Press "Enter" to skip to content

Scott Fitzgerald: Jazz, Martinis & White Hats

For someone enamored of success and not inclined to resign himself to his fate, it was a curse to live in a less than aristocratic neighborhood, study in elite colleges through a scholarship, and not be rich but have wealthy classmates and friends. This was the case of Francis Scott Fitzgerald, an attractive and very talented young man, doomed to ply his charm among clans whose slick offspring played polo, danced in the Country Club with rich heiresses who were a bit vain and "had a voice full of money". He would see these women get into the cream and tobacco colored convertibles of their boyfriends, their bonnets tied with ribbons of tulle around their luminous chins, in the shade of chestnut trees on the elegant Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota and perhaps in his subconscious, he resolved to hurl his life against that mirror.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald was born September 24, 1896 in the obscure, provincial city of Saint Paul in the state of Minnesota. His father had arrived in Saint Paul from New England as the representative of a soap company after having gone bankrupt in the wicker furniture business. His mother, whose maiden name was McQuilliam, was also the child of Irish emigrant potato-eaters, but her family had achieved a certain economic niche in the food industry and a discrete social status. The distance that separated the writer from the privileged class would need to be bridged through his charm and the sacrifice of his liver to the Pagan gods.

Four emblematic gadgets highlighted the supreme modernity of the beginning of the twentieth century: the car, the telephone, the movie theater, and the airplane. All four were destined to annihilate time and space and create an ever-receding mirage in the horizon. There, the most beautiful and the most cursed beings were ready to burn their own wings beneath the intoxicating spell of jazz. Scott Fitzgerald was among them. At that time he was a good-looking young man with a porcelain neck who was intelligent and entertaining. He wanted to write. That destiny seemed to imbue his ambition with very sweet liqueur and perhaps one night he looked up toward a star studded sky and wondered what part of it would belong exclusively to him in the future.

Enamored of his own youth, he left behind the Midwest, populated with provincials consumed by the Puritan ethic, and was admitted to Princeton University where he developed the art of being admired by his fellow students, who would end up as characters in his first novel. His name began to painstakingly earn praise in the literary supplements of the newspapers and magazines of New York.

With the first three dollars that he was paid for one of his stories, he bought a pair of thrice pleated white flannel trousers. Not long afterwards, history offered him the opportunity to realize in his own life the dream of one of his most famous characters.

He was called to military service during the First World War. While training at Camp Sheridan in Alabama, he did what Jay Gatsby would do with the rich heiress, Daisy Buchanan. Decked out in his lieutenant’s uniform, he attended a dance at the Country Club in nearby Montgomery, where he met the beautiful southern belle Zelda Sayre. He danced with her and on the dance floor the couple were admired for their ethereal beauty; they seemed a symbol of an evanescent existence.

They fell in love. She too was a writer. She was as ambitious and as crazy as he was, but richer and more sophisticated. She would not surrender herself while Francis Scott Fitzgerald was merely a delightful nobody, a writer of short stories and advertisements. But one day, success came to him through his first novel, This Side of Paradise, and the whirlwind of fame also brought into his arms the coveted prize of this southern beauty.

They were married in Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York and from that moment on, the dance floor of the Country Club of Montgomery took on a nebulous dimension in the minds of both in which they continued dancing wherever they found themselves, drunk or sober. The couple began a tormented aesthetic adventure filled with luxury, suitcases, and voyages after tasting success.

In order to believe they were divine every hour of the day, every day of the year, they were obliged to forever ride toward the finish line in agony. One of them had to be sacrificed on the altar of the other. Literary jealousy combined with the jealousy of a destructive passion. They were willing to drink up the world in the form of the olive in a thousand martinis and where character and talent did not carry them, alcohol would.

At that time, Paris was an imaginary realm of privileged creatures from New York and the French Riviera was a solar projection of Paris: Blue and white awnings, white hats, and women's bathing suits with the stripes of wasps, a place to sail aboard themselves with nights that never ended. Zelda was its model. She was beautiful, vain, unstable, and imaginative and she excited the fantasies of her husband and never stopped tormenting him. At the beginning of their run, they were one of those sparkling couples who, when they arrived at a party, caused admiring musicians to stop the orchestra.

They always arrived at the right place at the right moment: at the bar of the Ritz by themselves with dry martinis, in Montparnasse with Gertrude Stein or Hemingway, Ezra Pound or James Joyce; on the French Riviera on white armchairs with Murphy the millionaire in the shadow of Picasso.

While Zelda wondered what to do with her life, Scott Fitzgerald still lived to write. He was successful. He was making a lot of money. He squandered it. He burned up his life. They soon began to consume each other. They wandered around in such an alcoholic stupor that their friends began to avoid them and the ensuing paranoia induced them to destroy themselves with even more ferocity.

The two of them were their own fictional characters, but because they were so frivolous, no one but Scott Fitzgerald managed to describe with so much intensity, charm, and mastery the soap bubble that was established in the air of Paris and New York during the period between the two world wars inside of which one heard jazz everywhere, vain creatures danced, and there were huge parties from one's wildest dreams; and beyond all of this, the void.

One day the dance, which had begun on the floor of that Country Club in a city of Alabama, came to an end. Scott Fitzgerald wound up having a little blood in the alcohol that coursed through his veins. Zelda began showing unmistakable signs of schizophrenia. Before they completely destroyed one another, they separated.

The writer retreated to a cubicle in Hollywood where he wrote scripts that would never be filmed and decorated the floor of his hovel with dozens of empty Coca Cola bottles . On the 21rst of December 1940, he died of a heart attack.

Zelda survived for a few more years. She was admitted to The Highland Psychiatric Hospital of Ashville. On March 10th, 1948 the establishment went up in flames and Zelda Sayre was burned to death.

Together once again in death, their epitaph reads:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

It is the last sentence of The Great Gatsby.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *