The novella “Three A.M.” explores the dark side of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, whose lives contained youthful success and beauty, before they were overwhelmed early on by immaturity, alcoholism, mental illness, and financial problems.
This sample of “Three A.M.” features fictionalized Scott and Zelda’s dysfunction as well as their relationship with Ernest Hemingway.
Scott fawned over Hemingway, mainly because he recognized Hemingway’s writing talent and potential. Scott also admired Hemingway’s manliness, confidence, and war experiences, things that Scott lacked. Zelda believed Hemingway was a fraud and a phony. Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast that he suspected “Zelda was “insane” early on, after she leaned into him and said ‘Ernest, don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?'” Hemingway also believed that Scott would have a hard time writing great books as long as Zelda was around.
Hemingway and Scott’s relationship was toxic from the beginning, still there was a bond between two of the most interesting American Writers of their era.
Hemingway attempted to avoid and hide from Scott, who was often drunk and wasted Hemingway’s time and energy.
Hemingway realized that Scott’s natural gift for writing and style was something he would never have, famously illuminated by Gertrude Stein who said people would be reading Scott long after everyone else was forgotten. Hemingway’s jealousy probably spurned him to humiliate Scott in print and in life.
Hemingway and Fitzgerald rarely saw each other after their days together in the 1920s in France, and it was Fitzgerald who avoided Hemingway in the end when Hemingway visited Hollywood to raise money for the Spanish Civil War. Scott felt too broken to see Hemingway. As Scott said, Hemingway tended toward Megalomania, while he tended to Melancholy.
“Three A.M.” is a novella within the collection of stories Inside Orwell and Other Stories by Joseph Raffetto. We hope you enjoy this sample of “Three A.M.”
Hemingway had driven an ambulance in Italy during World War I and Orwell was a policeman in Burma in the twenties. During this time, Fitzgerald was being led to clubs by his spoiled wife. In fact, he remained self-centered and didn’t become involved in any causes. It’s no wonder he crumbled. He could have been so much more than he was. He left the field to Hemingway, Camus, Steinbeck, Orwell, and others. He never wrote about the poor or seemed to care about them or politics or war in a serious way. His success came so early that he had no chance to discover himself or the world.
Scott and Zelda met with their gang, partying at an elaborate speakeasy, perhaps the Jungle Club.
What happened next was predictable.
“You’ve had enough,” a husky bouncer said to Scott.
“Everyone in this establishment has had enough,” Scott said.
“I’ve seen you in here before. We’re cutting you off.”
“Who are you to tell me anything? I’ll inform you when I’ve had enough.”
When Scott threatened to punch the bouncer in the face, Lawton stepped between them.
“Scott, old boy, I’ve been looking for you. I have a drink for you at my table.”
Scott glared at the bouncer.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you about your story in the Post,” Lawton added.
Scott began to laugh as if this were funny. So did Lawton.
Lawton escorted Scott away from the bouncer and trouble.
“You read my short story?”
Zelda marched up to them. “Hey, why did you ditch me at the bar?”
“I saved you a seat, Zelda.” Lawton gestured toward his table.
“I didn’t ditch you,” Scott said.
“I was waiting at the bar all by myself. You ditched me!”
“The bouncer refused to let me buy a drink with my hard-earned cash because he said I’d had enough.”
Lawton scratched his head and appeared worried as he listened to Scott and Zelda bicker back and forth.
“Scott, you’re not going to let them get away with that. If you want a drink, why shouldn’t you have one?”
“I should be able to drink anytime I like.”
“You’ve had enough,” the bouncer said when Scott demanded to be served.
“Scott, you’re not going to let him say that to you, are you?” Zelda asked.
“I’ve had enough of you.” Scott’s punch glanced off the bouncer. He wound up and swung wildly but missed. Scott was a better fighter than most people realized and could hold his own in a scuffle, though he lost his fair share because he would take on anyone, in any situation.
The bouncer shoved Scott halfway across the room, knocking down tables and chairs.
“Get up and fight like a man, Scott. Get up and show him,” Zelda egged him on.
The next morning Scott lay in bed. His head was bandaged. One eye was almost closed and black.
Lawton came to see him. “How are you feeling?”
“What happened last night? I don’t remember a blessed thing,” Scott said.
Lawton ignored the opportunity to explain the previous evening. “Is Zelda okay?”
“Oh, she’s fine. She’s gone to exchange our tickets. We were sailing for Europe today.”
It was at this time that Zelda became pregnant and had their only child, a girl, Scottie.
It’s said that moments after giving birth, Zelda proclaimed, “Oh God, goofo. I’m drunk. Mark Twain. Isn’t she smart.”
“She has the hiccups. I hope she’s beautiful and a fool—a beautiful little fool.”
Having a child did not appear to affect Scott and Zelda’s lifestyles. Now there was another mouth to feed, so he had to keep selling out his talent for money. At the same time, he was writing Gatsby. That’s something to always keep in mind with them. They created Gatsby together. Only a few novels compare to its combination of story, characters, mood, plot, and style. Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and many others knew it immediately. And, of course, it did not sell nearly as well as his previous two novels.
Gertrude Stein said this about Scott’s writing: “The Great Gatsby will be remembered when your contemporaries are forgotten.” This talk annoyed Hemingway, but he might have believed it to be true. It wasn’t. Hemingway’s books still sell well as do Fitzgerald’s today.
Orwell wrote terrific prose, but he could never write a beautiful or poetic novel like Gatsby or Tender is the Night. It was a rare gift that Scott possessed. Hemingway said of Scott’s talent: “His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.”
Zelda was a part of Scott and his writing. Scott, like many novelists, needed a backdrop, a connection to his world, and every one of his books metamorphosed into a story about Scott and Zelda. Zelda suffered from not having an outlet.
They moved to France like everyone else. This is where Scott met Hemingway, young, tall, handsome, and extremely confident. Scott was immediately infatuated with “Hem” and his writing.
“You’re the new voice. If I didn’t already have a style, I’m sure I’d emulate you,” Scott said.
“You’ve written a fine novel now. And you mustn’t write slop.”
“I have to write stories that sell.”
“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”
“I write the stories without compromising, then change them to make them commercial.”
“I need to sell them so I can write good books.”
“You’d be the greatest writer in the world if you weren’t married to Zelda.”
Scott tucked his hands in his pockets.
“Loan me some money.”
Did Hemingway really talk like that? I think he did on some level. And it’s fun to write about him that way. These two men were connected, whether they liked it or not. Scott realized it immediately, but I don’t think Hemingway did until later.
One of the legends of Scott and Zelda was that something out of the ordinary happened when they were around. They loved to put people on the spot. Even Hemingway was given this treatment when Scott pestered him with questions about whether he had slept with his first wife, Hadley, before they were married.
Zelda hated Hemingway, perhaps because he was someone who would not put up with her.
Here is a fictional example based on real quotes of Scott, Zelda, Ernest, and his charming wife, Hadley, socializing together.
Scott was in an ebullient mood. “Max believes Sun will be a sensation,” he said, referring to Hemingway’s new book, The Sun Also Rises, due to come out at Scribner’s.
“It’s all bullfighting, bull slinging, and bullshit,” Zelda said.
“Zelda is just kidding. She’s not serious,” Scott said.
Zelda remained silent, but it was obvious she was not kidding.
Hemingway claimed in A Moveable Feast that Zelda leaned toward him and asked, “Do you think Al Jolson is greater than Christ?”
The story is probably true because she asked the same thing of others. Zelda was losing her mind and spirit. She was out of her element with no parents or family or friends or religion or job or anything to help support her. And she and Scott had constant money problems.
You get the feeling Hemingway was much more on Scott’s mind than Scott was on Hemingway’s. Hemingway was pumping out books, marrying, dating, fishing, hunting, and fighting, while Scott slowly slipped into despair and loss.
“He’s a pain in the neck, talking about me and borrowing money from you while he does it,” Zelda said.
“I won’t take you criticizing Hem. He’s beyond reproach,” Scott said.
“He’s as phony as a rubber check and you know it.”
“You’re just jealous.”
“Of what? A pansy with hair on his chest?”
“If you say anything bad about him, you are crazy.”
“He thinks I’m crazy and says so. Why shouldn’t I say anything I choose about him?”
“You insulted the most talented young writer of our generation.”
“I didn’t insult him. I just said he was a phony.”
“He’s pure, unlike me, writing trash for the Post.”
“I like your stories.”
“They’re a sellout. You just love the lifestyle they buy.”
At a certain point in their marriage, it was all about hurting each other.
“You’ll never be able to satisfy a woman,” Zelda said to Scott.
“You’ve been awfully satisfied at times.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
Scott didn’t want to argue with her and rolled out of bed.
“It’s the way you’re built.”
“The way I’m built?”
“How do you know?”
“A woman knows.”
“You’re vicious. I’m going to work.”
“Work? You mean drink.”
When this conversation enters a relationship, you know it’s over, and you’ll do anything to humiliate your partner. To be vicious was why Zelda said it.
Scott was ingenuous enough to bring Hemingway into his sexual problems with Zelda. Hemingway then exploited Scott’s confidences, when he made the Fitzgeralds’ most intimate issues public. It was his chance to humiliate Fitzgerald and sully his reputation. Perhaps he was motivated by jealousy or perhaps he wanted to needle Scott and Zelda, who were such pains in the ass.
“She’s crazy.” Hemingway downed his drink in one gulp.
“Do women like a man’s penis large or small?”
Hemingway must have been annoyed. “Did she say your penis is too small?”
“She said I couldn’t satisfy a woman.”
“That’s the oldest trick in the book, old man. She’s attempting to destroy you.”
“Why did she say that?”
Hemingway frowned. “Come on. Let me take a look at you.”
“You’re really first rate.”
“Buy me a drink.”
When Zelda became pregnant again, she had one request. “I want an abortion.” I wonder what made her choose to do this? It was something she said she would never do. Perhaps it was the unstable, wandering, stressful life they led. Perhaps she was worried about her figure. Perhaps she just didn’t want to have another child with Scott. Perhaps she didn’t feel she was up for a nine-month pregnancy and a baby, or she knew she was losing her mind and wouldn’t be able to handle more responsibility.
After the abortion, Scott brought lilies to her hospital room, where Zelda lay feverish in bed.
“The lilies are talking to me,” Zelda said.
Scott handed them to her.
“I feel like a thunderbolt has hit my stomach.”
“I’ll take care of you.”
Zelda grasped his hand.
“I know you will.”
We hope you enjoyed this sample of “Three A.M.” and the fascinating relationship between Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Read reviews of “Three A.M.”, a novella in the collection of stories Inside Orwell and Other Stories by Joseph Raffetto on Goodreads.
Read full review of Inside Orwell and Other Stories.
Articles include affiliate links, which may provide a small compensation to Noovella.