Dedication: For Valerie Hemingway
Fitzgerald is a subject no one has a right to mess up. Nothing but the best will do for him. I think he just missed being a great writer, and the reason is pretty obvious. If the poor guy was already an alcoholic in his college days, it’s a marvel that he did as well as he did. He had one of the rarest qualities in all literature… The word is charm—charm as Keats would have used it… It’s a kind of subdued magic, controlled and exquisite.
It is a pleasure to acknowledge the assistance I received while writing this book. My friend Jackson Bryer encouraged and helped from the very beginning; and the University of California at Berkeley appointed me a Visiting Scholar. For interviews I would like to thank Sally Abeles-Gran, Ellen Barry, Helen Blackshear, Fanny Myers Brennan, Tony Buttitta, Alexander Clark, Honoria Murphy Donnelly, Virginia Foster Durr, Marie Jemison, Frances Turnbull Kidder, Eleanor Lanahan, Ring Lardner, Jr., Joseph Mankiewicz, Margaret Finney McPherson, Julian and Leslie McPhillips, Edgar Allan Poe III, Landon Ray, Frances Kroll Ring, Budd Schulberg, Courtney Sprague Vaughan and Hugh Wynne.
During my quest for Bijou O’Conor I also interviewed Sir Brinsley Ford, the Earl of Minto, Michael O’Conor, Gillian Plazzota and Sir William Young; and received letters from Frances Bebis, Anthony Blond, Claire Eaglestone of Balliol College, Margaret Elliot of the Elliot Clan Society, William Furlong, Francis King, Joyce Markham of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Honourable Mary Alington Marten and the National Portrait Gallery, London.
During my search for Beatrice Dance I received help from Bond Davis, Helen Handley, Joan Sanger and Dan Laurence as well as from the Bexar County Courthouse, the Historical Society of San Antonio, the San Antonio Bar Association, the San Antonio Conservation Society and the San Antonio Public Library.
For other letters about Fitzgerald I am grateful to Sally Taylor Abeles, David Astor, Dr. Benjamin Baker, John Biggs III, Jonathan Bishop, Sarah Booth Conroy, Anthony Curtis, the Marquess of Donegall, Maureen, Marchioness of Donegal, Susan Mok Einarson, Armand Forel, Ian Hamilton, Valerie Hemingway, John Howell, Samuel Lanahan, Whitney Landon, Richard Lehan, Allan Margolies, Samuel Marx, Linda Miller, Dr. Paul Mok, David Page, Henry Dan Piper (who sent me the notes of interviews he conducted in the 1940s), Anthony Powell, Ruth Prigozy, Cecilia Lanahan Ross, Marie Sauer, Meryle Secrest, Henry Senber, Dodgie Shaffer, Robert Squier, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Rosalind Wilson, Archer Winsten and Roger Wunderlich.
I received useful information from the following institutions and libraries: the Alabama Department of Archives and History; the Archdiocese of Baltimore (Reverend Paul Thomas); the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers; Bryn Mawr School, Baltimore; BBC Television (Jill Evans); the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, Buckingham Palace; Highland Hospital (Carol Anne Freeman); Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; National Archives and Records Administration, St. Louis; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; National Sound Archive, London; Harold Ober Associates; Hopital de Prangins; Public Broadcasting Service, Alexandria, Virginia; Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, Montgomery, Alabama; the Embassy of Switzerland; and Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital (Eleanor Barnhart). Also: the Firestone Library, Princeton University (the main collection of Fitzgerald’s papers); Catholic University of America; Cornell University; Harvard University; Southern Illinois University; the University of Alabama, Birmingham; the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; the University of Cincinnati; the University of Delaware; the University of Pennsylvania; Stanford University and Yale University.
As always, my wife, Valerie Meyers, scrutinized each chapter.
The novelist Jay McInerney, writing in the New York Review of Books in August 1991, summarized the limitations of the previous biographies of Fitzgerald and mentioned “Bruccoli’s hagiographic Some Sort of Epic Grandeur,” Mellow’s peevish, sordid Invented Lives, as well as Scott Donaldson’s folksy psychoanalysis in A Fool for Love … Arthur Mizener’s excellent and grim The Far Side of Paradise, Andrew Turnbull’s biographical memoir Scott Fitzgerald and Nancy Milford’s feminist revisionist Zelda. What doesn’t emerge from any of these books is the sense of a coherent personality.” Fitzgerald himself pessimistically pointed out the difficulty of capturing the essence of a writer: “There never was a good biography of a good novelist. There couldn’t be. He’s too many people if he’s any good.”
Yet the romantic and tragic Fitzgerald, who seemed to embody the two decades between the wars, continues to fascinate and to inspire attempts to capture his elusive personality. Though I have profited in various ways from the earlier biographies, my book on Scott is more analytic and interpretive. It discusses the meaning as well as the events of his life and seeks to illuminate the recurrent patterns that reveal his inner self. This biography places much greater emphasis on Scott’s drinking; on Zelda’s hospitals and doctors, especially Oscar Forel and Robert Carroll; on his love affairs, before and after Zelda’s breakdown, with Lois Moran, Bijou O’Conor, Nora Flynn, Beatrice Dance and Sheilah Graham. It also focuses on his personal relations with his mentors at the Newman School, Father Fay (who was in love with Scott) and Shane Leslie; his Princeton friends, Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop; the humorist and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart; the polo star Tommy Hitchcock; the Hollywood executive Irving Thalberg; the journalist Michel Mok; and his daughter, Scottie, who wrote a great deal about him. I also say much more than I did in my 1985 biography of Hemingway about the most important literary friendship of the twentieth century.
At the turn of the century St. Paul, Minnesota, where Scott Fitzgerald grew up, was a small Midwestern city with a genteel atmosphere and a highly stratified society. Scott's parents, both Catholic and of Irish descent, came from very different social backgrounds. Even as a boy, he had a keenly developed sense of social nuance. He learned, from observing his odd, insecure parents, to worry about where his family belonged in "good" society. Fitzgerald's novels portray the restless American middle and upper classes in the early decades of the century, and his fictional themes evolve from his origins in St. Paul. His young heroes are, like himself, fascinated by money and power, impressed by glamour and beauty. Yet they know they can never fully belong to this secure and prosperous world, that the goal of joining this careless, dominant class is an illusion.
In his Notebooks and his Ledger-a month-by-month account of his own life, which he began in 1919 and kept until 1936-Fitzgerald recorded all the details that would help him define exactly who he was and where he stood. He wanted not only to describe how he was shaped by his social background, but also to differentiate himself from it. In his Notebooks he later analyzed the social structure of St. Paul. Situated on a prairie and next to a great river, far from cultural centers, the city took its tone from the East and Europe rather than from Midwestern agriculture or the Mississippi river trade. At the head of the social hierarchy were the older established families who practiced the learned professions and considered themselves superior to the self-made businessmen and the obscure, Gatsby-like upstarts: "At the top came those whose grandparents had brought something with them from the East, a vestige of money and culture; then came the families of the big self-made merchants, the 'old settlers' of the sixties and seventies, American-English-Scotch, or German or Irish, looking down upon each other somewhat in the order named-upon the Irish less from religious difference-French Catholics were considered rather distinguished-than from the taint of political corruption in the East. After this came certain well-to-do 'new people'-mysterious, out of a cloudy past, possibly unsound." The upper class of this self-consciously snobbish society, which was based on "background," good manners and the appearance of morality, lived on Summit Avenue. This elegant Victorian boulevard-filled with "turreted, spired, porticoed and cupolaed 'palatial' residences"-ran westward from the Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul to a bluff overlooking the commercial town and a bend of the Mississippi River.
The most imposing mansion on Summit Avenue belonged to the abstemious and laconic multimillionaire James J. Hill. Born in humble circumstances in Ontario, Canada, in 1838, he had made St. Paul the headquarters of his Great Northern Railway and fulfilled his pioneer's dream by driving it across the Western wilderness to the Pacific coast. Hill, a financial ally of J. P. Morgan, was "a short, thick-set man, with a massive head, large features, long black hair, and a blind eye… He had no small scruples [and was] rough-hewn throughout, intolerant of opposition, despotic, largely ruling by fear."1 No man did more for St. Paul, as exemplar and benefactor, than this empire builder and railroad magnate.
Scott's Aunt Annabel McQuillan had been maid of honor at the wedding of Hill's daughter. In boyhood he was fascinated by the fabulous wealth and influence of this legendary figure, who inspired Fitzgerald's imagination and frequently appeared in his fiction. In his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), the hero, Amory Blaine, speaking of the futile attempt to make business interesting in fiction, remarks: "Nobody wants to read about it, unless it's crooked business. If it was an entertaining subject they'd buy the life of James J. Hill." Later on, when advocating government ownership of industry during an argument with the rich father of his Princeton friend, Amory states: "we'd have the best analytical minds in the government working for something besides themselves. We'd have … Hill running interstate commerce."
In "Absolution" Rudolph's dreary father, Carl Miller, works as a freight agent in one of Hill's transport camps and adores his omnipotent boss: "His two bonds with the colorful life were his faith in the Roman Catholic Church and his mystical worship of the Empire Builder, James J. Hill. Hill was the apotheosis of that quality in which Miller himself was deficient… [He grew] old in Hill's gigantic shadow. For twenty years he had lived alone with Hill's name and God." Hill was also one of the models for Gatsby's wealthy patron, Dan Cody. After Gatsby's death, his old father, ignoring the criminal basis of Gatsby's fortune, tells Nick Carraway: "If he'd of lived, he'd of been a great man. A man like James J. Hill. He'd of helped build up the country."2 If the Hollywood executive Irving Thalberg was Fitzgerald's last tycoon, Hill was certainly his first. Hill's astonishing success not only fulfilled the American dream and revealed the power of boundless wealth, but also showed Fitzgerald that a man from St. Paul could become a significant figure in the great world.
Fitzgerald's family had some claim to Eastern culture. His great-great-grandfather was the brother of Fitzgerald's namesake, Francis Scott Key, a Maryland lawyer who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the British naval bombardment of Baltimore in 1814. Despite its limp opening ("O say can you see"), its livid rockets and martial rhetoric soon made the song famous, and it was eventually adopted as the American national anthem. Fitzgerald was acutely aware of the embarrassing contrast between the genteel but impoverished and the crude but wealthy elements in his background, which always made him feel like a parvenu. As he told the socially ambitious writer John O'Hara: "I am half black Irish and half old American stock with the usual exaggerated ancestral pretensions. The black Irish half of the family had the money and looked down upon the Maryland side of the family who had, and really had, that certain series of reticences and obligations that go under the poor old shattered word 'breeding.' … [So] I developed a two-cylinder inferiority complex." Though his parents were listed in the St. Paul Social Register, they lived on the money that had been made by Grandfather McQuillan, an Irish immigrant and wholesale grocer, who had left a fortune of several hundred thousand dollars when he died at the age of forty-three in 1877.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, the product of these warring strains, was born on September 24, 1896, in a rented apartment at 481 Laurel Avenue, near (but not on) Summit Avenue in St. Paul. Like many American writers, including Ernest Hemingway, he was the son of a weak father and strong mother. His father, Edward, born near Rockville, Maryland, in 1853, had attended Georgetown University but did not graduate. He married Mollie McQuillan in February 1890 and took her on a honeymoon to Europe, where she had traveled on four previous trips. On their first day in Paris, as he urged her to hurry so he could tour the fascinating city, she innocently replied: "But I've already seen Paris!"
Edward was a small, ineffectual man with well-cut clothes and fine Southern manners. He loved to tell stories of his boyhood adventures during the Civil War, and was fond of reading the Romantic poetry of Byron and Poe and drowsing over the miscellaneous knowledge in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The absolute antithesis of James J. Hill, Edward was quite obviously a gentleman-and a failure. When Scott was born, Edward was the middle-aged proprietor of a small but grandly named wicker furniture business, the American Rattan and Willow Works, which was doomed to be eclipsed by his more energetic competitors.
As a boy, Scott was not only troubled by his father's failure in trade, but also ashamed of his mother's eccentric dress and peculiar behavior. Born in St. Paul in 1860, Mollie McQuillan was educated at that city's Visitation Convent and at Manhattanville College in New York. A voracious but indiscriminate reader of sentimental poetry and popular fiction, she was often seen carrying piles of books from the local library. She toted an umbrella even in fine weather and wore mismatched shoes of different colors. Mollie was also accustomed to blurting out embarrassingly frank remarks without realizing their effect on her acquaintances. She once stared at a woman whose husband was dying and said: "I'm trying to decide how you'll look in mourning."
Edward tactfully remarked that she just missed being beautiful. But one relative, who thought she had missed by quite a lot, described the pathetic, wispy little wife as "the most awkward and the homeliest woman I ever saw." Andrew Turnbull, Fitzgerald's biographer, observed that "her sallow skin had grown surprisingly wrinkled, there were dark discolorations beneath her pale eyes, and her fringing, cascading hair was a byword… Somewhat broad for her height, she walked with a slight lurch, and she spoke in a droll manner, dragging and drawling her words."3 Fitzgerald inherited his elegance and propensity to failure from his father, his social insecurity and absurd behavior from his mother.
The most influential event of his childhood took place before he was born. His two older sisters, Mary and Louise, suddenly died during an epidemic, at the ages of one and three, while their mother was pregnant with Scott. Another infant, born four years later in 1900, lived only an hour. The Fitzgeralds-like the family of Franz Kafka, whose two young brothers died soon after he was born-were devastated by these losses. (Mollie kept Louise's dolls in tissue paper until the end of her life.) The death of his sisters may have made Scott feel guilty about surviving. It certainly led to an unnaturally close connection between the overprotective, middle-aged mother and the spoiled, delicate child.
The family tragedy also strengthened the bond between Scott and his father, who tried to protect the boy from his mother's grief-stricken hysteria. In an autobiographical passage from Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald wrote that his hero, Dick Diver, "was born several months after the death of two young sisters and his father, guessing what would be the effect on Dick's mother, had saved him from a spoiling by becoming his moral guide." Fitzgerald later connected his sisters' deaths to his vocation as an author: "Three months before I was born my mother lost her other two children and I think that came first of all though I don't know how it worked exactly. I think I started then to be a writer." Though Fitzgerald did not explain this cryptic statement, he probably meant that he had been born out of suffering, had been singled out for a survivor's special fate and had been made to feel that his life was particularly precious. His existence somehow had to compensate for their absence.
Though Scott was a robust infant, weighing ten pounds six ounces at birth, he became a sickly and much-coddled child. When he was two years old, his mother, fearing that his persistent cough might lead to consumption, took him to a health resort. The following year his parents sent him to an infants' school, but he wept and wailed so much that they took him out again after one morning. The family physician, M. R. Ramsey, recalled that the stubborn and spoiled young Scott "was a patient of mine when he was a small boy and until he went off to prep school. He was a very difficult and temperamental patient and refused to accept any regime which was not to his liking. This attitude he preserved throughout life."4
In April 1898, after Edward's furniture business had collapsed, he moved his family to Buffalo, New York, and became a soap salesman for Procter & Gamble. They remained in Buffalo for the next decade, except for two and a half years in Syracuse from January 1901 to September 1903. But upstate New York, unlike St. Paul, left a negative impression on Scott's character. At the end of Tender Is the Night, Dick Diver starts an unsuccessful medical practice in Buffalo, where his father had died, and then drifts about to Batavia, Lockport, Geneva and Hornell. Fitzgerald always associated upstate New York with isolation and failure.
Scott's only surviving sister, Annabel, was born in Syracuse in July 1901, and his first childhood memory was the sight of her howling on a bed. The self-absorbed boy was not close to her as a child, though he offered the teenage girl substantial advice about how to attract men, and rarely saw his attractive but conventional sister in adult life. Annabel later married and had two daughters. Her husband, Clifton Sprague, became an admiral and won the Navy Cross at the battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944.
Two years after Annabel's birth, while the family was still in Syracuse, the six-year-old Scott had some frightening experiences and acquired his first badge of courage: "He begins to remember many things, a filthy vacant lot, the haunt of dead cats, a hair-raising buckboard, the little girl whose father was in prison for telling lies, a Rabelaisian incident with Jack Butler, a blow with a baseball bat from the same boy-son of an army officer-which left a scar that will shine always in the middle of his forehead." Despite his heroic scar, another boyhood friend recalled that the handsome Scott was considered a sissy because he was afraid of a dead cat in the alley. On September 24, 1903, just after he returned to Buffalo and was desperately trying to reestablish his childhood friendships, Scott sent out invitations to his seventh birthday party-to which no one came. Heavy rain kept the indifferent children at home, and the humiliated Scott, consoled and spoiled by his mother, was allowed to eat the entire birthday cake, including some candles, by himself. He was a great eater of tallow until well past the age of fourteen.
In the summer of 1907 Scott went to Camp Chatham in Orillia, Ontario, north of Toronto on Lake Simcoe, where he swam, rowed, fished, played baseball and was extremely unpopular. When he played catcher without a mask, a ball cut his forehead. He became a hero despite his lack of athletic ability, but was so insufferably pleased with himself that he lost his short-lived prestige. One of his earliest letters, posted from camp to his mother, set the pattern of his future correspondence with agents and editors: "I wish you would send me five dollars as all my money is used up." The ten-year-old also tactfully discouraged his mother from visiting him at camp and embarrassing him in front of the other boys: "Though I would like very much to have you up here, I don't think you would like it as you know no one here except Mrs. Upton and she is busy most of the time. I don't think you would like the accommodations as it is only a small town and no good hotels."5
Scott later admitted that he disliked his mother. He blamed her for spoiling him (which his father could not prevent) and emphasized the great difference in their characters and beliefs: "Mother and I never had anything in common except a relentless stubborn quality," he told his sister, "but when I saw all this it turned me inside out realizing how unhappy her temperament made her." In "An Author's Mother," he described Mollie's absurd appearance and mentioned her disapproval of his career: "She was a halting old lady in a black silk dress and a rather preposterously high-crowned hat that some milliner had foisted upon her declining sight… Her son was a successful author. She had by no means abetted him in the choice of that profession but had wanted him to be an army officer or else go into business… An author was something distinctly peculiar-there had been only one in the middle western city where she was born and he had been regarded as a freak… Her secret opinion was that such a profession was risky and eccentric."
Fitzgerald once recorded a disturbing dream about his mother in which he felt ashamed of her for not being young and elegant, and for offending his sense of propriety by her peculiar behavior. He called her "a neurotic, half insane with pathological nervous worry." And in This Side of Paradise he created the antithesis of Mollie Fitzgerald in his ideal mother, Beatrice Blaine: charming, stylish, well-educated, beautiful, wealthy and well-connected. Though Fitzgerald never dedicated a book to his father, he did, as a joke, offer Tales of the Jazz Age (1922) "Quite inappropriately, to my mother." To Fitzgerald, the real matriarch of the family was Mollie's younger sister, Annabel McQuillan, a dessicated spinster who had all the character and culture so noticeably lacking in his mother.
Edward adored his small, blond, blue-eyed boy, whose refined and delicate features resembled his own, and who was full of energy and imagination. In a poignant essay on his father, Fitzgerald described how Edward would dress his son in starched white trousers and walk into downtown Buffalo to buy the Sunday paper and smoke his cigar. Scott always used his well-bred father, who believed in the old-fashioned virtues of honor, courtesy and courage, as a moral standard. After Mollie had been emotionally devastated by the death of her three babies, Edward roused himself from his usual lethargy and made an exemplary effort to be a good parent:
I loved my father-always deep in my subconscious I have referred judgments back to him, to what he would have thought or done. He loved me-and felt a deep responsibility for me… He came from tired old stock with very little left of vitality and mental energy but he managed to raise a little for me. We walked downtown in the summer to have our shoes shined, me in my sailor suit and my father in his always beautifully cut clothes, and he told me the few things I ever learned about life until a few years later from a Catholic priest, Monsignor Fay.6
Since Edward lived in Mollie's shadow and eventually became financially dependent on her, he was (unlike his wife) proud of his son's profession and took great vicarious pleasure in his early success.
While Scott was on holiday in Frontenac, Minnesota, in July 1909, his father-who was always pressed for money and even had to charge his postage stamps at the local drugstore-sent him a sententious, paradoxical and possibly playful note, which expected quite a lot from a rather small sum: "I enclose $1.00. Spend it liberally, generously, carefully, judiciously, sensibly. Get from it pleasure, wisdom, health and experience."
Edward was preoccupied with money because of his manifest inability to earn it. The most traumatic incident in Scott's childhood took place in Buffalo in March 1908, and suddenly transformed his father from an elegant gentleman into a hopeless wreck:
One afternoon-I was ten or eleven-the phone rang and my mother answered it. I didn't understand what she said but I felt that disaster had come to us. My mother, a little while before, had given me a quarter to go swimming. I gave the money back to her. I knew something terrible had happened and I thought she could not spare the money now.
Then I began to pray, "Dear God," I prayed, "please don't let us go to the poorhouse." A little while later my father came home. I had been right. He had lost his job.
That morning he had gone out a comparatively young man, a man full of strength, full of confidence. He came home that evening, an old man, a completely broken man. He had lost his essential drive, his immaculateness of purpose. He was a failure the rest of his days.
Unlike the compassionate Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, who responds to her husband's failure in business by telling her sons-"he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog"7-Mollie remained locked in her own hysterical world. She looked down on her husband, who began to drink too much, and frequently asked young Scott: "If it weren't for your Grandfather McQuillan, where would we be now?" The fathers of most of Fitzgerald's fictional heroes are dead before the novels begin.
In July 1908 the defeated Fitzgeralds returned to St. Paul. The children moved in with Grandmother McQuillan on Laurel Avenue, the parents lived with a friend on Summit Avenue, and they were not reunited until the following April. Edward listlessly sold wholesale groceries from his brother-in-law's real estate office, and the Fitzgeralds changed their rented residences, in the neighborhood of Summit Avenue, almost every year. Despite the loss of income, the family made a brave attempt to maintain their social status by providing lessons, arranging dances and sending their children to the right schools.
Scott's swaggering adolescent roles as "actor, athlete, scholar, philatelist and collector of cigar bands" were undermined by his mother's insistence that he demonstrate his "accomplishments" by singing for company. The attractive, egoistic, socially insecure boy now revealed a crucial, lifelong flaw in his character, which would hurt him as a writer. He had a weakness for showing off instead of listening and observing, and was unaware of the effect he had on others. "I didn't know till 15," Fitzgerald said, "that there was anyone in the world except me, and it cost me plenty." Two of his closest friends later criticized the narcissistic self-absorption that limited Fitzgerald's understanding of other men and women. Sara Murphy wrote, with some exaggeration: "I have always told you you haven't the faintest idea what anybody else but yourself is like." And Hemingway, who agreed with her, told their editor Max Perkins: "Scott can't invent true characters because he doesn't know anything about people."8
Scott did develop a new awareness, however, when he perceived that he was popular with girls (if not with boys) and that they created strangely mixed feelings within him: "For the first time in his life he realized a girl is something opposite and complementary to him, and he was subject to a warm chill of mingled pleasure and pain." His chaste adolescent heroine, Josephine, likes the daring experience of kissing boys, but has no real sexual feeling. And in a potentially lyrical moment in This Side of Paradise, when the thirteen-year-old Amory Blaine kisses a girl for the first time, she responds with conventional romantic modesty while he is overwhelmed by nauseous repulsion: "Their lips brushed like young wild flowers in the wind. 'We're awful,' rejoiced Myra gently. She slipped her hand into his, her head drooped against his shoulder. Sudden revulsion seized Amory, disgust, loathing for the whole incident. He desired frantically to be away, never to see Myra again, never to kiss any one."9
Scott's sexual revulsion was undoubtedly connected to what his Anglo-Irish friend, Shane Leslie, called the "middle-class, dull, unpoetical and fettering" Catholicism of the Middle West. His mother was fanatical about religion, went to Mass every day and, as he told Sheilah Graham, "believed that Christian boys were killed at Easter and the Jews drank the blood. She was a bigot." He had attended two Catholic schools in Buffalo, and had shocked himself by lying in the confessional and telling the priest that he never told a lie.
When his family, still clinging precariously to the fringe of "good society," returned to Minnesota, the twelve-year-old Scott entered a nonsectarian school, St. Paul Academy, which had forty boys between the ages of ten and eighteen. During his three years there, he energetically began his literary apprenticeship. He would memorize titles in bookstores and confidently discuss works he had not read (the same intellectual pretentiousness would permeate his first novel). He attempted to achieve popularity with his classmates, as he had in Buffalo and at summer camp, but failed abysmally because he observed and criticized their faults. As he would later do at Princeton and in the army, he ignored his studies and "wrote all through every class in school in the back of my geography book and first year Latin and on the margins of themes and declensions and mathematics problems."10
He wrote many juvenile adventure stories for the school newspaper and melodramatic plays for the Elizabethan Dramatic Club, which was named after the director, Elizabeth Magoffin. Scott's first published story, "The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage" (1909), echoed the title and imitated the characters and themes of Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." Though he neglected to bring the mortgage into the story, no one seemed to notice. "When it came to rewriting," Magoffin recalled, "Fitzgerald was indefatigable, retiring to a corner and tossing off new lines with his ever-facile pen." Scott was also capable of the kind of heroic action that fulfilled his childhood fantasies. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that in September 1914, during a performance of his fourth play, Assorted Spirits, a fuse suddenly exploded and the audience panicked. The young playwright saved the evening by leaping onto the stage and calming the frightened audience with an improvised monologue.
Another incident that made the newspapers took place during a Christmas service at St. John's Episcopal Church the previous year. Scott made a dramatic gesture, drew attention to himself and expressed his defiance of convention and rejection of religion. Though he called it "the most disgraceful thing I ever did," his cocky tone suggests that he welcomed the notorious publicity he had inspired: "I plodded toward the rector. At the very foot of the pulpit a kindly thought struck me-perhaps inspired by the faint odor of sanctity which exuded from the saintly man. I spoke. 'Don't mind me,' I said, 'go on with the sermon.' Then, perhaps unsteadied a bit by my emotion, I passed down the other aisle, followed by a sort of amazed awe, and so out into the street. The papers had an extra out before midnight."11
Three crucial entries in Scott's autobiographical Ledger for his boyhood years from 1901 to 1904 expressed his acute anxiety and shame about his feet, which he associated with fear of exposure, with filth and with perversion. Scott's bizarre obsession with and phobia about his feet were closely connected not only to his childhood guilt about sex and revulsion when kissing girls-the result of what he called "a New England conscience, developed in Minnesota"-but also to adult doubts about his masculinity and fears about his sexual inadequacy:
He went to Atlantic City-where some Freudian complex refused to let him display his feet, so he refused to swim, concealing the real reason. They thought he feared the water.
There was a boy named Arnold who went barefooted in his yard and peeled plums. Scott's Freudian shame about his feet kept him from joining in.
He took off John Wylie's shoes. He began to hear "dirty" words. He had this curious dream of perversion.
In a Smart Set interview of 1924, Fitzgerald commented on the childhood phobia that had made him so unhappy and falsely claimed that it had suddenly vanished when he reached adolescence: "The sight of his own feet filled him with embarrassment and horror. No amount of persuasion could entice him to permit others to see his naked feet, and up until he was twelve this fear caused him a great deal of misery… This complex suddenly disappeared one day without any reason."12
Frances Kroll, Fitzgerald's secretary in Hollywood, observed that he was slightly pigeon-toed, always wore slippers and never went about in bare feet. Sheilah Graham, Fitzgerald's companion during the last years of his life, wrote that he had mentioned his "mysterious shyness" about his feet, and during the years that she knew him always refused to take off his shoes and socks on the beach. When Tony Buttitta, who visited Fitzgerald's hotel room in Asheville in 1935, noticed his "stubby and unattractive feet," Fitzgerald "fumbled for his slippers and hid his feet in them." Most significantly, Lottie, a prostitute who became Fitzgerald's mistress that summer, described his foot fetishism and said that he "caressed her feet, the toes, instep, and heel, and got an odd pleasure out of it… It seems that the sight of women's feet has excited him since he first started thinking about sex."13
Early in his career Fitzgerald used his curious obsession to suggest the presence of evil. In This Side of Paradise, in a five-page scene called "The Devil," Amory Blaine and a friend pick up two chorus girls in a nightclub, where he notices a pale, middle-aged man dressed in a brown suit. They then go up to the girls' apartment to get drunk and have sex. Just as Amory is tempted by Phoebe, the minatory devil figure from the nightclub mysteriously appears in the apartment: "suddenly, Amory perceived the feet, and with a rush of blood to the head [instead of the penis] he realized he was afraid. The feet were all wrong … with a sort of wrongness that he felt rather than knew… It was like weakness in a good woman, or blood on satin; one of those terrible incongruities that shake little things in the back of the brain." Associating the horrific feet with sexual immorality and sexual violation, Amory rushes out of the sinful apartment and descends in the elevator. As he reaches the lower floor, "the feet came into view in the sickly electric light of the paved hall."
This fictional scene made an emotional impact on Scott's boyhood friend Stephan Parrott, who had attended the same Catholic prep school and had read an early draft of the novel in April 1919. "The farther I got into it the more interested I became," Parrott said, "but when I came to the place where you saw the man with the disgusting feet, I had to stop reading. I know just what you felt. Your mood was exactly like some I have felt, of the worst kind; in fact it started a humour in me that was quite horrible."14
Fitzgerald's childhood phobia evolved from his subconscious "Freudian" feelings. Though revolted by his own feet, he was sexually excited by the feet of women. His fearful associations with feet-which stuck out stiffly and were strongly associated with sex-both displaced and expressed his adolescent and adult fears about his masculinity. His deep-rooted insecurity later led him to seek embarrassing reassurance, not only from his mistresses of the 1930s but also from personal friends, about the size and potency of his sexual organ.
Scott's poor performance at St. Paul Academy prompted his parents to send him to a stricter, Eastern, Catholic boarding school. This would, they hoped, provide a more rigorous academic program, expose him to a more sophisticated way of life and increase his chances of gaining admission to a good college. The Newman School in Hackensack, New Jersey (across the Hudson River and about ten miles northwest of midtown Manhattan), had been founded in 1890 by Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore to attract the sons of "Catholic gentlemen" and taught sixty boys from well-off Catholic families throughout the country. Scott, brought up with the traditional values of his paternal ancestors in Maryland, had always yearned for an Eastern education. Like Basil Duke Lee in "The Freshest Boy," he "had lived with such intensity on so many stories of boarding-school life that, far from being homesick, he had a glad feeling of recognition and familiarity."
Scott's gladness, however, was short lived. As he entered Newman in September 1911, he naively overrated his appearance and athletic ability, social graces and intellectual power, which he felt would lead to success in school, and retrospectively made the honest admission that he lacked the fundamental elements of good character:
First: Physically-I marked myself handsome; of great athletic possibilities, and an extremely good dancer… Second: Socially … I was convinced that I had personality, charm, magnetism, poise, and the ability to dominate others. Also I was sure that I exercised a subtle fascination over women. Third: Mentally … I was vain of having so much, of being so talented, ingenious and quick to learn… Generally-I knew that at bottom I lacked the essentials. At the last crisis, I knew I had no real courage, perseverance or self-respect.
Scott attempted to cultivate friendships with several classmates by composing their weekly English essays and enhanced his reputation as an athlete by writing an anonymous account in the Newman News of his "fine running with the ball" during a football game. But these ingenious ploys did not work. One student recalled that he was "eager to be liked by his companions and almost vain in seeking praise." His roommate remembered him as having "the most impenetrable egotism I've ever seen."15
"Sap" Donahoe, a popular and well-respected boy from Seattle, and a fine scholar and athlete, traveled with Scott during the long trips home on the holidays and remained his friend at Princeton. Though Sap liked Scott, he explained that "he was unpopular starting out at Newman partly because his good looks prompted classification as a sissy, which was reinforced by what appeared to be a lack of physical courage." He described Scott as "imaginative in temperament, keen in observation, rather critical in taste and sceptical in mind"-traits which made him something of a misfit in the orthodox school and led to a crisis of faith after he left.
Fitzgerald wrote about two wasted school years of "utter and profitless unhappiness" in both This Side of Paradise (in which he called the school St. Regis) and in "The Freshest Boy." In the novel he records that he was resentful of authority and indifferent to his work, that he was considered both conceited and arrogant, and that he was universally detested. In the story he goes into greater detail about the numerous reasons for his extraordinary unpopularity. He mentions that he had received a hostile note that objected to his brash conceit and rudely asserted: "If someone will please poison young Basil, or find some other means to stop his mouth, the school at large and myself will be much obliged." As one of the poorest boys in a rich boys' school, he overcompensated by boasting, pointing out other people's mistakes and showing off his fund of general knowledge. When, in addition to all this, he revealed his cowardice during a football game by avoiding a dangerous tackle, he became "the scapegoat, the immediate villain, the sponge which absorbed all malice and irritability abroad." The lonely outcast was irreparably condemned to the ranks of "the bitter, the selfish, the neurasthenic and the unhappy." Scott's academic work inevitably suffered and he failed four courses during his two years at the school.
Though Scott loved to go on school holidays to the theater in New York, his happiest recollections concerned the exciting train journeys that allowed him to escape from the hateful school for longer periods and return to his adoring parents in the familiar Midwest. In The Great Gatsby, one of Nick Carraway's
most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o'clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by… .
That's my Middle West-not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow.16
Scott's desperate unhappiness and isolation at Newman made him eagerly receptive to the attention, encouragement and flattery of an unusual Catholic priest and trustee of the school, whom he met during his second year in November 1912. Father Cyril Sigourney Webster Fay was born in Philadelphia in 1875, the only son of a wealthy Irish-American lieutenant-colonel in the United States Army. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1897 and the Episcopal Divinity School in Philadelphia five years later, he taught dogmatic and moral theology at Nashotah House, the Anglican seminary in Fond du Lac, northwest of Milwaukee. Though Fay had once started writing a book to prove the invalidity of Roman orders, he later joined a group of Anglo-Catholic Episcopal clergymen who seceded to the Roman Catholic Church in 1908. A hostile Protestant contemporary explained that "Fay's unstable temperament called for a new thrill… He was tired of socialism and the mild forms of modernism he had adopted. He was looking Romeward and the papal condemnation of modernism led him to declare publicly: 'We must obey the Holy Father.'" Fay was ordained by his patron, Cardinal Gibbons, in 1910, and taught Sacred Liturgy and Ecclesiastical Greek from 1910 to 1914 at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. After Scott had left Newman, Fay became headmaster of the school.
Father Fay, a brilliant intellectual and fascinating talker, was a strange-looking man. The huge, eunuch-like priest, almost a pure albino, had a shrill, high-pitched, giggling voice. He was extremely nearsighted and enormously fat. His thin, pale yellow hair, rising above a broad forehead, was parted in the middle. A thick pince-nez distorted his pink, watery eyes. His pudgy nose, round face, triple chins and thick neck emphasized his porcine appearance and made him look twenty years older than his actual age.
The absolute antithesis of the dreary German Midwestern priest in Fitzgerald's story "Absolution," the heavily perfumed and wittily epigrammatic Father Fay was a fin-de-siecle aesthete and dandy, who adored Decadent authors like Huysmans, Swinburne and Oscar Wilde. Fay's close friend Margaret Chanler emphasized the charming, worldly aspect of his personality and described him as a rather jolly monk: "He was a learned man with much of the delightful child about him. He combined spiritual with temporal gifts, for he preached admirably, and could bring fire from heaven to kindle the hearts of his hearers, but he was no ascetic and clearly loved good company, good food and drink."
He also took childish pleasure in ecclesiastical vestments and elaborate liturgy. Fitzgerald's biographers, from Turnbull to Bruccoli, have stated that Father Fay recited the Mass in Gaelic. But a Gaelic version of the Mass did not exist in Fay's lifetime and the Mass could not be said in any language but Latin until the Vatican II reforms of 1965. Henry Dan Piper was more accurate when he explained that Fay "obtained special dispensation to celebrate the Roman Mass according to the more exotic rites of the Greek Church, which he found more aesthetically satisfying."17
Fay took a paternal interest in Scott, strengthening his religious beliefs, recognizing his talent and praising his first novel. He frequently invited Scott to his comfortable home in Washington, brought him into elite circles and introduced him to important men like Shane Leslie and Henry Adams. Fay's influence became even stronger when the older, more appreciative Scott was at Princeton and in the army. After Fay's death in the influenza epidemic of 1919, Fitzgerald idealized him as Monsignor Darcy in This Side of Paradise and compared him to an exiled Stuart king, waiting to be called back to rule his country: "Monsignor was forty-four then, and bustling-a trifle too stout for symmetry, with hair the color of spun gold, and a brilliant, enveloping personality. When he came into a room clad in his full purple regalia from thatch to toe, he resembled a Turner sunset, and attracted both admiration and attention."18
Scott's other mentor was the dashing, wealthy and well-connected Shane Leslie. The son of an Anglo-Irish baronet and one of the beautiful American Jerome sisters, he was a first cousin of Winston Churchill. Tall, blunt-featured and rugged-looking, he went to Eton, studied at the Sorbonne, where he met Henry Adams, and at King's College, Cambridge, where he rowed for the college and came to know Rupert Brooke. He visited Tolstoy in Russia, studied philosophy at Louvain and converted to Catholicism. He did social work in Wapping, in the East End of London, worked for the Home Rule movement in Ireland and changed his name from John to Shane to emphasize his Celtic origins. He married an American wife in 1912, became acquainted with Yeats and D. H. Lawrence, lived among diplomats in Spain and served with the American Ambulance Corps in France during World War I. Leslie-the friend of two powerful American priests, Archbishop Ireland of St. Paul and Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore-moved in exalted circles and, as chamberlain to the Pope, became an influential Catholic layman.
Leslie called Fitzgerald "an American Rupert Brooke," recommended his first novel to Scribner's and wrote a favorable review of the book. He encouraged Fitzgerald's courtship and marriage to Zelda Sayre, commenting that "literary men need wives to edit their letters (in two volumes)." He also saw his disciple as the American equivalent of the novelist, priest and son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had converted to Catholicism, and told Fitzgerald: "I think you would be happier if you were anchored like Hugh Benson to the priesthood." Fitzgerald admired Leslie, and was grateful for his friendship and generous help. In his review of Leslie's Etonian novel, The Oppidan (1922), he called him "the most romantic figure I had ever known" and described the liberating effect of his friendship: "He was a convert to the church of my youth, and he and another, since dead [Father Fay], made of that church a dazzling, golden thing, dispelling its oppressive mugginess and giving the succession of days upon gray days, passing under its plaintive ritual, the romantic glamour of an adolescent dream."19 Scott's friendships with Fay and Leslie compensated for his disappointment and unhappiness at Newman, and fortified his self-confidence and his Catholic faith as he entered Princeton in the fall of 1913.
1. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Notebooks, ed. Matthew Bruccoli (New York, 1978), pp. 267-268; Grace Flandrau, "The Untamable Twin," The Taming of the Frontier, ed. Duncan Aikman (New York, 1925), p. 149; Matthew Josephson, The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861-1901 (New York, 1934), p. 236.
2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (1920; New York, 1948), pp. 219, 273; F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Absolution," Short Stories, ed. Matthew Bruccoli (New York, 1989), p. 264; F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925; New York, 1953), p. 169. For works on Hill, see William Cunningham, "Hill, James Jerome," Dictionary of American Biography, ed. Dumas Malone (New York, 1932), 9:36-41, and Albro Martin, James J. Hill and the Opening of the Northwest (Oxford, 1976).
3. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Letters, ed. Andrew Turnbull (1963; London, 1968), p. 522; Sheilah Graham, The Real Scott Fitzgerald (New York, 1976), p. 34; Andrew Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald (1962; London, 1970), p. 34.
4. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night (1934; New York, 1962), p. 203; F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Author's House," Afternoon of an Author, Introduction and notes by Arthur Mizener (New York, 1957), p. 184; Letter from Dr. M. R. Ramsey to James Hill of Boston, February 11, 1964, Firestone Library, Princeton University.
5. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ledger: A Facsimile, Introduction by Matthew Bruccoli (Washington, D.C., 1972), p. 157; F. Scott Fitzgerald, Correspondence, ed. Matthew Bruccoli and Margaret Duggan (New York, 1980), p. 4; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 469.
6. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 554; F. Scott Fitzgerald, "An Author's Mother" (1936), The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories, ed. Matthew Bruccoli (London, 1979), pp. 736-737; Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence, ed. John Kuehl and Jackson Bryer (London, 1971), p. 135; F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Death of My Father," Princeton University Library Chronicle, 12 (Summer 1951), 187-188. An earlier draft of this important essay was published in The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. John Kuehl (New York, 1965), pp. 177-182, and a later version was fictionalized in Tender Is the Night, pp. 203-204.
7. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 5; F. Scott Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, ed. Matthew Bruccoli and Jackson Bryer (1971; New York, 1974), p. 296; Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (New York, 1949), p. 56.
Robert Lowell's father, who was fired from Lever Brothers as Edward had been sacked from Procter & Gamble, was also plagued by failure but managed to live well on his navy pension and wife's money. See Robert Lowell, "Commander Lowell," Life Studies (New York, 1959), p. 71:
With seamanlike celerity
Father left the Navy,
and deeded Mother his property.
He was soon fired. Year after year,
he still hummed "Anchors aweigh" in the tub-
whenever he left a job,
he bought a smarter car.
Father's last employer
was Scudder, Stevens & Clark, Investment Advisors,
himself his only client.
8. F. Scott Fitzgerald, "That Kind of Party," The Basil and Josephine Stories, ed. with an introduction by Jackson Bryer and John Kuehl (New York, 1973), p. 1; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 19; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 398; Quoted in Matthew Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald (New York, 1981), p. 375.
9. F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Scandal Detectives," Taps at Reveille (1935; New York, 1988), p. 7; Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, p. 14.
10. Shane Leslie, "Some Memories of Scott Fitzgerald," Times Literary Supplement, October 31, 1958, p. 632; Graham, Real Scott Fitzgerald, p. 36; Fitzgerald, "Who's Who-and Why," Afternoon of an Author, p. 83.
11. Quoted in Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 50; Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, p. 234.
12. Fitzgerald, "One Hundred False Starts," Afternoon of an Author, p. 134; Fitzgerald, Ledger, pp. 155, 157, 158; B. F. Wilson, "Notes on Personalities IV-F. Scott Fitzgerald," Smart Set, 73 (April 1924), 31.
13. Interview with Frances Kroll Ring, Beverly Hills, California, December 21, 1991; Tony Buttitta, The Lost Summer: A Personal Memoir of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1972; New York, 1987), pp. 41, 112-113.
14. Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, pp. 113-114; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 41. In "Crazy Sunday," Fitzgerald describes Miles Calman as "artist from the top of his curiously shaped head to his niggerish feet" (Fitzgerald, Short Stories, p. 704).
15. Fitzgerald, "The Freshest Boy," Taps at Reveille, p. 25; Fitzgerald, The Romantic Egoist (an early version of This Side of Paradise), quoted in Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 41; Quoted in Arthur Mizener, The Far Side of Paradise: A Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald, revised edition (Boston, 1965), pp. 23-24.
16. Letter from Charles "Sap" Donahoe to Arthur Mizener, January 10, 1948, Princeton; Fitzgerald, "The Freshest Boy," Taps at Reveille, pp. 26, 30, 46; Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, pp. 176-177.
17. Joseph G. H. Barry, Impressions and Opinions (New York, 1931), p. 245; Margaret Chanler, Autumn in the Valley (Boston, 1936), p. 80; Henry Dan Piper, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait (New York, 1965), p. 47.
18. Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, p. 24. In The Great Gatsby, Jordan Baker's aunt is named Mrs. Sigourney Howard and Daisy's maiden name is Fay.
Three years after Fay's death, five of his sermons and fifteen of his conventional religious poems, which explain his conversion to Catholicism, were published, with an anonymous biographical Foreword and an Introduction by Cardinal Gibbons, as The Bride of the Lamb and Other Essays (New York, 1922). For more on Fay, see Rev. R. C. Nevius, "A Note on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Monsignor Sigourney Fay and His Early Career as an Episcopalian," Fitzgerald-Hemingway Annual, 3 (1971), 105-113.
19. Letters from Shane Leslie to Fitzgerald, September 8, 1918 and January 23, 1919, Princeton; Fitzgerald, In Our Own Time, p. 134. For more on Leslie, see his lively autobiography, Long Shadows (London, 1966).
Next: chapter 2.
Published as Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (NY. Harper-Collins, 1994).