Fitzgerald in the Riviera
The Great Gatsby is everywhere at the moment. But surprisingly, F. Scott Fitzgerald was barely on the map at the time he wrote it, an unsuccessful author living in a village on the coast of France.
In 1924 he and his wife Zelda did their own “tour of France” and moved to Valescure, a picturesque little town on the French Riviera, halfway between Marseille and Monaco, which continues to inspire people to this day. Maybe it is because of the medieval villages filled with street artists, little cafes, and bustling markets. Perhaps it is the sweeping views of the coastline, where only the vividly painted fishing boats distinguish where the azure waters stop and the cloudless sky begins. Inspiration may strike purely from the smells of the sea and the lavender fields and the steaming plates of the best food in the world, relished on a rickety table in a cobblestoned side street.
Even Bliss Travels groups are affected in the Riviera. People spontaneously buy journals as they tour France to sketch and start jotting down ideas for the novel they always wanted to write. Maybe one of us will be as inspired as F. Scott and create the next Gatsby on a tour! As Fitzgerald could have told us, anything is possible in Provence.
But despite the region’s astounding effect on his creativity, the esteemed author cut his visit short once he discovered that his wife was having an affair with a French naval aviator. Packing quickly, The Great Gatsby’s final editing was to be done in Rome as the simple joy of Provence was left behind them after only two seasons.
Fitzgerald in Paris
The novel was published as the well-traveled couple was returning to their beloved Paris, a frequent stop of theirs. Though it was well received by critics, sales were underwhelming, adding to their already stressed relationship.
Thankfully, it was here that F. Scott found solace in a new friendship with Ernest Hemingway, who was as yet relatively unknown in America. The two shared many things in common—both were literary geniuses and heavy drinkers going through rough patches in their careers. However, Hemingway would go on to achieve fame in his lifetime—F. Scott would die believing he was a failure.
Yet at the time, neither was aware that their writings would be considered revolutionary or would be read by billions. Their friendship and the city they both loved dearly kept them afloat with hope and inspiration. Can you imagine them strolling through the side streets of Paris—how the great city influenced their work, their thoughts, their lives? Did they meet at Notre Dame to talk of literature? Did they visit the Sacré Coeur and watch the sun set over Paris?
It is easy to picture Fitzgerald and Hemingway side by side, contemplatively sipping a café au lait, observing the passersby and dreaming up the world’s next immortal novel. Two friends with extraordinary talents, quietly taking in the most beautiful city in the world. The fact that we can tour France in a similar way is a gift in itself.
Today, you can visit the spot where the two met, the Dingo American Bar and Restaurant (10 rue Delambre) or see the Fitzgeralds’ apartment building at 14 rue de Tilsitt, near the Arc de Triomphe, which give the pleasant thrill of a solid connection with the past.
The Fitzgeralds stayed in France for two years, splitting their time between the apartment in Paris and the Riviera, where F. Scott wrote and his wife Zelda became increasingly bizarre (she would eventually suffer from several mental breaks). After much debate, they finally returned to America for a life of fewer distractions than the one they had in Europe, which was ironically the very reason they had moved overseas in the first place.
As a result of his wife’s illness, they returned to France only once more. Did F. Scott miss his adopted home? France has a way of pulling people in and making them crave it once they leave, a feeling that is quickly understood once you visit. Something in the very light makes the world more beautiful, simple, romantic—it provided a muse for The Great Gatsby, one of the best books ever written. And if great authors like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald fell in love with it, then we certainly cannot attempt to avoid its charms.