but of a glowing peace—such as when the moon rose that night on Gerald and Sara's garden and you said you were happy to be there. No one ever makes things in America with that vast, magnificent, cynical disillusion with which Gerald and Sara make things like their parties.”
In 1926 the friendship went a little flat. The Murphys visibly favored Hemingway over Fitzgerald. They had spotted big game, the rare kind of personality that conforms to no known model, a writer whose work was going to open a new way of seeing things, of living. As they did when they repainted Diaghilev's stage sets, they now became apprentices; in Ernest's wake Gerald learned about skiing and bullfighting, more or less getting the hang of christies and veronicas. In March, with Dos Passos, they joined Hemingway in Schruns, in the Vorarlberg, where he had spent several previous winters. And they joined him again in early July at the feria in Pamplona, where he went every year; they were eager to sample the atmosphere of The Sun Also Rises, which Hemingway had read to them in manuscript in Austria. Gerald even agreed to go down into the ring, acquitting himself honorably when a bull charged him. “Next year I'll do it well, Papa,” he told Hemingway. “To want to do a thing well … is still one of my complications.”
Although he was flattered by their attention, Hemingway never quite believed that the Murphys had no personal stake in their friendship. With time he came to feel that he had been made a fool of, had been exploited by idle celebrity hunters who had bet on him as they had on Picasso and Leger. Some thirty years later, although he did not mention them by name, he concluded A Moveable Feast with a bitter reference to their negative influence when their interest in him was aroused by the “pilot fish” (a reference to Dos Passos, or to Donald Stewart, who brought Hemingway into the Murphys' circle?): “The rich came led by the pilot fish. A year before they would never have come. There was no certainty then… When they said, 'It's great, Ernest. Truly it's great. You cannot know the thing it has,' I wagged my tail … instead of thinking, 'If these bastards like it what is wrong with it?'”
Unwittingly, he attributed to the “rich,” to the Murphys, the corrosive power that another rich person, Pauline Pfeiffer, had loosed on his marriage. In fact, the serpent in this Eden was his own weakness, which led him into a divorce he did not want.
1926. The Fitzgeralds went into reclusion in the small spa town of Salies-de-Bearn while Zelda treated the colitis she had contracted in Rome. The Hotel Bellevue was the only one open, and its clientele consisted entirely of seven people there to take the waters. It was all mortally boring. Fitzgerald sported a beret, a cane and knickers. He and Zelda made weekly excursions to Biarritz, Pau, Lourdes, but the days were long. He wrote an article about the contemporary American novel in which he blamed Mencken and Anderson for having led young novelists into blind alleys. In a second installment he enthusiastically reviewed the fourteen stories in the American edition of In Our Time, praising the sobriety and effectiveness of their style; Hemingway, he said, had taken a new turn in American literature.
Good news came that helped him bear his gloom patiently. His third collection of stories, All the Sad Young Men, was to appear February 26. More important, Ober had sold the stage rights to Gatsby, and on February 2 the adaptation, directed by George Cukor, opened at the Ambassador Theater on Broadway; it was a hit in New York and a hit on tour later. Ober then sold film rights to Paramount. All this brought Fitzgerald some $20,000, which allowed him to live well without having to bother to write magazine stories for ready cash. It paid his debts and carried him until June 1927; for the first time in four years he owed not a penny to Scribner's.
Early in March, stopping in Paris on their way to the Riviera, the Fitzgeralds met Hemingway, who was just back from New York and about to join Hadley and his son at Schruns. He had finally managed to break his contract with Liveright and had moved to Scribner's. Hemingway was also beginning the affair with Pauline Pfeiffer that would lead to his break with Hadley at the end of the summer. An unsuspecting Scott pressed him to spend the summer with them in Juan-les-Pins, where the Murphys had already rented a house for them, Villa Paquita, for three months.
It was when he reached there that Fitzgerald sent Perkins one of the few optimistic letters he wrote in that period. “I'm happier than I've been for years,” he exulted. “It's one of those strange, precious and all too transitory moments when everything in one's life seems to be going well.” He gave a number of reasons for this euphoria: the continuing success of Gatsby on the stage, the new novel in which he was absorbed, his return to “a nice villa on my beloved Riviera.” There was also the feeling of liberation after leaving the wintry, empty Bearn region and, most of all, the unaccustomed sensation of having plenty of money in the coming months. He seemed to have taken hold of himself; he was convinced he would finish his novel by the end of the year. “The novel is about one-fourth done and will be delivered for possible serialization about January 1st,” he told Ober in late April. “It will be about 75,000 words long, divided into 12 chapters.” On the strength of this assurance, Ober sold the serial rights to Liberty for $35,000.
That spring of 1926, then, was full of promise. In a few months Fitzgerald would reach the fateful and much-dreaded age of thirty, but when he looked back, he had every cause for satisfaction: seven of his books had been published since 1920, and he was again imbued with an almost mysticalconception of destiny that he thought was peculiar to people who succeed early in life.
“The compensation of a very early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter,” he later wrote. “In the best sense one stays young. When the primary objects of love and money could be taken for granted and a shaky eminence had lost its fascination, I had fair years to waste, years that I can't honestly regret, in seeking the eternal Carnival by the Sea.” In the essay “Early Success,” written when he was broke a decade later, Fitzgerald sadly recalled these moments of happiness when the past and future blended in an ecstatic whole, when the present really existed and the moon finally rose:
Once in the middle twenties I was driving along the High Corniche Road through the twilight with the whole French Riviera twinkling on the sea below. As far ahead as I could see was Monte Carlo, and though it was out of season and there were no Grand Dukes left to gamble … the very name was so incorrigibly enchanting that I could only stop the car and like the Chinese whisper: “Ah me! Ah me!” It was not Monte Carlo I was looking at. It was back into the mind of the young man with cardboard soles who had walked the streets of New York. I was with him again—for an instant I had the good fortune to share his dreams, I who had no more dreams of my own… But never again as during that all too short period when he and I were one person, when the fulfilled future and the wistful past were mingled in a single gorgeous moment— when life was literally a dream.
People flocked back to the Riviera after the Fitzgeralds got there. First the Murphys, bronzed by the Austrian sun, then the MacLeishes, back from a tour of Persia. Gerald had also invited the Hemingways to their fortress, but Ernest left for Spain early in May and Hadley and Bumby Hemingway went to Cap d'Antibes without him. Both had returned from Schruns with a persistent cough, and the Murphys' doctor said Bumby had whooping cough. When Sara, always worried about her children's health, asked the Hemingways to leave Villa America and stay in quarantine, Fitzgerald offered them Villa Paquita, which was free until June 15. He had found a bigger house, Villa Saint-Louis, located on the coast with a private beach about three hundred yards from the Juan-les-Pins casino. France was deep in a recession then and the dollar's value had climbed to thirty-six francs. A month later Raymond Poincare succeeded Edouard Herriot as the country's Premier and stabilized the franc, but Fitzgerald nevertheless felt rich and munificent: he had scored a point on the Murphys.
The Hotel du Cap was now open, and full, all summer; cabanas covered La Garoupe beach. Fitzgerald wrote to Bishop that there “was no one at Antibes this summer except me, Zelda, the Valentinos, the Murphys, Mistinguet, Rex Ingram, Dos Passos, Alice Terry, the MacLeishes, Charlie Brackett, Maude Kahn, Esther Murphy, Marguerite Namara, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Mannes the violinist, Floyd Dell, Max and Crystal Eastman, ex-Premier Orlando, Etienne de Beaumont—just a real place to rough it, an escape from all the world.”
Among the new arrivals was a Fitzgerald friend from their Long Island days, Charles MacArthur, who in the following months was to become his evil genius, a sort of anti-Murphy. MacArthur had been a Hearst reporter for ten years and had just written a play called Lulu Belle with a black Carmen as a heroine. He was one of the wits at the Round Table in the Hotel Algonquin in New York; his was the cynical, nihilistic wit of the newsman with no illusions who, two years later, would be the protagonist in The Front Page, the play he wrote with Ben Hecht. Scott felt at home with MacArthur's brand of imagination, so much so that he was sorely tempted to live fiction instead of writing it. To them the Riviera was a kind of Dadaist enclave where, in a booze-induced dream, everything seemed possible and easy money provided a shield against hard knocks. The two men were united in the same subversive, destructive attitude that constantly pushed them to outdo themselves in shocking and pointless games. They gravely debated whether a man could really be sawed in half. The only way to find out was to try it. So Charlie produced a long saw and went in search of a volunteer. Seduced by a fat tip, a bartender used to Americans' extravagances lay down across two chairs placed side by side and let himself be tied up. But when he saw MacArthur and Fitzgerald grab the saw with what seemed every intention of carrying out their experiment, he woke up the whole neighborhood with his howls.
The incident was picked up in Tender Is the Night, when Dick Diver and the composer Abe North wonder what cafe waiters are made of—tips, bits of broken cups, pencil stubs? “The thing was to prove it scientifically” by cutting their waiter in half, being careful to relieve the experiment of any squalor by using a musical saw.
Fitzgerald and MacArthur were not the only writers gravitating around the Murphys that summer. Donald Ogden Stewart and his bride, Beatrice, spent part of their honeymoon at Villa America. There was also Alexander Woollcott, a member of Gerald's generation and the most eminent among the wits at the Algonquin's Round Table; the previous year he had published his study of Irving Berlin, Fitzgerald's favorite composer, but Woollcott owed his fame chiefly to the caustic tongue that made him one of the best paid and most feared critics of the New York World and The New Yorker magazine. He had built his reputation on insults even more cruel than Mencken's; his presence in Antibes may have aroused some verbal aggressiveness in Fitzgerald that had been tempered until then by the Murphys' urbanity.
Charles and Elizabeth Brackett and Philip and Ellen Barry brought ajudiciousness that contrasted with the unchecked and aggressive impulsiveness of MacArthur and Woollcott. Like the Murphys, the Bracketts and the Barrys loved music and painting, good manners and refined conversation. Brackett did have a keen talent for derision, however, which quickly saw through fakery; this was the quality that would make his association with Billy Wilder in Hollywood a success in the thirties. Among the films the team would work on was Lost Weekend, with its haunting similarities to Fitzgerald's life.
Barry was a favorite of the Murphys and the two couples were close friends. Both satiric and mystical, Barry would use Villa America as the setting for one of his best plays, Hotel Universe (1930).
Perhaps because he now felt stripped of the privileged status he had enjoyed with the Murphys in 1925, Fitzgerald became more critical of them, made increasingly direct remarks that cast doubt on the unconditional admiration in which he had held them. To stress the gap that had opened between him and Gerald, Scott would arrive at the beach with the ironic question, “I suppose you have some special plans for us today?” and this was usually so, because the Murphys liked to organize their days around some new discovery to surprise their friends. But Scott's frustration was to take more direct forms.
It surfaced for the first time when the Murphys gave a party at the casino to celebrate Hemingway's arrival in early June. Ernest, who had just spent three weeks in Madrid, had reread the carbon of the manuscript he had sent to Perkins in April. He had been putting off showing The Sun Also Rises to Scott. But now, sure of himself, he gave him the manuscript as soon as he arrived at Villa Paquita and asked his opinion. Fitzgerald took his task seriously, spent part of the night reading the book and noting the commentaries we have already read.
When the Fitzgeralds showed up at the casino party on June 4, Zelda was suffering from a relapse and Scott was already drunk. Had reading Ernest's novel recalled their meeting at Le Dingo a year earlier, when Scott's hopes had been disappointed, when his own book was stalled despite what he said in his letters? Or was he miserable that evening because Hemingway was getting all the attention? His friends were already deep in conversation on the casino terrace; no one seemed to notice him. When Gerald finally rose to welcome the Fitzgeralds, Scott made a few sour remarks about the idea of inviting his friends to feast on champagne and caviar, which he called the height of affectation. He turned ironically to Vladimir Orloff, a designer for the Ballets Russes: did Gerald think he was an exiled grand duke perpetuating the grandeur of the imperial court? When nobody rose to the bait, Scott turned his chair around, straddled it with his chin resting on its back and gave his full attention to a young woman who had just sat down with a man much older than she. So insistently did he stare that they summoned the headwaiter and changed their table. He then snatched up a stack of ashtrays and, roaring with laughter, tossed them onto a nearby table, again bringing the headwaiter down upon him. Irritated by such horseplay, Murphy rose and swept out, followed by Sara, leaving a surprised and angry Fitzgerald behind him. “He [Fitzgerald] really had the most appalling sense of humor,” Murphy commented in recalling the incident, “sophomoric and—well, trashy.” Yet, he admitted, Scott could be the most charming of companions: “What we loved about Scott was the region in him where his gift came from, and which was never completely buried. There were moments when he wasn't harassed or trying to shock you, moments when he'd be gentle and quiet, and he'd tell you his real thoughts about people, and lose himself in defining what he felt about them. Those were the moments when you saw the beauty of his mind and nature, and they compelled you to love and value him.”
The Fitzgeralds left a few days later for Paris. Zelda's health had deteriorated: now the diagnosis was appendicitis; she would have to be operated on. She went into the American Hospital in Paris and Scott rented a room nearby. For two weeks he cruised the city's night spots, sometimes with actor James Rennie, who had played Gatsby on Broadway, or with novelist Michael Arlen, who introduced him into Nancy Cunard's circle. Sara Mayfield, a childhood friend of Zelda's who was then attending the Sorbonne, was amazed by the way he squandered money.
By the time the Fitzgeralds returned to Juan-les-Pins in early July, the Hemingways had left Villa Paquita and were staying in the Hotel de la Pinede, where Pauline joined them. They were preparing to leave for Pamplona with the Murphys. When he returned two weeks later, Gerald sent Hemingway a letter of the kind once reserved for Fitzgerald: “You're so right because you're so close to what's elemental. Your values are hitched up to the universe. We're proud to know you. Yours are the things that count.”
Ernest was now in Madrid with Hadley, the casino incident seemed forgotten, but the Murphys nevertheless kept their distance from the Fitzgeralds. Scott's spirit of provocation became obsessive; his need to shock took forms that went beyond a mere need to affirm his independence of the decorum insisted on by the Murphys. He seemed compelled to wound people in their most deeply held beliefs. For example, he alienated the waiters at the casino by saying that the Germans should have won the war and that someday they would return and brush away the French Army. Yet he left lavish tips, as though to emphasize his inviolable status as a rich foreigner and the mercenary instincts of those he considered his inferiors.
When the mood was on him, he lost the most elementary sense of decency. Dos Passos tells of “the horrible time” when, entering a restaurant with the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds, Scott kicked the tray of cigarettes held by the elderly woman selling them. Stunned and embarrassed, his reproachfully silent friends retrieved the packages scattered under chairs andtables while Fitzgerald hastily tugged a wad of bills from his pocket and slipped it into his victim's hand. “It was hard to laugh that off,” Dos Passos wrote with his usual restraint. No clowning was too gross for Scott. Not dropping on all fours, wriggling under the big straw mat in front of the casino entrance and stalking forward under his “shell,” growling. Nor, when he encountered an obstacle, pretending to faint and falling in a heap at his antagonist's feet; once when the guard on the door of the gambling room in Monte Carlo refused to let him in until he showed his passport, Scott insulted the man, then collapsed. After watching the stunt several times, Murphy finally lost patience. “Scott,” he admonished, “this is not Princeton and I am not your roommate. Get up!” Sheepishly, Fitzgerald obeyed the order.
Understandably, he preferred to be with MacArthur, who, instead of reproaching him, encouraged him to act on his impulses. They were joined by a third cutup, Ben Finney. Together the three men set about making a movie, an amateur phantasmagoria set in the Hotel du Cap. Its protagonist was to be “the wickedest woman of Europe,” a composite of Duff Twysden and Nancy Cunard. They may have been inspired by Picasso, who in 1925 had put together a collection of back-view snapshots of his models: he tricked them into bending over and, without their knowing it, photographed their upraised posteriors. Similarly, the three pocket Griffiths tried to surprise hotel guests in comic attitudes, at one point chasing actress Grace Moore with their camera. Their faintly obscene subtitles were painted in large letters on the wall of her house. She had them whitewashed over several times, but, seeing that this only stimulated their inventiveness, she finally gave up, preferring, she explained, “to do with the four-letter words one knew than those one knew not of.”
Zelda took no part in this merriment. She liked to be with the Murphys and spent her days with them on the corner of the beach they had sectioned off with their umbrellas and deck chairs. She never earned their irony or reproach; even her most surprising stunts were imbued with a dignity and gravity that commanded respect. No one in the casino smiled, for example, when she left the Murphys' table and began to dance, with her skirt pulled up to her waist. “She was dancing for herself,” Gerald later commented; “she didn't look left or right, or catch anyone's eyes. She looked at no one, not once, not even at Scott. I saw a mass of lace ruffles as she whirled—I'll never forget it. We were frozen. She had this tremendous natural dignity… Somehow she was incapable of doing anything unladylike.”
Woollcott and “Chato” Elizaga, Miss Moore's fiance, gave a farewell dinner one evening on the terrace at the Eden Roc Hotel. When all the toasts had been made, Zelda decided that all this chat was pointless and proposed a more concrete gesture of friendship: she stripped off her black lace panties and tossed them to her hosts. Elizaga caught them and, vowing that he would show himself worthy of the favor, dived off the rocks fronting theterrace, followed by several of the guests. Woollcott, meanwhile, took off all his clothes, saluted the remaining guests, straightened his straw hat, lit a cigarette and, his great belly preceding him like an escort vessel, waddled nonchalantly toward the lobby.
The Murphys had planned to go to the United States at the end of the summer, and they gave a lavish dinner at Villa America that may have inspired the Divers' farewell evening in Tender Is the Night. As usual, Fitzgerald played the clown. As soon as he arrived, he walked over to an effeminate-looking young man and, loudly enough to be heard by everyone in the room, asked if he was a homosexual. When the man calmly agreed that he was, Fitzgerald beat a disconcerted retreat and tried to look inconspicuous. But when the dessert came, he was circulating among the tables and spied the bare back of the Princesse de Caraman-Chimay, who had been spending the summer with a neighbor of the Murphys, Princesse de Poix. He grabbed a piece of fruit from a table and tossed it, hitting her between the shoulder blades. Her poise was too much for him: she could not help straightening in surprise, but she went right on with her conversation as though nothing had happened. MacLeish saw it all, took Scott aside and bawled him out. Scott punched him in the jaw. Moments later, Fitzgerald grabbed a Venetian glass from the table and threw it over the garden wall, then another, shouting with laughter when he heard them smash. He destroyed a third glass before Gerald curtly told him to stop. Nothing was said about it then, but as the Fitzgeralds were leaving, Gerald took Scott aside and told him he did not want to see him at Villa America for the next three weeks.
Twenty-one days later Scott rang the Murphys' doorbell, and their friendship picked up from where it had been interrupted—on the surface. In any case, three weeks of ostracism did not have the desired chastening effect on Fitzgerald. On the evening before the Murphys left, he made another scene, which was followed by another “mawkish reconciliation,” as he put it in a letter to Hemingway on his thirtieth birthday. He added that the Murphys had “grown dim” in his mind; “I don't like them much any more,” he asserted. Was he falling in behind Ernest, who liked Sara but never lost his feeling of rivalry with Gerald? Whatever the motive, the fact was that in that autumn of 1926 Fitzgerald became estranged from the Murphys and could no longer count on Ernest's friendship. Just how did Hemingway feel toward him?
The two men had nothing in common except that each thought of the other as a kind of man or writer he would more or less have liked to be. Even this was less perceptible in Hemingway, who mainly envied the privileges Fitzgerald enjoyed when he first met him. If we accept the portrait he left of Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast, he probably had little reason to admire anything about Fitzgerald but his talent. And he was even lukewarm about that. “You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous,” Hemingway declared in a letter to Fitzgerald on May 28, 1934. “You know, I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time.” Besides, Hemingway was too sure of himself and of his own genius to admit any kind of superiority in another writer, except a dead one. Yet he could not help envying Fitzgerald's healthy earnings when he, Hemingway, was living very simply indeed on his wife's income. It was symptomatic that when he and Hadley separated and he gave her all the cash he had, he classed Fitzgerald with MacLeish and Murphy as “rich” people who were in a position to help him financially. Even after the success of A Farewell to Arms, he went on living on the resources his second wife, Pauline, received from her wealthy family; this included the house on Key West, a gift from one of her uncles, in which they lived beginning in 1931.
Another of Hemingway's regrets was that he had never gone to college. He so envied Fitzgerald his years at Princeton that in one drunken, revealing moment in 1931 he bragged that he, too, had studied there, a lie he later retracted. In his 1933 “Homage to Switzerland,” he alluded to Fitzgerald and Princeton with leaden irony in a conversation between an American and a Swiss waitress with a diploma from Berlitz.
No wonder, then, that ten years after the two men met, Hemingway even remembered the name of Newman School. That was at the end of 1935, one of the lowest points in Fitzgerald's life, when Hemingway tried in his fashion to console him by proposing to hire a killer to put him out of his misery; he even imagined a funeral for which “we will get MacLeish to write a mystic poem to be read at that Catholic school (Newman?) you went to.” Their only meeting between July 1926 and the spring of 1929 was at a Princeton-Yale football game.
It seems certain that Hemingway was impressed by Princeton's prestige even while judging critically, even ironically, one of its most famous though least typical alumni. He knew such authentic Princeton intellectuals as Wilson and Gauss, of course, but in Fitzgerald he saw a combination of culture and cash. This allowed him to develop a comfortably ambiguous attitude in which irony counterbalanced his regret at having had no share in the cultural rituals common to his new friends. Dos Passos had gone to Harvard, MacLeish, Stewart and Murphy to Yale. Hemingway's feeling of inferiority in this showed in his aggressiveness. The pitiless view of Robert Cohn taken, despite his protestations of friendship, by the narrator in The Sun Also Rises is that of Hemingway judging Cohn's model, Harold Loeb, and the privileges a rich family gave him: a Princeton education, a college wrestling championship, editorship of a magazine in Europe, the recent publication of a novel. That Loeb trusted and befriended him, that, along with Anderson, he helped persuade Boni and Liveright to publish In Our Time, only nourished Hemingway's secret resentment. Hemingway's relations with Loeb in 1924-26 prefigured in an almost exemplary and allegorical way the more subtle connection he would develop with Fitzgerald in later years.
To Fitzgerald, on the other hand, Hemingway was the very image of the man he would have wished to be. There was no trace of ambiguity or irony in the enthusiastic approval expressed in his letters. He seemed to feel that Hemingway had succeeded where he, Fitzgerald, had failed in combining the man of letters with the man of action. While he had wasted his time at Princeton, his friend had been living the great adventure of war on the Italian front, had intensely experienced the big, basic emotions one feels in the face of danger and death, had known the virile comradeship that unites men who share combat and danger. In a letter written in 1925, Hemingway insisted on war as an ideal subject for a novelist. “The reason you are so sore you missed the war,” he informed Fitzgerald, “is because war is the best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get…”
Fitzgerald was only too aware of the limits of his experience; his regret at having missed the war, intensified by Hemingway's example, sometimes took morbid form, as in his interest in photos of horribly mutilated victims of shellfire. Hemingway also had a suitably heroic physique; Fitzgerald envied him his height, his athletic build and, generally speaking, what he called his “magnetism,” an attribute that Scott felt was lacking in himself. Most of all, a Fitzgerald discouraged at the time of their meeting by the disappointing showing of Gatsby, even though he considered himself the “best” writer of his generation, saw in Hemingway an artist who had chosen the strait gate. Hemingway, after all, devoted himself entirely to literature, living in poverty, supported by Hadley, who consented to share theprivation imposed by his stern calling. Scott compared this wise asceticism with his own prodigality and with Zelda's extravagance, but he knew that he could not live in any other way.
Fitzgerald was thirty, which meant to him that his youth was gone, and he seems to have subconsciously made his choice in the dilemma facing him. Murphy and Hemingway, the two friends he had made in France, seemed perfect, one might say ideal, examples of the only possible alternatives: Gerald and Sara incarnated the grace, the optimum fulfillment of a civilized state based on culture, leisure and money, but also on elegance and generosity. To Fitzgerald, who knew little of the America of the rich except the vulgar and ostentatious parties he attended in New York and Long Island, the Murphys clearly represented the sole justification of a society based on money. Between them and the Americans he had previously known, the difference was as great as that between Gatsby's flashy parties and the refined evenings with the Divers in Tender Is the Night.
It was the Fitzgeralds' imaginativeness and spontaneity that won the Murphys' friendship, not the novelist's fame; they were accepted because of their personal qualities, and they were temporarily excluded on several occasions when those qualities deteriorated. To the Murphys the writer who was full of promise, the really modern innovator, apparently was Hemingway. He was the artist of the group, the one who was respected and encouraged and whose company was sought. Fitzgerald was sorely tempted, because he considered the Murphys archetypes of an admirable life-style, to view his writer's trade as a means rather than as the end it had been up to then. “Living well is the best revenge” for life's hard knocks, the Murphys believed. If a man can invest all his talent in living, why bother building up a body of work in which those he most admires and whose esteem he most values do not believe?
Hemingway, celebrated and accepted as a true creator, privileged with the immunity of the genuine artist of whom all is forgiven, played the gruff and boorish brute. He did not, as Fitzgerald did, try to keep up with the Murphys on their own ground; instead, he loudly claimed the right to be himself, sustained by his almost mystical conviction—confirmed by the unanimous approbation he received—that he was a Great Writer. He was sure enough of himself and his talent to refuse to rush, to take his time, dividing his life between writing, loafing and sports.
Faced with this serene determination, so different from his own anxieties and his inner turbulence, Fitzgerald made an obscure and predictable decision: without admitting it to himself or those close to him, he opted for the easy way, for the life of a gentleman, a prince, rather, a life of aristocratic leisure negligently financed by a few shallow, effortless stories written to amuse the Post's three million readers. To Hemingway, younger, tougher, sure of himself, more naive, too, was left the ungrateful, never satisfying daily chore of writing for his peers, with no other reward but theirapproval—or their spite. Glenway Wescott was surely right in an essay written after Scott's death in which he suggested that Hemingway may have relieved Fitzgerald of the responsibility of writing for glory: “He not only said but, I believe, honestly felt that Hemingway was inimitably, essentially superior. From the moment Hemingway began to appear in print, perhaps it did not matter what he himself produced or failed to produce. He felt free to write just for profit, and to live for fun, if possible. Hemingway could be entrusted with the graver responsibilities and higher rewards such as glory, immortality. This extreme of admiration—this excuse for a morbid belittlement and abandonment of himself was bad for Fitzgerald, I imagine.” This was true in part, at least in the few years preceding Tender Is the Night, years of real demoralization in Fitzgerald, of the disintegration of his creative faculties while the novelist abdicated in favor of the “gentleman.”
The year 1926 was certainly a determinant in this process. Money flowed in from the stage and screen adaptations of Gatsby, freeing Fitzgerald of debt for the first time in four years; this may have made him feel that he had reached a professional equilibrium from which he could now view writing novels as a luxury. The constantly fatter fees he was receiving for his stories allowed him to live the life of the idle rich. Obviously, he lacked any keen sense of urgency in completing the novel he had started immediately after finishing Gatsby.
Hemingway understood this very well. “I wish there was some way that your economic existence would depend on this novel or on novels rather than the damned stories,” he told him, “because that is one thing that drives you and gives you an outlet and an excuse too—the damned stories.” It was a theme he harped on: a week earlier he had accused Scott of “using the juice to write for the Post and trying to write masterpieces with the dregs.” By 1926 a Fitzgerald who had been convinced only the previous year that he was going to write his generation's novel, the book that neither Joyce nor Stein could write, may now have decided that Hemingway had already staked out the territory he had wanted to explore, had already discovered the formula that nullified all Fitzgerald's searching and rendered obsolete the complex architecture in Gatsby.
On December 10, 1926, the Fitzgeralds embarked in Genoa aboard the Conte Biancamano. Also aboard was Ludlow Fowler, who, with his young wife, had spent the summer in Europe. Six years earlier he had been the best man at the Fitzgeralds' wedding and now he was witness to the disillusionment in their marriage. Zelda warned him about it: “Now Ludlow, take it from an old souse like me—don't let drinking get you in the position it's gotten Scott if you want your marriage to be any good.” And Scott was returning home empty-handed: the euphoria generated by his new wealth had borne no fruit. A letter written in early August announced what he represented as a triumphant homecoming: “I'll be home with the finishedmanuscript of my book about mid-December. We'll be a week in New York, then south to Washington and Montgomery to see our respective parents and spend Christmas—and back in New York in mid-January to spend the rest of the winter.” His stay in Europe was summed up this way: “God, how much I've learned in these two and a half years in Europe. It seems like a decade and I feel pretty old but I wouldn't have missed it, even its most unpleasant and painful aspects.”
After sending a telegram to Ober asking him to extend by six months the deadline for submitting his manuscript to Liberty, he and Zelda went to California in early January, leaving Scottie with Mrs. Fitzgerald. He had been hired by United Artists producer John Considine to write the script for Lipstick, a film in which Constance Talmadge had grabbed the leading role. Scott was to be paid $3,500 for writing the script and $12,000 if it was accepted. The Fitzgeralds were warmly received by the movie colony, and the newspapers devoted columns of space to them. At the palatial Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles they occupied a suite in a huge bungalow set in a palm grove, where their neighbors were John Barrymore, Carl Van Vechten and their old friend from Rome, Carmel Myers. The swirl of parties that followed brought them in touch with other stars: Richard Barthelmess, Pola Negri, Lillian Gish and a seventeen-year-old newcomer, Lois Moran. With the Charleston now out of style, Zelda applied herself to learning the intricacies of the Black Bottom.
The unending round of festivities did not eclipse their memories of France. Zelda's letters to Scottie were full of nostalgia for Paris, “for the pink lights and the trees and the gay streets.” She would give all of Hollywood, she said, for the thrill of driving from Paris to the Riviera. And in an interview with a Los Angeles newspaper, Scott expressed with Menckenesque violence his disappointment in the America he saw. “I was shocked,” he asserted, “when I returned to America…. I had been, you know, three years in Paris. I saw shows on the New York stage which would have shocked the French. Everything in New York seems mouldy, rotten. We went to night clubs. It was like going to a big mining camp in the boom days. … I got a sensation of horror… There was nothing fine about it all. It was vulgarity without the faintest trace of redeeming wit. Coming from Paris to New York was like plunging from a moral world to a state of anarchy.”
He pursued his philippic in an interview given to the New York World two months later, in which he justified expatriation in terms recalling those employed by Henry Adams thirty years earlier: “The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older—intelligence and good manners.”
Intelligence and good manners, however, seem to have been the qualities he too often forgot in his public life. In the unreal atmosphere of Hollywood, he and Zelda strained to compete with the actors in eccentricity and cheekiness. When they failed to receive an invitation to a costume party given by Samuel Goldwyn for the Talmadge sisters, they appeared at the door on all fours, pleading between howls to be admitted as puppies. Zelda then went upstairs, had a bath and, doubtless feeling more presentable, went back down to the party. On another occasion, aping the actors' habit of leaving their costumes on in town, they went to a party with Zelda in a nightgown and Scott in pajamas. At a tea party given by Lois Moran's mother, they went the rounds of the guests asking like magicians for their jewelry and watches; they then vanished into the kitchen, where they were found cooking their loot in a pot of tomato sauce.
Among the performers—who, like Scott, were always acting—Lois Moran impressed him by her freshness and naturalness. She was just back from four years in Europe with her mother, she was cultivated and spoke French fluently. Their affinity led them to meet whenever they had a chance. Lois asked Scott to take a screen test, to which he agreed with delight. But he resisted her pleas that he take a part in one of her films. Blond and pink, with innocent blue eyes, she took her work seriously. She was the model for a type of honest and independent young actress, courted by an older man, who would soon appear in some of Scott's stories and, as Rosemary, would take the lead in Tender Is the Night. If we are to believe George Jean Nathan, the affair did not go very far. “She was a lovely kid of such tender years that it was rumored she still wore the kind of flannel nightie that was bound around her ankles with ribbons,” he recalled, “and Scott never visited her save when her mother was present.”
It enraged Zelda to hear Scott speak admiringly of Lois, saying she owed her success entirely to her talent and perseverance, an accomplishment that made her a woman after his own heart. Zelda feigned indifference, but she showed in her special way how she suffered from Scott's attentions to a girl she thought of as a rival. Once while he was having dinner with Lois, Zelda burned in the bathtub all the dresses she had just made. In the train taking them back to New York some weeks later, she reproached him for inviting Lois to visit them; feeling herself betrayed, she climaxed their violent quarrel by opening the window and throwing out the platinum wristwatch Scott had given her as an engagement present.
Fitzgerald spent most of his time in Hollywood, however, working alone in a United Artists office, keeping strict hours like all the other scriptwriters. In eight weeks he concocted a contemporary Cinderella story set in a fairy-tale Princeton. Hollywood was less given to such sparkling trifles than The Saturday Evening Post, and the script was rejected. In a letter to his daughter written ten years later, Fitzgerald summed up the lesson Hollywood had taught him: “I honestly believed that with no effort on mypart I was a sort of a magician with words… Total result—a great time and no work.”
He had wasted money as well as time, having spent far more in Hollywood than he earned. Perkins, meanwhile, was trying to summon him back to duty: in January he asked Fitzgerald to approve the novel's new title, The World Fair, so that he could announce it, thus keeping it exclusive and calling the public's attention to the serialization soon to appear in Liberty. He renewed his efforts in April, asking for details from the book that could help the jacket designer. But Fitzgerald had run through his cash reserves and had to go back to writing bread-and-butter stories.
Returning to the East Coast, he looked for a house to rent. After a few days in Washington, he reached New York around the end of March and paid a visit to Lardner in Great Neck. Living near a big city was out of the question now for the Fitzgeralds. Perkins suggested that they try Delaware. Scott's college roommate, John Biggs, a Washington lawyer now, found him a huge old colonial-style house on a bank of the Delaware River. Charmed by the dignity of the house and the lovely landscape, Fitzgerald on April 1 signed a lease that, for the absurdly low rent of $150 a month, made him the tenant of Ellerslie for eighteen months. It was a pastoral paradise of oaks and chestnut trees surrounding a house with a four-columned portico. There were nearly thirty rooms in Ellerslie, all so big that Zelda had outsized furniture made to scale for them. The result was surprising: people looked like pygmies amid all that giant furniture, like figures out of Gulliver or Alice. She restored a kind of balance a few months later by building a doll's house for Scottie that she furnished and upholstered and garnished with mirrors and windows as though it were a real home.
In May 1927, six weeks after they moved into the house, their first guests arrived—Lois and her mother, critic Ernest Boyd and Carl Van Vechten— and they all picnicked under the flowering chestnut trees at the river's edge. That was the weekend when Lindbergh landed at the Paris airport of Le Bourget. So everyone talked of Paris and Scottie chattered in French to Lois. Zelda hid her feelings about Lois, but when Van Vechten returned alone the following week, she seems to have gotten drunk and poured out her resentment of the girl, as we learn from a half-serious, half-joking note she later sent him. “From the depths of my polluted soul,” she wrote, “I am sorry the week-end was such a mess. Do forgive my iniquities and my putrid drunkenness. This was such a nice place, and it should have been a good party if I had not explored my abyss in public.” From then on Van Vechten became her confidant and she sent him streams of letters about everything and nothing.
Perhaps stung by Scott's criticism, she began to write again, too, after a three-years interval; three of her articles were published the following year in Harper's Bazaar and College Humor. The second of these, “LookingBack Eight Years,” is interesting for its analysis of the feeling of frustration she thought beset the men and women of her generation. Keen insight took her straight to the heart of a problem that specially affected her and Scott: how to survive their youth, how to accede to maturity? “It is not altogether the prosperity of the country and the consequent softness of life which has made them unstable, for almost invariably they are tremendously energetic … ,” she wrote. “It is a great emotional disappointment resulting from the fact that life moved in poetic gestures when they were younger and has now settled back into buffoonery. And with the current insistence upon youth as the finest and richest time in the life of man it is small wonder that sensitive young people are haunted and harassed by a sense of unfilled destiny and grope about between the ages of twenty-five and forty with a baffled feeling of frustration.”
Not only was she writing, but she also returned to the paintbrushes she had not touched since her stay in Capri. An oil painting of the facade of Ellerslie bathed in amber light against a pale green sky shows a real sense of atmosphere and tonal values. But her nostalgia took her imagination to the happy days of the past. Around a lampshade she painted a merry-go-round; in the background is a brightly colored montage of the Fitzgeralds' former homes, the Yacht Club on White Bear Lake, the Plaza Hotel in New York, the house in Westport, Villa Marie, the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, the terrace in Capri, Villa Saint-Louis and Ellerslie, shown from the same angle as in the painting. In the foreground fairgoers ride the carousel horses amid gardeners and governesses; Zelda herself is pictured riding a rooster, Scottie a horse, Scott an elephant and Nathan a lion.
People from the past surged back into the Fitzgeralds' lives, too. During a stay at Virginia Beach in July, they met cousin Ceci, whose daughters were now grown up. In August they went back to Long Island, where they were reunited with Tommy Hitchcock, the polo star on whom Tom Buchanan was modeled. Then they visited the now elderly Margaret Chanler at her Hudson Valley home, where Sigourney Fay had first introduced Scott to her; she had probably heard of Fitzgerald's encounter with her friend Edith Wharton, and she strictly rationed the liquor. Scott had to exert all his charm on Venturino, the butler, to wheedle an extra whiskey: “Mrs. Chanler is so brilliant,” he pleaded, “that I simply have to have another drink to keep up with her.”
In September Ludlow Fowler and Townsend Martin stayed at Ellerslie, taking part in a polo tournament for which Fitzgerald, his love of parody jogged by his contact with Hitchcock, hired some workhorses from neighboring farmers. A dance band was brought in for the evening, as though the place were Gatsby's, and so were a great many other guests. Bootleg whiskey flowed like water. Everything had been provided—except food. Dos Passos was so starved that he rounded up some of the other guests and went to Wilmington in search of a sandwich.
This was also the period when Fitzgerald, at Gauss's urging, renewed his ties with Princeton. College Humor, which published a series of articles on American colleges, asked him to write the piece on Princeton. In it Fitzgerald extolled the school he had not seen since the day in May 1920 when he was literally thrown out of the Cottage Club. Now he was readmitted to Cottage and, some months later, was invited to a discussion on his problems as a writer. Anxious to make a good impression, he quit drinking, but he was too nervous to speak; after several tries, he gave up and everyone sat around and swapped dirty stories. Disgusted, Fitzgerald got drunk during the reception given afterward by Edgar Palmer, one of the university's most generous patrons, to whom it owed its new stadium. “You know, I've been studying you,” Fitzgerald informed him, “and thank God I don't look like that. It must be because you have so much money.”
Some of the students had read his article when it appeared in December. Aboard the train to Trenton the next day, one of them, an idealistic freshman, told him that the honor code vaunted in the article was frequently violated during exams. It says much about his own idealism that Fitzgerald sent a telegram to Dean Gauss expressing his dismay, and this was followed by a long letter on the subject. His passion for football also revived, and he attended a number of scrimmages. Among the five stories he turned out beginning in June 1927, one of the best is “The Bowl,” written in November in the middle of the college football season. Two others, “Jacob's Ladder” and “Magnetism,” reveal how persistent were the feelings triggered in him by Lois Moran. An image of an actress struggling with a difficult profession finally replaced the carefree flapper in his fiction.
Zelda plunged into ballet lessons, which, she thought, would provide a means of self-expression in an area all her own, would make her the kind of professional Scott so insistently praised. She was just turned twenty-seven, but she was convinced she could make a career as a ballerina. Hadn't she danced well, after all, as a girl in the shows in Montgomery? She enrolled in the dancing class taught by Catherine Littlefield, who directed the Philadelphia Opera Ballet Corps and who had studied in Paris with Madame Lubow Egorova, director of the Ballets Russes school. Zelda was determined to be “a Pavlova, nothing less.” Three times a week she went up to Philadelphia with Scottie, whom she had enrolled in the same school. In an antique shop she found a huge gilt mirror with a lavishly carved Victorian frame; this she hung in the front room, installed a ballet bar in front of it and, playing the same record over and over, practiced the movements learned at Miss Littlefield's. Practiced, in fact, to the point of exhaustion, even if there were guests, even during meals, dripping perspiration, breaking off only to gulp a glass of water or a cup of tea while Scott watched in exasperation.
Zelda was living in her own world now, entirely cut off from the real world around her. In one of her letters to Van Vechten she told him howdetermined she was to preserve her integrity amid the decay: “I joined the Philadelphia Opera Ballet … and everybody has been so drunk in this country lately that I am just finding enough chaos to pursue my own ends in, undisturbed, again … I hope that I will never again feel attractive.”
With Scott absorbed in writing short stories, his novel was at a standstill. To Hemingway, who had just come out with a new collection of stories, he reported in November that the manuscript would be ready December 1. He also lied to Perkins, who in October had told Lardner in a letter that the book was within five thousand words—a dozen pages or so—of the end. But Scott did admit to Hemingway that his health was shaky. “Have got nervous as hell lately,” he said, “purely physical, but scared me somewhat—to the point of putting me on the wagon and smoking denicotinized cigarettes.”
At the end of January 1928, Zelda and Scott spent a few days in Quebec as guests of the Canadian tourist office, but the break did nothing to ease their tenseness (it was after this hasty trip that Scott went mute at the Cottage Club). Then Zelda's sister Rosalind and her husband, Newman Smith, came to visit them at Ellerslie.
Tired, humiliated by his breakdown at Princeton, disturbed by what he had learned about cheating on the honor code, Scott picked a quarrel with Zelda in front of their guests and smashed one of her favorite vases against a mantelpiece. The row grew increasingly nasty, and when Zelda insulted Scott's parents, calling his father an Irish cop, he saw red and slapped her hard across the face. Shouts, chairs overturned, a bloody nose, tears. Smith intervened, Rosalind was indignant. But the beaten wife claimed her right to be beaten if she chose. The two sisters turned on each other, and it was the men who then tried to calm them.
As soon as the outraged Smiths left the following morning, Zelda wound up her Victrola and returned to her work at the ballet bar. Scott shut himself in his study, reviewing his past as he leafed through his Ledger. His next novel would have no heroine, no flappers or actresses or dancers. Just a thirteen-year-old boy and his imaginary world and his first contact with life, when anything seemed possible. This would be his own childhood and adolescence reenacted by Basil Duke Lee. To this enchanted world he exiled himself in 1928: seven stories, written between March and October, would temporarily serve him as home and homeland.
He missed his friends and their advice. So he gathered some of them together for a weekend made memorable by his pressing Bunny Wilson to describe him in detail. Scott had seen Bunny only fleetingly since his return from France, and he wanted his opinion on the part of the novel he had already written. He had shown a few pages of it to Dos Passos and been told that they were not very good. Two judges being better than one, he also invited Seldes for the weekend, remembering the useful advice he had offered on The Great Gatsby in August 1924 at Villa Marie, during the crisis in the Fitzgeralds' marriage. Because Wilson and Seldes had been the first to send him enthusiastic letters when Gatsby appeared and had written particularly penetrating reviews of it in the newspapers, Scott felt he could trust them. Also invited were neighbors John and Ann Biggs, Esther Murphy and Thornton Wilder, then a young novelist teaching at Lawrenceville, near Princeton; Fitzgerald had been impressed by his first novels, The Cabala and The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
We can skip over the usual hijinks, the drunkenness and chaos. The important moment came when Scott, in pajamas and dressing gown and finally alone with Bunny and Gilbert, read them his introductory chapter, the one in which Melarky and his mother arrive at the Murphys' beach. Wilson admired the prose, which he found polished, supple and glittering in the best Fitzgerald manner, and was surprised later to find that the details that had struck him were not in the final version of Tender Is the Night. The subject, an “intellectual murder” combined with the deterioration of a young man exposed to the refined existence of expatriates of the Riviera, was, he thought, too complicated. “He had now gone on to tackle a subject that might well have taxed Dostoevsky, and he was eventually to find it beyond him,” Wilson wrote. “It must have been a psychological 'block' as well as the invincible compulsion to live like a millionaire that led him even more than usual to interrupt his serious work and turn out stories for the commercial magazines.”
After this confrontation with his peers, Fitzgerald wrote two stories in the Basil cycle. Then, with spring back, he and Zelda thought that perhaps Paris, which haunted their memories, might once more open a new way for them as it did in the time of The Great Gatsby. But, as Zelda said in Save Me the Waltz, “they hadn't much faith in travel nor a great belief in a change of scene as a panacea for spiritual ills; they were simply glad to be going.”
They reached France aboard the Paris on April 27, 1928. This time they settled on the Left Bank because that was where the Murphys were living at the time. They rented an apartment at 58, Rue de Vaugirard, on the corner of the Rue Bonaparte; the rooms facing the inner court were gloomy, but the place did face on the Luxembourg Gardens and was only a two-minute walk from the apartment the Murphys were renting in a new building at 14, Rue Guynemer. This meant that Scottie could play with Honoria, Patrick and Baoth. Gerald was a good friend of Madame Egorova's (Princess Troubetskoy), the ballet mistress, who had been giving lessons to Honoria for years; Zelda was extremely eager to meet her and Gerald introduced them. Madame's studio was at 8, Rue Caumartin, over the Olympia Music Hall. And there Zelda went regularly for five months, carrying on the work begun by Catherine Littlefield the previous September,
Hemingway had remarried that spring and had left Paris in March, butthe Fitzgeralds saw Hadley, who stayed on in the French capital with Bumby. They also saw Gertrude Stein, who was somewhat estranged from Ernest and who amused them with stories about him. The irresistible athlete, it seems, had been in a series of mishaps: most recently he had cracked his skull in his apartment bathroom when the chain he yanked turned out to control a transom and not the cistern.
The Murphys introduced them to Leger and Sylvia Beach; they met Cole Porter at the Murphy home several times, and Natalie Barney invited them to her Fridays. Fitzgerald's sharp eye took in the details of Miss Barney's circus, along with that of her protegee of the moment, Dorothy Wilde, Oscar's niece. Following in the footsteps of Proust, whose books both Wilder and Wilson insisted that he read, he wrote twenty remarkable pages on lesbians in Paris, in which the two women appear under the names of Miss Retchmore and Vivian Taube. Nothing remains of these pages but a few lines in Tender Is the Night, in a scene in which one of them propositions Rosemary.
Zelda, exhausted by her dancing, had little appetite left for social life. Scott became friendly with King Vidor, who had just finished filming Peg o' My Heart with Laurette Taylor. He and his wife, Eleanor, lived in a big house in Neuilly and gave parties at the Ritz, from which the drunken Fitzgeralds sometimes had to be poured into taxis to get them home.
Seldes had given Scott two letters of recommendation, one to Tristan Tzara and the other to Cocteau, but he did not use them. He did, however, follow Miss Beach's advice to look up a young French novelist named Andre Chamson, who had just missed winning the important Goncourt literary prize the previous autumn. Chamson was then living on the meager pay of a reporter covering the Chamber of Deputies; he and his wife, Lucie, like him a graduate of the prestigious Ecole des Chartes, lived in a small seventh-floor apartment at 17, Rue Thouin, near the Pantheon. It was there that Fitzgerald came to introduce himself one May morning, standing in a wash of light in the hallway that Chamson remembered thirty years later: “He came into my life with that smile and, probably because of the sunlight coming through the stairway window … , as though in a halo of light.” Although the Frenchman's English was as rudimentary as the American's French, and though they seemed to have nothing in common, not origins, culture or life-style, they liked each other from the start. “It took no more to bring us together than the time to exchange a few smiles and to say the essential things while making small talk. He became my friend in a matter of minutes. That sort of lightning stroke has never happened to me since.” Instinctively, Chamson chose the same terms to describe this friendship—which briefly blended with his admiration for the United States as a whole—that Fitzgerald would later use to express the essence of America: “My friendship with Scott was truly the last of my youthful friendships—inspired mind, vulnerable soul and generous heart—and in it Iencountered the freshness of all that country's people.” And in a short story entitled “The Swimmers,” Fitzgerald would declare that “France was a land, England was a people, but America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter. … It was a willingness of the heart.”
It was precisely this willingness of the heart, this outgoing receptivity, a mutual attraction and respect, that united the two men. Chamson, like Hemingway, was a writer who was wholly devoted to his work, admitting no distraction, indifferent to wealth, self-contained. It was a sign of confidence that Fitzgerald asked him to read the French translation of The Great Gatsby, which appeared in October 1926; in turn, he struggled through Chamson's Les Hommes de la route and, enthusiastic about it, alerted Perkins. “He's head over heels the best young man here,” he announced. “Like Ernest and Thornton Wilder rolled into one.” And he got results: Scribner's found a noted writer, Van Wyck Brooks, to translate it (The Road, New York, 1929). Scott did not let it go at that; knowing that Vidor was looking for a subject for a film, he showed him his new friend's book. Vidor liked it and agreed to adapt it for film. But first the book had to be simplified, boiled down to its essence.
For weeks Chamson, Vidor and Fitzgerald walked and talked together, spent hours in small cafes discussing the script. They went to the movies together, invited each other to dinner; the Americans took the Chamsons to the most expensive restaurants and they, in turn, skirted financial disaster by feeding their friends in their garret apartment.
When the Chamsons visited the Fitzgeralds, their hosts, like Gatsby, naively displayed their riches, “drawers full of lingerie, embroidered handkerchiefs and ties, gold cigarette lighters, silver cigarette cases.” Scott pressed his guest to choose a tie or a handkerchief given him by Zelda, dismissing her objections with irrefutable logic (“if I didn't like them, I wouldn't give them to anyone”) and overcoming Chamson's reluctance by the childish innocence that prompted him to share his treasures. Chamson was tactful enough not to hurt him by refusing, so he gracefully accepted what he called “this small precursor of the Marshall Plan, this generous aid to underdeveloped friends.” He recognized that Scott was not patronizing him, but was displaying a deep goodness, a more profound generosity: “He would have liked it if everyone could have what he dreamed of, glory and love, fortune and peace of heart.”
Of course, Chamson went through some embarrassing, even terrifying moments, for “Fitzgerald was one of those who would tempt the Devil, but the Devil tempted him in return.” He was embarrassed, for example, when Scott, climbing the stairs with him at the Rue Thouin clutching bottles of champagne and an ice bucket, stopped at a landing and asked him if he could swim. He set down the bucket full of ice cubes and pointed to it. “Could you swim in that?”
“In that? Impossible.”
Whereupon Fitzgerald whipped off his jacket and shirt, unbuckled his belt and was about to slip off his trousers under the eyes of scandalized neighbors in the stairway when Chamson persuaded him that the swimming was better in his apartment. Scott's imagination grasped the logic of this proposition: indeed, it would be easier to dive from a chair.
On another occasion, while admiring the view of the Pantheon from the Chamsons' balcony, he climbed up on the railing and, waving his arms and struggling to keep his balance, took to yelling “I'm Voltaire, I'm Rousseau,” while the Chamsons, afraid to make a move, waited in horror for him to drop to the street seven stories below.
Sometimes the incidents were merely alarming. One Sunday at a fair in Neuilly, Scott spied two policemen on bicycles. He stopped them and asked how much they wanted to sell their bikes. The “swallows,” as the French call their bicycle police, didn't understand at first. Scott, gesticulating, pointing from his wallet to the bicycles and himself, finally made himself understood. Furious, the police were ready to haul him off to the station. The Chamsons intervened, there were confused explanations, a crowd gathered, the police scolded, the Chamsons pleaded, Fitzgerald was contrite and was let off. Crazy, these Americans! Scott had been through it all before. It was an extra sideshow at the fair.
The time came for Vidor to return to the United States. He wanted Chamson to go to Hollywood with him as a scriptwriter. Why, he would make a fortune; he would earn more in a week there than he did in a year in his Paris job. Fitzgerald admired the obstinacy with which the Frenchman refused these tantalizing offers. Instead, a gentlemen's agreement was reached: Vidor would adapt The Road and Chamson would collect royalties when the script was accepted. The Frenchman heard no more about it until years later, when an indignant Sylvia Beach told him that Vidor's film Our Daily Bread was based on the book's plot. She urged him to sue, but he wisely refused.
Fitzgerald, aware of Vidor's intention to make a movie about the black roots of jazz, also put the director in touch with Murphy, an expert on the subject. This time his effort paid off: Murphy agreed to go to the United States the following autumn as technical adviser for Vidor's first talking film, Hallelujah!
Adrienne Monnier and Miss Beach, who had brought Scott and Andre together, decided to celebrate the new friendship. They invited the two men and their wives to dinner in their apartment at 18, Rue de l'Odeon and, knowing Fitzgerald's admiration for Joyce, arranged for the Great Man to be there too. For Scott it was an unforgettable evening. Always prone to grandiose gestures, he offered to jump from the fifth floor to show his enthusiasm. The meeting was commemorated by a drawing on the flyleaf of acopy of Gatsby originally intended for Nancy Cunard, whose name was crossed out and replaced by that of Sylvia Beach. It shows a table with the hostesses as sirens at the ends; from left to right are Lucie and Andre Cham-son, Zelda, and Scott, kneeling with arms outstretched toward the Master in eyeglasses and mustache and crowned with a halo. The caption reads, “The festival of Saint James.”
“That young man must be mad,” James later told Sylvia. “I'm afraid he'll do himself some injury.” Some days later Fitzgerald sent him a copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with a request for a dedication. In the note Joyce sent when he returned the book, he referred to the fright Scott had caused during their first meeting. “Herewith is the book you gave me, signed,” he said, “and I am adding a portrait of the artist as a once young man with the thought of your much obliged but most pusillanimous guest.”
Fitzgerald drew some comfort from his brief contact with Joyce. The man, who was then forty-six years old, had published Ulysses only six years before and had told him he would probably spend three or four years more on his next book. Scott felt justified in taking so much time with his own book, and he promised Perkins he would bring a finished manuscript home with him in September.
There was also some contact with Bromfield, who lived in Senlis, some thirty miles north of Paris, in a big house set among rose gardens. They agreed on the benefits of expatriation. Living abroad, they thought, was not a denial of America, but a way of looking at it that gave a clear view of its finest qualities; on the terrace of a Paris cafe, an American felt more American than he did in the United States.
Fitzgerald, however, was no longer sure that the Americans in Paris were the best of the breed. On the contrary, he now thought it was the dregs of his country that were dumped on Europe every summer. “And by 1928,” he later wrote, “Paris had grown suffocating. With each new shipment of Americans spewed up by the boom the quality fell off, until toward the end there was something sinister about the crazy boatloads. They were no longer the simple pa and ma and son and daughter, infinitely superior in their qualities of kindness and curiosity to the corresponding class in Europe, but fantastic neanderthals who believed something, something vague, that you remembered from a very cheap novel. … It was evident that money and power were falling into the hands of people in comparison with whom the leader of a village Soviet would be a gold-mine of judgment and culture.”
John Bishop, living with his family in the chateau of Orgeval in Tressancourt, near Versailles, saw Fitzgerald occasionally. Scott read him sections of his novel and Bishop, whose standards were as demanding as Wilson's, said he liked them. In Tressancourt the two friends resumed their old literary discussions, interminably exploring the merits of Madame Bovary.
Murphy, Vidor, Chamson, Joyce, Bishop, Bromfield—names that represent moments of peace and serenity in an otherwise calamitous summer. Zelda danced obsessively and seldom went out, except to a performance by the Ballets Russes. Egorova had become her Joyce, a prophetess whose goddess was Pavlova—a goddess Zelda was allowed to approach one May evening, but whose perfection gave her acolyte the measure of how far she still had to go. Scott, meanwhile, went to seed. In July he made a “first trip to jail,” in August a second: the facts were noted soberly in his Ledger; no explanations are given, but none are really needed when you read of “drinking and general unpleasantness” in July, “general aimlessness and boredom” in August. His financial situation was alarming, but he continued to squander his money. In August he owed Ober around $4,000 and Scribner's $2,000 more, for he was now living entirely on advances against his stories and his novel.
When the Fitzgeralds returned to New York October 7, after a rough crossing in the Carmania, they had two servants in tow: Mademoiselle, Scottie's new nurse, and Philippe, a Paris taxi driver and ex-boxer whom Scott had hired as his valet. Perkins met them at the pier and Fitzgerald assured him that the first draft of the novel was in his suitcase. A little more time was needed for revision, however. In November Scott offered to send his editor two revised chapters a month until February. And he did shortly send the first two chapters: 18,000 words, a quarter of the book, he said. Then he would write a story before working over chapters 3 and 4, and so on until February. Perkins approved of what he saw; he told Fitzgerald it contained “some of the best writing you have ever done … a wonderfully promising start off.” These may have been the same parts Fitzgerald had already read to Wilson and Bishop, for Perkins received nothing else from him that winter.
Two brief visits interrupted his work. The Murphys, on their way to Hollywood, stopped in New York before joining the Hemingways at their western hunting lodge. Then, the hunting over, Hemingway himself came with Pauline to watch a Princeton-Yale football game. Fitzgerald invited him to the Cottage Club to celebrate Princeton's victory and got so drunk that Philippe had to carry him out to the family Buick; he slept all the way to Ellerslie while Hemingway, once again, watched and judged. The story had been included in A Moveable Feast, but was withdrawn just before publication.
Zelda was more distant than ever, dividing her time between dancing and writing a series of portraits of women for College Humor so that, she said, she could pay for her own ballet lessons without having to take the money from Scott. Perhaps she was also trying to prove that she could carry out her projects even if he could not. Aside from the five stories he wrote after reaching the United States, he was dry, unable to do anything but saloon-crawl with Philippe, quarrel with everyone around him and become the talkof Wilmington. His friend John Biggs was called on several times to get him out of jail in the middle of the night. Mademoiselle had fallen for Philippe, who left her to pine while he chased after other women. She spent her days weeping so bitterly that the valet was shipped back to France. Scott's quarrels with Zelda were as venomous as those they had had in Rosalind's presence. He struck her symbolically, if not physically, by smashing a statuette on the floor one evening when Zelda bawled him out for coming home drunk.
When the winter ended, they trekked back to Europe aboard the Conte Biancamano. They planned only to spend the summer in France, but, partly stuck there by circumstances, this stay would last two and a half years, about as long as their first extended visit. “I'm sneaking away like a thief without leaving the chapters,” he wrote Perkins before sailing. “… I haven't been able to do it. I'll do it on the boat and send it from Genoa. A thousand thanks for your patience—just trust me a few months longer, Max —it's been a discouraging time for me too, but I will never forget your kindness and the fact that you've never reproached me.”
From Genoa, where they arrived on March 12, 1929, after a stormy crossing, they went to Nice, staying in the Beau Rivage Hotel until the end of the month—time enough for Scott to write “The Rough Crossing,” inspired by the Atlantic gales he had just been through. He gambled at the casino, kicked up a row and wound up, again, in a station-house cell. On April 1 the Fitzgeralds were in Paris, in a large apartment in the Rue Palatine, near the church of Saint-Sulpice. Hemingway arrived three weeks later with Pauline and their one-year-old son, Patrick, taking an apartment at 6, Rue Ferou; the place was two minutes' walk from the Fitzgeralds', but Ernest did not give them the address.
They did pick up their friendship with the Chamsons, and they made new friends: poet Allen Tate and his novelist wife, Caroline Gordon, who were living in the Odeon Hotel, near the theater. Tate was a Southerner and championed an agrarian society, and his conversations with them confirmed Scott's antipathy toward the industrial and mercantile society he had already criticized in his interviews. On his return to the United States two years later, Scott would choose Maryland, his ancestral land, as his refuge.
The Fitzgeralds also saw the Amazon, Natalie Barney, again, along with Esther Murphy, an assiduous visitor to the Fridays at the house on the Rue Jacob. Divorced from John Strachey, Esther was married again in May to Chester Arthur, descendant of the twenty-first President, and the Fitzgeralds were invited to the wedding. Once she took them to the Passy studio of Romaine Brooks, Miss Barney's intimate for some four decades. On the top floor of the building at 74, Rue Raynouard, they entered what Zelda described as “a glass-enclosed square of heaven swung high above Paris.” Miss Brooks's paintings stood on easels around the walls of the vast studio,each hidden by a rolling blind. As they were unveiled, the studio became a sort of temple to sexual inversion, a museum of the leading citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. A few of the portraits were of men—Robert de Montesquieu, Reynaldo Hahn, Jean Cocteau—but most were of women sporting monocles, cravats, hats: Renee Vivien, Lily de Clermont-Tonnerre, Lady Una Troutbridge, Radclyffe Hall, Ida Rubenstein, Romaine herself in redingote and top hat, and the Amazon, one hand on her hip, the other holding a whip. In 1928 a series of memoirs had appeared that revolved around these famous lesbians, such books as The Ladies' Almanac by Djuna Barnes, Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, and Extraordinary Women by Compton Mackenzie, who had made of Capri a new Lesbos where Romaine Brooks was the tutelary goddess.
A disturbing experience, this, that certainly stirred echoes in the psyches of both Scott and Zelda. Since she took up dancing, sexual intercourse between them had become less and less frequent, less and less satisfactory. Zelda's imagination was dominated by Egorova, a figure of Olympian authority before whom, for the first time, she could humble herself, become simply a docile object. “My attitude towards Egorova,” she would later write, “has always been one of an intense love: I wanted to help her some way because she is a good woman who has worked hard and has nothing, or lost everything. I wanted to dance well so that she would be proud of me and have another instrument for the symbols of beauty that passed in her head that I understood, though apparently could not execute … and of course I wanted to be near her because she was cool and white and beautiful.”
Scott, meanwhile, was worried about his own virility. Psychologically, Zelda had always been the strong partner in this couple. “In the last analysis,” he told Zelda's doctor years later, “she is a stronger person than I am. I have creative fire, but I am a weak individual. She knows this and really looks upon me as a woman.” Hemingway reported that she even criticized certain physical inadequacies in Scott, “a matter of measurement” that prevented him from satisfying her sexually. In 1929 the astonishing incident took place that Hemingway described in A Moveable Feast under just that title, “A Matter of Measurement”; he told of going to the men's lavatory with Scott at Michaud's, a restaurant at the corner of the Rue Jacob and the Rue des Saints-Peres, where Scott exhibited his penis for an informed opinion on his sexual aptitude. Hemingway reassured him by taking him to the Louvre and showing him how moderate the male organs were in repose on the statues there. An opinion from an obliging woman who could have brought the organ in question out of repose might have been more conclusive. But Fitzgerald, although he was not a virgin when he met Zelda, apparently had slept with no one else in the previous ten years.
What did happen in 1929? A congenital failure in Scott, or partial impotence caused by Zelda's increasing frigidity? Some light is shed on the question by Sheilah Graham, who shared the last three years of Fitzgerald's life. “Zelda had tried to emasculate Scott,” she frankly declared, “by telling him that he was too small in the vital area to give a woman satisfaction.” Sheilah said he possessed “a healthy sexual appetite. As a lover, in terms of giving physical pleasure, he was very satisfactory.” No gross sensuality, but a kind of permanent modesty. She could not remember ever having seen him entirely naked, and even she, who complained that her breasts were too large, wore her brassiere in bed. “However, this modesty did not prevent us from having a good time sexually. We satisfied each other and could lie in each other's arms for a long time afterwards, delighting in our proximity. It was not exhausting, frenzied love-making, but gentle and tender, an absolutely happy state… Our love, I have thought, was like being in a warm bath, totally suffusing and relaxing.” But this happiness would not come until ten years later. For the moment, what Scott felt was loneliness, sexual distress, anxiety about homosexuality.
One evening a twenty-six-year-old Canadian novelist named Morley Callaghan showed up at the Fitzgeralds' door with his wife, Loretta, on an assurance from Perkins that Scott thought highly of his work. He had already seen Hemingway, whom he had met six years earlier at the Toronto Star; Callaghan had boxed in college and he was a fine sparring partner for Hemingway, with whom he frequently went a few rounds at the American Club. Joan Miro, whose friend Ernest had become, once functioned as referee.
Fitzgerald listened to the young man with great interest, questioned him about his taste in books and read him a chapter from the manuscript of A Farewell to Arms, which Hemingway had lent him for criticism. When Callaghan failed to react with the enthusiasm expected of him, Fitzgerald's humor darkened. He put aside the manuscript and observed sarcastically, “Who does impress you, Morley? Would this impress you?” And he got down on all fours on the rug and tried to stand on his head. But he had been drinking and fell over on his back. Scarlet with humiliation, Callaghan helped him up. Annoyed with himself and with Fitzgerald, who had been his idol at college, the Canadian sent him a cold letter the next day. He was determined not to see Scott again.
On the following night the Callaghans returned to their apartment on the Rue de la Sante, in a Left Bank workers' district, to find three express messages under the door. Their landlady, a Russian emigree, told them a couple had been there asking for them. At that moment a taxi stopped at the door and the Fitzgeralds appeared; they were on their way to dinner, but they had to see the Callaghans again. Afraid that the great man had been offended by his note, Morley expected the worst. Instead, it was Fitzgeraldwho excused himself, insisting that the incident be forgotten. “You see, Morley,” he said, “there are too few of us.” They agreed to meet the following evening.
The Fitzgeralds took them to dinner at Joyce's favorite restaurant, the Trianon, near the Montparnasse station, promising that they would sit at Joyce's regular table. Scott seemed so happy to act as his new friends' literary guide that Morley could not bring himself to confess that he was quite familiar with the table on the right-hand side of the room because he had spent an evening at it with McAlmon and the Joyces themselves. So he let Scott lead them to a table—on the left. From the first, the conversation was relaxed and lively. Fitzgerald asked what the Callaghans thought of Pauline, who had received them coldly at the Rue Ferou apartment. They hid their true feelings, but Morley did hint that his affection for her was something less than boundless. Then Scott launched into a theory about Ernest's relationships with his wives. Every time Hemingway finished a book, Scott said, he felt a need for a change. He had to have a new wife for each book. Wait until he starts on his next one and you'll see Pauline disappear…
A little later, at the Dome, Fitzgerald asked if Callaghan couldn't suggest to Ernest that the three couples dine together some evening. Morley was surprised: Perkins had told him that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were the best of friends, that they saw each other often. In fact, Ernest had answered evasively whenever Callaghan mentioned Fitzgerald to him, and he had never volunteered an opinion of him or of Gatsby. Fitzgerald, conversely, had been unstinting at their first meeting in his praise of Hemingway and his books. By asking him to serve as intermediary, Fitzgerald seemed to imply that he was not as close to Hemingway as Morley was.
The Callaghans saw Scott frequently, usually alone. One day at the Closerie des Lilas, where he joined them with Mary Blair, Wilson's ex-wife, Morley admired his superb pearl-gray fedora. Fitzgerald at once plunked it on Callaghan's head and insisted that he keep it; Morley put it back on its owner's head. The business continued like a scene from a slapstick movie, each man growing more irritated and more stubborn with every switch. Loretta saw that Scott was becoming angry, and she declared firmly that “I simply won't have Morley take that lovely hat from you, Scott. Give it back to him, Morley.” This put Fitzgerald in the position of having to avert a row between the Callaghans. Magnanimously, he accepted his hat. His steaming generosity found other outlets, however. The conversation that day turned on Proust, whose work Morley refused to read. The next day a messenger from Brentano's brought him the first two volumes of the English translation of Remembrance of Things Past, with a note from Fitzgerald.
There was nevertheless an equivocal side to this friendship. Scott knew that Callaghan was a friend of McAlmon, who had been the first to publish his work. On arriving in Paris, Callaghan had gone to see him in his house on the Rue de Vaugirard, and McAlmon had insinuated that Hemingwaywas a homosexual who had made advances to him some years earlier. Aware of McAlmon's malicious side, Callaghan paid no attention to this. He had not felt obliged to break off his relationship with the man, as Fitzgerald had in 1925 when McAlmon made the same remarks, or as Hemingway had when he in turn was assured that Fitzgerald was inverted. Now the publisher renewed his suggestions about Fitzgerald, and word of it got back to Scott. Zelda, jealous of his affection toward his friends, learned of the rumors, and she too accused him of having homosexual tendencies. Perhaps she was projecting temptations or propositions she had experienced in the closed world of ballet. Or her attachment to Egorova may have grown so passionate that the teacher avoided being alone with her.
Three years later Zelda would declare: “I adored her. She lived in poverty and seemed very poignant. Once we took her to a Russian cabaret and I filled her champagne glass with daisies… She seemed to me like a gardenia, so I gave her gardenias and found some Oriental gardenia perfume for her. She was reticent and I don't know what she thought.”
Nancy Milford reports that one night, when Zelda heard Scott talk in his sleep after coming home drunk from an evening with the Hemingways, she was convinced the two men were having a sexual relationship. Her accusations touched off a violent quarrel. A year later he recalled the incident to her in a letter: “The nearest I ever came to leaving you was when you told me you [thought] that I was a fairy in the Rue Palatine but now whatever you said aroused a sort of detached pity for you.”
The rumors were so persistent that Fitzgerald mentioned them to Perkins. “McAlmon,” he wrote, “is a bitter rat and I'm not surprised at anything he does or says. He's failed as a writer and tries to fortify himself by tieing up to the big boys like Joyce and Stein and despising everything else. Part of his quarrel with Ernest some years ago was because he assured Ernest I was a fairy—God knows he shows more creative imagination in his malice than in his work. Next he told Callaghan that Ernest was a fairy. He's a pretty good person to avoid.”
All this made Fitzgerald somewhat less outgoing with the Callaghans. Once, as they left his apartment building to go to the Cafe des Deux Magots at Saint-Germain-de-Pres, they crossed the square in front of Saint-Sulpice, Scott's parish church, where Scottie attended catechism classes and where the Hemingways went to mass on Sundays. The Callaghans were also Catholic, but they derided the Saint-Sulpice style of architecture stamped on the neighborhood and thought the church itself was ugly. Scott told them its piers were the most massive in Paris. Curious, they wanted to go inside with him and see them. He stubbornly refused, and when they pressed him for an explanation, he replied, “Don't ask me about it. It's personal. The Irish Catholic background and all that. You go ahead.”
When they came out, he rejoined them, walking alongside Morley. He said quietly, “I was going to take your arm, Morley.”
“Well, so …”
“Remember the night I was in bad shape? I took your arm. Well, I dropped it. It was like holding on to a cold fish. You thought I was a fairy, didn't you?”
The incident in question had happened late one evening some time earlier when Callaghan had come by the Fitzgeralds' apartment to give Scott one of his manuscripts. He had found Fitzgerald exhausted after hours spent in a police station because he had falsely accused a black man of stealing his wallet; it had indeed been stolen, but he had accused the wrong man of the theft. Interrogation and confrontation had used up the rest of the night and part of the next day. Tranquilized by Callaghan's visit, Scott had insisted on going to the Deux Magots with him and Loretta, who was waiting for her husband in the hallway. “Getting between us,” Callaghan recalled, “he linked his arm in mine. For about fifty paces he held on to my arm affectionately. I didn't notice him suddenly withdrawing his arm.”
When Fitzgerald reminded him of this, all Callaghan could find to say was, “You're crazy, Scott,” but he later admitted in That Summer in Paris that “I wished I had been more consoling, more demonstrative with him that night.”
Fitzgerald had always wanted to watch one of the sparring matches between Callaghan and Hemingway. He couldn't believe that Morley, who was of average height and already paunchy, could stand up against the man he thought of as “the champ,” the man who excelled in every solo sport. Morley never dared pass along Scott's repeated requests, any more than he had mentioned the suggestion that the three couples have dinner together. He was surprised, then, when his two friends rang at his door. It was the first time he had seen them together. They had just lunched lavishly at Prunier's, but Ernest insisted on boxing as usual. All three went to the American Club and, as Miro had some weeks before, Scott was assigned to watch the clock; there were to be one-minute intervals between three-minute rounds.
Ernest immediately took the offensive in the first round, but warily; he had learned to respect Morley's left hook. Then, probably to impress Scott, he forgot his caution—and wound up early in the second round with a split lip. At that he charged even more wildly, but Callaghan's legwork was impeccable and he danced around Ernest, jabbing with his left at that cracked lip. Hemingway seemed exasperated that he could not reach him; he threw looping punches that certainly would have floored Callaghan had they connected. Morley knew that his partner could lose all control of himself if he thought he was losing; the first time he had split Ernest's lip, when they had first started sparring, Hemingway had spit blood in Morley's face.
Ernest attacked, Morley backed off and Scott watched, mesmerized. The only sounds were the whisper of soles against canvas, the fighters' panting, the click of billiard balls from next door. Hemingway suddenly charged, but Callaghan got in first with a left to the jaw that sent his partner toppling over backward. Sprawled on the canvas, Hemingway shook his head to clear it. As he got up, Fitzgerald was heard to gasp, “Oh, my God. … I let the round go for four minutes.” And he continued to stare incredulously at the time clock.
“Christ!” Hemingway exploded as he reached his feet. Glaring at Fitzgerald, he roared, “All right, Scott. If you wanted to see me getting the shit knocked out of me, just say so. Only don't say you made a mistake.” Wiping his lip, he trudged off to the showers.
Pale, consternated, Scott tried to convince Morley that he hadn't done it on purpose, that he had been so fascinated by the fight that he had forgotten the time. Callaghan reassured him: Ernest would quickly realize that his accusation had been unfair, insulting. “But Scott didn't answer. He looked as lonely and as desperate as he had looked that night when he had insisted on coming to the Deux-Magots with Loretta and me. The anguish on his face was the anguish of a man who felt that everything he had stood for when he had been at his best, had been belittled.”
Hemingway had calmed down by the time he returned, but he offered no apology. To clear the air, Callaghan suggested that they resume the match as though nothing had happened. While they squared off, Scott temporarily forgot his humiliation and busied himself with the clock.
The evening ended at the Falstaff, a bar-restaurant in Montparnasse, in a peaceful literary discussion. Callaghan, however, was not fooled by Scott's manner; he thought the man “had some class, some real style there at the bar.” Morley knew that Scott had been deeply hurt. “I knew how Scott felt… He felt bitter, insulted, disillusioned in the sense that he had been made aware of an antagonism in Ernest. Only one thing would have saved him for Ernest. An apology. A restoration of respect, a lifting of the accusation. But Ernest had no intention of apologizing. He obviously saw no reason why he should. So we all behaved splendidly. We struck up a forceful camaraderie. Ernest was jovial with Scott. We were all jovial.”
Published in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Andre LeVot (French: Paris: Julliard, 1979; English: Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983 - translated by William Byron).