Ginevra King was an American socialite, and debutante and was the inspirational muse for several characters in the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
She was born in Chicago in 1898, the daughter of Ginevra and Charles Garfield King. (She, as with her mother and grandmother, was named after Leonardo da Vinci's painting Ginevra de' Benci.
Charles G. King was a wealthy Chicago businessman and financier. She was the eldest of three sisters and grew up amidst the Chicago social scene, even being a member of the elite "Big Four" Chicago debutantes during World War I. She attended the Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut.
Ginevra first met Fitzgerald on January 4, 1915, while visiting her roommate from Westover, Marie Hersey, in St. Paul, Minnesota. They met at a sledding party and, according to letters and diary entries, they both became infatuated. They sent letters back and forth for months, and their passionate romance continued until January 1917. In August 1916, Fitzgerald first wrote down the words, thought to have been said to him by Charles King, that would later recur in the movie adaption of The Great Gatsby: "Poor boys shouldn't think of marrying rich girls."
On July 15, 1918, King wrote to Fitzgerald, telling of her engagement to William Mitchell, the son of her father's business associate. They married later that year and had three children. Then in 1937, she left Mitchell for businessman John T. Pirie (of the Chicago department store Carson Pirie Scott & Company). That year she also met Fitzgerald for the last time in Hollywood; when she asked which character was based on her in The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald replied, "Which bitch do you think you are?"
King later founded the Ladies Guild of the American Cancer Society. She died in 1980 at the age of 82. King is thought to have exerted a great influence on Fitzgerald's writing, perhaps as much as his relationship with his wife, Zelda. His work abounds with characters modeled on King. These characters include:
Judy Jones in "Winter Dreams"
Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise
Most notably, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald also recreated their meeting in "Babes in the Woods," from the collection Bernice Bobs Her Hair and Other Stories; this was reused in This Side of Paradise.
Love Notes Drenched In Moonlight; Hints of Future Novels In Letters to Fitzgerald
By DINITIA SMITH
She was in nearly every girl F. Scott Fitzgerald ever saw in moonlight: rich, beautiful, forever unattainable. She was Isabelle in ''This Side of Paradise,'' ''under moonlight and pale starlight,'' and Daisy Buchanan in ''The Great Gatsby,'' humming a melody on the steps of Gatsby's mansion, ''sweetly, following it.''
''Each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air.''
Her name was Ginevra King, and she was a celebrated Chicago debutante whom Fitzgerald met in 1915 when she was a 16-year-old at the Westover School and he was a 19-year-old at Princeton. They were smitten. Ginevra wrote about him in her diary, and for two years they corresponded. When they broke up, Fitzgerald asked her to destroy his letters, and she did. But he kept hers and had them typed up and bound with the title ''Personal Letters: Property of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Not Manuscript.)'' Fitzgerald died in 1940, and some 10 years later his daughter, Scottie, returned them to Ginevra.
Ginevra died in 1980 at 82, but the letters remained in her family. Now her daughter and granddaughters have donated them, along with Ginevra's diary and an unpublished short story written by her, to Princeton, the repository of Fitzgerald's papers.
''Ginevra is arguably the most important romance Fitzgerald ever experienced, more than Zelda,'' his wife, said James L. W. West III, a professor of English at Penn State University and editor of the ongoing edition of Fitzgerald's works published by Cambridge University Press. ''He lost her, but his ideal of her remained throughout his life.''
Ginevra's diary has never been seen by scholars, except Professor West, an expert on Fitzgerald, who is preparing an essay on the Princeton donation. ''There, she lets her emotions show,'' he said. ''She says she loves Scott. In her letters she was more guarded.''
He added: ''The letters help us understand the fictional process by which he transferred this ideal creature into an interesting literary character. He gave her some edge and some flaws.''
Fitzgerald's early biographers, Arthur Mizener and Andrew Turnbull, saw the letters, though they barely mention them. For nearly 40 years they have been unavailable to scholars. ''We can now examine the letters more carefully,'' Professor West said, ''and we can trace details from them that Fitzgerald adapted for his stories and novels.''
The papers provide a window into the world of the wealthy elite of pre-World War I America, a world of unlimited privilege and a strange innocence, of moonlit mansions, dances, football weekends. Through it, Ginevra moved like a blithe spirit, carefree and cosseted. In many ways her writings are typical teenage musings, but in them can be heard the voices of Daisy Buchanan, Isabelle and other of Fitzgerald's female characters: breathy, coy, wistful.
Ginevra was born in Chicago in 1898, daughter of Charles Garfield King, a wealthy stockbroker, and his wife, also named Ginevra. The younger Ginevra -- dark-haired, petite, with large eyes -- was the third daughter in five generations named after Leonardo's painting ''Ginevra de' Benci.''
Fitzgerald met her at a sledding party over Christmas break in his hometown, St. Paul, where she was visiting her Westover roommate. He was one of St. Paul's most eligible bachelors, though his family was of modest means. His father had lost his furniture business, and the Fitzgeralds were supported by his mother's family. But he lived among the rich on Summit Avenue, attending their parties, part of their world yet always outside it.
''Scott perfectly darling,'' Ginevra wrote in her diary on Jan. 4, 1915, after meeting him. ''Am absolutely gone on Scott!'' she wrote the next day. And the following month, ''I am madly in love with him.''
Her letters are filled with underlinings, exclamations, misspellings and fanciful punctuation. In her first letter, on Jan. 11, 1915, she asks for his photograph: ''I have but a faint recollection of yellow hair and big blue eyes and a brown corduroy waist-coat that was very good-looking!'' She signs it ''Yours Fickely sometimes but Devotedly at present -- Ginevra,'' setting the tone for their relationship in which she alternately beckoned him to her and pushed him away. ''I know I am a flirt and I can't stop it,'' she tells him in another letter.
Fitzgerald habitually saved letters and sometimes used material in them for his writing. It appears from her responses that Fitzgerald constantly begged her to reveal her inmost thoughts and details of her past.
''He used to irritate people -- Sara Murphy, Hemingway, with his insistent questions,'' Professor West said. ''We see it here when he was only just a teenager, the incipient writer.''
Fitzgerald's interest sometimes seems voyeuristic. Ginevra writes, ''You ask 'Describe your last affair.' I'm inclined to say -- 'None of yoyr affair' but thats too snitty!! The last one was -- let me see I dont know -- the last real one was last summer and then it wasn't horribly heavy.''
At another point it seems that she and Fitzgerald have planned, perhaps not seriously, to elope. ''Don't forget our plan of elopement -- That mustn't fall through.''
She dreams of him: ''Last night I dreamt you were calling on me, but it went off all right. Only you had purple hair, and would insist upon strutting around and tapping on all the walls.''
Fitzgerald it seems doesn't trust her: ''Why wont you believe what I said about your standing first,'' she writes. ''I cant tell you any better or any more truthfully.''