Jul. 24, 2009

Miles: Prince of Darkness

by Philip Bryant

I remember my father's stories
about him being cold, fitful,
reproachful, surly, rude, cruel,
unbearable, spiteful, arrogant, hateful.
But then he'd play
Some Day My Prince Will Come
in a swirl of bright spring colors
that come after a heavy rain
making the world anew again
and like the sometimes-tyrannical king
who is truly repentant of his transgressions
steps out onto the balcony
to greet his subjects
and they find it in their hearts
to forgive him for his sins
yet once again.

"Miles: Prince of Darkness" by Philip S. Bryant, from Stompin' at The Grand Terrace: A Jazz Memoir in Verse. © Blueroad Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of French novelist Alexandre Dumas, (books by this author) born in Villers-Cotterêts, France (1802). He wrote swashbuckling adventure novels like The Three Musketeers (1844) and The Count of Monte Cristo (1844).

Dumas's books have been translated into more than a hundred languages. More than 50 movies have been made from The Count of Monty Cristo and more than 60 from The Three Musketeers. He said, "Rogues are preferable to imbeciles because they sometimes take a rest."

It's the birthday of Zelda Fitzgerald, (books by this author) born Zelda Sayre in Montgomery, Alabama (1900). She was married to F. Scott Fitzgerald; the two met at a dance in July 1918. Zelda had performed "Dance of the Hours" for the whole crowd at the country club in Montgomery, and Scott was smitten and asked her to dance. She was smitten, too, and later described that first night they danced: "There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretly enjoyed the ability to fly but was walking as a compromise to convention."

They went on their first date on this day, her birthday, in 1918. She later wrote to him about it, saying: "You were a young Lieutenant and I was a fragrant phantom, wasn't I? And it was a radiant night, a night of soft conspiracy and the trees agreed that it was all going to be for the best."

Zelda's family was wary of their union, and Zelda wouldn't marry him until his first novel was actually published. After he finished the manuscript, Fitzgerald wrote to his publisher asking him to speed up the publication of the book. He wrote, "I have so many things dependent on its success — including of course a girl." The book was published on March 26, 1920. A few days later, Zelda and Scott moved to New York City and got married at St. Patrick's Cathedral on April 3rd, — just one week after This Side of Paradise appeared in print.

They became known as the quintessential Jazz Age couple, the enfants terribles of New York City: beautiful, flashy, with money, and often drunk in public. When writer Dorothy Parker first encountered the couple, they were sitting on top of a taxicab. Parker wrote that they both looked "as though they had just stepped out of the sun; their youth was striking."

Zelda was F. Scott Fitzgerald's great muse and more: He not only modeled many of his characters after Zelda, he also used lines she'd written in letters to him. He even lifted things verbatim from her diary, including Amory Blaine's soliloquy, which comes at the end of This Side of Paradise.

The New York Tribune literary editor asked Zelda if she wanted to write a "cheeky" review of her husband's latest novel. She wrote:
"To begin with, every one must buy this book for the following aesthetic reasons: First, because I know where there is the cutest cloth of gold dress for only $300 in a store on Forty-second Street, and also if enough people buy it where there is a platinum ring with a complete circlet, and also if loads of people buy it my husband needs a new winter overcoat, although the one he has has done well enough for the last three years. … It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald — I believe that is how he spells his name — seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home."

Zelda suffered from schizophrenia and spent the later part of her life in and out of mental hospitals. F. Scott Fitzgerald had first placed her in a hospital in 1936, after she had become violent and delusional. He wrote a friend, "Zelda now claims to be in direct contact with Christ, William the Conqueror, Mary Stuart, Apollo, and all the stock paraphernalia of insane-asylum jokes. … For what she has really suffered, there is never a sober night that I do not pay a stark tribute of an hour to in the darkness."

She died at age 47 after a kitchen fire in the psychiatric hospital spread all over the building. She and other women on the upper floors could not escape because the fire escapes were made of wood and had gone up in flames.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »