Notes for The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1909-1917) collection
by John Kuehl


Among The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at The Princeton University Library there are two small red-bound scrapbooks. The one entitled “Other Contributions of Scott Fitzgerald to School and College Magazines 1909-1919” contains tearsheets of all the author’s prep-school publications. This and the other, which is entitled “Various Contributions of Scott Fitzgerald To the Nassau Literary Magazine of Princeton 1915-1917,” contain tearsheets of all his college publications except musical comedy lyrics and material printed in The Princeton Tiger. Extensive investigation has failed to uncover a run of the Newman School News during 1912-1913, but since the St. Paul Academy’s broken run of the Now and Then during 1909-1911 and Princeton University’s complete run of The Nassau Literary Magazine during 1913-1917 include no additional stories, it is assumed that Fitzgerald, who was always a great saver, did not publish any stories at Newman that he neglected to preserve.

The apprentice fiction appears here exactly the way these magazines printed it—typographical errors and all—for essentially two reasons: to obviate the necessity on the reader’s part of examining nearly inaccessible documents in order to determine precisely the original printed texts of Fitzgerald’s prep-school and college stories; to obviate the necessity on the editor’s part of entering that treacherous world of emendations where so many arbitrary decisions must be made. Quotations—which, whenever possible, come from unpublished or hard-to-obtain documents—also appear here exactly as they do in their sources. Although the book is organized along straightforward chronological lines, not all of the Now and Then and Newman News stories have been given separate introductions, and although one-act plays have been included, parodies have not.

I wish to thank Fitzgerald’s daughter, Mrs. Samuel J. Lanahan, for granting me permission to publish her father’s previously un-collected apprentice fiction, and Princeton University for providing generously from its Research Fund. Mr. Alexander P. Clark and Mrs. Alden Randall of The Princeton University Library rendered especially valuable assistance. Helpful too were Mr. Matthew J. Bruccoli, Mr. James B. Merod, Mr. John T. Corry, the Very Reverend Monsignor Henry G. J. Beck, and Miss Dorothy Olding.

Princeton, N. J. November, 1964


An unpublished autobiography marked “Outline Chart of My Life,” but commonly called “Ledger” (The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers, Princeton University Library), shows Scott Fitzgerald to have been an actor from the age of seven: “He remembers the attic where he had a red sash with which he acted Paul Revere” (September, 1903); “He made up shows in Ingham’s attic, all based on the American Revolution and a red sash and three cornered hat. He did tricks and mysteriously vanished a dime” (September, 1906); “His mother got the idea he could sing so he performed ’Way down in colon town’ and ’Don’t get married anymore’ for all visitors” (January, 1907). Besides writing four plays between the summer of 1911 and the summer of 1914 for the local Elizabethan Dramatic Club, he played the lead in two and important parts in both of the others.

If, like Dick Diver (Tender Is the Night, New York, 1934), Scott Fitzgerald felt compelled to perform, like Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby, New York, 1925), he also undertook proprietary roles. For instance, his childhood diary, “Thoughtbook” (The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers), contains a section dated February 24, 1911, and entitled “The gooserah and other clubs,” which informs us that the author originated “the gooserah club” and helped to originate “the white handkerchief club.” “Thought-book,” itself, would serve as the source of Basil Duke Lee’s “Book of Scandal,” just as the title of one of the Basil Duke Lee stories, “The Scandal Detectives” (Taps at Reveille, New York, 1935) would recall an actual organization of this name founded—probably by Fitzgerald—in March, 1911.

Most important, however, like Monroe Stahr (The Last Tycoon, New York, 1941), who would guide motion pictures “way up past the range and power of the theatre,” Fitzgerald entertained in the role of creative artist. Scott Fitzgerald was a born storyteller. One early piece states, “It is because of Skiggs that this story was written,” and another, “It is unfortunately one of those stories which must start at the beginning, and the beginning consists merely of a few details.” We do not require his frequent consciousness of himself as a writer, though, to realize that he thoroughly enjoyed entertaining his readers. In his apprentice fiction Fitzgerald employed dramatic beginnings, surprise endings, and lively scenes. He chose exciting subjects: solving a murder mystery; winning a football game single-handedly; an act of physical courage in the Civil War; avenging the murder of a son after the Civil War; giving away money on Christmas Eve; doing unto a Christian Scientist what he has done unto you; searching futilely for a nobleman; rediscovering a father; overcoming doubt before joining the Jesuits; the debut of a femme fatale; regret at having flunked out of college; Shakespeare raping Lucrece’s “real-life” model, then composing a poem about it; a boy’s attempt to kiss a fickle girl; demoralization and death during World War I; a man finally winning an old flame only to lose his writing ability.

He presented these subjects with considerable narrative sense, as a brief summary of one story’s action will indicate. “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw” contains two parts. The opening section of the long first part elaborates the statement, “My Uncle George assumed, during my childhood, almost legendary proportions”; he drank heavily and was a “mesogamist” who “had been engaged seven times” and “had written a series of novels” about bad or not quite good women. The closing section takes the narrator—now a twenty-year-old easterner—to “the prosperous Western city that still supported the roots of our family tree,” where, in the Iroquois Club, his uncle explains why his life stopped “at sixteen minutes after ten” one October evening. For an entire decade he has put up with the ridicule of the woman responsible, but on the present occasion she grows unbearably sarcastic. When she says she often talked her dead husband out of horsewhipping him, George stamps her wedding ring into “a beaten button of gold.” Then Part I ends and the nephew departs. A couple of short paragraphs, Part II describes the uncle’s fate while implying the nephew’s relation to it. We learn that the older man and the widow soon eloped, with the result that he “never drank again, nor did he ever write or in fact do anything except play a middling amount of golf and get comfortably bored with his wife.” The nephew’s awareness of storytelling is illustrated by such comments as “The story ought to end here” and “Unfortunately the play continues into an inartistic sixth act.” His last assertions refer facetiously to “my new book on Theories of Genius,” so we feel that he may become the family author, and if he does, will probably continue to exploit Scott Fitzgerald’s own budding gift for irony.


The “Thoughtbook,” whose dated entries extend from August, 1910, to February 24, 1911, shows that Fitzgerald was a born storyteller even in the keeping of a diary. That at the age of fourteen he had already developed the raconteur’s sense of time is indicated through his juxtaposing the definite past, the indefinite past, and the present. That he dramatized factual events is shown by many episodes that focus on a memorable day and that contain stretches of direct dialogue.

“Jim was so confident the other night that you had a crush on him.”

“Well Jim gets another think”

“Shall I let him know you dont like him.”

“No: but you can let him know that he isn’t first.”

“Ill do that”

“Now if you had thought that it might be different.”

“Good” said I

“Good” repeated she and then the convestion lagged.

“Thoughtbook” also reveals that Fitzgerald was a born psychologist. He characterized two of his friends thus: Paul Ballion “was awfully funny, strong as an ox; cool in the face of danger polite and at times very interesting.” Margaret Armstrong “is not pretty but I think she is very attractive looking. She is extremly gracful and a very good dancer and the most interesting talker I have ever seen or heard.” He recorded other people’s reactions to him: “Violets’ opinean of my character was that I was polite and had a nice disposition and that I thought I was the whole push and that I got mad too easily.” And his reactions to other people: “Bob Clark is interesting to talk to because he lets me do a lot of talking”; “Now I dont dislike him [Paul Ballion]. I have simply out grown him”; “I think it is charming to hear her [Margaret Armstrong] say, ’Give it to me as a compliment’ when I tell her I have a trade.”

C. N. B. Wheeler, English teacher and athletic coach, has described the Scott Fitzgerald of St. Paul (Minnesota) Academy days (1908-1911) as a psychologist as well as an entertainer: “a sunny light-haired boy full of enthusiasm who fully foresaw his course in life even in his schoolboy days… I helped him by encouraging his urge to write adventures. It was his best work, he did not shine in his other subjects. He was inventive in all playlets we had and marked his course by his pieces for delivery before the school… He wasn’t popular with his schoolmates. He saw through them too much and wrote about it… I imagined he would become an actor of the variety type, but he didn’t… It was his pride in his literary work that put him in his real bent.” (Andrew Turnbull, Scott Fitzgerald, New York, 1962, p. 20)

Fitzgerald’s precocity as an observer of human character is foreshadowed in the four stories written for the St. Paul Academy Now and Then. The main figures of the first two, both of whom are handicapped, act heroically but under rather conventional circumstances: the “pretty light” substitute halfback, Reade, and the “wounded” Confederate private, Jack Sanderson, vanquish their respective football and battlefield foes and earn cheers from their comrades.

In the other two Now and Then stories, the characters are either passive or active. A mystery confronts two pairs of men, but while the observers, Chief Egan and Robert Calvin Raymond, record, the observed, John Syrel and Governor Carmatle, act. This passage implies Chief Egan’s envy of John Syrel: “He was not a tall man, but thanks to the erectness of his posture, and the suppleness of his movement, it would take no athlete to tell that he was of fine build. He was twenty-three years old when I first saw him, and was already a reporter on the News. He was not a handsome man: his face was clean-shaven, and his chin showed him to be of strong character.”

The protagonists of all three stories Scott Fitzgerald published during his residence at the Newman School of Hackensack, New Jersey (1911-1913), combine both active and passive traits. But the author’s assessment of the protagonists’ experience in two early Princeton pieces, “Shadow Laurels” and “The Ordeal,” is even more complex. Although they overcome their difficulties, they do so less successfully than the protagonists of the three Newman School stories.

In “Shadow Laurels” Jacques Chandelle, whose “eyes are clear and penetrating,” whose chin “is sharp and decisive,” and whose manner “is that of a man accustomed only to success,” feels the need after a separation of twenty-eight years to “sense” his father again. This he does, thanks to some of the deceased’s old Parisian cronies. Discovering through them that Chandelle senior was a magnificent failure, Jacques begins to metamorphose into him: “His face is a little red and his hand unsteady. He appears infinitely more gallic than when he entered the wine shop.” As the son departs, one old crony shouts the father’s name, “Jean, Jean, don’t go—don’t.” The young man of “The Ordeal,” to whom “pleasure, travel, the law, the diplomatic service” are open, is, nevertheless, about to take religious vows. Yet the very day he must file toward the altar with the other novices, he finds himself “pitted against an infinity of temptation.”

The protagonists of “Shadow Laurels” and “The Ordeal” triumph only ostensibly. Jacques Chandelle and the young man accomplish what they set out to do, the former managing to rediscover his father and the latter managing to go through with his religious vows, but both contain the seeds of failure. “Shadow Laurels” implies that Jacques Chandelle is more like his reprobate father than he imagines, and “The Ordeal” shows that the young man’s faith has been preserved only through an external force— “the stained window of St. Francis Xavier.” These two 1915 stories represent, then, an interim stage in the development of the author’s hero.

In “The Spire and the Gargoyle,” which was written two years later, the hero flunks an actual test. No previous Fitzgerald protagonist had failed completely. In this case, the boy has to a very large extent brought his failure about himself: “Fifty cut recitations in his first wild term had made necessary the extra course of which he had just taken the examination. Winter muses, un-academic and cloistered by Forty-second Street and Broadway, had stolen hours from the dreary stretches of February and March. Later, time had crept insidiously through the lazy April afternoons and seemed so intangible in the long Spring twilights. So June found him unprepared.”

Total failure on the part of the main figures of subsequent Princeton pieces had been prefigured as early as the Now and Then stories, where the heroes were handicapped or fragmented into actors and passive observers. Inevitably, Scott Fitzgerald’s juvenile protagonist, through personal weakness or some external force or both, would become the homme manque, a term Fitzgerald himself would use to describe Dick Diver.

This evolution involved sex. In “The Ordeal,” the young man’s worldly temptation is epitomized by a female, “waiting, ever waiting”: “He saw struggles and wars, banners waving somewhere, voices giving hail to a king—and looking at him through it all were the sweet sad eyes of the girl who was now a woman.” In “Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge,” Clay Syneforth, twenty-two years old and “champion of sentiment,” comes home after two years of war to find the girls’ heavily painted faces expressing “half enthusiasm and half recklessness.” Just before Syneforth and his dead brother’s fiancee sleep together, “He put his arm around her, never once taking his eyes from her face, and suddenly the whole strength of her appeal burst upon him… He knew what was wrong, but he knew also that he wanted this woman, this warm creature of silk and life who crept so close to him. There were reasons why he oughtn’t to have her.”

Speaking of la belle dame sans merci, Mario Praz has written: “Salammb? is a picture in the manner of Delacroix, except that instead of the beautiful female slaves agonizing under the ferocious eye of Sardanapalus, we have the beautiful male slave suffering unspeakable tortures under the eye of his goddess-like beloved; for with Flaubert we have entered the dominion of the Fatal Woman, and sadism appears under the passive aspect which is usually called masochism (as though the active and passive aspects were not usually both present in sadism, and a mere change of proportions really justified a change of name).” (The Romantic Agony, New York, 1956, pp. 153-4)

After the homme manque, the femme fatale, Fitzgerald’s vampiric destroyer, is the most vital character he ever created. She pervades the later fiction. For instance, Jonquil of “The Sensible Thing,” Judy of “Winter Dreams,” and Josephine of the five Josephine stories surround themselves with devoted males whom they seem to delight in torturing with uncertainty. Josephine “had driven mature men to a state of disequilibrium” (Taps at Reveille, p. 178) and Judy was destined to “bring no end of misery to a great number of men.” (All the Sad Young Men, New York, 1926, p. 59) Another young lady, Ailie Calhoun of “The Last of the Belles,” was proud of the fact that a man may have committed suicide over her. (Taps at Reveille, p. 260) But more pertinently, the femme fatale pervades the apprentice fiction too. From the heroine of “A Luckless Santa Claus” (Christmas, 1912) to the heroine of “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw” (October, 1917), she acts as the most persistent and powerful barrier to the protagonist’s success. The femme fatale is no mere foil, however. Her development into an independently significant figure represents one of the major achievements of these early writings, whose author told his secretary, “I am half feminine—at least my mind is… Even my feminine characters are feminine Scott Fitzgeralds.” (Scott Fitzgerald, p. 259)

That Fitzgerald’s conception of the femme fatale was intimately bound up with personal experience seems clear from statements like this to his daughter: “When I was your age I lived with a great dream. The dream grew and I learned how to speak of it and make people listen. Then the dream divided one day when I decided to marry your mother after all, even though I knew she was spoiled and meant no good to me. I was sorry immediately I had married her but, being patient in those days, made the best of it and got to love her in another way. You came along and for a long time we made quite a lot of happiness out of our lives. But I was a man divided—she wanted me to work too much for her and not enough for my dream.” (Andrew Turnbull [ed.], The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, New York, 1963, p. 32) Actually, Fitzgerald had been associated with strong-willed females before marrying Zelda Sayre.

His mother, Mary McQuillan, was the daughter of an Irish immigrant who had prospered in St. Paul as a wholesale grocer. There were many things he resented about her, among them that she had taste neither in dress nor in books and that she was over-indulgent. In an article called “Author’s House” (Esquire, July, 1936), Fitzgerald indicates that her overindulgence was responsible for his choosing the passive life of an artist rather than a more active, more “heroic” life. He conducts an anonymous visitor to his cellar, where there is “all the complicated dark mixture of my youth and infancy that made me a fiction writer instead of a fireman or a soldier,” and, pointing to the darkest corner, he says: “Three months before I was born my mother lost her other two children and I think that came first of all though I don’t know how it worked exactly. I think I started then to be a writer.” All his life Fitzgerald felt that his mother had made him soft rather than strong, had kept him from becoming the “hero” his fantasy wished him to be.

Regardless of whether or not Mary McQuillan should bear the ultimate responsibility for her son’s preoccupation with the femme fatale, there is no denying that from childhood through marriage this kind of female fascinated him. At eleven, he found Kiddy Williams irresistible: “I dont remember who was first but I know that Earl was second and as I was already quite over come by her charms I then and there resolved that I would gain first place… We talked and talked and finally she asked me if I was going to Robin’s party and it was there my eventful day was. We played postoffice, pillow, clapp in and clapp out and other foolish but interesting games. It was impossible to count the number of times I kissed Kitty that afternoon. At any rate when we went home I had secured the coveted 1st place. I held this until dancing school stopped in the spring and then relinquished it to Johnny Gowns a rival. On valentines day that year Kitty received no less than eighty four valentines.”

“Thoughtbook” records another childish affair immediately succeeding this one, the new belle dame sans merci being Violet Stockton: “She was very pretty with dark brown hair and eyes big and soft. She spoke with a soft southern accent leaving out the r’s. She was a year older than I but together with most of the other boys liked her very much. I met her through Jack Mitchell who lived next door to her. He himself was very attached as was Art Foley… Finally Violet had a party which was very nice and it was the day after this that we had the quarrel. She had some sort of a book called flirting by sighns and Jack and I got it away from Violet and showed it too all the boys. Violet got very mad and therefor I went home… I just hate Violet… Not much has happened since Violet went away. The day she went away was my birthday and she gave me a box of candy. Her latest fancy is Arthur Foley. He has her ring She wrote him a letter to ask him for his picture”.

Fitzgerald’s “Ledger” records his college romance with Ginevra King in a series of short statements whose very matter-of-factness lends them poignancy: January, 1915: “Met Ginevra”; June: “Ritz, Nobody Home and Midnight Folie with Ginevra… Deering: I’m going to take Ginevra home in my electric”; August: “No news from Ginevra”; October: “Dinner with Ginevra in Waterbury”; November: “Letters to G.K.”; February, 1916: “Long letters to Ginevra”; March: “Ginevra fired from school”; April: “Ginevra & Living on the train. A facinating story”; August: “Lake Forrest. Peg Carry. Petting Party. Ginevra. Party”; November: “Ginevra and Margaret Cary to Yale game”; January, 1917: “Final break with Ginevra”; June: “Ginevra engaged?”; September: “Oh Ginevra”; July, 1918: “Zelda… Ginevra married.”

When Scott Fitzgerald met her, Ginevra King was sixteen, a junior at Westover, and already popular with the Ivy League boys. Arthur Mizener has summed up their relationship: “For Ginevra, he became for a time the most important of her many conquests. As she said herself many years later, ’… at this time I was definitely out for quantity not quality in beaux, and, although Scotty was top man, I still wasn’t serious enough not to want plenty of other attention!’… To the end of his life he kept every letter she ever wrote him (he had them typed up and bound; they run to 227 pages). Born and brought up in the best circumstances in Chicago and Lake Forest, Ginevra moved for him in a golden haze.” (The Far Side of Paradise, Boston, 1951, pp. 48-9) The duration and depth of Fitzgerald’s feelings toward the girl are shown by a remark from a letter of November 9, 1938, to Frances Turnbull: “In This Side of Paradise I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.” (The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 578)

Between his infatuation with Kiddy Williams, Violet Stockton, and other childhood sweethearts and his unrequited love for Ginevra King, he contributed two stories to the Newman News which introduced the femme fatale. Though both heroes of these stories are humiliated, neither is destroyed.

“A Luckless Santa Claus” begins: “Miss Harmon was responsible for the whole thing. If it had not been for her foolish whim, Talbot would not have made a fool of himself, and—but I am getting ahead of my story.” What is “her foolish whim”? A challenge to wealthy, indolent, “faultlessly dressed” Harry Talbot to give away twenty-five dollars, two dollars at a time, in an hour and a half period one Christmas Eve, a challenge these words explain: “Why you can’t even spend money, much less earn it!” And how does her fiance make “a fool of himself”? By accosting people who greet his generosity with a mistrust and contempt, which reach their climax when he gets badly mauled and must return “hatless, coatless, collarless, tieless.” But Talbot is merely humiliated, not destroyed, for he soon deserts Miss Harmon for his maulers.

Technically, “The Trail of the Duke” closely resembles “A Luckless Santa Claus.” We are given another aimless rich boy as victim and another silly girl friend as victimizer. Compared to Harry Talbot’s experience, however, Dodson Garland’s seems trivial since it hinges upon a simple misunderstanding instead of treating an ironic, thematically important circumstance. Mirabel Walmsley asks Dodson to find a missing duke. Thinking she means the Duke of Matterlane, he searches for him in the streets and in bars like Sherry’s, Delmonico’s, and Martin’s, while he overimbibes ginger ale. When Dodson returns “crestfallen and broken-hearted,” Mirabel, after revealing that the missing duke was a dog, invites him to meet the real duke the next day. He refuses and goes home, a reaction reminiscent of Harry Talbot’s desertion of Miss Harmon.

The femme fatale plays a crucial role in four Princeton pieces published in 1917 by The Nassau Literary Magazine between January, the month Fitzgerald and Miss King made their final break, and October, the month before Fitzgerald was commissioned a second lieutenant in the regular army.

Both Isabelle of “Babes in the Woods” and Helen of “The Debutante” are based on Ginevra King. They differ from the girls who set the foolish quests, to the extent that calculation differs from capriciousness. Having played off another young man against him, Isabelle becomes Kenneth Powers’ dinner partner. After achieving her purpose of attracting Kenneth’s full attention, she abandons the first young man who has been “fascinated and totally unconscious that this was being done not for him but for the black eyes that glistened under the shining carefully watered hair a little to her left.”

Although the young men in these stories are not destroyed, they suffer more than the humiliation to which their earlier counterparts were subjected. Throughout “The Debutante,” a “huge pier-glass” constantly reminds us of the narcissism of the heroine, the typical debutante soon to metamorphose into flapper or vamp. She coldly and clearly analyzes her fickleness and then heartlessly dismisses her most recent beau. Before he departs emotionally shattered, he has been brought to the verge of tears.

The most extreme instance of suffering at the hands of a woman occurs in “Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge,” which deals with a slightly older set. In this story the hero’s seduction by the femme fatale makes him a participant in the “new materialistic world” which he fears and despises. Through his actions he betrays not only the memory of his dead brother but also his own deepest convictions.


To one extent or another, the protagonists of This Side of Paradise (New York, 1920), The Beautiful and Damned (New York, 1922), Tender Is the Night, and The Last Tycoon combine a particular flaw of with general superiority to their society. Invariably, the flaw involves the femme fatale. Amory Blaine, though scarred, manages to survive three women, while Anthony Patch succumbs to one. Dick Diver is destroyed by his wife and Monroe Stahr sinks into a state of “emotional bankruptcy” partly because of the dead Minna.

The protagonists of This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned begin life with every advantage, the first being the son of wealthy, cultured midwesterners, and the second the grandson of a multimillionaire. Yet Amory loses his money, goes overseas, and must work in an advertising agency, and Anthony becomes insane after he has inherited his grandfather’s fortune.

The protagonists of Tender Is the Night and The Last Tycoon fare no better. Dick degenerates from the serious, brilliant professional, whose learned articles have been standard in their line, to a “quack.” a “shell.” Monroe experiences Dick’s same “lesion of vitality,” but he perishes physically as well as deteriorating morally.

The points of similarity between the apprentice and mature fiction are scattered rather than clustered; no one juvenile work shares themes, characters, and techniques with any single work written during maturity. The only exception to this rule happens to be Fitzgerald’s final college story, “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw.” It is also his best early story, despite the curious fact that he never placed it in The Smart Set, H. L. Mencken’s chic avantgarde monthly, in which four of Fitzgerald’s other college pieces were published. Perhaps Mencken never saw “The Pierian Springs” because Fitzgerald deliberately set the story aside, planning eventually to rework it. Whether that in fact happened cannot be determined, but, though qualitatively worlds apart, “The Pierian Springs” and The Great Gatsby bear so many and such striking similarities that the undergraduate story seems a kind of crude template for the masterwork that Fitzgerald was to publish seven and a half years later.

There are a number of resemblances between the story’s protagonist, Uncle George, and the novel’s antagonist, Tom Buchanan: both drink heavily, act promiscuously, and injure a finger of the woman they love. More crucial, however, are the resemblances between Uncle George and Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s best known male victim. About thirty years old and purveyors of disreputable merchandise, each assumes mythical stature. Gatsby is variously represented as Trimalchio and as a relative of Kaiser Wilhelm or Von Hindenburg, a German spy or a murderer. The nephew refers to his Uncle George as Romeo, Byron, Don Juan, Bernard Shaw, Havelock Ellis, “the Thomas Hardy of America,” “the Balzac of his century.” Jay Gatsby’s personality is “an unbroken series of successful gestures” and Uncle George’s is “a series of perfectly artificial mental tricks, … gestures.” Jay Gatsby tells his story to Nick Carraway and Uncle George tells his to the nephew. Like Gatsby, who “took Daisy one still October night” and “felt married to her,” George believes “life stopped at twenty-one one night in October at sixteen minutes after ten.” Like Gatsby, who “knew women early” and “became contemptuous of them,” George becomes a misogynist. And like Gatsby, who also collected “presentable” trophies, George was inspired by a young lady “to do something for her, to get something to show her.” Each is destroyed—Gatsby actually and George figuratively— because each allows abstract ideals to become incarnated in an unworthy woman and because each thinks he can repeat a past, which both story and novel frequently juxtapose to the present.

The resemblances between Myra Fulham of “The Pierian Springs” and Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby are also remarkable. Uncle George applies adjectives to the former that apply equally well to the latter: “unprincipled,” “selfish,” “conceited,” “uncontrolled.” He claims, “When she wanted a boy there was no preliminary scouting among other girls for information, no sending out of tentative approaches meant to be retailed to him. There was the most direct attack by every faculty and gift that she possessed. She had no divergence of method—she just made you conscious to the highest degree that she was a girl.” This sexuality expresses itself in Myra’s “eternal mouth” and in Daisy’s voice “full of money.” Uncle George is betrayed first with a man “from another college” and then with “a crooked broker”— “the damn thief that robbed me of everything in this hellish world.” Daisy betrays Gatsby with Tom.

The apprentice fiction of Scott Fitzgerald—stories composed between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one and submitted with unqualified success to school and college publications—discloses his amazing progress from the boy who wrote “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage” to the incipient artist who wrote “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw.” That the author’s essential self emerges here is proved, among other evidence, by their containing his prototypal hero, the homme manque, and heroine, the femme fatale.

The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage

The entry in Fitzgerald’s “Ledger” for June, 1909, begins: “Wrote The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage. Also ’Elavo’ (or was that in Buffalo) and a complicated story of some knights.” Actually, his literary apprenticeship had commenced two and a half years before. Another “Ledger” entry—this one for January, 1907—ends: “He began a history of the U.S. and also a detective story about a necklace that was hidden in a trapdoor under the carpet. Wrote celebrated essay on George Washington & St. Ignatius.” Of all these pieces, only “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage,” originally printed by the St. Paul Academy Now and Then (October, 1909) but reprinted fifty-one years later by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (March, 1960), has survived.

Scott Fitzgerald once described the excitement of his fictional debut: “Never will I forget the Monday morning the numbers came out. The previous Saturday I had loitered desperately around the printers down-town and driven the man to indignation by persisting in trying to get a copy when the covers had not been bound on—finally, I had gone away and almost in tears. Nothing interested me until Monday, and when at recess, a big pile of the copies were brought in and delivered to the business manager I was so excited that I bounced in my seat and mumbled to myself, ’They’re here! They’re here!’ until the whole school looked at me in amazement. I read my story through at least six times, and all that day I loitered in the corridors and counted the number of men who were reading it, and tried to ask people casually, ’If they had read it?’” (Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 28-9)

“The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage” reflects the young author’s taste by unintentionally burlesquing the popular nineteenth-century detective story tradition running from Edgar Allan Poe to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Maurice Leblanc, Gaston Leroux, and Anna Katherine Green. The proper ingredients are there: a missing document; a villainous servant; a stupid chief of police; and a brilliant amateur investigator who, employing both deductive and inductive logic, solves the crime. There are even skillful passages: exposition is conveyed through a newspaper account and the opening introduces narrator, hero, and initial setting economically. Yet the story contains many of the faults to appear subsequently in the plays Fitzgerald wrote for the Elizabethan Dramatic Club. “The Girl from the ’Lazy J’” (presented August, 1911), The Captured Shadow (August 23, 1912), Coward (August 29 and September 2, 1913), and Assorted Spirits (September 8 and 9, 1914) also make use of “Whodunit” elements and complicated, implausible, melodramatic plots. In the first, for example, when his uncle enters kicking Tony Gonzoles, Jack Darcy muses, “Tony —oh Tony! I wonder where that lazy greaser is?”

Absurdity runs rampant through “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage.” A valuable document has been stolen, but we never learn by whom or why. Although the newspaper says, “Mayor Proceeding to Scene of Crime,” he never arrives, and although it places the shots on Tuesday, John Syrel—who employs an agent “in the shape of an Arab boy” named Smidy “for ten cents a day”— places them on Friday. “The ablest detective in the force” allows a total stranger to view Miss Raymond’s body, which has been lying about for days. His chief admits that he “might as well try to see through a millstone as to try to fathom this mystery.” He then lets Syrel retain one of two death bullets, and until Syrel cautions him to buy “a brace of revolvers,” goes weaponless. How did Miss Raymond’s head become “fearfully cut” and how did “a blood stain in the shape of a hand” get on Mrs. Raymond’s bed? What could Miss Raymond’s lover have lifted from the ransacked bureau drawer? What was “a heavy Indian club” doing in Mrs. Raymond’s room? And, finally, what train travels between Ithaca and Princeton?

Reade, Substitute Right Half

Hardly more than a sketch, Scott Fitzgerald’s second contribution to the Now and Then (February, 1910; reprinted in The Princeton University Library Chronicle, Autumn, 1955) succeeds precisely where “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage” failed: “Reade, Substitute Right Half” is not overplotted and so does not run the concomitant risks of melodrama and implausibility.

Fitzgerald was obsessed by football. A “Ledger” entry of September, 1905, ends, “He had a complete football outfit with shin-guards,” and thirty-five years later, on the day of his death (December 21, 1940), he was making notes for next year’s team in a Princeton Alumni Weekly.

When Princeton accepted him, Fitzgerald wired home, “ADMITTED SEND FOOTBALL PADS AND SHOES IMMEDIATELY PLEASE WAIT TRUNK.” That at 138 pounds he was not heavy enough for college football is referred to in the first of three famous “Crack-Up” articles published by Esquire during 1936: “As the twenties passed, with my own twenties marching a little ahead of them, my two juvenile regrets—at not being big enough (or good enough) to play football in college, and at not getting overseas during the war—resolved themselves into childish waking dreams of imaginary heroism.”

At the Newman School he had experienced an even more humiliating defeat which he admitted even more candidly. In a game “up on the Hudson,” Fitzgerald, having knocked down a pass instead of intercepting it, was unfairly accused of being “yellow.” He commented in the self-revelatory “Author’s House”: “The point is it inspired me to write a poem for the school paper which made me as big a hit with my father as if I had become a football hero. So when I went home that Christmas vacation it was in my mind that if you weren’t able to function in action you might at least be able to tell about it, because you felt the same intensity—it was a back door way out of facing reality.” “Football” was printed on p. 19 of a 1911 Newman News the year after he had published an article about sports heroes, “S.P.A. Men in College Athletics,” in the Now and Then:

Now they’re ready, now they’re waiting,
Now he’s going to place the ball.
There, you hear the referee’s whistle,
As of old the baton’s fall.
See him crouching. Yes, he’s got it;
Now he’s off around the end.
Will the interference save him?
Will the charging line now bend?
Good, he’s free; no, see that halfback
Gaining up behind him slow.
Crash! they’re down; he threw him nicely,—
Classy tackle, hard and low.
Watch that line, now crouching waiting,
In their jersies white and black;
Now they’re off and charging, making
Passage for the plunging back.
Buck your fiercest, run your fastest,
Let the straight arm do the rest.
Oh, they got him; never mind, though,
He could only do his best.
What is this? A new formation.
Look! their end acts like an ass.
See, he’s beckoning for assistance,
Maybe it’s a forward pass.
Yes, the ball is shot to fullback,
He, as calmly as you please,
Gets it, throws it to the end; he
Pulls the pigskin down with ease.
Now they’ve got him. No, they haven’t.
See him straight-arm all those fools.
Look, he’s clear. Oh, gee! don’t stumble.
Faster, faster, for the school.
There’s the goal, now right before you,
Ten yards, five yards, bless your name!
Oh! you Newman, 1911,
You know how to play the game.

Throughout his school days and throughout his life, football remained to Scott Fitzgerald a symbol of the unattainable—“the most intense and dramatic spectacle since the Olympic games” (“Princeton,” College Humor, December, 1927)—and the football player merged with that of the gallant soldier, decorated with medals, into his concept of the modern hero. To the man who felt himself unsuccessful at both, football and war became what bullfighting was to Hemingway—the last opportunity in an un-heroic age for man to act heroically.

Andrew Turnbull has described Fitzgerald’s football experiences during the “Reade” period: “Once, in a football game, he lay on the field after a scrimmage with the breath apparently knocked out of him. A moment later he was up, eager to resume play, but the coach made him quit because his chest was hurting (it was later found that he had a broken rib). As he limped off the field, he said, ’Well, boys, I’ve given my all—now let’s see what you can do.’ Another time he dropped a pass that lost the game and … burst into tears… Perhaps his most memorable feat was performed against a much heavier team from Central High… But again he was hurt and had to leave the game. A friend who called on him next day found him strapped up and lying in bed, clearly relishing the role of the wounded veteran.” (Scott Fitzgerald, p. 21)

The vitality of “Reade, Substitute Right Half,” whose central figure is the author’s first triumphant underdog, may very well stem from the emotional force of wish-fulfillment.

A Debt of Honor and The Room With the Green Blinds

Both these stories may have their inspiration in Civil War anecdotes. A January, 1902, “Ledger” entry reads, “He remembers Jack Butler who had two or three fascinating books about the Civil War.” But a more likely source is Edward Fitzgerald, Scott’s father, whose affinities with the conflict Andrew Turnbull has recorded: “When Edward Fitzgerald was nine, he had rowed Confederate spies across the river, and all one morning he sat on a fence watching Early’s battalions stream toward Washington in the last Confederate thrust. The Civil War was the drama of his youth and indeed of his entire life.” (Scott Fitzgerald, p. 6)

The protagonist of Fitzgerald’s Civil War play, Coward, discovers that war, like football, can provide an opportunity to act heroically. For the mature fiction, it would also provide historical awareness and perspective. The “Ledger” is full of early references to the American Revolution and the Civil War, one of January, 1903, stating, “He begins to remember many things… a history of the United States which father brought me; he became a child of the American Revolution.” And the author’s library at Princeton suggests that he read more books in the field of history (including military strategy) than in any other field except literature.

Of all wars, the American Civil War exercised the most profound influence on him. Edward Fitzgerald had been descended from the Scotts and Keys, Maryland families which had served colonial legislatures and produced Francis Scott Key, whom Fitzgerald thought of as a great, great uncle. Given his tendency to identify autobiographical and historical events (he once compared personal happiness and despair to the country’s Boom and Depression), it is probable that his financially inept but “old American stock” father came to symbolize pre-Civil War southern aristocracy while his mother’s financially successful but “black Irish” relatives came to represent post-Civil War northern nouveaux riches. At any rate, the fathers of Nick Carraway and Dick Diver act as moral touchstones in books whose heroes are destroyed by the new materialistic society. Scott Fitzgerald, who attended the southerner’s northern university and married a southern belle, would define the Civil War as the “broken link in the continuity of American life.” (“Princeton”)

“A Debt of Honor” appeared in the March, 1910, issue of Now and Then and “The Room With the Green Blinds” in the June, 1911, issue.

A Luckless Santa Claus, The Trail of the Duke and Pain and the Scientist

At the Newman School, where Scott Fitzgerald spent most of his fifteenth and sixteenth years, he published three stories in addition to serving on the News’ editorial staff. None of these is similar to any of the Now and Then pieces. And while one, “Pain and the Scientist” (1913), resembles the other two technically, it otherwise stands alone among the Newman pieces. All three employ the O. Henry surprise ending, but only “A Luckless Santa Claus” (Christmas, 1912) and “The Trail of the Duke” (1913) introduce the femme fatale and treat the wealthy class in an urban setting. “Pain and the Scientist” is a far more boyish story, a farce-satire attacking Christian Science. Its protagonist, a man of modest means, moves from some unspecified location to a fictitious place called Middleton.

New York City had been the opening, though not the central setting, of “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage.” Except for the first few sentences—“… It was about six o’clock and the lights were just going on. All down Thirty-third street was a long line of gayly illuminated buildings.”—references to the metropolis in the 1909 story are quite perfunctory. Not so with “A Luckless Santa Claus” and “The Trail of the Duke.” The heroine of the first story lives “somewhere east of Broadway” and the hero of the second owns a “house on upper Fifth Avenue.” Largely because of Harry Talbot’s walk down Broadway to Union Square, Cooper Square, the Bowery, then up Third Avenue, place takes on greater significance and utility in “A Luckless Santa Claus” than in “The Trail of the Duke.” This seems particularly unfortunate considering that the initial paragraph of the latter represents Fitzgerald’s most ambitious descriptive passage to date. New York would appear four times throughout the apprentice fiction; southern locations three times; Princeton and London twice.

One of the Basil Duke Lee stories, “Forging Ahead,” has expressed the midwestern boy’s thrill over departing for boarding school in the East: “Beyond the dreary railroad stations of Chicago and the night fires of Pittsburgh, back in the old states, something went on that made his heart beat fast with excitement. He was attuned to the vast, breathless bustle of New York, to the metropolitan days and nights that were tense as singing wires. Nothing needed to be imagined there, for it was all the very stuff of romance—life was as vivid and satisfactory as in books and dreams.” (Arthur Mizener [ed.], Afternoon of an Author, Princeton, 1957, p. 34) And once in the East, Fitzgerald’s “Ledger” records: “Trips to New York” (January, 1912); “More New York trips” (April, 1912); “Shows in New York” (November, 1912). These shows included The Little Millionaire, with George M. Cohan, The Quaker Girl, with Ina Claire, Over the River, and The Private Secretary. Since they inspired him to start writing librettos which would lead to his work on three Princeton Triangle Club productions (Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! of 1914-1915, The Evil Eye of 1915-1916 and Safety First of 1916-1917), New York supplied more than just a setting for his apprentice fiction.

Money had been a minor factor in two stories prior to “A Luckless Santa Claus” and “The Trail of the Duke.” The family of “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage” had employed servants and the protagonist of “The Room with the Green Blinds” had inherited a house and twenty-five thousand dollars—all this supplemented by the idea of “mortgage” in the first and of “legacy” in the second. But neither had treated the indolent rich, who now make their initial appearance. Harry Talbot of “A Luckless Santa Claus” spends his time playing golf and running up “some very choice bills” with his father’s money. Dodson Garland of “The Trail of the Duke” “lay on a divan in the billiard room and consumed oceans of mint juleps, as he grumbled at the polo that had kept him in town, the cigarettes, the butler, and occasionally breaking the Second Commandment.” These two do not represent the typical hero of the early stories, for he is a middle-class boy who has yet to suffer on specifically economic grounds.

The mature Scott Fitzgerald’s American “aristocrat by wealth” may be recognized by a certain nobility of bearing which is the product of what the Renaissance would have termed “grace,” the ability to be at ease in all situations. The true aristocrat was a “thoroughbred,” whether young or old, a condition produced by training and education: as children the rich are taught to speak well, “their words and sentences were all crisp and clear and not run together as ours are.” (“The Rich Boy,” All the Sad Young Men, p. 2) But more important is the confidence of established money and social position.

Although a lower- or middle-class boy may develop certain aristocratic qualities, he will not be able to acquire the same degree of “grace” that the rich have. It is conceivable, however, that his children, like Dick Humbird (This Side of Paradise), son of a newly rich father, will someday grow up with the confidence of an Anson Hunter, “the rich boy,” who was born into solid wealth. This same confidence enables the rich to greet each other with cheerful familiarity and to dress in an informal but correct way.

Wealth and aristocracy were not always synonymous in Scott Fitzgerald’s mind. Sometimes he admired and envied the leisure class (as he did athletes and soldiers) and sometimes he despised it. Although wealth may lead to the aristocratic qualities of courage, honor, and intelligence, too often the rich exemplify opposite qualities; they can be cliquish, undependable, corrupt, selfish, fickle, idle, shiftless, unaware, self-indulgent, and cynical.

The author’s feelings toward the poor would show no such ambivalence. To him, they were stupid and slavish. Yet, he once said that if he were unable to live with the rich, his next choice would be the poor. Anything was better than the unstable middle class.

Like many of his contemporaries, Fitzgerald pointed out the moral and cultural limitations of his own social strata, though his was usually not a diatribe against the bourgeoisie like those of Sinclair Lewis or H. L. Mencken. Fitzgerald’s contribution to the study of the American middle class would lie in another direction.

If the instability of this group often made it appear ridiculous, that very instability also rendered it pathetic and tragic. Because the middle class had just enough income to allow it partial mobility, its economic position tended to reinforce among the more imaginative the typically American notion that one need only strive for a goal to achieve it. But because the middle class was not wealthy enough to be completely mobile, these goals and ideals were seldom realized. Scott Fitzgerald’s bourgeois heroes believe that anything is possible and so become disillusioned in the end. He would not write the tragedy of the rich, nor of the poor. He would write the tragedy of the unstable middle class.

Shadow Laurels

Fitzgerald’s literary career at Princeton, where, besides fiction, he wrote fifty-five musical comedy lyrics, several poems, parodies, and book reviews, and where he became secretary of the Triangle Club and an editor of the Tiger and The Nassau Literary Magazine, may be divided into two phases, the first extending from matriculation (September, 1913) to initial departure (December, 1915) and the second from readmittance (September, 1916) to final departure (November, 1917). During the earlier of these, he contributed the plot and lyrics to one Triangle Club show, lyrics to another, and composed “Shadow Laurels” (printed April, 1915), while publishing but a single story, “The Ordeal” (June, 1915). During the later phase, however, he published five stories in The Nassau Literary Magazine—“The Spire and the Gargoyle” (February, 1917), “Tarquin of Cheepside” (April, 1917), “Babes in the Woods” (May, 1917), “Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge” (June, 1917), “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw” (October, 1917)—while contributing lyrics to only one Triangle Club show and composing “The Debutante” (printed January, 1917).

Henry Dan Piper has summarized the immediate critical reception of the author’s college fiction:

It was a chastened Fitzgerald who returned to Princeton in September, 1916, to begin junior year all over again. Instead of writing for Triangle and the Tiger, he now turned to the more serious pages of the Nassau Literary Magazine. There was at least a story, and a poem or a book review, in every issue. It was the stories, especially, which announced the emergence of a new and impressive talent. Prominent critics like Katharine Fullerton Gerould and William Rose Benet, for instance, singled out Fitzgerald’s fiction for special praise in the reviews of Lit issues they wrote for The Daily Princetonian. Moreover, when Fitzgerald sent one of his stories to H. L. Mencken, editor of The Smart Set magazine, Mencken wrote back enthusiastically asking to see more of his works…
Most significant of all this acclaim, however, was the response his Nassau Lit stories elicited from his own contemporaries. Editors of literary magazines on other Eastern college campuses discovered his stories with the shock of recognition and praised them vigorously in their editorial columns. Here as early as 1917 is evidence already of Fitzgerald’s special gift for voicing the feelings and attitudes of his own generation then just coming of age—a gift which by 1920 would be nationally famous. (“Scott Fitzgerald’s Prep-School Writings,” The Princeton University Library Chronicle, Autumn, 1955)

“Shadow Laurels” dramatizes the author’s ambivalent attitude toward his father. The wealthy Jacques Chandelle, who embodies the would-be Scott Fitzgerald, describes Jean Chandelle, who resembles the actual Edward Fitzgerald, thus: “a little man with a black beard, terribly lazy—the only good I ever remember his doing was to teach me to read and write.” Years later the real son would remember a great deal more that had been good, as the handwritten document “The Death of My Father” (Material in brackets was crossed out by Fitzgerald. See Appendix for facsimile of this document, which gives some indication of the alterations and insertions made by Fitzgerald.) proves:

Convention would make me preface this with an apology for the lack of taste of discussing an emotion so close to me. But all my criterions of taste dissapeared when on the advice of a fairy I read Mrs Emily Price Posts’ Book of Etiquette some months ago. Up to that time I had always thought of myself as an American gentleman, somewhat crazy and often desperate and bad but partaking of the sensativity of my race and class and and with out much a record of many times having injured the strong but never the weak. But now I don’t know—the mixture of the obvious and the snobbish in that book—and its an honest book, a frank piece of worldly wisdom written for the new women of the bull market—has sent me back again to all the things I felt at twenty. I kept wondering all through it how Mrs Post would have thought of my my father.
I loved my father—always deep in my subconscious I have referred judgements back to him, what he would have thought, or done. He loved me—and felt a deep responsibility for me—I was born several months after the sudden death of my two elder sisters & he felt what the effect this would be on my mother, that he would be my only moral guide. He became that to the best of his ability. He came from tired old stock with very little left of vitality and mental energy but he managed to raise a little for me. [We walked down town in the Summer to have our shoes shined me in my sailor suit and father in his always beautifully cut clothes and he told me the few things I ever learned about life until a few years later from] a catholic priest, Monsignor Fay. What he knew he had learned from his mother & grandmother, the latter a bore to me—“If your grandmother Scott heard that she would turn over in her grave.” What he told me were simple things, [like
“Once when I went in a room as a young man. I was confused so I went up to the oldest woman there and introduced myself and afterwards the people of that town always thought I had good manners” He did that from a good heart that came from another America—he was much too sure of what he was, much too sure of the deep pride of the two proud women who brought him up to doubt for a moment that his own instincts were good]— It was a horror to find the natural gesture expressed with cynical distortion in Mrs Price Posts book.
We walked down town in Buffalo on Sunday mornings & my white ducks were stiff with starch & he was very proud walking with his handsome little boy. We had our shoes shined and he lit his cigar and we bought the Sunday papers. When I was a little older I did not understand at all why men that I knew were vulgar and not gentlemen made him stand up or give the better chair on our verandah. But I know now. There was new young peasant stock coming up every ten years & he was of the generation of the colonies and the revolution.
Once he hit me. I called him a liar—I was about thirteen I think & I said if he called me a liar he was a liar. He hit me— he had spanked me before & always with good reason—but this time there was ill feeling & we were both sorry for years. I think though we didn’t say anything to each other. Later we used to have awful rows on political subjects on which we violently agreed but we never came to the point of personal animosity about them but if things came to fever heat the one most affected quitted the arena, left the room.
[I don’t see how all this could possibly interest anyone but me]
I ran away when I was seven on the fourth of July—I spent the day with a friend in a pear orchard & the police were informed that I was missing and on my return my father thrashed me according to the custom of the nineties—on the bottom and then, let me come out and watch the night fireworks from the balcony with my pants still down & my behind smarting & knowing in my heart that he was absolutely right. Afterwards, seeing in his face his regret that it had to happen I asked him to tell me a story. I knew what it would be—he had only a few, the Story of the Spy, the one about the Man Hung by his Thumbs, the one about Earlys March.
Do you want to hear them. I’m so tired of them all that I can’t make them interesting. But maybe they are because I used to ask father to repeat & repeat & repeat. (The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers)

The Ordeal

Scott Fitzgerald was brought up a Roman Catholic in a family Archbishop Dowling of St. Paul once described as “staunch, devout, generous.” (The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers) We know that, besides his father, Monsignor Sigourney Webster Fay, who became headmaster at the Newman School and Monsignor Darcy of This Side of Paradise, exerted some influence on him. Arthur Mizener has said Fay appealed to Fitzgerald because he was “a man of taste and cultivation… an eighteen-nineties aesthete, a dandy” and financially well-to-do. (The Far Side of Paradise, p. 42) The appeal seems to have been reciprocal, for Fay’s letters of 1918, which discuss intellectual and literary matters knowingly and which were incorporated in the novel almost verbatim, express interest and sympathy. He signed himself, “Your affectionate but somewhat irate Father” and referred to his “paternal arms.” He claimed that both of them feared Satan, that neither would rid himself of the fear of God; yet he also observed that the “mystical element” in both explained “the secret of our success.” (The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers) Only one thing did Fitzgerald ever attribute directly to Fay, however: he “made of that church a dazzling, golden thing, dispelling its oppressive mugginess and giving the succession of days upon gray days, passing under its plaintive ritual, the romantic glamour of an adolescent dream.” (Review of The Oppidian, by Shane Leslie, New York Tribune, May 14, 1922)

Whatever Monsignor Fay’s influence was, it was not sufficient to prevent his protege from deserting Roman Catholicism. In This Side of Paradise, the hero admits that despite the fact that the mob needs someone crying, “Thou shalt not!” and that the Church represents “the only assimilative, traditionary bulwark against the decay of morals,” he cannot accept it. (p. 303) The war rather than making him religious has made him “a passionate agnostic.” Neither Roman Catholicism nor the other religions were equipped to meet the exigencies of the time, according to Scott Fitzgerald. A generation had “grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.” (Ibid.) He wrote to Edmund Wilson in 1920: “I am ashamed to say that my Catholicism is scarcely more than a memory—no that’s wrong, it’s more than that; at any rate I go not to the church nor mumble stray nothings over chrystaline beads.” (The Crack-Up, New York, 1956, p. 254) By 1940 he felt Communism and Catholicism to be equally fanatical and equally obdurate. The Roman Catholic Church exhibited strong feelings toward him too, for he was refused burial in consecrated ground.

“The Ordeal,” which is the single work of fiction composed between “The Trail of the Duke” (1913) and “The Spire and the Gargoyle” (1917), provided the basis for another story, “Benediction,” which appeared during 1920 in both The Smart Set and Flappers and Philosophers (New York, pp. 194-218). While “Benediction” retained the settings of “The Ordeal,” and, like the earlier piece, grew out of a visit Fitzgerald made to a novice at the Jesuit Seminary in Woodstock, Maryland, it actually borrowed very little. The protagonist, a nineteen-year-old blonde pays a visit to her thirty-six-year-old brother, whom she has not seen in fourteen years. Although a persuasive Jesuit, he fails to draw her away from a pending love affair. The following passage should indicate where the doubts voiced in “The Ordeal” would soon lead Fitzgerald:

“I don’t want to shock you, Kieth, but I can’t tell you how-how inconvenient being a Catholic is. It really doesn’t seem to apply any more. As far as morals go, some of the wildest boys I know are Catholics. And the brightest boys—I mean the ones who think and read a lot, don’t seem to believe in much of anything any more.”…
“You can’t shock a monk. He’s a professional shock-absorber.”
“Well,” she continued, “that’s about all. It seems so-so narrow. Church schools, for instance. There’s more freedom about things that Catholic people can’t see—like birth control.”

On November 16, 1920, Fitzgerald complained to Shane Leslie, a young Irish author: “Do you know that the story ’Benediction’ that I sent you and that also received the imprimatur of the most intelligent priest I know has come in for the most terrible lashing from the American Catholic intelligentsia? It’s too much for me. It seems that an Englishman like Benson can write anything but an American had better have his works either pious tracts for nuns or else disassociate them from the church as a living issue.” (The Letters of F, Scott Fitzgerald, p. 378)

The Debutante

Many months after the publication of “The Ordeal,” Miss Alida Bigelow of St. Paul received a letter which contained these remarks: “I’ll send you a one-act play by me when it comes out in the next Nassau Lit. It’s called ’The Debutante.’—It’s a knockout!” (The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 450) No other apprentice work shows better form. Observing “Shadow Laurels’” precedent, “The Debutante” obeys the unities of time and place, the action taking about an hour and occurring in a boudoir. But to appreciate Fitzgerald’s accomplishment here fully, one must have in mind the structural shortcomings of the other early writings.

The prep-school stories extend from about 800 words to about 3,000 words, their typical length being 2,000-2,500 words; and the college stories extend from about 2,000 words to about 5,700 words, their typical length being 3,500 words. Except in the one-act plays, where the unities are followed, increasingly complex structure accompanies the tendency toward greater bulk. While two of the seven prep-school stories have two parts, all six college stories have bi- and tri-partite constructions. Only rarely—as in “Pain and the Scientist,” whose plot depends upon a reversal— do mechanical divisions provide organic support. Instead, they merely separate body and denouement or introduce a change of setting, both of which Fitzgerald managed in one-part stories. For instance, “The Trail of the Duke” (one part) treats a situation almost identical to that in “A Luckless Santa Claus” (two parts), and “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage” (one part) uses more settings than “The Room With the Green Blinds” (three parts). This unnecessarily elaborate and arbitrary structuring comes mainly from the stories’ peripatetic quality. Some have dramatic beginnings and some surprise endings, but all have considerable movement.

It is no wonder, then, that Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, employs an elaborate mechanical organization: two Books separated by an Interlude, each containing several subdivided sections, which, though enabling the author to proceed scenically, make the construction episodic. Thus a work using consciously dramatic devices—scenes, one chapter a play, extensive dialogue—becomes, paradoxically enough, anything but dramatic. It is no wonder either that in This Side of Paradise many other places (Minneapolis, Lake Geneva, Connecticut, Maryland) appear with the main settings of Princeton and New York City. Only when Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction fully assimilated the architectural skills he at least became aware of as a playwright did he manage to fashion formally sound stories and novels. The magnificently dramatic Gatsby is, of course, the best example.

Part of the power of “The Debutante,” which, like “Babes in the Woods,” takes the love-game for its central situation and the femme fatale for its central character, derives from Fitzgerald’s frustrating courtship of Ginevra King. But neither this nor his bad grades nor his losing honors such as the presidency of the Triangle Club completely explains the burst of energy which culminated with the publication of five important works between January and June of 1917. Andrew Turnbull contends: “He had come to Princeton seeking a purchase for his talents and had tapped one avenue of advance after another, beginning with The Tiger and the Triangle. By degrees his center of gravity had shifted toward the Lit, for he had made up his mind to be a great writer, if not in a class with Shakespeare then in the class just below—with Keats, say, or Marlowe.” (Scott Fitzgerald, p. 73)

The Smart Set would soon be publishing “Babes in the Woods” (September, 1919), “The Debutante” (November, 1919), and “Tarquin of Cheapside,” correctly spelled (February, 1921). Versions of the first two, plus material from “The Spire and the Gargoyle” and “Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge,” would soon be appearing in This Side of Paradise, and not long after, “Tarquin of Cheapside” would be included in Tales of the Jazz Age (New York, 1922). According to Mr. Turnbull, “Fitzgerald would look back on this chaotic year [1916-1917] as the foundation of his literary life.” (Ibid.)

The Spire and the Gargoyle

In a generation when public schooling was the accepted pattern of American life—particularly in the Middle West—Scott Fitzgerald was sent to private schools. His record at Newman was poor (C —), but even though he could not have scored much higher on the college entrance examinations and makeups, he managed to “bicker” his way past the Admissions Committee, explaining that it would be heartless to turn down a fellow celebrating his seventeenth birthday! At Princeton his academic average was normally in the fifth group—approximately D—. In his junior year he was dropped for poor scholarship, and while he was later readmitted, he never received a degree, in part, of course, because in 1917 he entered the army.

Fitzgerald never denied his poor academic record; yet, like many another unsuccessful college student, he sometimes tried to rationalize it. He said in one article that the reason he had failed algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and hygiene at Princeton was that he spent his freshman year writing an operetta for the Triangle Club. More than once he blamed his extracurricular activities in this organization, The Nassau Literary Magazine, and The Tiger for his academic record. When he should have been studying, he was trying to learn how to write. Reminiscing about his school days in St. Paul, Fitzgerald said: “I wrote all through every class in school in the back of my geography book and the first year Latin and on the margins of themes and declensions and mathematic problems.” (“Who’s Who: F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Saturday Evening Post, September 18, 1920)

He sometimes tried to transfer the blame from himself to his teachers. “Your teacher,” he wrote to Miss Cornelia Vas, “is probably an ass—most of them are, I’ve found.” (The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 470) From grade school, where he was reprimanded for correcting an error of his teacher’s, to Princeton, where “some of the professors who were teaching poetry really hated it and didn’t know what it was about” (Ibid., p. 88), where the English department had “an uncanny knack of making literature distasteful to young men” (“Princeton”), and where “no one of my English professors… ever suggested to his class that books were being written in America” (Review of Brass, by Charles Norris, The Bookman, November, 1921), Fitzgerald felt that he had unfortunate experiences with teachers.

Rationalize his academic failure as he might, he frequently regretted his lost years in Academe. He wrote to his daughter: “One time in sophomore year at Princeton, Dean West got up and rolled out the great lines of Horace: ’Integer Vitae, scelerisque pueris/Non eget mauris, facule nec arcu—’ —And I knew in my heart that I had missed something by being a poor Latin scholar, like a blessed evening with a lovely girl. It was a great human experience I had rejected through laziness, through having sown no painful seed.” (The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 22) This regret runs through the numerous reading lists he sent to his daughter at Vassar and the “College of One” he created for Miss Sheilah Graham.

Whatever the results shown in the classroom, Scott Fitzgerald was reading during his Princeton days. John Peale Bishop, who “made me see, in the course of a couple of months, the difference between poetry and non-poetry” (Scott Fitzgerald, p. 71), remembered a conversation he and Fitzgerald had had shortly after they arrived as freshmen. “We talked of books,” Bishop wrote, “those I had read, which were not many, those Fitzgerald had read, which were even less, those he said he had read, which were many, many more.” (Alfred Kazin [ed.], F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work, Cleveland and New York, 1951, p. 46) But as time went on, Fitzgerald began to make up, in reading at least, for the time he had wasted in prep-school. He said in an undated, unaddressed letter: “It is the last two years in college that count. I got nothing out of my first two years—in the last I got my passionate love for poetry and historical perspective and ideas in general (however superficially), that carried me full swing into my career.” (The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers)

His reading, though fairly wide, would be quite selective. He would pick the periods, the artists, and the genres congenial to his own particular talent—the lyric poetry of the English Renaissance (Shakespeare); the early nineteenth century (Romantic poets, especially Keats); the late nineteenth century (French Symbolists, Browning, Swinburne, Kipling); the twentieth century (Brooke, Eliot); the novel of social realism (Thackeray, Butler, Norris, Dreiser, Proust, Wharton); the “novel of selection” (Flaubert, James, Conrad, Joyce, Cather,. Hemingway). When he outgrew certain writers, for example Wilde, Wells and Mackenzie, he would find new, more helpful models.

As Lionel Trilling, who heard in Scott Fitzgerald’s prose a “connection with tradition and with mind,” has contended, “It is hard to overestimate the benefit which came… from his having consciously placed himself in the line of the great.” Surely, he took thought, “which, for a writer, means really knowing what his predecessors have done.” Surely, he had “intellectual courage,” a “grasp… of the traditional resources available to him.” (The Liberal Imagination, New York, 1953, pp. 235-44)

Tarquin of Cheepside

Scott Fitzgerald’s partiality for “Tarquin of Cheepside,” which, characteristically, he misspelled, is attested to both by his Princeton contemporaries and his determination to include it in Tales of the Jazz Age (pp. 225-33) over the objections of his editor, Maxwell Perkins, who felt that people would resent the identity of the criminal and who found the narrative inadequate to the surprise ending. A historical fantasy like “The Room with the Green Blinds,” “Tarquin” speculates about the autobiographical circumstances behind the composition of “The Rape of Lucrece.” “The Spire and the Gargoyle” had suffered from personal involvement: whereas the apprentice fiction usually “shows,” implies, there he had “told,” made everything explicit. But “Tarquin” suffers from the opposite fault. It contends that the artist relies upon, even manufactures, experience for his subject matter, yet nothing could have been further from Fitzgerald than Shakespeare raping Lucrece’s “real-life” model.

At the end of a review of Shane Leslie’s Verses in Peace and War, which The Nassau Literary Magazine published two months after the story, Fitzgerald said: “Despite Mr. Taine, in the whole range from Homer’s Oddysey to Master’s idiocy, there has been but one Shakespeare.” Fitzgerald was probably more interested in the great poet’s songs and sonnets than in the plays, for among the volumes he would give to Miss Graham only King Lear is heavily marked, while five sonnets and twelve songs have been checked. He was or would become familiar with the work of Chaucer, Wyatt, Spenser (The Faerie Queene), Sidney, Lodge, Drayton, Marlowe, Dekker, Donne, Jonson, Herrick, Waller, Milton (Paradise Lost, “L’Allegro”), Suckling, Crashaw, and Marvell (“To His Coy Mistress”).

Scott Fitzgerald was drawn to the lyrical aspect of English Renaissance literature, just as he was drawn to the works of the Romantics and neo-Romantics. This is consistent with his love for “pure poetry” in general, a lifelong affinity that unquestionably affected his prose style. He wrote to his daughter in July of 1940: “The chief fault in your style is its lack of distinction— something which is inclined to grow with the years. You had distinction once—there’s some in your diary—and the only way to increase it is to cultivate your own garden. And the only thing that will help you is poetry which is the most concentrated form of style.” (The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 86)

In the previously quoted Saturday Evening Post article of September 18, 1920, Fitzgerald had said: “The next year, 1916-17, found me back in college, but by this time I had decided that poetry was the only thing worthwhile, so with my head ringing with the meters of Swinburne and the matters of Rupert Brooke I spent the spring doing sonnets, ballads and rondels into the small hours.” Whether or not they are influenced specifically by Swinburne or Brooke, all the Nassau Lit poems except the satiric “To My Unused Greek Book,” which, nevertheless, borrows the ababcdedce pattern of “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” are romantic lyrics. “Rain Before Dawn” is an impressionistic treatment of death; “Princeton—the Last Day” is about the transitoriness of time; “On a Play Twice Seen” is about lost love; “The Cameo Frame” is about the relation between art and life; “City Dusk” is about loneliness; “My First Love” is about illusion; “Marching Streets” is another impressionistic treatment of death, and “The Pope at Confession” is about the frailty of men.

Since the femme fatale represents the single romantic theme persistently conveyed by the essentially non-poetic prose and dialogue of the apprentice fiction and drama while most of the juvenile poems manifest a variety of such themes, it would seem that poetry had a conceptual as well as verbal impact on Fitzgerald’s mature work. At any rate, with various modifications, additions, and changes of emphases, he was to take over much of the aesthetic of the Romantic poets: the use of the artist’s personal experience as subject matter; the stress on the individual and his private world; the conflict between the world as it is and as it might be; the importance of heroic striving; the importance of the moment; the importance of wonder (man’s capacity to respond to the infinite possibilities of his existence).

“Princeton—the Last Day” appeared in The Nassau Literary Magazine of May, 1917:

The last light wanes and drifts across the land,
The low, long land, the sunny land of spires.
The ghosts of evening tune again their lyres
And wander singing, in a plaintive band
Down the long corridors of trees. Pale fires
Echo the night from tower top to tower.
Oh sleep that dreams and dream that never tires,
Press from the petals of the lotus-flower
Something of this to keep, the essence of an hour!

No more to wait the twilight of the moon
In this sequestrated vale of star and spire;
For one, eternal morning of desire
Passes to time and earthy afternoon.
Here, Heracletus, did you build of fire
And changing stuffs your prophecy far hurled
Down the dead years; this midnight I aspire
To see, mirrored among the embers, curled
In flame, the splendor and the sadness of the world.

Babes in the Woods

The “Ledger” entry of July, 1901, reads, “His sister Annabel was born. His first certain memory is the sight of her howling on a bed.” At five, Fitzgerald had, of course, no idea that “at 19 or so” he would be concerning himself with her conduct around boys. Andrew Turnbull has described the future situation: “Up till now Fitzgerald hadn’t much to do with his sister… She was quiet and pretty, and he was proud of her and anxious that she make the most of her possibilities. To this end he wrote her lengthy instructions.” (Scott Fitzgerald, p. 66)

Near the top of the initial page of these instructions the author later commented: “Basis of Bernice.” This refers to “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” a story he placed in the Saturday Evening Post (May 1, 1920) and in Flappers and Philosophers. Marjorie, at whose home Bernice has been staying, explains the reasons her cousin is not more popular: “First, you have no ease of manner. Why? Because you’re never sure about your personal appearance. When a girl feels that she’s perfectly groomed and dressed she can forget that part of her. That’s charm. The more parts of yourself you can afford to forget the more charm you have.”

The instructions, which are transcribed here in their entirety, apply equally to “Babes in the Woods,” for Isabelle, who “had been sixteen years old for two months,” is an old hand at the love-game.

The General Subject of Conversation

Conversation like grace is a cultivated art. Only to the very few does it come naturally. You are as you know, not a good conversationalist and you might very naturally ask, “What do boys like to talk about?”

(1) Boys like to talk about themselves—much more than girls. A girl once, named Helen Walcott, told me (and she was the most popular debutante in Washington one winter) that as soon as she got a man talking about himself she had him cinched and harnessed—they give themself away. Here are some leading questions for a girl to use.

a) You dance so much better than you did last year.

b) How about giving me that sporty necktie when you’re thru with it.

c) You’ve got the longest eyelashes! (This will embarrass him, but he likes it)

d) I hear you’ve got a “line”!

e) Well who’s you’re latest crush?


a) When do you go back to school?

b) How long have you been home?

c) Its warm or the orchestra’s good or the floor’s good.

Also avoid any talk about relations or mutual friends. Its a sure sign you’re hard up for talk if you ask Jack Allen about Harriette or Tuby about Martha. Dont be afraid of slang—use it, but be careful to use the most modern and sportiest like “line”, camafluage etc. Never talk to a boy about about his school or college unless he’s done something special or unless he starts the subject. In a conversation its always good to start by talking about nothing —just some fresh camafluage; but start it yourself—never let the boy start it. Dont talk about your school—no matter where you go. Never sing no matter how big the chorus.


As you get a little old you’ll find that boys like to talk about such things as smoking and drinking. Always be very liberal—boys hate a prig—tell them you dont object to a girl smoking but dont like cigarettes yourself. Tell them you smoke only cigars—kid them!— When you’re old still you want always to have a line on the latest books plays and music. More men like that than you can imagine.

In your conversation always affect a complete frankness but really be only as frank as you wish to be. Never try to give a boy the affect that you’re popular—Ginevra always starts by saying she’s a poor unpopular woman without any beaux. Always pay close attention to the man. Look at him in his eyes if possible. Never effect boredom. Its terribly hard to do it gracefully Learn to be worldly. Remember in all society nine girls out of ten marry for money and nine men out of ten are fools.

Poise: Carriage: Dancing: Expression

(1) Poise depends on carriage, expression and conversation and having discussed the last and most important I’ll say a few words on the other two.

(2) A girl should hold herself straight. Margaret Armstrong’s slouch has lost her more attention than her lack of beauty. Even Sandy is critiscized for stooping. When you cross a room before people nine out of ten look at you and if you’re straight and self contained and have a graceful atheletic carriage most of them will remark on it. In dancing it is very important to hold yourself well and remember to dance hard. Dancers like Betty and Grace and Alice work hard. Alice is an entirely self made dancer. At sixteen she was no better than you, but she practised and tried. A dancer like Elizabeth Clarkson looses partners. You can not be lazy. You should try not to trow a bit of weight on the man and keep your mind on it enough to follow well. If you’d spent the time on dancing with me as I’ve often asked you instead of playing the piano you’d be a good dancer. Louis Araway taught Kit to dance the Castle walk one summer and as long as it lasted she was almost rushed at dances. And dancing counts as nothing else does.

(3) Expression that is facial expression, is one of your weakest points. A girl of your good looks and at your age ought to have almost perfect control of her face. It ought to be almost like a mask so that she’d have perfect control of any expression or impression she might wish to use.

(a) A good smile and one that could be assumed at will, is an absolute necesity. You smile on one side which is absolutely wrong. Get before a mirror and practise a smile and get a good one, a “radiant smile” ought to be in the facial vocubulary of every girl. Practise it—on girls, on the family. Practise doing it when you dont feel happy and when you’re bored. When youre embarrassed, when you’re at a disadvantage. Thats when you’ll have to use it in society and when you’ve practised a thing in calm, then only are you sure of it as a good weapon in tight places

(b) A laugh isn’t as important but its well to have a good one on ice. You natural one is very good, but your artificial one is bum. Next time you laugh naturally remember it and practise so you can do it any time you want. Practise Anywhere.

(c) A pathetic, appealing look is one every girl ought to have. Sandra and Ginevra are specialists at this: so is Ardita, Its best done by opening the eyes wide and drooping the mouth a little, looking upward (hanging the head a little) directly into the eyes of the man you’re talking to. Ginevra and Sandra use this when getting of their “I’m so unpopular speeches and indeed they use it about half the time. Practise this.

(d) Dont bit or twist your lips—its sure death for any expression

(e) The two expressions you have control over now are no good. One is the side smile and the other is the thoughtful look with the eyes half closed.

I’m telling you this because Mother and I have absolutely no control over our facial expressions and we miss it. Mother’s worse than I am—you know how people take advantage of what ever mood her face is in and kid the life out of her. —Well you’re young enough to get over it—tho’ you’re worse than I am now. The value of this practise is that whenever you’re at a disadvantage you dont show it and boys hate to see a girl at a disadvantage.

Practise Now

Dress and Personality.

(A) No two people look alike in the same thing, but very few realize it. Shop keepers make money on the fact that the fat Mrs. Jones will buy the hat that looked well on the thin Mrs. Smith. You’ve got to find your type. To do so always look at girls about your size and coloring and notice what they look well in. Never buy so much as a sash without the most careful consideration. Study your type. That is get your good points and accentuate them. For instance you have very good features—you ought to be able to wear jaunty hats and so forth.

(B) Almost all neatness is gained in man or woman by the arrangement of the hair. You have beautiful hair—you ought to be able to do something with it. Go to the best groomed girl in school and ask her and then wear it that way— Dont get tired and changed unless you’re sure the new way is better. Catherine Tie is dowdy about her hair lately. Dont I notice it? When Grace’s hair looks well—she looks well When its unkempt it looks like the devil. Sandy and Betty always look neat and its their hair that does it.


(C) I’ll line up your good points against your bad physically.

Good Bad
Hair Teeth only fair
Good General Size Pale complexion
Good Features Only fair figure
  Large hands and feet.

Now you see of the bad points only the last cannot be remedied. Now while slimness is a fashion you can cultivate it by exercise— Find out how from some girl. Exercise would give you a healthier skin. You should never rub cold cream into your face because you have a slight tendency to grow hairs on it. I’d find out about this from some Dr. who’d tell you what you could use in place of a skin cream.

(D) A girl should always be careful about such things as underskirt showing, long drawers showing under stockings, bad breath, mussy eyebrows (with such splendid eyebrows as yours you should brush them or wet them and train them every morning and night as I advised you to do long ago. They oughtn’t to have a hair out of place.

(E) Walk and general physical grace. The point about this is that you’ll be up against situations when ever you go out which will call for you to be graceful—not to physically clumsey. Now you can only attain this by practise because it no more comes naturally to you than it does to me. Take some stylish walk you like and imitate it. A girl should have a little class. Look what a stylish walk Eleanor and Grace and Betty have and what a homely walk Marie and Alice have. Just because the first three deliberatly practised every where until now its so natural to them that they cant be ungraceful— This is true about every gesture. I noticed last Saturday that your gestures are awkward and so unnatural as to seem affected. Notice the way graceful girls hold their hands and feet. How they stoop, wave, run and then try because you cant practise those things when men are around. Its too late then. They ought to be secretive then

(F) General Summing Up.

(1) Dress scrupulously neatly and then forget your personal appearance. Every stocking should be pulled up to the last wrinkle.

(2) Dont wear things like that fussy hat that aren’t becoming to you— At least buy no more. Take someone who knows with you—some one who really knows.

(3) Conform to your type no matter what looks well in the store

(4) Cultivate deliberate physical grace. You’ll never have it if you dont. I’ll discuss dancing in a latter letter.

G. You see if you get any where and feel you look alright then there’s one worry over and one bolt shot for self-confidence—and the person you’re with, man, boy, woman, whether its Aunt Millie or Jack Allen or myself likes to feel that the person they’re sponsoring is at least externally a credit. (The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers)

Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge

“Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge” treats pressing topical issues. For instance, the following sentence would be borrowed from it to summarize the pessimistic confusion of This Side of Paradise: “Damned muddle—everything a muddle, everybody offside, and the referee gotten rid of—everybody trying to say that if the referee were there he’d have been on their side.” And “the problem of sex,” which appears here neither as the criminal act of “Tarquin of Cheepside” nor the adolescent game of “Babes in the Woods,” causes the hero of the novel to experience terrifying hallucinations and becomes synonymous with “the problem of evil.”

Like many of his contemporaries, Scott Fitzgerald came to believe that the generation of the nineties through its philosophy of “personal selfishness and national conceit” had led its progeny into the great war. The protagonist of This Side of Paradise writes: “Victorians, Victorians, who never learned to weep/who sowed the bitter harvest that your children go to reap.” (p. 164) Whereas the young entered the war feeling they would make the world safe for democracy, they soon learned that they were “dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered.” (“The Smilers,” Saturday Evening Post, October 19, 1929) A soldier on his way to camp is described in The Beautiful and Damned: “It was wearisome to contemplate that animate protoplasm, reasonable by courtesy only, shut up in a car by an incomprehensible civilization, taken somewhere, to do a vague something without aim or significance or consequence.” (p. 315)

One important traditional value that was rejected but never replaced by the young was religious faith. And, as with religion, so with politics. Increased awareness of the ineptitude and corruption of the political system on the part of the young, although good in itself, did not lead to happiness.

Of the new sexual values, Scott Fitzgerald disapproved on two counts. Romanticist as he was, he based relations between men and women primarily on spiritual qualities. As a moralist, he felt that monogamy represented “the simplest solution of the mating instinct” and “the most completely satisfactory state of being in this somewhat depressing world.” (New York American, February 24, 1924) An article called “Girls Believe in Girls” analyzes the changes in sexual standards. First, there had been the birth of the flapper: “Back in 1912 the Castles, by making modern dancing respectable, brought the nice girl into the cabaret and set her down next to the distinctly not-nice girl. At that moment the Era of the Flapper was born.” Later, during the war, “some ten commandments crashed… and afterwards there was a demand not to be let down from its excitement.” By 1922 the “flapper movement,” which, actually, was little more than the facing of some “questionable biological data,” was over. As a result of all this, “the identification of virtue with chastity no longer exists among girls over twenty.” (Liberty, February 8, 1930)

Although Fitzgerald favored an honest recognition of the sexual facts of life and the newly won freedom of women, he objected to the loosening of morals attendant upon the new honesty and the new freedom—as is evidenced in “Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge.” America might be headed for “the greatest, gaudiest spree in history,” but he could not share its naive optimism. All the plots he thought of “had a touch of disaster in them.” He anticipated that lovely girls would go to ruin, that wealth would disintegrate, that millionaires would be “beautiful and damned.” (“Early Success,” American Cavalcade, October, 1937)

Scott Fitzgerald considered himself a moralist, as certainly he was. He tells us he had “a New England conscience—developed in Minnesota” (“One Hundred False Starts,” Saturday Evening Post, March 4, 1933) and, in spite of his opposition to schoolteachers, there was just the ghost of one in him. He explains in a letter of 1939: “I guess I am too much a moralist at heart and really want to preach at people in some acceptable form rather than to entertain them.” (The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, p. 63)

These revelations are consistent with the point of view expressed as early as February, 1917. In “The Spire and the Gargoyle,” Fitzgerald had stated that while epicureanism had been “romantic” during his Princeton days, it was “rather disgusting in the city” because “it was much too easy; it lacked the penance of the five o’clock morning train back to college.”

The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw

Scott Fitzgerald’s experimentation with narrative focus in the apprentice fiction is a good example of the author as an incipient artist, for most serious literary craftsmen—consciously or unconsciously—attempt to present events from the most effective point of view.

Five of the prep-school pieces employ the omniscient narrator and two the first person observer. Two of the college pieces employ the omniscient narrator, one employs the first person observer, and three employ the central intelligence. A general shift from the omniscient narrator in the prep-school stories to the central intelligence in the college stories shows Fitzgerald’s increasing concern with his characters’ psychological reactions.

In “The Ordeal,” “The Spire and the Gargoyle,” and “Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge,” conflict has been internalized. According to Percy Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction (as quoted in The House of Fiction), the “real actors” of the central intelligence method are the “thoughts, emotions and sensations” of the protagonist, and, according to Caroline Gordon and Allen Tate’s The House of Fiction, the protagonist “is never off the stage and everything that happens is, in the end, referred to him and evaluated by him.” (New York, 1960, p. 444) For instance, the opening paragraphs of “The Ordeal” convey an ever-narrowing focus: we see the Maryland countryside, a neighboring farmer, a lay-brother behind the monastery kitchen; our initial view of the young man comes through the eyes of the lay-brother, then shifts abruptly to an impersonal angle that becomes personal as the omniscient narrator enters the young man’s mind, where, with the exception of two lines of dialogue at the end of Part I, he remains.

Fitzgerald was too subjective a writer to use this method well. Told basically from the point of view of the central intelligence, the protagonists of his two earliest novels often express immature ideas and emotions which he shares—a defect largely avoided in Tender Is the Night through a concealed narrator who provides sufficient detachment to control identification.

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald had perfected the first person observer technique. Here the storyteller is someone other than the author as author or character and so an aesthetic distance is created, which causes the author to consider not only his reactions but the reactions of the “persona” too. This accounts for the feeling of “objectivity” The Great Gatsby and The Last Tycoon manage to convey.

“The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage” had introduced the first person observer, a method that may have been inspired by Edgar Allan Poe or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. “The Room with the Green Blinds” was the only other prep-school story narrated from this point of view. As in the earlier story, the narrator participated passively without assimilating anything of importance and remained exclusively a reporter rather than a changing and growing character. Neither acquired anything of value and consequently neither matured. But such is not the case with the nephew of “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw,” for in the course of his experience, he learns a critical lesson.

There are a number of remarkable similarities between the nephew and Nick Carraway of The Great Gatsby. Both young men and both self-conscious observer-narrators, they share an upper-middle-class heritage, their families possessing firmly established roots and enough wealth to send male heirs to eastern schools. The nephew’s father practices law and Nick’s deals in wholesale hardware. Mr. Carraway advises his son, “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,… just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had,” and the nephew’s father acts the part of moral touchstone—conservative yet sympathetic—also: “Is that damn father of yours still defending me against your mother’s tongue?” asks Uncle George. Like Nick’s, the nephew’s home town is a “prosperous Western city,” although the initiatory journey of the story runs from east to west to east rather than from west to east to west. Finally, the nephew, who might have followed Uncle George’s pattern (“your son here will be George the second”), learns through Uncle George’s experience that artistic fulfillment may depend upon personal frustration, just as Nick Carraway learns through the experience of Jay Gatsby that older American values dictate abandoning Jordan Baker and the bond business.

The first person observer, the homme manque, and the femme fatale developed throughout the apprentice fiction to reach their apex in “The Pierian Springs.”

Published in The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1909-1917) collection (1965).