Author of “This Side of Paradise”, “Flappers and Philosophers”
It began in Paris, that impression—fleeting, chiefly literary, unprofound—that the world was growing darker. We carefully reconstructed an old theory and, blonde both of us, cast supercilious Nordic glances at the play of the dark children around us. We had left America less than one half of one per cent American, but the pernicious and sentimental sap was destined to rise again within us. We boiled with ancient indignations toward the French. We sat in front of Anatole France’s house for an hour in hope of seeing the old gentleman come out—but we thought simultaneously that when he dies, the France of flame and glory dies with him. We drove in the Bois de Boulogne—thinking of France as a spoiled and revengeful child which, having kept Europe in a turmoil for two hundred years, has spent the last forty demanding assistance in its battles, that the continent may be kept as much like a bloody sewer as possible.
In Brentano’s2 near the Cafe de la Paix, I picked up Dreiser’s suppressed “Genius”3 for three dollars. With the exception of The Titan I liked it best among his five novels, in spite of the preposterous Christian Science episode near the end. We stayed in Paris long enough to finish it.
Italy, which is to the English what France is to the Americans, was in a pleasant humor. As a French comedy writer remarked we inevitably detest our benefactors, so I was glad to see that Italy was casting off four years of unhealthy suppressed desires. In Florence you could hardly blame a squad of Italian soldiers for knocking down an Omaha lady who was unwilling to give up her compartment to a Colonel. Why, the impudent woman could not speak Italian! So the Carabinieri4 can hardly be blamed for being incensed. And as for knocking her around a little—well, boys will be boys. The American ambassadorial tradition in Rome having for some time been in the direct line of sentimental American literature, I do not doubt that even they found some compensating sweetness in the natures of the naughty Bersaglieri.5
We were in Rome two weeks. You can see the fascination of the place. We stayed two weeks even though we could have left in two days—that is we could have left if we had not run out of money. I met John Carter, the author of “These Wild Young People,”6 in the street one day and he cashed me a check for a thousand lira. We spent this on ointment. The ointment trust thrives in Rome. All the guests at the two best hotels are afflicted with what the proprietors call “mosquitos too small for screens.” We do not call them that in America.
John Carter lent us Alice Adams and we read it aloud to each other under the shadow of Caesar’s house. If it had not been for Alice we should have collapsed and died in Rome as so many less fortunate literary people have done. Alice Adams more than atones for the childish heroics of Ramsey Milholland and for the farcical spiritualism in The Magnificent Ambersons. After having made three brave attempts to struggle through Moon-Calf it was paradise to read someone who knows how to write.
By bribing the ticket agent with one thousand lira to cheat some old general out of his compartment—the offer was the agent’s, not ours—we managed to leave Italy.
“Vous avez quelque chose pour declarer?” asked the border customs officials early next morning (only they asked it in better French).
I awoke with a horrible effort from a dream of Italian beggars.
“Oui!” I shrieked, “Je veux declare que je suis tres, tres heureux apartir d’Italie!” I could understand at last why the French loved France. They have seen Italy.
We had been to Oxford before—after Italy we went back there arriving gorgeously at twilight when the place was fully peopled for us by the ghosts of ghosts—the characters, romantic, absurd or melancholy, of Sinister Street, Zuleika Dobson7 and Jude the Obscure.8 But something was wrong now—something that would never be right again. Here was Rome—here on the High9 were the shadows of the Via Appia.10 In how many years would our descendants approach this ruin with supercilious eyes to buy postcards from men of a short, inferior race—a race that once were Englishmen. How soon—for money follows the rich lands and the healthy stock, and art follows begging after money. Your time will come, New York, fifty years, sixty. Apollo’s head is peering crazily, in new colors that our generation will never live to know, over the tip of the next century.
1. Fitzgerald’s first collection of short stories was published on 10 September 1920.
2. Paris bookstore.
3. The “Genius”(1915).
4. Members of the Italian national police force.
5. Members of a crack Italian infantry regiment.
6. An article by John F. Carter, Jr. (1897-1967), it appeared in the September 1920 Atlantic Monthly.
7. Max Beerbohm’s 1911 fantasy set at Oxford University.
8. 1895 novel by British author Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).
9. High Street, Oxford.
10. The Appian Way, road connecting Rome with Capua.
Published in Brentano’s Book Chat magazine (September-October 1921).