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The Perfect Hour


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JAMES L.W. WEST III is Sparks Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Humanities Center, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has been a Fulbright scholar to England and Belgium. He is the author of William Styron: A Life and is general editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.


Much has been written about the tempestuous nature of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre's marriage. In this book, however, West (William Styron: A Life) focuses on an earlier romance between Fitzgerald and Ginevra King, the poised, beautiful, socially prominent 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy Chicago stockbroker. Fitzgerald met King during his sophomore year at Princeton circa 1915, and the two formed a largely epistolary, long-distance bond. At the time, it was common for young men to declare their intentions via telegram and for young women to hold court, reading their love letters aloud to one another. King corresponded with Fitzgerald for almost two years. At her request, Fitzgerald destroyed her letters after having them transcribed for personal use; the transcriptions were found among his papers after his death. King's own diaries and letters, with entries about Fitzgerald, were also discovered after her death. West uses these letters and diary entries to reconstruct their innocent relationship, making the compelling argument that Fitzgerald never really forgot King and used her as the model for Isabelle Borge in the play The Debutante, Judy Jones in "Winter Dreams," and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Academic libraries with large American literature collections should consider purchasing.-Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Perhaps because Fitzgerald himself epitomizes the romantic hero whose end was tragic, the writer's first romance, when he was a Princeton sophomore, with 16-year-old Ginevra King, engenders an interest beyond its brief, and mainly epistolary, flowering. Using excerpts from Ginevra's diary, discovered in 2003, West adds depth to what is known about their relationship while demonstrating how characters inspired by Ginevra turn up again and again in Fitzgerald's fiction, most famously as Daisy in The Great Gatsby. It's generally accepted that meeting Ginevra was Fitzgerald's introduction to the world of privilege, inspiring his oft-used theme of the poor boy rejected by a wealthy young woman. General editor of the Cambridge edition of Fitzgerald's work, West is on solid ground when he says, "from an artistic standpoint, Ginevra King was nearly as important to him as Zelda." West's text makes up about half this slim volume; the appendix contains five letters from Ginevra, entries from her diary and two short stories in which Ginevra is the model for the heroine. While the information here confirms rather than startles, aficionados will be glad to find reliable background material that enriches understanding of Fitzgerald's work. Together with the recently published Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (Forecasts, Oct. 18), this book helps illuminate the women in Fitzgerald's life. B&w photos. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (On sale Feb. 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"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."
-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."

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