The Books: The Crack-Up, ‘Auction – Model, 1934’, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

On the essays shelf:

The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The byline here again, like with ‘Show Mr. and Mrs. F–‘ is “F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald”, dated July of 1934.

This is an interesting piece. A couple auctions off their belongings, which actually (of course) detail the entire emotional history of their marriage. There’s a cold-bloodedness to the atmosphere, with objects labeled “Lot such-and-such”, and of course each object launches a memory, a connection, an association. So much of Method acting training has to do with objects, how objects can launch us into an entire past life, a memory can erect itself around us in 3-D if we connect to a certain object in a sensory way. We know this from our own lives. It’s one of the reasons why silly families sometimes fight over objects when a family member passes: it seems that the object HOLDS the memory of that person. And in some cases it very well might. Objects are powerful. They can act as talismans, symbols. If you connect to one, then it is always more than what it actually is. A teddy bear you had when you were 5 is never just a teddy bear as you look upon it as an old woman. It holds your childhood, it holds the memory of the You you once were. Seen in this light, it’s not a surprise that some people become hoarders. They cannot separate the object from the association. Very few of us can.

While “Show Mr. and Mrs. F–” ends up taking on an almost eerie elegiac tone, “Auction – Model, 1934” remains a bit insouciant, humorous, self-involved. Look at the ridiculous possessions we have acquired. What a crazy life we have led. Look at all the scrapbooks devoted to US we used to keep! That self-involvement was part of the celebrity of the Fitzgeralds, wrapped up in one another while the world watched, wrapped up in their age. Here, they do their best to auction off all of the “Lots” that make up their marriage, describing each object and how they came about owning it. However, none of the objects gets a bidder, so one by one, each object has to be stored in the attic by “Essie”, who is certainly kept busy during the length of the essay.

There are multiple ways you could look at all of this, and part of the fun of the piece is contemplating the implications (which are left out of the language). I recently went through a pretty big “purge” of objects, donating 7 boxes of books to a second-hand store, and cleaning out my closet and drawers to its barest bones. I found myself looking around my beautiful study, a room that gives me great pleasure, and thinking, cold-bloodedly: “Okay. What WON’T I miss in this room?”

It’s not just about traveling light, although that was part of my consideration. I have deep emotional roots, with family and friends, and definitely have strong ties to certain areas. Rhode Island. Chicago. And certain aspects of New York, although I probably will not realize how attached I am to this place until I no longer live here. Such is life! I have lived here longer than any other place (well, not Rhode Island, although I am approaching that mark here as well). I cannot even be sure the overall effect it has had on me. It is my chosen home (for the time being). In November and December, as things started to shift, I found myself paring down the objects in my life. Like the Fitzgeralds, there would probably be no bidders for my objects – they hold value only to me.

There’s a sadness behind the light tone taken here, although that may be just my retrospective attitude. It’s 1934. Things were already going south for the Fitzgeralds. Zelda had had her first breakdown. So had Scott. He would be (unbelievably) dead in a mere 6 years. These objects speak to their glory days in the 20s, when they traveled and acquired crazy things along the way, symbolic of their free spirits, and symbolic of the fizzy energy of the 1920s. Dark days were coming. You can feel that in this piece. Lost youth, lost hope. It’s lovely, and sad.

Here’s an excerpt.

The Crack-Up, ‘Auction – Model, 1934’, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Lot 5. A barrel. Contents cost us something like a thousand dollars during the boom. Chipped pottery tea-set that was worth the trip to Venice—it had seemed such a pity not to buy something from that cluttered bazaar fanned by the plumy shade of the white plane trees. We didn’t know what we wanted to drink; the white haunted countryside was hot; the hillsides smelled of jasmine and the hot backs of men digging the roads.

Two glass automobiles for salt and pepper stolen from the cafe in Saint-Paul (Alpes-Maritimes). Nobody was looking because Isadora Duncan was giving one of her last parties at the next table. She had got too old and fat to care whether people accepted her theories of life and art, and she gallantly toasted the world’s obliviousness in lukewarm champagne. There were village dogs baying at a premature white exhausted August moon and there were long dark shadows folded accordion-like along the steps of the steep streets of Saint-Paul. We autographed the guest-book.

Fifty-two ash trays—all very simple because Hergesheimer warned us against pretentiousness in furnishing a house without money. A set of cocktail glasses with the roosters now washed off the sides. Carl Van Vechten brought us a shaker to go with them but nobody had opened the letter announcing his arrival—nobody knew where the mail was kept, there were so many rooms, twenty or twenty-one. Two curious vases we won in the amusement park. The fortune teller came back with us and drank too much and repeated a stanza of Vachel Lindsay to exorcise the mansion ghost. China, China, China, set of four, set of five, set of nine, set of thirteen. Any bids? Thank God! The kitchen, Essie.

Lot 5. Plaid Shawl donated by Carmel Myers. Slightly fatigued after long use as a table cover and packing wrapper for china pigs and dogs which held pennies turned out of the pockets of last year’s coats. Once a beautiful Viennese affair, with memories of Carmel in Rome filming Ben Hur in bigger and grander papier-mache arenas than the real ones. One gong. No memory of what it was for or why we had bought it. Stick missing. Looks, however, like a Chinese pagoda and gives an impression of wide travel. Bits of brass: wobbly colonial candle-sticks with stems encircling little bells which ring when walked with a la Beatrix Esmond or Lady Macbeth. Two phallic symbols bought from an archeologist. One German helmet found in the trenches of Verdun. One chess set. We played it every evening before we began to quarrel about our respective mental capacities. Two china priests from Vevey. The figures are strung on springs and wag their heads lasciviously over bottles of wine and hampers of food. A whole lot of broken glass and china good for the tops of walls. All right, Essie. Go on—there’s plenty of space up there, if you know how to use it.

Lot 6. Contents of an old army trunk. Nobody has ever explained where moth-balls go; moths thrive best on irreplaceable things such as old army uniforms. Then there was a pair of white flannels bought with the first money ever earned by writing—thirty dollars from Mencken’s and Nathan’s old Smart Set. The moths had also dined upon a blue feather fan paid for out of a first Saturday Evening Post story; it was an engagement present—that together with a southern girl’s first corsage of orchids. The remains of the fan are not for sale. All right, Essie.

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4 Responses to The Books: The Crack-Up, ‘Auction – Model, 1934’, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  1. Doc Horton says:

    ‘The remains of the fan are not for sale.’ Pretty dang good sentence.

  2. Kate says:

    My husband comes from a family of “collectors’ bordering, in my opinion, on hoarding. For years I’ve looked at this to try to see what this offers them. I think this wonderful story is about the power and pull of memory and what I’ve come up with for this family of atheists is that memory is their religion. It’s really the most spiritual thing they have. My own family traditions passed on a church calendar and for them there are many “created” rituals and traditions. All of their spiritual yearning is caught up in memory and things. I am secretly (with them) devout and also famous (in this family) for purging, purging, purging. They think I am merciless. But I also believe God provides and that I don’t need to save “just in case” I need someday. My small musings for today – I’m sure you will be glad when I return to my classroom tomorrow! Me too!

  3. sheila says:

    I definitely think I make a religion out of memory sometimes – although it’s not so much about objects as it has been writing everything down. I have backed off of much of that – I don’t really keep a journal anymore – but there is definitely an anxiety about losing things. Somehow writing it down makes it seem … captured. There it is. I won’t lose it.

    There’s a huge trap in this kind of thinking, which I won’t really get into.

    I still write, obviously. And it’s still mostly for the same reasons, although it also is just something I need to do, and helps keep me sane.

    But there’s definitely a “hoarding” aspect to the writing.

    You’re lucky that you are a natural “purger” – I really have to be in the mood. But damn, it feels good to let things go!! :)

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