Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Borne back ceaselessly into the past


F. Scott Fitzgerald died on this day in 1940, at the age of 44.

In Fitzgerald's most famous novel, The Great Gatsby, the narrator, Nick Carraway, says about the doomed Gatsby:

"Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes."

When Gatsby dies, his funeral is attended by only Nick, Gatsby's father, Mr. Gatz, and an identified man with "eye-owled glasses." On the way out, the man wipes his eyes and says to Nick: "The poor son of a bitch."

Fitzgerald's own funeral was also poorly attended. Legend has it that at a visitation at the funeral home in Hollywood, Dorothy Parker cried and murmured "the poor son of a bitch."

A bizarre aside: Author Nathanael West (The Day of the Locust), a friend and admirer of Fitzgerald, was killed along with his wife on the way to Fitzgerald's services.

Fitzgerald suffered from tuberculosis; that, in addition to his years of hard drinking, undoubtedly brought on his premature demise. As Fitzgerald wrote:

"First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."

The Catholic church would not allow Fitzgerald to be buried in his family's plot in Rockville, Maryland. He was buried in Rockville Union Cemetery. After his wife Zelda died in a fire in 1948 at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where she spent the end of her days, her and her husband's bodies were moved to the family plot in Saint Mary's Cemetery, in Rockville.

Fitzgerald also wrote: "Let us learn to show friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead."