What: Obscure today, John Peale Bishop ’17 once shone in a literary triumvirate with classmate F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edmund Wilson ’16. Poetry was his career, but art and bird-watching were lifelong hobbies, as these colorful 1936 watercolors attest.
As a sickly youth in West Virginia, Bishop dreamed of becoming a painter and idolized the bird artist John James Audubon. Soon he was writing nature verse. At Princeton he awed peers with his poet-like hauteur. Inspired by Bishop to take himself seriously as a writer, Fitzgerald wove his friend into This Side of Paradise as the aesthetic highbrow Tom D’Invilliers.
Years spent living in France with his heiress-wife isolated the aloof Bishop, and his career sputtered. During the Depression he moved to Cape Cod, building an oceanfront mansion, Sea Change, and spending hours bird-watching in the salt marshes.
Shocked by the death of Fitzgerald in 1940, a melancholy Bishop returned to writing verse, as his own health failed. He died in 1944 at 51. Sea Change is now an upscale hostelry with a name that plays on the Fitzgerald connection: Our Great Gatsby.
Where: John Peale Bishop Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library