Moveable Feast (Chapter 11)
Hawks Do Not Share
Scott Fitzgerald invited us to have lunch with his wife Zelda and his little daughter at the furnished flat they had rented at 14 rue Tilsitt. I cannot remember much about the flat except that it was gloomy and airless and that there was nothing in it that seemed to belong to them except Scott’s first books bound in light blue leather with the titles in gold. Scott also showed us a large ledger with all of the stories he had published listed in it year after year with the prices he had received for them and also the amounts received for any motion picture sales, and the sales and royalties of his books. They were all noted as carefully as the log of a ship and Scott showed them to both of us with impersonal pride as though he were the curator of a museum. Scott was nervous and hospitable and he showed us his accounts of his earnings as though they had been the view. There was no view.
Zelda had a very bad hangover. They had been up on Montmartre the night before and had quarreled because Scott did not want to get drunk. He had decided, he told me, to work hard and not to drink and Zelda was treating him as though he were a kill-joy or a spoilsport. Those were the two words she used to him and there was recrimination and Zelda would say, “I did not. I did no such thing. It’s not true, Scott.” Later she would seem to recall something and would laugh happily.
On this day Zelda did not look her best. Her beautiful dark blonde hair had been ruined temporarily by a bad permanent she had gotten in Lyon, when the rain had made them abandon their car, and her eyes were tired and her face was too taut and drawn.
She was formally pleasant to Hadley and me but a big part of her seemed not to be present but to still be on the party she had come home from that morning. She and Scott both seemed to feel that Scott and I had enjoyed a great and wonderful time on the trip up from Lyon and she was jealous about it.
“When you two can go off and have such simply wonderful times together, it only seems fair that I should have just a little fun with our good friends here in Paris,” she said to Scott.
Scott was being the perfect host and we ate a very bad lunch that the wine cheered a little but not much. The little girl was blonde, chubby-faced, well built, and very healthy looking and spoke English with a strong Cockney accent. Scott explained that she had an English nanny because he wanted her to speak like Lady Diana Manners when she grew up.
Zelda had hawk’s eyes and a thin mouth and deep-south manners and accent. Watching her face you could see her mind leave the table and go to the night’s party and return with her eyes blank as a cat’s and then pleased, and the pleasure would show along the thin line of her lips and then be gone. Scott was being the good cheerful host and Zelda looked at him and she smiled happily with her eyes and her mouth too as he drank the wine. I learned to know that smile very well. It meant she knew Scott would not be able to write.
Zelda was jealous of Scott’s work and as we got to know them, this fell into a regular pattern. Scott would resolve not to go on all-night drinking parties and to get some exercise each day and work regularly. He would start to work and as soon as he was working well Zelda would begin complaining about how bored she was and get him off on another drunken party. They would quarrel and then make up and he would sweat out the alcohol on long walks with me, and make up his mind that this time he would really work, and would start off well. Then it would start all over again.
Scott was very much in love with Zelda and he was very jealous of her. He told me many times on our walks of how she had fallen in love with the French navy pilot. But she had never made him really jealous with another man since. This spring she was making him jealous with other women and on the Montmartre parties he was afraid to pass out and he was afraid to have her pass out. Becoming unconscious when they drank had always been their great defense. They went to sleep on drinking an amount of liquor or champagne that would have little effect on a person accustomed to drinking, and they would go to sleep like children. I have seen them become unconscious not as though they were drunk but as though they had been anesthetized and their friends, or sometimes a taxi-driver, would get them to bed, and when they woke they would be fresh and happy, not having taken enough alcohol to damage their bodies before it made them unconscious.
Now they had lost this natural defense. At this time Zelda could drink more than Scott could and Scott was afraid for her to pass out in the company they kept that spring and the places they went to. Scott did not like the places nor the people and he had to drink more than he could drink and be in any control of himself, to stand the people and the places, and then he began to have to drink to keep awake after he would usually have passed out. Finally he had few intervals of work at all.
He was always trying to work. Each day he would try and fail. He laid the failure to Paris, the town best organized for a writer to write in that there is, and he thought always that there would be someplace where he and Zelda could have a good life together again. He thought of the Riviera, as it was then before it had all been built up, with the lovely stretches of blue sea and the sand beaches and the stretches of pine woods and the mountains of the Esterel going out into the sea. He remembered it as it was when he and Zelda had first found it before people went there for the summer.
Scott told me about the Riviera and how my wife and I must come there the next summer and how we would go there and how he would find a place for us that was not expensive and we would both work hard every day and swim and lie on the beach and be brown and only have a single apéritif before lunch and one before dinner. Zelda would be happy there, he said. She loved to swim and was a beautiful diver and she was happy with that life and would want him to work and everything would be disciplined. He and Zelda and their daughter were going to go there that summer.
I was trying to get him to write his stories as well as he could and not trick them to conform to any formula, as he had explained that he did.
“You’ve written a fine novel now,” I told him. “And you mustn’t write slop.”
“The novel isn’t selling,” he said. “I must write stories and they have to be stories that will sell.”
“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”
“I’m going to,” he said.
But the way things were going, he was lucky to get any work done at all. Zelda did not encourage the people who were chasing her and she had nothing to do with them, she said. But it amused her and it made Scott jealous and he had to go with her to the places. It destroyed his work, and she was more jealous of his work than anything.
All that late spring and early summer Scott fought to work but he could only work in snatches. When I saw him he was always cheerful, sometimes desperately cheerful, and he made good jokes and was a good companion. When he had very bad times, I listened to him about them and tried to make him know that if he could hold onto himself he would write as he was made to write, and that only death was irrevocable. He would make fun of himself then, and as long as he could do that I thought that he was safe. Through all of this he wrote one good story, “The Rich Boy,” and I was sure that he could write better than that as he did later.
During the summer we were in Spain and I started the first draft of a novel and finished it back in Paris in September. Scott and Zelda had been at Cap d’Antibes, and that fall when I saw him in Paris he was very changed. He had not done any sobering up on the Riviera and he was drunk now in the day time as well as nights. It did not make any difference any more to him that anyone was working and he would come to 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs any time he was drunk either in the day time or at night. He had begun to be very rude to his inferiors or anyone he considered his inferior.
One time he came in through the sawmill gate with his small daughter—it was the English nurse’s day off and Scott was caring for the child—and at the foot of the stairs she told him she needed to go to the bathroom. Scott started to undress her and the proprietor, who lived on the floor below us, came in and said, “Monsieur, there is a cabinet de toilette just ahead of you to the left of the stairs.”
“Yes, and I’ll put your head in it too, if you’re not careful,” Scott told him.
He was very difficult all that fall but he had begun to work on a novel when he was sober. I saw him rarely when he was sober, but when he was sober he was always pleasant and he still made jokes and sometimes he would still make jokes about himself. But when he was drunk he would usually come to find me and, drunk, he took almost as much pleasure interfering with my work as Zelda did interfering with his. This continued for years but, for years too, I had no more loyal friend than Scott when he was sober.
That fall of 1925 he was upset because I would not show him the manuscript of the first draft of The Sun Also Rises. I explained to him that it would mean nothing until I had gone over it and rewritten it and that I did not want to discuss it or show it to anyone first. We were going down to Schruns in the Vorarlberg in Austria as soon as the first snowfall there.
I rewrote the first half of the manuscript there, finished it in January, I think. I took it to New York and showed it to Max Perkins of Scribners and then went back to Schruns and finished rewriting the book. Scott did not see it until after the completed rewritten and cut manuscript had been sent to Scribners at the end of April. I remembered joking with him about it and him being worried and anxious to help as always once a thing was done. But I did not want his help while I was rewriting.
While we were living in the Vorarlberg and I was finishing rewriting the novel, Scott and his wife and child had left Paris for a watering place in the lower Pyrénées. Zelda had been ill with that familiar intestinal complaint that too much champagne produces and which was then diagnosed as colitis. Scott was not drinking, and starting to work and he wanted us to come to Juan-les-Pins in June. They would find an inexpensive villa for us and this time he would not drink and it would be like the old good days and we would swim and be healthy and brown and have one apéritif before lunch and one before dinner. Zelda was well again and they were both fine and his novel was going wonderfully. He had money coming in from a dramatization of The Great Gatsby which was running well and it would sell to the movies and he had no worries. Zelda was really fine and everything was going to be disciplined.
I had been down in Madrid in May working by myself and I came by train from Bayonne to Juan-les-Pins third class and quite hungry because I had run out of money stupidly and had eaten last in Hendaye at the French-Spanish frontier. It was a nice villa and Scott had a very fine house not far away and I was very happy to see my wife who had the villa running beautifully, and our friends, and the single apéritif before lunch was very good and we had several more. That night there was a party to welcome us at the Casino, just a small party, the MacLeishes, the Murphys, the Fitzgeralds and we who were living at the villa. No one drank anything stronger than champagne and it was very gay and obviously a splendid place to write. There was going to be everything that a man needed to write except to be alone.
Zelda was very beautiful and was tanned a lovely gold color and her hair was a beautiful dark gold and she was very friendly. Her hawk’s eyes were clear and calm. I knew everything was all right and was going to turn out well in the end when she leaned forward and said to me, telling me her great secret, “Ernest, don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?”
Nobody thought anything of it at the time. It was only Zelda’s secret that she shared with me, as a hawk might share something with a man. But hawks do not share. Scott did not write anything any more that was good until after he knew that she was insane.
A Matter of Measurements
Much later, in the time after Zelda had what was then called her first nervous breakdown and we happened to be in Paris at the same time, Scott asked me to have lunch with him at Michaud’s restaurant on the corner of the rue Jacob and the rue des Saints-Pères. He said he had something very important to ask me that meant more than anything in the world to him and that I must answer absolutely truly. I said that I would do the best that I could. When he would ask me to tell him something absolutely truly, which is very difficult to do, and I would try it, what I said would make him angry, often not when I said it but afterwards, and sometimes long afterwards when he had brooded on it. My words would become something that would have to be destroyed and sometimes, if possible, me with them.
He drank wine at the lunch but it did not affect him and he had not prepared for the lunch by drinking before it. We talked about our work and about people and he asked me about people that we had not seen lately. I knew that he was writing something good and that he was having great trouble with it for many reasons but that was not what he wanted to talk about. I kept waiting for it to come, the thing that I had to tell the absolute truth about; but he would not bring it up until the end of the meal, as though we were having a business lunch.
Finally when we were eating the cherry tart and had a last carafe of wine he said, “You know I never slept with anyone except Zelda.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I thought I had told you.”
“No. You told me a lot of things but not that.”
“That is what I have to ask you about.”
“Good. Go on.”
“Zelda said that the way I was built I could never make any woman happy and that was what upset her originally. She said it was a matter of measurements. I have never felt the same since she said that and I have to know truly.”
“Come out to the office,” I said.
“Where is the office?”
“Le water,” I said.
We came back into the room and sat down at the table.
“You’re perfectly fine,” I said. “You are O.K. There’s nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.”
“Those statues may not be accurate.”
“They are pretty good. Most people would settle for them.”
“But why would she say it?”
“To put you out of business. That’s the oldest way in the world of putting people out of business. Scott, you asked me to tell you the truth and I can tell you a lot more but this is the absolute truth and all you need. You could have gone to see a doctor.”
“I didn’t want to. I wanted you to tell me truly.”
“Now do you believe me?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Come on over to the Louvre,” I said. “It’s just down the street and across the river.”
We went over to the Louvre and he looked at the statues but still he was doubtful about himself.
“It is not basically a question of the size in repose,” I said. “It is the size that it becomes. It is also a question of angle.” I explained to him about using a pillow and a few other things that might be useful for him to know.
“There is one girl,” he said, “who has been very nice to me. But after what Zelda said—”
“Forget what Zelda said,” I told him. “Zelda is crazy. There’s nothing wrong with you. Just have confidence and do what the girl wants. Zelda just wants to destroy you.”
“You don’t know anything about Zelda.”
“All right,” I said. “Let it go at that. But you came to lunch to ask me a question and I’ve tried to give you an honest answer.”
But he was still doubtful.
“Should we go and see some pictures?” I asked. “Have you ever seen anything in here except the Mona Lisa?”
“I’m not in the mood for looking at pictures,” he said. “I promised to meet some people at the Ritz bar.”
Many years later at the Ritz bar, long after the end of the World War II, Georges, who is the bar chief now and who was the chasseur when Scott lived in Paris, asked me, “Papa, who was this Monsieur Fitzgerald that everyone asks me about?”
“Didn’t you know him?”
“No. I remember all of the people of that time. But now they ask me only about him.”
“What do you tell them?”
“Anything interesting that they wish to hear. What will please them. But tell me, who was he?”
“He was an American writer of the early Twenties and later who lived some time in Paris and abroad.”
“But why would I not remember him? Was he a good writer?”
“He wrote two very good books and one which was not completed which those who know his writing best say would have been very good. He also wrote some good short stories.”
“Did he frequent the bar much?”
“I believe so.”
“But you did not come to the bar in the early Twenties. I know that you were poor then and lived in a different quarter.”
“When I had money I went to the Crillon.”
“I know that too. I remember very well when we first met.”
“So do I.”
“It is strange that I have no memory of him,” Georges said.
“All those people are dead.”
“Still one does not forget people because they are dead and people keep asking me about him. You must tell me something about him for my memoirs.”
“I remember you and the Baron von Blixen arriving one night—in what year?” He smiled.
“He is dead too.”
“Yes. But one does not forget him. You see what I mean?”
“His first wife wrote very beautifully,” I said. “She wrote perhaps the best book about Africa that I ever read. Except Sir Samuel Baker’s book on the Nile tributaries of Abyssinia. Put that in your memoirs. Since you are interested in writers now.”
“Good,” said Georges. “The Baron was not a man that you forget. And the name of the book?”
“Out of Africa,” I said. “Blickie was always very proud of his first wife’s writing. But we knew each other long before she had written that book.”
“But Monsieur Fitzgerald that they keep asking me about?”
“He was in Frank’s time.”
“Yes. But I was the chasseur. You know what a chasseur is.”
“I am going to write something about him in a book that I will write about the early days in Paris. I promised myself that I would write it.”
“Good,” said Georges.
“I will put him in exactly as I remember him the first time that I met him.”
“Good,” said Georges. “Then, if he came here, I will remember him. After all one does not forget people.”
“Naturally. But you say he came here very much?”
“It meant very much to him.”
“You write about him as you remember him and then if he came here I will remember him.”
“We will see,” I said.