Poor Old Scott

I was sitting in the dining room with the radio on and a book in my lap. It was a large book and I was wrangling it as best I could when my animal friends dropped in and demanded to be seated also on my lap – the book was really too large to hold in one’s hands, but that’s what I did when a very cute little dog or very stylish cat came calling. From memory the dog was kicked off by the cat, and then later he got a bit annoyed when he realised the window was not open, and thus there was no escape route, and when the little dog returned and brought her big dark canine mate with her, she of the huge vacuum-like nose which seems to encompass a whole street of smells in one sniff, and when the two dogs made such a nuisance that the cat got up and left without ceremony, stalking across the table, and disappearing from view, the little dog was back on my lap and the book was again lifted and held above her neatly curled and gently snoring little body.

The book was F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z. It’s a reference book and I was looking up things, cross-referencing, looking at cited sources, and generally losing myself for a little while with a glass of wine to accompany one of my favourite topics of study and contemplation. My library, if that isn’t too grand a word, contains all the FSF novels – not hard as there are only five of them – and a number of other collections and works. I have biographies and critical works too. I even have a couple of first editions, which Laetitia has given me as treasured gifts, worth far more than the resale value, and that could be considerable with at least one of them.

I was reading about poor old Scott’s relationships with his publisher and his editor, and his relationships with friends and colleagues like Ernest Hemingway, and with other significant mature presences in his life. In many ways Scott’s own lifestyle was not very mature. He drank too much and his wife Zelda drank too much, and that’s what many people of their age and from their background did in the 1920s, but it was different with them. It was different with more people than just them. It was different for all the people who had a problem and couldn’t restrain themselves, and there were quite a few in that group who drank in speakeasies when they were in the United States or drank openly when they lived like minor aristocrats in France and Italy, and wherever they were and whatever they were drinking life was like one long party. They convinced themselves this was a good thing: they were young and free and living with abandon; but living like that really meant continually picking up the pieces after the guests had gone home, and endless self-recrimination, and then carousing again to think about something other than the waste such a life can become. Of course some people in that milieu emerged largely unscathed, but a lot were battered by it, and it literally killed some others.

Scott developed a reputation for getting into arguments and fights, for saying things he didn’t mean, and for sometimes making terrible impressions on other people. In one letter, written to a former professor about returning to Princeton to deliver a speech, Scott says there won’t be any incidents, and refers to “my elaborate reputation” – and reading it was sad, deeply so, but also somehow invigorating that a man writing about a subject soaked in shame could be so charming and individual in his expression.

And I thought about myself, and my efforts to grow up a bit over recent months, and counted the drinks I had drunk while reading, and drunk earlier in the day, and it wasn’t so many, nowhere near what I might have had at that point on a Sunday in the past, but it was enough. Enough to make me think. I realised that I could very easily end up having more than I wanted to have. I realised that it had almost started to happen that way, and although it didn’t happen, for I realised and stopped and wouldn’t be going near that level again, it could have happened like that. It was frightening, and then it became depressing, and I’m still thinking about it.

Published in: on March 27, 2012 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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