Scott Fitzgerald
by Andrew Turnbull


The re-exams in September did not yield Fitzgerald the necessary credits, but fortunately there was a board of appeals. Aspirants who were near the mark could go before the Admissions Committee and talk or “bicker” their way into Princeton. Fitzgerald’s live presence proved more persuasive than his blue books; among other arguments he mentioned the fact that it was his seventeenth birthday and it would be uncharitable to turn him down. For whatever reasons, the Committee approved him. On September 24th Fitzgerald wired his mother, ADMITTED SEND FOOTBALL PADS AND SHOES IMMEDIATELY PLEASE WAIT TRUNK.

The football pads and shoes might have been spared the journey. Though college players were an inch or two shorter and proportionately lighter than they are now, five feet seven and a hundred and thirty-eight pounds was still puny unless one had far more ability than Fitzgerald. A classmate remembers him catching punts in his black Newman jersey with the white-ringed sleeves—an eager, striving youth with lots of blond hair flying about. Somewhere Fitzgerald has written of “the shoulder pads worn for one day on the Princeton freshman football field,” but he told the present writer that he stuck it out for three days and withdrew semi-honorably with an ankle injury. (In This Side of Paradise the hero wrenches his knee badly enough to put him out for the season.) In any case football glory was now behind him, to his infinite regret. He would have to find some other way of catching the public eye.

Meanwhile he responded to the beauty of a Princeton that was smaller and sleepier than it is today. The railroad tracks came to the foot of Blair steps and Nassau Street was unpaved. Palmer Stadium was under construction but would not be used till the following autumn. Almost at once there was born in Fitzgerald a reverence for this campus “where Witherspoon brooded like a dark mother over Whig and Clio, her Attic children, where the black Gothic snake of Little curled down to Cuyler and Patton, these in turn flinging the mystery out over the placid slope rolling to the lake”—and where “topping all, climbing with clear blue aspiration, [were] the great dreaming spires of Holder and Cleveland towers.”

One evening in September, sitting on the steps of his rooming house, Fitzgerald witnessed the parade of upperclassmen which he afterwards described in This Side of Paradise. White-shirted and white-trousered, arms linked and heads aloft, they marched up University Place singing the all-stirring “Going Back to Nassau Hall,” written three years before. “The song soared so high that all dropped out except the tenors, who bore the melody triumphantly past the danger-point and relinquished it to the fantastic chorus.” At the head of the column strode the football captain, “slim and defiant, as if aware that this year the hopes of the college rested on him, that his hundred-and-sixty pounds were expected to dodge to victory through the heavy blue and crimson lines.”

Hobart A. H. Baker, the blond Adonis of a halfback who was Princeton’s captain, weighed in at a hundred and sixty-seven. Among Fitzgerald’s contemporaries there was more hero worship than there is now. Varsity football players were looked upon as demigods, and “Hobey” Baker, captain of football and star of hockey—someone like Baker loomed so high in the heavens that he was scarcely visible. But Baker had the common touch. Now and then he came down from Olympus to fraternize with the freshmen, and Fitzgerald actually spoke to him one day in October.

A network of traditions kept the freshmen of yore severely in their places. After the nine-o’clock curfew they were expected to be in their rooms. They couldn’t walk on the grass or smoke pipes around the campus, and they had to wear cuffless trousers, stiff collars, black ties, shoes and garters—everyone wore garters then—and black skullcaps known as “dinks” or “beanies.” For ten days they underwent the mild indignities of “horsing,” a bloodless form of hazing. The sophomores made them dance with their pant legs rolled or march to Commons lockstep express. A freshman sporting his best suit of a diamond pattern might be told to take off the jacket and play checkers on’ it with his companion. Freshman-sophomore hostilities reached their climax in the “rushes” when the freshmen as a body stormed the sophomores defending the gym. Though supervised by upperclassmen, the rushes were bruising affairs; they had to be abolished Fitzgerald’s junior year when a freshman was trampled to death under his own phalanx. By then horsing was extinct and the rules of dress were being eased.

And yet these college customs, criticized as pointless and childish, made for a drama and an esprit de corps which delighted Fitzgerald. His zest and curiosity were boundless as he expanded into his new environment after the compression of boarding school. He wanted to see, to know, to be, to experience, to explore. He wanted to do everything and have everything with an enthusiasm which made him very attractive. He was rushing out to meet life and to embrace it, unable to wait for life to come to him.

In those days the contrasts between East and West, between city and country, between prep school and high school were more marked than they are now, and correspondingly the nuances of dress and manners were more noticeable. Fitzgerald quickly grasped the prevailing code and adapted himself to it. In Commons, where the undergraduates ate during their first two years, he spied out the leaders and men of quality as opposed to the “scuts” or “birds,” as the lower orders were then called. Though respectful to those he considered his superiors, he wasn’t bootlicking; he would not, for example, take the empty seat next to the class president, but he noticed the man who did. He noticed everything, including such refinements as how a classmate treated his parents when they came to call. So-and-so put his arm around his mother as they strolled across the campus yet hardly spoke to his father. Such an observation would be pregnant with overtones for Fitzgerald.

At 15 University Place, known to its inmates as “The Morgue,” Fitzgerald was living with nine freshmen, including Sap Donahoe and several others from Newman. After they had fixed their rooms and bought all manner of pennants, posters, pillows, and class pipes, they took to lounging in a first-floor window seat and watching their classmates troop to Commons. It made a convenient lookout for the embryo novelist who never tired of analyzing his fellows, of pigeon-holing them and imaginatively probing their tenets and values. What was so-and-so’s ambition? Would he make it? What sort of background had he come from? If you took away this or that quality, what would become of him?

“That’s Tom Hilliard,” Fitzgerald would exclaim, as a group from St. Paul’s School passed the window. “Hilliard’s going Ivy.”

Fitzgerald had a precocious knowledge of the upperclass eating clubs which students were invited to join the spring of sophomore year. Until then, the less said about them the better, but Fitzgerald kept a class list on which he wrote the club each individual seemed destined for.

Life at the Morgue consisted of the usual freshman shenanigans. There were wrestling matches, pillow fights, and interminable games of red-dog and poker. There were bicker sessions during which the problems of the universe were settled to everyone’s satisfaction. When it was discovered that the gas could be extinguished all over the house by blowing in the upstairs jet, Fitzgerald, who lived on the top floor, staged blackouts at strategic moments. He had another trick of barging into people’s rooms at two or three a.m. and parading back and forth before the mirror as he talked.

What he saw in the mirror was cause for hope. Handsome, pert, fresh, blond, he looked—as someone said at the time— like a jonquil. He parted his hair in the middle (at Newman he had parted it on one side), and though he slicked it down for formal occasions, it was usually a little windblown from his energetic life. His pale, clear skin was the kind that grows rosy with cold or with exertion, though at this stage its radiance was somewhat dimmed by adolescent pimples. Fitzgerald favored Brooks Brothers suits; freshman year he had a greenish-gray tweed, on the order of an Irish frieze, that was very becoming. As was the fashion, he arched the wings of his button-down collars so that they pulled away from the buttons, and his dark, conservative ties bulged out in front at the approved angle.

Occasionally he and his companions went to Trenton to take in the bars and burlesque shows. Fitzgerald had tasted his first glass of whiskey the previous spring, and on a trip to New York he shocked Sap Donahoe by tossing down several Bronxes in quick succession. In the resulting mood of silliness he took Sap’s arm on the way to the theater and addressed him as his son for the amusement of passers-by. Fitzgerald was notoriously poor at holding his liquor, but he drank moderately as an undergraduate. It was still the era when parents promised their sons gold watches if they abstained till they were twenty-one. Alcohol in any form was forbidden on campus, and conspicuous drunks were frowned upon, so Fitzgerald, like most of his contemporaries, confined himself to beer in the saloons along Nassau Street.

His ambition had come to rest on The Tiger, a humor sheet, and the Triangle, purveyor of musical comedies. Having gotten an unsigned bit in the first issue of The Tiger, Fitzgerald bombarded that magazine with poems of the moon-croon-June-spoon variety, he-and-she jokes, and pseudo-comic sketches. He lay in wait for the editor outside his classes and slipped manuscripts into his hand on Nassau Street. As the editor was about to retire, he gave in from sheer weariness and printed a second squib by Fitzgerald.

The Triangle was harder to crash. The sheaf of lyrics which Fitzgerald submitted at tryouts were all turned down in favor of songs by well-known upperclassmen. Undaunted, Fitzgerald showed his interest by working on lights in the old Casino where Triangle rehearsals were held. Meanwhile he wrote blindly, incessantly, sometimes waking up in the small hours and strewing the floor with scribbled sheets which he threw in the wastebasket next day without examining their contents.

His studies were his least concern. He took forty-nine cuts freshman year, the maximum permitted without penalty. Dozing through classes, he evaded the professor’s half-heard question with, “It all depends how you look at it, sir—there’s a subjective and an objective point of view.” Fitzgerald was no scholar though in other respects college excited him. He liked the big-time competition for power and status, certain that his talents would win their deserts. He thrilled to the poetry of Princeton—to the colorful crowds at the football games, to the snatches of song drifting across the campus, to the mellow lamplight back of Nassau Hall, to the whisperings in the pass at night in front of Witherspoon.


Going home for Christmas, Fitzgerald felt that oneness with the continent which he was to describe so hauntingly in The Great Gatsby—in a passage near the end which rises like a great wave out of the ocean, purging the brackishness and sordid-ness in what has gone before.

“One of my most vivid memories is coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Street Station at six o’clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This-or-That’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings of invitations: ‘Are you going to the Ordways? The Herseys? The Schultzes’?’ and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate.

“When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp, wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

“That’s my Middle West—not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and the sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow.”

It was fun being home with his old companions, and yet to Fitzgerald’s widening gaze, St. Paul began to seem dull and provincial. He felt a need to startle these people out of their complacency. “I think I’ll put you in a story,” he would tell the girl beside him at a dinner party, implying that any moment he would be bursting into print, “—what sort of a heroine would you like to be?” “Are you really the richest girl in your boarding school?” he would ask the out-of-town visitor, while for Catholic maidens he reserved the question, “Do you believe in God?”


The holidays over, he went back to the retribution of midyears. Failing three of them and passing four with low marks, he managed to stay in college by a narrow margin. In March he began a script for next year’s Triangle, urged on by the club’s new president, Walker Ellis. A wealthy, brilliant, cosmopolitan junior from New Orleans, Ellis was Fitzgerald’s beau ideal.

By the end of April the Triangle competition had narrowed to two scripts—Fitzgerald’s and that of a sophomore namedLawton Campbell. As Fitzgerald and Campbell had never met, Ellis did his best to keep them apart and play one off against the other. On May 15th Campbell submitted his final draft. He was discussing it with Ellis in the latter’s suite when Fitzgerald came in, out of breath from his hurried climb up several flights of stairs. His hair was rumpled and his eyes were ablaze; those eyes that combined so many emotions—suspicion, eagerness, curiosity, good humor, compassion, irony. In his hand was a manuscript.

“Is Campbell’s in yet?” he asked.

“Campbell’s play is here and so is Campbell,” said Ellis, and the rivals were introduced.

They became friends, and during the next few weeks Fitzgerald often dropped in on Campbell for clues of how the competition was going. Fitzgerald had taken no chances; to improve his technique he had steeped himself in the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan and the dialogue of Oscar Wilde. In the end his script was chosen, largely on the strength of the lyrics, which were said to be the most original ever submitted for a Triangle production. Ellis rewrote the book and signed his name to it, but in his copy of the program Fitzgerald corrected the credits to read: “Book and lyrics by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1917. Revision by Walker Ellis, 1915.”


Freshman year, though Fitzgerald’s best efforts went into the Triangle, the deeper side of him also found an outlet. By coincidence he had early become acquainted with a classmate of rare gifts. Let John Peale Bishop describe their first encounter.

“[Fitzgerald] had, like myself, only arrived in Princeton; the Commons for Freshmen was not yet open; we sat side by side at a large round table in a corner of the Peacock Inn. It was the first time I had gone out alone, for in those opening days we stuck very close to the boys who had come down from school with us. It was by chance that I sat next to this youth, so quick to conversation; we stayed on when the others had gone. In theleafy street outside the September twilight faded; the lights came on against the paper walls, where tiny peacocks strode and trailed their tails among the gayer foliations. I learned that Fitzgerald had written a play which had been performed at school. Places were cleared; other students sat down at the tables around us. We talked of books: those I had read, which were not many; those Fitzgerald had read, which were even less; those he said he had read, which were many, many more.”

In This Side of Paradise Bishop is Thomas Parke d’Invilliers with his “cracked, kindly voice,” his scholarly mien, his comparative innocence of social realities. Part of the Princeton code was not to appear to take one’s studies too seriously, and Bishop had an unmistakable aura of bookishness. Worse, he wrote poetry about wreathed fauns and dying maidens for the highbrow Nassau Lit, and acted in the recherche productions of the English Dramatic Association. Some thought him a trifle British and affected—the way he said “gyahden” instead of “garden,” and “plahstah” instead of “plaster.”

But Fitzgerald found Bishop a warm, generous, stimulating companion with a surprising streak of ribaldry and coarseness. Bishop had a wonderful belly laugh and on occasion would throw back his head and roar. He was imposing rather than handsome. “Even as a freshman,” one of his teachers recalled, “John had a self possession and self mastery which gave him the pose and bearing of a young English lord.” Because of a boyhood illness, he was twenty-one when he entered Princeton and seemed more mature than his classmates—almost like a young professor. With his superior grounding in literature, poetry especially, he was able to exert considerable influence on Fitzgerald’s reading.

What Bishop gave Fitzgerald is plain to see. What Fitzgerald gave Bishop is harder to define though suggested in Bishop’s beautiful requiem for Fitzgerald, “The Hours.”

No promise such as yours when like the spring
You came, colors of jonquils in your hair,
Inspired as the wind, when woods are bare
And every silence is about to sing.

The summer of 1914 was still the summer of the Western world. In the last flush of Victorian tranquility, war seemed remote and exciting, and when hostilities broke out in Europe, Fitzgerald took a sporting interest in the German dash for Paris. Then he ceased to give it much thought, although like Amory in This Side of Paradise, “if it had not continued he would have felt like an irate ticket-holder at a prize-fight where the principals refused to mix it up.”

Of more concern was his third play for the Elizabethan Dramatic Club. Despite the prevalence of such lines as “No doubt you get my drift, or shall I snow again?”, the newspapers called Assorted Spirits “a roaring farce, clever throughout.” Again Fitzgerald packed the YWCA Auditorium. During a repeat performance at the White Bear Yacht Club a fuse burned out with a loud explosion and plunged the house into darkness at the very moment when a ghost was walking in the first act. Women shrieked, there were signs of panic, but Fitzgerald leapt to the stage and kept the audience at bay with an improvised monologue until the lights were repaired.

In September he returned to Princeton to find himself ineligible for the Triangle. Though his marks had improved slightly the spring of freshman year and though he had passed off enough conditions to become “a sophomore in good standing,” he would not be allowed to act in the show or go on its tour of distant cities. At rehearsals, he took a hand in the staging and direction. He also polished and rewrote his lyrics as they were set to music.

He was living by himself in 107 Patton, a tower room that overlooked the woods and fields sloping off toward Carnegie Lake. The Triangle took up most of his time, but he kept an eye on his classmates and their activities, knowing more about them than they would ever have suspected. On the whole his appraisal of others was objective and charitable, although with a few deadly strokes he could annihilate someone he didn’t like. His classwork continued to lag behind his other interests. In chemistry he ignored the formulas and wrote collaborative verse with the boy beside him. An English teacher named “Rip” Van Winkle made some slight impression on him, and he attended the aesthetic gatherings in Van Winkle’s apartment, where Keats and Shelley were read aloud while the students sipped tea with rum in it.

In December the Triangle went on tour minus Fitzgerald, who nevertheless shared the glory of Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! “This delicious little vehicle, said the Brooklyn Citizen, “was announced as a musical comedy and the name can only be disputed to the extent that it is also given to innumerable Broadway productions that possess less vivacity, less sparkling humor and less genuine music.” “Much of the success of the entertainment,” said the Baltimore Sun, “was due to the clever lyrics of F. S. Fitzgerald, who has written some really excellent ‘patter songs.’ “ And the Louisville Post: “The lyrics of the songs were written by F. S. Fitzgerald, who could take his place right now with the brightest writers of witty lyrics in America.”

Strong wine of praise, and Fitzgerald’s head was easily turned. “The Triangle success,” he later told a classmate, “was the worst thing that could have happened to me. As long as I’m unknown I’m a pretty nice fellow, but give me a little notoriety and I swell up like a poison toad.”


Once asked how he always managed to corner the most attractive girl at a party, Fitzgerald replied, “I’m only interested in the best.” It was therefore natural that during the Christmas holidays in St. Paul he should make a play for Marie Hersey’s house guest, Ginevra King from Chicago. Ginevra was a startling brunette beauty, with the vivid coloring so valuable in a day when only actresses wore make-up. Just sixteen and a junior at Westover, she was already getting quantities of mail from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. Like Isabelle in This Side of Paradise, she had a reputation for being a “speed” and was capable of “very strong if very transient emotions.” Fitzgerald did not meet her until the day before his departure for Princeton, but he monopolized her during the remaining breathless hours, and the Amory-Isabelle sequence in This Side of Paradise is a record of their colliding egotisms. Momentarily Fitzgerald stood out from the army of Ginevra’s admirers. He was thought to be a difficult catch and philosophized about “Life” in a way other boys did not. On Fitzgerald’s side the attraction went deeper; for the first time he found himself irrevocably hooked.

En route to Princeton he wrote a telegram which he never sent: “Dearest Ginevra—Pardon me if my hand is shakey but I write a very shaky hand. I have just had a quart of sauterne and 3 Bronxes in celebration of meeting Mr. Donahoe a classmate of mine on the train.” Back in college he launched a voluminous correspondence. Ginevra promised to send him one of her “homely pictures” and asked for his in return, as she had but a faint recollection of yellow hair, big blue eyes, and a brown corduroy vest that was very good-looking. Already Fitzgerald had occasion to be jealous. He heard that after his departure from St. Paul Ginevra had gotten attention from his old nemesis, Reuben Warner, whose glamour was now enhanced by the possession of a Stutz Bearcat. When Fitzgerald wrote Warner for details, he wasn’t reassured by the reply:

“Scott, you are talking foolish when you say that I always beat you out, because I know damn well she likes you better than I, and god-damn it you always beat me out, but nevertheless we are friendly rivals. That’s one consolation….

“Wednesday morning Marie called me up and asked me if I would go to a pair of sixes with them—I said yes—and G.K. & I and J. Johnston & Marie went down with Mrs. Hersey & some other hen as chaperone—Well when I saw those two I said, ‘Reuben, no fun for you this after-noon,’ But!! nevertheless I started to think of a plan how I would—(without the old ladies seeing me). I guess G.K. was thinking the same thing.

“After I had been thinking for about ten minutes Ginevra suddenly picked up her muff and put it on her lap with herhands in it!!—I like a damn fool, just sat there—you know how you hate to start anything, Then!!! she nudged me with her sweet elbow and I looked at her and she looked down at her muff. Well! I just slid my massive paw in there and enjoyed the rest of the show. When I would squeeze, she’d squeeze back— hmn! Swell! Now listen Scott, I know you won’t say anything about this to any one—Will you? Because you & I want to have a hell of a time next summer if she should come out to St. Paul.”

Rumors of other beaux trickled in to disquiet Fitzgerald, but Ginevra assured him he was first and her lengthy letters seemed to confirm it. She asked if he would like to visit her at Westover; she would “worship” having him. Of course the circumstances of their meeting would be less than ideal. While they were together, they would have to sit in a glass parlor under the eye of a chaperon.

Fitzgerald went one day in February. Long afterwards, in his story “Basil and Cleopatra,” he recalled his first glimpse of Ginevra that afternoon. “Radiant and glowing, more mysteriously desirable than ever, wearing her very sins like stars, she came down to him in her plain white uniform dress, and his heart turned over at the kindness of her eyes.”

Ginevra thought the visit a great success, and in her next letter she suggested they write each other daily, but Fitzgerald, who as usual had over-dreamed the occasion, was in despair. He wrote Ginevra that when she grew tired of his letters they would drift. He asked her impossible questions (“Describe your last affair”) and talked of becoming a priest. He moralized: girls who were flirts, he said, would never get their share of life later on. When Ginevra went home for spring vacation, her reports of the good time she was having put him on the rack. “Even now,” he began a letter, “you may be having a tete-a-tete with some ‘unknown Chicagoan’ with crisp dark hair and glittering smile.”

In March, groups of juniors and seniors began visiting the sophomores preparatory to inviting them to join the clubs. Evenings, Fitzgerald sat in a room with Sap Donahoe and several others, nervously awaiting the steps in the hall, the shuffling outside the door, the final appeasing knock. With the representatives of the clubs he was interested in he played the nice ingenuous boy, very much at ease and totally unaware of the object of the call, while the unwelcome delegations he took pleasure in shocking. Already known to upperclassmen for his work on the Triangle, Fitzgerald had his eye on Cottage, one of the four “big” clubs, whose president was Walker Ellis. He might have preferred Ivy—“detached and breathlessly aristocratic,” as he called it in This Side of Paradise—but he looked on Cottage as a respectable alternate. In the end, after weighing bids from Cap and Gown, Quadrangle and Cannon, he went Cottage with Sap Donahoe and passed out at the celebration.

His section in Cottage was polyglot and disjointed. As he afterwards wrote, he might have been more comfortable in Quadrangle, one of the nice smaller clubs where John Peale Bishop and the litterateurs of the class were concentrated, yet he never regretted his choice. At Princeton the big clubs attracted most of the leaders and policy makers, and here as always he was shooting for the top.

By now Ginevra had returned to the comparative seclusion of Westover, and Fitzgerald, safely entrenched in Cottage, felt the moment had come to invite her to the sophomore prom. Ginevra expressed joy at the thought but wasn’t sure her mother would be able to chaperon her. There was hope, however…. When she wrote a few weeks later that her mother couldn’t make it, Fitzgerald took it gracefully, though his true feelings were voiced in a quatrain of Browning’s which he copied into his scrapbook:

Each life unfulfilled you see
It hangs still, patchy and scrappy,
We have not sighed deep, laughed free
Starved, feasted, despaired—been happy.

By way of compensation, Ginevra invited him to go to the theater with her after school let out. Nevertheless, their relations grew stormier. It seemed to Fitzgerald that Ginevra was looking beyond him while all his desires were centered on her. In a mood of revulsion he wrote her that he was tired of her, that she had no character, that he had idealized her in the beginning but had soon realized his mistake. When Ginevra answered that it wasn’t her fault she had been idealized, Fitzgerald relented.

Except for the troubles with Ginevra it was a happy spring, and perhaps the troubles had something to do with the more serious turn of his literary interests. Sap Donahoe remembered Fitzgerald bursting into the room with Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven,” which Bishop had gotten him to read. At such moments Fitzgerald was incandescent with enthusiasm. Literature was a form of intoxication, and many nights he read and wrote in his tower room till the cigarette butts littered the ash trays—then wandered up to Nassau Street through the darkened campus for string potatoes and milk at Joe’s.

His name had begun to appear in the Nassau Lit. In the April issue he had a one-act play, Shadow Laurels, which tells of a Frenchman seeking news of his long-dead father in a Paris wineshop. The father had been a drunken roisterer but a lovely spirit—a sort of unsung Fran$ois Villon. “The Ordeal,” Fitzgerald’s story in the June issue, described the temptations of a novice about to take monastic vows. The clash of spiritual good and earthly evil was powerfully dramatized, suggesting some of the religious uncertainty in Fitzgerald himself.

Through his work on the Lit he had gotten to know its capable editor, Edmund “Bunny” Wilson. College classes in those days were more separate than they are now, and not only was Wilson a year ahead of Fitzgerald, he was someone you met on his own terms; he wasn’t going to seek you out unless he was sure it would be worth his while. A recluse, a burner of midnight oil, he had come to Princeton from the Hill School already possessed of a cool, objective intelligence and high critical standards. His erudition made him popular with the faculty; he was used to talking to older men about their subjects without being treated as a boy. To the bulk of the undergraduates, however, he was a withdrawn, literary figure, a well-dressed “poler” or grind, a smug, conceited little fellow who wouldn’t talk to you because he considered himself the brightest person around—which he may well have been.

Intellectually mature, he was socially somewhat backward and oblivious. He would start expounding in a casual group and go right on, unaware that the others were uninterested or laughing at him. In some ways he had found Princeton antipathetic. He recoiled from its provincialism, the emphasis on sports and clubs, the relative indifference to art and ideas (his twin passions), and he wasn’t afraid to make his opinions known in the Lit editorials.

While he and Fitzgerald quickly recognized each other’s ability, they stood opposed in a number of ways. Wilson was a born intellectual whose love of books and culture had led him to explore the surrounding life. Fitzgerald wasn’t really an intellectual at all; his talents were of a different order. He had begun with a quick, instinctive love of life and, working in the opposite direction from Wilson, had found his way back to books. From this fundamental antithesis sprang other differences. Wilson had a rational, judicial cast inherited from his lawyer father who greatly influenced his style of thought. Fitzgerald lived in his imagination; he seethed with poetic invention and no one could match him for creative fire. Compared to Fitzgerald, so breezy and impetuous, Wilson seemed self-conscious, pedantic, a bit of a priss (he was the only child of a deaf mother to whom it was necessary that he speak very precisely). Wilson’s world was the Lit, where he had become a focus for the more serious writers among the undergraduates. They deferred to his taste and judgment, for Wilson could tell you when a thing was literature and when it was not. On the whole, he scorned The Tiger and the Triangle, though he would show his versatility by writing the book for the Triangle’s next production. Fitzgerald, with inverse snobbery, had begun by looking down on the Lit which he ridiculed as “half a dozen men who, as the price of appearing in print, agree to listen to each other’s manuscripts.” But you could tease Fitzgerald about The Tiger and the Triangle and he would enter into the spirit of it, while Wilson, haughty and aloof, brooked no jest about his enterprises.

Wilson, in a word, was less fun than Fitzgerald, though Wilson had enough wit of the satiric sort to be quite amusing when he chose. A pale, fine-featured youth, he was short-legged —not fat, but yet a little stocky in his clothes. He wore orange ties to go with his red-orange hair and rode an English bike, then a rarity on campus. His manner was quiet and composed, though among his confreres he had plenty to say in his high-pitched voice, and when the discussion grew heated he would bat his eyes and stammer with excitement.


In June Fitzgerald had the longed-for tryst with Ginevra in New York. They went to Nobody Home and then to the Ritz Roof, and on his way to St. Paul he called on her in Chicago. He continued to think of her as his girl although, as she pointed out, they had seen each other a total of only fifteen hours.

He spent July and August at Sap Donahoe’s ranch in Wyoming. He didn’t especially like the outdoor life, but not wanting to appear a sissy he went along with the rustlers and opened gates for them. He got drunk and won fifty dollars in poker. The ranch manager, who was carrying on a secret love affair, hated Fitzgerald for finding out.

Occasionally he heard from Ginevra summering in Maine, though hers were not the long soul-searching letters of the winter before.

Next: chapter 5

Published as Scott Fitzgerald by Andrew Turnbull (New York: Scribners, 1962; London: Bodley Head, 1962).