This Side of Paradise was published on March 26, 1920, received considerable acclaim and made Fitzgerald instantly famous. It is (to use Orwell's term) a "good-bad book"-superficial and immature, but still lively and readable, and valuable both as autobiography and as social history. The novel's defiant tone had the same powerful impact on rebellious postwar youth as Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye did in 1951, and it became a bible and guidebook as the Twenties began to roar. Like Eliot's Poems, Owen's Poems, Huxley's Limbo and Lawrence's Women in Love (all of which appeared in 1920), Fitzgerald's novel captures the spirit of disillusionment that followed the Great War. The overt and somewhat naive theme echoes Woodrow Wilson's "war to end wars" and portrays the hero of the new generation "grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken."
Book One of the novel, "The Romantic Egoist," recounts the life of Amory Blaine from his wealthy and pampered childhood through prep school to Princeton. A weak "Interlude" alludes to but does not actually describe his wartime service. The book is loosely structured by Amory's three unhappy romantic attachments with Isabelle Borge, Rosalind Connage and Eleanor Savage. Isabelle rejects Amory because he is too egoistic, analytical and critical. Rosalind, who feels that marrying him would ruin both their lives, jilts him for a rich and reliable rival. Eleanor, who comes from a mentally unstable family, discourages him by attempting suicide. After breaking with Eleanor, Amory finds himself in Atlantic City. In a scene based on Fitzgerald's wartime contretemps with the detective in the Hotel Astor, Amory gallantly takes the blame when hotel detectives discover Rosalind's brother in bed with a prostitute.
The title of Book Two of this Bildungsroman, "The Education of a Personage," echoes The Education of Henry Adams (1907). This phrase also alludes to the pedantic distinction made by Amory's mentor, Father Darcy. In his view, the inconsequential "personality" is merely a false sense of self while the significant "personage" is a man with intellectual purpose and a definite goal: "Personality is a physical matter almost entirely; it lowers the people it acts on-I've seen it vanish in a long sickness. But while a personality is active, it overrides 'the next thing.' Now a personage, on the other hand, gathers. He is never thought of apart from what he's done. He's a bar on which a thousand things have been hung-glittering things sometimes, as ours are, but he uses those things with a cold mentality back of them."
In the last chapter of the novel, in which "The Egotist Becomes a Personage," Amory is picked up on the road to Princeton by the wealthy father of a college friend who has been killed in the war. Having cornered his host in his own car, Amory gives him a long and unwelcome lecture on the virtues of socialism. In the final sentence, following the Socratic dictum, Amory proclaims: "I know myself … but that is all"-though there is no evidence in the novel to suggest that he has moved beyond egotism to self-awareness or done anything at all significant.
The novel, dedicated to the recently deceased Father Sigourney Fay (the model for Father Darcy), incorporated extracts from Fay's letters to Fitzgerald, Shane Leslie's description of Fay's funeral and Zelda's diary. After reading the striking scene in which the devil appears with horrible feet and warns Amory not to sleep with a girl he had picked up at a nightclub, Fay had observed: "What a tremendous role the actual and cold fear of Satan does play in our make-up." But it is more likely that this scene (which had horrified Scott's friend Stephan Parrott) was influenced by Ivan's chilling encounter with the devil in The Brothers Karamazov (1880) than by Fay's discussions with his young disciples about the nature of evil. As early as January 1918 Bishop, in a letter to Fitzgerald, cited examples from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment to show that novels should be written in scenes "with successive climaxes." And Fitzgerald must have heard about the famous diabolic scene in Karamazov from Christian Gauss, who remarked that at Princeton, Fitzgerald reminded him of all the Karamazov brothers at once.
In a letter of August 1920 Fitzgerald called Leslie "my first literary sponsor, godfather to this book." He told Leslie that he had originally intended to dedicate the novel to him as well as to Fay, ingenuously explained that he had used Leslie's account of the funeral because "I didn't see it myself and had to describe it" and joyfully announced: "I married the Rosalind of the novel, the southern girl I was so attached to, after a grand reconciliation."1
In This Side of Paradise (as we have seen) Fitzgerald exploited the dramatic possibilities of Father Fay, Ginevra King, Zelda Sayre, Henry Strater and John Peale Bishop (whose fictional name, Thomas D'Invilliers, was probably suggested by that of the nineteenth-century French writer Villiers de l'Isle-Adam). He also put other real-life models into the book. Thornton Hancock was based on the distinguished historian Henry Adams, whom Fitzgerald had met through Fay and Leslie; Mrs. Lawrence on Mrs. Margaret Chanler, whose memoirs included a vivid description of Fay; Allenby (the name of a triumphant British general in the Great War) on the Princeton football star Hobey Baker; Eleanor Savage on Bishop's friend Elizabeth Beckwith, with whom Fitzgerald had gone horseback riding in Charlestown, West Virginia, while waiting to enter the army in the summer of 1917; and the idealized Clara Page on his attractive widowed cousin, Cecilia Taylor, who lived in Norfolk, Virginia.
Clara "was alone in the world, with two small children, little money, and, worst of all, a host of friends," Fitzgerald wrote. "What a twist Clara had to her mind! She could make fascinating and almost brilliant conversation out of the thinnest air that ever floated through a drawing-room." Cecilia's daughter Sally Abeles "remembered Scott from his Princeton days as being very good-looking and, to his young female cousins, very glamorous." She explained that "my mother was quite beautiful and the relationship with Scott was based on the family connection and the fact that she was sixteen years older than he and (as he matured) more his kind of person than his parents were."2
This Side of Paradise was written with facile cleverness in a series of short episodic scenes and in an unusual mixture of prose, poetry, drama, letters, book lists and quotations. Though flippant, it contains flashes of insight on a number of serious subjects: wealth, class, sex, mores, fame, romance, glamour, success, vanity, egoism, politics and religion. The potentially sensational chapter on "Petting" is in fact about kissing: "None of the Victorian mothers … had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to be kissed." And none of the passionless kissing scenes-"HE: Rosalind, I really want to kiss you. SHE: So do I. (They kiss-definitely and thoroughly)"-stimulates Amory to engage in more daring sexual acts. The originality of the novel lies in its attitude toward sex rather than in its descriptions of sexual behavior. At a time when twelve percent of Fitzgerald's Princeton class regarded casual kissing as morally wrong, and when a serious kiss meant that a proposal was expected, This Side of Paradise seemed daring in recognizing the sexual impulses of young men and women and in celebrating-just after Prohibition had been enacted-the freedom of drinking and sex.
"I'm sick of the sexless animals writers have been giving us," Fitzgerald told an interviewer in January 1921. "Personally, I prefer this sort of [modern] girl. Indeed, I married the heroine of my stories. I would not be interested in any other sort of woman."3 Fitzgerald persuaded Scribner's to advertise the book as "A Novel About Flappers Written for Philosophers." And with Zelda in mind, he popularized the term "flapper" (originally derived from a "wild duck"). The word had evolved from meaning a young harlot in the early nineteenth century, and then an immoral girl in her early teens at the turn of the twentieth century, to a young girl with her hair not yet put up in 1905, and finally to an unconventional young woman with short hair in the 1920s. The novel had an immense social as well as literary impact. Amory and his girlfriends-freed by wealth, alcohol and automobiles-became models for unconstrained behavior. Fitzgerald's book expressed the current revolt against prewar respectability and alarmed protective parents. It both baptized the Jazz Age and glorified its fashionable hedonism.
Most reviewers were surprisingly enthusiastic and generous about the flawed but vibrant novel, which seemed to fit Fitzgerald's own description of similar works by his young rivals Floyd Dell and Stephen Vincent Benet: "This writing of a young man's novel consists chiefly in dumping all your youthful adventures into the reader's lap with a profound air of importance, keeping carefully within the formulas of Wells and James Joyce." Fitzgerald himself was influenced by the social context of Wells' The History of Mr. Polly and closely paraphrased ("He was … preserved to help in building up the living consciousness of the race") the famous words about the rebellious hero in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist.
Franklin P. Adams criticized This Side of Paradise as "sloppy and cocky; impudent instead of confident; and verbose," but most critics were favorably impressed by its originality, its vitality and its style. The anonymous reviewer in the New York Times Book Review admired "the glorious spirit of abounding youth [that] glows throughout this fascinating tale." Burton Rascoe of the Chicago Tribune exclaimed: "It is sincere, it is honest, it is intelligent, it is handled in an individual manner, it bears the impress, it seems to me, of genius." And the influential, frequently harsh H. L. Mencken, who had with George Jean Nathan published Fitzgerald's first stories in the Smart Set and would soon become his friend, pronounced it "a truly amazing first novel-original in structure, extremely sophisticated in manner, and adorned with a brilliancy that is as rare in American writing as honesty is in American statecraft."4
Bishop, Wilson, Fitzgerald himself, as well as students and faculty at Princeton, all commented on the provocative book. After reading the manuscript, Bishop called it "damn good, brilliant in places, and sins chiefly through exuberance and lack of development." Later on, Bishop tried to account for its astonishing popularity by observing: "Sincerity for hypocrisy, spontaneity in the place of control, freedom from repression-who could resist such a program? The response was prodigious. Success, as we know, was only less immediate. The faults of the program were not so soon apparent."5
In the Bookman of March 1922 Wilson (who was supposed to be a friend) opened his review of the novel with his usual put-down. He repeated some of the points he had made in his letter about the as-yet-unpublished novel and authoritatively established the line of criticism about Fitzgerald's work that would be repeated throughout his lifetime: "He has been given imagination without intellectual control of it; he has been given the desire for beauty without an aesthetic ideal; and he has been given a gift for expression without very many ideas to express." Though Wilson clearly had the intellectual control, aesthetic ideals and abundant ideas, it was Fitzgerald who had somehow blundered into the creation of a phenomenally popular novel. Trying, like Bishop, to account for its surprising critical success, Wilson praised the book's vitality: "I have said that This Side of Paradise commits almost every sin that a novel can possibly commit: but it does not commit the unpardonable sin: it does not fail to live. The whole preposterous farrago is animated with life."
In 1920 Fitzgerald, riding high on his new-found wealth and fame as spokesman for the postwar generation, had fulfilled Wilson's prediction that his shallowness would make him a popular success. Still toiling as an obscure journalist, Wilson found other ways to attack Fitzgerald and now became as critical of his personal faults as he was of his literary failings. Wilson and Bishop, whose thin volume of poems had also been eclipsed by Fitzgerald, drew up, after seeing the novel piled high in his publisher's handsome shop window on Fifth Avenue, a satiric catalogue for a "Proposed exhibit of Fitzgeraldiana for Chas. Scribner's Sons." These items-which reflected Fitzgerald's immaturity, vanity, narcissism, shallowness and undistinguished military career (Wilson and Bishop had both served in France)-consisted of three double malted milks, a bottle of hair tonic, a yellow silk shirt, a mirror, his entire seven-book library (including a notebook and two scrapbooks) and an "overseas cap never worn overseas."6 The yellow shirt anticipated Jay Gatsby's exhibition of his wardrobe; the overseas cap would be cunningly adopted by Fitzgerald in "The Crack-Up." Though emotionally vulnerable, Fitzgerald tolerated this sharp criticism with humility and good-natured resignation.
Fitzgerald had good reason to put up with Wilson's spiteful attacks. He was being exceptionally well paid for his work and could understand Wilson's manifest envy. He knew that he was not an intellectual novelist and, though his commercial stories were hastily composed, that his style and subject matter were his own. He instinctively perceived that his work evolved from his personal faults and emotional crises. His role as passive target was, moreover, fundamental to his relationship with Wilson. Had he become angry and broken with his friend, he would have lost the benefit of Wilson's harsh but stimulating criticism.
In the 1930s Fitzgerald retrospectively agreed with Wilson's criticism, but also defended his cheeky novel. Comparing it to a work by Oscar Wilde that had provided one of the epigraphs, he told Max Perkins: "I think it is now one of the funniest books since Dorian Gray in its utter spuriousness-and then, here and there, I find a page that is very real and living." Referring to Wilson in "Early Success," Fitzgerald remarked: "A lot of people thought it was a fake, and perhaps it was, and a lot of others thought it was a lie, which it was not."7 Its intellectual pretensions were fake, Fitzgerald conceded, since he had brashly discussed books and issues about which he knew very little. But his descriptions of experiences and feelings were real and sincere.
The Princeton bookstore was stampeded on the day of publication. Five days later, on March 31, 1920, Fitzgerald gave Cottage Club an inscribed copy of the novel (which is still there) to mark his visit to Princeton a few days before his wedding. This Side of Paradise-which portrayed the undergraduates as social climbers, arrogant snobs, energetic hedonists and political windbags-was a direct and deliberate assault on Woodrow Wilson's staunch Presbyterian values. H. L. Mencken, delighted by its wild iconoclasm, remarked that if a new Fitzgerald escaped from Princeton, he would be "received with a cordiality (both spiritual and spiritous) that the president of his university might envy."
But John Grier Hibben, Wilson's successor as president of the university, was angered and upset by the portrayal of Princeton as "the pleasantest country club in America." Rejecting Fitzgerald's emphasis on frivolity, Hibben frankly told him "that your characterization of Princeton has grieved me. I cannot bear to think that our young men are merely living for four years in a country club and spending their lives wholly in a spirit of calculation and snobbishness." Humbly deferring to authority, Fitzgerald admitted that the novel "does overaccentuate the gayety and country club atmosphere of Princeton."8 He did not mention, however, that his notorious phrase had been lifted from Wilson's predecessor, President Patton, who had reigned at Princeton until 1902 and "was heard to boast that he was head of the finest country club in America." Though the book offended Hibben's ideal vision of Princeton, it conveyed a romantic aura to succeeding generations. The young George Kennan, later a diplomat and Soviet specialist, was drawn to Princeton by the novel; and Adlai Stevenson called it "a great human document."9
Fitzgerald was fortunate, at the beginning of his literary career, to win the loyal friendship and generous support of two remarkably similar men: his editor, Maxwell Perkins, and his agent, Harold Ober. Both gentlemen were reserved, respectable, reliable New Englanders, who had graduated from Harvard and led a conventional family life in the New York suburbs. Perkins came from a distinguished background. One of his ancestors had signed the Declaration of Independence; his grandfather had been attorney general under Andrew Johnson and secretary of state under Rutherford Hayes. Born in New York in 1884, the son of a lawyer, Perkins grew up in Windsor, Vermont, and attended St. Paul's School in New Hampshire. After college he worked in a Boston welfare house and became a reporter on the New York Times. He married an extremely proper wife just after becoming an editor at Scribner's in 1910, had five proper daughters and lived properly in New Canaan, Connecticut. He also maintained a platonic friendship with another woman for twenty-five years. In the summer of 1916 Perkins unexpectedly joined the U.S. Cavalry, was sent to the Mexican border and chased but never found the revolutionary, Pancho Villa.
Rather stuffy and correct, but uncommonly generous, Perkins had, according to the Canadian author Morley Callaghan, "a talent for diplomacy in difficult human situations, and a kind of nobility of spirit and a fine sense of fairness." Hemingway liked the strange way Perkins moved his lips and his reporter's habit of keeping his hat on in the office. He admired Perkins' kindness, modesty and tact, but criticized his deep-rooted puritanism, which made him abandon any pursuit that gave him pleasure.
Perkins gave excellent literary advice to authors who needed it. He helped Thomas Wolfe-who portrayed him unsympathetically as Foxhall Edwards in The Web and the Rock (1939)-to assemble his unwieldy tomes from a mass of disordered fragments. But he did not edit Hemingway, a careful author, beyond excising passages that were libelous and obscene. He merely accepted Hemingway's typescripts, praised them and published them as expeditiously as possible.
Perkins was more intimate with Fitzgerald than with Hemingway and did much more for Scott. As Fitzgerald's editor Perkins had to be as encouraging as possible. In contrast to Father Fay's flattery and Edmund Wilson's mockery, Perkins provided a constructive response that enabled Fitzgerald to improve his work. But Perkins could not spell and was absolutely useless at correcting, copy-editing and proofreading a text. As a result of both the author's and the editor's carelessness, Fitzgerald's novels-from the first editions to the present time-are filled with hundreds of ludicrous orthographical, grammatical and factual errors. Though both Fitzgerald and Scribner's looked foolish when Franklin P. Adams' newspaper column listed scores of errors in This Side of Paradise, Perkins continued to be grossly negligent. In October 1921 he offered some typically bad advice when preparing the proofs of Fitzgerald's second novel, The Beautiful and Damned: "I shall send them on to you but you will not need to read them very carefully unless you wish to. Just look them over."10
As Fitzgerald's career progressed, Perkins assumed the additional roles of substitute parent, father confessor, secret sharer, social worker, medical mentor, psychiatric adviser, intermediary to Hemingway and rather reckless banker. He was one of the few people who maintained his friendship with Fitzgerald until the very end. Fitzgerald-like Ford and Pound-was generous with fellow authors. He repaid Perkins by recommending to Scribner's many little-known and extremely promising writers, whom he had met or heard about in Princeton, St. Paul, New York and Paris: John Biggs, John Peale Bishop, Thomas Boyd, Ring Lardner, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Morley Callaghan, Andre Chamson, Raymond Radiguet, Erskine Caldwell and Franz Kafka. Through Fitzgerald's good offices, Hemingway and Caldwell became two of Scribner's most profitable authors.
Harold Ober was born near Lake Winnipesaukee in 1881 and grew up in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, on the Massachusetts border. He worked his way through Harvard as a tutor, rowed for the varsity crew and graduated in 1905. Eager to become an author, he spent the next two years in Europe; and he returned to France with the Red Cross in 1917. Ober joined the Paul Reynolds literary agency in 1907, became a partner in 1919 and opened his own agency, just before the Wall Street Crash, in 1929. "He was tall and lean," wrote Catherine Drinker Bowen, one of his satisfied clients, "with deep-set, serious blue eyes, a big nose, a high color, and … a head of handsome grey hair which he wore parted on one side and carefully brushed down." But he also had overgrown eyebrows, a pendulous lower lip and a weak chin.
Ober had two sons, and was interested in dogs, gardening, music and skiing. Like Perkins, he was generous with advice and money, and always behaved with old-fashioned courtesy and extreme reserve. After some difficult negotiations, one editor remarked: "That New Hampshireman can say nothing for longer periods than the great Buddha." Fitzgerald's daughter Scottie, who became part of the Ober family during her years in high school and college, called him "a man of TOTAL integrity."11
Fitzgerald dealt directly with Perkins at Scribner's. Ober handled only his magazine stories, but was instrumental in his financial success. "In 1919," Fitzgerald wrote, "I had made $800 by writing, in 1920 I had made $18,000, stories, picture rights and book. My story price had gone from $30 to $1,000"-and would continue to rise until it reached $4,000 from the Saturday Evening Post in 1929. No longer a poor boy in a rich boy's world, Fitzgerald now revealed a vulgar streak and seemed to illustrate Thorstein Veblen's concept of conspicuous consumption. Intoxicated by the excitement of money and eager to advertise his success, he would prepare for parties by prominently displaying hundred dollar bills in his vest pockets.
This Side of Paradise, which had sold out in twenty-four hours, required twelve more printings by the end of 1921 and by then had sold more than 49,000 copies. Fitzgerald, who naively expected all his books to achieve a similar success, lived up to what he imagined his future income would be. He spent his money and his talent as if they would last forever. "All big men have spent money freely," he told his mother. "I hate avarice or even caution."12 He did make one attempt to provide for the future by buying two bonds, but they lost value and he was unable to sell them. When he tried to abandon them in the subway, they were always returned to him.
Fitzgerald's lavish expenditure of money indelibly marked him as nouveau riche. Once he developed luxurious tastes, he preferred to sacrifice his independence and go deeper into debt rather than reduce his standard of living to match his diminished income. Like Joseph Conrad, he felt he had to live like a gentleman and (even when pressed for money) provide his family with maids, governesses, nannies, nurses, expensive hotels, luxurious cars, private schools and the finest hospitals. Forced to borrow from his publisher and agent to get what he needed, he became as financially dependent on Ober as Conrad had been on his agent, J. B. Pinker.
Fitzgerald's sudden wealth and fame created emotional and intellectual problems. He felt guilty because he did not deserve these blessings. Having reached the peak of financial and critical success, he found it extremely difficult to surpass his first achievement. He could do this only by writing a more serious and ambitious novel, which would inevitably earn less money than a popular one. This would force him once again to turn out commercial stories in order to pay for his lavish way of life.
At the same time that he began his friendship with Perkins and Ober, Fitzgerald met the editors of the Smart Set, H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness was satiric and avant-garde, snobbish and stylish, witty and iconoclastic. It published Somerset Maugham's "Rain," fiction by Willa Cather, James Branch Cabell and Sinclair Lewis as well as more experimental works by Lawrence, Joyce and Pound. It also took stories by Fitzgerald that were too serious or too highbrow for the Saturday Evening Post.
Nathan-a short, dark, well-dressed and melancholy man-was born in Indiana in 1882. After graduating from Cornell, he made his reputation as a cynical and sophisticated drama critic and literary editor. In The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald portrayed him as Maury Noble and compared him to "a large, slender and imposing cat. His eyes are narrow and full of incessant, protracted blinks. His hair is smooth and flat, as though it had been licked by a … mother-cat." Like Nathan, Noble was considered a brilliant and original figure-"smart, quiet and among the saved."
Henry Louis Mencken, a Baltimore-born journalist and critic, was two years older than Nathan. An intensely Germanic, beer-drinking, cigar-chomping man, he had a squat proletarian face with a pudgy nose and plastered hair divided down the middle of his head. Though notorious for his aggressive iconoclasm and savage satires on philistine life in America, Mencken was enthusiastic about Fitzgerald's work. Scott thought Mencken had done more for American letters than any man alive and called him one of the greatest men in the country. After Father Fay's death in 1919, his spiritual influence on Fitzgerald was replaced by Mencken's violent hostility to Christianity. Scott called Mencken "The Baltimore Anti-Christ" and in letters addressed him ironically (as he had once addressed Fay respectfully) as "the Right Reverend HLM." Mencken was enchanted by Zelda; Nathan conducted a dangerous flirtation with her. But Mencken also told Cabell that Zelda's extravagance fueled Scott's desire for money and pulled him away from serious art: "His wife talks too much about money. His danger lies in trying to get it too rapidly. A very amiable pair, innocent and charming."13
Though Zelda was Protestant and Scott no longer a practicing Catholic, they were married on April 3, 1920-eight days after the publication of his first novel-in the rectory of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. Zelda, who later became a model for fashionable women in the 1920s, had no taste or style when she first came north. She was even considered a bit cheap and "tacky." Horrified by her Southern frills and furbelows, Fitzgerald anxiously asked Marie Hersey-his St. Paul friend, Ginevra King's roommate at Westover School and a graduate of Vassar-to buy Zelda the proper clothes for New York.
As if to emphasize the break the young couple had made with their backgrounds, neither Scott's nor Zelda's parents attended the wedding. The only witnesses were Scott's Princeton friend and best man, Ludlow Fowler, and Zelda's three older sisters, who were by then married and living in New York. Scott, who was nervous, insisted the ceremony begin before Clothilde arrived. There was no lunch or party after the wedding, which Rosalind considered rude and never forgave, and the couple promptly left for their honeymoon at the Biltmore Hotel.
Though absorbed by the sensations of the moment, Fitzgerald was also keenly aware of the ephemeral nature of happiness. In This Side of Paradise, as Amory Blaine put in his collar studs before a party on Long Island, "he realized that he was enjoying life as he would probably never enjoy it again." When Fitzgerald and his friends left Princeton for the war in June 1917, "some of us wept because we knew we'd never be quite so young any more as we had been here." And in "My Lost City" he recaptured the manic-depressive emotions of Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence"-
But, as it sometimes chanceth, from the might
Of joy in minds that can no further go,
As high as we have mounted in delight
In our dejection do we sink as low-
and remembered that "riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall buildings under a mauve and rosy sky [which represents his extreme variations of mood]; I began to bawl because I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again."14
Zelda had spent her entire life with her family in Montgomery but, like Sally Carrol Happer in "The Ice Palace," wanted "to live where things happen on a big scale." Suddenly thrown into a chaotic existence in New York, she managed to conquer the city. But her life from then on was always rootless and unstable. Scott, whose childhood had been marked by frequent moves, continued to live a nomadic life. The catalogue of temporary rooms in her article "Show Mr. and Mrs. F. to Number--" describes how they hopped nervously from place to place. They never owned a house of their own, never settled anywhere for very long and were often expelled from the places they rented.
Fitzgerald confused immaturity with youthfulness and boasted to a former St. Paul girlfriend about their weaknesses: Zelda is "very beautiful and very wise and very brave as you can imagine-but she's a perfect baby and a more irresponsible pair than we'll be will be hard to imagine." He immediately set the tone of his marriage by taking his teenage bride to an April weekend at Cottage Club and introducing her to everyone as his mistress. He got a black eye (the first of many) at a rowdy Princeton party, and took it badly when his self-righteous club suspended him for drunken behavior.
Their wild and well-publicized pranks soon became notorious. Watching a comedy in the front row of a theater, they annoyed the actors by laughing appreciatively in all the wrong places. Kicked out of the Biltmore for disturbing other guests, they celebrated their move to the Commodore by spinning through the revolving doors for half an hour. Looking like a figurehead on the prow of a ship, Zelda paid a surcharge to catch the breeze on the hood of a taxi. Out of sheer exuberance they jumped into the fountain in Union Square and into the fountain near the Plaza, and achieved instant fame at the Greenwich Village Follies, whose curtain by Reginald Marsh included a picture of Zelda splashing in these urban pools. During a Hawaiian pageant in Montgomery (which they visited in March 1921), Zelda bent over, lifted her grass skirt and wriggled her pert behind. In May 1920 they rented a house on Compo Road in suburban Westport and hired a Japanese servant. Bored by the suburbs, Zelda summoned the firemen (as she had done as a child in Montgomery). When asked where the blaze was, she struck her breast and exclaimed: "Here!" Like the autobiographical heroine of Save Me the Waltz, Zelda lived impulsively: "You took what you wanted from life, if you could get it, and you did without the rest."
In July 1920 they bought an unreliable second-hand Marmon automobile and had a series of mechanical breakdowns, absurd mishaps and unpleasant confrontations when their twin knickerbockers scandalized small Southern towns en route to Montgomery. Fitzgerald later chronicled this journey in "The Cruise of the Rolling Junk" (1924). He was one of the first writers to use the automobile for dramatic scenes in fiction. In This Side of Paradise Amory's college friend Dick Humbird is killed in a car crash. In The Great Gatsby Daisy Buchanan kills her husband's mistress with her lover's car. In Tender Is the Night Nicole Diver, enraged by jealousy while driving on the Riviera with her husband and children, tries to force their car off a steep, dangerous road. And a key chapter on Fitzgerald in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast describes a disastrous trip from Lyons to Paris in a Renault whose top had been cut off.
The familiar catalogue of infantile pleasures has been admired by the chroniclers of the Fitzgeralds' legend and accepted as an expression of their youthful vitality. But it also suggests a tiresome self-absorption, self-importance and striving for irresponsibility as well as a rather desperate hedonism that threatened to burn itself out and lapse into boring repetition (five minutes in the revolving door would have sufficed to make the point).
Alcohol fueled most of these uninhibited episodes, which changed from high-spirited to malicious as Fitzgerald's drinking intensified. David Bruce, the Princeton friend who became an eminent diplomat, was ambivalent about Zelda and reported that she "can drink more than any other woman he has ever seen, and is a trifle ordinary and Alabamian, but has brains." Scott admitted that he could never get sufficiently sober to endure being sober, but he could get into dangerous trouble even when he was not drunk. In April 1921 (a year after Fitzgerald got the black eye at Princeton) the writer Carl Van Vechten stopped by Scott's apartment in New York and found him "with two black eyes, one a bleeding mass, discreetly covered by a towel. He had hopefully attacked the bouncer in the Jungle, a New York cabaret, on the previous Friday. When he was completely sober: an unheard of occurrence."15 Van Vechten does not mention that Zelda, to test or punish Scott, had urged him to take on the bouncer.
Their wild behavior was also inspired by more rational, even calculated motives. Fitzgerald had a strong and nervous craving to be liked, and tried to make people happy-even if it meant making a fool of himself. Immense vitality and charm flowed out of him and made the most commonplace encounter seem like a real adventure. The actress Carmel Myers felt that "it required the special quality of Scott's personality to infuse such sophomoric behavior with an atmosphere of explosive gaiety." Both Scott and Zelda had a need for drama-or farce. Their public performances, which resembled the Marx Brothers at a debutantes' cotillion, expressed their desire to act up to their reputation, be seen to lead the revolt against boring conventions and transform a dull experience into a lively occasion. Zelda had few inhibitions and would do almost anything. She had always been the star performer in Montgomery, and her shocking pranks in the North, which she called "exploring her abysses in public," were meant to compete with Scott, who had stolen top billing, and refocus attention on herself. Like Nicole Diver in Tender Is the Night, Zelda believed "we should do something spectacular … all our lives have been too restrained."
Scott had been in the advertising business and knew how to create an attractive public image. Like Hemingway, he exploited his good looks, wit and charm. He would not have been nearly as successful if he had called himself Francis, been as ugly as Dreiser and as bald as Dos Passos, and had a dowdy wife who looked and dressed like Gertrude Stein. His outrageous acts were often quite deliberate. He misbehaved to arouse attention and gain publicity. And he was very successful (as his scrapbooks of press cuttings indicate) in getting into the newspapers, keeping his name in the public eye and helping to sell his books. In contrast to disillusioned and embittered writers like Hemingway, Robert Graves, Richard Aldington and Erich Maria Remarque, all of whom published their war books in 1929, Fitzgerald helped his generation recover from the war by emphasizing and embodying the joyous and hopeful possibilities at the beginning of the 1920s. Zelda felt that Scott's greatest contribution, in both his life and works, was to endow "a heart-broken and despairing era" with a "sense of tragic courage."16
Scott deliberately encouraged Zelda's madcap role so that he could write about the bizarre things she had done. He was attracted by the qualities that were at first essential to his work and later helped to destroy it. Writing about what had happened to them seemed to define-or recover-their real selves, which were hidden beneath their self-conscious role-playing and image making. As he ingenuously observed: "I don't know whether Zelda and I are real or whether we are characters in one of my novels." After he had created the public personae which he and Zelda felt obliged to imitate, and which revealed the disparity between their projected and actual lives, he admitted: "we scarcely knew any more who we were and we hadn't a notion what we were."17
Though Fitzgerald's literary image was daring, nonconformist and unconventional, he could never quite extinguish his provincial, puritanical streak. He told one friend: "Parties are a form of suicide. I love them, but the old Catholic in me secretly disapproves." Another friend agreed that Fitzgerald had to make a deliberate effort to misbehave: "Poor Scott, he never really enjoyed his dissipation because he disapproved intensely of himself all the time it was going on."18 His corruption was always tempered by innocence.
As they whirled from party to party their chaotic and dissipated mode of life seemed to sustain them in a cataclysmic sort of way. But it put an enormous strain on their marriage. Zelda's extravagance and flirtations, which had once seemed so delightful, soon became intolerable. Zelda resembled the spoiled wife in Hemingway's story "Cat in the Rain," though she craved much more expensive things: "And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes." The spoiled and acquisitive Zelda, who had to be courted with feather fans and expensive jewelry, believed "having things, just things, objects, makes a woman happy. The right kind of perfume, the smart pair of shoes. They are great comforts to the feminine soul." Dorothy Parker agreed with Zelda's mother that she had a petulant streak and would begin to sulk if something displeased her. Zelda's craving for luxuries (as Mencken had noted) kept Fitzgerald turning out poor stories for good money.
Like Leopold Bloom in Joyce's Ulysses, Fitzgerald was sexually excited by Zelda's flirtations with other men and liked to possess a woman who was universally admired. The first fault in the unstable landscape of their marriage occurred when Zelda, who still needed to exert her sexual power and remain the center of attention, began to embrace and kiss his friends in public. When she rushed into John Peale Bishop's room as he was going to bed and said she wanted to spend the night with him, when she lured Townsend Martin into the bathroom and insisted he give her a bath, Fitzgerald became disturbed by her seductive behavior. It made his friends uncomfortable and put everyone in a compromising position.
The dapper George Jean Nathan, a well-known ladies' man, fell so deeply in love with Zelda, after months of apparently innocent flirtation, that Scott felt obliged to terminate their friendship. Zelda, much more unconventional than Scott, evoked hedonism to justify her daring behavior and define the new morality of the flapper: "She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure; she covered her face with paint and powder because she didn't need it and she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn't boring."19
The most intimate view of the troubled early months of their marriage appeared in the diary of Scott's Princeton friend Alexander McKaig, who saw the Fitzgeralds regularly in the summer of 1920 when they were living in Westport and coming down to New York for parties. On September 15, for example, they started to fight in Westport and, after Scott had hastily pursued her on the train to Manhattan, resumed their quarrel (for they liked to have an audience) in front of McKaig: "In the evening Zelda-drunk-having decided to leave Fitz & having nearly been killed walking down RR track, blew in. Fitz came shortly after. He had caught same train with no money or ticket. They threatened to put him off but finally let him stay on-Zelda refusing to give him any money. They continued their fight while here." After describing the fight, McKaig recorded the advice he may have given Fitzgerald as well as the difficulty of following it, and noted that she had the dominant personality: "Fitz should let Zelda go & not run after her. Like all husbands he is afraid of what she might do in a moment of caprice… Trouble is, Fitz [is] absorbed in Zelda's personality-she is the stronger of the two. She has supplied him with all his copy for women."
A month later McKaig noted that their flat at 38 West 59th Street (which they had rented, when they tired of Westport, from October 1920 until April 1921) was "a pig sty." Zelda had kept her promise not to think about "pots and kitchens and brooms." McKaig also stated their insoluble dilemma: "If she's there Fitz can't work-she bothers him-if she's not there he can't work-worried of what she might do… Zelda increasingly restless-says frankly she wants to be amused and is only good for useless, pleasure-giving pursuits; great problem-what is she to do?" Smitten by Zelda, like most of Scott's friends, McKaig rather incongruously concluded: "She is without doubt the most brilliant & most beautiful young woman I've ever known." Though deeply disturbed by Zelda's refusal to restrain herself, Scott remained infatuated. In a letter to Edmund Wilson, he expressed his admiration for "the complete, fine and full-hearted selfishness and chillmindedness of Zelda."20
In February 1921 Zelda discovered she was pregnant, and they decided to take their first trip to Europe while she could still travel. They sailed on the Aquitania and docked in Southampton in May 1921. While staying at the Hotel Cecil on the Strand in London, they dined at the Hampstead home of John Galsworthy, a Scribner's author whom Fitzgerald had met through Alfred Noyes at Princeton. "Tall, austere looking, with a Roman profile and tightly closed lips, always correctly dressed, Galsworthy would not have looked out of place in Downing Street." In contrast to the easy-going Fitzgerald, Galsworthy was correct, formal and stiff.
During dinner Fitzgerald, who habitually adopted a self-conscious and self-abasing attitude when encountering established writers, suddenly burst out with: "Mr. Galsworthy, you are one of the three living writers I admire most in the world: you and [Galsworthy's friend] Joseph Conrad and Anatole France!" He later admitted to Edmund Wilson that Galsworthy had not "liked it much. He knew he wasn't that good." But Galsworthy, who was easily as good as Anatole France and later won the Nobel Prize, was probably more embarrassed by Fitzgerald's gauche flattery than dismayed (as Fitzgerald suggested) by his own sad estimation of his work. Though Galsworthy was kind, the host and guest seemed temperamentally at odds with each other and the evening was not a success. Fitzgerald told Shane Leslie that he was rather disappointed in the older writer and unfavorably compared him to Conrad: "I can't stand pessimism with neither irony nor bitterness."
On this visit to England, Fitzgerald observed the poor and was entertained by the rich. Leslie, who had done social work in Wapping, took them on a nighttime tour of the London docks (with Zelda, in that rough district, protectively dressed in men's clothing). He also invited them to dinner with his half-American first cousin Winston Churchill, who was then head of the Colonial Office. Like Gatsby, Fitzgerald ordered quantities of English suits and shirts. And he was tremendously impressed by Oxford, "the most beautiful spot in the world," and by its evocative associations with Compton Mackenzie, Max Beerbohm and Thomas Hardy. But when he returned there two months later, after visiting Paris and Rome, he was fearful that the once-impressive English, exhausted by the war, might soon become a dying breed: "We'd been to Oxford before-after Italy we went back there, arriving gorgeously at twilight when the place was fully peopled for us by the ghosts of ghosts-the characters, romantic, absurd or melancholy, of Sinister Street, Zuleika Dobson and Jude the Obscure. But something was wrong now-something that would never be right again… In how many years would our descendants approach this ruin with supercilious eyes to buy postcards from men of a short, inferior race-a race that once were Englishmen."21
The Fitzgeralds had scant interest in museums and monuments. They knew no one in France and Italy, quickly grew weary of sightseeing and rejected Edmund Wilson's sober advice to "settle down and learn French and apply a little French leisure and measure to that restless and jumpy nervous system." Instead, they waited outside Anatole France's house, hoping to see and perhaps speak to the distinguished author, but were disappointed when he failed to appear. And they were asked to leave the Hotel de Saint-James et d'Albany because Zelda repeatedly tied up the cage-style elevator with her belt so that it would always be ready when she had dressed for dinner.
Impelled by piety-or by mere curiosity-Fitzgerald had asked Archbishop Dowling of St. Paul to arrange an audience with the Holy Father in Rome. The archbishop, acceding to Fitzgerald's request and remembering the family's beneficence, told a Vatican official that "none have merited more of the Church in this city than [the Fitzgeralds] have through several generations-staunch, devout, generous." Though Fitzgerald noted "women weeping in Vatican" and "the loot of 20 centuries,"22 he did not mention seeing the pope, who by late June may have moved to his summer residence outside Rome.
Fitzgerald enjoyed himself hugely in Venice, but had a "rotten time" in France. Influenced by Mencken's pro-German attitudes and bitterly disillusioned by the decadent state of postwar Europe, he assumed a superior attitude and (in a letter to the Francophile Edmund Wilson) condemned Latin culture with an uneasy ferocity that anticipated the rantings of Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby:
God damn the continent of Europe. It is of merely antiquarian interest. Rome is only a few years behind Tyre and Babylon. The negroid streak creeps northward to defile the nordic race. Already the Italians have the souls of blackamoors… France made me sick… I think it's a shame that England and America didn't let Germany conquer Europe. It's the only thing that would have saved the fleet of tottering old wrecks. My reactions were all philistine, anti-socialistic, provincial and racially snobbish. I believe at last in the white man's burden. We are as far above the modern Frenchman as he is above the Negro.
Proud of his philistine thought and bohemian behavior, Fitzgerald told Robert Bridges, the editor of Scribner's Magazine, when they returned from Europe, that "there were legends enough current to supply three biographers."23
The Fitzgeralds sailed home on the Celtic in early July and made a brief visit to Montgomery. They then rented a house in Dellwood, on White Bear Lake, about ten miles northeast of St. Paul. They had contracted to stay for a year, but were asked to leave in November (as they had been asked to leave the Biltmore, Cottage Club and the Hotel de Saint-James). They had carelessly allowed a pipe to freeze and burst, which had caused severe water damage. The following summer their rambunctious parties led to expulsion from the White Bear Yacht Club. The Fitzgeralds never seemed troubled by all these evictions and merely shifted their chaotic household to the next convenient place.
In the summer of 1921 Zelda met Fitzgerald's parents for the first time, and settled down to await the birth of their first child. Zelda, who loved swimming and sunbathing, evoked the Minnesota scene with an image that suggested both protection and entrapment: "When summer came, all the people who liked summertime moved out to the huge, clear lake not far from town, and lived there in long, flat cottages surrounded with dank shrubbery and pine trees, and so covered by screened verandas that they made you think of small pieces of cheese under large meat safes." A childhood friend of Fitzgerald vividly recalled how Zelda had loathed and mocked St. Paul.
Fitzgerald made two new friends that summer. He spent many hours drinking and arguing with Thomas Boyd, the owner of the Kilmarnock Book Shop in St. Paul and the literary editor of the St. Paul Daily News. Born in Ohio two years after Scott, Boyd had been a marine hero, and was then working on his war novel Through the Wheat (1923). He favorably reviewed three of Fitzgerald's books and interviewed him twice. Xandra Kalman, an old friend and contemporary of Scott, had a summer place in Dellwood and had found a house for him. Though Catholic, in 1917 she had married a divorced banker, Oscar Kalman, a wealthy and generous man who was twenty-five years her senior. Since Zelda had made no preparations for the baby, the practical Xandra bought all the necessary clothing and supplies.
Frances Scott Fitzgerald, at first called Patricia but always known as Scottie, was born in St. Paul on October 26, 1921. When Zelda first saw the new baby she exclaimed: "I hope it's beautiful and a fool-a beautiful little fool"-a sentence attributed to Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald's telegram to the Sayres hyperbolically announced that their baby daughter had already eclipsed the most dazzling silent film stars: "Lillian Gish is in mourning; Constance Talmadge is a back number; and a second Mary Pickford has arrived." Nick Carraway responds in the same witty tone as this telegram when Daisy asks him if they miss her in Chicago: "The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath, and there's a persistent wail all night long along the north shore."24
In January 1922 Zelda became pregnant again, but decided not to have another child just after Scottie. Though she had refused to take pills to terminate her pregnancy before she was married, Zelda decided in March to have the first of her three abortions in New York. A cryptic, undated entry in Fitzgerald's Notebooks grimly states: "His son went down the toilet of the XXXX hotel after Dr. X-Pills."
In Rome, in the fall of 1924, an operation to help Zelda conceive caused a lingering infection. By the fall of 1930, when this infection had damaged her reproductive organs, she had abandoned hope of more children and despairingly told Fitzgerald: "Dr. Gros said there was no use trying to save my ovaries. I was always sick and having piqures [injections]."25 It is not surprising, in view of her medical history, that Zelda greatly admired Hemingway's fine story "Hills Like White Elephants," in which a selfish man bullies his reluctant girlfriend into having an abortion.
All Fitzgerald's friends recounted his mad escapades. But very few of them remembered him actually writing, which was done in spurts and completely absorbed him for weeks at a time. His daughter Scottie, stressing his dedication to his craft, recalled that "my father was always sitting at his desk in his bathrobe and slippers, writing, or reading Keats or Shelley-although there was often a faint aroma of gin in the air to dispel too romantic a picture."
Sinclair Lewis had predicted as early as 1920 that "Fitzgerald is going to be a writer the equal of any young European." Shane Leslie had compared him to the sacrificial and mythic Rupert Brooke. And the English critic Cyril Connolly, writing in 1951, observed that the legendary rise and fall of Fitzgerald's literary career and reputation seemed to epitomize both the celebration of the Twenties and the gloom of the Thirties: "Fitzgerald is now firmly established as a myth, an American version of the dying God, an Adonis of letters born with the century, flowering in the 'twenties, the Jazz Age which he perfectly expressed and almost created, and then quietly wilting away through the 'thirties to expire-as a deity of spring and summer should-on December 21st, 1940, at the winter solstice and the end of an epoch."
The difference in quality between Fitzgerald's best and worst work is exceptionally wide. He wrote two of the best novels in American literature and some of the most memorable stories. He also, like most authors, pursued a number of unfortunate dead ends: his unsuccessful play The Vegetable, the abandoned versions of Tender Is the Night, his absurd and lifeless "Philippe, Count of Darkness" stories, his scores of trashy tales for commercial magazines, and virtually all the Hollywood scenarios and screenplays.
Despite his dissipation, Fitzgerald was a very hard worker. During his lifetime he published four novels (another remained unfinished and appeared posthumously), four volumes of short fiction, a play, and three hundred stories, articles and poems in magazines. He wrote in pencil with his left hand and had a large, loopy handwriting that looked like a child's. He often composed in the evenings, clouded by the smoke of Chesterfields and propelled (according to whether or not he was drinking) by astonishing quantities of gin or Coca-Cola. He made several drafts, depending on the importance of the work, before sending it out to a secretary to be typed. In 1922 his St. Paul friend Thomas Boyd reported that Fitzgerald's original drafts were (like his character) spontaneous and impulsive:
[Fitzgerald's] writing is never thought out. He creates his characters and they are likely to lead him into almost any situation. His phrasing is done in the same way. It is rare that he searches for a word. Most of the time words come to his mind and they spill themselves in a riotous frenzy of song and color all over the page. Some days he writes as many as 7,000 or 8,000 words; and then, with a small Roget's Thesaurus, he carefully goes over his work, substituting synonyms for any unusual words that appear more than once in seven or eight consecutive pages.26
Fitzgerald's art, like the phoenix, was nourished and consumed by the same source. His only material was his own life, so he meticulously observed and recorded his family and friends, and created his fiction out of his personal experience. He repeatedly stressed the autobiographical nature of his fiction. His most powerful works-"Babylon Revisited," Tender Is the Night and "The Crack-Up"-were searingly confessional. But he was often limited as a writer by his inability to get outside or beyond himself. "I never did anything but live the life I wrote about," he declared. "My characters are all Scott Fitzgerald. Even the feminine characters are feminine Scott Fitzgeralds… Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves-that's the truth. We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives… 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."27
Fitzgerald's best stories were hard to write and hard to sell. His trivial work could be cranked out mechanically, once he had invented the formula, and easily placed in the Saturday Evening Post. This magazine could well afford to pay him high fees, for every issue had nearly three million readers and earned five million dollars from advertising. His typical stories have a glittering surface, are fanciful and fantastic, comic and mildly satirical, and portray the sophisticated manners and mores of well-off, usually idle and always attractive youths in bars and balls, sleek cars and swimming pools.
"The Popular Girl," published in the Saturday Evening Post in February 1922 and never reprinted in his lifetime, contains many elements of his characteristic stories: a Minnesota setting, a contrast between Midwestern and Eastern values, a country club dance, a handsome and well-dressed young hero with charming manners, who has been elected to Bones at Yale and has inherited great wealth, another poor but worthy suitor, a seventeen-year-old girl of exquisite beauty and (to add pathos and drama) her drunken father. The girl practices familiar and rather transparent deceits to capture the hero. But there are complications and sudden reversals. Her father dies, leaving her penniless; she is forced to spend her very last cent; and she is predictably rescued, just in time to avert disaster, by the wealthy heir.
Fitzgerald tried to justify such stories by claiming that the high fees they earned bought him time to concentrate on the ambitious novels that would establish his reputation as a serious artist. Though his fees continued to soar, they never bought quite enough money or time. He published three novels between 1920 and 1925, then took nine years to complete Tender Is the Night and was unable to finish The Last Tycoon.
His older friends, well aware of the insoluble conflict between money and art that had obsessed Fitzgerald since his Princeton days, tried to warn him about the danger of corruption. In a letter of April 1920 to George Jean Nathan, the critic Burton Rascoe presciently remarked: "I hope you are able at all events to dissuade Fitzgerald from writing too many Saturday Evening Post stories. Since writing you I have read one of his yarns in the Post: it is not to be differentiated from the stories of Nina Wilcox Putnam, Mrs. [Mary Roberts] Rinehart or any of a half dozen others. Clever enough but that's all. Trouble is that he is likely to begin, with the money rolling in, to think that that is literature." The following year Charles Norris, whose novel Brass Fitzgerald had favorably reviewed in the Bookman, warned him directly that catering to the trivial taste of the Post would destroy him as a writer: "You can re-christen that worthy periodical 'The Grave-Yard of the Genius of F. Scott Fitzgerald' if you go on contributing to it until [the editor George Horace] Lorimer sucks you dry and tosses you into the discard where nobody will care to find you."28 Despite these salutary warnings Fitzgerald-extravagant in the Twenties and desperate in the Thirties-continued to write for the Post until it began to reject his work in 1937.
Fitzgerald wrote two of his best stories, "The Ice Palace" (Post, May 1920) and "May Day" (Smart Set, July 1920), at the same time that he was turning out weak commercial stuff.29 In "The Ice Palace," he imaginatively portrayed Zelda's negative reaction to St. Paul-before she had ever been there. The story opens with a luminous description of Montgomery (called Tarleton, Georgia), which immediately establishes the languorous mood, and uses military metaphors to suggest that the South will be placed in opposition to the North: "The sunlight dripped over the house like golden paint over an art jar, and the freckling shadows here and there only intensified the rigor of the bath of light. The Butterworth and Larkin houses flanking were intrenched behind great stodgy trees; only the Happer house took the full sun, and all day long faced the dusty road-street with a tolerant kindly patience."
After the scene is effectively established, Sally Carrol Happer talks to her visiting fiance, Harry Bellamy, in a Confederate cemetery, which for Fitzgerald had strong historical and personal associations. It represents courtliness and chivalry, tradition and dignity, and a glorious past. Scott had proposed to Zelda in a Montgomery cemetery. Its atmosphere was evoked in one of her most romantic letters, which influenced his portrayal of Sally Carrol's feelings about the South:
I've spent to-day in the grave-yard-It really isn't a cemetery, you know-trying to unlock a rusty iron vault built in the side of the hill. It's all washed and covered with weepy, watery blue flowers that might have grown from dead eyes-sticky to touch with a sickening odor… Why should graves make people feel in vain? … All the broken columns and clasped hands and doves and angels mean romances… Isn't it funny how, out of a row of Confederate soldiers, two or three will make you think of dead lovers and dead loves.
When Sally Carrol travels to the unnamed northern city (clearly based on St. Paul, which actually had a palace made of ice), Harry boasts about John J. Fishburn (i.e., James J. Hill), the "greatest wheat man in the Northwest, and one of the greatest financiers in the country." Zelda had complained that Scott repeatedly said she should be locked in a tower like a princess. And Harry proudly shows Sally Carrol the frozen palace, built like a fortified castle, out of blocks of the clearest ice: "It was three stories in the air, with battlements and embrasures and narrow icicled windows, and the innumerable electric lights inside made a gorgeous transparency of the great central hall." But to Sally Carrol, it is merely a depressing pagan altar to the God of Snow.
She finds the town dismal; misses the affectionate flattery that a young lady expects to receive in the South; feels hostile to the women in Harry's family, who disapprove of her smoking and bobbed hair. And she is repelled by the thoroughly repressed, "righteous, narrow, and cheerless [people], without infinite possibilities for great sorrow and joy." While visiting the ice palace, which she thinks is far more morbid than the cemetery, she gets lost and is terrified to find herself utterly "alone with this presence that came out of the North, the dreary loneliness that rose from ice-bound whalers in the Arctic seas, from smokeless, trackless wastes where were strewn the whitened bones of adventure."30 Though safely rescued, Sally Carrol realizes that she can never marry Harry Bellamy, who has something of the ice palace in his heart. So she breaks her engagement and returns to the drowsy heat of the South.
"May Day," a more complex and ambitious story, has a tragic ending that disqualified it for the Post. It had to be sold for a much lower fee. The story takes place in New York on May 1, 1919, a few months after Fitzgerald had left the army and was trying to start a career in advertising and in writing. The shifting, episodic scenes in this long work capture the chaotic celebration of this holiday as the declasse hero and his proletarian mistress become involved with a series of upper- and lower-class characters. The dominant themes, which emerge as the mood changes from idealism to disillusionment, are betrayal and violence, moral and financial bankruptcy.
"May Day," whose title puns on the international signal for distress, charts the tragic decline of Gordon Sterrett. He has lost his job and, desperate for cash, attempts to borrow money from a rich Yale friend, Philip Dean, so he can pay off a girl who is blackmailing him and begin his career as an artist. The two college friends present a striking contrast in dress, wealth, health and moral well-being, and their mutual embarrassment makes them hate each other. When Philip finally refuses the loan, Gordon, observing him closely, suddenly notices how much his upper teeth project.
At this point the focus shifts to two proletarian soldiers, Gus Rose and Carrol Key (who has the middle names of Sally Happer and of Scott Fitzgerald). Just back from the war in Europe, they are trying to get some bootleg liquor from Key's brother, a waiter at Delmonico's, where the major characters converge. At this restaurant Edith Bradin, a former girlfriend of Gordon, has come to a Yale prom. As Edith admires herself and dances with her many beaux, her drunken date Peter Himmel talks to the two soldiers. Hearing about Edith from Philip Dean, the gloomy Gordon seeks her out, confesses his troubles and is rejected by her as brusquely as he had been by Dean. Edith then decides to visit her brother Henry, the editor of a Socialist newspaper, and Gordon is taken away from the party by his blackmailing girlfriend Jewel Hudson. While Edith is in the newspaper office, a mob of soldiers, who dislike the pacifistic and (in their eyes) pro-German Socialists, charge in, break Henry's leg and kill Key by pushing him out of a high window.
In yet another shift of mood, from tragedy to farce, Gus Rose, Peter Himmel, Philip Dean, Gordon Sterrett and Jewel Hudson, after drunken all-night parties, turn up the next morning at Childs'. Dean and Himmel, who has replaced Sterrett as Dean's friend, are ejected from the restaurant for throwing hash at the customers-as Fitzgerald sometimes did. They then go to the Biltmore for breakfast, remove the signs from the coatroom doors and adopt the vaudevillian roles of Mr. In and Mr. Out. In this unreal "segment of a whirring, spinning world," they practice their comic routine on the elevator man and conclude their surrealistic dialogue with Fitzgerald's rare bilingual pun on Himmel's German name:
"What floor, please?" said the elevator man.
"Any floor," said Mr. In.
"Top floor," said Mr. Out.
"This is the top floor," said the elevator man.
"Have another floor put on," said Mr. Out.
"Higher," said Mr. In.
"Heaven," said Mr. Out.
In ironic counterpoint to this witty dialogue, Gordon Sterrett wakes up in a cheap hotel room with a hangover and realizes that he has been trapped into marriage with Jewel. He buys a gun and-leaning on his drawing materials-shoots himself.
Though the ending is rather forced and unconvincing, "May Day" remains an impressive story with a great number of carefully delineated characters. The subtly complicated plot is effectively placed in the social and political context of the May Day riots of 1919 when, Fitzgerald wrote, "the police rode down the demobilized country boys gaping at the orators in Madison Square."31 But the story is personal as well as political. It conveys a powerful sense of loneliness and alienation, and poignantly describes what might have happened to Fitzgerald if he had failed to write his novel, lost his girl and succumbed to despair.
Flappers and Philosophers, his first collection of stories, was dedicated to Zelda and appeared in September 1920 to capitalize on the tremendous success of This Side of Paradise. It contained "The Ice Palace" but not "May Day," which was published too late to be included. The reviewers, slightly puzzled by this extremely uneven volume, were not nearly as enthusiastic as they had been about the novel. The New York Times complained that the "blatant tone of levity" almost drowned out "the perception of the literary substance" of Fitzgerald's work, but acknowledged that he "is working out an idiom, and it is an idiom at once universal, American and individual." The Chicago Sunday Tribune identified Fitzgerald as the laureate of the high-spirited younger generation: "There is something far more important than his popularity about Scott Fitzgerald. It is youth, uncompromising, unclothed, but not, as youth often is, dour and morbid. It is youth conscious of its powers and joyous in them." But the New York Herald perceived the superficiality beneath Fitzgerald's snappy dialogue and slick technique. His "faculty of characterizing people in a sentence in a way to make one thank Heaven one is not related to them; his facility in the use of the limited but pungent vocabulary of his type; his ingenuity in the hatching of unusual plots, all point to a case of cleverness in its most uncompromising form."32 The next few years would test Fitzgerald's ability to go beyond mere cleverness and prove that he could fulfill his potential as a serious writer.
1. Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, pp. 282, 104; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 30; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 396.
2. Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, p. 138; Letter from Sally Taylor Abeles to Jeffrey Meyers, June 3, 1992.
3. Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, pp. 58, 175; Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, pp. 244-245.
4. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 79; Franklin P. Adams, "The Conning Tower," New York Tribune, July 14, 1920, p. 8; Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, pp. 310, 305, 311.
5. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 49; John Peale Bishop, "The Missing All" (1937), Collected Essays, ed. Edmund Wilson (New York, 1948), p. 76.
6. Edmund Wilson, "The Literary Spotlight: F. Scott Fitzgerald," Bookman (New York), 55 (March 1922), 21-22; Quoted in Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 132.
7. Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 245; Fitzgerald, "Early Success," Crack-Up, p. 88.
8. H. L. Mencken, "Taking Stock," Smart Set, 67 (March 1922), 139; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 58; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 482.
9. Quoted in Henry Bragdon, Woodrow Wilson: The Academic Years (Cambridge, Mass., 1967), p. 272; John Davies, "Scott Fitzgerald & Princeton," Princeton Alumni Weekly, 66 (February 8, 1966), 8.
10. Morley Callaghan, That Summer in Paris (1963; London, 1979), p. 251; Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 42.
11. Catherine Drinker Bowen, "Harold Ober, Literary Agent," Atlantic Monthly, 206 (July 1960), 35, 38; As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. xvi.
12. Fitzgerald, "Early Success," Crack-Up, p. 89; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 515.
13. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned (1922; New York, 1950), p. 19; James Branch Cabell, Between Friends: Letters of James Branch Cabell and Others, ed. Padraic Colum and Margaret Freeman Cabell (New York, 1972), p. 254.
14. Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, p. 88; Fitzgerald, "Princeton," Afternoon of an Author, p. 79; Fitzgerald, "My Lost City," Crack-Up, pp. 28-29.
15. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 479 (her behavior inspired the "Zelda Fitzgerald Emotional Maturity Award" in Woody Allen's Manhattan); Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz, p. 94; Quoted in Ingenue Among the Lions: Letters of Emily Clark to Joseph Hergesheimer, ed. Gerald Langford (Austin, 1965), p. 120; Carl Van Vechten, Letters, ed. Bruce Kellner (New Haven, 1987), p. 96.
16. Carmel Myers, "Scott and Zelda," Park East (New York), 2 (May 1951), 18; Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night, p. 274; Letter from Zelda Fitzgerald to Henry Dan Piper, n.d., Southern Illinois University.
17. Quoted in Malcolm Cowley, A Second Flowering (New York, 1973), p. 30.
18. Drawbell, Autobiography, p. 173; Quoted in Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 93.
19. Ernest Hemingway, "Cat in the Rain," Short Stories (New York, 1938), p. 170; Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, p. 262; Zelda Fitzgerald, "Eulogy on the Flapper," Collected Writings, p. 391.
20. Quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 103; Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 119-120; Milford, Zelda, p. 107; Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 122; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 351.
McKaig, with all his perception, ended up as tragically as Zelda. On January 7, 1936, Bishop wrote Wilson that McKaig had become "hopelessly and completely insane. It sounds like paresis. He is unable to receive any communication and only sporadically and uncertainly recognizes visitors" (quoted in Mellow, Invented Lives, p. 443).
21. William Rothenstein, Men and Memories (1913; New York, 1934), 2:164; Quoted in Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 145; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 399; Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, pp. 125-126.
22. Wilson, Letters on Literature and Politics, p. 63; Letter from John Dowling to the Vatican, June 3, 1921, Princeton; Fitzgerald, Ledger, p. 175.
23. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 346; Quoted in Piper, F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. vii.
24. Zelda Fitzgerald, "The Girl the Prince Liked," Collected Writings, p. 311; Fitzgerald, Ledger, p. 176 (see also The Great Gatsby, p. 17); Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, The Romantic Egoists, p. 87; Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, p. 10.
25. Fitzgerald, Notebooks, p. 244; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 247.
26. Frances Fitzgerald Lanahan, "Introduction" to Six Tales of the Jazz Age (New York, 1960), p. 5; Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Romantic Egoists, p. 96; Cyril Connolly, Previous Convictions (London, 1963), p. 302; Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, p. 253.
27. Buttitta, The Lost Summer, p. 31; Quoted in Laura Hearne, "A Summer with Scott Fitzgerald," p. 258; Fitzgerald, "One Hundred False Starts," Afternoon of an Author, p. 132.
28. Letter from Burton Rascoe to George Jean Nathan, April 3, 1920, Princeton; Letter from Charles Norris to Fitzgerald, c. 1921, Princeton.
29. Fitzgerald's best stories, in addition to these two, are "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz," "Winter Dreams," "Absolution," "The Rich Boy," "The Swimmers," "One Trip Abroad" and especially "Babylon Revisited" and "Crazy Sunday."
30. Fitzgerald, "The Ice Palace," Flappers and Philosophers, p. 47; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, pp. 44-45; Fitzgerald, "The Ice Palace," Flappers and Philosophers, pp. 58, 65, 60, 68.
31. Fitzgerald, "May Day," Short Stories, p. 126; Fitzgerald, "Echoes of the Jazz Age," Crack-Up, p. 13.
32. Jackson Bryer, F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Critical Reception (New York, 1978), pp. 40, 39, 43.
Next: chapter 5.
Published as Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (NY. Harper-Collins, 1994).