A process of becoming, a principle of growth in intellect and art, creates the form for F. Scott Fitzgerald's development from The Great Gatsby to Tender Is the Night; and the process of becoming, in its most cosmic sense, was on Fitzgerald's mind when he returned east from Hollywood early in 1927 to take up the task once more of writing fiction. In Hollywood he had begun to read The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler. Maxwell Perkins had recommended Spengler to him, and whether from Perkins's suggestion or from another, Fitzgerald bought Spengler's first volume on his way to Hollywood or shortly thereafter. How much attention he was able to give Spengler's arduous prose, while preparing a movie script and leading his own strenuous social life in Hollywood, is an open question; but he absorbed enough so that when he was interviewed in New York on his return from the west it was Spengler about whom he wished to talk. “Here was I,” his interviewer wrote, “interviewing the author of 'This Side of Paradise,' the voice and embodiment of the jazz age, its product and its beneficiary, a popular novelist, a movie scenarist, a dweller in the gilded palaces, a master of servants, only to find F. Scott Fitzgerald, himself, shorn of these associations, forecasting doom, death, and damnation to his generation, in the spirit, if not in the rhetoric, of your typical spittoon philosopher.” For his first public appearance in New York—his first performance before the New York literary world since the spring of 1924, when he had gone abroad to write Gatsby, Fitzgerald portrayed himself in an old familiar role, the philosopher of the jazz age.
Fitzgerald's interviewer hardly took him seriously; and there is no reason why anyone who had grown cynical toward stories “about flappers for philosophers” should look upon “Fitzgerald, Spenglerian” as anything new. Fitzgerald's sudden interest in historical prophecy is yet one more aspect of his curious reversion to the moods and attitudes that shaped his intellect and art at the very start of his career. For at Princeton he had been deeply influenced by the Celtic world-historical pessimism expressed in the war books of Shane Leslie, and more distantly by his mentor Father Fay and by Henry Adams; and later his acquaintance with Mencken's criticism and the novels of Frank Norris had briefly built this world-weariness into a naturalistic mood of despair. With The Great Gatsby and “The Rich Boy” Fitzgerald's art and intellect had mastered the doubts and questions of his early career. Now, by his reading of Spengler at a time of new doubt and hesitation, Fitzgerald brought one period of his career, the period that Gatsby and “The Rich Boy” had completed, to a final close. Spengler gave Fitzgerald the chance to begin again; and it was Spengler who revived Fitzgerald's fascination with the First World War, for The Decline of the West had opened all the old questions and issues of the war once more. Yet it was not necessary for Fitzgerald to begin again totally. New answers had to be sought to old questions, but the answers he had already painfully attained were not wiped out. “Spengler stands on the shoulders of Nietzsche,” Fitzgerald said in his interview, “and Nietzsche on those of Goethe.” In the same way Fitzgerald was able, in his new effort, to stand on the shoulders of all he had thought and created before.
In his interview Fitzgerald called The Decline of the West his “bed-book,” a warning against overestimating his grasp of Spengler's thought. But he need not have read beyond the introduction to have been challenged fundamentally. Fitzgerald's development before The Great Gatsby had been shaped by a gradual abandonment of a historical perspective; or rather by the growth of a universal framework over an already well-developed historical point of view. In 1923 he had begun The Great Gatsby as a historical novel, but in the following year he put aside that manuscript, salvaging from it only the short story “Absolution.” He had decided to make Gatsby's origins more mysterious; to show, ultimately, how Gatsby “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.” The Great Gatsby became a novel about the nature of America, but it carried its social values and historical perspective into a realm of universal symbols and suprahistorical myths. Gatsby stands for essential qualities of America; and so he stands above time and history, a symbol of eternally recurring hopes and dreams. For all its insights into history, The Great Gatsby is basically an ahistorical novel.
Fitzgerald's strategic withdrawal from history took a different form in “The Rich Boy.” That long story was deeply historical in its feeling for the relations among class and wealth and personal values. But in his complex effort to create social depth for his story, while at the same time shaking the reader loose from stereotyped ideas about the rich, Fitzgerald tactically began by denying the story's social breadth. “There are no types, no plurals. There is a rich boy, and this is his and not his brothers' story.” After that forewarning Fitzgerald felt able to switch in the next paragraph from singular to plural: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” For “The Rich Boy” the device was an exceptionally effective one, providing a dramatic tension for the reader between the claims of uniqueness and an obvious movement toward wider social significance. But in 1926 it was a device Fitzgerald would not and could not repeat.
By reading Spengler, at his moment of impasse early in 1927, Fitzgerald was drawn back once more to think about the possibilities of historical perspective; indeed, if he had fallen as deeply under Spengler's spell as his interview suggests, he might have been convinced that no other perspective than the historical was appropriate for him to use. For Spengler insisted from the start of The Decline of the West that only a historical point of view was available to Western man. “Thus our theme,” Spengler wrote, “which originally comprised only the limited problem of present-day civilization, broadens itself into a new philosophy—the philosophy of the future, so far as the metaphysically-exhausted soil of the West can bear such, and in any case the only philosophy which is within the possibilities of the West-European mind in its next stages. It expands into the conception of a morphology of world history, of the world-as-history in contrast to the morphology of the world-as-nature that hitherto has been almost the only theme of philosophy.” To Spengler the most effective comparison between world-as-nature and world-as-history lay in the contrast between Classical and Western man. “In the world-consciousness of the Hellenes,” he continued, “all experience, not merely the personal but the common past, was immediately transmuted into a timeless, immobile, mythically-fashioned background for the particular momentary present… the Classical culture possessed no memory, no organ of history in this special sense. The memory of the Classical man—so to call it, though it is somewhat arbitrary to apply to alien souls a notion derived from our own—is something different, since past and future, as arraying perspectives in the working consciousness, are absent and the 'pure Present' … fills that life with an intensity that to us is perfectly unknown.” Spengler's Classical man obviously resembles Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby and, to a slightly lesser degree, Anson Hunter of “The Rich Boy”; and The Great Gatsby, with its remarkably deep and complex natural imagery, locates the significance of America more properly in a world of nature than in a world of history. But Spengler, rejecting the “innocent relativism” that enabled modern writers to draw parallels between past types and contemporary characters, focused Fitzgerald's attention instead on the forms and psychological insights of history.
For Spengler the most significant concept in historical studies was “destiny.” In order to discover the destiny of his own culture, the culture he called “West-European-American,” Spengler drew a fundamental distinction between two terms often vised interchangeably, civilization and culture. “In this work,” he explained, “for the first time the two words, hitherto used to express an indefinite, more or less ethical, distinction, are used in a periodic sense to express a strict and necessary organic succession. The Civilization is the inevitable destiny of the Culture, and in this principle we obtain the viewpoint from which the deepest and gravest problems of historical morphology become capable of solution. Civilizations are the most external and artificial states of which a species of developed humanity is capable. They are a conclusion, the thing-become succeeding the thing-becoming, death following life, rigidity following expansion, intellectual age and the stone-built, petrifying world-city following mother-earth and the spiritual childhood of Doric and Gothic.” Thus he made the meaning of his title clear: “The 'Decline of the West' comprises nothing less than the problem of Civilization.” For the culture of the West had already passed into the state of civilization. “The transition from Culture to Civilization,” according to Spengler, “was accomplished for the Classical world in the 4th, for the Western in the 19th Century.” And he went on: “What is the hall-mark of a politic of Civilization to-day, in contrast to a politic of Culture yesterday? It is, for the Classical rhetoric, and for the Western journalism, both serving that abstract which represents the power of Civilization—money.” It is hard to see how Fitzgerald could not have been deeply affected by a point of view which added a philosophical foundation to the values he had expressed in his art from the earliest days of his career.
Scepticism, Spengler wrote, was the only philosophical position left open to the West. “Scepticism is the expression of a pure Civilization; and it dissipates the world-picture of the Culture that has gone before. For us, its success will lie in resolving all the older problems into one, the genetic. The conviction that what is also has become, that the natural and cognizable is rooted in the historic, that the World as the actual is founded on an Ego as the potential actualized, that the 'when' and the 'how long' hold as deep a secret as the 'what,' leads directly to the fact that everything, whatever else it may be, must at any rate be the expression of something living. Cognitions and judgments too are acts of living men. The thinkers of the past conceived external actuality as produced by cognition and motivating ethical judgments, but to the thought of the future they are above all expressions and symbols. The Morphology of world-history becomes inevitably a universal symbolism.” To Spengler, in other words, it was possible to create a far more profound universal symbolism through the forms of history than through the forms of myth. It was this conception Fitzgerald took with him to Ellerslie in April, 1927—and reinforced by reading Spengler's second volume late in 1928—that lies at the heart of his process of becoming from The Great Gatsby to Tender Is the Night.
The slick magazine stories of the years 1927-32, the so-called potboilers that Fitzgerald churned out so regularly in all kinds of psychic and emotional weather, surprisingly provide greater insight into the nature of that process than any other aspect of his work—more than the truncated and discarded manuscripts of the uncompleted novel, more than his sometimes less than candid and sometimes overly dramatized professional correspondence, far more than has heretofore been supposed. No aspect of his fiction has been treated less as literature and more as autobiography than this group of stories; and Fitzgerald's own later treatment of them has helped to obscure their values. When he began Tender Is the Night he went through the Post stories and “stripped” them of paragraphs, phrases, characters, incidents, points of view, whatever seemed potentially useful for the novel. Those stories he “stripped” were “permanently buried.” When he came after Tender Is the Night to put together a new collection of stories, the “stripped and permanently buried” group were unavailable. Taps at Reveille, the collection published in 1935, therefore contains primarily those stories irrelevant to the main lines of Fitzgerald's intellectual and artistic development between 1927 and 1932. A chronological approach to the stories presents a rather different picture.
Yet the path of an artist's growth is no more smooth than the path of any other interior development. To the dilemmas that impeded his way unexpectedly Fitzgerald added dilemmas of his own making, right from the start. When he was writing two short stories in a season and earning $30,000 from them over a year he had no more respect for the short story form than in those fifteen months of 1926-27 when he wrote no short stories at all. It pleased his vanity, yet it embarrassed his literary values, to be paid so much by The Saturday Evening Post; and if financial necessity forced him to work out his new ideas through the short story, he could never take the form seriously enough to give either his conception or his art full justice. The dilemma was his own creation far more than has been recognized by those who put down Fitzgerald's Post stories as “pot-boilers” turned out for money. The Post was a guardian of middle-class values, to be sure, but its editor, George Horace Lorimer, was a man, as Fitzgerald knew, with his own high literary tastes and standards. The Post printed a great deal of conventional fiction but very little fiction of poor quality; Fitzgerald knew the distinction and he worked by it. Yet he also knew that the Post would take the best he could give, no matter how far from the conventional he strayed. During these years the Post published “Babylon Revisited,” “Magnetism,” “The Rough Crossing,” “Two Wrongs,” and “One Trip Abroad,” all far from conventional stories; “Crazy Sunday” appeared in The American Mercury, but there is evidence it was rejected by a popular magazine other than the Post. The conditions of magazine publishing in the late twenties were far less a factor in shaping Fitzgerald's short fiction than his own moods and circumstances. Like Coleridge in Keats's letter about negative capability, Fitzgerald as a short-story writer would let go by more than one “fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery,” not so much from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge— though that too—as from incapacity or unwillingness to hold on to it within the form.
The difficulties of Fitzgerald's personal life are well known, but there is one relevant minor incident that serves as prologue to his years as a short-story writer, and provides their beginning with the proper tone of pathos—with perhaps a little of parody. While in Hollywood Fitzgerald was briefly infatuated with a seventeen-year-old actress, Lois Moran. As if to illustrate perfectly Fitzgerald's folklore about seven-year cycles, Miss Moran bore the same name as the heroine of Fitzgerald's short story “Benediction,” written almost exactly seven years earlier. “They do say,” The Bookman's “Gossip Shop” reported in April 1927, “that [Fitzgerald] is taking screen tests and wishes to try out for leading man to Lois Moran.” But by April, of course, he had already retreated from Hollywood to Ellerslie. And by June he had completed his first short story in sixteen months, “Jacob's Ladder,” a story about a seventeen-year-old Hollywood actress and a disappointed lover twice her age. But “Jacob's Ladder” is a powerful and sensitive short story that proves again how Fitzgerald's artistry created fiction far different from and far more significant than the personal experience on which it may have been based.
Jacob Booth in “Jacob's Ladder” is a wealthy New York investor, who, like Maury Noble in The Beautiful and Damned and Anson Hunter in “The Rich Boy,” was a little too apathetic. “Like so many Americans he valued things rather than cared about them. His apathy was neither fear of life nor was it an affectation; it was the racial violence grown tired. It was a humorous apathy.” But when he met Jenny Delahanty, sixteen, a beautiful department store clerk, “he knelt suddenly at the heart of freshness.” Jacob wanted to awaken Jenny, to help her grow from a physical beauty to a beautiful person. He arranges a screen test for her, and when she succeeds he lives “more deeply in her youth and future than he had lived in himself for years.” But Jacob, curiously, was as much Gatsby as Anson Hunter, as ideologically romantic as he was apathetic. “She did not know yet,” he thought, “that splendor was something in the heart; at the moment when she should realize that and melt into the passion of the universe he could take her without question or regret.” Jacob is not in love with Jenny so much as he is in love with an image of love. And Jenny, now Jenny Prince, a professional actress, a girl grown into distinction and good manners as Jacob had planned, cannot love him. They separate at the end of the story, and Jacob, distraught, sees Jenny's name on a movie marquee. ” 'Come and rest upon my loveliness,'” Jenny's name said. ” 'Fulfill your secret dreams in wedding me for an hour.'” Jacob enters the theater. “She was there! All of her, the best of her—the effort, the power, the triumph, the beauty. Jacob moved forward with a group and bought a ticket at the window. Confused, he stared around the great lobby. Then he saw an entrance and walking in, found himself a place in the fast-throbbing darkness.” Jacob Booth, with his apathy that was “the racial violence grown tired,” with his romantic love of the image of love, is Fitzgerald's old hero in a new form; in a remarkable way he sets a leitmotif for the next seven years of Fitzgerald's fiction, culminating in Tender Is the Night.
“Jacob's Ladder” began Fitzgerald's new career as a professional writer of short stories; thereafter he was to turn out one about every five weeks for five full years. But it also squandered, by its very quality and breadth, nearly all of his newly acquired material. He followed it with “The Love Boat,” another good story of a wealthy man's “restless longing after fleeing youth.” In “The Love Boat” the man returns after many years to visit the lower-class girl he had once courted in his youth. The visit, conveyed in a sinister atmosphere of drinking, violence, possible adultery, and the break-up of a marriage, disillusions him; and disaster is implicit in the story's resolution. “Jacob's Ladder” and “The Love Boat,” both uncollected, belong among Fitzgerald's best short stories; but they set a standard of quality and thematic depth that Fitzgerald could hardly expect to maintain. In his next story, “A Short Trip Home,” he did not even try. It is a curious reversion to the mood and setting of This Side of Paradise, and the story's structure is built upon the sense of immanent supernatural evil that played so large a part in Fitzgerald's first novel. His next story, “The Bowl,” was about college football, but it was written from Fitzgerald's mature perspective. The theme of “The Bowl” was the nature of achievement: “All achievement was a placing of emphasis—a molding of the confusion of life into forms.” Dolly Harlan, a college football hero, becomes involved with a society girl, Vienna Thorne. The tone that prevails in her social group is apathy; one does nothing that is not “worth doing.” And being a football hero is obviously not worth doing; so Dolly apathetically breaks a leg. The rest of the story is the story of Dolly's comeback, his discovery that one must do what one can do; that there is a quality and style to achievement infinitely superior to the quality and style of fashionable disdain. Dolly throws over Vienna Thorne and wins the heart of Daisy Cary, a movie actress. “They understood each other. They were both workers; sick or well, there were things that Daisy also had to do. She spoke of how, with a vile cold, she had had to fall into an open-air lagoon the winter before. … She was eighteen and I compared her background of courage and independence and achievement, of politeness based upon realities of cooperation, with that of most society girls I had known. There was no way in which she wasn't inestimably their superior.”
For the last story he wrote in 1927, “Magnetism,” Fitzgerald went back to Hollywood for his setting. The central character of “Magnetism” is not a beautiful young actress, but an actor with whom a beautiful young actress, among others, falls in love. George Hannaford, the actor, was “simple and dignified” in his taste, “instinctively gentle” in manner; and he was well and happily married. But George possessed something he could not control. “You were so brave about people, George,” one of his disappointed admirers tells him. “Whoever it was, you walked right up to them and tore something aside as if it was in your way and began to know them… You can't control charm. It's simply got to be used. You've got to keep your hand in if you have it, and go through life attracting people to you that you don't want.” And that is the cross George is doomed to bear, condemned by his smile that withdraws the veil between him and every woman, “unconsciously promising her a possible admission to the thousand delights and wonders that only he knew and could command.” George Hannaford is another new version of Fitzgerald's old romantic hero, a simple and dignified figure rather than a clever, showy one, but a man who even despite himself creates romantic dreams of love. In four of the five short stories of his new professional work—putting aside the anachronistic “A Short Trip Home”—Fitzgerald had sustained a level of quality in his short fiction in a way that he had never done before. He had imagined a number of new insights into his material—insights into the nature of achievement and the meaning of professionalism, into the love of age for youth, into the value of manners, into new aspects of the romantic hero. But by the nature of the form he worked in, his insights could be no more than fragmentary and partial, shaped more for him than by him by the limitations of his material, and lacking still a coherent structure of purpose and direction. The inherent insufficiency of even his best efforts at short fiction may have been in his mind when, after two months of no writing at all, he began the series of Basil Duke Lee stories that was to occupy him almost exclusively for a year.
Why at this particular moment Fitzgerald should turn back to his adolescence for a subject is a matter open obviously to more than one conjecture. In each of the five stories he had written in 1927 after resuming his career as a magazine writer he had created girls of eighteen or younger as significant characters. It may have been his calculated professional judgment that the teen-age crowd was where his primary audience lay; or he may simply have given in to his personal obsession with youth and and the terrors of growing old. Since his new material and new insights did not appear capable of infinitely producing new short-story situations, he may have returned to a subject with which he could feel more secure. Certainly, for all his concern with adolescence, his own early youth was material that he had hardly mined. Most of what he had written of adolescence in the early, unpublished novel, “The Romantic Egotist,” had been cut or greatly condensed when he turned it into This Side of Paradise. The Basil Duke Lee stories may simply be read then as a belated revision of “The Romantic Egotist” by an author who had turned into a mature professional writer—a portrait of the artist as a young man presented as dramatized fiction, rather than as autobiographical self-interrogation.
But the Basil Duke Lee stories possess an even more central point of continuity with Fitzgerald's earlier career, one that brings together in a more unified way Fitzgerald's obviously disparate motives: they linked Fitzgerald's fiction once again with the stories and novels of Booth Tarkington. In the commercial literary world Fitzgerald's name naturally went together with Tarkington's. Just as reviewers in 1920 had praised This Side of Paradise as the work of a new Tarkington, so five years later Fitzgerald's friend, Carl Van Vechten, could say blandly in his review of The Great Gatsby that Fitzgerald resembled Tarkington more than anyone else. So much for Fitzgerald's pretensions to be the American Conrad or the American Joyce; Van Vechten could hardly have known that Fitzgerald looked on Tarkington with open disdain. Fitzgerald envied Tarkington his success, and in moments of weakness it was easy for him to fall back into the Tarkington pattern, but fundamentally from an early point in his career he had known that his growth as an artist depended upon his overcoming Tarkington's compromise with gentility. “My contempt for Tarkington,” he wrote Julian Street in July 1928, when he was midway in the Basil Duke Lee series, “extends only to his character of being ashamed of his early sins and thus cutting out of his experience about one half of life. He woke up one morning sober and 40, and thought that no one had ever been lascivious or drunk or vain except himself, and turned deliberately back to the illusions of his boyhood.” Fitzgerald had in mind the kind of response Tarkington gave when critics attacked his novel, Seventeen, for its suppression of adolescent sexual awakening. “I don't see it,” Tarkington had replied. “I never knew a youth who had that sense of torment under the circumstances depicted in 'Seventeen.'” His adolescent hero, William, “didn't recognize anything.” In the Basil Duke Lee stories Fitzgerald's adolescent heroes recognized a lot. It seems clear that Fitzgerald wrote the series as an experiment with the genre of genteel romantic boys' stories, to see how they turned out when that missing half of life was added. Fitzgerald cut the stories straight from the Tarkington mold. But he put in what Tarkington had left out, adolescent awareness of sex.
Yet the Basil Duke Lee stories were an experiment that did not wholly succeed. For a time Fitzgerald planned to make a book of them—a book that might restore his old appeal to the popular audience who had been indifferent to Gatsby and who seemed certain to respond with equal coolness to his novel in progress. But again his own peculiar dilemma rose up to plague him. “The Basil Lee stories were a mistake,” he wrote late in 1929 to an admirer who had praised them, “—it was too much good material being shoved into a lousy form.” Still he thanked her for liking them. “I thought they were rather better,” he wrote, “than the response they had.” At heart he believed his popular fiction could be good fiction, and he resented criticism that he was wasting his talents by writing down to the popular taste; yet even more deeply in his artistic consciousness he felt the weakness and inadequacy of his popular work. Not that the Basil Duke Lee stories were trash, conceived either in ignorance or deliberate waste; they were good but he knew simply that they were not good enough. After The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald had tried to reconcile his artistry with his popular work, and he had failed. After Gatsby his new novel had not lived up to his own impossibly high standards of artistry, and so, out of despair and out of need, he put it aside and turned to magazine stories. Though he tried to keep separate his two realms of fiction, in a showdown it was by his standards of art that all his work was judged. None of his short stories, by their very nature, could clear that difficult test. Here, in the gap between his daily creative endeavor and his underlying disdain for it, lay one source of the tension that exploded in anger when Harold Ober raised again in 1930 the old idea of putting together the Basil stories in a book.
In all Fitzgerald wrote nine Basil Lee stories, carrying Basil into his freshman year at Yale, where continuing would have meant rewriting This Side of Paradise—or writing a New Haven version. The Basil stories were not wholly out of character with the short stories that precede and follow them; they may be read as much as the others for evidence of maturing perceptions and new insights. But if the insights, possessed any power, the Basil stories, as Fitzgerald retrospectively saw, were even less capable than the other stories of carrying their weight. Late in 1928, with seven Basil stories done and two more still to be written, Fitzgerald broke into the series to write a different kind of story, “The Last of the Belles.” But “The Last of the Belles” was hardly an improvement on the form of the Basil stories. It went back for its setting and themes to Fitzgerald's First World War experience at Southern Army posts, back to the atmosphere of a Southern romantic way of life that he had re-created in The Beautiful and Damned and several earlier short stories. As he had done before in his Southern stories he even used some of the old characters, notably Sally Carrol Happer from “The Ice Palace” and Nancy Lamar from “The Jelly Bean.” “The Last of the Belles” was the work of a fine professional magazine writer, precise in its language, quiet and self-assured in tone; but it is a curiously flat and empty story, written out of old emotions and old perceptions. As with “A Short Trip Home,” Fitzgerald in this story was merely reusing the past, rather than re-creating it. The Basil Duke Lee stories, for all their inadequacies, were founded at least on a reinterpretation of experience, not simply a recollection.
Fitzgerald had lived a year at Ellerslie from the spring of 1927; in April 1928, he went back to France for a long spring and summer abroad, returning in September. One attraction of the Basil Duke Lee series, no doubt, was that it provided him a form and a subject he could write about on the run; at least four of the nine stories, and perhaps another, were written while Fitzgerald was abroad or traveling. For the fall and winter of 1928-29 the Fitzgeralds returned to Ellerslie. In February he wrote the last Basil story, “Basil and Cleopatra,” and in March they sailed again for Europe, this time expecting to stay. Just as he was in process of transferring his life and his work back to France, Fitzgerald wrote a short story, “The Rough Crossing,” about a crisis in a marriage. No one has ever precisely established the story's chronological relation to Fitzgerald's movements, but the matter does possess a certain significance. Some critics have read it as a direct autobiographical account of the Fitzgeralds' passage to Genoa in 1929. Yet it seems quite unlikely that Fitzgerald would have been able to turn so deep a personal issue so quickly into fiction. The story was completed sometime in March, the same month the Fitzgeralds crossed, and published in the Post early in June. One may as plausibly believe that Fitzgerald planned and perhaps even wrote it before sailing; he could have drawn his material from two Atlantic crossings he made in 1928. Once again the issue is autobiography and art in Fitzgerald's fiction. At Ellerslie the Fitzgeralds' relationship had visibly deteriorated; his stories of marital difficulties could hardly not relate at all to his own problems. Yet so often have critics interpreted his work as if it transformed fact directly into fiction, one may usefully recall once more that art and life are separate realms.
Marriage problems, and adultery, had been muted but not insignificant subjects in Fitzgerald's earlier fiction. So long as he aspired to realism he could not have overlooked them; but still his genteel formulas provided a cloak of innocence and inevitably a happy ending. Gloria in The Beautiful and Damned had felt no constraints against adultery except that she lacked the desire; in such stories as “Gretchen's Forty Winks,” “One of My Oldest Friends,” and “John Jackson's Arcady,” real or potential marital difficulties were raised and then glossed over, here by a twist of plot, there by a retreat to conventions. One aspect of Fitzgerald's triumph in The Great Gatsby lay in his subordinating the obvious fact of adultery to the artistic themes and values of the novel as a whole. After Gatsby, marital troubles were raised in “The Adjuster,” only to be solved by a deus ex machina in the person of a mysterious psychiatrist; and in “The Rich Boy,” adultery was portrayed as a rather sordid thing in the eyes of the central figure, Anson Hunter. When his long holiday from fiction had ended, Fitzgerald took up the theme again in “The Love Boat,” where marital difficulties formed a forboding undertone, and in “Magnetism,” where George Hannaford's marriage momentarily tottered because of his unwilled attractiveness to other women. But “The Rough Crossing” was Fitzgerald's first short story where husband and wife both played a leading role, and where the crisis in their marriage was the principal event.
Yet “The Rough Crossing,” for all its thematic importance, did not provide an entirely satisfactory treatment. Fitzgerald cared more for creating symbols than characters; his husband and wife, Adrian and Eva Smith, are archetypically named, and the story ends, “There are so many Smiths in this world.” Fitzgerald opened by drawing their ship at sea as a separate world—“certainly not a boat, but rather a human idea, a frame of mind”—and then he threw the ship into an ocean storm, a symbolic parallel for Adrian and Eva's inner turmoil. Symbolic forms and schematic action dominate. Character and motivation are thin. Confronting a marital crisis directly for the first time in his short fiction, Fitzgerald was able only to skate along the surface, describing its outer aspects but hardly creating it from within. Yet beneath the surface, beyond the partly ironical and partly soothing happy end, lies an undertone of emotional conflicts and tensions sounding only as distant echoes.
After “The Rough Crossing” Fitzgerald wrote two minor stories in old conventional patterns. They are interesting only because, even in his inconsequential work, Fitzgerald could not escape the themes and qualities of mind that shaped his growth. “Majesty,” a flapper-style story about a debutante who ends up as an Eastern European queen, opens with the lines, “The extraordinary thing is not that people in a lifetime turn out worse or better than we had prophesied; particularly in America that is to be expected. The extraordinary thing is how people keep their levels, fulfill their promises, seem actually buoyed up by an inevitable destiny.” “At Your Age,” another youth-and-age love story with an eternal recurrence motif— when the hero reached age fifty the “wheel of his life had revolved again”—ends with a different type of insight into character and destiny: “But he could not have walked down wasted into the darkness without being used up a little; what he had wanted, after all, was only to break his strong old heart. Conflict itself had a value beyond victory and defeat, and those three months—he had them forever.” Then, during two summer months in Cannes, while also trying to reshape and salvage the long-postponed novel, Fitzgerald turned again to the theme of marital crisis in a neglected, undervalued story, “The Swimmers.”
Fitzgerald created his structure for “The Swimmers” out of historical perspectives he had learned in Spengler's Decline of the West. Spengler's conception that history possessed a living genetic form provided the form of the fiction. Fitzgerald was concerned less with Spengler's “world history” than with the history of America; the nature and meaning of American history were as important as—and quite inseparable from—the nature and destiny of his characters. “The Swimmers” was the first of Fitzgerald's stories in which the basic symbolism grew out of a feeling for historical form—as, in a different context, Spengler said it must.
Henry Clay Marston is an American expatriate in Paris, no artist but an intellectual businessman who had left the “moral confusion” of his “ever-new, ever-changing country” when it appeared that the questions life posed could only be answered in France. After eight years abroad, with a French wife and two sons, Henry refuses to go back, even when a lucrative business offer is made. But when he discovers his wife's infidelity, his well-ordered life collapses into chaos and despair. He becomes ill, and takes his family to a French sea resort for a rest cure. There he tries to rescue an endangered swimmer, though he is himself unable to swim. The person whom he bravely aids turns out to be an eighteen-year-old American girl, another of Fitzgerald's teen-age heroines, but one who for the first time carries a significance greater than simply her physical youth: “In her grace, at once exquisite and hardy, she was that perfect type of American girl that makes one wonder if the male is not being sacrificed to it, much as, in the last century, the lower strata in England were sacrificed to produce the governing class.” Except for her one dangerous moment she is normally a good swimmer who spends, so it seems, all her time swimming. Henry asks her why. “To get clean,” she answers. At once this motive reveals to Henry a larger national purpose. “I mean we've got too fastidious even to clean up our messes,” he responds. Inspired by this vision, Henry learns to swim and brings about his own recovery.
Henry had not married a perfect American type, but still he sensed that he was being sacrificed as well to whatever type his French wife represented. “American men,” he says, “are incomplete without money”; so to make himself more complete he returns to America and takes up his lucrative job. But if money makes completion, the more a man has the more complete he is; thus, apparently, Choupette Marston reasons, for in America she begins an affair with Henry's wealthy backer, Charles Wiese. Henry, fortunately, can rely on different values. “Henry Clay Marston was a Virginian of the kind who are prouder of being Virginians than of being Americans. That mighty word printed across a continent was less to him than the memory of his, grandfather, who freed his slaves in '58, fought from Manassas to Appomattox, knew Huxley and Spencer as light reading, and believed in caste only when it expressed the best of race.” Henry thinks often about such things as race and manners, and he knows his Virginia heritage gave him a “quality of detachment peculiar to old stock” and in manners “a good form devoid of forms … based on kindness and consideration.” With his wife's second infidelity he knew too that “he possessed again the masculine self he had handed over” to her. The question remained how to clean up the mess, particularly to retain custody of the two boys for himself. In his grandfather's time “the matter would have been simpler. Dueling pistols in the old Wharton meadow at dawn. It would be to Henry's advantage if things were like that today.”
Still Henry had his own advantage. On a warm summer night the three figures in the love triangle agree to have their confrontation in Wiese's motorboat out on the quiet bay. Wiese pilots the boat out into the water, feeling fully in control. He is wealthy and possesses Choupette. He shuts off the motor and turns to Henry, forcefully demanding his capitulation. “Money is power,” he says. “Money made this country, built its great and glorious cities, created its industries, covered it with an iron network of railroads. It's money that harnesses the forces of Nature, creates the machine and makes it go when money says go, and stop when money says stop.” But out on the cool calm waters Nature mocks Wiese's money power. As he spoke, the “boat meandered in a placid little circle.” Feeling victorious, Wiese tries to restart the motor, but he fails. “Without will or direction” the boat drifts rapidly out toward sea. Nature has them in its grip; and of the three Henry alone is in tune with Nature, for only he can swim. He offers to swim for aid if they give him custody of the children, and they capitulate to him. They do not know, as he knew, that a crosscurrent would soon have washed them safely to a shore. Henry's control over nature gives him greater power than mere money. Money, as Spengler said, represents the power of civilization, the strongest force within a culture in decline. But Henry Marston, with his manners and values derived from the past, his sense of rapport with the forces of Nature, can draw upon the power of an earlier American culture that in him still survived.
Again Henry leaves America for Europe, but he feels differently about his country now. He had found the answers to life's questions, after all, at home, and it was as if by his own hand he had made the power and the beauty of the old America come alive once more. “Watching the fading city, the fading shore, from the deck of the Majestic, he had a sense of overwhelming gratitude and of gladness that America was there, that under the ugly debris of industry, the rich land still pushed up, incorrigibly lavish and fertile, and that in the heart of the leaderless people the old generosities and devotions fought on, breaking out sometimes in fanaticism and excess, but indomitable and undefeated. There was a lost generation in the saddle at the moment, but it seemed to him that the men coming on, the men of the war, were better; and all his old feeling that America was a bizarre accident, a sort of historical sport, had gone forever. The best of America was the best of the world… France was a land, England was a people, but America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter—it was the graves at Shiloh and the tired, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered. It was a willingness of the heart.”
Aboard his ship Henry encounters the eighteen-year-old girl he had met at the sea resort in France. She too is a Virginian; and together, no doubt, youth and maturity shall share their common sense of the past and knowledge of Nature. For the significance of its themes and the nature of its imagery “The Swimmers,” among all the stories Fitzgerald wrote from 1927 to 1932, is the most important precursor to Tender Is the Night. In relation to Dick Diver's story it stands as “John Jackson's Arcady” stood to Gatsby's—so soon as Fitzgerald could conceive a tragic ending for “a willingness of the heart,” his material for Tender Is the Night would be complete.
But tragedy came first to Fitzgerald in social and personal forms rather than in the forms of art. “The Swimmers” appeared in the Post on October 19,1929. Four days later the New York stock market broke, and within a fortnight the great crash had wiped out the boom of the twenties. Far off in Paris, wrapped up in the problems of his novel and of his marriage, Fitzgerald gave no overt sign of recognition; but later stories showed how much, with his remarkable sensitivity to social moods, he was aware. When the crash came, however, he was completing yet another story of marital difficulties, “Two Wrongs.” Fitzgerald's purpose in writing “Two Wrongs” can hardly be examined without stumbling once more into the autobiographical trap. For itself “Two Wrongs” is hardly of primary interest. But more than any other story Fitzgerald wrote about marriage it draws on the circumstances of his own. “Character is the greatest thing in the world,” Bill McChesney says, but he possesses little and his wife Emmy possesses much. A successful theatrical producer, McChesney ruins himself by drink and too much social climbing. At his most degraded moment, Emmy suffers a miscarriage. When she recovers she takes up ballet dancing as feverishly as Zelda Fitzgerald was even then pursuing it. Unable to rely on her husband, she assumes the dominant role. She succeeds as a dancer; he falls seriously ill with tuberculosis. She allows him to go west alone, and he gives himself up to die. Her wrong cancels out his earlier one; but his sad end calls forth little more than the moralistic pity of sentimental realism. Those who read fiction as autobiography may decide whether “Two Wrongs” is self-condemnation or self-pity; in any case it carried sadness and pessimism about marital problems as far as they could tolerably go. As the conditions of his own marriage grew worse at the end of 1929, Fitzgerald sought a different subject for the stories he was still regularly turning out.
In the first month of 1930 he dipped again into the genteel romantic past and came up with his answer. He created Josephine Perry, a female Basil Duke Lee, and she served him through five short stories that form a series bearing her name. “First Blood,” the opening story, takes place in 1914 when Josephine is sixteen, “an unconscious pioneer of the generation that was destined to 'get out of hand.'“ The last story leaves Josephine in the midst of the First World War. The Josephine series may thus be considered a belated introduction to the postwar “flapper” stories, as the Basil Lee stories were a mature prologue to This Side of Paradise. But from the start the Josephine stories lacked the originality and distinctive tone that were the Basil stories' saving features. Though Josephine's adventures take place before the war and are meant to have a certain historical value, she is no more than another one of Fitzgerald's genteel romantic heroines, the rich, young, willful girls who populated his conventional magazine fiction of the early twenties. And while her series treated sex more openly than the earlier genteel stories, alongside teen-aged girls like Jenny Prince in “Jacob's Ladder” or Betsy D'Amido in “The Rough Crossing,” Josephine looks pale. Moreover, Fitzgerald lost interest in Josephine long before he dropped her. After a North African vacation in February 1930, he wrote the second story, “A Nice Quiet Place,” in March. The third, “A Woman with a Past,” written in June, was balanced delicately between tolerant sympathy for Josephine and a cynical new note. For the two remaining the balance fell heavily on the caustic side. In “A Snobbish Story,” written in September, Josephine is one of “the rich and powerful of the world,” undermining art and creative promise; but the bohemian writers who represent the prewar “Chicago Renaissance” in arts and letters are mocked even more than she. The last story, “Emotional Bankruptcy,” was written nearly a year later, at a time when Fitzgerald's attitude toward his heroine had turned to open scorn. The phrase that later became famous almost as a personal symbol was coined not in self-analysis but as a farewell to Josephine. It is she who is emotionally bankrupt, all her love used up at eighteen, left only with “her vast, tragic apathy.” Rather than a historical introduction to the genteel romantic heroine, the Josephine stories, whatever Fitzgerald's original intention, ended up as a goodbye to all that.
On April 23, 1930, the day exactly six months after the New York stock market broke, Zelda Fitzgerald suffered a mental breakdown. But even her illness did not put an end to Fitzgerald's regular production of short stories; rather, the resulting medical expenses made it imperative for him to write more. During her fifteen months in a Swiss sanitarium, from June 1930 to August 1931, Fitzgerald wrote a dozen stories—a rate exceeded only in the first happy weeks after This Side of Paradise was accepted, and in the debt-ridden winter of 1922-23. Obviously his fiction suffered the effects of haste and of competing demands for his energy and concentration; but Zelda Fitzgerald's illness also must have struck him deeply. A new tough and cynical tone entered Fitzgerald's fiction; the old romantic promise remained, as a theme and as a plot line, but fulfillment as a possibility was gone. Even the happy endings he devised, falling back more and more on conventional formulas, were marred by a new harsh element. Good and bad stories alike became blurred, for the old and the new tones coming together in Fitzgerald's fiction did not mix effectively. As disorder reached a new extreme in Fitzgerald's life, disorder gradually became not only a theme of his fiction but also a problem in its form.
Following the April breakdown, Fitzgerald wrote “The Bridal Party” in May, a Josephine story in June, “One Trip Abroad” in August, and another Josephine story in September. “The Bridal Party” and “One Trip Abroad” are both better than average; they demonstrate quite clearly the direction Fitzgerald was moving and the problems he encountered. Written so soon after Zelda Fitzgerald's breakdown “The Bridal Party” poses a curious challenge for interpreters of Fitzgerald who look for autobiographical messages. For it replays once more the poor boy-rich girl love story, the story Fitzgerald wrote so often so many ways. This time the poor boy who lost the rich girl suddenly falls into wealth, and the rich boy who won the rich girl suddenly goes broke. But still the rich girl marries her newly poor fiancé; and the newly rich boy regards his loss less with bitterness and grief than detachment and relief. In tone the story is uncertain, lacking a single emotional thrust. Fitzgerald clearly wrote it with the feeling that the twenties were over, and it shows his first sense of disillusion with the twenties atmosphere. Yet still, in the newly poor boy's audacious spirit, he conveyed a certain grace—“This is our way of doing things… Generous and fresh and free; a sort of Virginia-plantation hospitality, but at a different pace now, nervous as a ticker tape.”
As in “The Bridal Party,” “One Trip Abroad” far more effectively sets a mood than portrays character. Put briefly, it is the story of an attractive young American couple who come into money, go to Europe, and fall victim to moral and physical decay. Through a series of set scenes—one step after another, as it were, on the way down—decline is created as an atmosphere; but Nicole and Nelson Kelly are not developed fully enough to give it substance. “They found, as so many have found, that the charm of idyllic interludes depends upon one person's 'giving the party'—which is to say, furnishing the background, the experience, the patience, against which the other seems to enjoy again the spells of pastoral tranquility recollected from childhood.” Fitzgerald was to do far more with this observation; but, lacking personalities to fill it out, it slips on stage in “One Trip Abroad” only as a brief aside. The Kellys end up convalescing in Switzerland, where they see another couple who had shadowed them through each step of their fall. “It seemed like destiny that at last here in this desolate place they should know them, and watching, they saw other couples eyeing them in the same tentative way.” A flash of lightning strikes, and the Kellys see that the other couple, so attractive at the start and at the end so repulsive, are really themselves. Strangely, then, the others vanish. Fitzgerald had been unable to create characters commensurate with his sense of destiny, so he fell back instead on his old feeling for the supernatural.
Fitzgerald wrote two more stories in 1930. The first, “The Hotel Child,” displays his new cynicism by mocking European sham nobility. It was a third-rate effort of a kind he had not perpetrated since “Your Way and Mine” back in 1926. Yet he followed it with “Babylon Revisited,” the story most readers consider his best. The creative process is still far too much a mystery for us to know how in the half year since Zelda Fitzgerald's breakdown he had moved from “The Bridal Party” to a Josephine story, “One Trip Abroad” to another Josephine story, and from the third-rate “Hotel Child” to the extraordinary “Babylon Revisited.” Perhaps the obvious pique in “A Snobbish Story” and “The Hotel Child,” their half-serious anger at Josephine and at the rich, at writers, at sham nobility, and at social climbers, cleansed his fiction momentarily of its conventional and genteel dross. In simplicity of style and in freedom from trickery-trickery like the grandfather's bequest of $250,000 in “The Bridal Party” or the supernaturalism of “One Trip Abroad”—“Babylon Revisited” was unlike any story Fitzgerald had written since “Jacob's Ladder” more than three years before. And yet it follows “The Bridal Party” and “One Trip Abroad” as a certain kind of culmination.
Together the three stories make up a three-act domestic tragedy. “The Bridal Party” sets in motion a marriage; “One Trip Abroad” conveys its decline; “Babylon Revisited” provides moral and dramatic resolution. As the last story opens Charlie Wales recalls a bachelor's party at the Ritz bar like the one Hamilton Rutherford threw in “The Bridal Party.” Charlie and his wife Helen had quarreled like Nicole and Nelson Kelly, thrown away their money as freely as the Kellys, and Charlie, like Nelson, must convalesce in Switzerland. But if the three stories progressively develop the same material, still “Babylon Revisited” exists in a different realm of fiction from the other two. In “Babylon Revisited” Fitzgerald fused two qualities— a sense of the past and a passion for love—that had not come together since The Great Gatsby.
“Babylon Revisited” rests on a sense of historical process, on change, on the irrevocable passage of time: specifically on the deep gap already opened up between the feeling of the twenties and the new mood after the crash. Charlie Wales is himself a chronicler of time and change—the story opens with his inquiries, “And where's Mr. Campbell? … and George Hardt?” Yet most of all he chronicles his own past—the rich and drunken days when he had lost his wife to death and his daughter to Helen's sister as a ward. Then, he had spent his money “as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember—his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont.” Now, “he believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element.” Then, he had wanted to run away from his own destiny; now, he would embrace it fully. But first he had to trace his way back through the recent past. “Babylon Revisited” takes shape through Charlie's deepening self-discovery.
But the lesson of his past was neither moralistic nor profound. He had spent too much, had used his head too little. He had been one of those “men who locked their wives out in the snow, because the snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be snow, you just paid some money.” At last he learns that no matter how much he lost in the crash, he “lost everything I wanted in the boom.” So he had found out his own past; but nothing in the past can be recovered, and the movement of passion in “Babylon Revisited” comes from the counterpoint to Charlie's self-discovery, from a movement toward a new and open future. Charles wants Honoria, his daughter, back; the passion of his parental love for her provides the depth of meaning and moral focus. For Charlie is capable of comprehending his own past; but understanding only allows him to know why he is unable to control his present and his future. Knowledge and helplessness, together mingled, give the last line its great pathos: “He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone.” “Babylon Revisited” is a beautiful story, that by simplicity and clarity of tone achieves in its form what The Great Gatsby attained in the form of the novel—perpetual freshness, a richness enough to satisfy all.
Yet as 1931 opened “Babylon Revisited” was just another ripple in a seemingly unending stream of stories. During that year, when Fitzgerald three times crossed the Atlantic and twice the American continent, he wrote nine stories. No one, least of all Fitzgerald, has ever resurrected any from back numbers of the Post and Redbook, and no injustice has been done. In those days Fitzgerald lived in Lausanne while Zelda Fitzgerald was undergoing treatment not far away. By his own account he wrote then more in haste than he had for years, since the hectic early months of 1924 when he was struggling to clear away debts and get to Europe with write Gatsby. As a short-story writer he was far more competent in 1931 than he had been in 1924; nothing he wrote in the later year was quite so meretricious as several stories he had written earlier. But the line between good work and trash was no less clear. Except for the last and most caustic of Josephine stories, Fitzgerald's cynicism of 1930 was washed away in the artistic and emotional resolution of “Babylon Revisited.” But the uncertainty that had first appeared in “The Bridal Party” and “One Trip Abroad” had grown into a dominant note that sounds through the serious stories Fitzgerald wrote in 1931.
“Indecision,” the first story of that year, appropriately named the problem. Tommy McLane is a man who cannot decide between two women; but the story seems as evasive as Tommy McLane's firm choice. “A New Leaf” tells the story of an attractive drunk who can or will not reform himself. “What makes you think that people change their courses?” one character asks. “Sometimes they dry up or even flow into a parallel channel, but I've never known anybody to change.” Dick Ragland breaks rather than bends—he dies at sea by falling overboard, perhaps a willed suicide, perhaps a drunken accident. Fitzgerald leaves it unclear, to the story's detriment. “Flight and Pursuit” is a realistic story about an emotionally bruised woman, but it marks the beginning of a falling back into the modes of conventional genteel fiction. Thereafter Fitzgerald wrote two inferior stories about the Depression. “Between Three and Four” opens significantly: “This happened nowadays, with everyone somewhat discouraged. A lot of less fortunate spirits cracked when money troubles came to be added to all the nervous troubles accumulated in the prosperity—neurosis being a privilege of people with a lot of extra money. And some cracked merely because it was in the air, or because they were used to the great, golden figure of plenty standing behind them, as the idea of prudence and glory stands behind the French, and the idea of 'the thing to do' used to stand behind the English. Almost everyone cracked a little.” But it ends up as a melodramatically moralistic story about a business suicide. “A Change of Class” is a conservative, sentimental story about a barber who goes from rags to riches in the boom and back again to rags; poor, he is happier.
Fitzgerald wrote one more story on European soil, a story that holds up to judgment a decade and a generation, as if he knew it marked an end. “Six of One—” is indifferent art, but significant for its feelings and ideas. It is more an essay than a story, with an inadequate plot devised to carry along the more important thrust of meaning. The story opens in 1920. Barnes, a wealthy, older man, meets at a friend's house half a dozen young, rich boys about to enter Yale. “They left Barnes with a sense of having … gained a sharp impression of a whole style, a whole mode of youth, something different from his own less assured, less graceful generation, something unified by standards that he didn't know. He wondered vaguely what the standards of 1920 were, and whether they were worth anything—had a sense of waste, of much effort for a purely esthetic achievement… He felt a sudden premonition that his generation in its years of effort had made possible a Periclean age, but had evolved no prospective Pericles. They had set the scene: was the cast adequate?” Barnes decides to run a test against this aristocracy of “young knights.” He seeks out six outstanding seniors from the local public high school and arranges to pay their way through college, in an experiment to see how the naturally talented fare in competition with the richly endowed. The story ends a decade later. Only one of the rich boys has come through well, but Barnes was not willing to crow over it. “After all, any given moment has its value; it can be questioned in the light of after-events, but the moment remains. The young princes in velvet gathered in lovely domesticity around the queen amid the hush of rich draperies may presently grow up to be Pedro the Cruel or Charles the Mad, but the moment of beauty was there. Back there ten years, Schofield had seen his sons and their friends as samurai, as something shining and glorious and young, perhaps as something he had missed from his own youth. There was later a price to be paid by those boys, all too fulfilled, with the whole balance of their life pulled forward into their youth so that everything afterward would inevitably be anti-climax; these boys brought up as princes with none of the responsibilities of princes! Barnes didn't know how much their mothers might have had to do with it, what their mothers may have lacked.” Of his own half-dozen the results had been more mixed, befitting their more varied backgrounds. “His own experiment—he didn't regret it, but he wouldn't have done it again. Probably it proved something, but he wasn't quite sure what. Perhaps that life is constantly renewed, and glamour and beauty make way for it; and he was glad that he was able to feel that the republic could survive the mistakes of a whole generation, pushing the waste aside, sending ahead the vital and the strong. Only it was too bad and very American that there should be all that waste at the top; and he felt that he would not live long enough to see it end, to see great seriousness in the same skin with great opportunity—to see the race achieve itself at last.” For all its inadequacies, “Six of One—” stands as one of Fitzgerald's significant forward steps—as “The Swimmers” had newly perceived his country, and “Babylon Revisited” the decade past, so “Six of One—” achieved a new perspective on his own generation's destiny, the downward curve of its flight from youth into maturity. More than ever, Tender Is the Night was in his grasp.
In September 1931, Fitzgerald returned home for good. Still he continued to write, almost as if short stories were a medieval religious mania, a perverted form of worship to his art. Early in the fall, back in America, he wrote two more. “The Freeze-Out” was a good story in the traditional genteel romantic mode, a serious story about generations: “None of the men of father's age have any principles”; “Diagnosis” was a weak one built around psychoanalysis. Five November and December weeks he worked in Hollywood, again without success. Returning to Montgomery, he re-created Hollywood's atmosphere and personalities in “Crazy Sunday,” a story about a screenwriter's relations with a brilliant producer and his actress wife. In April 1932 he wrote two more. “Family in the Wind,” set in Alabama, recounts how a tornado helps an alcoholic doctor give up the bottle and begin again. “What a Handsome Pair!” tells the sad story of a husband and wife who have similar skills and interests, and compete. Each story weakly treats a familiar theme. But in May, the month Fitzgerald moved to Baltimore, he dipped too deeply into the old formulas at last. That month he wrote “The Rubber Check,” a conventional genteel story, with overtones of bitterness, that was his poorest story in half a decade. “Five years have rolled away from me,” he wrote Maxwell Perkins in May, “and I can't decide exactly who I am, if anyone…” After an even two-score stories since June of 1927, after personal and artistic crises that had deepened his perception of his material even as they had largely frustrated his capacity to use it fully, Fitzgerald as a professional short-story writer had hit rock bottom. In June 1932, he began Tender Is the Night.
Published in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoon by Robert Sklar (New York: Oxford Up, 1967).