Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Charlie Wales has returned to Paris after a three-year absence in the hope of taking his nine-year-old daughter, Honoria, back to live with him in Prague. He remembers with regret that his former life in Paris was a life of dissipation and wildly extravagant spending. Paris then was awash with Americans who had achieved almost instant wealth on the stock market. The Paris to which Charlie returns, however, is a changed Paris, now almost empty of Americans because most of those who had lived so extravagantly had lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929. Charlie himself has come back a changed man. He has replaced his wild, drunken sprees with the stable life of a successful businessperson who consciously takes only a single drink each day to help keep the idea of alcohol in proportion in his mind. He hopes that the change will convince Marion Peters, his sister-in-law, to relinquish to him the legal guardianship of Honoria, which Marion assumed at the death of Charlie’s wife, Helen.
Marion has persisted in unfairly holding Charlie responsible for the death of his wife. Charlie and Helen had argued while dining out one night in February, and he had gone home without her, locking the door behind him, not knowing that she would arrive there an hour later, wandering about in slippers in a sudden snowstorm and too drunk to find a taxi. As a result, Helen had barely escaped pneumonia, and Marion has never forgiven Charlie, taking the scene as typical of their turbulent life together. Charlie must now break through Marion’s reservations to the maternal part of her nature, which Charlie knows must acknowledge that Honoria’s proper place is with her father. Charlie fears that if he does not get his daughter soon, he will lose all of her childhood and she will learn from her aunt to...
(The entire section is 735 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Babylon Revisited Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Charlie Wales, the central character of “Babylon Revisited,” is a man who lived high and wildly in Paris during the late 1920’s and then lost everything with the Great Depression, including his wife and daughter. After the death of his wife—perhaps hastened when, in a drunken rage, he locked her out of their apartment during a snowstorm—Charlie had given guardianship of his daughter, Honoria, to his sister-in-law.
When the story opens, Charlie has returned to Paris to regain Honoria. Just when it seems he has convinced his suspicious relatives that he is indeed reformed, Charlie has his hopes dashed by the unexpected and disastrous arrival of two drinking companions from the bad old days. At the story’s end Charlie maintains his sobriety, determined to continue in his attempts to regain his daughter.
Once again, Fitzgerald’s theme is the waste of promise, fueled by the harmful effects of alcoholic indulgence. In this story, the theme is made explicit as Charlie comes to realize the meaning of the word “dissipate”: “to dissipate into thin air; to make nothing out of something.” Paris, the place where this wasting has taken place, is for Charlie a Babylon, a city of wasting—not only materially but morally and spiritually as well. Wales has repaired some of the effects of that dissipation—he has partially restored his finances and is once again sober—but the story ends with both Charlie and the reader uncertain if the most tragic loss can be restored and father and daughter reunited.
The character of Charlie Wales is an important part of “Babylon Revisited,” because he is believable and sympathetic, a fully rounded individual who is presented through suggestion and inference, dialogue and reference. As the story moves in and out of Charlie’s present and past, the reader comes to understand more than is openly told, largely through Fitzgerald’s selection of details.
Fitzgerald’s style in “Babylon Revisited” is remarkable: In place of the lush, romantic prose of earlier stories such as “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” he uses a spare, careful technique that conveys intense and often painful emotions through understatement and implication. The language is supple and powerful, so graceful that the reader is almost unaware of it, but a close and attentive study shows that Fitzgerald has achieved a masterpiece of the modern short story.