How does Fitzgerald demonstrate the ideas of the modernist period in his story "Babylon Revisited"?
Considering "Babylon Revisted" as one of his chefs d' oeuvres, F. Scott Fitzgerald declared to a friend :
You see, I not only announced the birth of my young illusions in This Side of Paradise, but pretty much the death of them in some of my last [Saturday Evening] Post (a magazine for which he wrote) stories like "Babylon Revisited."
Certainly, the story's title is a metaphor for the city of Paris where Charlie Waites returns in the hope of regaining his child, Honoria. Much like Babylon, Paris in the early twentieth century setting of this story encapsulates the luxury, sensualness, debauchery, wickedness, and multilingualism of the ancient city. Moreover, the narrative manifests many of the ideas of Modernism, a period in which the great thinkers of :
- The "Unreal City"
This term given to London in T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land, characterizes the form of experience of Modernism in which people were disillusioned, ambiguous, and aimless. Having had the cornerstones of his culture broken apart by the great thinkers of the era, Marx, Nietzche, Darwin, and Freud, man became what Charles Baudelaire termed the flaneur, one who walks the city streets aimlessly with no meaning to his life. Paris, Charlie's Babylon of dissipation, is an "unreal city" when he returns to it in the hope of regaining custody of his daughter, Honoria. There he feels disassociated, ambiguous about resuming former relatioships with former friends, his daughter, and his sister-in-law.
In Paris, Charlie is defeated by a past--his antagonist--that he cannot shed as Lorraine Quarrles seeks him out and destroys his chances of convincing Marion he is no longer drinking and is responsible enough to be Honoria's parent and guardian.
...they [the Quarrleses] wanted to see him, because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength.''
- Subjective Consciousness
Throughout the narrative, there is the disturbed interior monologue of the protagonist, Charlie Waites who vacillates from indecision and guilt to confidence and back again. Regarding his child at their reunion, he engages in self-debate,
He thought he knew what to do for her. He believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element. Everything else wore out.
Later, as the past overwhelms him, Charlie resorts to critical sentiment as he realizes his dissipation as his waste of structure in his life has left him with a dead wife and a child he has had taken from him.
- Allusions, Alienation, and Ambiguity
For Charlie, the past continually intrudes upon the present, leaving him without meaning as he cannot overcome its sordid events. Haunted by the reappearance of Lorraine and her husband, Charlie's credibility as a sober and responsible father is lost. The allusions to his dead wife amd his behavior in the past also act as impediments to Charlie's success in attaining Honoria. These shards of the past leave Charlie damaged and alienated, searching for some guiding structure by which he can prove himself. In the typical ambiguous ending, Charlie sits in the Ritz and ponders,
He would come back....they couldn't make him pay forever. But, he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now....He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone.
With this modernist aesthetic of alienation, there is a fragmentation to the narrative of "Babylon Revisited."