Babylon Revisited Essay - Critical Essays

Babylon Revisited F. Scott Fitzgerald

Introduction

"Babylon Revisited" F. Scott Fitzgerald

The following entry presents criticism of Fitzgerald's short story "Babylon Revisited." See also, F. Scott Fitzgerald Criticism.

"Babylon Revisited" is Fitzgerald's most anthologized short story and is considered by many to be his best. First published in 1931 in the Saturday Evening Post, it reappeared with revisions in the 1935 collection Taps at Reveille. Fitzgerald wrote "Babylon Revisited" during a time of emotional and economic crisis. Like most of his work, the story reflects his own personal experience and his relationship with his wife Zelda; its tone is thoughtful and retrospective, and it is sadder than earlier stories he had written for the Post.

Plot and Major Characters

"Babylon Revisited" is set against the backdrop of expatriate Europe during the 1930s and recounts the story of Charlie Wales, a onetime wealthy playboy of 1920s Paris whose excesses contributed to the death of his wife, Helen, and led to his stay in a sanitarium for alcoholism. During Charlie's recovery, his daughter Honoria was placed under the custodianship of his sister-in-law and her husband—Marion and Lincoln Peters. Since then, Charlie has reestablished himself as a successful businessman in Prague. As the story opens, he has returned to Paris to reclaim his daughter but must first prove to Marion that he has reformed. The Peterses have never been as wealthy as Charlie and Helen were, and Marion is envious and resentful of Charlie's past extravagances. This, coupled with her bitterness at Charlie's part in her sister's death, makes Marion suspicious of Charlie's reformation, and she agrees only reluctantly to return Honoria to him. Her suspicions are apparently confirmed when Lorraine and Duncan, two unrepentant friends from Charlie's past, drunkenly descend upon Charlie while he is at the Peterses' house. Marion is shocked, and changes her mind about relinquishing Honoria. The story ends as Charlie resolves to try later to regain his daughter, believing that "they couldn't make him pay forever," and that "Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone."

Major Themes

Critics have identified several major themes in "Babylon Revisited," some of which are centered upon time and its shaping of individual destiny. Joan Turner, for example, has asserted that one of the story's themes is that "the past cannot be escaped." Similarly, Carlos Baker has remarked that no matter how sincere Charlie is in his attempt at reformation, he is "defeated by a past that he can never shed." Ronald J. Gervais viewed the story as a lament for the past and its pleasures, as well as regret for mistakes made. Numerous critics have focused on guilt in the story: James M. Harrison and Seymour L. Gross, for example, have debated whether Charlie genuinely wants to change his ways or is still attracted to his former life. Finally, while Rose Adrienne Gallo considered guilt and retribution as significant concerns in the story, she also described the pernicious influence of money as an important theme—both in its ability to waste lives, as it has with Charlie, and to foster envy and resentment, as it has in Marion Peters.

Critical Reception

"Babylon Revisited" has been generally well-received since its publication and is now considered a masterpiece. Nevertheless, critics have pointed out inconsistencies in the plot—for example, the apparently illogical route that Charlie takes from the Ritz Bar to the Peterses, and several inaccurate references to the passage of time. For all its inconsistencies, however, most critics agree that this wistful story displays Fitzgerald's writing at its best, with its close attention to imagery and sensitive choice of words.

Criticism

James M. Harrison (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: "Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," in The Explicator, Vol. 16, No. 4, January, 1958, pp. 1, 3.

[In the following essay, Harrison asserts that although Charlie Wales has begun to mature, he is still drawn to his former life.]

The usual interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited" has been summarized by Ray B. West (The Short Story in America, 1952). Charlie Wales, returning to Paris, "accidentally becomes involved with some of his old friends; and despite his present dislike of the old life—his knowledge that . . . it was something he had to escape if possible, not recover—he appears to have succumbed and thus loses, once and for all,...

(The entire section is 864 words.)

John V. Hagopian (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: "A Prince in Babylon," in Fitzgerald Newsletter, No. 19, Fall, 1962, pp. 1-3.

[In the following essay, Hagopian examines what he describes as religious, Dantesque elements in the story.]

Despite the obvious symbolism of the title, critics have not generally observed that F's [Fitzgerald's] "Babylon Revisited" is a religious story—more exactly a Catholic, Dantesque story. Not only does it evoke the mood of paralysis and defeat of the Waste Land generation following the stock market crash of 1929, but it renders with understanding and compassion the purgatorial suffering of a man for whom repentance and social readjustment alone are not enough to redeem his...

(The entire section is 828 words.)

Richard R. Griffith (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: "A Note on Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," in American Literature, Vol. 35, No. 2, May, 1963, pp. 236-39.

[In the following essay, Griffith accounts for the inconsistencies in the route Charlie takes from the Ritz Bar to the home of Lincoln and Marion Peters.]

Although "Babylon Revisited" is probably the most anthologized and analyzed of Fitzgerald's short stories, neither editor nor critic has noted the strange route taken by Charlie Wales from the Ritz Bar to Lincoln Peters's home in the Rue Palatine. In the opening scene Charlie discusses former days with Alix, the barman at the Ritz, and departs to visit his daughter at the Peters's home on the Left...

(The entire section is 1170 words.)

Seymour L. Gross (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: "Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," in College English, Vol. 25, No. 2, November, 1963, pp. 128-35.

[In the following essay, Gross refutes James M. Harrison's argument that Charlie is still drawn to his former Life.]

Thus, though we cannot make our sun Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Marvell

In the little hours of the night every move from place to place was an enormous human jump, an increase of paying for the privilege of slower and slower motion.

—"Babylon Revisited"

I

...

(The entire section is 4578 words.)

William R. Osborne (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: "The Wounds of Charlie Wales in Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall, 1964, pp. 86-7.

[In the following essay, Osborne examines the symbolic meaning of the name "Charlie Wales."]

Not only does the title of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story "Babylon Revisited" invite symbolic interpretation, but scattered throughout the story are street names or place names like Rue Saint-Honoré, the Poet's Cave, the Café of Heaven, and the Café of Hell that seem also to have obvious symbolic overtones. In the names of the characters, too, critics have found symbolic significance. James Frakes and...

(The entire section is 868 words.)

Roy R. Male (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: "'Babylon Revisited': A Story of the Exile's Return," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 2, No. 3, Spring, 1965, pp. 270-77.

[In the following essay, Male contends that Charlie Wales has not reformed because he is still torn between his former life and his present one.]

F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited," although widely reprinted, has not produced many commentaries. James Frake and Isadore Traschen give a brief explication in their text on short fiction [Short Fiction, 1959], Arthur Mizener refers to the story a number of times in his biography [The Far Side of Paradise, 1949], and Seymour Gross has recently offered a full-length analysis...

(The entire section is 3338 words.)

Robert I. Edenbaum (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: "'Babylon Revisited': A Psychological Note on F. Scott Fitzgerald," in Literature and Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1968, pp. 27-9.

[In the following essay, Edenbaum contends that, through an inconsistency in the plot, Fitzgerald reveals that he identifies with Charlie Wales.]

F. Scott Fitzgerald's story "Babylon Revisited" concerns the return of Charlie Wales one-and-a-half years later to the Babylon that was—the Paris of 1929—in an attempt to retrieve what he can from the two lost years of drunken revelry that had culminated in the death of his wife, his own incarceration in a sanitarium, and the legal signing over of his daughter, Honoria, to his...

(The entire section is 1186 words.)

Rose Adrienne Gallo (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Fable to Fantasy: The Short Fiction," in F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1978, pp. 82-105

[In the following excerpt, Gallo describes the destructive power of money as an important theme in the story.]

In "Babylon Revisited" (December 1930; Post February 21, 1931; Taps at Reveille 1935), Fitzgerald draws on a biblical source for his title. The inhabitants of the Old Testament city of Babylon were notorious for their licentiousness. Many of the Jews—held captive in Babylon for seventy years—were seduced by the sinful allure of Babylon, and turned from the observance of the Mosaic law to the worship of Babylonian...

(The entire section is 1202 words.)

James B. Twitchell (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "'Babylon Revisited': Chronology and Characters," in Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1978, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman, Gale Research Company, 1979, pp. 155-60.

[In the following essay, Twitchell refutes the argument that Charlie Wales is unreformed.]

In recent years there has been a small critical hubbub over the completeness of Charlie Wales's reformation in Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited." On the surface it does seem that Charlie has converted from wine, women, and song to one midday drink, devotion to his daughter, and serious introspection. But recently critics have questioned Charlie's conversion by pointing to a crucial scene overlooked...

(The entire section is 1756 words.)

Ronald J. Gervais (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "The Snow of Twenty-Nine: 'Babylon Revisited' as Ubi Sunt Lament," in College Literature, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter, 1980, pp. 47-52.

[In the following essay, Gervais contends that "Babylon Revisited" falls within the tradition of dirges for the past and compares it to François Villon's "Ballade of Dead Ladies."]

One of the enduring themes of literature is the transitory nature of man's life, of love and beauty, of happiness. In works of this sort, an important part is sometimes played by the ubi sunt device, which takes its name from the first two words of the Latin sentence, Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt? ("Where are they who were before...

(The entire section is 2017 words.)

Garry N. Murphy and William C. Slattery (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "The Flawed Text of 'Babylon Revisited': A Challenge to Editors, a Warning to Readers," in Studies in Short Fiction, Summer, 1981, pp. 315-18.

[In the following essay, Murphy and Slattery argue that a paragraph should be deleted from the "authorized" version of "Babylon Revisited" to reflect Fitzgerald's final intentions for the story.]

No one—not even F. Scott Fitzgerald himself—has ever seen "Babylon Revisited" printed in the final form intended by its author. The reason is astonishingly simple: when the "authorized" version (an extensive revision of the original 1931 Saturday Evening Post story) was printed by Scribners in Taps at...

(The entire section is 1680 words.)

Elsa Nettels (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "Howells's 'A Circle in the Water' and Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," in Studies in Short Fiction, Summer, 1982, pp. 261-67.

[In the following essay, Nettels discusses the many similarities shared by "Babylon Revisited" and a story by Howells, concluding that although the plots are alike, the perspectives on life expressed in each story are strikingly different.]

William Dean Howells was not one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary heroes. Fitzgerald once included Howells along with such figures as Taft, McKinley, Bryan, Carnegie, and Rockefeller in a list of prominent men of the recent past in whom "a little boy could find little that was inspiring . . . Not...

(The entire section is 3095 words.)

Carlos Baker (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "When the Story Ends: 'Babylon Revisited'," in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1982, pp. 269-77.

[In the following essay, Baker analyzes images of freedom and imprisonment in "Babylon Revisited."]

A kind of change came in my fate,
My keepers grew compassionate,
I know not what had made them so.
They were inured to sights of woe.
And so it was:—my broken chain
With links unfastened did remain
And it was liberty to stride
Along my cell from side to side.

—Byron,...

(The entire section is 3739 words.)

Gene D. Phillips (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Paradise Lost: 'The Last of the Belles' and The Last Time I Saw Paris," in Fiction, Film, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Loyola University Press, 1986, pp. 47-61.

[In the following excerpt, Phillips compares "Babylon Revisited" with a screenplay that Fitzgerald adapted from the story and with a film that was loosely based on the story. Phillips remarks that the quality of the story suffers with each successive adaptation.]

"Babylon Revisited": The Short Story

The last time that a Fitzgerald short story was made into a full-length movie for theatrical release, rather than dramatized for television, was in 1954 when MGM produced the...

(The entire section is 3837 words.)

Joan Turner (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," in The Explicator, Vol. 48, No. 4, Summer, 1990, pp. 282-83.

[In the following essay, Turner demonstrates that frequent references to time in "Babylon Revisited" support a theme important to the story.]

F. Scott Fitzgerald uses many references to time in his short story "Babylon Revisited." His almost constant use of words relating to time helps reinforce one of the main themes of the story: the past cannot be escaped.

Hours and minutes are noted during the narrative present of the story. In the opening, Charlie Wales tells the bartender that he is in Paris for "four or five days" to see his daughter. It is...

(The entire section is 899 words.)

Cecil D. Eby (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: "Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," in The Explicator, Vol. 53, No. 3, Spring, 1995, pp. 176-77.

[In the following essay, Eby focuses on Fitzgerald's use of double entendre to convey the themes of the story.]

"Babylon Revisited" is by any reckoning the most frequently anthologized and widely read of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories. It opens and closes (appropriately) in the Ritz bar in Paris, where Paul, the manager, and Charles Wales reflect on the changes wrought by the stock market crash of 1929 and the economic depression that followed. But the two men are locked in two wholly discrete dimensions. Paul conceives the crash and the depression...

(The entire section is 546 words.)