Ohio History Journal



Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerarld
Summer-Autumn 2000 pp. 125-143
This article is presented page by page and footnoted according to the original print version. If a sentence appears to be incomplete, scroll down to continue with the next page.
Copyright 2000 by the Ohio Historical Society. All rights reserved.

Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship

By Brian Bruce


click to view full image

 

In June 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a spiteful letter to his editor Max Perkins about a novel called Samuel Drummond and its author, and Fitzgerald's friend, Thomas Boyd. Though much of the letter dealt with Fitzgerald's hatred of the type of novel that extolled the virtues of the American farmer, of which he presumed Samuel Drummond was an example, it also contained personal attacks on Boyd.

As you know, despite my admiration for Through the Wheat [Boyd's first novel], I haven't an enormous faith in Tom Boyd either as a personality or an artist-as I have, say, in Hemminway [sicl. His ignorance, his presumptuous intolerance, and his careless grossness, which he cultivates for vitality as a man might nurse along a dandelion with the hope that it would turn out to be an onion, have always annoyed me.... All this is preparatory to saying that his new book sounds utterly lousy.1

Fitzgerald then launched into what he called the "History of the Simple Inarticulate Farmer and His Hired Man Christy" (Christy was the name of the hired man in Samuel Drummond) in which he traced the lineage of novels like Boyd's from the works of Thomas Hardy and Emile Zola, to those of Sherwood Anderson and Willa Cather, and on to books that he felt were truly derivative such as Edna Ferber's So Big and Boyd's Samuel Drummond. When he had completed his "history," Fitzgerald returned to his assault on Boyd's character.

I can not disassociate a man from his work. That this [Glenwayl Westcott ... Tom Boyd and Burton Rascoe (whose real ambition is to lock themselves into a stinking little apartment and . . . each others' wives) are going to tell us mere superficial I craftsmen' like Hergeshiemer, Wharton, Tarkington, and me about the great beautiful appreciation they have of the great beautiful life of the manure widder–rather turns my stomach. The real people like Gertrude Stein ... and Conrad ...

 


Brian Bruce is a Social Studies teacher at Friendswood High School in Friendswood, Texas, and an Adjunct Professor of American History at San Jacinto College North in Houston, Texas.

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, c. I June 1925, in F Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York, 1994), 115-22.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 126

have a respect for people whose material may not touch theirs at a single point. But the fourth rate + highly derivative people like Tom are loud in their outcry against any subject matter that doesn't come out of the old, old bag which their betters have used and thrown away."2

That Fitzgerald, who, with the publication of The Great Gatsby, stood on the verge of literary immortality could become so incensed over a minor novel written by a friend raises several questions about Boyd, Fitzgerald, and their friendship. First, who was Thomas Boyd and how did he and Fitzgerald meet and become friends? Second, why did Fitzgerald become so angry with Boyd in 1925? And finally, what became of Thomas Boyd?

When Thomas Boyd was born in Defiance, Ohio, on July 3, 1898, his father, Thomas Boyd, Sr., had been dead for several months. His mother Alice, recently widowed and without means of support, had to move back to the home of her parents, Samuel and Martha Dunbar, to give birth to her son. Afterwards, she returned to Chicago determined to resume her career as a nurse so that she could provide her son with a first-class education.3 Thus for the first eleven years of his life Thomas Boyd lived away from his mother with his grandparents in Defiance where he absorbed the history of Western Ohio and the Dunbar family. Though his grandparents were never cruel to him, he knew that neither had much time for him and that his grandfather had serious doubts about his character.4 When he was eleven, his mother enrolled him in the Ohio Military Institute at College Hill, followed one year later by Porter Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina.5 In the eleven years spent away from her son, Alice Dunbar successfully reentered the nursing profession, but she also, as a result of a prescription for severe headache pain, became a morphine addict. Her addiction made it difficult for her to keep a job, and her erratic income effectively ended Tom's private education. He attended Woodward High School in Cincinnati for one year before being sent, at the

 

2. Ibid. Fitzgerald listed several noted authors of his day in this letter, some who remain well known and some who are less well known: Glenway Westcott, author of The Apple of' the Eye and Goodbye Wisconsin; Burton Rascoe, columnist and critic for the Chicago Tribune; Joseph Hergeshiemer, author of Cytherea and Balisand; Edith Wharton, author of Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1920; Booth Tarkington, author of Gentleman From Indiana and Gentle Julia; Gertrude Stein, author of Three Lives and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; Joseph Conrad, author of Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness.
3. Margaret Shane to Granville Hicks, 25 November 1941, Papers of Granville Hicks, Department of Special Collections, Syracuse University Libraries, Syracuse, New Yorkhereafter referred to as Hicks Papers.
4. Elizabeth Grace Boyd, untitled biography of Thomas Boyd (Senior Thesis, Vassar College, 1943), 17-18.
5. Alice Boyd to Granville Hicks, 29 November 1941, Hicks Papers.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 127

 

Boyd in high school in Elgin, Illinois. (Photo courtesy Mrs. Elizabeth Nash.)

age of fifteen, to Chicago to live with one of his maternal aunts and her husband. His stay in Chicago lasted only a few days. When his uncle, who ran the drugstore in which Tom worked, accused him of stealing money from the cash register, Tom set out on foot to find members of his father's family who lived fifty miles away in Elgin, Illinois. When he arrived in Elgin, tired and filthy, his aunt Eleanor Wilde welcomed him into her home. Mrs. Wilde and her daughter Marion, both graduates of Oberlin College, took it upon themselves to make sure that Tom got a good education. They enrolled him in the Elgin Academy, a local school, and conducted lessons in literature and writing at home. Under their tutelage Tom became a voracious reader and began to dream of becoming a writer.6

 

6. Elizabeth Boyd, 19-30.

Back to top


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 128

Boyd sent this photo home during his service in World War I. "This is no dress parade picture," he wrote his mother, "and please don't put it on exhibition." (Photo courtesy Mrs. Elizabeth Nash.)

Shortly after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, Boyd and a friend made the trip from Elgin to Chicago where they joined the United States Marine Corps.7 They were among the first recruits to fill the ranks of the newly formed Sixth Marine Regiment. After a few months of training in South Carolina and Virginia, they sailed for France where they joined the Fifth Marines as part of the Fourth Brigade of the Second Division of the American Expeditionary Force. As a member of the Fourth Brigade, Boyd saw action in many of the fiercest battles in which American soldiers participated including Belleau Wood, Soissons, St. Mihiel, and Mont Blanc.8 During the fighting at Belleau Wood, Boyd distinguished himself by rescuing wounded soldiers during a

 

7. Margaret Shane to Granville Hicks, Hicks Papers.
8. Lieutenant General William K. Jones, A Brief History of the 6th Marines (Washington D.C., 1987), 1-11.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 129

bombardment and received the Croix de Guerre. A gas attack at Mont Blanc in October 1918 ended Boyd's combat career, and he spent the rest of the war recuperating before briefly joining the army of occupation. Honorably discharged from the military in July 1919, Boyd returned to the United States with permanently diminished lung capacity and the experiences upon which he would base his first and best novel.9

After his return to the U.S., Boyd lived with his mother and grandparents in Defiance for a few months before moving to Chicago. There he met and fell in love with an independent-minded young woman named Margaret "Peggy" Smith. Peggy, Tom's third cousin on his mother's side, worked as a newspaper reporter and was an avowed socialist. While almost everything about Peggy impressed Tom, Peggy was, initially, much more taken with Tom's wavy blond hair and handsome face than his intellect. For a woman who claimed to value intelligence over appearance, this created something of a dilemma. She decided that if she were going to continue her relationship with Tom she would have to improve his mind and help him find a position in the world that she could respect. As a result, she became the guiding influence in Thomas Boyd's life. Her determination forced Boyd to take the steps necessary to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer.10

A few months after they began their courtship, Peggy moved to Minneapolis to be near her parents and invited Tom to follow her. They were engaged a short time after he relocated. Tom took a job selling clothes in a resale shop, but Peggy was not happy with his choice of employment. She knew that Tom would never earn enough working as a salesman for them to get married, so she tricked him into applying for a job with a local newspaper. She asked Tom to meet her for lunch in downtown Minneapolis and then literally pulled him into the offices of the editor of the Minneapolis Daily Star. Once inside, she introduced herself as a reporter for a major Chicago newspaper, introduced Tom as the star reporter for the same paper, and recommended that the editor hire him immediately. To Tom's surprise her ruse worked. The editor hired him, made him a police reporter, and agreed to pay him thirty dollars a week.

Though he doubted his ability to write, Boyd quickly learned the basics of being a reporter. After only a few weeks at the Star, and with encouragement from Peggy, he got a job with the more prestigious St. Paul Daily News. The increased income and prestige of his new position

 

9. The Board of Veterans Appeals, Boyd, Thomas A., XC-507,735, August 31, 1939, pg. 1-4. The Collection of Elizabeth B. Nash, Cocoa Beach, Florida-hereafter referred to as Nash Collection.
10. Elizabeth Boyd, 38-48.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 130

 

allowed Tom and Peggy to marry on October 20, 1920. Not long after Tom went to work for the News, Peggy suggested that he propose the creation of a "book page" to his editors which he, and she, would write and edit. When his editors agreed to give Peggy's idea a try, Boyd became one of the youngest literary editors in the United States. His literary supplement, "In a Corner With the Bookworm," first appeared in December of 1920 and remained a regular feature of the St. Paul Daily News until the Boyds left the United States in November of 1923. For the first ten months, Peggy, who had serious literary ambitions of her own, did most of the writing, with Tom occasionally contributing a review or a column. He did not complete a book page on his own until the birth of their first child, Elizabeth Grace, in November 1921 prevented Peggy from helping him. From that point on, Tom did the bulk of the writing. Boyd's status as an editor gave him access to the St. Paul literary scene, where he met local authors like Charles and Grace Flandrau, and a means of introducing himself to nationally recognized authors, such as Carl Sandburg, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who visited St. Paul in the 1920s.11

"In a Corner With the Bookworm" included local book news, gossip about popular authors, book reviews, and letters written by well-known writers in response to requests from Boyd. One of these requests prompted a response from F. Scott Fitzgerald which Boyd published in February of 1921. Fitzgerald's letter, which addressed the question of the quality of what Fitzgerald called "the young man's novel," offered St. Paul readers a glimpse into his confident, somewhat arrogant, mind.

This writing of a young man's novel consists chiefly in dumping all your youthful adventures in the reader's lap with a profound air of importance, keeping within the formulas of Wells and Joyce. It seems to me that when accomplished by a man without distinction of style it reaches the depths of banality.

In an unpublished postscript, Fitzgerald added that he was not sure why he had written the public letter for Boyd since his work had never received any favorable coverage in the St. Paul Daily News.12 In the years that followed, Thomas Boyd worked hard to rectify that situation. The public letter constituted the first contact between Boyd and Fitzgerald. It would be several months before they met face-to-face.

In the Summer of 1921, Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda moved to Minnesota, where they rented a home just north of St. Paul on White Bear

 

11. Ibid., 52-53. Margaret Shane to Granville Hicks, Hicks Papers.
12. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Thomas Boyd, 9 February 1921, F Scott Fitzgerald Additional Papers, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Libraries, Princeton, New Jersey-hereafter referred to as Fitzgerald Additional Papers.

Back to top


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 131

 

Lake and quickly moved into St. Paul's social and literary circles. 13 Boyd, who always attempted to interview any visiting literary dignitaries, and his friend Cornelius Van Ness, with whom he had opened a small St. Paul bookstore, made the trip to the suburbs to meet Fitzgerald.14 Boyd described the meeting briefly in an August 1921 column and then more fully in March of 1922 in a three-part article titled, "Literary Libels: Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald."

According to "Literary Libels," Fitzgerald's healthy and robust appearance surprised Boyd who, due to widely circulated rumors about Fitzgerald's drinking, had expected him to appear dissipated and sickly. In fact, Boyd claimed that Fitzgerald declined a drink from a bottle of gin he had brought with him. In "Literary Libels" and other articles, Boyd often attempted to dispel rumors about Fitzgerald's drunkenness and defend him against local criticism. The topics of conversation during that first interview ranged from Fitzgerald's work on the revision of The Beautiful and the Damned, to the quality of the serialization of that novel in the Metropolitan magazine, to the importance of H. L. Mencken, and the work of Carl Sandburg. When Boyd asked how Fitzgerald had decided to become a writer, he answered that he had been inspired by a novel by Hugh Walpole: "After reading about 100 pages I thought, 'if this fellow can get away with it as an author I can too.' "15 Cornelius Van Ness described the connection made during this first meeting as almost electric: "No atmosphere could have been more charged with vitality than when those two were together."16

That connection grew into a deeper friendship after the Fitzgeralds moved to an apartment near Summit Avenue in St. Paul. 17 Fitzgerald became a frequent visitor at Kilmarnock Books, the store run by Boyd and Van Ness, and coincidentally Peggy Boyd and Zelda Fitzgerald gave birth to baby girls in the same hospital, during the same week of November 192 1. To celebrate the births of their children, Fitzgerald threw a party in honor of both mothers. However, according to Boyd family legend, Zelda's jealousy of Peggy's quickly returning figure ruined the event. 18

Whatever tension may have existed between their wives, Boyd and Fitzgerald became even better friends, and each did his best to further the

 

13. Matthew J. Broccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F Scott Fitzgerald (New York, 1993), 176.
14. Elizabeth Boyd, 69-74.
15. Thomas Boyd, "Literary Libels: F. Scott Fitzgerald," the St. Paul Daily News, March 5, 12, 19, City Life Section, 6.
16. Cornelius Van Ness to Granville Hicks, 15 January 1942, Hicks Papers.
17. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, 179.
18. Elizabeth Boyd, 71.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 132

career of the other. Boyd quickly became one of Fitzgerald's most ardent supporters and boosters, using the book page to promote Fitzgerald's work. In February 1922, Fitzgerald wrote Perkins, informing him that his name had already appeared on Boyd's book page more than forty times and that Boyd had made extraordinary efforts, including the creation of a short film to be shown in St. Paul theaters, to advertise the release of The Beautijul and the Damned.19 Fitzgerald returned these kindnesses by introducing the Boyds to his editor, Max Perkins, and the publishing firm of Charles Scribner's Sons. For Peggy Boyd these introductions led directly to Scribner's acceptance of her first novel, The Love Legend, which was published under her pseudonym Woodward Boyd in 1922.20 Fitzgerald would play an even more active and important role in the publication of Thomas Boyd's first book.

In June 1922, Boyd traveled to New York City on business for the bookshop. While in the city he met with Perkins to help finalize the publication of Peggy's book and had lunch with Sinclair Lewis. Boyd had interviewed Lewis on one of the author's trips to Minnesota and considered him a friend. He discussed with both men his desire to write a novel based on his war experiences, and both were encouraging, Perkins even offering to read the manuscript for Scribner's.

Boyd returned to St. Paul determined to write a novel.21 He closeted himself away, writing in the back room of the bookstore, sometimes all night, and taking his typewriter with him wherever he went. In six weeks he produced the manuscript for Through the Wheat. He sent it to Lewis's publisher, Harcourt Brace, where editor Harrison Smith rejected it on the grounds that Three Soldiers by John Dos Passos had made any future fictional treatment of the First World War unnecessary.22 He then sent the novel to Scribner's where, despite the fact that Perkins admired the novel, it was turned down because of doubts about the market for books about the war.23 Dejected and angry, Boyd mailed the manuscript to Fitzgerald for his opinion.

Fitzgerald did more than just read the novel-he took it back to Scribner's personally and pled its case. In the end, he convinced Perkins

 

19. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, c. 10 February 1922, in Dear Scott /Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence, ed. John Keuhl and Jackson R. Breyer (New York, 1971), 55-56.
20. Margaret Shane to Granville Hicks, Hicks Papers.
21. Ibid. Thomas Boyd to Peggy Boyd, c. June 1922, Nash Collection.
22. Elizabeth Boyd, 99-90.
23. Maxwell Perkins to Thomas Boyd, 4 October 1922, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Libraries, Princeton, New Jersey-hereafter referred to as Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 133

and Charles Scribner, Jr., to accept Through the Wheat for publication.24 In a letter of thanks written shortly after he received news of Scribner's decision to publish Through the Wheat, Boyd made clear exactly how important Fitzgerald had been to the novel's acceptance.

I feel quite aware that it is only through you and your inexhaustible exuberance that Scribner's took the book. I hope for all your sakes that it exhausts one edition. Strange, but I doubted that you would like it, why, I don't know. And when I sent it I did not believe that you intended to do anything with it only read it!25

By pressing Scribner's into publishing Through the Wheat, Fitzgerald had made it possible for Boyd to have the career he had dreamed of since boyhood and more than repaid Boyd for his loyalty and support.

It might seem extraordinary that Fitzgerald, still riding the success of his early work, would go to such lengths for a Midwestern editor whom he had known for a little more than a year. But, Boyd had characteristics, as did Fitzgerald, that not only explain Fitzgerald's actions but make it clear that his friendship with Boyd and support for Through the Wheat were perfectly in keeping with his personality. First, Fitzgerald admired Boyd. Well into adulthood, Fitzgerald listed his failure to lead men in combat during the First World War as one of his deepest regrets.26 Boyd's extensive combat experience and record for bravery must have impressed Fitzgerald. Second, Boyd's obvious desire to learn about writing from Fitzgerald probably flattered him.27 Boyd's loyal defense of Fitzgerald's reputation and his efforts to promote The Beautiful and the Damned could only have deepened Fitzgerald's affection. These factors, combined with the relatively limited literary scene in St. Paul which brought the two men together, easily explain Fitzgerald's friendship with Boyd. Simply put, Fitzgerald liked and admired Boyd. However, he did not consider Boyd his artistic equal. The tone of Fitzgerald's advice to Boyd in latter letters and his indignation at Tom's decision to write a book like Samuel Drummond indicate that Fitzgerald viewed their relationship as that of a teacher and a student.28

Fitzgerald's efforts on behalf of Through the Wheat were even more understandable. He loved to play the part of talent scout for Scribner's and

 

24. Margaret Shane to Granville Hicks, Hicks Papers.
25. Thomas Boyd to F. Scott Fitzgerald, c. December 1922, Fitzgerald Additional Papers.
26. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, 106. Fitzgerald received a commission as a Second Lieutenant and served in the Sixty-seventh Infantry as a supply officer. He never saw combat. His unit was preparing to take ship for France when the war ended.
27. Cornelius Van Ness to Granville Hicks, Hicks Papers.
28. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, c. 20 June 1922, in Bruccoli; Fitzgerald: A Life In Letters, 60.

Back to top


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 134

often sent manuscripts or referred authors to them that he felt worthy. Peggy and Tom Boyd were only two writers on a list of authors that included Ring Lardner and Ernest Hemingway whom Fitzgerald introduced to his publisher or attempted to persuade Scribner's to pursue.29 Most importantly, Fitzgerald believed that Through the Wheat was a good book that deserved publication. Even after his break with Boyd in 1925, he continued to list it as one of the best books published after the war.30 When Fitzgerald believed in a book or an author he spared no effort to help them succeed. His efforts to woo Hemingway to Scribner's and his belief in Hemingway's writing were in many ways foreshadowed by his support for Boyd and Through the Wheat.

Scribner's published Through the Wheat in April of 1923. Critics hailed it as one of the best books written about the American experience in World War 1. John W. Crawford writing for The Nation called it "a remarkable first novel," and the reviewer for The New York Times wrote: "After the tornado of war books has swept by, books heroic and bitter, full of praise and blame, and after the black clouds have blown away, it has remained for Thomas Boyd to write the least partisan and the most brilliant of the doughboy reminiscences."31 The book was also a popular success, exhausting seven printings in one year. The critical and public response to his first novel exceeded all of Boyd's expectations and made him one of America's most promising young writers.

The novel in its final form and its favorable critical reception were primarily the product of Boyd's conception and writing and Perkins's editing and extensive pre-publication efforts to secure sympathetic reviews from important critics. However, Fitzgerald also had a hand in the revision and promotion of Through the Wheat. Before returning the manuscript to Boyd in January of 1923, he wrote a long letter detailing small changes he would make in the novel that he felt would not only make it better but also ease its critical reception.32 Just before the book hit the shelves in April, Fitzgerald sent promotional copies to influential critics and literary people. One of these copies went to H. L. Mencken. Inside it Fitzgerald wrote: "This strikes me as something extraordinarily good. I got an enormous kick out of it. It's by Boyd of St. Paul who is

 

29. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, 178. F. Scott Fitzgerald, to Maxwell Perkins, c. 15 March 1926, in Bruccoli; Fitzgerald: A Life In Letters, 140.
30. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, 28 July 1925, in Bruccoli; Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, 124.
31. John W. Crawford, "A Malicious Panorama," review of Through the Wheat by Thomas Boyd, the Nation, 117 (May, 1923), 66; "Latest Works of Fiction," review of Through the Wheat by Thomas Boyd, the New York Times Book Review, 29 April 1923, 14.
32. F. Scott Fitzgerald, to Thomas Boyd, c. December 1922 and c. June 1925, Fitzgerald Additional Papers.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 135

keeping literature alive west of the Mississippi,"33 In addition to his attempts to get Through the Wheat reviewed by others, Fitzgerald gave it a very favorable review in the Literary Review: "To my mind, this is not only the best combatant story of the Great War, but also the best war book since 'The Red Badge of Courage'."34 Having secured its publication, Fitzgerald did his part to help Through the Wheat succeed.

Thomas Boyd was a success.35 He had some money, influential friends, and the career he had always wanted. Like many American writers of the twenties, he went to Paris, but was unimpressed with the Parisians and the American expatriot community in Paris. He described both rather unflatteringly in a letter to Perkins.

Paris is lovely except for the queer places–Montmarte and Montparnasse the two places for poseurs-at the latter Americans pay 8 francs for a I franc drink and hear 'Yes We Have No Bananas' (Jazz orchestra), see still life pictures on the walls, and get elbowed by ugly perspiring women because they hope to escape the course of the bourgeoisie in that way.36

The Boyds stayed in Paris for one week before relocating to Hyeres on the French Riviera where Tom settled down to work.

Two writing projects dominated Boyd's work during his stay in France. Before leaving St. Paul for France in November 1923, he had begun work on another novel. Based on a young man's nineteenth century diary unearthed by Van Ness, Boyd's second book told the story of a boy who travels across the pre-Civil War Midwest. He completed the manuscript early in 1924 and Scribner's published it the same year under the title The Dark Cloud.37 Boyd also spent a great deal of his time in France working on short stories about the war, six of which appeared in Scribners magazine in 1924 and 1925.38 They along with one story published in the American Mercury, a nonfiction piece published in the Bookman, and three previously unpublished stories were collectively published by Scribner's in Points of Honor which went to bookstores in 1925. Though the collection was well received by critics, neither it nor The Dark Cloud

 

33. F. Scott Fitzgerald to H. L. Mencken, 18 May 1923, in The Correspondence of F Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York, 1980), 132.
34. F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Under Fire," review of Through the Wheat by Thomas Boyd, the Literary Review: New York Evening Post, 26 May 1923, 715.
35. Maxwell Perkins to Thomas Boyd, 13 August 1923, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.
36. Thomas Boyd to Maxwell Perkins, 22 November 1923, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.
37. Thomas Boyd to Maxwell Perkins, 4 January 1924, and Maxwell Perkins to Thomas Boyd, 21 February 1924, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.
38. Thomas Boyd to Maxwell Perkins, 15 December 1923, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 136

matched the success of Through the Wheat.39 In addition to professional disappointments, 1924 was also a year of personal tragedy for Tom and Peggy Boyd. Complications arising from an unexpected pregnancy forced the Boyds to return to St. Paul so that Peggy could be near doctors she knew and trusted. Despite their precautions, however, the baby died shortly after being born in July of 1924.40 Tom, who never managed his money well, took a job reviewing books for the Minneapolis Tribune, but counted heavily on what he hoped would be substantial royalties from his next novel, Samuel Drummond.41

Geography and Boyd's growing confidence in his own abilities separated him from Fitzgerald and afforded Scott few opportunities to offer advice. Limited to the role of a supporter, Fitzgerald did his best to remain an active influence in Boyd's career. Of The Dark Cloud, he wrote Boyd, "I like the book enormously. First I'll say that. Not quite as much as the first because the style bothered me. It's not as simple as the first . . . ."42 He liked Points of Honor much more and considered it and Through the Wheat to be some of the best fiction published since the war.43 Fitzgerald's enthusiasm for Points of Honor was indicative of his belief that Boyd should stick to war as a subject for his work. However, Fitzgerald's influence with Boyd had diminished and his realization that his protégé had become independent of him may have contributed to the break with Boyd.

On August 21, 1925, Scribner's published Samuel Drummond. The novel told the life story of a young Ohio farmer, Samuel Drummond, his wife Martha, and a hired man named Christy. In the course of the story, Drummond loses the farm he has hacked from the Ohio wilderness due to high interest loans and a lack of sons to help him work it. Few reviewers found much in Drummond to praise or fault, but something about the book angered F. Scott Fitzgerald so much that he effectively ended his friendship with Boyd.

The source of Fitzgerald's rage, which he vented in the June 1925 letter to Max Perkins (Fitzgerald had either received an advance copy of Samuel Drummond or had been informed of the details of the novel by Boyd or

 

39. "Episodes of War," review of Points of Honor by Thomas Boyd, the New York Times Book Review, 22 March 1925, 9,14. Review of Points of Honor by Thomas Boyd, the Nation, 12 August 1925, 194.
40. Elizabeth Boyd, 105-07. Thomas Boyd to Maxwell Perkins, 2 July 1924, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.
4 1. Thomas Boyd to Maxwell Perkins, 25 April and 25 August 1924, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.
42. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Thomas Boyd, late 1924, in Bruccoli; The Correspondence of F Scott Fitzgerald, 148.
43. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Thomas Boyd, c. I June 1925, Fitzgerald Additional Papers.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 137

Perkins), were two almost simultaneous acts which he viewed as disloyalty by Boyd. The first was Samuel Drummond itself. Fitzgerald loathed books that sought to educate the reader about the nobility of farmers and others who lived off the land, and he assumed that Drummond was such a book. His "history" of these novels, detailed in the letter to Perkins, attempted to prove that they were irrelevant and their authors hacks. The writers of these books irked Fitzgerald so much that he wrote a satire of them in one of his notebooks published posthumously in The Crack-Up.

The Barnyard Boys or Fun on the Soil:

George Barnyard
Thomas Barnyard
Glenway Barnyard
Lladislas Barnyard, their uncle
Knut Barnyard, their father
Burton Smalltown, the hired man
Chambers, a city dude
Ruth Kitchen
Martha Kitchen
Willa Kitchen, their mother
Little Edna, an orphan
Margaret Kitchen

'How Hamsun you are looking!' cried the fan

Chambers dressed 1903

It was winter, summer, spring, anything you like, and the Barnyard boys were merrily at work getting together epics of the American Soil in time for the next publishing season. All day long they dug around in the Hardy fields, taking what would come in handy the next winter .... 44

Many of the names–Glenway Barnyard [Westcott], Burton Smalltown [Rascoe], Thomas Barnyard [Boyd], Little Edna [Ferber], etc.–referred to in the farce also appeared in the "history" Fitzgerald wrote for Perkins in the letter of June 1925. By placing Boyd's name among a list of authors for whom he had little respect, Fitzgerald revealed the depth of his disillusionment with Boyd. He had interpreted Boyd's decision to write a book such as Samuel Drummond as constituting an alliance with those whom Fitzgerald considered literary enemies and thus a betrayal of his friendship.

 

44. Edmund Wilson ed., F Scott Fitzgerald: The Crack-Up, (New York; 1945,1993), 189-90.

Back to top


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 138

Fitzgerald also referred to Boyd's arrogance and presumptuousness in his letter to Perkins. Despite his support for Through the Wheat and Points of Honor and his real friendship with Boyd, Fitzgerald never considered him his equal as a writer. As long as Boyd praised his work and supported his career, Fitzgerald was willing, even in the case of a book he did not care for such as The Dark Cloud, to support Tom and sugarcoat his criticism. However, Fitzgerald would not tolerate a reversal of their roles.

Boyd's second act of betrayal in 1925 was what Fitzgerald must have considered just such an attempt to invert their relationship. Boyd did not like The Great Gatsby and he made the mistake of letting Fitzgerald know it. At the end of a letter to Boyd, written around the same time as his angry letter to Perkins, Fitzgerald wrote, "Sorry you didn't like Gatsby . . . I think you're wrong but time will tell." Though his letter to Boyd did contain a warning about the difficulties of making a book like Samuel Drummond original, Fitzgerald gave no hints as to the depths of his anger.45 It was one of the last direct communications between Boyd and Fitzgerald. Their friendship had come to an end.

In spite of his break with Boyd, Fitzgerald continued to praise Through the Wheat and Points of Honor and kept tabs on Boyd's career. He even attempted to influence him through Perkins.

How about Tom Boyd? Is he still going to be one of the barnyard boys? Or has he got sense and decided to write about the war, or seducing married women in St. Paul. . . . or something he knows about. He has no touch of genius like Hemminway [sic] and Cummings, but he has a strong valuable talent. He must write about the external world, as vividly and acutely and even brilliantly as he can, but let him stop there. . . . For heaven's sake Max, curb your usual (and generally sagacious) open-mindedness and don't help him to ruin his future by encouraging his stupidest ambitions. He'll turn bitter with failure.46

Some of the remarks in this letter proved to be quite prescient. Boyd's violation of the terms of their relationship may have prevented Fitzgerald from continuing on as Boyd's advisor, but he still cared about him and wanted him to succeed.47 If he was arrogant about his talent in comparison to others, rigid in the categories to which he assigned his friends, and quick to spot traitors among those around him, Fitzgerald apparently never forgot a friend and never compromised his opinions about the quality of others' work.

 

45. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Thomas Boyd, c. I June 1925, Fitzgerald Additional Papers.
46. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, 20 February 1926, in Bruccoli; Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, 137.
47. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, 21 January 1930, in Broccoli; Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, 174.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 139

Had Fitzgerald bothered to ask Boyd why he had written a novel about the tribulations of an Ohio farmer, he would have learned that Boyd wrote it not to make a literary statement, but to honor his grandfather. The plot of Samuel Drummond was the slightly fictionalized, somewhat idealized, story of Boyd's grandfather, Samuel Dunbar. That it appeared to be derivative of Thomas Hardy, or Knut Hamsun, was an accident of Dunbar family history. Though Boyd was motivated to write Samuel Drummond solely by family pride, his novel did herald a new focus for his work. From 1925 on Boyd concentrated on writing about Ohio subjects.

Between 1925 and 1933, Boyd wrote three more books for Scribner's: one historical novel, Shadow of the Long Knives (1927) and two biographies, Mad Anthony Wayne (1929) and Light-Horse Harry Lee (1932). He also completed a biography of Ohio renegade Simon Girty, Simon Girty. White Savage (1927), for Minton & Balch. All but the Lee biography dealt with eighteenth and nineteenth century Ohio history. Some were successful. Shadow of the Long Knives and the Wayne biography sold well, earning a good return and some favorable critical notices.48 Much of Boyd's short fiction also dealt with Ohio subjects. His grandfather's struggles with a rapidly modernizing Ohio formed the basis for several stories published by Scribner's magazine, and Boyd also published a story about the Ohio frontier in the North American Review. But, he did not limit his short fiction to Ohio subjects. He wrote and published stories on topics such as the breakup of marriages, the problems of obtaining a quick divorce in Reno, Nevada, and even life in a Washington lumber camp. His work appeared in publications as diverse as Forum, the Ladies Home Journal, Colliers, and the Atlantic Monthly.

Boyd had some luck with motion pictures as well. In 1929, "The Long Shot," one of the stories from Points of Honor, was turned into a screenplay and filmed by Sono-Arts under the title "Blaze 0' Glory."49 Despite his ability to get his work published and Hollywood's interest in one of his stories, Boyd experienced serious financial difficulties throughout the 1920s. His money problems forced him to write pulp fiction for magazines like the Popular Magazine, and he even resorted to

 

48. "The Colonial Frontier in a New Novel by Thomas Boyd," review of Shadow of the Long Knives by Thomas Boyd, the New York Times Book Review, 10 June 1928, 8; Maxwell Perkins to Thomas Boyd, Ridgefield, 28 November 1927, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons; Review of Mad Anthony Wayne by Thomas Boyd, the Bookman, 70 (January, 1930), 564-65; Maxwell Perkins to Thomas Boyd, 18 November 1929, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.
49. Munden, Kenneth W. ed., The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films 1921-1930, (New York, 1971), 66.

Back to top


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 140

Peggy and Thomas Boyd on vacation in 1924.
(Photo courtesy Mrs. Elizabeth Nash.)

ghostwriting a few books to earn extra money.50

After their return from France in 1924, Tom and Peggy Boyd lived fairly itinerant lives. They moved from St. Paul to Jewell, Ohio, while Tom completed work on Samuel Drummond. When he got a job working for the Atlanta Georgian, they moved to Atlanta.51 After half a year in Atlanta, they moved to New England where they bought a house in Ridgefield, Connecticut, in 1927.52 In Ridgefield, Tom met and began an affair with a married neighbor named Ruth Fitch Bartlett. When Peggy learned of their relationship (not the first extramarital affair in which Tom had been involved), she demanded a divorce.53 Tom and Ruth moved to Reno, Nevada, where they lived separately for six months until their

 

50. Margaret Shane to Granville Hicks, Hicks Papers.
51. Ibid.; Thomas Boyd to Maxwell Perkins, c. 22 December 1925, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.
52. Maxwell Perkins to F Scott Fitzgerald, 4 November 1926, in Keuhl and Breyer;
Dear Scott I Dear Max, 143-44.
53. Elizabeth Nash to Brian Bruce, 4 April 1996, The Author's Personal Collection.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 141

divorces were finalized. They married shortly afterward in December of 1929 and moved to Hollywood in 1931 where Tom tried to build a career as a screenwriter.54 After more than a year in Hollywood, during which Tom did not earn a single film credit, they moved to South Woodstock, Vermont, where they purchased a nineteenth-century farmhouse.55

The Great Depression damaged the market for all books in 1932, including Thomas Boyd's biography of Light-Horse Harry Lee, which sold very poorly and failed even to earn back the advance he had been given by Scribner's.56 The drop in demand for books made Perkins and Scribner's increasingly reluctant to accept Boyd's suggestions for future books. When he refused to write a historical novel, as Perkins suggested, and instead insisted on writing a biography of steamboat inventor John Fitch and a follow-up to the story of the hero of Through the Wheat, his professional relationship with Perkins and Scribner's came to an end.57 Just as Fitzgerald had predicted, Boyd's failures made him bitter. In his last letter to Max Perkins he expressed his anger at the American bookbuying public and the capitalist system.

But no matter what happens, whether I get published again or not, whether capitalism temporarily jerks out of this crisis or not, I'll never write again without a definite purpose and point of view. And that point of view must always be unpopular to people who can afford to buy books under present conditions. I never wanted much from the old set up, but I was denied what little I did want. I'm glad that so far as I'm concerned its gone, for I feel that at last I'm going forward, not retreating as I tried so long and so unsuccessfully to do.58

From 1934 on, Boyd's point of view was an increasingly Marxist one. He devoted the last years of his life to the advancement of Marxist ideas and the Communist Party.

In 1934, Boyd formally joined a Communist Party cell that had formed near his home in Vermont. It was an election year and the ambitious Vermont Communists wanted to place a candidate on the upcoming gubernatorial ballot. They chose Boyd, who then spent most of the late summer and early autumn of that year traveling the state gathering the signatures necessary to get his name on the ballot and making speeches.

 

54. George B. Thatcher and William Woodburn to Peggy Boyd, 12 November 1929, Nash Collection; Thomas Boyd to Ruth Fitch Boyd, 20 March 193 1, Collection of Ruth Fitch Mason, Vassar College Libraries, Poughkepsie, New York.
55. Mary Grace Canfield, The Valley of the Kedron (South Woodstock, Vermont, 1940), 94.
56. Maxwell Perkins to Thomas Boyd, 30 April and 30 September 1931, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.
57. Maxwell Perkins to Thomas Boyd, 17 May 1934, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.
58. Thomas Boyd to Maxwell Perkins, c. 30 August 1934, Archives of Charles Scribner's Sons.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 142

His effectiveness as a public speaker varied according to his audience. His most effective speeches were delivered to predominantly blue-collar audiences.59 Though on election day he received fewer than 1,000 votes, he had succeeded in getting his name on the ballot, making him the first Communist candidate for governor in Vermont history.60

Nineteen thirty-five seemed like it would be a good year for Boyd. Minton Balch Putnam had agreed to publish two of his books: the largely autobiographical sequel to Through the Wheat called In Time of Peace and his biography of John Fitch. Both were highly critical of capitalism and contained passages and imagery that were almost pure propaganda. Unfortunately, Boyd did not live to see either of them published. While staying in the home of his ex-wife in Ridgefield, Connecticut, where he was closer to his New York publisher and where he could spend some time with his daughter, while Peggy and her new husband were in California, Tom suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died.61 Putnam published In Time of Peace and Poor John Fitch: Inventor of the Steamboat posthumously, neither of which did anything to enhance Boyd's literary reputation, and he quickly faded into the outer reaches of American literary history.

If F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of the first to recognize Thomas Boyd's value as an author and the quality of Through the Wheat, he was not the last. In 1978, the University of Southern Illinois Press published Through the Wheat as a part of its "Lost American Fiction" series. James Dickey wrote the afterward to that edition, and he echoed much of the praise that Fitzgerald and other contemporary critics had originally heaped on the novel:

There is no battle scene in Tolstoy's War and Peace, no conflict in Stendahl's account of Waterloo, to equal the drama and terror of Boyd's account of Private Hicks' advance through the wheat. It is one of those miracles of fiction that this book should exist at all: that such a sensibility as Boyd's should have emerged to write-to be willing to write–a book, and that the book should be of this caliber. Crane's The Red Badge of Courage is a fine novel dealing with warfare, but from the standpoint of the sense of participation in a crisis situation, the identification with the participants in the horrifying experience of modern warfare, Crane's novel pales into insignificance beside the hot, sweaty involvement of the reader with Boyd's protagonist.62

 

59. Granville Hicks, to Elizabeth Boyd, 13 March 1943, Hicks Papers.
60. General Election Results: Vermont Legislative Directory Biennial Session 1935 (Montpelier, 1935), 287.
61. Elizabeth Nash to Brian Bruce, The Author's Personal Collection.
62. James Dickey, afterword to Through the Wheat by Thomas Boyd (Carbondale and Evansville, Illinois, 1978), 270.


Thomas Boyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Literary Friendship
Page 143

Unfortunately for Thomas Boyd the revival of interest in his career and work did not last. His other books remained out of print and his name and work were relegated to the footnotes and bibliographies of books about Fitzgerald, Perkins, or American war fiction. Being a friend of Fitzgerald helped him launch his career as an author, but it could not secure for him a place in American literary history.

 

Back to top