Scott Fitzgerald
by Andrew Turnbull


Zeldawrote Max Perkins of their weird crossing, “haunted by such tunes as ‘Horsey keep your tail up, keep the sun out of my eyes’ played by an aboriginal English orchestra.” In Paris they lunched with John Peale Bishop at an expensive restaurant in the Bois where it was difficult to order for little Scottie, and Fitzgerald gave her one of his shoelaces and a handful of coins which she played with on the gravel under the tables. Having hired an English nanny, the Fitzgeralds went on to Hyeres where—Zelda’s letter continued—“Scott reads nothing but lives of Byron & Shelly and shows the most romantic proclivities.” They were living in a hotel “surrounded by invalids of every variety and all the native Hyersans have goiters.” The menu featured goat’s meat, a state of affairs not to be endured.

Early in June they moved up the Riviera to St. Raphael where they rented the Villa Marie, set back in a wood of cypress and parasol pines. Here they began their new life with the usual well-meaning, hopeful gaiety. Scott grew a mustache and rented a baby Renault in which he and Zelda ranged along the coast. On mornings after late evenings in St. Raphael, when the details of their homecoming had been hazy, Scottie would be sent to the garage to report on the condition of the car and would bring back the intelligence, for example, that the tires were round on the top but flat at the bottom.


“The deep Greek of the Mediterranean licked its chops over the edges of our febrile civilization. Keeps crumbled on gray hill-sides and sowed the dust of their battlements beneath the olives and the cactus. Ancient moats slept bound in tangled honeysuckle; fragile poppies bled the causeways; vineyards caught on jagged rocks like bits of worn carpet. The baritone of tired medieval bells proclaimed disinterestedly a holiday from time. Lavender bloomed silently over the rocks. It was hard to see in the vibrancy of the sun.”

Thus Zelda would recall the mise en scene of her love affair.

Like Scott she had left America wanting a deep spiritual change, but unlike him she had no prospect of writing a great novel. At twenty-three—almost twenty-four—she may have begun to fear her looks were going, or she may have felt insufficient basking in her husband’s glory. Perhaps she was trying to make him jealous, or perhaps she was bored and the seduction of the moment proved too strong. There is no single explanation for her involvement with a French naval flyer named Edouard Josanne. [In his correspondence with Zelda’s psychiatrists Fitzgerald identified her lover as Eduoard Josanne. The name also appears in his Ledger for June, 1924.]

Fitzgerald was used to men falling in love with Zelda. Caught up in his book, he was glad not to have her bothering him, and at first he didn’t suspect what was going on. In a piece of journalism he wrote at this time he described how “in half an hour, Rene and Bobbe” [Edouard Josanne], officers of aviation, are coming to dinner in their white ducks…. Afterwards, in the garden, their white uniforms will grow dimmer as the more liquid dark comes down, until they, like the heavy roses and the nightingales in the pines, will seem to take an essential and indivisible part in the beauty of this proud gay land.” Zelda, in her descriptions of Josanne in her novel Save Me the Waltz, stressed the muscularity of his lean, bronzed body under the starched uniforms. He was handsome—in feature not unlike Scott—but he was “full of the sun” while Scott was “a moon person.” Josanne was daring and zoomed his plane perilously low over the Villa Marie.

Matters had gone far when Scott caught on, and momentarily he was shattered. He really believed in love, in what two people can build against the world’s cheap skepticism. “Upon the theme of marital fidelity,” said his friend Ernest Boyd, the critic, “Fitzgerald’s eloquence has moved me to tears…. Where so many others are conscious only of sex, he is conscious of the soul. His Catholic heaven is not so far away that he can be misled into mistaking the shoddy dream of a radical millennium as a substitute for Paradise.”

Fitzgerald forced a showdown and delivered an ultimatum which banished Josanne from their lives. The crisis took place July 13th; in August Fitzgerald wrote in his Ledger, “Zelda and I close together,” and in September, “Trouble clearing away.” But the episode was a rent in their armor which he would never forget.

In a letter to Perkins he called it “a fair summer. I’ve been unhappy but my work hasn’t suffered from it. I am grown at last.” His work may even have profited. Who can say but that Fitzgerald’s jealousy sharpened the edge of Gatsby’s and gave weight to Tom Buchanan’s bullish determination to regain his wife? In any case, Fitzgerald’s prose was sparkling as never before, and as an artist he had shot up. In July, 1922, before moving to Great Neck, he had said he wanted “to write something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple & intricately patterned.” Of such idealism The Great Gatsby had been born, and the lashing his published play received at the hands of the critics had sent him back to the novel in a chastened mood.

“It is only in the last four months,” he wrote Perkins just before leaving America, “that I’ve realized how much I’ve —well, almost deteriorated in the three years since I finished the Beautiful and Damned. The last four months of course I’ve worked but in the two years—over two years—before that, I produced exactly one play, half a dozen short stories and three or four articles—an average of about one hundred words a day. If I’d spent the time reading or travelling or doing anything— even staying healthy—it’d be different but I spent it uselessly, neither in study nor in contemplation but only in drinking and raising hell generally. If I’d written the B&D at the rate of 100words a day it would have taken me 4 years so you can imagine the moral effect the whole chasm had on me.

“What I’m trying to say is just that I’ll have to ask you to have patience about the book and trust me that at last, or at least for the 1st time in years, I’m doing the best I can. I’ve gotten in dozens of bad habits that I’m trying to get rid of

“I feel I have an enormous power in me now, more than I’ve ever had in a way but it works so fitfully and with so many bogeys because I’ve talked so much and not lived enough within myself to develop the necessary self reliance. Also I don’t know any one who has used up so much personal experience as I have at 27. Copperfield & Pendennis were written at past forty while This Side of Paradise was three books & the B&D was two. So in my new novel I’m thrown directly on purely creative work —not trashy imaginings as in my stories but the sustained imagination of a sincere yet radiant world. So I tread slowly and carefully & at times in considerable distress. This book will be a consciously artistic achievement & must depend on that as the 1st books did not.”

In 1934 Fitzgerald would say that never had he tried to keep his artistic conscience so pure as during the ten months of writing Gatsby. Before beginning it he had reread the preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus, and Conrad’s dictum that a work of art should carry its justification in every line had been his guide.


In September the Lardners, touring Europe, spent a few days with the Fitzgeralds at St. Raphael. The “pulmonary pain” Ring had joked about in his poem to Zelda was a reality; he was suffering from tuberculosis, and during most of the visit he reclined on a Louis XV sofa in his bathrobe and prodded Fitzgerald with dry, unexpected remarks. The manuscript of Gatsby went to Scribners the end of October. Perkins wrote back at once, praising the book’s vitality, style, glamour, and the unusual quality of its underlying thought. Later came a detailed analysis of its flaws which Fitzgerald took pains to remedy, especially the sag of interest in Chapters Six and Seven and the undue vagueness of Gatsby and his origins (some of the vagueness was intended—to give him an air of mystery). Perkins ended by saying that the description of the Valley of Ashes and the catalogue of those who attended Gatsby’s parties were such things as make men famous, while the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg and the glimpses of city, sea, and sky brought in a note of eternity.

Fitzgerald was overjoyed. His confidence was renewed, and for the first time since The Vegetable failed he thought himself a wonderful writer. Predicting a sale of 80,000, or twice that of his previous novels, he wrote Perkins that the proofs, because of the intricate changes he had in mind to make it a perfect book, would be the most expensive since Madame Bovary. Meanwhile he told his agent that after rehabilitating himself financially with three or four short stories, he was starting another novel. “My loafing days are over—I feel as though I’d wasted 1922 & 1923.”

For no more apparent reason than that Zelda had been reading Henry James, the Fitzgeralds decided to winter in Rome. Ben Hur, starring Ramon Navarro and Carmel Myers, was filming there “in bigger and grander papier-mache arenas than the real ones,” and Scott and Zelda amused themselves with the cast, but after hitting a policeman in an argument over a taxi fare, Scott was beaten up and jailed. He once said that coming from the Midwest he had only the vaguest race prejudices. This experience, however, gave him a hatred of Italians that extended to the country itself—“a dead land,” he called it, “where everything that could be done or said was done long ago, for whoever is decieved by the pseudo activity under Mussolini is decieved by the spasmotic last jerk of a corpse.” In January he andZelda moved to Capri, liking it no better. They had been sick a good deal, especially Zelda, and her affair had left a bitterness between them. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald wrote Bishop that they were still enormously in love and about the only truly happily married people he knew.

In April they started north, having decided to make Paris their headquarters. On the tenth of the month Gatsby would be published, and as the day approached Fitzgerald’s confidence waned. What if women didn’t like it because it contained no important female character, and what if the critics didn’t like it because it dealt with the rich instead of the farm types then in vogue? Fitzgerald stewed over the advertising, fearful lest his book be mistaken for just another jazz-and-society novel. He had never been sure of the title, and as late as March 19th he had wired Perkins, CRAZY ABOUT TITLE UNDER THE RED WHITE AND BLUE WHAT WOULD BE DELAY? (Perkins talked him out of this brainstorm.) The day before publication he wired for news, and the first bulletin came back, “sales situation doubtful excellent reviews.” [Other titles contemplated by Fitzgerald were Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires, Trimalchio, Trimalchio at West Egg, Gold Hatted Gatsby, High Bouncing Lover, and On the Road to West Egg.]

The reviews—and they were excellent, the most impressive he had ever received—struck a common note: his metamorphosis from adolescent prodigy into mature artist. There were also letters from Willa Cather and Edith Wharton; from Gertrude Stein, who said Fitzgerald was creating the contemporary world as much as Thackeray had created his in Pendennis and Vanity Fair; from T. S. Eliot (Fitzgerald thought him the greatest living poet), who said that Gatsby was the first step American fiction had taken since Henry James. Lunching with Gilbert Seldes some months after receiving Eliot’s letter, Fitzgerald produced it, saying he just happened to have it with him, and when a friend came over to speak to them, he unabashedly drew it out a second time.

The Great Gatsby was indeed a more conscious work of art than Fitzgerald’s first two novels, just as its hero was less obviously an autobiographical projection than either Amory Blaine or Anthony Patch. Gatsby had been created, Fitzgerald saidlater, on the image of some Minnesota farm type, known and forgotten and associated with a sense of romance. With Gatsby in mind he had studied bootleggers of his acquaintance, and Gatsby’s financial intrigues were perhaps modeled on the Fuller-McGee case which had filled the papers in 1922. The essential Gatsby, however—he of the heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, of the extraordinary gift for hope and the romantic readiness—was Fitzgerald himself. In the figure of Gatsby, he had been able to objectify and poetize his early feelings about the rich: that they were a race apart with a better seat in life’s grandstand, that their existence was somehow more beautiful and intense than that of ordinary mortals. Barricaded behind their fortunes, they had seemed to him almost like royalty. Fitzgerald’s snobbery was romantic—graced and to some extent redeemed by the imagination in a way that is peculiarly Irish. One finds the same point of view in Yeats or Oscar Wilde.

But also Fitzgerald sensed a corruption in the rich and mistrusted their might. “That was always my experience,” he wrote near the end of his life, “—a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy’s school; a poor boy in a rich man’s club at Princeton.… I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works.” He told a friend that “the whole idea of Gatsby is the unfairness of a poor young man not being able to marry a girl with money. This theme comes up again and again because I lived it.” [Earlier, Fitzgerald had personified the sinister corruption of the rich in Braddock Washington, the homicidal tycoon of “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” In “The Crack-Up” Fitzgerald would also tell of his distrustful animosity toward the leisure class—“not the conviction of a revolutionist but the smouldering hatred of a peasant.” In the years since Zelda had turned him down because he couldn’t support her, he had never been able to stop wondering where his friends’ money came from, “nor to stop thinking that at one time a sort of droit de seigneur might have been exercised to give one of them my girl.”]

Thus Gatsby’s love for Daisy was Fitzgerald’s love for Zelda— and before her, Ginevra—decked out in a Keatsian prose. Keats stands back of the book’s tactile and sensuous imagery, just as Conrad stands back of its brooding terror and the device of the bemused narrator. Another influence, surprisingly, was The Brothers Karamazov, which had overwhelmed Fitzgerald when he read it in 1922. But Gatsby’s pervasive and memorable quality was non-derivative—was Fitzgerald finding within himself new depths of tenderness and understanding. Since The Beautiful and Damned his sensibility had undergone a mysterious change, which can only be explained as a phenomenon ofgrowth. He had put away the harsh smartness which he considered the greatest flaw of his earlier work. Here in its place was a taut realism but also a gossamer romance, a yearning and straining after the beauty that hangs by a thread, a lyric compassion. Fitzgerald had found his voice and at last done something truly his own. [In  1925 Fitzgerald wrote Mencken that “the influence on [Gatsby] has been the masculine one of The Brothers Karamazof, a thing of incomparable form, rather than of the feminine one of the Portrait of a Lady.” The same year, with reference to Gatsby, he wrote Mencken, “God! I’ve learned a lot from [Conrad].”]

Financially the book was a disappointment. Its sale of 22,000 little more than canceled his advance from Scribners. Perkins explained that the trade was skeptical because Gatsby seemed short for a novel, because it was over the heads of more people than Fitzgerald would suppose, because the idea of so many parties and drinks was somehow prejudicial. The trend in fiction was toward the delineation of the American “peasant” who did not exist, said Fitzgerald angrily, except in the minds of certain critics and fourth-rate novelists. “Some day they’ll eat grass, by God!” he wrote Perkins. “This thing, both the effort and the result have hardened me and I think now that I’m much better than any of the young Americans without exception.”

His plan was still to get ahead on short stories and then begin another novel—“something really NEW in form, idea, structure—the model for the age that Joyce and Stein are searching for, that Conrad didn’t find.” If the proceeds from it would support him with no more intervals of trash, he would continue as a novelist. Otherwise he was going to Hollywood and learn the movie business. “I can’t reduce our scale of living and I can’t stand this financial insecurity. Anyhow there’s no point in trying to be an artist if you can’t do your best. I had my chance back in 1920 to start my life on a sensible scale and I lost it and so I’ll have to pay the penalty. Then perhaps at 40 I can start writing again without constant worry and interruption.” [A letter from Fitzgerald to Ludlow Fowler the summer of 1924 throws light on this change of sensibility. “I remember our last conversation,” wrote Fitzgerald, “and it makes me sad. I feel old too, this summer—I have ever since the failure of my play a year ago. Thats the whole burden of this novel—the loss of those illusions that give such color to the world so that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory.”]


Early in May the Fitzgeralds reached Paris, where they rented a fifth-floor walk-up at 14 rue Tilsit, a block from the Etoile. When Scott stepped to the corner of the Avenue Wagram, the Arc de Triomphe faced him end on, breathing the Napoleonic legend. That great commander had always fascinated Fitzgerald,a chronic hero-worshipper, who sought in others the qualities he lacked.

The previous fall he had written Max Perkins about a young writer named Ernest Hemingway, whose stories, appearing in avant-garde magazines, were making a stir. “I’d look him up right away,” Fitzgerald advised Perkins. “He’s the real thing.” Soon after he got to Paris, Fitzgerald tracked Hemingway down in one of his Left Bank haunts, and different as they were in everything except their Midwestern background and their passion for writing, they quickly became friends. In place of college Hemingway had worked on a Kansas City newspaper, had gone to Italy at eighteen to drive an ambulance, had almost had his leg blown off by an Austrian mortar, had fought briefly with the Italian infantry. Returning to America, he had married and had veered back to Europe as a correspondent for the Toronto Star, covering, among other spectacles, the Lausanne Conference and the Greco-Turkish War. Schooled in combat and journalism, he knew the world in a way Fitzgerald did not and seemed on the whole more mature, though actually he was three years younger.

Hemingway was a big, self-assured, engaging fellow with black hair and a small mustache, with a boyish grin that bared a good set of teeth, and dark eyes that glanced about him with a hunter’s acumen. Lounging in the bistros of Montparnasse, he seemed a bit of a roughneck, but he was genial and relaxed. He reveled in his senses; the world of sport and nature was open to him as it never could be to an essentially indoor person like Fitzgerald. Hemingway was an expert fisherman, a good skier and boxer. A shade awkward in games like tennis or baseball, he had developed a swiftness in the ring that was surprising in one of his bulk. As he padded about the streets in a patched coat and sneakers, he would often be feinting and jabbing, but no one noticed him except to smile. If you were his companion, you didn’t josh him either. He would ask you whether you wanted to make something out of it if you did.

Dean Gauss was in Paris that summer, and he and Hemingway and Fitzgerald lunched together a few times. Gauss found Hemingway “a naif, earnest Balzacien type boy” without “pretensions or flub-dub” and regretted he was unable to like what Hemingway wrote. Fitzgerald had no such difficulty. He marveled at the freshness of the young man’s world evoked in Hemingway’s stories and sketches, and respected the discipline back of the mosaic prose. Hemingway had given up a promising career in journalism to write unprofitable fiction, doing his paragraphs over and over as if they were five-finger exercises. He was living in a bare apartment overlooking a lumber yard, and though his inner certitude didn’t require much encouragement, he was getting it from such experts as Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.

One day Hemingway took Fitzgerald to call on Miss Stein at her studio in the rue Ferou, and Fitzgerald charmed and was charmed by that priestess of the arts with her beefsteak laugh and quick perceptions. He looked up to her and played up to her, and she made him feel at ease, so that he wasn’t tongue-tied as he had been when he met Theodore Dreiser—and would be presently on a visit to Edith Wharton.

Mrs. Wharton’s letter praising Gatsby had concluded with an invitation to her eighteenth-century villa north of Paris, and one afternoon Fitzgerald drove out with Teddy Chanler, whose mother was an intimate of the distinguished authoress. Fitzgerald was nervous and stopped for several bracers along the way while Chanler sat in the car. His drinking at such times was something he went off and did by himself, like taking a pill. It had no connection with anyone else.

Arrived at the Pavilion Colombe, Fitzgerald and Chanler were ushered into a salon where Mrs. Wharton, the confidante of Henry James, sat behind her tea set in shy majesty. There was one other guest, an American-born Cambridge don named Gaillard Lapsley. Mrs. Wharton, so witty and delightful when one got to know her, was notoriously ill at ease on first acquaintance and inclined to take refuge behind the haughty mien of an aristocratic New Yorker. Since Chanler and Lapsley were unable to break the ice, Fitzgerald descended to such platitudes as

“Mrs. Wharton, you have no idea what it means to me to come out here.” Finally, in desperation, he suggested telling “a couple of--er—rather rough stories.” Permission having been granted by a queenly nod, a fixed smile, he began one and switched to another about an American couple who had spent three days in a Paris bordello, which they mistook for a hotel. As he faltered to a conclusion, Mrs. Wharton said, “But Mr. Fitzgerald, your story lacks data”—whereupon he tried to patch it up without success. [The following statement from Jean Cocteau to the French translator of The Great Gatsby is eloquent testimony of the book’s magic: “Voulez-vous faire savoir a F. Scott Fitzgerald que son livre m’a permis de passer des heures tres dures (je suis dans une clinique). C’est un livre celeste: chose la plus rare du monde. Vous lui demanderez qu’il vous felicite d’en etre le traducteur—car il faut une plume mysterieuse pour ne pas tuer 1’oiseau bleu, pour ne pas le changer en langue morte.”]

When he had gone, Mrs. Wharton said to Lapsley, “There must be something peculiar about that young man.” Lapsley explained that Fitzgerald had been drinking. Mrs. Wharton wrote “Horrible” beside his name in her diary; of course he would never be asked again. But as someone remarked—someone who had met with a similar reception at the Pavilion Colombe— “Mrs. Wharton has the grand manner that triumphs over a situation when another person might save it.” [I have described the encounter between Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton as it was told me by Theodore Chanler, who was there.]


It was, Fitzgerald wrote in his Ledger, a time of “1000 parties and no work.” He was polishing a story called “The Rich Boy,” written on the heels of Gatsby, but concentration was difficult with a new world opening out before him. He still had something in common with Amory Blaine, who got distracted when he started writing—“get afraid I’m doing it instead of living— get thinking maybe life is waiting for me in the Japanese gardens at the Ritz or at Atlantic City or on the lower East Side.”

On their way through Paris the previous spring, the Fitzgeralds had met Gerald and Sara Murphy with whom they were now establishing a real entente. Independently wealthy, the Murphys had moved abroad after the war and taken up with the artists and literati. Fitzgerald had found the rich disappointingly dull since success had opened their doors to him, but now the Murphys came along to revive his hopes. Gerald was an elegant—slender, fit, and dressed to the nines. He affected long sideburns and carried a gold-headed cane and wore a special hat with a wide, swooping brim, humorously insisting that an ordinary hat looked silly with his “Irish mug.” A man of exceptional taste and sensitivity, he had a knack for making life vivid and surprising. If you climbed the Eiffel Tower with him, he would point out a sight no one had noticed and tell you an amusing story about it into the bargain. He painted, and had done some sets for the Russian Ballet (once he and Sara had given a party for the whole Diaghilev troupe). They also gave dinners for as many as forty people at Maxim’s, and it was known that the tip for the hats was paid in advance, lest the sum prove embarrassing to some of the poorer artists present. Sara kept more in the background than Gerald, but her quiet, intelligent charm was felt nonetheless. In this perfect team, as one of their friends recalled, Sara was the wind and Gerald the sail.

The Murphys really invented the summer colony at Antibes. Traditionally, one wintered on the Riviera and summered at Deauville, even though the swimming was reminiscent of the coast of Maine. The summer of 1922, however, the Murphys had rented the first floor of the Hotel du Cap d’Antibes for themselves and their friends, after the proprietor had closed the rest of it and gone north. The villas along the cape were shuttered and empty. One felt an air of desertion, almost of savagery, under the brutal sunshine, amid the hard, bright colors of mountains and sea. Because of the dryness the heat was quite bearable, and when the Murphys discovered there wasn’t any beach, they set out to make one. With a mattock Gerald removed the packed, red seaweed from the Plage de la Garoupe until a few hundred yards of sand had been laid bare. The natives, peeking through the trees, thought these Americans who swam and doused themselves with banana oil must be crazy; there was a superstition among them that sea bathing was bad for the kidneys.

The Murphys liked Antibes so much they decided to build. Their house, the Villa America, was set in a garden of oranges, lemons, mimosas and cedars of Lebanon, and from the terrace out back one had a view of the Golfe Juan with the Esterelles rising beyond. In the living room, with its black-and-white tiled floor and its furniture made of aluminum tubing, the Steinway had just one ornament: a ball bearing which Gerald had spotted somewhere and liked the looks of. On the music rack would be the latest Stravinsky; no one noticed it, perhaps, but it was there. When you went to the Murphys for dinner, their attractive children appeared in blue matador pants with a red arrow at the leg. The food was always perfection. There would be whole peaches floating in brandy, and pheasants elaborately garnished, and the French guests would delight in the Americanism of a heaping plate of corn off the cob, topped by a poached egg. Everything was thought out with almost Oriental precision, and the Murphys themselves were the warmest and most genial of hosts. Like all formal people, however, they had a certain reserve. You didn’t just drop in on them—you were invited, and you went away feeling it had been a treat.

The Fitzgeralds spent the month of August on the Riviera under the Murphys’ wing. There was much talk of their coming; first they were, then they weren’t. Then one morning they showed up at the Plage de la Garoupe already badly scorched from tennis the day before. Everyone was solicitous, telling them to keep their shoulders covered and rub on ointment. Too burned to go in swimming, Scott chatted with a reporter who chronicled their arrival. He claimed to be feeling old that summer, but the reporter found him stocky, muscular, clear-skinned, with wide fresh green-blue eyes—no touch of gray, no lines or sagging anywhere. Nor did Zelda show her age; she might have been in her teens. Perhaps Scottie did. Yes, there was no denying she looked her four.

The only people at Antibes that summer, Fitzgerald wrote Bishop, were “me, Zelda, the Valentinos, the Murphy’s, Mistinguet, Rex Ingram, Dos Passos, Alice Terry, the MacLieshes, Charlie Bracket, Maude Kahn, Esther Murphy, Marguerite Namara, E. Phillips Openhiem, Mannes the violinist, Floyd Dell, Max and Chrystal Eastman, ex-Premier Orlando, Ettienne de Beaumont—just a real place to rough it, and escape from all the world.” In the opening chapters of Tender is the Night Fitzgerald scrambled the geography of Antibes, but he caughtits atmosphere. It was a world of nannies and beach umbrellas and espadrilles, of hot gusts filtering through closed shutters and faded cars cooking on driveways. Gerald Murphy dominated the beach like Dick Diver in his jockey cap, the others sending out “antennae of attention” to whatever he was doing.

When Scottie said she wished she were married, Murphy suggested, “Why not marry me?” He made a real occasion of it, trimming his Renault with satin and decking it with flowers, and Scottie wore a white dress and a veil, and carried a bridal wreath. Fitzgerald was on hand to give his daughter away, though there wasn’t an actual ceremony; it mostly had to do with the cake. Afterwards, Murphy drove Scottie around in his car for an appropriate length of time and presented her with a ring from the local Five and Ten—supposedly a diamond—though Scottie said it wasn’t real.

Fitzgerald, too, had a way with children. One afternoon in the garden of his house at Cannes he staged a crusade with toy soldiers and a cardboard castle made by Zelda. He flooded a hollow for the Mediterranean, and across the water a large black beetle, representing a dragon, lived in an improvised cave. Fitzgerald told a story which ended with the castle being stormed and the right people winning, and the children followed breathlessly as this adult crawled around under the eucalyptus, completely lost in their world.

Zelda was choosy about people, but she loved the Murphys, and as for Scott, he would gaze across the table at Sara—his chin resting on his palm in a characteristic, dreaming pose—and say, “Sara, look at me,” and when she did he would say, “Thank you,” like a mooning schoolboy. Sara was pert and trim and went swimming with a string of pearls around her neck (“her brown back hanging from her pearls,” Fitzgerald wrote in Tender is the Night). What he admired about Gerald he put into the character of Dick Diver: the elegance, the turns of phrase, the flare for entertainment, above all Murphy’s appreciation of others, his power to draw them out and see the best in them. It was a quality Murphy shared with men as unlike him as Father Fay, Max Perkins, and Dean Gauss—a quality prized by Fitzgerald, who had a great deal of it himself.

The Fitzgeralds were on their best behavior that summer, but the Murphys spent a harrowing evening with them at St. Paul de Vence, in the mountains back of Nice. The four of them had been dining on the terrace of an inn built on a spur between two valleys, with the old town rising behind them. Murphy had been saying that this was the site of one of the Roman chain fires, announcing the conquest of Gaul. Isadora Duncan, in purple robes, happened to be at a nearby table with three men, and on an impulse Fitzgerald went over and sat at her feet and told her about the Romans while she ran her hands through his hair and called him her centurion. The interlude was poetic rather than amorous, but suddenly Zelda rose and flung herself down a flight of stone steps into what looked like darkness and oblivion. Only when Murphy and Fitzgerald rushed after her were they conscious of the door at the bottom. Giving no explanation, Zelda went inside to wash her skinned knees and came out composed.

Driving home, she and Scott turned onto a trestle instead of following the road and fell asleep when their car stalled. They might have been hit by the morning trolley as it sped down to Nice had not a peasant seen them and carried them to safety. The same obliging peasant hooked his oxen to the car and rescued that too.


In September the Fitzgeralds returned to Paris healthy and brown, Scott enthusing over a novel he had begun but depressed at having to do potboilers for the Post when all the talk was of art. The Post had quintupled his price in six years; though he was now getting $2,500 a story, the more he was paid for his “trash,” he wrote Perkins, the less he could bring himself to write it.

His private disgruntlement increased his admiration for the incorruptible Hemingway. One day on the beach at Antibes Fitzgerald had taken Glenway Wescott into the shadow of a rock and lectured him about this young phenomenon, obviously the one true genius of the decade. He thought Wescott would agree that his own novel and Gatsby were somewhat overrated just then, while Hemingway was being neglected, misunderstood, insufficiently remunerated. What could Wescott do to help him, Fitzgerald wanted to know, shaking him by the elbow. Would he write a laudatory essay? (Fitzgerald wrote one himself in the course of the fall.) What struck Wescott was Fitzgerald’s naivete and lack of calculation. It simply had not occurred to him that unfriendliness or pettiness on Wescott’s part might inhibit his enthusiasm for the work of a competitor.

The fall of 1925, though Hemingway had yet to publish his first novel, his achievement was impressive. At twenty-six he had “broken the language,” as the French say; out of the old shopworn words and phrases he had forged a shining instrument. The Saxon hammer-strokes of his prose had a power and novelty that made Fitzgerald, with a style formed under more traditional auspices, seem almost a late-flowering Victorian. Eager for Hemingway to become a Scribners author, Fitzgerald began smoothing his path and facilitated his transfer to Scribners from his first publisher, Boni & Liveright.

Much as Fitzgerald was drawn to Hemingway the writer, he was even more drawn to Hemingway the man—this athlete of letters, at once so nice and so bitter, so modest and so bluff. Hemingway was a complex individual who had adopted the stance of a simple one. He would discuss art as long as one avoided the precious, but preferred the masculine topics of sport and war. Anything emotional or gushing was “damn female talk,” and when the conversation took that turn, he was apt to get up and leave. Like anyone with a great deal of fire, he was moody. His bonhomie concealed a natural shyness and sensitivity, yet at bottom he was the type of the condottiere, of the adventurer used to living by his wits and cunning with a soldierly contempt for weakness in all its forms. He was a competitor who would have battled to the top in any enterprise, and underlying his whole character and giving it dignity was an exemplary courage—the true courage of the intelligent and imaginative man who feels fear but overcomes it by an act of will.

Fitzgerald’s association with Hemingway revived his regrets that he hadn’t been in the war. He would spend whole days in the basement of Brentano’s poring over their stereopticon slides of stagnant trenches and torn bodies, and Ludendorff’s Memoirs became a treasured work. A trip to Verdun in October was the basis for his moving description of an overgrown battlefield in Tender Is the Night. He listened to Hemingway preaching his doctrine that war was the greatest subject, because “it groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff normally you have to wait a lifetime to get.” But Hemingway and Fitzgerald were very different, and one may doubt that war was the ideal subject for Fitzgerald as it was for Hemingway, or as it had been for Stephen Crane—so obsessed by it that he wrote his masterpiece without having seen any action at all. The sort of violence that concerned Fitzgerald required a social rather than a martial setting. [During his last spring at Princeton, Fitzgerald was driving home after a gay evening in Lawrenceville, when the car ahead of him skidded and one of the boys in it was hurled out, smashing his head on the curb. It was Fitzgerald’s first encounter with violent death and he never got over it. It gave him a dramatic scene in This Side of Paradise and doubtless colored the automobile slaying of Tom Buchanan’s mistress in The Great Gatsby.]


That fall the Murphys were living at St. Cloud in a house that had belonged to the composer Gounod, and one night Fitzgerald went to sleep under a bush on their lawn. Another night he phoned them at 3 a.m. to say he and Zelda were sailing next day on the Berengaria. They weren’t, of course. It was a device to pry the Murphys out on a party, but Scott was getting out of hand as far as the Murphys were concerned. He wanted each evening to be adventurous, spectacular, unpredictable, and when nothing happened, as was usually the case, he either fell asleep or made a scene.

Once when the four of them were driving to Les Halles, Fitzgerald, who didn’t much care for the color of the old market, created a little color of his own by chewing hundred franc notes (the equivalent of twenty-dollar bills) and spitting them out the taxi window. “Oh Scott, they’re so dirty!” Sara protested, butFitzgerald went right on. Finally the driver could stand it no longer. Stopping the cab, he ran back to retrieve some of the money. Fitzgerald jumped into the driver’s seat and headed for the Seine, saying he was going to plunge them into it. As he came to one of the ramps, they managed to get the wheel away from him and return it to the terrified driver, who came flapping up behind them in his long coat.

Another time Fitzgerald stole a tri-porteur—a three-wheeled delivery wagonette—and scooted crazily around the Place de la Concorde while policemen whistled and motorists swore. If anyone could control him, it was Murphy, for Scott stood in awe of Gerald’s unfailing propriety. Once when they were leaving a nightclub, Scott slipped to the floor and pretended to pass out. “Scott,” said Gerald, “this is not Princeton and I am not your roommate. Get up!” Fitzgerald obeyed.


The Fitzgeralds disliked their flat on the rue Tilsit. Zelda described it as smelling like a church chancery, and the furniture was imitation Louis XV from the Galeries Lafayette. When Louis Bromfield called on them, it seemed to him that they were camping out between two worlds.

In November they visited London where they “went to some very high tone parties with the Mountbattens and all that sort of thing. Very impressed,” Fitzgerald wrote Perkins, “but not very as I furnished most of the amusement myself.” December found them back in Paris, and Zelda wrote that they were “passing the winter agreeably among plagiarists who are always delightful and [had] spent a good deal of time in taxis if you know what I mean…. Now once again the straight & narrow goes winding & wobbling before us and Scott is working.” In January they went to a resort in the Pyrenees where Zelda, ailing for over a year, took a cure. When they rented a villa at Juan-les-Pins the end of February, Fitzgerald wrote Perkins that being back on his beloved Riviera with his novel absorbing him made him happier than he had been for years. He was cheered by the reviews of his third book of stories, and his finances had taken a lucky turn. Gatsby had made a successful Broadway play and would presently be sold to the movies, windfalls which netted him more than $22,000. As a result he wrote not a single short story between February, 1926, and June, 1927. His most recent effort, “Your Way and Mine,” he considered too lowly for the Post. “It hasn’t one redeeming touch of my usual spirit in it,” he told his agent. “…. I’d rather have $1,000 for it from some obscure place than twice that & have it seen. I feel very strongly about this!”

In June the Fitzgeralds went to Paris so Zelda could have an operation. During her two weeks at the American Hospital in Neuilly, Fitzgerald lived in a neighboring hotel and went out on the town every night with James Rennie, who had played the lead in the Broadway production of Gatsby. One dawn as they were leaving a cafe on Montmartre, they saw a shabby little figure crossing the street ahead of them. Fitzgerald gripped Rennie’s arm. “Watch him,” he said, “he’s making for that garbage can over there.” Sure enough, the man began rooting around in it. “Come on,” said Fitzgerald, “let’s have some fun.”

He sprinted the intervening block and joined the scavenger shoulder to shoulder. The going was a bit crowded now. At one point they stopped to argue, apparently reaching an agreement, for the search was renewed. Without the other noticing, Fitzgerald flipped a coin in the can, and when they both appeared to see it at the same time, the fight was really on. Fitzgerald fumbled so that his rival got it. Repeating the trick, he let himself be beaten a second time. Suddenly he froze as he picked up a spray of withered smilax. Coins were forgotten now; here was a treasure beyond compare. Holding it reverently, he made a speech in his broken French—then handed it to the Frenchman with an elaborate gesture. “Go to him,” he said, pointing to Rennie, and added in English, “He’s a collector, he’ll pay you for it.”

Taking his cue, Rennie gave the Frenchman five francs, wrapped the smilax in his handkerchief, and he and Fitzgerald proceeded on their way.

Wherever they went Fitzgerald insisted on being host, and Rennie was appalled by the size of the tips which were sometimes as large as the bill itself. Realizing it would be fruitless to argue, he adopted the strategy of calling Fitzgerald’s attention to something behind him and pocketing the overtip while his back was turned. On their last evening together Rennie explained the ruse and returned the extra money. At first Fitzgerald was put out, but then he smiled. “This is wonderful,” he said, “and tomorrow you’re leaving. Let’s go somewhere quickly and spend it.”

For once Rennie left the tips alone. He had the feeling that he was being watched.


When the Fitzgeralds returned to the Riviera the middle of June, they rented a villa next to the casino at Antibes, for Juan-les-Pins seemed a bit remote with the season in full swing under the Murphys’ auspices. The Murphys’ entourage that summer included the Fitzgeralds, the Archibald MacLeishes, the Philip Barrys, the Charles Bracketts, and several non-literary couples. There were also transients like the John Peale Bishops and the Donald Ogden Stewarts, Ernest Hemingway and Alexander Woollcott, but the Plage de la Garoupe remained a closed corporation, and when strangers appeared, the children were trained to throw sand at them.

Hoping to return to America in the fall with his novel completed, Fitzgerald spent much of the day writing and came down to the beach tense and preoccupied. His indoor pallor distinguished him from the others though he still seemed vital and robust. His physique had been excellent to begin with: remembering his sturdy legs, lean torso, good arms and shoulders, a friend of college days spoke of his “arrow collar head on a longshoreman’s body.” There was ruggedness mixed with his delicacy, and his refined, almost pretty features conveyed a certain force, the virile dominance of someone who knows what he is about. In conversation he was always generalizing—having a theory, an attitude, a “hunch” (to use his favorite expression) about everything. He would contradict simply to start debate, and if he wasn’t restful, neither was he dull, even when discussing hair, about which he knew a great deal that summer. He had set out to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover and had gotten as far as the letter “H.”

Despite two years abroad he still had the air of a tourist. Historical landmarks excited him, as did everything that had a human story connected with it, but for the most part he was indifferent to the foreign culture which the rest of the group were doing their best to absorb. MacLeish, for example, would get Italians to read Cavalconti in the original, so he could savor the rhythms. That was not Fitzgerald’s approach at all. His tastes were incorrigibly American, and when offered the English “Abdullah” cigarettes that many of his friends were smoking, he would apologize with a sort of pride for being a Midwesterner who preferred Chesterfields. He made no effort to improve his stumbling French, nor did he concern himself with French art, architecture, or theater, though once, it is true, a production of Racine’s Phedre caused him to exclaim, “My God, all modern psychology is there! That man knew everything Freud discovered later and much more clumsily.” Most Europeans, however, considered him a sensitive boor, without real cultivation or finesse. He used to infuriate the waiters at the casino by praising the German military, saying such things as, “Those Germans are going to come through here some day and wipe you up.”

In contrast to the previous summer, he and Zelda were behaving their worst. When they exploded into the casino, people would groan, “Here come the Fitzgeralds!” If things were dull at Scott’s table, he would pick up an ashtray and flip it quoit-like to the table adjoining. It didn’t matter whether it had ashes in it or not; the whole idea was to get a reaction. He threw furniture about and heaved salt cellars at the windows, for a little breakage was part of the evening’s entertainment. Once he crawled under the coconut matting in front of the main door, making a huge lump that resembled some monstrous turtle and emitting strange sounds.

When introduced, he would say in his nicest Princeton manner, “I’m very glad to meet you, sir—you know I’m an alcoholic.” His drinking was much on his mind; he inscribed a book for a friend, “You can drink some of the cocktails all of the time and all of the cocktails some of the time, but—think it over, Judy.” Once he deliberately kicked over an old woman’s tray of nuts and candies all prettily laid out for sale, and by way of recompense emptied his pockets of the soggy roll of bills he usually had with him. On a visit to Monte Carlo, when the doorman refused to let him gamble without his American passport, Fitzgerald said, “Tres bien, you son-of-a-bitch,” and passed out at the doorman’s feet.

Egged on by Charlie MacArthur, who had a Scotch elfin quality and a touch of the hoodlum in him, Fitzgerald did things which might have led to serious consequences. Late one evening he and MacArthur were alone in a bar disputing the possibility of sawing a man in half. Fitzgerald said it couldn’t be done, MacArthur said it could. “There’s one way of finding out,” MacArthur said at length. They persuaded the barman to lie down on a couple of chairs to which they tied him with ropes, and while MacArthur was out getting a two-man saw, the barman made such a commotion that the police arrived. The incident was embroidered in Tender Is the Night, where Abe North plans to saw the waiter in half with a musical saw, to eliminate any sordidness.

Zelda, too, was acting strangely. With her angry sidelong glances and barbed remarks there was something crouching and inimical in her posture. She was a wily antagonist who lay in wait for you conversationally and gave compliments that turned out to be brickbats. “Did you ever see a woman’s face with so many fine, large teeth in it?” she might say of some one she didn’t like—after which she would retreat into herself. But the Murphys remained fond of her and she of them.

“She was very beautiful in an unusual way,” Gerald recalled. “She had a rather powerful, hawk-like expression, very beautiful features, not classic, and extremely penetrating eyes, and a very beautiful figure, and she moved beautifully. She had a beautiful voice as some—I suppose most—Southern women do have. She had a slight Southern accent. She had a great sense of her own appearance and wore dresses that were very full and very graceful and her sense of the color that she should wear was very keen. [Murphy particularly remembered certain dusty pinks and reds.] She had a great head of tousled hair which was extremely beautiful, neither blond nor brown, and I always thought it was remarkable that her favorite flower was a peony. They happened to grow in our garden and whenever she came to see us she would take a great bunch of them and do something with them and pin them on her bodice and they somehow were very expressive of her.”

When you knew Zelda as well as the Murphys did, you discovered that in her way she was just as rare a person as Scott. She had a sweet, lasting quality that inspired affection despite her erratic, sometimes terrifying, behavior. Driving along the Grande Corniche one evening, she said to her companion, “I think I’ll turn off here,” and had to be physically restrained from veering over a cliff. Another time she lay down in front of a parked car and said, “Scott, drive over me.” Fitzgerald started the engine and had actually released the brake when someone slammed it on again. Zelda was bold—bolder than Scott—though the cool madness with which she performed her outrages seldom offended good taste. Late one evening at the Casino, when everyone had gone home except the Murphys and a scattering of Frenchmen, Zelda emerged from the dressing room onto the dance floor with her skirts held so high one could see her bare midriff. The Frenchmen’s faces went cold with surprise, then warmed with interest and delight as she pirouetted about the hall, completely dignified and self-absorbed. The orchestra got into the swing of it and when she sat down at the end of three or four minutes, she was in such a trance that she scarcely heard the Murphys’ congratulations.


“Why do you do it?” friends would ask the Fitzgeralds mornings after on the beach. “How do you stand these awful hangovers? Besides, you’re so much more attractive when you’re sober.”

The Fitzgeralds agreed, but every night was the same, and you went out with them at your own risk. In September the Murphys gave a dinner at which Scott went further than even their leniency would permit. Dessert consisted of figs with pineapple sherbet, and he picked up a fig and threw it at the bare back of a French countess. The countess stiffened as the icy fruit slid down her decolletage, but she never said a word, thinking no doubt that a waiter had been careless.

After dinner, when the guests had gotten up to stroll about the garden, Fitzgerald was drifting among the tables with a dream in his eye. Suddenly, without calling attention to it, he picked up one of the Venetian glasses with white and gold spinning which the Murphys were specially fond of and tossed it over the high wall that surrounded the garden, listening to it break on the bricks outside. The gesture had an eighteenth-century extravagance and impromptu reminiscent of gentlemen dashing their glasses on the hearth after a single drink. Fitzgerald wasn’t trying to be ugly; it was as if he thought this a fitting death for such exquisite goblets. He had sent two more into the night before the Murphys stopped him and forbade him to enter their house for three weeks. His mouth was a line of resentment as the sentence was passed, and exactly three weeks later he appeared at their door, without, however, alluding to the reason for his absence.

The Fitzgeralds stayed at Antibes through the autumn. “Now all the gay decorative people have left,” Zelda wrote Perkins the end of September, “taking with them the sense of carnival & impending disaster that colored this summer. Scott is working and still brooding about the war. Ernest Hemmingway was here for a while—seeming sort of a materialistic mystic…. It’s heavenly here when its burnt & dusty and the water crackles in the fall. Scott’s novel is going to be excellent.” But before they sailed for America December 10th, Fitzgerald wrote Perkins that the novel was “not nearly finished.”

On shipboard with them was Ludlow Fowler, who had been best man at their wedding. He sat with the Fitzgeralds at a large uproarious table, and after the meals Scott would lead discussions in the lounge. “You stay out of this because you’re on your honeymoon,” he would tell Ludlow. Then turning to the others he would ask, “Is there any man present who can honestly say he has never hit his wife in anger?” In the ensuing attempt to define the word “Anger,” Fitzgerald was the moderator. He loved to be the cynosure of a group.

Meanwhile Zelda was telling Fowler, “Now Ludlow, take it from an old souse like me—don’t let drinking get you in the position it’s gotten Scott if you want your marriage to be any good.”

Next: chapter 11

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