Exiles from Paradise: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald
Dear Scott/Dear Max: the Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence
Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood
“Where the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered”: the swarms of books about F. Scott Fitzgerald that have been darkening the sky since his death just over thirty years ago are so striking that it has become trite even to remark upon them. More curious than the simple numbers involved is that so many of them seem to be groping for a format, and overlapping or cannibalizing one another for lack of it. Professor Mizener’s The Far Side of Paradise (1951, revised 1965) was a straightforward literary biography which focused accurately, and with understanding and appreciation, on Fitzgerald’s actual literary accomplishments. But Andrew Turnbull’s redoing of the biography (1962), in addition to being worse written, duplicated an enormous amount of the same material and showed much less interest in Fitzgerald’s fiction than in his “personality.” It made only minimal reference to its predecessor; and, while elaborately documented, could easily, if reduced to its own ingredients, have been cut to the size of a modest reminiscence and portrait.
Most of the books under review stand in a similar ghostly relation to their predecessors. Miss Mayfield’s Exiles from Paradise breathes down the neck of Miss Milford’s recent biography of Zelda. Mr. Latham’s Crazy Sundays, though it goes well beyond Sheilah Graham’s Beloved Infidel, treads repeatedly in its predecessor’s footprints, eking itself out with paraphrases from Fitzgerald’s own fiction.
Meanwhile, the collection of Fitzgerald’s correspondence with Maxwell Perkins, assembled by Messrs. Kuehl and Bryer, includes a preponderance of letters already reproduced in Mr. Turnbull’s edition of the correspondence (1963). Mr. Stern’s book on four of the novels had the bad luck to appear after Mr. Sklar’s The Last Laocoon (1967); Stern is frank in admitting the overlap (his book, he says darkly, will “parallel Sklar’s by talking about the national rather than the literary development of Fitzgerald’s talent”), but he evidently didn’t feel that was a reason to cut down his 462 pages.
Books are being made about Fitzgerald in the very wheel ruts of previous books; one finds the same anecdotes, the same statistics, the same quotations being used over and over again to make identical points. (My favorite statistic is the estate left by Fitzgerald’s grandfather McQuillan: it amounted to $266,289.49—and those forlorn forty-nine cents, dragged through volume after volume, take on the look of a tattered flag.) It is easy to ridicule the phenomenon, and indeed most of the books don’t deserve better. But what they are all trying to get at, though elusive, could be genuine and important.
The most depressing of the current set of Fitzgerald studies is Sara Mayfield’s re-biography of the two Fitzgeralds. Miss Mayfield’s qualifications are her childhood acquaintance with Zelda and intermittent, not-very-friendly contact with both Fitzgeralds during the Twenties and Thirties. Her writing taps a vein of pure, cloying cliché, deviating frequently into slur and innuendo. She …