Flappers and Philosophers

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Show Summary


Horace and Marcia were married early in February. The sensation in academic circles both at Yale and Princeton was tremendous. Horace Tarbox, who at fourteen had been played up in the Sunday magazines sections of metropolitan newspapers, was throwing over his career, his chance of being a world authority on American philosophy, by marrying a chorus girl—they made Marcia a chorus girl. But like all modern stories it was a four-and-a-half-day wonder.

They took a flat in Harlem. After two weeks’ search, during which his idea of the value of academic knowledge faded unmercifully, Horace took a position as clerk with a South American export company—some one had told him that exporting was the coming thing. Marcia was to stay in her show for a few months—anyway until he got on his feet. He was getting a hundred and twenty-five to start with, and though of course they told him it was only a question of months until he would be earning double that, Marcia refused even to consider giving up the hundred and fifty a week that she was getting at the time.

"We’ll call ourselves Head and Shoulders, dear," she said softly, "and the shoulders’ll have to keep shaking a little longer until the old head gets started."

"I hate it," he objected gloomily.

"Well," she replied emphatically, "Your salary wouldn’t keep us in a tenement. Don’t think I want to be public—I don’t. I want to be yours. But I’d be a half-wit to sit in one room and count the sunflowers on the wall-paper while I waited for you. When you pull down three hundred a month I’ll quit."

And much as it hurt his pride, Horace had to admit that hers was the wiser course.

March mellowed into April. May read a gorgeous riot act to the parks and waters of Manhatten, and they were very happy. Horace, who had no habits whatsoever—he had never had time to form any—proved the most adaptable of husbands, and as Marcia entirely lacked opinions on the subjects that engrossed him there were very few jottings and bumping. Their minds moved in different spheres. Marcia acted as practical factotum, and Horace lived either in his old world of abstract ideas or in a sort of triumphantly earthy worship and adoration of his wife. She was a continual source of astonishment to him—the freshness and originality of her mind, her dynamic, clear-headed energy, and her unfailing good humor.

And Marcia’s co-workers in the nine-o’clock show, whither she had transferred her talents, were impressed with her tremendous pride in her husband’s mental powers. Horace they knew only as a very slim, tight-lipped, and immature-looking young man, who waited every night to take her home.

"Horace," said Marcia one evening when she met him as usual at eleven, "you looked like a ghost standing there against the street lights. You losing weight?"

He shook his head vaguely.

"I don’t know. They raised me to a hundred and thirty-five dollars to-day, and---"

"I don’t care," said Marcia severely. "You’re killing yourself working at night. You read those big books on economy---"

"Economics," corrected Horace.

"Well, you read ’em every night long after I’m asleep. And you’re getting all stooped over like you were before we were married."

"But, Marcia, I’ve got to---"

"No, you haven’t dear. I guess I’m running this shop for the present, and I won’t let my fella ruin his health and eyes. You got to get some exercise."

"I do. Every morning I---"

"Oh, I know! But those dumb-bells of yours wouldn’t give a consumptive two degrees of fever. I mean real exercise. You’ve got to join a gymnasium. ’Member you told me you were such a trick gymnast once that they tried to get you out for the team in college and they couldn’t because you had a standing date with Herb Spencer?"

"I used to enjoy it," mused Horace, "but it would take up too much time now."

"All right," said Marcia. "I’ll make a bargain with you. You join a gym and I’ll read one of those books from the brown row of ’em."

"’Pepys’ Diary’? Why, that ought to be enjoyable. He’s very light."

"Not for me—he isn’t. It’ll be like digesting plate glass. But you been telling me how much it’d broaden my lookout. Well, you go to a gym three nights a week and I’ll take one big dose of Sammy."

Horace hesitated.


"Come on, now! You do some giant swings for me and I’ll chase some culture for you."

So Horace finally consented, and all through a baking summer he spent three and sometimes four evenings a week experimenting on the trapeze in Skipper’s Gymnasium. And in August he admitted to Marcia that it made him capable of more mental work during the day.


"Don’t believe in it," replied Marcia. "I tried one of those patent medicines once and they’re all bunk. You stick to gymnastics."

One night in early September while he was going through one of his contortions on the rings in the nearly deserted room he was addressed by a meditative fat man whom he had noticed watching him for several nights.

"Say, lad, do that stunt you were doin’ last night."

Horace grinned at him from his perch.

"I invented it," he said. "I got the idea from the fourth proposition of Euclid."

"What circus he with?"

"He’s dead."

"Well, he must of broke his neck doin’ that stunt. I set here last night thinkin’ sure you was goin’ to break yours."

"Like this!" said Horace, and swinging onto the trapeze he did his stunt.

"Don’t it kill your neck an’ shoulder muscles?"

"It did at first, but inside of a week I wrote the QUOD ERAT DEMONSTRANDUM on it."


Horace swung idly on the trapeze.

"Ever think of takin’ it up professionally?" asked the fat man.

"Not I."

"Good money in it if you’re willin’ to do stunts like ’at an’ can get away with it."

"Here’s another," chirped Horace eagerly, and the fat man’s mouth dropped suddenly agape as he watched this pink-jerseyed Prometheus again defy the gods and Isaac Newton.

The night following this encounter Horace got home from work to find a rather pale Marcia stretched out on the sofa waiting for him.

"I fainted twice to-day," she began without preliminaries.


"Yep. You see baby’s due in four months now. Doctor says I ought to have quit dancing two weeks ago."

Horace sat down and thought it over.

"I’m glad of course," he said pensively—"I mean glad that we’re going to have a baby. But this means a lot of expense."

"I’ve got two hundred and fifty in the bank," said Marcia hopefully, "and two weeks’ pay coming."

Horace computed quickly’.

"Inducing my salary, that’ll give us nearly fourteen hundred for the next six months."

Marcia looked blue.

"That all? Course I can get a job singing somewhere this month. And I can go to work again in March."

"Of course nothing!" said Horace gruffly. "You’ll stay right here. Let’s see now—there’ll be doctor’s bills and a nurse, besides the maid: We’ve got to have some more money."

"Well," said Marcia wearily, "I don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s up to the old head now. Shoulders is out of business."

Horace rose and pulled on his coat.

"Where are you going?"

"I’ve got an idea," he answered. "I’ll be right back."

Ten minutes later as he headed down the street toward Skipper’s Gymnasium he felt a plaid wonder, quite unmixed with humor, at what he was going to do. How he would have gaped at himself a year before! How every one would have gaped! But when you opened your door at the rap of life you let in many things.

The gymnasium was brightly lit, and when his eyes became accustomed to the glare he found the meditative fat man seated on a pile of canvas mats smoking a big cigar.

"Say," began Horace directly, "were you in earnest last night when you said I could make money on my trapeze stunts?"

"Why, yes," said the fat man in surprise.

"Well, I’ve been thinking it over, and I believe I’d like to try it. I could work at night and on Saturday afternoons—and regularly if the pay is high enough."

The fat men looked at his watch.

"Well," he said, "Charlie Paulson’s the man to see. He’ll book you inside of four days, once he sees you work out. He won’t be in now, but I’ll get hold of him for to-morrow night."

The fat man vas as good as his word. Charlie Paulson arrived next night and put in a wondrous hour watching the prodigy swap through the air in amazing parabolas, and on the night following he brought two age men with him who looked as though they had been born smoking black cigars and talking about money in low, passionate voices. Then on the succeeding Saturday Horace Tarbox’s torso made its first professional appearance in a gymnastic exhibition at the Coleman Street Gardens. But though the audience numbered nearly five thousand people, Horace felt no nervousness. From his childhood he had read papers to audiences—learned that trick of detaching himself.

"Marcia," he said cheerfully later that same night, "I think we’re out of the woods. Paulson thinks he can get me an opening at the Hippodrome, and that means an all-winter engagement. The Hippodrome you know, is a big---"

"Yes, I believe I’ve heard of it," interrupted Marcia, "but I want to know about this stunt you’re doing. It isn’t any spectacular suicide, is it?"

"It’s nothing," said Horace quietly. "But if you can think of an nicer way of a man killing himself than taking a risk for you, why that’s the way I want to die."

Marcia reached up and wound both arms tightly round his neck.

"Kiss me," she whispered, "and call me ’dear heart.’ I love to hear you say ’dear heart.’ And bring me a book to read to-morrow. No more Sam Pepys, but something trick and trashy. I’ve been wild for something to do all day. I felt like writing letters, but I didn’t have anybody to write to."

"Write to me," said Horace. "I’ll read them."

"I wish I could," breathed Marcia. "If I knew words enough I could write you the longest love-letter in the world—and never get tired."

But after two more months Marcia grew very tired indeed, and for a row of nights it was a very anxious, weary-looking young athlete who walked out before the Hippodrome crowd. Then there were two days when his place was taken by a young man who wore pale blue instead of white, and got very little applause. But after the two days Horace appeared again, and those who sat close to the stage remarked an expression of beatific happiness on that young acrobat’s face even when he was twisting breathlessly in the air an the middle of his amazing and original shoulder swing. After that performance he laughed at the elevator man and dashed up the stairs to the flat five steps at a time—and then tiptoed very carefully into a quiet room.

"Marcia," he whispered.

"Hello!" She smiled up at him wanly. "Horace, there’s something I want you to do. Look in my top bureau drawer and you’ll find a big stack of paper. It’s a book—sort of—Horace. I wrote it down in these last three months while I’ve been laid up. I wish you’d take it to that Peter Boyce Wendell who put my letter in his paper. He could tell you whether it’d be a good book. I wrote it just the way I talk, just the way I wrote that letter to him. It’s just a story about a lot of things that happened to me. Will you take it to him, Horace?"

"Yes, darling."

He leaned over the bed until his head was beside her on the pillow, and began stroking back her yellow hair.

"Dearest Marcia," he said softly.

"No," she murmured, "call me what I told you to call me."

"Dear heart," he whispered passionately—"dearest heart."

"What’ll we call her?"

They rested a minute in happy, drowsy content, while Horace considered.

"We’ll call her Marcia Hume Tarbox," he said at length.

"Why the Hume?"

"Because he’s the fellow who first introduced us."

"That so?" she murmured, sleepily surprised. "I thought his name was Moon."

Her eyes dosed, and after a moment the slow lengthening surge of the bedclothes over her breast showed that she was asleep.

Horace tiptoed over to the bureau and opening the top drawer found a heap of closely scrawled, lead-smeared pages. He looked at the first sheet:


He smiled. So Samuel Pepys had made an impression on her after all. He turned a page and began to read. His smile deepened—he read on. Half an hour passed and he became aware that Marcia had waked and was watching him from the bed.

"Honey," came in a whisper.

"What Marcia?"

"Do you like it?"

Horace coughed.

"I seem to be reading on. It’s bright."

"Take it to Peter Boyce Wendell. Tell him you got the highest marks in Princeton once and that you ought to know when a book’s good. Tell him this one’s a world beater."

"All right, Marcia," Horace said gently.

Her eyes closed again and Horace crossing over kissed her forehead—stood there for a moment with a look of tender pity. Then he left the room.

All that night the sprawly writing on the pages, the constant mistakes in spelling and grammar, and the weird punctuation danced before his eyes. He woke several times in the night, each time full of a welling chaotic sympathy for this desire of Marcia’s soul to express itself in words. To him there was something infinitely pathetic about it, and for the first time in months he began to turn over in his mind his own half-forgotten dreams.

He had meant to write a series of books, to popularize the new realism as Schopenhauer had popularized pessimism and William James pragmatism.

But life hadn’t come that way. Life took hold of people and forced them into flying rings. He laughed to think of that rap at his door, the diaphanous shadow in Hume, Marcia’s threatened kiss.

"And it’s still me," he said aloud in wonder as he lay awake in the darkness. "I’m the man who sat in Berkeley with temerity to wonder if that rap would have had actual existence had my ear not been there to hear it. I’m still that man. I could be electrocuted for the crimes he committed.

"Poor gauzy souls trying to express ourselves in something tangible. Marcia with her written book; I with my unwritten ones. Trying to choose our mediums and then taking what we get— and being glad."


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Chicago: F. Scott Fitzgerald, "IV," Flappers and Philosophers in Flappers and Philosophers (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), Original Sources, accessed February 3, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8EFGPLULKX4M9WL.

MLA: Fitzgerald, F. Scott. "IV." Flappers and Philosophers, in Flappers and Philosophers, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920, Original Sources. 3 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8EFGPLULKX4M9WL.

Harvard: Fitzgerald, FS, 'IV' in Flappers and Philosophers. cited in 1920, Flappers and Philosophers, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8EFGPLULKX4M9WL.