"I only mark the hours that shine," writes Ginevra King, a striking young debutante from the elite Westover School in Connecticut and first love of F. Scott Fitzgerald '17, on the title page of her diary. The Princeton University Library added her diary to its repository of Fitzgerald papers this summer, along with 227 typed pages of her letters, one later letter from Fitzgerald and a seven-page short story written by King.
When the couple broke up, Fitzgerald requested that King destroy his letters. She assented, but he ignored the less urgent appeal for the destruction of hers, and even typed them up into a bound manuscript. Fitzgerald's daughter, Scottie, returned them to Ginevra in 1940, 10 years after his death.
Ginevra's daughter from Virginia and her granddaughters from Colorado and California have now released the documents, some 23 years after Ginevra's death at the age of 82. Their sole demand was a copy of the papers.
Peppered with King's teenage ramblings and musings, the letters tell the story of their youthful courting, prolonged chiefly by mail from 1915 to 1917. The two met at a sleigh party in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn. during her visit to a roommate from Westover. She was just 16 and he — already a Princeton student — was 19.
The letters reveal King's sentimental attachment to Fitzgerald, and suggest his prodding fascination and curiosity with her affairs, her opinions and her past.
"She is a prototype of the aloof, upper-crust woman who is popular and rich and for him becomes an archetype, access to the American dream," Don Skemer, curator at the Library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections said.
As a writer of novels and drama and even lyrics for Princeton Triangle Club productions, Fitzgerald had a habit of recycling the sayings and mannerisms of his companions, diligently recorded, in the inspired fiction of his prose. The letters from King were fodder for his vibrant imagination, and evidently Fitzgerald incorporated aspects of the idealized Ginevra into the female heroines of his writing, among them Daisy Buchanan from "The Great Gatsby" and Isabelle from "This Side of Paradise."
"He invented her. The invention became an idea that reoccurred in his work," Skemer remarked.
Ginevra even exclaims in one of her letters, "I would so much rather have you take me in a more friendly (no, not that exactly) way, instead of idealizing me, because honestly and truly, Scott, I'm not worth it!"
James L. W. West III, professor of English at Penn State University and an expert on Fitzgerald's writing, is preparing a 30-page article on the newly released documents and their significance in terms of Fitzgerald and his writing. The article is set to be released early in 2004 in the Princeton University Library Chronicle and will include her short story, Skemer said.
Despite the potential value of these documents in illuminating the details of their relationship and Fitzgerald's inspiration, "Some people might be disappointed," Skemer said. King has moments of mature reflection and playful humor, but the greater part of her writing — especially in the diary — covers the daily distractions and enjoyments of a well-to-do young lady, from dancing at the gym to final exams, study hour, sleigh rides and chapel.
While the voice of his female admirers survives in both these letters and the published letters from his wife, Zelda Sayre, Fitzgerald seems to have evaded direct exposure of his own replies. His letters to Zelda were also destroyed when the mental hospital to which she was admitted burned down, Skemer said.
Fitzgerald did not always play the part of the trusting young admirer. He evidently once accused King of lacking character, and from her responses it can be inferred that he doubted her sincerity and her indifference to other boys.
To his signature of "Yours Devotedly at Present" she responded, "Yours Fickely sometimes but Devotedly at Present", and only four days later, "Good bye for this time and I am Yours Always." She admits to being a flirt but broaches the subject of their engagement and elopement several times.
The letters continue in similar fashion, but after about two years the frequency of their correspondence dwindles. In one of King's final letters, she announces her engagement to William Mitchell, a young Chicago business partner of her father. She declares, "To say I am the happiest girl on earth would be expressing it mildly and I wish you knew Bill so that you could know how very lucky I am."
A reply to her engagement announcement is the only of Fitzgerald's letters included in the donation. He writes, "From all I've heard of him he must be one of the best ever. Doesn't it make you sigh with relief to be settled and think of all the men you escaped marrying? As Ever, Scott."