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The Perfect Hour: The Romance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King, His First Love Paperback – 14 Feb 2006
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Transporting . . . a poignant, captivating book.
Janet Maslin, The New York Times
A fascinating portrait not only of a first love, but of how a writer used the unspoiled memories of youthful idealism and bittersweet emotion to fuel his career.
What is remarkable, as West conveys superbly, are the varied literary forms in which King would surface in Fitzgerald s fiction.
[A] charming account . . . a must-read for Fitzgerald aficionados and literature lovers.
"Transporting . . . a poignant, captivating book."
-Janet Maslin, The New York Times
-Entertainment Weekly "What is remarkable, as West conveys superbly, are the varied literary forms in which King would surface in Fitzgerald's fiction."
-Chicago Tribune "[A] charming account . . . a must-read for Fitzgerald aficionados and literature lovers."
From the Inside Flap
F. Scott Fitzgerald was a handsome, ambitious sophomore at Princeton when he fell in love for the first time. Ginevra King, though only sixteen, was beautiful, socially poised, and blessed with the confidence that considerable wealth can bring.
Their romance began instantly, flourished in heartfelt letters, and quickly ran its course-but Scott never forgot it. Now, for the first time, scholar and biographer James L. W. West III tells the story of the youthful passion that shaped Scott Fitzgerald's life as a writer.
When Scott and Ginevra met in January 1915, the rest of the world was at war, but America remained a haven for young people who could afford to have a good time. Privileged and mildly rebellious, the two were swept together in a whirl of dances, parties, campus weekends, and chaperoned visits to New York.
"For heaven's sake "don't idealize me!" Ginevra warned in one of the many letters she sent to Scott, but of course that's just what he did-for the next two decades. Though he fell in love with Zelda Sayre soon after learning of Ginevra's engagement to a well-to-do midwesterner, Scott drew on memories of Ginevra for his most unforgettable female characters-Isabelle Borge and Rosalind Connage in "This Side of Paradise, Judy Jones in "Winter Dreams," and above all Daisy Buchanan in "The Great Gatsby. Transformed by Scott's art, Ginevra became a new American heroine who inspired an entire generation.
"From the Hardcover edition.See all Product description
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What follows is the version of events given by James L.W. West III in The Perfect Hour. Scott was 18 and Ginevra 16 when they met at a party in January 1915. Mutual friends thought Ginevra and Scott might hit it off, and they did. For most of their relationship, however, the two were separated: Ginevra lived either at boarding school or at home in Chicago, while Scott was either at Princeton or at home in St. Paul. Since they couldn't be together, they did the next best thing, writing long letters to each other. As portrayed by West, the relationship seems to have been a friendship with elements of romance. Ginevra confessed to her diary that she was "dipped about" and "gone on" Scott, which indicates that she was enjoying a teenage crush. He apparently took the relationship much more seriously, as his fictionalized versions of it later showed. In one of the letters from Ginevra to Scott that appears in Appendix Two of The Perfect Hour, Ginevra diagnosed the problem exactly. "You know you can't help falling madly for a girl," she wrote, "It isn't really you yourself that does it, it's an indescribable thing inside you." Ginevra ultimately tired of corresponding with a young man her family would not have considered marriage material, and the relationship ended. The version of the relationship Fitzgerald gave his daughter was that, "Ginevra had a great deal besides beauty," but "she ended up throwing me over with the most supreme boredom and indifference."
Some reviewers of The Perfect Hour have wondered why the Fitzgerald-King relationship interests people today, almost 100 years later. This is why: the "indescribable thing" that led Fitzgerald to obsessively recreate versions of Ginevra and his romance with her gave American fiction some of its most lyrical and evocative scenes and characters. Fitzgerald's writings continue to inspire us today, and the more we can learn about their genesis, the wiser we will be.
The material in the book confirms that Ginevra King was very much part of a composite of the unattainable woman exemplified by Daisy Buchanan (Gatsby), Judy Jones (Winter Dreams)and Paula Legendre (The Rich Boy). James West does an admirable job in researching the very limited amount of information available, both in writing and from those who knew both Fitzgerald and King. He enlightens us with information about Ginevra's friends, especially the golfer Edith Cummings, who was to serve as a model for Gatsby's Jordan Baker.
I live in the Chicago area, am fortunate to have trod where Ginevra once did: The beautiful old Episcopal church where she married Billy Mitchell, her first husband; the clubs her family frequented; and the old-money environs of Lake Forest. The best surprise of this book had nothing to do with its content: My mother-in-law recognized the cover photo, and said, "Oh, is it about that nice Mrs. Pirie?" Ginevra had divorced Billy Mitchell and married a scion of the Carson Pirie Scott department store family. Of course I was immediately all over my mother-in-law with questions about the legendary lady who, as it turned out, was a founding member of an exclusive women's club to which my relative belonged.
My mother-in-law knew Mrs. Pirie only in her older age, but described her as charming, elegant, witty and very sure of herself. So sure, she would wear the same dark green wool, velvet-trimmed suit to her club's annual meeting - year after year, while other club members strived to outdo each other in the latest fashions. It appeared Mrs. Pirie had no interest in discussing her fabulous youth. Her friends did not mention Fitzgerald in her presence. That chapter of her life was very much ended, and she was content to enjoy her long life. One wishes she had shared more memoirs of her youth. Ladies of her kind did not do that, and she was very much a lady.