Fitzgerald is one of the most widely recognized names in American literature, yet the legend he so carefully cultivated has, paradoxically, tended to obscure the writer as well as his work. Fitzgerald was a major novelist, but at least a dozen of his stories rank among the very best short fiction written in the twentieth century. Fitzgerald 's whole life was bound up with his short stories; indeed, the story of his life cannot be told without them. Only through an acquaintance with his career as a short-fiction writer can the complex man who now occupies a major position in the literary and mythic life of the nation be understood.
Perhaps no other American writer has felt himself as inextricably tied to the history of his country as F. Scott Fitzgerald . Born in 1896, at the end of an era of unprecedented national growth, he lived to see the traditions that had guided his parents' generation and his own childhood cast aside; indeed, he was said by his contemporaries to have precipitated the upheaval in manners and morals that accompanied the end of World War I. Never as "lost" as the members of his generation described in Paris by Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald nevertheless experienced and even personified the "boom" of the 1920s and the "bust" of the 1930s. America had sloughed off its past and headed for, as Fitzgerald said, the "greatest, gaudiest spree in history"; when it was over, he realized that the nation had been living on borrowed time, "a short and precious time--for when the mist rises ... one finds that the very best is over."
The elegiac note that characterizes his reminiscences of the1920s is typical of Fitzgerald 's writing; its origins were in his early childhood and struggling adolescence. He felt himself always to be an outsider--from the elite society of the St. Paul, Minnesota, of his boyhood, from the spectacular achievements of the athletes of his school days, from the glittering social world of his young manhood, from the wealth and power of the American aristocracy, and even, at the end, from the literary life of his nation.
Fitzgerald 's sense of estrangement was rooted in his family background. He never forgot that he was related, however distantly, to Francis Scott Key, a name that conjured up images of America's heroic past. He listened attentively to the tales his father, Edward Fitzgerald , told of the family's Confederate past. He noted the connection between his father's family and, through marriage, Mary Surratt, hanged as a conspirator in Lincoln's assassination. And on the side of his mother, Molly McQuillan, although the ancestry was not as patrician as his father's, he could point to the vitality of his grandfather, an Irishman who epitomized the self-made American merchants in the decades immediately following the Civil War. Fitzgerald admitted in 1933 in a letter to John O'Hara, "I am half black Irish and half old American stock with the usual exaggerated ancestral pretensions. The black Irish half of the family had the money and looked down upon the Maryland side of the family who had, and really had, that ... series of reticences and obligations that go under the poor old shattered word `breeding.'" When his own father experienced serious business failures during Fitzgerald 's childhood, the boy was distraught. He experienced such severe anxieties that he expected the family to be taken to the poorhouse, and his later financial insecurity reinforced these childhood traumas. His life suggests that perhaps unconsciously he had to live on a financial brink.
The Fitzgerald family became increasingly dependent on the mother's relatives in St. Paul after moves to Buffalo, Syracuse, and back to Buffalo, with several different residences in each city. They moved several times in St. Paul, too, but always lived in rented houses or apartments in the Summit Avenue neighborhood where railroad tycoon James J. Hill kept his residence. The years of Fitzgerald 's childhood and early youth were marked in his memory indelibly: he was the outsider, the poor relation, dependent on his grandmother and his aunt, admitted to but never really part of the social center of St. Paul life. That sense of estrangement so characteristic of his formative years marks much of his fiction, from the first short stories, written when he was about thirteen, to his last efforts in Hollywood. Similarly, despite his father's weaknesses and failures Fitzgerald was never to relinquish his loyalty to him and to the traditions he represented.
Fitzgerald was admitted to the St. Paul Academy, a private high school, in 1908, where he remained for three years. It was there, from 1909 to 1911, that he published his first short stories, in the school literary magazine Now and Then. In the late 1920s he re-created these years in the Basil Duke Lee stories, which depict the painful rejections Fitzgerald experienced at St. Paul Academy where he was disliked and socially unsuccessful. He attempted to use sports as a path to acceptance, but he did not have the physique for football stardom. His most cherished memories of the St. Paul experience were those connected with the stage. Fitzgerald always loved drama, and his earliest writing efforts were either in the form of short plays or stories with strong theatrical elements. When his poor grades at St. Paul Academy necessitated his changing schools, he was enrolled at the Newman School in Hackensack, New Jersey, where he could indulge his taste for the theater with a few thrilling trips to New York City, less than an hour away. Here he felt the glamour and excitement he had dreamed about in St. Paul. For the rest of his life New York City would hold a special magic for Fitzgerald: success, vitality, and enchantment.
His popularity improved slowly at Newman, but his opportunities to escape from an unpleasant reality were greater than they had ever been. And it was perhaps the color and excitement of the Broadway theater, particularly the musicals, that so captured Fitzgerald 's imagination that he aspired throughout his life to achieve fame as a playwright or librettist. He continued to write short stories at Newman, where the school magazine, the Newman News, published three of his efforts. His Newman career was not the failure that the St. Paul Academy had been. At the beginning of his second year he met the person who would become the most influential figure in his early life, both creatively and personally, Father Sigourney Fay, who would become director of the school. Father Fay was a sophisticated, lively esthete, a friend of many well-known figures in arts and letters, including writer Shane Leslie. Fay revealed to Fitzgerald a far more attractive Catholicism than he had ever known and opened a world to him that suggested the beauty and richness of experience he would always try to capture in his writing.
Fitzgerald entered Princeton University in 1913, and although he never graduated, his years there were the most important to his development as a writer. He never lost his interest in sports, but knowing that he could not succeed as a participant, he sought other roads to success and the popularity he would always crave. His major activities at Princeton were in the Triangle Club, the Tiger , and the Nassau Literary Magazine.
In the first of the two periods he spent at Princeton (he left in his junior year as a result of poor grades and illness, returning the following year only to enlist in the army after the United States entered World War I) he contributed the plot and lyrics to a Triangle show and the lyrics to another, and he wrote a one-act play and a short story, "The Ordeal" (Nassau Literary Magazine, June 1915). In 1917, when he returned to Princeton, he wrote five stories and one short play as well as one Triangle show. The stories from this period reveal a growing maturity in the author. Three were later revised for publication in H. L. Mencken's Smart Set, two were incorporated into Fitzgerald 's first novel, This Side of Paradise , and one, "Tarquin of Cheapside"(Nassau Literary Magazine, April 1917), later appeared in his second collection of stories, Tales of the Jazz Age (1922). Clearly these years were of major importance to his development as a writer.
At Princeton he expanded his literary horizons considerably, largely through his friendships with John Peale Bishop, who introduced him to poetry, particularly that of John Keats, and with Edmund Wilson, who would become the "intellectual conscience" of his life. He admired Christian Gauss, the teacher who recognized the unique quality of Fitzgerald 's prose. In the richest intellectual environment he had ever experienced he read Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Compton Mackenzie, whose Sinister Street (1913-1914) made a marked impression on him. Later at Princeton he read Bernard Shaw, Rupert Brooke, and H. G. Wells and dabbled in socialist theory. His social life broadened, too. He was elected to the Cottage, one of the most elite Princeton clubs, largely because his standing among his classmates was enhanced by his successes with the Triangle productions.
And it was while at Princeton that Fitzgerald met the girl who would become the prototype for so many of the beautiful but elusive women who appear in his stories and novels, Ginevra King. His meeting with Ginevra was so important that he used it, and his memories of her, in the Basil and Josephine stories over a decade later.
After receiving his army commission, Fitzgerald was stationed in Montgomery, Alabama, where he met the girl who was to become the single most important person in his life, Zelda Sayre. Like Ginevra, Zelda appears throughout Fitzgerald 's fictional world. She is Sally Carrol in "The Ice Palace" (Saturday Evening Post, 22 May 1920; collected in Flappers and Philosophers' , 1920), the heroine of "The Last of the Belles" (Saturday Evening Post, 2 March 1929; collected in Taps at Reveille , 1935), and Jonquil in "The Sensible Thing" (Liberty, 5 July 1924; collected in All the Sad Young Men, 1926); she is the model for most of the women in his stories and novels until the late 1930s. Zelda was the most popular, daring, and vital girl in Montgomery. For Fitzgerald she represented the glamour of the unattainable, and he fell deeply in love with her. In the ledger that he kept until 1937 (published as F. Scott Fitzgerald 's Ledger, 1973) Fitzgerald reported that his twenty-second year was "The most important year of life. Every emotion and my life work decided. Miserable and ecstatic but a great success." In the entry for September of that year he notes, "Fell in love on the 7th." Fitzgerald also wrote the first version of This Side of Paradise while in the army.
Much has been written about the relationship between Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald . It was stormy, passionate, fierce, often ugly. Despite their quarrels and mutual self-destructiveness, the bond between them was so strong that long after her mental illness had kept them apart he could not divorce her, even when he fell in love with Sheilah Graham during his last years in Hollywood. Zelda lacked any principle of order; she threw herself into the heady celebrations that marked her husband's early success. She competed with him; she goaded him; she joined him in showing the world how an attractive and successful young American couple could defy convention and live for the thrill of the moment.
Zelda wrote many poignant letters after her illness, and, indeed, she has emerged as a pitiable figure. particularly in recent years when she has come to be regarded as a casualty of the American system of marriage--a woman who needed artistic fulfillment of her own, struggling against the domination of a male-oriented society. That kind of conclusion is simplistic; the truth of the relationship cannot really be known. Zelda Fitzgerald , whatever anguish she experienced and caused in those around her, is inseparable from her husband's career. His initial struggle for literary success in 1920 was caused by Zelda's refusal to marry him because he did not have enough money to support them. Subsequently, he kept on writing the short stories that would provide the money for them to maintain the style of life they desired, to maintain her throughout years of medical care and hospitalization, and to pay for their daughter, Scottie's, care and education.
Fitzgerald wrote nineteen short stories in the spring of 1919, all of them rejected by magazines. In June Smart Set bought "Babes in the Woods," first published in the Nassau Literary Magazine in May 1917, for thirty dollars. (It appeared in the September 1919 Smart Set and was later incorporated into This Side of Paradise.) Fitzgerald was living in New York, working in advertising, and struggling to finish his novel.
In the summer of 1919 Fitzgerald left New York City for St. Paul, where he finished This Side of Paradise and resubmitted it to Scribners, who had previously rejected it but now accepted it for publication in the spring of 1920. While waiting, he sold six stories to the Smart Set for $215 in October and two more in November for $300. His big break came when his new agent, Harold Ober, sold "Head and Shoulders" to the Saturday Evening Post, where it appeared in the 21 February 1920 issue, for $400. Ober later sold the film rights to the story for $2,500. In the early months of 1920, soon after the publication of This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald wrote one of his best stories, "May Day," which was rejected by the Post but admired by Mencken, who included it in the July 1920 Smart Set . On 3 April 1920 Scott and Zelda were married in New York.
Scribners followed publication of the novel with Fitzgerald 's first collection of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers . Although only three of the stories may be considered among his best ("The Ice Palace," "The Offshore Pirate" [ Saturday Evening Post, 29 May 1920], and "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" [ Saturday Evening Post, 1 May 1920]), the volume appealed to the audience that had embraced his novel. The collection sold 15,325 copies by 1922, with six printings. The reviews were not as enthusiastic as those for This Side of Paradise; indeed, Mencken made note of the two-sidedness of Fitzgerald 's creative life--the serious writer and the popular entertainer. This view of Fitzgerald was to characterize critical judgments of his fiction, particularly in relation to the short stories, from the 1920s to the present day. From this point in his life short stories would provide Fitzgerald 's major income. He never made much money from his novels, including This Side of Paradise which, despite its success, never achieved the sales of a best-seller. During the next twelve years the Saturday Evening Post was Fitzgerald 's main outlet for short stories, his fees increasing to $4,000 per story for the years 1929 through 1932.
There is a popular conception about Fitzgerald 's work for the Post --that his stories were written to slick-magazine specifications, and therefore they represent the commercial side of his talent. It is a common belief that Fitzgerald bartered his gifts by writing short stories acceptable to the Post, which was edited from 1899 to 1936 by George H. Lorimer. Lorimer demanded an unusually high standard from his Post writers, allowing them wide latitude in choice of subject and form. There were certainly standards of commercial acceptability to which he subscribed, but they depended on professional smoothness, readability, and verve. The Post encouraged, but did not demand, strong plots, leisurely narrative, a good mixture of dialogue and action, and vivid characters. These requirements, while not stimulating radical departures from convention, also did not necessarily constrict or hamper creative instincts. And they were characteristics of Fitzgerald 's fiction long before the Post ever accepted one of his stories. Happy endings were not prescribed, as proved by the publication in the Post of "Babylon Revisited"(21 February 1931; collected in Taps at Reveille ), "The Rough Crossing" (8 June 1929), "Two Wrongs" (18 January 1930; collected in Taps at Reveille), and "One Trip Abroad" (11 October 1930).
Fitzgerald 's letters underscore his independence as well as his dedication to his work. Although commercial writing is, he admitted in a 1940 letter to Zelda, a "definite trick," he felt he brought to it the "intelligence and good writing" to which a sensitive editor like Lorimer might respond. In Wesley W. Stout, Lorimer's successor, "an up and coming young Republican who gives not a damn about literature," he placed the blame for the plethora of "escape stories about the brave frontiersmen ... or fishing, or football captains, nothing that would even faintly shock or disturb the reactionary bourgeois." He conceded that he had tried but could not write such stories. "As soon as I feel I am writing to a cheap specification my pen freezes and my talent vanishes over the hill...." To Harold Ober he confessed that he was unable to "rush things. Even in years like '24, '28, '29, '30, all devoted to short stories, I could not turn out more than 8-9 top-price stories a year. It simply is impossible--all my stories are conceived like novels, require a special emotion, a special experience--so that my readers ... know that each time it'll be something new, not in form but in substance."
After their marriage the Fitzgeralds rarely remained in one place more than six months to a year. After a whirlwind descent on New York City, they retreated to Westport, Connecticut, and then to Europe. Back in America, they lived briefly in St. Paul where Fitzgerald revised his novel The Beautiful and Damned (1922) and put together Tales of the Jazz Age , in which only two pieces, "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" (Smart Set, June 1922) and "Two for a Cent" (Metropolitan Magazine , April 1922), had been written after 1920.
The collection contained eleven stories, divided into three sections: "My Last Flappers," "Fantasies," and "Unclassified Masterpieces." The John Held cartoon cover and Fitzgerald 's annotated table of contents made it an attractive volume. Sales were good: eight thousand copies sold in the first printing, followed by two more printings in the same year. Readers liked the collection more than the critics did; most of them regarded the stories as diversions and failed to recognize the merit of "May Day" or "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz."
During the next few years the Fitzgeralds moved frequently: from Great Neck to France, to Italy, to Delaware, and even to Hollywood, where Fitzgerald was invited to try his hand at screenwriting. He was, at the same time, writing the major novels for which he received critical acclaim, The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night (1934). During these years Fitzgerald was at the top of his form as a short-story writer not only in the quantity but also in the quality of the fiction he produced. Because he needed money to finance the writing of The Great Gatsby, he produced eleven short stories in just four months.
He was able to put together an other collection in 1926, and this one, All the Sad Young Men , contained some of his finest work: "The Rich Boy" ( Redbook, January, February 1926), "Winter Dreams" (Metropolitan Magazine, December 1922), "Absolution" (American Mercury, June 1924), and "The Sensible Thing." As was his practice, he meticulously edited the magazine versions, careful to remove passages that he had "stripped" from them for use in The Great Gatsby. It was characteristic of Fitzgerald to mine his stories for particularly felicitous passages which could be used in the novels.) This volume, too, was relatively successful, considering that short-story collections rarely sold well. It went into three printings, totaling 16,170 copies in 1926. The critics were decidedly more impressed with this collection than either of the two that had appeared earlier, yet in retrospect it is clear that few recognized its level of artistry.
Just as his months in Europe had provided Fitzgerald with new friendships and influences--Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Gerald and Sara Murphy--his two-month sojourn in Hollywood in early 1927 introduced him to a world to which he would return in fiction and in reality many times before his death. In "Jacob's Ladder" ( Saturday Evening Post , 20 August 1927) the young heroine is clearly patterned after actress Lois Moran, whom Fitzgerald met in Hollywood. As he would continue to do for the rest of his life, Fitzgerald used his own personal experience, particularly his marriage, as subject matter for his stories and novels. Zelda Fitzgerald's mental breakdown did not allow Fitzgerald to suspend his short-story writing to take care of her. Instead, he combined visits to her in various sanatoriums with bouts of writing that would provide the funds necessary for her care and treatment.
During the worst years of economic and emotional crisis Fitzgerald wrote some of his most eloquent stories. As Zelda moved in and out of clinics and he struggled to meet his responsibilities to her and to his daughter, he wrote the Basil Duke Lee stories (1928-1929), the Josephine Perry stories (1930-1931), and the story which is today regarded as an unqualified masterpiece, "Babylon Revisited." The stories from this period are retrospective, meditative, elegiac, certainly sadder than those he had written for the Post during the previous ten years, and the Post editors did not like them.
By the early 1930s Fitzgerald had lost his taste for writing the stories of young love which had brought him to the top of the magazine pay scale by 1929. Of the forty-two stories written in the six years from 1929 to 1935, eight (the Basil and Josephine stories) draw on autobiographical events and cultural attitudes that reflect the years from World War I through the 1920s. Five of the remaining stories are so trivial as to demand only wonder that they managed to find their way into print. ("The Passionate Eskimo" [ Liberty, June 1935] and "Zone of Accident," [ Saturday Evening Post , 13 July 1935] are among them.) But the other twenty-nine provide important insight into Fitzgerald 's artistic crisis, when his subjects were as serious as his and the nation's trials demanded, but his plots were outworn, stale, mechanical--unintentional parodies of the exuberant accounts of young love and romantic longing that so captivated audiences during the boom years. These stories show Fitzgerald groping with painful subjects and achieving only intermittent success but on at least two occasions, with "Babylon Revisited" and "Crazy Sunday" ( American Mercury, October 1932), producing masterpieces that incorporate the matter, if not the manner, of his more commercial contemporary work. In these two stories and in those that began to appear in Esquire in the mid 1930s, Fitzgerald was able to resolve his problems with plot and style, and to find a form suitable to the serious subjects that now interested him.
By 1934 Fitzgerald was writing one story a month and drinking excessively, until finally he collapsed. At this low point (he had been disappointed by the poor sales, despite critical praise, of Tender Is the Night, which had been published in April) he suggested to his editor at Scribners, Maxwell Perkins, a new collection of short stories, Taps at Reveille. The volume contained eighteen stories, including such Basil Duke Lee stories as "The Freshest Boy" (Saturday Evening Post, 28 July 1928) and "He Thinks He's Wonderful"(Saturday Evening Post , 29 September 1928), the Josephine Perry stories "First Blood" (Saturday Evening Post, 5 April 1930) and "A Woman with a Past" ( Saturday Evening Post, 6 September 1930), and other first-rate examples of his art: "Crazy Sunday," "The Last of the Belles," and "Babylon Revisited." The first printing was 5,100 copies, and the reviews were generally good, but short-story collections at any time were luxuries, and in the Depression, with a $2.50 cover price, the volume did not attract a wide readership. Fitzgerald 's Post price had dropped to $3,000 per story, and of the nine he wrote in 1935, the magazine accepted only three. His primary outlet in the late1930s was Esquire, whose editor, Arnold Gingrich, encouraged Fitzgerald , agreeing to accept anything he wrote. The stringent space limitations of the magazine coincided with Fitzgerald 's search for a new form and a new style, but its low fees ($250 per story) were insufficient to support him. In 1936 he wrote nine stories, semi-fictional sketches, and articles for Esquire, including "Afternoon of an Author" (August 1936) and "Author's House" (July 1936), but they brought him only $2,250. These were Fitzgerald 's most anguished years: Zelda was hopelessly ill; his own health had deteriorated badly; his income had shrunk to $10,000 by 1937; and he suffered a serious breakdown, physically and emotionally.
In 1937 Ober secured a contract for Fitzgerald as a screenwriter for M-G-M studios. Although he worked on many films and screenplays, only Three Comrades (1937) gives him screen credit (as cowriter). Nevertheless, these last years were among Fitzgerald 's most artistically creative and personally satisfying. Despite his family problems and his poor health, he found personal happiness in his relationship with Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. In addition to the uncompleted novel The Last Tycoon (1941), Fitzgerald wrote a series of stories for Esquire about a Hollywood hack writer, Pat Hobby. Fitzgerald had a heart attack in November 1940 and died on 21 December after suffering a second attack. In his hand was the Princeton Alumni Weekly . At his death he was almost forgotten as a writer; his royalty statement for the summer of 1940 was $13.13. Since the 1950s his reputation has grown steadily, and today he is ranked among the most important writers of the century. And the short stories, long neglected or undervalued, are at last receiving the kind of serious attention they have always deserved. But Fitzgerald always knew their value: "I have asked a lot of my emotions-one hundred and twenty stories. The price was high, right up with Kipling, because there was one little drop of something--not blood, not a tear, not my seed, but me more intimately than these, in every story, it was the extra I had."
Fitzgerald did not have a notably idiosyncratic linguistic style, as did Hemingway or William Faulkner, but a Fitzgerald story is recognizable by its romantic rhetoric, characters, settings, and social concerns. Fitzgerald experimented frequently with plots, subjects, and characters. The late stories are markedly different from the early group; both in style and substance they are innovative and experimental. For example, from Hollywood and his experience as a scriptwriter, Fitzgerald borrowed techniques, such as fade-outs and the camera angle as point of view.
The stories reveal a pattern of development and fall into three groups: the early tales about golden flappers and idealistic philosophers; the middle, embarrassingly sentimental, often mawkish stories; and finally, the late works, marked by new techniques--ellipsis, compression, suggestion--curiously enervated, yet deeply moving. Similar to these, yet distinctly separate, stand the Pat Hobby stories, where the old vitality had become corrosive bitterness in a literature of humiliation.
Most of his stories employ standard fictional techniques used in the novels: central complication, descriptive passages, dramatic climaxes and confrontations, reversals of fortune. And like the novels, the stories rarely turn on one action; more often, even in the shortest, slightest story, there are several actions of equal weight. His major problem is with plot; Fitzgerald will often begin with a good idea, create dramatic scenes, and then let the story limply peter out, or resolve the complications mechanically. An ending technique he used often was to blanket the resolution in lyrical prose, thus concealing the weakness of the story's resolution. Another weakness in the stories is related to point of view and distance, particularly in relation to the protagonists. Fitzgerald is most successful when his central character is both a participant and an observer of the action, weakest when the protagonist is simply a member of the upper class or an outsider.
Fitzgerald 's gifts as a writer were primarily lyric and poetic; lapses in plot and characterization did not concern him nearly as much as using the wrong word. His revisions show that he edited primarily for phrase or rhythm in a sentence. Thus, his stories, whatever their plots, are almost always notable for the grace and lyricism of his rhetoric. His descriptive gifts are strikingly apparent; with a few selected details, usually in atmosphere or decor, he creates a mood against which the dramatic situation stands out in relief. In "News of Paris," a late sketch (probably written in 1940, published posthumously in Furioso in 1947), merely two lines, "It was quiet in the room. The peacocks in the draperies stirred in the April wind," provide the background for a brief but haunting retrospective account of dissolution, apathy, and tired sexuality in the pre-Depression boom.
Through language Fitzgerald created another world in his stories, a fairy-tale world replete with its own conventions and milieus, free of the tensions in his own all-too-depressingly familiar environment; he projected his imagination through the rhetoric of nostalgia into the past, creating a never-never land of beauty, stupefying luxury, and fulfillment. Fitzgerald 's other world is a refuge from fear and anxiety, satiety and void; it is his answer to death and deterioration. Through a profusion of words, images--especially the sights, sounds, smells of luxury--perhaps existence itself might take on new meaning and possibility. The words themselves, for Fitzgerald , may have provided refuge from the storms of his own life. His infusions of charged rhetoric throughout the stories offer unshakable evidence of his belief in and commitment to that other world beyond his own, a world of possibility, hope, and beauty. Through imagery, through sensory appeals, through the evocative re-creation of an idealized past and a fabulous future, Fitzgerald 's stories as a whole have the effect of lifting and transporting the reader past the restrictions of his own world. Fitzgerald was not simply playing on the facile sensibilities of his readers. The stories testify to his abiding faith in the possibility, somewhere, of living a graceful life. That this life might be made up of questionable values--of riches, of Hollywood-like romance, of tinselly fairgrounds and gilded mansions--is less important than that Fitzgerald asks his readers to share, perhaps ingenuously, his dedication to a dream.
His prose is filled with imagery, sensory in the Keatsian manner. He describes bridges, "like dancers holding hands in a row, with heads as tall as cities, and skirts of cable strand" ("The Sensible Thing''); trees, "like tall languid ladies with feather fans coquetting airily with the ugly roof of the monastery ... delicate lace on the hems of many yellow fields" ("Benediction," Smart Set, February 1920; collected in Flappers and Philosophers ); and moonlight, "That stream of silver that waved like a wide strand of curly hair toward the moon" ("Love in the Night," Saturday Evening Post, 14 March 1925). And his stories are filled with colors, bright blue and gold, white and silver, occasionally coalescing in a symbol that evokes a range of meanings beyond the purely decorative. In "May Day" the "great plate-glass front had turned to a deep creamy blue, the color of a Maxfield Parrish moonlight--a blue that seemed to press close upon the pane as if to crowd its way into the restaurant. Dawn had come up in Columbus Circle, magical, breathless dawn, silhouetting the great statue of the immortal Christopher, and mingling in a curious and uncanny manner with the fading yellow electric light inside."
The world of Fitzgerald 's stories is most frequently the world of the very rich. The milieus and manners constitute the backdrop against which a rags-to-riches story may unfold, a struggling young man is rescued by a benevolent tycoon, or a beautiful Cinderella meets her handsome, wealthy prince. Even in the more somber stories, manners and milieu are as important as the plot or the characters.
Although most of the stories can be classified as stories of manners, there are several that fall into the category of fantasy, using supernatural devices, suspense and mystery, and fabulous, fabricated milieus as critical elements of plot. In "The Adjuster" ( Redbook, September 1925; collected in All the Sad Young Men) Fitzgerald combines a realistic surface, homiletic intention, and supernatural agent in a unique, yet not entirely successful, mixture. Dr. Moon, the supernatural figure, is introduced purely as a deus ex machina in a story which is concerned with the growth of maturity and responsibility in a selfish young married woman. Dr. Moon is a strange amalgam, half-psychiatrist, half fortune-teller. He appears at regular intervals when the plot begins to falter, reordering the events. Thus he prevents the woman, Luella, from deserting her sick husband; he compels her to take up the irksome, neglected role of wife, mother, and housekeeper; and he rewards her at the end by confessing that he has never really existed: she has merely grown up, and he symbolizes her growth. He is on hand, also, to deliver to her a final homily on performing one's duties unselfishly. In a portentous declamation at the end he reveals, "Who am I? I am five years."
Similarly, in another morality tale, "One Trip Abroad," the supernatural element again enters the plot, but here it is worked more closely into the fabric of the story. In this Dorian Gray-like situation a young couple, Nicole and Nelson Kelly, on the path of dissolution and degeneration, see themselves at crucial moments in the process of their decay in the guise of another young couple. The dissipation of which they are unaware in themselves they notice in their doubles. The most vivid scene occurs at the end, where in one horrifying moment the Kellys recognize themselves in the other couple. What adds to the impressiveness of this story is the suggestion of supernatural elements functioning in the background. All nature seems to reflect the tumult and disorder of the Kellys' lives, suggests, in fact, a primordial force surrounding and eventually engulfing them. It follows them through the pleasure haunts of Europe, where nature is majestic and threatening; and in a powerful storm the two supernatural elements, the other couple and the malign forces which seem to have been released into the universe, meet--and in their meeting, the Kellys realize at last that they have lost not only "peace and love and health" but their souls as well.
Whatever the form of the story, Fitzgerald 's range of subjects is wide and varied. Within the larger themes of life, love, death, and the American myth of success there are incalculable shades and variations. Many of his later subjects are adumbrated in his juvenilia, collected as The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald , 1909-1917 (1965). "A Debt of Honor"(Now and Then, March 1910) is a young boy's exploration of the meaning of heroism as embodied in conventional notions of self-sacrifice and military glory. "Reade, Substitute Right-Half" (Now and Then, February 1910) is a classic wish-fulfillment sketch of an underdog who makes good on the football field, whose speed and dexterity outclass his teammates' greater brawn. "Sentiment--and the Use of Rouge" (Nassau Literary Magazine, June 1917) contrasts the new, relaxed wartime morality with older, tested values. It touches on the breakdown of sexual codes, on personal morality, on religion and belief, and on the boredom and ritualistic emptiness of upper-class life. In "Shadow Laurels"(Nassau Literary Magazine, April 1915) Fitzgerald mourns the unlived life and celebrates the power of the romantic imagination; in "The Spire and the Gargoyle" (Nassau Literary Magazine, February 1917) he regrets wasted opportunity and unfulfilled potential. "The Ordeal" (later revised and published as "Benediction") presents a spiritual conflict in the soul of a novitiate between the call of "the world ... gloriously apparent" and "the monastery vaguely impotent." "The Debutante" (Nassau Literary Magazine, January 1917) and "Babes in the Woods" treat class distinctions, young love, manners, morals, and the generation gap. In "The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw" (Nassau Literary Magazine, October 1917) the themes are the artist's source of inspiration and the cruelty and hatred that can accompany love.
Most of the stories are brief; the themes are suggested or superficially explored. In "Sentiment--and the Use of Rouge," however, Fitzgerald develops his theme with fictional sophistication. "Sentiment" is about Clay Harrington Syneforth, a soldier in World War I who returns to his home in England for a two-day leave. What he encounters on his visit forms the core of the story. The central theme is change: between the England Clay knew, was raised in, and loved and the new world to which he returns, its looser morals, neglect of conventions, and disillusion with the old ideals of heroism and love, a world totally committed to the present moment and dedicated to pleasure and momentary satisfactions. The war has created a new sexual license; the women who cannot be the wives of the soldiers must discard conventional morality and be as much as they can to the soldiers in the little time they have.
But Clay does not understand. In the last section of the story, on the battlefield, Flaherty, an Irish-Catholic soldier, brings up the question of faith. Flaherty excoriates the English talent for prettying up reality. "Blood on an Englishman always calls rouge to me mind." The English, he says, see death as a game, but "the Irish take death damn serious." Fitzgerald is saying at the end that Clay's devotion to outward forms and conventions prevents him from perceiving what is really important in life. Because he lives and worships the surface symbols of a bygone era, he is incapable of recognizing that underneath the rouge, people have been genuinely and profoundly moved by the events behind the big, important words. Thus he dies uncomprehending, bewildered, frightened--of sex and sexual license, of the new morality, of the unexpected depths of feeling in his contemporaries--more afraid of life than of the death which awaits him on the battlefield.
There are many flaws in the story, particularly its schoolboy seriousness and its consciously "arty" narrative. But it is a very early example of Fitzgerald 's concern with a major theme--social change and the accompanying dislocation of values--which he treats memorably years later in "Babylon Revisited."
The major subjects of Fitzgerald 's short stories are the sadness of the unfulfilled life and the unrecapturable moment of bliss, the romantic imagination and its power to transform reality, love, courtship and marriage, problems in marriage, the plight of the poor outsider seeking to enter the world of the very rich, the cruelty of beautiful and rich young women, the generation gap, the moral life, manners and mores of class society, heroism in ordinary life, emotional bankruptcy and the drift to death, the South and its legendary past, and the meaning of America in the lives of individuals and in modern history. To these subjects which intrigued him from adolescence, he added Hollywood, where the American dream seemed to so many of his generation to have reached its apotheosis.
Many of Fitzgerald 's finest stories date from the early 1920s. "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" is an early story, slight in intent but animated by an authentic and minute representation of manners and social milieu in which newly emancipated young American women live. It was the kind of story that Fitzgerald came to be associated with, for it typified the changes overtaking the new postwar generation. The central action is the transformation of a socially inept, unpopular girl, Bernice, into a much-sought-after, socially sophisticated "flapper." In the course of Bernice's education, Fitzgerald reveals the intricate system of manners on which social success depends. The plot hinges on Bernice's daring threat to bob her hair and invite her whole crowd to witness the momentous event. In the relationship between Bernice and her cousin Marjorie, Fitzgerald exposes the cruelty underlying the social conventions of young people, the competition for popularity which impels Marjorie to jibe at and cruelly taunt Bernice until she must carry out the threat Marjorie knows she had initially made as a joke. But Marjorie herself is an example of the newly emancipated woman who desires only to shake free from the limitations imposed upon her by society and to face life courageously, unhampered and unfettered. In a short, fervent speech she confesses to Bernice her abhorrence of society's hypocritical expectations of women and exhorts her cousin to relinquish the morals of a defunct generation. In this spirited story Fitzgerald sums up more accurately than any sociological analysis the rebelliousness and determination of the new generation and, particularly, of the new heroine.
Ardita Farnham, the heroine of "The Off-shore Pirate," is the prize wealthy young Toby Moreland seeks because she possesses courage and independence, the most valuable attributes of Fitzgerald 's flappers and philosophers. The story traces Toby's disguise as a jazz bandleader, Curtis Carlyle, who pirates the Farnham yacht with Ardita on board. A bored, spoiled debutante, she longs for someone with "imagination and the courage of his convictions." She refuses to meet anyone her family proposes and intends to run off with an older playboy. Toby's ruse works; he and Ardita fall in love on the ship, moored in a cavernous alcove, while "Curtis's" band plays music that enchances the romantic possibilities of the tropical paradise. The story seems bathed in the blue, silver, and gold of the sky and sun, and hero and heroine's paeans to courage, conviction, and the possibilities of the romantic imagination seem appropriate to the mood and milieu established by the opening lines:
This unlikely story begins on a sea that was a blue dream, as colorful as blue-silk stockings, and beneath a sky as blue as the irises of children's eyes. From the western half of the sky the sun was shying little golden disks at the sea--if you gazed intently enough you could see them skip from wave tip to wave tip until they joined a broad collar of golden coin that was collecting half a mile out and would eventually be a dazzling sunset.
Fitzgerald sustains both rhetoric and idea--the power of the romantic imagination--throughout in a story that is among the best of his early works. Curtis Carlyle's tale of lost illusions parallels Fitzgerald 's exploration of the meaning of natural aristocracy. The conflict within Fitzgerald between rival claims--aristocracy of the spirit versus aristocracy of wealth--is omnipresent throughout the stories. In his disillusionment he seeks to replace the values common to his society with a completely personal ethical standard; he ultimately exchanges moribund social values for a personal brand of heroism--in itself an aristocracy of the spirit.
Among the early stories, "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" is notable not only because of the fine writing and historical resonances but because Fitzgerald 's gift for fantasy is at its best. John Ungar, a middle-class boy, is invited by his classmate, Percy Washington, to spend his vacation at the latter's home "in the West." En route, Percy reveals that his father has a diamond "bigger than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel." John falls in love with Percy's sister, discovers the secret of the Washington wealth, and is almost killed before he can escape from a lavish and terrifying world. In this story Fitzgerald does not contain his subject and theme within a realistic setting. Here is an American West bigger and more extravagant than in the wildest Western tall story it subtly parodies. As the reader willingly suspends disbelief, the world of Fitzgerald 's imagination takes on the colorations of the Oriental kingdom belonging to "some Tartar Khan." The Washington chateau is very like the pleasure dome of Kubla Khan, and the sights, smells, and sounds of luxury assault and ultimately deaden the senses until the lavish phantasmagoria moves as in a waking dream.
Remarkably, Fitzgerald sustains this geographic flight from the opening in Hades, "a small town on the Mississippi River," to St. Midas School near Boston, to the twelve wizened old men in the wasteland town of Fish, Montana, to the diamond mountain retreat of Braddock Washington. Yet the action, which departs wildly from probability, is so rooted in the familiar, recognizable patterns of human behavior that after the initial shock has receded and the reader has accepted the fanciful premise, he is forced to make invidious comparisons between the rise of American big business in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the growth of Braddock Washington's fortune.
Just as Fitzgerald used the American West in "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" to explore American values in the context of American history, Fitzgerald used the American South to express the need for tradition, as embodied in his own father's values and manners. "The Ice Palace" is about the differences between the South--which stands for warmth, carelessness and generosity, feeling, tradition, and life--and the North--cold, hard materialism, selfishness, and death. The action involves heroine Sally Carrol Happer's desire for something more than the swimming, dancing, and playing that fill up her languid, somnolent, lazy summer days.
The opening of the story establishes the mood of the South, and at the end of part two, as Sally Carrol walks with her northern suitor, Harry Bellamy, through a Confederate graveyard, she defines the tradition she treasures:
I've tried in a way to live up to those past standards of noblesse oblige--there's just the last remnants of it, you know, like the roses of an old garden dying all round us--streaks of strange courtliness and chivalry in some of these boys an'stories I used to hear from a Confederate soldier who lived next door.... Oh, Harry, there was something, there was something!
The tempo of the story quickens with the introduction of the northern element, Harry Bellamy, "tall, broad, and brisk." The warm summer is over; it is November and time for the serious business of life. Sally Carrol becomes engaged to Harry, and they plan to go North to meet his family. From the first line in part three--"All night in the Pullman it was very cold"--and for all the scenes laid in the North, it is penetratingly cold. There is no relief for Sally Carrol who cannot, for as long as she remains in the alien environment of Harry's home, get warm. The icy weather symbolizes a way of life: no sense of play, no social badinage, no graciousness, no heritage of manners and style, only a chilling obedience to the forms of life. Even the people are gray and desiccated. Harry's "cold lips" kissing her reinforce the pervasive, unrelenting chill.
In the next part the relationship between Sally Carrol and Harry hardens after a quarrel at dinner when Harry refers to southerners as "lazy and shiftless," and later when the vaudeville orchestra plays "Dixie," she is painfully reminded of what she has left behind. Part five again takes up the motif of iciness, and the action builds to an apocalyptic climax as Sally Carrol loses her way in the glittering cavernous maze of the "ice palace, like a damp vault connecting empty tombs." Here, ice, snow, and palace are symbolically linked as death. As she falls down in the palace, she dreams of rejoining the dead Margery Lee, at whose grave she had sat and pondered the southern past back in Tarleton, her home town. The ice palace itself functions brilliantly as a symbol of the imminent death of the spirit, the inevitable accompaniment to life in a new, raw, mercantile northern city.
The last section returns to the original scene; it is April in Sally Carrol's southern town, and "the wealth of golden sunlight poured a quite enervating yet oddly comforting heat over the house where day long it faced the dusty stretch of road." Sally Carrol has experienced a purgatory in ice; chastened, contented, even indolent, she takes up her old life. There is much in the texture of the story that adds to its effectiveness: the decor, like the new but charmless library in Harry's house; dialogue, at the dinner-party where Sally Carrol first experiences disappointment and disillusionment with Harry; characters, the men--hard, brisk, athletic, and the women--faded, dull, apathetic; social position, shades and nuances of class distinction and throughout, wealth of goods going hand in hand with poverty of spirit, death and snow versus life and lilacs.
One of Fitzgerald 's most effective and popular stories in which the primary emphasis is on social criticism is "May Day," yet he never wrote another story quite like it. Although the main character's story is characteristically Fitzgerald , the social / political criticism, developed in a sub-plot, is more overt than in most of his stories. He did salvage several structural and technical devices from the story--contrasting and parallel episodes, kaleidoscopic impressions, shifting rhetorical patterns--for use in other short stories but turned to the more expansive novel form to develop the multilevel plot.
Fitzgerald often opens a story with a philosophical passage that sets the tone and adumbrates the theme. In "May Day" the opening lines are heavily ironic, measured, musical, and solemn, with unmistakably biblical overtones.
There had been a war fought and won and the great city of the conquering people was crossed with triumphal arches.... Never had there been such splendor in the great city, for the victorious war had brought plenty in its pain, and the merchants had flocked thither from the South and West with their households to taste of all the luscious feasts and witness the lavish entertainments prepared--and to buy for their women furs against the next winter and bags of golden mesh and varicolored slippers of silk and silver and rose satins and cloth of gold.
The passage serves to unify under a common subject the diverse episodes which follow. And, by offering moral commentary which is supported by the ensuing action, it raises that action to a level beyond its immediate significance.
The opening scenes of this story establish the setting and introduce the characters and major action--Gordon Sterrett's drift to death. The action is constructed around a series of contrasts between Gordon and a former Yale classmate, Philip Dean. Dean's social world, to which Gordon tries frantically to cling, is epitomized in expensive clothes and bodily well-being, the "trinkets and slippers," the "splendor" and "wine of excitement" of the invocation. Gordon asks Dean for a three-hundred-dollar loan that will enable him to extricate himself from the demands of a lower-class young woman with whom he has become involved. Dean, paying careful attention to his body and his wardrobe, listens to Gordon and refuses the loan. Gordon, like so many other poor young men whose dreams have been betrayed by a fiercely competitive system, is unprepared for the cold New York City which tosses people like him to their deaths.
His plight, made more poignant by beautiful Edith Braden's initial interest and subsequent rejection, is contrasted with that of two war veterans, unintentionally caught up in a socialist protest rally in the crowded streets. One of the soldiers, Carrol Key, whose name suggests that "in his veins, however thinly diluted by generations of degeneration, ran blood of some potentiality," is accidentally killed when he is swept up in the embattled crowd determined to put the Bolsheviks to rout. The last part of the story turns into a kind of social parable. The action moves from the Biltmore Hotel to Child's 59th Street restaurant, and to the Biltmore elevator, where the ascent of Mr. In and Mr. Out serves as an ironic counterpoint to the descent of Gordon Sterrett and Carrol Key--and possibly to the struggle upward for success in America.
"Winter Dreams" was written three years before The Great Gatsby , "The Rich Boy" immediately after. Both stories are among Fitzgerald 's best, and both plots turn on conflicts between the very rich and a representative of the middle class--a contrast explored in the minutiae of social gestures, moods, conventions, and customs. In the former, Dexter Green is the protagonist of the story. In the latter, Anson Hunter is "the rich boy," the subject of the story, which is narrated by an observer-participant in the action, a friend of Anson's who all his life has lived among the rich.
In"Winter Dreams" Dexter Green is a golf caddy at the luxurious club patronized by the wealthy inhabitants of Sherry Island. He meets Judy Jones, from one of the club's leading families, and she and her summer world become the focus of his winter dreams. Judy Jones epitomizes the very rich. She is beautiful, cold, imperious, and maddening. Dexter pursues her, but she eludes him; the struggle to attain Judy Jones becomes for him the struggle to realize his dream of entering the glittering world of those enchanted summers. But the world of Judy Jones--who comes to symbolize both the beauty and the meretriciousness of Dexter's dreams--is clearly revealed as cruelly, coldly destructive. Dexter, listening to the music wafting over the lake at Sherry Island, felt "magnificently attuned to life." His winter dream, simply, was to recapture the ecstasy of that golden moment: the sensation that "everything about him was radiating a brightness and a glamour he might never know again."
The story is richly evocative, containing some of Fitzgerald 's best writing. The change of seasons throughout the story reflects and coincides with Dexter's moods; like other Fitzgerald characters, he is extraordinarily sensitive to the natural world, and it is in terms of its effects upon people's lives that nature fascinates Fitzgerald . Dexter's spirits soar with the "gorgeous" Minnesota autumn; October "filled him with hope which November raised to a sort of ecstatic triumph." That ecstasy, linked with the image of Judy Jones, is finally Dexter's vision of immortality, just as Daisy Buchanan was Gatsby's. If he could have had Judy he could have preserved his youth and the beauty of a world that seemed to "withstand all time." When the beauty of Judy Jones fades, his hopes fade with it, and that sense of wonder he cherished over the years is lost "in the country of illusion ... where his winter dreams had flourished."
"The Rich Boy" is the story of Anson Hunter, who lives in a world of "high finance, high extravagance, divorce and dissipation, of snobbery and privilege." The narrator immediately establishes his relationship to Anson. Brought together by chance as officers in the war, their backgrounds are totally dissimilar. Anson is the easterner, raised without "idealism or illusion," who accepts without reservation the world into which he was born. The narrator is from the West and thoroughly middle class, but he has lived among the "brothers" of the rich. He is thus capable of observing the nuances of upper-class manners and morals. His famous introduction, "Let me tell you about the very rich," clearly distinguishes the narrator from Anson and from the reader, thus effecting the necessary separation between subject and point of view which characterizes Fitzgerald 's best stories. As though determined to prove for once that "the country of the rich" need not be "as unreal as fairyland," the narrator traces with clinical care the events and implications of Anson's life to their inevitable end.
Following a series of incidents chronicling Anson's courtship with Paula Legendre, the narrator returns to fill in the events and analyze the changes the last years have wrought in his friend. He is with Anson after the latter had learned of Paula's death in childbirth, and Anson, "for the first time in their friendship," says nothing of how he feels, shows no sign of emotion. The narrator wonders why Anson is never happy unless someone is in love with him, promising him something, perhaps "that there would always be women in the world who would spend their brightest, freshest, rarest hours to nurse and protect that superiority he cherished in his heart."
"Absolution" is one of the very few Fitzgerald stories that focuses directly on religion. Eleven-year-old Rudolph Miller is forced by his parents to go to confession, where the "half-crazed priest," Father Schwarz, listens to the boy's story. It is a tale of a young boy's fears and passions in an environment of rugged austerity and grim religiosity, ending with a lie in the confessional booth. When the confession is over, the priest's complete breakdown reinforces the significance of the boy's story. The pressure of Rudolph's environment has driven him onto the "lonely secret road of adolescence." Father Schwarz had once followed that lonely road to the end years ago, suppressing along the way the natural passions aroused by the rustle of Swedish girls along the path by his window and in Romberg's Drug Store "when ... he had found the scent of cheap toilet soap desperately sweet upon the air."
Flashback adds dramatic intensity to the encounter by supplying the details leading up to Rudolph's spiritual crisis and connecting Rudolph's background with Father Schwarz's. It also points up the resemblances among apparently dissimilar characters by tying the quality in which Rudolph's father is deficient, the romantic imagination, to Rudolph's conviction that "there was something ineffably gorgeous somewhere that had nothing to do with God," and to Father Schwarz's dream of an amusement park where "things go glimmering." But Rudolph's life is just beginning, and his imagination restores him by providing an outlet for his buried life. He becomes Blatchford Sarnemington, a figure who exists outside of Father Schwarz's world, far from the confessional. Fitzgerald suggests that in Rudolph's perception of Father Schwarz's insanity and in Rudolph's commitment to his own dreams lie freedom and the possibility of romantic fulfillment.
In 1934 Fitzgerald told a critic that "Absolution""was intended to be a picture of [Gatsby's] early life, but that I cut it because I preferred to preserve the sense of mystery." Fitzgerald told Maxwell Perkins that the story was salvaged from an earlier, discarded version of Gatsby; the 1923 start of the novel included a section on Gatsby's childhood, so it is likely that Rudolph is a preliminary version of a character who would become Jay Gatsby.
One of the most moving stories of the early 1920s, ``The Sensible Thing'' draws upon Fitzgerald 's courtship of Zelda Sayre, as he describes George O'Kelly's rejection by Jonquil Cary because of his poverty and her subsequent acceptance after a year during which he has achieved the success that will now make their marriage possible. Again for Fitzgerald , the glow that first love imparts cannot be recaptured. In her acceptance of conventional advice by her parents, and, indeed, following her own convictions, Jonquil turned away George because he was not financially ready for her at the moment when they realized how much they were in love. Two months later, she tells him, "now I can't because it doesn't seem to be the sensible thing."
Although George does win her after a year in which a series of lucky breaks reward him with the success he had found so elusive previously, he learns that something rare and precious has been lost. "The sensible thing--they had done the sensible thing. He had traded his first youth for strength and carved success out of despair. But with his youth, life had carried away the freshness of his love." Thus, his lament at the end for that loss, "never again an intangible whisper in the dusk, or on the breeze of night....," conveys Fitzgerald 's deepest conviction that the golden moment in one's life comes only once, and that subsequent fulfillment in love or in work can only be second best. Thus he ends the story on a note of both regret and acceptance: "Well, let it pass.... April is over, April is over. There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice."
From 1928 through 1931 Fitzgerald wrote fourteen stories in two series, the first, about Basil Duke Lee (1928-1929), comprising nine stories, one posthumously published, and the second featuring Josephine Perry (1930-1931). The Basil stories, for which Fitzgerald plumbed his own adolescence, take the character from his early school days, age eleven, through his entrance into college. From the beginning, Basil is never wholly accepted by the other youngsters. Because of his sensitivity, intensity, and competitiveness, he differs from them; they know it and resent it. He is frequently the butt of their jokes and recipient of their insults. Fitzgerald handles Basil's anguish and humiliation by bringing to bear the perspective of the adult on the loneliness and misery of an adolescent. Basil not only endures but even learns from each of his painful experiences: upstaging by Hubert Blair, that paragon of youthful charm and virtuosity; rejection by Imogene Bissel, a juvenile femme fatale; and, more seriously, ostracism and debasement by his prep-school classmates.
Basil's fatal flaw is his loquacity; he cannot resist pointing out his own superiority and his fellows' deficiencies. It is a hard lesson, but he finally learns, after years of misery, the value of discretion. He is, however, destined to remain the outsider, "one of the poorest boys in a rich boys' school." By adopting Basil's hyperbolic evaluation of the situation, the narrative forms an ironic but not unkind commentary on the young hero's driving ambition. Because Fitzgerald understands and takes seriously the problems of adolescence and because he remembers the pain of his own youth, he remains always the detached but totally sympathetic observer.
The central situation in each Basil story is a two-fold struggle, within Basil for mastery over himself and between Basil and society for social acceptance. In each situation, although rebuffed and humiliated by his own fatal penchant for self-advertising and an unwillingness to temper his romantic illusions about others, Basil grows in awareness and perceptivity, particularly of his own character and motives. In "The Freshest Boy" he concludes that "he had erred at the outset--he had boasted, he had been considered yellow at football, he had pointed out people's mistakes to them, he had shown off his rather extraordinary fund of general information in class." The Basil Duke Lee stories treat the pain of adolescence without the sentimentality so characteristic of the popular Booth Tarkington stories.
Josephine Perry is an embodiment of the alluring yet cruel flapper, and Fitzgerald manages to convey the tragedy inherent in a totally self-absorbed life. Women like Josephine are doomed, he implies; momentary perception of their tragic destinies impels them to strike out at their world, and particularly at the young men who idolize them.
In "First Blood" Josephine is introduced during an argument with her family. Supremely self-confident in her budding beauty, Josephine sets her sights beyond the limits suggested by age and inexperience. She pursues and captures the most eligible "older" man in her set, only to reject his slavish devotion when it is finally proffered. The object of her desires, once attained, loses its fascination. Josephine must go on to ever more thrilling and elusive conquests.
In the first stories Fitzgerald 's tone is unvaryingly indulgent toward the young woman and her romantic forays. But as the stories continue, Josephine's successes invariably prove empty. Perpetually seeking new thrills, she longs for the ideal man who she thinks might satisfy once and for all her craving for romance and novelty. In each story, however, the young man disappoints her. She gradually grows numb with satiety (in Fitzgerald 's day promiscuity usually meant only kissing), until a kiss fails to arouse her.
The youthful flirtations of "A Nice Quiet Place" ( Saturday Evening Post, 31 May 1930; collected in Taps at Reveille) deepen in "A Woman with a Past" into a frantic search for fulfillment in love, but each conquest brings Josephine only boredom and ennui. In "Emotional Bankruptcy" (Saturday Evening Post, 15 August 1931), the saddest and most serious story of the group, by the time Josephine finally meets the perfect man, a war hero, it is too late for her. She no longer has the capacity to feel anything for anyone. She is emotionally bankrupt, no longer appealingly flirtatious and amusing either to the author or the reader, but empty, frozen, slightly repellent. Fitzgerald drops his ironic detachment at the end and moralizes on the human waste which might be tragic were it associated with someone less trivial and self-centered than Josephine Perry.
From the time Fitzgerald made his first trip to Hollywood in the late 1920s, he was fascinated by what he described as "a tragic city of beautiful girls." By 1940 he reported that there is "no group, however small, interesting.... Everywhere there is ... either corruption or indifference." Hollywood was to provide Fitzgerald with the subject of some of his important fiction, notably the short story "Crazy Sunday," based upon his own experience at actress Norma Shearer's party, and partly inspired by her husband, M-G-M chief Irving Thalberg.
"Crazy Sunday" is a story about Hollywood and about one extraordinary man, Miles Calman, as observed by Joel Coles, a young writer. From the outset Hollywood, a "damn wilderness," vies with Jole and Miles for center stage. Hollywood transcends, compels, structures the plot. The rhythm of the story is the rhythm of Hollywood life, from crazy Sunday, "not a day, but rather a gap between two other days," to the other six days of frantic irrelevancy in a plastic wasteland.
The action begins and ends in Miles Calman's house where the ambience promotes the wildly exhibitionist performance which wins Joel instant notoriety. When Joel regards the assemblage, he is driven in a moment of semi-drunken, lavish goodwill to entertain them, and the tensions within him, suggested earlier, become insistent and are released in his outrageous performance. The focus of the story, however, is the intricate relationship between Miles and Stella Calman which ensnares Joel. The Calmans fight with one another but remain, to the end, self-sufficient, tightly insulated by mutual desire and mutual dependency. Joel can never really matter to them.
The story culminates, after Miles's death, in the circuslike parade Joel observes at the theater as he waits for Stella. Everything seems tinselly, tawdry, as artificial as a Hollywood B-picture. At the end Joel leaves the Calman house and bitterly takes up his life made empty and futile after the death of "the only American-born director with both an interesting temperament and an artistic conscience.""Crazy Sunday" is a haunting vignette of Hollywood, and it is measure of Fitzgerald 's artistry that he succeeds despite the flaw of conflicting centers of interest, Miles and Joel. Joel is able both to evaluate and at the same time participate in events, and Fitzgerald 's narration is often indistinct from Joel's observations. Yet the fascination lies, for Joel and for the reader, in Miles Calman, an early version of Monroe Stohr, the subject of Fitzgerald 's last, incomplete novel, The Last Tycoon.
Many critics and scholars regard "Babylon Revisited" as the best of Fitzgerald 's short stories. Written in 1930, at a particularly low point in his own life, it reflects the meditative sadness of a man looking back, in the Depression, on the waste and dissipation of the boom. More than perhaps any of his stories, it blends personal and historical elements to form a commentary on an era. It is about Charlie Wales, who, through indiscretions resulting in the death of his wife, made himself an outsider to the "good" people, represented by his sister-in-law and her husband, Marion and Lincoln Peters. In order to win back his child, Honoria, from the Peterses, who have been caring for her, he must establish for them his new stability and adherence to their values. The difficulty of his task is compounded by Marion Peters's dislike and distrust of him. Fitzgerald constructs the plot around a series of contrasts: between Charlie and the Peterses, past and present, illusion and reality, dissipation and steadiness, gaiety and grimness, Paris and America, adults and children. The author's tone, detached, critical, and ironic, merges with Charlie's self-critical but not self-pitying awareness, heightening the contrasts and adding meaning to even the briefest observation. "I spoiled this city for myself. I didn't realize it, but the days come along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone."
Charlie Wales of the Depression is no longer the same young man who coasted along on the joyride of the boom years. The story is about his exploration of the problems of character and responsibility, particularly the power of one's past to shape and determine his future. Against a background of change and dislocation wrought by social upheaval, the story of CharlieWales is a search for latent values residing within the individual, values that provide the courage and resiliency to remake a squandered life. And it is all based on character, the "eternally valuable element." Charlie is left to examine the ruin of the past, to discover what, if anything, is worth the survival. He admits, "I lost everything I wanted in the boom," and his one hope for the future is continuity of character, as if by passing on to his daughter some lesson from his past, he will thus preserve part of himself in her.
"Babylon Revisited" is not a simple morality tale. Charlie is acutely sensitive to himself and to the Peterses, and he is eager to assume responsibility for Honoria's life and for his own. But "character" does not insure happiness for Charlie Wales. In this story, perhaps his most moving statement on the subject, Fitzgerald indicates that it is strictly a mode of individual survival, that not only may character not bring Charlie happiness along with his newly discovered values, but it may even intensify his despair and corrode his hopes.
In his late works, dating from 1936 to his death in 1940, Fitzgerald 's style was markedly different from the early lyrical prose. The tone becomes flat, almost essayistic; narrative is unemotional and economical, yet strangely haunting in its dry precision. These are brief, autobiographical sketches, semifictional attempts to reinterpret his life and his art. In "Afternoon of an Author" the protagonist prepares to go outside for a walk, the first one in many days. His thoughts are of mental and physical fatigue--his own and others. On the bus ride, in the barber shop, he ruminates over what he is now, what he once was, what he might have become, his struggles and especially his weariness and inertia. There are no highs and lows, only a quiet drift toward death. The faint note of self-pity stems from physical debility rather than emotional outrage.
The author in "Author's House" surveys his youth, his illness, his mistakes and failures, and waits for death. All he has left is despair, knowing he can never dwell again in the turret of his symbolic house, knowing that success has ultimately eluded him.
In "An Author's Mother" (Esquire, October 1936) the title character, with her "high-crowned hat," incipient cataracts, and air of hopeless bewilderment, is a touching relic of another era. The modern world is obviously too much for her. She is proud of but cannot understand her son's success, for she associates "authors" only with Mrs. Humphry Ward, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edna Ferber, and especially the sentimental poetesses Alice and Phoebe Cary. Uncomplaining and uncomprehending, she, too, retreats from life through the back door of her memories. For her there is nothing left but death.
Fitzgerald 's vitality did burst forth again in his last years with a series of stories about Pat Hobby, a has-been screenwriter. Pat Hobby is among Fitzgerald 's most intriguing characters, perhaps because the author was exorcizing the dark, defeated side of his own nature. Pat is an incompetent, an alcoholic, a petty blackmailer, a dreamer, a would-be lecher, a leech, a whiner, a conniver, a thief, a scab, a coward, an informer, an eternal outsider. He is lazy, ubiquitous, and dishonest. Although he is rigidly excluded from the Hollywood power center, his perverted sense of justice leads him to identify with the producers rather than their hireling writers like himself and the exploited or discarded actors and directors. He aspires to every flashy Hollywood-American success symbol--Filipino servants, swimming pools, liquor, girls, and meals at the Brown Derby. Pat is a firm ally of the status quo, or more properly, the past, into which he seeks to escape the sordid present.
Fitzgerald 's technique in the Pat Hobby stories is to devise situations in which Pat, faced with alternatives, consistently selects the action most likely to degrade him further. In one story after another, Pat sinks to lower and lower levels of activity; trickery and connivance are his tools. But for all his duplicity, Pat is pathetically unsuccessful in his attempts to "put one over on them." Each situation ends in debacle, humiliation, and further degradation. And yet, for all his faults, he is a strangely moving figure in these stories of the absurd: the eternal fall guy who admits honestly in a moment of painful clarity, "I've been cracked down on plenty." The language of these stories is racy and colloquial, and the tone consistently ironic and detached. The stories were published in Esquire during the last year of Fitzgerald 's life and in 1941, after his death. He worked on them as carefully as he could, often sending Arnold Gingrich telegrams requesting minor revisions even after a story had been set in print. At the same time Fitzgerald was working on his other Hollywood story, The Last Tycoon. It is probable that the Pat Hobby stories served as a release for his black vision of Hollywood and of his own career, allowing a final blossoming of his artistry.
F. Scott Fitzgerald 's reputation as a short-story writer has risen considerably since his death, and at least a dozen of his stories rank with the most notable in American literature. And though his reputation as a major American writer rests primarily on his novels, especially The Great Gatsby, in variety, in range, and in stylistic excellence, his short stories are an intrinsic part of his fictional world.
From: Prigozy, Ruth. "F. Scott Fitzgerald (24 September 1896-21 December 1940)." American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945: First Series, edited by Bobby Ellen Kimbel, vol. 86, Gale, 1989, pp. 99-123. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 86.