As the transcript of the author's 9 October 2009 keynote at the 10th International F. Scott Fitzgerald Society Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, this essay examines Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's relationship to “Nickel City,” a site that between 1932 and 1935 found the pair struggling with some of the darkest years of their marriage, with mental illness, and with their artistic competitiveness over their lives together. This period witnessed the completion of Tender Is the Night after a nine-year struggle as well as of the final book Fitzgerald published in his lifetime, the short story collection Taps at Reveille. It is also the timeframe in which Zelda published her only novel, Save Me the Waltz. That the Baltimore years marked the couple's last effort to establish a home together—first in a house known as La Paix on a family estate owned by future biographer Andrew Turnbull, then at 1307 Park Avenue in Bolton Hill, not far from a monument to Fitzgerald's ancestor and namesake Francis Scott Key—is oddly poignant given the city's reputation as “nickel city,” a nickname reputedly given to it for its supposed cheapness compared to Washington, DC Fitzgerald himself was the gilded man who attempted to cover up his own sense of diminished value in the 1930s. As such he identified with Baltimore. As he told one interviewer, “I belong here, where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite.”

Ed. note: This is the first in a series in which we will publish conference keynotes for the sake of the historical record. The editors thank Madison Smartt Bell for the opportunity to publish his remarks from that memorable occasion.

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