Editor's note: The following book chapter was rekeyed and reprinted on July 11, 2003 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of Arcade Publishing, New York. The chapter was previously included in a book titled Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise. The book was first published in 2002 by John Murray (Publishers) Ltd, England, and the ISBN number is 1-55970-688-0. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the volume, please contact the Arcade Publishing at 212-475-2633.



 

Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise

Part IV, Creative Voices, January 1927-1929, Chapter 13

a book by Sally Cline

 

'I am painting again,' Zelda wrote to Carl, 'and will have to work if I am to turn two apples and a stick of gum into an affair of pyramids and angles and cosmic beauty before the fall.'[33] She attended regular art classes in Philadelphia, an extension of the formal tuition she had had in Capri. [34] She contemplated art as a profession, but her bouts of eyestrain intensified, and because she refused to wear corrective eyeglasses a full-time painting career seemed questionable. The Fitzgeralds' first large house party at Ellerslie took place the weekend of 21 May 1927. Guests included Scott's parents, Carl Van Vechten, Ernest Boyd and Teddy Chanler, as well as Lois Moran on her much-heralded visit accompanied by her mother. Zelda behaved impeccably towards the starlet, who noticed no hint of jealousy or distress. But Amy Thomas observed Zelda's efforts to feel like a star before Moran's arrival. Zelda placed 'at her dressing table, gold and silver stars leading up to the ceiling, ten feet high, like a milky way'.[35] Zelda's strongest memory was of Lois's appearance, recalled with irony. 'She had no definite characteristics... save a slight ebullient hysteria about romance. She walked in the moon by the river. Her hair was tight above her head and she was lush and like a milkmaid. '[36]

Private rivalries and tensions, however, were thrust aside as the news came that Lindbergh had landed at Le Bourget airport. Lois's strongest memory was of the houseguests, picnicking on the river bank, all looking upward towards the sky in great excitement.

Zelda's letters to Van Vechten suggest some emotional turmoil (probably about Lois) did accompany the weekend's drinking: 'From the depths of my polluted soul, I am sorry that the weekend was such a mess. Do forgive my iniquities and my putrid drunkness it should have been a nice party if I had not explored my abyss in public. Anyhow, please realize that I am sorry and contrite and thoroughly miserable with the knowledge that it would be just the same again if I got so drunk.'[37]

Scott's Ledger offers no judgement on that weekend but records that he saw Lois again in May in New York.

Zelda's contrition appeared short-lived. A few days later she thanked Carl for his gift of a cocktail shaker in her usual droll vein: 'You were very sweet to make such a desirable contribution to the Fitzgerald household... It's such a nice one that I have been looking about to see what damage you must have done.'[38] Zelda kept up a running commentary on Ellerslie life for Carl's delectation. They had acquired Chat the cat and two dogs from the local pound. 'One of them is splotchy but mostly white with whiskers although he is sick now, so his name is Ezra Pound. The other is named Bouillabaisse or Muddy Water or Jerry. He doesn't answer to any of them so it doesn't matter.'[39]

Their notes were playful, but Zelda's friendship with Carl remained sturdily platonic, unlike her more teasing friendship with Teddy Chanler, their friend from Paris days. During the Moran house-party weekend the Fitzgeralds took Teddy and the other guests to a local amusement park. Amy Thomas and Scott were photographed on one carousel horse while Teddy and Zelda took a ride on another. Zelda reported: 'He [Teddy] could understand why an amusement park is the best place to be amorous - it's something about the whitewashed trees and the smell of peanuts and the jogging of the infernal machines for riding.[40] Zelda's report of this incident is reminiscent of her Ferris wheel ride with Dos Passos.

Esther Murphy, a frequent visitor to Ellerslie, told Gerald and Sara how impressed she was with its grandeur. In early summer Zelda received a letter from Sara:

 

your house - (according to Esther) - is palatial and then some - You keep, it appears, only 14 of the 27 bedrooms open + only 3 drawing rooms - and you + Scott have a system of calls + echoes to locate each other readily. Do you ever have a hankering for Villa St. Louis?... Is Scott working? And how's the book coming on?[41]

 

Scott was making little progress with the novel that would become Tender Is the Night and had returned to short stories. Ironically, his income in 1927 was better than his negligible professional output would indicate. He earned $29,737, of which $15,300 came from stories for the Saturday Evening Post, which now paid him $3,500 per story. However, royalties from his published fiction totalled only $169, while his book earnings were $5,911.64, of which $5,752.06 was an advance against the novel he seemed incapable of moving forward. He cabled Ober every week for advances of $500 or $800 for projected stories he never actually delivered. Their Ellerslie expenses, already enormous, escalated with trips to New York, Virginia Beach, Princeton, Quebec, Norfolk (where Cousin Cecilia lived), and Long Island during the polo-playing season to visit Tommy Hitchcock. The figures - yet again - did not match up. It is no surprise that Scott began to have nervous attacks which in his Ledger he calls 'Stoppies'.[42]

Zelda, who had not written since 1924, began writing again, although despite the size of the house she did not have a study of her own. During 1927 she produced four more articles to which Scott gave cursory editorial supervision, three of which were published the following year. The first, 'The Changing Beauty of Park Avenue', which appeared in Harper's Bazaar in January 1928, was credited to Scott and Zelda, but in his Ledger Scott acknowledges Zelda alone wrote it. On the manuscript Scott wrote the title and both names, putting his first. The minor revisions he made on the manuscript were removed before publication and new revisions inserted, perhaps by the editor, possibly by Zelda.

Her unique, sensuous style with its lush physical description and fairy-tale references catch the elegance of the avenue that flows from 'the pool of glass that covers the Grand Central tracks' then smoothly through Manhattan. It is a street for satisfied eyes with 'crystalline shops, lying shallow against buildings, [which] exist on sufferance so long as they are decorative... It is full of nuances and suggestions of all New York, but they are shaped and molded into an etched pattern. There are disciplined, cool smells ... of hot motors and gusty dust - of violets and brass buttons . . . gay awnings in the rarefied sunlight.' It is a street for strutting and in the centre 'floats, impermanently, a thin series of watercolor squares of grass - suggesting the Queen's Croquet Ground in Alice in Wonderland'.

Zelda makes some offbeat but accurate observations: 'This is a masculine avenue... subdued and subtle and solid and sophisticated in its understanding that avenues and squares should be a fitting and sympathetic background for the promenades of men', yet she sees it also as an international avenue, where tradespeople are accustomed to a clientele 'who need nothing, want nothing, and buy freely because they have large leisure and filled purses'. [43]

The second article, 'Looking Back Eight Years', which looks back to the postwar period then forward to the younger generation, appeared in College Humor in June 1928. Publicly attributed to Scott as well as Zelda, once more it is privately credited by Scott to Zelda. Artist James Montgomery Flagg drew two sketches of the Fitzgeralds which framed the feature. This article is more analytic than Zelda's previous writings. She dissects those feelings of frustration her peers have suffered from: how to survive youth and reach some kind of wisdom. 'It is not altogether the prosperity of the country and the consequent softness of life which have made them unstable... It is a great emotional disappointment resulting from the fact that life moved in poetic gestures when they were younger and has now settled back into buffoonery... sensitive young people are haunted and harassed by a sense of unfulfilled destiny.'[44]

The third article, 'Who Can Fall in Love after Thirty?', a cynical shot at romantic realism, also bought by College Humor (October 1928), was published as by Scott and Zelda, yet again shown in Scott's Ledger to have been written by Zelda.

Zelda told readers that after thirty the 'most vital contacts lay in a community of working interests', and that the mystery she once thought lay in other people was in fact one's own youthful wonder. She did not suggest youth's excitement and promise must necessarily be abandoned, but the 'whole varied glamour of existence can no longer be concentrated at will into another person'. [45]

The fourth feature, 'Paint and Powder', initially called 'Editorial on Youth', an amusing invective against the rouge pot and the marcel iron, was written solely by Zelda for Photoplay in 1927. It was bought not by Photoplay but by The Smart Set, which published it in May 1929 under Scott's name only.[46]

Most of Scott's biographers casually record these intellectual property thefts as being an inconsequential feature of marketing. 'Most of her work was published under the joint by-line... because the magazines insisted on using his name', runs a typical phrase. [47] These same biographers are fulsomely quick to point out that 'Fitzgerald punctiliously identified' Zelda's stories in his Ledger. [48] Scott himself assured Ober in a letter that 'My wife got $300 apiece for articles she wrote entirely herself for College Humor and Harpers Bazarre. The editors knew this but insisted my name go on them with her.'[49]

It is worth speculating how Scott might have felt if he alone had written one of those articles, if Zelda alone had been credited for it, and if she had punctiliously acknowledged his 'contribution' in her diary.

In contrast to Scott's poor productivity, Hemingway, still living in Gerald's Paris studio, was writing well. His book of short stories, Men Without Women, was due out with Scribner's in October. He reported to Scott that for the last two months he had been broke. He topped and tailed his letter with assurances that Scott was his 'devoted friend' and 'the best damn friend I have'.[50] Scott replied at once, sending him $100.

Scott generously sent Hemingway's book to Mencken for his approval, describing Hemingway as 'really a great writer... the best we have I think'. [51] Scott told Ernest that Zelda's favourite story was 'Hills Like White Elephants' and curiously, considering their mutual animosity, Zelda clipped a copy of Ernest's story to the back of one of her articles in her scrapbook.

Zelda and Scott did not find the tranquillity they needed in Ellerslie. Instead, they plunged into new depths of dissipation and marital discord. Amy Thomas reported 'one party after another'. [52] One September weekend, Scott organized a croquet-polo match for Fowler, Martin and yet more houseguests. A dance band was laid on for the evening; there was bootleg whiskey but no food. So hungry and fretful was Dos Passos that he rushed into Wilmington to buy sandwiches.

Van Vechten reported to Mencken that the Fitzgeralds were 'keeping a very wet house in Delaware'.[53] As James Thurber saw them, 'There were four or five Zeldas and at least eight Scotts so that their living room was forever tense with the presence of a dozen desperate personalities, even when they were alone in it. '[54] The constant quarrels with Scott, the entertaining and excess took their toll on Zelda. Dr. Lewis 'Lefty' Flynn, their family physician there, recalled Zelda's frequent need of bed-rest, already showing signs of what he considered premature 'burn-out'. [55] One evening the doctor had to be summoned from Wilmington to give her a morphine injection for hysteria, the second time this had occurred. During parties not much attention was paid to Scottie, who stood at doors or windows shyly observing.

Family members visited Ellerslie: Scott's mother in May; Zelda's sister Marjorie, Marjorie's daughter Noonie and Scott's sister Annabel in late July; Zelda's parents in August. Zelda took the Sayre contingent to Atlantic City, where the photo of them on the boardwalk shows Zelda in dark dress with white scalloped edges and a bleak look on her face. The grand house impressed her family more than Zelda's exhausted condition.

By September, when they entertained Perkins and Dos Passos to what guests described as a debauched, chaotic house party for cousin Cecilia, Zelda was intermittently ill. She had developed a skin irritation which may have been her first attack of eczema.

At the house party was a New York lawyer, Dick Knight, who was to become increasingly attached to Zelda. Scott disliked him at once. Knight was considered odd, with a huge misshapen head and quirky manner. On his arrival he told Zelda and Cecilia he was late because he had been identifying his brother at the morgue. From his amused tone one would have thought he had just said something funny. Edmund Wilson believed that Knight was an unpredictable bounder - and at one Ellerslie party Knight threw a pot of mustard at the dining room door. Yet Zelda had a soft spot for him. On one trip to New York, when Scott met Lois Moran, Zelda spent several hours with Dick, seeing him again later at a party for Paul Morand, the French diplomat and writer. Scott was so jealous he forbade Zelda to see Dick again. [56]

Due to the disorderly chronicling of the Fitzgeralds' lives, it is not clear what first roused Scott's jealousy, but what is apparent is that he kept it up. Zelda herself wrote in an autobiographical sketch: 'I do not know why he [Dick Knight] is attractive... his head is too big for his body [but] [o]ne lost afternoon... we drank cocktails in a New York apartment and sat afterwards a long time on the stairway, oblivious with a kind of happy desperation.'[57]

Zelda grew more desperate. She and Scott visited New York later in September for the first time for several months, quarrelling incessantly and apologizing afterwards to Gilbert and Amanda Seldes, who were disgusted with their 'public brawl'. [58] In Manhattan they met and were each fascinated by socialite Emily Vanderbilt, who would make a significant impression on both their lives. [59]

As another bout of eyestrain led her away from the path of professional painting, Zelda determined to make dancing her career. By midsummer she had enrolled, with Scottie, in ballet classes with Catherine Littlefield, Director of the Philadelphia Opera Ballet Corps and former student of Madame Lubov Egorova. Although Zelda had not taken ballet lessons since she was a girl in Montgomery, she was determined to be 'a Paviova, nothing less'. [60] By November she was dancing three times a week and still painting daily. Anna Biggs went with her on a shopping trip to Philadelphia, where Zelda purchased a large Victorian gilt mirror, which she hung in their front room. In front of it she installed a ballet bar, where she practised to 'The March of the Toy Soldiers', playing the record over and over until Scott was wild with exasperation. She practised all the time. During meals, even when guests were there, she paused only to wipe away sweat or gulp some water. Scott worried that dancing was bad for her health as well as for his well-being.[61]

Scott saw her ballet as a vengeful act against him. Later he told a writer friend, Tony Buttitta, that he attributed Zelda's dancing ambition in 1927 not to the desire to compete with Lois Moran, but to a desire to 'replace Isadora Duncan now that she was dead, and outshine me at the same time'. [62]

Zelda cared little for his opinion. Only the opinions of those who danced now mattered to her. To a large extent she had created her own world, separate from Scott's world of drinking and debauchery. In a letter to Van Vechten she described her attempts to preserve her own spirit amidst the chaos: 'I joined the Philadelphia Opera Ballet,' she wrote, 'and everybody has been so drunk in this country lately that I am just finding enough chaos to pursue my own ends in, undisturbed. '[63]

 

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