The novel F. Scott Fitzgerald never wrote | Daily News

The novel F. Scott Fitzgerald never wrote

Sometime in 1938, F. Scott Fitzgerald had an idea for a new novel. His last, Tender Is the Night, had been published in 1934 after he had worked on it for a decade, often under personal circumstances ranging from difficult to terrible. He had not been able to begin a next novel during the mid-1930s, and gave the reasons why very clearly in his “crack-up” essays, published in Esquire in February, March, and April 1936.

In the summer of 1937, Fitzgerald returned to Hollywood with a lucrative short-term contract from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, having previously failed in his attempts at screenwriting in 1927 and 1931. Hollywood was, as before, initially unhelpful to Fitzgerald’s creativity. He felt this keenly, complaining of it in letters and scattering the movie scripts he was doctoring with penciled interjections of disgust and boredom. His idea for the new novel was likely born of his initial frustration with the movies as well as the pressure Fitzgerald was placing upon himself to complete something substantive.

The outline is penciled on a single sheet in Fitzgerald’s hand. It has nothing directly to do with the rest of the archival material with which it is grouped, though it is on the same paper, and can be dated to the same time. The novel would have spanned the decade of the Great Depression, 1929-1938, and was to be based in the American history of those years. Fitzgerald outlined the heart of it in three phrases: “This is a novel in which I show 1st a glimpse of an estranged couple. 2nd how it happened. 3rd Their decision, precipitated by an old love of hers, to get a divorce.” Showing an estranged or even separated couple reconcile in the end is hardly new for Fitzgerald, but the context he suggests is fresh indeed. This one page reveals much about the thought process of a leading American writer in the very first stage of creative engagement with his material.

The ten years in question are crucial ones, covering the decade from the flash and crash of 1929 to the present at that time—and a personally difficult decade for Fitzgerald himself. After Zelda Fitzgerald’s first long hospitalization in 1930, the Fitzgeralds lived for only scattered months at a time as a couple again. Fitzgerald’s couple were to meet every year after their parting, against a backdrop of specific events Fitzgerald meant to emphasize or use as a thematic setting.

Here is his plan for the novel:

This is a novel in which I show

1st a glimpse of an estranged couple

2nd How it happened

3d Their decision, precipitated by an old love of hers, to get a divorce.

The theme is sketched thus: “Two people are estranged. Ten years pass and they forget + come together.” Fitzgerald also proposes a list of titles for his novel: Divorced, Separation, Estrangement, Estranged, Parted, You Go Your Way, and Divided Lives. Of these, You Go Your Way has the most in common with those of Fitzgerald’s other novels; he liked four-word titles.

This same-time-next-year story in ten chapters centers around critical historical events and manages a happy ending, even as the world slipped towards war once more—which Fitzgerald, like most people, sensed by 1938 was coming. He begins with American events that were also global disasters, and then begins to narrow his focus to the headlines of the East Coast, Chicago, and Los Angeles. “Boom” and “Depression” need no parsing or explanation. The last wild rush of stock speculation in 1929, ending with October’s Black Thursday crash, and the Depression following immediately thereafter resonated around the world.

For some brief shining moments in 1930, it looked as if America’s economy might recover. However, the increasing failures of banks both without and within the Federal Reserve system in late 1930 had a domino effect: the more banks found their cash reserves emptied, with insufficient funds to cover withdrawals, the more they failed. Of course people panicked and began withdrawing more money; in planning the novel, Fitzgerald selected “Panic” for 1931.

That Fitzgerald is interested in having his couple’s meeting involve the Panic echoes a theme he covered many other times, from The Great Gatsby to “Babylon Revisited” (1931) to the “Gwen” stories of the middle 1930s. He was always interested in the insecurity lurking within the wealthy classes, and particularly in the personal failings that could be so quickly revealed when wealth was acquired, or lost. Fitzgerald was far more deeply and intimately engaged with contemporary American history than anyone has thought.

“Bonus march” refers to the sad “army” of the summer of 1932, when somewhere between 8,000 and 15,000 World War I veterans arrived in Washington, D.C. seeking immediate payment of the $1000 bonus each had received from Congress in 1924. The bonus certificates were meant to be redeemable in 1945, but the Depression had made many jobless and desperate for the money at once. Congress began to consider their request, and the Bonus Army built a camp in southeast Washington, on the flats of the Anacostia River and just across the river from Capitol Hill, while they waited. They called the camp Hooverville for the President who would not meet with them. The House of Representatives passed the “bonus bill” in mid-June, but, days later, the Senate rejected it.

President Hoover sent first the D.C. police, and then an army regiment commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, to force the Bonus Army, already decamping, to leave. Some of the men had brought families with them; newspaper reports savaged Hoover and the army for gassing and burning out the shanties and tents. The mayor of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, likening the disaster to the Johnstown Flood of 1890, welcomed refugees to town and paid to feed them himself, while Maud Edgell, a widow from Waterbury, Maryland, offered the men 25 acres of her own land for farms. One veteran killed by Washington police, William J. Hushka, was buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. Hoover’s popularity, already sinking, crashed entirely, and he became a one-term President, winning only six states against Franklin D. Roosevelt that November.

Fitzgerald’s entry for the event of 1933 looks far cheerier: “Bank holiday.” It is not what it seems. In one of his first acts as President, FDR was obliged to close America’s banks in the wake of a spate of state bank closures. From February on, state governments had been declaring “bank holidays” and closing the doors to prevent “runs” on banks by panicked investors. By March, Congress was at work on the Emergency Banking Relief Act of 1933. After the act became law on March 9, the “holiday” ended with people returning their money to banks. FDR followed up by insisting the Senate take continued oversight of banking practices as part of the New Deal.

- Lit Hub


 

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