TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
A TABLE OF CONTENTS
MY LAST FLAPPERS
This is a Southern story with the scene laid in the small Lily of
Tarleton Georgia. I have a profound affection for Tarleton but
somehow whenever I write a story about it I receive letters from all
over the South denouncing me in no uncertain terms. "The Jelly-Bean"
published in "The Metropolitan" drew its full share of these
It was written under strange circumstances shortly after my first
novel was published and moreover it was the first story in which I
had a collaborator. For finding that I was unable to manage the
crap-shooting episode I turned it over to my wife who as a Southern
girl was presumably an expert on the technique and terminology of
that great sectional pastime.
THE CAMEL'S BACK
I suppose that of all the stories I have ever written this one cost me
the least travail and perhaps gave me the most amusement. As to the
labor involved it was written during one day in the city of New
Orleans with the express purpose of buying a platinum and diamond
wrist watch which cost six hundred dollars. I began it at seven in the
morning and finished it at two o'clock the same night. It was
published in the "Saturday Evening Post" in 1920 and later included
in the O. Henry Memorial Collection for the same year. I like it least
of all the stories in this volume.
My amusement was derived from the fact that the camel part of the
story is literally true; in fact I have a standing engagement with
the gentleman involved to attend the next fancy-dress party to which
we are mutually invited attired as the latter part of the camel--this
as a sort of atonement for being his historian.
This somewhat unpleasant tale published as a novelette in the "Smart
Set" in July 1920 relates a series of events which took place in the
spring of the previous year. Each of the three events made a great
impression upon me. In life they were unrelated except by the general
hysteria of that spring which inaugurated the Age of Jazz but in my
story I have tried unsuccessfully I fear to weave them into a
pattern--a pattern which would give the effect of those months in New
York as they appeared to at least one member of what was then the
PORCELAIN AND PINK.
"And do you write for any other magazines?" inquired the young lady.
"Oh yes" I assured her. "I've had some stories and plays in the
'Smart Set' for instance------"
The young lady shivered.
"The 'Smart Set'!" she exclaimed. "How can you? Why they publish
stuff about girls in blue bathtubs and silly things like that"
And I had the magnificent joy of telling her that she was referring to
"Porcelain and Pink" which had appeared there several months before.
THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ.
These next stories are written in what were I of imposing stature I
should call my "second manner." "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz"
which appeared last summer in the "Smart Set" was designed utterly
for my own amusement. I was in that familiar mood characterized by a
perfect craving for luxury and the story began as an attempt to feed
that craving on imaginary foods.
One well-known critic has been pleased to like this extravaganza
better than anything I have written. Personally I prefer "The Offshore
Pirate." But to tamper slightly with Lincoln: If you like this sort
of thing this possibly is the sort of thing you'll like.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.
This story was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain's to the effect that
it was a pity that the best part of life came at the beginning and the
worst part at the end. By trying the experiment upon only one man in a
perfectly normal world I have scarcely given his idea a fair trial.
Several weeks after completing it I discovered an almost identical
plot in Samuel Butler's "Note-books."
The story was published in "Collier's" last summer and provoked this
startling letter from an anonymous admirer in Cincinnati:
I have read the story Benjamin Button in Colliers and I wish to say
that as a short story writer you would make a good lunatic I have seen
many peices of cheese in my life but of all the peices of cheese I
have ever seen you are the biggest peice. I hate to waste a peice of
stationary on you but I will."
TARQUIN OF CHEAPSIDE.
Written almost six years ago this story is a product of undergraduate
days at Princeton. Considerably revised it was published in the
"Smart Set" in 1921. At the time of its conception I had but one
idea--to be a poet--and the fact that I was interested in the ring of
every phrase that I dreaded the obvious in prose if not in plot
shows throughout. Probably the peculiar affection I feel for it
depends more upon its age than upon any intrinsic merit.
"O RUSSET WITCH!"
When this was written I had just completed the first draft of my
second novel and a natural reaction made me revel in a story wherein
none of the characters need be taken seriously. And I'm afraid that I
was somewhat carried away by the feeling that there was no ordered
scheme to which I must conform. After due consideration however I
have decided to let it stand as it is although the reader may find
himself somewhat puzzled at the time element. I had best say that
however the years may have dealt with Merlin Grainger I myself was
thinking always in the present. It was published in the
THE LEES OF HAPPINESS.
Of this story I can say that it came to me in an irresistible form
crying to be written. It will be accused perhaps of being a mere piece
of sentimentality but as I saw it it was a great deal more. If
therefore it lacks the ring of sincerity or even of tragedy the
fault rests not with the theme but with my handling of it.
It appeared in the "Chicago Tribune" and later obtained I believe
the quadruple gold laurel leaf or some such encomium from one of the
anthologists who at present swarm among us. The gentleman I refer to
runs as a rule to stark melodramas with a volcano or the ghost of John
Paul Jones in the role of Nemesis melodramas carefully disguised by
early paragraphs in Jamesian manner which hint dark and subtle
complexities to follow. On this order:
"The case of Shaw McPhee curiously enough had no hearing on the
almost incredible attitude of Martin Sulo. This is parenthetical and
to at least three observers whose names for the present I must
conceal it seems improbable etc. etc. etc." until the poor rat of
fiction is at last forced out into the open and the melodrama begins.
This has the distinction of being the only magazine piece ever written
in a New York hotel. The business was done in a bedroom in the
Knickerbocker and shortly afterward that memorable hostelry closed
its doors forever.
When a fitting period of mourning had elapsed it was published in the
Written like "Tarquin of Cheapside" while I was at Princeton this
sketch was published years later in "Vanity Fair." For its technique I
must apologize to Mr. Stephen Leacock.
I have laughed over it a great deal especially when I first wrote it
but I can laugh over it no longer. Still as other people tell me it
is amusing I include it here. It seems to me worth preserving a few
years--at least until the ennui of changing fashions suppresses me my
books and it together.
With due apologies for this impossible Table of Contents I tender
these tales of the Jazz Age into the hands of those who read as they
run and run as they read.
MY LAST FLAPPERS
Jim Powell was a Jelly-bean. Much as I desire to make him an appealing
character I feel that it would be unscrupulous to deceive you on that
point. He was a bred-in-the-bone dyed-in-the-wool ninety-nine
three-quarters per cent Jelly-bean and he grew lazily all during
Jelly-bean season which is every season down in the land of the
Jelly-beans well below the Mason-Dixon line.
Now if you call a Memphis man a Jelly-bean he will quite possibly pull
a long sinewy rope from his hip pocket and hang you to a convenient
telegraph-pole. If you Call a New Orleans man a Jelly-bean he will
probably grin and ask you who is taking your girl to the Mardi Gras
ball. The particular Jelly-bean patch which produced the protagonist
of this history lies somewhere between the two--a little city of forty
thousand that has dozed sleepily for forty thousand years in southern
Georgia occasionally stirring in its slumbers and muttering something
about a war that took place sometime somewhere and that everyone
else has forgotten long ago.
Jim was a Jelly-bean. I write that again because it has such a
pleasant sound--rather like the beginning of a fairy story--as if Jim
were nice. It somehow gives me a picture of him with a round
appetizing face and all sort of leaves and vegetables growing out of
his cap. But Jim was long and thin and bent at the waist from stooping
over pool-tables and he was what might have been known in the
indiscriminating North as a corner loafer. "Jelly-bean" is the name
throughout the undissolved Confederacy for one who spends his life
conjugating the verb to idle in the first person singular--I am
idling I have idled I will idle.
Jim was born in a white house on a green corner It had four
weather-beaten pillars in front and a great amount of lattice-work in
the rear that made a cheerful criss-cross background for a flowery
sun-drenched lawn. Originally the dwellers in the white house had
owned the ground next door and next door to that and next door to
that but this had been so long ago that even Jim's father scarcely
remembered it. He had in fact thought it a matter of so little
moment that when he was dying from a pistol wound got in a brawl he
neglected even to tell little Jim who was five years old and
miserably frightened. The white house became a boarding-house run by a
tight-lipped lady from Macon whom Jim called Aunt Mamie and detested
with all his soul.
He became fifteen went to high school wore his hair in black snarls
and was afraid of girls. He hated his home where four women and one
old man prolonged an interminable chatter from summer to summer about
what lots the Powell place had originally included and what sorts of
flowers would be out next. Sometimes the parents of little girls in
town remembering Jim's. mother and fancying a resemblance in the dark
eyes and hair invited him to parties but parties made him shy and he
much preferred sitting on a disconnected axle in Tilly's Garage
rolling the bones or exploring his mouth endlessly with a long straw.
For pocket money he picked up odd jobs and it was due to this that
he stopped going to parties. At his third party little Marjorie Haight
had whispered indiscreetly and within hearing distance that he was a
boy who brought the groceries sometimes. So instead of the two-step
and polka Jim had learned to throw any number he desired on the dice
and had listened to spicy tales of all the shootings that had occurred
in the surrounding country during the past fifty years.
He became eighteen. The war broke out and he enlisted as a gob and
polished brass in the Charleston Navy-yard for a year. Then by way of
variety he went North and polished brass in the Brooklyn Navy-yard
for a year.
When the war was over he came home He was twenty-one has trousers
were too short and too tight. His buttoned shoes were long and narrow.
His tie was an alarming conspiracy of purple and pink marvellously
scrolled and over it were two blue eyes faded like a piece of very
good old cloth long exposed to the sun.
In the twilight of one April evening when a soft gray had drifted down
along the cottonfields and over the sultry town he was a vague figure
leaning against a board fence whistling and gazing at the moon's rim
above the lights of Jackson Street. His mind was working persistently
on a problem that had held his attention for an. The Jelly-bean had
been invited to a party.
Back in the days when all the boys had detested all the girls Clark
Darrow and Jim had sat side by side in school. But while Jim's social
aspirations had died in the oily air of the garage Clark had
alternately fallen in and out of love gone to college taken to
drink given it up and in short become one of the best beaux of the
town. Nevertheless Clark and Jim had retained a friendship that
though casual was perfectly definite. That afternoon Clark's ancient
Ford had slowed up beside Jim who was on the sidewalk and out of a
clear sky Clark invited him to a party at the country club. The
impulse that made him do this was no stranger than the impulse which
made Jim accept. The latter was probably an unconscious ennui a
half-frightened sense of adventure. And now Jim was soberly thinking
He began to sing drumming his long foot idly on a stone block in the
sidewalk till it wobbled up and down in time to the low throaty tune:
"One smile from Home in Jelly-bean town
Lives Jeanne the Jelly-bean Queen.
She loves her dice and treats 'em nice;
No dice would treat her mean."
He broke off and agitated the sidewalk to a bumpy gallop.
"Daggone!" he muttered half aloud. They would all be there--the old
crowd the crowd to which by right of the white house sold long
since and the portrait of the officer in gray over the mantel Jim
should have belonged. But that crowd had grown up together into a
tight little set as gradually as the girls' dresses had lengthened
inch by inch as definitely as the boys' trousers had dropped suddenly
to their ankles. And to that society of first names and dead puppy
loves Jim was an outsider--a running mate of poor whites. Most of the
men knew him condescendingly; he tipped his hat to three or four
girls. That was all.
When the dusk had thickened into a blue setting for the moon he
walked through the hot pleasantly pungent town to Jackson Street. The
stores were closing and the last shoppers were drifting homeward as
if borne on the dreamy revolution of a slow merry-go-round. A
street-fair farther down a brilliant alley of varicolored booths and
contributed a blend of music to the night--an oriental dance on a
calliope a melancholy bugle in front of a freak show a cheerful
rendition of "Back Home in Tennessee" on a hand-organ.
The Jelly-bean stopped in a store and bought a collar. Then he
sauntered along toward Soda Sam's where he found the usual three or
four cars of a summer evening parked in front and the little darkies
running back and forth with sundaes and lemonades.
It was a voice at his elbow--Joe Ewing sitting in an automobile with
Marylyn Wade. Nancy Lamar and a strange man were in the back seat.
The Jelly-bean tipped his hat quickly.
"Hi Ben--" then after an almost imperceptible pause--"How y' all?"
Passing he ambled on toward the garage where he had a room up-stairs.
His "How y'all" had been said to Nancy Lamar to whom he had not
spoken in fifteen years.
Nancy had a mouth like a remembered kiss and shadowy eyes and
blue-black hair inherited from her mother who had been born in
Budapest. Jim passed her often on the street walking small-boy
fashion with her hands in her pockets and he knew that with her
inseparable Sally Carrol Hopper she had left a trail of broken hearts
from Atlanta to New Orleans.
For a few fleeting moments Jim wished he could dance. Then he laughed
and as he reached his door began to sing softly to himself:
"Her Jelly Roll can twist your soul
Her eyes are big and brown
She's the Queen of the Queens of the Jelly-beans--
My Jeanne of Jelly-bean Town."
At nine-thirty Jim and Clark met in front of Soda Sam's and started
for the Country Club in Clark's Ford. "Jim" asked Clark casually as
they rattled through the jasmine-scented night "how do you keep
The Jelly-bean paused considered.
"Well" he said finally "I got a room over Tilly's garage. I help him
some with the cars in the afternoon an' he gives it to me free.
Sometimes I drive one of his taxies and pick up a little thataway. I
get fed up doin' that regular though."
"Well when there's a lot of work I help him by the day--Saturdays
usually--and then there's one main source of revenue I don't generally
mention. Maybe you don't recollect I'm about the champion crap-shooter
of this town. They make me shoot from a cup now because once I get the
feel of a pair of dice they just roll for me."
Clark grinned appreciatively
"I never could learn to set 'em so's they'd do what I wanted. Wish
you'd shoot with Nancy Lamar some day and take all her money away from
her. She will roll 'em with the boys and she loses more than her daddy
can afford to give her. I happen to know she sold a good ring last
month to pay a debt."
The Jelly-bean was noncommittal.
"The white house on Elm Street still belong to you?"
Jim shook his head.
"Sold. Got a pretty good price seein' it wasn't in a good part of
town no more. Lawyer told me to put it into Liberty bonds. But Aunt
Mamie got so she didn't have no sense so it takes all the interest to
keep her up at Great Farms Sanitarium.
"I got an old uncle up-state an' I reckin I kin go up there if ever I
get sure enough pore. Nice farm but not enough niggers around to work
it. He's asked me to come up and help him but I don't guess I'd take
much to it. Too doggone lonesome--" He broke off suddenly. "Clark I
want to tell you I'm much obliged to you for askin' me out but I'd be
a lot happier if you'd just stop the car right here an' let me walk
back into town."
"Shucks!" Clark grunted. "Do you good to step out. You don't have to
dance--just get out there on the floor and shake."
"Hold on" exclaimed. Jim uneasily "Don't you go leadin' me up to any
girls and leavin' me there so I'll have to dance with 'em."
"'Cause" continued Jim desperately "without you swear you won't do
that I'm agoin' to get out right here an' my good legs goin' carry me
back to Jackson street."
They agreed after some argument that Jim unmolested by females was
to view the spectacle from a secluded settee in the corner where Clark
would join him whenever he wasn't dancing.
So ten o'clock found the Jelly-bean with his legs crossed and his arms
conservatively folded trying to look casually at home and politely
uninterested in the dancers. At heart he was torn between overwhelming
self-consciousness and an intense curiosity as to all that went on
around him. He saw the girls emerge one by one from the dressing-room
stretching and pluming themselves like bright birds smiling over
their powdered shoulders at the chaperones casting a quick glance
around to take in the room and simultaneously the room's reaction to
their entrance--and then again like birds alighting and nestling in
the sober arms of their waiting escorts. Sally Carrol Hopper blonde
and lazy-eyed appeared clad in her favorite pink and blinking like an
awakened rose. Marjorie Haight Marylyn Wade Harriet Cary all the
girls he had seen loitering down Jackson Street by noon now curled
and brilliantined and delicately tinted for the overhead lights were