Essays and Criticism
An Overview of "Babylon Revisited"
The richness of "Babylon Revisited" as a work of fiction lies in Fitzgerald's ability to encompass so many themes while leaving the important questions about Charlie Wales' character unanswered. On the surface, the story is about a father's attempt to regain the custody of his daughter after a series of personal disasters. Critics have consistently praised the story for its authentic and affecting portrayal of the love between Charlie and Honoria, and in discussing a planned film version of the story, Fitzgerald himself later referred to "the tragedy of the father and the child'' that lies at the heart of the story. Within this basic emotional core, however, Fitzgerald dramatizes a universe of emotional, social, historical, and psychological themes. Charlie's quest to win back Honoria, for example, is also his quest to prove to himself and those who know him that he is a new man. Only a year and half before, he was an unemployed, irresponsible, spendthrift alcoholic with poor taste in friends, a broken marriage, and a malicious streak that allowed him to lock his wife out of their apartment on a winter night. He now presents himself to his sister's family, his former friends, and the reader as a "radically" changed man, once again sober and employed—"a reformed sinner'' with a new appreciation of personal character as "the eternally valuable element."
Much of the critical discussion of "Babylon Revisited" has centered on which Charlie is the "real" one....
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When the Story Ends: "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 Prisoner of Chillon''
Fitzgerald once called "Babylon Revisited'' a magnificent short story. The adjective still holds. It is probably his best. Written in December, 1930, it was first published February 21, 1931, in the Saturday Evening Post, whose editors must have recognized its superior qualities, well above the norm of the stories from his pen that this magazine had been publishing for the past ten years. Collected in Taps at Reveille in 1935, it stood proudly at the end of the volume, a memorable example of well-made short fiction.
The epigraph from Byron bears upon the story for many reasons, not least because "The Prisoner of Chillon" was the first poem that Fitzgerald ever heard, his father having read it aloud to him in his childhood, a circumstance that he recalled in a letter to his mother in June, 1930, when he paid a tourist visit to "Chillon's dungeons deep and old" while staying at Ouchy-Lausanne in order to be near Zelda, who was desperately ill in a nearby sanatorium. The story he wrote six months...
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Structural Metaphors in Fitzgerald's Short Fiction
‘‘Babylon Revisited’’ has deservedly received more critical attention and praise than any other Fitzgerald short story, with most commentators expressing admiration for its flawless blend of a tight, balanced structure and a significant theme. The only reservation about the story's structural excellence appears in a footnote to Higgins' study of the story [in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Stories, 1971]: "The story's structure seems slightly flawed in that there are actually two dramatic climaxes, scene four and scene six." One sees a flaw only if one insists on a restricted development in the superstructure; such an emphasis traditionally demands that the climax be followed by a change in the hero's fortunes or in his psychological state. There is obviously a change in Charlie's fortunes and psychological state after Marion relents and yields to Charlie's request for custody of Honoria. But then of course the story continues; and just as his desires are to be fulfilled, the "ghosts" out of the past intervene and turn Charlie into a victim instead of a victor—his fortunes change and his spirit falls. But clearly, Charlie's loneliness at the end of the story is appropriate only if he has been deprived of Honoria, as happened in the climax in Scene six, Section IV.
Even though some disagree with Seymour Gross's interpretation [in College English, Nov. 1963] of the ultimate meaning of the story, his reading of "Babylon...
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Guilt and Retribution in "Babylon Revisited"
Roy R. Male's perceptive article on "Babylon Revisited", [Studies in Short Fiction II (1965)] goes far in clearing up many of the unresolved problems that have recently been discussed in relation to the story. Male has pointed out, as James Harrison had shown in an earlier note [Explicator 16, (January, 1958)], that Charlie Wales is in a sense responsible for the appearance of Duncan and Lorraine at the Peters's house at precisely the wrong moment. Male has further called into serious question the general interpretation of the story, most specifically Seymour Gross' contention that Charlie has been renovated and that the punishment he suffers is brought upon him from external sources. Gross says: "That moral renovation may not be enough is the injustice that lies at the center of the story" [College English XXV (November, 1963)]. Both Male and Harrison point out that had Charlie not given the bartender the Peters' address at the opening of the story, Duncan and Lorraine would not have shown up there and given Marion Peters a real reason to refuse to return Honoria to Charlie.
Gross' further statement, "Nor is there anything here of that troubled ambivalence which characterizes our response to that fantastic ambiguity, Jay Gatsby," seems quite wrong, because it is precisely in the troubled ambivalence of Charlie Wales that the meaning of the story is found. But Charlie's ambivalence is not the result of the fact that, as Male...
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Time and Structure in Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited"
[Immanuel] Kant wrote that time is the most characteristic mode of our experience, and, as Hans Myerhoff has pointed out [in Time and Literature, 1955], "It is more general than space, because it applies to the inner world of impressions, emotions and ideas for which no spatial order can be given." Modern fiction is preoccupied with the concept of time; [Henri] Bergson's concept of la duree realle and [Marcel] Proust's la memoire involontaire have of course, exerted a large influence on fiction; in fact their indirect influence has been enormous. Modern writers since Bergson and Proust have become increasingly aware of the implications of time in the structure of their fiction. F. Scott Fitzgerald was particularly preoccupied with the forces of time. His personal life, together with his reading, gave him a profound sense of the importance of time with regard to self.
Fitzgerald felt the ravages of time especially in his own life, and a great deal of his fiction touches on this theme. He was less inward in his treatment of time than either Joyce or Thomas Wolfe but there is in his fiction a sense of the unity of past and present; the past is irrevocable because it brings about the reality of the present. An understanding of how Fitzgerald's concept of time informs his fiction can be illustrated by an analysis of...
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