F. Scott Fitzgerald Has a Strange Dinner with James Joyce & Draws a Cute Sketch of It (1928)

fitzgerald drawings

The char­ac­ters in many of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories—rakish, drunk­en under­grad­u­ates and overe­d­u­cat­ed gadabouts—so resem­ble their cre­ator that it’s tempt­ing to read into all of his work some auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal intent. One episode in the writer’s life that didn’t make it into his fic­tion, Fitzgerald’s meet­ing with James Joyce in Paris, nev­er­the­less makes a fas­ci­nat­ing anec­dote all its own, and seems so per­fect­ly in char­ac­ter that it could have inspired an amus­ing short sto­ry for The Sat­ur­day Evening Post.

Accord­ing to Sylvia Beach, doyenne of the expat Amer­i­can lit­er­ary scene in Paris, founder of Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny Books, and pub­lish­er of Ulysses, Fitzger­ald “wor­shipped James Joyce, but was afraid to approach him.” In her mem­oir, Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny, Beach relates how in 1928 she and her friend, lover, and fel­low book­seller Adri­enne Mon­nier, “cooked a nice din­ner and invit­ed the Joyces, the Fitzger­alds, and André Cham­son and his wife Lucie.”

Scott drew a pic­ture in my copy of The Great Gats­by of the guests—with Joyce seat­ed at the table wear­ing a halo, Scott kneel­ing beside him, and Adri­enne and myself, at the head and foot, depict­ed as mer­maids (or sirens).

You can see Fitzgerald’s quirky lit­tle sketch above. Beach’s telling, it seems, omits many of the col­or­ful details of the meet­ing. Accord­ing to Her­bert Gor­man, anoth­er guest at the din­ner and Joyce’s first biog­ra­ph­er, Fitzgerald—so over­awed by the Irish author that he referred to the evening as the “Fes­ti­val of St. James”—“sank down on one knee before Joyce”—as in his drawing—“kissed his hand, and declared: ‘How does it feel to be a great genius, Sir? I am so excit­ed at see­ing you, Sir, that I could weep.’”

Most like­ly very drunk on cham­pagne, Fitzgerald’s antics appar­ent­ly quite alarmed Joyce. In her lit­er­ary his­to­ry, Noel Riley Fitch tells us that the Amer­i­can “offered to show his esteem for the Irish writer… by jump­ing out of the win­dow. An amazed Joyce is sup­posed to have pro­hib­it­ed the dis­play and exclaimed, ‘That young man must be mad—I’m afraid he’ll do him­self some injury.’” The bizarre inci­dent did not pre­vent Fitzger­ald from obtain­ing Joyce’s auto­graph in his copy of Ulysses. Nor did it pre­vent him, on a lat­er occa­sion, from threat­en­ing to jump from his apart­ment bal­cony onto the street, “drunk and depressed by his fail­ing mar­riage.” This time, he was stopped by French nov­el­ist André Cham­son, with whom he had struck up a friend­ship at the Joyce din­ner.

Beach’s mem­oir con­tains many oth­er charm­ing, and some­what dis­may­ing, sto­ries about the Fitzger­alds, most involv­ing prof­li­gate spend­ing and drink­ing of cham­pagne. We may not have the plea­sure of hear­ing these tales from the Gats­by author himself—save through his essays, let­ters, and many fic­tion­al­iza­tions of his life. But the genial Beach, who out­lived Joyce, Fitzger­ald, Hem­ing­way, and most every oth­er author of the “Lost Gen­er­a­tion,” appeared in sev­er­al filmed inter­views, in French and Eng­lish, and told sto­ries of 1920s Paris. In one such inter­view, above, hear her describe the found­ing of Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny, that Parisian lit­er­ary hub with­out which some of the great­est lit­er­a­ture of the 20th cen­tu­ry may nev­er have reached the read­ing pub­lic.

via Austin Kleon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

See F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Hand­writ­ten Man­u­scripts for The Great Gats­by, This Side of Par­adise & More

F. Scott Fitzger­ald in Drag (1916)

Ernest Hem­ing­way to F. Scott Fitzger­ald: “Kiss My Ass”

Begin­nings Pro­files Shake­speare and Company’s Sylvia Beach Whit­man

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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