Swim Back Home To Me
Dearest: I am always grateful to all the loyalties you gave me, and I am always loyal to the concepts that held us together so long: the belief that life is tragic, that man's spiritual reward is the keeping of his faith: that we shouldn't hurt each other. And I love, always your fine writing talent, your tolerance and generosity; and all your happy endowments. Nothing could have survived our life.
The romance between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald fed on itself. By the time both were in middle-age, Zelda had suffered a series of nervous breakdowns and Scott was constantly drunk, which took its toll on them both. But in the twenties they were the bon vivants of the literary culture. These two letters, the first of which may never have been sent, describe their life during the 1920s. Zelda's flirtation with French aviator Edouard Jozan irritated Scott, while a simple dance at a party with Isadora Duncan caused Zelda to throw herself down a flight of stone stairs! Ernest Hemingway, who Scott considered his friend, never cared for Zelda and quotes her husband as saying, "Zelda said the way I was built I could never make any women happy."
Yet there were also triumphs. Although The Great Gatsby sold terribly upon its publication in April of 1925, it gave Fitzgerald a measure of respect after his failures on the stage. Through the kindness of socialites Gerald and Sara Murphy, the Fitzgeralds met Picasso, Cole Porter, Valentino, and other artists. When he wasn't drinking an astonishing amount, Fitzgerald's work on Tender Is the Night and his short stories turned out some of the finest work of his career. Their daughter Scottie was present for some of it. This period will come to the silver screen with the release of John Curran's biopic The Beautiful and the Damned next year, starring Keira Knightley as Zelda.
I know this then - that those days when we came up from the south, from Capri, were among my happiest - but you were sick and the happiness was not in the home.
I had been unhappy for a long time then - when my play failed a year and a half before, when I worked so hard for a year, twelve stories and novel and four articles in that time with no one believing in me and no one to see except you + before the end your heart betraying me and then I was really alone with no one I liked. In Rome we were dismal and was still working proof and three more stories and in Capri you were sick and there seemed to be nothing left of happiness in the world anywhere I looked.
Then we came to Paris and suddenly I realized it hadn't all been in vain. I was a success - the biggest one in my profession - everybody admired me and I was proud I'd done such a good thing. I met Gerald and Sara who took us for friends now and Ernest who was an equal and my kind of an idealist.
I got drunk with him on the Left Bank in careless cafes and drank with Sara and Gerald in their garden in St Cloud but you were endlessly sick and at home everything was unhappy. We went to Antibes and I was happy but you were sick still and all that fall and that winter and spring at the cure and I was alone all the time and I had to get drunk before I could leave you so sick and not care and I was only happy a little while before I got too drunk. Afterwards there were all the usual penalties for being drunk.
Finally you got well in Juan-les-Pins and a lot of money came in and I made one of those mistakes literary men make - I thought I was a man of the world - that everybody liked me and admired me for myself but I only liked a few people like Ernest and Charlie McArthur and Gerald and Sara were my peers. Time goes by fast in those moods and nothing is ever done. I thought then that things came easily - I forgot how I'd dragged the great Gatsby out of the pit of my stomach in a time of misery. I woke up in Hollywood no longer my egotistic, certain self but a mixture of Ernest in fine clothes and Gerald with a career - and Charlie McArthur with a past. Anybody that could make me believe that, like Lois Moran did, was precious to me.
Ellerslie, the polo people, Mrs. Chanler the party for Cecelia were all attempts to make up from without for being undernourished now from within. Anything to be liked, to be reassured not that I was a man of a little genius but that I was a great man of the world. At the same time I knew it was nonsense - the part of a me that knew it was nonsense brought us to the Rue Vaugirard.
But now you had gone into yourself just as I had four years before in St. Raphael - and there were all the consequences of bad apartments through your lack of patience ("Well, if you want a better apartment why don't you make some money") bad servants, through your indifference ("Well, if you don't like her why don't you send Scotty away to school") Your dislike for Vidor, your indifference to Joyce I understood - share your incessant enthusiasm and absorption in the ballet I could not. Somewhere in there I had a sense of being exploited, not by you but by something I resented terribly. No happiness.
Certainly less than there had ever been at home - you were a phantom washing clothes, talking French bromides with Lucien or Del Plangue - I remember desolate trips to Versaille to Rhiems, to LaBaule undertaken in sheer weariness of home. I remember wondering why I kept working to pay the bills of this desolate menage. I had evolved.
In despair I went from the extreme of isolation, which is to say isolation with Mlle Delplangue, or the Ritz Bar where I got back my self esteem for half an hour, often with someone I had never seen before. in the evening sometimes you and i rode to the Bois in a cab - after awhile I preferred to go to Cafe de Lilas and sit there alone remembering what a happy time I had had there with Ernest, Hadley, Dorothy Parker + Benchley two years before. During all this time I remember I didn't blame anyone but myself. I complained when the house got unbearable but after all I was not John Peale Bishop - I was paying for it with work, that I passionately hated and found more and more difficult to do.
The novel was like a dream, daily farther and farther away.
Ellerslie was better and worse. Unhappiness is less acute when one lives with a certain sober dignity but the financial strain was too much. Between Sept when we left Paris and March when we reached Nice we were living at the rate of forty thousand a year.
But somehow I felt happier. Another Spring - I would see Ernest whom I had launched, Gerald + Sarah who through my agency had been able to try the movies. At least life would seem less drab; there would be parties with people with something to say. Later swimming and getting tanned and young and being near the sea.
It worked out beautifully, didn't it. Gerald and Sara didn't see us. Ernest and I met but was a more irritable Ernest, apprehensively telling me his whereabouts lest I come in on them tight and endanger his lease. The discovery that half a dozen people were familiars there didn't help my self esteem. By the time we reached the beautiful Riviera I had developed such an inferiority complex that I couldn't face anyone unless I was tight. I worked there too, though, and the unusual combination exploded my lungs.
You were gone now - I scarcely remember you that summer. You were simply one of the beings who disliked me or were indifferent to me. I didn't like to think of you. You didn't need me and it was easier to talk to or rather at Madame Bellois and keep full of wine. I was grateful when you came with me to the Doctors one afternoon but after we'd been a week in Paris and I didn't try any more about living or dieing.
Things were always the same. The apartments that were rotten, the maids that stank - the ballet before my eyes, spoiling a story to take the Troubetskoys to dinner, poisoning a trip to Africa. You were going crazy and calling it genius - I was going to ruin and calling it anything that came to hand. And I think everyone far away enough to see us outside of our glib presentations of ourselves guessed at your almost megalomaniacal selfishness and my insane indulgence in drink.
Toward the end nothing much mattered. The nearest I ever came to leaving you was when you told me you thought I was a fairy in the Rue Palatine but now whatever you said aroused a sort of detached pity for you. For all your superior observation and your harder intelligence I have a faculty of guessing right, without evidence even with a certain wonder as to why and whence that mental short cut came. I wish The Beautiful and the Damned had been a maturely written book because it was all true. We ruined ourselves - I have never honestly thought that we ruined each other
I have just written to Newman to come here to me. You say that you have been thinking of the past. The weeks since I haven't slept more than three or four hours, swathed in bandages sick and unable to read so have I.
The strangeness and excitement of New York, of reporters and furry smothered hotel lobbies. The brightness of the sun on the window panes and the prickly dust of late spring: the impressiveness of the Fowlers and much tea-dancing and my eccentric behavior at Princeton. There were Townsend's blue eyes and Ludlow's rubbers and a trunk that exuded sachet and the marshmallow odor of the Biltmore. There were always Ludlow and Townsend and Alex and Bill Mackey and you and me. We did not like women and we were happy. There was George's apartment and his absinthe cocktails and Ruth Findley's gold hair in his comb, and visit to the "Smart Set" and "Vanity Fair" - a collegiate literary world puffed into wide proportions by the New York papers.
There were flowers and night clubs and Ludlow's advice that moved us to the country. At Westport, we quarrelled over morals once, walking beside a colonial wall under the freshness of lilacs. We sat up all night over "Brass Knuckles and Guitar." There was the road house where we bought gin, and Kate Hicks and the maurices and the bright harness of the Rye Beach Club.
We swam in the depth of the night with George before we quarrelled with him and went to John Williams parties where there were actresses who spoke French when they were drunk. George played "Cuddle up a Little Closer" on the piano. There were my white knickers that startled the Connecticut hills, and the swim in the sandaled lady's bird-pool. The beach, and dozens of men, mad rides along the Post Road and trips to New York. We never could have a room at a hotel at night we looked so young, so once we filed an empty suitcase with the telephone directory and spoons and a pin-cushion at the Manhattan. I was romantically attached to Townsend and he went away to Tahiti - and there were your episodes of Gene Bankhead and Miriam. We bought the Marmon with Harvey Firestone and went south through the haunted swamps of Virginia, the red clay hills of Georgia, the sweet rutted creek bottoms of Alabama. We drank corn on the wings of an aeroplane in the moonlight and danced at the country club and came back. I had a pink dress that floated and a very theatrical silver one that I bought with Don Stewart.
We moved to 59th Street. We quarrelled and you broke the bathroom door and hurt my eye.
We went so much to the theatre that you took it off the income tax. We trailed through Central Park in the snow after a ball at the Plaza, I quarrelled with Zoe about Botticelli at the Brevoort and went with her to buy a coat for David Belasco. We had Bourbon and Deviled Ham and Christmas at the Overmans and ate lots at the Lafayette. There was Tom Smith and his wallpaper and Mencken and our Valentine party and the time I danced all night with Alex and meals at Mollats with John and I skated, and was pregnant and you wrote The Beautiful and the Damned. We came to Europe and I was sick and complained always.
There was London and Wopping with Shane Leslie and strawberries as big as tomatoes at Landy Randolph Churchills. There was St. Johns Ervines wooden leg and Bob Handley in the gloom of the Cecil - There was Partis and the heat and the ice-cream that did not melt and buying clothes - and Rome and your friends from the British Embassy and your drinking, drinking.
We came home.
There was "Dog" and lunch at the St. Regis with Townsend and Alex and John: Alabama, and the unbearable heat and our almost buying a house. Then we went to St. Paul and hundreds of people came to call. There was the Indian forests and the moon on the sleeping porch and I was heavy and afraid of the storms. Then Scottie was born and we went to all the Christmas parties and a man asked Sandy "who is your fat friend?"
Snow covered everything.
We had the Flu and went lots to the Kalmans and Scottie grew strong. Joseph Hergesheimer came and Saturdays we went to the university Club. We went to the Yacht Club and we both had minor flirtations. Joe began to dislike me, and I played so much golf that I had Tetana. Kollie almost died. We both adored him.
We came to New York and rented a house when we were tight. There was Val Engelicheff and Ted Paramour and dinner with Bunny in Washington Square and pills and Doctor Lackin and we had a violent quarrel on the train going back, I don't remember why. Then I brought Scottie to New York. She was round and funny in a pink coat and bonnet and you met us at the station. In Great Neck there was always disorder and quarrels: about the Golf Club, about the Foxes, about Peggy Weber, about Helen Buck, about everything. We went to the Rumseys, and that awful night at the Mackeys when Ring sat in the cloakroom. We saw Esther and Glen Hunter and Gilbert Seldes.
We gave lots of parties: the biggest one for Rebecca West. We drank Bass Pale Ale and went always to the Bucks or the Lardners or the Swopes when they weren't at our house. We saw lots of Sidney Howard and fought the weekend that Bill Motter was with us. We drank always and finally came to France because there always too many people in the house.
On the boat there was almost a scandal about Bunny Burgess. We found Nanny and went to Hyeres - Scottie and I were both sick there in the dusty garden full of Spanish Bayonet and Bourgainvilla. We went to St. Raphael. You wrote, and we went sometimes to Nice or Monte Carlo. We were alone, and gave big parties for the French aviators. Then there was Josen and you were justifiably angry. We went to Rome. We ate at the Castelli dei Cesari. The sheets were always damp. There was Christmas in the echoes, and eternal walks. We cried when we saw the Pope.
There were the luminous shadows of the Pinco and the officer's shining boots. We went to Frascati and Tivoli. There was the jail, and Hal Rhodes at the Hotel de Russie and my not wanting to go to the moving-picture ball at the Excelsior and asking Hungary Cox to take me home. Then I was horribly sick, from trying to have a baby and you didn't care much and when I was well we came back to Paris.
We sat together in Marseilles, and thought how good France was. We lived in the rue Tilsitt, in red plush and Teddy came for tea and we went to the markets with the Murphies. There were the Wimans and Mary Hay and Eva Le Galliene and rides in the Bois at dawn and the night we all played puss-in-the-corner at the Ritz. There was Tunti and nights in Montmartre.
We went to Antibes, and I was sick always and took too much Dial. The Murphy's were at the Hotel du Cap and we saw them constantly. Back in Paris I began dancing lessons because I had nothing to do. I was sick again at Christmas when the MacLeishes came and Doctor Gros said there was no use trying to save my ovaries. I was always sick and having picqures and things and you were naturally more and more away. You found Ernest and the Cafe des Lilas and you were unhappy when Dr. Gros sent me to Salies-de-Bearn. At the Villa Piquita I was always sick. Sara brought me things and we gave a lunch for Gerald's father. We went to Cannes and listened to Raquel Miller and diner under the rain of fireworks.
You couldn't work because your room was damp and you quarrelled with the Murphys. We moved to a bigger villa and I went to Paris and had my appendix out. You drank all the time and some man called up the hospital about a row you had had.
We went home, and I wanted you to swim with me at Juan-les-Pins but you liked it better where it was gayer: at the Garoupe with Marice Hamilton and the Murphys and the MacLeishes. Then you found Grace Moore and Ruth and Charlie and the summer passed, one party after another. We quarrelled about Dwight Wiman and you left me lots alone. There were too many people and too many things to do: every-day there was something and the house was always full. There was Gerald and Ernest and you often did not come home. There were the English sleepers that I found downstairs one morning and Bob and Muriel and Walker and Anita Loos, always somebody - Alice Delamar and Ted Rousseau and our trips to St. Paul and the note from Isadora Duncan and the countryside slipping by through the haze of Chamberry-fraises and Graves.
That was your summer.
I swam with Scottie except when I followed you, mostly unwillingly. Then I had asthma and almost died in Genoa and we were back in America - further apart than ever before. In California, though you would not allow me to go anywhere without you, you yourself engaged in flagrantly sentimental relations with a child. You said you wanted nothing more from me in all your life, though you made a scene when Carl suggested that I go to dinner with him and Betty Compson. We came east: I worked over Ellerslie incessantly and made it function. There was our first house-party and you and Lois - and when there was nothing more to do on the house I began dancing lessons.
You did not like it when you saw it made me happy.
You were angry about rehearsals and insistent about trains. You went to New York to see Lois and I met Dick Knight the night of the party for Paul Morand. Again, though you were by then thoroughly entangled sentimentally, you forbade my seeing Dick and were furious about a letter he wrote me. On the boat coming over you paid absolutely no attention of any kind to me except to refuse me the permission to stay to a concert with whatever-his-name-was.
I think the most humiliating and bestial thing that ever happened to me in my life is scene that you probably don't remember even in Genoa. We lived in the rue Vaugirard. You were constantly drunk. You didn't work and were dragged home at night by taxi-drivers when you came home at all. You said it was my fault for dancing all day. What was I to do? You got up for lunch.
You made no advances toward me and complained that I was unresponsive. You were literally eternally drunk the whole summer. I got so I couldn't sleep and I had asthma again. You were angry when I wouldn't go with you to Montmartre. You brought drunken undergraduates in to meals when you came home for them, and it made you angry that I didn't care any more. I began to like Egorowa - on the boat going back I told you I was afraid there was something abnormal in the relationship and you laughed. There was more or less of a scandal about Philipson, but you did not even try to help me. You brought Phillippe back and I couldn't manage the house any more; he was insubordinate and disrespectful to me and you wouldn't let him go.
I began to work harder at dancing - I thought of nothing else but that. You were far away by then and I was alone. We can back to run Palatine and you, in a drunken stupor told me a lot of things that I only half understood: but I understood the dinner we had at Ernest's. Only I didn't understand that it mattered.
You left me more and more alone, and though you complained it was the apartment or the servants or me, you know the real reason you couldn't work was because you were always out half the night and you were sick and you drank constantly.
We went to Cannes. I kept up my lessons and we quarrelled. You wouldn't let me fire the nurse that both Scottie and I hated. You disgraced yourself at Barry's party, on the yacht at Monte Carlo, at the casino with Gerald and Dotty. Many nights you didn't come home. You came into my room once the whole summer, but I didn't care because I went to the beach in the morning. I had my lesson in the afternoon and I walked at night. I was nervous and half-sick but I didn't know what was the matter. I only knew that I had difficulty standing lots of people, like the party at Wm. J. Locke's and that I wanted to get back to Paris.
We had lunch at the Murphy's and Gerald said to me very pointedly several times that Nemchinovina was at Antibes. Still I didn't understand. We came back to Paris. You were miserable about your lung, and because you had wasted the summer, but you didn't stop drinking. I worked all the time and I became dependent on Egorowa. I couldn't walk in the street unless I had been to my lesson. I couldn't manage the apartment because I couldn't speak to the servants. I couldn't go into stores to buy clothes and my emotions became blindly involved. In February, when I was so sick with bronchitis that I had ventouses every day and fever for two weeks, I had to work because I couldn't exist in the world without it, and still I didn't understand what I was doing.
I didn't even know what I wanted.
Then we went to Africa and when we came back I began to realize because I could feel what was happening in others. You did not want me. Twice you left my bed saying "I can't. Don't you understand" - I didn't. Then there was the Harvard man who lost his direction, and when I wanted you to come home with me you told me to sleep with the coal man.
At Nancy Hoyt's dinner she offered her services but there was nothing the matter with my head then, though I was half dead, so I turned back to the studio. Lucienne was sent away but since I knew nothing about the situation, I didn't know why there was something wrong. I just kept on going. Lucienne came back and later went away again and then the end happened. I went to Malmaison. You wouldn't help me - I don't blame you by now, but if you had explained I would have understood because I wanted was to go on working.
You had other things: drink and tennis, and we did not care about each other. You hated me for asking you not to drink. A girl came to work with me but I didn't want her to. I still believed in love and I thought suddenly of Scottie and that you supported me. So at Valmont I was in torture and my head closed together.
You gave me a flower and said it was "plus petite et moins etendue" - We were friends - Then you took it away and I grew sicker, and there was nobody to teach me, so here I am, after five months of misery and agony and desperation. I'm glad you have found the material for a Josephine story and I'm glad that you take such an interest in sports. Now that I can't sleep anymore I have lots to think about, and since I have gone so far alone I suppose I can go the rest of the way - but if I were Scottie I would not ask that she go through the same hell and if I were God I could not justify or find a reason for imposing it - except that it was wrong, of course, to love my teacher when I should have loved you. But I didn't have you to love - not since long before I loved her. I have just begun to realize that sex and sentiment have little to do with each other.
When I came to you twice last winter and asked you to start over it was because I thought I was becoming seriously involved sentimentally and preparing situations for which I was morally and practically unfitted. You had a song about Gigolos: if that had ever entered my head there was, besides the whole studio, 3 other solutions in Paris.
I came to you half-sick after a difficult lunch at Armonville and you kept me waiting until it was too late in front of the Guaranty Trust.
Sandy's tiny candle was not much of a strain, but it required something better than your week of drunkenness to put it out. You didn't care, so I went on and on - dancing alone, and no matter what happens, I still know in my heart that it is a Godless, dirty game; that love is bitter and all there is, and that the rest is for the emotional beggars of the earth and is about the equivalent of people who stimulate themselves with dirty postcards -
If You Feel Something, Might As Well Write It Down And Mail It To Someone