“I wish I could write a beautiful book to break those hearts that are soon to cease to exist: a book of faith and small neat worlds and of people who live by the philosophies of popular songs.” – Zelda Fitzgerald
It’s the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1896). He’s the author of dozens of short stories and of the novels “The Great Gatsby” (1925), “This Side of Paradise” (1920), “The Beautiful and Damned” (1922), and “Tender is the Night” (1934).
After his first novel was published, Scott and his wife, Zelda, became New York celebrities, icons of the 1920s and of the Jazz Age, a term that Fitzgerald himself coined. But before there was Zelda, there was Ginevra King, F. Scott’s first love, who some scholars argue was the most important woman in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary life, even more influential on his writing than his famous wife. Many think Daisy Buchanan of “The Great Gatsby” is modeled after Ginevra, as well as, Isabelle Borge in “This Side of Paradise” and Judy Jones in “Winter Dreams.”
Ginevra, named after a Leonard da Vinci painting, was a Chicago debutante from an old-money family. She and Scott met at a sledding party in St. Paul when Scott was 18, home on winter break from Princeton, and she —16 — was in town visiting one of her boarding school roommates. Almost immediately, they became obsessed with each other and began a prodigious correspondence that would last three years, in which she wrote up to 24 pages of letters a day, often ditching Scripture class to sit and write to him. In the first letter to him, dated a week after they met, she asks him to send a photo of himself, saying, “I have but a faint recollection of yellow hair and big blue eyes and a brown corduroy waist-coat that was very good-looking!” And she signs that first letter, ”Yours Fickely sometimes but Devotedly at present — Ginevra.”
She was hugely coy and flirtatious. A couple weeks after that first letter, she wrote to him: “I hear you had plans for kissing me goodbye publicly. My goodness, I’m glad you didn’t. I’d have had to be severe as anything with you! (Ans. This — Why didn’t you?)”
Though he was devoted to her, King’s commitment to Fitzgerald fluctuated greatly, and despite his seriousness and discussion of their future, she often appeared blithe about their relationship. At one point, she wrote, ”Don’t forget our plan of elopement — That mustn’t fall through.”
During their courtship, Ginevra’s father said to F. Scott: “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.” Scott wrote it down in his diary in August 1916. The line appears in The Great Gatsby, coming out of the mouth of Daisy Buchanan herself.
Their correspondence tapered off in 1917, and soon Ginevra King wrote to tell him that she was getting engaged to another man, the son of her dad’s business partner. When her wedding announcement appeared in the newspaper, he clipped it out and put it in his scrapbook, along with one of her handkerchiefs, and he hand-wrote a caption under it that said, “The End of a Once Poignant Story.”
In July 1918 — the same month that Ginevra announced her engagement — Scott met Zelda for the first time, at a dance in Montgomery, Alabama. But even after he’d begun a passionate courtship with Zelda, Ginevra loomed large in his mind. In 1919, he published a poem in The Nassau Literary Magazine about Ginevra entitled “My First Love.”
Twenty years after they stopped corresponding, Scott and Ginevra met up for the last time. It was in Hollywood, where he was writing movie scripts and trying to stay sober. Shortly before the planned meeting, he wrote to his daughter Scottie about Ginevra: “She was the first girl I ever loved and I have faithfully avoided seeing her up to this moment to keep the illusion perfect. I don’t know whether I should go or not.” The two of them went to a bar, and he began drinking again.
Fitzgerald wrote, “Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.” – The Crack Up
“I want to give a really BAD party. I mean it. I want to give a party where there’s a brawl and seductions and people going home with their feelings hurt and women passed out in the cabinet de toilette. You wait and see.” – Tender is the Night
”Youth is like having a big plate of candy. Sentimentalists think they want to be in the pure, simple state they were in before they ate the candy. They don’t. They just want the fun of eating it all over again.” – This Side of Paradise
”I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” – The Great Gatsby
”Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – The Great Gatsby