Gatsby Girls (Fitzgerald)

Gatsby Girls
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2013
364 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780989020046

She was an impulsive, fashionable and carefree 1920s woman who embodied the essence of the Gatsby Girl—F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda. As Fitzgerald said, "I married the heroine of my stories." All of the eight short stories contained in this collection were inspired by Zelda.

Fitzgerald, one of the foremost writers of American fiction, found early success as a short story writer for the most widely read magazine of the early 20th century—the Saturday Evening Post. Fitzgerald's stories, first published by the Post between 1920 and 1922, brought the Jazz Age and the "flapper" to life and confirmed that America was changing faster than ever before. Women were bobbing their hair, drinking and flirting shamelessly, and Fitzgerald brought these exciting Gatsby Girls to life in the pages of the Post.

A foreword by Jeff Nilsson, archivist for the Post, adds historical context to this wonderful, new collection, which is highlighted by an introduction written by Fitzgerald himself. Each story is accompanied by the original illustrations and the beautiful cover images from the Post. Read the stories that made F. Scott Fitzgerald one of the most beloved writers in America—and around the world—still today. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—September 24, 1896
Where—St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Died—December 21, 1940
Where—Hollywood, California
Education—Princeton University

F. Scott Fitzgerald was named for his famous relative, Francis Scott Key, though he was always referred to as "Scott." Minnesota born and Princeton educated, Fitzgerald published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920 to critical and popular acclaim.

That same year, He married Zelda Sayre, the queen of Montgomery, Alabama youth society, and the two lived a boisterous, decadent life in New York City. (See LitCourse 5 with Fitzgerald's story "Babylon Revisited" for an idea of their life.) To better afford their extravagant lifestyle, the couple moved to France, where Fitzgerald befriended Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, becoming part of the legendary group of expatriate writers and artists, which Stein labeled the "Lost Generation." In Paris he wrote his finest novel, The Great Gatsby (1925).

Zelda was eventually hospitalized in 1930 for the first of many breakdowns, and Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood (William Faulkner was there, too), where his heavy drinking ended his screen writing career. In 1934 he published Tender Is the Night. He died there of a heart attack six years later at the age of 44.

The 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. The Great Gatsby, Scott's masterpiece, was published in 1925. Hemingway greatly admired The Great Gatsby and wrote in his A Moveable Feast "If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one" (153). Hemingway expressed his deep admiration for Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald's flawed, doomed character, when he prefaced his chapters concerning Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast with:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless. (129)

Much of what Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast helped to create the myth of Fitzgerald's eventual demise and Zelda's hand in that demise. Though much of Hemingway's text is factually correct, it is always tinged with his disappointment with Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland.

Scott rented an estate in the Baltimore suburb of Towson and began work on Tender Is the Night, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist who falls in love with and marries one of his patients. Some critics have seen the book as a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel recounting Fitzgerald's problems with his wife, the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle, his own egoism and self-confidence, and his continuing alcoholism. Indeed, Fitzgerald was extremely protective of his material (their life together). When Zelda published her own version of their lives in Europe, Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald was angry and succeeded in getting her doctors to keep her from writing any more.

Tender was finally published in 1934, and critics who had waited nine years for the follow up to The Great Gatsby had mixed opinions about it. The novel did not sell well upon publication, but the book's reputation has since risen significantly.

Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone with the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, posthumously published as The Last Tycoon (based on the life of film executive Irving Thalberg). Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the east coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, a well-known gossip columnist, in Hollywood.

Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda's biographer, Nancy Milford, Scott claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis. Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in late 1940, and on December 21, while awaiting a visit from his doctor, Fitzgerald collapsed in Sheilah Graham's apartment and died. He was 44. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
One pleasure of rereading Fitzgerald's stories now is to rediscover just how good some of them in fact are, and how brilliant a handful.
Jay McInerney - New York Review of Books

This is a valuable collection, whether one reads the stories to delight in Fitzgerald's style, to conjure up a lost era, to learn more about the career of a great American novelist, or simply to gain insight into the human condition.
Leonard A. Podis - Cleveland Plain Dealer

It's a great addition to my Fitzgerald collection. Very informative, well researched with lots of extras.
Donald Erman -

With all the hype surrounding the release of yet another Big Screen version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, it's no surprise that other works of Fitzgerald's are being re-released. As a fan of the author, this thrills me no end. So when Gatsby Girls came in for review, I grabbed it, hunkered down in my favorite over-sized chair, and started reading. What a delight!"
Ellen Feld - Feathered Quill Book Review

With the much-anticipated film of The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, about to smash the box office, what better time to turn your gimlet eye on the stories and the art that not only preceded it but offers literary and cultural context for the novel that is considered Fitzgerald's most famous..
Rebecca Rego Barry - Fine Books and

Discussion Questions
1. The stories in the collection first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s just as the country was entering a promising new decade. People looked forward to a new time of prosperity with the advent of affordable automobiles and electrical power. For the first time, more Americans were living in cities leaving farms and small towns for better futures and more interesting lives.

  To many young women, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories must have been a revelation. “Modern” girls were cutting their hair short, abandoning their corsets, driving cars, drinking liquor and kissing boys without worrying what others might think. It all seemed very wicked and fun.

>  How did Fitzgerald’s heroines help shape the lives of women in the ‘20s? How did his “Gatsby” girls help create the expectations of American women today?

2. F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of America’s greatest writers. Because his short stories were published in the Post, one of the country’s most popular magazines, he became one of the public’s favorite authors. His stories chronicled life in the 1920s and gave birth to the “Flapper”—the romantic version of the ‘20s girl who has been popularized through the years in both movies and books. According to Fitzgerald, all of his female characters were based on his wife Zelda. They are impulsive, fashionable and carefree women who command attention and dare to be themselves.

>  But are they likeable characters? Which of his female characters were you favorites? Which one's did you dislike the most?

3. Which story/stories appealed to you the most and why?

4. Do you see elements of how Fitzgerald’s “Gatsby Girl” evolved through the stories? What did these characters have in common? How are they different?

5. What main ideas—themes—does Fitzgerald explore?

6. What passages strike you as insightful, even profound? Perhaps a bit of dialog that's funny or poignant or that encapsulates a character? Maybe there's a particular comment that states the stories’ thematic concerns?

7. If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask? Have you read other books by Fitzgerald? If so, how does this book compare?

8. How do the Gatsby Girls heroines compare to Daisy in The Great Gatsby?

9. The first story, “Head and Shoulders” introduces the reader to Horace Tarbox, an intellectual young man busy with his studies. He meets, and falls in love with, Marcia Meadow, a singer at the local theater. This appears to be a simple story of "opposites attract" featuring the studious Horace, and the free-wheeling actress Marcia. She dubs them “Head and Shoulders” for the odd pairing of one with brains and one with “shoulders” (a dancer who swings her shoulders). But as the story progresses, an unexpected twist changes things.

>  What happens to Marcia and Horace? How does it change them?

10. In “The Ice Palace,” we meet Sally Carrol Happer, a young woman from Georgia. She’s bored with the quiet, dull life she has known and has decided to marry a northern man. “The Ice Palace” was published in May of 1920 and was the first of what is called the “Tarleton Trilogy,” a trio of works set in Tarleton, Georgia. This story tells the tale of local belle Sally and her harrowing visit to the cold North to visit her fiancé’s family. It is one of the most beautifully written of Fitzgerald’s short stories, and it contains autobiographical details from Fitzgerald’s own life, as he himself married a Southern Belle [Zelda]. In this story, Fitzgerald began his exploration of the differences between Southern and Northern cultures.

> What are the differences in Fitzgerald’s view? What differences still exist today?

11. “The Offshore Pirate” is a fantasy story. Published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1920s, it tells the story of Ardita Farnan and how she falls in love with the “pirate” that overtakes her uncle’s boat on its way to Florida. The story deals with a theme that is seen repeatedly in Fitzgerald’s early stories—a young man “tricks” a young woman into falling in love with him or marrying him or, in the case of “Myra Meets His Family,” not marrying him.

> Is the “pirate” a despicable character? “Pirate” is an in-depth character analysis of what would become one of Fitzgerald’s prototypical characters—the self-determined young “femme fatale.” Is Ardita a likeable character? How do you think she would have been perceived in the 1920s? How would she be perceived today? Fitzgerald was especially fond of this story, especially the last line, which he said was one of his best. Do you agree?

“What was in the bags?” she asked softly.
“Florida mud,” he answered. "That was one of two true things I told you.”

(And Ardita being a girl of some perspicacity had no difficulty in guessing the other.)

12. When Fitzgerald submitted "Myra Meets His Family" to his literary agent Harold  Ober, he admitted: "I'm afraid it’s no good and if you agree with me don't  hesitate to send it back.” But Ober had no trouble selling it to the Saturday Evening Post for $400. Fox Studios bought "Myra" in 1920 for $1000—a good price at that time—and made it into The Husband Hunter with Eileen Percy. PBS’s American Playhouse presented an adaptation of “Myra” entitled “Under the Biltmore Clock” in 1985.

  Its popular appeal did not alter Fitzgerald's feelings about the story. In 1921 he wrote Ober about English magazine rights:

I believe you have disposed of..."Myra Meets His Family" which story, however, I never have liked, and do not intend ever republishing in book form.

  The reasons for his rejection of the story are not clear. It relies on unlikely plotting, but so do a number of his other commercial stories. Perhaps he saw too great a contrast between "Myra" and "The Ice Palace," one of his finest stories, which was written during the same month. "Myra Meets His Family" is a representative early Fitzgerald story in terms of its material and characters. It stakes out the territory of the Eastern rich, and Myra is a readily recognizable Fitzgerald heroine who reappears under a dozen other names in later stories. Myra believes her only future resides in marring well, meaning marrying “wealth.”

>  Was Myra a product of her time, when options were more limited for women, or is she a calculating character whose values and ambitions are shallow and misguided? Do women like Myra exist today?

13. When Fitzgerald included "The Camel's Back" in Tales of the Jazz Age, he commented, “

I suppose that of all the stories I have ever written this one cost me the least travail and perhaps gave me the most amusement. As to the labor involved, it was written during one day in the city of New Orleans, with the express purpose of buying a platinum and diamond wrist watch which cost six hundred dollars. I began it at seven in the morning and finished it at two o'clock the same night.... My amusement was derived from the fact that the camel part of the story is literally true; in fact, I have a standing engagement with the gentleman involved to attend the next fancy-dress party to which we are mutually invited, attired as the latter part of the camel—this as a sort of atonement for being his historian.

>    “The Camel’s Back” is full of Fitzgerald’s wit and charm, but what do we learn about our main characters? Was the ending a surprise?

14. The inspiration for “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” came from a letter Fitzgerald wrote to his sister, Annabel, in 1915. He was advising her on the ways to succeed socially, which are explored in Bernice’s developments with Marjorie’s intervention in the story. There has been much comparison made with elements of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, implying that Fitzgerald was making use of elements of the traditional code for young women and subverting them for the modern reader.

  Bernice, in contrast to the cultured youth who are adept at the artifice of the social scene, is sensitive and vulnerable. The overheard conversation between Mrs. Harvey and Marjorie has an almost physical effect on her. Fitzgerald’s use of metaphor emphasizes the directness of the event—“the thread of the conversation going on inside pierced her consciousness sharply as if it had been drawn through with a needle.”

  Bernice is wounded by the betrayal, but her spirit is not broken. The fact that the girls are cousins is the only commonality between them. Neither girl understands the other, although Bernice is more willing to get to know her cousin. Marjorie is a schemer: much more than just the lively socialite, she is a cruel manipulator. Bernice does want to be popular like Marjorie, and accepts Marjorie’s suggestions with innocent gratitude. Bernice is willing to learn from Marjorie, but not vice versa.

  Fitzgerald describes the luxury of Marjorie’s braids “like restive snakes,” a simile that gives Marjorie Gorgon-like qualities. Bernice realizes that Marjorie’s hair symbolizes power. There is a play on the story of Little Women: as Jo in the novel cut off her hair to raise money for the family, so Bernice sacrificed her hair to be accepted by Marjorie. There is also the allusion to the Biblical story of Samson. Bernice, in cutting Marjorie’s plaits off, “scalps” her like an Indian. Throwing the plaits on Warren’s porch symbolizes Bernice’s rejection of him, and her glee is in “spoiling” Marjorie.

>    How does Fitzgerald use Bernice and Marjorie to represent the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”—those with social standing and those without it? What kind of man is Warren and why does he side with Marjorie in the end?

15. In “The Popular Girl,” Yanci Bowman is enchanted to meet Scott Kimberly, a very rich and very eligible young man. Yet no sooner have they met than her drunken father dies unexpectedly, leaving her impoverished. Too ashamed to admit to Scott her desperate state, she creates a fanciful world full of parties and holidays, friends and suitors, to convince him she is still the popular girl he first met. However, as her charade grows ever more fragile, she endangers their friendship and her very hope of salvation. Once again, Fitzgerald explores the divide between rich and poor, social “rules” and expectations.

>   How does Yanci’s character evolve in this story? Does she learn anything? Is she a femme fatale who is “tamed” by a young man?

16. Are the story endings satisfying? If so, why? If not, why not...and how would you change them?

17. Have these Fitzgerald’s stories changed you—broadened your perspective? Have you learned something new or been exposed to different ideas about people or about life in the 1920s?

18. Fitzgerald’s work has sustained the test of time. Are these stories still relevant today? If so, why?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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