Amanda Vaill

Everybody Was So Young, Amanda VaillAmanda Vaill
Everybody Was So Young

When Scott Fitzgerald defined personality as “an unbroken series of successful gestures,” he might have been referring to Gerald and Sara Murphy, the subjects of this compulsively readable biography.

The Murphys stood at the center of Lost Generation artistic life from the 1920s onward; their intimate “dinner—flowers—gala” evenings often included Archibald and Ada MacLeish, Cole and Linda Porter, John and Katy Dos Passos, and—improbably—Dorothy Parker, shown here in a photo taken “on the Goddamn Alp.”

Sara emerges as the more magnetic of the pair, radiating a genuine warmth that drew countless friends and admirers. Hemingway and Fitzgerald were each a bit in love with her, though Sara later downplayed it, saying, “[Scott would] always try to kiss you in taxis,” much as she said, “Scott was always throwing ripe figs at people.”

Gerald masterminded the couple’s myriad excursions, notably a treasure hunt staged for their three children. Honoria, Baoth, and Patrick dug up a “pirate” map in the garden, and the whole family set sail for a nearby island where they camped under the stars, eventually unearthing a rusty chest full of costume jewelry—an unforgettable thrill for the younger Murphys.

Amanda Vaill demonstrates a rare instinct for the telling detail. Gerald memorized poems by taping them to his mirror and reading them aloud while he shaved. Sara, on learning that an overzealous suitor had bitten Honoria, observed wistfully, “No one ever bit me, even in my heyday.”

The book’s title comes from a remark Sara made to neighbor Calvin Tomkins: “It wasn’t the parties that made it such a gay time. There was such affection between everybody. You loved your friends and wanted to see them every day . . . It was like a great fair, and everybody was so young.”

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