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Don Skemer and James West
Don Skemer, curator of manuscripts in the Princeton University Library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (standing), and James West, the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University and the editor of the ongoing series, "The Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald" (Cambridge University Press), examine the diary and letters of Ginevra King, F. Scott Fitzgerald's first love.

photo: Ruth Stevens

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Documents tell more about Fitzgerald's relationship with his first love

by Ruth Stevens
The Princeton University Library has acquired a rich collection of documents that reveal previously unknown details about American author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his first love, Ginevra King.

King was a beautiful and wealthy debutante from Lake Forest, Ill., with whom Fitzgerald had a romantic relationship from 1915 to 1917. King's family has donated her diary and typed versions of her almost weekly letters to Fitzgerald from that period as well as one original letter from Fitzgerald to King and a seven-page untitled short story by King that shows some of Fitzgerald's influences.

"None of Fitzgerald's biographers have seen these letters before -- although researchers knew they existed," said Don Skemer, curator of manuscripts in the library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. "So a certain amount of writing about their relationship has been speculation. And there has been a lot of writing about it because she was so central to his image of the American dream and women."

Even though she married William H. Mitchell, "King remained for Fitzgerald an archetype for the alluring, independent and upperclass woman, ultimately unattainable by someone of a modest social background like himself," Skemer said, noting that this continued even after Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre, the quintessential Jazz Age flapper who became his wife. "Arguably, Ginevra was a model for Daisy Buchanan in 'The Great Gatsby' and is recognizable in many other characters."

Fitzgerald would use details of their meeting in his story "Babes in the Woods" in the Nassau Literary Magazine (May 1917), a piece that he reused with minor changes in "This Side of Paradise" (1920), his first novel, which was set at Princeton.

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Ginevra King
Ginevra King

F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald

photos: from the F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library