Those who were lucky enough to be born a little before the end of the old century, in any of the years from 1895 to 1900, went through much of their lives with a feeling that the new century had been placed in their charge; it was like a business in financial straits that could now be rescued by a change of management. As Americans and optimists they believed that the business was fundamentally sound and would triumph over its predecessors. They identified themselves with the century; its teens were their teens, its world war was theirs to fight and its reckless twenties were their twenties. As they launched forward on their careers they looked about them for spokesmen and the first they found was F. Scott Fitzgerald.
At twenty-three, when he published his first novel, Fitzgerald had the sort of background that his generation regarded as representative. He was a Midwestern boy, born in St. Paul on September 24, 1896, to a family of Irish descent that had some social standing and a very small fortune inherited by the mother. The father was not a business success, so that the fortune kept decreasing year by year, and the Fitzgeralds, like all people in their situation, had to think a lot about money. It was help from a maiden aunt that enabled Scott to fulfill his early dream of going to an Eastern preparatory school and then going to Princeton.
He liked to imagine himself as the hero of romantic dramas and he worked hard to cut a figure among his classmates. At the Newman School, after an interval of being the most unpopular boy, he had redeemed himself by making the football team and winning first prize in the field day. At Princeton he was taken into what he regarded as the best of the eating clubs—the Cottage—after turning down bids to three others, and he wrote a large part of two musical comedies produced with success by the Triangle Club. The second of these was The Evil Eye, with lyrics by Fitzgerald and libretto by Edmund Wilson. The Daily Princetonian reported that when it was performed in Chicago on January 7, 1916, “Three hundred young ladies occupied the front rows of the house and following the show, they stood up, gave the Princeton locomotive and tossed their bouquets at cast and chorus.”
They were among the first of Fitzgerald's flappers and he would have loved them, all three hundred, but he didn't make the triumphal tour with the Triangle show. He had withdrawn from college at the end of November, largely because of illness, but also because his marks had fallen so low that there was every chance of his being suspended after the midyear examinations. He had to abandon his dream of being president of the Triangle Club and a big man in his class. “A year of terrible disappointments and the end of all college dreams,'' he wrote in the ledger that served as a bookkeeping record of his triumphs and defeats. “Everything bad in it was my own fault.” The next year, 1916-17, was described in the ledger as “A pregnant year of endeavor. Outwardly a failure with moments of danger but the foundation of my literary life.” He was back at Princeton and was paying more attention to his studies, besides writing furiously for the Tiger and the Nassau Lit. At this time he started a novel rightly called The Romantic Egotist.
In the fall of 1917, after passing a special examination, he received a provisional commission as second lieutenant in the Regular Army. He went off to training camp, where he finished most of the novel during week-ends, and then served in Alabama as aide-de-camp to Major General J. A. Ryan. It was at a dance in Montgomery that he fell in love with a judge's daughter, Zelda Sayre, whom he described to his friends as “the most beautiful girl in Alabama and Georgia”; one state wasn't big enough to encompass his admiration. “I didn’t have the two top things: great animal magnetism or money,” he wrote years afterward in his notebook. “I had the two second things, though: good looks and intelligence. So I always got the top girl.”
He was engaged to the judge's daughter, but they couldn't marry until he was able to support her. After being discharged from the Army, Fitzgerald went to New York and looked for a job. The Romantic Egotist had been rejected by Scribner's, with letters from Maxwell Perkins that showed a real interest in Fitzgerald's future work. His stories were coming back from the magazines and at one time he had 122 rejection slips pinned in a frieze around his cheap bedroom on Morningside Heights. The job he found was with an advertising agency and his pay started at $90 a month, with not much chance of rapid advancement; the only praise he received was for a slogan written for a steam laundry in Muscatine, Iowa: “We Keep You Clean in Muscatine.” He was trying to save money, but the girl in Alabama saw that the effort was hopeless and broke off the engagement on the score of common sense. Fitzgerald borrowed from his classmates, stayed drunk for three weeks and then went home to St. Paul to rewrite his novel under a new title. This time Scribner’s accepted it and the book was published at the end of March, 1920.
This Side of Paradise was a very young man’s novel and memory book. The author put into it samples of everything he had written until that time: short stories, poems, essays, fragments of autobiography, sketches and dialogues. Some of the material had already been printed in the Nassau Lit, so that his friends described the book as the collected works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. It also had suggestions of being the collected works of Compton Mackenzie and H. G. Wells, with more than a hint of Stover at Yale; but for all its faults and borrowings it was held together by its energy, honesty, self-confidence and it spoke in the voice of a new generation. His contemporaries recognized the voice as their own and his elders listened.
Suddenly the magazines were eager to print Fitzgerald’s stories and willing to pay high prices for them. The result shows in his big ledger: in 1919 he earned $879 by his writing; in 1920 he earned— and spent—$18,850. Early success had been added to everything else that made him stand out as a representative of his generation; and Fitzgerald himself was beginning to believe in his representative quality. He was learning that when he wrote truly about his dreams and misadventures and discoveries, other people recognized themselves in the picture.
The point has to be made that Fitzgerald was not “typical” of his own age or any other. He lived harder than most people have ever lived and acted out his dreams with an extraordinary intensity of emotion. The dreams themselves were not at all unusual; in the beginning they were dreams of becoming a football star and a big man in college, of being a hero on the battlefield, of winning through to financial success and of getting the top girl; they were the commonplace aspirations shared by almost all the young men of his time and social class. It was the emotion he put into them, and the honesty with which he expressed the emotion, that made them seem distinguished. By feeling intensely he made his readers believe in the unique value of the world in which they lived. Years afterward he would say, writing in the third person, that he continued to feel grateful to the Jazz Age because “It bore him up, flattered him and gave him more money than he had dreamed of, simply for telling people that he felt as they did.”
At the beginning of April, 1920, Zelda came to New York and they were married in the rectory of St. Patrick’s Cathedral—although Zelda’s family was Episcopalian and Scott had ceased to be a good Catholic. They set up housekeeping at the Biltmore. To their bewilderment they found themselves adopted, not as a Midwesterner and a Southerner respectively, not even as detached observers, but— Scott afterward wrote—“as the arch type of what New York wanted.” Arthur Mizener, in his biography of Fitzgerald, has vividly re-created that year of the happy whirlwind. A new age was beginning and Scott and Zelda were venturing into it innocently, hand in hand. Zelda said, “It was always tea-time or late at night.” Scott said, “We felt like small children in a great bright unexplored barn.”
Scott also said, “America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it.” There is still plenty to tell about it, in the light of a new age that is curious about the 192o,s and persistently misjudges them. The gaudiest spree in history was also a moral revolt and beneath the revolt there were social transformations. The 1920’s were the age when Puritanism was under attack, with the Protestant churches losing their dominant position. They were the age when the country ceased to be English and Scottish and when the children of later immigrations moved forward to take their place in the national life. They were the age when American culture became urban instead of rural and when New York set the social and intellectual standards for the country—while its own standards were being set by transplanted Southerners and Midwesterners like the two Fitzgeralds.
More essentially the 1920’s were the age when a production ethic—of saving and self-denial in order to accumulate capital for new enterprises—gave way to a consumption ethic that was needed to provide markets for the new commodities endlessly streaming from the production lines. Instead of being told to save, people were being instructed in a thousand ways to buy, enjoy, use once and throw away in order to buy a later and more expensive model. They followed the instructions, with the result that more goods were produced and consumed and money was easier to earn than ever before. “The Jazz Age now raced along under its own power,” Fitzgerald said, “served by great filling stations full of money… Even when you were broke you didn’t worry about money, because it was in such profusion around you.”
That explains the background of the 1920’s and their sense of reckless freedom, but it does not explain the figures in the foreground. The members of Fitzgerald’s generation were not interested at the time in underlying social movements, any more than they were interested in local or international politics. What they felt in their hearts was that they had made an absolute break with the standards of the older generation. There was not the sharp distinction between highbrow and lowbrow (or liberal and conservative) that would later divide American society; in those days the real gulf was between the young and the old. The younger set paid few visits to their parents’ homes and some of them hardly exchanged a social word with men or women over forty. The elders were discredited in their eyes by the war, by prohibition, by the Red scare of 1919-20 and by scandals like that of Teapot Dome. So much the better: the youngsters had a free field in which to test their own standards of the good life.
Those standards were simple and almost savage. The spokesmen for the new generation recognized the value of food, travel, love and intoxication, the value of honest craftmanship—when they had time for it—and the value of truth; absolutely anything seemed excusable if one simply told the truth about it. They liked to say yes to every proposal that promised excitement. Will you take a new job, throw up the job, go to Paris and starve, travel round the world in a freighter? Will you get married, leave your husband, spend a weekend for two in Biarritz? Will you ride around New York on the roof of a taxi and then take a bath in the Plaza fountain? “Wybmadiity?” read a sign on the mirror behind the bar of the Dizzy Club. Late at night you asked the bartender what it meant and he answered, “Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?” The answer was yes, always yes, and the fictional heroine of the 192o’s was Serena Blandish, the girl who couldn’t say no. Or the heroine was Joyce’s Molly Bloom as she dreamed about her first lover: “… and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
The masculine ideal of the 1920’s was what Fitzgerald calls “the old dream of being an entire man in the Goethe-Byron-Shaw tradition, with an opulent American touch, a sort of combination of J. P. Morgan, Topham Beauclerk and St. Francis of Assisi.” The entire man would be one who “did everything,” good and bad, who realized all the potentialities of his nature and thereby achieved wisdom. The entire man, in the 1920’s, was the one who followed the Rule of the Thelemites as revealed to Pantagruel: Fats ce que vouldras, “Do what you will.” But that rule implied a second imperative, like an echo: “Will!” To be admired by the 1920’s young men had to will all sorts of actions and had to possess enough energy and courage to carry out even their momentary wishes. They lived in the moment with what they liked to call “an utter disregard of consequences.” In spirit they all made their pilgrimage to the Abbey of Thelema; they consulted the oracle of the Divine Bottle and, like Pantagruel, they received for answer the one word Trinch. They obeyed the oracle and drank, in those days of the Volstead Act when drinking was a rite of comradeship and an act of rebellion. As Fitzgerald would say, they drank “cocktails before meals like Americans, wines and brandies like Frenchmen, beer like Germans, whiskey-and- soda like the English … this preposterous melange that was like some gigantic cocktail in a nightmare.” They drank and they also worked, with something of the same desperation; they worked to earn social rank, to sell, to advertise, to organize, to invent and to create enduring works of art. In ten years they gave a new tempo to American society.
The 1920’s were a good age for works of art and in some ways they were a bad age for artists as persons. The works of art have come down to us and we are now finding again how honest and impressive they were in their often fragmentary fashion. Some of the artists have also survived while others have gone under; in general the age did not encourage them to develop steadily or to achieve unified careers. The age is now being blamed for the relative failures of Fitzgerald and others like him, but a great deal of this talk is sentimental. They did not fail as artists or we should not be rereading their works. If they failed in their personal lives it was not because they were victims of the historical environment; it was—among other reasons—because they acted on dangerous principles which happened to be those of the age, but which they also took into themselves and accepted as their own. In that sense they succumbed like the age itself, not so much to the pressure of exterior forces as by inner necessity.
Fitzgerald not only represented the age but came to suspect that he had helped to create it, by setting the patterns of conduct that were followed by persons a little younger than himself. “If I had anything to do with creating the manners of the contemporary American girl I certainly made a botch of the job,” he said in a 1925 letter. In his notebook he observed that one of his relatives was still a flapper in the 1930’s. “There is no doubt,” he added, “that she originally patterned herself upon certain immature and unfortunate writings of mine, so that I have a special indulgence for ---- as for one who has lost an arm or a leg in one’s service.” A drunken young man teetered up to his door and said, “I had to see you. I feel I owe you more than I can say. I feel that you formed my life.” It was not the young man—later a successful novelist—but Fitzgerald himself who was the principal victim of his capacity for creating fictional types in life. “Sometimes,” he told another visitor late at night, “I don’t know whether Zelda and I are real or whether we are characters in one of my novels.”
That was in the spring of 1933, a few weeks after the banks had closed all over the country. The Fitzgeralds were living at La Paix, a brown wooden late-Victorian lodge on a thirty-acre estate near Baltimore—“La Paix (my God!)” Scott wrote at the head of a letter. In the afternoon the house had been filled with little sounds of life— the colored cook and her relatives arguing in the kitchen, Zelda talking to her nurse or rustling about her studio as she painted furiously, Scott somewhere in a back room dictating to his secretary, then their daughter coming home from school and playing under the big oak trees on the lawn. Zelda wasn’t well enough to come down to dinner, but the visitor was taken to see her afterward; her face was emaciated and twitched as she talked and her mouth twisted itself into unhappy shapes. After dinner the sounds of life died away from the house. Little Scottie was put to bed, the cook and her friends went home, Zelda had to rest and big Scott wandered from room to room with a glass in his hand, explaining that it was water; then, as he started another trip to refill the glass in the kitchen, he confessed that it was gin. There was not enough furniture, there were no carpets to absorb the inhuman noises of the night. Everything creaked and echoed. The visitor sat alone in the one big chair in the almost empty living room and thought that the house was the perfect setting for a ghost story, with Scott and Zelda as ghosts, the golden boy of 1920 and the belle of two states. Their generation had been defeated by life—so it seemed at the time—and yet in their own defeat they were still its representative figures.
In victory and defeat Fitzgerald retained a quality that very few writers are able to acquire: a sense of living in history. Manners and morals were changing all through his life and he set himself the task of recording the changes. They were revealed to him, not by statistics or news reports, but in terms of living characters, and the characters were revealed by gestures, each appropriate to a certain year. He wrote: “One day in 1926 we”—meaning the members of his generation—“looked down and found we had flabby arms and a fat pot and couldn’t say boop-boop-a-doop to a Sicilian… By 1927 a wide-spread neurosis began to be evident, faintly signaled, like a nervous beating of the feet, by the popularity of cross-word puzzles… By this time”—also in 1927—“contemporaries of mine had begun to disappear into the dark maw of violence. … By 1928 Paris had grown suffocating. With each new shipment of Americans spewed up by the boom the quality fell off, until toward the end there was something sinister about the crazy boatloads.”
He tried to find the visible act that revealed a moral quality inherent in a certain moment of time. He was haunted by time, as if he wrote in a room full of clocks and calendars. He made lists by the hundred, including lists of the popular songs, the football players, the top debutantes (with the types of beauty they cultivated), the hobbies and the slang expressions of a given year; he felt that all these names and phrases belonged to the year and helped to reveal its momentary color. “After all,” he said in an otherwise undistinguished magazine story, “any given moment has its value; it can be questioned in the light of after-events, but the moment remains. The young prince in velvet gathered in lovely domesticity around the queen amid the hush of rich draperies may presently grow up to be Pedro the Cruel or Charles the Mad, but the moment of beauty was there.”
Fitzgerald lived in his great moments, and lived in them again when he remembered their drama; but he also stood apart from them and coldly reckoned their causes and consequences. That is his doubleness or irony and it is one of his distinguishing marks as a writer. He took part in the ritual orgies of his time, but he also kept a secretly detached position, regarding himself as a pauper living among millionaires, a Celt among Sassenachs and a sullen peasant among the nobility; he said that his point of vantage “was the dividing line between two generations,” prewar and postwar. Always he cultivated a double vision. In his novels and stories he was trying to present the glitter of life in the Princeton eating clubs, on the North Shore of Long Island, in Hollywood and on the French Riviera; he surrounded his characters with a mist of admiration, and at the same time he kept driving the mist away. He liked to know “where the milk is watered and the sugar sanded, the rhinestone passed for diamond and the stucco for stone.” It was as if all his stories described a big dance to which he had taken, as he once wrote, the prettiest girl:
“There was an orchestra—Bingo-Bango
Playing for us to dance the tango
And the people all clapped as we arose
For her sweet face and my new clothes—”
and as if at the same time he stood outside the ballroom, a little Midwestern boy with his nose to the glass, wondering how much the tickets cost and who paid for the music. But it was not a dance he was watching so much as it was a drama of conflicting manners and aspirations in which he was both the audience and the leading actor. As audience he kept a cold eye on the actor’s performance. He wrote of himself when he was twenty, “I knew that at bottom I lacked the essentials. At the last crisis, I knew I had no real courage, perseverance or self-respect.” Sixteen years later he was just as critical, if in a more discriminating fashion, and he said to the visitor at La Paix, “I’ve got a very limited talent. I’m a workman of letters, a professional. I know when to write and when to stop writing.” It was the maximum of critical detachment, but it was combined with the maximum of immersion in the drama. He said in his notebook, and without the least exaggeration, “Taking things hard, from Ginevra to Joe Mank—,” mentioning the names of his first unhappy love and of a Hollywood producer who, so he thought, had ruined one of his best scripts: “That’s the stamp that goes into my books so that people can read it blind like Braille.”
The drama he watched and in which he played—and overplayed— a leading part was a moral drama leading to rewards and punishments. “Sometimes I wish I had gone along with that gang,” he said in a letter that discussed musical comedies and mentioned Cole Porter and Rogers and Hart; “but I guess I am too much a moralist at heart and want to preach at people in some acceptable form, rather than to entertain them.” The morality he wanted to preach was a simple one, in the midst of the prevailing confusion. Its four cardinal virtues were Industry, Discipline, Responsibility (in the sense of being kind to people and meeting one’s obligations) and Maturity (in the sense of learning to regard failure as inevitable, and yet of making one’s best efforts always). The good people in his stories had these virtues and the bad ones had the corresponding vices. “All I believe in in life,” he wrote to his daughter, “is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly.”
The handle by which he took hold of his characters was their dreams. These, as I said, might be commonplace or even cheap, but almost always Fitzgerald managed to surround them with an atmosphere of the mysterious and illimitable or of the pitifully doomed. His great scenes were, so to speak, played to music: sometimes the music from a distant ballroom, sometimes that of a phonograph playing a German tango, sometimes the wind in the leaves, sometimes the stark music of the heart. When there was no music at least there were pounding rhythms: “The city’s quick metropolitan rhythm of love and birth and death that supplied dreams to the unimaginative”; “The rhythm of the week-end, with its birth, its planned gaieties and its announced end”; “New York’s flashing, dynamic good looks, its tall man’s quick-step.” Fitzgerald’s dream of his mature years, after he had outgrown the notion of becoming a big man in college, was also set to a sort of music, perhaps that of the Unfinished Symphony; it was the dream of becoming a great writer, specifically a great novelist who would do for American society in our time what Turgeniev, for example, had done for the old regime in Russia.
It was not his dream to be a poet, yet that was how he started and in some ways he remained a poet primarily. He said of himself, “The talent that matures early is usually of the poetic type, which mine was in large part.” His favorite author was Keats, not Turgeniev or Flaubert. “I suppose I've read it a hundred times,” he said about the “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” “About the tenth time I began to know what it was about, and caught the chime in it and the exquisite inner mechanics. Likewise with the ‘Nightingale,' which I can never read without tears in my eyes; likewise ‘The Pot of Basil,' with its great stanzas about the two brothers… Knowing these things very young and granted an ear, one could scarcely ever afterwards be unable to distinguish between gold and dross in what one read.” When his daughter was learning to be a writer he advised her to read Keats and Browning and try her hand at a sonnet in iambic pentameter. He added, “The only thing that will help you is poetry, which is the most concentrated form of style.”
Fitzgerald himself was a poet who never learned some of the elementary rules for writing prose. His grammar was shaky and his spelling definitely bad; for example he wrote “ect.” more often than “etc.” and misspelled the name of his friend Monsignor Fay on the dedication page of This Side of Paradise. In his letters he always missspelled the given names of his first and last loves. He was not a student, for all the books he read; not a theoretician and perhaps one should flatly say, not a thinker. He counted on his friends to do much of his thinking for him; at Princeton it was John Peale Bishop, he said, who “made me see, in the course of a couple of months, the difference between poetry and non-poetry.” Twenty years later, at the time of his crack-up, he was compelled to re-examine his scale of values and found thinking incredibly difficult; he compared it to “the moving about of great secret trunks.” He was then forced to the conclusion “That I had done very little thinking, save within the problems of my craft. For twenty years a certain man had been my intellectual conscience. That man was Edmund Wilson.” Another contemporary, Ernest Hemingway, “had been an artistic conscience to me. I had not imitated his infectious style, because my own style, such as it is, was formed before he published anything, but there was an awful pull toward him when I was on a spot.”
Fitzgerald was making the confession in order to keep straight with himself, not to forestall any revelation that might have been made by his critics. The critics would have said that there was little of Hemingway’s influence in his work, and hardly more of Wilson’s— although he once wrote a story about two dogs, “Shaggy’s Morning,” that is a delicate and deliberate burlesque of the Hemingway manner. By listening hard one can overhear a few, a very few, suggestions of Hemingway in the dialogue of other stories, especially the later ones, but Fitzgerald was faithful to his own vision of the world and his own way of expressing it. His debt to Hemingway and Wilson is real, but hard to define. In spite of what he said, they didn’t supply him with an artistic or intellectual conscience, since he had always possessed a lively conscience of his own; but they did serve as models of literary conduct by which he tested his moral attitude toward the problems of his craft.
To satisfy his conscience he kept trying to write, not merely as well as he could, like an honest literary craftsman, but somehow better than he was able. There was more than one occasion when he actually surpassed himself—that is, when he so immersed himself in a subject that it carried him beyond his usual or natural capacities as demonstrated in the past. The writing of The Great Gatsby was among the first of these occasions. There are scenes in the novel— like Nick’s first conversation with Daisy, like the party at Gatsby’s, like Nick’s farewell to Gatsby and like his final meditations on the story—that are not only better than anything Fitzgerald had previously written but are not even foreshadowed in his earlier work. “I can never remember the times when I wrote anything,” he said in his notebook—“This Side of Paradise time or Beautiful and Damned or Gatsby time, for instance. Lived in story.” By living in the story he became wiser, so it seemed, than he was in ordinary life. He said that sometimes he went back and read his own books for advice on his problems: “How much I know sometimes—how little at others,” he added.
By choice and fate he wrote what might be called the novel of centrality, that is, the novel dealing with representative young men and women in what seemed to be a central situation. The characters would not be hopeless people chained by their prejudices and at the mercy of social and economic forces—“creatures of their environment,” in a favorite phrase of the naturalistic writers. Instead they would have talent and opportunities and at least an apparent freedom of movement, so that the decisions they made would have an effect not only on their own careers but on the lives of others, by giving examples to be shunned or followed: like himself his heroes would be exemplary. The story, of whatever length, would be concerned with how they prospered in the world, how they fell in love and how they made or failed to make an adjustment with life. It is the story that Stendhal told in The Red and the Black and Dickens told in Great Expectations: given a society with many false standards, how will a young man rise in it, by what advantages, what stratagems? Fitzgerald laid the story in his own time and his social observation was not much inferior to that of the masters.
I do not find it a serious flaw in his work that the heroes ended by resembling himself or that he gave most of them Irish names or at least (to Dick Diver, of Tender Is the Night) a faint Irish melody in the voice in order to make the identification stronger. Sometimes the heroes started as very different persons and were transformed imperceptibly, as he worked over them, into an image of the author. When his friend Bishop wrote him a critical letter about The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald answered, “Also you are right about Gatsby being blurred and patchy. I never at any one time saw him clear myself— for he started out as one man I knew and then changed into myself— the amalgam was never clear in my mind.” Actually the book gains as well as loses by the blurredness of Gatsby; it gains in mystery what it loses in definition. Dick Diver also started out as one man Fitzgerald knew “and then changed into myself”—changed so completely that Dick’s fate was a prophecy of what would happen to the author; but again the change adds a new quality to the novel. Fitzgerald’s personal life, enlarged as it was by his sympathies and his gift for putting himself in others’ places, was more interesting than other lives he might have invented or merely observed; he had every reason for writing disguised autobiographies, as authors have done from the beginning. “There never was a good biography of a good novelist,” he said in his notebook. “There couldn’t be. He is too many people, if he’s any good.” What he meant was that the heroes of his stories were never himself as he was in life, but himself as projected into different situations, such as might have been encountered by members of his spiritual family. “Books are like brothers,” he said. “I am an only child. Gatsby my imaginary eldest brother, Amory”— in This Side of Paradise—“my younger, Anthony”—in The Beautiful and Damned—“my worry, Dick my comparatively good brother, but all of them far from home.”
In life and art Fitzgerald set a high value on persistent effort. “After all, Max, I am a plodder,” he said in one of his letters to Maxwell Perkins. “One time I had a talk with Ernest Hemingway, and I told him, against all logic that was then current, that I was the tortoise and he was the hare, and that’s the truth of the matter, that everything I have ever attained has been through long and persistent struggle while it is Ernest who has a touch of genius which enables him to bring off extraordinary things with facility. I have no facility. I have a facility for being cheap, if I want to indulge that … but when I decided to be a serious man, I tried to struggle over every point until I have made myself into a slow-moving Behemoth.” Moving slowly with Tender Is the Night he wrote a manuscript of 400,000 words and put aside three-fourths of it, including a number of scenes that were as good as any in the finished novel. After the book was published and was apparently forgotten he started revising it again, for a new edition that might or might not be printed. The Last Tycoon would have been a short novel of 50,000 words and it was only half-finished at his death, but his notes and drafts and synopses and character sketches are valuable in themselves. There are three drafts of the first chapter and the third draft is an extremely effective piece of writing that struck into new territory for Fitzgerald. But he wrote at the head of the chapter, “Rewrite from mood. Has become stilted with rewriting. Don’t look [at previous draft]. Rewrite from mood.” On the fourth and the tenth revision he still would have been unsatisfied, unless the chapter fitted exactly to the outlines of his dream.
He devoted less care to his stories than to his novels, since he regarded himself as a novelist primarily. “Stories are best written in either one jump or three, according to the length,” he told his daughter. “The three-jump story should be done on three successive days, then a day or so for revise and off she goes. This of course is an ideal—” and in his later years Fitzgerald seldom achieved it. There were stories that he kept revising for months or even years, but he never regarded them as his best. Writing stories paid him better than any other literary work. In 1929, for example, he earned $27,000 by his stories and only $5,450 from all other sources, including $31.77 described as “royalty from book.” Books were, however, his first interest and it was the novel, not the short story, that he described as “the strongest and supplest medium for conveying thought and emotion from one human being to another.”
His publishers used to bring out a collection of Fitzgerald’s stories one or two seasons after the appearance of each of his novels. It was a wise custom because, in a sense, the stories clustered around the novel that was written during the same period. Most of the early ones might have dealt with the further adventures of Amory and Isabelle and Rosalind, the three so-wicked youngsters in This Side of Paradise. His first long story, “May Day” (1920), was in some respects a preliminary sketch for his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned. Fitzgerald said that “Winter Dreams” (1922) was a first version of The Great Gatsby, and “Absolution” (1924) was originally intended as a prologue to Gatsby. During the next seven years he wrote many stories about Americans in Paris, on the Riviera and in Switzerland—the backgrounds he would use in Tender Is the Night—and among them is “One Trip Abroad” (1930), which, though it is one of the weaker stories in the group, would serve as a preview of the finished novel.
The stories contributed to the novels in still another fashion. On the magazine clip sheets of a very early one, “The Smilers,” Fitzgerald wrote in a bold hand, “This story has been stripped of any phrases of interest and is positively not to be republished in any form.” The “phrases of interest” were copied into his notebook, where they were classified alphabetically under various headings—A for Anecdotes, B for Bright Clippings, C for Conversation and Things Overhead—and were thus kept in dead storage, but readily available, until the day when he might be able to incorporate them into a novel. The clip sheets were then consigned to a big folder marked “Junked and Dismantled Stories.” Not only the failed stories but many that deserved better treatment were stripped of their useful parts like a worn-out automobile. He was willing to sacrifice a whole story, sometimes a good one, for the sake of a sentence or two that might strengthen a scene in Tender Is the Night or The Last Tycoon.
But that wasn’t Fitzgerald’s final judgment on the stories as a group. Like other serious American writers he had the old and usually unsatisfied ambition to leave behind him a definitive body of work. There would be, so he planned, a uniform edition of his writings and in it the stories would occupy almost as much space as the novels. The Collected Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald would fill seventeen volumes. There would be seven novels, including three still to be written, and one of these, In the Darkest Hour, would be in two volumes. Besides the novels there would be seven volumes of short stories, one volume of poetry and plays and a final volume of essays. Nor was this all: at the age of fifty-five or sixty Fitzgerald was to prepare a Revised Edition in twelve volumes—probably in dull, rich bindings like the New York Edition of Henry James—and once again the stories would be given their full place. He must have felt as we do today, that many of them are as good in their more impulsive fashion as the novels he rewrote so often. They are like the sketches of a gifted artist, sharp and immediate in their perceptions, so that they bring us face to face with the artist’s world. Even the worst of the stories have sudden insights that are like flinging back curtains from windows hidden in what had seemed to be flimsily decorated walls, while the best stories are suffused with emotion and their insights are everywhere. “I have asked a lot of my emotions—one hundred and twenty stories,” Fitzgerald said in a prose poem that he wrote two years before leaving for Hollywood. “The price was high, right up 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.” And he added, because he was then in a state of physical illness and nervous exhaustion, “Now it has gone and I am just like you now.”
During the years 1935 and 1936 he suffered from a complete physical and emotional breakdown. It was never a secret and Fitzgerald described it at the time, in “The Crack-Up” and two other articles printed by Esquire in the spring of 1936. The articles revealed the intimate worries of an author who had come to regard himself “as a cracked plate, the kind that one wonders whether it is worth preserving… It can never again be warmed on the stove nor shuffled with the other plates in the dishpan; it will not be brought out for company, but it will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the ice box under left-overs.”
The causes of his breakdown are not mysterious and Arthur Mizener has described them with great understanding in The Far Side of Paradise. The symptoms were described by Fitzgerald himself and they were excruciatingly painful, but by no means unusual. We have been living through an age of emotional breakdowns. By now the case records of brilliant men, hundreds and thousands of them, who have gone to pieces are available to physicians and there is nothing suffered by Fitzgerald that has not been Greek-named and catalogued in the medical textbooks. There are, however, two features of his experience that make it something more than a commonplace case history. The first feature is the unusual candor with which he wrote about it. He was, it is true, a little less than completely honest about his alcoholism, but that is a symptom of the disease itself and one he tried hard to overcome. He revealed everything else, on condition that it did not hurt others but only himself.
I do not think it is fair to use the cant word “exhibitionism” in connection with the three articles he wrote for Esquire. They contain no hint that he was deriving a twisted pleasure from torturing himself in public. What they do suggest is a sense of duty. It is as if he was saying, “When I undertook to be a certain type of writer I also undertook to tell the essential truth about my world and myself. The task has been pleasant at moments in the past and now that it is supremely painful I still must tell the truth at the cost of losing my self-respect if I fail to do so.” Without bravado and with fewer excuses than he might well have offered, he simply told his story. Writers have done that before, but usually they have waited until long afterward, when the story was no longer shameful and they could even boast of having found a path back to health. They have offered all sorts of self-degrading confessions, but on one point they have remained silent; they have admitted everything except the possibility of having lost their talent. Fitzgerald told the story in the midst of his crack-up, with no cure for it in sight, and he truly shocked his literary colleagues by suggesting that his talent might have vanished with his emotional vitality.
In his memorial poem to Fitzgerald, John Peale Bishop set down his memory of those tortured years:
“I have lived with you the hour of your humiliation,
I have seen you turn upon the others in the night
And of sad self-loathing
Heard you cry: I am lost. But you are lower!
And you had that right.
The damned do not so own to their damnation.”
Fitzgerald for all his tortures was still in purgatory and not in those cold circles of hell where the heart congeals. Because he clung to his honesty and his sense of values he suffered more than the truly damned. “It was despair, despair, despair—despair day and night,” said a nurse who cared for him in 1936. He spent his sleepless nights brooding over what he had failed to accomplish. About three o'clock, he said, the real horror “would develop over the roof-tops, and in the strident horns of night-owl taxis and the shrill monody of revelers' arrival over the way. Horror and waste—
“—Waste and horror—what I might have been and done that is lost, spent, gone, dissipated, unrecapturable.” “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day.” At times like these a man keeps his sanity by force of will or loses it by what amounts to a deliberate decision. Fitzgerald did not retreat into dreams or delusions or any other substitutes for the maternal womb. There was a hard core in his character—call it Midwestern Puritanism if you will, or middle-class Irish Catholicism, or simple obstinacy—and it kept him from denying his obligations to his family and his creditors and his talent as an artist. He met the obligations, and that is the second truly remarkable feature of Fitzgerald’s case: not his symptoms or his sufferings, but his sense of duty and his will to survive.
He had suffered a permanent defeat and he did not try to hide its consequences from himself or the world. “A man does not recover from such jolts,” Fitzgerald said in one of his articles for Esquire—“he becomes a different person and, eventually, the new person finds new things to care about.” In the summer of 1937 the new person was strong enough to make a trip to Hollywood. Fitzgerald had been given a six months' contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and when the contract expired in January 1938 it was renewed for a year at an increased salary. He was drinking very little and proved to be a capable screen craftsman, although his best scenarios were not produced in the form in which he wrote them. During his first eighteen months in Hollywood he earned $88,391, paid off his big debts and put his insurance policies in order.
The story is not a simple one of moral redemption and success in a new field. At the beginning of February 1939, a week after the M-G-M contract ran out, he was sent East by Walter Wanger; with the help of Budd Schulberg he was to write a film about the Dartmouth Winter Carnival. He began drinking on the eastbound plane, got into a violent disagreement with Wanger and continued drinking at Dartmouth and in New York; it was his biggest, saddest, most desperate spree. But that wasn’t his end, even though it was the end of the principal character in Schulberg’s novel about the trip, The Disenchanted; Fitzgerald’s story went on.
He found a new studio job and quickly lost it; then Zelda was well enough for a vacation from the sanitarium and he took her on a trip to Havana, where he began drinking again. Back in Hollywood he couldn’t find another job and suspected that the producers had put his name on an informal blacklist. He took to his bed; for three months he was under the care of day and night nurses. It was a recurrence of tuberculosis, he told his friends (who suspected a recurrence of alcoholism), and it was complicated by “a nervous breakdown of such severity that for a long time it threatened to paralyze both arms—or to quote the doctor: ‘The Good Lord tapped you on the shoulder.’” After a partial recovery in the summer he faced another crisis, to which he referred obliquely in his letters; it was “that personally and publicly dreary month of Sept. last [when] about everything went to pieces all at once”—and still it wasn’t the end of the story.
In the past he had often exaggerated his physical troubles for dramatic effect, but it seems that he wasn’t exaggerating when he said that all through the winter of 1939-40 he suffered from “the awful lapses and sudden reverses and apparent cures and thorough poisoning effect of lung trouble. Suffice to say there were months with a high of 99.8, months at 99.6 and then up and down and a stabilization at 99.2 every afternoon when I could write in bed.” His Hollywood friends report that he was gray-faced and emaciated and seldom left his room, but he was writing again—if only for a few hours each day—and that was the important news. Although seven of his books were still in print nobody was buying them, and his name was almost forgotten; now he was setting out to regain his place in literature.
His record of production for the last year of his life would have been remarkable for a man in perfect health. He began the year by making plans for a novel and, simultaneously, by writing twenty stories for Esquire, including seventeen in the Pat Hobby series. Most of the Hobby stories weren’t very good by his own standards, but they caught the Hollywood atmosphere and they also made fun of the author’s weaknesses, thereby proving that Fitzgerald hadn’t lost his ironic attitude toward himself or his gift of double vision. Suddenly he resumed his interrupted correspondence with his friends and he sent his daughter an extraordinary series of letters that continued all through the year; perhaps they were too urgent and too full of tired wisdom for a girl in college, but then Fitzgerald was writing them as a sort of personal and literary testament. In the spring he wrote—and twice rewrote from the beginning—a scenario based on his story, “Babylon Revisited”; it was the best of his scenarios and, according to the producer who ordered it, the best he ever read. Shirley Temple wasn’t available for the part of Honoria and the story has never been filmed. Once more Fitzgerald began drinking; then he sobered up and went to work for a studio in September, earning enough, he thought, to carry him through the writing of The Last Tycoon. Work on it was delayed by a serious heart attack in November, but for most of the month he was writing steadily. He had said in a letter to his daughter, “I wish now I’d never relaxed or looked back—but said at the end of The Great Gatsby: 'I’ve found my line—from now on this comes first. This is my immediate duty—without this I am nothing.’” In the year 1940 he had found his line again, and had found something more than that, since he now possessed a deeper sense of the complexities of life than he had when writing Gatsby. He was doing his best work of the year in December and it was some of the best he ever did. He had been sober for a long time and seemed to be less worried about illness, when suddenly, four days before Christmas, there was a second coronary attack and he died—not like a strayed reveler but like a partner of the elder J. P. Morgan, working too hard until his heart gave out.
At the time of his death Fitzgerald had written about 160 stories in all; the exact number would be hard to determine because some of his work was on the borderline between fiction and the informal essay or “magazine piece.” The forty-six stories that went into his four published collections include most of the best ones, but not all of them, because Fitzgerald was a shrewd but erratic judge of his own work. The last collection, Taps at Reveille, appeared in 1935 and the stories of the last years have never been reprinted.
That is the background of the present selection, in which I have tried to gather together the best stories written at all stages of Fitzgerald’s career. If the selection has any virtues except those of the stories themselves, it owes them to the help I received from several friends and students of Fitzgerald—as notably from his daughter, Mrs. Samuel J. Lanahan, who made several useful suggestions; from Harold Ober, his literary agent, who supplied me with many items of information, including a list of Fitzgerald’s published work; from Alexander Clark, curator of manuscripts at the Princeton University Library, who is presently in charge of Fitzgerald’s notes and correspondence; from Charles Scribner’s Sons, his publishers, who made the volume possible (and patiently waited for it); and from Arthur Mizener, who let me read his fine biography of Fitzgerald in manuscript and showed me his notes on the circumstances in which many of the stories were written. The faults of the selection are strictly mine.
I thought it best to devote the bulk of the volume to the work of the middle period, 1926-31, when Fitzgerald was giving most of his time to shorter fiction. His first two volumes, Flappers and Philosophers (1920) and Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), received full attention in their own age and from these I have taken only four stories in all (after hesitating a long time before including “May Day”). From All the Sad Young Men (1926) I have taken five, or a little more than half the book. From Taps at Reveille (1935), which was underestimated by the reviewers, I have taken nine and to these I have added three other stories written at the same period as those in Taps but omitted from the volume, I think mistakenly. The selection ends with seven of the shorter pieces that Fitzgerald wrote after his crack-up.
Taken together the twenty-eight stories compose an informal history of two decades in American life, or rather of one decade with its long aftermath. The history is more intimate than anything in the textbooks and it is in some ways more vivid than the picture of the time that we find in Fitzgerald’s novels, where the material was composed and recomposed; the stories were written closer to the scene and retain the emotion of the moment. But they do more than merely speak for their time, since they also speak for the author; and taken together they form a sort of journal of his whole career. It was a different career from the one we had expected to find after reading his first books and hearing about his decline. What seems important in it now is not the early success and not the neglect and heartbreak of his later years, and not even the contrast between them that lends an easy point to other men’s novels; it is above all the struggle against defeat and the sort of qualified triumph he earned by the struggle. Fitzgerald remains an exemplar and archetype, but not of the 1920’s alone; in the end he represents the human spirit in one of its permanent forms.
The seven stories in this first group belong to the period of Fitzgerald's early success and have as background his first loves, his marriage to Zelda Sayre (after their engagement had been broken because of his poverty) and the glitter of their new life among the rich. The stories were written between the fall of 1919, when he was twenty-three and heard the great news that his novel had been accepted, and the spring of 1924, when the Fitzgeralds decided to live in Europe. Two of them were reprinted in Flappers and Philosophers (1920), two in Tales of the Jazz Age (1922) and the last three in All the Sad Young Men (1926).
The book opens with the best of Fitzgerald's fantasies, “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” Although it was written in the winter of 1921-22, it is printed out of its chronological order because it clearly states a theme that would often recur in his work. A middle-class boy falls in love with the heiress to a great fortune and she returns his love, but the boy is murdered by her family or destroyed by her wealth. “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” can have a happy ending —at least for the lovers—because it is a fantasy; but the plot would reappear in The Great Gatsby and there it would be carried to its tragic conclusion. Having fallen in love with the rich Mrs. Buchanan, Gatsby would be murdered as efficiently as were the visitors to Brad- dock Washington's diamond mountain.
The other six stories in the group are reprinted in the order of their magazine publication. “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is the best of the flapper stories that made Fitzgerald's reputation as a popular writer. When it was published in the spring of 1920, bobbed hair was a national issue like the Volstead Act, and the young author received hundreds of letters from excited readers of the Saturday Evening Post. Many were shocked by the “line” that Marjorie invented to make her cousin popular. It was copied from life, or at least from the remarks that Fitzgerald himself had composed for his pretty young sister Annabel when she was going to her first big dances… “The Ice Palace” (1920) grew out of his worries in the autumn before his marriage, when he was living at home in St. Paul and was making frantic visits to Zelda in Alabama. The contrast between North and South was one of his favorite themes; he would return to it in “The Last of the Belles” and in several uncollected pieces… “May Day” (1920) is the longest and most ambitious of his early stories. It catches the spirit of the crazy spring when we were all coming back from the wars and when Fitzgerald, besides looking vainly for a job, was drinking too much with his classmates at the Knickerbocker bar; he projected his sense of failure into the character of Gordon Sterrett. More than that, he interwove two other plots into that of Sterrett’s failure with greater skill than he had shown before and would usually show in the future; he never learned to be a good engineer of plots. Soon, however, he became a better judge of persons and situations than he was when writing “May Day.”
There is more depth of feeling in the last three stories. “Winter Dreams” (1922) was suggested by an earlier episode in the author’s life: at Princeton he had been in love with a debutante who was something like Judy Jones in the story (later she would reappear as the heroine of the Josephine series). In other respects “Winter Dreams” is not at all a copy of Fitzgerald’s life, but it offers a revealing summary of his early feelings about love and money and social position… “The Sensible Thing” (1924) is autobiographical in the strict sense; it is the story of his broken and renewed engagement to Zelda Sayre… “Absolution” (1924) is rich in memories of his Catholic boyhood and his propensity for living in an imaginary world. At first it was intended as a prologue to The Great Gatsby; then Fitzgerald decided it was better to leave Gatsby’s background wrapped in mist. But the story retains its connection with the novel, which was a turning point in his career. He was working on a deeper level of experience than he had attempted to reach in the past, and he continued to work on it in the best of the stories that followed.
This second group consists of seven stories written between 1924, the year when Fitzgerald finished The Great Gatsby, and the time of Zelda’s first breakdown in 1930. During those years he was devoting most of his energy to magazine stories and the stories continued to improve, after taking a leap forward at the time of Gatsby; but already the author was suffering from a form of neglect. The situation was in some ways preposterous. Here was one of our leading writers, doing some of his best work and having it featured in the most popular American magazines, and at the same time the critics were wondering what had become of him after his early success. The critics didn’t read the Saturday Evening Post or expect to find serious fiction there, and Fitzgerald himself was so much affected by their attitude that he never reprinted some of his most effective stories.
There are three of the “junked and dismantled” stories in the present group. “Magnetism” (1928) was almost the only fruit of his first visit to Hollywood. He had gone there to write a script for Constance Talmadge and had worked hard on it, besides being the life of several wild parties, but the script was never produced. “Magnetism” is a serious study of the movie colony, even if it deals with the farcical dilemma of a good man and faithful husband who can’t keep other women from falling in love with him… “The Rough Crossing” (1929) was the souvenir of a stormy voyage to Genoa, during which Scott and Zelda had flirted with strangers and quarreled with each other. The first two paragraphs of the story went into Fitzgerald’s notebook and were afterwards rewritten into Book II, Chapter XIX, of Tender Is the Night. … “The Bridal Party” (1930) was suggested by the famous wedding of Powell Fowler in the early summer of that same year. Better than anything else I have read it gives us the atmosphere of that brief period when the spirit of the Wall Street boom still flourished in the midst of the crash.
Two other stories in the present group were reprinted in All the Sad Young Men. “The Rich Boy” (1926) was the first serious work that Fitzgerald undertook after finishing Gatsby. Like the novel it reveals his complicated attitude toward the very rich, with its mixture of distrust, admiration and above all curiosity about how their minds work. Anson Hunter's central trait, in the story, is the sense of superiority that he feeds by captivating others. It makes him willing to help or destroy others, almost in the same gesture, but keeps him from surrendering anything of himself. In revealing this trait Fitzgerald shows how much he has learned about irony and understatement… “The Baby Party” (1925) goes back to a somewhat earlier period. After spending a year in Great Neck, Long Island, and entertaining mobs of week-end guests, Fitzgerald was $5,000 in debt and had to stop work on Gatsby. He wrote himself out of debt by producing eleven stories, which he sold for more than $17,000. “I really worked hard as hell last winter,” he said in a letter to Edmund Wilson—“but it was all trash and it nearly broke my heart as well as my iron constitution.” Although it was written in a single all-night session, “The Baby Party” is far from being trash, and it is Fitzgerald's one expedition into the field of domestic comedy.
“The Last of the Belles” (1929) was reprinted in Taps at Reveille. Its portrait of Ailie Calhoun, with her charm and professional vanity, is filled out with incidents that Fitzgerald remembered from his courtship of Zelda. Like other stories written at the same period, “The Last of the Belles” is filled with regret for a vanished emotion, but the regret is seasoned with self-ridicule—as when the hero goes stumbling through the knee-deep underbrush that had covered the site of an army camp, “looking,” as he said to himself, “for my youth in a clapboard or a strip of roofing or a rusty tomato can.” … “Two Wrongs” (1930) was also reprinted in Taps. It dates from a period when Fitzgerald was recovering from a mild attack of tuberculosis—his second or third—and Zelda was studying hard to become a professional dancer. A great deal of his feeling about himself went into the story, together with his premonitions of disaster.
When I said in the Introduction that Fitzgerald’s stories, taken together, formed a sort of autobiography, I did not mean to suggest that they could be followed as a guide to the events of his life. They changed or disguised the events, as stories always do, but the best of them served as a faithful record of his emotions. In the end it was his life, as lived, that became the most impressive of his fictional creations. If we have some knowledge of the life it gives a new dimension to the stories, and these in turn help us to understand the life by telling us how Fitzgerald felt in each new situation.
That is the rule, but the Basil stories are an exception. Written in 1928, they tell us nothing about Fitzgerald’s emotions at the time, except that he was unhappy about himself and in a mood for retrospection. He relived his boyhood in the stories and made little effort to disguise the fact that he was writing autobiography. Almost every incident happened in life and almost every character can be identified. Basil Duke Lee was of course Fitzgerald himself; his friends Riply Buckner, Bill Kempf and Hubert Blair were, in life and respectively, Cecil Reid, Paul Ballion and Reuben Warner. The Scandal Detectives of the story really existed and their Book of Scandal has been preserved, in the shape of a “Thoughtbook” that Fitzgerald kept when he was fourteen; most of his thoughts were about girls. St. Regis School, where Basil was “The Freshest Boy,” was of course the Newman School; during his first year at Newman, Fitzgerald was just as miserable as his hero. “The Captured Shadow” was the name of a play that he wrote and directed for the Elizabethan Club in St. Paul before his sixteenth birthday. It was a success, as in the story.
There were nine Basil stories in all; one has never been published and the other eight appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. Maxwell Perkins wanted to publish them as a book, but Fitzgerald hesitated—partly because he feared they were too much like the Penrod stories that Booth Tarkington had written as he emerged from a period of heavy drinking. Actually the Penrod stories were of another generation and they were observed, not felt from within, but that didn't comfort Fitzgerald. He said in his notebook: “Tarkington. I have a horror of going into a personal debauch and coming out of it devitalized with no interest except an acute observation of the behavior of colored people, children and dogs.” At last Perkins persuaded him to revise five of the stories (not including Perkins' favorite, “A Night at the Fair”) for republication in Taps at Reveille. I have included three of the revised stories in the present group. “The Captured Shadow” is by far the best, for its self-portrait of a writer at the beginning of his career, but “The Freshest Boy” is a minor classic of prep-school life and “The Scandal Detectives” contains a fine picture of the children gathering in the Whartons' yard “for that soft and romantic time before supper.”
The Josephine stories—five of them, published in 1930 and 1931— were also retrospective, but in a different fashion, since Fitzgerald was trying to think his way back into the mind of a girl with whom he was desperately in love during his years at Princeton. She was also Isabelle, in This Side of Paradise, and suggested the heroine of “Winter Dreams.” Long afterwards she said of the stories, in a letter to Arthur Mizener, “I was too thoughtless in those days and too much in love with love to think of consequences. These things he has emphasized—and overemphasized in the Josephine stories, but it is only fair to say that I asked for some of them.” When she paid a short visit to Hollywood in 1937 Fitzgerald had lunch with her and was almost ready to fall in love all over again.
At one time he considered making a book out of the stories, called My Girl Josephine, but most of them were too loosely constructed to be his best work. Three were reprinted in Taps at Reveille. “A Woman with a Past,” included here, is better than the others for its insights into the dreams of a boarding-school girl and its picture of her first big dance at New Haven.
There had been intimations of disaster—“faintly signaled, like a nervous beating of the feet”—in some of the stories Fitzgerald wrote from 1928 to 1930. By the end of 1930 the disaster was upon him; Zelda was a patient in a Swiss sanitarium, where the doctors were unable to promise that she would recover, and Fitzgerald was beginning to think of himself as an alcoholic. One result of the new situation was a new type of story, more complicated emotionally, with less regret for the past and more dignity in the face of real sorrow.
“Babylon Revisited” (1931) is the first of the later stories and one of the best he ever wrote. It shows that an age has ended in the year since “The Bridal Party.” Charles Wales, who might have figured in the crowded background of the earlier story, is now a lonely survivor wandering through Paris like a bewildered mastodon. “I lost everything I wanted in the boom,” he says to the head barman at the Ritz; and then he adds to himself, “The snow of twenty-nine wasn’t real snow. If you didn’t want it to be snow, you just paid some money.” … “Crazy Sunday” was the fruit of a second trip to Hollywood, in the winter of 1931-32. It reveals the author’s admiration for Irving Thalberg, who served as model not only for the director in the story but also for the hero of The Last Tycoon. More than that, Fitzgerald had learned how to deal with the illogic of extremely complicated emotions… “Family in the Wind” (1932) is the study of an alcoholic doctor, but in some ways it is also a defense of the author’s career.
In 1933 Fitzgerald was too busy with the manuscript of Tender Is the Night to do much writing for the magazines, and after the novel was published he was distracted with worries about Zelda’s third breakdown and what he called his “lesion of vitality”; he began to fear that he was losing his talent. “I can never write anything completely bad,” he said belligerently; and the boast was true to the extent that even the trivial stories he sold to Liberty and Collier's after the Post stopped printing his work had something good in each of them, if only a scene or an incidental remark that gave dignity to his characters; but the plots were beginning to be carelessly put together and the subjects were far from his own experience.
In Hollywood the type of energy that he had formerly devoted to writing long magazine stories went into moving-picture scripts, but he was also writing shorter pieces for Esquire and some of these—not all, but ten or twelve of the best—proved to be another development for Fitzgerald. “At last I am mature,” he said in his ruin, and these are really mature stories—without the glitter and high spirits of his early work, without boasting or self-pity or nostalgia, and even without the strong rhythms and incantatory words he had once used to intensify the emotions of his characters. The emotions in these stories have no need of being intensified. The best of them are so close to his personal tragedy that the emotion is in the events themselves, which have merely to be stated in the barest language.
In the present group there are seven short stories from Fitzgerald’s last years. “An Alcoholic Case” suggests his own dilemma, unforgettably, and “The Long Way Out” suggests Zelda’s. “Financing Finnegan” is a comedy, if a painful one, about the debts he owed to his agent Harold Ober and his editor Maxwell Perkins. It is a relief to learn that the debts were paid almost in full before Finnegan died. The two Pat Hobby sketches are selected from a group of seventeen that were written for Esquire in 1939-40. Pat wasn’t the author himself, but in his comic degradation he was what the author sometimes feared that he might become. “Three Hours between Planes” is simply a good and honestly told story, but “The Lost Decade” is more than that. Written in the summer of 1939, when Fitzgerald was recovering from the long after-effects of his worst spree, it is his memorial to the years when he “was taken drunk … every-which- way drunk.” It is also his promise that the rest of his life, however short, would be different—as indeed it was.
Published in The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald A Selection of 28 Stories with an Introduction by Malcolm Cowley (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1954).