Memoranda Of A Decade

PrintPrintEmailEmail

By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names. …

I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited—they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby, and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with an amusement park. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission. …

At about the same time, Fitzgerald was writing from France to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, about a young friend: Dear Max: … This is to tell you about a young man named Ernest Hemingway, who lives in Paris (an American), writes for the Transatlantic Review and has a brilliant future. Ezra Pound published a collection of his short pieces in Paris, at some place like the Egotist Press. I haven’t it here now but it’s remarkable and I’d look him up right away. He’s the real thing. …

Scott

Perkins did look Hemingway up, and the result was a succession of short stories and novels that made literary history. In one of the most famous, A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s hero expresses his reaction to a patriotic speech in a passage that was an epitome of Twenties disillusionment with war: I did not say anything. I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice, and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.

Like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, many of America’s gifted artists expatriated themselves from what they considered the shallow, materialistic, philistine atmosphere of America. Paris was the center of the expatriates’ world, and E. E. Cummings described their disaffection in this poem, first published in 1926: workingman with hand so hairy-sturdy you may turn O turn that airy hurdysturdygurdy but when will turn backward O backward Time in your no thy flight and make me a child, a pretty dribbling child, a little child. In thy your ear: en amérique on ne boit que de Jingyale. things are going rather kaka over there, over there. yet we scarcely fare much better— what’s become of (if you please) all the glory that or which was Greece all the grandja that was dada? make me a child, stout hurdysturdy-gurdyman waiter, make me a child. So this is Paris. i will sit in the corner and drink thinks and think drinks, in memory of the Grand and Old days: of Amy Sandburg of Algernon Carl Swinburned. Waiter a drink waiter two or three drinks what’s become of Maeterlinck now that April’s here? (ask the man who owns one ask Dad, He knows).

Women unswathed themselves: [From 1924 on] women kept on buying the shortest skirts they could find. During the fall of 1923 and the spring of 1924, manufacturers were deluged with complaints from retailers that skirts would have to be shorter. Shorter they finally were, and still shorter. …

With the short skirt went an extraordinary change in the weight and material and amount of women’s clothing. … Petticoats almost vanished from the American scene; in fact, the tendency of women to drop off one layer of clothing after another became so pronounced that in 1928 the Journal of Commerce estimated that in 15 years the amount of material required for a woman’s complete costume … had declined from 19¼ yards to 7 yards. All she could now be induced to wear, it seemed, was an overblouse (2 yards), a skirt (2¼ yards), vest or shirt (¾), knickers (2), and stockings …

Another letter from Fitzgerald, this one to John Peale Bishop, a friend from college days: Dear John: