Good Reading : Febuary 2009
writing life jazzy cat In another from our series of extracts from Secret Lives of Great Authors by ROBERT SCHNAKENBERG, allow us to introduce the F Scott Fitzgerald you might not know so well: the explosive, catty foot fetishist of the Jazz Age. F SCOTT FITZGERALD SEPTEMBER 24, 1896–DECEMBER 21, 1940 NATIONALITY: AMERICAN ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: LIBRA MAJOR WORKS: THE GREAT GATSBY (1925) TENDER IS THE NIGHT (1934) CONTEMPORARIES & RIVALS: ERNEST HEMINGWAY, WILLIAM FAULKNER, NATHANIEL WEST LITERARY STYLE: SUPPLE, LUMINOUS, AND WITTY WORDS OF WISDOM: ‘FIRST YOU TAKE A DRINK, THEN THE DRINK TAKES A DRINK, THEN THE DRINK TAKES YOU.’ FOOT FANCIER Fitzgerald had a serious foot fetish, and his tendency to link feet with sex dated from early childhood. All his life, he refused to let others see his unshod feet, which he associated in his mind with his own nakedness. Swimming was out of the question, and he was known to wear shoes and socks even while on the beach. ‘The sight of his own feet filled him with embarrassment and horror’, noted a 1924 interviewer. When it came to women’s tootsies, however, Fitzgerald was positively batty. He confessed to a prostitute that the sight of a woman’s feet had always excited him and made caressing her feet a part of their lovemaking ritual. A bizarre passage in This Side of Paradise, in which the main character is revolted by the sight of a chorus girl’s feet, may have been Fitzgerald’s attempt in his writing to come to grips with these impulses. PARADISE LOST This Side of Paradise helped make Fitzgerald’s reputation as a chronicler of the Jazz Age, but early success brought him little satisfaction. Later in his career, when a fan approached and effusively praised his debut novel, Fitzgerald exploded. ‘Mention that book again and I’ll slug you!’ he thundered. 52 goodreading i FEBRUARY 2009 SIGN OF THE CROSS Fitzgerald was no fan of crossword puzzles, which first gained popularity during the Jazz Age. He cited America’s passion for the puzzles as a sign of the ‘widespread neurosis’ then gripping the nation. A WISE EDITORIAL DECISION A title can make or break a book, and Fitzgerald had a devil of a time coming up with a good one for his greatest novel. He originally planned to call The Great Gatsby by the title Trimalchio in West Egg (a too- clever reference to a character in Petronius’s Satyricon). His editor, Maxwell Perkins, thought better of that and persuaded him to change it. For a while, Fitzgerald was hot on The High-Bouncing Lover before hitting on the classic, succinct title we know today. Even then, Fitzgerald had his doubts. Just before the book was to be printed, he cabled Perkins with the suggestion that they change the name to Under the Red White and Blue. What would be the consequences of delaying publication, Fitzgerald asked. Perkins’s cabled, one-word reply: ‘Fatal’. DISSES WITH WOLFE One writer Fitzgerald had no use for was his contemporary Thomas Wolfe. When editor Maxwell Perkins sent to Fitzgerald a galley of Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, complete with a dedication to Perkins, Fitzgerald’s reply was terse. ‘Dear Max,’ he wrote, ‘I liked the dedication, but after that I thought it fell off a bit.’ Secret Lives of Great Authors by Robert Schnakenberg is published by Quirk Books, rrp $24.95.
December January 2009