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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 hope of regaining his child. The pathos in 'Babylon Revisited' is deepend and enriched by Charlie Wales's recognition that he is, in part at least, merely reaping the harvest of his earlier years. . . . [He is] doomed because he still carries the burden of his early irresponsibility, even in the years of maturity and knowledge."
According to this interpretation the effect is, as West suggests, pathetic rather than tragic. Charlie has matured; he is reliable, sober, patient, tolerant, kind, devoted to his daughter. He is defeated by accident, and by past mistakes over which he no longer has any control. If this interpretation is sound, complaints that the story is sentimental have a certain validity.
But the situation is not really this simple. Charlie has triumphed over his past at the point where Marion Peters agrees to his taking Honoria, and the reversal—the untimely appearance of his drunken friends—cannot be attributed to accident or to past weakness; it is clearly the result of present weakness.
The point of view is Charlie's, and it is easy to read the story only on the level of his understanding; after all he is intelligent and perceptive, and his dilemma arouses our sympathy. But although we see the action through the eyes of the protagonist, and colored by his feelings and opinions, we can at the same time observe the protagonist critically. We are in a position to know everything he knows, and more. The "more" in this case is essential to our full understanding.
The central conflict is not between Charlie past and Charlie present, but between contradictory impulses operating within the latter. Charlie sees that the old, wild, gay way of life was foolish, cruel, and empty; yet it still appeals to him. He feels its temptation despite his firm desire to demonstrate his solid virtues and make a home for his daughter. Thus at the opening we see him inquiring after his old friends—motivated not by morbid curiosity but by nostalgia.
There are two Charlies in the story: Charlie the substantial man of business, the devoted father who wishes to reclaim his child; and Charlie the hedonist, who sees the waste, cruelty and senselessness of his former spree but who still feels somehow that it was gloriously wasteful, gloriously cruel and gloriously senseless—and in spite of the suffering it caused, glorious fun. It is Charlie number two who feels Lorraine Quarries' "passionate, provocative attraction," when he suddenly encounters her. Next day Charlie number one is in control again, and he remembers her as "trite, blurred, worn away." Were he not pulled in two directions, Charlie could easily make it clear to his old friends, when he first meets them, that he is a changed man. But this he cannot do. He can brag about his moderate drinking to Lincoln Peters; he can speak of it with satisfaction even to the bartender; but he cannot bring himself to admit it to his former playmates.
At the story's climax Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarries appear, drunk, at the Peterses' home. "For a moment Charlie was astounded; unable to understand how they ferreted out the Peterses' address." He protests to Lincoln Peters: "They wormed your name out of somebody.'" The surprise of the respectable Charlie is genuine, but the reader will remember the other Charlie inquiring at the Ritz bar about his old companions in dissipation: "Charlie scribbled an address in his notebook and tore out the page. 'If you see Mr. Schaeffer, give him this,' he said. 'It's my brother-in-law's address.'" And thus, in a passage placed for emphasis at the very opening of the story, Charlie plants the seed of his own destruction.
Charlie has come to dinner at the Peterses' at six, ignoring an invitation to meet Lorraine an hour earlier at the Ritz bar. Apparently Duncan has encountered Lorraine there, and Alix has handed him the note bearing the Peterses' address. Charlie, who has since instructed Alix not to reveal his hotel, has obviously forgotten the note. So the "reformed" Charlie is defeated, not by accident, but by an impulsive act of the other side of his nature.
Charlie's "maturity and knowledge" are still incomplete. He has turned over a new leaf, but it refuses to lie flat. The central symbol of the story is Charlie's one drink a day: he wants to give up the old way of life—almost. But for all this he is likable and admirable, a strong and tragic character wrestling with a weakness he does not completely understand.
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"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 ThemesCritics 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.
"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.
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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 past. Nevertheless, as the symbolism and dramatic action both suggest, eventual redemption is probable.
F [Fitzgerald] was born into a Catholic family and had a Catholic upbringing; and his most important short story, like his most important novel GG, [The Great Gatsby] is an evocation of purgatorial suffering in the Dante-Eliot sense. Charlie Wales repents his former sins in Babylon, but it takes more than simple repentance for him to win his Honoria. He is still afflicted with the sins of pride ("he wondered if he couldn't do something to get Lincoln out of his rut at the bank") and anger ("He thought rather angrily that this was just money"). But he knows that one needn't "pay forever," though one must first endure suffering in the purgatorial fires.
There are three "vector forces" in the story, one positive and two negative: Charlie and his daughter yearning to establish the ties of paternal and filial love; Lincoln and Marion Peters, sitting in judgment over him, sanctioned by law and traditional morality; and Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarries, emerging inexorably from his dissipated past to blast his hopes of immediate redemption. These three forces gradually converge toward the climactic scene before the denouement and give the story an admirably solid dramatic structure.
While Charlie Wales is in Paris in an effort to regain custody of his daughter, he spends three days revisiting the scenes of his former revels, places where he had been a "good-time Charlie" living with the careless abandon of the playboy Prince of "Wales." Though still occupied by dope-addicts ("Snow Bird") and homosexuals ("strident queens"), "Babylon is fallen, is fallen" (Isaiah 21:9) and is "become a desolation among nations" (Jeremiah 50:23), and Charlie finds that "the place oppressed him." He had first brought Helen to Paris; now he comes to take Honoria out.
That he is in some sort of purgatorial fire is suggested when he emerges from the Ritz Bar and observes that "the fire-red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs shone smokily through the tranquil rain." In Montmartre he notices that "the Poet's Cave had disappeared, but the two great mouths of the Cafe of Heaven and the Cafe of Hell still yawned." The artists in exile had gone, but the choice of Heaven or Hell is always with us.
That Charlie has experienced a moral rebirth and achieved a new identity is suggested not only by his control over alcohol and money, his rejection of a prostitute and dissipated old friends, but even more subtly by his playful announcement to Honoria, "First let me introduce myself. My name is Charles J. Wales, of Prague." He is no longer from the moral wilderness of Paris (represented by the dissipated Duncan and Lorraine), nor from Burlington, Vermont (represented by Lincoln and Marion Peters); he is a respectable business man from a rich cultural center in the heart of Europe. Marion Peters, especially, is "sick" in a way diametrically opposed to the sickness of Duncan and Lorraine. Charlie resents her legal, not moral, power, but "if he modulated his resentment to the chastened attitude of the reformed sinner, he might win his point in the end."
The story opens "with a stillness in the Ritz Bar that was strange and portentous," and when it closes, again in the Ritz Bar, the portents have been confirmed. He has not regained his Honoria. But although he is suffering, he is not defeated; Purgatory is not the Inferno. "He would come back some day; they couldn't make him pay forever." The mood is one of sadness, longing, and repentance—but neither one of unutterable anguish and guilt, nor one of absolute defeat and loss. On his second night in Paris, Charlie Wales dreamed of his wife whom he had mistreated by locking her out in a snowstorm after a drunken quarrel; in the dream, dressed in white, "she said she was glad he was being good and doing better." At this point Helen has obviously become his Beatrice figure, just beyond his reach since he is in Purgatory. But she is still attainable, and at the end he does not collapse into drink and despair. To be sure, his sins require more than a year or two to be purged, but he has the strength to endure more and "he was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone."
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Lindfors, Bernth. "Paris Revisited." Fitzgerald Newsletter, No. 16 (Winter 1962): 77-8.
Illustrates the inconsistencies in Charlie's first taxi ride.
Lueders, Edward. "Revisiting Babylon: Fitzgerald and the 1920's." Western Humanities Review 29, No. 3 (Summer 1975): 285-91.
Uses the symbolism of Fitzgerald's title "Babylon Revisited" to reexamine the 1920s.
Petry, Alice Hall. Fitzgerald's Craft of Short Fiction: The Collected Stories 1920-1935. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989, 235 p.
Contains scattered references to characters and themes in "Babylon Revisited."
Additional coverage of Fitzgerald's life and career is contained in the following sources published by The Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 24; Authors in the News, Vol. 1; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1917-1929; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 110, 123; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 4, 9, 86; Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary Series, Vols. 1, 15, 16; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, Vols. 81, 96; Discovering Authors; Discovering Authors: British; Discovering Authors: Canadian; Discovering Authors: Most-Studied Authors Module; Discovering Authors: Novelists Module; Major 20th-century Authors; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 6; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 6, 14, 28, 55; and World Literature Criticism.
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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 Bank. Leaving the bar, located in the Place Vendôme (on the Right Bank), he obviously walks north on the Rue de la Paix to the Place de l'Opera, where five streets intersect, including the Boulevard des Capucines and the Avenue de l'Opera. "At the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines he took a taxi."
Clearly this cab went southwest (to Charlie's left, since he was walking north) to the Place de la Madeleine, where it turned south onto the Rue Royale and into the Place de la Concorde, for we are told in the next sentence: "The Place de la Concorde moved by in pink majesty; they crossed the logical Seine, and Charlie felt the sudden provincial quality of the Left Bank." They must have crossed the river at the Pont de la Concorde, and Charlie's intent is presumably to take the Boulevard St. Germain southeast to the Rue Palatine (located just behind St. Surplice)—a reasonable enough route.
However, the opening sentence of the next paragraph asserts that "Charlie directed his taxi to the Avenue de l'Opera, which was out of his way." Fitzgerald uses litotes to good effect on occasion, but this is singularly inappropriate. There are three ways of reaching the Avenue de l'Opera from the taxi's current position at the Left Bank end of the Pont de la Concorde. They may stay on the Left Bank, going east along the river to one of the bridges opposite the Louvre, recross the Seine, and come onto the Avenue de l'Opera as it dead-ends into the Rue de Rivoli. Or they may turn around immediately, go back across the Pont de la Concorde, and take the Rue de Rivoli to the same intersection. Both these routes, unfortunately, take them to the extreme southeast end of the Avenue de l'Opera, and the only direction they can go is northwest, directly away from the Left Bank and their goal. The third alternative is to retrace their path exactly—back across the same bridge, through Concorde, up the Rue Royale, past the Madeleine, and via the Boulevard de la Madeleine and the Boulevard des Capucines to Charlie's original corner at the Rue de La Paix. From this point they can turn southeast on the Avenue de l'Opera; and however improbable this route may appear, especially in late afternoon traffic, it is the only one which will at least permit them to take the Avenue in the right direction.
After passing Brentano's book store, just a block south, and a middle class restaurant called Duval's, both quite accurately on Charlie's new route to the Rue Palatine via the Avenue de l'Opera, "they rolled on to the Left Bank and he felt its sudden provincialism. . . ." The wording of this passage provides the key to the problem, for Fitzgerald has used almost the identical words ("Charlie felt the sudden provincial quality of the Left Bank") to conclude the account of the first crossing. An author might conceivably become sufficiently confused to have his character cross a river twice going in the same direction, but no competent craftsman would so duplicate his phraseology, especially when it contains a striking idea like the attribution of "sudden provincialism" to the Left Bank. The obvious explanation is that the second sentence is a rewritten version of the first. If one extends this idea to the whole preceding paragraph, assuming that the entire paragraph was an expanded and revised version of the earlier sentence, intended to be substituted for it, the inconsistencies in itinerary are readily accounted for.
A brief examination of Fitzgerald's artistic purposes in the account of Charlie's taxi ride will indicate how this duplication could have occurred. He is establishing a contrast between the life led by Charlie and his friends before the crash (when they were "a sort of royalty") and the bourgeoise respectability represented by the "provincial" Left Bank life of Lincoln Peters (whose very name suggests democracy and rock-like stability). He achieved this very simply in first draft by mentioning the "pink majesty" of La Concorde and following it immediately with the "sudden provincial quality" of the Left Bank. However, in rewriting he found this inadequate, a mere contrast of the spirits of the two Banks. Two things were missing: the sense of glory past (for La Concorde was still there, still majestic), and the suggestion of Charlie's own regret—now that it is no longer possible to live like a king—that he had not been a member of that simpler, stabler class for which he still feels a tinge of contempt. Both these things must be established before the conversations with the Peters take place if the reader is to understand Charlie's relationship with them, and Fitzgerald achieves this very neatly by rerouting the taxi past the Palais Royale and contrasting the cab horns of the present with the trumpets of the Second Empire, by indicating the close of an age of creative literary culture by the drawing of the iron grill across Brentano's, and by Charlie's regrets, seeing the "trim little bourgeois hedge of Duval's," that "he had never eaten at a really cheap restaurant in Paris." He then revised his original sentence referring to the "sudden provincialism," with no mention of passing La Concorde, and used it to conclude the new taxi route through the Right Bank. He neglected, however, to delete the original sentence for which it substituted.
This sort of reconstruction of creative process is necessarily open to question, but in this instance the evidence seems sufficient. Traces of exactly the same sort of revision, designed to enrich through addition of suggestive symbolic detail, appear in the account of Charlie's visit to Montmartre later the same evening. Indeed, the association between the closed grill at Brentano's and the disappearance of the cafe called The Poet's Cave suggests the two passages were reworked at the same time.
A work printed during the author's lifetime and allowed to stand uncorrected by him should, no doubt, be considered as representing his final intention. However, when the choice is between perfect consistency and complete absurdity, and when the error may be accounted for readily and corrected easily—by the omission of a single sentence—it would appear an editorial obligation to do so. Presumably, Fitzgerald would have preferred having his text tampered with to being thought unversed in the geography of Paris.
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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.
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.
The two epigraphs which introduce this essay define, in one sense, the polar limits of Fitzgerald's life. His frenetic attempts, almost heroic in their intensity and pathetic in their ultimate ineffectiveness, to stay ahead of "Time's winged chariot" (though he was afraid the race was lost at thirty) are too well known, have been too fully documented, to need much elaboration here. "I wanted to enjoy, to be prodigal and openhearted, to miss nothing." What Fitzgerald wanted, finally, was to fill each moment of life so full of living that time would stand still for him. This was the way to "beat" time—to run a dead heat with the galloping stallions of mortality. It is one of Fitzgerald's accomplishments that he can still make us respond to the purity of this desire even as we recognize, as we are so often meant to, the spurious materials and self-defeating methods by which his characters strive to make life go glimmering. Those of us for whom the Twenties as Fitzgerald's metaphor of what life may offer by way of glamour has not yet become a whipping boy of middle-age can still acknowledge, as he wrote in his notebook, how "any given moment has its value; it can be questioned in the light of after-events, but the moment remains. The young prince in velvet gathered in lovely domesticity around the queen amid the hush of rich draperies may presently grow up to be Pedro the Cruel or Charles the Mad, but the moment of beauty was there."
But at the polar opposite of Fitzgerald's presentations of "the romantic enlargement of the possibilities of life" (to use Professor Bewley's phrase) emerge the results of the toughened vision of the "spoiled priest"—as Fitzgerald once called himself—who watches with horror as the "filled moment" collapses of its own weight. In this region of Fitzgerald's moral geography—whose supreme history and topography have been written into "Babylon Revisited" (1931)—there is nothing of the confusion of attitude to be found in such essays as "Echoes of the Jazz Age" (1931) or "My Lost City" (1932), in which the seemingly firm-eyed recapitulation of catastrophe and self-delusion finally counts for less than the nostalgic yearnings with which they end. Nor is there anything here of that troubled ambivalence which characterizes our response to that fantastic ambiguity, Jay Gatsby, whose exquisite dream moves us even as we acknowledge the cloud of foul dust which trails in its wake. In the world of "Babylon Revisited" winter dreams do not drift sweetly into sad memories, but erupt into nightmares of irrevocable loss, leaving only the waste and horror of the twisted shapes that lie on the decimated plains of the Babylonian Captivity.
The action of "Babylon Revisited" begins and ends in the Ritz bar. This structural maneuver is absolutely right, for the bar is one of the story's chief symbols of the relentless impingement of the past on the present, though it is not until the end of the story after Charlie's defeat, that it clearly takes on this signification. Indeed, ironically enough, Charlie's initial appearance at the Ritz seems to imply precisely the opposite: the apparent separation of the past from the concerns, needs, and desires of the present. The very fact that Charlie can return to the hub of a life which had cost him his wife and his child does not at all indicate, as the story's most recent commentator has it, that the old way of life "still appeals to him," but rather demonstrates the extent and depth of his self-mastery and the confidence he feels in his belief that his wildly squandered yesterdays are over and done with, that there is no tab left for him to have to pick up [James M. Harrison, "Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," Explicator, Vol. 16, January 1958].
The opening scene's primary function is to show how divorced Charlie feels from the blurred life of several years ago. His questions to the bartender about cronies from the past are mechanically curious but fundamentally uninterested. The news that "Mr. Campbell [is] a pretty sick man" and that Claude Fessenden cheated the bar of thirty thousand francs and is now "all bloated up" evokes no comment. The pricks to memory of "familiar names from the long list of a year and a half ago" strike no responsive chord. Charlie feels out of place and "polite" in the bar that, in the time of wine and roses, he had felt he had "owned." "It had gone back into France," he thinks. When he goes through the remembered ritual of placing his foot firmly on the bar rail and turning to survey the room, only a single pair of indifferent eyes "fluttered up from a newspaper in the corner." Charlie's dissociation from his past is capped by the brief bit of dialogue with which the scene ends:
"Here for long, Mr. Wales?"
"I'm here for four or five days to see my little girl."
"Oh-h! You have a little girl?"
In the Babylon who "saith in her heart [I] shall see no sorrow," there can be neither children nor the risk of their loss. The figures there float rootlessly free of human ties and responsibilities, having sprung full-born from their skyrocketing blue chips and capacity for dissipation. The adults are the only children. "We did have such good times that crazy spring [Lorraine wistfully recalls in the letter to Charlie], like the night you and I stole the butcher's tricycle, and the time we tried to call on the president and you had the old derby rim and the wire cane." But Charlie Wales's return to Paris is an attempted return to fatherhood, an attempt to lay the ghost of his past childishness through the recovery of his lost child, Honoria. "Oh-h! You have a little girl?" is a bitterly reasonable question for one whose life had been nothing more than a "catering to vice and waste . . . on an utterly childish scale." After all, children have no children.
The tragedy is that Charlie no longer deserves such a question. There is in us a desire to find the present Charlie somehow deserving of his wretched fate—which is what perhaps accounts for Professor Harrison's reading—for it is easier to live with a belief in reasonable justice. But Fitzgerald does not allow us this luxury. Throughout the story he ironically stresses the splendid achievement of Charlie's reform. His sensitivity, poised intelligence, and quiet power over himself should be enough to get his daughter back. That moral renovation may not be enough is the injustice that lies at the center of the story.
Charlie's recovery of "character"—"the eternally valuable element"—which was implied in the opening scene in his being unafraid to confront the old life, is made explicit as he leaves the bar. Walking the street, he feels, all at once, "the sudden provincial quality of the left bank." But Charlie is not a prig: his self-mastery is too final to need the subtly corrupt support of the moral outrage of a libertine turned puritan. He can still be moved by the "pink majesty" of the Place de la Concord and "the blue hour spread over the magnificent facade" of the Avenue de l'Opera; he can even afford to indulge in the fantasy of imagining that "the cab horns, playing endlessly the first few bars of Le Plus que Lent, were the trumpets of the Second Empire." Paris is not, after all, Babylon. Only the Left Bank, which in the "crazy years" had seemed the epitome of romantic possibility, strikes him with "its sudden provincialism." Brentano's, cheap restaurants (in which he had never eaten), such as Duval's, with its "trim little bourgeois hedge," had never been "spoiled," because they had never been touched, by the crowd of three years ago who had made "months into days." Babylon, Charlie thinks sadly, had been an American creation.
The following scene with Marion and Lincoln Peters, Charlie's sister-in-law and her husband, who had been given custody of Honoria when Charlie's wife, Helen, was dying and he himself was broke and in a sanitarium for alcoholism, is the symbolic obverse of the opening scene at the Ritz bar, which had depicted the repudiated past. Here the "warm and comfortably American room," the intimate movements of children, "the cheer of six o'clock" as dinner is being prepared, and Honoria (in Charlie's mind) at the center of the bustle, represent the future which Charlie anticipates with excruciating need. The contrasts between the two scenes are extensive. The mechanical exchange in the bar has become the sincerely interested conversation between Charlie and Lincoln Peters; the "single bored voice in the once-clamorous women's room" has changed into "the eager smacks of the fire and sounds of French activity in the kitchen"; the shrill group of homosexuals ("strident queens") has been replaced by a family. Honoria's ecstatic shriek of welcome—"oh, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, dads, dads, dads!"—is the answer to the barman's surprised question.
Yet for all the obvious contrasts between the two scenes, there is also present an ominous similarity—a similarity which functions as the first of many symbolic foreshowings of Charlie's failure to redeem his daughter (and thus himself) from the carnival years. In both scenes Charlie is fundamentally isolated from the radical quality of the life going on around him: in the bar because of his maturity, in the home because of his position as a suppliant. Despite Honoria's presence (with its infinite promise), it is Marion Peters' hostility which dominates the scene, making Charlie's heart sit "up rigidly in his body." Although it is not until Part III that we come fully to understand why Marion has set herself against Charlie's future, her animosity, interposing itself as it does between father and daughter, so serves to consign Charlie's presence to the periphery of the room that the final effect of the scene is the disturbing implication that Charlie's proximity to the symbols of the life he hopes for is as deceptive as was his proximity in the opening scene to the symbols of the life he left behind him. It is significant that Honoria never speaks again in the scene after her cry of joy and that the last bit of dialogue is Marion's frigid reply to Charlie's statement that he takes but one drink a day—"I hope you keep to it."
The parallelism between the two scenes is reinforced by the similarity of Charlie's response to both the bar and the Peters' home: relief at being able to get away and a desire to roam the streets alone to see Paris "with clearer and more judicious eyes than those of other days." His second view is more severely contemptuous, the result, no doubt, of his recent contact with Honoria. Montmartre, "where he had parted with so many hours and so much money," stripped of its alcoholic haze, reveals itself as cheap, meretriciously exuberant, and corrupt. As he watches the prowling prostitutes, devouring cafes, and "bleak and sinister cheap hotels," he "suddenly realized the meaning of the word 'dissipate'—to dissipate into thin air; to make nothing out of something." Then follows what is perhaps Fitzgerald's most profound insight into the nature of Babylon, Jazz Age style: "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."
On the literal level, the sentence describes early morning bar-hopping: greater and greater expenditures of cash for the "privilege" of more and more uncertain physical movement. But the passage reaches out to larger significances. The impulse towards the enlargement of experience which lies behind the spree manifests itself in the little hours of the night (which Fitzgerald elsewhere described as "the dark night of the soul")—"little" not only in the sense of early, but also in the ironic sense of compressed and constricted. The "enormous human jump" required of the drunk in moving from place to place, for whom physical space is constantly hostile, enlarges to an understanding of the expense of spirit which the movement entails. Not only is money being spent ("an increase of paying"), but the human quality is being spent, used up, too. The desire to make the sun run by filling each moment so full of gaiety and abandon that time will seem to stand still succeeds only in so weighting down the figures that they can manage only the contrived movements of an artificially slowed-down motion picture. Life, not time, has stopped.
Part II opens deceptively. The "fine fall day," Charlie's euphoria, and lunch with Honoria at the only restaurant Charlie can think of "not reminiscent of . . . long luncheons that began at two and ended in a blurred and vague twilight," seem to promise, structurally, that the happier of the alternatives symbolically offered in Part I will occur. This scene—the only extended contact between father and daughter—is particularly poignant because in dramatizing a glimpse of the future Charlie yearns for, Fitzgerald makes us feel (and not merely abstractly acknowledge) the absolute Tightness of Charlie's desire to be reunited with his daughter. Though Charlie knows that he needs his daughter back in order to give shape and direction to his renascence, to redeem his lost honor, and, in a sense, to recover something of his wife "escaped to a grave in Vermont," he is aware of the danger in the very intensity of his need. He knows how perilously easy it would be to make Honoria into a smothered surrogate for all that he has irremediably lost. For example, when Honoria "tranquilly" agrees that she won't always love her daddy best, but will someday "grow up and meet somebody her own age and go marry him and forget [she] ever had a daddy," Charlie is not upset. The conversation between father and daughter is tender and loving and wholly free of sinister psychiatric pressures, dramatic proof of Charlie's ability to act in terms of his understanding as it is articulated in Part IV:
The present was the thing—work to do and someone to love. But not to love too much, for he knew the injury that a father can do to a daughter . . . by attaching [her] too closely: afterward, out in the world, the child would seek in the marriage partner the same blind tenderness and, failing probably to find it, turn against love and life.
Hawthorne once observed that every crime we commit destroys more Edens than our own. In focusing on Charlie's need it is easy to miss Honoria's. Though Fitzgerald does not cheapen the scene by sentimentalizing the unsatisfactoriness of Honoria's present life, it is clear that Honoria likes neither Marion nor Marion's daughter, though she is too well-bred and sensitive to engage in spiteful recriminations that could only serve to deepen her father's unhappiness. Her sudden "Daddy, I want to come and live with you," though unaccompanied by Dickensian emotional fanfare, is an eloquent plea that broadens the base of the tragedy, much as does the silent presence of the children at the end of the Oedipus. This encounter will painfully remind us, when Charlie's undeserved defeat is at the center of our response, of Honoria's loss as well.
The past and future, which were structurally separated in Part I (though the past was made to impinge symbolically upon the future) are narratively intersected in Part II. Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarles—"Sudden ghosts out of the past"—intrude themselves upon the promise of tomorrow. They are ghosts not only because they will eventually haunt Charlie to defeat, but also because they are disembodied, dislocated spirits inhabiting a world which exists only in their self-conscious strivings. Lorraine's "This your little girl?" (which echoes the bartender's question) announces her exclusion from reality; similarly, when Charlie tries to stop the banal bantering about his being sober by indicating Honoria with his head, both Lorraine and Duncan can only laugh. The innocent pleasure of father and daughter attending the vaudeville at the Empire becomes, in Lorraine's "There! That's what I want to do. . . . I want to see some clowns and acrobats and jugglers," an obscene activity, a Babylonian revel of ruinous irresponsibility and desperate hilarity. But they are ghosts in yet another sense, for Lorraine and Duncan are the anonymous figures in slow motion in the passage already quoted. Doomed as they are to being out of time, where gestures pass through all the essential realities, they can only drift, "trite, blurred, worn away," in search of some vampiristic contact with those who inhabit the real world. "They liked him," Charlie thinks, "because he was serious . . . because he was stronger than they were, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength." He has located their essential weakness; but he has miscalculated their power to destroy. Human blood cannot make vampires normally human; but vampires destroy what is human in achieving temporary sustenance.
The intrusion of the ghosts from Charlie's past accounts, symbolically, for the tableau with which Part II ends. Charlie does not accompany his daughter into the Peters's house. He waits, instead, "in the dark street until she appeared all warm and glowing, in the window above, and kissed her fingers out into the night." The distance between the shadowed father and radiant daughter, which the kiss can only symbolically but not actually traverse, is the measure of their inevitable separation. Honoria, framed in the window, has become, the passage seems to imply, a portrait—something that was once livingly available but is now only accessible as a memory in a gallery of remembrances of things past. The tableau, moreover, looks back to the terminal passage of Part I, in which Charlie eludes the "encouraging stare" of a streetwalker, though he buys her supper and gives her a twenty-franc note (as he is later to buy Honoria lunch and give her a doll), and forward to the terminal passage of Part III, when Charlie in a half-dream tries to talk to his dead wife, who "was in a swing in a white dress, and swinging faster and faster all the time, so that at the end he could not hear clearly all that she said." These structural juxtapositions indicate that although Charlie has wilfully removed himself from the sterility of his past, as represented by the prostitute, he is nevertheless actually closer to her than he is to the distanced Honoria or receding Helen. He is offered the physical presence of a non-wife, non-mother, but only the "portrait" of his child and the "ghost" of his wife.
In Part III Marion becomes a significant actor in the drama. Having dressed herself in a black dress "that just faintly suggested mourning," as if already prepared to preside over the death of Charlie's hopes, Marion sets herself squarely against her brother-in-law's dream of the future. Although she has obviously convinced herself that she is motivated solely by a concern for Honoria's welfare and duty to her dead sister, it soon becomes apparent that her hard stance is not morally unequivocal. In Marion we see a subtly corrupt desire for self-justification masking itself in the virtues of duty and responsibility. Marion, because she had never really loved her sister, jealously resented her sister's materially superior marriage. Lincoln, though a wholly decent person, has never been capable of making much money; even in the boom time he "never got ahead enough to carry anything but [his] insurance." Indeed, although Charlie has had recently to start over again from scratch, he is already making twice as much money as Lincoln. Marion's response to this "injustice" has been to take psychological refuge in the cliché that the rich are never happy; she has submerged her envy in "a curious disbelief in her sister's happiness." Marion's hostility did not originate, as Lincoln believes, in the Babylonian days—"Marion felt there was some kind of injustice in . . . you not even working toward the end, and getting richer and richer"—but long before that. The party years merely aggravated—and seemed to give justification for—an already existing mean condition of mind. Marion's vindication came in "the shock of one terrible night" when Helen was locked out in a snowstorm and barely escaped pneumonia. Convinced, because she wanted to be, that this was "one of many scenes from her sister's martyrdom," Marion's repressed envy was able to flower forth as self-righteous "hatred" for Charlie. The death of Helen (which Marion falsely insists on blaming Charlie for) and Charlie's own crack-up affirmed once and for all the superiority of her own married life. Her "investment" has paid off in the legal guardianship of Honoria; and the power to beat Charlie with this moral triumph is what she has instead of a materially lavish life.
Marion, however, is not merely an interesting piece of psychological portraiture, for she complicates what might otherwise have been an unqualified commitment to the life of the "solid citizen." Though "Babylon Revisited" is centrally an exploration of the waste inherent in the quest for the gorgeous life, it is not thereby a paean to Main Street. It is clear that Charlie's "plans, vistas, futures for Honoria and himself are organized around what we have come to call middle-class values and virtues—home, responsible job, hard work, the respect of the community. But it is also clear—as Marion's presence in the story indicates—that the achievement of worth is not to be found in the middle class automatically. Every mode of life is shadowed by its own kind of treachery and means of self-aggrandizement. Marion, no less than Lorraine and Duncan, "needs" Charlie, in her case as a "tangible villain." It is therefore both ironic and apt that although Marion is revolted by people like Lorraine and Duncan—they "make her really physically sick"—she will, in Part IV, unwittingly ally herself with them to destroy Charlie. She too has set herself against Charlie's attempt to extricate himself from his past: "from the night you did that terrible thing [Charlie's accidental locking out of his wife in the snow] you haven't really existed for me." Indeed, without Marion, Lorraine and Duncan are without effect. How fully she has committed herself to keeping Charlie from escaping into the future is revealed when, after being forced to acknowledge that Charlie "had somehow arrived at control over the situation" and that Lincoln will not help her keep Honoria from her father, she responds with hysterical viciousness, "I think if she were my child I'd rather see her—" and retreats to her bed with a neurasthenic headache.
In Part IV, which ironically opens with Charlie's ecstatic feeling that the "door of the world was open again," Charlie is to feel the full weight of his history. As if duplicating the ultimate movement of the entire section, Charlie's happiness fades suddenly into the sad memory of all the plans he and Helen had made that would never materialize. Though he turns away from the past—"The present was the thing"—the arrival of a letter from Lorraine, nostalgically recalling the "good times that crazy spring," reinforces the mounting sense of an unreasonably vengeful past. It will turn out to be of no avail that Charlie can dismiss the thought of a "trite, blurred, worn away" Lorraine to "think of Sundays spent with [Honoria] . . . and knowing she was there in his house at night, drawing her breath in the darkness."
For at the very threshold of Charlie's new life, the "ghosts from the past" drift up the corridors of time. Fitzgerald's paragraph describing their emergence is appropriately eerie. First, like an annunciation of doom, the long peal of the bell; then the voices in the corridor coming closer, "which developed under the light into Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarles." Drunk, incoherent, irresponsible, the world of Babylon has shattered the world of "people together by a fire." In a brilliant symbolic gesture, Charlie, horrified, moves closer to them, "as if to force them backward down the corridor." That it is Charlie's own past that he is trying to force backward into time is amply demonstrated by the fact that Lorraine and Duncan are specifically identified with the figures in the "little hours of the night" passage: "Still in slow motion, with blurred, angry faces, with uncertain feet, they retired along the corridor."
But Charlie's power is finally useless: the door of the world opens to both the past and the future. Charlie is now more isolated than he had ever been before. Marion stands rigidly with an arm encircling each of her children and Lincoln is "swinging Honoria back and forth like a pendulum from side to side." The implications of this tableau are totally devastating. The past has set the pendulum of the future in motion; time will serve only to take Honoria further away from him; "the tangible, visible child" will swing away into dimmer and dimmer memory, like Helen in the dream in Part III, who was "swinging faster and faster all the time, so that in the end he could not hear clearly all that she said." All that is left for Charlie to do is to return alone down the corridor, turning to say a final goodbye—"Good night, sweetheart. . . . Good night, dear children."
The story ends in the Ritz bar, where Charlie furiously goes to find Lorraine and Duncan. But he soon realizes that "there was nothing he could do." The return to the bar, as well as the first appearance of Paul, the head barman, "who in the latter days of the bull market had come to work in his custom-built car," symbolizes Charlie's bondage to a world which he mistakenly supposed could be cast off completely. Charlie does not change in the course of "Babylon Revisited"; his underserved defeat does not become an occasion for either self-pity or self-indulgence; in the bar he neither talks of his loss nor takes more than the one drink a day he has allowed himself.
But his substantial endowments have not been enough. Though he thinks that he will "come back someday; they couldn't make him pay forever," the whole movement of the story makes it bitterly clear that they can. When he asks the waiter "What do I owe you?" the answer the story supplies is "your hopes and dreams."
A part of Charlie's life had stopped in the little hours of some night when if you didn't want something to be real, "you just paid some money." Looking back, Charlie now realizes how utterly he "lost everything [he] wanted in the boom"; and Fitzgerald, in the final sentence of the story, crushes any lingering hopes by indicating that there is nothing left for Charlie to do but turn for comfort to the dead, for whom time has also stopped. "He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone."
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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 Isadore Traschen point out [in Short Fiction: A Critical Collection, 1959] that the name of Charlie Wales's daughter Honoria "suggests an allegorical play on redeeming [Charlie's] honor." Richard Griffith sees the name Lincoln Peters as being one which "suggests democracy and rock-like stability" [American Literature, Vol. XXXIV, May 1963]. To my knowledge, no one has investigated the name of the protagonist, Charlie Wales, to determine whether it too might yield associations consistent with the symbolical overtones with which Fitzgerald has charged his story.
The NED offers several relevant meanings for wale as a noun: (7) "the mark or ridge raised on the flesh by the blow of a rod, lash, or the like. (2) the action or an act of choosing; choice." As a verb wale can mean (1) "to choose, select, pick out; (2) to mark (the flesh) with wales or weals." The idea of choice or choosing is relevant to the story since one principal theme of "Babylon Revisited" is that the choices Charlie Wales has made in the past have generated his present difficulties and will affect all future choices as well. But wale in the sense of injuring or being injured by a blow on the flesh (we still speak of "waling the daylights" out of someone) is a meaning that Fitzgerald would more likely have known. Throughout the story Charlie wales and is waled as he attempts to regain custody of his daughter. Near the end of the story, for example, he says to Marion Peters about their arguments: "Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds; they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material." Again and again, Fitzgerald writes of Charlie's pain: "An electric current of agony surged through him." "He knew now that he would have to take a beating." "The image of Helen haunted him. Helen whom he had loved so until they had senselessly begun to abuse each other's love and tear it into shreds."
With these comments in mind, we might wish to think of the story as resembling generally (but obviously not with complete consistency) a morality play, with Charlie as a short of suffering and wounded Everyman of the post-Jazz Age, trying to choose middle-class Respectability and gain Honor (Honoria) but being waled by the evil angels of his "Babylonian" past, chief of which would be Lorraine Quarries (whose name also has appropriate connotations) and Duncan Schaeffer. On the other hand, there is the good angel of Charlie's present, the sympathetic and balanced, representative of the type of middle-class respectability to which Charlie aspires—Lincoln Peters. Unable to ignore his bohemian past, assailed constantly by Marion Peters (neurotic and narrow-minded representative of the middle-class at its worst), Charlie Wales suffers the tortures of the damned.
At the end of the story both Charlie's Honor and Honoria are still hanging in the balance. To dramatize the stalemate and emphasize its importance, Fitzgerald makes a deceptively simple statement at the very climax of the story, after Lorraine and Duncan have destroyed Charlie's chances of getting custody of Honoria. When Charlie returns to the room where Marion sits in stunned but belligerent silence, he senses that his battle is now lost. At this point Fitzgerald focuses our attention on Lincoln Peters, the sane, balanced character of the story, and Honoria, the prize, the goal, the central symbol of Charlie's conflict. Writes Fitzgerald, "Lincoln was still swinging Honoria back and forth like a pendulum from side to side." On the narrative level, Lincoln Peters is merely entertaining Honoria, diverting her attention from the emotional crisis taking place in the room. Symbolically, Fitzgerald is showing that Honoria's fate still hangs in the balance, that she might go the way of Marion Peters or Charlie Wales (who himself might go the way of Lincoln Peters or Lorraine Quarries). With this dramatic incident, this focus on Honoria, we are reminded that she too is named Wales and is vulnerable, liable to further injury, and dependent largely upon the choices Charlie Wales makes.
Thus, Charlie's quest for Respectability and Honor will be a continuing one, and though waled and wounded, he apparently wills to pursue his present course of action, realizing as he does so that his Honor-Honoria will be affected, perhaps affronted and injured, by choices he made long ago and by choices he must make in the present. It would seem, then, that Wales is a dramatically appropriate name for a father and daughter who become the center of a story involving suffering and choice, in other words, an essentially tragic story.
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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 [in "Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," College English, Vol. XXV, November 1963]. But compared to, say, "Rappaccini's Daughter," or "The Turn of the Screw," or "The Bear," Fitzgerald's story seems to have provoked almost no concern—mainly, I suppose, because its meaning is clear. It has some symbols, but they are not mysterious; some ambiguity, but it is not hidden; considerable irony, but it is readily discernible. It strikes us, in short, as an example of the really excellent story that is widely read and reread, usually with considerable appreciation and understanding. This paper asks, in effect, whether it is possible to write profitably about a story that everybody already understands, or nearly understands.
My basic assumption is not particularly startling, but it does run counter to that of the extreme formalists (now perhaps nearly extinct), who used to maintain that criticism and teaching of a short story should be rigorously limited to an examination of the text. "Stay inside the story," they said, as if one story is of no help in understanding another, as if the time spirit supplies nothing to shape an author's fiction, as if his life tells us nothing about his art. No, I would maintain that we should place a story in as many contexts as possible. I limit myself here to the three just mentioned: generic, historical, and biographical, paying particular attention to the first because it is the least familiar.
What kind of story is "Babylon Revisited"? To this deliberately broad and blunt question the answers, whether from students, English teachers, or writers, would be something short of unanimous. Here are some typical student replies: "It's a good story." "It's realistic." "No, it's impressionistic." "It's a story about life in the twenties." "It's a short story." These students were not stupid; their chaotic response simply reflects the relatively primitive state of the generic criticism of fiction. Having jettisoned the whole idea of genres somewhere in the nineteenth century, we lack descriptive terms to define fictions in any fundamental and illuminating way. The major exceptions to this generalization are terms like picaresque novel, Bildung-sroman, Künstlerroman, and Lionel Trilling's description of the story of the Young Man from the Provinces. These terms define stories either according to the situation of the hero or according to the action imitated; they have the great advantage of being easily recognizable; and I think that their defining principle can be extended. It is not that every story can or should be classified in this way; but if we do find a group of stories imitating the same basic action, we are being critically and pedagogically provincial if we ignore their interrelationship.
From this point of view, "Babylon Revisited" belongs with a number of stories in which the protagonist returns after a prolonged absence, either to his home or to some substitute for it. This category we may call the story of the Exile's Return, and in American fiction it would include (among others) Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Ethan Brand," Hamlin Garland's "The Return of a Private," Henry James's "The Jolly Corner," Ernest Hemingway's "Soldier's Home," Theodore Dreiser's "The Old Neighborhood," Lionel Trilling's The Middle of the Journey, and Frederick Buechner's "The Tiger." Behind these American stories, of course, are such prototypes as Ulysses returning to Penelope, Plato's myth of the cave, the Biblical account of the return of the prodigal son, and Dante's return from his vision of hell, purgatory, and paradise.
The advantages of placing stories together in this way are obvious: first, certain conventions and common themes emerge clearly, aiding explication of each individual story; and second, once the similarities are established, differences in execution or technique are more clearly discernible. As Henry James said, in a somewhat different connection, "our aim is to get the correspondences and equivalents that make differences mean something."
Certain themes are inherent in the basic situation of a man returning after a long absence. In fiction as in life, the most obvious and the most poignant is the mutability theme or, more specifically, the sense of permanence and change. Although some aspects of the setting seem unchanged, their apparent permanence simply emphasizes the fundamental law of life, that all things pass. Thus we have in these stories something like the ubi sunt formula in poetry. Rip Van Winkle asks, "Where's Nicholas Vedder? Where's Brom Dutcher? Where's Van Bummel, the schoolmaster?" Gone, all of them gone. Even Vedder's wooden tombstone, Rip learns, is "rotten and gone." This, of course, is where Fitzgerald's story begins. "Where's Mr. Campbell?" "And George Hardt?" "And where is the Snow Bird?" "What's become of Claude Fessenden?" All gone, some of them "rotten and gone." In the Babylonian Ritz Bar only the "strident queens" remain; "they go on forever."
The hero may ask about the men, his former friends, but the essential motivation for his return is always a reunion with some form of the feminine principle. She may be a person: the faithful wife as in "The Return of a Private," the daughter as in "Rip Van Winkle" and "Babylon Revisited," the stable and intimate friend Alice Staverton in "The Jolly Corner." Or it may be more abstract and symbolic: the "mother earth" invoked and then rejected by Ethan Brand, the "girls" that bother Krebs in "Soldier's Home," or the alma mater as in "The Tiger." Thomas Wolfe, whose fiction flowed forth from the archetypal pattern of departure and return, described the impulse this way: "By the 'earth again' I mean simply the everlasting earth, a home, a place for the heart to come to, and earthly mortal love, the love of a woman, who, it seems to me, belongs to the earth and is a force opposed to that other great force that makes men wander, that makes them search, that makes them lonely, and that makes them both hate and love their loneliness."
As anyone who has returned home after a long absence will testify, the experience often has a dreamlike quality, a curious mixture of pain and pleasure as one feels his identity dissolving into two selves, past and present, private and public. The threatened loss of identity is explicit in "Rip Van Winkle" when he is confronted by a double, unaware, of course, that he is his son:
Rip looked and beheld a precise counterpart of himself as he went up the mountain: apparently as lazy and certainly as ragged. The poor fellow was now completely dumfounded. He doubted his own identity, and whether he was himself or another man. In the midst of his bewilderment, the man in the cocked hat demanded who he was and what was his name?
"God knows," [says Rip] "I'm not myself—I'm somebody else—that's me yonder—no—that's somebody else got into my shoes—I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain and they've changed my gun and everything's changed and I can't tell what's my name or who I am."
As Philip Young remarks in his acute, if somewhat over-elaborate interpretation of "Rip," the character has a universal quality. "If we mock him for whatever he has missed, we do it tenderly—partly because it is something hidden in ourselves we mock. It is all our own lost lives and roles, the lives and roles that once seemed possible and are possible no more" ["Fallen from Time: The Mythic Rip Van Winkle," Kenyon Review, Vol. XXII, Autumn 1960]. This aspect of the exile's return is central, of course, in "The Jolly Corner," where Spencer Brydon hunts down his alter ego, the self he missed becoming when he left America, "'the American fate' with which he never has come to terms." And this theme of split identity recurs, as we shall see, in "Babylon Revisited," where the basic question about Charlie is whether he is indeed "the old Wales," as his former friends call him, or the new.
A final theme given in the situation of the returning exile is that of freedom and responsibility. The mere fact that he has been gone suggests the possibility of egotism and escapism. Rip, we recall, was dodging not merely his wife "but all the obligations of maturity: occupation, domestic and financial responsibility, a political position, duty to his country in time of war." This is the major issue in Trilling's short novel, The Middle of the Journey. The protagonist, John Laskell, has returned midway in the journey of life from an inferno of pain, a nearly fatal illness. His image on the cover of the Anchor paperback might stand for all the modern exiles, returning not "home"—Laskell's hot bachelor apartment in New York—but to friends in the country. He is "the stranger, the outlander, the foreigner from New York," and in his weakened condition he is overwhelmed by irrational terror when no one meets the train. One is reminded of Randall Jarrell's poem "On the Railway Platform" and its lines: "What we leave we leave forever: / Time has no travellers. And journeys end in / No destinations we meant." That no one met the train, it turns out, was the fault of his friends' handy man, Duck Caldwell. Later, while conversing with his friends, Laskell quickly decides to "drop the whole matter of fault and blame," but this, of course, is precisely what Trilling does not do. The book's complex though somewhat abstract plot, culminating in the death of Caldwell's daughter (who has heart trouble), turns on the question of involvement, responsibility, and guilt. So, too, in "Babylon Revisited," we find Charlie Wales maintaining that he is now a responsible person but denying responsibility for his wife's death. "Helen died of heart trouble,'" he says. "'Yes, heart trouble,'" Marion retorts, "as if the phrase had another meaning for her."
So much for the important themes these stories have in common. They are equally notable, of course, for their differences of technique. In a full-length study one might profitably observe in some detail what we will here summarize in a paragraph: the movement toward dramatization, immediacy, and restricted point of view in the modern stories as contrasted with the pictorialism, detachment, and omniscient point of view in "Rip Van Winkle," "Ethan Brand," and "The Return of a Private"; Fitzgerald's skillful transitions in this story, particularly the way he whisks Charlie out of the Ritz Bar in the first scene, as compared with Dreiser's lumbering shifts of scene in "The Old Neighborhood"; and the way in which Fitzgerald's dialogue is both realistic in tone and radiant with meaning, compared with the gritty, often trivial speech of Garland's story or the rather melodramatic rhetoric of "Ethan Brand."
To grasp some of the reasons why Fitzgerald's story came off so well, we need to see it as a product of his life and times. William Rose Bent, reviewing Fitzgerald's best novel in The Saturday Review of Literature (May 9, 1925), wrote, "The Great Gatsby reveals thoroughly matured craftsmanship. It has high occasions of felicitous, almost magic phrase. And most of all, it is out of the mirage. For the first time Fitzgerald surveys the Babylonian captivity of this era unblinded by the bright lights." In this review, which Fitzgerald quite probably read, we have important clues to the success of "Babylon Revisited," written five years later. It suggests, in the first place, why he gave the story its title, avoiding the more obvious "Paris Revisited," with its narrowing of connotation. Fitzgerald was writing about the end of an era, not just some changes in a corner of tourist France.
We do not need the description of Charlie Wales—"He was good to look at. The Irish mobility of his face was sobered by a deep wrinkle between his eyes"—to know that he is close to Scott Fitzgerald. In 1930 his wife was not in a grave in Vermont, but she was in a sanitarium; his daughter, though not living with his sister-in-law, was attending school in Paris. But even though the story clearly flows from emotional autobiography, it also has the perspective that Malcolm Cowley summed up in his memorable remark about Fitzgerald's work: "It was as if all of his novels described a big dance to which he had taken . . . the prettiest girl . . . and as if at the same time he stood outside the ballroom, a little Midwestern boy with his nose to the glass, wondering how much the tickets cost and who paid for the music." This double vision of actor and spectator, with the mature spectator no longer a gawky outsider but a judge, informs all of Fitzgerald's best work, and in this story it allows him to view Charlie Wales with both sympathy and ironic detachment.
Benét's remark about Fitzgerald's "almost magic" phrasing also provides a clue to the all-important relation between art, spending, and morality in this story. When Charlie says of the old times, "We were a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us," we see the precise appeal of the rich, or at least of the spenders, for Fitzgerald. He not only wrote about how he lived; he also saw life in the high style as allied to, though not identical with, writing. It was a spending of one's resources to gain release from the rigid grip of time, space, and circumstance. "The snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be snow, you just paid some money." The spenders juggled time and space as the novelist does, making "months into days," shrinking and magnifying dimensions at will. "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." The squandering of unearned money called forth "effort and ingenuity" and imagination; it permitted or demanded the playing of roles, wearing the old derby rim and carrying the wire cane.
The basic conflict of the story, then, is not just between Charlie and Marion; it is between Charlie Wales (who presumably takes his last name from the prince who was the epitome of the good-time Charlies in the twenties) and "Mr. Charles J. Wales of Prague," sound businessman and moralist, between the regally imaginative but destructive past and the dull, bourgeois but solid present. As Charlie now sees it, the old time spent did bring about transformations, but they were all morally destructive. To "dissipate" was to perform a magic disappearing act, "to make nothing out of something." It was all, he now realizes, on an "utterly childish scale," like the pedalling of Lorraine on a tricycle all over Paris between the small hours and dawn.
With our natural sympathy for the Charlie who at the end sees that he lost everything he wanted in the boom, we are likely to think that he wants only the honorable part of the past, that he would like to disengage himself from the rest of it, that, as he tells Marion, he has radically changed. But Fitzgerald is not at all sentimental on this point; he insists upon the reader's seeing more clearly than Charlie does. For the trouble with Charlie is that he still wants both worlds. The harsh fact is that if he had not stopped in the Ritz Bar in the first place, had not tried to get in touch with Duncan Schaefer, he would have won back his daughter. Fitzgerald has him commit this fatal act in the very beginning of the story; it comes back to haunt him inexorably in the "ghosts" of Dunc and Lorraine.
The two sides of Charlie are clearly revealed, of course, in the luncheon scene with Honoria. "'Now, how about vegetables?'" he asks. "'Oughtn't you to have some vegetables?'" This is Charlie trying to prove to himself and Honoria that he is the ordinary or garden variety of father. But he gently mocks this role by formally introducing himself as Charles J. Wales of Prague and is delighted when she quickly responds, imaginatively accepting the role of an adult woman. The game is short, however, because it rapidly evokes too many parallels with the destructive aspects of playing at life:
"Married or single?"
"No, not married. Single."
He indicated the doll. "But I see you have a child, madame."
Unwilling to disinherit it, she took it to her heart and thought quickly.
"Yes, I've been married, but I'm not married now. My husband is dead."
He went on quickly, "And the child's name?"
"Simone. That's after my best friend at school."
It is probably significant that it is Honoria who brings the conversation back to reality with this reference to school, because in this whole scene she is educating her father. She approves his suggestion that they go to the vaudeville but frowns on his approval of unlimited spending at the toy store. She is polite but cool to Lorraine, who makes clear the link between the tarnished magic of the old times and the world of childhood. "'There,'" she says, "'That's what I want to do . . . I want to see some clowns and acrobats and jugglers.'"
The acrobats, the imagery of the vaudeville, remind us, finally, that this is a story of suspension between two worlds. Charlie's dream of his wife concludes with this vision: "she was in a swing in a white dress, and swinging faster all the time, so that at the end he could not hear clearly all that she said." Fitzgerald continues this image in the climactic scene when the drunken Lorraine and Dunc invade the Peters' apartment. After they leave, Lincoln is "still swinging Honoria back and forth like a pendulum from side to side." Up to this point Charlie has virtually convinced even Marion that his feet are "planted on the earth now," but actually, as we have seen, he is caught between two worlds. Fitzgerald has arranged their representatives with a symmetry reminiscent of James. On the one hand is the pale blonde, Lorraine, with her escort Duncan Schaeffer; on the other, Marion, clothed in a "black dress that just faintly suggested mourning," with her husband, Lincoln, who appropriately works in a bank. Charlie is indebted to both of the women: to Marion for taking care of Honoria; to Lorraine, as she unpleasantly reminds him, for playing the game. "'I remember once,'" she says, "'when you hammered on my door at four A.M. I was enough of a good sport to give you a drink.'" Fitzgerald does not need to force the association, for the reader, along with Marion, silently balances the equation: Lorraine let him in at four A.M.; he locked his wife out in the snowstorm.
And so here is Charlie at the end, back at the Ritz Bar, the place where his old friend Claude Fessenden had run up a bill of thirty thousand francs, until Paul finally told him he "had to pay." Half-heartedly thinking he will send Honoria some things, lots of things, tomorrow, asking the waiter how much he owes him, Charlie is left with his remembrances of time spent and his determination to "come back some day; they couldn't make him pay forever." But he knows and we know that they can and he will. The prodigal has returned, but his effort to "conciliate something," to redress the balance, has failed, and he remains an exile.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1186
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 sister-in-law, Marion Peters. All he can hope to retrieve—other than ambivalent memories: "We were a sort of royalty"; "it was a nightmare"—is Honoria. And that possibility is destroyed, at least temporarily, when his old friends, Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarries, appear like "sudden ghosts out of the past" at the Peters' apartment, drunk. Marion's refusal of Charlie's request for possession of Honoria follows inevitably.
Arthur Mizener, in "A Handbook of Analyses . . ." accompanying his college-text collection Modern Short Stories, makes the following comments upon the unexpected appearance of Charlie Wales' friends:
We notice how unobtrusively [Fitzgerald] omits any explanation of how Lorraine and Dunc got hold of the Peters' address. We know Charlie left the address of his hotel at the Ritz bar; we can work out the rest if it becomes a problem for us, but Fitzgerald clearly prefers the question not to arise since it is irrelevant to the central interest of the story, merely a matter of the machinery of the plot. He therefore does his best—short of omitting to make the plot feasible—to keep the question from arising at all.
And, a little later:
It is one of the story's nicest touches that Dunc and Lorraine—careless, irresponsible, uncalculating—should nonetheless have ferreted out with drunken cunning the Peters' address and tracked Charlie there.
I should say before I comment on Fitzgerald's story that I am not quoting Mizener to pick at a picayune error in, of all places, a teacher's guide. The point is not a critic's trivial misreading of a small detail, nor that other readers have made the same mistake. The interesting thing is that Fitzgerald himself was partly responsible for the misreading through what seems to be a crucial mistake that has fascinating psychological implications.
When Duncan and Lorraine walk in, Charlie, "anxious and at a loss," "was astounded; unable to understand how they ferreted out the Peters' address." A page or so earlier, in the passage Mizener refers to, we are told that, on his returning to his hotel, Charlie had found a pneumatique "that had been redirected from the Ritz bar where Charlie had left his address for the purpose of finding a certain man." But Fitzgerald (and his critics) seems to have forgotten the moment at the very start of the story (in both its original publication in the Saturday Evening Post and the revised version that appeared in the collection Taps at Reveille) when Charlie says to Alix, the barman at the Ritz, "'If you see Mr. Schaeffer, give him this . . . It's my brother-in-law's address. I haven't settled on a hotel yet.'"
Given Fitzgerald's technical virtuosity in The Great Gatsby, much of Tender Is the Night, and the best of his stories, it is tempting to credit him with an extraordinary psychological touch; to read the detail of Charlie's forgetting that he gave the Peters' address to the barman as a subtle indication of Charlie's ambivalence towards his past, towards his dead wife and their life together, and, most important of all, towards his daughter. His wife had died of "heart trouble," but Marion Peters acts as though Charlie were directly responsible for her sister's death—and Charlie himself accepts at least some of the responsibility—because some time before her death Charlie had locked her out in a snowstorm.
On that terrible February night that Marion remembered so vividly, a slow quarrel had gone on for hours. There was a scene at the Florida, and then he attempted to take her home. . . . When he arrived home alone he turned the key in the lock in wild anger. How could he know she would arrive an hour later alone, that there would be a snowstorm in which she wandered about in slippers, too confused to find a taxi? Then the aftermath, her escaping pneumonia by a miracle, and all the attendant horror. They were "reconciled," but that was the beginning of the end. . . .
The self-justifying question—"How could he have known . . . ?" clearly indicates his defensiveness and his sense of his own guilt. His continual assertion that his wife, Helen, would have wanted him to have Honoria, indeed, in his fantasy wants him to have her ("He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone") is further evidence of the reassurance he needs to prove to himself his right to the child.
What nicer touch, then, to suggest his fears of his own failings in the past and the future—the guilt over the past that undermines his own sense of his right to a future with Honoria—than for him to give the Peters' address to the Ritz barman, specifically for the unregenerate Dunc Schaeffer, and forget he had done so? What nicer indication of the self-destructive act?
But I think it impossible to credit Fitzgerald with that insight, for it seems clear that he intended to suggest (as he has Charlie Wales think) that Dunc and Lorraine had "ferreted out" the Peters' address, presumably through Charlie's having left his own address at the Ritz. Since the story is framed on two visits to the Ritz, and there is no suggestion of a visit in between, it is likely that Fitzgerald was misrembering that it was the Peters' address Charlie had left with the barman. Be that as it may, it is the slip itself that provides the fascination. Fitzgerald's identification with Charlie Wales hardly needs documentation: in The Far Side of Paradise Arthur Mizener takes it for granted that "Wales' feelings are Fitzgerald's" and connects the snowstorm passage quoted above to Fitzgerald's disintegrating relations with Zelda. Honoria's age is given as nine years: Frances Fitzgerald was barely past her ninth birthday in December, 1930, when Fitzgerald wrote the story. Zelda was not dead, of course, but was in the middle of one of the most serious of the attacks that were to lead before long to her complete mental collapse. In the context of these details it is difficult not to see the "mistake" at the beginning of this story as significant for Fitzgerald rather than for his character. A story that the author often later mentioned as having been intended as a tribute to his daughter, the "lovely little girl of nine," masks his guilt for what he insisted was his role in his wife's illness. The detail in the story that might have indicated Charlie Wales' unconscious self-destructive impulse indicates instead F. Scott Fitzgerald's through the medium of Charle Wales.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1202
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 idols.
The setting of "Babylon Revisited" is Paris (considered by Fitzgerald a modern Babylon in those days of unrestrained revelry just before the American stock market crash in 1929).
Using a frame device, Fitzgerald begins and ends the story in the Ritz bar—a popular haunt of wealthy Americans before the crash. Charlie Wales, one of its former habitués, has returned to Paris to visit his daughter, Honoria, who is living with her aunt and uncle, Marion and Lincoln Peters.
As the story unfolds it is revealed that Charlie Wales had left Paris, nearly two years before, after the death of his wife Helen. Reduced to poverty by the stock-market crash, and sick from excessive drinking, Charlie had relinquished custody of Honoria to his wife's sister Marion. He had then gone to Prague, where he controlled his drinking and worked hard at recouping his financial losses.
When the story proper begins, Charlie, wealthy once again, returns to Paris to regain custody of Honoria and begin a stable family life for both of them in Prague. Charlie is determined to have Honoria while she is still young enough to be formed by her father. "If we wait much longer," he pleads with the hostile Marion, "I'll lose Honoria's childhood and my chance for a home."
Charlie adopts the "chastened attitude of a reformed sinner," repeatedly assuring Marion that he now takes only one drink a day. "It's a sort of stunt I set myself," he explains. "It keeps the matter in proportion." Despite her dislike of her brother-in-law (she blames him for her sister's death), Marion is about to relent and permit Honoria to go to Prague with Charlie. At this crucial moment two of Charlie's former cronies, Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarries, both obviously drunk, arrive unannounced at the Peter's apartment. Marion is repelled by the appearance of Charlie's inebriated friends. Fearful that Charlie may lapse into his former dissipation, Marion refuses to give up custody of Honoria. Her husband tells Charlie to wait another six months before he makes another attempt to persuade Marion.
The story ends at the Ritz bar. Despite his sorrow, Charlie, determined to prove his self-control, has his one daily whiskey and refuses the barman's attempt to refill his glass.
"They couldn't make him pay forever," Charlie declares, certain that Helen "wanted Honoria to be with him." But Marion, resentful and suspicious, may just make him pay forever. Or at least until it is too late to make Honoria truly his own daughter, "before she crystallized utterly" into a counterpart of Marion.
Charlie's purgation is far from over. There are so many subtle hints in the story that Charlie is not completely exorcised of his old life. He has experienced the fearful consequences of his former corruption. Yet he comments: "But it was nice while it lasted." His first stop in Paris is at the Ritz bar where he inquires after his old friends. Learning that Duncan Schaeffer is in town, he foolishly tells the barman to give Duncan the Peters' address. Although he does not wish to become involved again with Lorraine Quarries, he feels her "passionate, provocative attraction."
The demons of Charlie's past are reluctant to release their hold upon him. As he rides through the streets of Paris, he notices that the lurid "fire-red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs" (perhaps of former haunts) are somewhat obscured by the "tranquil rain." But, nonetheless, they are still there—vivid reminders of the old days—just as Duncan and Lorraine are there, ghosts from the past to haunt his present.
Money, conceived as a corrosive power, is one of the principal themes of "Babylon Revisited." Its evil influence is obvious in the wasted lives of Charlie Wales and his friends. More subtle, however, is the deleterious effect that the desire for money has had upon the Peters' family. Marion Peters' self-righteous, moralistic stance in reality cloaks her invidious resentment of Charlie's wealth. And Lincoln Peters, humiliated by his own failure to make money, caters to his wife's whims even though he admits the justice of Charlie's claim to Honoria.
Fitzgerald expands the money theme in one of the finest features of "Babylon Revisited"—its brilliant evocation of place. The Paris of the present, which belongs once again to the Parisians, is juxtaposed with the Paris of the past, ruled in spirit by wealthy American expatriates. In the past Americans were "a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us," reminisces Charlie. Paris was their Babylon for American worshipers of mammon. The Parisians, seduced by American money, paid tribute to American "royalty" by catering to their basest sensual demands: illicit sex, drugs, and alcohol.
American money endowed one with a false sense of omnipotence in those days. Even the "snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow" for the power-drunk Americans. "If you didn't want it to be snow you just paid some money." But the guilt-ridden Charlie, who had locked his wife out of their house in a snowstorm, knows now that the laws of nature are impervious to man's pitiful bribes. The snow of 1929 had weakened Helen's resistance and ultimately caused her death from heart failure. And Marion's bitterness toward Charlie has solidified into a frigid hatred that Charlie's money cannot dissolve. The snow of 1929 had cost Charlie a bitter price: his wife and his child.
The motifs of sin, guilt, and retribution are also associated, in the story, with the exaggerated emphasis placed upon money by its characters. Charlie remembers how he had spent money recklessly;
It had been given, even the most wildly squandered sum, as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most worth remembering, the things that now he would aways remember—his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont.
Charlie's sinfulness is handled with admirable restraint by Fitzgerald. Although he admits to his delinquency toward his wife and child, Charlie does not wallow in maudlin expressions of remorse. He has sinned, he has repented. As a token of forgiveness—both from Helen and from Marion—Charlie wants Honoria. But Charlie's reform must go beyond the external order he has imposed upon his life. He is seeking salvation through the innocent Honoria. Salvation, however, is a personal matter. It remains for him to reclaim his vanquished manhood.
"Babylon Revisited" is Fitzgerald's masterpiece of short fiction. The story is perfect in plot, tone, atmosphere, dialogue, and characterization. Its thematic complexity is superbly interwoven with plot and structure. With good reason "Babylon Revisited" ranks high among the finest short stories of the twentieth century.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1756
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 by earlier commentators. Lorraine Quarries and Duncan Schaeffer arrive at the Peterses' apartment because Charlie has consciously or unconsciously pointed the way by leaving his address with the bartender at the Ritz. Their appearance and subsequent rowdy behavior so upset Charlie's sister-in-law that she refuses Charlie the one thing he so desperately wants—the custody of his daughter Honoria. But that may be what Charlie has wanted all along—or so these commentators contend.
First James Harrison (1958), then Roy R. Male (1965), then Robert I. Edenbaum (1968), and most recently David Toor (1973) have made Charlie's leaving of the Peterses' address a crux in interpretation, for without it Duncan and Lorraine would never have found him out. But a careful reexamination of both chronology and character may return us to the more sensible, although less psychologically sophisticated, reading of critics like Seymour Gross, who contends that Charlie has indeed reformed, but that in this scurvy world "moral reformation may not be enough" ["Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," College English, Vol. 25, November 1963]. The vagaries of fate and the perversions of character will forever make the Charlies of this postlapsarian world not tragic, but pathetic figures.
A look at the chronology of the story may exonerate Charlie from the charge of being a conscious or unconscious coconspirator in his ultimate disappointment. In both the original publication in The Saturday Evening Post and in the revised version collected in Taps at Reveille, when Charlie arrives in Paris he gives Alix, the assistant barman at the Ritz, the Peterses' address, saying, "'If you see Mr. Schaeffer, give him this. . . . It's my brother-in-law's address. I haven't settled on a hotel yet.'" This is his first day in Paris and he has not met Duncan Schaeffer nor has he met Lorraine—an old flame and reveller from his earlier years. The next day, however, he does indeed meet his old friends, together now—Duncan, an old college chum, and Lorraine, on furlough from her stateside husband. They are amazed to find Charlie in Paris, let alone sober, and want to get together later.
"What's your address?" said Duncan skeptically.
He hesitated, unwilling to give the name of his hotel.
"I'm not settled yet. I'd better call you."
This is not quite true, for we know Charlie has spent the night at some hotel in Paris, although we are never told specifically where. However, we do know that he does not move during the next two days, so he could have given Duncan and Lorraine an address had he wanted to. But somehow, seeing them, he understands that he must treat them like poison, and so refuses to give any address, even the Peterses'. This refusal is an act of conscious volition, and is passed over by Harrison, Male, Edenbaum, and Toor, who want to believe that Charlie secretly wants Duncan and Lorraine to disturb his in-laws, thereby allowing himself the masochistic pleasure of being denied his daughter Honoria, his honor. For these critics Charlie's guilt is so great that he must endure still more self-inflicted punishment, still more self-destruction.
The next day, his third in Paris, Charlie receives a message from Lorraine that has been redirected to him by Paul, the head bartender at the Ritz. In the note Lorraine reminds him of the jovial times they had had two years earlier, and invites him to the Ritz bar that afternoon to reminisce. Charlie's reaction is not at all ambivalent, as is implied in the psychological interpretations of Charlie as schizophrenic. He is not at all like an unreformed drunk who wants to take "just one more for the road." He knows he must avoid Lorraine. Charlie is a man of considerable control, in fact, a man who takes only one drink a day, in part to reinforce his independence, to reassert control. He knows that Lorraine is more lethal than alcohol, and thus his reaction to her invitation: "He emphatically did not want to see her, and he was glad Alix had not given away his hotel address." Fitzgerald has made it clear: if Charlie had wanted to see Duncan and Lorraine, even subconsciously, he had plenty of opportunity to show lack of restraint. But Charlie is firm. And so, when they do burst into the Peterses' apartment, Charlie is indeed genuinely astonished, consciously and subconsciously unprepared for their arrival. He instantly realizes that they got the address he left at the Ritz bar, but it was never his intention that they arrive like Mephistophelean agents from the past to collect their due, to deny him the one person he now loves the most.
Then why do they come? They come because they are vampires. They come because they need his energy, his metaphorical blood. For they are not really blood-drinking ghouls; rather they are energy leeches who parasitically thrive on the strength of their host. Charlie is more important to them now that he has reformed than he ever was before: "They liked him because he was functioning, because he was serious; they wanted to see him, because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength." Duncan and Lorraine are psychic vampires, energy sponges who cannot endure alone. For instance, when they first meet Charlie at Le Grand Vatel they appear, "sudden ghosts out of the past"—not like ghosts, but the ghosts themselves. Hence their desperate attempt to make connections, as it were, with Charlie.
Charlie knows about the kind of aberrant love that can psychologically bleed the donor into pathetic destitution. He knows, even in terms of his affection for his daughter, that too much of the wrong kind of love can build a symbiotic relationship that will enervate both parties. At the beginning of Part IV of the Post text he warns himself of the danger:
The present was the thing—work to do and someone to love. But not to love too much, for Charlie had read in D. H. Lawrence about the injury that a father can do to a daughter or a mother to a son by attaching them too closely.
This is an interesting and critically overlooked aside that reinforces Charlie's perception of human relationships and especially of the danger of "attachment." The novel by D. H. Lawrence that he doubtless has in mind is Sons and Lovers. Lawrence has used the metaphor of the vampire to explain a kind of love that drains without replenishing. Charlie knows this is a kind of attachment that he must be wary of with Honoria, and he knows instinctively that this is the kind of attachment that Lorraine offers. It is love as consumption. However, critics have not always agreed. In fact, David Toor claims that "this is just the kind of distortion that Charlie's mind would drive him to," and that "he is too warped to see that the only love worth having or getting is one without reservations and limits" ["Guilt and Retribution in 'Babylon Revisited'," Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1973, 1974]. A goodly dose of D. H. Lawrence or of Lawrence's favorite interpreter of vampiritic love, Edgar Allen Poe, might remedy this sentimental and potentially maudlin view of love.
When Duncan and Lorraine arrive at the Peterses', Charlie is genuinely shocked. But Marion, Charlie's overly delicate sister-in-law, reacts with more finely tuned sensitivity. As Charlie introduces his old friends to the Peters, Marion nods, "scarcely speaking. She had drawn back a step toward the fire; her little girl stood beside her, and Marion put an arm about her shoulder." As Marion retreats with her charge to the safety of the fire (vampires are often destroyed by burning and so abhor both the light and heat of flame), Charlie advances, "as if to force them backward down the corridor." Almost on the threshold they parry—"Come and dine," Lorraine demands. But Charlie is adamant. Finally, backed across the threshold of the apartment, "Still in slow motion, with blurred, angry faces, with uncertain feet," Duncan and Lorraine "retired along the corridor."
The whole affair has made Marion, this human tuning fork, literally sick, and she has retired. And along with her have gone Charlie's hopes for Honoria. When Charlie later says to Lincoln, "'I wish you'd explain to her I never dreamed these people would come here. I'm just as sore as you are,'" he is telling the literal, emotional, and psychological truth. It is not, as James Harrison has said, that Charlie the devoted father is trying to cover up for his alter ego, Charlie the philanderer, who wants to be punished. For here is a man who simply loves and wants his daughter and is furious that these leeches, Duncan and Lorraine, have ruined his chances.
He accepts Marion's decision to postpone her decision with the stoic resignation of one who realizes that in this fallen world he cannot expect justice to be done. He is a man who has come to believe in "character" as a lifestyle, in one drink a day and no more. He goes to the Ritz bar, furious that Lorraine and Duncan could have so sabotaged his desires, and it is here at the bar that we finally understand what Charlie means by "character." For realizing the peculiarity of fate and the perversity of being human, he concludes that "there wasn't much he could do." He calls Lincoln to inquire about his chances, is told that Marion wants to "let it slide for six months," and his response is only, "I see." For indeed, now he does see. He has had his diurnal drink, and if ever there was an appropriate time to go on a bender, it is now. But instead he says to the inquiring waiter, "No, no more. . . . What do I owe you?" His debt is paid; "they couldn't make him pay forever." He will return in six months, or twelve months, or eighteenth months, until finally Fortune allows him what is rightfully his.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2017
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 us?"), that began numerous medieval poems. In asking the question, the writer evokes for a moment the splendor of life, symbolized by famous persons of the past, and then, by his inevitably grim answer, condemns it to death. The tone of such works will vary from the austerely admonitory to the hauntingly sad, depending on how the writer asks his question and phrases his answer: whether he sides with death or with life or tries to balance delicately between them. In the following Anglo-Saxon poem, the anonymous poet sees only that the life which was so vividly there is suddenly gone, "in a twinkling of an ye."
Where beeth they biforen us weren,
Houndes ledden and hawkes beren,
And hadden feeld and wode?
The riche ladies in hir bowr,
That wereden gold in hir tressour,
With hir brighte rode,
Eten and drunken maden hem glad;
Hir lif was al with gamen ylad;
Men kneeleden hem biforen:
They beren hem wel swithe hye.
And in a twinkling of an ye
Hir soules weren forloren.
Brief ubi sunt laments are also found within longer works on the theme of transitoriness. The loss of a great protector and provider is the greatest of tragedies, as in "The Wanderer."
Where now is the warrior? Where is the war horse?
Bestowal of treasure, and sharing of feast?
Alas! the bright ale-cup, the byrney-clad warrior,
The prince in his splendor—those days are long sped
In the night of the past, as if they never had been!
Without directly connecting the work with the ubi sunt device, several commentators have pointed out how similar motifs of impermanence, of exile and separation, and of loss and regret are interwoven in "Babylon Revisited," F. Scott Fitzgerald's story of a reformed drunkard, Charlie Wales, returning to Paris to claim his daughter, Honoria. But most of these critics see mainly repugnance for a sterile past that cannot be shucked away. "It was impossible to blot out the past," writes Thomas F. Staley [in "Time and Structure in Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 10, 1965]. "Time and its ravages have left Charlie suspended in time with a nightmare for a past, an empty whiskey glass for a present, and a future full of loneliness." John A. Higgins [in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Stories, 1971] sees guilt and atonement for the past, but Seymour Gross shows that "moral renovation may not be enough" ["Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited'," College English, Vol. 25, 1963]. For David A. Toor, "Charlie Wales is . . . torn by his own inner sense of guilt and his inability to expiate it" ["Guilt and Retribution in 'Babylon Revisited'," Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1973, 1974].
But the story also expresses, especially in its images of royalty and empire, a nostalgia for the past. "It was nice while it lasted," Charlie says in valedictory to the twenties. "We were a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us." Charlie tries to catch an imaginative glimpse of this past when he directs his taxi to the Opera. "He wanted to see the blue hour spread over the magnificent facade, and imagine that the cab horns, playing endlessly the first few bars of Le Plus que Lent, were the trumpets of the Second Empire." An entry in Fitzgeralds's own note-book indicates an attitude of wonder for the past, as well as horror.
It is the custom now to look back on ourselves of the boom days with a disapproval that approaches horror. But it had its virtues, that old boom: Life was a great deal larger and gayer for most people, and the stampede to the spartan virtues in time of war and famine shouldn't make us too dizzy to remember its hilarious glory.
The recognition of such "glory" suggests that "Babylon Revisited," like most ubi sunt laments, balances between the monitory and the lyrical, between appreciation of what once was, and acknowledgement of its loss.
"Babylon Revisited," then, widely anthologized and called [by Higgins] Fitzgerald's "one virtually flawless contribution to the canon of the American short story," belongs to that generic convention known as the ubi sunt lament. More specifically, it is organized around alusions to one of the most famous of such works, Francois Villon's "Ballade of Dead Ladies."
In the story, Charlie Wales has "spoiled" the city for himself through dissipation during the boom, but now after the crash he returns and sees it with "clearer and more judicious eyes." In the Ritz bar, he makes a series of melancholy inquiries that are Fitzgerald's version of the ubi sunt formula. The story opens like a medieval poem.
"And where's Mr. Campbell? Charlie asked.
"Gone to Switzerland. Mr. Campbell's a pretty sick man, Mr. Wales."
"I'm sorry to hear that. And George Hardt?" Charlie inquired.
"Back in America, gone to work."
"And where is the Snowbird?"
This slang reference to a cocaine dealer or user, the "Snowbird," is picked up later when we learn that Charlie locked his wife Helen in a snowstorm, and that she died not long afterward of "heart trouble." This event now appears as an incluctable nightmare, like certain other memories of "women and girls carried screaming with drink or drugs out of public places—" and of "The men who locked their wives out in the snow, because the snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be snow, you just paid some money."
Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerent? ("Where are they who were before us?"), asks Charlie. His question of "Where is the Snow Bird?" alludes to Villon's sad and lovely refrain "But where are the snows of yesteryear?" The translation below is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
The Ballade of Dead Ladies
Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where's Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere—
She whose beauty was more than human?
But where are the snows of yester-year?
Where's Heloise, the learned nun,
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?
(From Love he won such dule and teen)
And where, I pray you, is the Queen
Who willed that Buridan should steer
Sewed in a sack's mouth down the Seine?
But where are the snows of yester-year?
White Queen Blanche, like a queen of Lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden—
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the Lady of Maine—
And that good Joan whom Englishmen
At Rouen doomed and burned her there—
Mother of God, where are they, then?
But where are the snows of yester-year?
Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Except with this for an overword—
But where are the snows of yester-year?
Both short story and ballade are farewells to lost ladies, who represent the lost values of love, youth, and beauty that exist now only in the imagination. Each begins with a farewell to prostitutes. At the end of Part I, Charlie buys eggs and coffee for a woman who speaks to him in 'the glare of a brasserie," but then, "eluding her encouraging stare, gave her a twenty-franc note and took a taxi to his hotel." In the first stanza of "The Ballade of Dead Ladies," Villon asks the fate of various great courtesans of antiquity: Flora, the celebrated Roman courtesan of Juvenal; the Greek courtesan, Hipparchia; and Thais, the Athenian courtesan who followed Alexander into Egypt. Villon goes on in the following stanzas to evoke Heloise and Joan of Arc, only to have them, too, disappear like "the snows of yester-year." Similarly, at the end of Part II, Charlie says goodbye to his daughter, "all warm and glowing" in a window above him as he stands in a dark street. At the end of Part III, he says good-bye to his dead wife, Helen. In his dream, she appears to him, "In a swing in a white dress, and swinging faster all the time, so that at the end he could not hear clearly all that she said." At the end of Part IV, he says good-bye again not only to his daughter, but also to her cousins, and perhaps to childhood itself. "Goodnight, sweetheart," he says, "Goodnight, dear children."
Just as the first lady in each work is a prostitute, the final one is a maiden, Fitzgerald's Honoria and Villon's Joan of Arc. One of the ghosts from Charlie's past, "a lovely pale blonde of thirty" named Lorraine Quarrels, is apparently named after Villon's ". . . Jehanne la bonne Lorraine," or "Jehanne the good maid of Lorraine," in Robert Lowell's translation. The association is, of course, ironic, since Lorraine now seems "trite, blurred, and worn away" to Charlie. Helen's name certainly evokes classical beauty, like the names of Villon's ladies, and Charlie's last name of "Wales" may suggest that he is also the "Prince" to whom the envoi of a medieval French ballade was traditionally addressed. If so, he does not follow the advice Villon gives to his prince.
Part V, the conclusion of the story, like the concluding envoi or "send-off of the ballade, sends Charlie off to a vague future in which the past seems lost. Told that he will have to wait at least six months for his daughter, he turns for comfort to his dead lady: "He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone." In contrast, Villon advises his prince not to ask about the ladies "this week . . . nor yet this year," not unless he can also remember to ask, "But where are the snows of yester-year?"
The monitory tone of Fitzgerald's story, with Charlie's wish "to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element," may suggest that Fitzgerald is comparing Charlie and perhaps himself with Villon, who led so disreputable a life, yet was so haunting a lyric poet that he became a legend. The chief details we have of Villon's life are of his scrapes and crimes. He was arrested several times, banished, and forced to flee Paris.
Pardoned by a general amnesty (1461), he returned to Paris, but in 1462 he was again imprisoned and sentenced to be hanged. The punishment was later commuted to ten years' banishment. Villon was then only about thirty years old. Thereafter he disappeared completely from view.
Needless to say, Villon's career in Paris and Charlie's offer certain similarities most poignantly in their final fadeouts.
The ubi sunt device in both works suggests, of course, the themes usually associated with it: the impermanence of youth, beauty, and life itself. Fitzgerald's concern for such themes can be recognized as part of a tradition that goes back at least to Anglo-Saxon poetry. Since the device emphasizes the transitory nature of all things, the mood it represents is persistent and wide-spread. Even a contemporary figure like Robert Lowell "imitates" Villon's "Dames du Temps Jadis" and also asks, "Where, mother of God, is last year's snow?"
The truth that nothing which is human is enduring, permanent, or eternal reaches throughout most of ancient, medieval, and modern literature, and in using the ubi sunt device, Fitzgerald aligns himself with a long tradition that expresses his own themes of loss and regret, and the worth of old values. The snow of twenty-nine and the snows of yester-year evoke and then obliterate the lost ladies of the past.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1680
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 Reveille, it contained a monumental editorial error, and, as far as we can determine, that error has been preserved, unremarked, in all subsequent collections and anthologies.
The error occurs early in the story, at the point where Charlie Wales leaves the Ritz Bar. We have lettered the paragraphs for easy reference.
- Outside, the fire-red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs shone smokily through the tranquil rain. It was late afternoon and the streets were in movement; the bistros gleamed. At the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines he took a taxi. The Place de la Concorde moved by in pink majesty; they crossed the logical Seine, and Charlie felt the sudden provincial quality of the left bank.
- Charlie directed his taxi to the Avenue de l'Opera, which was out of his way. But he wanted to see the blue hour spread over the magnificent facade, and imagine that the cab horns, playing endlessly the first few bars of Le Plus que Lent [sic], were the trumpets of the Second Empire. They were closing the iron grill in front of Brentano's Book-store, and people were already at dinner behind the trim little bourgeois hedge of Duval's. He had never eaten at a really cheap restaurant in Paris. Five-course dinner, four francs fifty, eighteen cents, wine included. For some odd reason he wished that he had.
- As they rolled on to the Left Bank and he felt its sudden provincialism, he thought, "I spoiled this city for myself. I didn't realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone."
Many readers, with or without first-hand knowledge of Paris, must surely have been puzzled by this strange taxi ride which takes Charlie over the Seine not once but twice. At least we were, and one of us knew Paris, one did not. As fledgling instructors at different universities, we had struggled with the problem, but to no avail. Later, in 1963, as colleagues at the same school, we shared our perplexities. We reconfirmed the absurdity of the route; we wrestled with the pointed but unconscionable repetition of the "sudden provincial quality" and "sudden provincialism" of the Left Bank; we speculated about Fitzgerald's carelessness.
Then, suddenly, the answer came to us: Paragraph B was intended as a substitute for Paragraph A, but both had been printed by mistake. Remove Paragraph A, and all would be well. In fact, all might even be better than well, since Paragraph A reads like a poor imitation of Stephen Crane, while Paragraph B emphasizes the new, sadly ironic perspective with which Charlie now views Paris and himself.
A perusal of Fitzgerald criticism revealed that Richard R. Griffith had anticipated our wild surmise by several months and that Bernth Lindfors had anticipated Griffith by several more. However, Griffith proposed deleting only the last sentence of Paragraph A, not the whole paragraph, but that would leave us with a worse than amateurish progression of sentences: "At the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines he took a taxi. Charlie directed his taxi to the Avenue de l'Opera, which was out of his way." Nevertheless, we assumed that henceforth editors would take the cue. We were wrong; they did not. Nor did they respond when, ten years later, in 1973, Andre Le Vot discussed the matter again, supplying the motive for the revision and quoting a Fitzgerald letter which bemoans the failure of the "proofreaders" at Scribners to get things straight in Taps at Reveille.
Why has there been no response? Perhaps it has something to do with the unprepossessing titles of the three essays—"Paris Revisited," "A Note on Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited,'" and "Fitzgerald in Paris." None of these signals any concern with a textual problem, and unless an editor is already aware that there is one, he is likely, in scanning bibliographies, to go right past these items without an inkling that they are important to him. It is our hope that editors will not be able to do the same thing with this essay.
Fitzgerald had two important but different aims in reworking the stories he assembled for republication in Taps at Reveille. The first was to improve their quality, and this accounts for most of the more than eighty changes he made in the Saturday Evening Post text of "Babylon Revisited." A reader who compares the two texts soon discovers that the alterations—some slight, some substantial—all work in concert to give the story more depth and solidity: the time lapse before Charlie's return to Paris is lengthened from two to three years; Marion is made less spiteful; Charlie is made more sympathetic; the nemesis of the scribbled address is made more subtle, and for Charlie, more baffling.
But the second aim, which inadvertently caused the textual snarl we are concerned with, had nothing to do with improving the quality of the story. It had to do, instead, with an attempt at concealing the fact that in the throes of writing Tender is the Night Fitzgerald had lifted lines from his stories and used them, nearly word for word, in the novel. The only way out of the problem was to revise the passages in the stories, and he went about it in a state of agitation. Maxwell Perkins, his editor, advised him not to worry excessively over the matter, pointing out that Hemingway was guilty of much the same sort of thing, but nonetheless Fitzgerald remained anxious:
The fact that Ernest has let himself repeat here and there a phrase would be no possible justification for my doing the same. Each of us has his virtues and one of mine happens to be a great sense of exactitude about my work. He might be able to afford a lapse in that line where I wouldn't be and after all I have got to be the final judge of what is appropriate in these cases. Max, to repeat for the third time, this is in no way a question of laziness [the delay caused by the as yet unmade revisions]. It is a question absolutely of self-preservation.
Certain people I know read my books over and over again and I can't think of anything that would more annoy or disillusion a reader than to find an author using a phrase over and over as if his imagination were starving.
There were two passages in "Babylon Revisited" that Fitzgerald "borrowed" for Tender is the Night. One is the penultimate sentence of the story: "He wasn't young any more, with a lot of nice thoughts and dreams to have by himself." In Tender is the Night it appears in the opening sentences of the penultimate chapter: "The day before Doctor Diver left the Riviera he spent all his time with his children. He was not young any more with a lot of nice thoughts and dreams to have about himself, so he wanted to remember them well." Fortunately—for us and for the story—Fitzgerald overlooked this duplication. It is difficult to imagine any kind of satisfactory substitution.
He did not, however, overlook the passage about the surrealistically garish signs. In Tender is the Night he used it, rather better than in the story, as a contrasting and unperceived backdrop for the taxi ride during which Diver first admits to Rosemary that he loves her: "'Have you got a handkerchief?' she faltered. But there was little time to cry, and lovers now they fell ravenously on the quick seconds while outside the taxi windows the green and cream twilight faded, and the fire-red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs began to shine smokily through the tranquil rain. It was nearly six, the streets were in movement, the bistros gleamed, the Place de la Concorde moved by in pink majesty as the cab turned north." Returning to "Babylon Revisited," Fitzgerald decided to cut the entire paragraph (Paragraph A above) and write a new one (Paragraph B), but because he wanted to salvage the remark about the provincialism of the Left Bank, he refashioned it as an introduction to Charlie's thoughts in the next paragraph. Originally, in the Saturday Evening Post that paragraph had simply begun with "'I spoiled this city for myself,' he thought. 'I didn't realize it, but. . . .'" Now, the new version read: "As they rolled on to the Left Bank and he felt its sudden provincialism, he thought, 'I spoiled this city for myself. I didn't realize it, but. . . .'"
So Fitzgerald shipped the galley back to Scribners, thinking he had removed all traces of the duplicatiton—only to discover as he was riffling through his newly-arrived copy of Taps at Reveille that there had been a mix-up at the print shop. He promptly wrote to Perkins: "Just found another whole paragraph in Taps, top of page 384, which appears in Tender is the Night. I'd carefully elided it and written the paragraph beneath it to replace it, but the proofreaders slipped and put them both in."
Nearly half a century has gone by since that cry of surprise and anguish. It is certainly time to do something about it. Although there are other, minor flaws in the Taps at Reveille text—e.g., the Debussy song should be spelled La Plus que Lente, not Le Plus que Lent—our principal challenge to editors is to remove the confusing, unwanted, unauthorized paragraph that still adulterates a very fine short story. Until such time as they do, CAVEAT LITERATOR.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3095
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 one of them sounded any high note of heroism, no clear and distinct call to something beyond life" ["Wait till You Have Children of Your Own!" F. Scott Fitzgerald in His Own Time, ed. by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Jackson Bryer, 1971]. When his editor at Scribner's, Maxwell Perkins, asked him to soften an impious reference to God in The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald accused Perkins of trying to bind him to the genteel and conventional, identified himself with Mark Twain, whose work, he said, exhibited a similar irreverence, and reminded Perkins that Van Wyck Brooks, in The Ordeal of Mark Twain, criticized Clemens for "allowing many of his statements to be toned down at the request of Wm. Dean Howells or Mrs. Clemens" [Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence, ed. by John Kuehl and Jackson R. Bryer, 1971].
Fitzgerald set himself in opposition to Howells, but a number of critics have noted connections between them. Sergio Perosa observes that Fitzgerald shared Howells's preoccupation with the interrelated themes of love and money and thus "linked himself with a traditional experience both human and cultural" [The Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1965]. Kenneth Lynn identifies Kitty Ellison, the first of Howells's American heroines, as the forerunner of such later figures as the "headstrong flappers" of Fitzgerald's early stories [William Dean Howells: An American Life, 1970]. George N. Bennett compares Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby with Alan and Bessie Lynde, cruel and selfish members of fashionable Boston society in The Landlord at Lion 's Head [The Realism of William Dean Howells, 1889-1920, 1973]. Henry Dan Piper cites The Rise of Silas Lapham as the one novel about a businessman with which The Last Tycoon, dominated by the "doomed and heroic" figure of Monroe Stahr, can be compared [F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait, 1965]. Kermit Vanderbilt sees Howells as a linking figure who unites the psychological insights of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville with "a vision of 'reality' as tentative as that of James, Twain, Crane, or Fitzgerald" [The Achievement of William Dean Howells, 1968].
Fitzgerald is also linked with Howells by the striking resemblances of his story "Babylon Revisited" (1931) to Howells's story "A Circle in the Water," first published in Scribner's Magazine in 1895 and collected in the volume of Howells's short stories A Pair of Patient Lovers, published by Harper's in 1901 and by Tauchnitz in 1905. There is no evidence that Fitzgerald ever read "A Circle in the Water," but if he did not, it is all the more suggestive of affinities between the two writers that without knowing it Fitzgerald should write a story so similar in plot, situation, and character to Howells's story. The stories also highlight the different outlooks of the two writers and help to explain why Fitzgerald rejected Howells as a literary mentor.
"A Circle in the Water" and "Babylon Revisited" both center on a middle-aged man whose wife is dead and who through folly or crime has lost custody of his only child, a daughter. Tedham, the father in Howells's story, is a convicted embezzler just released from prison, where he was sentenced to a ten year term as a warning to other peculators. Charlie Wales, Fitzgerald's protagonist, is also a perpetrator and a victim of corruption, having made a fortune through speculation in the 1920's, spent wildly, lost all in the stock market crash, entered a sanitarium to be cured of alcoholism, and finally reestablished himself in business, in Prague. When they were confined—Tedham in prison, Charlie Wales in the sanitarium—each was forced to let his wife's sister and her husband become the legal guardians of his child. Each story begins with the man's return after an absence of months or years to the city where his daughter lives with her guardians—Boston in Howells's story, Paris in Fitzgerald's. Tedham desires from his sister-in-law and her husband, the Haskeths, permission to see his daughter Fay, now aged eighteen, in hope of being reunited with her. Charlie Wales supplicates his sister-in-law, Marion Peters, and her husband Lincoln, in hopes of regaining custody of his nine-year-old daughter, Honoria. Both fathers see reunion with their daughters as the sign that they have paid the price demanded by others and fully atoned for their wrongs.
Howells presents Tedham from the point of view of a narrator, Basil March, once a friend of Tedham and still employed by the insurance company which Tedham defrauded. Like Lincoln Peters, who works in a bank, March is married and the father of two children. He is portrayed here as elsewhere in Howells's fiction as a steady, thoughtful, and humane man, an observer reluctant to involve himself in the affairs of others but often compelled by conscience or sympathy to act for them. Fitzgerald presents Charlie Wales directly, entering his mind and presenting Paris and the other characters as he sees them.
Charlie and Tedham, though seen from different perspectives, are nonetheless similar in a number of ways.
Despite their ordeals, both characters have remained physically attractive. March notes that Tedham "seemed . . . to be looking very well . . . he even looked very handsome." Charlie Wales "was thirty-five and good to look at." Both men acknowledge their wrongdoing yet maintain that their offense is not so great as others think. Tedham insists that he was drawn deeper into fraud than he ever intended and that he acted "'partly, for the sake of others.'" Charlie Wales denies that he was responsible for his wife's death although once after a drunken quarrel he locked her out of doors in a snowstorm. Nevertheless, he broods on his dead wife, "escaped to a grave in Vermont," as Tedham dwells on the memory of his wife, whose grave he visits as soon as he is released from prison.
Both characters insist that they have expiated their wrongs, that no further payment should be exacted. Neither character, however, is radically transformed; both stories show that in some ways the man is unchanged. March notes that imprisonment has not cured Tedham of his old-time shiftiness, "the abiding want of straightforwardness in [his] nature," and he concludes: "he was still the old Tedham." The reformed business man, Charles J. Wales of Prague, is also the "old Wales" of Paris hailed by his one-time companions in dissipation, Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarries. Their drunken intrusion into the Peters's house destroys his hope of securing Honoria, but had he not sought contact with Duncan by giving the barman a note for him with the Peters's address, they could not have found him. Charlie looks back with revulsion upon the escapades of the past—"in retrospect it was a nightmare"—but he also says nostalgically to Marion and Lincoln Peters, "'it was nice while it lasted . . . We were a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us.'" Lorraine seems to him "trite, blurred, worn away"—as Tedham seems to March like "an etching of himself from a worn-out plate"—but Charlie also feels Lorraine's "passionate, provocative attraction." What March concludes after observing Tedham applies also to Fitzgerald's protagonist: "Tragedy befalls the light and foolish as well as the wise and weighty natures, but it does not render them wise and weighty."
In revealing the limited and flawed natures of their characters, Howells and Fitzgerald also create sympathy for them, primarily by portraying the father's love of his daughter, his concern for her welfare, and his desire to regain his place in her life as the strongest motives of his existence. Both fathers feel that their daughters' presence is essential to their well-being. As Tedham implores the Marches to intercede with the Haskeths on his behalf, reminding them that his daughter is "'all that I have got left in the world,'" so Charlie Wales finds his only happiness in imagining the life he will make for Honoria, and when his hopes are shattered he faces himself alone in an empty world: "he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now, beside that fact. He wasn't young any more, with a lot of nice thoughts and dreams to have by himself."
In each story, the father's love is returned by the daughter, who shares his intense desire that they be together. The daughters also possess the attractive qualities of their fathers, and as children the daughters closely resemble each other. March remembers seeing Tedham and his daughter out driving together when Tedham was thirty-five and she "looked about nine"—the ages of Charlie Wales and his daughter. The child, in March's memory, is affectionate, charming, and poised, like Honoria; "she had something of poor Tedham's own style and grace." The scene, which causes March to reflect "how happy they had both seemed," is paralleled by the scenes in which Charlie Wales entertains his daughter at lunch and at the vaudeville and she begs him, "'I want to come and live with you.'"
In both stories, the irregular past life of the father is contrasted with the sober, conventional, well-regulated household of the child's guardians. Of the Haskeths' house on a quiet street of a Boston suburb, Basil March observes: "there was an old-fashioned keeping in the place . . . it imparted to me a notion of people set in their ways, of something severe, something hopelessly forbidding." In the house on the Left Bank where the Peterses live, Charlie Wales sees what he craves—a home where the "cheer of six o'clock" speaks in the crackling fire and the play of children. But the decision made by its adult members ultimately makes this home as "hopelessly forbidding" to Charlie Wales as the Haskeths' house seems to Tedham.
In each story, the sister-in-law of the returned exile is the chief source of the distrust and hatred he suffers. March recalls that after Tedham's conviction, Mrs. Hasketh had spoken of her brother-in-law with "implacable hate" and had vowed that if she could help it, his daughter should never see him again. When March meets her ten years later, her look of severity has become habitual, and although her hatred has exhausted itself, she speaks of Tedham with aversion, wishes that they might never have anything more to do with him and tells the Marches, who have come at Tedham's request, "'I never liked him; I never wanted my sister to marry him.'"
Likewise, Marion Peters regards her brother-in-law with "unalterable distrust, "speaks to him coldly and looks at him with "hard eyes." She, too, disapproved of her sister's husband from the start and refused to believe that good could come of her sister's marriage. "She had lived for a long time with a prejudice—a prejudice founded on the curious disbelief in her sister's happiness, and which, in the shock of one terrible night, had turned to hatred for him." Mrs. Hasketh's dislike of Tedham seems born of her distrust of his character; Marion Peters's hatred of Charlie Wales springs in part from her envy of his wealth, but both women reveal their need to explain and justify themselves, insisting that the father's collapse forced them to intervene and that they act solely in the child's interest. Both women appear overwrought, given to nervous illness which they can use as a weapon against the child's father. Hasketh says of his wife, "'She is never very strong,'" and she confesses to the Marches that "'the sight of Mr. Tedham would make me sick.'" After Duncan and Lorraine have gone, Lincoln Peters explains to Charlie, "'Marion's not well and she can't stand shocks. That kind of people make her really physically sick.'"
In both stories, the sister-in-law's husband shows a certain sympathy for the child's father and indicates his willingness that father and child be reunited. Hasketh says to March, "'I was never in favour of trying to have the child forget him, or be separated from him in any way.'" Lincoln Peters greets his brother-in-law in a friendly way and carefully helps move his wife to the point where she feels forced to say that Charlie may take Honoria. In both households, however, the woman is the dominant figure. When Mrs. Hasketh enters the room, March notes that her husband, "without really stirring at all, had the effect of withdrawing into the background," leaving his wife and Mrs. March "in charge of the drama." Lincoln Peters is a more substantial and forceful presence, but his wife's will, not his, determines the fate of Charlie Wales and Honoria.
The central question in each story is raised by the sister-in-law. Mrs. Hasketh describes to the Marches her tormented effort to define her duty, to determine whether she has a right to keep from Tedham's daughter the knowledge of her father's return and the suffering that knowledge might bring. When Tedham asks Basil and Isabel March to intercede with the Haskeths for him, the Marches face the same question. At first, March questions Tedham's right to disturb the lives of his daughter and her guardians; eventually he and his wife and the Haskeths all agree that Tedham's daughter must be told of her father's desire to see her and that they cannot keep from her the suffering that is "hers by right." The moral soundness of their decision is affirmed in the loving resolution of Tedham's daughter to stand by her father and protect him from further suffering.
The daughter in "Babylon Revisited" is too young to determine her future; she is esentially a passive figure, last seen being swung like a pendulum by her uncle. The central question concerns not her but her father. Will he be a responsible guardian of his daughter or will he lapse again into dissipation? '"How long are you going to stay sober, Charlie?'" Marion Peters asks her brother-in-law, making her duty to Honoria dependent upon her judgment of Charlie, which only time can vindicate. Charlie's refusal to take a second drink at the end of the story when he sits alone in the bar with his shattered hopes suggests that he may, as he says, stay sober "permanently," but Marion's question, '"How can anybody count on that?'" cannot be conclusively answered. Her view of Charlie is clearly prejudiced and yet her mistrust may be justifiable. The divergence of opinion among readers—some arguing that Charlie Wales is truly reformed, others arguing that he is essentially unchanged or is divided by conflicting desires—shows that, unlike "A Circle in the Water," Fitzgerald's story does not render final judgment of the characters or reveal the ultimate effects of their actions. In both stories, a woman's feeling determines the outcome, but in Howells's story the decisive force is love, which brings Tedham's punishment to an end; in Fitzgerald's story the decisive force is hate, which leaves the reader to wonder whether Charlie will be forced to "pay forever."
In this and in other ways Howells's story is more optimistic than Fitzgerald's. In "A Circle in the Water," all the characters, including Mrs. Hasketh, come to a just perception of their duties and the rights of others and they act accordingly. Fay Tedham's love for her father remains for ten years undiminished, untainted by fear, shame, or aversion. To March, her devotion proves that a force exists which can stop the spread of evil. "Love, which can alone arrest the consequences of wrong, had ended it."
Halfway through "A Circle in the Water," when no one can foresee a happy resolution, Mrs. March exclaims: "'What a terrible thing an evil deed is! It can't end. It has to go on and on forever.'" The words might be spoken at the end of "Babylon Revisited." Unlike Mrs. Hasketh, Marion Peters remains fixed in her hatred. By reacting hysterically to the intrusion of Duncan and Lorraine, she forces Charlie to wait months before he can try again to gain Honoria. The appearance of Charlie's old friends—the intrusion of the past in the present—suggests that Charlie is not wholly weaned from his old life and that even if he were, the past at any time can erupt in the present, in evil that cannot be foreseen or controlled.
This is not to imply that there is more suffering in Fitzgerald's story than in Howells's. But in Howells's fiction, pain and failure are balanced by the promise of happiness for some of the characters. The sins of the fathers do not corrupt the children or destroy their chances of a new life unblighted by the past. Tedham is first seen by the mouldering ruins of an ampitheatre in a wood on a late November afternoon, but amidst the decay "there were young oaks and pines growing up to the border of the ampitheatre on all sides." In Howells's novels in which the father suffers a defeat or a disgrace—in The Undiscovered Country, A Woman's Reason, The Rise of Silas Lapham, The Quality of Mercy, and The Son of Royal Langbrith—the children suffer keenly through their fathers but at the end, as in "A Circle in the Water," they look to the fulfillment of love in marriage into which past evil will not intrude. For March, human love becomes the emblem of divine love, which at the end of the story he glimpses in a mystical vision of "an infinite compassion encompassing our whole being like a sea, where every trouble of our sins and sorrows must cease at last like a circle in the water."
For Fitzgerald, belief in the power of love such as March affirms belongs to an outmoded faith which has lost its reality for those of Charlie Wales's generation. Like Dick Diver, who inherits his father's genteel code but not his father's religious faith, they inhabit a world in which nothing compensates them for the loss of youth and fortune, in which creative power, once spent, is gone forever with their happiness, leaving them alone with the ghosts of a past irrecoverable and inescapable.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3739
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 Prisoner of Chillon"
Fitzgerald once called "Babylon Revisited" a magnificent short story (Letters). 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 (Letters). The story he wrote six months afterwards might have been called "Chillon Revisited," involving as it does the double theme of freedom and imprisonment, of locking out and locking in. For although Charlie Wales seems to himself to have redeemed his right to parenthood and to have regained his proper freedom, the links of his fetters are still visible when the story ends. And we, the keepers, inured as we are to sights of woe both inside and outside Fitzgerald's life and works, cannot help feeling compassion for this fictive prisoner, who tries so hard to measure up, only to be defeated by a past that he can never shed.
From the triple nadir of the Wall Street crash, months of recuperation from alcoholism in a sanatorium, and the death of his wife, Charlie Wales has now rehabilitated himself as a successful man of business in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and has returned to Paris in the hope of taking custody of his nine-year-old daughter Honoria, who has been living in the care of her aunt and uncle since her mother's death. He feels ready for the responsibility, since he has made another kind of comeback, having staved off drunkenness for a year and a half by the simple expedient of rationing himself to one whisky a day. All those sins of commission which led to the débâcle are now, he is sure, behind him. He recognizes that while he was flinging away thousand-franc notes like handfuls of confetti, even the most wildly squandered sum was being given "as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember": Honoria taken from him and Helen buried in Vermont.
Two motifs stand opposed in the story. One is that of Babylon, ancient center of luxury and wickedness in the writings of the Fathers of the Church. The other is that of the quiet and decent homelife that Wales wishes to establish for his child. He defines the Babylon motif as a "catering to vice and waste." It is what used to happen every afternoon in the Ritz bar when expatriated Americans like himself systematically hoisted glasses on the way to the ruin, moral or physical or both, that besets so many of them now. More spectacularly, it is places of decadent entertainment like the Casino where the naked Negro dancer Josephine Baker performs "her chocolate arabesques." It is squalidly visible along the streets of Montmartre, the Rue Pigalle and the Place Blanche, where nightclubs like "the two great mouths of the Café of Heaven and the Café of Hell" used to wait, as they still do, to devour busloads of tourists, innocent foreigners eager for a glimpse of Parisian fleshpots.
Fittingly enough, it is in the Ritz bar that the story opens—and closes. The place is nothing like it used to be. A stillness, "strange and portentous," inhabits the handsome room. No longer can it be thought of as an American bar: it has "gone back into France." All the former habitués are absent—Campbell ailing in Switzerland; Hardt back at work in the United States; and Fessenden, who tried to pass a bad check to the management, wrecked at last by shame and obesity. Only Duncan Schaeffer is still around Paris. Swallowing his loneliness, Charlie Wales hands the assistant bartender a note for Schaeffer including the address of his brother-in-law in the Rue Palatine. It is his first mistake. A key clicks in the prison door. Although he does not know it yet, Schaeffer will twice seek Charlie out, only to lock him into loneliness again.
At the outset Fitzgerald alternates interior and exterior scenes, with the obvious intent of providing the Babylonian background against which the principal dramatic scenes are to occur. While Charlie is on his way to the Peters's apartment in the Rue Palatine, he is most impressed by the nocturnal beauty rather than the wickedness of Paris. Bistros gleam like jewels along the boulevards, and the "fire-red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs" blur their way "smokily through the tranquil rain." By contrast, the livingroom at his brother-in-law's place is "warm and comfortably American," with a fire on the hearth and a pleasant domestic bustle in the kitchen. Although Honoria is well, and happy enough with her small cousins, she is plainly overjoyed to see her father again. At dinner he watches her closely, wondering whom she most resembles, himself or her mother. It will be fortunate, he thinks, "if she didn't combine the traits of both that had brought them to disaster."
Marion Peters has no doubt as to whose traits must be guarded against. Between Charlie and his sister-in-law an "instinctive antipathy" prevails. In her eyes he can do nothing right. When he says how strange it seems that so few Americans are in Paris, she answers that she's delighted: "'Now at least you can go into a store without their assuming you're a millionaire.'" But Charlie replies that it was nice while it lasted. "'We were a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us. In the bar this afternoon,'"—and here he stumbles, seeing his mistake—"'there wasn't a man I knew.'" Marion looks at him keenly: "'I should think you'd have had enough of bars.'"
In Marion's mind the reference to bars has no double significance; she means only those places where drinking is done. But to the eyes of the reader, aware of Charlie's prisonlike predicament, the word might well carry an ulterior suggestiveness. For he has had enough of bars in both senses, longing instead for the freedom to live a responsible domestic life and "more and more absorbed," as he thinks next day, "by the desire of putting a little of himself into [Honoria] before she [has] crystallized utterly" into maturity.
The bars of his incipient prison move closer on the following afternoon when he takes Honoria to lunch and afterwards to a vaudeville matinée at the Empire. That morning he has awakened to a bright fall day that reminds him, as it so often reminded Fitzgerald, of football games. Charlie is naturally optimistic, sanguine by temperament, at least in the mornings. The gloom closes in when two ghosts from his past—Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarrles—intrude on the father-daughter colloquy, first at the restaurant and then at the theater. He puts them off as well as he can: they are the counterforce to all he now longs for. Going home in the taxi, Honoria says firmly that she wants to live with him. His heart leaps up. When he has delivered her to the apartment, he waits outside for her to show herself at the window. She appears, warm and glowing like an image of domesticity, and throws him a kiss in the dark street where he stands.
On his return that evening, Marion meets him with "hard eyes." She is wearing a black dinner dress that faintly suggests mourning, possibly for her dead sister. Although he understands that he will "have to take a beating," Charlie supposes that if he assumes "the chastened attitude of the reformed sinner," he may be able to carry the day and win the right to his daughter, despite Marion's legal guardianship. But she remains obdurate. Never in her life, she tells him, can she forget that early morning when Helen knocked at her door, "'soaked to the skin and shivering,'" with the news that Charlie, in drunken and jealous anger, had locked her out in the snow, where she had been wandering in slippers, "too confused to find a taxi."
Once again the imagery of keys and locks and doors rises into view. Seeing that Marion has "built up all her fear of life into one wall and faced it toward him," Charlie can only swallow his protestations. When he points out in a dull voice that Helen, after all, "'died of heart trouble,'" she picks up and echoes the phrase as if—unlike her earlier reference to "bars"—this one of "'heart trouble'" has "another meaning for her." But she has reached the end of her tether. "'Do what you like!'" she cries, springing from her chair. '". . . You two decide it. I can't stand this. I'm sick. I'm going to bed.'"
Next day when Charlie lunches with Lincoln Peters, he finds it difficult "to keep down his exultation." The two men agree to a final conference that evening to settle all details. But Charlie's past cannot be shed so easily. Back at his hotel he finds a pneu from Lorraine Quarries, reminding him of their drunken exploit in stealing a butcher's tricycle and pedalling round the Étoile until dawn. "'For old time's sake,'" she urges him to meet her at the Ritz that afternoon at five.
Lorraine as temptress has lost her charm for Charlie. At five he leaves instead for the Rue Palatine for what will amount to the obligatory scene of the story. Honoria, who has been told that she is to go with her father, can scarcely contain her delight. Even Marion seems at last to have "accepted the inevitable." Charlie nods to Peters's offer of a drink: "'I'll take my daily whisky.'" The wall that Marion erected against him has fallen now. The apartment is warm—"a home, people together by a fire," the ideal of domesticity that Charlie would like to establish on his own for his child.
At this point comes the long peal at the doorbell and the sudden intrusion of Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine, drunken, word-slurring, "hilarious . . . roaring with laughter." When Charlie introduces his old friends, Marion freezes, drawing back toward the hearth, her arm thrown defensively around her daughter's shoulders. After he has gotten rid of the intruders, Charlie notices that she has not moved from the fire. Both of her children are now standing in the maternal shelter of her arms. Peters is still playfully "swinging Honoria back and forth like a pendulum from side to side"—a gesture to which Fitzgerald plainly attaches symbolic significance and one that even echoes, though doubtless by chance, the very words of the prisoner of Chillon. Once more, in a telling repetition of first effect, Marion rushes from the room. She is in bad shape, as Peters returns to say. Dinner is out of the question and Charlie must go.
Charlie got up. He took his coat and hat and started down the corridor. Then he opened the door of the dining-room and said in a strange voice, "Good night, children."
Honoria rose and ran around the table to hug him.
"Good night, sweetheart," he said vaguely, and then trying to make his voice more tender, trying to conciliate something, "Good night, dear children."
The story returns to its opening locale. In the grip of his anger, Charlie hopes to find Lorraine and Duncan at the Ritz bar. But they have done their sorry work and vanished from his life. He orders a whisky and chats idly with the bartender about times past. Once more the memory of those days sweeps over him like a nightmare—the incoherent babbling, the sexual advances, "the women and girls carried screaming with drink or drugs out of public places," or the men like himself "who locked their wives out in the snow" on the theory that "the snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be snow, you just paid some money."
Another lock-out is imminent, which will also amount to a locking-in. When Charlie telephones, Lincoln Peters is compassionate but firm: "'Marion's sick. . . . I know this thing isn't altogether your fault, but I can't have her go to pieces about it. I'm afraid we'll have to let it slide for six months.'" Charlie returns to his table. Although he tells himself that "they couldn't make him pay forever," he knows he must serve a further sentence in the prison of his days. But he is "absolutely sure that Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone."
In the spring of 1940 Fitzgerald returned finally to Babylon, at least in memory and imagination, when he began negotiations for a screenplay based upon his nine-year-old story. A producer named Lester Cowan bought the property for "something over $800.00" (Letters), which Fitzgerald rightly thought to be very little as Hollywood prices were going at the time. But he accepted the pittance out of sheer desperation, having to support an ailing wife and an undergraduate daughter. His hopes rose a month later when Cowan proposed that he undertake the screenplay himself. This meant that Columbia Pictures would pay him for eight weeks' work at a salary equivalent to $287.50 per week. Disgusted though he was by the penuriousness of this advance, he could still anticipate a considerably larger sum if the producer and the company should decide to carry the film to completion (Letters).
He began the task on April 12. The work went well and his spirits were generally high. "I've written a really brilliant continuity" (Letters), he told Zelda on May 11, and on June 7 he declared the job finished (Letters). About mid-June he seems to have been assured that while the picture would definitely be made, it would have to be postponed until the completion of another in which Laurence Olivier was to appear (Letters). Meantime there was the possibility that Shirley Temple, the child star, might be induced through her mother to play the role of Charlie Wales's daughter. On July 11, in pursuit of one more hope, Fitzgerald spent the day with Shirley and her mother. "She really is a sweet little girl," he told his daughter Scottie, "and reminds me of you at 11 1/2" (Letters). Thereafter, although he continued to tinker with the final draft of the script and to dream that Miss Temple might take part in it, the film was never made (Letters). Cosmopolitan, which was the third of his working titles, seems to have been the last of his screenplays. Before the end of that parlous year, Fitzgerald was dead.
Apart from the pleasure it gave him, the metamorphosis of "Babylon Revisited" from story to filmscript opened vistas into his past that enabled him to comprehend, with characteristic honesty but also with a sinking heart, the shape his career had taken over the past twenty-five years. The little girl whom Gerald Murphy had nicknamed Scottina on the Riviera in 1925 was now a young woman in her nineteenth year, already showing signs of a developing literary talent and devoting some of her energies at Vassar to the writing of a musical comedy. Her father was fearful: "You are doing exactly what I did at Princeton," he told her.
I wore myself out on a musical comedy there for which I wrote book and lyrics, organized and mostly directed while the president played football. Result: I slipped back in my work, got T.B., lost a year in college—and, irony of ironies, because of the scholastic slip I wasn't allowed to take the presidency of the Triangle. From your letter I guess that you are doing exactly the same thing and it just makes my stomach fall out to think of it. . . . Please, please, please . . . keep your scholastic head above water. To see a mistake repeated twice in two generations would be just too much to bear. This is the most completely experienced advice I've ever given you.
Two months later he returned to the topic. "I don't doubt your sincerity about work. I think now you will always be a worker and I'm glad. Your mother's utterly endless mulling and brooding over insolubles paved the way to her ruin. . . . She was a great original in her way, with perhaps a more intense flame at its highest than I ever had, but she tried and is still trying to solve all ethical and moral problems on her own, without benefit of the thousands dead" (Letters). It seemed to him that Scottie's resemblance to himself was greater than hers to Zelda. "Doubt and worry—you are as crippled by them as I am by my inability to handle money or my self-indulgence of the past. . . . What little I've accomplished has been by the most laborious and uphill work, and I wish now I'd never relaxed or looked back" (Letters).
But he was looking back still, not only to the ruination of his Princeton career but also to the time in the summer of 1924 when he had first met Gerald and Sara Murphy. "There was many a day," he told them in February, 1940, "when the fact that you and Sara did help me in a desperate moment. . . seemed the only pleasant human thing that had happened in a world where I felt prematurely passed by and forgotten. . . . So you were never out of my mind" (Letters). He went on to say that the child heroine of the film on which he was about to start work was named Honoria and added, almost defiantly, "I'm keeping the name" (Letters).
He clung to it as if it had been a kind of talisman, a means of reentering a past epoch of pleasant human things. In the same way he was somehow reassured by the image of Scottie as a child—the model, as he told her twice, for the nine-year-old daughter of Charlie Wales in the story (Letters). It may even be a legitimate surmise that her affectionate greeting after long separation, "Oh, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, dads, dads, dads," was a direct transcript of one by Scottie at some reunion in the late 1920s.
Both the Murphys and their Honoria were much in his mind in those Hollywood days. "I wish very much you would call on the Murphys during your spring vacation," he wrote his daughter. "If there is any way in which you could help Honoria—to a date, for instance—I think it would be mutually very advantageous. . . . I know it is difficult to pick up an old thread after an interval but it would please me immensely if you could at least pay a call there" (Letters). In June he repeated the suggestion: "Please go in to see Gerald Murphy at Mark Cross in passing thru N.Y. this summer" (Letters).
Yet this picking up of old threads was precisely what his filmscript was compelling him to do. The warp and woof of two whole decades appeared in the ironic chronology he sent to Zelda that June: "Twenty years ago This Side of Paradise was a best seller and we were settled in Westport. Ten years ago Paris was having almost its last great American season but we had to quit the gay parade and you were gone to Switzerland. Five years ago I had my first bad stroke of illness and went to Asheville. Cards began falling badly for us much too early" (Letters).
These four straightforward sentences, and particularly the second, about the necessity of leaving Paris for the gray prison of Switzerland, show clearly enough that 1930 stood in Fitzgerald's mind as the watershed or turning point of his career and of that of his wife. For it was then that the onset of Zelda's illness started them both on the downgrade from which, despite the most valiant of efforts, neither of them ever wholly recovered. Another of his letters, written the summer before, summarized the crucial change. "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 Post stories like 'Babylon Revisited'" (Letters).
Although his memory deceived him somewhat, since more than twenty of his stories had appeared in the Post after the publication of "Babylon Revisited," this one plainly stood out in his mind as a fictional embodiment of the great shift from false romanticism to a firmer realism in his life as a writer. Arthur Mizener states the situation exactly and eloquently [in Afternoon of an Author, 1958]:
Very gradually, under the pressure of great personal suffering, out of the toughness of his Irish determination not to be beaten, with the help of the New England conscience he had developed in Minnesota, Fitzgerald achieved a kind of acceptance of this state of "lost illusion." It is impossible to say that he ever accepted it as necessary: he seems always to have felt that unnecessary personal failures were really responsible for it. But at least he learned how to live with it. Out of this attitude came the theme of his last stories with their marvelous and subtle balance between an unquestioned acceptance of what he and his world are and an acute awareness of what they might be and, indeed, in some respects at least, once were.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3837
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 movie version of "Babylon Revisited," which was entitled The Last Time I Saw Paris. Even though this film was produced long before the teleplay of "The Last of the Belles" . . . , the short story on which The Last Time I Saw Paris is based takes place during the depression rather than during the earlier Jazz Age, the setting of most of the Fitzgerald stories that have been adapted to either the big screen or the little screen.
In contrast to the telefilm of "The Last of the Belles," the plot of "Babylon Revisited" was expanded to make a feature-length film by the more conventional method of creating additional episodes for the movie version which were not in the original short story. But The Last Time I Saw Paris was not the first attempt to fashion a screenplay from "Babylon." Fitzgerald himself had tried his hand at composing a screen adaptation of "Babylon" toward the end of his life; and we shall of course first consider his scenario for the film, before going on to analyze the movie that was actually made of the story from a different script.
As for the short story itself, its origin is even more intimately associated with Fitzgerald's private life than was "The Last of the Belles." In fact it grew out of a serious crisis in Fitzgerald's life. By 1930 Zelda Fitzgerald was hospitalized in the wake of the first of a series of mental breakdowns, and Fitzgerald's continuing drinking problem was becoming more acute. Under the circumstances, he feared that his sister-in-law, Rosalind Sayre Smith, might take steps to have him declared unfit to be in charge of his daughter Scottie. After a quarrel with Rosalind Smith, in which she strongly suggested that perhaps Scottie would be better off living with her and her husband than remaining under the care of her father, Fitzgerald was moved to write "Babylon Revisited," which appeared in the Post in early 1931.
In the story Charlie Wales forfeits the custody of his nine-year-old daughter Honoria to his mean-spirited sister-in-law Marion Peters, whereas in real life Fitzgerald never at any time lost legal guardianship of his daughter. In the short story, then, he depicted the intolerable anguish that this turn of events would have caused him, had it ever come about.
Judging by Fitzgerald's on-going correspondence with his sister-in-law, one can see that Rosalind Smith's opinion of him was no better than Marion Peters's estimation of Charlie Wales. Three years after the publication of the short story, Fitzgerald was still accusing Rosalind Smith, with some justification, of being "irreparably prejudiced" against him. At one point she intimated in a letter to Fitzgerald that the unstable lives which he and Zelda had lived in the first decade of their marriage had been one of the principal causes of her sister's emotional collapse. Rosalind even went so far as to state in one angry letter that she wished that Zelda might die in a mental institution, rather than return to the mad world that she and Scott had created for themselves.
Although I shall subsequently have more to say about the root causes of Zelda Fitzgerald's mental illness, suffice it to say at this juncture that it is true that during the course of the Roaring Twenties the Fitzgeralds did live an unsettled existence. They were constantly on the move, restlessly traipsing around Europe as well as the United States. As a matter of fact, there were times when Zelda had felt lonely and depressed, as they found themselves temporarily sojourning in yet one more foreign capital—and her husband thoughtlessly left her alone while he went on the town without her. Yet, when Fitzgerald honestly expressed his regrets about his behavior toward his wife to Dr. Paul Bleuler, one of the psychiatrists who was treating her, the latter was reassuring. Had Fitzgerald been more sensitive and solicitous towards his wife in the past, the doctor said, he might have slowed down the progress of his wife's emotional decline; but in any case he could not have prevented her breakdown. Nonetheless, one senses in his correspondence during this period that, in the light of Zelda's present plight, he believed that he should have been more caring and dependable in his relationship with his wife; and that sense of remorse permeates "Babylon Revisited."
Fitzgerald was nothing if not aware of his shortcomings; so he did not really need Rosalind Smith or anyone else to tell him that he and Zelda, along with a lot of other people, had lived too high, wide, and handsome during the boom days of the twenties. Moreover, the dissipation in the decade of the twenties looked even more reprehensible from the vantage point of the Great Depression in the bleak, austere decade of the thirties. "Somebody had blundered and the most expensive orgy in history was over," he wrote in an essay [titled "Echoes"] published shortly after "Babylon Revisited." "Now once more the belt is tight, and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth."
If he had heralded the birth of his young illusions in his fiction of the early twenties when the nation was embarking on the Jazz Age, he once told a Post editor, then "Babylon Revisited" announced the death of those same illusions. In Charlie Wales, then, Fitzgerald compellingly expressed that disillusionment with himself and the frivolous era he had just lived through.
When Charlie returns in 1930 to Paris, where he (like Fitzgerald) had spent some time in the twenties, he finds the city still recovering from the dissolute Babylonian bacchanal that boatloads of American tourists had helped to create in the City of Lights throughout the previous decade. Charlie's own irresponsible conduct is epitomized by the mad moment the year before, when he climaxed a liquor-fueled quarrel with his wife Helen by locking her out in the snow, thereby accelerating her death from heart disease.
It never occurred to him that she would suffer serious harm as a result of his impulsive action, Charlie wails poignantly. In those days a man thought he could cavalierly toss someone out in the snow with impunity, "because the snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be real snow, you just paid some money." In other words, Charlie made the mistake of thinking that one could always buy off misfortune, even when one had brought it on one's self and others. Charlie's insight into his earlier reprehensible behavior has come too late to avert his personal tragedy, but his willingness to own up to what he has done makes his story a heartbreaking tale, one of Fitzgerald's best.
"Babylon Revisited": Fitzgerald's Scenario
During the last year of Fitzgerald's life, while he was freelancing in Hollywood, independent producer Lester Cowan (My Little Chickadee) purchased the screen rights to "Babylon Revisited" for $1,000. In addition, he offered Fitzgerald a weekly salary of $500 to cover his living expenses while he composed a movie scenario based on his story, all with a view to the film being eventually made for Columbia Pictures.
Fitzgerald wrote to Scottie that he was delighted to be able personally to adapt what he rightly termed this "magnificent story" to the screen and later wrote to his Hollywood agent that he was really sweating over the scenario. But because he was adapting one of his own fictional works for filming, it was "pleasant sweat, so to speak, and rather more fun than I've ever had in pictures."
Fitzgerald worked on his screenplay, which he called Cosmopolitan, throughout the spring and summer of 1940, even after Cowan stopped his salary in June. In mid-August Fitzgerald wrote to Maxwell Perkins, "I finished the job, . . . working the last weeks without pay on a gamble." He had continued laboring over the Cosmopolitan script without remuneration because he was betting that some producer, if not Cowan, would be willing to finance the picture, once they had read his completed script; in which case, as he explained later to his wife, he might finally gain some real status in Hollywood, "as a movie man, and not a novelist." No such luck.
Why had Cowan lost interest in a project which he himself had initiated? First of all, Cowan had originally counted on securing Shirley Temple for the key role of Charlie Wales's daughter (called Victoria, not Honoria, in the screenplay); but he failed to obtain the services of the young superstar for the part. Because Fitzgerald realized the importance of having a box office favorite like Ms. Temple appear in the picture, he spent an entire afternoon with the young actress and her mother vainly trying to charm them into accepting Cowan's offer to do the picture.
"I remember Fitzgerald as a kindly, thin and pale man," the actress said many years afterward. Like David Niven, who also met Fitzgerald during this period, Shirley Temple was impressed that Fitzgerald could consume an entire six-pack of Coca Cola in just a couple of hours. "As a young girl, I thought this to be a stunning accomplishment. In fact, I still do!" Beyond that, nothing came of the visit.
The second reason why Cosmopolitan never reached the screen was that, despite some reports to the contrary, the script was not nearly as good as Fitzgerald thought—or hoped—it would be. One story goes that several years after Fitzgerald's death Cowan called in another scriptwriter to revise the screenplay; but the latter returned it untouched, with the accompanying comment that Cosmopolitan was the most perfect movie script he had ever read. "You're absolutely right," Cowan is supposed to have replied. "I'll pay you $2,000 a week to stay out of here and keep me from changing a word of it."
This patently apocryphal anecdote has been naively recounted as Gospel by Fitzgerald's biographer Arthur Mizener, despite the fact that the same frugal producer who only paid Fitzgerald $500 a week to write the screenplay in the first place would hardly have capriciously offered someone else four times that much to leave it alone. Whatever truth there is to be found in this little tale probably derives from an actual encounter between Cowan and Budd Schulberg, whom the producer wished to rewrite Fitzgerald's script for Cosmopolitan. After examining the screenplay, Schulberg told Cowan that his late friend's script was "astonishingly good just as it was."
In contrast, the frank assessment of Cosmopolitan by another Fitzgerald scholar, Henry Piper, is that Fitzgerald's adaptation of "Babylon Revisited" is just not very good; and I am inclined to agree with him, for the reasons he puts forth. According to Piper, the fundamental problem with the screenplay is that, in trying to stretch the plot of one of his best short stories into a feature-length film, Fitzgerald cheapened his original story by padding out the plot of his fragile tale of love and loss with the sort of glossy melodramatic material that he all too often assumed was necessary to hold what he considered to be the limited attention span of the mass audience.
"To the story of Charles Wales's touching effort to regain custody of his small daughter," Piper writes, "he added a sentimental love story between Wales and a hospital nurse, as well as a gangster subplot," in which Charlie's crooked business partner Dwight Schuyler seeks to have him murdered in order to cash in the insurance policy their firm holds on Charlie. In the process, Piper concludes, the portrayal of the tender relationship between father and daughter is well-nigh obliterated. As film scholar Robert Gessner suggests, in essence Fitzgerald tried so hard to make his screen adaptation of "Babylon Revisited" a saleable commodity in the Hollywood marketplace, that he wound up altering his short masterpiece almost beyond recognition.
Just about all that is left of "Babylon Revisited" in the screenplay for Cosmopolitan is the confrontation between Charlie and his sister-in-law over the guardianship of his little daughter. In fact, this scene contains one of the few bits of dialogue brought over from the original story, as Marion tells Charlie, "My duty is entirely to Helen. . . . I try to think what she would have wanted me to do." Otherwise, as film scholar Lawrence Stewart states in his exhaustive study of Cosmopolitan in the Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual for 1971, Fitzgerald's script has little in common with what he himself had called his magnificent short story. Indeed, Fitzgerald even cancels the tragic finale of the short story by allowing Charlie to be reunited with his daughter in Cosmopolitan. In consequence, Latham's claim that this particular screenplay represents the culmination of Fitzgerald's years of screenwork is simply wishful thinking and is not borne out by a close analysis of the work at hand.
But the question remains, would the shooting script of the 1954 motion picture version of "Babylon Revisited" be any better than Fitzgerald's earlier screenplay? There was reason to believe that it would be.
The Last Time I Saw Paris: The Film
After Schulberg refused to rewrite Fitzgerald's script, Cowan shelved the project for some time, until he finally decided to engage two other screenwriters to start afresh on a new adaptation of "Babylon Revisited." This new screenplay, which Cowan eventually sold to Fitzgerald's former employer, MGM, for $40,000, was the work of Julius and Philip Epstein, a crack writing team of identical twins, who had both already earned Oscars for the script of Casablanca (1943), before turning their talents to adapting "Babylon Revisited" to the screen.
In addition to a script that was the handiwork of two distinguished screenwriters, MGM also had the services of the prominent filmmaker Richard Brooks to direct the picture. Brooks, who would become noted for his screen versions of such literary classics as Conrad's Lord Jim, was the first director of consequence to film a screen adaptation of one of Fitzgerald's stories, short or long. So it might have been hoped that a creditable film version of "Babylon Revisited" would at last be forthcoming from Hollywood, despite the fact that the studio brass made a couple of decisions regarding the production of the picture that were less than felicitous.
Replacing the title of the short story with the name of a sentimental love song by Jerome Kern, "The Last Time I Saw Paris," was relatively harmless. But then the front office went on to make the ill-advised decision to update the setting of the story from post-World War I Paris to post-World War II Paris, on the assumption that contemporary audiences could relate more readily to a film set in the recent past than to one set in the more distant past. Brooks, who discussed with me his adaptations of literature to the screen, did not agree with this decision, which was made before he was assigned to direct the picture; he firmly believed that since Fitzgerald's story was to some extent a requiem for the Roaring Twenties, the period setting was indigenous to the story as Fitzgerald had conceived it. But he was overruled.
As for the ways in which the Epsteins overhauled the plot of Fitzgerald's short story in order to make it fit the dimensions of a theatrical feature, the new material which the brothers invented for this purpose by and large fit into the fabric of their literary source. Fellow screenwriter Fay Kanin has since singled out Julius Epstein in particular as being adept at creating solid plot lines for films. "His stories always have good bones."
The key element in the expansion of the story line to feature-length proportions was changing Charlie's occupation from that of a businessman to that of his creator, a professional writer. Most of the additional plot material which was invented for the film was spun out of this one fundamental modification in the characterization of Charlie Wills, as he is called in the movie. It was, for example, made the basis of the growing estrangement between Charlie (Van Johnson) and Helen (Elizabeth Taylor) in the film.
Since the reasons for the gradual breakdown of their marriage could only be lightly sketched within the narrow confines of a short story, the Epsteins opted to explain it in the film by showing how the deterioration of Charlie's career as a writer causes him increasingly to take refuge in the bottle, which in turn puts a strain on his marriage. Because Fitzgerald's own drinking became more of a serious problem when his literary career went into eclipse in the thirties, film scholar Foster Hirsch is correct in stating that in the movie "Van Johnson is clearly playing a variant on the fabled author himself." I, for one, have no quarrel with this fact.
Granted, there are definite analogies between Scott Fitzgerald and Charlie Wills in the movie; but the essential parallel between them, namely, the effort which each must make to hold on to the love of a beloved daughter, was firmly embedded in "Babylon Revisited" long before it was turned into The Last Time I Saw Paris. It seems, therefore, dramatically and artistically right that the scriptwriters should follow Fitzgerald's lead in utilizing further details from the author's life, over and above those which he had himself already put into his story, in order to flesh out their screenplay. Unfortunately, although they did not introduce into the plot the kind of lurid melodramatics that Fitzgerald had laid on with a trowel in his script, the screenwriters did take other liberties with Fitzgerald's story, which cannot be so easily justified.
The crucial crisis of both short story and film is, once again, the bitter confrontation between Charlie and the small-minded Marion (Donna Reed), who turns a deaf ear to Charlie's heartfelt petition that he be allowed to have his daughter Vickie back, so that he can make up for his previous wanton behavior by being both father and mother to the girl. At this point it looks as if the film will follow the short story by dramatizing its compelling conclusion, wherein Charlie and his daughter are once more separated, this time possibly for good.
Not a bit of it. Encouraged by her husband, who has all along been sympathetic to Charlie's cause, Marion experiences a last-minute change of heart. She catches up with Charlie, whom only moments before she had driven from her home, and turns Victoria over to him. So, instead of the film closing as the story does, with Charlie musing disconsolately that he is "absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone," Charlie's sentiments are transferred in the film to Marion, who says to him, "I don't think Helen would have wanted you to be alone."
This far-too-facile attempt in the movie's final moments to retool Marion into a much more forgiving and generous character was dictated by the myth in the film industry, still subscribed to in those days by many producers, that films with upbeat endings usually attracted a larger audience than films with downbeat endings. Such producers saw popular "tearjerkers" like Camille and Three Comrades merely as the occasional exceptions that prove the rule. In the last reel of Paris the attempt to realign Marion's character in a way that would justify a happy conclusion rings false, precisely because the screenplay has been fairly faithful to the short story up to this point by presenting Marion as a calculating and selfish woman. Her abrupt about-face in the closing moments of the movie is inconsistent with her character as already established in the film and is, therefore, hardly credible.
The compromised ending of Paris was symptomatic of the fact that, as Richard Brooks states, many studio executives at the time had a predilection for sentimental endings of this sort. When he tried to tone down the sentimentality that tinged movies like Paris while he was making them, he was resisted by the front office. Studio boss Louis B. Mayer told him, "You seem like a nice fellow, but if you could only make our kind of movies it would be much better." "I can't blame them" for their attitude, says Brooks; but he concedes, "I should just not have gone along with it," when it came to sending the audience away with a smile rather than a tear at the end of a picture like Paris.
Still The Last Time I Saw Paris, when all is said and done, turned out to be a better picture than Cosmopolitan could ever have been. The MGM movie of "Babylon" may have departed from its source in some ways, as with Marion's eleventh hour change of heart; but Fitzgerald's screenplay, which he hoked up with the introduction of a new love interest for Charlie, not to mention a contract killer threatening Charlie's life, nearly lost sight of his original short story altogether.
On the other hand, since The Last Time I Saw Paris was deprived of the rich ambience of Paris after World War I, which permeated the short story, and since the movie was likewise deprived of the hard-edged conclusion of Fitzgerald's original story, it was written off by many reviewers as a classy contemporary soap opera. "The soft soap is smeared so smoothly, and that old Jerome Kern tune is played so insistently," smirked Bosley Crowther in The New York Times, that the movie "may turn the public's heart to toothpaste." Paris was better than Crowther opined, but not as good as it could have been.
In sum, Fitzgerald's short fiction has not fared well on film, although Bernice Bobs Her Hair and The Last of the Belles do stand out as superior to the general run of adaptations of his short fiction. Nonetheless, all of the films discussed . . . that are still extant are well worth watching. For all of them can boast some sequences that retain the flavor of Fitzgerald's narrative genius and that serve to rescue each film from foundering on the shores of mediocrity.
For example, The Last Time I Saw Paris comes to life when, following the short story, it dramatizes in a most touching manner a frantic father's efforts to win his cherished daughter away from a calloused in-law by sincerely pleading that he has by now surely expiated his past sins. Moreover, despite the fact that the film version of "Babylon Revisited" departs from the original ending of Fitzgerald's story, the film still reflects Fitzgerald's abiding theme that one can only transcend one's moral transgressions by accepting responsibility for the suffering that they have caused.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 899
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 also mentioned that it is "late afternoon" when Charlie leaves the bar. Throughout the story the current time is cited, even down to the exact hour in some cases. For example, when Charlie first sees Honoria at the Peterses', it is said that the "cheer of six o'clock" is in the room. The next day the reader learns that it is at "noon" that he eats with Honoria. The marking of the passage of time in the narrative present helps to show that while Charlie is trying to make up for his lost time with Honoria time is rapidly slipping away. Just as Charlie is aware of time passing, so is the reader.
Although Charlie is aware of lost time, he has great hopes for the future. He has dreams of being with Honoria, and the dreams are often spoken of in terms of time. He talks of bringing his sister over from America "next month" to look after Honoria. He tells his sister-in-law Marion that he plans to stay sober "permanently." In order to help his depression, he reminds himself to think of his future with Honoria, to "think of Sundays spent with her and of saying good morning to her" when she comes to live with him. The future is all that Charlie has. He has lost his past, and his present is slipping away.
Fitzgerald uses time particularly effectively in references to the sad past of Charlie Wales. Throughout the story, Charlie is reminded of his past. From the beginning, he sees all of the places from his drinking days. He asks about old friends and finds, "Two familiar names from the long list of a year and a half ago." It is this part of his past that Charlie would like to erase. But at the restaurant with Honoria, Charlie sees "Sudden ghosts out of the past," two friends of his who had helped him "make months into days in the lavish times of three years ago," or "that crazy spring."
These constant reminders help Fitzgerald demonstrate his theme. Certainly Charlie is unable to escape the fact that he had "those crazy years" and lost his wife and Honoria. He asks himself, "How many weeks or months of dissipation to arrive at that condition of utter irresponsibility?" He sees the mistakes of his past as well as their consequences. He sees that "the days came along one after another, then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone." In those two years, his wife died and he lost custody of Honoria. These facts of his past he cannot escape.
His sister-in-law, Marion, also seems unwilling to let Charlie escape from his past. She brings up the "times" that Charlie lost control. It is "those crazy years" that she remembers. Again, Charlie's mistakes are referred to in terms of time. Charlie believes that Marion has forgotten how hard he worked, "for seven years" before his drunken binge. He says that she "just remembers one night." He tells her that his drinking lasted for only "a year and a half." Marion replies that "It was time enough." When Marion finally gets upset enough to tell Charlie that she blames him for the death of her sister, Charlie has to keep his cool "for a moment." The phrase, "for a moment" is repeated three times in the one paragraph. It emphasizes how hard it is for Charlie to keep calm and also how much he wants Honoria.
For a while it looks as though Charlie will be able to escape his past and gain a future with Honoria. He realizes that if he does not gain custody, it would be "hopeless to try and know her in so short a time," during his visit to Paris. Once again, his needs and desires are expressed in terms of time. He feels that his time with Honoria is slipping away. Soon she will be grown, and he will not be a part of her life. He wants to be in her life; he believes that "the present is the thing."
Finally, Marion comes around. But just as Charlie is making arrangements for Honoria to live with him, his "ghosts from the past" arrive and spoil things for him. His failure to escape the past is told in terms of time: "We'll have to let it slide for six months." He thinks of his defeat in terms of time: he resolves to "come back someday; they couldn't make him pay forever."
Throughout "Babylon Revisited," Fitzgerald uses words of time to convey his theme that people are unable to escape the past, in the story of a man trying to overcome his past mistakes, only to be constantly confronted with them.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546
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 purely in economic terms, while Charles is haunted by the dissipated lifestyle of the boom years that ended with his wife's death, his daughter Honoria's adoption by his sister-in-law, and his own stint in a sanitarium for alcoholics. Their brief verbal exchane exists on two parallel planes:
"I heard that you lost a lot in the crash." [Paul]
"I did," and he [Charles] added grimly, "but I lost everything I wanted in the boom."
"Something like that."
The lines are deceptively simple but they convey a wealth of implication. Paul's idea of losing a lot in the crash means loss of money. Charles assents to this, but thinking of his spiritual deterioration during the flush years before the economic debacle, he adds that his losses were greater in the boom years. Paul, still locked within his money orientation, misinterprets Charles's confession. During a boom in stock prices, how can a speculator lose money? The answer for Paul—Charles must have "sold short." "Short selling" is the market term for the most speculative (and dangerous) form of stock or commodity trading, for it entails selling shares you only pretend to own on the assumption that the price will drop and you will then be able to buy them at a lower price. Unlike buying stocks, where the most you can lose is your original investment, in short selling your losses theoretically can reach astronomical proportions if the stock goes up, instead of down, and you are forced to cover your sale by buying the stock at inflated prices. Short selling is not for investors but for gamblers.
Charles Wales doubtless knows what Paul is alluding to, but his reply, "Something like that," moves on another, more commonplace, level of communication. To sell yourself short is, of course, to underestimate or undervalue your worth, to fail to come up to your potential. In this sense Charles has truly "sold himself short" by having fallen into dissolute habits through earning and spending vast sums of money during the boom years. His errors have brought him a new awareness. "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." Although he now has a good job in Prague and his material well-being has returned, he is unable to recover what he had once lost. His wife is gone forever and he fails to recover his Honor(ia).
This double entendre is one of Fitzgerald's verbal master-strokes, for it compresses and combines the two essential themes of his story—economic as well as spiritual loss—into a single poignant exchange.