When Zelda came out of her catatonic state at Sheppard-Pratt she tried to commit suicide by strangling herself. Despite constant surveillance she made frequent attempts on her life. Once, while walking with Scott on the grounds of the clinic, she tried to throw herself beneath a passing train and he caught her just before she reached the tracks. Gradually she calmed down and became accustomed to institutional living, one of three hundred patients in the huge towered and turreted red-brick Victorian buildings.
Dr. William Elgin-who was born in Cincinnati in 1905, graduated from Washington and Lee University in Virginia and earned his medical degree at Johns Hopkins-found Zelda confused, withdrawn and expressionless. The once active and vibrant woman now seemed to him a colorless "blob" who moved in slow motion and felt threatened by hallucinatory voices. Yet her tender and poignant letter of June 1935 showed that Zelda was all too aware of the devastation her illness had caused. She showed considerable insight into her emotional hollowness and expressed great sadness about all they had sacrificed. She also returned to the themes of lost identity and negation of the self which Scott considered in his "Crack-Up" essays:
Dearest and always Dearest Scott:
I am sorry too that there should be nothing to greet you but an empty shell. The thought of the effort you have made over me, the suffering this nothing has cost would be unendurable to any save a completely vacuous mechanism. Had I any feelings they would all be bent in gratitude to you and in sorrow that all of my life there should not even be the smallest relic of the love and beauty that we started with to offer you at the end…
Now that there isn't any more happiness and home is gone and there isn't even any past and no emotions but those that were yours where there could be my comfort-it is a shame that we should have met in harshness and coldness where there was once so much tenderness and so many dreams… I love you anyway-even if there isn't any me or any love or even any life.
Three months later, after one of his heart-wrenching visits to the hospital, Fitzgerald told a friend that they still had, despite Zelda's insanity, a powerful bond that could never be broken: "she was fine, almost herself, has only one nurse now and has no more intention of doing away with herself. It was wonderful to sit with her head on my shoulder for hours and feel as I always have even now, closer to her than to any other human being." Friends who saw Scott with Zelda during her visits outside the hospital confirmed the intensity of feeling that both destroyed and sustained him:
He was so dreadfully unhappy [said his Asheville friend Nora Flynn]. Zelda was then in the sanatorium. Once, after she got out, he brought her over to visit. She wore such odd clothes, and looked so ill-and walked about just touching things. Finally she started to dance for us. And Scott sat over there. I shall never forget the tragic, frightful look on his face as he watched her. He had loved her so much-they both had loved each other. Now it was dead. But he still loved that love and hated to give it up-that was what he continued to nurse and cherish, that love which had been, and which he could not forget.
Margaret Banning-a Minnesota novelist and graduate of Vassar, who also saw them in Asheville-noted that Zelda had completely lost her elegance and displayed a greedy urge for alcohol. "She came in looking like Ophelia, with water lilies she had brought, and in a sagging and not very stylish bright-colored dress. Wine was served and she drank it in an eager gulp and right away it set her off. Then Fitzgerald sat down and played a game with her, pretending she was a princess in a tower and he was her prince-so tragic it was heartbreaking to watch. He still loved her."1 Scott's reckless princess was, at last, safely locked away in a tower.
Their love was now undermined by a tragic and increasingly clearsighted despair. Zelda, who would remark, "Well, I guess it's time to go back to my incarceration," realized that all Scott's brave efforts to find the best doctors, hospitals and treatments were hopeless. To someone as sick as she was, one place was much the same as another. Writing to his confidants Margaret Turnbull and Harold Ober in the summer of 1935, Scott confessed that Zelda now seemed more pitiful than ever, that he could scarcely endure "the awful strangling heart-rending quality of this tragedy that has gone on now more than six years, with two brief intervals of hope."
In February 1935, depressed about Zelda and by a flare-up of tuberculosis, Fitzgerald left the house on Park Avenue in Baltimore. He went down to Tryon, a tiny health resort thirty-five miles south of Asheville in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina (where the Georgia-born poet Sidney Lanier had died of tuberculosis in 1881). He spent a month in a top-floor room of the Oak Hall Hotel, on a bluff above the main street.
He chose Tryon because his wealthy friends Maurice and Nora Flynn held court there. The tall, handsome Maurice, who was always called Lefty, had many of the qualities Fitzgerald admired in Tommy Hitchcock. He had been an All-American football star at Yale, a cowboy actor in silent films and (like Scott's brother-in-law) a naval aviator during the war. Lefty, once an alcoholic, had been cured by Nora, a Christian Scientist, after she left her first husband to marry him in 1931. (Nora's daughter by her first marriage became the British actress Joyce Grenfell.) Fitzgerald's story "The Intimate Strangers" (1935) is a fictionalized account of their romantic courtship.
The glamorous and vivacious Nora, the youngest of the five beautiful Langhorne sisters of Virginia, was born in about 1890. Her father was a wealthy tobacco auctioneer and railroad builder. Her older sister, Nancy, who married Viscount Astor, succeeded her husband as Conservative M.P. for Plymouth in 1919 and became the first woman in Parliament. Nancy's biographer, Christopher Sykes, writes that Nora was (like Bijou O'Conor) the disreputable bohemian of the family: "During her life she became involved in many scandals and ran up many debts, from both of which she was rescued regularly by the Astors, on conditions which were regularly broken. She shared three principal things with Nancy, comic acting ability, an extraordinary power to attract affection so that everyone who knew her, including her numerous and often infuriated critics, loved her, and an ardent faith in Christian Science." Unlike Fitzgerald, the bold and exciting Nora "never looked behind" and would raise his flagging spirits by announcing: "tighten up your belt, baby, let's get going. To any pole."2
Nora also attracted Fitzgerald's affection, and Edmund Wilson told Mizener that they apparently had an affair. Zelda, who met Nora in Asheville, may have instinctively sensed Fitzgerald's attachment, realizing that Nora provided an antidote to her own deep depressions: "Nora Flynn-he loved her I think-not clandestinely, but she was one of several women he always needed around him to turn to when he got low and needed a lift." The well-born and elegant Nora noticed Scott's sense of social inferiority and found "a certain streak of something queer in him-gaudy, blatant, almost vulgar." But it seemed to friends in Tryon that Nora-who loved to rehabilitate alcoholics-was also attracted to Scott and led him on.
Nora herself, when questioned about her friendship with Scott, agreed that he loved her but was ambiguous about their sexual relations: "He always said he was terribly in love with me. And it was so foolish. I cared so much for Lefty [who later left her], and he did too. And it was such an obvious relief to Scott when I finally told him off, and we could forget the sex and just be friends. He was so charming and such fun to talk with. He could describe things with such feeling." Nora also confirmed Oscar Kalman's belief that Fitzgerald's deep-rooted puritanism and guilty scruples about Zelda severely limited the possibilities of sexual pleasure: "His conscience was so powerfully developed," she observed, "and it kept him from completely enjoying his efforts at dissipation and from experiencing sensations. For he was fundamentally a moralist, and a very religious person."
Though Fitzgerald was grateful for the Flynns' generous hospitality and friendship, and frequently visited them throughout 1935, he also resented their wealth and social position. Tony Buttitta, another Asheville friend, said Fitzgerald considered them socialites and would tear them apart when drunk. Yet Fitzgerald paid tribute to Nora, whom he saw as a cross between a Florence Nightingale and a Job's comforter, in a letter of 1936 to his childhood friend Marie Hersey: "During the mood of depression that I seem to have fallen into about a year ago she was a saint to me, took care of Scottie for a month one time under the most peculiar circumstances, and is altogether, in my opinion, one of the world's most delightful women."3
After a month in Tryon, Fitzgerald returned to Baltimore for March and April in order to be near Zelda, who was still confined in Sheppard-Pratt. On March 20 he published Taps at Reveille, his fourth collection of stories and the last book to appear in his lifetime. The title of the book, dedicated to the faithful Harold Ober, suggested sadness and premature death. Like All the Sad Young Men, this volume had outstanding and mediocre stories indiscriminately mixed together. Some of his best recent work-"Outside the Cabinet-Maker's," "The Swimmers," "One Trip Abroad" and "The Hotel Child"-was excluded, partly because he had extracted the best bits from the last three for use in Tender Is the Night.
The nostalgic and retrogressive Basil and Josephine stories, based on his childhood and on the character of Ginevra King, reflected the superficial values-founded on looks, wealth and status-that had characterized his tales of the early 1920s. These eight stories incongruously appeared in the same volume as "Babylon Revisited" and "Crazy Sunday," which, like Hemingway's two African stories of the late 1930s, were mature masterpieces in this genre.
Taps at Reveille received generally lukewarm reviews from mainly undistinguished critics who noted the triviality of most of the stories. There were, however, a few insights. Gilbert Seldes called "Babylon Revisited" Fitzgerald's "saddest and truest story"; T. S. Matthews in the New Republic noted the contrast between the serious and superficial stories; and William Troy in the Nation noted the disparity between their acute moral interest and the immature moral vision. This collection-which sold only a few thousand copies, was never reprinted and never appeared in England-did little to sustain Fitzgerald's reputation as a serious writer.
The month after his stories were published an X-ray examination revealed that Fitzgerald's lungs had, as he feared, deteriorated during the past two years. He had a tubercular cavity in his left lung and large areas of infiltration in the right one. Benjamin Baker, his Baltimore physician, immediately sent him to a specialist in Asheville, the home town of Thomas Wolfe and a center for the treatment of pulmonary disease.
Instead of entering a sanatorium, Fitzgerald stayed at the Grove Park Inn, a luxurious, fortress-like hotel, near the Vanderbilt estate, on the outskirts of town. It was built of massive blocks of stone, had opened in 1913 and called itself "The Finest Resort Hotel in the World." Fitzgerald occupied two of the more modest adjoining rooms, at number 441, which faced the front courtyard and did not have the magnificent rear view of the extensive grounds and the Blue Ridge mountains.
He soon met Tony Buttitta, a small, lively and cultured man, who was eleven years younger than Scott. Buttitta was born in Chicago, had earned his degree from the University of Texas and had taken a graduate workshop in playwriting at the University of North Carolina. In the summer of 1935 he was doing publicity for the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra and running the Intimate Book Shop in the arcade of the George Vanderbilt Hotel in downtown Asheville. He was a great admirer of Fitzgerald's work, but could not sell a single copy of Tender Is the Night.
Buttitta, who came to know Fitzgerald quite well and later published a memoir about him, was disillusioned by his sometime hero. "That summer in Asheville everything had crashed about him," Buttitta wrote. "He was a physical, emotional, and financial bankrupt. He smoked and drank steadily, but ate very little; he took pills to sleep a few hours… Often when I saw him he cried, suddenly, as if he were an overwrought, indulged child." He added that people in Asheville were completely unaware that Fitzgerald was an important writer. Some thought he was a strange person; others saw him as just another fussy and unreliable "pain in the neck" who messed up his hotel room and was always pressed for money.4
Apart from his friendship with Tony, during his time in Asheville Fitzgerald relied heavily on several women who served as secretary, nurse, decoy, mistress and whore. In early June he met the attractive Laura Guthrie. A few years older than Scott and waiting for a divorce, she supported herself, dressed as a gypsy, by reading palms in the lobby of the Grove Park Inn. Like Tony, Laura had literary ambitions and admired Fitzgerald's work. But, unwilling to become involved with a married alcoholic, she had to fend off his ardent attempts at seduction. "I was nearly crazy some of the time with thoughts of him," she confessed to her diary. "He reaches women through their minds and yet he wants their bodies. He makes a woman who must keep her body to herself a wreck, either mental or physical-whichever part is weakest goes."
When Laura rejected his advances, Fitzgerald raised the siege and hired her as secretary and companion. According to Laura, who also kept an elaborate record of his behavior and conversation, he was extremely dictatorial and expected to be instantly obeyed. He smoked heavily, never ate a decent meal, was ashamed of his drinking but could not control it, consumed (beginning at breakfast) as many as thirty-seven beers a day and took pills in order to sleep. He trembled, was desperately lonely and tried to acquire a suntan to hide the effects of his dissipation.
Despite his wretched condition, Fitzgerald turned on the charm and conducted affairs with several lady friends during the summer of 1935. Unlike Laura Guthrie, Beatrice Stribling Dance actually pursued him and became his mistress in mid-June. She came from a wealthy family in Memphis, was six years younger than Fitzgerald, and had blond hair and a strangely attractive stutter. Faithfully married for eleven years to Du Pre Rainey "Hop" Dance, a rich San Antonio businessman and sports enthusiast, Beatrice had a young daughter, who was called "Tulah."
Beatrice, staying at the Grove Park Inn on a recuperative holiday with her physically sick and mentally unstable sister Eleanor, attracted Fitzgerald's attention by reading The Great Gatsby in the hotel lobby. After dinners, dancing and drinks with both Mrs. Dance and her sister, Scott became Beatrice's lover. The excitement of the adulterous affair was intensified by the vicarious participation of Laura Guthrie who (after cautiously rejecting Scott) now became his confidante and go-between, by the awareness of the hotel staff who served as audience to their bedroom farce and by the strong sexual emotions he aroused in Beatrice. He told Laura she was "terribly passionate, almost a nymphomaniac." Though he said he would never leave Zelda, Beatrice declared, "I am rich. I will pay for everything," and suggested they run away to some exotic place. But he also found Beatrice arrogant, spoiled, selfish and not terribly bright.5
Hop Dance visited Asheville for two weeks in mid-July, and the Dances, to avoid awkward confrontations with Scott, stayed at the nearby Highlands resort. Scott and Beatrice, using Laura to deceive her sister, arranged a secret meeting at the Vanderbilt Hotel. But Hop's suspicions were aroused. After leaving Asheville, he kept phoning his wife late at night and discovered she was not in her room. On August 7 Hop suddenly returned to Asheville with his family physician, Dr. Cade. That night Scott, armed with a beer can opener, went to the Dances' hotel room with Laura. They all had an amiable chat and Scott instinctively liked Hop-as he had liked Lefty Flynn. As they got up to leave Scott boldly asked Beatrice if he could kiss her goodnight and, when she eagerly agreed, took that liberty in front of her husband. Hop became enraged, pushed Scott out of the room and slammed the door.
The next morning Dr. Cade warned Scott about the potentially tragic consequences of the affair and persuaded him to stop seeing Beatrice. That day she wrote Laura, who now served as confidante for both of them: "It has been decided that it is better for me to go today.-Take care of Scott for me-there was nothing I could do for him anyway-except to love him." Ten days later Laura, still playing the go-between, fatalistically told Beatrice that Scott "remembers and suffers over everything just as you do. But how else could it end?" And Beatrice, using the language of a ladies' romance, sadly replied: "I had never loved anyone before as I loved Scott and shall love him till I die."6
The affair had serious consequences-apart from the effect on Beatrice's marriage and her daughter. The unstable Eleanor had become dangerously depressed. And Beatrice, who desperately tried to keep in touch with Scott after she returned to San Antonio, also suffered greatly. Like Nicole during Dick's affair with Rosemary in Tender Is the Night, she had a nervous breakdown, entered a hospital and took a long time to recover.
Beatrice sent Scott many presents during the next few years and he wrote intimate letters to her for the rest of his life. At first he tried to ease her pain by saying how much he had loved her and by expressing contrition for the way things had ended:
There is still no image of you emerging-only a memory of beauty and love and pain… I had been looking for you [for] a long time I think here & there about the world and when I found you there occurs this tragedy or this mess… All I know is I'd like to sit for a thousand years and look at you and hear your voice with the lovely pathetic little "peep" at the crescendo of the stutter. I think the word lovely comes into my mind oftenest when I think of you…
You are the loveliest human being I have ever known… I love you-you are crystal clear, blown glass with the sun cutting always very suddenly across it…
With all my heart I am sorry to have brought so much sorrow into your life.
But by September he took a sterner tone and tried to buck her up by reminding the broken Beatrice of her moral responsibility: "There are emotions just as important as ours running concurrently with them-and there is literally no standard in life other than a sense of duty… We can't just let our worlds crash around us like a lot of dropped trays. You have got to be good." Two weeks later, in a letter to Laura about Beatrice, Fitzgerald (who must have been struck by the irony of their Dantesque and Petrarchan names) still seemed surprised by her tragic response to the end of the affair. Her wealth, social position, husband and child could not compensate for the loss of Fitzgerald: "I never saw a girl who had so much take it all so hard. She knew from the beginning there would be nothing more, so it could scarcely be classed even as a disappointment-merely one of these semi-tragic facts that must be faced." Despite the ephemeral, farcical and hysterical aspects of this hotel drama, Scott did seem to be genuinely fond of her. In the late 1930s he told Sheilah Graham he had been in love with Beatrice. And in November 1940, he was still pondering the effects of the affair and wrote Beatrice: "That wild last week in Asheville has a nightmare quality in retrospect-that curious legal phantom [Dr. Cade?] who reminded me of something out of my most sinister imaginings-those hotels with their dead monotony and the dead people in them."7
In his Notebooks Fitzgerald linked the personalities of Zelda, Nora and Beatrice-all of whom came from prominent families, had adulterous affairs and were emotionally involved with him in 1935-and considered himself conservative and relatively balanced when compared to them: "I am astonished sometimes by the fearlessness of women, the recklessness-like Nora, Zelda, Beatrice-in each case it's partly because they are all three spoiled babies who never felt the economic struggle on their shoulders. But it's heartening when it stays this side of recklessness… Except for the sexual recklessness, Zelda was cagey about throwing in her lot with me before I was a money-maker, and I think by temperament she was the most reckless [and the most unbalanced] of all." But Fitzgerald himself, usually so responsible about Zelda, had been swept into recklessness by Beatrice. Though he emerged unscathed from their liaison, he left several casualties: Beatrice, Eleanor, Hop, Tulah and even Laura. Like Tom and Daisy at the end of The Great Gatsby, he "retreated back into … [his] vast carelessness … and let other people clean up the mess [he] had made."8
Fitzgerald almost became yet another casualty when he discovered an ominous rash on his skin. Full of guilty anxiety, he thought it was a sign of syphilis, believed he had contracted it from an Asheville prostitute, Lottie, and feared he had passed it on to Beatrice. Lottie, who walked the streets with two black poodles and a book under her arm, had reassured Fitzgerald about the size of his sexual equipment but confided to Buttitta that he was prone to premature ejaculation. (Beatrice had no complaints about this and seemed fully satisfied by their sexual relations.) Fitzgerald had a Wassermann test for syphilis in a different town and called from a pay phone for the reassuring result. Later he learned that the rash was caused by the drugs he was taking to calm his nerves and prevent insomnia.
In September 1935 Fitzgerald fled his emotional entanglements in Asheville, returned to Baltimore and moved into the Cambridge Arms Apartments, a red-brick building across from the Johns Hopkins campus, at the corner of Charles and 34th Street. He felt guilty not only about his betrayal of Zelda (whom he visited), but also about the pain Beatrice had suffered. In early September he gloomily wrote Ober: "If only I would die at least [Scottie] and Zelda would have the life insurance and it would be a general good riddance, but it seems as if life has been playing some long joke with me for the past eight months and can't decide when to leave off."
After two lonely and despairing months in Baltimore, Fitzgerald impulsively packed his bag and traveled south to Hendersonville, a drab little town eighteen miles south of Asheville. He took a penitential dollar-a-day room in the Skylands Hotel at the corner of 6th and Main Street in the center of town. A Notebook entry for November 1935 described his ascetic existence-a great contrast to the luxury of the Grove Park Inn. It recorded that he could no longer eat much food, and mentioned that he was deeply in debt (to Scribner's and Ober as well as to Perkins and his mother) and very close to destitution:
I am living very cheaply. Today I am in comparative affluence, but Monday and Tuesday I had two tins of potted meat, three oranges and a box of Uneedas [biscuits] and two cans of beer. The food totaled 18 cents a day-and I think of the thousand meals I've sent back untasted in the last two years. It was fun to be poor-especially [if] you haven't enough liver power for an appetite. But the air is fine here and I liked what I had-and there was nothing to do about it anyhow because I was afraid to cash any checks and I had to save enough postage for the story. But it was funny coming into the hotel and the very deferential clerk not knowing I was not only thousands, nay tens of thousands in debt, but had less than 40 cents cash in the world and probably a $13 deficit at my bank.
In mid-November he explained that he had become severely depressed and had suffered a mild nervous breakdown. He also said he was living as cheaply as possible while trying to recover: "Suffice to say I cracked entirely after the strain of doing too many things at once and simply fled down here which I had no economic right to do. But since it was that or break up again and that would be an even more expensive business to dependents and creditors, here I am."
Nora Flynn, who had an expensive and elegant house, painted a grim picture of Fitzgerald absorbed in his misery at Skylands: "He went off to that frightful hotel in Hendersonville, drunk and ill. And he lay there thinking about himself, as usual. He never was interested in any one or anything but himself. It was such a horrid place. I can still see it-with collar buttons on the bureau, and neckties hanging from the light chair, and dirty pajamas strewn all over." After a month in Hendersonville Fitzgerald still claimed to enjoy, after long years of dissipation, washing his own clothes and eating two cheap meals a day. But, back in Baltimore for Christmas, he realized that he needed decent surroundings to produce his stories and firmly declared: "Have tried life on subsistence level and it doesn't work."9
Fitzgerald was, as Nora observed, drinking more than ever. His wife was crazy, his health was poor, he could not write and he was deeply in debt. He felt he could not survive without liquor, which put him into a stupor and made him forget his overwhelming problems. He had once asked a friend: "Can you name a single American artist except James and Whistler (who lived in England) who didn't die of drink?" and now saw himself in the destructive yet romantic tradition that began with his much-admired Poe.
In Asheville during the previous summer he had tried to drink sufficient quantities of beer to give him as much alcohol as he used to get from gin. One visitor, stumbling over the hidden bottles in his rooms, was astonished at how he was nearly buried beneath them: "I have never, before or since, seen such quantities of beer displayed in such a place in such a fashion. Rows of unopened bottles lined the tops of bureaus and chests of drawers in each room. As many cases as possible were jammed under each of the four beds. Each trash basket was full of empties. So was the tub in one of the baths. Stacks of cases served as tables for manuscripts, books, supplies of paper."
In Hendersonville he had abandoned the pretense of controlling his alcoholism by drinking only beer and gone back to his habitual gin. His doctors had warned him to confine himself to only one shot a day, so he carefully measured out one shot at a time until he had emptied the whole bottle. This heavy drinking inevitably took its toll. His damaged liver no longer allowed him to eat solid food, his skin was raw and ashen, and he had a rasping tubercular cough. Constant dizziness and blurred vision forced him to hold on to the furniture when he crossed the room. He also suffered episodes of delirium tremens and once told Sheilah Graham-"in full skin-crawling detail-how in 1935 he saw beetles and pink mice scurrying all over him and elephants dancing on the ceiling."10
Thomas Mann, who emigrated to the United States in 1938, observed that "America is a cruel land, whether in success or in failure." But Fitzgerald-both a failure as a success and a failure as a failure-suffered much more than he deserved. Reflecting on his crack-up years, he wrote of the difficulty of recovery and regeneration: "When you once get to the point where you don't care whether you live or die-as I did-it's hard to come back to life… It's hard to believe in yourself again-you have slain a part of yourself." But he also felt pathological satisfaction in hitting the bottom and knowing he had reached the extreme level of degradation. Having reached this depth Fitzgerald, as Eliot said of Coleridge, transformed his ruin into a vocation.
While subsisting in the Skylands Hotel in November 1935 Fitzgerald began to write his three "Crack-Up" essays-one of the seminal documents in modern American literature. In "Sleeping and Waking," another essay about insomnia, he described his compulsive ritual before going to bed and mentioned the hope that his semi-conscious mind would throw off a creative spark: "All is prepared, the books, the glass of water, the extra pajamas lest I awake in rivulets of sweat, the luminal [sedative] pills in the little round tube, the note book and pencil in case of a night thought worth recording."11 But most of the time his hopes were futile, and he finally decided to write about his creative sterility. In "The Crack-Up," a distraction from and substitute for his fictional efforts, he could write about not writing instead of actually writing about what he wanted to write.
George Orwell once remarked that "autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful." "The Crack-Up"-a fascinating mixture of public therapy, confession, apologia and self-punishment-substantiates this observation and explores Fitzgerald's worst characteristics. As in Tender Is the Night, he achieves an astonishing objectivity about his own suffering and expresses an intensity of feeling reminiscent of Dostoyevsky and Strindberg.
"The Crack-Up" begins with two rather abstract premises, one previously held and now rejected by Fitzgerald, the other retained. During the early 1920s, his years of success and fame, he had believed that "life was something you dominated if you were any good." Sara Murphy, then going through a tragic period in her own life, strongly objected to the naive belief that one could conquer malign fate and angrily asked Scott: "Do you really mean to say you honestly thought [this]? … Even if you meant your own life it is arrogant enough-but life!"
The second premise, which he still believed, was that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Though this crucial statement has been quoted scores of times, no one has ever mentioned where it comes from and how it applies to the theme of "The Crack-Up." The source is Keats' letter to his brothers, of December 22, 1817, which defines his concept of "Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."12 Fact and reason, the bases of logical thought, deny the Mysteries at the same time that the "first-rate intelligence" tries to grasp them. Fitzgerald implies that the two simultaneous but antithetical ideas in his own mind are that Zelda is permanently insane but will recover, and that he is a hopeless failure but will eventually succeed.
After mentioning several crucial events of his early life, Fitzgerald reveals that for the past two years "my life had been drawing on resources that I did not possess, that I had been mortgaging myself physically and spiritually," and that "my vitality had been steadily and prematurely trickling away." In short, he has been overcome by emotional exhaustion. The symptoms of his condition are a desire to be alone, a rejection of people, listlessness, apathy and lack of feeling as well as a purely mechanical response to experience, hypersensitivity to both noise and silence, irritation, irrational prejudice and a sense of being emotionally undernourished. "In a real dark night of the soul," writes the insomniac Fitzgerald, alluding to the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, "it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day."
As Fitzgerald holds out "the tin cup of self-pity" and becomes the unwilling witness of the disintegration of his own personality, he tries to explain what has brought him to this desperate state. He had, it seems, weakly surrendered vital aspects of his moral being to his closest friends. Edmund Wilson had warned him, as early as 1919, to "brace up your artistic conscience, which was always the weakest part of your talent!" Fitzgerald claimed, in his Introduction to the Modern Library reprint of The Great Gatsby (1934), that he had kept his artistic conscience pure while writing his most flawless book. But in "The Crack-Up" he admits that having foolishly depended on Wilson to be his intellectual conscience, on his Princeton friend Sap Donahoe to be his moral conscience, on Hemingway to be his artistic conscience and on Gerald Murphy to be his social conscience, there was, not surprisingly, "not an 'I' any more-not a basis on which I could organize my self-respect."
Like Tender Is the Night, "The Crack-Up" is an attempt to account for his personal decay. But in the essays Fitzgerald circles around the events of his life and announces that he has cracked up without actually explaining why he did so. Like Rudolph Miller in "Absolution," Fitzgerald confessed, but could not confess everything. There are many flashes of revelation and insight, but no honest reference to his drinking, the breakdown of his marriage or his guilt about the insanity of his wife. In 1922 he had asked Wilson to delete all references to Fitzgerald's drinking in his review of The Beautiful and Damned. In 1936 he again conceals his alcoholism and vaguely states that at the time of his crack-up he had "not tasted so much as a glass of beer for six months-it was [my] nervous reflexes that were giving way-too much anger and too many tears." Though "The Crack-Up" was praised by reviewers for its honesty and candor, it was more a complex work of art than a frank revelation. Just as Fitzgerald had once carefully created the image of the golden boy of the 1920s, so he now offered a cunningly constructed negative image to complement the earlier one. He later told Scottie he was "too much a moralist at heart and really want[ed] to preach at people in some acceptable form."13 In "The Crack-Up" he preached at himself.
Critics have been intrigued by what Glenway Wescott called Fitzgerald's "self-autopsy and funeral sermon." Scottie, who picked up this clinical metaphor, compared her father to "a surgeon performing an operation upon himself, hurting terribly but watching the process with a fascinated detachment." In 1945 Joseph Wood Krutch praised the work's intelligence, sophistication and artistic sincerity. And Mark Schorer, one of Fitzgerald's most perceptive readers, called it "a beautiful and moving confession; without a hint of self-pity, it is one of the most extraordinary self-revelations in literature."14
Fitzgerald acknowledged in "The Crack-Up" that "there are always those to whom all self-revelation is contemptible." And he explained to Beatrice Dance that many friends-from Hemingway and Dos Passos to Perkins and Ober-thought he had done himself great harm, when the articles were published in Esquire in the spring of 1936, by announcing to the world that he was morally and artistically bankrupt. Amid all this criticism of Fitzgerald, Arnold Gingrich, the editor of Esquire, was a persuasive dissenting voice. He felt that Fitzgerald had indeed hit rock bottom, but that any publicity-good or bad-was helpful and that "The Crack-Up" actually had a beneficial effect on Scott's career:
Can't feel that it did any damage. So it got him a brutal letter from Ernest Hemingway and a rather hoity-toity one from Dos Passos. And an interviewer from the New York Post, stimulated by it to look him up, did a nasty piece about him that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings deplored. But don't forget, at this point, sixteen years after his first fame, a lot of people thought he was dead. So the publicity occasioned by the publication of the "Crack-Up" series undoubtedly reminded Hollywood that he was still around, and led either directly or indirectly to his getting his second chance out there, with his contract that took him out there in July of '37. At the "Crack-Up" stage nothing could harm his career-it could only help.
The personal revelations in "The Crack-Up" blasted open the reticence that had characterized American literature before World War II and had a liberating influence on the writers who followed Fitzgerald's innovative path. Like Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Norman Mailer deliberately provoked bad publicity in order to gain attention and revealed their pathetic or violent alcoholism. More significantly, "The Crack-Up" had a powerful impact on confessional poets like W. D. Snodgrass, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, who wrote openly about their personal anguish and mental breakdowns, as well as on literary accounts of alcoholism, drugs and depression in works like William Styron's Darkness Visible (1990).
Fitzgerald makes a connection between insomnia, frequent changes of drenched pajamas and the torment of writing that Lowell adopts and elaborates in "Night Sweat":
for ten nights now I've felt the creeping damp
float over my pajamas' wilted white …
Sweet salt embalms me and my head is wet,
everything streams and tells me this is right;
my life's fever is soaking in night sweat-
one life, one writing!15
Fitzgerald's "dark night of the soul" also foreshadowed the mood of Lowell's "Skunk Hour." And, following Fitzgerald's example of sacrificing human feelings on the altar of art by using Zelda's diaries and letters in Tender Is the Night, William Carlos Williams wove his mistresses' love letters into Paterson (1946-51) and Lowell quoted the anguished correspondence of his former wife in The Dolphin (1973).
On April 8, 1936, when Fitzgerald was publishing his third "Crack-Up" essay in Esquire and had decided to leave Baltimore for North Carolina, he transferred Zelda to Highland Hospital in Asheville. This move made his visits to Zelda and her short trips outside the hospital much easier, and brought her much closer to her mother in Montgomery. Located at an altitude of 2,500 feet in the healthy mountain country in the western part of the state, Highland-with swimming pool, tennis courts and buildings scattered throughout the spacious grounds-resembled a small college campus. The hospital had been opened in 1904 when Asheville had a number of tuberculosis clinics and many wealthy people spent their holidays at the Grove Park Inn, about four miles away. An advertisement in a contemporary brochure on mental clinics described Highland as "an institution employing all rational methods for the treatment of Nervous, Habit and Mild mental cases; especially emphasizing the natural curative agents-Rest, Climate, Water, Diet and Work."
The director of the hospital, Dr. Robert Carroll, was a friend of Adolf Meyer (head of Zelda's alma mater, Phipps Clinic) who referred many difficult patients to Highland. Born in Cooperstown, in western Pennsylvania, in 1869, the son of a minister, Carroll began his career as a pharmacist in Cleveland. After graduating from Marion Sims College of Medicine (later St. Louis University Medical School) in 1893, he started a general practice in medicine and surgery in Calvert, a small town in central Texas. He took psychiatric training at Rush Medical College in Chicago (where Hemingway's father had studied) and practiced in a small sanatorium near Columbus, Ohio, before coming to Highland.
The forceful and aggressive Dr. Carroll-a bald man with wire spectacles, large nose and ears, and a long, thin mouth-was a strong believer in a strict diet that would eliminate "toxic conditions of the blood"; in outdoor exercise and physical work; in hiking, camping, sports, crafts and music. He offered dancing classes to all patients and employees, held a religious service in the hospital every Sunday, and took patients on trips to the World's Fair and around the world. He also invited successfully cured patients to join his staff.
Dr. Carroll also wrote The Grille Gate (1922), an autobiographical novel of hospital life, as well as a number of popular books on medical subjects whose spiritually uplifting subtitles suggest his heartening and commonsensical approach to mental illness: The Mastery of Nervousness: Based Upon Self Reeducation (1917), Our Nervous Friends: Illustrating the Mastery of Nervousness (1919), The Soul in Suffering: A Practical Application of Spiritual Truths (1919), Old at Forty or Young at Sixty: Simplifying the Science of Growing Old (1920) and-imitating the title of Anderson and Stallings' What Price Glory? (1924)-What Price Alcohol? (1941). In his Preface to the latter, Adolf Meyer praised Carroll's success with patients and said he had "proved his hospital one of the most effective systematic agencies in the treatment of the victims of alcohol." Like Forel and Meyer, Carroll also scrutinized Fitzgerald and saw that he was desperately in need of treatment.
Reminiscing in the hospital magazine, a former nurse described the vigorous routine of the clinic and the formidable personality of Dr. Carroll:
[The patients] started with calisthenics; volley ball in the morning, then gardening for two hours. Then they came in and had lunch around a quarter to one. The patients were always served meals on trays with nice linen tray covers and linen napkins. Each one had a napkin ring and flowers on every tray…
I didn't always like [Dr. Carroll] in every way, but I admired him. To tell you the truth, our class was a little frightened of him. He was always kind, considerate and very generous, but all of us were in awe of Doctor.16
Fitzgerald hoped that the sensitive and athletic Zelda would respond to Highland's attractive setting and to Dr. Carroll's emphasis on achieving physical well-being through diet, exercise and manual work. But, as Zelda herself realized after her third breakdown in February 1934, it was now harder than ever to escape the ravages of mental disease. She got no better during her two years in Sheppard-Pratt than she had in any of the other hospitals. When she entered Highland in the spring of 1936 she weighed only eighty-nine pounds and, instead of improving, had been going downhill fast.
In his first report to Fitzgerald, Dr. Carroll said that Zelda "was entirely irresponsible, highly excitable, and had just emerged from a three-month period of intense suicidal mania." After two weeks at Highland, Fitzgerald told Beatrice Dance, Zelda had made some improvement but still had a dismal prognosis: "Zelda seems comparatively happy there. She is no longer in a suicidal state but has an equally difficult hallucination which I won't go into. It seems pretty certain she will never be able to function in the world again."
The once-beautiful Zelda, now dull-eyed and frazzle-haired, was a humiliated and broken figure. She had entered a phase of religious mania and become obsessed with the Bible; she believed she was in direct contact with God, imagined her friends were doomed to hell and was zealous in her efforts to save them. Her painting of a Deposition from the Cross (Zelda catalogue, no. 36), which she completed during this phase, portrayed herself as a tortured Christ figure and bore an uncanny resemblance to Stanley Spencer's great The Resurrection: Cookham (1927).
One of Zelda's nurses at Highland emphasized the conservative and "rational methods" that kept her from suicide and gradually diminished her hallucinations, but did not eliminate her mania nor enable her to regain her sanity: "We were careful with Zelda; we never stirred her up. She could be helped, but we never gave her deep psychotherapy. One doesn't do that with patients if they are too schizophrenic. We tried to get Zelda to see reality; tried to get her to distinguish between her fantasies, illusion and reality."
But during her stay at Highland Zelda was given (as she had probably been given at Prangins) a much more extreme form of therapy: thirty to ninety insulin shock treatments. These shocks produced convulsions or coma that lasted from twenty minutes to an hour and were supposed to jolt her out of psychopathic behavior. Her last doctor, Irving Pine, noted an "improvement" in Zelda after these shocks and felt she was "reborn."17 But she remained in Highland until April 1940 and, with periods of remission, for the rest of her life.
During the next few years Fitzgerald wrote to many of his friends about Zelda. He felt she was, more than Scottie, his child and that he "was her great reality, often the only liaison agent who could make the world tangible to her." For this reason, and as long as she was helpless, he would never leave her or allow her to feel she had been deserted. He praised the paternal Dr. Carroll for bringing Zelda, during a very difficult phase of her illness, to a certain level of stability. But when Scott faced reality, he knew her case was hopeless. "With each collapse she moves perceptibly backward," he told Beatrice Dance in early 1937, "there is no good end in sight. She is very sweet and tragic. For the majority of creative people life is a pretty mean trick."18
After settling Zelda in Highland and moving back into the Grove Park Inn in July 1936, Fitzgerald once again came into conflict with Hemingway. Their relations had soured since the great days of their friendship in 1925-26, and he had seen Hemingway only twice since the ill-fated boxing match with Callaghan in 1929. In October 1931 they spent a congenial afternoon at a Princeton football game. But in January 1933, during dinner in New York with Hemingway and Edmund Wilson, Fitzgerald got drunk and humiliated himself. In April 1935, a year after his harsh letter about Tender Is the Night, Hemingway asked their intermediary Max Perkins to tell Fitzgerald that the novel, in retrospect, got better and better. Delighted by Hemingway's approval, Fitzgerald repeated to Perkins what he had told Hemingway a decade earlier, when leaving Europe in December 1926: "I always think of my friendship with him as being one of the high spots of life."
In the spring of 1935 Perkins had urged Fitzgerald to accompany him on a visit to Hemingway in Key West. But Fitzgerald-drinking heavily and in poor health-was unwilling to compete with Hemingway on his own sporting turf and refused to see him except under the "most favorable circumstances." Despite Hemingway's attacks, Fitzgerald-who craved Hemingway's good opinion and had been crushed by his criticism-praised him that summer to Tony Buttitta. Though Hemingway had mistreated him, Fitzgerald felt he deserved it. He believed that his own character and art, when measured against Hemingway's, were not much good.
As Fitzgerald dropped into despair and Hemingway's reputation continued to rise, Ernest's criticism seemed to increase Scott's admiration for his rival. He thought Ernest exemplified the highest standard of personal courage and would always be read for his great studies of fear. He urged the teenage Scottie to read A Farewell to Arms and then quizzed her on the poem ("Blow, blow, ye western wind") that haunted Frederic Henry during the retreat from Caporetto. He considered Hemingway the "final reference" as an artist and called him, after the death of Kipling in 1936, the greatest living writer in English. But this generous praise had a discouraging effect on his own work. He believed that Hemingway had surpassed him and would last longer than Fitzgerald himself. "I don't write any more," he confessed to Thornton Wilder in 1937. "Ernest has made all my writing unnecessary."19
Just as Anthony Patch, the hero of The Beautiful and Damned, planned to devote his life to writing a history of the Middle Ages, so Fitzgerald-who was fascinated by Hemingway's Byronic intensity-chose to glorify him in the Count of Darkness stories, which he forced himself to write in 1935. Yet, as Edmund Wilson observed, Fitzgerald also had a sharp eye for Hemingway's weaknesses. Noting Hemingway's tendency to attack rivals, especially those who had once helped him, Fitzgerald wrote that "Ernest would always give a helping hand to a man on a ledge a little higher up." Recalling how their fortunes had become reversed since their first meeting, and perhaps forgetting that he had crawled under the table during their last, embarrassing dinner, Fitzgerald also stated: "I talk with the authority of failure-Ernest with the authority of success. We could never sit across the table again." In September 1936-when Hemingway appeared to be at the height of his powers and had displayed his overweening ego in works like Death in the Afternoon (1932) and Green Hills of Africa (1935)-Fitzgerald made an astonishingly prescient remark about his friend's psychological vulnerability: "He is quite as nervously broken down as I am but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is toward megalomania and mine toward melancholy."
Few writers were more accident-prone than Hemingway. But his injuries-from football and boxing, bulls, boats and bullets, car and plane crashes-always seemed testaments to his stoic heroism. In late July 1936, just before his conflict with Hemingway flared up in public, Fitzgerald had his own, distinctly unheroic accident, which made him more dispirited and vulnerable than ever. In "Winter Dreams" (1922), Dexter Green imagined himself "surrounded by an admiring crowd, [giving] an exhibition of fancy diving from the spring-board of the club raft." At Juan-les-Pins in the summer of 1926 Fitzgerald had accepted-and somehow survived-Zelda's challenge to make dangerous dives from the high cliffs into the sparkling sea. At the end of Tender Is the Night (1934) Dick Diver avoids high diving, tries to show off for Rosemary by lifting a man on his shoulders while riding an aquaplane, but reveals his physical deterioration (and suggests his loss of sexual potency) by failing to perform the stunt he had once done with ease.
Two years later in Asheville, Fitzgerald tried to repeat his past performance. But alcoholism and tuberculosis undermined his attempt to show off for Zelda. He fractured his right shoulder while diving and woke up in a massive plaster cast that began below his navel, left his stomach bare, rose up to his neck and kept his right arm extended in a half-hearted salute. In September he told Beatrice Dance how the injury had been compounded by what seems to have been a drunken accident: "I got the broken shoulder from diving from a fifteen-foot board, which would have seemed modest enough in the old days, and the shoulder broke before I hit the water-a phenomenon which has diverted the medicos hereabout to some extent; and when it was almost well, I tripped over the raised platform of the bathroom at four o'clock one morning when I was still surrounded by an extraordinary plaster cast and I lay on the floor for forty-five minutes before I could crawl to the telephone and get rescued."20
Fitzgerald's injury and weakness made him long, more than ever, to absorb into himself some of the qualities that made Hemingway so attractive, to lean on him in times of physical and psychological distress. But Hemingway despised Fitzgerald's weakness and self-pity, and tended to bully him. In one of his own megalomaniacal moments, Fitzgerald told Laura Guthrie: "I never knew any person but one … who is as strong as I am. That is Ernest Hemingway." And, writing of their friendship in his Notebooks, he said: "Ernest-until we began trying to walk over each other with cleats." But these statements were absurd. He still hero-worshiped Hemingway and was destined to be trampled upon in their unequal combat.
Hemingway (as we have seen) took pot-shots at Fitzgerald in "Homage to Switzerland" (1933) and Green Hills of Africa (1935). In 1935 he sent Fitzgerald a poem with the grandiose and demeaning title: "Lines to Be Read at the Casting of Scott Fitzgerald's Balls into the Sea from Eden Roc (Antibes, Alpes Maritimes)." And his disturbing letter about the falsity of Tender Is the Night repeated Sara Murphy's serious charge about Scott's naive approach to understanding others: "You think if you just ask enough questions you'll get to know what people are like, but you won't. You don't really know anything at all about people." Hemingway also attacked Fitzgerald with some well-meant but painful truths about his personal limitations which, Ernest felt, explained the defects of his work: "A long time ago you stopped listening except to the answers to your own questions… That is where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening."21 Fitzgerald implicitly accepted this criticism when he told Laura Guthrie, an aspiring writer: "In the first place, listen. Just listen to how people talk," and when in 1937 he told Hemingway: "I wish we could meet more often. I don't feel I know you at all."
In "The Crack-Up" Fitzgerald had called Hemingway his "artistic conscience"; and Hemingway chose to exercise that prerogative when he wrote Fitzgerald "a furious letter" and told him that he "was stupid to write that gloomy personal stuff." Like Sara Murphy, Hemingway also disapproved of Fitzgerald's fatuous former belief that "Life was something you dominated if you were any good." A key passage in A Farewell to Arms, which Fitzgerald greatly admired, exalted, by contrast, the stoic acceptance of tragic defeat: "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them… It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially." Hemingway's "furious letter" to Fitzgerald seems to be lost; but he expressed his strong views about "The Crack-Up" in a letter to Max Perkins that condemned Scott's self-exposure and accused him of self-pity: "He seems to almost take a pride in his shamelessness of defeat. The Esquire pieces seem to me to be so miserable. There is another one coming too. I always knew he couldn't think-he never could-but he had a marvellous talent and the thing is to use it-not whine in public. Good God, people go through that emptiness many times in life and come out and do work."
Hemingway's angry advice to Fitzgerald-"you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it-don't cheat with it"22-helps to explain the personal attack on him in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." For Hemingway, Fitzgerald was a frightening example of a good writer who had-like the hero of his story-betrayed his talent and been destroyed by literary fame. "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" appeared with Fitzgerald's "Afternoon of an Author" in the August 1936 issue of Esquire, four months after the publication in that magazine of his third "Crack-Up" essay and one month after his diving accident. This story, though written at the height of Hemingway's worldly success, reveals his anxiety about his incipient moral corruption (symbolized by the hero's gangrene) and predicts his failure as a writer and his spiritual death. One of Hemingway's greatest works, it is in fact a more subtle, covert and artistically sophisticated version of "The Crack-Up": an incisive confrontation of failure and analysis of what had caused it. Fitzgerald's essays hit Hemingway at a vulnerable point and provoked him to violate fictional norms by cruelly attacking Fitzgerald in the Esquire version of the story.
The hostile reference to Fitzgerald originated in a sharp exchange between Hemingway and the quick-witted Irish writer Mary Colum when they were dining in New York in 1936. After Hemingway declared: "I am getting to know the rich," Mary Colum replied: "The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money." Hemingway avenged himself by appropriating the remark and victimizing Fitzgerald when he was particularly vulnerable: "He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of [the rich] and how he had started a story once that began, 'The very rich are different from you and me.' And how some one had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren't it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him." (Scott's name was changed to "Julian" when "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" appeared in The Fifth Column and The First Forty-Nine Stories in 1938.)
Hemingway's luxurious house, boat and African safari had been paid for by his wife's wealthy uncle, Gus Pfeiffer, and he had also befriended the rich while hunting big game in Kenya and fishing for marlin in Key West. But he felt he could define himself in opposition to the rich, who lived on unearned income, because he wrote for a living and made enough money to support himself. He justified the passage in the story by stating that Fitzgerald's revelation of his personal failure in "The Crack-Up" left him open to the kind of public castigation that Hemingway had previously given-with Fitzgerald's encouragement-to the declining Sherwood Anderson. Though Hemingway had made his own personal confession in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," he convinced himself that the brutal truth in the story would give Fitzgerald a salutary jolt and shake him out of his self-pity.
A passage mercifully deleted from To Have and Have Not (1937), which also deals with the corruption of the rich, summarizes Hemingway's view of Fitzgerald's weaknesses and anticipates the more extensive critique of Scott's character in A Moveable Feast. Hemingway said that Scott wrote too much when he was very young, lacked good sense and had a great deal of bad luck that was not his fault. He had charm and talent, but no brains, was romantic about money and youth, and went directly from youth to senility without passing through manhood. He thought old age came right after youth-and for him it did. If he gave up self-pity, he still might pull himself together.
Fitzgerald, deeply humiliated by Hemingway's criticism, admired the art of his story but expressed anger about the personal attack. He justified his own work by alluding to Oscar Wilde's apologia and told Hemingway: "If I choose to write de profundis sometimes it doesn't mean I want friends praying aloud over my corpse… It's a fine story-one of your best-even though the 'Poor Scott Fitzgerald, etc.' rather spoiled it for me… Riches have never fascinated me, unless combined with the greatest charm or distinction." Fitzgerald told Max Perkins (who later persuaded Hemingway to delete the reference to Fitzgerald) that he still loved Ernest, no matter what he said or did, but admitted that he had been wounded by Hemingway's statement that he was "wrecked": "It was a damned rotten thing to do, and with anybody but Ernest my tendency would be to crack back. Why did he think it would add to the strength of his story if I had become such a negligible figure? This is quite indefensible on any grounds."23 If Fitzgerald had answered his own question, he might have realized that Hemingway had attacked him so that Scott would share his own guilt about selling out to the rich.
Hemingway's charge continued to rankle, especially when another old friend, John Peale Bishop, repeated it in a critical essay, "The Missing All" (1938). When responding to the essay, Fitzgerald ignored his own past friendships with the millionaires in Gatsby-like Great Neck and with the heiress Emily Vanderbilt (whom he had met in Paris in 1928), as well as his lifelong fascination with the luxurious life of Hollywood film stars. Instead, he expressed his sense of betrayal by another rich friend whom he had also helped at the beginning of his literary career. And he defended himself, when down and out in Hollywood, in a letter to Edmund Wilson:
[Bishop] reproached me with being a suck around the rich. I always thought my progress was in the other direction.-Tommy Hitchcock and the two Murphys are not a long list of rich friends for one who, unlike John, grew up among nothing else but. I don't even know any of the people in "cafe society." It seems strange from John. I did more than anyone in Paris to help him finish his Civil War book [Many Thousands Gone, 1931] and get it published. It can't be jealousy for there isn't much to be jealous of any more.
Though Hemingway was extremely critical of Fitzgerald, he owned most of Scott's books, studied them carefully and learned a great deal from them. He had accepted many of Scott's editorial suggestions about The Sun Also Rises and "Fifty Grand," and (as we have seen) took the concluding sentence of A Farewell to Arms from chapter five of The Great Gatsby. Zelda may have contributed to the creation of Margot Macomber; and Albert McKisco's reaction to his duel with Tommy Barban in Tender Is the Night influenced the character of the similarly named Francis Macomber. When McKisco is challenged by Barban after his wife gossips about Nicole Diver's mental breakdown, Rosemary sensibly urges him not to fight. He replies that his wife would force him to take part in the duel:
Of course even now I can just leave, or sit back and laugh at the whole thing-but I don't think Violet would ever respect me again… She's very hard when she gets an advantage over you… She called me a coward out there tonight.
When the equally predatory Margot Macomber witnesses her husband's flight from the charging lion, she loses respect for him, seizes the psychological advantage and sleeps with the white hunter Wilson to punish Francis for his cowardice. As Wilson observes of Margot:
They are, he thought, the hardest in the world; the hardest, the cruelest, the most predatory and the most attractive and their men have softened or gone to pieces nervously as they have hardened.
After McKisco, provoked by his wife, proves his courage, confronts Barban and fights the duel, he regains confidence, feels exultant and struts "toward the car through the now rosy morning." Macomber is emotionally transformed in the same way. After he regains his courage and redeems his honor by killing the charging buffalo, he tells Wilson: "You know I don't think I'd ever be afraid of anything again… Something happened in me after we first saw the buff and started after him. Like a dam bursting. It was pure excitement." The influence on Hemingway continued after Fitzgerald's death, for the title of the last novel published in Ernest's lifetime, Across the River and into the Trees (1950), came from Scott's quotation of General Stonewall Jackson's last words in "Afternoon of an Author": "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees."24
The summer of 1936 was the saddest period of Fitzgerald's life. In addition to the chronic problems of Zelda's insanity, his heavy drinking, poor health and crippling debts, he had broken his shoulder in July and been attacked by Hemingway in August. But worse was to come. On September 2 his mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage, and on September 25 he was publicly humiliated by a cruel interview in the New York Post.
In mid-September, after his mother's death, he told friends how deeply moved he was by the loss of a woman he had never liked or been close to, but who seemed to stand protectively between him and death. "A most surprising thing in the death of a parent," he told Oscar Kalman, "is not how little it affects you, but how much. When your Father or Mother has been morbidly perched on the edge of life, when they are gone, even though you have long ceased to have any dependence on them, there is a sense of being deserted." And in a letter to Beatrice Dance, he praised his mother's character, mentioned his own lack of filial feeling and illogically concluded that she had died for his sake: "She was a defiant old woman, defiant in her love for me in spite of my neglect of her, and it would have been quite within her character to have died that I might live."
Scott was more dependent on Mollie Fitzgerald than he admitted to Kalman, for he had borrowed five or six thousand dollars from her. He now felt her death would enable him to "live" by providing some desperately needed funds. In 1934 he had sold the Count of Darkness stories to Redbook for $1,250 to $1,500 each, sold three other stories to the Post and earned the substantial income of $20,000. In 1935 he could still earn $3,000 for a story, but his productivity fell and his income dropped to $17,000. In 1936-when Zelda's annual fees at Highland were about $3,000 and Scottie's fees at the Ethel Walker School in Connecticut (recommended by Gerald Murphy as one of the best in the country) were reduced from the normal rate of $2,200 a year-his income fell by nearly half to $10,000. Fitzgerald made matters more difficult by giving Harold Ober substandard work, by making foolish phone calls and sending damaging letters to magazine editors and movie executives instead of letting his agent conduct his affairs.
The settlement of his mother's estate led to a quarrel with his sister Annabel, who was five years younger than Scott. Since he was away at prep school and college when she was growing up, they had not been close in childhood and rarely saw each other in adult life. The pious and conventional Annabel was dismayed by her brother's scandalous, alcoholic life. And she was baffled by his marriage to an insane woman, with whom she had nothing in common and whom she could not possibly understand. As Annabel's daughters explained in their privately published life of their father:
The estrangement that existed between Mother and her brother [Scott] was undoubtedly caused, in part, by the different lifestyles each had chosen and had not ended at the time of their mother's death… We remember Mother telling us that the dispute and hard feelings brought on at the time of our grandmother's death stemmed from F. Scott Fitzgerald's desire that the money he had earlier borrowed periodically from Grandmother not be deducted from his inheritance. Daddy felt that this was unfair to Mother.25
Annabel, quite reasonably, prevailed. And Fitzgerald, after his considerable debts were settled, got only $5,000 from his share of his mother's $42,000 estate.
Three weeks after Mollie's death, on his fortieth birthday (September 24), Fitzgerald was interviewed in his room at the Grove Park Inn by Michel Mok of the New York Post. In "The Crack-Up" Fitzgerald had neither explained the real reasons-his weak father, his alcoholism, Zelda's suicidal insanity-for his nervous breakdown nor described the physical effects of his drinking. Mok's hostile and damaging, yet extremely revealing interview gives a much more precise account of his crack-up.
Michel Mok, a shadowy but significant figure in Fitzgerald's life, was born in Amsterdam in 1888, graduated from the university in that city, knew several European languages, spoke English with a faint accent and became the translator of several works by Anne Frank. Tall and thin, with dark hair and a Roman nose, intense eyes and drawn face, Mok was a star journalist on the Post from 1933 to 1940. He was married, had three children and lived in Greenwich Village. He later taught journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia and worked as a theatrical press agent for Rodgers and Hammerstein. One newspaper colleague described him as "a courtly, continental type who never quite lost many traces of his European origins." His continental charm helped persuade Fitzgerald to grant him an interview.
Mok's son believed that his father admired Fitzgerald as a novelist, but "saw it as a tragedy that Fitzgerald was an alcoholic who at times 'squandered his talent.' " Using the same reasoning as Hemingway to justify his sharp attack, Mok told his son that "he hoped his piece would have the effect of holding a mirror up to the author" and would exert "a constructive, sobering influence." But just as Hemingway's true motive was to denigrate a rival, so Mok's real aim, when moving in for the kill after "The Crack-Up," was to pursue the story and achieve a startling journalistic success.
Tony Buttitta, who was loyal to Fitzgerald and subsequently met Mok through the publicity business in New York, called him a pompous man and frustrated writer who liked to tear into people and specialized in harsh interviews with literary and theatrical figures. Buttitta felt that Mok-"a self-important bastard"-took advantage of Fitzgerald, who had been kind and hospitable, and was deeply wounded by Mok's betrayal.26
On September 25, 1936, Mok portrayed Fitzgerald, as Hemingway would later do in A Moveable Feast, as a weak, childish, lonely and despairing drunkard. Like Zelda, Fitzgerald seemed broken and hopeless.
The poet-prophet of the post-war neurotics observed his fortieth birthday yesterday… He spent the day as he spends all his days-trying to come back from the other side of Paradise, the hell of despondency in which he has agonized for the last couple of years. He had no company except his nurse-a soft spoken, Southern, maternal young woman-and this reporter…
There was obviously little hope in his heart… [His fractured shoulder] did not account for his jittery jumping off and onto his bed, his restless pacing, his trembling hands, his twitching face with its pitiful expression of a cruelly beaten child.
Nor could it be held responsible for his frequent trips to the highboy, in a drawer of which lay a bottle. Each time he poured a drink into the measuring glass on his bedside table, he would look appealingly at the nurse and ask, "Just one ounce?"
When Mok asked how he had got into such a desperate state, Fitzgerald (using Hemingway's favorite name for himself) became vague and evasive: " 'A series of things happened to papa,' he said with mock brightness. 'So papa got depressed and started drinking a little.' What the 'things' were he refused to explain. 'One blow after another,' he said, 'and finally something snapped.' " Yet in his "long, rambling, disjointed" talk, Fitzgerald made some fascinating revelations about his family background, father, childhood, army years, advertising job and early literary career. Despite Hemingway's recent attack, Fitzgerald praised him twice during the interview. When Mok asked Fitzgerald about "the jazz-mad, gin-mad generation" he had characterized and helped to create, Fitzgerald gave a grim account of what the Depression had done to all the sad young men: " 'Some became brokers and threw themselves out of windows. Others became bankers and shot themselves. Still others became newspaper reporters. And a few became successful authors.' His face twitched. 'Successful authors!' he cried. 'Oh, my God, successful authors!' He stumbled over to the high-boy and poured himself another drink."27
Mok's interview inspired a series of strange events. Three days after it appeared, Fitzgerald appealed for help from Hemingway, who had started the demolition job that Mok had completed. But Scott did not specify what he expected his "best friend" to do. When he learned that Hemingway was not in New York but hunting in Montana, Scott cooled down and realized that nothing could be done.
According to Ober, Scott was so shocked by his terrible photograph in the Post that he briefly stopped drinking. The interview was given much wider circulation when Time magazine reprinted it on October 5, 1936. Terrified that Scottie would see it, Fitzgerald phoned her head-mistress at Ethel Walker and asked her to destroy the copy in the school library. Soon afterward, the Scribner's novelist Marjorie Rawlings told Perkins that Fitzgerald's nurse Dorothy Richardson "had left because they had become intimate and she was terrified of becoming pregnant."
Rawlings also explained that Mok had secured the interview by lying about his own emotional problems. Scott "was terribly hurt," she told Perkins, "for he had listened to a sob story from him, to let him in at all, and had responded to a lot of things the man told him-possibly spurious-about his own maladjusted wife, by talking more freely than he should have done." Fitzgerald was so ashamed at his own credulity and so disturbed by Mok's interview that he attempted to kill himself. But he vomited from an overdose of morphine. He later told a friend that he was even a failure at committing suicide.
Fitzgerald explained the circumstances of the interview in a long letter of October 5th to Harold Ober. He invented a high fever to rationalize his deception, minimized his extraordinary indiscretion by saying he had spoken rather freely, unconvincingly claimed he had never sought publicity and revealed that the tragedy had ended in farce:
About the article about Michael Muck. I was in bed with temp about 102 when the phone rang and a voice said that this party had come all the way from New York to interview me. I fell for this like a damn fool, got him up, gave him a drink and accepted his exterior good manners. He had some relative with mental trouble (wife or mother) so I talked to him freely about treatments, symptoms, etc., about being depressed at advancing age and a little desperate about the wasted summer with this shoulder and arm-perhaps more freely than if I had been well. I hadn't the faintest suspicion what would happen and I've never been a publicity seeker and never gotten a rotten deal before. When that thing came it seemed about the end and I got hold of a morphine phial and swallowed four grains, enough to kill a horse. It happened to be an overdose and almost before I could get to the bed I vomited the whole thing and the nurse came in and saw the empty phial and there was hell to pay for a while and afterwards I felt like a fool.28
The final disaster of 1936 involved his daughter Scottie in another sad farce. In the spring of that year, while Fitzgerald was settling Zelda in Highland and traveling back and forth between Maryland and North Carolina, Scottie, in her last year at Bryn Mawr School, often lived in Baltimore with his secretary, Isabel Owens. Scott wrote many letters to Mrs. Owens with strict and elaborate instructions about how Scottie should behave. Fitzgerald had maintained his over-protective and over-critical attitude toward his exceptionally beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter. When she was visiting relatives in Norfolk in June 1935, he told his cousin Cecilia Taylor not to let "any unreliable Virginia boys take my pet around… Scottie hasn't got three sisters-she has only got me. Watch her, please!" When she entered prep school he frequently reminded Scottie about how poor they were.
Grateful for the sacrifices he had made, Scottie later praised his "heroic struggle to maintain the family during the Baltimore days, which he did, and not too badly at all." She also told Mizener that she had always tried to please her parents, never judged them and never blamed Fitzgerald for anything until the fall of 1935, when he reached a low point in life and began to write "The Crack-Up" in Hendersonville: "I never was [impudent] in those days, and I never evaluated my parents at all, just accepted them… I never thought evil of Daddy in any way … until I was fourteen years old." But she also expressed quite justified rage and resentment about his criticism of her ingratitude and his refusal to acknowledge his alcoholism: "Didn't know I could still get mad," she wrote in 1948, "but I still can, particularly [his remarks] about what an angelic parent he had been in Baltimore against the most terrific odds & what a rotten child I was not to appreciate it, when he was drunk roughly 75% of the time."29
Scottie was especially angry about the afternoon tea dance at the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore. Fitzgerald organized the dance to celebrate her homecoming from her school in Connecticut for the Christmas holidays in 1936. He tried to limit the guests to sixty (though eighty eventually turned up) and hinted at trouble to come by alarming Scottie, who hoped for an elegant event, and joking about the musical arrangements: "I am determined to have a hurdy-gurdy for the orchestra-you know, an Italian with a monkey, and I think the children will be very content with that… However, in the next room I will have some of the older people with a swing orchestra that I have engaged, and from time to time you may bring some of your choice friends in there to dance.-But remember that I expect you and your crowd to dance by the hurdy-gurdy during the whole afternoon, quietly and slowly and without swing music, just doing simple waltz dancing." Though Fitzgerald considered himself an extremely good dancer, Scottie more accurately described his performance as "dashing but inaccurate dancing-he could not carry a tune and he had a very uncertain sense of rhythm."
At the tea dance Fitzgerald inevitably got drunk and made a fool of himself before a crowd of people, just as he had done at Irving Thalberg's party in Hollywood. He tottered around the room with bleary eyes and insisted on dancing with Scottie's friends, who were both embarrassed and frightened. Scottie resorted to self-protective measures and later recalled: "I knew that there was only one way for me to survive his tragedy, and that was to ignore it." When her father became pitiful, Scottie acted as if he were not there, and explained: "if I'd allowed myself to care I couldn't have stood it… After the ghastly tea-dance … Peaches Finney and I went back to her house in a state of semi-hysteria."
Peaches remembered that Fitzgerald went to a lot of trouble to make the arrangements and hire the orchestra. About seventy-five to one hundred people, including Peaches' parents, were there, just before Christmas. Scottie said: "Daddy's behaving dreadfully." But most of the guests were unaware of his sad state. At the end of the party he hired the orchestra for another hour and sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by the musicians and drinking his bottle of gin.30 Fitzgerald spent Christmas drying out at Johns Hopkins Hospital and was glad to see the end of the most calamitous year of his life.
Gerald and Sara Murphy, meanwhile, to whom Fitzgerald had often turned during his own personal crisis, had been suffering, with an astonishing nobility of spirit, even greater tragedies than the Fitzgeralds'. The Murphys had always been fanatical about the health and cleanliness of their three children. They had always instructed the children to use two washcloths, one for the face, the other for the rest of the body; and whenever they traveled, they hung sterile sheets in their train compartments. In March 1935 their older son Baoth died of spinal meningitis. After his funeral, Sara raised her clenched fists to the sky and cursed God. Hemingway showed the gentle, compassionate side of his character in a moving letter of condolence: "I can't be brave about it and in all my heart I am sick for you both… Very few people ever really are alive and those that are never die, no matter if they are gone. No one you love is ever dead."
At the end of that year Gerald wrote Scott that his suffering enabled him to understand their feelings better than anyone else: "Of all our friends, it seems to me that you alone knew how we felt these days-still feel. You are the only person to whom I can ever tell the bleak truth of what I feel… When you come North let me talk to you." Less than two years after Baoth's death, the Murphys' younger son Patrick died of tuberculosis after an eight-year struggle with the disease. Fitzgerald's letter of condolence in January 1937 (the month after the disastrous tea dance) expressed the depth of feeling for his closest friends, suggested the possibility of hope, and (as he had done in Tender Is the Night) alluded to the golden bowl and to the natural cycle of birth and death in the twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." He also uncannily echoed the conclusion of Hemingway's letter:
Another link binding you to life is broken and with such insensate cruelty that it is hard to say which of the two blows [Baoth's and Patrick's deaths] was conceived with more malice… But I can see another generation growing up around Honoria and an eventual peace somewhere, an occasional port of call as we all sail deathward. Fate can't have any more arrows in its quiver for you that will wound like these. Who was it said that it was astounding how the deepest griefs can change in time to a sort of joy? The golden bowl is broken indeed but it was golden; nothing can ever take those boys away from you now.31
1. As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 222; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 550; Henry Dan Piper, Interview with Nora Flynn, Tryon, North Carolina, February 10, 1947, courtesy of Professor Piper; Henry Dan Piper, Interview with Margaret Banning, Tryon, North Carolina, April 7, 1947.
2. Thelma Nason, "Afternoon (and Evening) of an Author," Johns Hopkins Magazine, 21 (February 1970), 10; As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 220; Christopher Sykes, Nancy: The Life of Lady Astor (New York, 1972), p. 488; Fitzgerald, Notebooks, pp. 77-78.
3. Arthur Mizener, notes on his conversation with Edmund Wilson, Princeton; Henry Dan Piper, Interview with Zelda Fitzgerald, Montgomery, Alabama, March 13 and 14, 1947; Henry Dan Piper, Interview with Nora Flynn; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 565.
4. Buttitta, The Lost Summer, Preface and p. 17; Interview with Tony Buttitta, New York, March 15, 1992.
5. Quoted in Donaldson, Fool for Love, p. 131; Laura Guthrie Hearne, "Summer with Scott Fitzgerald," pp. 161-165, 232.
6. Letter from Beatrice Dance to Laura Guthrie, August 7, 1935, Princeton; Letter from Laura Guthrie to Beatrice Dance, August 17, 1935, Princeton; Letter from Beatrice Dance to Laura Guthrie, October 25, 1935, Princeton.
7. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, pp. 419, 421, 427; Fitzgerald, Letters, pp. 549, 550; Letter from Fitzgerald to Beatrice Dance, November 6, 1940, Princeton.
8. Fitzgerald, Notebooks, pp. 78-79; Fitzgerald, Great Gatsby, pp. 180-181.
9. As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 224; Fitzgerald, Notebooks, p. 260; As Ever, Scott Fitz, pp. 228-229; Henry Dan Piper, Interview with Nora Flynn; As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 239.
10. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 508; Edwin Peeples, "Twilight of a God: A Brief, Beery Encounter with F. Scott Fitzgerald," Mademoiselle, 78 (November 1973), 171; Graham, The Real Scott Fitzgerald, p. 106.
11. Thomas Mann, Letters to Caroline Newton (Princeton, 1971), p. 67; Fitzgerald, Notebooks, p. 311; Fitzgerald, "Sleeping and Waking," Crack-Up, p. 65.
12. George Orwell, "Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali" (1941), Decline of the English Murder (London, 1953), p. 20; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 429; Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, p. 69; Letters of John Keats, ed. Robert Gittings (Oxford, 1970), p. 43.
13. Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, pp. 72, 80, 75; Wilson, Letters on Literature and Politics, p. 44; Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, pp. 79, 71; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 79.
14. Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, p. 327; Frances Fitzgerald Lanahan, Introduction to Six Tales of the Jazz Age, p. 7; Mark Schorer, The World We Imagine (New York, 1968), p. 364.
15. Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, p. 75; Quoted in James West, "Fitzgerald and Esquire," The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Jackson Bryer (Madison, Wisconsin, 1982), pp. 154-155; Robert Lowell, "Night Sweat," For the Union Dead (New York, 1964), p. 68.
16. Advertisement for Highland Hospital, Fitzgerald papers, Princeton; Adolf Meyer, Preface to Robert Carroll's What Price Alcohol? (New York, 1941), p. ix; Sherry Honea, "Reminiscing," Highland Highlights (Spring 1980), pp. 15, 16. See also Carroll's obituary in the New York Times, June 27, 1949, p. 27.
17. Quoted in Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, p. 483; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 431; Quoted in Milford, Zelda, p. 373; Quoted in Koula Hartnett, Zelda Fitzgerald and the Failure of the American Dream for Women (New York, 1990), p. 183.
18. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 446; Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 471.
19. Dear Scott/Dear Max, p. 219; Interview with Tony Buttitta; Quoted in Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 312.
20. Fitzgerald, Notebooks, pp. 309, 318; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 562; Fitzgerald, Short Stories, p. 218; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 561.
21. Hearne, "Summer with Scott Fitzgerald," p. 260; Fitzgerald, Notebooks, p. 89; Tomkins, Living Well is the Best Revenge, p. 130; Hemingway, Selected Letters, p. 407.
22. Hearne, "Summer with Scott Fitzgerald," p. 260; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 331; Fitzgerald, In His Own Time, p. 297; Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, p. 249; Hemingway, Selected Letters, pp. 437-438, 408.
23. Berg, Max Perkins, p. 305; Hemingway, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Short Stories, p. 72 (this sentence appeared in the third paragraph of "The Rich Boy"); Item 204.8, Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, Mass.; Fitzgerald, Letters, pp. 331, 296.
24. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 369; Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night, pp. 46, 51; Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," Short Stories, pp. 8, 32; Fitzgerald, Afternoon of an Author, p. 179.
25. Fitzgerald, Correspondence, p. 451; Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 561; Interview with Annabel's daughter Courtney Sprague Vaughan, Monte Sereno, California, June 25, 1992; Patricia Sprague Reneau and Courtney Sprague Vaughan, Remembered and Honored: Clifton A. F. "Ziggy" Sprague, U.S.N., 1896-1955 (Santa Cruz: privately printed, 1992), p. 69n.
26. Letter from Mok's friend Henry Senber to Jeffrey Meyers, July 16, 1992; Letter from Dr. Paul Mok to Jeffrey Meyers, May 23, 1992; Interview with Tony Buttitta. See also Mok's obituary in the New York Times, February 3, 1961, p. 25.
27. Fitzgerald, Interview with Michel Mok, In His Own Time, pp. 294-295, 299.
28. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Selected Letters, ed. Gordon Bigelow and Lauri Monti (Gainesville, Florida, 1983), pp. 309, 125-126; As Ever, Scott Fitz, p. 282.
29. Letter from Fitzgerald to Cecilia Taylor, June 11, 1935, Princeton; letter from Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan to Arthur Mizener, March 10, 1950, Princeton; Letter from Scottie Lanahan to Mizener, March 18, 1948, Princeton.
30. Fitzgerald, Letters, p. 28; Quoted in Mizener, Far Side of Paradise, p. 74; Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan, Introduction to Fitzgerald's Letters to His Daughter, pp. xii-xiii; Interview with Margaret McPherson.
31. Interview with Fanny Myers Brennan; Hemingway, Selected Letters, p. 412; Letters from the Lost Generation: Gerald and Sara Murphy and Friends, ed. Linda Miller (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1991), p. 151; Fitzgerald, Letters, pp. 446-447.
Next: chapter 12.
Published as Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (NY. Harper-Collins, 1994).