Careless People by Sarah Churchwell

24 April 2014 23:10

Careless People cover

The subtitle of this book is Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby and the blurb on the cover says: A suggestive, almost musical evocation of the spirit of the time - from the London Review of Books.

The book is the story of the Fitzgeralds’ life and the places and happenings which shaped it, including the story of a local murder which took place just ten miles from where they were living and which the author thinks gave F. Scott the idea for Gatsby.

It goes into detail about their lives over the years and given the amount of booze which they both guzzled in those prohibition days it is quite amazing that they didn’t both peg out a lot earlier than they did. It was the days when it was sensible to have your alcohol checked out by a chemist, just to make sure that it wasn’t going to make you go blind overnight as apparently happened to lots of people.

This was a bit of library serendipity for me as I had been meaning for ages to read Save Me the Waltz and Tender is the Night in tandem to compare the two and when I picked them off the shelf I saw this one out of the corner of my eye on my way out, it was sitting on the ‘new books’ shelf.

I enjoyed reading about what was going on in the US at the time, it was when modern America was coming into being, but for me that local murder played too large a part in the book. Really it wasn’t that interesting and in my experience most authors don’t travel that far from what is going on in their lives or in the news for inspiration.

I was incensed on Zelda’s behalf when her husband went nuts because she had the temerity to write a book too, and of course his main gripe was that she had been too autobiographical and had told too many secrets. As if he hadn’t done that in all of his fiction over the years – no wonder Zelda suffered from mental anguish and ended up in mental hospitals.

It was very interesting to read that just before F. Scott died at the age of 44 he received his last royalty statement which reported the sale of nine copies of Tender is the Night and seven of The Great Gatsby. He had not sold a single book outside the US in the last year of his life. The royalty cheque added up to $13.13.

When he died he wanted to be buried beside his father but the Catholic priest refused to allow him to be buried there. In the end an Episcopalian minister buried him and took the opportunity to say, “The only reason I agreed to this service was to get the body in the ground. He was a no good drunken bum and the world was well rid of him,” – a bit harsh I would say. His funeral was spookily similar to that of Gatsby.

Death for an artist is often a great career move of course and it just shows you that reviewers can be powerful people, it was only when an influential critic, Lionel Trilling started to compare Fitzgerald with 19th century French novelists, English Romantic poets and Goethe that people began to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books again. Barbara Pym was another writer who benefitted from the vocal praise of an influential personage.

All in all it seems that success for Fitzgerald came too early and went to his head, he was so well paid for writing short stories that he could afford a sumptuous lifestyle on the French Riviera. At one point he realised that in a whole year he had averaged only 100 words per day when he was supposed to be writing a novel. All his time was taken up by partying and entertaining crowds of hangers-on. Does that remind you of anything?!

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

23 April 2014 23:19

Tender is the Night cover

I read Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald just after reading Save Me the Waltz by his wife Zelda, they were both written at more or less the same time and I thought it would be interesting to compare the two, which it was. I thought I had read Tender years ago just after reading The Great Gatsby at school but I now realise that I didn’t. Fitzgerald had decided to re-jig the book in an attempt to make it more popular with readers as he was convinced that it was his best book but the critics didn’t agree with him.

Anyway, the book is in three parts and some subsequent editions have had the parts put in different order but the edition I read was in the original format. I must admit that I think it would have been better to have read the new format as I didn’t really get into the story until part 2.

Suffice to say that both books are very autobiographical. Zelda was obviously Fitzgerald’s muse, without her what would he have written about? It can’t have been pleasant for Zelda to have her life put on paper for everyone to read, but when she did the same thing Fitzgerald went nuts. Unfortunately for Zelda she had a brain too and her husband wasn’t too keen on her taking up writing too which is such a shame as her only book Save Me the Waltz is the better book of the two, for me anyway. I see that some people have been sniffy about it being full of mistakes such as people’s foreign names being mis-spelled, so it was not well edited, surprise surprise!

Back to Tender is the Night, Fitzgerald thought that this was his masterpiece but I can only think that his judgement was affected by the booze by then. I found it to be just okay and not great, the story just sort of peters out, much as the author’s life did.

Easter Surprise

22 April 2014 23:45

It seems like ages since I wrote a blogpost, but I think many bloggers have been the same, hopefully we’ve all been too busy having fun. I ended up over in that west which I pine for – that dear green city of Glasgow. We hadn’t been there for ages, what with the house being up for sale and all the subsequent moving malarkey. On that front, the house is slowly improving, there aren’t too many boxes to sort through now, we’re definitely on the last lap.

Anyway, as I was saying – Glasgow, Jack was there for the annual Eastercon Science Fiction convention, it isn’t in Glasgow very often, next year it’s back in London. SF isn’t really my interest, it’s obviously one of those ‘opposites attract’ things, but I enjoy going along to some get-togethers and meeting up with folks I haven’t seen for ages.

The convention was held in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, right on the banks of the River Clyde, the whole area used to be full of shipyards but they have all gone now, sadly. There has been a ‘regeneration’ which nowadays seems to mean – build loads of silvery structures, it’s all very swish and modern looking, but I’m not sure how well those buildings will age.

Glasgow’s new transport museum, called the Riverside Museum, is not far from the hotel so I took myself along there, it’s a nice riverside walk. The museum was named best European museum 2013 and it’s well worth a look. They have all sorts of transport on display, and even a tall ship anchored there which you can have a poke around. The museum also has displays of vintage clothes as well as vehicles and a mock up of an old street with shops which you can go and have a look around. I took loads of photos but I haven’t had time to go through them all yet.

Before heading back to the east we drove over to Glasgow’s west end and had a look around our old stamping ground which was eerily quiet when we first got there, of course the students are all on holiday which makes a big difference and everything got off to a slow start as it was Easter Monday. We decided not to go to the city centre this time as I don’t think the atmosphere would have been all that great, I like a city to be a city and heaving with people and street artists I love it all – for a wee while anyway. I think that the occasional stop over in a Glasgow hotel will be enough to stop me from getting too homesick in the future.

So we headed back home, via IKEA of all places. I know that I said we have too much stuff but when you move there are always things which you need to make the new place habitable, like curtain rails! This house was a bit like sensory deprivation because although it’s four years old it was really just as it had been the day it was built, nothing homely added to it at all. Now it’s so homely and I admit it – cluttered, that the house must wonder what has hit it!

I hope to get some photos ready for tomorrow.

New House

16 April 2014 23:07

By popular demand, here is a photo of the back of our new house. As you can see there is still a queue of plants waiting to find a new home, I hope to get around to that at the weekend, if my back allows me to!

I never thought I would live in a red brick house, but having seen so many harled (cement rendered) houses which have lots of cracks in the render, it seemed a better option. I must admit that the sandstone of our old house looked much nicer but it comes with lots of problems as the stone ages, we’ve gone for easier maintenance – we hope!

Love by Elizabeth von Arnim

15 April 2014 23:48

Love cover

Love by Elizabeth von Arnim is the book which I got in this month’s Classics Club Spin. I’m quite late in getting around to writing about it, but you know what it’s like, sometimes life just gets in the way of what you really want to be doing!

I really enjoyed this book although it is quite a sad read because Elizabeth von Arnim was writing about her own experience of having a relationship with a much younger man, which ended badly. This book was first published in 1925.

Catherine was obsessed with a play called The Immortal Hour which has been playing at King’s Cross. She had seen it umpteen times and eventually she strikes up a friendship with Christopher who shares her obsession. Christopher had noticed Catherine long before she was aware of him. He was drawn to her petite figure and beauty and took her to be a young woman who didn’t have much money as she always wore the same clothes. He wasn’t to know that Catherine had a married daughter and she was only hard up because her late husband had been so afraid that if he died she would attract fortune hunters that he decided to leave everything to his daughter, and left his wife to struggle along on a very small annual allowance. It didn’t seem to occur to him that his daughter would eventually become heir to his large fortune and in turn would be the target of fortune hunters, particularly one local vicar!

By the time Christopher saw Catherine in the cruel light of day he was already in love with her and was just shocked at how tired she was looking. As you would expect Catherine is charmed when she realises that he thinks she is much younger than she is and her happiness means that people see only laughter lines, not the age wrinkles which are really there.

So begins a battle with gravity and time and Catherine ends up spending time and money on the artistry of a marvellous make-up woman to try to be worthy of her younger man.

When Catherine’s son-in-law, who is a clergyman, finds out about her friendship with Christopher he is absolutely appalled, but Catherine points out to him that her daughter is actually over 30 years younger than he is. Surely he should be the last person to complain about an age gap between a couple, but he doesn’t see it that way.

This novel is all about hypocrisy, what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, but somehow often isn’t. The relationship between Catherine’s daughter Virginia and her husband Stephen is really much worse as Stephen had dodged marriage over the years, much to his mother’s chagrin, but she wasn’t to know that her son had been eyeing up young Virginia since she was in short socks! Nowadays we would say he had been grooming her and he married her as soon as she turned 18, Catherine could have been bloody minded and made him wait until her daughter turned 21, hoping that by that time she had seen sense and wasn’t so enamoured by what she obviously saw as a father figure, something which she lacked due to her own father’s early death.

Well, I don’t know about you but I feel that when the age gap between a couple is so large that one of them is old enough to be the parent of the other, then it is distinctly weird, and the few such relationships which I’ve had experience of viewing from a distance have definitely been paternalistic/maternalistic. But I suppose if that’s what makes them happy then who am I to complain.

Mind you, although I never had a daughter I must admit that if I had had one then if a man old enough to be her father had come sniffing around after her – I would have beaten him off with a brush!

Another great read from Elizabeth von Arnim.

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

14 April 2014 10:59

I read The Great Gatsby when I was at school but I didn’t know anything about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, so when I was browsing in the library and I came across this book which was written by his wife, I was drawn by the blurb to borrow it: One of the great literary curios of the twentieth century, Save Me the Waltz is the only novel by the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. During the years when Fitzgerald was working on Tender is the Night, which many critics consider to be his masterpiece, Zelda Fitzgerald was preparing her own story, which strangely parallels the narrative of her husband, throwing a fascinating light on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and work.

This book did not get good reviews when it was published and Zelda wrote no more books, mind you she might not have had anything else to write about because this is really an account of her life with Fitzgerald, completely autobiographical, which must have come in handy for any Fitzgerald scholars, it’ll have thrown some light onto their movements.

Zelda was a glamorous flapper with a huge capacity for alcohol, as everyone seemed to have in those days of prohibition in the US. She had a penchant for taking her clothes off at parties, dancing naked on the tables and such but she also had a brain and I found her to be likeable. Fitzgerald was obviously besotted by Zelda and their was never any question of him divorcing her, but the poor soul had many demons and was probably what would be described as bi-polar nowadays.

Anyway, to the book. The main character, Alabama Beggs(Zelda) is the youngest of a family of daughters, born in the deep south, and she’s the wildest of them. Early on in the book Alabama gets married to David Knight, a successful young artist and they move to the Riviera where they are feted as a famous and glamorous couple. David spends all of his spare time with a fashionable but vacuous set of people who are basically hangers-on and Alabama seems to be sidelined. They are both tempted to dally with people who give them more attention than they have been getting from each other.

She decides that she needs to do something for herself and takes up ballet dancing again, determined to make a success of it, despite the fact that she hasn’t done ballet for years. With hard work she manages to get a job in a production of Faustus, but meantime David is furious at what he sees as her neglect of him and their small daughter, in the pursuit of a career for herself.

I must admit that I had some sympathy with David/Scott Fitzgerald as I did feel that the ballet classes were a bit too much of the book, but I enjoyed it and I intend to read Tender Is the Night now as both books were being written around the same time, although this one was published two years earlier.

Apparently Fitzgerald was not amused when he read this book as he realised that it was giving away so much of their private lives. That’s a bit of a cheek when you consider that he had been using Zelda for years in his books and short stories, he even used chunks from letters which she had written in his books, and Zelda hadn’t complained about that!

I also went on to read a book called Careless People by Sarah Churchwell which was published in 2012, which is well worth reading if you’re at all interested in the Fitzgeralds and that period of American history.

New House

11 April 2014 23:24

Here are just a few photos which Jack took of the inside of our new house just before all our ‘stuff’ was unloaded into it, making it into a complete mess.

This is the sun room, which is the room which sold the place to us really. It’s better than a conservatory as it has a proper roof so is well insulated and it is original to the house, hasn’t been added on to it, and crucially also has central heating in it, which is more than can be said for all the conservatories which we looked at. The sun room is off the dining room. I suppose it’s a strange name for it but with all those windows it’s nice and light in there, even on a grey Scottish day.

The photo below was taken from just inside the front door, it’s the hall and stairs, and you can just see a bit of the dining room. It’s all very different from the old place, smaller rooms and very modern, but it was time for a change and hopefully a more comfortable way of life.

And the photo below is obviously of the kitchen.

I wish it looked like that now!

House and Garden

10 April 2014 23:12

Well, I’m still not into the swing of things yet after our big ‘flit’. Today I took some time away from the boxes and house stuff to do a bit of gardening. I say gardening but there wasn’t really anything in it except grass and one very small tree, possibly a plum or dwarf apple – and a lot of grass. Jack took these photographs of the emptiness a day or two ago.

I’ve planted some climbing roses along the bottom of the back fence. I’ve also planted the small acers and the liquidamber tree which I brought from my old garden. I’m not at all sure if they will survive the move though, not so much because of being transplanted but I think that the soil here might not suit them so well. It seems quite clay -ish and heavy, they liked the light sandy soil of Kirkcaldy. I also planted some foxgloves, day lilies, a small pyracantha, euphorbia, deutzia and pulmonaria.

The garden is bigger than I thought it was and I’m not sure what to do with it. I have to have a good mix of plants to entice birdlife in but I don’t want anything which will turn out to be too labour intensive as you know what it’s like – as the plants get older they get stronger whereas as I get older I’m definitely getting weaker!


8 April 2014 22:32

We’ve just managed to get our new internet connection up and running, because at last we have flitted (moved house) and although we were dreading the actual process and it was a long nightmare packing everything up after 26 years in Dalserf, including a cot and pram, the men from the removal company were great and made it as smooth as possible in the circumstances. As you can imagine the sheer volume (no pun intended) of books was the most difficult thing to deal with for them. For us it has been the amount of boxes and we’ve been working our way through them all trying to unpack but it’s going to be a while before we get through it all, we’ve found this move to be far more exhausting than we expected. Oh dear, we’re not as young as we used to be I suppose. More tomorrow I hope.

Dalserf = Home

3 April 2014 00:45

I think I mentioned a while ago that we had a lot of people viewing our house, most of them were obviously not really interested in buying but just getting a look at an older type of interior. I even think that some of them probably knew the people who lived in the house years ago and just wanted to get a closer look, maybe they had never been upstairs before. Think of how some of the characters in Angela Thirkell’s books are desperate to see inside some of the local properties, the attics always seem to be popular! I’m doing this post for posterity really, just in case we ever get any grandchildren and they grow up wanting to know what sort of place their dads grew up in. The house was given the name Dalserf by the original owners I think.

The photo below is of the cornicing in our living room. I well remember that this was the first thing which I painted not long after we moved in 26 years ago. We had always had modern houses before and cornicing was a novelty to me. I decided to make the design stand out even more by painting the internal part brown and the rest of it cream. About one yard into the project I wished I hadn’t bothered, it was so footery (fiddly). I still like it though. That bookcase is the only piece of IKEA furniture which we have and it’s so tall that it won’t fit into the new house, we’ll have to take a saw to the bottom of it!

The one below is of the same room, the glass shade is an art deco one and we really like it but it might not fit into the new place.

The photo below is of the cornicing in the sitting room, a place reserved for posh visitors and Sundays originally I’m sure.

The photo below is in the sitting room again, the ceiling rose, we’ve just replaced the centre part as we’re taking that light fitting with us, it was orginally Aunt Jenny’s.

Below is the sitting room again, the window panelling is an elegant feature I think. Note the boxes, that’s just a few of them. The wall clock is an American one, made by the millions I’m sure, by the Ansonia Clock Company of New York, it originally belonged to Jack’s grandparents.

The photo below is the sitting room again, you can see the new plaster at the fireplace where we had to have the damp work carried out. At the right of the photo is what we call a press (built-in cupboard.) We have four, very handy for books – don’t know what we’re going to do without them.

The room below was originally the kitchen, a biggish room which we now have as a dining room, but this alcove with our pine dresser in it is what is called in Scotland a bed recess. Originally it would have had a box bed fitted into it and a curtain drawn over the alcove for privacy. It was the days when everybody had a maid and that was where she slept, poor soul, she probably didn’t get much further than the kitchen and the wash house all week. In a smaller house the children probably slept in a bed recess.

The room below is meant to be a downstairs bedroom but Jack nabbed it as a study when we moved in and we had the bookshelves built in by a joiner because they would have ended up all wonky if we had tackled the job. They housed Jack’s large SF collection and we have no idea where they are all going to go in the new place, in the loft maybe! As you can see by the boxes we’re in a complete guddle (mess, muddle) but that’s to be expected I suppose, I just didn’t realise how much stuff we have.

And that’s some of the period details of Dalserf which I thought you might be interested to see.