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Fitzgerald’s American Dream

On Tuesday, Sept. 14, Rollins had the pleasure of hosting Dr. James L. W. West III on our campus to discuss his new book, The Perfect Hour. The book details the relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his first love, Ginevra King.

Contrary to the popular belief that Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda was his main inspiration, West claims in his book that King inspired many of Fitzgerald’s characters, including Judy Jones, Josephine Perry, and even Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.

West has been studying the works of Fitzgerald for years and is his Cambridge editor. West is also a book historian and editor of over 20 books, and is also the recipient of numerous awards, including a Fulbright scholarship.

Recently, King’s relatives donated the letters she sent to Fitzgerald, in addition to her private diary, to Princeton University. These new additions shine a new light on her relationship with Fitzgerald, which appears to be much more serious than previously thought.

Much more than a fling, King was Fitzgerald’s first love and rejection. They met when she was 16 and he was 19 in 1915. She was a wealthy and beautiful young woman of status in Lake Forest, Illinois, while he was a member of the working-class. King’s father once told Fitzgerald, “poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.”

Being the hopeless romantic that Fitzgerald was, he remained madly in love with King and idolized her, something that she warned him of doing. Fitzgerald typed out every letter she sent him and created a manuscript that inspired many of his short stories and novels.

Toward the end of their relationship, King sent Fitzgerald a short story she wrote called “One Perfect Hour” that hinted at her fear of Fitzgerald being more interested in her as material for his stories. It is rumored that this short story inspired The Great Gatsby.

Eventually, Kings’s letters to Fitzgerald became less frequent and less enthusiastic, and they ended their relationship after about two years when she became engaged to another man. Fitzgerald was fighting in World War I at the time and soon met Zelda, but he never forgot his first love. King is thought of being the main muse of Fitzgerald’s many “rich girl, poor boy” stories. The last time Fitzgerald and King met was in 1937 after Zelda developed her mental illness. Supposedly the meeting went well, but Fitzgerald had started to develop a heavy drinking habit. He died of a massive heart attack in 1940, while King lived to see 1980.

West extensively describes this fascinating relationship in The Perfect Hour, which also features King’s story “One Perfect Hour,” and photographs of her and Fitzgerald.

For any literature or Fitzgerald enthusiast, The Perfect Hour is a must-read.

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