This page intentionally left blank The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald Although F. Scott Fitzgerald remains one of the most recognizable literary ? gures of the twentieth century, his legendary life – including his tempestuous romance with his wife and muse Zelda – continues to overshadow his art. However glamorous his image as the poet laureate of the 1920s, he was ? rst and foremost a great writer with a gift for ? uid, elegant prose.
This introduction reminds readers why Fitzgerald deserves his preeminent place in literary history. It discusses not only his best-known works, The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender Is the Night (1934), but the full scope of his output, including his other novels and his short stories. This book introduces new readers and students of Fitzgerald to his trademark themes, his memorable characters, his signi? cant plots, the literary modes and genres from which he borrowed, and his inimitable style. i r k c u r n u t t is Professor of English at Troy UniversityMontgomery. He is vice president of the International F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, managing editor of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Review and a board member of the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Cambridge Introductions to Literature This series is designed to introduce students to key topics and authors. Accessible and lively, these introductions will also appeal to readers who want to broaden their understanding of the books and authors they enjoy. Ideal for students, teachers, and lecturers r Concise, yet packed with essential information r Key suggestions for further reading Titles in this series: Eric Bulson The Cambridge Introduction to James Joyce John Xiros Cooper The Cambridge Introduction to T. S. Eliot Kirk Curnutt The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald Janette Dillon Kevin J. Hayes The Cambridge Introduction to Early English Theatre The Cambridge Introduction to Herman Melville The Cambridge Introduction to Walt Whitman Jane Goldman The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf David Holdeman The Cambridge
Introduction to W. B. Yeats M. Jimmie Killingsworth Wendy Martin John Peters Ronan McDonald The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett The Cambridge Introduction to Emily Dickinson Peter Messent The Cambridge Introduction to Mark Twain The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad The Cambridge Introduction to the American Short Story The Cambridge Introduction to English Theatre, 1660–1900 Sarah Robbins The Cambridge Introduction to Harriet Beecher Stowe Martin Sco? eld Peter Thomson Janet Todd The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald
KIRK CURNUTT CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York www. cambridge. org Information on this title: www. cambridge. org/9780521859097 © Kirk Curnutt 2007 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format 2007 ISBN-13 ISBN-10 ISBN-13 ISBN-10 ISBN-13 ISBN-10 978-0-511-27393-3 eBook (EBL) 0-511-27393-2 eBook (EBL) 978-0-521-85909-7 hardback 0-521-85909-3 hardback 978-0-521-67600-7 paperback 0-521-67600-2 paperback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Contents Preface Introduction Chapter 1 Life
Childhood and literary apprenticeship (1896–1917) Zelda and early success (1918–1924) Artistic maturity and personal decline (1925–1934) The crack-up and the comeback (1935–1940) page vii 1 12 13 16 21 24 28 29 31 34 36 39 40 53 69 85 Chapter 2 Cultural context My generation: youth culture and the politics of aging The theater of being: personality and performative identity The marketplace of self-making: personal style and consumerism Flaunting recreations: conspicuous leisure and the culture of indulgence Chapter 3 Works Composition process Major themes Major characters Major plots and motifs v vi Contents
Mode and genre Style and point of view 97 107 112 112 118 121 127 136 141 Chapter 4 Critical reception Contemporary reviewers The Fitzgerald revival Modern Fitzgerald studies Notes Guide to further reading Index Preface This study introduces F. Scott Fitzgerald to two very different audiences: those who possess only a passing familiarity with his life and work, and those who already know him thoroughly. For the former group – whether students or general readers – my overviews of his biography, his oeuvre, his historical context, and his critical reception provide the basic information necessary for appreciating his literary legacy.
While assembling the essential details, I also wish to impart a working knowledge of how they have been previously presented so that newcomers may understand why their recitation has reduced some facts to commonplaces while others remain relatively ignored. This latter goal further suggests why I simultaneously address a second readership of fellow a? cionados, many of whom, frankly, are far more distinguished scholars than I: I ? rmly believe that Fitzgerald is undergoing the kind of critical makeover that writers of his stature periodically require to prevent their reputations from fossilizing.
Throughout the seven decades since the author of The Great Gatsby was posthumously rehabilitated, scholars have demonstrated a talent for reinvigorating interest in him. The 1990s and 2000s have proved an especially fertile period, with the result that to describe Fitzgerald as a leading literary encyclopedia does seems lamentably reductive: “Widely considered the literary spokesman of the ‘jazz age’ . . . Part of the interest of his work derives from the fact that the mad, gin-drinking, morally and spiritually bankrupt men and women he wrote about led lives that closely resembled his own. 1 In attempting to scrape away such barnacles of clich? , the present volume re? ects e devotees’ concerted efforts to provide recent initiates and long-time admirers alike a dimensioned appreciation of his output. Accomplishing this goal justi? es what readers may ? nd a surprising structural decision on my part: in analyzing Fitzgerald’s work in my central chapter, “Works,” I eschew chronology in favor of a topical organization that allows me to assess themes, characters, and genres free of any prejudicial presumptions about a piece’s place in the trajectory of his career.
The “developmental model” of literary analysis, I contend, has limited our understanding of Fitzgerald. Although few would disagree that he “peaked” in 1925 with The Great Gatsby, vii viii Preface that conviction inevitably taints the discussion of other efforts by inviting us to look for ? aws that can be attributed to whatever personal and/or professional valley he may have been suffering at a particular moment. A non-chronological approach, by contrast, allows us to assess his texts according to their own criteria rather than that of his best-known work.
It discourages us from reading his debut novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), for the greatness it might foreshadow instead of achieve, for example, and to rediscover a story like “Family in the Wind” (1932) that is neglected simply because it does not reinforce the legend. Organizing by category instead of timeline has the additional bene? t of highlighting the continuity of authorial interests. It invites us to compare, for example, Jay Gatsby to Monroe Stahr, the hero of Fitzgerald’s ? al, uncompleted novel, The Last Tycoon (1941), two characters not often discussed in the same breath simply because ? fteen years separate their conception. 2 My views on Fitzgerald re? ect the in? uence of several mentors to whom I am indebted: Ruth Prigozy, Jackson R. Bryer, J. Gerald Kennedy, Scott Donaldson, Ronald Berman, Milton R. Stern, Linda Wagner-Martin, James L. W. West III, and Matthew J. Bruccoli. Special thanks as well to James H. Meredith, William Blazek, Gail D. Sinclair, Cathy W. Barks, Heidi Kunz, Michael K.
Glenday, Susan Wanlass, and many, many more; the editorial board of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Review; the board of directors of the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama; and the membership of the International Fitzgerald Society, whose enthusiasm is contagious. Introduction Azar Na? si’s memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), tells the story of an Islamic woman teaching Western classics in Iran between 1979, when Muslim fundamentalists under the Ayatollah Khomeini seized control of the country, and 1997, when Na? i emigrated to America. In addition to Henry James’s Washington Square (1881), Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), and the Vladimir Nabokov novel cited in her title, her syllabus includes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), which she assigns shortly after militants storm the US embassy on November 4, 1979, initiating a 444-day hostage crisis. Given the roiling anti-Americanism that Khomeini fomented, it is not surprising to learn that some of Na? si’s students at the University of Tehran attack this quintessentially American novel.
More intriguing is how deeply – not to mention how differently – others are affected by the tale of the enigmatic millionaire whose unlikely presence in the ritzy enclaves of Long Island Sound upends oldmoney notions of noblesse oblige. One colleague risks being censured as “antirevolutionary” for dubbing himself “Little Great Gatsby” because he owns a swimming pool. A ? ery zealot decides that the only commendable character is George Wilson, the cuckolded garage owner who murders Jay Gatsby in the mistaken belief that he is responsible for the death of Wilson’s wife, Myrtle; as “the genuine symbol of the oppressed, in the land of . . the Great Satan,” Wilson serves as the smiting “hand of God,” meting divine justice to Fitzgerald’s decadent materialists. 1 Offended by this religious rhetoric, a young woman argues that Gatsby is about the illusoriness of aspiration, a theme that to her reveals more about fallibility than all the sanctimonious talk of right and wrong. In a risky move Na? si invites her class to stage a mock trial meant to mimic (if not parody) the rampant public trials of state enemies. The goal is to decide not only The Great Gatsby’s de? ning theme but the purpose of literature itself.
Called to defend Fitzgerald, the embattled instructor refutes the prosecution’s claim that the plot is amoral because it centers upon an adulterous relationship (a charge that, perhaps unbeknownst to Na? si, was leveled by some early reviewers): 1 2 Introduction You don’t read Gatsby to learn whether adultery is good or bad but to learn about how complicated issues such as adultery and ? delity and marriage are. A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in ? xed formulas about good and evil. (133)
As a fellow professor, I ? nd it dif? cult to read Na? si’s story without a twinge of envy, for her students’ debate makes palpable something that we who eke out our livings in the literature classroom desperately want to believe: because art spurs critical thinking, and because societies regardless of political persuasion will seek to suppress the potentially dangerous knowledge it circulates, educators have a moral duty to expose students to its prohibited content, regardless of the costs of our advocacy. Despite its Middle Eastern setting, Reading Lolita in Tehran belongs to a popular genre that dramatizes this contention.
Including both novels (Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1962) and ? lms (the Robin Williams vehicle Dead Poets Society, 1989), these are narratives in which brave teachers suffer the slings and arrows of small-minded administrators and parents who object to any challenging of inherited moralities. Na? si’s witness-stand denunciation of “? xed formulas” is actually a de? ning plot point of the genre, which climaxes with the protagonist standing up to a repressive governing body by delivering a rousing panegyric on art’s capacity to compel young people to new realms of insight.
Alas, one of the ? rst things I discovered about teaching is that opportunities to speechify on literature’s uplift are actually few and far between. For nearly a decade and a half now, I have worked at a “non-traditional” university, the kind that in a less sensitive era was condescendingly referred to as a “night school. ” Our 4,500 students are mostly working adults, many of them United States Air Force enlistees. When I joined the faculty in 1993 – as green and na? ve ? as any freshly minted PhD beginning his ? rst “real” job at twenty-eight could possibly be – the average age was thirty-three.
Over the years, that number has dropped to twenty-six as economic downturns continue to force a higher proportion of recent high school graduates into the full-time labor force. What has not changed is the prevailing suspicion that literature is an elitist luxury with little relevance outside of the small circle of “experts” privy to its occult meanings. I can appreciate my students’ adverse opinion of it because I am sympathetic to the pressures they must negotiate even to remain in school; there is nothing more eye-opening than having a 47-year-old African-American woman breakdown uring a research paper consultation because she fears her employer is plotting a round of lay-offs, or to have a 27-year-old staff sergeant Introduction 3 ask to complete the class after the semester because his unit has been deployed to Baghdad. Because education on my campus is often a third priority behind work and family commitments, I ? nd myself struggling to convince classes that literature can have real-world applications and that assigned readings can be more than mere hoops hopped through on the way to a degree.
On bad days I defensively console myself by insisting that my advocacy is a necessary and perhaps even noble endeavor, but even on the good ones I am aware that it is hardly the stuff of riveting drama. The reason why memoirs like Na? si’s or Roberta Huntley’s The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo (also 2003), which substitutes The Old Man and the Sea (1952) for The Great Gatsby, have proved so popular is that they make imminent the consequences of their Socratic insistence that literature will redeem the unexamined life.
Their war-torn settings and the repressive regimes they oppose lend urgency to their literary purpose, and urgency is something that, for all the overhyped talk of the culture wars dividing the groves of academe, is not always easy to generate in the classroom. The simple reality is that few teachers like me will ever be commanded to drink the hemlock in the name of our pedagogical imperatives. The question likely put to most of us is not the one Na? si’s students pose when she encourages them to explore the mythic nature of Gatsby’s love for Daisy Fay Buchanan: “What use is love in this world we live in? (110). Instead, we face ones that are far more formidable impediments, such as I recently did when I encountered a forty-year-old business major at a local watering hole who was just pickled enough to protest about his curricular requirements: “Why do they make me take your class, anyway? ” Rather than resent such questions, I believe in taking up their gauntlet. In the spirit of Na? si, the present volume is an invitation to explore a variation on her class’s concern: what use is F. Scott Fitzgerald in this world we live in? The answer might seem elf-evident, for in the popular culture Fitzgerald remains one of America’s most recognizable literary icons, his physiognomy as prominent on the Mt Rushmore of national belletrists as Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway. Since the 1940s, when he was posthumously reclaimed from obscurity, the story of his rise to renown in the 1920s, his declining popularity in the 1930s, his alcoholism, and his doomed romance with his wife and muse Zelda Sayre has been kept alive through biographies and romans a clef, television documentaries and dramatizations, dour kitchen-sink ` melodramas and glitzy Broadway-style musicals.
The Great Gatsby, his bestknown novel, likewise long ago entered the public vernacular, inspiring movies, operas, and ballets while lending its dapper imprimatur to bars, streets, clothing lines, planned communities, and even, in the 1970s, sugar packets. 2 So assured 4 Introduction is his status that to undermine it dissenters must resort to calumny: “Fitzgerald was a bad writer who has somehow gained the reputation of a good one,” reads a throwaway line in a recent biography of Arnold Rothstein, the New York mobster who inspired Gatsby’s shadowy Meyer Wolfshiem. 3 Such statements smack of ? ppant contrarianism rather than reasoned argumentation, and they rarely rise above the persuasiveness of a minority opinion. A far greater threat to Fitzgerald’s prominence is that the qualities sustaining it – elegant sophistication and the pathos of personal tragedy – rarely resonate with students like mine. This is frustrating, given that I live in Montgomery, Alabama, one of the three or four most in? uential sites in the writer’s biography. It was here, after all, that Scott ? rst met Zelda in 1918, and certain parts of the city – which Fitzgerald dubbed “Tarleton, Georgia” in his ? ction – still resonate with their fabled romance.
Discussing “The Ice Palace” (1920), for example, I like to note that our local Oakwood Cemetery – a popular tourist attraction, thanks to its most famous occupant, Hank Williams – is the place where Sally Carrol Happer’s melli? uous meditation on Southern mutability takes place. Other signi? cant locales include Taylor Field (now Maxwell Air Force Base, where many of my military students work), the former Elite Restaurant (one block east of our campus), Pleasant Avenue (where Scott courted Zelda at her parents’ house), Oak Park (where Zelda swam), the remnants of Camp Sheridan north of town (where Scott was barracked), and many others.
Occasionally, I even round up students and take them to 919 Felder Avenue, where the Fitzgeralds wintered in 1931–2 shortly after Zelda was released from the ? rst of her many sanitarium stays. Since 1987, this address has been home to the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum Association, which holds the distinction of operating the only house and grounds the couple ever lived in that is open to the public. Yet, as much as I try to impress upon students their good fortune at studying Fitzgerald in an environment that so shaped his ? tion, our proximity to this history does surprisingly little to ignite their enthusiasm. Another reason I ? nd this lack of interest frustrating is that I have vivid memories of my own undergraduate introduction to Fitzgerald in 1985 as a sophomore at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Back then, it was not rare to encounter campus beaux scouring All the Sad Young Men (1926) for a line to impress their ladyloves, or coeds showing off the paper dolls they had crafted after perusing an outrageously priced copy of the Fitzgeralds’ scrapbooks, The Romantic Egoists (1973), in a used-book store.
Young women toted paperback copies of Nancy Milford’s 1970 biography Zelda (usually borrowed from their mothers) to signal the wild, irrepressible personae they cultivated, and ? iers featured Art Deco designs that evoked the covers of The Beautiful and Introduction 5 Damned (1922) and Tender Is the Night (1934). Occasionally, word of house parties requiring 1920s attire made the rounds, and the vintage-clothing outlets would be chockfull of aspiring revelers searching for affordable (i. e. , used) tuxedo jackets and ? apper dresses. More important, the more literary sorts strove to demonstrate their af? ity with Fitzgerald’s vibrancy and poignancy; to discourse on the beauty of the mascara tear that runs down a young woman’s cheek in Gatsby’s third chapter was to prove that, like the titular hero himself, one possessed a “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life. ”4 I assume such things still happen, though I suspect they are limited to that rather rare? ed world of the traditional college English department, where the connection between life and literature needs no explication. As for my students, I ? nd the reasons why they are not predisposed to share my passion for Fitzgerald both revelatory and instructive.
For starters, for a working- and lower-middle-class population, the elite world of country clubs, debutante parties, and mansions in which the majority of his work is set can seem dubiously snobbish, preppy, and even effete. His haut bourgeois ? xation with prestige and social distinction strikes them as aristocratic rather than democratic, which offends their proletarian sympathies. African-American students in particular ? nd little reason to relate to him when contemporaries such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston speak more directly to their heritage. I am proud to report that my campus is the most integrated of all Alabama colleges, with nearly thirty percent of our population composed of African-American women. Even in the twenty-? rst century, that is no mean feat in a Southern state with such a tortured racial history. ) Interestingly, age proves as decisive a barrier as class and race. Fitzgerald’s preoccupation with youth often strikes our post-thirty population as irredeemably adolescent. Our teens and twentysomethings, by contrast, ? nd him irredeemably antiquated, especially in light of the casual bagginess that hip-hop has brought to their fashion and slang.
Bred in a landscape of digital celerity in which the past appears to have little demonstrable connection to the here and now, this age group frankly considers the 1920s Jazz Age as remote as the Paleozoic era. A handful of my undergraduates may emulate the prose and personae of Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, or Sylvia Plath, but that is because these authors’ expatriate forays, pharmaceutical experimentation, and raw adolescent anger are not quite so foreign to their maturation experiences as the whimsy of “The Ice Palace” or the lachrymose glitter of The Great Gatsby.
Finally, there is the problem of Fitzgerald’s romanticism, whose ornate, formal volubility alienates classes regardless of age or ethnicity. While never as willfully obscure as such “High Modernists” as James Joyce, Ezra Pound, or Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald nevertheless wrote in a passionate, lyrical style whose emotional vulnerability is at odds with the insouciant irony 6 Introduction that has dominated literary expression since the mid-1970s.
Such obstacles demonstrate why teachers can never presume Fitzgerald’s importance; classroom discussions must recognize student likes and dislikes in order to transcend them. Otherwise, the experience of reading will never rise above the drudgery of an assignment. An essential issue for debate within this dialogue, I would further add, is the meaning of literary relevance itself. As I often admit to classes, I am not always certain that I know the line between trying to interest them in Fitzgerald and pandering to their interests.
I talk openly of how, while I want to facilitate emotional connections with his work, I also hope to challenge the criteria determining students’ personal likes and dislikes – much as learning from the reasons for their ambivalence toward him teaches me to interrogate mine. One of my favorite initial reactions to The Great Gatsby provides an excellent entry into this discussion: “I couldn’t get into it,” a class member will say, by which he or she usually means, “This work had no personal relevance to me. Classes are sometimes taken aback by my standard response: “Why should a work have to be personally relevant to you to be meaningful? Might there not be things worth learning about Fitzgerald and his place in American literature that have no direct bearing on your interests? ” My question is as useful as it is provocative because it allows us to debate the pros and cons of personal response, which is the interpretive strategy in which they and I alike were ? rst trained. In? uenced by the anti-institutionalism of the 1960s, this pedagogy emerged out of the then-? dging ? eld of composition studies, popularized by theorists such as Peter Elbow and Donald J. Murray. In general terms, personal-response writing insists that literary interpretation is a tool for empowering us to cultivate self-awareness and shape individual subjectivity, aims often celebrated under the vaguely self-help-sounding umbrella phrase “? nding one’s voice. ” By the mid-1970s, this approach proved wildly popular in literature classrooms because it provided a method for engaging students unenthused by the prospect of explicating symbols and delineating themes.
When I introduce this background during discussion periods, I usually enjoy a rewarding “Aha! ” moment, one of those instances when students recognize the relevance of the point I invite them to ponder. That “Aha! ” typically evaporates when I posit a more controversial idea: that interpretation performs the equally valuable service of encouraging a loss of self as well as its discovery. As I try to convey to students who cling a little too furiously to the “couldn’t get into it” rationale, at least some relaxing of the “I”’s imperious tendency to view the world as a narrow re? ction of itself is necessary if the true goal of education is to promote critical re? ection. Such is Na? si’s aim, Introduction 7 in fact, when she discourages her class from the “self-righteousness that sees morality in ? xed formulas about good and evil. ” As she argues from the witness stand: A good novel is one that shows the complexity of individuals, and creates enough space for all these characters to have a voice; in this way is a novel called democratic – not that it advocates democracy but that by nature it is so.
Empathy lies at the heart of Gatsby, like so many other great novels – the biggest sin is to be blind to others’ problems and pains. Not seeing them means denying their existence. (132) Empathy is an excellent if unlikely byproduct of discussing relevance: it suggests the necessity of readers stepping beyond their individual enthusiasms to appreciate the signi? cance of “others’ problems and pains” and acknowledge the larger world of experience surrounding them. Again, this imperative applies to teachers as much as students; it is a prerogative that we must demonstrate we pursue instead of simply preach.
Otherwise, we cheapen the value of the intellectual capital we seek to cultivate by passively resenting our supposed irrelevance to “real” life rather than actively creating its pertinence. To return to our de? ning question then: what use is F. Scott Fitzgerald in this world we live in? As the chapters that follow demonstrate, he has much to teach us about issues of ongoing valence, in regard to both literature and, more broadly, culture – and not merely American culture, either, as Reading Lolita in Tehran again demonstrates.
Appreciating his relevance, however, requires rescuing him from a central misperception that has tainted his reputation. The long-held belief that he was ultimately a “failed” writer because his personal problems impeded his productivity and because he had fallen out of favor by the time of his December 21, 1940, death begs the question of why artists are compelling only when their lives can be deemed “tragic” and their promise “unful? lled. ” Contemporaries such as Eugene O’Neill, William Saroyan, and John Steinbeck suffered comparable ups and downs, yet their biographies exert little sway over the popular imagination.
The reason is simple: their stories cannot be reduced to a parable as readily as Fitzgerald’s can. Thanks to his career trajectory – early, intense success followed by a long downward spiral – he has come to serve as our literary Icarus, the golden boy whose ambition and ingenuity took him too close to the sun, melting the wings of his talent. (The Icarus motif is especially appropriate when we remember Hemingway’s description of Fitzgerald’s “butter? y wings” in A Moveable Feast : “He became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not ? any more because the love of ? ight was 8 Introduction gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless. ”)5 Failure is the essential component of his legend because, without it, he could not symbolize the lesson we have wanted to derive from his example – namely, that however hard we beat against our limitations, our weaknesses humble our gifts, and we are forced to abide in a world incommensurate with the capacities of imagination. However appealing the Icarus myth, it distorts and distracts.
It is responsible for the presumption that Fitzgerald produced only one truly “great” novel (Gatsby, of course), while the rest of his oeuvre is ? awed and sloppy. For decades, this presumption proved particularly damaging to Tender Is the Night, whose perceived imperfections (a discursive narrative structure and inconsistent point of view) were attributed to the nine years it took to complete. Fitzgerald’s early novels, This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and Damned, suffer the even more degrading fate of being dismissed as “juvenile” or “apprentice” efforts.
The myth has also caused a severe underestimation of Fitzgerald’s short ? ction. To tease out the Icarus parallel, we might say that the sun responsible for the waning of his literary wax was the Saturday Evening Post, that mass-circulation paragon of middle-class respectability whose generous remuneration led him to squander his energies on silly love stories. Fitzgerald bears much responsibility for this commonplace. In a well-known 1929 letter to Hemingway, he described himself as an “old whore” whom the Post now paid “$4000. a screw. ”6 The metaphor does a vast injustice to the sixty-? e stories he sold to the Post from 1920 to 1937, as well as the additional 100 he published elsewhere. Readers who encounter “Winter Dreams” (1922) or “Babylon Revisited” (1931) in a literary anthology will have a hard time understanding just how these classics represent a prostitution of talent. Even as one begins to recognize the plot formulae within lesser works, there remains an undisputable level of craftsmanship. Moreover, dismissing Fitzgerald’s stories as slick contrivances ignores the range of genre, style, and technique with which he experimented.
Some of his best stories are comedies of manners (“Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” 1920), while others are fantasies (“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” 1922) and still others acute social commentaries (“May Day,” 1920). Once we remove the stigma of the “commercial” from them, we recognize that his contributions to the short story rank him among such certi? ed masters as James, William Faulkner, and, of course, Hemingway. The obligatorily “tragic” interpretation of Fitzgerald’s life also overlooks the fact that he was adept at comedy as well as tragedy.
Early non-? ction pieces such as “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk” and “How to Live on $36,000 a Year” (both 1924) are as funny as anything by the Algonquin wits. Indeed, Introduction 9 while the work of George S. Kaufman or Alexander Woollcott has aged poorly, these cheeky essays remain fresh because of Fitzgerald’s self-deprecation, which allowed him to satirize the excesses of the Jazz Age by ribbing his and Zelda’s own reputation as impulsive spendthrifts. There is also a great deal of humor in his ? ction, whether in the coy repartee of ? pper stories like “The Offshore Pirate” (1920) or in the skewering caricatures of wannabe artists such as Chester McKee in The Great Gatsby and Albert McKisco in Tender Is the Night. And while the disappointments of the 1930s disinclined Fitzgerald from exercising this side of his genius, his Pat Hobby stories pungently lampoon Hollywood narcissism and amorality. This is not to say that Fitzgerald’s comedic instincts were unimpeachable; there is no more painful read in his canon than The Vegetable, his disastrous 1923 foray into theatrical farce.
Nevertheless, wryness was as natural to his temperament as the melancholy for which he is remembered. Once these misconceptions are corrected, several themes in Fitzgerald’s life and works reveal their pertinence. His struggle for critical acknowledgment dramatizes the dif? culty that “popular” authors face when trying to build reputations as “serious” artists. His signature storyline of middle-class beaux pursuing rich girls exposes sex roles and social barriers that remain entrenched in the twenty-? rst century. And while his ? ppers may seem quaint throwbacks to a time when bobbed hair and bared legs were suf? ciently rebellious to shock elders, their struggle to break the repressive bonds of propriety in a culture that at once stigmatized and exploited female sexuality is no different from the dilemmas that contemporary women face. Moreover, the tendency of Fitzgerald’s protagonists to succumb to dissipation and prodigality points to the consequences of glamorizing self-indulgence and irresponsibility, as Western popular culture has done since the Jazz Age.
Finally, Fitzgerald’s greatest legacy, his gift for evoking loss in ? uid, aching strokes of prose, makes him an excellent resource for analyzing the affective power of metaphors, imagery, and other ? gures of speech. Finally, although rarely recognized for his political substance, Fitzgerald helps us to appreciate both the appeal and the perils of nationalism, which ignited two world wars during his lifetime and continues (along with religious fundamentalism) to augur instability in our own.
There is no hoarier clich? in e Fitzgerald studies than the claim that his work addresses the “American Dream,” though whether he celebrates or critiques it is disputable. Suf? ce it to say that few writers evoke the paradoxes of “America” as deftly as he does in Gatsby and short stories such as “The Swimmers” (1929). In the concluding paragraph of this unappreciated piece, Fitzgerald conveys patriotism and provincialism 10 Introduction imultaneously as Henry Clay Marston meditates on the metaphorical resonance of his homeland: 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 . . .
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. 7 Out of context, the passage seems to endorse the American belief that its ideals are exportable models of global liberty; it invokes that “shining city on a hill” rhetoric that excites so much resentment in the non-Western world.
One can only imagine how Na? si’s militant students would react. They would likely point out that, up until 1979, the main Iranian bene? ciary of American “willingness” was Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, whose US-backed regime was toppled by the Khomeini revolution. Na? si would not fail to challenge this reading, however. She would note that Marston commends American “generosities” from the deck of a ship bound for France, where he will permanently settle. What sends Marston back to Europe is the gap between the promise of America and its reality. For partisans tempted to denounce the story as anti-American, it is worth remembering that part of the source of his unhappiness in America is his unfaithful wife, who happens to be . . . French. Complexities abound. ) Despite Marston’s disappointment, he is far from rejecting “America” – rather, the disparity makes him value his country all the more as a symbol. Na? si might then point out that similar discrepancies mark all emblems. The ability to accept the inevitable gap between the real and the ideal is what separates the critical thinker from the ideologue, the true intellectual from the apparatchik and apologist.
She implies as much in her memoir’s most striking moment, in which she compares the failure of Gatsby’s dream to those that doomed the Iranian revolution to replace the Shah’s monarchical abuses with Khomeini’s theocratic ones: What we in Iran had in common with Fitzgerald was this dream that became our obsession and overtook our reality, this terrible, beautiful dream, impossible in its actualization, for which any amount of violence might be justi? ed or forgiven . . . He wanted to ful? ll his dream by repeating the past, and to the end he discovered that the past was dead, Introduction 11 the present a sham, and there was no future.
Was this not similar to our revolution, which had come in the name of our collective past and had wrecked our lives in the name of a dream? (144) Such paragraphs offer reason enough to value Fitzgerald: his work transcends its milieu to lend insight into an entirely foreign historical situation. The more we encourage students to pry behind the 1920s facade, the more likely it is ? that they, like Na? si’s, will recognize that his writings are not period pieces but timely representations of human yearning. Chapter 1 Life Childhood and literary apprenticeship (1896–1917) 13 Zelda and early success 1918–1924) 16 Artistic maturity and personal decline (1925–1934) 21 The crack-up and the comeback (1935–1940) 24 “The history of my life is the history of the struggle between an overwhelming urge to write and a combination of circumstances bent on keeping me from it,” Fitzgerald once admitted. 1 Few writers have ever penned as apt an epitaph. From an early age – the quotation appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on September 18, 1920, a week before its author turned twenty-four – he recognized that literary accomplishment would require a dextrous balancing of the events inspiring his ? tion and the hard work of actually producing it. The ledger in which he assessed his annual output reveals how poorly he felt he managed the task: June 1925 was a month of “1000 parties and no work,” while 1928–9 was written off as “no real progress in any way,” and March 1936 was notable only for “work going badly. ”2 Such rebukes were not merely a private habit; Fitzgerald frequently criticized himself in print, mourning what “I might have been and done” were his talents not “lost, spent, gone, dissipated, unrecapturable. 3 Unfortunately, because he was so open about his perceived incapacities, after 1925 he became as famous for the “combination of circumstances” hampering his proli? cacy as for the classics he did complete. Retellings of his life story often sensationalize these impediments – his precarious ? nances, marital instability, alcoholism, and Zelda’s mental illness – forgetting that Fitzgerald was productive both in spite and because of them. His tribulations were the source material that allowed him to pursue the larger literary goal of measuring the moral implications of his era’s changing mores.
Properly appreciating his writing thus requires less emphasis on how “circumstances” interfered with his art and more on how they compelled it. 12 Childhood and literary apprenticeship (1896–1917) 13 Childhood and literary apprenticeship (1896–1917) As with many writers, the ? rst circumstance that Fitzgerald had to overcome was his immediate family. As the New Yorker politely put it in 1926, “His success was a great surprise to the home circle . . . [for] the Fitzgeralds were not what is known as literary people. 4 Although Fitzgerald claimed that his father co-authored an unpublished novel, Edward Fitzgerald (1853–1931) served him mainly as a symbol of failure. When his only son was born on September 24, 1896, the genteel furniture manufacturer presided over an unpro? table wicker works in St Paul, Minnesota. The ? rm’s closing two years later, coupled with Edward’s subsequent undistinguished career as a wholesale grocery salesman, led Fitzgerald to dismiss his father alternately as a “moron” and, more generously, as representative of that “good heart that came from another America” – that is, the Victorian age that modernity had rendered obsolete. The de? ning event of Fitzgerald’s childhood was Edward’s 1908 ? ring from Procter and Gamble, for whom the family had relocated to Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, during his infancy. Memories of that humiliation would resurface whenever the son doubted his own merits. “He had lost his essential drive, his immaculateness of purpose,” Fitzgerald re? ected. “He was a failure the rest of his days” (In His Own Time 297). Defeatism was not merely a personal ? w; it was indicative of his father’s “tired old stock,” which had “very little left of vitality and mental energy” (Apprentice Fiction 178). Edward’s matrilineal lineage could be traced to a founding pair of Maryland families, the Scotts and the Keys, which included Fitzgerald’s namesake, Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-Spangled Banner. ” Yet the Civil War superannuated the legacy of Southern nobility in which Edward was reared, leading Fitzgerald to ascribe his mediocrity to historical upheaval. I wonder how deep the Civil War was in [him],” he wrote in 1940, recalling tales of Edward’s childhood days ferrying Confederate spies across the Potomac. “What a sense of honor and duty . . . How lost [his generation] seemed in the changing world . . . struggling to keep their children in the haute bourgeoisie when their like were sinking into obscur[ity]. ”6 Quite oppositely, Fitzgerald’s mother, Mary or “Mollie” (1860–1936), represented the gaucheries of the upper-middle-class parvenu. The daughter of Irish immigrant Philip F.
McQuillan (1834–1877), who between 1859 and his death built a modest general store into a million-dollar wholesale grocery business, she was a monied but peripheral ? gure in her native St Paul. Known for her eccentric habits and disheveled demeanor, she was considered by her son a “funny old wraith” (Letters 418) and “a neurotic, half insane with pathological worry. ”7 Her neuroses were not unreasonable; three months before Fitzgerald was born, his parents lost two daughters, Mary and Louise, and another would 14 Life die in infancy in 1900.
Fear over her children’s safety – the only other surviving sibling, Annabel, was born in 1901 – caused Mollie to spoil them, a habit that Fitzgerald blamed for his vanity and narcissism. (“I didn’t know till 15 there was anyone in the world except me,” he confessed [Letters 419]). His mixed feelings for Mollie are obvious in the treatment of Beatrice Blaine in This Side of Paradise (1920); thanks to her dithering pampering, Beatrice’s protagonist son, Amory, is imbued with an “aristocratic egotism” of which the plot goes to great lengths to divest him. At least some of Fitzgerald’s resentment re? ected his defensiveness for his father, for he grew up hearing his mother wonder aloud how the family would survive without McQuillan money, their main source of support after their 1908 return to St Paul. Later in life, it arose from Scott’s own dependency. In a sad echo of Edward, he had to rely upon loans from Mollie in the mid-1930s to ? nesse his debts. Fitzgerald’s second immediate childhood in? uence was St Paul itself, a predominantly Catholic, af? uent city whose “topography of bluffs and ? ts (the rich perched on a rim above, the working class on the plain below), no doubt encouraged Fitzgerald’s ? erce awareness of social and class distinctions. ”9 The distinctions were also geographic: after 1908, the Fitzgeralds rented a series of apartments and homes along the outer edges of Summit Avenue, St Paul’s residential showcase. Although a playmate of wealthy scions, Scott was keenly aware that he was not a member of the haut monde. As a result, he suffered a lifelong inferiority complex that, consciously or not, he exacerbated by striking relationships with wealthy cliques.
Andr? LeVot claims that e the resulting resentment led Fitzgerald to depict the self-styled “Boston of the Middle West” as a land of “coupon clippers straining toward worldliness and the Victorian virtues. ”10 The characterization overstates the case, yet it does convey the disdain Fitzgerald felt for the provincial insularity and selfcongratulatory humility of an elite whose prosperity arose from such unglamorous mercantile endeavors as dry goods and shipping. (St Paul’s most in? uential citizen was railroad magnate James J. Hill, whose name often surfaces in his work. Although St Paul was not a literary environment, Scott displayed an early aptitude for writing. Yet he was an indifferent student both at the private St Paul Academy (1908–11) and later at the Newman School (1911–13), the Catholic boarding facility in Hackensack, New Jersey, where his parents sent him in hopes of disciplining his studies. Biographers frequently credit his poor academic performance to his self-absorption. As Arthur Mizener puts it, he was “incapable of learning anything that did not appeal to his imagination. 11 His classroom failures have resulted in the major misconception that he was, in the words of Glenway Wescott, “the worst educated man in the world. ”12 In fact, Fitzgerald read widely, especially in modern literature and history. Childhood and literary apprenticeship (1896–1917) 15 Contemporaries like Wescott (1901–1987) and Edmund Wilson (1895–1972), the future “dean of American critics” with whom Fitzgerald became friends when he entered Princeton University in 1913, doubted his intellectual depth. Yet his style of learning was a departure, not a delinquency, from their more erudite ways.
His thought process was experiential, meaning he grasped knowledge through effusion instead of ratiocination. Although Fitzgerald cited Wilson as his “intellectual conscience” (Crack-Up 178), his most simpatico mentor was actually Father Sigourney Webster Fay (1875–1919), the Catholic priest and Newman trustee whom he met in 1912. This Side of Paradise suggests the fanciful ? avor of their philosophical exchanges: “[Their dialogue] saw Amory’s mind turned inside out, a hundred of his theories con? rmed, and his joy of life crystallized to a thousand ambitions.
Not that the conversation was scholastic – heaven forbid! . . . Monsignor . . . [took] good care that Amory never once felt out of his depth” (32). “Scholastic” peers made Fitzgerald feel “out of his depth” because they considered his emotional identi? cation with ideas capricious and solipsistic; Fay taught him to experience knowledge as “a dazzling, golden thing,” “dispelling its oppressive mugginess” and divesting it of “plaintive ritual” so it exuded the “romantic glamour” that was the key motivator of his imagination (In His Own Time 134).
Despite Fitzgerald’s disinterest in formal education, his schooling shaped his sensibility in important ways. Most obviously, high school and college reinforced his sense of social hierarchy, for their student bodies were segregated by a strict adolescent caste system that regulated opportunities for distinction. Although Fitzgerald wrote for school publications, including eight early stories featured in Princeton’s Nassau Literary Magazine, his dreams of football heroism proved unrealizable, and poor grades prevented him from pursuing extracurricular renown.
In 1915 a failed makeup examination in quantitative analysis rendered him ineligible for the presidency of Princeton’s student theater company, the Triangle Club, for which he had already written the lyrics for two well-received productions, Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! and The Evil Eye. Fitzgerald would go to his grave believing that this failure marked the moment “my career as a leader of men was over,” for not attaining a prominent social position undermined his already tenuous sense of Ivy League legitimacy (CrackUp 76). “We’re the damned middle-class,” This Side of Paradise’s Amory laments when his ambitions are foiled . ) Although his preening efforts to compensate for his uncertain status earned Fitzgerald derision – at Newman he was considered “fresh,” while at Princeton he had a reputation for “running it out” (i. e. , talking about himself) – undergraduate competition imbued him with two dichotomous traits: while he coveted qualities in other men that he felt he lacked, he also cast himself to the forefront of his cohort by imagining himself ideally suited for de? ning its character. 6 Life The ? rst tendency again manifests his perpetual self-doubt, for Fitzgerald constantly deferred to more self-assured role models like Wilson. “When I like men I want to be like them,” he admitted. “I don’t want the man. I want to absorb into myself all the qualities that make him attractive and leave him out. ”13 The second trait compensates for that insecurity by deeming his failures endemic of his peers’ precarious place in the adult world. While acknowledging that “everything bad” at Princeton “was my own fault” (Ledger 170), Fitzgerald also blamed his scholastic de? iencies on Princeton’s pedantic faculty, who had “an uncanny knack for making literature distasteful to young men” (Afternoon of an Author 75). By ascribing a personal fault to generational con? ict, he could attribute his disappointments to external obstacles that, in turn, represented barriers faced by all youth his age – a major reason why he would soon be singled out as their spokesman. Accompanying his collegiate letdowns were romantic travails that proved equally essential to his sensibility.
In January 1915 Fitzgerald met Ginevra King, a banker’s daughter from Lake Forest, Illinois, whose reputation for coquetry was well known in St Paul. To an ardent though sexually conservative suitor – one for whom the pursuit of romance was more intriguing than its conquest – Ginevra was as much a symbol as a person: attractive, haughty from privilege, and mildly rebellious (her father withdrew her from Westover in 1916 after she was caught talking to boys from her dormitory window), she embodied the glamorous life that Fitzgerald coveted.
She also excited his insecurities over whether he was worthy of it. As Ginevra’s recently rediscovered diary and correspondence reveal, “She knew that he was idealizing her and urged him . . . not to do so, but of course he did. Ginevra was pleased by Scott’s attention, but she was put off by his attempts to analyze her personality and by his persistent jealousy. ”14 Their inevitable breakup proved even more grievous than Edward’s ? ring or his Princeton failures.
Visiting Ginevra’s family in August 1916, Fitzgerald overheard someone (accounts vary as to who) remark, “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls” (Ledger 17). It was The Snub that Launched a Career, for it became the de? ning motif of his ? ction. Without identifying Ginevra by name, Fitzgerald publicly admitted in 1935 that his heroines were based on “my ? rst girl 18–20 whom I’ve used over and over and never forgotten” (In His Own Time 177). Zelda and early success (1918–1924) By mid-1917, Fitzgerald had few other options for consoling his misfortunes than to join the Army.
America’s April 6 entry into World War I had inspired Zelda and early success (1918–1924) 17 a wave of national pride, but Fitzgerald disassociated himself from the “winebibbers of patriotism” by describing his likely death as a ful? llment of the romantic destiny that Princeton had denied him: “I may get killed for America – but I’m going to die for myself,” he boasted (Letters 414). Commissioned as a second lieutenant on October 26, he reported to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where, convinced that he “had only three months to live” because “in those days all infantry of? ers thought they had only three months to live” (Afternoon of an Author 84), he dashed off a 120,000-word potpourri of narrative and verse entitled “The Romantic Egotist. ” Reassignments in the spring of 1918 sent him to Louisville, Kentucky, to Augusta, Georgia, and, ? nally, to Montgomery, Alabama, where as a member of the 67th Infantry Regiment at Camp Sheridan he submitted his manuscript to the prestigious publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons. While awaiting a reply, he attended country-club dances, including a fateful one in July where he met Zelda Sayre, the daughter of the chief justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court.
Although barely two months out of high school and not yet eighteen, Zelda basked in her reputation as Montgomery’s preeminent belle, “convinced,” she would remember, “that the only thing of any signi? cance was to take what she wanted when she could. ”15 As Ruth Prigozy notes, Zelda “was the perfect girl for young Scott: beautiful, independent, brilliant in conversation, and correspondence, socially prominent (although not wealthy), and as eager as he was for success – although in her case, the goal was amorphous. As with Ginevra, there was an additional element of allure: “Fitzgerald was not only attracted to her considerable charms, but also to her status as the most popular girl. ”16 Their courtship was not immediately serious – he cited September 7 as the day he of? cially fell in love (Ledger 173) – but it was full of adolescent passion and intrigue. Zelda taunted Scott with her bevy of suitors, which included several other Camp Sheridan of? cers. As he would recall in “The Last of the Belles” (1929), her regional charms were irresistible: There she was – the Southern type in all its purity . . She had the adroitness sugar-coated with sweet, voluble simplicity, the suggested background of devoted fathers, brothers and admirers stretching back into the South’s heroic age, the unfailing coolness acquired in the endless struggle with the heat. There were notes in her voice that order slaves around, that withered up Yankee captains, and then soft, wheedling notes that mingled in unfamiliar loveliness with the night. 17 Despite their grandiloquent romance, Zelda was wary of marrying a man whose military pay totaled $141 a month.
Their on-again off-again relationship, which included a broken engagement, was but one frustration Fitzgerald 18 Life suffered in 1918–19. Although Scribner’s lauded “The Romantic Egotist,” the book was rejected because of its unruly form and inconclusive ending. As his regiment was preparing to embark for Europe from Camp Mills, Long Island, that November, the Armistice abruptly ended his “haughty career as the army’s worst aide-de-camp” (Crack-Up 85). Upon his discharge the following February, he accepted a lowly copywriter’s position at the advertising agency Barron, Collier.
Although he completed nineteen stories that spring, he claimed that he had 122 rejections. Convinced that he would never win Zelda back unless he became a successful novelist, he repaired to his parents’ home to frantically recast “Egotist” into This Side of Paradise: I was in love with a whirlwind, and I must spin a net big enough to catch it out of my head, a head full of trickling nickels and sliding dimes, the incessant music box of the poor. It couldn’t be done like that, so when the girl threw me over I went home and ? nished my novel. And then, suddenly, everything changed. Crack-Up 86) Thanks to the enthusiasm of editor Maxwell Perkins (1884–1947), Scribner’s accepted the revision on September 16. Periodicals began buying his stories as well. In October The Smart Set, edited by tastemakers H. L. Mencken (1880– 1956) and George Jean Nathan (1882–1958), paid $215 for six contributions, while Scribner’s Magazine offered $300 for two pieces. The real breakthrough came when Fitzgerald’s recently acquired agent, Harold Ober (1881–1959), sold “Head and Shoulders” for $360 to the Saturday Evening Post, whose readership topped two million.
All told, Fitzgerald sold twenty stories in 1919–20, his total income leaping from a modest $879 to an impressive $18,175, including $7,425 alone from movie options to three stories. 18 Flushed with success, Scott married Zelda in the vestry of St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on April 3, 1920, two weeks after the publication of This Side of Paradise. Although sales exceeded Scribner’s expectations, the novel’s in? uence far outstripped its pro? ts. Fitzgerald capitalized on his sudden notoriety by serving as an expert on teenage mores, offering audacious insights into his generation’s propensity for “petting” (i. e. kissing), drinking (which the recent advent of Prohibition had done little to curtail), and unapologetic materialism. Paradise’s immediate legacy, however, was to popularize the term ? apper. At Fitzgerald’s request Scribner’s promoted it as “A Novel About Flappers Written for Philosophers. ” The alliteration was so irresistible that, despite concerns over its faddishness, in September he titled his ? rst story collection Flappers and Philosophers. And while Zelda was more properly a belle than a ? apper, she obligingly bobbed her hair, adopted prevailing New York fashions, and played the role of muse in celebrity interviews and pro? es. Zelda and early success (1918–1924) 19 The popular image of the Fitzgeralds as cosmopolitan carousers arises from the raucous yet relatively brief New York honeymoon in April 1920, a period whose escapades have become legendary: “They rode down Fifth Avenue on the tops of taxis because it was hot or dove into the fountain at Union Square or tried to undress at the [Broadway play] Scandals, or, in sheer delight at the splendor of New York, jumped dead sober, into the Pulitzer fountain in front of the Plaza” (Far Side 140).
Such behavior was inimical to writing, however, so in May the couple relocated to Westport, Connecticut. As Fitzgerald struggled to follow up Paradise, friends unfairly blamed Zelda for distracting him: “If she’s [home] Fitz can’t work – she bothers him,” Princeton acquaintance Alexander McKaig wrote in his diary, an oft-cited source for this heady period. “If she’s not there he can’t work – worried what she might do. ”19 The problem actually lay in Fitzgerald’s con? icting visions of literature as a lifestyle and as a profession.
While the former promised privileged, reckless indulgence, the latter required discipline, which is why, as Matthew J. Bruccoli notes, “He was a methodical planner all his professional life, preparing schedules and charts for his work; that he rarely kept to these plans did not discourage him from making them” (Epic Grandeur 168). Because Fitzgerald’s ? ction was autobiographical, he also needed constant if not melodramatic stimulation, for without that inspiration, he had nothing to write about.
The point is corroborated by the plot he settled on for his next book: “My new novel concerns the life of Anthony Patch . . . how he and his beautiful young wife are wrecked upon the shoals of dissipation” (A Life in Letters 41). Fitzgerald completed an unsatisfactory draft of The Beautiful and Damned in April 1921. Although serial rights netted $7,000, such windfalls did little to discourage his and Zelda’s pro? igacy, and he was forced to borrow from both Scribner’s and Ober, a habit that would continue until his death.
After an unpleasant European sojourn, the couple settled in St Paul to await the October 26 birth of their only child, Frances or “Scottie” (1921–1986). While revising his novel, Fitzgerald completed “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” (1922), a fantastical satire of American materialism that proved too cutting for the Saturday Evening Post, which preferred ? apper romances. While a story like “The Popular Girl” (1922) could earn $1,500, “Diamond” garnered a comparatively paltry $300 from The Smart Set, wrenching ever wider the gap between Fitzgerald’s commercial and literary prospects.
When The Beautiful and Damned appeared in March 1922, reviewers acknowledged Fitzgerald’s stylistic facility but dismissed his ambition to write serious literature. Even friends doubted his capacity for weighty inquiry: “His ideas are too often treated like paper crackers,” fellow Princetonian John Peale Bishop (1892–1944) decided. “Things to make a gay and pretty noise with and 20 Life then be cast aside. ”20 Unfortunately, Fitzgerald encouraged this perception by deprecating his work.
When his second story collection, Tales of the Jazz Age, appeared in September 1922, he annotated its table of contents with mocking commentary, boasting of writing “The Camel’s Back” (1920) in eleven hours and claiming that, despite the kudos received for “Diamond,” he preferred “The Offshore Pirate” (1920). His blas? attitude toward a minor effort, “Jemina” e (1916; revised 1921), even predicted the ebb of his popularity: “It seems to me worth preserving for a few years – at least until the ennui of changing fashions suppresses me, my books, and it together. 21 Although The Beautiful and Damned and Tales of the Jazz Age were successful, selling upwards of 50,000 and 24,000 copies respectively, Fitzgerald continued to covet extra-literary earning opportunities. Hoping that Broadway might provide a steady income stream, he wrote a three-act farce called The Vegetable, a satire about a lowly mailman elected president that required six revisions before interesting a producer. His screenwriting career was no more successful. Although he earned $13,500 from the ? lm industry in 1923, the majority was for movie rights, not for the scripts and scenarios he submitted to studios.
Fitzgerald squandered nearly two years pursuing these opportunities, even moving in late 1922 to New York City’s ritziest suburb, Great Neck on Long Island, to mingle with theater and movie impresarios. The stories he did manage to complete were important, however, for they found him rehearsing themes and plots for what would become his third novel. Known nowadays as the “Gatsby cluster,” these include one certi? ed classic (“Winter Dreams”, 1922) and such estimable efforts as “Absolution” and “‘The Sensible Thing’” (both 1924).
As Bruccoli writes, “These stories variously deal with the aspiration for and the corruption of wealth, the love of a poor boy for an unattainable girl, and the connection between love and money. ”22 Little progress could be made on the novel until a disastrous Atlantic City staging of The Vegetable in November 1923 convinced Fitzgerald that the stage was not his forte. “People rustled their programs and talked audibly in bored impatient whispers,” he recalled. “After the second act I wanted to stop the show and say it was all a mistake” (Afternoon of an Author 93–4).
During the winter of 1923–4, he churned out nearly a dozen Saturday Evening Post stories, earning $16,450 to ? nance his novel. To economize, he and Zelda relocated to the French Riviera, whose favorable exchange rate of nineteen francs to the dollar made their lifestyle more affordable. There they made friends with Gerald and Sara Murphy (1888–1964 and 1883–1975, respectively), a wealthy couple whose Cap d’Antibes home, the Villa America, was the epicenter of expatriate glamor. That July, the Fitzgeralds’ marriage suffered a serious blow when Zelda became involved w