Bits of Paradise began as two collections: a volume of F. Scott Fitzgerald's uncollected stories, and a volume of Zelda Fitzgerald's work. The decision to combine them arose naturally in view of the intimate and complex relationship between the Fitzgeralds' fiction. They drew on a common store of material; and although they rarely collaborated in the act of writing, their work reflects an emotional collaboration. The feelings that went into their fiction were the feelings generated by their life together.
This volume includes all of Zelda Fitzgerald's published stories—none of which has been collected—and a sampling of F. Scott Fitzgerald's buried magazine stories that merit a new audience. Of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 160-odd published stories (there are borderline sketches and parodies), only 46 were collected by him in the four volumes he prepared; and 50 more have been posthumously collected. From the remaining stories, eleven are reprinted here. Fitzgerald did not reprint some of his best stories from the post-Gatsby period, for he had a strong feeling about the impropriety of “serving warmed-over fare”—i.e., of using the same passages in a collected story and in a novel. Beginning in 1925 there is a cluster of stories related to Tender Is The Night (1934) which he designated as “stripped” or “scrapped” because he had drawn upon them in that novel. Readers who know Tender will recognize material in “Love in the Night”, “The Swimmers”, and “Jacob's Ladder”—indeed, the latter adumbrates much of the Dick Diver-Rosemary Hoyt plot line.
It is not accidental that eight of the nine stories here that were published during Fitzgerald's lifetime appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. Sixty-six of his stories appeared in the Postbetween 1920 and 1936, for this magazine was his favorite market and provided the basis for his career as a popular writer. Even a thrifty man would have found it difficult to support a family on Fitzgerald's book royalties. The Great Gatsby (1925) earned him $9,861 in the year of its publication (Fitzgerald received 30 cents per copy on 23,870 sold in America in 1925). Fitzgerald's strategy was to write popular stories for the money that would allow him time to write his novels. The Post paid $400 for the first Fitzgerald story it published in 1920 and regularly increased his price until a peak of $4,000 was reached in 1929. His strategy did not work, as he usually borrowed against the price of his next unwritten story.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's work for the prosperous slick magazines is a much misunderstood aspect of his career. His work for the Post and its competitors was not simply hack work. It was highly professional commercial writing for magazines that could afford the best that money could buy. The Post had a roster of important writers, and Fitzgerald's very successful Post fiction required hard work and good writing. He was competing in an intensely competitive field. As Fitzgerald noted at a later-time when he found it difficult to write Post stories: “I have asked a lot of my emotions—one hundred and twenty stories. The price was high, right up there with Kipling, because there was one little drop of something—not blood, not a tear, not my seed, but me more intimately than these, in every story, it was the extra I had.” Within the requirements of his market, Fitzgerald wrote brilliant stories. Moreover, he managed to evade some editorial proscriptions—notably the obligatory happy ending, which he frequently modified into only an ominously happy ending. It is doubtful that he was troubled by restrictions on material, because strong language and frank sexuality never had much appeal to him as a writer.
Most of the Post stories in Bits of Paradise deserve reprinting for their own literary merit, apart from any sentimental considerations; and three— “The Swimmers”, “A New Leaf”, and “What a Handsome Pair!”—are major Fitzgerald stories. “The Swimmers”, despite its over-plotting and unlikely climax, maywell be the most significant of the heretofore buried stories. Fitzgerald described it as “the hardest story I ever wrote, too big for its space + not even now satisfactory”. Into it he put his deepest feelings about America after five years of interrupted expatriation. The eloquent coda (“… America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter … It was a willingness of the heart.”) has been widely quoted—often by people who have never read the story. Of particular interest in “The Swimmers” is Fitzgerald's redefinition of the Stein-Hemingway “lost generation” label, which he identifies with the generation before the war. It is typical of the ironies that permeate Fitzgerald's career that this patriotic story with its confidence in the war generation and its declaration, “The best of America was the best of the world”, appeared just before the October 1929 Wall Street crash.
“A New Leaf” with its suicide ending is another example of how Fitzgerald managed to evade Post restrictions. Written in 1931 after Zelda Fitzgerald's collapse, it derives its “extra” from the author's contemplation of his alcoholism and his own resolutions. “What A Handsome Pair!” could serve as the theme story for Bits of Paradise. It was written in 1932, after the tragedy of Zelda Fitzgerald's attempts to make her own career as a dancer, painter, and writer (her only novel, Save Me The Waltz, was published in October 1932); and it is an obvious response to the rivalry within the Fitzgerald marriage: “He hated the conflict that had grown out of their wanting the same excellences, the same prizes from life.”
The inclusion of the two posthumously published stories may require explanation. “Last Kiss” and “Dearly Beloved” were written in 1940—at which time they were unsalable—during the final burst of creativity that accompanied Fitzgerald's work on The Last Tycoon. Both have connections with that unfinished novel, “Last Kiss” more obviously. They have been collected here because they are superb, and because they provide examples of Fitzgerald's short fiction during his Hollywood period when he was thought to be finished as a short-story writer. “Last Kiss” is one of those delayed-reaction Fitzgerald stories that gets better as the reader remembers it. When it was first published in 1969, “Dearly Beloved” attracted considerable attention as Fitzgerald'sonly story with a black protagonist, but it is significant as a perfect specimen of the so-called “short-short” form that Fitzgerald was experimenting with near the end of his life.
It is absurdly sentimental to equate F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald as writers. In literature, as in everything else, there is a crucial distinction between the gifted amateur and the professional. The blunt fact is that Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald's work is interesting today mainly because she was F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife. But within her limits, she wrote remarkable prose. She did not imitate her husband. Her style was her own. She had wit, an astonishing vocabulary, and the ability to see life from her own angle.
Bits of Paradise collects for the first time all ten of Zelda Fitzgerald's published stories. The extent of her work has been obscured because magazine editors made it a condition of publication that F. Scott Fitzgerald's name appear on her stories as co-author. The five “girl” stories in College Humor were credited to both Fitzgeralds, although they were almost entirely Zelda Fitzgerald's. Harold Ober, Fitzgerald's agent, judged one of the stories in this series, “A Millionaire's Girl”, as too good for the $500 College Humor was paying, so he sold it to the Post for $4,000; but it appeared as by F. Scott Fitzgerald alone.
Ober explained: “I really felt a little guilty about dropping Zelda's name from that story, The Millionaire's Girl, but I think she understands that using the two names would have tied the story up with the College Humor stories and might have got us into trouble.”
Most of Zelda Fitzgerald's pieces are best described as sketches, for they do not have the usual short-story structure. Her treatment of a plot is essayistic and impressionistic. She depends little on dialogue to advance action or create character, preferring to describe action and analyze character. They are mood pieces in which atmosphere and place are evoked in surprising—occasionally puzzling—language. The style is remarkable, but undisciplined. With the exception of “Our Own Movie Queen”, written in 1923, Zelda Fitzgerald's sketches or stories arenever trivial, never mere, entertainment. “Our Own Movie Queen”, the only story here that seems to have been a collaborative effort, shows that the Fitzgeralds did not work successfully as collaborators. It is a routine piece of popular fiction that displays none of the best abilities of either of its authors. In contrast, the “girl” sketches, which were written around the time of Zelda Fitzgerald's April 1930 breakdown, are immediately recognizable as her own work. The subjects are women who have gotten less from life—and from men and love—than they anticipated. Although “Miss Ella” has its advocates, “A Couple of Nuts” is Zelda Fitzgerald's best effort—and it is closer to a real story than any of the others. Written in 1932 after the Fitzgeralds had lost hope, it is a moving assessment of les annees folles and the people who wasted “love and success and beauty” during “the greatest, gaudiest spree in history”. It is an indictment of the destructiveness of expatriate life, a recurring theme in this collection.
The favorite subjects of the Fitzgeralds' fiction are love and money, material which some commentators have felt precludes “all dealing with mature persons in a mature world”. If the Fitzgeralds insist that love requires money, well then so did Jane Austen. It hardly seems necessary to claim that these stories are not predictable romances for mindless readers. The best stories of both Fitzgeralds are marked by an element of disaster. The disaster may be overcome—sometimes by an obvious concession to the canons of popular fiction—but nonetheless it lurks in the story, like a destitute classmate at a college reunion whose presence reminds the revelers of the vanity of human wishes, the mutability of fortune and the impermanence of youth, success, love, money—and happiness.
Textual note: these stories are reprinted from their first published appearances. Spelling and punctuation errors in the magazine texts have been silently corrected, and a list of these emendations will be published in the Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual.
Published in Bits of Paradise: 21 Uncollected Stories by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald collection (1973).