Sunday, March 6, 2022

Winter Dreams

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940)
From F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby, All the Sad Young Men & Other Writings 1920–1926

“When, as Judy’s head lay against his shoulder that first night, she whispered, ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with me. Last night I thought I was in love with a man and tonight I think I’m in love with you—’ —it seemed to him a beautiful and romantic thing to say.” Illustration by Canadian American artist Arthur William Brown (1881–1966) for “Winter Dreams” in the December 1922 issue of Metropolitan. Click on image to see full illustration.

In January 1915 Ginevra King, the teenager whom F. Scott Fitzgerald would later call “the love of my youth,” sent a letter to him after he, still only eighteen years old, returned to Princeton for the second half of his sophomore year:
A few years ago I took pleasure in being called “fast” (if that were possible [at] as young an age as 13 or 14). But anyway, I didn’t care how I acted, I liked it and so I didn’t care for what people said— Naturally this was crazy, but I was young, I’m only sixteen now and that isn’t aged— . . .

I know I am a flirt and I can’t stop it. I really haven’t got such a “line” as everyone thinks for I mean a lot of what I say way down deep and nobody ever believes me. Except for this, I am pretty good on the whole, but you know how much alike we are, and in a boy it doesn’t matter, but a girl has to control her feelings, which is hard for me as I am emotional.
Fitzgerald met Ginevra King earlier that month at a party in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. The oldest daughter of a wealthy family in Lake Forest, Illinois, she was visiting a friend who was a classmate at Westover School, the toney preparatory school for girls in Middlebury, Connecticut.

The outcome of this encounter between Fitzgerald and King was a long-distance relationship, conducted mostly through letters, that would last for two years. They would meet in person only a few times: for a night on the town in New York (chaperoned, of course), at her home in Lake Forest, during the Yale–Princeton football game in New Haven. Six months into the exchange of letters, the tone of her writing cooled somewhat: “For heaven’s sake DONT idealize me!” she scolded in one, and she calculated that, so far, they had “seen each other for exactly 15 hours.” A year later, when Fitzgerald visited her and her family in Lake Forest, somebody said to him, “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls”—a dismissal he jotted down in his ledger.

Fitzgerald’s memory of King would inform much of his fiction for two decades. “Ginevra was the original for several of Fitzgerald’s most famous characters,” writes literary scholar James L. W. West III. “A short list includes Isabelle Borgé and Rosalind Connage in This Side of Paradise (1920), Judy Jones in “Winter Dreams” (1922), Minnie Bibble in the Basil Duke Lee stories (1928–1929), Josephine Perry in the Josephine stories (1930–1931), and, most importantly, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (1925).”

Her influence on his stories was not something Fitzgerald kept to himself. Later in life, he confessed to his daughter that he “used to write endless letters throughout Sophomore and Junior years to Genevra [sic] King of Chicago and Westover, who later figured in This Side of Paradise.” In 1935, when asked by anthologist Vernon McKenzie to comment on the sources for four of his best-known stories, Fitzgerald’s cryptic response concerning “Winter Dreams” was: “Memory of a fascination in a visit paid to very rich aunt in Lake Forest. Also my first girl [when I was] 18–20 whom I’ve used over and over and never forgotten.” When he included “Winter Dreams” in the 1926 collection All the Sad Young Men, he told his editor Maxwell Perkins that the story was “a sort of first draft of the Gatsby idea,” and scholars now regard it as the first of the “Gatsby cluster”—stories written around the time Fitzgerald was working on his most famous novel, each a variation on the theme of desperate longing for an unattainable someone or something.

Over the years, what Fitzgerald remembered about his “first love” became more of a ideal—not just in his fiction but in his private recollections of their time together. For decades after his death, little was known about their relationship; after they broke up, she honored Fitzgerald’s request to destroy his letters, and it had been assumed he had done the same with hers. “Most of Fitzgerald’s biographers,” notes West, “have quoted passages from his fictional portraits of Ginevra to help describe her, a practice that suggests a one-to-one identification between the characters and the real girl.” In fact, in 1920 Fitzgerald had had all of Ginevra’s letters transcribed into type and bound into a volume; after his death his daughter found the book among his papers and sent it to their author, and two decades ago Ginevra King’s family donated it, along with her diary, to the Princeton library that holds Fitzgerald’s papers. What emerges from a reading of them is a young woman who is quite different from the characters depicted in Fitzgerald’s stories. In a study of the King-Fitzgerald relationship, West summarizes the impression of her writings:
Ginevra was entirely taken by Scott and he by her. She was drawn to him by his intelligence and charm, and she admired his talent with words. He was different from the other young men who pursued her; she was flattered by his attention and beguiled by his letters. The relationship was strong and intense on both sides, especially in its first six months. Ginevra wrote to Scott as frequently as he did to her, and her letters reveal much about her personality. She was more complex and likeable than the characters Fitzgerald later based on her. She was perceptive about him: she knew that he was idealizing her and urged him in her letters not to do so, but of course he did. Ginevra was pleased by Scott’s attention, but she was put off by his attempts to analyze her personality and by his persistent jealousy. These two factors, more than any others, caused their romance to end.
The spring after they “broke up,” the U.S. declared war on Germany and its allies, and Fitzgerald enlisted in the army. (The war ended before his regiment could be shipped out to Europe.) In July, Ginevra wrote to Scott to let him know she was engaged to be married, and her wedding took place in September. “She never forgot Fitzgerald,” West concludes, “and she probably understood him better than he thought she did.”

Notes: Fitzgerald sets the story in Black Bear Lake, his fictional version of White Bear Lake, a town on the lake of the same name near St. Paul. As a youth he attended dances at the White Bear Yacht Club. The mashie, with the approximate loft of a five-iron, was the standard golf club used for medium-length shots. Fitzgerald mentions tunes from three musicals: “Chin-Chin Chinaman,” a comic song from the 1896 musical The Geisha, by Sidney Jones (which enjoyed a Broadway revival in 1913); music from The Count of Luxembourg (1912), a two-act Broadway operetta with English lyrics and libretto by Basil Hood and Adrian Ross, adapted from Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár’s three-act operetta Der Graf von Luxembourg (1909); and music from The Chocolate Soldier (1909), an English-language adaptation of an operetta by Viennese composer Oscar Straus, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Arms and the Man (1894). Fitzgerald’s statement that “the war came to America in March” refers to the period after U.S. diplomatic relations with Germany ceased in February 1917, and before the U.S. formally declared war on Germany and its allies on April 6.

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Some of the caddies were poor as sin and lived in one-room houses with a neurasthenic cow in the front yard, but Dexter Green’s father owned the second best grocery store in Black Bear—the best one was “The Hub,” patronized by the wealthy people from Sherry Island—and Dexter caddied only for pocket-money. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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