The summer of 1929 the Fitzgeralds did not go to Cap d'Antibes. On July 1 they moved into Villa Fleur des Bois at 12, Boulevard Cazagnaire in Cannes, which they rented for three months. Fitzgerald bought his second French car, a blue Renault open touring car. Egorova had recommended Zelda to Nevalskaya, ballet master at the Nice Opera, with whom she continued to study. She was hired to dance a few times during the season in Nice and Cannes; in September she was even asked to dance a solo in the Naples Opera production of Aida, under the direction of Julia Sedova.
Scott had written three stories since he reached France (the last, like most of those to follow, was bought by the Post for $4,000) and finished a fourth, “The Swimmers,” in July. As soon as he arrived in Cannes, he informed Perkins that “I am working night and day on novel from new angle that I think will solve previous difficulties.” The new angle involved an Atlantic crossing that introduced a new character, a first-rank film director named Lew Kelly, apparently modeled on Rex Ingram. Kelly deserts Hollywood to settle on the Riviera with his wife, who drinks more than she should and has a jealous nature. They make friends with Rosemary, a young actress traveling with her mother and a young man fresh out of Yale who, for some unknown reason, leaps overboard in mid-Atlantic. Francis Melarky is out of—or, at least, not yet in—this new, 11,000-word opening chapter. Fitzgerald worked on it all summer, apparently without a very firm idea of where it was taking him. Not until November, when he was back in Paris, did he see it clearly. “For the first time since August,” he wrote Perkins, “I see my way clear to a long stretch on the novel.”
The only thing that seemed obvious was that Seth and Dinah, the wealthy expatriates, were to become the book's focal characters. The beach at La Garoupe as Fitzgerald had known it in 1925 was only a memory now; even the Murphys had become mysterious to him, a subject for psychological and sociological examination. Their world had been denatured by hordes of tourists. “From 1926 to 1929, the great years of the Cap d'Antibes,” he later wrote, “this corner of France was dominated by a group quite distinct from that American society which is dominated by Europeans. Pretty much of anything went at Antibes—by 1929, at the most gorgeous paradise for swimmers on the Mediterranean, no one swam any more, save for a short hang-over dip at noon… The Americans were content to discuss- each other in the bar.”
Every time he went to Villa America, he observed the Murphys, questioning them until they lost patience. After one of these visits an exasperated Sara wrote him a caustic letter: “You can't expect anyone to like or stand a continual feeling of analysis and subanalysis and criticism—on the whole unfriendly—such as we have felt for quite a while. It is definitely in the air—and quite unpleasant. … If you don't know what people are like it's your loss.” The theme was developed in another letter: “I feel obliged in honesty as a friend to write you: that the ability to know what another person feels in a given situation will make—or ruin—lives. Your infuriating but devoted and rather nice old friend, Sara.”
By now Fitzgerald's health was shaky. Not only did he drink too much in company, but he had formed the habit at Ellerslie of using alcohol as a stimulant when he wrote. He knew how much damage liquor does, but he joked about it. In the spring of 1930 he sent Chamson a postcard printed by the Temperance League showing a normal liver and a drinker's; under the first he wrote “yours” and under the second “mine.” The effect of the alcohol was magnified by the fatigue of writing a score of stories in two years in the worst of conditions. His efforts that summer to get ahead with his novel had him spitting blood, wakening his old terror of tuberculosis. He went to see a doctor named Villot in Cannes on September 24; X-rays revealed a slight film at the top of his left lung and ganglions on the porta of the liver. Everything else seemed to be more or less in order.
The findings were a shock: he had thought his health was sound. Just before leaving in February, he had taken out a policy with the Canadian Sun Life Insurance Company that guaranteed him $65,000 at age fifty-eight; the letter accompanying his contract said that “you are to be congratulated on your splendid physical condition.”
In October the Fitzgeralds returned to Paris, making a wide swing north through Aries, the Pont du Gard aqueduct, the mountain roads of the Cevennes, Vichy, Tours and the Loire Valley chateaux. After a few days in a hotel on the Rue du Bac, they deserted the Left Bank for an apartment west of the Bois de Boulogne, at 10, Rue Pergolese, within walking distance of the Bois. Zelda, who had turned down the offer to dance in Naples, resumed her work with Egorova, more feverishly intent than ever on being “Pavlova, nothing less.” As she had the previous spring, she worked out in class in the mornings and took private lessons in the afternoons. Diaghilev's death that year in Venice upset her, because she had hoped to win a minor spot with the Ballets Russes. To her dismay the only offer she did get was to dance the shimmy at the Folies-Bergere.
Then, on October 24, 1929, came the crash on Wall Street, the start of the Great Depression. Fitzgerald's worst fears, the intimations of disasterthat had haunted even his first stories, were now realized. The depression that would ruin his country became confused in his mind with his own physical, moral and emotional ruin.
He saw Bishop again, then Hemingway. The story of Ernest's sparring match with Callaghan appeared in the New York Herald Tribune on November 24 in a version that made Hemingway look ridiculous. Furious, convinced that Callaghan had given out the story on his return to the United States, Hemingway pestered Fitzgerald to wire a demand that Morley deny the story. By that time the young Canadian had already written to the Tribune; his letter correcting the account was run a few days later. He also wrote an indignant letter to Fitzgerald accusing him of being influenced by Ernest's suspicion and resentment instead of letting him shoulder his own responsibilities. The answer came from Hemingway, who expressed his regret over the whole incident and confessed that it was he who had insisted, over Scott's reluctance, that the telegram be sent; he would take Morley's reproaches on himself, he said, and was ready to settle the business with his fists on his next trip to the States.
This was followed by a letter from Fitzgerald apologizing for his “stupid and hasty” telegram. “The dignified, half-formal tone of the apology shamed me,” Callaghan admitted. “Poor Scott. Once again he was caught in the middle … he was always the one who managed to get caught in a bad light… Having been insulted by Ernest that day in the American Club, [Scott] was now insulted by me because he had acted to please Ernest.”
The confusion had not yet been dispelled when Fitzgerald dined with the Hemingways at the Rue Ferou apartment on December 9. They talked about the way Americans in Paris gossiped nastily about each other. Hemingway had overlooked his ill feelings toward McAlmon and had recommended him to Perkins, but a conversation with McAlmon persuaded the editor not to publish his work. Perkins explained why to Fitzgerald, who relayed the information to Hemingway that evening: McAlmon had outraged him by asserting that Ernest was a fairy and Pauline a lesbian, and that Bumby had been bom prematurely because Hemingway had beaten Hadley during her pregnancy. This was the atmosphere of calumny and defamation surrounding Hemingway's insistence that Fitzgerald demand a rectification from Callaghan.
Two days later they learned of the suicide of Harry Crosby, a rich and brilliant young expatriate who had founded the Black Sun Press. Saddened, Hemingway wrote to Fitzgerald the following day absolving him, for the first time, of blame for the incident at the American Club. Such mistakes were common in boxing, he explained; Scott had taken too seriously a remark made in anger. It was all because Scott had a chivalric view of sports, whereas in fact the rules were often broken. Why, Ernest affirmed, he had cheated in a bout with Frenchman Jean Prevost in 1925: feeling off his form, he had asked his friend Bill Smith, who was acting as timekeeper,to shorten a round if he saw that Hemingway was in trouble and to lengthen it if he had the upper hand. This was done all the time, Ernest said, and he did not want a misunderstanding to spoil their friendship.
The arrival of Dos Passos, who had just married Smith's sister, Katharine, lightened the atmosphere. These piddling expatriates' wranglings were reduced to their proper proportion when the friends discussed the really serious troubles besetting the Murphys: their youngest son, nine-year-old Patrick, was showing all the symptoms of tuberculosis, and they had left Villa America to place him in a sanatorium at Montana-Vermala, in the Bernese Alps; they would live there until the boy recovered eighteen months later. The Hemingways, with John and Katharine Dos Passos, went to Switzerland for the last two weeks in December; Dorothy Parker was already there, living near the Murphys.
When he returned to Paris, Dos Passos, who had finished reading the proofs of The 42nd Parallel, looked up some of his old friends, including Blaise Cendrars, who invited the couple to lunch in the garden of his suburban home, and Leger, who had them home for one of Jeanne's succulent blanquettes of veal. There were no such reunions with the Fitzgeralds, whom Dos Passos found in a stew of unhappiness. The opinion he had formed of Zelda on a Ferris wheel seven years earlier was now confirmed, along with his fears about Scott's alcoholism: “Scott was drinking and Zelda was far from being in her right mind… For anyone who was fond of the Fitzgeralds it was heartbreaking to be with them,” he later recalled. They kept to themselves. Early in January the Hemingways sailed for Florida, where the Dos Passoses were to join them.
Fitzgerald, who had produced no stories since the previous October, finally wrote “First Blood,” based on his adolescent romances, as the Basil cycle had been. This time he used Ginevra King as the model for Josephine, a sixteen-year-old flirt very like the girls in This Side of Paradise. Josephine was to take the lead in four stories written in 1930; four others were rooted in that year's events.
In February both Scott and Zelda felt exhausted and in need of a vacation. They signed up for a Compagnie Transatlantique tour of Algeria, at 2,700 francs each, sailing from Port-Vendres on February 7 to Bou Saada, Biskra, Batna, Tingad, Constantine and Algiers. Throughout the trip Zelda remained tense and impatient to get back to Paris, unable to brush Egorova and dancing from her mind. “Algiers,” she would report, “will always remain colored for me by my impatience and drive to get back, my jealousy of Scott's ability to amuse himself, and an implacable sense of desperation.” A single sentence sums it up: “It was an awful trip, though there was a pleasant half-hour with Scott in Biskra.” And even Biskra remained in her memory as a suffocating place of loneliness and horror: “The world crumbled to pieces in Biskra; the streets crept through the town like streams of hot white lava. Arabs sold nougat and cakes of poisonous pink under theflare of open gas jets. Since The Garden of Allah and The Sheik, the town has been filled with frustrated women. In the steep cobbled alleys we flinched at the brightness of mutton carcasses swung from the butchers' booths.” Away from the ballet studio, from Egorova's iron discipline and the search for an impossible perfection, Zelda felt exiled, threatened, unable to express herself or to communicate. Her obsession with dancing devoured everything else.
She was no sooner back in Paris than she rushed to the studio on the Rue Caumartin like a junkie to her fix, her arms loaded with blossoms bought in the flower market on the Place de la Madeleine. Thin and haggard, she thought she was being watched, spied on, whispered about. When Bishop lunched with the Fitzgeralds one day, she was sure that he and Scott were talking about her. Her few contacts with old friends depressed her. Xandra and Oscar Kalman, the Fitzgeralds' only close friends in St. Paul, were invited to the Rue Pergolese. In the middle of lunch Zelda jumped up and dashed off, hastily explaining that she had to leave, that she would be late for her dancing lesson. In the taxi in which Kalman took her to the studio, she changed into her ballet clothes, indifferent to his vehement objections, anxious only to be on time, fuming at the taxi's slow progress. When it got stuck in a traffic jam, she threw open the door and disappeared at a run in her tights and tutu.
A few days later, on April 23, 1930, ten years after her marriage, Zelda's mental condition became so alarming that a doctor advised treatment at the Malmaison clinic, just west of Paris. She arrived in a state of extreme nervousness and anxiety, wanting to leave there at once. “It's dreadful, it's horrible,” she complained, “what's to become of me, I must work and I won't be able to, I should die but I must work … let me leave, I must go to see 'Madame' [Egorova], she has given me the greatest possible joy.”
She was slightly drunk when she was admitted; for some time, she explained, she had needed the stimulation of alcohol for her work. A report by Professor Claude, whom she tried to seduce, ended with the notation: “In sum, it is a question of a petite anxieuse worn out by her work in a milieu of professional dancers. Violent reactions, several suicidal attempts never pushed to the limit. Leaves the hospital May 2 against the doctor's advice.”
While she plunged frenziedly back into her ballet work, Scott was being dragged into a series of dinners and receptions in celebration of the marriage of Ludlow Fowler's brother, Powell. These were distilled at the end of May into a short story, “The Bridal Party.” Zelda was more alone than ever, and more deranged. She suffered from hallucinations, heard threatening, frightening voices, attempted suicide again. On May 2 2 she entered a clinic in Valmont, near Montreux, in Switzerland, but only physical ailments were treated there, and Zelda needed a psychiatrist. A noted specialist, Dr. Oscar Forel, was called in; he diagnosed her case as schizophrenia and recommended temporary isolation and extended treatment. Two weeks later she was taken to Les Rives de Prangins, the luxurious clinic Forel had opened at the beginning of that year near Rolle, on the shore of Lake Geneva, between Geneva and Lausanne. By 1930 standards it was a horrendously expensive place—one thousand dollars a month—and she would remain there until September 1931.
Forel had banned visits by Scott, but Zelda was allowed to see Scottie ten days after her admittance. Her face, neck and shoulders were covered with a rash that remained with her for the next three months. When it became increasingly inflamed, Dr. Forel resorted to hypnotism, with spectacular results: by the time she awoke from a long sleep, the rash had almost entirely disappeared.
But as soon as she regained some lucidity, as soon as awareness returned of the failure of her relations with Scott, the symptoms reappeared like an alarm signal. His first visit to her, planned for August, had to be postponed until September, and it produced the worsening of her condition that Dr. Forel had feared. The revulsion she felt for her husband was accompanied by fits of affection for a number of women patients and nurses. In November, after another relapse, Dr. Forel called in an authority on psychoses, Dr. Eugen Bleuler, the man who had coined the term “schizophrenia.”
Fitzgerald's voluminous correspondence with Zelda and Forel are revealing. His letters show his eagerness to understand the situation, to assess his professional and conjugal life, to bring out his and Zelda's mistakes and, also, to justify himself, to disown total responsibility for Zelda's collapse. Dr. Forel became the moral tribunal to whom he submitted the evidence in his case, often in the form of a plea in his own defense. These documents, which Nancy Milford procured despite Dr. Forel's initial reluctance, are essential to an understanding of Fitzgerald's feelings during the crisis that marked the turning point in his life.
Fitzgerald attributed the couple's growing mutual antagonism, the increasing rarity of their lovemaking, not to any coldness on his part, “as she would have it understood,” he wrote to Dr. Forel, but to the fact that Zelda became more and more absorbed in her dancing and could no longer participate in family life, even neglecting Scottie. She was too tired to go out in the evening, he said, while he needed relaxation after working all day. Another bone of contention: he had been drinking more since Zelda took up ballet. “The ballet idea was something I inaugurated in 1927 to stop her idle drinking after she had already so lost herself in it as to make suicidal attempts,” Fitzgerald explained. “Since then I have drunk more, from unhappiness, and she has less, because of her physical work.”
When Forel insisted, as a precondition to treating Zelda, that Scott drink no alcohol at all, not so much as a glass of wine at meals, Fitzgerald rebelled. He had needed wine ever since he came to France; it was the only thing that made life bearable. “I cannot consider one pint of wine at theday's end as anything but one of the rights of man,” he protested. Besides, it was Zelda who had got him into this habit. “The regular use of wine … was something that I dreaded but she encouraged,” he wrote, “because she found I was more cheerful then and allowed her to drink more.” The habit had become a need; when he stopped drinking, he grew apathetic, felt tired and uninterested in work. “I found that a moderate amount of wine, a pint at each meal, made all the difference in how I felt,” he told Forel. “I looked forward to my dinner instead of staring at it, and life didn't seem a hopeless grind to support a woman whose tastes were daily diverging from mine… Wine was almost a necessity for me to be able to stand her long monologues about ballet steps, alternating with a glazed eye toward any civilized conversation whatsoever.”
So Scott agreed to avoid hard liquor for the time being, but he refused to give up wine. He made a question of principle of it, a matter of dignity. Wasn't this an unconscious, insidious trick of Zelda's? He had already given up other women for her, “and it wasn't easy in the position my success gave me—what pleasure I got from comradeship she has pretty well mined.” Giving up drinking would be tantamount to admitting that this was the only reason for his misfortune, admitting that he alone was responsible for his troubles and Zelda's. “Any human value I might have would disappear if I condemned myself to a lifelong asceticism to which I am not adapted either by habit, temperament or the circumstances of my metier.”
His intuition that Zelda was vaguely trying to manipulate him, especially by blackmailing him about drinking, was confirmed by a remark she made in a moment of lucid candor. “I can't make head or tails out of all this dreary experience,” she said in a letter to Scott, “since I do not know how much was accidental and how much deliberate—how big a role circumstance played and what proportion was voluntary—but if such a thing as expiation exists it is taking place and I hope you will forgive me the rest of my part—”
There had, of course, been no dissimulation when she discovered ballet in 1927. She had openly claimed her independence, had seceded from their union, had plunged with all her being into dancing as if she had found a faith. Sharing this was impossible. She had abandoned all the functions she had filled until then—wife, mother, hostess, muse. Possessed by the self-image she yearned to create, she dispossessed the others. A stubborn ardor fed the flame that raised her and set her spinning, a burning intoxication that charred anything that came near it. Beside this consuming spiritual passion, this stunning asceticism that lifted her high off the earth, how absurd were daily life and its bonds—sex, alcohol, friends, home: just so many obstacles, so many cross fires to halt her incendiary surge.
Now, struck down as she soared, a fallen angel, prisoner of common sense, she tried to find her way back to lucidity, to speak the language of her jailers. Deep in her eczema-scorched body, shrouded in bandages like amummy, she struggled to rearticulate her illusion through voices from outside, others' voices. She repeated what Scott and Dr. Forel wanted to hear: “This story is the fault of nobody but me. I believed I was a salamander and it seems that I am nothing but an impediment.”
At other times she tried to knit her experience into the texture of a short story and so hold off her obsession with burning and with spiritual death. In “Miss Ella” her heroine is a stern, Victorian Southern spinster whose dress catches fire during a Christmas celebration. She falls in love with the man who beat out the flames with his bare hands, and she jilts another with whom she had contracted a marriage of convenience. But on the day she is to be married to her savior, her former fiance shoots himself. Henceforth she will live as a solitary recluse behind her high garden walls, away from warmth and fire, with only the memory of a sudden, brief blaze.
Zelda's effort at detachment is sometimes visible in her heartrending letters to Scott. “The panic seems to have settled into a persistent gloom punctuated by moments of bombastic hysteria,” she wrote at one point, “which is, I suppose, a relatively wholesome state.” Or she would dream of a normal future when “there will be Sundays and Mondays again which are different from each other and there will be Christmas and winter fires … and my life won't lie up the back-stairs of music-halls and yours won't keep trailing down the gutters of Paris—if it will only work, and I can keep sane and not a bitter maniac.”
He wrote her a long letter in which he tried to analyze the disorder in their lives since their arrival in France six years earlier. The sadness and loneliness that followed him from Rome to Paris, despite his celebrity, was blamed on Zelda's illness. “You were endlessly sick and at home everything was unhappy,” he wrote. This was where liquor came in, the liquor of conviviality and of remorse. The former—“I got drunk with [Ernest] on the Left Bank in careless cafes”—merely prolonged the masculine rites inaugurated at Princeton, showing that he belonged to a community of friends and peers, and this explained the meaning of the interminable parties that punctuated the Fitzgeralds' married life. His solitary drinking, especially when he was drowning his sorrows, was something else, the sign of how difficult life was: “I was alone all the time and I had to get drunk before I could leave you so sick and not care and I was only happy a little while before I got too drunk. Afterwards there were all the usual penalties for being drunk.”
He recalled the year 1926, when Zelda had recovered her health, there was plenty of money and he thought his novel would write itself effortlessly: “I forgot how I'd dragged The Great Gatsby out of the pit of my stomach in a time of misery.” He thought he could forget his own nature, could gather to himself his friends' most enviable qualities, “a mixture of Ernest in fine clothes and Gerald with a career—and Charlie MacArthur with a past. Anybody that could make me believe that, like Lois Moran did,was precious to me.” The luxury at Ellerslie, the entertaining, were “all attempts to make up from without for being undernourished now from within.” He wanted to be loved, Fitzgerald went on, wanted confirmation not that he had a measure of genius but that he was “a great man of the world.” At the same time he was aware of how nonsensical this was. “Somewhere in there I had a sense of being exploited, not by you but by something I resented terribly: no happiness. … I remember wondering why I kept working to pay the bills of this desolate menage I had evolved.” Then came Cannes and loneliness after he had been humiliated, first by Hemingway and then by the Murphys. A feeling of inferiority that made it impossible for him to face anyone unless he was tight. “You were going crazy and calling it genius—I was going to ruin and calling it anything that came to hand. And I think everyone far enough away to see us outside of our glib presentations of ourselves guessed at your almost meglomaniac [sic] selfishness and my insane indulgence in drink.”
Scott's letter aroused a violent reaction in Zelda, who rebelled against his notion of their behavior, “your working to preserve the family and my working to get away from it.” She accused him of “giving your absolute minimum of effort both to your work and to our mutual welfare with no hope or plans for the future save the vague capricices [sic] which drive you from one place to another.” She felt that their attitudes were completely at odds and saw nothing in him on which to base a new relationship except his good looks, which she said he shared with the headwaiter at the Plaza and her hairdresser in Paris. And “since we have never found either help or satisfaction in each other the best thing is to seek it separately. You might as well start whatever you start for a divorce immediately.”
The letter's acerbity contrasted with the tenderness of others that recalled Zelda's letters to Scott before they were married. When he phoned one evening to compliment her on a piece of writing she had sent him, she gushed in gratitude. But her reactions were unpredictable. She could reply to affection with recrimination, even violence. Yet an attention could also make her euphoric, fill her with airy well-being that she expressed gracefully in the image of an acrobat: “I don't believe I've ever been so heavy with happiness. … I love you most and you 'phoned me just because you 'phoned me to-night—I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me. My dear—”
Tired, confused, worried about his health (“my lungs sprang a leak,” he wrote Ober), Fitzgerald withdrew to the heights of Caux, above Montreux, for the month of June and managed to write a story. His time was divided between the frothy adventures of Josephine, his letters to Zelda and the long reports he sent Forel on his patient's background. During the summer he turned out forty thousand words for the psychiatrist, tried to reassure the Sayres and to behave toward Scottie, who was still in Paris with her nurse, like a sweet, thoughtful and feminine mother. At one point hehad to grab a night flight to rush his daughter to a hospital in response to a telegram announcing that she had appendicitis.
It was in this woebegone frame of mind that he saw Gerald, who was passing through Lausanne and who was just as worried about his son's illness as Scott was about Zelda's. At the end of June Fitzgerald spent a few days in Paris to watch Scottie receive first prize in school at the end of second grade. While there he met Thomas Wolfe, then a young novelist whose first book had been published the year before by Scribner's. The ungainly, expansive, voluble, exuberantly gesticulating giant charmed the downcast dandy. They lunched together and wound up late that evening at the Ritz. Despite their different notions of what constitutes a novel, they liked each other. Wolfe, lyric and prolific, thought of a novel as a natural vehicle through which to discharge his moods, his multitudinous observations, his Whitmanesque sense of the multiplicity of things. He was incapable of reining himself in, of constructing a book; it was Perkins who had to winnow a novel from the thousands of pages Wolfe delivered. Fitzgerald saw him again in Montreux in July and, having read his novel in the meanwhile, wrote to Perkins: “All the world seems to end up in this flat and antiseptic smelling land—with an overlay of flowers. Tom Wolfe is the only man I've met here who isn't sick or hasn't sickness to deal with. You have a great find in him—what he'll do is incalculable. He has a deeper culture than Ernest and more vitality, if he is slightly less of a poet that goes with the immense surface he wants to cover. Also he lacks Ernest's quality of a stick hardened in the fire—he is more susceptible to the world.”
Fitzgerald saw common ground on which all three writers stood: “What family resemblance there is between we three as writers is the attempt that crops up in our fiction from time to time to recapture the exact feel of a moment in time and space, exemplified by people rather than by things— that is, an attempt at what Wordsworth was trying to do rather than what Keats did with such magnificent ease, an attempt at a mature memory of a deep experience.” He was so struck by his meeting with Wolfe that, a few years later, he was already uncertain how much was truth and how much legend in the stories about the man. “Some of our experiences have become legendary to me,” he wrote Wolfe, “and I am not sure even if they happened at all. One story (a lie or a truth) which I am in the habit of telling is how you put out the lights of Lake Geneva with a Gargantuan gesture. … I don't know any more whether I was with you when it happened, or whether it ever happened at all!”
In July Fitzgerald was again in Paris briefly, seeing the Bishops, Town-send Martin, Michael Arlen and other friends. Scottie returned to Switzerland with him, along with her Alsatian nurse Berthe. She paid a quick visit to her mother in which Zelda tried so hard to act normal that she suffered a nervous collapse after the child left. Fitzgerald then went to Vevey, where he worked on a story, and then to Caux, spending most ofAugust there working on still another. The last week of the month was spent with the Murphys in Montana, in the company of Dorothy Parker.
The subjects of the two stories Fitzgerald wrote that summer are symptomatic of his confusion and distress. The first, “A Woman with a Past,” which he did not like, is part of the Josephine cycle; it is set in the years before the war when his heroine, a combination of Ginevra and Zelda, begins to feel herself adrift. The second, “One Trip Abroad,” deals with the disintegration of a young American couple in Europe, the same couple Fitzgerald had introduced into his novel the previous year after his Atlantic crossing. Nelson and Nicole Kelly begin their European trip in Algeria. Four years later, hurt, disappointed, demoralized, they are on the shore of Lake Geneva, “the dreary one of sanatoriums and rest hotels… Switzerland is a country where very few things begin, but many end.” Throughout their travels, in Algeria, in Italy, in Paris, on the Riviera, they encounter the same couple, a schizoid projection of themselves, which, like the portrait of Dorian Gray, follows the stages of their own degradation. The story, picking up the theme of Fitzgerald's neglected novel, is Tender Is the Night in miniature, with the difference that in the story it is a couple —not an unsuccessful artist—who are the victims of expatriate Europe's decadent influence. Nicole Kelly prefigures Nicole Diver, and both recall Zelda, their common model.
To be closer to his wife, even though he still was not allowed to see her, Fitzgerald moved to Lausanne in September, staying first in the Beau Rivage Hotel in Ouchy, then in the Grand Hotel de la Paix, observing the predatory fauna that haunted the luxury hotels: women on the prowl, diplomats, penniless noblemen who cheated at cards and chased after dowries, Europeanized Americans who no longer had a homeland.
He met Bijou O'Connor, a titled Englishwoman who maintained, on a small scale, the traditions of the Nancy Cunards and Duff Twysdens. The thirty-six-year-old daughter of diplomat Sir Francis Elliot, she was aristocratic-looking, wealthy, hard-drinking; she snubbed the rich and showy Americans, terrified staff and servants, smoked cigarettes in a long holder, carried a Pekingese under her arm and was always imperturbable. She knew Gertrude Stein well, and detested her, and Picasso, whom she admired. This was enough to bring her into contact with Fitzgerald, who was attracted by her poise and her acid, insolent grace. She thought him charming and let him pay court to her, became his confidante, then his mistress. He proposed marriage; she refused. Since he was always short of material, none of this prevented him from drawing unflattering portraits of her and her friend Napier Allington as Lady Capps-Karr and “Bopes,” the Marquess of Kinkallow, in a story he wrote in November called “The Hotel Child.” “Practically the whole damn thing” was true, he wrote Ober, “bizarre as it may seem. Lord Allington and the famous Bijou O'Connor were furious at me putting them in.”
After Dr. Bleuler examined Zelda on November 22, Scott took a few days off to spend Thanksgiving with the Murphys in Montana. From there he accompanied Gerald to Munich, where Baoth was in school. Honoria was then in school in Paris; both had been separated from Patrick for fear of contagion.
A month later, at Zelda's request, Fitzgerald fetched Scottie to Switzerland to spend the Christmas holidays with her parents. A mistake: it was too soon for Zelda, who lost control of herself when the child appeared, breaking the ornaments on a Christmas tree. So Scott took his daughter to Gstaad, where they both went skiing for the first time. This was also the first time Fitzgerald devoted more than a few days to Scottie; he had been reminded of his paternal duties by both Zelda and her sister Rosalind, who was then living in Brussels and who wanted Scottie to come and live with her.
In December he wrote “Babylon Revisited,” investing the story with his own problems. Like him, its hero, Charlie Wales, is profoundly lonely, and his financial prosperity contrasts ironically with his moral poverty; like his creator, he is torn by remorse and anxiety. Fitzgerald named Charlie's daughter Honoria (pointing it out specially in a letter to the Murphys), but, he later told Scottie, he really had his own daughter and his feelings about her in mind. In the story he movingly depicts a typical day spent with her during one of his brief trips to Paris: dinner at the Grand Vatel, a visit to the Nain Bleu toy store, a vaudeville show at the Empire—moments of intense joy and anxious affection. He sent a copy of the manuscript to Rosalind to counter her criticism of him.
The story also marks the end of an era, the foreclosure of the almost divine privileges Americans had enjoyed before the Depression. Charlie Wales feels like a king stripped of his kingdom, his past, his illusions. Ten years later Fitzgerald would say that “Babylon Revisited” was his farewell to youth. “I not only announced the birth of my young illusions in This Side of Paradise,” he wrote, “but pretty much the death of them in some of my last Post stories like 'Babylon Revisited.'“ Fearing that his wife's and his own irresponsibility—“the traits of both that had brought them to disaster” —would be passed on to Honoria, Charlie wants to wipe out the shameful past, revive an earlier virtue: “A great wave of protectiveness went over him. He thought he knew what to do for her. He believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element.”
This was Fitzgerald's frame of mind when he learned of his father's sudden death in Washington at the age of seventy-seven. To his son, Edward Fitzgerald, despite his failures, personified the traditional virtues. In similar circumstances Dick Diver would feel this sudden loss cruelly. “How will it affect me,” he wonders, “now that this earliest and strongest of protections is gone?” In a manuscript written at this period, which would later beused in his novel, Fitzgerald paid tribute to his father: “I loved my father-always deep in my subconscious I have referred judgment back to him, what he would have thought, or done. He loved me—and felt a deep responsibility for me…” Scott saw his erratic father in his own relationship with Scottie. He decided to return to the United States for the funeral. Before leaving, he visited Zelda, who was as upset by the news as he. The meeting went the way most of them had. After expressing her sorrow, she behaved hatefully during lunch. “After lunch she returned to the affectionate tender mood, utterly normal, so that with pressure I could have maneuvered her into intercourse but the eczema was almost visibly increasing so I left early. Toward the very end she was back in schizophrenia.”
Fitzgerald left Switzerland January 27 and sailed from Cherbourg three days later aboard the New York. He forgot his cares during the crossing in the company of an American girl named Bert Barr; she was a funny, witty girl and she delighted him, amazed him with card tricks and told him she was a professional bridge sharp who was using the voyage to fleece the Texas millionaire with whom she was traveling. She and her protector enjoyed Fitzgerald's indignation; when they finally told him they were in cahoots, he could only admire the natural way they had played their parts. He saw Bert again at the Hotel New Yorker before heading South; by that time he was on familiar enough terms with her to call her Mickey Mouse. They met again the following spring in Paris and on several occasions in the years that followed.
Fitzgerald's stories fed on such chance meetings. “Indecision,” written in January 1931, was based on his stay in Gstaad. A letter to Ober showed that he planned to use the new setting even before seeing it: “I'm going to write a story about Gstaad, a Swiss winter sport place where I'm taking my daughter for the holidays,” he announced. Later he would use a crack that Mickey Mouse had made on deck on the New York as they watched the liner Bremen, all lights blazing, cruise nearby. “Oh, Daddy,” she exclaimed, “buy me that!” Short of ideas, Scott offered her a percentage of his fees if she could supply him with more such material.
Similar offers would be made to other people who he thought might be able to stimulate his imagination as Zelda had done until 1924. He was having more and more trouble satisfying his readers, and his output reflected this. For the time being, he made do with watching the idlers around him in the familiar setting of a Swiss village, manipulating plots to justify the presence of a character in a place he knew. In “Flight and Pursuit,” for example, his heroine's nervous breakdown gave him an opportunity to evoke the troubled atmosphere he found in Montana-Vermala, an isolated town, a sort of ghost town, in fact, like the western gold camps where, as in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, there was “an air of secret ribaldry.”
Fitzgerald's subjects reflect his state of mind, his preoccupations; all deal with the deterioration of an exceptional character to whom life seems to have granted every favor. “A New Leaf,” written in April 1931, the same month that produced “Flight and Pursuit,” is built around a friend of Fitzgerald's who was also ruined by alcoholism and whose effort to break the habit breaks him instead.
There is not much dramatic interest in these stories, nor much appeal to Depression-stricken Post readers with little patience for the problems of rich, suicidal expatriates. Ober told him the Post was reluctant to take the first three stories written in 1931: their quality was down, their plots nonexistent and they were not set in the United States. And the agent added some criticism of his own: “'F[light] and P[ursuit],' 'a N[ew] L[eaf]' and 'I[ndecision]' have been interesting to me because they were very vivid bits of life, but I do feel that in these three stories you have failed to make the reader care about any one of the characters. … I do not think it is necessary for a story to have a plot but I think a story must either move the reader or amuse him.” A fourth story written in the same period, the one in which Mickey Mouse appears, was rejected by seven magazines. A warning: the Post let a year go by before publishing “Flight and Pursuit”; its author's name was no longer on the magazine's cover, and the story was dropped to fourth position in the table of contents.
Fitzgerald attended his father's funeral in the small cemetery in Rockville where the rest of his paternal ancestors lay. There was a reunion with his sister, Annabel, now married and a mother, with cousin Ceci and her daughters, and his uncles and aunts. Scott felt a strong attachment to this corner of Maryland earth, which his years of wandering had made emblematic of the stability and permanence to which he would aspire for the rest of his life. Regretfully, he tore himself away and went to Montgomery to reassure the Sayres about Zelda's condition. Warned against him by Rosalind, alarmed by the incoherent letters they received from Zelda, they received him coolly; a little distractedly, too, because the judge was ill and confined to his bed. Mrs. Sayre was nevertheless grateful that her son-in-law had taken the trouble to visit them.
Zelda, meanwhile, was making surprising progress. Soon she was skiing regularly at Saint-Cergues, in the Jura above Nyon. With Scott away there were no letters from him to stir conflicts in her mind; physical exercise, the feeling of independence and responsibility her mountain forays gave her also aided her recovery. When her husband returned early in March, he was amazed at her lack of acrimony, at her coherence. Now he could see her more often without causing her to break out in a rash; she could spend days with him in Geneva and Lausanne, shop, lunch in a restaurant without fearing the explosions of nerves such outings once provoked. One evening he took her to Montreux to see Serge Lifar dance. Her letters to him grew more tender: “And theres always my infinite love—You are a sweet person —the sweetest and dearest of all and I love you as I love my vanished youth —which is as much as a human heart can hold.”
In April he went alone for a few days to Lake Como, made a quick visit to Paris (in both cases he seems to have gone to see a married woman designated only by an initial in his Ledger) and, at the end of the month, spent a few days with Zelda at Annecy, on the French side of the border. In May his mother passed through Paris, and he flew there to see her, returning by car with Scottie and Mademoiselle. They were back in Paris at the end of June for Scottie's grade-school graduation ceremonies, in which she received a medal of honor. The trip coincided with Mrs. Fitzgerald's departure for the United States. The Murphys, with Sara's sister, Hoyty, were also in the French capital to visit the Colonial Exposition. Before introducing his mother to these sophisticates, Fitzgerald went through all kinds of oratorical contortions, warning them about her eccentricities and her whimsical personality. Prepared to find a shrew, they were surprised to meet an elderly, small-town woman, a little intimidated, dignified and placid in her mourning clothes.
Scottie went back to Switzerland with her father. By this time Zelda's health was judged to be so satisfactory that her doctor suggested she leave the clinic for an extended trial period. Because she had liked Annecy during her short visit there in April, they went there. All three set out in the little Renault and spent two weeks on the shore of Lake Annecy, first amid the climbing roses at the Beau Rivage Hotel in Annecy, then in Menthon, across the lake. “The water was greener there and the shadows long and cool and the scraggly gardens staggered up the shelved precipice to the Hotel Palace.” Swimming, Vienna waltzes, boating—the happy days were back. Photos show Zelda smiling and relaxed, in contrast with those taken in Algeria, in which she looks hunted, haggard and drawn. These July 1931 pictures give no hint of the crisis the Fitzgeralds had just been through; “[we] said at the end that we'd never go there again because those weeks had been perfect and no other time could match them.”
Even the occasional alarms heightened their newfound delight, as Scott felt, for example, when through a lavatory window he watched Zelda wander off to shop alone in the village. His apprehension turned to relief and then to inexpressible joy when he saw that, for the first time, she was simply a woman like any other, that she no longer behaved oddly. “It was,” he would record, “like the good gone times when we still believed in summer hotels and the philosophies of popular songs.”
Back in Switzerland Zelda celebrated her return to stability in a teasing letter to Scott:
My dearest and most precious Monsieur,
We have here a kind of maniac who seems to have been inspired with erotic aberrations on your behalf. Apart from that she is a person of excellent character, willing to work, would accept a nominal salary while learning, fair complexion, green eyes would like correspondence with refined young man of your description with intent to marry. Previous experience unnecessary. Very fond of family life and a wonderful pet to have in the home. Marked behind the left ear with a slight tendency to schitzophrenie.
Sending Scottie off to Brittany, Scott and Zelda then spent a few days in Caux. “At the Caux Palace, a thousand yards in the air, we tea-danced on the uneven boards of a pavillion and sopped our toast in mountain honey.” The setting, already used dramatically in “One Trip Abroad,” would provide the background for the beginning of the love affair between Dick and Nicole in Tender Is the Night.
When Zelda reentered the clinic, Scott settled in to work in Les Rives de Prangins. Despite his constant travels the previous month, he had written two stories, including the last of the Josephine series, which bore a revealing title, “Emotional Bankruptcy.” At peace again, he now wrote two others.
Dr. Forel was pleased with the good her first outing had done Zelda, and he now advised Scott to repeat the experiment so as to ease her back into normal life. An opportunity came in the form of an invitation from the Murphys to spend a few days with them. Patrick's health had improved and he could spend more and more time out of the sanatorium. Gerald had rented a farm at Bad Aussee, in the Austrian Tyrol, for part of the summer. The Fitzgeralds joined them there, reuniting Scottie with her playmates from La Garoupe, Honoria, Baoth and Patrick. Among the other guests were their Aunt Hoyty and Leger. Thornton Wilder came and carried the Fitzgeralds off to Vienna. In Munich, when they went through, the hotels were empty, and they were given the royal suite at the Regina-Palast. For the first time Scott understood the seriousness of what was happening in Europe. “The young Germans stalking the ill-lit streets wore a sinister air,” he would note, “and the talk that underscored the beer-garden waltzes was of war and hard times.”
They found the same gloom in Vienna. The windows of the best hotel, the Bristol, looked out on the dilapidated baroque opera house, and behind it “the city was poor already, or still, and the faces about us were harassed and defensive.” Gerald had already taken Baoth out of school in Munich when he learned that the boy was expected to take the same military training as his classmates and, with them, to shout “Heil Hitler!” Fitzgerald had won Gerald's gratitude by offering to accompany him to the Bavarian capital. As they traveled, the two men compared their experiences, noting the strange coincidence of their private disasters with the onset of the Depression that had stricken their country: Patrick and Zelda hospitalized, the death of Scott's father followed by that of Sara's father (Murphy's father and Judge Sayre would also die that year); Gerald had stopped painting and Scott had abandoned work on his novel. When Fitzgerald remarked how stoically his friend seemed to face his misfortunes, Gerald outlined his philosophy of life: “I replied that of course I accepted them, but that I didn't feel they were the important things really. It's not what we do but what we do with our minds that counts, and for me only the invented part of our life has any real meaning.”
Fitzgerald would use these ideas in the final version of his novel, and Murphy, experiencing another run of bad luck, would write: “I know now that what you said in Tender Is the Night is true. Only the invented part of our life—the unreal part—has any scheme, any beauty. Life itself has stepped in now and blundered, scarred and destroyed.” This was the period when Baoth, the sturdiest of the Murphy children, died of meningitis at school before his parents could reach him. Patrick was to die two years later.
For the moment, however, it was a time of hope. The Murphys, thinking Patrick had recovered from his tuberculosis, returned to Villa America in the autumn; they were not to leave France for good until 1933, when he suffered a relapse. The Fitzgeralds, cheered by their successful trip through central Europe, could hope for a return of harmony, could look forward to loving again as they had seven years before. Toward the end of her stay at the clinic, however, it was Zelda who comforted Scott when his notes betrayed his pessimism: “nothing is sad about you except your sadness… You are the only person who's ever done all they had to do, damn well, and had enough left over to be dissatisfied… Can't you possibly be just a little bit glad that we are alive and that all the year that's coming we can be to-gether and work and love and get some peace for all the things we've paid so much for learning. Stop looking for solace: there isn't any, and if there were life would be a baby affair…”
On September 15, 1931, fifteen months after she entered it, Zelda left the clinic in Les Rives de Prangins. Dr. Forel thought the outlook was favorable, on condition that both the Fitzgeralds give up liquor forever and that they could avoid their old conflicts. Loading Scottie and a mountain of luggage into the Renault, they drove to France, getting as far as Dijon before a breakdown forced them to abandon the car. They went on to Paris by train, took rooms at the Hotel Majestic long enough to visit the multitude of pavillions at the Colonial Exposition. In 1925 the Decorative Arts Exposition had crystallized all their ideas about the dynamic movement of the Jazz Age. Now, six years later, their final impressions of Europe matched the new Zeitgeist: the exoticism of the Colonial Exposition “told us an immutable story of work and death. The juxtaposition of so many replicas of so many civilizations was confusing, and depressing.” This was to be Paris's last word to them. On September 19 they sailed on the Aquitania, the same liner that had carried them to Europe for the first time in May 1921. Their European parenthesis was closed forever.
They lingered ten days in New York seeing old friends, Alex, Townsend, Ludlow, John and Margaret Bishop, Hemingway, Perkins and Ober. They found a new city, bereft of its once feverish activity and now an “echoing tomb.” The tallest skyscraper, a symbol of prosperity, had been completed during the Depression. “From the ruins,” Fitzgerald remarked, “lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building.” What it now symbolized was disillusionment. If one rode to the top of it, as Fitzgerald did, one could see the boundaries of New York—and of the dream of unending expansion of which it was the image: “From the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless. And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground.”
He found continuity in Montgomery, which had not profited from the years of wild speculation and expansion and so was not suffering from the Depression. “Nothing had happened there,” he reflected, “since the Civil War.” It was in this changeless, somnolent land that Zelda and Scott decided to put down new roots. Judge Sayre still had not recovered from the grippe he caught the previous winter, and the household was gloomy. So Zelda and Scott stayed at a hotel until they could find a suitable house.
They found it in the suburb of Cloverdale, a vast building lost among trees. Fitzgerald signed a six-month lease, hired a couple of black servants and bought a used Stutz automobile. While Zelda renovated and decorated the place, Scott returned to his writing. Although the life-style at 819 Felder Avenue was far less lavish than it had been in Europe and they no longer had to pay Dr. Forel $1,000 a month, the Fitzgeralds were still heavily in debt. Scott had never worked so hard to earn his living as he had since Zelda fell ill: eight stories in 1930, as many more in Switzerland until September 1931. He was polishing off a ninth at the end of October when he received an offer from Hollywood, just as he had the last time he returned to the United States in 1927. But that first expedition to California had made him wary. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was now proposing a five-week contract at $750 a week; he insisted on $1,200 and got it.
There was no question of Zelda's going with him. Besides, she wanted to be near her father, whose health was still frail. Scott, knowing his father-in-law's low opinion of him, lingered at his bedside before leaving Montgomery, trying to win absolution from the judge. “Tell me you believe in me,” he asked Sayre. With keen insight the old man granted him the sole moral virtue he thought Scott had: “I think you will always pay your bills.” Wise words, for Fitzgerald would always have debts to square. His moral conscience would be stronger than his artistic conscience. He would prostitute his talent and kill himself doing it to pay the bills for Zelda, Scottie and himself.
Having given up ballet after trying to work with a local teacher, who thought she was overambitious, Zelda kept busy writing. Pavlova died in 1931. In Scott's absence Zelda outlined a novel and wrote seven short stories. She sent them to Ober as she turned them out, but he could sell only one, which she had called “A Couple of Nuts” but which was published in Scribner's Magazine as “Miss Ella.”
Then, on November 19, her father died. She felt the loss keenly even though he had never been very affectionate toward her. She began to suffer from asthma and recognized with horror the beginnings of a rash. Worn out by the funeral services and the influx of relatives trooping through the house, she decided to go to Florida for a few days. She pleaded her case in a letter to Scott, who finally agreed on condition that she have a nurse with her. Zelda mourned, but she was also saddened by her isolation in a society of women whose talk irritated her. “I miss my Daddy horribly,” she wrote Scott. “I am losing my identity here without men.” She compared the house to a cracked phonograph record on which the needle always sticks at the same spot. But the appearance of “Miss Ella” in the December Scribner's made something of a stir in Montgomery and her self-confidence perked up. She even sent a copy of the magazine to Dr. Forel.
Scott, meanwhile, was coming to grips with the script of The Redheaded Woman, in which Jean Harlow was to star as a social-climbing nymphomaniac. It was to be adapted from a 1931 best-seller, the second successful novel by Katherine Brush, an imitator of Fitzgerald's who had made big money where he had not. Not only had he to work with a disciple's book, but he was given a cowriter whom he considered incompetent. The script soon became a battleground. Producer Irving Thalberg, whom Fitzgerald admired and would take as his model for Monroe Stahr in The Last Tycoon, did not like the result. His writers had made the heroine antipathetic and had spoiled a subject that was difficult to handle but new to the screen. Far from Zelda, disappointed in his work, Scott began drinking again, although he made himself stay sober during working hours. Only the friendship of a young scriptwriter named Dwight Taylor, the son of actress Laurette Taylor, brought him a measure of comfort; Taylor would become the protagonist of Fitzgerald's story “Crazy Sunday.”
At a party given by Thalberg's wife, actress Norma Shearer, Scott had one whiskey too many and made a fool of himself before Hollywood society by insisting on singing a silly ballad he had once written with Edmund Wilson. The next day a sympathetic Miss Shearer sent him a telegram assuring him that he had been “one of the most agreeable persons at our tea.” But Thalberg, who had watched the performance from across the room and who despised alcoholics, fired him at the end of the week. On December 15 Fitzgerald left Hollywood, swearing he would never return.
Although he had again been humiliated and disappointed (he had written Zelda that if his script was accepted, he would be paid $75,000), his trip had not been entirely wasted. “I'm not sorry I went,” he conceded, “because I've got a fine story about Hollywood which will be along in several days.” The story was “Crazy Sunday,” built around his exhibition before the Thalbergs and their guests. It is a remarkable piece of work, the best since “Babylon Revisited” and a sharp departure from his previous stories; it was too adult for the editors at the Post and the other mass-circulation magazines, who were shocked by the heroine's behavior. After they had all refused it, the story was sold to The American Mercury for a trifling $200.
The Christmas holidays spent with her family had upset Zelda and brought on a serious attack of asthma. Florida had healed her once before, so she and Scott went there now. Hollywood had put $6,000 in his bank account, which he hoped would see him through the five months he thought he needed to complete his novel. Zelda wanted to get ahead with hers, too. The beach at St. Petersburg was warm and welcoming; they swam and sunbathed; Zelda's asthma receded. Then, for no apparent reason, her eczema reappeared, disappeared, then broke out again two days later. The vacation was over. Zelda had to be gotten home at once. On the first night of the trip she could not sleep. She found a flask of whiskey in Scott's luggage and drained it. The next day she was hysterical.
Despairing, Scott wrote to Dr. Forel to ask his advice. “It seems terrible,” he said, “because we have both been so utterly happy, happier almost than we have ever been.” He was to repeat this the following year to Zelda's American doctor, averring that “the nine months before her second breakdown were the happiest of my life and I think, save for the agonies of her father's death, the happiest of hers.” Once more he saw his novel threatened, his financial reserves imperiled if Zelda went back into a hospital, as she requested. “What the moral effect on me would be I do not know,” he wrote Forel, “and I hardly dare to think what it would be on her.” But a second onset of hysteria two days later forced them to the decision they both dreaded: on February 10 they left for Baltimore; on the twelfth she entered the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital.
The effects of this second internment turned out, however, to be less calamitous than those of the first, possibly because the attack was less critical.Freed of all pressure and responsibility, Zelda went feverishly to work on her book. “I am proud of my novel,” she wrote Scott, “but I can hardly restrain myself to get it written. You will like it—It is distinctly Ecole Fitzgerald, though more ecstatic than yours. Perhaps too much so.”
Less than a month after she went into the hospital, the book's four chapters were written and typed. It is clearly, even naively, autobiographical. Its heroine's name is Alabama and her husband's is Amory Blaine, filched from the protagonist of This Side of Paradise. It chronicles the Fitzgeralds' quarrels, adventures, travels. Rightly fearing that Scott would accuse her of plagiarizing his work—she was familiar with the drafts of his current novel and did base some of her scenes on it—she sent the manuscript directly to Perkins without telling her husband.
When Scott received a copy, he was furious. Only the first chapter dealing with Alabama's childhood and adolescence, and the last, in which surgery ends her career as a ballerina in Naples, contained original material. This was especially true of chapter 4, the best of the book, entirely the work of Zelda's imagination except for the end, which describes Judge Sayre's death. But chapters 2 and 3 were almost straight transcriptions of the couple's experiences. Scott could not complain too much about her account of her affair with Jozan or her details about the first years of their married life, which recall parts of The Beautiful and Damned. Hadn't he used Zelda's writing in his own book then? But the sections on the Blaines' stays in Paris and on the Riviera consisted of incidents and situations he had used in his own manuscripts.
Scott immediately wired Perkins to wait for a revised version before deciding about the book. On March 14 he sent a letter of protest to Dr. Mildred Squires, whose patient Zelda was. He said that “literally one whole section of her novel is an imitation of [his own], of its rhythm, materials… This mixture of fact and fiction is calculated to ruin us both, or what is left of us, and I can't let it stand. Using the name of a character I invented to put intimate facts in the hands of the friends and enemies we have accumulated en route—my God, my books make her a legend and her single intention in this somewhat thin portrait is to make me a nonentity.”
Informed by Dr. Squires of Scott's reaction, Zelda wrote him a contrite letter: “Scott, I love you more than anything on earth and if you were offended I am miserable.” She explained that she had sent her novel directly to Perkins for fear of the sort of “scathing criticism” Scott had already turned on her short stories. “I have had enough discouragement, generally, and could scream with that sense of inertia that hovers over my life and everything I do.” But she could not hide her real motive: “I was also afraid we might have touched the same material.” In another letter a renewed attempt at self-justification took a firmer tone: her revision, she told him, would be aesthetic; the material she used belonged as much to her as to him and she planned to exploit it fully in her next novel. “The other material which I will elect is nevertheless legitimate stuff which has cost me a pretty emotional penny to amass and which I intend to use when I can get the tranquility of spirit necessary to write the story of myself versus myself. That is the book I really want to write.”
Scribner's accepted the manuscript. The novel was published in October 1932 under the title Save Me the Waltz, which Zelda said she had taken from a record catalog. A flop! Only 1,392 copies were sold, and all Zelda earned from it, once the high cost of her revisions in the proofs was deducted, was $120.73. Fitzgerald, despite Zelda's remorse, was still angry as well as humiliated that an amateur like Zelda could write a novel, flawed as it was, in three months while he was still fiddling with his own book. A newspaper review that Zelda pasted in her scrapbook was headlined in big type, “Mrs. Fitzgerald's First Novel Places Her on Scott's Level.” Scott's reaction can be imagined.
A breach had reopened between them, and it was widened by the feeling of rivalry that Zelda now nursed. But when Dr. Squires, surprised by the violence of Fitzgerald's resentment, suggested to him that a separation might be logical, he rejected the idea harshly: “My whole stomach hurts when I contemplate such an eventuality—it would be throwing her [Zelda] broken upon a world which she despises; I would be a ruined man for years … ,” he wrote. Yet, he continued, he knew that half his friends thought his drinking drove Zelda insane and that all of them thought that “each of us would be well rid of the other—in full face of the irony that we have never been so desperately in love with each other in our lives. Liquor on my mouth is sweet to her; I cherish her most extravagant hallucinations.”
Back in Montgomery, Fitzgerald had to put up with Rosalind, his bete noire, and look after Scottie, who was also laid up. “Rosalind still there,” he recorded in his Ledger for March 1932. “… Scotty sick, me sick, Mrs. Sayre playing the fool… Everything worser and worser. Zelda's novel arrives, neurosis, strained relations.” When his lease expired, he left Alabama by car and moved alone into the Hotel Rennert in Baltimore, near the clinic.
Scott was determined not to go back to Montgomery, and he began looking for a new home. Satisfied with Zelda's progress, but anxious that she always be near a psychiatrist, he confirmed his attachment to Maryland by settling on Baltimore. In May he rented La Paix, a big, austere-looking Victorian house hung with gables, balconies and porches, in the middle of Towson Park, just north of the city. The land it stood on was owned by architect Bayard Turnbull, whose son Andrew, born the same year as Scottie, would become Fitzgerald's biographer. The whole property covered some twenty acres of isolated, rolling country covered with rare trees and shrubs and punctuated with rose gardens; there was a tennis court and a small lake for swimming.
This was where Zelda gradually learned to live again in the world outside the hospital. In early June she was dividing her time between La Paix and the clinic; on June 26 she was discharged from the hospital, although her condition was still uncertain. Scott sent for Scottie and hired a secretary, Isabel Owens, and a staff of black servants. He had never had a full-time secretary before, and he expected a lot of her; the first thing was that she not be the kind of woman to romance her boss. She was also to function for the moment as Scottie's governess and, in her spare time, as Zelda's companion, to ride, swim and play tennis with her, and so forth. Compared with Fitzgerald's other expenses, her salary was a drop in the bucket—twelve dollars a week—but jobs were scarce and applicants plentiful.
Her main job, of course, was to type Fitzgerald's manuscripts and, if necessary, his wife's. Zelda and her doctors had agreed on a program designed to keep her busy throughout the day while Scott worked. In the morning she wrote, first on sketches for her second novel, then, when she had finished revising the proofs of Save Me the Waltz, on a play. She played tennis before lunch and spent the afternoon painting.
As the months passed, Scott's need for Mrs. Owens's services grew. After writing two short stories in April and another in May, he seemed set to carry out the plans he had made in Montgomery concerning his novel. That spring he worked out a new scheme for it and a new title, A Drunkard's Holiday. In August he noted in his Ledger that the novel was “now plotted and planned, never more to be permanently interrupted.”
This was its seventh version since the 1925 outline of Our Type, and it would take final form in Tender Is the Night. The initial idea had not changed, as attest the notes Fitzgerald wrote in the spring of 1932, but now the accent was placed on the degeneration of a couple. The subject, prefigured in “One Trip Abroad,” drew on the author's experience since Zelda's collapse: the woman's mental illness would cause and hasten the man's decline. The hero, Dick Diver, is a brilliant psychologist who makes the mistake of falling in love with and marrying Nicole, a rich patient. As in earlier versions, Nicole's circle of cosmopolitan wastrels is still blamed for debauching a poor young man seduced by their way of life. But now Fitzgerald managed to objectify that class through one of its members, Nicole. Diver remains the victim, as in the earlier versions. “The novel should do this: show a man who is a natural idealist, a spoiled priest, giving in for various reasons to the ideas of the haute Burgeoise [sic],” Fitzgerald explained, “and in his rise to the top of the social world losing his idealism, his talent, and turning to drink and dissipation. Background one in which the leisure class is at their truly most brilliant and glamorous such as Murphys.”
This was Fitzgerald's notion of his own fate; the autobiographical element is confirmed in his notes defining the hero: “A man like myself brought up in a family sunk from haute burgeoisie to petit burgeoisie, yetexpensively educated.” Similar gleanings from reality, with the chronology slightly altered, are found in his note on Nicole: “Portrait of Zelda— that is, a part of Zelda,” mentioning her meeting with a “Frenchman (or what have you in summer of 1923 after almost 4 years of marriage).” The couple's children are identified with the Fitzgeralds' child: “One child almost 5 (Scotty in Juan-les-Pins). One child 3 (Scotty in Pincio).”
His new plot was centered on his vital concern, the ambiguity of his love for Zelda, who was both agent and victim of his own collapse. Instead of being a mere statement of the failure of a civilization based on fascination with wealth, the story could now develop dialectically. There was to be a transfer of Dick's vitality to Nicole; her cure is inseparably linked to his degradation.
Bolstered by this new concept, which fed on his personal conflicts, Fitzgerald worked steadily on his manuscript. He would send it to Perkins in October 1933. By that time Mrs. Owens had typed the book more than three times and, as she remarked, knew it almost by heart. An inscription over the front door to the house said Pax Vobiscum, but it was in anguish, even despair, in La Paix that Fitzgerald finally struggled through a book begun eight years earlier in a spirit of confidence and euphoria.
In “One Hundred False Starts,” an essay written in February 1933, he explained that “whether it's something that happened twenty years ago or only yesterday, I must start out with an emotion—one that's close to me and that I can understand.” However promising it may have seemed, any subject foreign to his preoccupations, whether it was suggested to him by people or found in newspapers or books, was useless to him unless it touched some secret chord. His drawers were full of unfinished manuscripts, for he was forever condemned to rework the same story: “Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves—that's the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn't seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished—beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way before.” This is the line that mobilizes his creative powers. A writer's trade consists in exploiting these two or three experiences, “each time in a new disguise—maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen.” The dilemma, then, can be expressed as “plot without emotion or emotion without plot,” the plot being the new, unexpected, convincing form that will turn the emotion into a narrative.
Fitzgerald gave an example of the unpredictability of inspiration: the previous summer, he said, he had been hospitalized with a fever that was wrongly diagnosed as typhoid; he described his dismay at having to interrupt work on a short story that was to pay his most pressing debts, his rage at being condemned to two weeks of inactivity and at having to put up with the nurses' chatter. Three days after his discharge he wrote a storycalled “One Interne,” built around his observation of hospital life—or, rather, it wrote itself, providing a new mold for what he had been trying in vain to say for weeks before his illness.
This was a kind of parable to sum up the history of his efforts to finish a novel that had gotten off to a false start with a plot that, for being too removed from his vital experience, had failed to mobilize the deepest resources of his imagination. Only a fortuitous and painful event, Zelda's hospitalization, precipitated and crystallized the subject. Had he then to scrap all the work he had already done on it, throw away passages that had cost him months of effort? “There are often occasions,” he noted, “when such a decision is doubly difficult. In the last stages of a novel, for instance, where there is no question of junking the whole, but when an entire favorite character has to be hauled out by the heels, screeching, and dragging half a dozen good scenes with him.”
The professional in him rebelled at sacrificing these well-built scenes, the artist hated to unravel a texture in which all the threads were inextricably woven together. The problem at this point is less to eliminate elements alien to the theme as to recycle them to function in the book's new structure. Fitzgerald's solution, at which we have already peeked, was both simple and elegant. Melarky's fascination with his lavish hosts was transferred to Rosemary; it is through her eyes that they are henceforth seen, with the difference that because she is protected by her mother rather than oppressed by her, she can maintain a certain detachment. The couple modeled on the Murphys retain their earlier charm, but disorder peers from behind their dazzling front, madness and alcoholism, and their behavior takes new forms, those that led the Fitzgeralds to their ruin. In Dick Diver's fall, Fitzgerald found a correlative with which to measure the distance between the Gerald with whom he would have wished to identify himself and the man he had become since 1927. This distance was clearly seen in the attitude Rosemary (Lois Moran) took toward him at first (adoration) and at the end of the book (compassion).
At the same time, however, the distance was bridged by the real fact that Fitzgerald was once again able to dominate the situation, to halt what had seemed an irreversible slide, to confirm the strength of the writer in him by recounting the failure of the man.
There is irony here: in 1926, when money was plentiful, his health flourishing, his leisure unlimited, he had failed to grasp his opportunity, when his luck turned bad, when he was in debt, in conflict with Zelda and exhausted by work on stories he mostly dragged his feet in writing, he triumphed. The man receded before the storm of responsibilities he faced, toward Zelda, Scottie, the Post, his creditors; five years, he complained, had estranged him from himself to the point that he no longer knew exactly who he was or even if he was still anyone at all.
In this amorphous condition his political conscience grew firmer. By 1932the Depression had reached catastrophic proportions. America had lost confidence in its future. Thousands of banks failed, ruining and bankrupting millions of people; a third of the nation's factories were shut down and fifteen million men were out of work. Farmers were in open rebellion, fifteen thousand war veterans marched on Washington and ran into a barrage of troops. Endless lines stretched before the soup kitchens. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 12, 1933, he declared a bank moratorium and announced a series of measures to take effect within the next one hundred days. The United States temporarily abandoned the unbridled free enterprise that had brought it low and, with the New Deal, accepted a planned economy.
Fitzgerald was not seriously affected by the crisis itself. If his income was down, it was because he no longer had the energy he had poured into storywriting in previous years and because he was now spending more and more time on his novel. Despite his debts, he maintained his living standard; when the banks closed, it was he who came to the Turnbulls' rescue by coming up with $1,800 in gold from a secret fund. He nevertheless felt morally united with those of his fellow citizens who were suffering because of the Depression.
After the war his attitude had been one of anarchic cynicism, of pessimism reinforced by his reading of Spengler; now he came to an awareness he shared with most other writers in the thirties. After Roosevelt's election Fitzgerald came in contact with leftist organizations, even lectured at Johns Hopkins in November to an association of antifascist students. He read Capital instead of The Decline of the West and spent evenings arguing so earnestly with a communist that in his Ledger we find the notation “Political worries, almost neuroses.” In the notes for his novel he has Diver sending his children to school in Russia to receive an education adapted to the times, and years later he would cast Brimmer, a communist labor-union leader, as the prime opponent of Monroe Stahr, the last tycoon.
Fitzgerald's new convictions remained theoretical, however, fitting into the logic of his criticism of the American system and the power of money; they did not encroach on his hedonistic notion of life. When he learned that Wilson had espoused communism, he detailed his reaction in a letter to Perkins that remarked on how gloomy he had found Bunny: “The decision to adopt Communism definitely, no matter how good for the soul, must of necessity be a saddening process for anyone who has ever tasted the intellectual pleasures of the world we live in.” To Wilson, whose long study on symbolism, Axel's Castle, had been published in 1932, he wrote at about the same time, expressing his surprise at his friend's deep involvement in politics. Although the stamp on Wilson's last letter to him had borne a picture of Lenin, Bunny had not mentioned his activities. Fitzgerald learned of his conversion from Dos Passos, whom he saw in Baltimore, and from Alex McKaig, who amazed him by reporting that Wilson had spent a whole evening trying to indoctrinate him in the principles of Marxism-Leninism. “Back to Mallarme,” Fitzgerald exhorted his friend.
Fitzgerald told Wilson of T. S. Eliot's recent visit to Johns Hopkins to lecture in a chair endowed by Bayard Turnbull's father. Eliot had stayed with the Turnbulls, and they, knowing Fitzgerald's admiration for him, invited him to dinner with the poet. Andrew Turnbull was there and he recalled the moment when Scott read The Wasteland aloud. “In the intimacy of the fire-lit room Fitzgerald was asked to read some of Eliot's verse, which he did without hesitation in that moving voice of his that could bring out all the beauty and hint at all the mystery of words.”
He was more at ease in The Wasteland, which is in the spirit of The Decline of the West, than in analyzing Capital, despite his conviction that Marxism was moving with history. Kremlinologist Maurice Hindus had great difficulty persuading him that there was no chance at all for a revolution that would bring the communists to power in the United States.
Zelda took the problem much less seriously, as we gather from one of her letters in which she remarked: “Scott reads Marx—I read the Cosmological philosophers. The brightest moments of our day are when we get them mixed up.” And to Perkins she wrote: “The Community Communist comes and tells us about a kind of Luna Park Utopia. … I have taken, somewhat eccetricly [sic] at my age, to horseback riding which I do as non-comittally as possible so as not to annoy the horse. Also very apologeticly since we've had so much of communism lately that I'm not sure it's not the horse who should be riding me.” Oddly, the ideas of communism and horses had also come together in a letter written to Scott in Hollywood: “Scottie and I have had a long bed-time talk about the Soviets and the Russian idea… You will be absolutely ravished by her riding trousers and yellow shirt and Scottie rearing back in her saddle like a messenger of victory. Each time she goes she conquers herself and the pony, the sky, the fields…” We note the bright, graceful writing here, the evocative skill found in many of Zelda's letters, which contrast with the labored, overly ornate prose that spoiled her published work.
Now she wove and rewove her material with the same stubborn patience she once applied to learning ballet positions. Summer was a fertile time for her. She wrote a long and highly confused play, Scandalabra, which she sent to Ober just when Save Me the Waltz was being released. It is a slightly zany comedy in the spirit of Scott's early stories, but it is weighed down by digressions and nonsense scenes written in a vein of labored fantasy.
Ober could not interest a producer in it, but Zelda met a young actor the following spring who belonged to a local university troupe, the Vagabonds. She had him to dinner at La Paix and gave him the manuscript to read. He was delighted with it. Rehearsals began in June and Zelda painted the curtain. Fitzgerald invited a crowd of friends, critics and impresarios to theopening-night performance. The heat was ferocious and the play went on for over four hours, ending at one o'clock in the morning. It was The Vegetable repeated: the play was a resounding dud; by the time the final curtain fell, there was only a handful of people in the audience.
Disappointed, Zelda now placed her hopes in painting while secretly maintaining her rivalry with Scott as a novelist. For whole days she locked herself in her room to work on a subject that coincided with that of The Drunkard's Holiday: her own experience with psychiatric hospitals. Her idea was to describe the lives of a man and a woman driven mad by the wickedness of their daughter, writing it in such a way that not until the end of the book would a reader realize that the characters lived in a mental home. Knowing how furious Scott would be if he found the manuscript, she kept it locked away, too. She was probing for a mode of expression, a language like that of ballet, which had given her a taste, she said, for flights of the human soul that were outside individual psychology. One had only to translate the inexpressible into choreographic terms for everything to become clear.
Of painting, too, she asked the immediate and total expression of feelings for which words were inadequate. Van Gogh's work spoke her language: “Those crawling flowers and venomous vindictive blossoms are the hallucinations of a mad-man—without organization or rhythm but with the power to sting and strangle … I loved them at Prangins. They reassured me…” From now on, her paintings would also have this obsessive quality, the bursting dynamism of a universe in flux, forms that are twisted and dislocated and astoundingly expressive. We shall come back to them.
Conceding that painting could enable her to exteriorize her impulses, Scott warned her against her literary illusions; stories and novels are not instruments of self-expression, he told her. This was an amateur's notion. “There has never been any question as to your 'value' as a personality,” he insisted; “there is however a question as to your ability to use your values to any practical purpose. To repeat a phrase that became anathema in my ears during the last months of our trying to make a go of it, 'expressing oneself,' I can only say there isn't any such thing. It simply doesn't exist. What one expresses in a work of art is the dark tragic destiny of being an instrument of something uncomprehended, incomprehensible, unknown—you came to the threshold of that discovery and then decided that in the face of all logic you would crash the gate. You succeeded merely in crashing yourself, almost me, and Scotty, if I hadn't interposed.”
Scott, meanwhile, was drinking to forget their constant quarreling, drinking to bolster his courage, drinking to be able to work. In January 1933 he went to New York and fell out with Wilson and Hemingway, whom he had not seen for some time. He immediately sent an apologetic letter to Bunny: “I came to New York to get drunk and swinish and I shouldn't have looked up you and Ernest in such a humor of impotent desperation. Iassume full responsibility for all unpleasantness … with Ernest I seemed to have reached a state where when we drink together I half bait, half truckle to him.”
He was arrested for drunk driving and his license was suspended. A New York doctor told him that his life was in danger if he went on drinking too much; the doctor gave him a small, measured glass that represented his daily limit. On the way home Fitzgerald stopped in Wilmington to visit John Biggs and told him the story, showed him the glass, carefully filled it to the line with gin and gulped it down. A little later he poured another dose, measuring it just as scrupulously before tossing it down. By the time he left, the gin bottle was empty. There was no reasoning with him at such times. His mother, who sometimes traveled to Baltimore from Washington to see him, brought him packages of candy, hoping the sweets would curb his appetite for liquor. An endearing little strategem, and it made Fitzgerald furious, especially when Zelda took his mother's side.
He nevertheless got on with his novel. Insomniac, he prowled the circular room in which he spent his days and nights dressed in an old bathrobe, battling himself and his demons, alone with a sick cat in his faded blue room, watching the bare February branches sway in the wind, and on his desk a paperweight asserting that “Business Is Good.” From behind the leaded windows he called “my iron grille” he watched winter, spring and summer move across the paths, watched children playing on the lawn, a gardener pushing a wheelbarrow—a faraway world with which he had only the most tenuous contact. His real life was being spent in an imaginary world populated by Dick, Nicole, Tom and Rosemary. “I have lived so long within the circle of this book,” he wrote Perkins, “and with these characters that often it seems to me that the real world does not exist but that only these characters exist and, however pretentious that remark may sound … it is an absolute fact—so much so that their glees and woes are just exactly as important to me as what happens in life.” Mrs. Owens recalls that in that study reeking of gin and tobacco, with diagrams and work schedules tacked to the walls, he “just wasn't a stationary man—even when he wrote he kept moving around, walking back and forth… I'll never forget him wandering around that spooky house, talking all the time to himself.” Zelda's memory was better than his, and he would sometimes go up to her room to ask her for details of an anecdote, or what a friend had said in such and such a situation; “that seemed at the heart of the matter,” his secretary said; “they talked and talked and talked. One of them would remember something that had happened and off they'd go laughing and chatting.” These were doubtless the good moments: it was only in reviewing the past that they could come together.
In February 1933 Dos Passos went into the hospital at Johns Hopkins. With Dreiser he had been agitating on behalf of the miners in Harlan County, Kentucky, and had become active in politics until he was stoppedby an attack of rheumatoid arthritis. Fitzgerald went to see him, but it was Dos Passos who had to buck him up. “Scott was meeting adversity with a consistency of purpose that I found admirable,” he reported. “He was trying to raise Scottie, to do the best thing possible for Zelda, to handle his drinking and to keep a flow of stories into the magazines to raise the enormous sums Zelda's illness cost. At the same time he was determined to continue writing first-rate novels. … I never admired a man more. He was so much worse off than I was that I felt I ought to be sitting at his bedside instead of his sitting at mine.”
When Malcolm Cowley visited the Fitzgeralds in May, Scott showed him the hundreds of manuscript pages piled on his desk. When he met Zelda, Cowley understood the obstacles Scott was facing; he said she frightened him: “Her face was emaciated and twitched as she talked. Her mouth, with deep lines above it, fell into unhappy shapes.” The monsters writhing in the paintings he was shown were like the ones Fitzgerald wanted to exorcise. He took Cowley aside. “That girl had everything,” he told his visitor. “… She had beauty, talent, family, she could do anything she wanted to, and she's thrown it all away.” When Cowley remarked that she seemed a character in one of his novels, Fitzgerald replied, “Sometimes I don't know whether Zelda isn't a character that I created myself. And you know, she's cuckoo, she's crazy as a loon. I'm madly in love with her.”
Increasingly, that love was showing itself as hate. Scott and Zelda had violent quarrels, and their visits to the Phipps Clinic were the occasions for endless confrontations before her psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Rennie. He believed that Scott was as sick as Zelda was. At the end of one of these long sessions, which Mrs. Owens took down in shorthand, he turned wearily to the secretary and asked, “Now who do you think ought to be in a sanitorium?”
“All three of you,” came the icy reply.
That was in May, and after this particularly trying session, Fitzgerald seriously thought of divorcing his wife; but a brief talk with his lawyer convinced him of how disgraceful a divorce suit would be. Besides, his relationship with Zelda was not all dark shadows and tragedy. During the May row at the hospital in which each aired his griefs, Scott mentioned Zelda's bizarre seat when she rode a horse. She vehemently denied this. Well, he said, “maybe it was a schizophrenic horse.” Zelda got the giggles: “Oh, Scott, that's really good; that's priceless.” Then Scott started laughing and the doctor, who couldn't help joining in, allowed as how it was a good line, a very good line.
In June, a year after they moved into La Paix, Zelda set fire to the house; the blaze ruined the second-floor rooms and destroyed several of her paintings, along with part of Scott's collection of books on World War I. Manuscripts, books, paintings, souvenirs piled up on the lawn while firemen sprayed the building. Fitzgerald kept cool, directing operations and offeringdrinks to all hands when the fire was put out. The newspapers blamed the fire on defective wiring; Zelda confessed that she had been burning old clothes in an abandoned fireplace. Fitzgerald asked Turnbull not to make repairs at once because he did not want to interrupt his work. So, in a smoke-blackened house with a partly caved-in roof, he went stoically about his writing.
The atmosphere was sinister. It was at the end of June that the Scandalabra fiasco occurred. In August Zelda learned that her brother, Anthony, had committed suicide. In September, after spending four days in the hospital, Scott was informed that Lardner had died. Scott had just finished the first draft of his book. Another month to polish the early chapters; the manuscript went to Perkins at the end of October. La Paix, a little like Villa Marie in Valescure, where Gatsby had been written nine years before, like Ellerslie and so many other homes, had become uninhabitable. It was haunted by their bitter quarrels. The Fitzgeralds moved into a smaller house in Baltimore, at 1307 Park Avenue, near the Fine Art School where Zelda went to improve her painting technique.
Fitzgerald had written only two stories since the summer, and his income for 1933 was around $12,000—his worst year since the start of his career-to which was added a then generous $4,000 advance on Tender Is the Night from Scribner's. In 1932 and 1933 his earnings were half what they had been in 1931, a record year in which he had sold nine stories to the Post. Now he was staking everything on his novel.
Scribner's Magazine bought the serial rights to it for $10,000 (Liberty had changed owners and dropped its option); the first of four installments was to run in January 1934. He was to begin sending a section of the final version of his manuscript each month from October to January. Six thousand dollars was withheld in payment of some of his debts to his publisher; the rest was turned over to Ober, who doled cash out to Fitzgerald as needed. Various titles were announced in advertisements for the book—The Drunkard's Holiday was replaced by Dr. Diver's Holiday, then by Richard Diver. At the last moment agreement was reached on Tender Is the Night, taken from Keats's Ode to a Nightingale. Hardcover publication was scheduled for April, when the final magazine installment was to appear.
Fitzgerald was not satisfied with his work; he had rushed the final version through too fast and, drawing optimism from gin, hoped he could make the needed changes in the Scribner's Magazine proofs. For the time being he was exhausted from eighteen months' unceasing effort, and at the end of November, after correcting the proofs of the first two installments, he took Zelda off to Bermuda. But his health was shaky, the weather was rainy and he caught pleurisy. He spent much of December in bed working on the last two installments of the book while Zelda, her zest for life revived, bicycled along the beaches. She would conclude an autobiographical essay written some months later with a premonitory reflection: “We had travelled a lot,we thought. Maybe this would be the last trip for a long while. We thought Bermuda was a nice place to be the last one of so many many years of travelling.”
Fitzgerald returned to Baltimore behind in his work schedule and, in early January, faced with a number of chores: completing work on the final installment of Tender Is the Night, correcting the proofs of the second and third parts and beginning on a final version of the book rooted in the already published first installment. Suggestions from Perkins further confused an already complicated situation. “I know that you are having a hell of a time jumping from iron to iron to keep them all at the right temperature,” Perkins wrote on January 15, 1934, “but I think you might consider (I say it with much hesitation and doubt) the possibility of reducing in length what was in the first installment and the first part of the second. It is probably impossible, and perhaps unwise anyhow. … I merely suggest the idea in order that your subconscious mind may work upon it a little without distracting you at all from anything else.”
Fitzgerald saw Wilson and quarreled with him again and with the Murphys; he was drunk when he saw Lois Moran. He was also preparing for a show of Zelda's painting to be held in New York at the end of March. Then, in February, she suffered a second relapse, deeper than the first, and went back into Phipps exactly two years after she had first entered it. After a month there during which her condition showed no improvement, Scott, on Dr. Forel's advice, took her to Craig House, a private hospital in Beacon, New York, which was as elegant and expensive as Les Rives de Prangins.
Grim conditions in which to work, against time, against his book, against his problems. He completed the novel on a wave of gin and repented afterward. “It has become increasingly plain to me that the very excellent organization of a long book or the finest perceptions and judgement in time of revision do not go well with liquor,” he told Perkins. “A short story can be written on a bottle, but for a novel you need the mental speed that enables you to keep the whole pattern in your head and ruthlessly sacrifice the sideshows as Ernest did in A Farewell to Arms. … I would give anything if I hadn't had to write Part III of Tender Is the Night entirely on stimulant. If I had one more crack at it cold sober I believe it might have made a great difference.”
By the time he sent the final pages to his editor, a month before the book's publication, Tender Is the Night had gone through seventeen versions, twelve of them done before the proofs were revised. All the material, carefully stored by Fitzgerald, who kept everything he wrote, filled seven big cartons, which are now in the Princeton University library. It includes the three major concepts of the book worked out over the years. First there is Our Type, composed of three chapters set in Rome and on the Riviera; the same version reworked, beginning in 1926, as a first-person narrative under a variety of titles, The Boy Who Killed His Mother, The MelarkyCase, The World Fair, which lengthened it to four chapters and located the characters in Paris. A third refashioning of the same theme was developed in 1930, with the narrator eliminated.
The 1929 Kelly version, untitled, consisted of two long chapters introducing Rosemary and her mother and Nicole and Lew Kelly, who would reappear, thinly disguised, in “One Trip Abroad.”
Finally, the Diver version begun in 1932 introduced the theme of insanity combined with the alcoholism already used in the earlier attempts. This early material, polished and repolished, was used in the first part of the novel; parts two and three were entirely written in the eighteen months Fitzgerald lived in La Paix, although they were studded with lines and paragraphs taken from at least twenty-four short stories and essays published in magazines since 1925. When, in mid-March, he completed his revision of Tender Is the Night, he was, as he later told Ober, “in the black hole of Calcutta, mentally exhausted, physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted, and perhaps, morally exhausted.”
Fitzgerald was still hoping against hope that his new novel would restore his standing as a first-rank writer. His reputation had faded since Gatsby; except to a few faithful followers he was now considered merely a hack, a mercenary who exploited and wasted his talent. The first letters he received were enthusiastic: he had recovered his genius, exceeded the promise shown in Gatsby. Messages of admiration and encouragement flowed in. His peers and friends were unanimous: Tender Is the Night was his best book. Only two sour notes were heard in the chorus of praise, but they came from people who were dearest to his heart. The Murphys, to whom the book was dedicated (“To Gerald and Sara—Many Fetes”), did not like the book, for obvious personal reasons, although they recognized its fine literary qualities. And Ernest remained stubbornly silent. Perkins reassured him on this score, however, by forwarding a letter he had received from Hemingway: “It's amazing how excellent much of it is. Much of it is better than anything else he ever wrote. How I wish he would have kept on writing. Is it really all over or will he write again?”
A strange question from someone who had pronounced the book “excellent.”
Although it lingered two or three weeks on the best-seller list (at the tail end, to be sure), the novel did not sell well—fewer than 12,000 copies during the season; its career ended before the year did. The blow shook Fitzgerald; he had counted on more than mere critical success. His royalties did not begin to cover his advances from Scribner's. He was $12,000 in debt and Zelda's costs at Craig House were running at least $750 a month. Despite the certain commercial failure of his book, however, he reacted with amazing energy given the state of physical and moral decrepitude to which he had been reduced by the trials and ceaseless effort of the previous two years.
He went to work immediately, and from April to December 1934, he wrote a short story a month, except in June, when a nervous collapse complicated by delirium tremens put him in a New York hospital for a week. In May he suggested a series of possibilities to Perkins for the collection of stories Scribner's traditionally published after the appearance of each of his novels; one was to intersperse stories already included in previous volumes with a few new pieces; or to assemble everything he had written on Basil and Josephine in a single book; or a collection of some fifteen stories chosen from among the forty or so he had written since 1926. Fitzgerald also considered a fourth possibility: pulling together all his autobiographical writings of the past several years, a total of around 60,000 words. He finally settled for the usual formula after Perkins rejected the idea of an anthology.
He could not simply send stories from the Port and other magazines directly to the printer, however; he had to rework them carefully because he had used many bits from them in his novel, and some of the best of them had to be junked or, at least, partly rewritten to avoid repeating identical passages. Despite his vigilance, a careless printer allowed a description of the Parisian Place de la Concorde used in Tender Is the Night to appear in “Babylon Revisited” along with the description of the Avenue de l'Opera that Fitzgerald had written to substitute for it. Work on Taps at Reveille dragged on because Fitzgerald was writing new stories at the same time. “My plan,” he explained, “was to do my regular work in the daytime and do one story every night, but as it works out, after a good day's work I amso exhausted that I drag out the work on a story to two hours when it should be done in one and go to bed so tired and wrought up, toss around sleepless, and am good for nothing next morning…”
That year's three best-sellers were all historical novels, led by Anthony Adverse, by one Hervey Allen. In April 1934, stung by critics who remarked that he had written only about the rich, and convinced that he had to renew his manner and his material, Fitzgerald considered writing a historical novel, The Castle, to be set in the Middle Ages. This he saw as an ideal way to end the conflict between novels and short stories that had scarred his whole career. He would design the chapters of his new novel as short stories that he could sell as they were written, a little like the way he had turned out Tender Is the Night.
Disappointment came quickly: the first story, “In the Darkest Hour,” conceived as the first link in a chain of eleven chapters, was refused by every magazine but Redbook, which bought it at half the price the Post usually paid. Discouraged, Fitzgerald laid the project aside until the autumn, when he wrote three further episodes. He knew that he was wasting his time and money, however, and he spent only ten hours on each of them, including the time for the historical research they required; the results were predictable: botched work that Redbook accepted reluctantly. The last of the three, in fact, was bought but never printed. Nine months after its inception, the shining idea flickered out.
In general, the quality of Fitzgerald's stories continued to decline, and he knew it. Of the nine he wrote that year, only three were accepted by the Post, which now dropped its price to $3,000. His by-line would soon cease to be a talisman that drew bids from rival editors. Only Esquire, founded in 1933, was still wide open to him; its editor, Arnold Gingrich, was an old admirer of his and bought everything Fitzgerald sent him. Unfortunately, Esquire did not pay well—$2,000 to $3,000 for stories that, true enough, were much shorter than those required by the big magazines and were not subject to the dictates of convention and editorial intrigue. Despite its giddy makeup and the pictures of scantily clad women it featured, the magazine was aimed at a more eclectic and cultivated readership than the Post's, for example, which flattered the tastes and prejudices of the average American. Any subject, any treatment went in Esquire. In 1934 Fitzgerald sold it two of Zelda's autobiographical sketches, “Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number—” and “Auction—Model 1934,” which ran under their double by-line; they dealt with the hallucinations caused by her insomnia and anticipated the big introspective essays of 1936. They were short, easily written, and allowed Zelda to express herself as an adult and an artist, as in her novels.
Three weeks after Zelda entered Craig House, an exhibit of thirteen of her paintings and fifteen drawings opened in a gallery on Eighty-sixth Street in New York owned by their friend Cary Ross. She was allowed to leave Beacon for a day, accompanied by a nurse, to attend the opening onMarch 29. Most of the guests were friends—the Murphys, Dorothy Parker and Max Perkins, among others—and the few paintings sold went to intimates. Sara Murphy paid $200 for a Chinese Theater, which Time described as “a gnarled mass of acrobats” and which Gerald spoke of as “monstrous, hideous men, all red with swollen intertwining legs. They were obscene … figures out of a nightmare, monstrous and morbid.” Mrs. Parker chose Arabesque, a self-portrait of Zelda as a ballerina, and The Cornet Player, one of the two portraits shown of Scott; the other portrayed him wearing a crown of thorns.
Fitzgerald remained in New York to await the release of his novel, scheduled for April 12, staying at the Hotel Algonquin, where a few of Zelda's paintings were being shown in the lobby. One evening he ran into James Thurber in a bar. Thurber had seen the show in the Ross gallery and had been struck by Zelda's portrait of Scott, “a sharp, warm, ironic study of her husband's handsome and sensitive profile which she had called 'Scott in Thorns.'” He had not met Fitzgerald until then and found him “witty, forlorn, pathetic, romantic, worried, hopeful and despondent… He thought of his talent as something that could be lost, like his watch, or mislaid like his hat, or slowly depleted, like his bank account, but in his last year there it still was, perhaps surer and more mature than it had been before.”
Around 3 a.m. Scott asked Thurber if he knew “a good girl” they could call on. Thurber got an actress he knew out of bed and the two men went to her apartment. Scott spent the rest of the night talking to the call girl and passing her countless catalogs of Zelda's exhibit. He was moved by his hostess's human qualities and, according to Thurber, made her the narrator of “The Night at Chancellorsville,” a story about a gentle prostitute who is dragged uncomprehendingly through the Civil War battle. Perplexed, Thurber accompanied Fitzgerald to his hotel at dawn. “This was the year,” he recalled, “that Fitzgerald made several pathetically futile attempts to interest himself in other women, in an effort to survive the mental and emotional strain of Zelda's recurring psychotic states.”
It was the period of Scott's brief affair with Dorothy Parker, a fleeting encounter between two wounded souls. He probably went into it more out of despair and she out of compassion than because of love or desire. “Dotty,” who had attempted suicide when her unhappy love affair with Charles MacArthur broke up, was just the person to understand Scott's loneliness and confusion.
While correcting his proofs, he found time to comfort and encourage a penniless, twenty-nine-year-old newspaperman who showed him the beginning of his first novel; thanks to Fitzgerald, John O'Hara was launched on his career that year with a resounding success, Appointment in Samara. After receiving a copy of Tender Is the Night, O'Hara wrote him an admiring letter. “You helped me finish my novel,” he said. “I finished it yesterday. The little we talked when you were in New York did it.” When he could, the young man took over from Thurber in the weeks that followed, keeping Fitzgerald company when he came to New York, bucking him up, going out on the town with him. In the Ledger is a remark for June 1934: “O'Hara—a wild night with him.” But O'Hara was married and not always available. June ended in an alcoholic haze at the Plaza with “the four Yale acrobats” and a “crazy week” with one of the women in the troupe.
When he returned to Baltimore, he collapsed and had to go into a hospital. Before he did, though, he sent Ober the manuscript of “New Types,” in which he used the confidences of his acrobat friend, drawing a deeply appealing portrait of her. She recognized herself in the story and signed one of her letters to Scott with the name of its heroine, Paula Jorgensen. A few days later, dried out and worried about his awesome collection of debts, he was staggered by the amount of the bill sent him by the Plaza.
Perkins watched these doings from a distance. When Fitzgerald was back on his feet, the editor intervened tactfully, introducing him to a distant cousin, Elizabeth Lemmon, whose reserve, grace and culture immediately attracted him. She lived in an old house in Welbourne, Virginia, near Middleburg, of Civil War fame. Fitzgerald formed the habit of spending weekends there, and an intimacy born of respect and tenderness grew up between them. The circle in which she moved was both progressive and backward-looking. Among her friends was Mary Rumsey, the daughter of railroad magnate Edward Harriman, a rival of J. J. Hill; she was a generous patron of the arts and a militant defender of the poor. There were also novelist James Boyd, who specialized in brushing historical frescoes, and Victor Calverton, the Marxist editor of The Modern Monthly magazine, which opposed Stalinism and viewed American history and culture from a sociological perspective. Perkins sometimes joined in these brief weekends; Thomas Wolfe, whose second novel they were carving out of a monumental mass of manuscript, accompanied Perkins on one occasion and spent a night at Welbourne. There Fitzgerald found all-too-brief interludes of peace. His interest in Southern history fed on the learned conversation there and on contact with the countless vestiges of the Old South he discovered in and around Welbourne. It was a sad day for him when, in November 1934, Elizabeth closed the house she could no longer afford to run and went to spend the winter with her family.
On May 19 Zelda left Craig House in critical condition. After the remission in which she was able to write her two autobiographical essays, she again relapsed into alternate states of hysteria and apathy. She was interned in the Enoch Pratt psychiatric hospital, near La Paix, where she was to spend the next two years. Those last two essays—no others would ever be published—were a farewell to her life with Scott. In “Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number----” she drew up a nostalgic catalog of the hotel rooms theyoccupied from their marriage in 1920 until their final trip to Bermuda in 1933. “Auction—Model 1934” was an inventory of the few possessions the couple had accumulated over the years, most of which were to be sold at a mock auction; everything was broken, flawed, useless; the objects' only value was in the memories, both intact and eroded, that they stirred, like the “many impressive photographs of old and very dear friends whose names we have forgotten.” After sorting out these relics of the past, she finds that, really, nothing can be auctioned: “We shall keep it all—the tangible remnant of the four hundred thousand we made from hard words and spent with easy ones these fifteen years. And the collection, after all, is just as valuable now as the Polish and Peruvian bonds of our thriftier friends.”
One summer day, during one of the rare visits Scott was allowed with Zelda, they strolled along a local railroad track separating their former home from the hospital grounds. She had wanted to go there. “It seems rather Proustian to be rambling these deep shades again so close to La Paix,” she wrote in a letter to him. “It makes me sad.” She heard a train approaching, broke away from Scott and darted toward the track. He dragged her back moments before the train sped by. This was not her only suicide attempt. She had given up hope of recovering and was burrowing into her illness, refusing to communicate with anyone but Scott, to whom she wrote to reiterate her love for him: “There is no way to ask you to forgive me for the missery and pain which I have caused you. I can only ask you to believe that I have done the best I could and that since we first met I have loved you with whatever I had to love you with.” Heartrending little entries in Fitzgerald's notes testify to his anguish and his impotence, such lines as “I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda's sanitorium.”
A slight improvement did occur, however, raising the hope that she could spend Christmas at home. Gertrude Stein was making a triumphal tour out of her first trip to the United States in thirty years. In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, published the previous year, she had spoken warmly of Fitzgerald. When she went through Baltimore, he sent her a facetious invitation: “I have a small but efficient establishment here and would be more than delighted to give you lunch alone, dinner alone, lunch alone and a group of your choosing, dinner alone and a group of your choosing, lunch alone and a group of my choosing…” She had tea with Zelda and Scott on the day before Christmas. He asked Zelda to show her paintings and, without consulting her, told Miss Stein to take the ones she liked. Zelda refused to let her take the two she chose because she had promised them to her doctor. Scott tried to persuade her that once the paintings were hung in Miss Stein's Rue de Fleurus apartment, Zelda would be famous, but she refused to budge and the Pythia of letters had to make do with two other paintings.
A few days later he wrote to her thanking her for her visit. “It meant so much to Zelda,” he said, “giving her a tangible sense of her own existence, for you to have liked two of her pictures enough to want to own them … everyone felt their Christmas Eve was well spent in the company of your handsome face … and sentences 'that never leak.'”
The year 1935 began badly. In January Fitzgerald noted in his Ledger: “Scotty sick… Work and worry. Sickness and debt. Zelda seems less well.” Then, in February, “Very sick. Debts terrible.” In March, “Zelda very bad on return.” Elizabeth joined him in Baltimore, but her presence irritated him. He had not had a vacation since the unfortunate trip to Bermuda a year earlier, and now he needed a rest. “I have honestly tried to stick it out to the end,” he explained to Ober in a letter on February 1, “… but even that hasn't any point any more, because I am half crazy with illness and worry, and in a state where each aggravation only adds to the accumulation of anxiety, strain, self-pity, or what have you.” Two days later he left for Tryon, in the North Carolina hills, where he moved into Oak Hall, a comfortable hotel on a height overlooking the town's main street.
There he met a distinguished group of residents, including historian Charles Beard and novelist Margaret Culkin Banning, a fellow Minnesotan. He was immediately attracted to Nora and Maurice Flynn, a couple who reminded him a bit of the Murphys. Like Sara, Nora had been brought up to wealth and social prominence. Born a Langhorne, in a Virginia family noted for the number and beauty of its women, she had two internationally famous older sisters. One was Irene Gibson, the model for the Gibson Girl whom her husband, painter Charles Gibson, imposed on America in 1896 as the prototype of feminine grace; the other was the socially and politically active Nancy, Lady Astor, the first woman ever to occupy a seat in Britain's House of Commons, to which her husband arranged her election in 1919 when he entered the House of Lords. Two years Fitzgerald's senior, Nora Flynn had lived an adventurous life before settling down to reign over Tryon. She was a radiant forty, dressed elegantly, brimmed with vitality and wit.
Maurice Flynn, like Murphy a Yale alumnus, had been the kind of person Fitzgerald most admired, an athletic hero at college. He had acted in silent movies and had been a flying ace in the war. Like the Murphys, the Flynns were a cosmopolitan couple who entertained famous actors and musicians; like them, too, but with more vivacity and less constraint, they gaily adopted impromptu roles at the slightest provocation. No liquor was served in the Flynn home; Maurice—his nickname was Lefty—had been a dipsomaniac and Nora, a Christian Scientist, had cured him after their marriage in 1931. She took a liking to Fitzgerald and tried, quietly and without scolding, to help him swear off drinking. His Ledger records a resolution to go “on the wagon for all liquor and alcohol on Thursday 7th (or Wed. 6th at8:30 p.m.).” He soon had the run of Little Orchard, the Flynns' home, where he enjoyed the happiest and most relaxed hours he had spent in years.
Fitzgerald was short of ideas for stories, and in the Flynns' lives he found a ready-made subject for a story. The one that resulted from his conversations with Nora, “The Intimate Stranger,” in which he called her Sara, shows how much his talent had lost of power and persuasiveness when it was forced into the conventional mold of mass-media fiction. His material could have been used for a novel, but it was not purified, simplified, linked within a thematic line that kept the dramatic interest rising until the end, as the rules of the art required. Instead, he merely accumulated details and incidents in a kind of monotonous review.
When he returned to Baltimore in March, he learned of Lois Moran's marriage to a high official in Washington. He met Sara Murphy, despondent over the sudden death of her son Baoth. Thomas Boyd, Fitzgerald's old friend from St. Paul, was also dead, of a brain tumor. In April Scott broke with Elizabeth, who left Baltimore. Zelda's condition had worsened. Scott began drinking again, which reactivated the lesion on his lung. His doctor examined his X-ray plates, warned him that the drinking would kill him if he kept it up and recommended a specialist in Asheville, North Carolina, near Tryon. Fitzgerald began commuting between the two cities, making occasional trips to New York, where, at the end of June, he spent a weekend with Mickey Mouse.
Back in Asheville on July 3, he encountered two women who were to be important to him in the weeks that followed. He had met them early in June while living at the Grove Park Inn, a luxury hotel on a wooded hill overlooking the city. The first, Laura Guthrie Hearne, would succeed Isabel Owens as secretary, governess and confidante. When he met her, she was swathed in oriental finery, wore a turban and earned her living by telling the fortunes of rich hotel clients. The pseudo-Gypsy was in fact a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, who was in the process of divorcing her husband and who had custody of a son a little younger than Scottie. In a long account of that summer of 1935 she told of her first meetings with Fitzgerald, who tried to seduce her while she read his palm. He had just finished a story in which a fortune-teller figured, and he invited Laura to dinner to show her the manuscript. But his attempt at seduction was defeated by the amount of beer he drank at dinner; he was not used to the stuff, and it made him sleepy. When she left, he was snoring on the divan.
Mrs. Guthrie's highly detailed report is one of the few to show Fitzgerald as seducer, exerting his charm, betraying his impulsive need to be loved and admired. She had no illusions about his real feelings toward her. “He kept looking at me so lovingly with his large bluish-green eyes,” she recounted. “He told me how my voice had attracted him at the first, and then he felt something queer when we met for he knew that we were going to loveeach other. He drank his ale and loved me with his eyes, and then with his lips, for he said, 'I love you Laura.' I told him that it was nice to see he had a sense of humor, for I had too.”
That first day together had lighted a fire in her that was doused the next evening when she saw him in equally intense courtship of a young married woman vacationing at the hotel with her younger sister. Fitzgerald's new flame was conquered at once, and the idyll developed under the half-bitter, half-ironic gaze of a Laura who was thrust into the background. Fitzgerald had no intention of pursuing the affair because he had already gotten what he wanted from it: testimony that he existed, that someone believed in him, that he could attract a beautiful young woman. Beatrice, a blond Southern beauty, had charm and breeding that were only accentuated by an oddly British lisp. She had been married for eleven years and had never before betrayed her husband. But she had read Tender Is the Night and she viewed Fitzgerald as Rosemary had Dick Diver, with fervent, loving eyes.
This carried him back five years to Lausanne, where Bijou O'Connor had succeeded Miss Moran in confirming his self-image. In his files, under the heading “descriptions of Girls,” he noted a “Tremendous resemblance between Bijou and Beatrice.” A little farther along he said: “I am astonished sometimes by the fearlessness of women, the recklessness—like Nora, Zelda, Beatrice—in each case it's partly they are all three spoiled babies who never felt the economic urge on their shoulders. But it's heartening when it stays this side of recklessness. In each case I've had to strike a balance and become the cautious petit bourgeoise after, in each case, throwing them off their initial balance.”
When he returned to Asheville on July 3, Beatrice went on the offensive, laying siege to him. The seducer was caught in his own trap; the pursuer pursued, hunted, tracked into his very suite. In June he had asked Laura to go to the movies with him to keep him away from drinking for a couple of hours. Now he shut himself up in his room with her, ostensibly to dictate his letters to her, but in fact to postpone the moment when he would be alone with Beatrice. As soon as Laura left to tell the fortunes of the hat-makers holding a convention in the hotel, Beatrice forced her way into the room of her hangdog Don Juan. Laura contemplated with detachment the ravages of love: “He says that she is terribly passionate, almost a nymphomaniac. What a curse that would be.”
Two days later the inevitable happened. Fitzgerald went down to the lobby, sat Laura down beside the fire roaring in the vast stone fireplace and confessed. “She did it all,” he said. “I was disappointed when it happened, it was just a repetition of so many other times. I am just an old roue.” At such moments he felt closer to Laura than to Beatrice and regretted that his fortune-teller showed no signs of jealousy, that she was now completely inaccessible.
He played the game nevertheless, and when Beatrice's husband came tojoin her on July 14 and Fitzgerald had to take leave of her, he realized that he had fallen in love with her. She wanted to throw everything over and run away with him. They could live together at the end of the earth on her private fortune. Fitzgerald refused because he could not desert Zelda; he was miserable when Beatrice left Grove Park with her husband and her sister Eleanor for Highlands, seventy-five miles away, but as far as he was concerned, the affair was over.
She did not see it that way. She wrote to him several times a day. Laura, who now functioned as Fitzgerald's secretary, knew his secrets and played the Marquise de Merteuil to Fitzgerald's Valmont, except that the problem here was not to seduce a woman but to get rid of one. She read the letters, filed them and listened to her employer's complaints of persecution. Eleanor fell ill and Beatrice insisted on going with her to Asheville; while her husband played golf under the windows of the Grove Park Inn, she rushed to Scott's room. A treatment lasting several days was ordered for Eleanor, and Beatrice stayed on to keep her company while the husband returned to Highlands. The whole hotel knew about the romance; the hall porter was told not to put telephone calls from Highlands through to the ladies' room, on the pretext that Eleanor was too ill to be disturbed. On one occasion, when the husband insisted on speaking to his wife, a bellboy was sent to Scott's room to warn her, and it was there that she took the call. Eleanor, with whom Beatrice shared a room, was beginning to make a fuss because of her sister's long absences and her public demonstrations of love for Scott. And what if Beatrice's husband were to appear unexpectedly?
His nerves shattered, Fitzgerald sneaked out of the hotel after explaining his plan to Laura and hid out in total solitude for three days at a mountain lake. From there he stopped in Asheville only long enough for Laura to bring his luggage to the station; then he took the first train for Baltimore. It was Zelda's birthday, but he hadn't the courage to see her, so he continued on to New York.
He was back in Asheville on August 3, and Beatrice, more passionate than ever, joined him at the Royal Hotel. He forgot all about flight. Since his presence in Asheville put Eleanor into a fit of nerves, they tried to avoid her. Asheville's hotels became the scenes of a game of hide-and-seek; registered under false names, Fitzgerald flitted from room to room, sometimes with Laura, sometimes with Beatrice. Eleanor spent one whole night trying to trace her sister and her lover; she got drunk and fell asleep on the Grove Park golf course, where she was found the next morning and taken to her room. She felt personally responsible for her elder sister's disgraceful escapade and bewildered by its passion. Her already delicate health deteriorated, and her relationship with the lovers took on a pathological edge. Certainly she was attracted to Scott, but she blamed Beatrice, not him; “Scott is a very weak person,” she declared. “I have nothing against him, but he is so selfish and like a weak drowning person and he is grabbing at [Beatrice]like a straw… But if he is to be saved someone will have to go on helping him.” Was this a role in which she saw herself?
Laura, meanwhile, was busy inventing lies to explain Beatrice's absences both to Eleanor and to her husband, who was forever phoning from Texas. She felt as though she were having a great love affair by proxy and was apparently an enthusiastic confidante. “August,” she noted, “has been a hot month so far—in every way! If I ever have to live through more excitement in a short time … I hope I will be able to endure it. For this has been night and day and actions and strange experiences that do not come frequently in a lifetime. I have long wanted not to be an actor in the drama of life but to be on the outskirts … seeing everything but not being the principal actor—mainly perhaps because I am afraid of being hurt. Well, that is the way it has been. I have even had a deciding influence on the lives of those who were the principal actors,”
That was indeed her role throughout the summer, a supporting player attentively ad-libbing on the star's cues, stepping between him and Beatrice when he asked her to, or smoothing the way to a meeting, relaying an angry husband's phone messages and mollifying him with lies, consoling Scott, comforting Beatrice, babying Eleanor. She was the only person to maintain good relations with all four principals, all of whom considered her their ally. A tireless female Harlequin, she bounded from her bed like a jack out of its box when the phone rang; she was always there in a pinch, always available, at midnight or at dawn, always ready to fish a fresh alibi from her bag of tricks. When the stars cracked up, one after the other, and collapsed around her, she kept going, drunk with emotion, feeding on passion by proxy.
The situation worsened; the tension became intolerable. Scott was not eating, and he slept only a few hours a night. Eleanor charged that Scott tried to seduce her. She refused to consult a psychiatrist, and a nurse was hired to keep constant watch over her. Beatrice went to pieces and phoned her husband in tears. He flew to Asheville with a Dr. Cole, the family doctor Eleanor insisted on seeing. Scott expected, and dreaded, a showdown; he kept a can opener on his table as a defensive weapon if he was attacked. He spoke to the physician, won his confidence, told him the whole story, confessed his fears and his determination to meet violence with violence.
The crisis passed without hostilities coming into the open. A day later, on August 8, Fitzgerald again packed his bags to leave Asheville. He called Cole to announce his decision and was told that on the doctor's advice, Beatrice, her husband and her sister had left early that morning. Scott, Laura reported, shouted, wept and ranted. The adventure was over, as he had so often wished, but now he could not bear the separation.
Beatrice continued to phone him and to write heartrending letters. Both sisters were hospitalized and the husband suffered a critical heart attack.
Even then, Scott was not out of the woods. A few days later he noticedsuspicious spots on his chest and legs. He was sure it was syphilis contracted on his last trip to New York, and he was horrified at the thought that he might have infected Beatrice. He considered suicide, but changed his mind: killing himself would invalidate his life insurance. He wrote to Dr. Cole, warning him of this new horror and asking his advice. Then he worked up the courage to see a doctor—under a false name—in a city some distance from Asheville. When he phoned two days later to learn the results of the tests and was told that he did not have syphilis after all, he was too weak even to rejoice. “I would like a blank period in my life,” he told Laura. “I have suffered too much and too long. I'd like not to feel for a while, and I'm tired of life.”
Fitzgerald now bitterly regretted the six weeks he had wasted; he saw the disorder in his life as symptomatic of a more general crisis. “Everyone is turning to sex,” he informed Laura. “It is in the air, as is the case always before great catastrophes.” He tried to cut down on his beer intake—he had been swilling as many as thirty-seven bottles a day—which kept him from eating properly and made him logy. In a letter to James Boyd, he cynically summed up his idyll: “I have just emerged not totally unscathed, I'm afraid, from a short violent love affair. … I had done much better to let it alone because this was scarcely a time in my life for one more emotion. Still it's done now and tied up in cellophane and—and maybe someday I'll get a chapter out of it. God, what a hell of a profession to be a writer.” He was, in any event, vigorous enough to write a radio skit that brought him $700 and to finish a short story, but when he left Asheville for Baltimore on September 29, his physical condition, under the stress of the summer's excitement, was worse than it had been when he arrived there. Back he went into the hospital.
There he found the “blank period” he sought, a holiday from care, temporary abdication of his responsibilities. Before he left Asheville, he had written to Ober of his weariness of life: “If I would only die, at best she [Scotty] and Zelda would have the Life Insurance and it would be a general good riddance, but it seems as if life had been playing some long joke with me for the last eight months and can't decide when to leave off.” Now what had been a purgatory haunted by nurses and doctors became a sanctuary where he could stop struggling—though not long enough to forget his troubles completely, to forget that even this fleeting blankness had to be paid for. Hospitals, on which Tender Is the Night had already focused, became just another subject, to be milked as quickly as possible. The only story he sold to the Post that year, “Zone of Accident,” picked up the setting and characters from “One Interne,” which had opened the series in 1932. Here again is the huge, livid statue looming in the hospital lobby, “a gigantic Christ [gesturing] in marble pity over the entrance hall.” It would appear again in “Trouble,” the last of his stories the Post would buy,looking more like the statue of the Commander in Don Juan than it did like the Redeemer.
The respite for Fitzgerald was brief. Scottie returned from the vacation she had spent with the Obers and he had to take charge of her again. He left the hospital after a five-day stay, left his daughter with Mrs. Owens while he looked for a new home, a cheaper and less spacious place, since Zelda seemed condemned to internment for life. He sent news of himself to Laura: Scottie had appeared “like a sun goddess … all radiant and glowing”; Zelda was a little better, needed only one nurse now and was no longer obsessed with suicide. “It was wonderful to sit with her head on my shoulder for hours and feel as I always have even now, closer to her than to any other human being. This is not a denial of other emotions—Oh, you understand.”
He rented an apartment in the Cambridge Arms, an apartment building facing Johns Hopkins University with windows giving on the campus. Living with Scottie was not always easy. She was fourteen now, with a fully formed personality and an independent spirit that was beginning to give her father new cause for alarm. Even these cares were recycled, packaged and offered for sale. Exploiting his situation, he offered CBS a ten-minute serial, to be aired once a week for thirteen weeks, about a father's trials with his rebellious daughter. When this was turned down, he tried to work the idea into material for the Post, hoping to write a series of stories about Gwen, his young heroine, comparable with the Josephine series.
But Fitzgerald's luck remained stubbornly bad, and writing came hard. The manuscripts he sent Ober were incoherent, even illegible; the agent wept one day when he showed a visitor beer-stained pages covered with undecipherable corrections. Fitzgerald wore himself down trying to reconquer the magazine market. Even the stuff he sent Gingrich for Esquire was unusable. To top it all off, his neighbor at the Cambridge Arms was a pianist whose arpeggios were all too audible through the thin walls. One morning in November he gave Scottie a ten-dollar bill, told Mrs. Owens he was placing his daughter in her care and, with no luggage, drove out of Baltimore.
He headed South, pulling up six hundred miles later in Hendersonville, a small town near Asheville, where he took a two-dollar-a-day room in a third-rate hotel called the Skyland. “I arrived here weak as hell, got the grippe and spat blood again (1st time in 9 months) and took to bed for six days,” he reported to Ober. Broke, absolutely alone, he completed his first story about Gwen Bowers, the thirteen-year-old girl “too cute for words,” through whom he hoped to revive the propositions he had made to the Post.
Fitzgerald still had the courage to view his situation with irony. “Money again rears its ugly head,” he commented in his letter to Ober. “I am getting accustomed to poverty and bankruptcy (in fact for myself I rather enjoywashing my own clothes and eating 20 cent meals twice a day, after so many years in the flesh pots)—don't worry, this is only half true though I did it for the 1st week here to penalize myself for the expense of the journey. But I do object to the jails and I have almost $200 due on income tax the 15th (what a typically modern joke this is—me, with $11 in the bank at the moment).”
This might have been an oblique way to tap Ober for a loan, but the same details and the same detachment recur in a note in his files: “It was fun to be poor—especially when you haven't enough liver power for an appetite. But the air is fine here and I liked what I had—and there was nothing to do about it anyhow because I was afraid to cash any checks and I had to save enough for postage for the story. But it was funny coming into the hotel and the very deferential clerk not knowing that I was not only thousands, nay tens of thousands in debt, but had less than 40 cents cash in the world and probably a $13 deficit at my bank… Nevertheless I haven't told you the half of it, i.e., my underwear, I started with a pair of pajama pants—just that. … I washed my two handkerchiefs and my shirt every night, but the pajama trousers I had to wear all the time and I am presenting it to the Hendersonville Museum.”
He lived on the proceeds from an essay he wrote soon after reaching Hendersonville and sold directly to Esquire on November 18 for $200. Gingrich, who had published three short short stories at the beginning of the year, had met with Fitzgerald in Baltimore and asked him for more contributions. Scott had confessed that, at the moment, he could not write a word. Knowing he was broke, Gingrich had urged him to submit anything at all—anything that would justify the sending of a check. Even a dozen pages covered with “I can't write” five hundred times could go down in the records as a manuscript from Fitzgerald. Scott then agreed to write everything he could about the fact that he couldn't write.
And this is precisely what he did in Hendersonville. What he sent was “The Crack-Up.”
This was the first of a series of three articles he wrote in the late autumn of 1935 in the confessional tone of the 1933 “One Hundred False Starts” and of “Sleeping and Waking,” published in 1934. Others were to follow in 1936—“Afternoon of an Author,” “Author's House,” “An Author's Mother,” also based on his recent experience, written in a minor tone of disabused lucidity and assumed despair. The end of “Sleeping and Waking,” about his insomnia while he was writing Tender Is the Night, anticipated the tone of “The Crack-Up,” his middle-of-the-night anguish when memory and remorse overwhelmed him. “Waste and horror—what I might have been and done that is lost, spent, gone, dissipated, unrecapturable. I could have acted thus, refrained from this, been bold where I was timid, cautious where I was rash.” This was the soul's night, metaphysical solitude, the moment of truth. “What if this night prefigured the night afterdeath—what if all thereafter was an eternal quivering on the edge of an abyss, with everything base and vicious in oneself urging one forward and the baseness and viciousness of the world just ahead. No choice, no road, no hope—only the endless repetition of the sordid and the semi-tragic. Or to stand forever, perhaps, on the threshold of life unable to pass it and return to it. I am a ghost now as the clock strikes four.”
This afterlife foretasted, this nether world that coexisted with everyday life—this was the pale purgatory in which Fitzgerald gyrated during those years of grief. In “Afternoon of an Author” he described himself as a cautious old man, a sick man living on borrowed time. Before getting up from his desk (“I'm just stale—I shouldn't have touched a pencil for two days”), he stares at his reflection in a mirror: “The perfect neurotic… By-product of an idea, slag of a dream.” He makes a celebration out of a bus ride on a sunny April day, as though he were leaving on vacation, just a spectator of the world who is suddenly, fleetingly reincarnated, revived by the sight of beauty: “There were suddenly brightly dressed girls, all very beautiful—he thought he had never seen such beautiful girls … dressed in real colors all the way from six to thirty, no plans or struggles in their faces, only a state of sweet suspension, provocative and serene. He loved life terribly for a minute, not wanting to give it up at all.” But this puff of vitality worries him, and the next line—“He thought perhaps he had made a mistake in coming out so soon”—brings him back to his feeling of precariousness, of being a visitor from the beyond.
The brief, shattering understanding that the world still existed and that living in it was good lends poignancy to the fragments published in Esquire. “The Lost Decade,” run in the magazine four years later, may be the one that most intensely conveys the particularity of what might be called the Lazarus look. It's the story of an architect who resurfaces after a ten-year drunk. When he returns among the living, he is asked what he wants to see in New York and he replies: “Well—the back of people's heads … Their necks—how their heads are joined to their bodies. I'd like to hear what those two little girls are saying to their father. Not exactly what they're saying but whether the words float or submerge, how their mouths shut when they've finished speaking. Just a matter of rhythm … The weight of spoons, so light.” When his guide suggests they visit a skyscraper he designed ten years earlier, he refuses and insists, with the obstinacy of a man who by a miracle has rediscovered the world of men, on concentrating his attention on the lowly but fundamental details of daily life: “I wouldn't ever be able to see it now. I simply want to see how people walk and what their clothes and shoes and hats are made of. And their eyes and hands. Would you mind shaking hands with me?” The lyricism of the days of The Great Gatsby is gone, but there is the sense of wonder that a visitor from another planet would feel.
When the reader emerges from this rediscovery of naked reality perceived in its original freshness, he, like the architect's guide, begins to doubt his own existence. He too feels a need to finger the cloth he is wearing, to heft a glove in his hand, to run his hand over the grain of the stone in a skyscraper that, until then, had been as abstract as a symbol. Such is the power of Fitzgerald's imagination—never so alive as during those dead years —to make people see and feel the world with senses sharpened by the nearness of the void. “The sense of things, the feel of things, the hint of rain in the wind on the cheek,” these are what subsist of the great debacle: a sense of, and a fierce love of, life really lived.
Everything Fitzgerald did, privately and publicly, was a step in his search for this intense feeling of the newness of life. All his follies, his excesses were aimed at breaking through appearances to the heart of the mystery, at feeling himself live as though the world had just been created—or was about to disappear. And all his nostalgia centered on those wondrous times of childhood and youth when this feeling of strangeness gave every minute its specific value. Love, money, liquor were all ways for him to alter his field of vision, to make way for the unpredictable, to regain that lost innocence, even if this meant he had to concede the erosion of his senses, even if the unheard-of grew commonplace, even if he had to cheat in his search for reality—the unprecedented event, its strangeness fully recognized and felt.
His inability to survive this acceleration of his mission is reflected in his writing. Each novel, every story was meant as a trap in which to capture something unprecedented. He recognized their futility: “The conjuror's hat was empty. To draw things out of it had long been a sort of sleight of hand, and now, to change the metaphor, I was off the dispensing end of the relief roll forever.”
It was when he thought he had nothing else to say that he found the subject destined for him, and when he was convinced he could no longer write that he developed a new style, sober and effective. For he no longer wrote to please. He stopped worrying about his readers. No more entertainments; he went for what was essential—and it came to him: what he was, what he had become, what his illusions had made of him, the breach, the crack-up that estranged him from himself and others.
“The Crack-Up”: the title suggests the dismemberment of an empire, the failure of an enterprise, the Wall Street crash, as well as a nervous breakdown. This in turn evokes the personal moral bankruptcy that follows from a mass depression. Joy in life was, after all, merely a passing, exceptional state. “It was not the natural thing but the unnatural—unnatural as the Boom; and my recent experience parallels the wave of despair that swept the nation when the Boom was over.” Depression, breakdown, crack-up: a single moral reality. Word and concept are so compelling that Fitzgerald had to coin a word for a macabre title given to one of the countless lists of the vanquished scattered through his papers: “Necrology and Breakdownology.” These lists resound like an obsessive appeal to the dead, the suicides, the mentally ill who haunted his memory. On one page, for example, he drew a circle and around it wrote the names of the vanished, like so many ghosts invited to a funeral feast, Boyd, Lardner, Emily Vanderbilt, Mary Rumsey, Julian (the hero of “A New Leaf”) and others; presiding at this symbolic table is Zelda, the archfigure of the dispossessed.
It was not just his friends, the ones he listed, who filled the ranks of history's victims. The wreckage of a boom based on illusion and euphoria was matched by an inner ruin that showed itself in lost vitality, an exhaustion of nervous energy, universal pessimism and a morbid attraction to nothingness. Harry Crosby's suicide, the nervous breakdown of Edmund Wilson and many others had been preludes to a kind of general pathological crisis, as one of them, Carl Van Doren, noted in an essay called “Private Depression” when he remarked that “in the midst of the general depression each man had a depression of his own.” His experience resembled Fitzgerald's in many particulars. “The collapse of Wall Street,” he wrote, “did not at once affectme, and my income in 1930 was larger than in 1929, and in 1931 larger still. My own depression was far more than simple economics. It was surfeit and lethargy, soreness and inertness together.”
In the triptych of Fitzgerald essays called “The Crack-Up,” “Pasting It Together” and “Handle with Care,” each “panel” is a stage in the descent into hell by which he strove stubbornly to exorcise his despair.
This journey into darkness begins with a statement of the evidence that set the tone for what follows, as much by the sobriety and the effortlessly lapidary restraint of its style as by the categorical, irrefutable nature of what it says. “Of course all life is a process of breaking down”: its essence is contained in its opening line. Then, after a few observations on how this comes about, a second postulate is advanced: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” It was on this conviction that he built his career as a writer, in full knowledge that “the improbable, the implausible, often the 'impossible,' come true.” And the astounding conclusion, in the straight line of America's ideology: “Life was something you dominated if you were any good.”
This royal certainty seemed self-evident until the moment, which Fitzgerald placed in 1933, when a short circuit burned out the terminals. Suddenly, the power no longer flowed. He found himself the victim of a deep depression that, he says, affected his nervous system rather than his mind or body. This statement of his physical condition is to be taken cautiously. A letter he wrote in May 1935 to Gingrich puts it in focus: “As to health, the body has been gradually sliding toward annihilation for two years but the process didn't get acute until about six months ago, and when it did, it went fast. I was doing my stuff on gin, cigarettes, bromides, and hope.” He was careful to distinguish his case from that of journalist William Seabrook, whose book Asylum, an account of a seven-month cure for alcoholism in a New York psychiatric hospital, had just been published: “What led to his alcoholism or was bound up with it, was a collapse of his nervous system.” Fitzgerald denied that he was himself an alcoholic, “having at the time not tasted so much as a glass of beer for six months.” We know what that statement is worth too, but we remember the extreme tension of his life at La Paix while he was writing Tender Is the Night. “I began to realize,” he records, “that for two years my life had been drawing on resources that I did not possess, that I had been mortgaging myself physically and spiritually up to the hilt.”
He perceived that he was cut off from the things he loved, that he had to strain to perform the simplest acts, that he no longer liked to be with people, “but only followed the rickety old pretense of liking.” What was more, the categories of people he actively could not tolerate became legion, from blacks to British, politicians, even writers, “all the classes as classes and mostof them as members of their class…” He was comfortable only with doctors, children and the elderly. “All rather inhuman and undernourished, isn't it? Well, that, children, is the true sign of cracking-up.”
In summing up, he alludes, without naming her, to Nora Flynn as “a person whose life makes other people's lives seem like death—even this time when she was cast in the usually unappealing role of Job's comforter… 'Instead of being so sorry for yourself, listen—' she said… 'Suppose this wasn't a crack in you—suppose it was a crack in the Grand Canyon… The world only exists in your eyes—your conception of it. You can make it as big or as small as you want to. And you're trying to be a little puny individual. By God, if I ever cracked, I'd try to make the world crack with me.'”
But he could not do that, and this is the final indication of how great his crisis is. His vitality has deserted him and not even all of Nora's can help him, for vitality can neither be transmitted nor shared. In Gatsby, Nick remarks about the colorless Wilson, “it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. Wilson was so sick that he looked guilty, unforgivably guilty—as if he just got some poor girl with child.”
Fitzgerald, whose vitality was once as potent as Nora's and who had tried to bestow it on others, knew now that “vitality never 'takes.' You have it or you haven't it, like health or brown eyes or honor or a baritone voice.” He was cut off from the living: “I could walk from her door, holding myself very carefully like cracked crockery, and go away into the world of bitterness, where I was making a home with such materials as are found there— and quote to myself after I left her door:
“'Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?' Matthew 5:13.”
The rest of the verse is implicit: “it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
These references to Job and Matthew, along with Nora's advice to view the crack outside himself, to see it in its ideological origins, in the system, point two possible ways to broaden the importance of his personal crisis. But Fitzgerald rejects mysticism and heroism, an encounter with God, political struggle; he concludes the second essay, “Pasting It Together,” this way: “I have the feeling that someone, I'm not sure who, is sound asleep— someone who could have helped me to keep my shop open. It wasn't Lenin, and it wasn't God.” No new illusions will be admitted; the grandeur in his experience lies in his refusal to follow Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, in facing his crisis without the help of metaphysics.
In a sensitive essay on “The Crack-Up,” E. M. Cioran criticized Fitzgerald precisely for not being “loyal enough to his failure,” for not having “delved deeply enough into it or exploited it. His crisis did not lead him to mysticism or to final despair or to suicide, but to disabusement”; hence hecould not maintain himself “at the level of his tragedy [and so] cannot be counted as quality among the anxiety-ridden.” For Fitzgerald, “tottering among irreparable truths,” denied himself the luxury of a halo, saint's or martyr's. In the ridiculous crown of thorns Zelda planted on his head, it was as a man, with human means, humble and stubborn, that he tried to see himself clearly. Cioran had to admit that he did after all come to know the darkness and the void that his soul stubbornly rejected. “And instead of blessing that darkness as a source of revelation,” Goran said, “Fitzgerald damned it, assimilated it into his degradation and emptied it of its weight of knowledge. He went through a Pascalian experience without a Pascalian mind. Like all frivolous people, he dreaded going farther into himself. Yet destiny pushed him to it. He hated to extend his being to its limits, and he reached them despite himself.”
Cioran also criticized Fitzgerald for trying to write after recognizing the truth about himself. “It's a second-rate mind that cannot choose between literature and the 'true night of the soul.'” But did Fitzgerald know that the “literature” he was still trying to produce was a miserable absurdity, a vain effort to sell the only thing he had left to offer, but that nobody wanted— the lowest degree of shame and self-denigration?
Our perspective is righted by a comment from French writer Michel Deon, who views the situation from a point of view of literary creation: “… no one has ever read a more appalling confession than Scott Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up… This short, lucid and absurd essay is an admission of failure such as no other writer has ever dared to make. No one who has ever tried to write … can fail to feel concerned by such a confession… Fitzgerald thought he could not write anymore, except for these few pages finally analyzing—he supposed—his own impotence. But this very type of confession circuits back into literary creation. Carefully detailing everything that turned him away from magazine stories, and having given up novels, Fitzgerald raised his paralysis to the level of a work of art.”
In “Pasting It Together,” written after Fitzgerald's return to Baltimore-while, ironically, he was slaving to complete a second story in the Gwen series—he follows up the cracked-crockery episode. Picking up the thread of “Sleeping and Waking,” he lists his nighttime obsessions, gorges himself on his failures and humiliations, dropping out of Princeton, Zelda's refusal to marry him when he was poor, his relationships with the idle rich: “the man with the jingle of money in his pocket who married the girl a year later would always cherish an abiding distrust, an animosity, toward the leisure class—not the conviction of a revolutionist but the smouldering hatred of a peasant.”
He nursed this rancor toward the rich, who might, while he was still disqualified, have exercised “a sort of droit de seigneur … to give one ofthem my girl,” but he also worked as hard as he could “to share their mobility and the grace that some of them brought into their lives.” Now, however, he recognized the symptoms of inadequacy he had felt in 1916 and again in 1919, but this time they were incurable: “Only gradually did a certain family resemblance come through—an over-extension of the flank, a burning of the candle at both ends; a call upon physical resources that I did not command, like a man over-drawing at his bank. In its impact this blow was more violent than the other two but it was the same in kind—a feeling that I was standing at twilight on a deserted range, with an empty rifle in my hands and the targets down. No problem set—simply a silence with only the sound of my own breathing.”
This loneliness and anxiety crowded in upon him at night: “at three o'clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence … and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning… One is not waiting for the fade-out of a single sorrow, but rather being an unwilling witness of an execution, the disintegration of one's own personality…”
This was the terminus of his journey, the evaporation of his identity, the realization that his illusions about the man he had been were all vanished. He was no more than the sum of the influences to which he had been subjected, the men to whom he had entrusted the chore of thinking and acting for him: Wilson, whom he recognized as his intellectual conscience; Hemingway, his artistic conscience; a friend whose name he preferred to withhold (Sap Donahoe?), his moral conscience; Murphy, his aesthetic conscience in his relations with other people; and a young communist who was his political conscience. “So there was not an 'I' any more—not a basis on which I could organize my self-respect—save my limitless capacity for toil that it seemed I possessed no more.”
In the triptych's third panel, “Handle with Care,” he accepts his fundamental emptiness. He describes his flight to Hendersonville in a search for “absolute quiet to think out why I had developed a sad attitude toward sadness, a melancholy attitude toward melancholy and a tragic attitude toward tragedy—why I had become identified with the objects of my horror or compassion.” In other words, why he was now unable to accept his initial postulate, holding two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and continuing to function. His only out was to accept the schism between his self-image and what he had become. And, because he could not “slay the empty shell who had been posturing at it [fulfilling life's obligations] for four years,” he opted to identify with it, to disown the man inside it, to be wholly a writer, since that was the only way he could survive, to ignore everything but his work. As we shall see, he was anticipating the rule of life that Hemingway would recommend at the same period. And he concluded on a note that not even Ernest could have surpassed in cynicism and harshness: “the sign Cave Canem is hung permanently just above my door. I will try to be a correct animal though, and if you throw me a bone with enough meat on it I may even lick your hand.”
Fitzgerald thought he had successfully lopped off a part of himself: “I have now at last become a writer only. The man I had persistently tried to be became such a burden that I have 'cut him loose' with as little compunction as a Negro lady cuts loose a rival on Saturday night.” For he really did have to get rid of a rival, a pest, the whole sensitive, vulnerable, feminine side of him that he blamed for his illusions and his defeats. He had already begun his withdrawal four months earlier in a farewell letter to Beatrice and in his remarks to James Boyd concerning his love affair “wrapped in cellophane” to feed the writer's need of material.
He disposed of Beatrice, the living image of his own passionate nature, by loosing masculine hypocrisy on feminine impetuousness, applying the timorous and petit-bourgeois attitude he prescribed in his notes as his antidote to passion. It had made him “lose his head” and now it had to restore his equilibrium. The writer “cut loose” his love, his rival, by enclosing a heartrending letter from Zelda with his note to Beatrice. And he lectured her by citing Hemingway, the masculine exemplar of the hardness to which Fitzgerald aspired: “Your charm and the heightened womanliness that makes you attractive to men depends on what Ernest Hemingway once called … 'grace under pressure.' … when you let that balance become disturbed, don't you become just another victim of self-indulgence?— breaking down the solid things around you and, moreover, making yourself terribly vulnerable?” He was sending Zelda's letter, he said, so that Beatrice might understand that “You have an existence outside of me. I don't belittle your fine intelligence by supposing that anything written here need be said, but I thought maybe the manner of saying it might emphasize those old dull truths by which we live. We can't just let our worlds crash around us like a lot of dropped trays.”
These trays shattered on the ground prefigured his “cracked crockery” just as his farewell to Beatrice prefigured the farewell to himself contained in the three essays. Beatrice and Ernest, the sensitive man in him and the pitiless writer—the poles of the dilemma that he resolved by eliminating the first. It is useful now to return for a moment to Hemingway, to Fitzgerald's artistic conscience, because contrasts in their work supply the key to the period that opened with “The Crack-Up.”
When the three essays appeared, in February-April 1936, Hemingway was annoyed by their confessional nature and said as much to Dos Passos and Perkins. As early as May 1934, in a letter to Fitzgerald about Tender Is the Night, he had urged him to be stoical. “Forget your personal tragedy,” he had advised. “We are all bitched up from the start and you especiallyhave to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don't cheat with it. … You see, Bo, you're not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write… All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.”
Hemingway thought Fitzgerald had cheated in Tender Is the Night, especially in taking the Murphys as his starting point for the composite portrait of the Divers. This was his only comment on the novel. He had said nothing at all when the book came out, and after a month of this silence Fitzgerald had written to him, insisting on his opinion: “Did you like the book? For God's sake drop me a line and tell me one way or another. You can't hurt my feelings.” The answer, as we have seen, was not at all comforting. But Hemingway seemed to have changed his mind a year later and indicated this through Perkins, who he knew would relay the message. “A strange thing,” he wrote, “is that in retrospect his Tender Is the Night gets better and better.” By this time Fitzgerald considered their friendship finished, however. “Thanks for the message from Ernest,” he wrote Perkins. “I'd like to see him too and I always think of my friendship with him as being one of the high spots of life. But I still believe that such things have a mortality, perhaps in reaction to their very excessive life, and that we will never again see much of each other. I appreciate what he said about Tender Is the Night.” He had in fact refused an invitation the previous year to join Dos Passos on a deep-sea fishing party off Key West because he did not think the reunion with Hemingway would be opportune. In a note written at the end of his life, he recapitulated his last meetings with Hemingway: “Four times in eleven years (1929-1940). No real friendship since 1926,” noting that at least two years had elapsed between each meeting. He saw Hemingway only three or four times in the closing months of 1929, once in October 1931 before leaving for Montgomery with Zelda, again in January 1933, with Wilson, and twice in the early summer of 1937. On the last two occasions Hemingway was just back from Spain and was being hailed as a hero, and the meetings were casual.
In each of these reunions Fitzgerald felt inferior, off balance, and he took refuge in aggressiveness, flattery or silence, unable to talk to Hemingway as an equal. His admission to Wilson after the time when he had failed to connect with Hemingway is symptomatic: when dealing with Ernest, he said, he had no alternatives but sarcasm or obsequiousness. Gone were the mutual respect, the criticism accepted in a spirit of manly comradeship, the dirty jokes and burlesque remarks on the possible influence of one work on another, which had figured in their letters.
After 1929 the tone sharpened, the idea of rivalry lurked behind their discussion and the labored justifications provoked, for example, by a remark by Gertrude Stein about the nature of their different “flames,” in which Fitzgerald thought he was slighted. [During a visit to the Rue de Fleurus in 1929, Fitzgerald challenged Hemingway to explain how he “achieves his great moments.” Ernest replied, “When I have an idea, I turn down the flame, as if it were a little alcohol stove, as low as it will go. Then it explodes and that is my idea.” Apparently sensing Fitzgerald's irritation, Miss Stein remarked that his “flame” and Hemingway's were different, but Scott misinterpreted this to mean that she thought Hemingway's flame was superior. The incident is reported in James R. Mellow's biography of Miss Stein, Charmed Circle (New York: Avon, 1975), p. 332. (Translator's note.)] Impatience and condescension are evident from then on in Hemingway's stream of assurances. His comments to Perkins after the unfortunate 1933 meeting tell us a lot about his real feelings: his impatience had turned to genuine disdain for Fitzgerald's “damned bloody romanticism” and the “cheap Irish love of defeat” in his work. Hemingway's irritation was expressed in a series of brutal ad hominem comments that gained wide currency.
We recall how he had shown his gratitude to Sherwood Anderson for opening the doors of literary Paris to him in 1922, to Harold Loeb for helping Anderson persuade Liveright to publish his In Our Time: The Torrents of Spring had burlesqued Anderson's style, and The Sun Also Rises had exposed Loeb's private life, in the book's thinly veiled character of Cohn, to the ridicule of the American colony in Paris. At least Ernest had not mentioned them by name; however acid and cruel his mockery was, it remained allusive. But once Hemingway was established, Fitzgerald seemed to become his whipping boy. Even in The Torrents of Spring, Scott had been shown squatting drunkenly in his chimney fire, but the scene had not been vicious and other contemporary writers, including Dos Passos, had been named in the satire. In 1933 “Homage to Switzerland” appeared with sarcastic remarks about Fitzgerald and his university career. Two years later a passage in the manuscript of The Green Hills of Africa, dealing with the various forms of courage and their relationships with charm, referred to Fitzgerald as “a coward of great charm”; the remark was deleted before publication. It was an odd judgment and in bad taste; what gives it its spice is that Hemingway did not have the brass to include it in the printed version, but did leave in a passage that was equally offensive to Gertrude Stein. In the first chapter of Part Two he ponders an accusation of cowardice made against him by a woman whom he had once helped, he said, to find a publisher for her books and who had plagiarized his dialogue. The allusion was to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in which Stein made clear her low opinion of him: “Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson are very funny on the subject of H. … They admitted that he was yellow, he is, Gertrude Stein insisted, just like the flat-boat men on the Mississippi River as described by Mark Twain.”
Yet this was the year when Hemingway tried to renew his friendship with Fitzgerald, despite his indifference to Tender Is the Night the previous year. In a December 16, 1935, letter to Perkins he reiterated his remarkabout Fitzgerald's novel, and when he learned that Scott was going through a low period, he tried, in a letter to him a few days later, to revive the old joking tone. “If you really feel blue enough,” he said, “get yourself heavily insured and I'll see you can get killed … and I'll write you a fine obituary … and we can take your liver out and give it to the Princeton Museum, your heart to the Plaza Hotel, one lung to Max Perkins and the other to George Horace Lorimer.”
The funeral oration he did write for Fitzgerald appeared in the August issue of Esquire, four months after the magazine had run “Handle with Care.” This was Hemingway's long short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” It picks up the idea discussed in The Green Hills about the inability of American writers to develop harmoniously. Behind the narrative mask, the subject connects with “The Crack-Up”: a writer's degeneration. With the difference that Hemingway is more specific than Fitzgerald about the motivations that lead his spokesman, Harry, to destroy his talent: consorting with the rich, especially his marriage to Helen, whose fortune distracted him from his mission. Here are both the subject of Tender Is the Night and the introspective tone of the Fitzgerald essays: “Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and prejudice, by hook and by crook.”
But the confessional thread snaps abruptly. Harry reconsiders; he certainly is not going to collapse like Fitzgerald. “He had been contemptuous of those who wrecked. You did not have to like it because you understood it. He could beat anything, he thought, because nothing could hurt him if he didn't care.” “Poor Scott Fitzgerald” is cited as the prime example of a talent destroyed by a love of wealth and admiration of the rich. Hemingway mocked the fascination he said the wealthy held for Fitzgerald. The criticism is unfair coming from a man who associated as much as Fitzgerald did with the “rich” (weren't the Murphys, who denied they were rich but who were considered so by both men, their mutual friends?) and who had certainly profited more from their friendship than Scott had.
In the firm and dignified letter Fitzgerald sent him after reading the story, in which he asked that his name be removed when “The Snows” appeared in book form (“Julian” would replace the name Fitzgerald), he made his position clear: “Riches have never fascinated me, unless combined with the greatest charm or distinction.” When he wrote to Perkins about the incident his language was less restrained. He admitted he had always liked Ernest, but he seemed determined to react forthrightly if the attack was repeated. “One more crack,” he said, “and I think I would have to throw my weight with the gang and lay him [out]. No one could ever hurt him in his first books but he has completely lost his head and the duller he gets about it, the more he is like a punch-drunk pug fighting himself in themovies.” And in a letter to Beatrice Dance four days earlier he had given as his personal opinion (and not what he wanted Perkins to relay to Hemingway) that “he is quite as nervously broken down as I am but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is toward megalomania and mine toward melancholy.”
As Fitzgerald stressed in his letter to Perkins, however, the incident did not diminish his affection for Hemingway; he still accepted him as he was, with his virtues and his flaws. Until the end he would admire Hemingway's energy, dynamism and courage. A month after the “Snows of Kilimanjaro” episode, on September 24—his fortieth birthday—Fitzgerald gave an interview to New York Post reporter Michael Mok. He was in a weakened state that allowed Mok to milk him for confidences that were then turned into a sensational article portraying the subject as a lush sunk in his degradation. Mok pictured Fitzgerald in his room at the Grove Park Inn, under a nurse's care, still recovering from a shoulder fracture suffered two months earlier. “The poet-prophet of the post-war neurotics observed his fortieth birthday yesterday,” he wrote. “He spent the day as he spends all his days—trying to come back from the other side of Paradise, the hell of despondency in which he has agonized for the last couple of years… With his visitor he chatted bravely, as an actor, consumed with fear that his name will never be in lights again, might discuss his next starring role.”
The story, run under the headline “The Other Side of Paradise,” was picked up by Time Magazine on October 5. The first person to whom Fitzgerald instinctively turned in his humiliation was Hemingway. Ernest was on a ranch in Wyoming, but Scott thought he was in New York and sent him two rapid-fire telegrams asking him to intervene. “If ever you wanted to help me your chance is now,” he pleaded on September 28, 1935. By the time the appeal reached Hemingway, in any case, it was too late for him to step in. This was the kind of irrational reaction that pushes a weak person to ask the help of someone he thinks is morally stronger; Hemingway at that time was the figure of authority from whom Fitzgerald could request justice. It is to be noted, however, that between the time the interview appeared and the time the telegrams were sent, Fitzgerald tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of morphine.
Professionally, his attitude was very different. He had not lost his critical faculty, and while he pardoned Hemingway the man his “megalomania,” he found it hard to maintain the admiration and respect for Hemingway the artist from which he had not budged through the appearance of A Farewell to Arms. He was probably aware of the irony of his noting that Ernest in 1936 was in the same fix Fitzgerald had been in when his friend criticized him as lazy. For Hemingway had not published a novel in six years, had published nothing, in fact, but a volume of short stories that had disappointed his readers, his Death in the Afternoon, about bullfighting, and The Green Hills of Africa. At the end of 1935 Edmund Wilson, who had beenthe first critic to hail the appearance of a new talent with the publication of In Our Time, disapproved sternly of The Green Hills. “The literary personality of Hemingway here appears in a slightly absurd light,” he wrote. “He delivers a self-confident lecture on the huge possibilities of prose-writing, with the implication that he himself, Ernest Hemingway, has realized or hopes to realize these possibilities; and then produces what are certainly, from the point of view of prose, the very worst pages of his life.”
A few days later Hemingway sent the two letters he hoped would renew his friendship with Fitzgerald, the man who thought of him as the literary star of their generation, who a decade earlier had reinforced the effect of Wilson's first article about him with a flattering appraisal in The Bookman. Was he also seeking reassurance and a friend's approval, as Fitzgerald would after the Mok interview appeared? Scott's opinion did not seem to satisfy the need, to judge from his reply, in which he likened Fitzgerald to a brilliant mathematician who came up with nothing but wrong answers. Was Hemingway aware that his friend was beginning to share Wilson's opinion? Perhaps he suspected that Fitzgerald thought the Hemingway talent was running as dry as his own, only in a different way—because of a paranoia that prevented Ernest from seeing the truth squarely, whereas “poor Scott” the melancholic had the courage to examine himself, to tell the whole truth about himself in his essays about his failure.
One very shrewd witness gives us an insight into Fitzgerald's real feelings about his friend in 1936: an affection for the man that was tinted with irony based on his perception of the difference between reality and illusion, between the mediocrity of Hemingway's latest work and the promise of his early writings. The observation comes from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, then a young novelist who, at Perkins's urging, visited Fitzgerald when the Mok interview had plunged him into his deepest depression. “He was also more forgiving and reasonable than I think I should have been, about Hemingway's crack at him in The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” she recalled. “We agreed that it was part of Hemingway's own sadistic maladjustment, which makes him go around knocking people down…” She said she remembered “being impressed by the affection with which he spoke of Hemingway… He also spoke of [him] with a quality that puzzled me. It was not envy of the work or the man, it was not malice. I identified it as irony.” Contrasting Hemingway's sadism with Fitzgerald's masochism, she concluded that Scott was sturdier than one supposed: “as a writer, except for the times such as this one has been, when his misery holds him up too long, his masochism will not interfere with his work… He has thrown himself on the floor and shrieked himself black in the face and pounded his heels—as lots of us do in one way or another—but when it's over he'll go back to his building blocks again.”
Not until his creative energy revived and he began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls did Hemingway reveal to Perkins the mild remorse he felt forhis past attitude toward Fitzgerald. He confessed that he had always felt the childish and stupid superiority toward him that a tough, belligerent kid would feel toward a weaker, more gifted boy. After Fitzgerald's death, however, when some of his friends tried to break the silence surrounding his memory with articles in The New Republic and, later, with Wilson's edition of The Crack-Up, Hemingway contributed nothing. Most of the famous names of the twenties figure in this commemorative campaign—John Peale Bishop, Glenway Wescott, Dos Passos, Malcolm Cowley, Wilson and many others. The only name missing was that of the man for whom Fitzgerald had done the most and loved most. And when Hemingway did speak up—posthumously, it's true—it was to leave us his pitiless portrait of Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast.
Scott, on the other hand, even in his last letter to Hemingway, written after reading For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940, always volunteered congratulations on his success, even comparing him with Dostoevsky in the intensity of some of his scenes. “I envy you like hell,” he said, “and there is no irony in this.” That he even mentioned the possibility of irony in his compliments is proof that Fitzgerald perceived it even if he did not intend it. We get a glimpse of where irony does obtrude. First, in the contrast between each man's situation then and what it had been fifteen years earlier. Fitzgerald was in the position of a beginner who had to make, or remake, a name for himself; partly by force of circumstances, he had given up the movies as Hemingway had given up journalism in 1924, and for the same reason: to devote himself to literature. But he had just turned forty-four, was in poor health and burdened by his obligations to his wife and daughter. So he could honestly envy Hemingway's prosperity, the hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties earned from the 190,000 copies of For Whom the Bell Tolls sold in 1940. The last line in Fitzgerald's letter emphasizes his notion of this prosperity as more a means than an end: “I envy you the time it will give you to do what you want.” It was a little as though he were thinking of the stories he had written for the Post and of the money they brought him, which should have allowed him to accomplish serious work.
Despite the praise with which he nourished Hemingway's vanity, he considered The Bell skillful, intelligent, but second-rate, not to be compared, for example, with A Farewell to Arms. This is the second level his irony reached. Hemingway had become enormously successful at just the time when he had given up what it was that made his work original and become a writer for the mass book-club public. The undisguised personal opinion Fitzgerald expressed in a letter to Zelda written two weeks before the one sent to Hemingway can be summed up this way: Ernest's new novel did not have the freshness and intensity of A Farewell to Arms, none of its inspired passages or its poetry. The promise contained in his early stories hadfizzled out. For Whom the Bell Tolls was a well-made novel that undemanding readers, the old Sinclair Lewis crowd, would enjoy.
These remarks to his wife, who had always thought of Hemingway as a “cheat”—might be seen as expressions of Fitzgerald's personal grudge, the jealousy a has-been writer feels of a more fortunate rival. Except that the same opinions are found in his notes, which were meant for no eyes but his own. The failings he found in Hemingway's recent books served as warnings to him when he came to write The Last Tycoon: he would have to keep his artistic conscience clean and not betray his genius to please the public. “I want to write scenes that are frightening and inimitable,” he reminded himself. “I don't want to be as intelligible to my contemporaries as Ernest who, as Gertrude Stein said, is bound for the museums.”
From these documents we see that in 1935, and perhaps earlier, Fitzgerald was keenly aware that Hemingway, too, was going through a crisis that made it impossible for him to renew himself, to write anything that took him beyond what he had produced in the twenties. And, Fitzgerald thought, the precariousness of Hemingway's literary standing was made more patent by the man's thoughtlessness and arrogance. After the “Kilimanjaro” incident, we recall, Fitzgerald had threatened to shed his reserve and join those critics who, like Wilson, had severely criticized what they saw as imposture and pretentiousness in Hemingway's recent work. We have seen that Hemingway always turned mercilessly against those to whom he thought himself somehow obliged. This was especially evident in his literary relationships. Among the novelists of his generation with whom he had been in contact, only Dos Passos and Fitzgerald escaped his iconoclastic fury for a decade or more. We may wonder why he finally pilloried both men, Fitzgerald in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and Dos Passos in To Have or Have Not (in which he appears in the guise of novelist Richard Gordon).
He had humbly accepted the sometimes stern criticism Fitzgerald proffered in the early years of their relationship, because it was aimed at cleansing his work of everything that spoiled its artistic unity. From the start, a Fitzgerald newly emerged from the creative effort that had produced Gatsby, and that had forced him to define the essence of his own genius, had clearly seen what distinguished the timber and register of In Our Time from other contemporary books and from his own. The temptation was strong then for Hemingway, a beginner with little knowledge of literature, to try to imitate Fitzgerald's career and his work. Undeniable influences of both detail and conception are to be found in Hemingway's writing. Echoes of “The Rich Boy,” which Hemingway would cite in “Kilimanjaro” as though to exorcise a regrettable influence, are heard in The Sun Also Rises; one also discerns in that novel the more diffuse impact of Gatsby. For example, the use of a dissembling narrator in the first paragraph of “The Rich Boy” and the second of The Sun Also Rises drawsreaders' attention in similar terms to the protagonist's craftiness and defines his ambiguity. (Fitzgerald: “When I hear a man proclaiming himself an 'average, honest, open fellow,' I feel pretty sure that he has some definite and perhaps terrible abnormality which he has agreed to conceal”; Hemingway: “I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together.”) This sort of advance warning was already implicit in Gatsby, in which it is turned against the narrator, Nick, whose description of himself as “normal” and a “well-rounded man” is disproved at the end of the book.
This was the kind of unconscious borrowing of method or detail, in spirit or literally, that Fitzgerald tried to purge from Hemingway's work. The jokes in the two men's letters about the hypothetical influence of Gatsby in Hemingway's writing clearly show that Fitzgerald's criticism had vigorously exorcised the demon. Not, we must insist, to eliminate imitation or involuntary plagiarism as such, but to flush all foreign bodies from the Hemingway corpus. Fitzgerald, who had been strongly influenced by Conrad and who shared Hemingway's admiration for The Heart of Darkness, had warned his friend against contaminating his style: “Like me you must beware Conrad rhythms in direct quotation from characters, especially if you're pointing a single phrase and making a man live by it.” The effects of this sort of contagion, unfortunate as it might have been in Fitzgerald's case—and he did not always manage to escape it—were not disastrous for him; similarity in style revealed that Conrad and Fitzgerald held very similar attitudes, nostalgic and romantic, toward the world. But the effect would have been very different in Hemingway's writing.
In the same way, and for the same reasons, Fitzgerald worked hard to resist the attraction of the obsessive cadences of Hemingway's prose, even refusing to read it to keep from surrendering to its rhythms. Here again, the problem was not to avoid any chance resemblance in details, situations or themes, but in fact to keep from falling into step behind Hemingway, from adopting methods and tone that were not his own. “I had not imitated his infectious style,” he wrote, “because my own style, such as it is, was formed before he published anything, but there was an awful pull toward him when I was on a spot.” He even admitted in a letter to Hemingway on June 1, 1934, that he had to stop reading Ernest's writing for a year and a half, during the final reworking of Tender Is the Night, “because I was afraid that your particular rhythms were going to creep in on mine by process of infiltration. Perhaps you will recognize some of your remarks in Tender, but I did every damn thing I could to avoid that.”
In the first five years of the thirties a strange switch took place not only in the relative authority of the two men but also in the problems facing them as writers. After the success of A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway was a little in Fitzgerald's position after Gatsby, except that Farewell had scored commercially as well as critically. He was also in the paradoxical position of a writer who was immensely successful because he had insisted on his alienation, had refused to participate. The method he had patiently developed in his first stories to express this sense of dereliction and despair, the style so perfectly geared that it became the very metaphor for that secessionist spirit, reached their full potential in A Farewell to Arms, revealing both their scope and their limitations. As it did to Fitzgerald after the exceptional artistic triumph achieved with Gatsby, the problem arose for Hemingway of how to renew his technique, how to go on to greater heights. More masterpieces were expected of him as they had been of Fitzgerald. He believed that Fitzgerald's mind had been muddied by the praise of critics like Seldes. Now that was probably true of Hemingway, too.
An even more serious problem also faced him: his sincerity, the relationship of what he had to say to a method developed in totally different conditions from those he was in now. For he was now a successful author married to a rich woman, moving in social circles whose values were hard to reconcile with those the poor, unknown young man he had been in 1923 tried to defend in his stories. The problem now, therefore, was to determine if the fine instrument forged in his first stories, this understated, paratactic style could encompass the change in the man, or if he was simply imprisoned in a formula and condemned to repeat himself and reiterate truths that were no longer as compelling as they once had been.
It does seem that the method did degenerate into mere procedure and that Hemingway's attempts at renewal in Death in the Afternoon and The Green Hills of Africa produced only minor works. It does seem that Hemingway was as helpless as Fitzgerald was then, even if he did express that impotence in aggressiveness rather than self-denigration. Until then their work had been entirely antithetical, rooted in very different visions of the world. Besides, they had more or less tacitly agreed to avoid rivalry. In 1932 Fitzgerald told Perkins that he had a sort of pact with Hemingway that was designed to eliminate not only any professional friction that might arise between them but also any possibility of competing on the literary market. “Ernest,” he noted, “told me once that he would 'never publish a book in the same season with me,' meaning it would lead to ill-feeling.”
But in 1929, because of Gertrude Stein's ambiguous compliment regarding their respective literary “flames,” rivalry did grow up between them. Fitzgerald was already gauging his success or failure by Hemingway's; despite his head start, he saw himself as the tortoise outrun by the hare. We have seen how strongly Hemingway's style worked on Fitzgerald. It was as though Fitzgerald, during his long ordeal, was also seeking a new style that fit his new situation, a more pared-down style, less lyric, less nuanced too, maybe, that could serve as the stylistic equivalent of the disillusioned and desperate world he now inhabited. The backing and filling, the delays in the writing of Tender Is the Night, completed only by a tremendous act of will when Fitzgerald was at his lowest ebb, may be explained in part by his deep presentiment that the marvelous tool forged for Gatsby was no longerable to grasp the new reality struggling for expression in his new novel. Hence the constant changing of subjects. All of them, however, were centered on defeat—a defeat unrelieved by the pleasures of playing with prose, the dialectic of styles, the flights typical of The Great Gatsby. Tender Is the Night might be called the swan song for Fitzgerald's first style, baroque, sumptuous, soaring, bravura. For nine years Fitzgerald had struggled against the stream to remain faithful to what he thought was his genius, while that genius was changing form and direction.
This, we now understand, was why he was so drawn to Hemingway's system of expression, which seemed the most complete literary representation of postwar disillusionment, cynicism and indifference. What for Hemingway was simply the fruitful systematization of an attitude corresponded in Fitzgerald to a genuine mode of expression that could have given form to his all too real alienation and despair. It was in the three essays constituting “The Crack-Up” that, while writing to say he could no longer write, he found the piercing irony, the familiar language, the sober and contained tone that would stamp most of his work after 1935.
Hemingway, meanwhile, was also seeking a way to escape the iron yoke of a style whose effectiveness grew as its scope narrowed. As many critics have noted, it was a style of pure present in which past and future could find no place. It expressed present sensations that might, at best, suggest an implicit emotion of which delicacy forbade mention. Under these circumstances, it necessarily excluded nostalgia and hope, the feelings associated with the past and the future.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was a funeral oration not only for Fitzgerald as a creator but for a whole era of Hemingway's own life and a whole concept of his art. Nostalgia and hope are introduced for the first time, the former explicitly, the latter implied by the liquidation of an identity that had been renounced and condemned. One of the functions of his paratactic style had been to curb the author's sentimentality, his permissiveness toward emotions he could not always control—in short, everything he detested in himself as he did in romantics such as Fitzgerald. But the shell thus constituted threatened to restrain his imagination and frustrate the expression of more legitimate emotions. And, from the point of view of his writing, it limited Hemingway's range of variations and modulations because he could offer a reader only the signs, the raw materials of these unexpressed nuances. Even for this, the reader had to be sensitive enough and interested enough to fill in the blanks.
Hemingway's early work, surprising in its novelty, had immediately conquered those creative readers who were willing and able to go more than halfway toward his work and read emotions where the author simply sketched actions. But, after A Farewell to Arms, the similarity of his characters' reactions, the monotony of his situations, repetition of the same effects, despite changes of setting and fauna, wearied the most sympathetic readers, such as Wilson and Fitzgerald.
With “Kilimanjaro” two components of Fitzgerald's art appeared. One was temporality. A little clumsily and obviously, but nevertheless highly effectively, the past of Harry, the dying writer, is evoked as counterpoint to his present, ineluctable agony. These passages appear in italics, a device used by Dos Passos in “The Camera Eye” sections of The 42nd Parallel and 1919. But it is of Fitzgerald, more than of Dos Passos, that one is reminded by these nostalgic evocations of a past stripped of all its charms, in which acuteness of perception and imaginative power combined to make every encounter, every event an extraordinary adventure. This magical and forever vanished past, whose first freshness not even art can capture, is methodically contrasted in the story with the present, in which death prowls in the shape of a hyena. Here we recognize the dialectic crafted for Gatsby to contrast a sordid, murderous present with the illusions and dreams of the hero's youth. This gives Hemingway's story relief, a depth of field rarely found in his work before this.
Another, equally important element also appears. It is represented by Helen, Harry's rich wife, the product of an idle and irresponsible class, whose mere presence was enough to pervert her husband's literary talent. In the second African story, “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” published in September 1936, the theme—central in Fitzgerald's work—is handled more dramatically: Margot Macomber, another of the unscrupulous rich, as seductive and irresponsible as Daisy Buchanan and Nicole Diver, kills her husband just when he finds his manly courage in the face of danger. This, then, is an entirely new subject for Hemingway, which was borrowed from Fitzgerald's repertory and would be used again to describe the relationship of Tommy and Helen Bradley in the 1937 novel To Have and Have Not.
Hemingway's remarking of the rich and his citation of “The Rich Boy” announced an attitude that would develop with the years. This time he followed a path Dos Passos had long been on. The corruptive power of wealth would be one of the themes Hemingway would exploit in his new social and political direction. His third novel, awaited almost as long as Tender Is the Night was awaited after Gatsby, was a failure despite its new themes and characters and the notion of time that distinguished it from its predecessors. It was the Spanish Civil War that gave Hemingway a subject through which he could expand the innovations in “Kilimanjaro” to novel length and which would make him one of the most popular novelists in the world. At the price, however, of giving up the specificity he had brought to literature, with Fitzgerald's help, and which he had tried to preserve until 1929.
While all this was happening, Fitzgerald began work immediately after the publication of Tender Is the Night on a series of stories that could later be published as a novel. The subject, characters and period would be totally different from anything he had written before. This was to be a long historical narrative that would bring the hero, Philippe de Villefranche, twenty years old in the year 872, through sixty years of combat against chaos to the dawn of a new order. Originally entitled The Castle, it was renamed Philippe, Count of Darkness—Philippe for short in Fitzgerald's letters. On April 17, 1935, he wrote to Perkins to announce that he had completed a detailed outline and that the novel, some ninety thousand words, could be published in the spring or fall of 1936. He said it would be “a poignant romance of chaos and leadership.” Its protagonist would be a rude young warrior who had come to reconquer his ancestral lands along the Loire River. Just as Hemingway chose distant places to give a global meaning to the conflicts he explored in his books, so Fitzgerald situated his action in Carolingian France to draw a portrait of what he called modern man. And to complete the distancing, he chose as his hero's model a resolute, implacable and invincible man: Ernest Hemingway himself. “Just as Stendhal's portrait of a Byronic man made Le Rouge et le Noir,” he mused, “so couldn't my portrait of Ernest as Philippe make the real modern man?” In Hemingway, as in the Tommy Barban of Tender Is the Night, he saw an heir to the romantic Byronic hero, the activist-writer and the best example among all his contemporaries of the sensibility of the new age.
Philippe, produced in 1934, is a poor piece of work, but it anticipates Hemingway's future after the publication of To Have and Have Not, when adventure lived became more important than adventure written about, with the first conditioned by the second and supplying material for it. Like Byron in Greece, Hemingway in Spain—even more than in the Italian hills twenty years earlier—acted on the spot in the illusion of moving effectively with history. What more convincing image of a modern hero could Fitzgerald's imagination have found? He ended one of his last letters with the remark that “I hear distant thunder about Ernest.” The irony is barely visible.
To some extent Fitzgerald's choice of protagonist and period conditioned his style; to write a violent adventure story, he had to forget about nice analyses and concentrate on narrative, with the speeches of his uncouth characters reduced to the primitive simplicity of the dialogue in a western comic strip. Despite the failure of the venture—as we have seen, the fourth installment, bought by Redbook, was not even published in the author's lifetime—Fitzgerald nourished an odd affection for his hero: “one of the best characters I've ever 'drawn,'” he assured Perkins. When, at the end of 1938, he considered publishing a collection of stories that could compare with Hemingway's First Forty-Nine Stories and, perhaps, save his reputation from oblivion, the first story he proposed to Perkins was Philippe, whittled to 30,000 words, about the length bought by Redbook.
In January 1939 Fitzgerald was still wondering about doing the extensive research he would need to outline Philippe's life—for he recognized that the Redbook version as it then stood was not very unified. Then hethought he might do better to begin a modern novel in his spare time rather than resurrect a five-year-old project; this would eventually become The Last Tycoon. So ended Fitzgerald's only attempt to depict a man of action in action, triumphantly achieving his ends. Instead, he brought his man of action into the between-the-wars period, made him an American and so guaranteed his failure. Stahr-Fitzgerald replacing Philippe-Hemingway was a sign that after five years of more or less willful blindness concerning Philippe, Fitzgerald recognized that his real subject, the one that called up the deepest resources of his talent, was failure. He had failed in his only attempt to bring alive a hero who, in his way, succeeded in life, dominated events and changed the course of history. He succeeded in bringing alive, in his last book, a character whose business failed but whose life was a success because he remained faithful to the task he had set himself. We understand what Fitzgerald meant when he declared that “I talk with the authority of failure—Ernest with the authority of success. We could never sit across the same table again.”
Published in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Andre LeVot (French: Paris: Julliard, 1979; English: Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983 - translated by William Byron).