1. Genevra [
Blake’s] coming down from Vassar [ to New York]—her [ his] father ruined by the war, leaving him $900. Her [ His] pattern of conduct [ study]. First meeting with the fourteen year old poor Blake [ Lois].
2. Lois [
Legendre] takes him to see Legendre [ Genevra] on Long Island. Legendre’s [ Genevra’s] legend of purity.
3. His passion for Genevra. His different methods of trying to win her—the kindness of Lois and her mother.
4. He gets a job of rewriting the memoirs of some stuffed shirt—one sees that little Lois is in love with him.
5. The episode of the theatre and how Lois saves him.
6. He goes into Lois’ bedroom and spies on her.
7. He gets $1500. from the sale of an island in the St. Lawrence.
8. He tells all to Genevra who coldly throws him over.
9. He and Legendre gamble on the market and make $20,000 and he plunges into the world of pleasure, finally losing it all.
10. He goes to a gambling house and then a curiosity shop. He meets the Orientalist and finds the feather fan [
Indian crane skin].
11. Blake’s first wish—for luxury. Coming out of the shop he meets the crowd looking for him. They go to the stockbroker’s party—the women, Joan and Barbara.
12. Blake wishes to be rich and immediately finds at breakfast that he has inherited five million dollars from a grandfather. This is the second use of the skin and he notices a slight shrinkage in it.
WE HAVE A TIME LAPSE OF SEVERAL MONTHS
13. His servant reports on his decline to the old professor and John Blake aids the professor by accident—then realizing in terror that the token will have shrunk again.
14. The theatre. Genevra’s beauty is outclassed by Lois’. He and Lois fall desperately in love. Desiring her love has made his token shrink so that he has but two months left of perfect happiness. He throws the skin down a well. The gardener finds it undamaged.
15. He consults a zoologist and learns the legend of the skin. He consults a physicist. A machine breaks trying to break the skin. He goes to a foundry. A press breaks trying to break the skin. Finally a chemist fails to get a reaction from the skin.
16. He finds Lois asleep in a sad scene. His health breaks and the doctors argue over him. He is ordered away.
17. He goes to a health resort and guests turn from him. They try to get rid of him. He is inveigled into a duel and uses up one of his last wishes.
18. He meets the people in the mountain.
19. He throws the skin into a fire without success. Lois comes to him as he is dying.
20. He wants her and with his wish he dies.
21. The beautiful epilogue about Lois and Genevra.
Genevra Barr is coming down from Vassar to New York. Her father has been ruined by the war leaving her $900. She decides that she is going to be a great figure in the dress business and she lays out a course of study for herself—studying advertising, methods of the great wholesale clothes merchants and attends a school of design—everything to prepare herself for being a career woman.
She meets a poor man named Blake, who is very kind to her. He is a hopelessly impractical inventor, dream character of some sort of whom one does not at this moment expect success. She runs into a wealthy girl through her business, perhaps a girl who is doing social work or studying design as a hobby and this girl is also alone and homeless but is better fitted than Genevra, more in the know about New York and how to get around. They are both Western girls. Lois has more money while Genevra is just barely getting along on her $900.
Lois takes her out to Long Island to a man’s house. The man is a polo player, romantic type, a confirmed bachelor. His legend is that while he has made love to many women he has never for a single moment allowed himself to become sentimental. She conceives a passion for him and goes through several routines to try and win him. Meanwhile the poor young inventor and his mother with whom she lives are very kind to her and one perceives that the young inventor is in love with her. But he sees that she has her eyes fixed on some high destiny and has nothing to offer.
She goes to the theatre with Legendre and one of her subterfuges which is that she has a good deal of money is almost exposed but John Blake’s (the inventor’s) discernment gets her out of this mess. About this time in the story she has noticed on sale a very splendid feather fan from Persia which appears in a store window, perhaps Tiffany’s and is instantly withdrawn from sale. This is a plant which will develop later.
She goes out to Long Island by herself and follows Legendre around for one whole day in a sort of state of hypnosis watching him play polo, watching him all through the day with fascination. She is enabled to do this by a visit to Lois perhaps. Now she has a spot of luck. She inherits a little money from the sale of an island in the St. Lawrence River which her grandfather owned. Out of this she buys some new clothes and declares her love to Legendre and is repelled as he coldly throws her over. Now on Lois’ advice she plunges with the money into the wholesale dress market and makes a killing—something like the famous polo coat killing of 1915. She buys some model from Paris which springs into immediate popularity and clears $20,000., but it seems all to have come too late. She moves up into a luxurious apartment house and spending this money carefully the world of fashion is now open to her but men have ceased to interest her and she thinks only about Legendre who has so thoroughly snubbed her except for that moment—he passes out of her life. Her money goes in luxury and now when she has nothing suddenly she finds a feather fan. It’s owner will not sell it but instead will give it to her for a kiss. He tells her its peculiar property. Her first wish is for fun and almost as she is leaving the shop where she has acquired the feather fan, she meets Lois looking for her. They go to a big party and there Genevra finds that she has come into a fortune. She finds this out at 6 o’clock in the morning. She has inherited five million dollars. This is the second use of the feather fan and she notices that it has diminished in size and feathers seem to be missing. She feels a certain awe and premonition.
There is a time lapse of several months.
The dean of Vassar College in New York comes to see her in regard to an endowment, but finds her in a state of terror. She has changed. Her maid tells the dean about the curious change that has come over her. She aids the dean by accident and then realizes that the feather fan has shrunk again. She goes to the opera that night. Two people are present. One is Legendre and the other John Blake, neither of whom she has seen for some time. John Blake in the course of these months has made a fortune and suddenly become one of the most important figures in the business world of New York through his invention. He is also tremendously attractive and she realizes what charm he has and begins to fall in love with him.
Legendre on the other hand, begins to look to her faded and conceited and not worth while. She falls desperately in love with Blake but desiring his love makes the feather fan shrink further still. She feels a diminution of energy in herself. Blake returns her love but a doctor tells her that from her present physical condition she has only two months to live. She throws the feather fan from the top of a tall building but a man finds it in the street and brings it back undamaged.
She consults a zoologist and learns the legend of the fan and a physicist. Every effort is made to try to stretch it and restore it to its original size. Feathers are added but to no effect—perhaps a man is seriously hurt or a machine damaged trying to fix the feather fan. All this is happening during her honeymoon with John Blake, perhaps abroad. Her health is now extremely bad and doctors argue over the situation and finally order her away.
She goes to a health resort and the guests turn away from her. They try to get rid of her. She is inveigled into a contest of will with another woman, perhaps a set of tennis or a game of chance to see which one will live and she wins but it uses up one of her last wishes. She has not desired the contest. The feather fan has become a curse. She wanders up into the mountains near the health resort and talks with some simple people envying them. On her return to New York she throws the feather fan into a fire but it doesn’t burn. She is dying now. John Blake comes to her. She wants him with her and this is her last wish as she dies. For a little while we follow the two men that she has cared about. Legendre becoming more and more worldly and more unhappy while Blake who must always have been an utterly charming and unworldly character goes ahead in his own line always carrying with him her image.
This is really a character study of a very fine girl who has the ideal of success and who tries it in the long view without getting anywhere and then from the short view. She is a symbol herself of the girl of 1919-1920. The world is her apple but she butts up against it with the result, in the case of her fruitless passion for Legendre and misses the real love which was always hers for the asking.
Now suddenly that thing that we all want comes to her. The feather fan which is a symbol of the ancient wishing ring—of a token which will give us everything which humanity longs for. It is the answer to the desire of modern woman. It is the world offered her. But alas we have to take what we get because this token brings with it death and mortality. She gets wealth, yes, but what is wealth without health. But more than that she gets released from her thraldom to Legendre, her hopeless love for him, but finding that he is not even faintly worthy of it and she has even that final goal of a perfect love but the perfect love which is the summit in the crown of all that could be wished is defeated because of the means with which she obtained it. If she had taken it when it came to her naturally all would have been well but it is part of that power given by the fan that all things touched by it will be tainted. It is even sadder having the love and knowing that it cannot last—that is is only given for a day.
Then comes her fruitless and dramatic fight against death almost like that of the girl in “Dark Victory” though of course different and her death which symbolizes something that seems to me to have happened to women of that very generation of the twenties who thought that the world owed them happiness and pleasure if only they had the courage enough. The sanitariums are full of them and many are dead. I could name many names and after those wild five years from 1919-24 women changed a little in America and settled back to something more stable. The real lost generation of girls was those who were young right after the war because they were the ones with infinite belief.
The F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers at Princeton include the two-page outline and three-page treatment for what appears to have been a projected movie, “The Feather Fan.” Both are typed.
The outline, which came first, was originally the story of John Blake who finds a magic “Indian crane skin.” Fitzgerald started to revise this outline into the story of Genevra Barr, but stopped after the second item. (Fitzgerald’s revisions are bracketted in the transcription). Then he wrote the summary for the story of Genevra and the feather fan that grants her wishes while consuming her health. The reference to Dark Victory—a 1939 movie starring Bette Davis—places “The Feather Fan” in the last two years of Fitzgerald’s life.
The material for “The Feather Fan” is unpromising because the fantasy plot and the serious theme about the girls of 1919-1920 with their “infinite belief” do not accommodate each other.
Published in Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual (1977).