In the summer of 1919, after encouraging him to perform two revisions, Scribner’s finally signed a contract with the unknown author F. Scott Fitzgerald to publish his first novel. Fitzgerald sold his first major short stories while waiting for the printing, but This Side of Paradise was his major debut, an immediate success that marked both the dawn of the Jazz Age and the dawn of Fitzgerald’s turbulent career. An insider’s satire of the American aristocracy and the social hierarchy of Ivy League universities, the novel turned Fitzgerald into a daring symbol for the Jazz Age, caused a sensation in the older generation, and inspired many in the younger generation to rush out and buy a copy.
The novel is much more than a sensation, however; it is a landmark in modernist fiction that challenged literary tradition and helped give a voice to a younger generation shocked by the horrors of World War I. An admittedly self-obsessed portrait of the “egotist” Amory Blaine and his intellectual development, Fitzgerald’s novel is also a portrait of his own artistic development that led to his emergence as an author now considered perhaps the most important American modernist writer. Widely criticized as a haphazard collection of short stories that fail to cohere as a whole, This Side of Paradise does reveal some naivety in its young author, but its unique structure is also a vital part of what makes it a challenging and innovative text. In the early 2000s it was recognized as an enormously influential and compelling novel by an emerging legend of American literature.