Though it was Professor Bruccoli who conceived, delivered, and nursed this volume—he loves “his” authors so much I do believe if he found all their grocery bills he'd put them out in an annotated edition—it is I who claim the credit for the title. It's a bit corny, but then so are some of the things in these stories, which have some mighty unbelievable heroes and heroines. The only way you'll get through them all, I think, is to imagine my father and mother as two bright meteors streaking across a starry sky back in the days when wars and moons seemed equally far away, and then these stories as a sort of fall-out. For they all have one thing in common: a sense of breathlessness, as if even their authors still were gasping at the wonders glimpsed as they flew past Heaven.
The title has two even more personal meanings for me, however. First, it brings to mind my mother's description of my father in her novel Save Me The Waltz, which tells the story of their romance better than anything else which has been written: There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretly enjoyed the ability to fly but was “Walking as a compromise to convention”.
Secondly, this is the last book which will ever be published devoted to previously uncollected writings of my parents. It's the end of an era, really, marked by the monumental scholarship of Professor Bruccoli and many others, which began about twenty-five years ago and has brought my father from relative obscurity as an artifact of the Jazz Age to his present secure nook in literature. Now everything that's fit to print—and even some that's borderline! - is out on the table for all to see, for the thesis writers to deduce from, and the moralists to point to, and the women's libbers to be shocked by. This is the last addition to the Scott and Zelda story as told by those who lived it, and for this reason I find it a little sad, like an attic which has been emptied of all its secret treasures.
It was in this mood of sentimental leave-taking that I went up to my real-life attic to see what I could find in the way of tangible mementoes still lurking about among the camp trunks and the children's bird cages. Despite a friend's remark that I am the luckiest person she knows because whenever my fortunes take a turn for the worse, I can always try to write myself another batch of undiscovered letters from my father, the fact is that everything of literary interest—the scrapbooks, the photograph albums, the ledgers and notebooks which my father so meticulously kept—has gradually been turned over to the Princeton University Library. The attic is now mostly populated with such unfamiliar titles as Kultahattu (Helsinki, 1959): “…ja Gatsby riensi sisaan pukeutuneena, valkoiseen flanellipukuun ja hopeanhohtoiseen paitaan…” and Lepi I Prokleti (Belgrade, 1969): “…jer je Glorija zamahnula rukom brzo ispusti i ona pade na pod…”
But there are a few things which are special, bits and pieces of the child's paradise which my parents created for me, and which is far more vivid to me than any of our later worlds in Alabama, Maryland, or Hollywood.
Item: The paper dolls on which my mother lavished so much time. Some of them represented the three of us. Once upon a time these dolls had wardrobes of which Rumpelstiltskin could be proud. My mother and I had dresses of pleated wallpaper, and one party frock of mine had ruffles of real lace cut from a Belgian handkerchief. More durable were the ball dresses of Mesdames de Maintenon and Pompadour and the coats-of-mail of Galahad and Launcelot, for these were lavishly painted in the most minute detail in water color so thick that it has scarcely faded. Perfectly preserved are the proud members of the courts of both Louis XIV and King Arthur (figures of haughty mien and aristocratic bearing), a jaunty Goldilocks, an insouciante Red Riding Hood, an Errol Flynn-like D'Artagnan, and other personages familiar to all little well-instructed boys and girls ofthat time. It is characteristic of my mother that these exquisite dolls, each one requiring hours of artistry, should have been created for the delectation of a six-year-old; at the time she died, she was working on a series of Bible illustrations for her oldest grandchild, then eighteen months.
Item: A stamp collection with about a third of its spaces filled in, and in the same box two disconsolate toy soldiers in uniforms of the Wars of the Roses… all that's left of the armies from Hannibal's to Napoleon's which used to be put through their battle paces on the dining-room table. These Daddy bought at the Nain Bleu in Paris in the vain hope, I suppose, that I would become as fascinated by military history as he was. Very little of my extra-curricular education took—some of it backfired, in fact, for I was made to recite so much Keats and Shelley that I came to look upon them as personal enemies - but he did teach me one thing which has come in handy at the oddest times, and that is a trick for remembering the Kings of England. He claimed to have invented it, though I suspect it's known to every school child in the British Isles, being a very simple pattern which you must fix visually in your mind:
|THE KINGS OF ENGLAND|
|William & Mary||Anne|
Add Elizabeth and presto, you'll be the lion of every cocktail party! My father spent many hours trying to devise a system for memorizing the Presidents, but he never succeeded in getting past Andrew Jackson… I'm happy to report, by the way, that insofar as he was political at all, he was a Franklin D. Roosevelt Democrat. His dismissal of the idea that Roosevelt was 'a traitor to his class' as pure nonsense was his single most influentiallegacy to me, and I expect to go to my grave, as he did to his, with the rare distinction of never having voted for a Republican candidate for President.
Item: A handful of Christmas ornaments, peeling here and there but still in use, along with the tiny skaters who were brought out every year to glide across my mother's pocket-mirrors under the tree. They were carried everywhere with us like talismans, for Christmas was a major production with the Fitzgeralds: railroad tracks would be laid down, mountains would be built out of papier mache, towns would be constructed to look like medieval villages. My mother described her feeling best in one of the letters which I copied before they, too, were sent to Princeton:
The tree [in Rome] was cooled with silver bells which rang hauntedly through the night by themselves… and we had a tree in Paris covered with mushrooms and with snowy houses which was fun. There were myriad birds of paradise on the tree with spun glass tails, and Nanny kept busily admonishing us about the French customs: how they did not give gifts at Christmas but at New Year's… then we had a tree on the Avenue McMahon which Nanny and I decorated between sips of champagne until neither we nor the tree could hold any more of fantaisie or decor. We kept our decorations for years in painted toy boxes and when the last of the tails wilted and the last house grew lopsided, it was almost a bereavement.
That was a slight exaggeration; three of the birds, tails as sleek as ever, still perch on my own family's tree every Christmas. But Nanny— If only Nanny, our symbol of order and respectability, would come back into my life, I could recapture the past as well as Proust! I don't know her married name, or where she lives now; perhaps she will read these musings and phone. “You and Nanny,” my mother wrote, “had so much paraphernalia and were such an official entourage that going some place was always an auspicious pilgrimage. By the time we had been on a boat half an hour she had the staff up to the chief officers running errands and finding all those so comfortable items which give life a completely mastered and domestic flavor in the British Isles.”
There is a blue ostrich feather fan with most of the feathers missing, and there are some postcards addressed to me from all over, usually just signed “The man with the three noses” in my father's handwriting. This was one of his favorite jokes and I don't remember thinking it particularly funny, though it was better than the ones in which I had to play an active role. For company, I would inevitably be placed on his knee, where the following dialogue would ensue:
FSF Do you know the story of the three holes in the ground?
ME (gravely): No, I don't. What is it?
FSF (triumphantly): Well, well, well!
or—and this one usually went over a little better:
FSF Do you know the story of the three eggs?
ME (gravely): No, I don't. What is it?
FSF (in mock sorrow): Too bad!
and finally, as the grand climax to this performance:
FSF Do you know the story of the dirty shirt?
ME (gravely): No, I don't. What is it?
FSF (tossing me off his knee): That's one on you-oo!
He told me why the chicken crossed the road and what's black and white and red all over, and showed me how to make a handkerchief disappear up your sleeve and how to make rabbit ears with your fingers against the light; he loved games and false faces and make-believe and his favorite children's story was The Rose and The Ring. That's what I remember about the paradise years, but here's a version from my mother, written after I got back from a trip to Europe just before the Second World War:
I suppose that few people have seen more varied aspects of life at first hand than we did; known more different kinds of people or participated in more compelling destinies. The truncate wails of the nightingale echoing melancholily through those first years on a deserted Riviera; Paris in the roseate glow of early street lights with violets being sold over the Cafe Weber and dyed roses about the foot of the Madeleine; the blatant prerogative of taxi horns and hotels full of new people all freed from weary sequences of life somewhere else. Do you, by any chance, remember the sparrows at the Cafe Dauphine and how you fed them bread crumbs on those gala mornings?
Then, too, we saw Rome before the new gilt of Fascism had begun to fade and sipped aperitifs in the eternal glooms of the Piazza Cologna and swept like wraiths through the dim passagewaysto obscure hotels. We went to London to see a fog and saw Tallulah Bankhead which was, perhaps, about the same effect. Then the fog blew up and we reconstituted Arnold Bennett's Pretty Lady and the works of Compton McKenzie which Daddy loved so, and we had a curious nocturnal bottle of champagne with members of the British polo team. We dined with Galsworthy and lunched with Lady Randolph Churchill and had tea in the mellow remembrances of Shane Leslie's house, who later took us to see the pickpockets pick in Wopping. They did.
I don't know how many other things we saw; we saw Venice and visited the Murphys at Salzburg in the dwarf-haunted fastnesses of inky black lakes and fir-fragrant lanes and we stayed in the royal suite at Munich… courtesy of the proprietors. Your generation is the last to bear witness of the grace and gala of those days of the doctrine of free will. I am so glad that you saw where the premium lay and savoured its properties before the end.
Some of these stories may come as a disappointment to lovers of Tender Is The Night, “The Rich Boy”, or even some of the devastatingly self-revealing articles in Esquire. But if one thinks of them less as literature than as reports from another, more romantic world, one will find bits in them that evoke the best of both Fitzgeralds… perhaps see where the premium lay, and savour its properties before the end.
21 August 1975
Published in Bits of Paradise by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (London: Bodley Head, 1973; New York: Scribners, 1974).