illustrated portrait of American author F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Elizabeth M. Varet-Ali (essay date spring 1990)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10261

SOURCE: Varet-Ali, Elizabeth M. “The Unfortunate Fate of Seventeen Fitzgerald ‘Origins’: Towards a Reading of The Pat Hobby Stories on Their Own Merits Completely.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 14 (spring 1990): 87-110.

[In the following essay, Varet-Ali praises the originality of The Pat Hobby Stories and considers their place within Fitzgerald's oeuvre.]

I'm awfully tired of being Scott Fitzgerald anyhow, as there doesn't seem to be so much money in it, and I'd like to find out if people read me just because I am Scott Fitzgerald or, what is more likely, don't read me for the same reason. In other words it would fascinate me to have one of my stories stand on its own merits completely and see if there is a response. Letter to Arnold Gingrich, 7 February 1940.

Fitzgerald wrote the seventeen Pat Hobby Stories from late Summer 1939 to June 1940. At his death, he was still busy revising each story again before its first public appearance in Esquire.1 He had plans for a complete revision of the whole series. His Correspondence reveals that he had accepted the idea of having them dramatized into a play.2

As the fiftieth anniversary of Fitzgerald's death is drawing near, one can hope that the Pat Hobby Stories will at last be allowed to take the place they deserve as genuinely belonging to his literary output and be relieved of the characteristics and reputation that belong only to their main protagonist, ill-fated, inadequate, persistently mis-scheduled, ageing hackwriter, Pat Hobby.

The Pat Hobby Stories are “originals”. What with the persistent use of comedy and satire, what with the choice of such a disappointingly un-heroic and pathetic main character, they are, it seems, “unlike” anything Fitzgerald ever wrote. Their unusual tone, their very originality, is probably one of the main reasons why they seem to have—to say the least—puzzled quite a few commentators of Fitzgerald's, thus ironically adding to poor Pat's misfortunes. Because they did not apparently meet a Fitzgerald reader's expectations in terms of handling of prose, The Pat Hobby Stories seemed to set his literary canons off balance. Elusiveness and inadequacy are major motifs in the stories. Strangely enough, this came to apply to the stories themselves when submitted to artistic judgment.

Given a fair reading “on their own merits completely”, they yield up a wide range of analysis as to Fitzgerald's “new-vein”, and throw light over the stage of development that his views had come to at the end of his life, mainly about the studios, of course, but also about literature, art, and his vision of America in the late thirties.

Similarity in background subject (and period of composition) with The Last Tycoon, added to the fact that Fitzgerald considered the novel as his main objective, his “immediate duty”, has contributed to the poor reputation of the Hobby stories. Weren't they but the notes left out from the major work, hastily sketched into stories for easy magazine money? Closer reading easily proves, however, that Fitzgerald had a very clear idea of his “original conception” of the series as distinct from that of the novel. What they obviously have in common is the setting, but also themes, and a specific concern with “epigrammatic” concentration and with point of view. Yet their tone, purpose, the range of emotions that they call up are distinct from those in the novel and deserve specific attention. The Pat Hobby Stories are a devastating satire of the negative aspects of the Hollywood studio system, in their inner, “backstage” workings, including the connotations in terms of human deterioration. The character of Pat Hobby plays an all-important part in this, and in the inner logic that unifies these stories as fiction and in terms of human impact.

The seventeen stories are admittedly uneven in terms of literary achievement. As a complete sequence they certainly fall short of his best fiction and one cannot expect to find in them the quality of poetic prose typical of his great novels. Some of the stories are definitely poor (e.g. “Pat Hobby's College Days”) while stories such as “Two Old Timers” bear witness to his unimpaired capacity for attaining the “exquisite inner mechanics” of his best writing. It is typical of his perfectionist attitude that he persistently underrated the latter story as “weak” and was unhappy with it as it stood.3 As a whole, and keeping in mind the intended revisions and censorships, the stories can afford a slight emphasis on their qualities in terms of unity of purpose and originality—especially when this has so rarely been done in the most widely read literature about Fitzgerald. Let any semblance of bias, for once in their favour, be therefore understood as in no way fortuitous here.

The scope of this paper only allows a brief survey of a few major misunderstandings concerning the Hobby stories, with the view of reconsidering their unfortunate reputation. It will attempt a closer understanding of his “original conception” of the series, especially focussed on the character of Pat Hobby, whose function in the stories has been so diversely appreciated. This first approach will have made its point if it has but proved that the Hobby stories can withstand observation in terms of literary standards.

The reputation of the Hobby stories through their fifty years of life has been so haphazard and contradictory that the fact in itself deserves some explanation. Ironically, since they were written their adventures bear the mark of their protagonist's own pathetic, doomed attempts at getting any sort of recognition. Perhaps more here than for any other book of Fitzgerald's, myth, false rumors, distortion of facts and dates, confusion as to his own relation to them, as to their place in his late work, have become so entangled as to make a fair appreciation difficult.

True, the bulk of Fitzgerald's one hundred and sixty or so short stories has suffered a long trail of misfortunes. None more than the Hobby Stories have fallen victim to a common prejudice concerning the magazine stories denounced by Ellen Moers, back in 1962: “In the parlance of the American literary world, it is customary to say that we sell a short-story, but publish a novel. Selling is a literary sin, and it follows that an author's lucrative work must be his worst.”4 Because Fitzgerald never concealed the fact that, being a writer by trade, he wrote the stories also to pay the bills, it ensued that his short fiction had to be labelled as “commercial”. True, his total royalties for 1939, the year he started writing the Hobby stories, came to a little over $33 (with nine books in print), and he desperately needed the money afforded by the stories and the exhausting writing for the studios. Pat Hobby's obsession with money bears the mark of Fitzgerald's own “psychic depression over the finances”: “we have to live on those little pieces in Esquire and you know how little they pay”.5 But true also, is his repeated assertion of his own professionalism. He did, whenever he took to writing, “labour like a slave over every sentence”, as he reports in his overtly autobiographical 1936 story “Afternoon of an Author” and repeatedly in his last years: “If you think I can't write, read these stories”, “nothing I ever write can be completely bad”, etc.6

Fitzgerald criticism is still labouring to give better attention to the bulk of his short fiction, long impaired by editing problems. The Hobby Stories are a case apart even within the general rule. Thanks to their collected edition, they have been available to a wide reading public for several decades.7 Yet they have been totally overshadowed as short fiction about Hollywood by stories such as “Crazy Sunday”. The title of this 1932 story, its subject (the famous episode at a party at the Thalbergs in 1931), may well have helped to its prominence: it fitted in with the more sensational aspects of the Fitzgerald legend.8 There is nothing sensational in the petty episodes of Pat Hobby's abortive career, no celebrities, not even one real “bender”. All the famous names and titles mentioned in them prove as fugitive as Pat's fame. Typically, Orson Welles does not once appear on the scene in the story that bears his name (though its obsessive ring very nearly comes to depriving poor Pat Hobby's abortive career, no celebrities, not even one real glimpse of the stars and glamour-symbols of the Industry are, in the Hobby stories, deliberately made to appear as disappointing and deceptive. The view that the stories offer into the intimacy of Hollywood rules out anything like some magazine's indiscreet intrusion into the private lives of stars or even famous writers on the decline: celebrity proves as elusive as the few seconds allotted to names on the screens of movie-theaters.

By an odd reversal of roles typical of the Pat Hobby reputation, the 1932 largely autobiographical story became the short-story reference concerning Fitzgerald in Hollywood; while the seventeen stories in which he featured, by means of a fictional transposition, so much of what he had observed and felt about the moving-picture world, became interesting only in as far as they were a projection of his own disastrous circumstances. It may well be that the portrait of America's pet industry was easier to bear in the story's subtle irony (especially in its much-quoted first paragraph), than in the detailed, at times crude, even cruel, portrait of everyday life at the studios that the Hobby stories bring to life with such harsh, bitter sarcasm.

Of the several factors that have contributed to Pat Hobby's sad fate, the most persistent had been noted by A. Gingrich, back in 1962:

The scholars began falling, with singular uniformity, into the pathetic fallacy about Pat Hobby: these stories are about a hack, ergo these stories are hack work.

(PHS [The Pat Hobby Stories], 22)

Indeed, the “pathetic fallacy” seems to have persisted even after the stories had gained their first “credit” and come into print at last. Finding controversy is no surprise when dealing with Fitzgerald's reputation, but the Hobby stories did get more than the usual share, even 22 years after his death. The 1962 reviews of the Collection provide entertaining reading: that a book could be qualified as having “admittedly high hack quality, but nothing more” is rather rare criticism.9 Among the fifty one reviews, a few hit upon some genuine merits of the stories.10 Most comments, however, prefigure many evaluations to come. The stories show “an embattled man writing a kind of nerve-ends prose.” They “don't seem to belong at all to the man who had already written The Great Gatsby and Tender.” Apparently Pat was still “A Man in the Way”. Nearly half the statements are of the kind, “they will do Fitzgerald's reputation no good”: “artificially contrived and unlikely”, they are “designed to pay the grocery bills and it shows”; on the whole “pretty bad stuff” that Fitzgerald “wrote for bread when he no longer had an age to speak for”. At least Pat had his day. Once before, his name had stood on the screen for one brief “triumphant” moment—when the picture was such a flop that nobody would acknowledge it (“Pat Hobby's Preview”).

Several decades of Fitzgerald criticism have not done much to modify their reputation: they still seem to resist specific attention, except for a few flashes of brief recognition.11 The attitude of scholars is generally condescending: when the stories are not simply ignored, they are quickly brushed aside as “slight” or “trivial”, after a few embarrassed, patronizing lines comparing Pat's and his author's “disastrous circumstances”. Pat Hobby references have a distinctly odd propensity to disappear from Indexes. On the whole, an attitude once again similar to that of Pat's own employers, who tend to feel uneasy when he comes too close, and yet, out of sheer pity probably, finally acknowledge his presence with a “Hello, Pat”, or an occasional “week at three-fifty”—when they don't walk “right through him” (PHS, 132). John Rees's note in 1975 is still valid: “two generations of commentators have almost all passed over The Pat Hobby Stories quickly, often merely in discreet asides on Fitzgerald's money worries in the last Hollywood years.”12

The common link to much of the confusion about the stories is that many comments fail to consider them as fiction. Obviously put off by stories that do not seem to fit the usual Fitzgerald canon, and cannot be traced to the specific influence of any of his contemporaries, most commentators seem to lack for criteria with which to evaluate or place them. The autobiographical interpretation has thus become a handy and growingly popular approach, probably dating back to Malcolm Cowley's remark that the stories “made fun of the author's weaknesses, thereby proving that Fitzgerald hadn't lost his ironic attitude toward himself.”13

The view has led to extremes of distortion. One critic sees Fitzgerald “grinding out” the stories, forcing the manuscripts on reluctant Scribner's, with “poor Gingrich” “tucking them away in his files”, and finally crying “enough”, at last bringing the series to a fortunate end.14 The Pat/Scott identification would thus be so complete as to work both ways, and Pat's predilection for “glueing himself” to producers could safely be read as a truthful self-portrait of his creator.

Even in less obviously prejudiced accounts, the autobiographical approach is usually linked to a low evaluation of the stories. Indeed, if the main interest is the Pat/Scott identification, if Fitzgerald is here “only secondarily” interested in “the quality of his prose in print”, it follows that the stories are “not of themselves memorable”, but only so when read “with Fitzgerald's life in mind.”15 The search for alter-egos, often considered as a safely fruitful one in Fitzgerald's characters, has, in Pat's case, largely resulted in putting off closer study and understanding of what the stories really are about. Rare commentators refuse to see Pat as a fictional projection of Fitzgerald.16 But the point deserves some clarification when the contrary interpretation has been so generally accepted for truth.

Of course, as Fitzgerald himself admitted, “a great deal” was “going into” the stories: of his Hollywood experience, of his vision and judgement of the studios. But most autobiographical interpretations see Pat as a representation of Fitzgerald as a writer. The view is related to the sensational aspects of the Fitzgerald myth, comforted by episodes such as told by Budd Schulberg in The Disenchanted. Such readings lead back to the assumption that Fitzgerald, as a writer, would have “quit” (a verb used in the “Crack Up”): he would be transferring his fears into Pat's portrait, stepping back to take a horrified look at his abhorred double, thereby—supreme condescension—“proving his capacity for self-irony.” The image of the older Fitzgerald as “an artist in severe decline”, or as “Scott the drunk”, “the exhausted dying man, such a wrung-out figure as he had made Dick Diver in Tender” has been modified through closer scrutiny.17 Studies of The Last Tycoon have established his regained literary vitality. Yet the old representation strangely persists when it comes to examining the Hobby series. The frequent vagueness as to dates of composition may be part of the old prejudice: it would probably be disquieting to have Fitzgerald write what could have become his best novel in the very same months as he was supposed to be “grinding out” such an unflattering but truthful self-portrait into the “red-rimmed eyes of Pat Hobby”, an ageing scenarist, another “homme manqué” as well as “épuisé”.

Pat's pathetic appeal could not have been so authentically poignant, had not his creator experienced years of frustrating work at the studios, with half a credit as his sole reward, and the feeling that life had “humbled” him.18 But if the stories are in any way to be read as a sort of Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man (the portrait motif appears in several stories), it can only be understood as that of a Would-Be Artist. Sergio Perosa comes closer to the truth when he sees Pat as “an epitomy of the mediocre”.19 Pat is the embodiment of the “counterfeit coins” (a favourite image of Fitzgerald's in the late thirties) that the studios would pass for art. As such, Pat is emphatically not an autobiographical character: a great deal of what “is going into” him being precisely Fitzgerald's loathing for the “practised mediocrity” at the studios.

The misconception has resulted in a confusion of the parts and casts. Are The Pat Hobby Stories some sort of malignant outgrowth disfiguring Fitzgerald's literary output, the last dregs painfully ground out from an author's winded imagination, by now only obsessed with his own panics when faced with coming old age, total “bankruptcy” and a belated writer's cramp? Are they the natural sequence to the “Crack Up” that overcame him circa 1935-36, the ugly piece of the cracked plate that had better been left “in the can” (as one 1962 reviewer so graciously had it) where it had already stayed for 22 years? Or (another 1962 comment) are they but “the scraps from the cutting floor” of the novel in progress?

A closer look at the chronology and the very process of composition of the stories affords a few answers. Fitzgerald's literary output since 1936 in terms of genuine fiction had been altogether rather scarce. Then, suddenly, things changed. The idea of the novel had been on his mind for several years; in May 1939 he states that he has a “rough sketch” and “could begin writing it to-morrow”, but the actual writing seems to have started at the same period as the stories, some time in the Summer 1939. The part they played in his regained confidence should not be underestimated.

A first Hobby story was submitted to Collier's late in the Summer (and rejected).20 “A Man in the Way” was sent to Scribner's on 16 September; “Boil Some Water, Lots of It” on 21 September. A week later, the very first outline for The Last Tycoon was in its turn sent out (29 September). Four Hobby stories came in October (including the one earlier rejected by Collier's). By 28 November, eight had been completed, as well as the first chapter of the novel. There were nine more stories to come, not counting those discarded. His correspondence with Gingrich about the stories gives an idea of the hectic pace at which he was now writing (bearing in mind that he was then mostly working full-time on freelance filmscript assignments).

What, then, had happened to foster the sudden surge of creativity, so remarkable when compared to the long years it had taken him to complete Tender, or to the recent period when most of his writing was restricted to exhausting work for the studios? They were certainly not his idea of the best conditions for creative work: “it would be morally destructive to continue here on the factory working basis”, Hollywood is “such a slack soft place that withdrawal is practically a condition of safety”.21

As far as biography is concerned, what happened was precisely what he called his “third Hollywood venture”, starting 1937. After the sort of tabula rasa experience he had described in the “Crack Up”, the one final certainty that stood out in this reorganizing of self and values was his never-relinquished claim to authorship: he was “a writer at last”, a “writer only”. Logically, his’fiction’ then is represented by the introspective Author pieces. All the re-asserted Author needed then, he admitted, was “reforestation”. The new Hollywood experience was to take care of the material for it. However seriously Fitzgerald took his work there, and though it did clear his debts, by 1939 the experience had confirmed much of his earlier verdict. The intensity in the stories carries some of his anger when he saw that the drastic reorganization of the studios (what with the highly Taylorized division of labour that had followed the Talkies and the Depression, the newly edicted Production Code, the war spreading in Europe) had only led to even more drastic submission to economic and political pressure and even less scope for individual talent: with a few exceptions, the studios weren't taking any more risks as to Box Office results. As far as writers were concerned, he thus summed up “the paradox” of the Industry: “We brought you here for your individuality but while you're here we insist that you do everything to conceal it.”22

In literary terms, a slow maturing process was also taking place. What he felt building up for his writing was, he wrote, “a new phase.”23 Closer still, as he was about to start the Hobby stories, he thus stated his intentions:

so you see I've made a sort of turn. My hope is … that I can make people laugh instead, as he [Tarkington] did in Seventeen which is completely objective and unromantic.24

The Pat Hobby Stories undeniably bear evidence of this “new phase”, this “sort of turn”. Phrases such as “make people laugh”, “completely objective and unromantic” certainly apply more specifically to the series than to any other of his later work.

After a period of maturing, the Author was at work again. The Hobby stories are the first result of this “second growth” in his writing: the phrase appears in a story (PHS, 73), one of many humorous winks at himself here (poor Pat was denied the artistic rebirth that he had helped Scott regain). By September 1940, with the Hobby series completed and still undergoing periodical revisions, he has gained time and confidence for his novel: “The new Armageddon [the novel] gives me a certain lust for life again … I feel a certain rebirth of kinetic impulses.”25

It is not surprising that Fitzgerald should have become “rather attached” to his character, who played such a major part in the creative process. All at once, he had everything an Author could wish for: with such an authentic protagonist as Pat Hobby proved to be, came an authentic place and period in which to set his stories, a subject, a purpose, together with a wide range of appropriate themes (art, time, fame, fate, old age, failure, illusion and make-believe), a clear idea of his tone (“make people laugh”) and narrative point of view (focussing on him for a view of life at the studios as seen from “the bottom”) into the bargain—in other words, “that dearest of Hollywood dreams”, an “angle”. Apparently Fitzgerald only gradually realized how rich and creative his original idea would prove to be. The unifying pattern, however, was there from the start, in the very first stories.

As the series develops Fitzgerald's letters show his growing awareness of this, giving the lie to the hack-work, commercial-story theory. Yet he himself may have been partly responsible for its low evaluation. Several commentators have taken him at his word when he wrote about them as “this unprofitable hacking for Esquire.26 The phrase refers to what were at the time (December 1939: Collier's had refused the novel) constant causes for irritation: the low price paid for the stories (“Don't you agree they are worth more than $250.00?”) and the obsessive “paucity of time” (“time is so short and there's so much we want to do”).27 Any interruptions from the novel were unwelcome. Even Sheilah Graham, of all his friends the one that could never be taxed with unfavourable bias as to his late work, so misinterpreted his comments that she thought she was fulfilling the author's wish when she asked Gingrich to refrain from publishing some of the stories.28 Fitzgerald had said they were “terrible” and marked two of them as “poor”. Such sallies were not uncommon with him (“’it was all trash,’” he had exclaimed on earlier occasions, “though it wasn't”, A. Mizener reports).29 All they indicate is the dissatisfaction of an artist set on attaining the standards of his own requirements.

An author is not necessarily the best judge of his own work. “He was always prone to exaggerate minor excellences and minor defects way out of their proportionate importance to the average perception.”30 Still, too many assertions of his militate against the one unfavorable impression (the “unprofitable hacking”) not to be briefly mentioned. The Hobby stories are for him “real stories, not sketches”, as he insists in his letters to Scribner's—with the usual plea for more money out of them. By 1940, the main feeling in his letters is one of satisfaction: “It [the money] will give me a chance to write another short-story”; “I function rather well … I have written half a novel and a score of satiric pieces that are appearing in the current Esquires”; “Did you read me in the current Esquire about Orson Welles? Is it funny?”31 The bulk of his letters to Gingrich confirms his growing concern with the stories in terms of artistic achievement. His constant reshuffling of the order in which the stories were to appear is due to esthetic—not commercial or circumstantial—considerations.

Isn't Hollywood a dump—in the human sense of the word? A hideous town, pointed up by the insulting gardens of its rich, full of the human spirit at a new low of debasement?32

This postscript to a 1940 letter is relevant for the Hobby stories. Fitzgerald's deliberate purpose is to divest Hollywood and California of their illusory “escape magic” mentioned earlier in the letter, and focus on the “debasement”. It had been his attitude in earlier pieces of the thirties, about Paris, New York, or post-Depression America. He does not share the “vagueness” of language and emotions that characterizes the dreary pageant of insiders and outsiders alike in the stories. For him words such as “dump”, “hideous”, “insulting”, “human spirit”, “low”, “debasement”, carry their full meaning, a verdict.

Pat is the quintessence of all these put together, “in the human sense”. He identifies with this vision of the studios, concentrated and recreated into a human figure. It is revealing that in his revision of “A Patriotic Short”, the word “pictures” can be replaced by “he” (Pat) without the least damage to the text. Pat himself identifies with Hollywood, or rather with the restricted, negative view of the industry that it is his function to introduce us to. He acts as a substitute tourist guide in “The Home of the Stars”, and it is also his part in the stories to take us on a tour behind the scenes. This gives a clue as to why Fitzgerald had to discard stories that did not take place at the studios: “Pat out of Hollywood doesn't jell”, he admits (PHS, 17). It also accounts for much of the weakness of “Pat Hobby's College Days”, which is partly out of focus and lacks the “given mood or’hauntedness’” of the good stories.33 Out of Hollywood, Pat cannot fulfil his function as indicator, revealer and focal refractor to his surroundings.

In this respect, Pat differs from other script-writer figures in Fitzgerald's fiction (Richard Caramel in The Beautiful and Damned, or Wylie White in The Last Tycoon). The character that comes closest to prefiguring him is the unnamed first-person narrator in the 1938 autobiographical story “Financing Finnigan” (with Fitzgerald as Finnigan): another sponger, he also allows an ironical view into professionnal surroundings (New York writers, in this case). Pat features much more than just an ironical scenarist's portrait, or Fitzgerald's amusement at putting “everything he disliked about studio writers onto Pat's back.”34 As a character, he is an anti-hero, a loser, the antithesis of Stahr. As a genuine product of the studios, he is at once base agent, pale imitator and true victim of the system. Through him the stories attain their specific impact, at once a satire of Hollywood, a caricature and a “comedy” (Fitzgerald's tag), as well as a pathetic plea.

As proved by his motto, “this is not an art, this is an industry”, Pat embodies Fitzgerald's indictment brought against Hollywood, as destructive of Art, of Individual Talent, of anything like Integrity: a “dump”. This, indeed, means putting a lot “onto Pat's back”. Pat's personal history, his so cherished early “success” in the twenties, illustrates Fitzgerald's earlier judgement on what artificial and “flimsy” ground the Splendour of that Age was based. Pat is but one of those “citizens traveling in luxury in 1928 and 1929, who, in the distortion of their new condition, had the human value of Pekingese [sic], bivalves, cretins, goats” (“Echoes of the Jazz Age”).

Transposed into fiction, and to a Hollywood background, the sarcasm has lost none of its terse wording in the stories—even down to the devastating animal imagery. “Pat Hobby's Secret” has more (human) animals in it than many jungle movies. As for “Pat Hobby himself”, he is, in several stories, aptly referred to with images pertaining to dogs (in studio parlance, a dog is a ham, and Pat has long been in the doghouse). This is “a dog's life”, he thinks, hoping for “a timely bone” (the Chaplin allusion fits the silent screen comedy context in “Boil Some Water” [“Boil Some Water, Lots of It”]); he comes “with almost a swagger” at his “dog-call”, and must be content with a producer's “I kinda like having you around” in “No Harm Trying”; “he was sure there would be backslapping … That would be nice” (“PH's Preview” [“Pat Hobby's Preview”]). It may not be far-fetched to hear a suggestion of a pat on the back in Pat's very name.

It fits the caricatural purpose that Pat should in all respects be just one stage below, behind, or worse than his surroundings. Pat belongs to the Age of the Silent Movies, thus allowing the criticism to cover several decades of studio history. It also stresses his age (a symbolic fourty-nine) compared to younger insiders such as paternalistic producer Jack Berners, whom Pat reminds “of his father” (PHS, 37). His ill-timed schemes are bound to fail, they invariably come one minute, one film or one vogue too late. Pat is one decade behind the times. A clear verdict, for an author who, as Malcolm Cowley put it, “lived in a room full of clocks and calendars”.

The caricature reaches its peak when it comes to Art and Culture, a major issue in Fitzgerald's gradation of values, and a major (though largely ignored) theme in the stories. Art is in fact the main subject of the very last and much underrated story, “Fun at an Artist's Studio”, really another variation on the Artist At Work theme: at least as far as the relationship of the artist to his/her subject is concerned, it even affords a unique self-portrait under female guise in the character of the Painter who has chosen Pat Hobby as her subject (a clue overlooked by our sleuths in search of alter-egos). Pat Hobby himself outrivals Gatsby as an ignoramus. He does not evince more curiosity towards art and artists than he does to a “good” idea for a scenario: “It's good, but I don't get it”—though he does “warm to” the idea when it comes to using it as a “conception of himself” in a plea for a job (“A Man in the Way”). In this strange “City of Angels” so vividly recreated, art does not escape the absurd logic that turns all values into their opposites: it can only interest Pat as “a trick” (“Putative Father” [“Pat Hobby, Putative Father”]). The richest themes of fiction, become, under his expert handling, tricks too old-fashioned for words: he thinks he can pass off as an “idea” for a love-story the tritest boy-meets-girl plot, his original idea for representing the Passing of Time is “a calendar with the years plainly marked and the sheets blowing in a cold wind” (PHS, 131).

In the Industry versus Art issue, Pat is invariably on the side of the former. In his pleas for a minute share of the huge profits and glamour, he shamelessly draws on the paternalistic pity left over from the Golden Days, and is not averse to accepting a “charity job” (“No Harm Trying”). He also knows that at the back of a producer's mind is the constant regret, “If only ideas could be plucked from the inexpensive air” (PHS, 79) and he acts accordingly: he knows what kind of arguments are likely to hit the mark (“PH and Orson Welles” [“Pat Hobby and Orson Welles”]). His outrageous blunders, his incompetence, are the replica of what takes place every day around him: this is what his twenty years in and about the Industry have made of him.

Many stories are in fact structured so as to stress the parallel. His insistence on placing “Jews” or “the regenerating effect of war” into scripts is only one degree below his employers' scrupleless handling of history (“A Patriotic Short”). His perverted idea of “democracy” is borrowed from the strict hierarchy of the studio system, aptly symbolized by the Big Table at which only the “Big Shots” are allowed to sit (“Boil Some Water”). His ill-contrived studio coup is but a pale parody of the periodical studio “shake-ups” and “change managements” (“No Harm Trying”). His servility to his employers (a stoodge, he invariably takes sides for “the masters” in case of conflict) is pure mimicry of their own all-too-servile obedience to the studio rules and greed (“PH's Secret” [“Pat Hobby's Secret”], “Mightier than the Sword”). He naturally bases his idea of humanity on the mass-produced stereotypes of the picture world. Such genuine feelings as love are logically absent from the stories: most women are for him no more than “cute little blondes”, “as much alike as a string of paper dolls”, and the closest he can come to a romantic approach is the elaborate address, no doubt a dutiful mimicry of studio parlance: “You married?” (“PH's Preview”).

In a few strokes, Fitzgerald thus makes his “conception” clear. Because he has no creative capacities of his own (in other words, none of Stahr's “unity” and “purpose”, no “epic grandeur”), Pat has been osmotically perverted by his corrupt surroundings, and can only be a mirror to them (albeit a slightly distorting one). This is both a clue to his human characteristic as a failure, and to his function as detector and symbol of the pervading debasement, which turns every concept into its inverted meaning and perverted counterpart.

Failing to see these unifying elements in the conception and structure of the stories, has resulted in strangely opposed interpretations. Some critics have analyzed the stories, which carry such a harsh verdict, as showing Fitzgerald's acceptance of Hollywood.35 Once again Pat, the main agent of his satire of the whole studio system, is taking all the blame. The director in “Mightier Than the Sword”, a caricature of vulgarity and incompetence, has been seen as representative of the American self-made man—while the stories have also been reproached with being aimed at “too many easy targets”.36

Is the satire in the stories so surprising, or veiled, or grossly exaggerated when compared to Fitzgerald's knowledge of the reality of studio life? Is he really overdoing it, after he himself had experienced the absurd diktat, when working on the script for Gone with the Wind, that forbade him to use one word that did not appear in Margaret Mitchell's book? Or when the censor from Hays' Office had wished the Nazis in the script for Three Comrades to be turned into Communists?37 Pat's growing hatred for Orson Welles in the fifth story is perfect mimicry of the gloating with which the studio world actually greeted the arrival of the “spoiled prodigy”. Behind the caricature, many of Fitzgerald's observations happen to be strictly true to historical fact. His gift for picking out the relevant details representative of a place and period, while keeping to his fictional choice (“I do not want it to have the ring of an analysis”, he wrote in his notes for the novel) is here once again at work.

The many humorous hints and winks at the minutely observed aspects of studio life, at films and stars of the Silent Screen and of the thirties (as well as at his own life and work) with which the stories are packed, provide added pointedness to the comedy. The reader does not need the explicit reference to Chaplin (PHS, 64) to picture Pat Hobby as a character in a Silent Screen comedy. Unfortunately, many of the hints will probably be lost on present day readers not familiar with the Movie Age or with Fitzgerald's life and work. A closely annotated edition would probably be required to provide them with the background knowledge necessary to spot the allusions to famous names and box-offices hits and the humorous self-mockery at work behind Fitzgerald's choice of topics, gimmicks, titles and names. Among the latter, the suggestive euphony of Pat's own name (better adapted to his personality than the original “Mike Van Dyke”, aptly transferred to a veteran gagman in The Last Tycoon) may well have originated in a mocking allusion to two characters, Pat and Bobby, in the script that had brought Fitzgerald his sole credit (and occasioned a commotion at the studio).38

The testimony of observers closer to Hollywood contrasts sharply with the generally negative reactions of academics. The Hobby Stories occasionally get recognition in movie magazines.39 Joseph Mac Bride's account of his reaction to the story “PH and Orson Welles” is revealing.40 He confirms its successful choice of targets and qualifies it as “hilarious”—thereby proving that Fitzgerald was not alone in deeming that some of his stories had “a couple of belly laughs” (PHS, 16), and that he had reached one of his aims which was to write stories that could be “funny”.

If this aspect may make the comedy in The Pat Hobby Stories less vividly felt nowadays, the serious appeal behind the caricature cannot escape contemporary readers. Not only the universal perversion of human and esthetic values, but the pathetic urgency of Pat's predicament cannot fail to strike us with the full force of its dramatic intensity. That Fitzgerald himself was aware of the mixed element of comedy and pathos in his character is clear in his correspondence about the intended Hobby play: Act II was to show Pat's “hilarious failure” to get a job, Act III “a desperate man”.41 The dramatization, he insisted, should preserve some of “this flavour”, “the only thing actually new about the original conception” of the series, namely its “really bitter humour”. How successful a Hobby play could have become remains open to speculation. As they stand the Hobby stories show that Fitzgerald was using the narrative advantages of the short story form to the full.

Pat's situation on the verge of total destitution and oblivion leaves unmistakable scope for pathos. The stories have some of the “ring of factual sincerity” (PHS, 56) that is denied to Pat's own pseudo-creative attempts. Fitzgerald's occasional bitterness especially in the Fall 1939 does find its way into the stories. Pat's outcry, “‘I've been cracked down on,’ he said, “‘Plenty’” recalls some of his letters about “a world where I felt prematurely passed by and forgotten”.42 This aspect of the stories has therefore, as regards themes, received better attention. They clearly tell of Fitzgerald's life-long fascination with failure and success—with the stress here on the failure. But what gives them their specific impact is not self-pity on Fitzgerald's part. The pathos, in Pat's case, is linked to the place, made more effective by the elliptical harshness and the ironical twist of the narrative, which so well serves Fitzgerald's choice of indirection. It would be above Pat to know the phrase “insolence of office” (PHS, 128) as a quote. But he knows its feeling full well, as a lesson of his everyday experience. Hollywood harbors all his dreams of yesterdays and his only panic is at the idea of being excluded from its tomorrows.

Fitzgerald's handling of Pat's pathetic appeal, set within the general tone of “really bitter humour”, thus strictly obeys his criteria, both as to “being exact and honest emotionally”, as well as to his abhorrence of sentimentality.43 “Though no one is more responsive than I am to true sentiment and emotion, I still hold out against any sentimentality”, is his repeated assertion in 1940. Stories should be “felt in the stomach first”, as opposed to “in the throat to make a fat woman's holiday between chocolate creams”, he insists, as he is working on the script version of his story “Babylon Revisited”, which also illustrates the theme of solitude.44 The available revisions of the stories confirm the deliberate choice.

“Begin with an individual and … you find that you have created a type; begin with a type and you find that you have created—nothing”, were Fitzgerald's opening lines for “The Rich Boy”. Despite the caricature, Pat is also a complete character—“stubbornly alive”, as many commentators have to admit. Part of what enables Fitzgerald to endow him with such forceful human appeal is that “the gift of hope had remained with Pat through his misfortunes”. This agrees with another canon of Fitzgerald's, “the sense that life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming things are not “happiness and pleasure”, but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle”.45 Gatsby also had this “gift of hope”. However petty and mean in Pat's case, the struggle is none the less present here, a life and death issue. Pat holds on to his Hollywood dreams as if his life depended on it. Indeed it does, because the least portion of it, “every poisonous herb that blossoms between Washington Boulevard and Ventura” which he grabs at for a hold, represents not only “a few weeks' surcease upon the island of a “patchjob’” (PHS, 109), but his own self, his very identity.

Fitzgerald's treatment of the identity theme is here by no means a metaphysical (“existential”, as some have named it) questioning out of time and place. That it should be illustrated through Pat's obsession with his own name and the memory theme is appropriate to the Hollywood background, to its capacity for so swiftly making and unmaking its own pet stars and vogues. Fitzgerald's gift as a social observer has not deserted him. Even the studios, backward and reactionary as he often described their views to be, could, in the late 30s, no longer ignore the millions of unemployed that the Depression had so suddenly deprived of any social status, whose problems the Roosevelt era had left unsolved. They were the people Tod Hackett, the painter in Nathaniel West's The Day of the Locust “felt he must paint”: many of them had “come to California to die”. Fitzgerald had liked his friend's book. But Pat is not one of his grotesques: as an old-timer and insider, his identification with Hollywood both permits the caricature of the studios, and makes his struggle to remain inside even more vital. The well-guarded studio gates are his own unemployment line. His question, “How can you get ideas off salary?”, passed off in the narrative as a psychological mistake and another of his comical blunders, is none the less a serious one. The difficulty in calling up his name, its various misquotations by other characters, are sure signs (here again, without a word of comment) that he is constantly on the verge of disappearing into nothingness. The studios are his “home”, his only real family (as befits their paternalistic organization), his last tie to anything like self-respect or survival. Without them, all that remains is pure panic, the horror of the word “finis” (“Home of the Stars”, 98), “The End”.

As an artist, Pat Hobby is pure caricature, a bogus writer, a fake, a hack. But his hopes, his obsessions, his fears (his flights) are real, and destructive to the last degree. In his plight, any odd illusion will be gladly accepted for fact. As a result of his blunders in “PH Does His Bit” [“Pat Hobby Does His Bit”] he has become nothing more than a prop, a “bump” in the set, but, he concludes with “a certain fierce pride”, at least, “he was Something in this set-up” (PHS, 107). Indeed he is nothing but a clumsy pawn in the gigantic machinery of the Industry.

This confirms him as “a figure almost incapable of real tragedy”.46 But the universal human appeal is there, in his own “struggle” for life, in the blind stubbornness with which he insists on thinking up devices as desperate attempts to fool his fate. Pat's inevitable lies in his public appearances (“’I'm in my forties’, said Pat, who was forty-nine”, PHS, 109), the illusory dreams of past glory that he nurses when left to himself, are his way of building up some sort of protective screen to keep up appearances and a semblance of identity. Part of what makes him so human is precisely how willingly he accepts the self-delusion for the sake of a moment's respite. As in most of Fitzgerald's fiction, “the antagonist is time”.47 But the focus here is on the inescapability of the present: the recurrent flashbacks into his youthful past are Pat's only (and illusory) protection from the unbearable vision of the impending disintegration.

Fitzgerald couldn't very well have achieved such a dramatic chronicle of general wreckage of art and ethics in The Last Tycoon without jeopardizing the unity of tone of the novel, in which, he said, “everything must contribute to the dramatic movement”.48 The short story form proved an excellent medium for his purpose. The Hollywood setting and the satirical choice emphasize their closeness to the cinematographic form. Typical of the silent screen comedies, “shorts” and “one-reelers” were still in vogue in the thirties: the “complete service” in movie theaters often included a short subject together with the major feature. As a “serial”, his tales of Modern Times at the studios fall into subdivisions or episodes, each affording special “treatment”, almost a dissection, of a specific subject (team-writing as in “Teamed With Genius”, writer-director relationships as in “Mightier than the Sword”, National Glamour Past and Present, as in “A Patriotic Short”, etc.). The best stories have their own unity of subject but also of tone and treatment (within the general tone of “bitter humour”), underlined by the careful choice of titles. Some are closer to slapstick comedy (“Boil Some Water”), others more versed in “technicalities” (“Mightier than the Sword”), some almost cruel in their harsh realism (“No Harm Trying”), others “arresting and poignant” (“PH's Preview”). They are variations on a few main motifs, with images and echoes reorganized into as many deft games with dissolves, reflections, alternated shifts from present to past, from illusion to reality, from the tense rhythm of the dialogues to the emotional quality of the rare descriptive moments. One need only read the story “Two Old Timers” down to its concluding lines to find ample evidence that Fitzgerald's controlled handling of his purpose and subject is, even in this context, capable of attaining the conciseness of word and rhythm and the near poetical simple intensity of his best prose.

When it fits his purpose, Fitzgerald draws quite aptly on traditional comic lore. The leitmotiv of elusiveness becomes an element of the comedy. Misunderstandings abound. In Pat's presence, words have an odd propensity to change meanings. Gestures, silences, but also places and objects assume a dramatic and almost symbolic value. The real gates at the studio entrance only hide the false fronts in the back lot, inevitably raising the question from the lips of innocent outsiders, “perhaps the actresses just have a false front too” (PHS, 84). Cars, couches, mirrors, hats are blown up to such a degree as to become the “indispensable tool(s) of the writer's trade” (PHS, 98). And doors (obviously major elements in slapstick comedy) fail to open onto the expected “charmed circle”—except “by proxy” (PHS, 93). In terms of human appeal, the absence of commentary makes the portrait at times unbearable in its harsh detachment.

“Action is character”, Fitzgerald's own reminder for The Last Tycoon is obviously applicable here. Pat's actions, mean and pathetic as they are, become dramatically active keys to the building up of his portrait (this is also true of all the other insiders so vividly brought to life with a few telling strokes). It is only logical that the episodes that make up the list of Pat's misfortunes should lead to the inevitable failure of his ill-contrived schemes and manœuvres.

The stories have been criticized for this inevitability, for the “slightness” of their plots. The “pathetic fallacy” concerning the Hobby series is still at work if Fitzgerald is to be taxed with the limited world vision of his protagonist, and if judgement of the stories is restricted (as it too often has been) to a survey of the events that make up the list of Pat's misfortunes. An author's handling of plot can hardly be judged on the same scale of values as his character's (in this case weak and mean) plottings. They happen to be, here, entirely in character. If one is to reproach an author for his protagonist's shortcomings, one might just as well reproach Pat with being a hack, or Fitzgerald with trying his hand at comedy or for not contriving a few happy endings. The outrageously improbable plot in a story such as “Pat Hobby, Putative Father” is clearly meant as a parody of the weakest serials daily produced at the studios, underlined by the exotic Indian origin of the Putative son (a clear allusion to the Imperial films so fashionable in the late thirties). H. Kruse has also shown in his study of “PH's Xmas Wish” that the supposedly repetitive’Pat Formula’ as far as plot and comedy were concerned, was not as expected and mechanical as all that, and that his comic effects can be traced to a “constellation of techniques”.49 As for “happy endings”, there are in fact a few, as “happy” as Pat's plight allows (“Two Old Timers”, “PH, Putative Father” [“Pat Hobby, Putative Father”], “PH's Preview”). The feeling then is one of relief: further calamity has been, for a moment, postponed.

The deliberate emphasis on Action and Dialogue, the choice of “writing epigrammatically” (made explicit in the notes for the novel) is particularly effective in the stories, and appropriate, considering their satirical purpose and cinematographic setting. Fitzgerald's real gift for comedy and dialogue, his ear for picking up idiosyncrasies of the studio jargon, adapted to each character's peculiarities (and according to social, geographical, ethnical origin) find a perfect terrain here. Closing the book after having read one or several of the stories, we realize we have not only been taken on a visit inside the studios, but have lived with their inmates, grown accustomed to their strange language codes, experienced the strain of the long waitings and the hectic tensions of production, witnessed the hopes and disillusions from as close a range as close-ups allow.

The very subject of the stories seems to have opened up a field of half-serious, half playful experimentation with camera-angle techniques. Here again, Pat plays an important part, both as subject of the camera's ruthless search, and as magnifying lens to his surroundings. The stories afford ample internal evidence that Fitzgerald was obviously enjoying himself with the idea, and becoming growingly conscious of its varied technical potentialities as the series developed. After his legendary problems with point of view in Tender Is the Night, The Pat Hobby Stories are too closely linked chronologically to The Last Tycoon not to deserve attention on this point. His “cinematographic vision” has often been noted with reference to the novel. However humorous, tentative or unevenly successful the experimentation may be deemed in the Hobby stories (probably at its best when at its most unobstrusive), it is obviously a deliberate, and an appropriate one.

This aspect of the Hobby stories deserves a more detailed study than could be done within the scope of this paper (it has, to my knowledge, hitherto remained unnoticed except for brief allusions to their film script compactness). The unfortunate reputation of the Hobby stories has thus deprived the bulk of Fitzgerald criticism of valuable information as to this stage of his evolution. Many trends of his later development find confirmation in the stories, especially as to his literary creativity. It has been said of the novel that “Fitzgerald was still learning”: this is also true of The Pat Hobby Stories.50

“When I do write a book, I'll make you the laughing stock of the nation”, is a scenarist's parting sally at his employer in one of the stories (PHS, 154). Similar anger lies at the bottom of the stories: they tell of more than personal revenge. Whether artistic, ethical or social, the issues at stake have not been deleted by the bitter-comic twist in the stories; nor is the caricature aimed at one particular trade or studio. The biting irony, at times carrying a retaliating, pamphlet-like quality, that Fitzgerald has chosen as the Hobby “coinage” has a moral behind it. He is building up a case, with each story bringing in its new argument. What the ruthless portrait suggests is that Hollywood, the nation's most popular symbol of Art and Success, perhaps soon its main access to anything like culture, in fact relies on the tritest themes, the grossest illiteracy and the basest motives and make-believe illusions imaginable. No wonder it can breed (with a few exceptions) such a race of “ignoramuses”, “mental cadavers” and “submicroscopic protozoa” (as worded in the notes for The Last Tycoon) and rats as Pat Hobby belongs to.

Dos Passos's Note on Fitzgerald (though it does not mention the Hobby stories) is relevant here.51 For what Fitzgerald is talking about is the destructive aspects of the “innate conditions of the Industry” when based on waste of talent, negation of art, culture and integrity. What he speaks for, in inverted terms, is professionalism, quality in Art, and the necessary conditions thereof. That he should have chosen to express his vindication in fictional terms, and with such biting irony, does not make it less acute. That Pat Hobby should be such an authentic character, while lacking all the necessary requisites of an artist, does not make the case less urgent. The least that should be conceded about The Pat Hobby Stories is that they have their place in the history of his evolution. They do complete the general picture of his views about Hollywood. They confirm how intensely he was then thinking about art and the artistic medium, especially, of course, his own. What they would have become after he had submitted them to his planned revisions and censureships is open to speculation. As they stand, and as “originals” go, they are “real stories”, they genuinely belong to the Fitzgerald corpus. Not the least of their merit lies is the fact that he enjoyed himself writing them, “and it shows”.


  1. The Pat Hobby Stories appeared in monthly installments in Esquire 13, 14, 15 (from January 1940 through to May 1941).

  2. F had no intention of doing the dramatizing himself. The project of a play appears in letters dated 23 February, 1 March, and 6 May 1940, The Correspondence of F, eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli & M. M. Duggan, (NY: Random House, 1980) 581, 584, 585, 595; hereafter cited as Corr.

  3. Letters to A. Gingrich, 15 January & 27 November 1940, Corr., 577, 613. Also mentioned by Sheilah Graham in The Real F, (1976; rpt. London: Cornet Book, Allen, 1986), 142.

  4. Ellen Moers, “F, Reveille at Taps”, Commentary, 34, N° 6 (1962) 527.

  5. To G. and S. Murphy, [Spring 1940], The Letters of F, ed. Andrew Turnbull (1963; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), 448; hereafter cited as Letters.

  6. To Harold Ober, 7 October 1939, Letters, 428; Budd Schulberg, “F in Hollywood” in F, The Man and His Work, ed. Alfred Kazin (1951; rpt. N.Y.: Collier Books, 1962), 109. B. Schulberg is reporting a conversation with F in February 1939.

  7. The Pat Hobby Stories, Introd. Arnold Gincrich (1962; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967); hereafter cited as PHS. Two stories had previously appeared in: The Stories of F, ed. M. Cowley (N.Y.: Scribner's, 1951) and three in Afternoon of an Author, Intr. Arthur Mizener (N.Y.: Scribner's, 1957). Edmund Wilson had (unwillingly) contemplated publishing them together with The Last Tycoon: cf. his Letters on Literature and Politics, 1912-1972 (London: Routledge, 1977), 341. Recent paperback editions of the Hobby Stories include: The Collected Stories of F (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986); The PHS, eds. E. L. Hazard, M. J. Bruccoli & R. A. Bose (N.Y.: Scribner's, 1988) (not available in time for this paper); PH and Orson Welles and Other Short Stories, ed. Martine Skopan (Paris: LFG, Le Livre de Poche, Coll. Lire En Anglais, 1988).

  8. The episode was told in detail by Dwight Taylor, “F in Hollywood”, in Harper's, March 1959, 67-71.

  9. The Critical Reputation of F, A Bibliographical Study, ed. Jackson R. Bryer (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1967), 132-40.

  10. Esp. Ellen Moers's penetrating paper, “F, Reveille at Taps”, 526 to 530.

  11. Recent computerized bibliography through MLA and FRANCIS data gives only three items for The PHS, including R. L. White, “The PHS: A File of Reviews”, F-Hemingway Annual (Columbia, Sc: 1979), 177-80 (not available for this paper). For authors that have paid some attention to The PHS, see esp.: Sergio Perosa, The Art of F, transl. C. Matz and S. Perosa, (Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 1965), 147-51; Richard D. Lehan, F and The Craft of Fiction (Carbondale: S. Ill. Univ. Press, 1966), 163-5; Horst Kruse, F: The PHS”, in Amerikanische Erzählungen von Hawthorne bis Salinger, Interpretationen (Neumünster: Wachholtz Vlg, 1968), 155-186; John A. Higgins, F, A Study of the Stories (N.Y.: St John's Univ. Press, 1971), 172-7; John O. Rees, “F's PHS”, The Colorado Quarterly, 1975, Vol. 23, 553-62.

  12. J. O. Rees, “F's PHS”, 553.

  13. M. Cowley, “Third Act and Epilogue”, in F The Man & his Work, ed. Alfred Kazin, 153; also in his Introd. to The Bodley Head F (London: Bodley Head, 1963), 31-32. The view is shared by so many commentators as to make any other reference superfluous.

  14. Henry D. Piper, F, A Critical Portrait (N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965), 525. Piper's assertions are belied by Higgins, A Survey of the Stories, 160.

  15. Robert Sklar, F, The Last Laocoön (N.Y.: O.U.P., 1967), 328.

  16. Esp. J. Higgins, (“PH is not a fictional projection of F”) A Survey of the Stories, 172; M. J. Bruccoli, (“It is absurd to regard PH as a self-portrait of F”) “The Last of the Novelists”. F and The Last Tycoon. (Carbondale & Edwardsville: S. Ill. Univ. Press, 1977), 33; M. J. Bruccoli, “Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. The Life of F (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1981), 472-73.

  17. S. Graham, The Real F, 13; Tom Dardis, Some Time in the Sun (London: A. Deutsch, 1976), 19. Both books oppose the view of the older F as a “suffering”, “failed” man.

  18. To Scottie, [Winter 1939], Letters, 63. The screen credit was for Three Comrades, MGM, 1938. For detailed accounts of his work on the script, see: Tom Dardis, Some Time in the Sun, 37-47 and Aaron Latham, Crazy Sundays (London: Secker & Warburg, 1971), 120-49.

  19. Sergio Perosa, The Art of F, 148.

  20. The story was “offered to Collier's in desperation … but Littauer wired that it’wasn't a story,’”, letter to Harold Ober, 7 October 1939, As Ever, Scott Fitz-, ed. M. J. Bruccoli (London: Woburn Press, 1973), 418 and Letters, 428. The story was “PH's Christmas Wish” (sent to Scribner's on 14 October); Pat Hobby was then called “Mike Van Dyke” (a name later used for a character in the novel). See also Matthew J. Bruccoli, “The Last of the Novelists”, 32 and “Some Sort of Epic Grandeur”, 457. “I have sold in the last few months ten short stories to Esquire,” F writes on 20 October 1939, Dear Scott / Dear Max, eds John Kuehl and Jackson R. Bryer (1971; rpt London: Cassell, 1973), 258.

  21. To M. Perkins, 25 Feb. 1939; to G. Murphy, 14 Sept. 1940, Letters, 304; 449.

  22. To Maxwell Perkins, 25 February 1939, Letters, 304.

  23. To Gerald Murphy, 11 March 1938, Letters, 447.

  24. To Kenneth Littauer, prob. late July 1939, Letters, 609.

  25. To Gerald Murphy, 14 September 1940, Letters, 450.

  26. To Maxwell Perkins, 19 December 1939, Letters, 307.

  27. To Harold Ober, 7 October 1939; to Scottie, 27 March 1940, Letters, 428; 83.

  28. S. Graham, The Real F, 141-42.

  29. A. Mizener, F and his World (London, Thames and Hudson, 1972), 65.

  30. A. Gingrich, “Salute and Farewell to F” (1941; rpt. in F in His Own Time: A Miscellany, eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Jackson J. Bryer (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 1971), 479.

  31. To M. Perkins, 21 Feb. 1940; to the Murphys, [Spring 1940]; to Scottie, 4 May 1940, Letters, 307, 448-49, 88, resp.

  32. To A. Richardson, 29 July 1940, Letters, 624.

  33. F's wording of the Poe canon in a letter to C. Ford, [Early July 1937], Letters, 571.

  34. S. Graham, The Real F, 144.

  35. The view probably dates back to A. Mizener, (“These stories blame Hollywood itself for almost nothing”), Afternoon of an Author, 196. See also K. Eble, (“F knows more about it [Hollywood] but seems to care less”), F (New York: Twayne Publ., 1963), 146.

  36. Christiane Johnson, “F et Hollywood: Le Rêve Américain Dénaturé”, Revue Française d'Etudes Américaines, 19 (Paris, Février 1984), 44; J. O. Rees, 555.

  37. A. Latham, Crazy Sundays, 146.

  38. Bobby was a garage mechanic and Pat a once-rich girl who “still possessed the tastes of the rich”. The sequence that had created a commotion at MGM was a telephone call between the two characters involving “St Peter in Heaven” at the switchboard. Cf. Aaron Latham, Crazy Sundays, 138-39.

  39. Meredith Brody, “Enquête sur le Roman Hollywoodien.’J'aurais mieux fait de rester chez moi’”, transl. Phillipe Guilhon, Cahiers du Cinéma, 337 (Juin 1982), 75.

  40. Joseph Mc Bride, Orson Welles (London, Secker & Warburg and BFI, 1972), 30-31.

  41. To Edward Everett Horton, 1 March 1940, Corr., p. 584.

  42. To the Murphys, [Spring 1940], Letters, 448.

  43. To Edmund Wilson, 25 November 1940, Letters, 369.

  44. To Lester Cowan, 26 June 1940, Letters, 622-23.

  45. To Scottie, 5 October 1940, Letters, 112.

  46. To Nathan Kroll, 6 May 1940, Corr., 595.

  47. R. D. Lehan, F and the Craft Of Fiction, 165.

  48. To Zelda, 23 October 1940, Letters, 146.

  49. H. Kruse, F: The PHS, 158.

  50. Donald Monks, “F: The Issue of Style”, Journal of American Studies, 17, n° 1 (London, 1983), 94.

  51. John Dos Passos, “A Note on Fitzgerald” (1945; rpt. in F. The Man and His Work, ed. Kazin), 155-60. The essay was included in the French ed. of The PHS, transl. M. P. Castelnau & B. Willerval, Les Histoires de PH (1965; rpt. Paris, Laffont, 1981).


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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1141

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896-1940

(Full name Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, scriptwriter, dramatist, and poet.

The following entry presents criticism on Fitzgerald's short fiction from 1990 through 2003. See also criticism on Fitzgerald's short story “Babylon Revisited,” The Great Gatsby, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Contemporary Literary Criticism.

Fitzgerald is regarded as one of the most influential novelists and short-story writers of the twentieth century. He is viewed as the spokesman for the Jazz Age, America's decade of prosperity, excess, and abandon, which began soon after the end of World War I and concluded with the 1929 stock market crash. As such, in his novels and stories, Fitzgerald examined an entire generation's search for the elusive American dream of wealth and happiness. Most of his stories were derived from his own experiences and portray the consequences of his generation's adherence to false values. The glamour and insouciance of many of Fitzgerald's writings reveal only one side of a writer whose second and final decade of work characterized a life marred by alcoholism and financial difficulties, troubled by personal tragedy, and frustrated by lack of inspiration.

Biographical Information

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Fitzgerald grew up in a wealthy family and showed an early interest in writing plays and poetry. As a young man he emulated the rich, youthful, and beautiful, a social group with whom he maintained a lifelong love-hate relationship. In 1913 he enrolled at Princeton University, and his first stories were published in Nassau Lit, the university's literary magazine, which was edited by his friend and fellow student Edmund Wilson. Leaving Princeton for the army during World War I, Fitzgerald spent his weekends in boot camp writing the earliest draft of his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920). The acceptance of this work for publication by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1919—and the ensuing popular and financial success it achieved—enabled Fitzgerald to marry Zelda Sayre, a socially prominent young woman he had met and courted during his army days. Zelda significantly affected her husband's life and career. During the 1920s, she was Fitzgerald's private literary consultant and editor, while publicly she matched Fitzgerald's extravagant tastes and passion in living for the moment.

While continuing to illuminate the manners of the Roaring Twenties, Fitzgerald's second and third novels, as well as the story collections published between novels, evidenced a growing awareness of the shallowness and brutal insensitivity that are sometimes accoutrements of American society. These weaknesses and America's lost ideals are movingly described in Fitzgerald's strongest and most famous work, The Great Gatsby (1925). Although it gained the respect of many prominent American writers and is now considered a classic, The Great Gatsby was not a popular success and marked the beginning of the author's decline in popularity. Another commercial disappointment, Tender Is the Night (1934) reflected the disillusionment and strain caused by the Great Depression and Zelda's gradual deterioration from schizophrenia and eventual breakdown. These events scarred Fitzgerald, contributing to a deep, self-reproaching despair that brought his career to a near standstill during the mid-1930s. Fitzgerald described his tribulations in detail in the three confessional “Crack-Up” Essays of 1936, which brilliantly evoke his pain and suffering. Trying to start anew, he became a motion picture scriptwriter and began The Last Tycoon (1941), a novel based on his Hollywood experiences, which remained unfinished when Fitzgerald died in late 1940.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Fitzgerald's short stories have often been dismissed as slick, commercial productions intended to capitalize on the successes of his novels. The author's own disparaging remarks regarding his stories have also helped lend discredit to their status as works of literature. Yet, since the 1960s, critics have come to regard many of Fitzgerald's short pieces as works that reflect themes characteristic of his most significant writings while experimenting with new techniques and subjects. In “The Rich Boy,” for example, Fitzgerald writes about the life of the wealthy and privileged. The protagonist of the story, the wealthy Anson Hunter, has developed a sense of superiority and aloofness, a need for dominance, and contempt for commonplace life—attitudes that result in alienation from those who would love him and separation from happiness. Instead of a means to fulfill his dreams, wealth has become for Anson an obstacle to self-realization. Another early tale, “Winter Dreams,” relies, like many of Fitzgerald's writings, on his recollections of childhood. In this story a young boy's longing for the “glittering things” of life guide his actions over the years until he realizes as a successful and wealthy adult that the greatest value of dreams resides in dreaming and striving, not in fulfillment.

In other stories, Fitzgerald portrays the socioeconomic divisions that characterized the early twentieth century. His story “May Day” is perceived as a somber and complex tale that many critics have interpreted as a remarkable evocation of the imminent collapse of the Jazz Age. The story focuses on the intersecting lives of three young protagonists—wealthy Phillip Dean; Dean's penniless former Yale roommate, Gordon Sterrett; and shallow, pretty Edith Bradin—during the May Day Parade in New York City in 1919. In “Babylon, Revisited,” overwhelmingly Fitzgerald's most frequently anthologized and analyzed short story, the author expands on his characteristic themes. Set against the backdrop of expatriate Europe during the 1930s, this story focuses on Charlie Wales, wealthy playboy of 1920s Paris whose excesses contributed at least in part to the death of his wife and subsequent placement of his daughter into the custodianship of his bitter and resentful sister-in-law, Marion. He has now returned to Paris, having put aside his careless ways and reestablished himself as a responsible member of society, to reclaim his daughter. Marion's suspicions of Charlie's insincerity are apparently confirmed, however, when two acquaintances from his halcyon days emerge to momentarily divert his attention. As a result, Marion will not relinquish the child. The story ends as Charlie resolves to return and try again to regain his daughter, believing that “they couldn't make him pay forever.”

Critical Reception

At the time of his death, Fitzgerald was virtually forgotten and unread. Since the 1950s, however, a growing Fitzgerald revival has led to the publication of numerous volumes of stories, letters, and notebooks. Critics have universally praised Fitzgerald's mastery of style and technique that renders even his most trivial efforts entertaining and well-executed. Numerous critical studies on Fitzgerald's short fiction have been published, exploring his stories from socioeconomical, feminist, psychoanalytical, and autobiographical perspectives. Recent critical studies have examined the relationship between his novels and short stories, asserting that although earlier critics dismissed his short fiction as inferior efforts intended to capitalize on the successes of his novels, the stories are valuable for their insight into Fitzgerald's characteristic, thematic concerns and deserve a well-considered place in Fitzgerald's fictional oeuvre. He is regarded as a profound and sensitive artist, as well as the unmatched voice of the Jazz Age.

Barbara Drushell (essay date summer 1991)

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SOURCE: Drushell, Barbara. “Fitzgerald's ‘The Ice Palace’.” The Explicator 49, no. 4 (summer 1991): 237-38.

[In the following essay, Drushell investigates the role of earth, air, fire, and water in “The Ice Palace.”]

In “The Ice Palace,” F. Scott Fitzgerald's interest in the lasting influence of birthplace on his characters1 is manifested in the central conflict of the story: Can the protagonist, Sally Carrol Happer, from Tarleton, Georgia, go through with her marriage to the northerner Harry Ballamy? She yearns to escape the “lazy days and nights” of the South and to embrace the “energy” of the North, where “things happen on a big scale.”2 But Fitzgerald's descriptions of the earth, air, fire, and water of the two locations, as Sally Carrol perceives them, preclude any possibility of the proposed nuptials.

Though earth and air in Georgia are “dusty” (113), the “tangled growths of bright-green coppice and grass and tall trees” bring cool comfort, as does the “savoury breeze” (117). Over the “soft grass” (120) where Sally Carrol and Harry sit on his visit to Tarleton, the evening air is “flower-filled” and dotted with fireflies (115). And the southern heat is “never hostile, only comforting, like a great warm nourishing bosom” (118). Quite different is the atmosphere of Harry's native St. Paul, Minnesota, during Sally Carrol's trip there the following January. Gentle breezes are gone, replaced by “howling wind” (129), and skies are obliterated by “a dark, ominous tent” of snow. The earth is just as disturbing, with soft southern grass only a memory on the “frosted … streets” (122) of the North, with every footstep treacherous on the hard, slick surface (137).

Even the sun is seen as a very different ball of fire in the two parts of the country. The opening words of the story depict southern sunlight dripping over Sally Carrol's house “like golden paint over an art jar,” providing a glorious “bath of light” (113). The only two words used to describe the sun in the North, however, are “pale” and “yellow” (129, 139). Indeed, Sally Carrol “scarcely recognized it” (131). Another kind of fire in the story is the “glowing open” one that Sally Carrol and Harry sit before in the Happer parlor during the romantic interlude that seals their engagement. In contrast, man-made fire in the North appears at the winter carnival as “a phantasmagoria of torches waving in great banks of fire … a solid flag of flame” (136). Sally Carrol is less than charmed by this spectacle—“she sat very quiet” (136) throughout the procession.

Also strikingly dissimilar are Fitzgerald's portrayals of water in the two regions. Water in the North is only snow or ice. But far from being part of the “fairy-land” (120) that Harry promised, the snow seems to Sally Carrol “just as if somethin' dead was movin'” (127). Even the magnificent winter palace, made from “blocks of the clearest ice … on a tremendous scale” (124), the kind of scale Sally Carrol once longed for (116), looms before her in “vivid glaring green,” and her first reaction is one of “oppression” (134-35). This frozen water of the North, like the walls of the ice palace, keeps people apart: Sally Carrol comments on her arrival, “I don't guess this is a very kissable climate” (125). The girls she meets sit in “haughty and expensive aloofness” (125), and the men treat her with “conscious precision” and a hands-off attitude (126). Quite opposite is the effect of the “muddy” (118) water of Sally Carrol's hometown swimming hole, so different from the crystal blocks of the ice palace, chosen for their “purity and clearness” (135). Rather than separating, southern water brings the local inhabitants together in “half-affectionate badinage and flattery” (126).

At the end of the story, Sally Carrol seems to realize that the four basic elements of life—earth, air, fire, and water—exist in forms so foreign in the North that they are unable to sustain her life. For when she collapses in the ice palace, a symbol for the North in general, she envisions her own death: “It was getting darker now and darker—all those tombstones …” (139). Thus is her conflict resolved. She cannot marry a northerner. Heaven and earth and all the elements have conspired against such a match. To survive she needs her native “golden sunlight … dust … heat …” and swimming water “warm as a kettla steam” (140).


  1. Richard Lehan discusses this topic in “The Romantic Self and the Uses of Place in the Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” in The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Jackson Bryer (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1982) 6.

  2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Ice Palace,” The Bodley Head Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Malcolm Cowley, 6 vols. (London: The Bodley Head Ltd., 1963) 5:116-7. All text references are to this edition.

Principal Works

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Flappers and Philosophers 1920

Tales of the Jazz Age 1922

All the Sad Young Men 1926

Taps at Reveille 1935

The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald 1951

Afternoon of an Author: A Selection of Uncollected Stories and Essays (stories and essays) 1957

Six Tales of the Jazz Age, and Other Stories 1960

The Pat Hobby Stories 1962

The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald: 1909-1917 1965

Babylon Revisited, and Other Stories 1971

The Basil and Josephine Stories 1973

Bits of Paradise: Twenty-One Uncollected Stories by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald [with Zelda Fitzgerald] 1973

The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald 1979

The Fantasy and Mystery Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald 1991

Jazz Age Stories [with Thomas Hardy] 1998

This Side of Paradise (novel) 1920

The Beautiful and Damned (novel) 1922

The Vegetable (drama) 1923

The Great Gatsby (novel) 1925

Tender Is the Night (novel) 1934

The Last Tycoon (novel) 1941

The Crack-Up (essays, notebooks, letters, miscellany) 1945

The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald (letters) 1963

Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence (letters) 1971

As Ever Scott Fitz—Letters between F. Scott Fitzgerald and His Literary Agent Harold Ober (letters) 1972

The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald (notebooks) 1978

The Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald (letters) 1980

Poems, 1911-1940 (poetry) 1981

Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters (letters) 1994

Dear Scott/Dearest Zelda (letters) 2002

Bryant Mangum (essay date 1991)

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SOURCE: Mangum, Bryant. “Fitzgerald and Literary Economics.” In A Fortune Yet: Money in the Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Short Stories, pp. 3-7. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1991.

[In the following essay, Mangum explores the relationship between Fitzgerald's novels and short stories and discusses the reputation of his short stories as inferior fiction written only for financial gain.]

From the beginning critics have argued that Fitzgerald prostituted his talent by writing slick magazine fiction when he could have devoted his energy to the production of more novels. Consequently, his career is often viewed as a study in literary schizophrenia. In a 1935 review of Taps at Reveille, T. S. Matthews mirrored the contemporary critical opinion that Fitzgerald's short stories were weaker than his novels because they were written for popular audiences: “Scott Fitzgerald is supposed to be a case of split personality: Fitzgerald A is the serious writer; Fitzgerald B brings home the necessary bacon. … There seems to be a feeling abroad that it would be kinder not to take any critical notice of the goings-on of Fitzgerald B, since his better half is such a superior person and might be embarrassed.”1 Margaret Marshall, surveying Fitzgerald's achievement a month after his death, concluded that he did not fulfill his early promise, partly because he could not resist the high prices that the Saturday Evening Post was willing to pay him for “short stories about glamorous and, today, boring girls, and boys who are not even glamorous.”2 Arthur Mizener also sees the stories as Fitzgerald's inferior work: the creative output of Fitzgerald B. According to Mizener, the short stories caused Fitzgerald regularly to compromise his artistic integrity, a practice which resulted in moral conflicts that would “haunt his career from beginning to end.”3

But Fitzgerald's career as a short story writer is not dissociated from and irrelevant to his career as a novelist. Despite the financial successes of This Side of Paradise, which earned over $11,000 during the first two years of publication, and The Beautiful and Damned, whose royalties in the first year of publication amounted to over $12,000, he found that in order to earn a regular income as opposed to a sporadic—and in terms of the Fitzgeralds' spending habits, moderate—one, he needed to produce marketable short stories. Beginning in 1924 the stories became and remained the backbone of his income. During the year in which The Great Gatsby appeared, Fitzgerald earned $11,025 from short stories as opposed to the $3,952 he received in royalties that year for all of his novels combined. In 1930, $25,529 of his $29,331 income came from his short story writing. Fitzgerald's stories provided the money that enabled him to remain a novelist, particularly in the “barren years” between The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, years filled with stories for which he was consistently paid high prices.

Early in his career Fitzgerald became aware of the difficulties involved in writing things that were good while at the same time supporting himself by producing marketable fiction. “May Day,” a fine 1920 novelette, earned only $200, while a weak, reworked Nassau Literary Magazine story, “His Russet Witch,” earned $810 in that same year.4 Any conflict that this might have created in his mind, however, was short-lived. From the beginning his goals as a writer were clearly defined. He wanted to write good novels and he wanted to make a lot of money. Fitzgerald expressed his feelings to his literary agent, Harold Ober, about selling stories to the Saturday Evening Post: “But, by God + Lorimer, I'm going to make a fortune yet,” he wrote in early 1922.5 Approximately two years later he gave Ernest Hemingway his reasons for writing stories for the slicks. According to Hemingway, “He [Fitzgerald] said it was whoring but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books.”6

The primary function of the short stories, then, was to provide the financial means that enabled Fitzgerald to remain a professional writer. A central question is whether he would have written more novels if he had not spent so much time writing stories for money. But given his near-mania for rewriting, given the amount of time that the composition of a novel like Tender Is the Night required, and given the amount of money needed to keep the Fitzgerald household in operation, the practical function that the stories served is clear. They could be written quickly—“The Camel's Back,” Fitzgerald claimed in his introduction to Tales of the Jazz Age, took only one day to write—and with much less effort than his novels. The big magazines, therefore, provided him with a well-paying job with fringe benefits: while living on the money from his most recent stories, he could put on the kind of sustained drive necessary to write The Great Gatsby or Tender Is the Night.

Aside from seeing the stories solely as the means by which he “would make a fortune” and get enough “ahead to write decent books,” Fitzgerald also learned to use the magazines as a workshop for his novels. This central literary function of the stories is usually dismissed in a few words. Critics occasionally point to a well-known story such as “Winter Dreams” as an example of a story that can be associated with a novel, but, in fact, most of Fitzgerald's stories can be directly linked with a particular novel. More often than not, the novels are surrounded by groups of stories in which he experimented with themes, subjects, and techniques that he would later use in novels.7 Also, stories written after certain novels show him treating material that he had used in that novel in a different way. Indeed, a study of the cluster stories—those stories which are associated with particular novels because of similarities of theme, subject matter, and technique—is important in any examination of Fitzgerald's development as a writer.8

When one considers that Fitzgerald, between 1919 and 1940, wrote 178 stories9 and made from them approximately one-half of his lifetime earnings as a professional writer, the important role that the stories play in his overall career becomes obvious. Looking back on those months late in 1919 after This Side of Paradise had been accepted, he describes the beginning of his career as a professional writer: “While I waited for the novel to appear, the metamorphosis of amateur into professional began to take place—a sort of stitching together of your whole life into a pattern of work so that the end of one job is automatically the beginning of another.”10 Some of Fitzgerald's writing jobs were better than others, some made more money than others, and some were more fun than others; but each is important as a link in the chain of his maturation as a writer. The writer of This Side of Paradise did not simply blossom into the author of The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night. He worked a lot in between. The stories, particularly his tailoring of them for particular buyers, provide “a more orderly writer's notebook” through which his development as a professional writer can be followed, almost literally, month by month.


Fitzgerald was a serious craftsman who depended on his craft for his livelihood. The problems which existed for him—and they exist for any literary artist who is also a professional writer—are indicated by William Charvat in his study of the profession of authorship in America:

The terms of professional writing are these: that it provides a living for the author, like any other job; that it is a main and prolonged, rather than intermittent or sporadic, resource for the writer; that it is produced with the hope of extended sale in the open market, like any article of commerce; and that it is written with reference to buyers' tastes and reading habits. The problem of the professional writer is not identical with that of the literary artist; but when a literary artist is also a professional writer, he cannot solve the problems of the one function without reference to the other.11

Fitzgerald had three major markets: the book publishing industry from which he earned approximately $120,000; the magazine market, which netted for him over $250,000; and the movie industry, from which he made over $110,000.12 From an artistic viewpoint the book industry was the most important, and it was also the market that brought in a relatively small amount of money. The least important for its contribution to Fitzgerald's artistic development was the movie industry, which, in terms of money earned for actual time spent working, was the most profitable.13 In 1938 alone he made some $50,000 writing for the movies.

Standing between these two outlets for his work was the magazine market.14 It served neither a purely artistic purpose as did the book industry, nor did it act solely as a financial resource as did the movie industry. The big magazine market functioned in both of these capacities. Between 1920 and 1936 Fitzgerald earned $289,612—a yearly average of $18,000—from the sale of his stories to popular magazines. The fact that he was a popular writer in his time is clear. His daughter notes in her introduction to Six Tales of the Jazz Age, and Other Stories that the significant increase in price—from $500 for “The Camel's Back” in 1920 to $2,000 for “The Adjuster” in 1925—“is a tangible measure of my father's remarkable and rapid success.”15 With the last of these, the prices of Fitzgerald's stories had just begun to climb to the high mark of $4,000 per story that he began receiving from the Post in 1929.16

Fitzgerald's career as a writer of magazine fiction breaks logically into three periods: 1919-1925, those years during which he shopped around for markets and published stories in most of the important periodicals of the times; 1925-1933, the central period characterized by a close association with the Saturday Evening Post—a relationship which almost precluded his publication of stories in other magazines; and 1934-1940, a period beginning with the publication of his first Esquire story and continuing through a subsequent relationship with that magazine which lasted until his death. During the first of these periods he published thirty-two stories in ten different commercial magazines, two novels (This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned), two short story collections (Flappers and Philosophers and Tales of the Jazz Age), and one play (The Vegetable). In the second period he enjoyed the popular reputation he had built with readers of the Post, and he published forty-seven of his fifty-eight stories which appeared during this nine-year period in that magazine; the remaining eleven were scattered through five different magazines. Also in the second period Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby, his third short story collection (All the Sad Young Men), and he delivered Tender Is the Night to Scribners. In the third period he lost the large Post audience and gained the smaller Esquire audience. Of the forty-four Fitzgerald stories to appear between 1934 and his death, twenty-eight appeared in Esquire. In addition to Tender Is the Night, which was completed and delivered before his relationship with Esquire began, he published one short story collection (Taps at Reveille), and he wrote the incomplete The Last Tycoon in the Esquire years. Thirteen stories, nine of which have appeared in Esquire, have been published since his death.

One conclusion to be drawn from a summary of Fitzgerald's professional career—and it is supported by the closer study which follows—is that he was at his best artistically in the years of his greatest popularity. During the composition of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's commercial fiction was in such demand that large magazines such as the Post, Metropolitan, and Hearst's competed for it. Tender Is the Night was written during the time when his popularity with slick magazine readers was at its all-time high point: in 1929 and 1930, important years in the composition of Tender Is the Night, he published fifteen stories in the Post. For the first six of these he was paid $3,500 per story, and the last nine brought $4,000 each. In sharp contrast to the 1925-1933 stories, which are characteristically of an even, high quality, and many of which are closely related to the two novels of this period, the stories of the Esquire years are, in general, undistinguished. In addition, with the exceptions of “Discard” and “Last Kiss,” the stories written in this period have little relation to his last “serious” work, The Last Tycoon. No amount of wishing alters the basic fact that Fitzgerald wrote Esquire stories because he could no longer write Post stories. The Esquire years constitute a low point, from both a popular and an artistic standpoint, in his career. They are years during which Fitzgerald lost the knack of pleasing the large middle-American reading public and at the same time produced very little serious fiction.


  1. T. S. Matthews, New Republic, LXXXII (10 April 1935), p. 262. Matthews, however, saw “no real difference in kind between ‘Taps at Reveille’ and ‘Tender Is the Night’; the creatures whom he has sold down the river for a good price are a little cruder, that's all.”

  2. Margaret Marshall, “Notes By the Way,” The Nation, CLII (8 February 1941), pp. 159-160.

  3. Arthur Mizener, The Far Side of Paradise (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951), p. 94.

  4. These and all figures relating to Fitzgerald's earnings may be located in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Ledger (Washington: Bruccoli Clark/NCR, 1972). In this study, figures are rounded off to the nearest dollar.

  5. Matthew J. Bruccoli, ed., and Jennifer McCabe Atkinson, As Ever, Scott Fitz-, Letters Between F. Scott Fitzgerald and His Literary Agent Harold Ober, 1919-1940 (New York: Lippincott, 1971), p. 36. Hereafter cited as As Ever.

  6. Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (New York: Scribners, 1964), p. 153.

  7. As Richard Lehan notes, “To discuss Fitzgerald's stories … involves a discussion of the major themes of his novels-the theme of youthful cynicism and disillusionment that characterized This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned, the theme of romantic limits that characterized The Great Gatsby, the theme of cultural and personal decline that characterized Tender Is the Night, and the theme of romantic betrayal that characterized the unfinished The Last Tycoon.” See “The Romantic Self and the Uses of Place in the Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald” in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. Jackson R. Bryer (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), p. 3.

  8. The “cluster story” concept was developed by Bruccoli and is discussed in Matthew J. Bruccoli, The Composition of Tender Is the Night (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1963). John Higgins notes some of the connections in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Stories (Jamaica: St. John's University Press, 1971).

  9. Bryer lists the 178 stories in alphabetical order in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, pp. 348-377. Bruccoli comments on the numbering of the stories in this way: “The Fitzgerald story canon includes some 160 published stories, including his school writings. (The ‘some’ is necessitated by the borderline essay/fiction pieces.).” “Preface,” The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald (New York: Scribners, 1989), p. xii. For discussion of the lost and unpublished stories, see Jennifer McCabe Atkinson's “Lost and Unpublished Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual, III (1971), pp. 32-63, and also Ruth Prigozy's “The Unpublished Stories: Fitzgerald in His Final Stage,” Twentieth Century Literature XX (April 1974), pp. 69-90.

  10. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Early Success,” American Cavalcade, I (October 1937), reprinted in The Crack-up, ed. Edmund Wilson (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1945), p. 86.

  11. William Charvat, The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1968), p. 3.

  12. Here the earnings from the book publishing industry include royalties from novels and short story volumes, the latter of which earned a total of approximately $15,000. Earnings from the magazine market here do not include novel serializations, nor do the figures relating to the movie industry include sales of novels and stories sold to the movies. The figures are approximations intended to indicate the relative importance of each of the three markets.

  13. Alan Margolies in “The Hollywood Market” in Bryer's Short Stories, pp. 65-73, tells how Fitzgerald tried early to take advantage of the Hollywood market by writing stories that would also interest Hollywood, but failed. Hollywood earnings came largely from his work under contract to MGM in the late thirties.

  14. Steven Wayne Potts's dissertation, “F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Career in Magazines” (University of California, Berkeley, 1980) is the only study to date which closely examines Fitzgerald's stories in the context of the editorial policies and audience tastes of the magazines in which the stories appeared.

  15. Frances Fitzgerald Lanahan, introduction to Six Tales of the Jazz Age and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (New York: Scribners, 1960), p. 9.

  16. The Saturday Evening Post will be referred to in the text as the Post.

Park Bucker (essay date 1996)

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SOURCE: Bucker, Park. “‘Each Time in a New Disguise’: The Author as a Commercial Magazinist.” In F. Scott Fitzgerald: Centenary Exhibition, September 24, 1896-September 24, 1996, pp. 47-8. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press for The Thomas Cooper Library, 1996.

[In the following excerpt, Bucker provides a brief overview of Fitzgerald's career as short story writer for commercial magazines.]

On February 21, 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald entered the commercial magazine marketplace when The Saturday Evening Post published “Head and Shoulders,” a bittersweet comedy of young love. With a circulation of more than 2,750,000 weekly readers and a cost of one nickel, the Post offered writers the highest prices and the widest outlet for popular fiction in America. By the end of May 1920, the Post published five more stories by Fitzgerald, placing them prominently and listing his name on the magazine's cover. That spring his first novel, This Side of Paradise, appeared to critical praise, and he married Zelda Sayre after a tumultuous courtship. All before he was twenty-four years old.

Within the space of a few months the young author had experienced financial, romantic, artistic, and popular success; he had achieved the happy ending. Thirteen years after this early triumph, Fitzgerald maintained in “One Hundred False Starts” that all authors repeat themselves: “We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives … and we tell our two or three stories—each time in a new disguise—maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen” (Afternoon of an Author, p. 132).

Fitzgerald's experience of youthful success permeates his best commercial fiction, ranging from the exuberance of his early romantic comedies to the regretful recollections and wasted opportunities of his later stories. Whereas much of this period's commercial fiction reads as mawkish and overly sentimental, Fitzgerald's happy endings and bittersweet romances transcend the genre because they spring from his personal experience. Despite unlikely plots and contrived situations, Fitzgerald's stories combine well-written prose with sincere emotional content.

Fitzgerald placed more than 130 of his 160-odd published stories in glossy, mass-circulation magazines, commonly known as “slicks.” For seventeen years these stories, Fitzgerald's chief source of income, generated much more revenue than he received from his novels. He earned $400 for his first Post appearance, but in less than ten years his commercial price rose to $4,000 per story.

The large popular-fiction marketplace enjoyed by the reading public of the 1920s and 1930s has essentially vanished today. Before the age of television, magazine fiction represented a major source of popular entertainment on a national scale. Heavily illustrated, the slicks offered humor, melodrama, information, and escape to millions of readers. In accordance with popular tastes they also appealed to social and political conservatism.

Yet Fitzgerald, a social realist, enjoyed much success in this constraining forum. Despite the bathtub-gin-and-flapper image associated with him, Fitzgerald's short fiction often presented the traditional American theme of an individual's succeeding through intelligence, imagination, determination, and luck. His heroes did not challenge the traditional social structure but rather worked imaginatively within it. They genuinely believed in the American dream of success. In his later stories Fitzgerald examined the tragic aspects of success in which his heroes fail due to dissipation and irresponsible behavior.

For all their craftsmanship and entertainment value, or perhaps because of it, Fitzgerald's commercial stories are still regarded by many critics as mere diversions for the masses: frothy, insubstantial, and unworthy of any close literary attention. Fitzgerald himself fostered this image by deprecating his own commercial achievement to other writers. He wrote Ernest Hemingway in 1929, “the Post now pay the old whore $4000. a screw. But now it's because she's mastered the 40 positions—in her youth one was enough” (Life in Letters, p. 169).

But in a 1935 letter to his literary agent Harold Ober, he described the effort and talent that he had to generate to produce commercial fiction: “All my stories are conceived like novels, require a special emotion, a special experience—so that my readers, if such there be, know that each time it will be something new, not in form but in substance (it'd be far better for me if I could do pattern stories but the pencil just goes dead on me)” (Life in Letters, p. 284). Although the sale of short stories financed the writing of his novels, Fitzgerald believed that writing commercial fiction depleted his creative reserve.

After his initial exposure in the Post, coupled with the success of his first novel, Fitzgerald rapidly became a valuable commodity in the magazine marketplace. Periodicals competed to lure the author away from the Post. Metropolitan Magazine optioned his stories for $900 each, a $400 raise from his 1920 Post price. When Metropolitan went into receivership, the Hearst Corporation optioned his output, paying him $1,500 as a signing bonus.

Because Fitzgerald's stories emphasized youthful concerns and characters, many readers regarded him as the spokesman for his generation. His fiction changed the conventional depiction of young people as naive or innocent, featuring them instead as witty, romantic heroes. He also challenged traditional standards by celebrating beautiful, intelligent, independent, and determined young women in their quest to secure successful marriages.

Following the financial disappointment of The Great Gatsby and the end of his Hearst contract, Fitzgerald returned to the Post as the steady market for his stories. Between 1926 and 1937, his most productive period as a magazine writer, the Post published fifty-two stories by Fitzgerald.

As he experienced many delays in the completion of his fourth novel, Fitzgerald became one of the magazine's most popular and highly paid authors. The author nostalgically recalled his own adolescence in two successful series featuring the recurring characters Basil Duke Lee and Josephine Perry. In accordance with magazine conventions, most of Fitzgerald's Post stories end happily, and nearly all contain some representation of romantic love.

Yet personal crises of the early 1930s, coinciding with the economic crash, introduced a somber tone into Fitzgerald's magazine fiction. In such major stories as “One Trip Abroad” (October 11, 1930) and “Babylon Revisited” (February 21, 1931), Fitzgerald explored both the tragic aspects of his own experiences and the reckless behavior of his generation.

In 1932 Fitzgerald's Post price dropped from $4,000 to $2,500. Although the decrease may have resulted from falling revenues caused by the Depression, Post editors also complained to Ober that Fitzgerald's most recent stories had not been up to his standard. With his magazine fortunes waning, Fitzgerald placed great financial hope in the success of his long-delayed novel, Tender Is the Night, finally published in 1934. The novel proved a financial failure, compelling Fitzgerald to return immediately to commercial writing without a respite to renew his creative powers. He made several unsuccessful attempts to generate another magazine series that could provide financial stability through the promised sale of future stories. These efforts failed because Fitzgerald could no longer draw on his own experiences for material, turning instead to artificial sources. In the mid-1930s Fitzgerald's life contained little that would appeal to a commercial market.

On March 6, 1937, Fitzgerald essentially ended his career as a popular fiction writer when the Post published “Trouble,” his last story to appear in the weekly magazine. The story featured a nurse named “Trouble” and represented Fitzgerald's final attempt to create a popular series character. The Post paid $2,000 for the story, placing it third out of the four stories in the issue.

Although Fitzgerald's commercial stories proceed from the same genius that created his novels, they share characteristics that set them apart from his “serious” fiction. The stories display an expansive use of wit and romantic love, and an unashamed celebration of youthful success. After more than fifty years they retain their power to charm, amuse, and move readers.

Two months before his death, Fitzgerald reflected on the end of his career as a commercial magazinist in a letter to his wife, Zelda:

It's odd that my old talent for the short story vanished. It was partly that times changed, editors changed, but part of it was tied up somehow with you and me—the happy ending. Of course every third story had some other ending but essentially I got my public with stories of young love. I must have had a powerful imagination to project it so far and so often into the past.

(Life in Letters, pp. 467, 469)

Further Reading

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 262


Hatwalkar, Kavita S. “The Allure and Illusion of the East in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Basil Stories.” In MidAmerica XXVII, pp. 78-83. East Lansing, Mich.: The Midwestern Press, 2000.

Underscores Fitzgerald's interest “in the cultural geography of the United States and especially with the binary oppositions he constructed between the North and South and the East and the Midwest” in his Basil stories.

Hearn, Charles R. “F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Popular Magazine Formula Story of the Twenties.” Journal of American Culture 18, no. 3 (fall 1995): 33-40.

Examines the association between Fitzgerald's short stories written for periodicals and other popular formula fiction of the 1920s.

Additional coverage of Fitzgerald's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: American Writers; American Writers: The Classics, Vol. 2; American Writers Retrospective Supplement, Vol. 1; Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 24; Authors in the News, Vol. 1; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 1; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1917-1929; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 110. 123; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 4, 9, 86, 219; Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary Series, Vols. 1, 15, 16, 273; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, Eds. 1981, 1996; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors and Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Exploring Novels; Exploring Short Stories; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 3; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Novels for Students, Vol. 2; Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; Short Stories for Students, Vols. 4, 15; Short Story Criticism, Vols. 6, 31; Twayne's United States Authors; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 6, 14, 28, 55; and World Literature Criticism.

Susan F. Beegel (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6172

SOURCE: Beegel, Susan F. “‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’: Fitzgerald's Jazz Elegy for Little Women.” In New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 58-73. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Beegel contends that Fitzgerald borrows the key plot elements and thematic concerns for his story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.]

In 1915 nineteen-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a remarkable letter to his younger sister Annabel, criticizing her social deportment and arguing that a successful debutante's popularity is composed of a concerted appeal to male egotism (“Boys like to talk about themselves … always pay close attention to the man.”) and accomplished acting (“Your natural laugh is good, but your artificial one is bum.”) Abandoning the traditional role of elder brother as protector of innocence, he both instructs Annabel in the rudiments of sex appeal and endeavors to inoculate her with cynicism: “Learn to be worldly. Remember that in society nine girls out of ten marry for money and nine men out of ten are fools.” Fitzgerald saved the letter and between November 1919 and February 1920 transformed it into a short story for the Saturday Evening Post—“Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” Lest anyone doubt the short story's origin, Fitzgerald scribbled “Basis of Bernice” on the letter to Annabel.1

Published in the Post on May 1, 1920, and gathered almost immediately into Fitzgerald's first collection of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” has since received little critical attention and less respect. Writing to H. L. Mencken, Fitzgerald labeled the story “trash.”2 Many critics, while admiring its lively plot development, sharply drawn characters, Wilde-like dialogue, whimsical imagery, and comic denouement, appear to accept Fitzgerald's disparaging estimate of “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” Matthew J. Bruccoli has called it “not one of Fitzgerald's greatest short stories,” “obviously commercial,” “written as an entertainment.” Henry Dan Piper allots the story two sentences in a book-length study of Fitzgerald's work. John A. Higgins ranks it as “juvenilia.” Brian Way views “Bernice” [“Bernice Bobs Her Hair”] as “marred by immaturities of style and a sentimental ending.” Sergio Perosa dismisses it as “purely humorous.” Bryant Mangum labels the story “light.” And John Kuehl, who believes that Fitzgerald “underrated” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” nevertheless has little to say about it. Only Alice Hall Petry has called “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” “excellent.”3

Yet Fitzgerald's valuation of “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” as “trash” was almost certainly insincere, an attempt to appease Mencken, then editor of The Smart Set and interested in more self-consciously “literary” fiction. In 1935 Fitzgerald expressed an entirely different opinion of “Bernice” when he suggested that Chatto and Windus include it in a collection of his best stories. It must be noted that the critics accepting Fitzgerald's remark to Mencken are exclusively male and perhaps ill-equipped to appreciate a short story about the gender socialization of young women, written for the predominantly female market of the Saturday Evening Post.4

Neglect of “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” may be reinforced by the story's rich structure of allusion to a source unacknowledged by Fitzgerald and still unrecognized by critics—a classic novel traditionally handed down from mother to daughter in American culture, seldom or never read by males of any age, and undoubtedly borrowed by Fitzgerald from Annabel's shelf—Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. In This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald lists the books his autobiographical hero Amory Blaine has read in his childhood. There, among such boyish favorites as For the Honor of the School, Dangerous Dan McGrew, and The Police Gazette, Little Women is conspicuous as a book Amory has read not once, but twice. When, in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” Fitzgerald has Bernice quote Alcott, one suspects that he too read Little Women more than once. Indeed, comparison of the short story and the novel reveals that Fitzgerald borrowed his major plot elements and themes from Little Women, turning them upside down in a Jazz Age revision of what Amory Blaine calls “the dull literature of female virtue.”5

Fitzgerald mentions Little Women directly only once in his short story, when Marjorie urges her burdensome cousin, Bernice, to go home, and Bernice tries to make Marjorie see her rudeness:

“Don't you think that common kindness … ?”

“Oh, please don't quote Little Women!” cried Marjorie impatiently. “That's out of style.”

“You think so?”

“Heavens, yes! What modern girl could live like those inane females?”

“They were the models for our mothers.”

Marjorie laughed.

“Yes, they were … not! Besides, our mothers were all very well in their way, but they know very little about their daughters' problems.”6

Marjorie and Bernice do experience problems (how to be popular, how to attract an eligible suitor, how to compete with other girls in the marriage market) experienced by their mothers and by all adolescent women before them. Yet “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” demonstrates that modern girls, whatever their mothers might have done, no longer solve such problems by emulating Little Women.7

“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” begins with two minor but significant allusions to Alcott's novel. In the story's opening paragraphs, middle-aged ladies with “sharp eyes and icy hearts” watch the country-club dances and postulate “that every young man with a large income leads the life of a hunted partridge.”8 In Little Women, when Meg considers marriage to an impoverished tutor, another middle-aged lady with sharp eyes and an icy heart, Aunt March, puts forth the same postulate: “You ought to marry well and help your family. It's your duty to make a rich match and it ought to be impressed upon you.”9 “Marmee,” mother of Little Women's four female protagonists, sounds the novel's moral keynote by overruling Aunt March's advice: “I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones without self-respect and peace” (LW, 116).

A second borrowing from Little Women is the three-year engagement of Fitzgerald's Jim Strain and Ethel Demorest. In Alcott's novel, Meg consents to a three-year engagement in which she and the poor tutor, her beloved John Brooke, work to afford marriage. After doing his duty “manfully” in the Civil War, John devotes himself to “preparing for business, and earning a home for Meg,” while she spends the three years “in working as well as waiting, growing womanly in character, wise in housewifely arts, and prettier than ever, for love is a great beautifier” (LW, 268). Alcott's characters contrast sharply with Fitzgerald's “… Jim Strain and Ethel Demorest, who had been privately engaged for three years. Everyone knew that as soon as Jim managed to hold a job for more than two months she would marry him. Yet how bored they both looked, and how wearily Ethel regarded Jim, as if she wondered why she had trained the vines of her affection on such a wind-shaken poplar” (“BBHH” [“Bernice Bobs Her Hair”], 117).

One Victorian ideal, then, that Fitzgerald intends to shatter by revising Little Women as “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is the notion of “love in a cottage,” of sentimental poverty. The middle-aged ladies with their “hunted partridge” postulate prove Marjorie's point that their mothers were never so unworldly as their lip service to Alcott's novel might suggest. Fitzgerald's modern girl appreciates the inestimable advantage of a large income in sustaining married bliss. Even Bernice, reared on Little Women, has nothing but contempt for Jim and Ethel, “mooning around for years without a red penny” (“BBHH,” 120).

Fitzgerald drew a large portion of his plot from chapter 9 of Little Women, “Meg Goes to Vanity Fair,” where unspoiled and innocent Meg goes to stay for a fortnight with her sophisticated friend Annie Moffat, just as gauche and unworldly Bernice goes to visit her worldly wise cousin Marjorie Harvey. Meg overhears the Moffat girls and their mother discussing her dowdy clothes and inability to capture a desirable suitor, just as Bernice overhears Marjorie and Mrs. Harvey discussing her social shortcomings and unpopularity. Humiliated, Meg allows herself to be “made over” by Belle Moffat and her French maid, Hortense:

They crimped and curled her hair, they polished her neck and arms with some fragrant powder, touched her lips with coralline salve, to make them redder, and Hortense would have added “a soupçon of rouge,” if Meg had not rebelled. They laced her into a sky-blue dress, which was so tight she could hardly breathe, and so low in the neck that modest Meg blushed to see herself in the mirror. … A laced handkerchief, a plumy fan, and a bouquet in a silver holder finished her off; and Miss Belle surveyed her with the satisfaction of a little girl with a newly dressed doll.

(LW, 106-7)

Bernice, too, allows herself to be “made over.” Marjorie chooses a dark red dress to set off Bernice's “shadowy eyes and high coloring,” arranges her cousin's hair, and sets it glistening with brilliantine (“BBHH,” 130). Just as the Moffat girls “drill” Meg on the proper management of her skirt and “those French heels,” so Marjorie coaches Bernice on graceful deportment, instructing her not to lean on a man when she dances and to develop more “ease of manner” (LW, 107; “BBHH,” 126-27).

Meg is a social success in her borrowed finery. Several young ladies, who have not noticed her before, become “very affectionate all of a sudden,” while several young gentlemen, who have hitherto only stared, ask “to be introduced,” and say “all manner of agreeable but foolish things” (LW, 108). Meg's normally modest demeanor dissolves. She drinks champagne, dances and flirts, chatters and giggles, and “romps” in a scandalizing way. “I'm not Meg tonight,” she tells a friend. “I'm a ‘doll’ who does all sorts of crazy things” (LW, 112). Meg in her new persona inspires her good friend Sallie Gardiner's jealousy by attaching the affections of Sallie's beau, Ned Moffat.

Like Meg, Fitzgerald's Bernice scores a social success by “follow[ing] instructions exactly,” and is cut in on so frequently that she is “danced tired” for the first time in her life (“BBHH,” 131). Bernice, who in Marjorie's view is “no case for sensible things,” also behaves crazily. In her new persona, Bernice inspires her cousin's jealousy by attaching the affections of Warren McIntyre, “Miss Marjorie's best fella” (“BBHH,” 132).

Here the similarities between “Meg Goes to Vanity Fair” and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” end. After her makeover, Meg fails to have a “good time” (LW, 112). The champagne gives her a “splitting headache,” and two men she admires, the dignified Major Lincoln and the charming Teddy Laurence, disapprove of her “fuss and feathers” (LW, 109, 113). Meg feels “uncomfortable and ashamed” and wishes she had been “sensible” (LW, 109). After being sick all the next day, Meg returns home and confesses all to Marmee, who draws a moral from Meg's unhappy experiment in vanity: “[Enjoying praise and admiration] is perfectly natural, if the liking does not become a passion and lead one to do foolish or unmaidenly things. Learn to know and value the praise which is worth having, and to excite the admiration of worthy people by being modest as well as pretty, Meg” (LW, 115). Alcott makes it clear that Meg is more happy and attractive at a “small party” she attends before her makeover. Clad in her shabby but spotless white tarlatan, adorned solely by flowers from Teddy, Meg dances “to her heart's content”; receives three compliments from worthy admirers on her fine voice, fresh appearance, and lively dancing; and enjoys herself “very much,” achieving an inner contentment she cannot find when preening “like the jackdaw in the fable” (LW, 107).

Unlike Meg, Bernice is “sorta dopeless” before her metamorphosis into a “society vampire” (“BBHH,” 118, 129). Despite her “dark hair and high color,” Bernice's dresses are “frights” and her “straggly” eyebrows are a blemish (“BBHH,” 123). She never says “anything to a boy except that it's hot or the floor's crowded or that she's going to school in New York next year,” and “turns an ungraceful red,” exclaiming “Fresh!” when Warren McIntyre tells her that she has “an awfully kissable mouth” (“BBHH,” 119-20, 122). Marjorie must coax her own beaux to dance with the “lame-duck visitor,” and Bernice, feeling “a vague pain that she is not … popular,” has “a bum time” (“BBHH,” 121, 122).

Under Marjorie's tutelage, Bernice, like Meg at Vanity Fair, becomes “‘a doll’ who does all sorts of crazy things” (LW, 112). Adopting Oscar Wilde's principle that “you've either got to amuse people or feed 'em or shock 'em,” Bernice amuses men with invitations to a fictitious bobbing (“Of course I'm charging admission, but if you'll come down and encourage me I'll issue passes for the inside seats” [“BBHH,” 129]), feeds them with flattery (“I want to ask your opinion of several people. I imagine you're a wonderful judge of character” [“BBHH,” 129]), and shocks them with sexual suggestion (“I always fix my hair first and powder my face and put on my hat; then I get into the bathtub and dress afterwards. Don't you think that's the best plan?” [“BBHH,” 132]).

Meg learns that virtuous and modest behavior is its own reward; Bernice learns that “foolish and unmaidenly” antics pay enormous dividends in popularity, which is “everything when you're eighteen” (“BBHH,” 121). Exchanging Louisa May Alcott's mores for Oscar Wilde's, Bernice finds herself a “gardenia girl” like Marjorie, with “three or four men in love with her,” cut in on “every few feet” (“BBHH,” 122). Glowing with gratified vanity, Bernice becomes attractive and genuinely enjoys herself: “Yes, she was pretty, distinctly pretty; and tonight her face seemed really vivacious. She had that look that no woman, however histrionically proficient, can successfully counterfeit—she looked as if she were having a good time” (“BBHH,” 130).

Fitzgerald inverts Little Women in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” in part to portray a generation adrift without moral guidance. In his country-club world, where parents are socially ambitious for their children, the moral destiny of little women who “give their hearts into their mother's keeping” is ambiguous at best (LW, 268). Meg, in a moral or social quandary, turns to her mother for advice. Even when Meg cannot “cry and rush home to tell her troubles,” her mother's influence is omnipresent—Meg carries a note from Marmee in her pocket as a “talisman against envy, vanity, and false pride” (LW, 103). Bernice, on the other hand, has no intention of rushing home and telling her troubles. Meg visits the worldly Moffats in spite of her mother's misgivings; Bernice's visit with her cousin is “parent-arranged” (“BBHH,” 120). Instead of longing for maternal advice, Bernice fears her mother's reaction to her social disgrace: “‘You're my cousin,’ sobbed Bernice. ‘I'm v-v-visiting you. I was to stay a month, and if I go home my mother will know and she'll wah-wonder …’” (“BBHH,” 124).

Young men, as well as mothers, can be sources of moral guidance in Little Women. Meg is especially devastated by Teddy's disapproval of her tight, low-cut dress and gaudy makeup. He is handsome, charming, and rich—a boy whose good opinion even a Fitzgerald flapper might value. In Fitzgerald's world, however, young men who offer moral guidance to debutantes are priggish figures of fun. Draycott Deyo, studying for the ministry, cuts in on Bernice because he thinks she is a “quiet, reserved girl” (“BBHH,” 131-32). Bernice earns his disapproval by treating him “to the line which began ‘Hello, Shell Shock,’” and to her story about doing her hair before getting into the bathtub: “Though Draycott Deyo was in the throes of difficulties concerning baptism by immersion and might possibly have seen a connection, it must be admitted that he did not. He considered feminine bathing an immoral subject, and gave her some of his ideas on the depravity of modern society” (“BBHH,” 132). Draycott Deyo is no Teddy Laurence. To Bernice, his disapproval is merely an “unfortunate occurrence,” more than offset by her “signal successes” with desirable young men like the Harvard lawyer G. Reece Stoddard (“BBHH,” 132).

In Alcott's fictional world, active resistance against “envy, vanity, and false pride” ensures young women not only present happiness, but also future success in the marriage market. While Marmee warns her daughters that they had “better be old maids than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands,” she also assures them that “poverty seldom daunts a sincere lover. Some of the best and most honored women I know were poor girls, but so love-worthy that they were not allowed to become old maids” (LW, 116). The novel bears her out as Meg, Amy, and Jo each find husbands attracted by their “love-worthiness,” their ability to fulfill “woman's special mission” of “drying tears and bearing burdens” (LW, 531).10

In “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” the world in which women were married for “mysterious womanly qualities, always mentioned but never displayed,” is a thing of the past (“BBHH,” 121). While Mrs. Harvey remembers that “when she was a girl all young ladies who belonged to nice families had glorious times,” her daughter pronounces that “these days it's every girl for herself” and sneers at Bernice's reliance on Little Women as a moral guidebook: “‘The womanly woman!’ continued Marjorie. ‘Her whole early life is occupied in whining criticisms of girls like me who really do have a good time’” (“BBHH,” 122, 125).

In addition to Alcott's “Vanity Fair” scenario, Fitzgerald borrowed the central episode of “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” from Little Women. In both works, a young girl impetuously visits a barber shop and orders her long hair cut off. Jo March's decision comes in chapter 15 of Little Women, when Marmee receives a telegram informing her that her husband, a chaplain in the Union Army, lies dangerously ill in a Washington hospital. The family is too poor to purchase a train ticket, and Marmee, who is “not too proud to beg for Father,” humbles herself to borrow money from a grudging Aunt March (LW, 180-82).

Jo, who identifies strongly with her mother's proud hatred of borrowing, finds herself “wild to do something for Father” and “bound to have some money, if I sold the nose off my face to get it.” Sent out to buy nursing supplies, she passes a barber shop with “tails of hair with prices marked” displayed in the window. Here she encounters a shrewd and miserly barber: “He rather stared at first, as if he wasn't used to having girls bounce into his shop and ask him to buy their hair. He said he didn't care about mine, it wasn't the fashionable color, and he never paid much for it in the first place. … I begged him to take it, and told him why I was in such a hurry” (LW, 185). Jo finally sells her hair for twenty-five dollars.

After her makeover, Bernice's “line about the bobbing of her hair” is “the best known and most universally approved element” of her conversation, though her “tonsorial intentions” are strictly dishonorable (“BBHH,” 132). Marjorie, outraged by Warren McIntyre's sudden interest in her cousin, publicly calls Bernice's bluff, hoping to expose her as a fraud without title to either Warren or popularity (“BBHH,” 133). Bernice tries to save face by reaffirming her intentions of bobbing her hair, but Marjorie and her friends demand immediate proof of sincerity. Bernice accepts their challenge:

Out of the group came Marjorie's voice, very clear and contemptuous.

“Don't worry—she'll back out.”

“Come on, Bernice!” cried Otis, starting toward the door.

Four eyes—Warren's and Marjorie's—stared at her, challenged her, defied her. For another second she wavered wildly.

“All right,” she said swiftly, “I don't care if I do.”

(“BBHH,” 135)

Jo's decision to sell her hair to help her family is a conquest of personal vanity as well as an exercise in humility. The least attractive of the four March sisters, Jo is thoroughly unfeminine in person. “Very tall, thin, and brown,” she resembles “a colt,” and has “round shoulders,” “big hands and feet,” and “long limbs which were very much in her way” (LW, 14). Her “long, thick hair” is “her one beauty” (LW, 188). Jo does shed a tear for her shorn hair, but proclaims “it will be good for my vanity, I was getting too proud of my wig” (LW, 184). Her mother congratulates her on sacrificing her “vanity … to her love” (LW, 184).

Jo cuts her hair out of altruism, imitating her mother and swallowing her pride to assist her beloved father. Bernice bobs her hair out of narcissism, braving maternal disapproval (“Even the thought of her mother was no deterrent now” [“BBHH,” 133]) to salvage her pride. While hitherto Bernice has justified Marjorie's contempt for “the womanly woman” by whining and taking refuge in her mother's opinions when criticized, she stands firm when Marjorie makes her sincerity about bobbing her hair a public question. Viewing Marjorie's thrown gauntlet as “the test supreme of her sportsmanship, her right to walk unchallenged in the starry heaven of popular girls,” Bernice undergoes her bobbing with lifted chin and clenched fists (“BBHH,” 135).

Jo sacrifices her vanity to her love when she cuts her hair; Bernice sacrifices her vanity to her pride. Both sacrifices are considerable, for both girls dread the mutilation of their looks as they would physical dismemberment. When Jo sees “the dear old hair laid out on the table,” she feels “as if I'd had an arm or leg cut off” (LW, 187). Fitzgerald borrows an even stronger image from Little Women to describe Bernice's dread—Jo's sister Amy is particularly horrified because she “would as soon have thought of cutting off her head as her pretty hair” (LW, 223). Bernice also equates the bobbing of her hair with decapitation: “It was a guillotine indeed, and the hangman was the first barber, who, attired in a white coat and smoking a cigarette, leaned nonchalantly against the first chair. … Would they blind-fold her? No, but they would tie a white cloth round her neck lest any of her blood—nonsense—hair—should get on her clothes” (“BBHH,” 135). Fitzgerald embellishes and extends Alcott's decapitation imagery for his own purposes. Bound for the barbershop in Warren's car, Bernice has “all the sensations of Marie Antoinette bound for the guillotine in a tumbrel” (“BBHH,” 135). As Marie Antoinette, last queen of a doomed aristocracy, was dragged to her execution by savage rebels of the new republic, so Bernice, the last “quiet, reserved girl” raised on Little Women, is dragged to her bobbing by the cruel adolescents of the “jazz-nourished generation” (“BBHH,” 117, 132, 121). When Bernice bobs her hair, a “little woman” dies in the barber's chair and a flapper is born.

For Alcott, long hair worn elaborately restrained is a badge of mature womanhood, which the wearer must strive to merit through equally restrained behavior. In Victorian times, little girls wore their long hair loose or in pigtails; young women who were “out” wore their long hair bound in nets or snoods, or braided and pinned atop their heads. In the opening chapter of Little Women, Meg chides Jo for whistling when she is old enough to wear her hair “turned up” in a net, and Jo responds by unleashing both her bundled-up hair and her pent-up frustration with the behavioral restraint expected of her as she approaches womanhood: “I hate to think I've got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and be as prim as a China aster! It's bad enough to be a girl” (LW, 13).

Alcott treats Jo's decision to cut her hair as her initiation into the womanhood she has rebelled against. When her father returns home from the war, he congratulates Jo on her new “womanliness,” a state of feminine virtue she has attained not merely by binding up her hair, but by cutting it off altogether. Along with her chestnut mane, Jo has sacrificed her tomboyish demeanor:

“I see a young lady who pins her collar straight, laces her boots neatly, and neither whistles, talks slang, nor lies on the rug as she used to do. Her face is rather thin and pale just now, with watching and anxiety, but I like to look at it, for it has grown gentler, and her voice is lower; she doesn't bounce, but moves quietly, and takes care of a certain little person [Beth, recovering from scarlet fever,] in a motherly way which delights me.”

(LW, 250)

“Womanliness” for Alcott is an asexual and subdued condition. Jo is most “womanly” when she has divested herself of her long, thick, beautiful hair, the emblem of her sex. “Womanliness” also involves conformity to societal norms of virtuous feminine behavior: Unlike young men, young ladies must pin their collars straight and lace their boots neatly; they must not whistle or talk slang. In Little Women, femininity is a ruthless suppression of sexual and personal identity.

In 1920, when Fitzgerald composed his short story, American attitudes toward women—and their hair—were in transition. Although popular dancer Irene Castle began the vogue for bobbed hair in 1918, short hair for women was not generally accepted until 1924. In 1920 “young ladies who belonged to nice families” still had long hair, worn atop their heads in the Victorian manner if they were “out” (“BBHH,” 122). Fitzgerald lets us know that “little Madeleine Hogue” is very young by remarking that her hair “still feels strange and uncomfortable on top of her head,” but the rage for bobbed hair is spreading—Mrs. Deyo devotes fifteen minutes to the subject in her speech on “The Foibles of the Younger Generation” (“BBHH,” 116, 137). Yet not even the fearless and unsentimental Marjorie can number herself among the avant-garde young women who dared to bob their hair in 1920. When Bernice bobs her hair, then, she severs herself symbolically from the Victorian ideal of womanliness that Alcott reluctantly espoused.

When Jo cuts her hair, she exchanges her one physical beauty for spiritual beauty. Bernice exchanges an illusion of spiritual beauty for physical ugliness. The hair that once “hung in a dark brown glory down her back” now lies shorn in “lank, lifeless blocks on both sides of her suddenly pale face.” The “Madonna-like simplicity” of her appearance gone, Bernice looks “well, frightfully mediocre—not stagy; only ridiculous, like a Greenwich Villager who had left her spectacles at home” (“BBHH,” 136).11 Neither poet nor reformer, Bernice has abandoned the pretty, virginal appearance of a “little woman” for the hard, experienced appearance of a New Woman. Her bobbed hair is “ugly as sin”—a phrase Fitzgerald repeats twice to underscore his misgivings about the flapper's moral destiny (“BBHH,” 136).

Revenge is one of the first evils Jo rejects in Little Women, long before she cuts her hair. When, after a quarrel, Amy burns the sole manuscript of Jo's book, Jo refuses to accept an apology and deliberately does not warn her sister when she skates onto thin ice in the middle of a river: “The little demon [Jo] was harboring said in her ear … ‘let her take care of herself’” (LW, 94). Amy does fall through the ice and is rescued unharmed, but Jo is overcome with remorse and confesses all to her mother. Marmee offers her usual sympathetic counsel, and Jo struggles from that day forward to hold her substantial temper in check. For Alcott, the ability to suppress anger is an important step toward womanliness.

By contrast, when Bernice cuts off the hair that is the emblem of “appropriately and blessedly feminine” qualities she once admired, her capacity for vengeance is unleashed (“BBHH,” 120). For a short time, Bernice silently endures injury after injury—the bobbing has made her ugly, Marjorie wears a mocking smile, Warren deserts her, her aunt and uncle reproach her, she burns her hair and fingers in an unsuccessful attempt to repair her looks with a curling iron. Bernice's gathering rage spills over when Marjorie comes into her room to prepare for bed:

Bernice winced as Marjorie tossed her own hair over her shoulders and began to twist it slowly into two long blond braids until in her cream-colored negligee she looked like a delicate painting of some Saxon princess. Fascinated, Bernice watched the braids grow. Heavy and luxurious they were, moving under the supple fingers like restive snakes—and to Bernice remained this relic and a curling iron and a tomorrow full of eyes. … Marjorie had made a fool of her.

(“BBHH,” 138)

“Something” in Bernice—perhaps the last restraint of her Victorian upbringing—“snaps” at the sight of Marjorie braiding her hair. An expression flashes into Bernice's eyes “that a practiced character reader might have connected vaguely with the set look she had worn in the barber's chair—somehow a development of it. It was a new look for Bernice and it carried consequences” (“BBHH,” 139). After packing her clothes for flight, she creeps into her sleeping cousin's room and “amputate[s]” Marjorie's braids. Escaping into the night, Bernice flings the severed remains of his “crush's” beauty onto the fickle Warren's front porch. Unlike Jo, Bernice feels no remorse for her act of vengeance. After disfiguring Marjorie, she is “oddly happy and exuberant,” and, having conceived Warren's punishment, she must “shut her mouth hard to keep from emitting an absolute peal” of laughter (“BBHH,” 139-40).

Formerly able only to imitate Alcott's idea of a “little woman” or Marjorie's notion of a “modern girl,” Bernice now makes decisions of her own without regard for convention. Before her bobbing, she dreaded the idea of returning home early and making explanations to her mother. Now, with only a note to her aunt and no thought of her mother's reaction, she leaves secretly and unescorted, catching a taxi at the Marlborough Hotel and departing on a 1:00 A.M. train. Bernice has lost the “dark brown glory” of her hair but has gained a new independence of thought and action. The bobbing releases her essential nature. Earlier, Marjorie attributes Bernice's unpopularity to her reputed American Indian ancestry: “I think it's that crazy Indian blood. … Maybe she's a reversion to type. Indian women all just sat around and never said anything” (“BBHH,” 122). After her barbershop trauma, Bernice does indeed revert to type and goes on the warpath. Running down the moonlit street, Bernice is never more like a savage: “‘Huh!’ she giggled wildly. ‘Scalp the selfish thing!’” (“BBHH,” 140).

Despite their differences, what Little Women and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” have most in common is their intense ambivalence about the gender socialization of young women. Modeling her novel on Pilgrim's Progress, Alcott intended each incident in Little Women to illustrate a moral lesson. Yet the metaphors surrounding Jo's hair express Alcott's uncertainty about the “womanly woman” that Fitzgerald's Marjorie derides. In chapter 1, Jo is a “colt” with a free-flowing chestnut “mane,” a wild animal rebelling against restraint, reveling in liberty (LW, 13). After her visit to the oily little barber, Jo is a shorn “black sheep,” humiliatingly bereft of the fleece that endowed her with a separate identity (LW, 250). Her new “womanliness” seems a regrettable taming, a sad domestication. Patricia Meyer Spacks points out that Jo's “fictional vitality” stems from “her deep awareness of how the limitations of feminine possibility make it difficult to express what's in her.”12Little Women is a classic precisely because generations of female readers have identified with Jo's suppressed rage against the behavioral restraints imposed on women.

Jo March, who wrote sensational stories like “The Phantom Hand” and “The Curse of the Coventrys” for pulp magazines titled the Weekly Volcano and the Blarneystone Banner, would have exulted guiltily over the Saturday Evening Post conclusion of “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” which sees Bernice transformed from silent, passive squaw into whooping warrior. As Bernice avenges herself by chopping off Marjorie's braids and flinging them on Warren's porch, as she dashes giggling into the moonlight, readers gloat over her unholy triumph for the same reason that they agonize over Jo March's sacrifice—Bernice has broken the yoke that Jo has determined to shoulder.

Like Jo March, Louisa May Alcott herself, using the pseudonym A. M. Barnard, wrote romantic thrillers such as “Behind a Mask” and “Pauline's Passion and Punishment” for pulp weeklies, including Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and the Flag of Our Union. Nearly all these stories, recently recovered by Madeleine Stern, feature wicked heroines who wreak vengeance on various oppressors while masquerading as virtuous women.13 Behind the mask of A. M. Barnard, Alcott could express a feminist rage imperfectly suppressed in Little Women. Instead of automatically denigrating Fitzgerald's attempts at commercial fiction, scholars might well ask whether pulp formulae permitted him certain kinds of expression forbidden the serious novelist.

Fitzgerald's very choice of Little Women as an allusive subtext for “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” suggests his own ambivalence about the gender socialization of the 1920s' debutantes. Only superficially comic, the short story does little to conceal profound misgivings about a world where popular girls are “dangerous,” young men are “stags” and “partridges” to be hunted, and couples with “artificial, effortless smiles” and “the very worst intentions” dance “weird barbaric interludes” to “African rhythm[s]” (“BBHH,” 116-17). Marjorie Harvey, hard and selfish and without a feminine quality, reigns supreme in this “shifting, semi-cruel world” (“BBHH,” 116), and each of Fitzgerald's allusions to Little Women underscores its sinister features. We cheer Bernice as much for counting coup on the individuals who would make her a “doll” and a sex object as we do for casting off her lame-duck dullness.

Finally, Fitzgerald combined a fatal obsession with glamour and an unbending morality worthy of Bronson Alcott. His mothlike attraction to and moral revulsion from alluring, convention-flouting women is the source of “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” 's dialogue with Little Women. While Bernice has freed herself from the mores of Louisa May Alcott, readers cannot know where she is going as she dashes recklessly into the night. Her new freedom is merely license. Bernice has exchanged dullness for glamour, but she has nothing to replace the past's “prosy morals.” She is not so much running free as running wild. This ambivalence of Fitzgerald's makes “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” his jazz elegy for Little Women, for the passing of Victorian womanhood, regretted and not regretted. The adolescent savagery of this early work has not yet gone trending into the senseless violence of The Great Gatsby; its sparkling zaniness has not yet become the dark insanity of Tender Is the Night. But the seeds have been sown, making “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” written on the eve of Fitzgerald's tragic marriage to Zelda Sayre, something more than “purely humorous.”


  1. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Margaret M. Duggan, eds., Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 15-18; Matthew J. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 112.

  2. Bruccoli and Duggan, eds., Correspondence, 68.

  3. Matthew J. Bruccoli, “On F. Scott Fitzgerald and ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair,’” 217-23; Henry Dan Piper, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait, 67; John A. Higgins, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Stories, 23; Brian Way, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Art of Social Fiction, 57; Sergio Perosa, The Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 31; Bryant Mangum, A Fortune Yet: Money in the Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Short Stories, 35; John Kuehl, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Short Fiction, 33; Alice Hall Petry, Fitzgerald's Craft of Short Fiction: The Collected Stories—1920-1935, 10. Significantly, Petry, the story's lone female critic, is the only one to note Fitzgerald's reference in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” to Annie Fellows Johnston and Louisa May Alcott (19). However, Petry misses the importance of Fitzgerald's allusion to Alcott by dismissing her work as “saccharine.”

  4. Bruccoli and Duggan, eds., Correspondence, 401. According to Mangum in Fortune Yet, magazine president Cyrus Curtis founded the Post on the financial success of the Ladies' Home Journal (29). Curtis was adept at appealing to the middle-class morality and domestic values of the wives and mothers who purchased the Saturday Evening Post for family reading, and the magazine's female readership should be considered largely responsible for its rise from a circulation of two thousand in 1899 to three million in 1937.

  5. F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, 17. See also Tender Is the Night, 71, where Rosemary notices that the sinister women in Cardinal de Retz's palace appear to be “fashioned by Louisa May Alcott.”

  6. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flappers and Philosophers, 125. All subsequent page references to “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” (“BBHH”) are to the 1920 edition and will appear parenthetically in the text.

  7. Marjorie's mother, Mrs. Harvey, is named Josephine, perhaps for the protagonist of Little Women (137).

  8. Of course, Fitzgerald is paraphrasing the famous opening sentence of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

  9. Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 116. All subsequent page references to Little Women (LW) are to the 1962 reprint edition and will appear parenthetically in the text.

  10. The saintly Beth meets a different bridegroom by dying young.

  11. In 1920, Greenwich Village was a flourishing center of Bohemianism, whose notable women included (or had recently included) Emma Goldman, proponent of birth control, pacifism, and anarchy; Mabel Dodge, critic of New York's high society and leader of intellectual and aesthetic movements; and Edna St. Vincent Millay, cynical poet and playwright. From a Victorian moral standpoint, these women paid the unthinkable price of promiscuity, divorce, and alcoholism for their independence and substantial achievements.

  12. Patricia Meyer Spacks, The Female Imagination, 99-100.

  13. Madeleine B. Stern, ed., Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott.

Ruth Prigozy (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4929

SOURCE: Prigozy, Ruth. “An Unsentimental Education: ‘The Rubber Check’.” In New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 206-18. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Prigozy asserts that “The Rubber Check” is one of Fitzgerald's most complex and important stories.]

Five years have rolled away from me and I can't decide exactly who I am, if anyone.

—Letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, May 1932

Sometimes he was able to forget that he really wasn't anybody at all.

—Fitzgerald, “The Rubber Check”

Fitzgerald wrote “The Rubber Check” in May 1932, probably at the Hotel Rennert in Baltimore, Maryland, during one of the bleakest periods of his life.1 After the Fitzgeralds' return to the United States in September 1931, following Zelda Fitzgerald's release from Prangins Clinic in Switzerland, they took a six-month lease on a house in Montgomery, Alabama, where Fitzgerald continued to produce short stories to reduce the enormous debt that had resulted from his wife's illness. (He had written eight in 1930 and the same number by September 1931.) He then spent several months in Hollywood but had to return quickly when Zelda Fitzgerald suffered a relapse. In February of 1932, she entered the Phipps Clinic of Johns Hopkins University Hospital. While there, she wrote her autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, and sent it off to Maxwell Perkins without showing it to her husband. Fitzgerald was angered by her action, in particular by her transparent and unflattering portrait of him. “My God,” he wrote to her doctor, “my book made her a legend and her single intention in this somewhat thin portrait is to make me a non-entity.”2

In March of 1932, Fitzgerald noted in his Ledger, “Scotty sick, me sick, Mrs. Sayre playing the fool … everything worser and worser, Zelda's novel arrives, neurosis, strained situation.” Determined to leave Montgomery and to be closer to his wife, Fitzgerald moved into the Hotel Rennert in Baltimore after their lease expired in April. “The Rubber Check” was the third story he wrote during this unsettled period; in April he completed “Family in the Wind” and “What a Handsome Pair!” “The Rubber Check” was published in the August 6, 1932, Saturday Evening Post, but Fitzgerald received less than his usual fee—three thousand dollars, down from the four thousand dollars to which he had recently been accustomed. The story was among those Fitzgerald described as “Stripped and Permanently Buried”—stories that he mined for lines and phrases for possible use in his novels, and it was not collected until 1979, when Matthew J. Bruccoli included it in The Price Was High.3

Much of the scant critical attention “The Rubber Check” has received has been dismissive or disparaging. Robert Sklar describes it as “a conventional genteel story, with overtones of bitterness, that was his poorest story in half a decade.” John A. Higgins calls it “a preposterous story despite being based on an actual experience,” and Scott Donaldson, admitting that “it has its moments,” concludes that “it fails for lack of feeling.” Bryant Mangum finds it “much less entertaining than many other Fitzgerald stories dealing with the corrosive influence of wealth,” its main character so unsympathetic that the story is often irritating. A few critics have responded more positively to the story. Matthew J. Bruccoli, in his introduction to the story, calls it “underrated,” and Henry Dan Piper, without commenting on its overall merits, calls it a “vigorous defense of a poor but capable young man who has been cruelly humiliated by some rich boys because he inadvertently cashed a bad check—as Fitzgerald himself had once done.” Kenneth Eble, in the same autobiographical vein, sees the story as coming “closest to revealing Fitzgerald's own feeling of occupying a social position to which he was not really entitled” and notes that the list-making of a character in the story is reflective of Fitzgerald's “own compulsions” for making up lists during the period of his crack-up.4

Two other critics discuss the story at greater length and in each case suggest that it is a richer, more complex work than others have suggested. Although Brian Harding finds that it “rehearses the old story of the poor boy in search of the rich girl,” it does so “in a new mode, restating, in hyperbolic terms, many of the ideas that had been part of all the stories.” For Harding, the “crude reduction of the success story and the emptying of character … can hardly be unintentional.” He thus concludes that in “The Rubber Check,” Fitzgerald wrote a parody of the love story as a form of social aspiration, exposing “the conventions on which that story depended and created radical tales of alienation—stories of men without countries and without selves.” Harding's analysis is intriguing, but the problems in shifting authorial distance throughout the story make his case for intentional parody less than persuasive. Finally, as I indicate in an overview of Fitzgerald's stories written during the depression, “‘The Rubber Check,’ in many ways a very interesting work, suffers from Fitzgerald's over-identification with Val, the protagonist. … Val himself has no distinction, strength, or solidity. Were it not for such an important lapse, the ending, wry, ironic, and honest, would prove more effective than it does. …”5 Although I still believe that Fitzgerald's shifting distance from Val weakens the story, I would qualify my earlier remarks considerably. Upon reconsideration, I conclude that “The Rubber Check” has been undervalued in the past by every commentator and that it deserves the full discussion that follows. I hope to demonstrate that, despite its flaws (and few of Fitzgerald's stories are flawless), it belongs among the most complex and important stories he ever wrote.

The incident upon which the central complication of “The Rubber Check” was based occurred in 1920 when Fitzgerald cashed a check for more money than he had in his account (Perkins usually deposited money directly to his bank account). He soon discovered that because the next day was Saturday, Scribner's would not be able to cover the overdrawn check in time. “The result was that he spent the interim in a cold sweat, momentarily expecting the police to arrive and carry him off to jail,” Piper observes.6 That Fitzgerald not only remembered the incident but also was able to recreate all the tension and anxiety associated with it twelve years later suggests how strong its impact was on his psyche.

For his fictionalized treatment, Fitzgerald used the incident as a catalyst for a new exploration of subjects and themes that had always figured prominently in his work: money, social class and class distinctions, manners, clothes and their symbolic value to personal identity, loss of romantic illusions, love (real or illusory), the past and the golden moment, and finally, the quest for personal freedom. Like This Side of Paradise, and so many of his stories of sad young men, “The Rubber Check” is about the education of its protagonist. By 1932, however, Fitzgerald had learned so many lessons about his own life and his society that, while generally belonging to the category Scott Donaldson so ably describes as “tales of rejection and disappointment” with the author's “disturbing sense that pursuit and capture of the golden girl was not really worth the trouble and heartache,” the story transcends that genre.7 “The Rubber Check,” like The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, “Winter Dreams” (1922), “Babylon Revisited” (1931), and other major Fitzgerald works, approaches its subjects with a sophisticated clarity that results in a highly ambiguous and original treatment of familiar material.

The plot is simple: Val Schuyler, a middle-class boy who has pushed his way into the social world of the rich, is embarrassed into picking up the lunch bill for a group of friends of Ellen Mortmain, the beautiful rich girl he has been pursuing for years. He writes a check assuming that his mother will cover the overdraft, and Mr. Templeton, at whose home he has been staying, provides him a reference. His mother refuses to cover it, the check bounces (later she relents and pays it), and the damage to his name and reputation has been done. From that moment on, Val suffers cruel snubs, rejections, and abject humiliation by those at whose social functions he had previously been a welcome attendant. In a few quick plot twists, Val rises socially when he inherits money, falls financial victim to the depression, and ends up on a farm, cultivating Mr. Templeton's cabbages, while contemplating without enthusiasm the prospect of marrying wealthy Mercia Templeton and an assured future, save for the beauty and romantic love he had always craved.

The story spans nine years, including a three-year flashback, taking Val from eighteen to twenty-seven, the years from 1922 to 1931. Like so many other Fitzgerald stories written during this period, the style is spare, but imagistic, without the lavish rhetoric of earlier stories of this type. Indeed, the images carry the weight of the narrative, providing a firm symbolic matrix that reinforces the major themes.

At the outset, the circular pattern of the story is revealed in Val's discussion with his mother about her impending marriage (her fourth) and his memories of his first encounter with the very rich. Val's thoughts are always centered on money; he offers no objections to his mother's marriage, providing the new husband “doesn't get what's left of your money” (417). When his mother informs him that if Val should die during her trip abroad, she will keep his remains in cold storage until she returns—to save the money of an extra trip—Val accepts his being kept “on ice” good-humoredly, but refuses to accept another name change. His name, originally Jones, had, after the second husband, become Schuyler, an aristocratic name that provided him with an identity that could open doors to the world of his dreams. Like Gatsby, the new name emboldens him; as in a tale of fantasy, he walks through a stone gate opening into the Mortmain mansion's “heavenlike lawn with driveways curling on it” (417) and a landscape dotted with a conservatory, tennis courts, a circular ring for ponies, and an empty pool. Even the roses are “proud, lucky” and the dust “aristocratic.” Val knows at once, “This is where I belong” (418), and his pursuit begins. Fitzgerald thus links money, identity, death, and romantic illusion at the outset; the rest of the story chronicles the slow erosion of Val's youthful dream. The circularity of the driveway symbolizes the pattern of Val's quest: He ends without achieving the freedom that he assumes money will ensure. He tells Ellen, “I don't want to be owned” (420) without realizing the price he, like so many of Fitzgerald's aspiring young men, are forced to pay.

Val is self-educated in the manners of the rich. He has cultivated his voice and his social skills; perhaps his most important virtue to the Mortmains, he knows his place, accepts his lower social status, and is thus allowed to attend the family throughout “the years of his real education.” (419). He has cheerfulness, wit, good manners; “he was invariably correct and dignified, he never drank too much, he had tried to make no enemies, he had been involved in no scandal” (426). Yet his real education has not begun. Val's new identity is linked inseparably with appearance—particularly clothes. Just as Gatsby's shirts symbolize his self-delusory social status, Val's knowledge of clothes indicates his own awareness of social acceptability. Thus, he does not manipulate Ellen's fascination with him, never taking advantage of “the romantic contrast between his shining manners and his shiny suits” (420). Later, however, he succumbs to his own masquerade; indeed, as his clothes improve, he becomes intoxicated with his new identity. Sadly, after the incident of the rubber check has tarred his reputation, he learns that the clothes masked only the emptiness of his own self: “His role took possession of him. He became suddenly a new figure, ‘Val Schuyler of New York’” (420).

But what is his identity? Unfortunately, like Gatsby, he never allows himself to admit a self other than the inventions of his romantic imagination.8 But Val lacks Gatsby's passion and drive; his work (in a brokerage house) is boring, and his muted passions are spent only on play. Whatever cachet he assumes he has acquired is illusory. The author assures us that “What stamped him as an adventurer was that he just could not make any money” (419). After a season of Mrs. Templeton's gossip has irrevocably branded him a dishonest climber, Val is barred from the “rich and scintillant” (427) world he has grown to love. His clothes can no longer conceal the emptiness at the core of his soul: “No longer did the preview of himself in the mirror—with gloves, opera hat and stick—furnish him his mead of our common vanity. He was a man without a country—and for a crime as vain, casual and innocuous as his look at himself in the glass” (427).

After his inheritance, Val still assumes that perfect attire assures social identity. Fitzgerald now distances himself from Val, perhaps because he has not learned from his painful rejections: “Regard him on a spring morning in London in the year 1930. Tall, even stately, he treads down Pall Mall as if it were his personal pasture. He meets an American friend and shakes hands, and the friend notices how his shirt sleeve fits his wrist, and his coat sleeve incases his shirt sleeve like a sleeve valve; how his collar and tie are molded plastically to his neck” (432). Val's obsession with clothes becomes farcical when, unable to pay his London hotel bill, he dons as many layers of clothing as his body can bear, lurches clumsily out the door and pulls himself, sweating profusely, onto a bus. Ironically, when we last see Val he is wearing work clothes, digging among the cabbages.

For all his education, Val had never really learned the lesson of the very rich: Money is not enough. His background, his social class, would forever bar him from full participation in their world. The rubber check itself proved a convenient symbol of Val's social unacceptability: “The check had been seized upon to give him a questionable reputation that would match his questionable background” (429). The painful rejections after the incident constitute Val's true education. The story is memorable for the searing documentation of those rejections. Fitzgerald's recollection of his own pain twelve years earlier undoubtedly translated into Val's, and the reader is caught up in the drama of carefully timed, destructively skillful social snobbery.

Val's first snub occurs, ironically, when he is attired in “full evening dress,” cutting such an impressive figure that “sometimes he was able to forget that he really wasn't anybody at all” (425). A debutante dancing partner excuses herself, confessing that her mother did not want her to dance with Val. Another similar snub leads him to confront Mercia Templeton who he knows does not like him (she seems to see through his facade whenever they meet). Unable to elicit an explanation from her, he confronts her mother, who he suspects had spread ugly gossip about his rubber check some months earlier. Feeling “helpless rage” as he looks at the “calm dowagers” (426) on the balcony, he tells Mrs. Templeton how unfair it is to hold against him what college boys do all the time. She brushes him off, and he continues to attend similar parties. But the unfortunate incident does not go away, and Val continues to meet suspicion and mistrust in his social forays.

When Ellen Mortmain, back from Europe, asks him to accompany her to a weekend party at the Halbirds', Val accepts, and learns thoroughly and painfully that they will never forget. Here Fitzgerald uses clothing as a metaphor for rejection. When Val enters a room, “the conversation faded off … giving him the impression of continually shaking hands with a glove from which the hand had been withdrawn” (428). For Mrs. Halbird's “soft brutality,” Fitzgerald again invokes the glove: “there was a rough nap on the velvet gloves with which she prepared to handle Val” (429). After a series of probing questions about his background, she suggests that Val is too old (at twenty-three) for these parties and that he associate with people who are in the working world. This, his most searing lesson, and the continued rejections now pierce his “protective shell.” His anxieties are reflected in a dream, where “many fashionable men and women sat at a heaped table and offered him champagne, but the glass was always withdrawn before it reached his lips” (430).

Finally, Val is forced to face the reality of his social existence when he overhears some of the Halbirds' young guests discussing him. He learns that, indeed, he is regarded by their parents as an adventurer, that Mrs. Templeton has used him as “part of her New York conversation” (430), that Mercia's defense of him is unavailing, and, perhaps most hurtful, that rich boys leave rubber checks all over New York without exacting any social penalty. Val leaves the Halbirds' quietly, at night, and in another circular driveway, sees Ellen Mortmain emerge from a car where he glimpses “a small, satisfied mustache above a lighting cigarette” (431). The gates of paradise are firmly closed to him. But Val's education in the anguish of social snobbery is not complete; believing that money is the social leveler, after he gains his inheritance (ironically, it is his mother, not he, who dies, and he does become the beneficiary), he abandons those who had rejected him and becomes a man of the world. He knows that “his apprenticeship had been hard, but he had served it faithfully, and now he walked sure-footed through the dangerous labyrinths of snobbery” (431).

No longer a victim, and just as mistaken about his status and identity as in the past, Val dabbles as an art dealer while continuing his self-education: “His drift was toward the sophisticated section of society, and he picked up some knowledge of the arts, which he blended gracefully with his social education” (431). It is at this point that the story falters, for Fitzgerald's identification with Val, so strong when he was an innocent victim, now weakens as Val becomes a snobbish arriviste, thus giving some weight to the opinions of his detractors. I have noted elsewhere that a weakness in Fitzgerald's stories “is related to point of view and distance, particularly in relation to the protagonists. Fitzgerald is most successful when his central character is both a participant and an observer of the action, weakest when the protagonist is simply a member of the upper class or an outsider.”9 At the same time, Fitzgerald resorts to a mechanical plot trick, the too-neat reversal, as the financial tides of the depression sweep away Val's small inheritance, and he once again faces the specter of poverty.

In this story of a social climber, romantic love is a casualty of changing fortunes, as it is so often in Fitzgerald's fiction. As Scott Donaldson notes, “As he grew older, he could no longer care very much whether his young man won the golden girl.”10 In “The Rubber Check,” although Val's pursuit of Ellen Mortmain is one of the narrative strands, it is subsidiary to the protagonist's search for self-definition in the cold fortress of the very rich.

Although Ellen Mortmain is the obvious symbol of his youthful dreams, Fitzgerald does not invest her with the same magnetism characteristic of such other femmes fatales as Judy Jones (“Winter Dreams”), Edith Braden (“May Day” [1920]), or Jonquil Cary (“The Sensible Thing” [1924]); singularly absent is the charged romantic rhetoric that customarily accompanied descriptions of the protagonist's love interest. Instead, Fitzgerald uses striking, almost parodistic images that seem to mock as well as describe Ellen: “The face of young Ellen Mortmain regarded him with the contagious enthusiasm that later launched a famous cold cream. Her childish beauty was wistful and sad about being so rich and sixteen” (418). We are never certain, as we are in other Fitzgerald stories, that Val really desires the young woman of his dreams; their brief romance seems more an accident of propinquity than genuine love. Val's role in Ellen's world had led inevitably to his being cast as suitor, indeed as a well-regarded suitor. Living that role intensely, “suddenly he really was in love with her” (420). Val's narcissistic appreciation of his own performance and his love for Ellen are inextricably connected. As his identity gradually melts away during the incident of the rubber check, so too does his love: “He felt a sudden indifference toward her” (423) as he tries to salvage his reputation. After the incident has been resolved, “in his relief at being spared the more immediate agony, he hardly realized that he had lost her” (425).

Years later, he has come to London to see Ellen or “attempt to recapture something in his past” (432). She is engaged to someone else, like herself impoverished by the depression, but the rubber check still darkens Val's name and clouds his identity. Ellen asks (reminiscent of Tom Buchanan's words to Gatsby at the Plaza Hotel), “Who are you, Val? I mean, aren't you a sort of a questionable character? Didn't you cheat a lot of people out of a whole lot of money with a forged check or something?” Realizing that he has lost her, he feels only “a sentimental regret”; the stronger sensation is the sense that his own identity has been eroded by the Mortmain's bankruptcy, that “all around her he could feel the vast Mortmain fortune melting down, seeping back into the matrix whence it had come, and taking with it a little of Val Schuyler” (433). Money, whether his mother's or Ellen's, is indissolubly linked with love; yet paradoxically, for Fitzgerald, money is inevitably the barrier between lovers, and, as Donaldson notes, “too much money militates against true love.”11 In this story, Fitzgerald questions the nature of love and the possibility of authentic feeling in a society so thick with social striations, but he leaves the matter unresolved.

As in so many of Fitzgerald's later stories, the protagonist lacks passion and vitality. Val's passivity (indeed his good manners) fails to ignite the tension normally inherent in the quest for the romantic dream. The authenticity of romantic love in the story is further clouded by the intermittent presence of Mercia Templeton, who is not conventionally beautiful, but is intelligent, perceptive, and, as we later discover, deeply in love with Val. Val's cynicism at the end—he will marry Mercia for her money—is ambiguous. Mercia is clearly superior to Ellen and has no illusions about Val, who at last has no illusions about himself. He clearly finds her attractive, if too aggressive, but he will marry her. It is unclear whether his sadness at the end is for the loss of his illusions, for being forced by need to marry a woman he doesn't love, for the loss of his self-image, or most likely, for the loss of what had always been the object of his strivings: “His precious freedom—not to be owned” (436). The casualty in “The Rubber Check” is romantic love as it is associated with youthful illusion, but money—and a lot of it—is the undeniable necessity for life.

At the end, Val is “sophisticated … he had that, at least, from his expensive education” (436). His most valuable lesson is that, for him, there was never a remedy; money alone could never have won him the freedom he craved. Fitzgerald, writing in the depths of the depression, understood that the kind of freedom Val seeks is given at birth: “He knew in his sadness that the only way he could have gotten what he really wanted was to have been born to it” (436). “Not to be owned” assumes an assured selfhood, an unsought entitlement that those born into great wealth accept as their privilege. Fitzgerald weaves the depression itself into this fable of lost illusions. When Ellen Mortmain loses her fortune, she is not impoverished. Wrapped in the calm security of her class, “she had survived the passing of her wealth; the warm rich current of well-being still flowed from her” (433). Like Gatsby, Val has become the victim of his own illusions. No amount of money can purchase the automatic self-assurance of those born into great wealth and social status. Thus his sadness at the end may be less at having to marry a girl he does not love than at knowing that for him, genuine freedom had been lost before his quest had ever begun.

“The Rubber Check,” although reminiscent of other Fitzgerald stories and novels, is memorable as a mature exploration of the meaning of money, social class, and the romantic illusions of an aspiring young man. It is particularly notable for its style, for what Jay McInerney describes as “the conversational intimacy of his narrative voice,” and for the complexity of its ideas.12 Because Fitzgerald relies upon the brief but sharp image rather than extended rhetoric, because so much is suggested rather than delineated, because the structure so clearly reveals the underlying thematic pattern, “The Rubber Check” takes on the quality of a fable, tracing an archetypal American struggle for success. Val's circular journey takes him from rags to riches to rags, with the possibility of new riches waiting. But the roses at the beginning of the tale have metamorphosed into the cabbages at the end; regardless of what Val achieves in the future, the final image of this once-elegant social climber cultivating a rich man's garden is Fitzgerald's wry commentary on the American myth of success. As in several other stories of this period, Fitzgerald takes a mature, backward look at the subjects of his youthful fictional successes. The results were often stale and contrived, but here the author's reassessment of many familiar subjects results in a subtle, artistically rich work.13

Why is this an underrated, neglected story? Undoubtedly the central flaw is the character of Val and Fitzgerald's inability to maintain a consistent distance from him. Unfortunately, Mercia's reproach that Val seems superficial is close to the mark, as Fitzgerald's sharp narrative stroke indicates: “Actually he cared deeply about things, but the things he cared about were generally considered trivial” (422). But if Val is superficial, why do we feel so keenly the rebuffs and rebukes directed at him? Fitzgerald, as I have elsewhere suggested, was unable to find the narrative stance from which to observe Val Schuyler, and, as a result, the reader is left in doubt as to the seriousness of his search.14 That the issues Fitzgerald raises are important, that he treats them with sophisticated assurance, is never in question. But the characterization of Val is so thin throughout that, although the story should be read as a fable, it needs a more consistent figure to carry the weight of meaning Fitzgerald attaches to his protagonist.

Admirers of Fitzgerald should not, however, overlook “The Rubber Check.” Fitzgerald's writing, in the new, sparer style he was cultivating in his later years, is close to the level of his more celebrated depression-era stories such as “Crazy Sunday” and “Babylon Revisited.” His treatment of romantic love and illusion, identity, caste and class, and the dream of success is as complex as in many of his past works. It illuminates This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, the early stories, and his own uncertainties during the depression. “The Rubber Check,” finally, is quintessential Fitzgerald. In the story of his life and his art, it deserves if not a chapter, then at least a secure place of its own.


  1. Matthew J. Bruccoli, ed., The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 425. All subsequent page references to “The Rubber Check” are to this edition and will appear parenthetically in the text.

  2. Matthew J. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 325.

  3. F. Scott Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald's Ledger: A Facsimile, 186. In Matthew J. Bruccoli, ed., The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, there are twelve passages culled from “The Rubber Check”: numbers 112, 430, 480, 597, 907, 908, 1164-67, 1401, 1435.

  4. Robert Sklar, F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoön, 248; John A. Higgins, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Stories, 154; Scott Donaldson, “Money and Marriage in Fitzgerald's Stories,” 81; Bryant Mangum, A Fortune Yet: Money in the Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Short Stories, 125; Bruccoli, ed., Price Was High, 417; Henry Dan Piper, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait, 176; Kenneth Eble, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 121, 122.

  5. Brian Harding, “‘Made for—or against—the Trade’: The Radicalism of Fitzgerald's Saturday Evening Post Love Stories,” 128-29; Ruth Prigozy, “Fitzgerald's Short Stories and the Depression: An Artistic Crisis,” 121. This essay discusses all the short stories Fitzgerald wrote during the depression, and the impact of the depression on his art.

  6. Piper, Fitzgerald: Critical Portrait, 85.

  7. Donaldson, “Money and Marriage,” 82.

  8. Ward McAllister is one of Val's models. McAllister (1827-1895) was introduced as a young man to New York society by a relative. Years later he returned to that city and carved out a position as a leading social lion. It was McAllister who named the best New York families “the Patriarchs” and widened the social hierarchy to include the “Four Hundred,” a phrase that achieved more lasting fame than its creator.

  9. Ruth Prigozy, “F. Scott Fitzgerald,” 107.

  10. Donaldson, “Money and Marriage,” 81.

  11. Ibid., 85.

  12. Jay McInerney, “Fitzgerald Revisited,” 23. McInerney notes that, unlike the modernist works of his contemporaries, “Fitzgerald's third-person narratives always sound as if they are verging into the first person, as indeed they sometimes do. … F. Scott Fitzgerald never disappeared from his stories. They were entirely personal, intimate, and confidential.”

  13. “Indecision” (1931) and “A Change of Class” (1931) are two of these less than successful stories.

  14. Prigozy, “Fitzgerald's Short Stories and the Depression,” 120-21.

Peter L. Hays (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5534

SOURCE: Hays, Peter L. “Philippe, ‘Count of Darkness,’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Feminist?” In New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 291-304. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Hays argues that the four Count of Darkness stories—“The Kingdom in the Dark,” “In the Darkest Hour,” “The Count of Darkness,” and “Gods of Darkness”—reveal insights about Fitzgerald, particularly his sympathy for the feminist movement.]

In April 1934 Fitzgerald began a series of four linked stories set in ninth-century France, the nucleus of a historical novel he never finished.1 Known as the Philippe or Count of Darkness stories, they were rejected by the Saturday Evening Post and purchased somewhat grudgingly by Redbook, as a favor to Fitzgerald, and published by Redbook in October 1934 and June and August 1935; the fourth and final story was not released until after Fitzgerald's death, in November 1941.2 For a time, Fitzgerald considered extending the four stories rather than writing The Last Tycoon. He projected taking Philippe from the age of twenty, when the stories open, to the age of seventy, with eight stories or chapters dealing with his youth (with only four of the eight ever written), three chapters with his maturity, and two “great episodes” with his old age.3 He entertained the notion for two years, but finally, and wisely, abandoned it, for the Count of Darkness stories are seriously flawed by Fitzgerald's weakness in writing about unexperienced, completely imagined scenes and by laughable dialogue, a movie version of imagined medieval slang. Fitzgerald's daughter, Scottie, thought the stories so inferior that they should not be collected or reprinted, but Fitzgerald himself had thought otherwise, writing in 1935 to Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribner's, listing stories to be collected and printed in the case of his (Fitzgerald's) sudden death, including consideration of all four Philippe stories.4 However, the stories, with one exception, have never been reprinted, never collected, making scholars work from microfilm of Redbook or poor photocopies of microfilm.5 This situation is regrettable, for the stories, despite their failings, reveal much about Fitzgerald, his mode of composition, his aims, both novelistic and human—Mangum talks of Fitzgerald's attempt to write salable popular fiction—and Fitzgerald's sympathy for feminism not yet adequately analyzed.6

To dispense with many of the weaknesses first, the stories are poorly put together. Bruccoli says that the stories were written on alcohol, and sometimes it shows, along with Redbook's poor editing.7 The first story begins in 872, but the second story, which takes place the next day, is headlined as occurring in 879. In the first story, Charles is Philippe's father; in the third story, his father is Bertram. Fitzgerald has Louis the Stammerer as king, saying that Charles the Bald had died five years before, in 867; Charles, however, died in 877. Moreover, Fitzgerald makes Charles Charlemagne's son, not the grandson he was.8 Louis's men are armed with crossbows (“Kingdom,” 60), not likely in ninth-century France. In the first story, Philippe's domain is fifty miles west of Tours; in the third story it seems east. Nor is the text sure whether Philippe's fortification is on the north bank of the Loire or the south; the third story has conflicting evidence for either interpretation. There are five Norse prisoners in the first story, reduced inexplicably to two in the second. Philippe's right-hand man is “Jacques” in the first two stories, “Jaques” in the last two; and, unfortunately, Fitzgerald evidently did not know the pun on “Jaques” as “jakes,” a privy (see, for example, As You Like It), provoking some unintentional humor, especially when he calls the peasant “Sir Jaques” (“Kingdom,” 60), and when Philippe calls the people on his land “these jakes” (“Hour,” 522).

Fitzgerald's attempt to write dialogue for the peasants and for Philippe as tough guy produced some ludicrous results. In the first story, Philippe eats “flapjacks” (514) and the Moors are “yeller devils” (515); he asks a Norseman, “No speak Lingua Franca?” (514); he greets two peasants with “Howdy,” and they respond to his question as to how many live in the region, which they interpret as his intention to steal from all, by saying, “Used to be a right smart lot of them. … You mought as well move along” (516). This is Hollywood's notion of how Ozark hillbillies talk; equally from a Hollywood western is Philippe's saying, “Answer me like that once more, and I'll let daylight through you” (518). In the second story we have such anachronisms as a “sugar daddy” (22), a sandwich (23), “pipe down” (68), “bunk,” “oke”—presumably short for “okay”—and “pup-tent” (69). Equally laughable, as several critics have pointed out, is Philippe's macho pose and language. To a French girl he has acquired by killing the Norsemen who had captured her, he commands, “Come here and see what you taste like.” When she calls him “darling,” he interrupts: “Call me ‘Sire!’ … And remember; there's no bedroom talk floating around this precinct!” (“Count,” 21; ellipsis and emphasis Fitzgerald's). Typical of Fitzgerald's general unawareness is the fact that he intended to call the completed novel The Castle, but then Kafka does not seem to be an author he read.9

There are other historical blunders. Philippe wears a gold-embroidered cloak and a moorish helmet in a country with good reason to loathe Moors, both items inviting attack and robbery; Fitzgerald's very story reveals, accurately, how bloodthirsty and rapacious were the people of the period, whether high- or lowborn. Few would take the time to ask Philippe his identity but would ambush him for his possessions, including the white Arab stallion he rides, but he is not attacked, not even by a Viking. The lone stranger on the white horse, defending the poor squatters against invading marauders, also suggests popular culture's influence on Fitzgerald in shaping his hero, as much or more than Fitzgerald's statement in his Notebooks that Hemingway was his model for Philippe.10 And here we get to Fitzgerald's concept of the hero. In his mature novels, his protagonists' misfortunes are always larger than themselves; that is, his protagonists are paradigmatic individuals. Thus “the foul dust” that preys on Gatsby is indicative of the corruption inherent in American capitalist society, especially during the immoral Roaring Twenties. Dick Diver's collapse echoes that of both the depression and Western civilization. Monroe Stahr embodies both America's love of illusion and the struggle of the individual artist working in a collaborative and commercial environment. It is apparent from the text that Fitzgerald wants Philippe to be more than an individual adventurer. His very surname, Villefranche, suggests how Fitzgerald associates Philippe with France. So do thoughts that Fitzgerald attributes to him: “Philippe's idea was a prefiguration of an age already beginning. …” (“Hour,” 524).

Thus, Fitzgerald casts Philippe as a Renaissance man, centuries before the event, or describes him, “Embodying in himself alone the future of his race, he walked to and fro in the starry darkness” (“Hour,” 529), a combination of Stephen Dedalus and Jay Gatsby. Equally pretentious and didactic:

This was an epoch of disturbance and change; all over Europe men were thinking exactly like Philippe, taking direction from the arrows of history that seemed to float dimly overhead. Each of those men thought himself to be alone, but really each was an instrument of response to a great human need. Each knew that the spirit of man was at low tide; each one felt in himself the necessity of seizing power by force and cunning.

(“Hour,” 522-23)

In short, Philippe as Machiavelli, six centuries in advance.11

Each of the four stories has some form of the word “dark” in its title, a way of insisting on the tales as stories of the Dark Ages, perhaps reflecting on the Great Depression and perhaps on Fitzgerald's own state of depression in 1934 when Tender Is the Night did not do as well as he had expected.12 What Philippe, in fact, brings to Touraine is the notion of vigorous feudalism, an organizing principle that has been missing since the destruction of the Roman empire and the subsequent raids by Moors and Vikings. Philippe will collect tolls from merchants crossing the ford of the Loire beneath his fortification and protect the peasants in return for a share of their produce on their tenant farms and their labor on his rough-hewn castle and their service to him. He, in turn, owes loyalty and service to the king. Yet the sentiments that Fitzgerald ascribes to Philippe are anachronistically democratic. (Beyond that, Fitzgerald hoped to include Marxist elements as well in the full novel.)13

Fitzgerald is accurate in portraying the squalor, misery, and lawlessness of the period, but his depiction of Philippe as democrat is either that of a most unusual hero, who has nothing in common with the class-conscious age the author seeks to represent, or Philippe is out of his time, a wished-for egalitarian in an undemocratic age. He is Philippe Count Villefranche, owner of twenty miles along the Loire (in one story, twenty square miles in another), and stepson of the Vizier of Cordova, at a time when class distinctions were impenetrable. His men are mocked for their poor weapons by the king's bodyguard (“Kingdom,” 62); the king refuses his hospitality, looking at “the flock of chickens and the litter of pigs that roamed the courtyard” (“Kingdom,” 64); the king's sentries refuse to wake a man of importance when Philippe brings warning of Vikings, summoning only a squire, whom Philippe must bribe to see a knight, and so up the social ladder to duke and then king (“Kingdom,” 64). In the fourth story, the Duke of Maine takes the ill-dressed Philippe for a messenger, calling him a clown and asking to see his master (“Gods,” 88). Yet Philippe advances the poor peasant Jacques to be his right-hand man, his assistant and counselor, and Fitzgerald knights the peasant, calling him Sir (“Kingdom,” 60), as Philippe himself does later (“Gods,” 88). Elsewhere, Brian, a monk, addresses Philippe impertinently,

“Pardon me master—or sire—or whatever you call yourself today—”

“Watch your tongue, you unfrocked devil!” said Philippe goodhumoredly.

“I'll call you Philippe, like it or not, my boy.”

(“Kingdom,” 60)

A nobleman of the era would not have liked it; Philippe would have been punished calling a duke or the king by his given name. Similarly, when Griselda, former mistress to King Louis, now Philippe's lover and fiancée, complains of his equal distribution of toll taken from merchants with “those monkeys in the valley” (“monkeys” as epithet is probably another anachronism), Philippe reacts most nobly: “They're not monkeys; and if they are, then I'm one. And if you can't get over that kind of talk, then you're no fit wife for a chieftain. They're us. I'm them—it's hard to explain—” (“Gods,” 32; emphasis Fitzgerald's). Social equality would indeed have been hard to explain in ninth-century France, and while Fitzgerald's intentions are commendable for his hero, their inappropriateness undermines the validity of the Count of Darkness stories.

On the other hand, under whatever circumstances Fitzgerald wrote the stories, they do show evidence of effort and foresight as to the integration of early details with later plot lines. In addition to the narrative description setting the stories in the Middle Ages, Fitzgerald lards his text with atmospheric terms: “pantler,” “slinger,” “abattis,” and “pennon,” to mention a few.14 In the first story, he is careful to provide Le Poire with a daughter (though not careful enough to provide “Poire” with the article of the proper gender in French), for Le Poire's daughter figures prominently in the fourth story, not written until seven months later, when the first story was already in print.15 Fitzgerald specifically notes the presence of caves in the area close to Jacques's hut, again an element that is important in the fourth story, as is Jacques's ability to rally a group of men to him quickly, seemingly without question or dispute, in spite of the fact that he is a lowly peasant and not the head man of the community. In all these details, Fitzgerald is providing material to build upon in the climactic fourth story, just as his line in the fourth story that the Duke of Maine was a man “with whom Philippe was to have much to do in later life” (“Gods,” 88), prepares us for later plot complications never written.

Most criticism of the stories, where there has been any, has been negative, including my own up to this point. Sergio Perosa, whose comments go beyond the biographical and are more extensive than most, thoroughly damns the stories thus: “There is no possible unity of vision or an informing idea.”16 Perosa is wrong. Although the idea is present only in embryonic form, its outline is readily apparent. Philippe is the wise fool, the type of rash, headstrong young man of courage but little sense who must learn through experience to control his impetuous impulses, the type from Parzival through Tom Jones, and thus the Count of Darkness stories begin a bildungsroman or Entwicklungsroman, as well as an epic. Griselda asks Philippe, “Don't you think you have any faults ever? Do you always think you're so perfect?” He replies, “I guess I do” (“Gods,” 33; Fitzgerald's emphasis). Pride goeth before a fall, and Philippe literally takes a fall. In an attempt to impress the Duke of Maine at their meeting, Philippe rides up quickly, jumps his horse over a row of stakes, and the horse lands badly, throwing Philippe. It is then that the Duke says:

“Catch your breath! I'm in no hurry! I want to see your master.”

Panting and dazed by his fall, Philippe could not articulate.

The Duke turned and said to an attendant: “Here, give this fellow a jolt of wine—maybe he's the local clown and we can use him.”

(“Gods,” 88)

Acting rashly and unable to speak when he should is something Philippe shares with Parzival at the Grail Ceremony, an attribute Eliot used in The Waste Land, lines 38-39: “I could not / Speak”—and Fitzgerald's admiration for Eliot's poem and his use of it in The Great Gatsby are well known. Philippe even plays Fisher King, teaching his peasants to spear eels at night by lantern light as a way to provide food for their barren wasteland.17 And if Fitzgerald extended his reading of source material beyond Weston, he would have found that Chrétien de Troyes's patron, for whom he wrote Li Conte del Graal, was Count Philip of Flanders.

Something else Philippe shares with Percival/Parzival is the sobriquet of clown. Heretofore Philippe has acted hastily, taking no one's advice but his own, frequently making mistakes. The most usual realm for him to err in is in his dealings with women. With them, Philippe is as inept as Parzival was with the damsel of the tent, Jeschute. And here, Fitzgerald's efforts to make Philippe an egalitarian, while out of place historically, are brilliantly integrated, for Philippe matures as he recognizes women as equals in thought, feelings, rights, and even power.

Fitzgerald begins the process in the second story. Philippe has acquired Letgarde, a seventeen-year-old girl, from the Vikings who had captured her, Vikings whom Philippe kills. He makes her his possession, servant, lover-to-be, while telling his men to acquire wives, in an approximation of the Rape of the Sabine Women. To supervise the construction of his fort, Philippe wants to ride his stallion to the top of a nearby hill:

Catching the beast and saddling him, he pulled Letgarde up with him after he had mounted. The force of his pull almost wrenched her arm from her socket.

Smarting with sudden rage at the indignity, she waited in fright as, guiding the animal with his legs only, he next swung her about from a position facing him, to one that would later be called postilion. Furious and uncomfortable, she rode off behind him toward a destination of which she knew nothing.

… On the summit, he … slung her to the ground with almost a reverse of the gesture with which he had taken her up. She stood shaken, injured, terrified. …

(“Count,” 21-22)

Letgarde deserts him that very day, hides, starves, and drowns trying to ford the Loire. Philippe mourns for her, recognizing that he is responsible for her death, “just because I used her rough on the horse when I was in a hurry” (“Count,” 70). In an attempt to atone, he adopts an orphan peasant girl (whom we never see in the next two stories), but he has learned a lesson, one made apparent in the fourth story.

Philippe has taken in Griselda, a mistress of King Louis who has escaped the king. Louis suspects Philippe of sheltering her but cannot prove it and sends men to burn Philippe's fort. Soon Philippe and Griselda become lovers, and Philippe visits the local abbot to have the banns announced for their marriage; while there, the abbot warns Philippe to beware a pagan cult flourishing in the area, one turning the inhabitants against Christ. Immediately thereafter, the Duke of Maine appears on the scene, hunting, with an enormous troop of five hundred men, far more than Philippe and his peasants could withstand. Griselda tries to persuade Philippe to accept her counsel: “‘You wouldn't take advice from a mere woman, would you? … Don't take our men down there to meet them,’ she said emphatically. ‘A woman telling me how I should do!’” (“Gods,” 33). But Philippe is persuaded and accedes, a step in his maturation, meeting the Duke with only his personal bodyguard of ten. Then Griselda tells him to accept the advice of Jacques also. Confused, Philippe wonders what the peasant can do. Griselda then introduces herself to Jacques as a member of a witch cult by chanting a simple charm, thereby gaining his cooperation: “Esta es buena parati. Esta parati lo toma” (“Gods,” 88). She has somehow recognized Jacques as a member of a witch cult (I hesitate to call either one a “witch” because of current connotations), realizing that it is his position of authority in the cult that enabled him to rally men to Philippe's cause in the first story and to cement his own authority over them. She also knows that there are many cult members among the Duke of Maine's men who, if they could be appealed to, would be loathe to attack fellow religionists. Convincing Jacques that she is also a cult member, she says to Philippe, “Darling, we can fix these men. … All you got to do is soft-soap the leader … [another anachronistic expression]. Jaques and I will fix the men” (“Gods,” 88).

After falling from his horse, recovering, and sizing up the situation, Philippe takes the Duke hostage, but he is still under possible siege by the Duke's five hundred men. That night, Griselda and Jacques take him to the esbat of the witch cult, presided over by Le Poire's daughter, Becquette, the local priestess. When Becquette, blaming Philippe for her father's death at Viking hands, demands Philippe's death at the hands of both coven members and those of the Duke's men attending the ritual, Griselda reveals herself to be high priestess of the witches of Touraine and countermands Becquette's demand, saying that Philippe is one of them and that she and he will be married according to the rites of the cult.

Although we see little of the witch cult, Fitzgerald was at pains to make it a pagan fertility cult, Wiccan in today's terms, rather than something Satanic and anti-Christian. Becquette, as priestess, presides on a stone couch before a waterfall; “other women carrying torches were posted at her head and feet, and piled about the sides of the stone couch were products of the harvest—grapes and apples, bundles of rye and wheat” (“Gods,” 90). The esbat takes place in a cave, the womb of mother earth, a frequent location for witch cult gatherings. Fitzgerald's sources were meager—they still are—for pagan rituals in the Middle Ages. Most sources of information about such cults come from witch trials of the fifteenth and later centuries, when Inquisitors and prosecutors saw anything pagan as specifically Satanic. Fitzgerald, though he mentions Satan in his manuscript, deletes any such reference from the published story.18 The cult is an alternative to Christianity, not a dedicated opponent. However, as implied by the etymology of “pagan” (country dweller) and “heathen” (one who lives on a heath), pagans and heathens were not city dwellers but country folk, farmers, people for whom fertility was a necessity for survival. They lived on the land and persisted in their worship of ancient nature deities, hence the cult's oft-used name, the Old Religion. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, was associated with royalty and nobility, established first in cities, and, as numerous reformation attempts made obvious, was often swollen with land and wealth. Thus, there was a political and economic opposition between pagan worshippers and the established Church, intuited by Fitzgerald, and it is this opposition that the abbot in the fourth story fears at least as much as he does the blasphemous acts of his parishioners, for whom he has shown no other concern in the stories.19 It is this same political power against the nobility that Griselda enlists for Philippe (a count, but hardly rich) against the Duke of Maine.

Thus Philippe's life is saved from Becquette's followers, as are his men and wood fort from attack by the forces of the Duke of Maine, both through Griselda's intercession. Philippe has listened to her advice and that of the peasant Jacques; he has curtailed his natural impetuosity, somewhat controlled his rashness, and benefited. He has, uncommonly so for a ninth-century leader (male, here, being understood), listened to a woman and a low-born peasant and discovered that they could help a count of France. Although he has considered himself a devout Christian—Fitzgerald has shown him praying throughout the stories and acknowledging fealty to Church and God—he is more pragmatist than Christian: “I haven't got any conscience except for my country, and for those who live in it. … All right—I'll use this cult—and maybe burn in hell forever after” (“Gods,” 91). The noble, altruistic, idealistic attitude is not typically ninth century, nor is the nationalism, and the willingness to burn in Hell echoes Huckleberry Finn. But Philippe concludes, “But if these witches know better, then I'll be one of them!” (“Gods,” 91). Fitzgerald ends the story with Griselda mocking both her own cult's fertility images and Philippe by suggesting that they carve a totemic beast on the gate of the fort that is half lion, half pig, “half for fighting, half for farming” (“Gods,” 91).20

Perosa is wrong in stating that Fitzgerald had no “unity of vision or informing idea.” In the six months that the stories cover, we see twenty-year-old Philippe begin to mature and come to his majority, marked in part by his treatment of Griselda, a growth paralleled by the development of feudalism in ninth-century France. Philippe embodies what Wolfram von Eschenbach, the Parzival poet, says that he is recounting, an account of “a brave man slowly wise.”21 How far Fitzgerald would have taken intertwined ideas, it is impossible to say. To what extent the later stories would have continued to involve pagan witch cults is also impossible to say. But it is apparent, even in the four brief stories, that Philippe's maturity is marked by his growing self-control and growing willingness to recognize the rights of those the ninth century would have regarded as inferiors: peasants and women—especially women.

There is very little detailed critical analysis of Fitzgerald's treatment of women characters, the three main pieces being by Judith Fetterley, Mary A. McKay, and Sarah Beebe Fryer. Fetterley sees no distance whatsoever between author and narrator of The Great Gatsby, interpreting the novel as “centered in hostility to women,” with Daisy as the novel's scapegoat; The Great Gatsby is the only work of Fitzgerald's that she considers. Both Mary A. McKay and Sarah Beebe Fryer see a progression in Fitzgerald's works, from the vamps in This Side of Paradise to the self-supporting women of The Last Tycoon. Fryer considers the novels only, but she praises Fitzgerald for his accurate depiction of women's roles in the 1920s, and she traces a development of greater independence and self-sufficiency in the women characters over time; moreover, she sees the condescending behavior of the men toward women as an indictment of the male characters—particularly of Dick Diver—and not of the author. Fryer quotes Frances Kroll Ring, writing about Fitzgerald's attitude toward his daughter: “She must be prepared to have an independent life. … He was keenly aware of a changing world for women and he wanted his daughter to be ready for that world with education, goals, self esteem.”22

McKay also sees a continuum of development from Fitzgerald's early work to the last, unfinished novel, a development that she, like Fryer, links first to his desire for his daughter, Scottie, to make the most of her opportunities for education and so be prepared for a career, and then to his relationship with self-sufficient career woman Sheilah Graham. The letters to Scottie stress her need to do well in math and science, the very subjects Fitzgerald himself did poorly in, and they go from 1933 (the year before the Philippe stories were written) until his death in 1940. McKay examines only one short story, “The Cut-Glass Bowl” (1920); she does not, for example, consider the early story “Diamond Dick and the First Law of Woman” (1924), which has a forceful, nonworking female heroine and, like the Philippe stories, uses stilted, stereotypical dialogue.23 No feminist critic has yet considered such strong women characters as Myra in “Myra Meets His Family” (1920), Daisy Cary in “The Bowl” (1928), or Nell Margery in “I Got Shoes” (1933); Daisy and Nell work to support themselves, Myra does not. Nor have they considered Caroline Dandy in “The Bridal Party” (1930), strong, but in rather conventional, old-fashioned ways.

There is a paucity of attention to Fitzgerald's treatment of women in both the novels and the short fiction, especially in the less-studied short stories. We do not know how he would have revised The Last Tycoon had he lived, nor how he would have developed his view of women or their treatment by men as a way to characterize the men; it is, however, a novel with a woman narrator. As a social chronicler, it would have been impossible for Fitzgerald to ignore the added responsibilities of women during World War II. But it is fascinating that Fitzgerald, writing in Christian Baltimore in 1934, when women were given only slightly more power and credence than in ninth-century France, should have matched his hero with a heroine out of Wicca, the pagan old religion in which divinity was feminine.


  1. Historical romances were not new to Fitzgerald: He did an impressive job at Princeton in a little-considered short story, “Tarquin of Cheapside” (1917), that pictures Shakespeare as a rapist who used that experience to write “The Rape of Lucrece.” It is published as such in Tales of the Jazz Age, though Fitzgerald spelled the title's last word “Cheepside,” and it is under that title that John Kuehl reprints it in The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald: 1909-1917. There are also, as Janet Lewis points out, “The Night at Chancellorsville” (1935) and “The Fiend” (1935) (“Fitzgerald's ‘Philippe, Count of Darkness,’” 30).

  2. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Margaret M. Duggan, eds., Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 590. Bryant Mangum reports that Fitzgerald got $1,250 for the first story, $1,500 for each of the next two, but does not say what Redbook paid for the final posthumously run story (A Fortune Yet: Money in the Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Stories, 144, 145).

  3. Sergio Perosa, The Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 133. Since Perosa gives no other bibliographic information in his text, he is evidently working from Fitzgerald's manuscript notes; judging from his account of the stories, there are significant differences between the manuscript versions and their published form. Also, Perosa has only six stories dealing with Philippe's youth, whereas Bruccoli, also using the Princeton manuscript and quoting from Fitzgerald's notes, details the themes of the next four stories, or eight in all (Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 388). Janet Lewis confirms the scheme of eight stories of youth, ages twenty to twenty-five, three of maturity—thirty, thirty-eight, forty-five—and two final episodes at ages fifty-five and seventy; she publishes Fitzgerald's typed “General Plan of Philippe” from the Princeton manuscript (“Fitzgerald's ‘Philippe, Count of Darkness,’” 10-11, 28).

  4. Bruccoli, ed., The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 513; Bruccoli and Duggan, eds., Correspondence, 407.

  5. The exception is the first story, “In the Darkest Hour,” reprinted in Bruccoli's Price Was High, 512-29, but Bruccoli has appended the wrong date to the story: it was published in October 1934, not 1935 as his headnote indicates.

  6. Mangum, Fortune Yet, 143-44.

  7. Bruccoli, Epic Grandeur, 388.

  8. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Kingdom in the Dark,” 59, 62. For reference within the text of my article, I will refer to the stories by abbreviated title: “In the Darkest Hour” as “Hour”; “The Count of Darkness” as “Count”; “The Kingdom in the Dark” as “Kingdom”; and “Gods of Darkness” as “Gods”—and then by page number. For the last three, I will supply the page number from the Redbook issue in which the stories appear, their only source; for the first, “Hour,” I will use the page numbers from Price Was High.

  9. Bruccoli, Epic Grandeur, 387.

  10. Ibid.; Bruccoli's source is Edmund Wilson, ed., The Crack-Up, 177.

  11. Or, as Lehan sees it, Faustian man, the paradigmatic medieval man as described in Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. See Richard D. Lehan, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Craft of Fiction, 152; and Richard D. Lehan, “F. Scott Fitzgerald and Romantic Destiny,” 150-51.

  12. Perosa, Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 132; “Fitzgerald took refuge unconsciously among the specters and puppets of an age in which the fabric of history and society offered an ‘objective correlative’ to the conditions of chaos and darkness of his soul.”

  13. Bruccoli and Duggan, eds., Correspondence, 590.

  14. Janet Lewis mentions the “two pages of books and articles he used or intended to use in researching the novel. He consulted books on French and European history, the fifth volume of Gibbon, Belloc's Europe and the Faith, and Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance.” She also reprints the two-page list of Encyclopaedia Britannica articles Fitzgerald consulted (“Fitzgerald's ‘Philippe, Count of Darkness,’” 9, 18-19).

  15. Mangum, Fortune Yet, 180-81.

  16. Perosa, Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 136.

  17. Lewis (“Fitzgerald's ‘Philippe, Count of Darkness,’” 9) and Perosa (Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 133) acknowledge that Fitzgerald read Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance in preparation, and Fitzgerald would have found a discussion of Perceval/Parzival in Weston's book.

  18. Perosa (Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 133) and Lewis (“Fitzgerald's ‘Philippe, Count of Darkness,’” 9) cite Fitzgerald's sources, in addition to Weston, as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, for which Margaret Murray wrote the entry on witchcraft for the 14th edition (1929; Murray's article was the Britannica's explanation until the 1974 edition), and Murray's The Witch Cult in Western Europe. Fitzgerald did get the charm by which Griselda identifies herself to Jacques from Murray, as well as the ritual marriage to Satan (Witch Cult, 179). Murray found the charm—Esta es buena parati / Esta parati lo toma—in Pierre de Lancre's tome, an account of fourteenth-century French witch trials (273). De Lancre misprints the Spanish: para is one word, a preposition, ti its object. They were spoken at ritual marriages, and can be translated as “This one is good for you / She is there for you. Do you accept?” Philippe, growing up in Spain, would have understood these words as Griselda spoke them, and he would not have called them a “secret lingo” (“Gods,” 88), nor would the celebrants at the esbat use them as a salutation to the priestess.

    Perosa says from the manuscript sources that Griselda admits to having been deflowered by Satan and must marry fellow cult member Jacques, not Philippe (Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 135). Lewis confirms this, quoting from Fitzgerald's text the ritual whereby Griselda and Jacques would separate witch cult followers from nonpagans among the Duke of Maine's men (“Fitzgerald's ‘Philippe, Count of Darkness,’” 16-17).

  19. Murray cites no examples other than that of Joan of Arc and the antifertility charms of witches to hurt their enemies. But there were no sources available to Fitzgerald to document such class opposition in ninth-century France, and his putting it there is his own artistic creation. Similarly, the emerald that Griselda wears to identify her as chief priestess is Fitzgerald's invention (and an appropriately visual one for a Hollywood-influenced version of the ritual).

  20. Lehan sees Griselda and her witch cult as evil (Craft of Fiction, 152), as does Mangum, who sees her power as evil and her as a corrupting force (Fortune Yet, 145-46). I do not agree, and certainly the humor of her remark, plus the fact that she has saved Philippe's life, argue against such a reading. However, we don't have any subsequent stories to see how the relationship between the characters and religion would have been developed.

  21. Perosa, Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 136; Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, 5.

  22. Judith Fetterley, The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction, 72; Sarah Beebe Fryer, Fitzgerald's New Women: Harbingers of Change, 96; Frances Kroll Ring, Against the Current: As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald, 82.

  23. Mary A. McKay, “Fitzgerald's Women: Beyond Winter Dreams,” 311-24.

Robert L. Gale (essay date spring 1997)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 151

SOURCE: Gale, Robert L. “Fitzgerald's ‘A Snobbish Story’.” The Explicator 55, no. 3 (spring 1997): 154.

[In the following essay, Gale identifies the source for Josephine Perry's nickname in “A Snobbish Story,”]

In F. Scott Fitzgerald's “A Snobbish Story” (1930), the Chicago Tribune reporter John Boynton Bailey, who is also a would-be socialist playwright, derisively labels as “Miss Potterfield-Swiftcormick” the heroine Josephine Perry, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy Chicago businessman.

This name satirically combines the names of Chicago merchant-capitalist Potter Palmer (1826-1902) and perhaps his wife, the art collector Mrs. Potter Palmer (née Bertha Honoré), Chicago merchant-philanthropist Marshall Field (1852-1906), Chicago meat-packing capitalist Gustavus Franklin Swift (1839-1903) and his five meat-packing sons, and Chicago journalist-politician and Tribune proprietor Joseph Medill McCormick (1877-1925).

Although for a while Josephine associates with Bailey, once the chips are down she promises herself to consort “with the rich and powerful of this world forever” and thus deserves her label.

William G. Jolliff (essay date fall 1998)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2426

SOURCE: Jolliff, William G. “The Damnation of Bryan Dalyrimple and Theron Ware: F. Scott Fitzgerald's Debt to Harold Frederic.” Studies in Short Fiction 35, no. 1 (fall 1998): 85-90.

[In the following essay, Jolliff investigates the influence of Harold Frederic's The Damnation of Theron Ware on Fitzgerald's “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong.”]

F. Scott Fitzgerald's debt to the fin de siècle American naturalists is well known. Princetonian Amory Blaine gives the most famous suggestion of the influence in This Side of Paradise when he finds himself “rather surprised by his discovery through a critic named Mencken of several excellent American novels: ‘Vandover and the Brute,’ ‘The Damnation of Theron Ware,’ and ‘Jennie Gerhardt’” (209). Henry Dan Piper notes that “Fitzgerald wrote this particular passage during the summer of 1919, when he revised his novel for the last time. It is likely that he had heard about all three books very recently” (“Norris and Fitzgerald” 395). That is not to say, however, that Fitzgerald did not come upon the novels of Norris, Dreiser, and Frederic at an important time in his literary formation. On the contrary, he discovered them just as he was writing—for the third time—This Side of Paradise (“Norris and Fitzgerald” 393); and although by then, as Piper suggests, it was too late for them to have much of an influence on the first novel (Portrait 88), they did play an important part in the conceptualization of the second novel, The Beautiful and the Damned. In fact, Fitzgerald's interest in the American naturalists was so intense and influential that it kept him from getting on with his second novel (84).

While Frank Norris's important influence on Fitzgerald has been carefully observed,1 the influence of Harold Frederic has been overlooked—an oversight somewhat surprising in light of Fitzgerald's avowed appreciation of the upstate New Yorker's work. His respect for Frederic was reflected in April 1922, when Fitzgerald suggested that Scribners start a reprint series to compete with Modern Library and Lambskin Library. The outline that Fitzgerald sent to Charles Scribner named 18 novels, among which is The Damnation of Theron Ware (Bruccoli 154). Likewise, the reading program that Fitzgerald planned for Sheilah Graham, recounted in her College of One, includes Theron Ware by “Fredericks” (sic) in the “Substitute List of Good Novels” (206). Most significantly, however, in a letter to Sinclair Lewis on 26 January 1921,2 Fitzgerald states, “I want to tell you that Main Street has displaced Theron Ware in my favor as best American novel” (Turnbull 467). Fitzgerald's statement reveals that, despite the novel's displacement, for a time The Damnation of Theron Ware held preëminence in his literary imagination. Referring to that letter, Mark Schorer comments, “It is surprising to discover that Fitzgerald, whose own work was so different from that of both Sinclair Lewis and Harold Frederic, should have held such regard for The Damnation of Theron Ware …” (275). To share Schorer's surprise, however, one must agree that Fitzgerald's work is so different from Frederic's—a judgment that is less than settled.3

Possibly more fully than any other author, Fitzgerald arranged the paradigm for an American Adam disillusioned by the realities of materialism, a type he develops most thoroughly in The Great Gatsby. But it is important to note that Jay Gatsby's prototype appears in the early short story “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong”—a story that shows the clear influence, both idiosyncratic and fundamental, of Harold Frederic's The Damnation of Theron Ware.

In the formal opening paragraph of “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong,” Fitzgerald promises the reader the story of a young man's disillusionment—and he fulfills that promise. Bryan Dalyrimple returns from the war a hero, but a month later he is forgotten, and he goes to the local financial magnate, T. G. Macy, for a job. He is given a position in the stock room with a promise of promotion, but he learns from his more worldly colleague, Charley Moore, that his job is in fact a dead end: unless he has “drag” with Macy, he will stock shelves forever. Realizing not only that this observation is true, but also that his meager salary is insufficient to pay his bills, he decides to take advantage of every situation. So motivated, Dalyrimple enters a successful career as a mugger and a burglar. Later in the story he is called to Macy's office, and in fear he nearly bolts. Better judgment prevails, however, and that evening he finds that Mr. Fraser, the biggest political boss in the city, wants to take advantage of Dalyrimple's military record to place the young man in the state senate.

Bryan Dalyrimple's story shares many similarities with Theron Ware's both in theme and detail. Both protagonists are typically adamic. They are innocent and able young men who believe that hard work will lead to success: Ware has determined to escape his father's farm and to develop oratorical abilities that would land him an affluent parish; Dalyrimple intends to overcome his father's low financial status and move up in the world. Both are influenced in their beliefs by the “silly flattery” of “a lot of women” who are drawn to their positions—Ware as a cleric, Dalyrimple as a war hero. Both are eventually informed that the simple sequence of hard work leading to success is not the way of the world. Sister Soulsby tells Theron that he must use “sabe”—common sense—to get ahead; Charley Moore and, later, Alfred J. Fraser inform Dalyrimple of the same. And in both stories, that very American term “common sense” is a code word that sometimes stands for the sacrifice of moral conviction. For example, Sister Soulsby tells Ware that he should not worry about the way she raises money: the tactics that he finds so disillusioning are simply parts of the “machinery” (174). Echoing the same terminology, Fraser tells Dalyrimple that placing him in the senate is simply “mechanical” (172). Finally, Sister Soulsby assures Ware that he will be able to remain a pastor as long as belief does not get in the way, and Fraser tells Dalyrimple that making him a state senator will be no problem as long as he does not have “too many ideas” of his own (172). He must give up his naïve ideas about public service just as Ware must give up traditional notions of the ministry.

Other, more subtle, parallel details accompany the two men's growth toward “enlightenment.” Long walks at night precipitate ephiphanic moments that come after long periods of gradual realization—and both men's walks are all the more dark because the town councils in both fictions are too stingy to use streetlights consistently (Theron Ware 183; “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong” 166). After the Soulsbys' fundraising meetings end, Ware takes a walk and finds himself in Celia's chambers, where in his broken-down state he experiences the seductive concert that completes his conversion. It is then that he becomes Celia's disciple and perfects his alienation from Alice and his parishioners. Likewise, Dalyrimple, after learning that his boss's nephew has begun with a salary half again greater than his own, goes on an evening walk, “his brain whirring with the frightful jar of discovering a platitude for himself” (163); during this half-crazed walk, he concludes that it is time for him to begin

rejecting the old childhood principles that success came from faithfulness to duty, that evil was necessarily punished and virtue necessarily rewarded—that honest poverty was happier than corrupt riches.


If this statement were itself the intellectual fulfillment of the story, Fitzgerald's tale would be more simply a cynical inversion of the Alger myth. But following the somewhat more didactic philosophical style of Frederic, Fitzgerald spells out the moral importance of the statement. Dalyrimple reflects,

Good and evil aren't any standard to me—and they can be a devil of a bad hindrance when I want something. When I want something bad enough, common sense tells me to go and take it—and not get caught.


Having made this decision, he steals enough to pay his rent, then continues to become a professional thief: “happiness was what he wanted—a slowly rising scale of gratifications of the normal appetites” (166). Ware has the same revelation. From Sister Soulsby, he learns to scrap his traditional ideas of good and evil and to use common sense to attain what he wants. As he tells Celia, “I see now what life is really worth, and I'm going to have my share of it” (251). Thus, after serious moral reflection, both men have consciously made the choice to be guided solely by their desires.

Another ironic parallel is that, having made their decisions, both become better at their legitimate work. Although he is “morally lonely,” Dalyrimple becomes a “better” person; his self-concept improves as he appropriates the name that newspapers give him, “Burglar Bill of the Silver District,” and he even becomes a more satisfied employee:

His attitude toward Mr. Macy underwent a change. He no longer felt a dim animosity and inferiority in his presence. As his fourth month in the store ended he found himself regarding his employer in a manner that was almost fraternal. He had a vague but very assured conviction that Mr. Macy's innermost soul would have abetted and approved.


Theron Ware experiences a similar shift after he begins his self-consciously amoral approach to parish life. As he tells Celia,

I've learned to be a showman. I can preach now far better than I used to, and I can get through my work in half the time, and keep on the right side of my people, and get along with perfect smoothness. I was too green before.


It is worth noting too that for both Ware and Dalyrimple, rhetorical skills would be the key to future success. Ware has imagined a new application for his pulpit prowess, and his plans for a future public life are based upon that ability. As he tells Alice and his mentor, Sister Soulsby, “I can speak, you know, if I can't do anything else. Talk is what tells these days.” Similarly, concerning why he chooses to befriend Dalyrimple, his patron Mr. Fraser tells him,

It was a speech [of yours] I've remembered. It was a brainy speech, straight from the shoulder, and it got to everybody in that crowd. I ought to know. I've watched crowds for years.


With their rhetorical skills at the ready, both protagonists end their stories in trance-like visions of future political greatness. Ware imagines a crowd, “attentive faces all—rapt, eager, credulous to a degree. Their eyes were admiringly bent upon a common object of excited interest. They were looking at him …” (344). The crowds are gathered to hear Ware give a campaign speech. “Who knows,” he tells Alice and Sister Soulsby, “I may turn up in Washington a full-blown Senator before I'm forty.” Likewise, Dalyrimple ends his story in a dream: “The world was opening up suddenly—the State Senate, the United States Senate—so life was this after all—cutting corners—cutting corners—common sense, that was the rule” (172-73).

In sum, both idealistic innocents seek fame and fortune virtuously; both are informed of their error; both choose an amoral “common sense” course; and both show some new hope of success—they intend to become senators. Fitzgerald calls Dalyrimple “a new psychological rebel of his own century—defying the sentimental a priori forms of his own mind” (166). If so, however, he is a psychological rebel who follows in the footsteps of an older psychological rebel. It is fitting that the younger rebel, in reflecting upon his new amoral way of life, had the “assured conviction that Mr. Macy's innermost soul would have abetted and approved” of him; for in what seems a direct acknowledgment of his source, Fitzgerald named Dalyrimple's approving, amoral mentor “Theron G. Macy.”

Clearly Harold Frederic and Scott Fitzgerald realized that all falls are not happy ones. In Theron Ware and Bryan Dalyrimple, they present us with examples of what sometimes happens when the American Adam comes of age: a thorough disillusionment resulting not in self-knowledge but in moral degeneracy. While most would agree that Fitzgerald's artful, energetic attention to economic and class disparity make him the typical voice of his materialistic age, it is important to remember that he had a tradition, albeit a recent one, to nourish his work—and at least one particular model to guide him. For if Fitzgerald was the voice of a generation, surely Harold Frederic had prophesied its coming.


  1. For a thorough look at Norris's influence see Piper, “Norris and Fitzgerald,” and Astro.

  2. Fitzgerald dated this letter 26 January 1920, although since Main Street was not published until 23 October 1920, he must have intended to date the letter “1921.”

  3. Following a different scholarly trajectory, Piper asserts that

    it is easy to understand how Fitzgerald was attracted to The Damnation of Theron Ware, not only because it was an outstanding novel but one that dealt sympathetically with the American conflict between Catholic and Protestant that he himself had experienced.

    (Critical Portrait 88)

    I would not necessarily call Frederic's treatment of the problem “sympathetic,” but I can certainly see how Fitzgerald might. In This Side of Paradise, for example, Monsignor Darcy is the sympathetic confidante of Amory Blaine, and their relationship is closely patterned on that of the young Fitzgerald and his friend Monsignor Sigourney Fay. Piper notes that Fitzgerald had a great admiration for Monsignor Fay, “who introduced him to his first glass of wine and to a more sophisticated world than he had ever known” (47). Interestingly, the same claims can be made of Father Forbes and Theron Ware. So if Fitzgerald read Forbes as a positive guide for Ware, as one who attempts to help Ware along a path to intellectual maturity, it is not surprising that Fitzgerald's reading might have imitated his own parallel experience.

Works Cited

Astro, Richard. “Vandover and the Brute and The Beautiful and the Damned. A Search for Thematic and Stylistic Reinterpretations.” Modern Fiction Studies 14 (1969): 397-413.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Harcourt, 1981.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong.” Flappers and Philosophers. New York: Scribners, 1920. 157-73.

———. This Side of Paradise. New York: Scribners, 1920.

Frederic, Harold. The Damnation of Theron Ware or Illumination.. Eds. Charlyne Dodge and Stanton Garner. Fort Worth: Texas Christian UP, 1981. Vol. 3 of The Harold Frederic Edition. 4 vols. 1977-1986.

Graham, Sheilah. College of One. New York: Viking, 1967.

Piper, Henry Dan. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait. New York: Holt, 1965.

———. “Frank Norris and Scott Fitzgerald.” Huntington Library Quarterly 19 (1956): 393-400.

Schorer, Mark. Sinclair Lewis: An American Life. New York: McGraw Hill, 1961.

Turnbull, Andrew, ed. The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Scribners, 1963.

Matthew J. Bruccoli (essay date 2001)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3873

SOURCE: Bruccoli, Matthew J. Introduction to Before Gatsby: The First Twenty-Six Stories, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, pp. xv-xxxii. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

[In the following essay, Bruccoli enumerates the reasons for the popularity of Fitzgerald's early short stories.]

The proper assessment of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short-story achievements has been impeded by allegations that he squandered or damaged his genius by selling out to the high-paying mass-circulation magazines: that he deliberately wrote bad commercial stories to satisfy the requirements of the market. Their popularity was cited as evidence of their triviality. Fitzgerald wrote stories in order to sell them, but that is not the same thing as selling out. The commercial writer Samuel Johnson stated that “Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” The admission that Fitzgerald wrote them for money does not diminish the quality of writing in his stories. He was not two writers operating under the same byline—one who wrote stories for The Saturday Evening Post and the other who wrote novels for Charles Scribner's Sons. Fitzgerald also expected his novels to make a great deal of money. He never wrote for the celebrated “fit audience though few.”

Fitzgerald's stories were crowd-pleasers for clear reasons: interesting plots; attractive new characters—especially his determined young women; and fresh material. His stories were both entertaining and serious. He was a moralist who preached acceptable sermons in fiction. Looking back at 1920 in “Early Success,” he wrote:

The uncertainties of 1919 were over—there seemed little doubt about what was going to happen—America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it. The whole golden boom was in the air—its splendid generosities, its outrageous corruptions and the tortuous death struggle of the old America in prohibition. All the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in them—the lovely young creatures in my novels went to ruin, the diamond mountains of my short stories blew up, my millionaires were as beautiful and damned as Thomas Hardy's peasants. In life these things hadn't happened yet, but I was pretty sure living wasn't the reckless, careless business these people thought—this generation just younger than me.1

Fitzgerald was a natural storyteller; his stories are smoothly paced and hold reader attention. Although he occasionally employed trick endings, his loyal readers learned to expect eloquent or emotionally complex conclusions—as in “Winter Dreams.”

Fitzgerald gave the magazines and his readers value for their money. His early Post stories range from 8,000 words (“Head and Shoulders”) to 10,500 words (“The Offshore Pirate”)—longer than the standard magazine story of 5,000 or 6,000 words. They are carefully plotted, not stretched with non-functional incidents. Much of the wordage in a top Fitzgerald story is allocated to analysis and development of character. The padding takes the form of description: see the opening of “The Offshore Pirate.” After his mastery of the short story had fled, Fitzgerald ruefully commented: “It grows harder to write because there is much less weather than when I was a boy and practically no men and women at all.”2

Readability is always a matter of style. Lionel Trilling—one of the soundest commentators on Fitzgerald—observed in 1950:

Fitzgerald wrote much about love, he was preoccupied with it as between men and women, but it is not merely where he is being explicit about it that his power appears. It is to be seen where eventually all a writer's qualities have their truest existence, in his style. Even in Fitzgerald's early, cruder books, or even in his commercial stories, and even when the style is careless, there is a tone and a pitch to the sentences which suggest his warmth and tenderness, and, what is rare nowadays and not likely to be admired, his gentleness without softness.3

Raymond Chandler expressed the same idea about Fitzgerald:

He had one of the rarest qualities in all literature, and it's a great shame that the word has been thoroughly debased by the cosmetic racketeers, so that one is almost ashamed to use it to describe a real distinction. Nonetheless, the word is charm—charm as Keats would have used it. Who has it today? It's not a matter of pretty writing or clear style. It's a kind of subdued magic, controlled and exquisite, the sort of thing you get from good string quartettes. Yes, where would you find it today?4

The defining quality of Fitzgerald's style, in a broad sense of the term, is its narrative tone. Again Trilling: “In Fitzgerald's work the voice of his prose is of the essence of his success. We hear in it at once the tenderness toward human desire that modifies a true firmness of moral judgment.”5

Another reason for the popularity of Fitzgerald's early stories in their time is their accuracy as current social history: the recognition factor. Readers respond favorably to accurate renderings of what they know about. Fiction that meets the that's-the-way-it-is test generates confidence in attentive readers. Faked details erode reader trust.

Magazines make money by selling ad space. The text is bait. Appealing editorial matter increases circulation, and circulation figures determine advertising rates. Fitzgerald attracted a younger readership to magazines that had a stodgy, middle-class, business-oriented image. Gertrude Stein's observation that This Side of Paradise “really created for the public the new generation”6 applies equally to the Fitzgerald stories published in the Twenties. His name on the magazine cover sold copies.

His stories brought high prices because they were Fitzgerald stories—with the qualities of style, observation, wit, tone, and imagination that identify his writing. He utilized the material that the slicks (magazines printed on coated paper for advertisements) required from him; but during his early years as a professional it was his own material: the concerns of youth treated seriously to examine the themes of aspiration, love, success, and failure. The charge that Fitzgerald wrote formula stories to meet magazine specifications is not substantiated by his early magazine work. “Head and Shoulders,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” “The Offshore Pirate,” “May Day,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and “Winter Dreams” are not predictable or formulaic.

Some of Fitzgerald's most ebullient stories—those he evidently enjoyed writing—were written during his first three years as a professional writer. The money he earned from magazines and subsidiary rights represented achievement to the young man who left New York a failure in July 1919 and triumphantly returned in March 1920. His feelings about success and money informed his recurring investigations of the American dream in terms of character. Fitzgerald wrote so well about money because he was serious about it—as serious as Theodore Dreiser. He was better than outsider Dreiser at reporting the mechanisms of social stratification; Fitzgerald had the perspective of the participant who did not entirely belong there. He was in the club with a guest membership: a spy. Malcolm Cowley described this effect as Fitzgerald's “double vision”7—the capacity to be both participant and observer.

Fitzgerald's early years as a professional writer, 1919-1922, brought the publication of two novels and twenty-six stories—establishing the pattern of his career: balancing magazine work with the novels he believed would determine his literary stature. Nonetheless, he did not disparage his stories at this time; he usually enjoyed writing them and welcomed what seemed to be generous payments. The two stories published in 1919 brought $65; the sixteen published in 1920 brought $5,035 plus $8,750 for movie rights.

As Fitzgerald increasingly regretted the time and strength his stories took away from novel writing, his statements became expressions of guilt. In 1929 he informed Hemingway that “the old whore now gets $4000 a screw.”8 Commentators have accepted Fitzgerald's self-rebukes; his stories have been generally classified as hackwork, and too many of the later stories are clearly pot-boilers. Fitzgerald earned most of his living and much of his lifetime literary celebrity from 160 uneven stories. The best ones are among the best in American literature.

The ill repute of Fitzgerald's stories was strengthened by Hemingway's denunciation in A Moveable Feast (1964):

I thought he wrote Saturday Evening Post stories that had been readable three years before but I never thought of him as a serious writer. He had told me at the Closerie des Lilas how he wrote what he thought were good stories, and which really were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them into salable magazine stories. I had been shocked at this and I said I thought it was whoring. He said it was whoring but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books. I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best he could write without destroying his talent. Since he wrote the real story first, he said, the destruction and changing of it that he did at the end did him no harm. I could not believe this and I wanted to argue him out of it. …9

Fitzgerald did not make this admission to anyone else. His manuscripts and revised typescripts provide no evidence for the process of spoiling good stories to make them sellable. John O'Hara made a more accurate assessment of Fitzgerald's work: “All he was was our best novelist, one of our best novella-ists, and one of our finest writers of short stories.”10 O'Hara, America's best writer of short stories, informed John Steinbeck that “Fitzgerald was a better just plain writer than all of us put together. Just words writing.”11 Measured by the word-for-word gauge, Fitzgerald's stories merit admiration. Even the most blatantly commercial ones are redeemed by paragraphs or sentences that bear the Fitzgerald mark.


The twenty-six stories Fitzgerald published during 1919-1922, his early years as a professional, are organized here in the order of their composition—not in order of publication—to provide a clearer impression of the extraordinary development of his tradecraft. Except for the four undergraduate stories revised or rewritten from their appearances in the Nassau Literary Magazine, these stories are not apprentice work. Fitzgerald served his literary apprenticeship while he was neglecting mathematics and chemistry courses at Princeton during 1913-1917. Nineteen of the stories were written before Scribners published This Side of Paradise in March 1920—before Fitzgerald was twenty-four. He came to resent references to his “facility”; but there are different grades of facility. Fitzgerald was a born storyteller who taught himself narrative technique by writing. These stories demonstrate that he rapidly established control over the short-story form. By early 1920 he was able to write “May Day,” a carefully structured novelette with juxtaposed plot lines.

After editor Maxwell Perkins accepted This Side of Paradise for Scribners on 16 September 1919, Fitzgerald proceeded to market himself as a story writer: “While I waited for the novel to appear, the metamorphosis of amateur into professional began to take place—a sort of stitching together of your whole life into a pattern of work, so that the end of one job is automatically the beginning of another. I had been an amateur before; in October, when I strolled with a girl among the stones of a southern graveyard, I was a professional and my enchantment with certain things that she felt and said was already paced by an anxiety to set them down in a story—it was called “The Ice Palace” and it was published later.”12 He began polishing and revising his stockpile of rejected stories, and he secured a literary agent. His letter to the Paul Revere Reynolds agency asking to be accepted as a client and sending “Nest Feathers” (“Head and Shoulders”) is dated 28 October 1919. Fitzgerald became the client of Harold Ober at the Reynolds office. Within a week he sent Ober “A Smile for Sylvo” (“The Smilers”) and “Barbara Bobs Her Hair” (“Bernice Bobs Her Hair”). The Post bought “Head and Shoulders” for $400, and Fitzgerald was launched in the slicks after five previous appearances in The Smart Set. Three of these Smart Set stories—“Babes in the Woods,” “The Débutante,” and “Benediction”—were recycled from the prewar Nassau Lit. Although it had the imprimatur of George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken, The Smart Set was printed on pulp paper and paid pulp rates—$35 or $40 per story. The Smart Set was read by young iconoclasts, and its circulation was 22,000 a month. The Post sold 2,750,000 copies every week. More people read Fitzgerald in a single issue of the Post than read all of his novels during his lifetime.

After he broke into the slicks, Fitzgerald maintained his connection with The Smart Set, which published his stories that were declined by the mass-circulation magazines. Two novella masterpieces—“May Day” (1920) and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” (1922)—appeared in The Smart Set, which paid $200 and $300 for them. The deterministic “May Day” shows the influence of Mencken, but Fitzgerald abandoned literary naturalism after his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922).

During 1919 Fitzgerald attempted to establish a connection with Scribner's Magazine, the quality monthly owned by his publisher, which used “The Cut-Glass Bowl” (May 1920) and “The Four Fists” (June 1920). These moralistic stories suited the taste of editor Robert Bridges and brought Fitzgerald $150 each; but he soon abandoned this market.

Fitzgerald's 1919-1920 correspondence with agent Ober provides evidence of the young professional's attitude toward his market. Different stories are cited as “the best story I ever wrote” (probably “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong”), “the best I have done” (possibly “The Camel's Back”) and “the best thing I ever wrote” (probably “His Russet Witch”). In November 1919 he began identifying certain stories as written for the Post. By 6 August 1920, Fitzgerald had commenced his custom of living on loans from his agent against unsold stories, borrowing $500 on “The Lees of Happiness.”

After “Head and Shoulders” in February, Fitzgerald had a string of five more Post appearances during March-May 1920, establishing himself as a popular new talent: “Myra Meets His Family,” “The Camel's Back,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” “The Ice Palace,” and “The Offshore Pirate.” There was nothing else like them in the Post.

The rise of Fitzgerald's commercial value is neatly documented by his Post treatment in 1920. His name first appeared on the cover with his third Post appearance, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”; and his stories were placed near the front of the issues. The circulation value of Fitzgerald's stories is indicated by the circumstance that the magazines assigned top illustrators to him.

Fitzgerald became a valuable commercial property. William Randolph Hearst's Metropolitan temporarily lured him away from the Post by raising his story price from $500 to $900 for “The Jelly-Bean,” published in October 1920. The Metro movie studio paid $3,000 for an option on screen rights to Fitzgerald's stories; during 1920-21 “Head and Shoulders” (The Chorus Girl's Romance) and “The Offshore Pirate” were produced by Metro; “Myra Meets His Family” (The Husband Hunter) was made by Fox.

The summary for 1920 was sixteen story publications: six in the Post, two in Scribner's, one in Metropolitan, and one in the Chicago Sunday Tribune. The total take was $13,785 from the magazines (worth at least $100,000 in 2000): an ebullience-producing record for the twenty-four-year-old writer who had been embarrassed by his poverty the previous year.

In accordance with the Scribner custom, a collection of Fitzgerald's stories followed This Side of Paradise in September 1920. Fitzgerald selected eight stories for Flappers and Philosophers, which unexpectedly required six printings totaling 15,300 copies between 1920 and 1922. He ranked the stories in the copy of Flappers and Philosophers that he presented to Mencken, but he overrated the stories that the Sage of Baltimore had published in The Smart Set—probably intentionally. The placement of “Head and Shoulders” and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” in the Trash category may indicate that Fitzgerald felt he had outgrown these early “flapper stories”—or that he was attempting to persuade Mencken that he was a serious writer.

The year 1921 was largely devoted to writing The Beautiful and Damned and to travel, during which Fitzgerald published three stories—two of which were Nassau Lit recycles. The third (“His Russet Witch”) was written in November 1920 and brought $900 of the $1,050 story take for 1921. Fitzgerald resumed providing commercial short stories in 1922, publishing five—two in Metropolitan, and one each in the Post, Collier's, and The Smart Set—for $4,600 total. “The Popular Girl,” his only Post two-parter, brought $1,500; Fitzgerald disliked it and did not reprint it. He was disappointed that “The Diamond As Big As the Ritz” was declined by editors who didn't understand it and by those who regarded it as blasphemous. “Winter Dreams,” written in September 1922 and published by Metropolitan in December, was the first obvious exemplar of what became identified as the Gatsby cluster stories: the stories written between 1922 and 1924 in which Fitzgerald was testing ideas and themes he developed in the novel.

Fitzgerald's second story collection, Tales of the Jazz Age, published in September 1922 following The Beautiful and Damned, included “May Day” and “Diamond” but was fleshed out with two Nassau Lit retreads. The volume included an annotated table of contents divided into categories, beginning with “My Last Flappers,” signaling Fitzgerald's intention to abandon the characters who had launched him as a commercial success. “May Day” is inappropriately included in this group. In late June 1922 Fitzgerald reported to Perkins:

The first four stories, those that will comprise the section “My Last Flappers” left here several days ago. The second four, “Fantasies” leave either this afternoon or tomorrow morning. And the last three “And So Forth” will leave here on the 24th (Sat.) + should reach you Tuesday without fail. I'm sorry I've been so slow on them. There is no particular excuse except liquor and of course that isn't any. But I vowed I'd finish a travel article + thank God its done at last.

Don't forget that I want another proof of the Table of Contents. There's been one addition to the first section and one substitution in the 3d. Its damn good now, far superior to Flappers [Flappers and Philosophers] + the title, jacket + other books ought to sell at least 10,000 copies and I hope 15,000. You can see from the ms. how I've changed the stories. I cut out my last Metropolitan story [“Two for a Cent”] not because it wasn't technically excellent but simply because it lacked vitality. The only story about which I'm in doubt is The Camel's Back. But I've decided to use it—it has some excellent comedy + was in one O. Henry Collection—though of course that's against it. Here are some suggested blurbs.

1. Contains the famous “Porcelain and Pink Story”—the bath-tub classic—as well as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and nine other tales. In this book Mr. F. has developed his gifts as a satiric humorist to a point rivalled by few if any living American writers. The lazy meanderings of a brilliant and powerful imagination.


Satyre upon a Saxaphone by the most brilliant of the younger novelists. He sets down “My Last Flappers” and then proceeds in section two to fresher and more fantastic fields. You may like or dislike his work but it will never bore you.


Have you met “Mr. Icky” and followed the ghastly career of “Benjamin Button”? A medley of Bath-tubs, diamond mountains, Fitzgerald Flappers and Jellybeans.

Ten acts of lustrous farce—and one other.

That's probably pretty much bunk but I'm all for advertising it as a cheerful book and not as “eleven of Mr. Fitzgerald's best stories by the y.a. of T.S.O.P.”13

Tales of the Jazz Age required three printings in 1922.

At the end of 1922 the Hearst magazines paid $1,500 for an option on Fitzgerald's 1923 story output, obtaining publication rights to at least six stories at $1,500 each. The arrangement proved unsatisfactory to both parties. Two stories were published in Hearst's International during 1923. Thereafter Fitzgerald was identified with the Post.

Although Fitzgerald came to resent the appellation Saturday Evening Post writer,” at the start of his career he aimed his work at the Post and took professional satisfaction in his ability to meet its requirements. He was competing against the most successful writers of the era. In 1940, after Fitzgerald had lost the capacity to write for the Post, he explained to his wife: “High priced commercial writing for the magazines is a very definite trick. The rather special things that I brought to it, the intelligence and good writing and even the radicalism all appealed to old Lorimer who had been a writer himself and liked style.”14

During its peak decades the Post was an American cultural institution. Every week boys sold the latest issue in the streets. Thomas Wolfe—who was one of them and later published in the magazine—described his brother's salesmanship in O Lost:

“Yes, sir. Yes, sir,” he would begin in a sonorous voice, dropping wide-leggedly into the “prospect's” stride. “This week's edition of The Saturday Evening Post, five cents, only a nickel, p-p-p-purchased weekly by t-t-two million readers. In this week's issue you have eighty-six pages of f-f-fact and fiction, to say n-n-nothing of the advertisements. If you c-c-c-can't read you'll get m-m-more than your money's worth out of the p-p-p-pictures. On page thirteen this week, we have a very fine article, by I-I-I-Isaac F. Marcosson, the f-f-f-famous traveler and writer on politics; on page twenty-nine you have a story by Irvin S. Cobb, the g-g-g-greatest living humorist, and a new story of the prize ring by J-J-J-Jack London. If you b-b-bought it in a book, it'd c-c-cost you a d-d-dollar and a half.”15

The time of this account is c. 1910, but the aggressive circulation effort persisted during the Twenties, when it was claimed that one of every ten American families took the Post.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's two readerships apparently had little overlap. The 2,750,000 weekly Post buyers did not buy The Great Gatsby—which sold under 23,000 copies in 1925. If Saturday Evening Post parishioners had supported his novels, Fitzgerald could have quit writing short stories for the magazine.


  1. The Crack-Up, edited by Edmund Wilson (New York: New Directions, 1945), p. 87.

  2. The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich/Bruccoli Clark, 1978), #447.

  3. The Liberal Imagination (New York: Viking, 1950), p. 244.

  4. Chandler to David Warren (13 November 1950); Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, edited by Frank MacShane (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), p. 239.

  5. The Liberal Imagination, p. 253.

  6. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1933), p. 268.

  7. “Third Act and Epilogue,” The New Yorker 21 (30 June 1945), 53-54, 57-58.

  8. 9 September 1929; A Life in Letters, p. 169. Fitzgerald's story price for The Post peaked at $4,000 in 1929; $4,000 for an 8,000-word story worked out to about fifty cents per word. The top short-story rate in 2001 is between $3,000 and $3,500 for a story. A 1920s dollar was worth between seven and ten times a 2000 dollar.

  9. (New York: Scribners, 1964), p. 156.

  10. “Introduction,” The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald, selected by Dorothy Parker (New York: Viking, 1945), p. xiv.

  11. 2 or 3 June 1949; Selected Letters of John O'Hara, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Random House, 1978), p. 224.

  12. “Early Success,” The Crack-Up, p. 86.

  13. Dear Scott/Dear Max, pp. 60-61.

  14. George Horace Lorimer, the editor of The Saturday Evening Post; 18 May 1940; A Life in Letters, p. 444.

  15. O Lost, edited by Arlyn and Matthew J. Bruccoli (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000), p. 132.

Bryant Mangum (essay date 2002)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10377

SOURCE: Mangum, Bryant. “The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.” In The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Ruth Prigozy, pp. 57-78. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Mangum traces the relationship between Fitzgerald's early short stories and his novels, asserting that he used the shorter pieces as a “workshop for subjects, themes, and techniques that he would continue to develop in later stories and novels.”]

In an all-too-brief professional career of approximately twenty years, Fitzgerald wrote 178 short stories, most of them for sale to commercial magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. Thirty-nine of these stories were collected in four separate volumes, one accompanying each of the four novels which Scribners published during Fitzgerald's lifetime: Flappers and Philosophers (1920) was the companion volume for This Side of Paradise (1920); Tales of the Jazz Age (1922) for The Beautiful and Damned (1922); All the Sad Young Men (1926) for The Great Gatsby (1925); and Taps at Reveille (1935) for Tender Is the Night (1934). In addition, he wrote a play, The Vegetable, published by Scribners in 1923, and scores of nonfiction pieces, many of which appeared in commercial magazines during his lifetime. At the time of his death he was working on an elaborately conceived novel, The Last Tycoon, which was published posthumously in 1941 as a fragment with Fitzgerald's own notes. When he was not writing for publication, Fitzgerald wrote about his life and about his observations on life in his ledger and in his notebooks, both of which are now available in book form. In spare moments he wrote letters—letters to Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribners; letters to his literary agent Harold Ober; letters to literary acquaintances, friends, and family—letters, often about his writing, which now fill four substantial volumes. Above all else Fitzgerald was a writer, a literary artist, who early shared with Edmund Wilson his immodest goal of becoming “one of the greatest writers who ever lived” (Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, 70).

By “one of the greatest writers,” Fitzgerald seems at least at the beginning to have meant “one of the greatest novelists,” regarding the writing of short stories as something that he had to do to support himself while he wrote the novels that, as he saw it, would be his main literary legacy and the primary exhibit of his greatness as a writer. In 1925 Fitzgerald explained to Ernest Hemingway that writing short stories for popular magazines was “whoring but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books” (Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, 153). He soon learned, of course, that short story writing could be quite profitable. As he remarked to Ober in 1922, “By God + Lorimer [editor of the Saturday Evening Post, which published most of Fitzgerald's stories in the twenties], I'm going to make a fortune yet” (As Ever, Scott Fitz, 36), a prediction that in retrospect was not far off the mark. In 1925, for example, he earned over $11,000 from short stories, nearly three times as much as he made from book royalties during that year; in 1930, his income from stories was over $25,000, which accounted for more than 80 percent of his total earnings for the year. His lifetime earnings from the sale of stories to magazines amounted to approximately $250,000, over half the amount of his total earnings from all sources, including royalties and scriptwriting in Hollywood, combined.1 Understandably, he complained off and on all of his life to friends and acquaintances that his “popular” efforts earned such disproportionately high prices in relation to his “serious” fiction.

However, Fitzgerald's public attitude toward his story-writing reflected in comments like those above to Ober and Hemingway was in fact misleading, perhaps deliberately so, in its depreciation of the value of his stories, the writing of which played such an extraordinary role in the development of his talent as a literary artist. Partly because of his attitude, but also because the four story collections that Scribners published as companion volumes to his novels contained stories from slick popular magazines that had paid Fitzgerald handsomely for his contributions, contemporary critics were quick to find weaknesses in his story collections, frequently damning individual stories as potboilers. For example, H. L. Mencken, who often praised Fitzgerald and who published some of his best early stories in the Smart Set, referred to the flapper “confections.”2 A frequent refrain in the reviews of the second collection, Tales of the Jazz Age, was that Fitzgerald had already received high prices for many of the stories contained in the volume, a view expressed in one reviewer's observation that Fitzgerald was making “financial hay while the popular sun is shining.”3 And though the contemporary reception of All the Sad Young Men was much more favorable than that of any preceding Fitzgerald story volume, the litany of such phrases as “uneven,” “popular magazine fiction,” and “money-making” continued to appear, unfairly so, it seems, for this extraordinary collection, particularly in view of the fact that Fitzgerald had taken pains to exclude his most popular stories from the volume. In a similar vein, Taps at Reveille, the final collection of stories, elicited backhanded compliments including one which praised Fitzgerald for being “entertaining … [and] slickly so.”4 With each collection of stories, praise for occasional brilliant performances, as in the case of such stories as “May Day,” “The Ice Palace,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” “The Rich Boy,” “Winter Dreams,” and “Babylon Revisited,” was typically diluted with criticism of the slickness of other selections. After Fitzgerald's death the myth—originating, among other places, in contemporary reviews of his story volumes—that there was “Fitzgerald A,” who was the serious writer, and “Fitzgerald B,” who brought “home the necessary bacon,” persisted.5 And even a decade after Fitzgerald's death, Arthur Mizener in his The Far Side of Paradise (1951), maintained that the stories were Fitzgerald's inferior output, the creation of which had presented moral conflicts that would “haunt his career from beginning to end” (Mizener, Far Side, 94).

Now, over a century after Fitzgerald's birth and nearly a half-century after Mizener's pioneering critical biography, virtually all of Fitzgerald's 178 stories have been collected in hardbound volumes, six books devoted exclusively to his short fiction have been published, and more than a hundred articles or chapters devoted to the stories have appeared in books and scholarly journals. And whereas Matthew J. Bruccoli could observe accurately in 1979 in his introduction to The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald that “the role of the stories in Fitzgerald's development as a writer is still not properly understood”;6 and whereas Jackson R. Bryer in his The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism (1982) could properly lament the dearth of scholarly attention that the stories had received to that point (xi), the last decade of Fitzgerald scholarship has established a solid foundation upon which one can begin to make an accurate appraisal of Fitzgerald's short story canon. This relatively brief time of intensified scrutiny of the stories has firmly established a number of well-documented conclusions about the stories, some of them rather predictable, some much less so. First, many of the stories praised in Fitzgerald's lifetime for their artistic brilliance have been shown to be, if anything, more carefully conceived and artfully crafted than they had been thought by Fitzgerald's contemporaries to be. Alice Hall Petry, for example, in her book-length study of the stories collected in the four volumes during Fitzgerald's lifetime, discovers layers of complexity in such stories as “The Ice Palace,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and “May Day,” as well as in such well-known, but less often examined ones as “Benediction” and “The Adjuster” (Petry, Fitzgerald's Craft of Short Fiction, xi), complexities like those which John A. Higgins began to explore in his F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Stories (1971). And in a somewhat different vein, new studies, particularly those contained in Bryer's New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, have pointed to underexamined and undervalued performances, among them, “The Spire and the Gargoyle,” “Dalrymple Goes Wrong,” “Benediction,” “Outside the Cabinet Maker's,” and “Jacob's Ladder.”

Also in the course of analyses such as those contained in Bryer's The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, a number of scholars have begun to examine subtle connections between related stories not obviously connected to each other. While some individual stories were conceived of as part of a series (those in the Basil Duke Lee and Josephine Perry series, or the Pat Hobby series, for example), others are connected less directly, and their connections had for decades after Fitzgerald's death been largely overlooked. Lawrence Buell's study of Fitzgerald's “fantasy stories,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” “The Adjuster,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons,” and others, is one of a number of studies which have explored subtle, previously ignored connections between stories, as is C. Hugh Holman's analysis of the Tarleton, Georgia, trilogy, including “The Ice Palace,” “The Jelly-Bean,” and “The Last of the Belles” (Bryer, New Approaches, 23-38; 53-64). And finally, the stories have entered the era of post-structuralist analysis and gender studies, revealing further evidence of their timeless value in documenting the degree to which they address, sometimes with surprisingly post-modernist vision, enduring aspects of the human condition. Susan F. Beegel, for instance, applying to the short stories a perspective used earlier by Sarah Beebe Fryer in her study of the novels, Fitzgerald's New Women: Harbingers of Change, examines the degree to which a story often regarded as simply “humorist” like “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” provides in fact a serious contribution to the discourse in contemporary women's studies (Bryer, New Essays, 58-73).

Any examination of Fitzgerald's short story canon must, of course, take into account those issues referred to above, many of them prompted as they have been by careful analysis undertaken in light of late twentieth-century critical theory; it must acknowledge the richness of Fitzgerald's very best stories; it must search for undiscovered strengths in the neglected stories; it must find connections in those stories not ordinarily connected in an effort to examine tropes that wind through the body of Fitzgerald's fiction, short and long; and it must examine the degree to which Fitzgerald's short fiction, often through subtext, both deconstructs post-World War I values and also speaks to issues that transcend the modern. Any thorough study, however, must also be undertaken with an eye on inclusiveness: it must account for, or at least be able to account for, the place of every single story, the weakest and the strongest, in Fitzgerald's overall development as a professional writer and literary artist. Ultimately it must work toward reconciling the existence of “Fitzgerald A” and “Fitzgerald B,” and finally keep open the possibility that the two Fitzgeralds, the short story writer and the novelist, may finally have been in much closer touch with each other than conventional wisdom has thus far placed them.

It is thus important in considering Fitzgerald's short stories to acknowledge from the beginning that he was a literary artist who was also a professional writer. The relationship between his short story writing and his novel writing in the development of his literary artistry could easily serve as a paradigm for the central dilemma of professional authorship, described by William Charvat in The Profession of Authorship in America in this way:

The terms of professional writing are these: that it provides a living for the author, like any other job; that it is a main and prolonged, rather than intermittent or sporadic, resource for the writer; that it is produced with the hope of extended sale in the open market, like any article of commerce; and that it is written with reference to buyers' tastes and reading habits. The problem of the professional writer is not identical with that of the literary artist; but when a literary artist is also a professional writer, he cannot solve the problems of the one function without reference to the other.

(Charvat, Profession, 3)

Early in his career Fitzgerald grasped the seemingly conflicting demands on the literary artist who is also a professional writer, and he spent much of his life reconciling them.7

Indeed, in a retrospective look at his career immediately preceding the publication of This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald notes the point at which he recalls becoming aware of the required structure of a professional author's life: “While I waited for the novel to appear, the metamorphosis of amateur into professional began to take place … the stitching together of your life in such a way that the end of one job automatically becomes the beginning of the next” (Crack-Up, 86). In practical terms this meant, for the moment, that Fitzgerald, until This Side of Paradise began earning money, needed to support himself by writing short stories that would pay his bills. With this realization, he began a cycle that would continue until his death: he would write stories to sustain himself and his family between novels—novels, as it turns out, whose royalties rarely provided him more than a brief respite from story writing. On one level, then, throughout his life Fitzgerald continued writing stories, as he told Hemingway, “to have money ahead to write decent books” (Hemingway, Moveable Feast, 153). On another level, he came to what was perhaps the even more important realization that he could use the stories as a workshop for subjects, themes, and techniques that he would continue to develop in later stories and novels. The foundation for this use of the magazines as a workshop for later works was established long before This Side of Paradise went to press in the earliest years of his apprenticeship.

Fitzgerald's apprenticeship began when he was thirteen, with the 1909 publication in St. Paul's Academy's Now and Then of a detective story, “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage”; it ended with the 1917 publication in Princeton's Nassau Literary Magazine of what is clearly the most complex of his juvenile pieces, “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw.” The thirteen stories of Fitzgerald's apprenticeship were scattered among Now and Then, the Newman News (the Newman School's literary magazine), and the Nassau Literary Magazine. Few would argue that there are neglected masterpieces among Fitzgerald's apprenticeship stories though there are clearly brilliant moments in many of them. Nor would one likely suggest that there are startling connections between any single juvenile story and Fitzgerald's best mature work, a point noted by John Kuehl in his introduction to The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald: 1909-1917 “The points of similarity … are scattered rather than clustered; no one juvenile work shares themes, characters, and techniques with any single work written during maturity” (Apprentice Fiction [The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald: 1909-1917], 15). What one can see by following the apprenticeship stories chronologically, however, is Fitzgerald's intuitive development in rather clear stages of the talent that would reach its high point in The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, as well as in many of the extraordinary stories that cluster around these novels.

The four earliest stories, which appeared in Now and Then, show a young Fitzgerald experimenting with first- and third-person points of view, and managing particularly well in the first-person narratives such as “The Room with the Green Blinds” to approach what Malcolm Cowley referred to as “double vision” (Kazin, F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work, 146): his ability to immerse the reader in experience at an emotional and sensory level, while at the same time allowing him to stand back at a distance and criticize the experience intellectually. In the three Newman News stories, on the other hand, Fitzgerald seems less concerned with technical matters than with developing the leisure-class material that will later become his trademark, focusing particularly in two of the stories, “A Luckless Santa Claus” and “The Trail of the Duke,” on the femme fatale, who will figure prominently in This Side of Paradise and in such flapper stories as “The Offshore Pirate” and “Rags Martin-Jones and the Pr-nce of W-les,” to name two of more than a dozen. While all three of the Newman News stories have trivial plots, they are important in marking the point in Fitzgerald's life when he laid claim to what he came to consider his material: youth, wealth, and beauty; and they are noteworthy in pointing ahead to the kind of brilliant prose passages that were the saving grace of even his weakest stories, prose that would lead Dorothy Parker to comment that, though Fitzgerald could write a bad story, he could not write badly. Even the earliest stories of his apprenticeship contain such passages, among them this one from “The Trail of the Duke”: “Inside, through screen, window and door fled the bugs and gathered around the lights like so many humans at a carnival, buzzing, thugging, whirring … In the flats that line upper New York, pianos (sweatting [sic] ebony perspiration) ground out ragtime tunes of last winter and here and there a wan woman sang the air in a hot soprano” (Apprentice Fiction, 54).

Not surprising, of course, is the fact that Fitzgerald's most sophisticated apprenticeship stories are the ones he wrote while an undergraduate at Princeton, those six stories that appeared in the Nassau Literary Magazine, several of which were later revised and published in the Smart Set (e.g., “Tarquin of Cheepside,” “The Ordeal,” “Babes in the Woods”) and some of which were incorporated with changes into This Side of Paradise after their publication in both the Nassau Lit and the Smart Set (e.g., “Babes in the Woods”). Though the Nassau Lit stories reveal a developing writer aware of intricacies of point of view and a writer, by this time, settled already into his leisure-class subject matter, they are perhaps distinguishable from the earlier stories mainly in their possessing a characteristic attitude that Fitzgerald would later take toward his material, an attitude that he would call his “stamp” of “[t]aking things hard”: “That's the stamp that goes into my books so that people can read it blind like Braille,” he later remarked (Bruccoli et al., Romantic Egoists, 27). This stamp is most evident in two of the best of these stories, “The Spire and the Gargoyle” and “Sentiment and the Use of Rouge,” in which main characters “take hard” the lack of money and the transient quality of beauty.

It is, of course, unlikely that Fitzgerald consciously set out during the various phases of his apprenticeship to focus narrowly and systematically on a single aspect of his talent such as experimentation with subtleties of viewpoint; it is furthermore unlikely that he then proceeded to another, such as the claiming of an exclusive domain of material—youth, wealth, and beauty; or that he finally and knowingly marked all that he wrote with his “stamp” of “taking things hard.” It is true, however, that by the time he made the transition from amateur to professional, by the time he sold his first novel to Scribners and his first stories to the Smart Set and the Saturday Evening Post, the foundations of his mature talent—double vision, his material, and his stamp—were in place, granted of course that they would require and receive much refinement in the years to follow. In retrospect Fitzgerald had established with his apprenticeship stories a pattern by which he would develop themes, subjects, and techniques in his short stories that he would later experiment with and refine in novels and other stories. His extensive borrowing and reworking of earlier material for This Side of Paradise, in fact, led one critic to refer to the novel as “The Collected Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald” (Bryer, Critical Reception, 22). As he became more sophisticated, especially during and after the composition of The Great Gatsby the ‘borrowing’ became more subtle, as in the case of a story like “Winter Dreams,” which he referred to as “A sort of 1st draft of the Gatsby idea” (Dear Scott/Dear Max, 112). Later, as his alcoholism dulled the edge of his ability to compose freshly, particularly in the instance of his numerous revisions of Tender Is the Night, he actually lifted complete passages from the cluster stories and used them unaltered in the novel, a fact which ultimately strengthened the novel as it limited the number of stories that he could consider including in Taps at Reveille, since he did not want to be accused of selling warmed-over fare.

From beginning to end, the relationship between Fitzgerald the short story writer and Fitzgerald the novelist was complex and integral. But about this relationship one is safe in making this general observation: he was at his best as a novelist during the time he was also writing his best short stories, during those periods when solving the problems of the professional writer seemed quite often to coincide with solving the problems of the literary artist. In the months during which Fitzgerald waited for This Side of Paradise to appear, and indeed during the two-year period leading through the publication of the first and second story collections, Flappers and Philosophers and Tales of the Jazz Age, the problems of the one did not seem to coincide with the problems of the other, and Fitzgerald's transition into the profession of authorship was bumpy, a period of uncertainty regarding the audience for which he was writing and about the suitability of various subjects that he wished to explore in his short stories. Clearly he was buoyed up by the sale of his gimmicky flapper story, “Head and Shoulders,” to the Post and even more excited by the sale of its movie rights for $2,500, but he was frustrated by the fact that “The Ice Palace,” the second story bought by the Post and perhaps his best story to date, was delayed in its publication, apparently on hold until the magazine was able to sandwich it between the lighter flapper stories, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” and “The Offshore Pirate.” He was also baffled that Ober, who had become his agent in November 1919, had difficulty placing such “realistic” stories as “The Smilers” even with serious publications like Scribner's Magazine. His frustration led him to write Ober, asking, “Is there any market at all for the cynical or pessimistic story except the Smart Set or does realism bar a story from any well-paying magazine no matter how cleverly it's done?” (As Ever, Scott Fitz, 7). His difficulty in placing his excellent “realistic” story, “May Day,” which he finally sold to the Smart Set for a mere $200, must have provided a sobering answer, to which would be added the frustration he experienced when Ober had no luck selling the brilliant story, “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” for a good price to a popular magazine like the Post and Fitzgerald virtually had to give it to the Smart Set for $300.

The obvious lesson regarding his short story writing that Fitzgerald was learning during this early period of exploration was that the magazines paying the highest prices for his stories, like the Post, preferred, with some exceptions, his light, entertaining, gimmicky stories, particularly his flapper stories. The more serious stories, especially those that had a naturalistic bent like “May Day” and the weak but deterministic “Dalrymple Goes Wrong,” could be sold, but usually only to low-paying, if more prestigious, publications like the Smart Set; and it was these stories, again with some exceptions, that such magazines preferred. The literary implications of these facts are clear: first, in order to earn money Fitzgerald appropriated subjects and settings with which he had always been comfortable—youth, the wealthy, and the glamorous—and packaged them in stories that would entertain a middle-brow reading audience, stories like “Myra Meets His Family,” “The Camel's Back,” and “The Popular Girl.” But secondly, in order to please the audience he regarded as highbrow, those who might read the Smart Set and not coincidentally Mencken, who edited it, Fitzgerald experimented with literary naturalism, moving toward a “meaninglessness of life” philosophy that he seemed never able to embrace fully. His flirtation with naturalism led him to produce perhaps a half-dozen stories, among them “The Four Fists,” “The Smilers,” “The Lees of Happiness,” and “May Day,” this latter the sole triumph of his experimentation with naturalism. It finally led to what is usually regarded as his weakest novel, The Beautiful and Damned.

Of the thirteen published stories available for inclusion in Flappers and Philosophers, Fitzgerald selected eight that accurately represented the range of stories he had written in the first year of his professional career, and consequently the volume sharply underscored the tension between the popular audience for which he had been writing and the “literary” one. Two of the stories were from the Smart Set: “Benediction,” a reworked version of “The Ordeal” from the Nassau Lit and one of the best stories in the collection; and “Dalrymple Goes Wrong,” a weak naturalistic tale that Fitzgerald, usually a very good judge of the quality of his work, thought of at the time as “the best story I ever wrote” (As Ever, Scott Fitz, 5). Two of the stories, “The Cut Glass Bowl” and “The Four Fists,” were from Scribner's Magazine, and are both serious, but self-consciously symbolic and overly didactic. The remaining four are from the Post: three of them, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” “The Offshore Pirate,” and “Head and Shoulders,” are ingenious flapper stories, and at least the first is worthy of the serious critical scrutiny it has, in fact, begun to receive; and finally “The Ice Palace” is a masterful North-South contrast, the first of what will be a trilogy set in Tarleton, Georgia, and unquestionably the best story in the volume.

It is fair to say that Fitzgerald during the year of the publication of This Side of Paradise, the year leading up to Flappers and Philosophers, was more sharply focused on the concern of the professional writer to earn a living than that of the literary artist to create works of lasting merit. As he struggled with the novel that would become The Beautiful and Damned he entered a dark, thankfully brief, period of his story writing, working under the spell of “the meaninglessness of life” philosophy that was for most of 1920 and 1921 the guiding light of his stories and of the novel in progress. “May Day” is the single great artistic triumph of his flirtation with naturalism, which also accounts for such relatively weak stories as “The Lees of Happiness,” “His Russet Witch,” and “Two for a Cent.” Even “The Jelly-Bean,” an underestimated piece and the second of his three Tarleton stories, was weakened by the deterministic philosophy. “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” which Fitzgerald wrote “utterly for my own amusement,” escapes the spell of naturalism and stands with “May Day” as the saving grace of the 1920-1 period.

When the moment came to assemble stories for Tales of the Jazz Age he was able to anchor the volume with “May Day” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” but he was forced to dip into the cache of his undergraduate pieces for “Jemina,” “Tarquin of Cheepside,” and “Porcelain and Pink,” and into the previously uncollected store of his earliest flapper stories, retrieving from it the light, frothy “The Camel's Back,” which he perhaps saw as balancing such darker stories as “The Jelly-Bean,” “His Russet Witch,” and “Two for a Cent” (all written for Metropolitan Magazine under contract), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons” (rejected by Metropolitan and published in Collier's), and “The Lees of Happiness,” a story from the Chicago Tribune which chronicled a popular writer's decline into a vegetable state. The bright side of this bleak period, from which came The Beautiful and Damned and his weakest story collection, Tales of the Jazz Age, is that he had during this time returned to a serious consideration of his role as literary artist, trying out what he regarded as a coherent theory for literary art and human behavior subscribed to by Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser, among other naturalists admired by Fitzgerald, though as it turned out, this was a theory not well suited to Fitzgerald either artistically or temperamentally. Ironically, by trading on the early popularity of his stories about flappers and young love, he had gained a measure of financial freedom and the security of knowing that Metropolitan would buy a fixed number of his 1920-1 stories before they could know, of course, that these stories were leading Fitzgerald toward a literary dead end. There has been much critical debate about the process that led the author of The Beautiful and Damned and of the stories in Tales of the Jazz Age to make what seems to have been an almost magical leap in three short years to the composition of his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. Granted there was energy and originality in This Side of Paradise; there were also isolated bursts of virtuosity in stories like “The Ice Palace,” leading up to the first story collection, Flappers and Philosophers; and there were extended works of extraordinary promise from the group of stories that finally worked their way into Tales of the Jazz Age, most notably “May Day” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” Nevertheless, Fitzgerald's early stories had only been related loosely to his novels, and then primarily in shared general subject, philosophy, and mood. After the publication of Tales of the Jazz Age, he began to reconcile the demands of professional writer and literary artist, skillfully using the stories he wrote for commercial magazines as a proving ground for ideas for novels, and also drawing upon narrative strategies and themes from his novels for subsequent stories, as he does, for example, in the case of “The Rich Boy,” which immediately follows The Great Gatsby and whose point of view and subject matter clearly grow out of the novel. Perhaps the most important story for understanding the leap that Fitzgerald was about to make in the direction of The Great Gatsby after All the Sad Young Men is “Winter Dreams,” written in September 1922 and the final story published under the terms of his contract with Metropolitan before that magazine went into receivership. With this story Fitzgerald began his break from the dark, deterministic stories that surrounded The Beautiful and Damned and began to look forward to The Great Gatsby, which he would complete in 1925. This “1st draft” of The Great Gatsby is a pivotal story in Fitzgerald's use of the popular magazines as a workshop for his novels, demonstrating as it does his growing awareness of the fact that he can experiment with ideas in his stories that will be developed and refined later in longer works.

With few exceptions, the eighteen stories that lie between “Winter Dreams” and “The Rich Boy” show Fitzgerald using the commercial magazines in precisely this way; on the one hand earning from them enough money to carry him through the publication of The Great Gatsby, while on the other using them as a place to experiment with his evolving ideas, particularly those about romantic illusions and the American Dream. For this purpose he used two major short story markets he had cultivated in his first two years as a professional writer: the contract market, which he had discovered through his experience with Metropolitan, and the Saturday Evening Post, which had essentially been outbid by Metropolitan for Fitzgerald's stories and which had not published one of his stories for two years. In December 1922 Fitzgerald signed a contract with the Hearst organization, by which he was paid $1,500 for an option on his 1923 story output with a guarantee that Hearst's would buy at least six stories at $1,875 per story. Of the six stories Fitzgerald wrote under the terms of this contract, the two that most clearly illustrate his working through of ideas he would refine in The Great Gatsby are “Dice, Brassknuckles & Guitar,” and “The Sensible Thing” (bought by Hearst's, but exchanged for another story and finally published in Liberty). In the first of these, Jim Powell of Tarleton, Georgia, embarks on a quixotic quest to rescue Amanthis from what he sees (wrongly as it turns out) as her loneliness, and is told by her at the end that “You're better than all of them put together, Jim” (Price, 63), a comment similar to one that Nick makes to Gatsby near the end of the novel. In the second, “The Sensible Thing,” George must leave Jonquil at what he perceives to be the irrecoverable golden age of their love to earn the money that will let him come back into her life. When he returns, he discovers that the original love is lost, never to be regained, a situation clearly anticipating Fitzgerald's treatment of Gatsby's relationship with Daisy. Typically, and again with few exceptions, the 1923 stories written with Hearst's in mind are serious ones in which Fitzgerald treats, with varying degrees of success, serious, novel-related topics. In 1924 he returned for the first time in two years to the Saturday Evening Post and published in that magazine four stories dealing with success and American business. In these stories, “Gretchen's Forty Winks,” “The Third Casket,” “The Unspeakable Egg,” and “John Jackson's Arcady,” Fitzgerald became the Post's resident expert on the American Dream, trying out in them ideas that would inform not only Gatsby's experiences in the novel, but also George Wilson's and Mr. Gatz's as well. A third market for the Gatsby cluster stories was the American Mercury, a glossier version of the by-then-defunct Smart Set, which published “Absolution,” one of the most important stories of the period and the one referred to by Fitzgerald as a “prologue” to The Great Gatsby (Piper, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait, 104). The publication of this story illustrates how committed Fitzgerald had become to the idea of using all of his work-in-progress, in this case a discarded prologue to a very early draft, which does not survive, of the novel that would become The Great Gatsby. The main exceptions to Fitzgerald's advances in reconciling the conflicting demands of professional authorship and literary artistry during this period bounded by Tales of the Jazz Age and All the Sad Young Men come near the end of his completion of the novel, a time during which he reverted to old, tried material and produced such weak stories as “The Pusher in the Face,” “One of My Oldest Friends,” and “Not in the Guidebook” for Woman's Home Companion.

What can be known for certain is that by the end of the crucial 1923-5 period, devoted to the time-consuming writing and producing of his play, The Vegetable, and also writing and publishing some twenty short stories, Fitzgerald had managed also to create his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. This novel succeeds in large part because he had developed a mastery of his craft far exceeding that in evidence in his first two novels. In The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald constructs a story that operates on many levels and at varying levels of abstraction. On one level it is the simple story of Jay Gatsby's love for Daisy Buchanan, a love story reminiscent of the one in “The Sensible Thing”; on another it is a story of the American Dream, of the infinite promise that with hard work one can achieve the best that America has to offer, a subject he had dealt with in the Post success stories; and on another, it is a story of the ideal quest, which he had worked with earlier in “Winter Dreams.” Through skillful use of narrative point of view Fitzgerald manages in the novel to sustain the tension in the various levels of the story and communicate to the reader the kind of double vision that he himself had. And through his use of unforgettable images such as the eyes of T. J. Eckleburg and the Valley of Ashes he was able through the novel to convey, in Maxwell Perkins's words, a “sort of sense of eternity” (Dear Scott/Dear Max, 84).

There are various schools of thought regarding Fitzgerald's maturation as an artist during this time, particularly regarding the role of the short stories in his progress toward The Great Gatsby. One school, of which James E. Miller is a spokesman, attributes the leap largely to conscious aesthetic considerations such as Fitzgerald's decision to abandon the artistic principle of “saturation” (evidenced in This Side of Paradise and in early, expansive stories) in favor of the Jamesian principle of “selected incident,” or to his absorption of Conradian principles related to point of view (Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique). Another line of thought articulated by Milton R. Stern, among others, attributes the leap both to Fitzgerald's increased aesthetic awareness and to a growth spurt in Fitzgerald's maturity as well as a general broadening of his vision (Stern, The Golden Moment). This latter argument is elaborated upon with particular application to the short stories by Petry, who focuses sharply on “Fitzgerald's changing perception of his wife and his increasingly astute understanding of his own responsibility for their troubled relationship [which] had a direct and immediate impact on his art” (Petry, Fitzgerald's Craft, 6). This changing perception, as Petry sees it, accounts in large part for the radical improvement in the stories in All the Sad Young Men over those in Tales of the Jazz Age. To these observations must be added another, perhaps in part an extension of the ideas mentioned above, but worth emphasizing in regard to the stories. Fitzgerald, during the 1922-5 period, began for the first time in his professional career to see the demands of the professional writer to be, if not precisely the same as, then at least not entirely incompatible with, those of the literary artist, as the stories selected for inclusion in All the Sad Young Men clearly demonstrate. Four of the stories, “Winter Dreams,” “Absolution,” “‘The Sensible Thing’,” and “The Rich Boy,” have direct ties to The Great Gatsby and are among the strongest of Fitzgerald's 178 stories. Four additional ones, “Hot & Cold Blood,” “Gretchen's Forty Winks,” “The Baby Party,” and “The Adjuster,” though weaker, all deal with serious, Gatsby-related subjects such as lost ideals, strained marriages, and material success. Conspicuously absent from All the Sad Young Men are the gimmicky flapper stories so often singled out for criticism in reviews of earlier volumes, a consideration which no doubt figured in Fitzgerald's decision to omit “Dice, Brassknuckles & Guitar,” an important, though at least on its surface, commercial, Gatsby cluster story, from All the Sad Young Men.

In the years separating this third collection from his fourth and final one, Taps at Reveille—years during which Fitzgerald carried Tender Is the Night through eighteen complete drafts to publication in 1934, during which his wife suffered two major mental breakdowns, and during which Fitzgerald himself battled on and off with alcoholism—he managed to publish an astonishing fifty-six stories, all but eight of them in the Saturday Evening Post, and many of them, including “Babylon Revisited,” among the finest of his career. Having shopped around for markets for his stories in the six years leading up to The Great Gatsby and All the Sad Young Men, Fitzgerald, during the period leading up to Taps at Reveille, settled into a sustained relationship with the Post, which was the mouthpiece of middle America during the 1920s and 1930s. He became, according to Ober, a virtual employee of the Post, primarily because it paid the highest prices for fiction of any magazine in America (As Ever, Scott Fitz, 192). During these years Fitzgerald earned prices ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 per story from the Post, and it came to serve as an ideal, predictable, and lucrative workshop for ideas, characters, and settings that he was developing for Tender Is the Night.

The seventeen Tender Is the Night cluster stories that appeared in the Post indeed reflect the extraordinary complexity of the novel itself, which explores through shifting viewpoints the intersecting stories of the American psychiatrist Dick Diver and his schizophrenic wife Nicole, tracing Dick's tragic decline into emotional bankruptcy as it simultaneously documents Nicole's ascent to greater emotional stability and independence. In five of the stories, “Love in the Night,” “A Penny Spent,” “Majesty,” “The Bridal Party,” and “The Hotel Child,” Fitzgerald develops the European setting, particularly the French Riviera, that will provide the backdrop for much of the novel. In some cases, as in “Love in the Night,” he experiments with specific scenes such as the Privateer yacht scene in the story that he will develop into the T. F. Golding yacht episode in the novel, an important one in which Nicole meets Tommy Barban again for the first time in five years. Eight other stories, “Jacob's Ladder,” “Magnetism,” “The Rough Crossing,” “The Swimmers,” “Two Wrongs,” “One Trip Abroad,” “Indecision,” and “A New Leaf,” are essentially dress rehearsals for characters in Tender Is the Night, in which Fitzgerald explores interactions between characters in the Dick-Nicole-Rosemary and Dick-Nicole-Tommy triangles in the novel. An additional group of four stories, “The Love Boat,” “At Your Age,” “Babylon Revisited,” and “On Schedule,” are close thematically to the novel, sharing particularly, as in “Babylon Revisited,” the novel's mood of loss and regret, and in the other three stories the sadness of lost youth brought into high relief through relationships between older men and younger women, explored in the novel in the Dick-Rosemary relationship.

The Tender Is the Night cluster stories are perhaps the most significant group of stories that Fitzgerald ever wrote when they are considered together and in the context of his uniting in them the concerns of the professional writer and literary artist. They show him in many cases walking a thin line between the demands of contemporary popular readers and discriminating critics, a feat all the more impressive given typical biases of his Post readers in the 1920s and 1930s against frank treatment of such subjects as alcoholism and suicide (“The Swimmers”); expatriation (“Majesty”); disillusionment (“The Love Boat”); and dissipation (“One Trip Abroad”), among others. But Fitzgerald, who had already written in The Great Gatsby one of the strongest indictments of American materialism and who was about to write in Tender Is the Night a poignant prophesy of the decline of Western civilization, had indeed developed by the time of these stories a mastery of the craft that enabled him at least at times in magazine stories like many of these to write honestly, as his artistic conscience dictated, and at the same time to entertain an audience that seems in retrospect a rather unlikely one upon whom to try out his serious Tender Is the Night subjects and themes.

The stories that cluster around Tender Is the Night, of course, account for only seventeen of Fitzgerald's Post contributions in the Taps at Reveille period; and the story of his success with this magazine, which reached a high point around 1930 with “Babylon Revisited,” as well as his gradual loss of it, marked in 1937 by his final Post story, “Trouble,” is complex. In the first several years of the period, during which he was publishing the serious novel-related stories such as “Jacob's Ladder” and “Magnetism” in the Post, Fitzgerald also began working on a group of retrospective stories dealing with the subject of adolescence. Among these are “Presumption,” “The Adolescent Marriage,” “A Short Trip Home,” and “The Bowl.” And though none of them, arguably with the exception of “The Bowl,” ranks high in his story canon, these stories, all containing young protagonists, foreshadow and, in fact, pave the way for the Basil Duke Lee-Josephine Perry stories, which were unquestionably popular successes, and in the cases of several individual stories, artistic triumphs.

The eight Basil Duke Lee stories taken together comprise a novelette of growth, chronicling the social and moral development of a resourceful boy, a romantic hero, not unlike Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise (or Fitzgerald for that matter) in his adolescence. Typically, Basil's adventures involve a beautiful, rich girl, Basil's arch rival, and usually a situation that leads him to some conclusion about life that he has not thought about before. In one instance from “The Captured Shadow,” for example, Basil knowingly allows a small boy to catch the mumps so that the boy's family—in particular, his attractive sister, who is scheduled to play the lead in one of Basil's plays—will not be able to leave town on vacation; and though Basil is successful with his plotting, he comes through the experience wiser, as he does in virtually all of the stories. Fitzgerald's success in this series comes mainly from his ability to entertain with the ingenious and hilarious situations in which he places Basil. As Ober told him, “I shall never be satisfied until I hear more about Basil, and I think everyone who reads the stories feels the same way” (As Ever, Scott Fitz, 116). But the stories succeed also because Fitzgerald is able to distance himself aesthetically from his subject in a way he had not been able to do with Amory Blaine, whom Basil in superficial ways resembles. Fitzgerald maintains this same kind of ironic stance in relation to Josephine Perry, the adolescent protagonist of five Post stories that chronologically follow the Basil series, though Josephine is by no means simply a female version of Basil. Whereas Basil was largely a sympathetic figure, who progressively endeared himself to the reader as he grew toward self-knowledge in episode after episode, Josephine is a spoiled rich girl who moves step by step toward the condition referred to in the title of the final story of the series, “Emotional Bankruptcy,” a state of emotional depletion which most readers will agree she has earned through her snobbishness and insensitivity to others.

In addition to the unquestionable artistic value of these stories is the fact that they played an important role in Fitzgerald's maintaining the Post as a workshop for his novel. The early adolescence stories were scattered among the early Tender Is the Night cluster stories; the Basil stories, published as they were almost back-to-back in 1928, in effect provide audiences with a one-year break from the dark novel-related stories such as “The Rough Crossing” and “The Swimmers”; and the Josephine stories appear in a kind of alternating pattern with the bleakest of the Tender Is the Night stories such as “One Trip Abroad,” and “A New Leaf.” While there is no correspondence that reveals why Fitzgerald, in the midst of composing Tender Is the Night, suddenly also began writing retrospective stories about adolescence, a partial explanation is that he knew these stories would be acceptable to Post editors because they would be popular with the magazine's readers, a fact that he could not count on with the novel-related stories, which often pushed the limits of what was acceptable for a popular magazine. Thus these adolescence stories gave Fitzgerald a guaranteed income during an important period of the composition of the novel, and they allowed him to practice his craft, particularly that part of it related to narrative viewpoint and aesthetic distance, considerations of great significance in his most ambitious novel, Tender Is the Night.

With the final Josephine story, “Emotional Bankruptcy,” Fitzgerald had begun to blend the serious concept of emotional depletion that is at the heart of Dick Diver's story in the novel with his entertaining narratives about adolescence, and from approximately the time of this story forward he seemed, for whatever combination of reasons, to lose a sense of the tastes of his popular magazine audience that he was never able fully to regain. Between “Emotional Bankruptcy” and the publication of Taps at Reveille, he published twenty more stories in the Post, but virtually all of them lacked the spark of his Tender Is the Night cluster stories and the Basil and Josephine stories. Most of the works of the period of Fitzgerald's declining popularity with the Post are characterized by a retrospective quality that had, even as recently as 1928, worked to Fitzgerald's advantage, as is evidenced by “The Last of the Belles,” in which Fitzgerald reached back into his early Tarleton, Georgia, series (including “The Ice Palace,” “The Jelly-Bean,” and “Dice, Brassknuckles & Guitar”) and retrieved Ailie Calhoun, one of his most memorable heroines. But by 1933, even the best of his retrospective stories such as “More than Just a House,” lack freshness and are characterized by blurred focus and multiple plots, not always clearly related to each other. There is about his stories in the years immediately preceding Tender Is the Night an almost desperate quality that one senses results from Fitzgerald's searching for stories that he once wrote with such seeming effortlessness, stories that he could not now quite find. He attempted, for example, a series of loosely related stories involving the medical profession, including “Her Last Case,” “Zone of Accident,” and “One Interne,” but was unable to sustain it. The Post began rejecting more and more of his submissions, and his prices for individual stories began steadily dropping from $4,000 to $3,500 to $2,500, and finally to $2,000, which was the price he earned for his last Post story.

With the disappointment of his gradual but inevitable loss of the Post and the even more devastating critical reception of Tender Is the Night (published in 1934), Fitzgerald clearly wanted to assemble the strongest possible story collection to serve as a companion volume for the novel. The Fitzgerald-Perkins correspondence outlines several alternatives for constructing what would become Taps at Reveille, including the possibility that it could be an omnibus volume containing strong selections from the three previous story volumes, supplemented by the best of his work since the last one (Dear Scott/Dear Max, 195-201). Finally, following the precedent set by those three volumes, they agreed to use only stories from the fifty-six published since 1926. Perkins favored a collection consisting primarily of Basil and Josephine stories, an idea that Fitzgerald opposed since he did not want critics to consider the book as his next novel. He also objected to filling the volume with his Tender Is the Night cluster stories, since many of them had been stripped of scenes and passages that had been included in the novel, and would, if included, leave him open to criticism that he was recycling material. The two finally agreed on a volume that would include some of the Basil and Josephine stories (to be scattered through the volume rather than run as units), a few Tender Is the Night cluster stories, and assorted selections representing the magazine work that Fitzgerald had done outside those two groups since All the Sad Young Men.

The volume that was finally published contained four Tender Is the Night cluster stories: “Babylon Revisited,” which was unquestionably the strongest story in the collection; and “Majesty,” “Two Wrongs,” and “Crazy Sunday,” the last of these a strong story with ties both to Tender Is the Night and The Last Tycoon. Interestingly, “Majesty” and “Two Wrongs” are among the weakest of the novel-related stories, and there is no question that the inclusion of “One Trip Abroad,” “The Swimmers,” or “The Rough Crossing,” all too clearly linked to Tender Is the Night in Fitzgerald's eyes, in the place of either of them would have strengthened the volume. Five of the eight Basil stories were included, as were three of the five Josephine stories, which meant that they occupied more than half the volume. Outside of these groups Fitzgerald understandably chose “The Last of the Belles,” his beautifully nostalgic farewell to the South. The remaining choices, however, are curious: “One Interne,” from the aborted series of Post stories about the medical profession; “Family in the Wind,” one of the long rambling stories that manifests the lack of focus and disjointedness that caused Fitzgerald to lose the Post; “A Short Trip Home,” one of the adolescence stories which precedes the Basil and Josephine stories and weaker than “The Bowl,” which might have replaced it; and finally, “The Night Before Chancellorsville” and “The Fiend,” two relatively short pieces that had appeared in Esquire, for which Fitzgerald had just begun to write—stories exhibiting what would become known as his sparser, more economical “new manner,” but nevertheless stories weaker than numerous ones whose place they took in Taps at Reveille.

Whether by accident or design Fitzgerald had assembled each of his short story volumes in such a way that it would be representative of the various kinds of stories he had been writing since the volume that preceded it. In this, Taps at Reveille clearly is no exception; it does, however, differ from earlier volumes in foreshadowing, perhaps eerily so, the direction that his short story writing career would take in the years leading up to his death in December 1940. Taps at Reveille had been published in March 1935. As it went to press, Fitzgerald completed work on “Zone of Accident,” which would be the dead end of his series about the medical profession, represented in Taps at Reveille by “One Interne.” Also, while the collection was in press, he devoted two months to writing “The Passionate Eskimo” and “The Intimate Strangers,” the first two of what would become a group of stories written for the Post but rejected because of weaknesses evident in such Taps at Reveille stories as “Family in the Wind” and published finally in slick magazines such as McCall's, Liberty and Collier's, generally considered a step down from the Post. Then in December, he tried to launch a new series of stories about Gwen Bowers, a young girl approximately his own daughter's age, a series clearly inspired by his success with the Josephine Perry stories. The Post bought the first two stories but rejected the third, in effect ending the series. His last success with the Post was bittersweet, a pilot for a series of stories about a nurse whose nickname, “Trouble,” provided the title for the first story and with sad irony predicted the series' fate. There would be no sequel to this story, which earned for Fitzgerald only his 1925 price of $2,000; and though he would try many times after “‘Trouble’” to regain his favorite popular audience, he was never again able to write a story the Post would accept.

The two Esquire selections in Taps at Reveille (“The Fiend” and “The Night Before Chancellorsville”) point to what would emerge as the dominant force in Fitzgerald's career as a short story writer in the last years of his life. Fitzgerald had sent these two stories to Esquire after its editor, Arnold Gingrich, had accepted a collaborative essay, largely the work of Zelda Fitzgerald, in early 1934. And Gingrich, who had long been an admirer of Fitzgerald's work, encouraged him to send virtually anything he wrote for publication in Esquire. He would pay Fitzgerald “[$]200-250 for a mere appearance (1,000 to 2,000 words in any genre),” Fitzgerald reported to Ober (As Ever, Scott Fitz, 291). In the years that followed, Fitzgerald's work would appear in Esquire forty-five times, thirty-six of these in the form of what could loosely be called short stories. All of these stories were written in Fitzgerald's “later style,” which was characterized by pared-down prose, uncomplicated story lines, and generally sparser description—in essence all of those things that his Post stories had not been. While the Post stories, for example, had averaged 6,000 words, the Esquire stories were typically 2,000 words. And while the Post stories were heavily plotted and neatly resolved at the end, the Esquire stories were often built around a single, simple episode which was often left unresolved. In effect, Fitzgerald was able in the stories that he wrote with Esquire in mind to write as he chose to, knowing that his work would be published. The final effect of this latitude on Fitzgerald's artistic development is debatable, but some of the immediate results were positive. In one of the shorter of these sketches, the 1,200-word “The Lost Decade,” Fitzgerald artfully captures his main character's feeling of disorientation after he has come back from being “every-which-way drunk” for a decade by rendering his sensory experience of feeling a building's granite and the texture of his own coat. In the longer “Design in Plaster,” he focuses on a single night in the life of Martin Harris, whose extraordinary frustrations in life are brought into high relief by the immediate dilemma of his having a broken shoulder. Thus with these two stories, to which can be added two others, “Financing Finnegan” and the later Pat Hobby story, “A Patriotic Short,” Fitzgerald added good stories to the body of his work. Unfortunately these strong stories are the exception, and far more of the Esquire sketches lack redeeming value, as in the case of one of the weakest, “Shaggy's Morning,” a stream of consciousness narration from a dog's point of view which fails utterly to make it clear why his reflections are worth reading about.

In the final year of his life Fitzgerald conceived of the idea of writing a series of stories about a “scenario hack” named Pat Hobby, whose sad predicament represented a caricature of what Fitzgerald feared he himself might become. The seventeen stories he developed in this series probably stand, if considered together, as Fitzgerald's most worthwhile artistic achievement to emerge from his Esquire contributions. The individual Pat Hobby stories typically follow a pattern in which Pat starts at a low point in his life, finds an angle that seems worth pursuing to improve his plight, and then sinks again into failure. In a characteristic story, “Pat Hobby's Secret,” for example, Pat comes close to success when he becomes the only one who knows the secret ending for a script whose writer has just been murdered; but his success is undermined when he develops amnesia, in part because he has witnessed the murder of the writer, and thus he loses the contract that he would have had if he had recalled the ending. In the strongest story of the Pat Hobby series and one of the best of his Esquire pieces, “A Patriotic Short,” Fitzgerald uncharacteristically gives Pat a past, which effectively draws the reader into his character much more deeply than usual, and in the process hints at what Fitzgerald might have done with this series if he had not been so reliant on turning the stories out quickly for the $250 that he seemed always to need so desperately in that last year.

Gingrich, understandably, defended the Pat Hobby stories as evidence that Fitzgerald was turning out “good copy” in the year before his death, and that these stories were his “last word from his last home” (PH [The Pat Hobby Stories], ix-xxiii). There is no question that Esquire provided an outlet for his story writing that he seemed unable to find elsewhere. However, if one takes a broad view of Fitzgerald's twenty-year career, it becomes clear that the close relationship between his short story writing and his novel writing that he had spent his entire professional life developing is absent during the Esquire years. The composition dates of the Pat Hobby stories, after all, coincide with the composition period of The Last Tycoon, which Fitzgerald was laboriously working on when he died. Yet all that the Pat Hobby stories share with the novel is their Hollywood setting, whose particulars never seem to overlap. And clearly, there are no dress rehearsals for Monroe Stahr, Kathleen, or Cecelia Brady in the Esquire stories, as there were many dress rehearsals for Dick and Nicole Diver and Rosemary Hoyt in the stories leading up to Tender Is the Night.

One might reasonably conclude, with only the thirty-six Esquire stories and The Last Tycoon fragment on which to form a judgment, that Fitzgerald himself ultimately gave up on reconciling the roles of professional author and literary artist that seemed for so much of his life to be a primary goal. The Pat Hobby stories, however, do not turn out to be Fitzgerald's only “last word from his last home,” and there is good reason to believe that in that final year, more diligently than he had since his Tender Is the Night cluster stories, Fitzgerald was working to reestablish the popular magazines as his “more orderly writer's notebooks” for The Last Tycoon. Two stories, written in 1939 and 1940 and published posthumously, show him with vintage sparkle shaping for a popular audience other than Esquire his serious material from The Last Tycoon: “Discard,” published by Harper's Bazaar in 1948, presents a convincing study of the corrupt Hollywood that Stahr was to be up against in the novel, and “Last Kiss,” billed by Collier's as a story that “contain[s] the seed that grew into the novel The Last Tycoon, which Fitzgerald was writing when he died,”8 indeed contains counterparts to Stahr and Kathleen, as well as echoes of their lost love. There is no correspondence to suggest how Fitzgerald planned to market “Last Kiss,” but his exchanges with Ober concerning “Discard” indicate that he wrote this story for Collier's, which declined it, and then rewrote it for the Post, which also finally rejected it for the reason, Ober concluded, that it was still too subtle for a popular audience (As Ever, Scott Fitz, 410-16). But, of course, he would continue to work on it, Fitzgerald must have promised, and they would, of course, continue to hope that he might succeed—that he might be at last what he had long ago become, and what even his short stories alone have probably made him, “one of the greatest writers who ever lived.”


  1. All figures related to Fitzgerald's earnings are taken from his Ledger.

  2. H. L. Mencken, Smart Set (December 1920), 40. Reprinted in Jackson Bryer, ed., F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Critical Reception, 48.

  3. “Too Much Fire Water,” Minneapolis Journal (December 10, 1922), 12. Reprinted in Bryer, ed., The Critical Reception, 162.

  4. Arthur Coleman, “Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald Are Merely Entertaining,” Dallas Morning News, March 24, 1935, 8. Reprinted in Bryer, ed., The Critical Reception, 339.

  5. T. S. Matthews, New Republic (April 10, 1935). Reprinted in Alfred Kazin, ed., F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work, 108.

  6. Page xii. Bruccoli was first to develop the “cluster story” concept and explore it in his The Composition of “Tender Is the Night.”

  7. For a full discussion of the role of the popular magazines in Fitzgerald's literary career, see Bryant Mangum, A Fortune Yet: Money in the Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Short Stories.

  8. “Last Kiss,” Collier's (April 16, 1949), 16.

Lilly J. Goren (essay date 2002)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7417

SOURCE: Goren, Lilly J. “A Man of Will.” In Seers and Judges: American Literature as Political Philosophy, edited by Christine Dunn Henderson, pp. 87-100. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2002.

[In the following essay, Goren examines the theme of the tension between the United States and Europe in “The Swimmers.”]

Of his short story “The Swimmers,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his editor, Harold Ober, that it was “the hardest story I ever wrote, too big for its space + not even now satisfactory. … However, its done + its not bad.”1 Written while Fitzgerald was in Cannes, France during the summer of 1929, “The Swimmers” examines Fitzgerald's enduring theme of the tension or contrast between the United States and Europe by presenting a glimpse of a period in the life of Henry Marston, a character who would provide some of the form for Fitzgerald's subsequent novel, Tender Is the Night. Little is written about this Fitzgerald short story, a story that examines familiar themes but that is dissimilar from much of Fitzgerald's writing because of its sentimental and patriotic ending. In surveying scholars of Fitzgerald's work who have given this story some attention, many of these observers note the story's merits as well as its difficulties while also puzzling over the story's fate in obscurity.2

The conflict or tension between America and Europe is an enduring theme, not only in Fitzgerald's work, but also in the work of many American writers. The best of those who have considered the contrast between America and Europe—of which Fitzgerald undoubtedly is one—explore more than just the differences in manners or cultures. Frequently beginning with these matters of culture, their investigations probe more deeply, considering the class structures existing in the various societies and whether the regime structures influenced the general disposition of the countries and their citizenries. These are rather grand and extensive themes and Fitzgerald's treatment of them is one of the reasons why “The Swimmers” may be too big for its space. Fitzgerald also includes considerations about the idea of masculinity, which he treats almost as a subtheme connected to the broader concerns of the contrast between America and Europe. While patriotism and masculinity and sexuality have often been associated with one another, they tend to be so associated in context of military expeditions and events, not so much in context of the life of an expatriate American in Paris.

But in “The Swimmers,” Fitzgerald uses the character of Henry Clay Marston to investigate these issues and their connections. Henry, a Virginian by birth, had moved to France and married a bourgeoisie woman with whom he had two sons. Fitzgerald uses the character of Henry's French wife, Choupette, to contrast with Henry and to cast further light upon distinctive American qualities. Choupette is not the most faithful of spouses, and the story begins as Henry's discovery of her infidelities leads him first to a nervous breakdown and then to some recuperation at the beach. While at the beach, Henry nearly drowns when trying to rescue a woman in the sea. The near-drowning episode prompts Henry to reconsider the reasons why he moved to France in the first place, and he decides that it is time to return to the United States, where he can earn much more money than he can in France. There are a number of more minor characters within the story—some of whom are not even named—who tend to have larger roles while occupying rather little space, in particular the drowning woman who Henry tries to rescue and Charles Wiese, the man with whom Choupette becomes involved upon the family's move to the U.S.

During the course of this short story, Henry Marston realizes what Fitzgerald's most famous protagonist, Jay Gatsby, did not: that there are times when one must let go of the past, because it is the past that most weighs one down. It is not so much that the past must be run away from, as it is that one must allow one's self to let it go. And sometimes, the less weighty one's past, the easier it is to let go of it—the rootlessness of Americans may allow them to more easily and freely discard their pasts. One can take items from one's past, as Henry Marston finally did, but one must not be tied down by what came before. As Marston moves between the United States and Europe and their differing cultures and values, he learns that those differences have shaped his life and his choices, even without his clear consent at times. For Marston, unlike some of Fitzgerald's other characters, the United States provides some foundations that he was not aware of earlier in his life and that come to his rescue in a certain sense. What America provides for Marston is vital to his story and to the oddly optimistic ending of his story.

At first glance, Henry Marston does not appeal to the reader as a sympathetic character. One feels a bit of pity for him initially, but Fitzgerald does not give us much to admire in him. On the surface, Jay Gatsby or Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby are much more enticing as characters. In particular, Gatsby, who is described in a sort of ethereal way, takes on dreamlike qualities that also tend to distract the reader from concentrating on what lies underneath the surface. The first encounter we have with Marston, by contrast, is in his job as a bank clerk, and he appears to be a man of little or low ambition. We also quickly learn that Marston's wife has been unfaithful to him, perhaps more than once. The almost immediate impression is of a small man, not so much in stature, but in his presence. The opposite could be said of Fitzgerald's tragic figures from Gatsby to Richard Diver in Tender Is the Night—they are, in many respects, larger than life. But in the final analysis, Henry Marston, who came in between these two characters chronologically in Fitzgerald's writings, “turned out all right at the end.”3 He may not have ended up larger than life, but he grew into his own self, instead of continuing to shrink away into nothingness as it appears he might be doing at the beginning of “The Swimmers.”

If Marston turns out all right, we then must ask what the problem was in the first place. At the beginning of “The Swimmers,” Fitzgerald allows only a slight glimpse into why Marston has abandoned his homeland and is living in France, where he is clearly pursuing a less lucrative and prestigious career than he would have chosen back in the States. When we first come across Marston, Fitzgerald implies that America is somehow not worthy of his time or respect, and certainly cannot provide him with sufficient means to “solve” the problems with which life has presented him. We learn that “the questions which Henry Marston's life propounded could be answered only in France. His seven generations of Virginia ancestors were definitely behind him every day at noon when he turned home.”4

Or so he thought. Upon returning to his home one afternoon, Henry finds Choupette at home with a lover, involved in an adulterous “indiscretion.” Marston may, on some level, have been aware of Choupette's tendencies in this direction, but when confronted with it directly, he falls apart. This precipitates a nervous breakdown, from which it takes Marston some time to recover. His extreme reaction to discovering Choupette's “indiscretion” suggests two qualities about Marston: that he was more insecure in his station and his life in France than he might have otherwise thought; and that he has a moral core quite solidly embedded in his soul and his self. Digging out this moral core and understanding its origin is what Marston starts to do after his breakdown—but it ultimately becomes clear to him only after he returns to the United States and starts to better understand and appreciate the gifts of his once-shunned country.

As Marston begins to emerge from the initial, severe phase of the nervous breakdown precipitated by his discovery of Choupette's infidelity, he and his family set off for the French seashore so that he may fully recuperate his health and perhaps mend his marriage. This, in turn, gives Fitzgerald the opportunity to tell us a little more about Henry and his ancestors.

Henry Clay Marston was a Virginian of the kind who are prouder of being Virginians than of being Americans. That mighty word printed across a continent was less to him than the memory of his grandfather, who freed his slaves in '58, fought from Manassas to Appomattox, knew Huxley and Spencer as light reading, and believed in caste only when it expressed the best of race.


From this description, it seems that no matter how much Marston thinks he can divorce himself from his past and his country—in whatever context—there is still a significant vestige of it within him. It is not so much that Marston feels any particular attachment to his homeland at this point, since he does not. But Fitzgerald describes a certain strength of will that characterizes the Marston family—a strength derived, in large part, from the land where they live. According to Fitzgerald's description, Henry Marston is more fully formed by this strength of will and of character possessed by those who preceded him than he is willing to admit.

In contrast to the qualities of Marston's American ancestors, Choupette epitomizes nearly everything that Marston thought he wanted to take on from the European character. He knows that he gave himself over to Choupette when he married her, in his effort to deny or subsume his American heritage. He also gave to Choupette his “masculine self,” which she nearly destroyed with her indiscretion. This piecing out of himself, to a foreign country, to an unfaithful wife, to an unfulfilling job, has, at the time that we first meet Marston, undone him, or at least left him easily open to being undone. His nervous breakdown in response to Choupette's indiscretion is a result of this fragmentation. But there is a benefit that follows from this explosion (or maybe it is an implosion)—the opportunity for that strength of will that had been so long buried to come to the surface. This will give him the foundation to “come into his own,” to free up this strength and use it, finally, for his own benefit. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Marston must rejoin or reconnect with his homeland in some fashion in order to access that strength. This is one of the keys for Henry; if he can do this, then he will be able to put the various pieces of himself and his life back together.

Originally, Marston thought that he was concerned with things like society and class, family position and reputation; Choupette seemed to provide entrée to ancient European values and traditions. Even though she is an adulterous wife, Choupette still acts and speaks with a kind of moral authority of an aristocratic society as she analyzes what she would consider “improper” conduct and behavior, particularly by Americans. While at the beach, she objects to the display of “flesh” by the Americans and to what she sees as their need to try to appear to be something that they are not, suggesting that there is a kind of inappropriate ambition on their parts. Pointing to an American woman in the sea, she says, “But that young lady may be a stenographer and yet be compelled to warp herself, dressing and acting as if she had all the money in the world” (499). Choupette has an understanding of the way the parts fit within the whole of the class and cultural system in Europe. To deviate from what is proper for an individual in terms of conduct or dress or other, outward presentations is to warp one's self according to Choupette. She compares proper conduct by Europeans with their class and station:

Where would I be if I tried to act like your friend, Madame de Richepin? My father was a professor at a provincial university, and I have certain things I wouldn't do because they wouldn't please my class, my family. Madame de Richepin has other things she wouldn't do because of her class, her family.


According to Choupette, the maintenance of her class status supercedes everything else, even her family. While she would not have a position in society without her family, she glosses over the dependent relationship between the two. Interestingly, Choupette's concerns to maintain her class status do not prevent her from taking part in an adulterous affair, because such a thing would not disturb her class or family. She refers to this affair as a “certain indiscretion” on her part, downplaying the fact that she has violated her marriage vows and the intimate relationship that she and Marston are supposed to be sharing. And yet, the Americans on the beach are so distasteful to her because they display a surface indiscretion by exposing “too much” of their bodies in public. The dichotomy never seems to dawn on her; or, if it does, Fitzgerald does not make it clear to the reader that Choupette is cognizant of this dichotomy while, at the same time, he does make the reader keenly aware of this dichotomy.

Even when agreeing with Choupette about the bathing suits, Henry recognizes a certain openness in the Americans that Choupette never noticed, an openness of spirit more than of body. Fitzgerald tells us, “Though Henry was in general agreement, he could not help being amused at Choupette's choice of target this afternoon. The girl—she was perhaps eighteen—was obviously acting like nothing but herself—she was what his father would have called a thoroughbred” (499). Henry's insight here takes all of Choupette's to task, and brings them up short. She has completely misjudged this eighteen-year-old girl—and before the story is over, this young woman will have great significance in Henry's life. For it is this woman who will bring him back to his homeland, and give him his freedom, or at least a recognition of his freedom.

In his initial description of this young woman—who remains nameless throughout the story—Fitzgerald weaves together three of the major themes of this story: the question of masculinity, the particular character of America and how that is bred into the citizens, and the contrast with the European class structure. This woman, this “thoroughbred” was “at once exquisite and hardy, she was that perfect type of American girl that makes one wonder if the male is not being sacrificed to it, much as, in the last century, the lower strata in England were sacrificed to produce the governing class” (499).

By structuring his description in this fashion, Fitzgerald surreptitiously criticizes the English class system, and by implication, the European class structure as a whole. This is the obvious critique from this comparison. The less obvious critique, and one that Fitzgerald never quite resolves in this story, is the role of an individual's masculinity, especially when a man is contending with female self-awareness. Both Choupette and this American “thoroughbred” are fairly self aware; they may not be fully aware of others, particularly in Choupette's case, but they are presented to the reader of having a respectable awareness of themselves. Henry Marston, on the other hand, lacks such self-awareness in the story's early pages.

The overt theme in the exchange between Marston and Choupette on the beach had been this understanding of class that the Europeans possess that the Americans do not—though Marston's inner considerations were not critical of this difference. His thoughts were complimentary of the Americans and their disregard, in a sense, of these class structures and confines. Choupette continues her critique, noting what she regards as a certain vacuousness of the American character. “They push water, then they go elsewhere and push other water. They pass months in France and they couldn't tell you the name of the President. They are parasites such as Europe has not known in a hundred years (499).” To Choupette, somehow the Americans are different from the European leisure class, who also spend time at the beaches on the continent. Since the Americans have money, and they travel across the ocean to vacation, Choupette seems to hold them in contempt. Her implication is that they are uneducated, not even knowing the name of the president, or not bothering to learn such things; but more significantly, she suggests that they are unrefined, or perhaps uncultured, otherwise their presence could hardly be considered parasitic. If she considered these déclassé Americans her equals, then they would be enhancing Europe, rather than feeding off of it. More ironic is the fact that Henry never hears this comment, since he is, at that very moment, proving wrong much of what Choupette has been saying. The young American woman, who is a good swimmer, has been pulled under by the sea, and Henry runs to try to rescue her, though he has no idea how to swim. Even while he does not know how to swim, the plight of this unknown American has moved Henry to death-defying action, summoning his dormant will and courage. With this act of great risk, Henry jumpstarts out of his quiet, mundane shell—the shell of the man whom we first meet at the beginning of the story.

Soon after this episode, Henry decides he and his sons will learn how to swim. In this context, Fitzgerald is building a complementary relationship between Henry's desire to tackle the element that threatened his physical well-being and the development of his ability to “heal his soul.” Henry's near drowning was an assault on his body, and he has taken the initiative to prevent such an incident from happening again, to him or to his sons. As he is discovering a new physical strength, Henry's awareness of what lies in the depths of his soul is also blossoming—he is slowly coming into that strength of will that characterized his ancestors from Virginia.

Marston's evolving physical and mental strength are pivoted on this young woman who seems to awaken parts of Henry that were previously unknown to him or to the reader.

He had been about to ask her to explain a lot of things—to say what was clean and unclean, what was worth knowing and what was only words—to open up a new gate of life. Looking for a last time into her eyes, full of cool secrets, he realized how much he was going to miss these mornings, without knowing whether it was the girl who interested him or what she represented of his ever-new, ever-changing country.


Fitzgerald here follows the more familiar path of love, which brings people together because of an attraction between their souls. In The Great Gatsby it is Daisy Buchanan's voice that draws people to her. While the voice must, to some degree, be the mouthpiece of the soul (for lack of a better description), it was not so much what Daisy said, but her voice specifically: “there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen,’ a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay exciting things hovering in the next hour.”6 This description is certainly charming, and can, in and of itself, enchant a reader. But it takes one no further than an ethereal leash, drawing one's attention but not necessarily guiding in any particular direction. The Sirens of Greek mythology, like Daisy, lured men to their doom with their voices, not their eyes.7 The way that Fitzgerald describes Daisy's voice is in contrast to the most common means of seeing into another's soul, through the eyes. Marston, in contrast to all those who were enchanted by Daisy Buchanan's voice, sees in this young American woman's eyes “cool secrets”—like the cool secrets that the sea holds—and everything else that draws him to her. She also carries with her some element of the character of America, since she had initially struck him as such a keen example of a citizen from his discarded homeland, and he saw those characteristics in her eyes too. It may be that eyes cannot lie, whereas other means of attraction and seduction are better able to do so. Like Daisy Buchanan, Marston's female swimming companion is imbued with various romantic qualities, yet her character still brings one of two potential destinations into focus for Marston—his “ever-new, ever-changing country.”

His near drowning prompts Marston to learn to swim, and the “American beauty” he attempted to rescue serves as swimming instructor to Marston and his sons. After his last morning's swim with the girl, Henry is inspired to return to America, to make money, and to make himself feel more like a whole American man. As he tells Choupette, “I'm tired of getting ahead on your skimping and saving and going without dresses. I've got to make more money. American men are incomplete without money” (501). Ever since his collapse and subsequent recovery, Marston has become more aware that his life and his self were in pieces, that they were not whole. Prior to his collapse, his fragmentation had not been a problem for Marston, as Fitzgerald explains the “bargain” that Marston had originally struck by marrying Choupette and remaining in Paris. We learn that by “a process of ceaseless adaptation, he [Marston] had lived her life, substituting for the moral confusion of his own country, the tradition, the wisdom, the sophistication of France” (502).

Somehow, Choupette's indiscretion, combined with “the girl” from America who represents Marston's “ever-new, ever-changing country,” has led him to uncover his true reaction to the death of love in his marriage. According to Fitzgerald, Marston's discovery of how he felt about his marriage “had released him. For all his sense of loss, he possessed again the masculine self he had handed over to the keeping of a wise little Provençal girl eight years ago” (502). Marston has rediscovered his own, particular sense of self, more specifically, his American male self. This rediscovery of his male self may, in time, allow Marston the ability to again fall in love with a woman. It also makes him willing to make do with what he initially considered the “moral confusion of his own country.” He is starting to achieve, for himself, a kind of moral clarity at the same time that he is reconsidering his initial evaluation of the moral confusion of his own country. Instead of finding fault with the absence of forms and the fluid quality of society in the United States, Marston is starting to think that this fluidity, which tends to breed freedom, may hold more attraction than he had once thought. In fact, it may be fundamentally more attractive and more fulfilling than “the tradition, the wisdom, the sophistication of France” (502).

It is swimming that first brings Henry out of his despondency; the act itself has the ability to cleanse his self and his soul, and to bring him closer to the virtues of his progenitors. And it is his American swimming companion who opens his eyes to the unlimited prospects that his own country holds for him. These two components help Henry accept his wife's failings and their mutual loss of love. After confronting Choupette with the prospect of divorce, swimming again becomes the framework for the description of Marston's life.

For three years, swimming had been a sort of refuge. … There was a point when he [Marston] would resolutely stop thinking and go to the Virginia Coast for a week to wash his mind in the water. … The burden of his wretched marriage fell away with the buoyant tumble of his body among the swells, and he would begin to move in a child's dream of space.


Fitzgerald's description of swimming combines a certain cleanliness and freedom with a rather womblike impression of the experience. Washing away his troubles when he swims, Marston “feels” innocent and free, not necessarily compatible qualities, but ones that have frequently been used to characterize the United States over the past two centuries.

The marriage to Choupette, just like the age-old traditions of Europe that came to America with those who settled here, weighs down Henry Marston. But when he washes his body in the sea, he is transformed. With swimming, Henry becomes wed to only one thing, his country. Originally, his country was a burden from which Marston wished to escape. Now, he is slowly coming to realize the freedom that America allows him: physical freedom, mental freedom and material freedom. “Americans, he liked to say, should be born with fins, and perhaps they were—perhaps money was a form of fin. In England property begot a strong place sense, but Americans, restless and with shallow roots, needed fins and wings” (506). Seen afresh, Marston's countrymen were not quite as shallow as he once thought them to be. They might be without a firm ancestral grounding, but this quality becomes one that Marston grows to admire—it allows the pursuit of “aerial adventure, weighed down by none of the stowaways of inheritance or tradition” (506).

Marston has come to understand the superficiality of aspects of life in France, many of which he had initially used to ground his life. Originally these gave him leave to “reject” his own homeland because he had perceived America as superficial and lacking a clear moral foundation. Now, however, Marston finds that all these aspects of life in France that he had initially taken to be so well established and significant are insufficient to support his soul or his body. He sees the discrepancy between the amount of money his peers in the U.S. have accumulated and what he has been earning in France, and he explains his sense of inadequacy: “I didn't used to care. I used to tell myself that I had a better place to escape to, just because, we knew that lobster armoricaine was really lobster américaine. Perhaps I haven't that feeling any more” (502). Marston had gone to Europe to find foundations or anchors, to find tradition and wisdom and understanding. He found all these things, and for a time, this was satisfactory. But according to our first impressions of Marston, the ballast that he found in European life and society had provided little more than satisfaction. When faced with disturbances, Marston found that the values of continental society were not quite as solid and satisfying as he had initially thought—particularly for him.

And then he met up with that thoroughbred of an American girl, whom Fitzgerald keeps nameless. This girl does more than spark our recovering hero's interest. She awakens him to much that he had been missing in both himself and in his country of origin. With each encounter or meeting, Marston learns more about himself and about the virtues of the United States, suggesting that this nameless girl may represent America as well. Four years after their initial introduction in Europe, Marston and “the girl” meet again in America, and their encounter is one as between old friends. Fitzgerald tells us that they “talked like old friends, not about races and manners and the things that Henry brooded over Choupette, but rather as if they naturally agreed about those things; they talked about what they liked themselves and about what was fun” (506).

Marston and the girl seem to be kindred souls: both are Virginians, and grounded in “kindness and consideration.” This kindred grounding outlines why Marston is drawn to this fellow Virginian, and why he holds his marriage to Choupette in such contempt. While he and Choupette may have known the inside secret behind lobster américaine, this kind of intimacy is hardly enough to sustain a relationship or love of any depth. There is a parallel disintegration occurring for Marston—the ballast of European culture and society was incapable of supporting Marston's public persona, and Choupette's weak virtue and the superficial secrets that she and Marston shared were not enough to fortify his private yearnings. This disintegration of both the public and the private stabilizers in Marston's life lead him away from Europe and the trappings of such society and back to the United States, to both the country and to the woman who very much epitomizes the country.

In the later sections of the story, Fitzgerald returns to the connection between money and infidelity. Originally Marston used this connection as the basis for the family's move to the United States. Now it comes into play as Marston requests a transfer back to France after a few years in the States; it seems that even his supervisor knows of Choupette's continuing infidelities. With the transfer approved, Marston confronts Choupette and her new lover, Charles Wiese. Wiese is an industrialist and a wealthy Southerner, and he and Choupette have been having an affair for at least a year. Marston makes clear exactly what is most important to him in this situation—custody of his children. He does not want a scene, as he explains, since “his [emotions] aren't sufficiently involved” (504).

But Henry is caught in a dilemma with regard to his children. He wants legal custody of them so that he can provide them with a “proper home.” On the other hand, if Choupette were to be denied legal custody of her children, “she would be suspect, even déclassée, to her family in France; but with that quality of detachment peculiar to old stock, Henry recognized this as a perfectly legitimate motive. Furthermore, no public scandal must touch the mother of his sons” (505). Henry can certainly understand the origins of Choupette's motives as regards her desire to keep the children—and he was willing to continue, in some part, her traditions by noting that his sons must have a mother free from public scandal. These are some of the components of the European class system that crossed the ocean with those who came to the U.S. initially—the Puritans and other religious settlers. But this particular concern of Marston's, that his sons be free of scandal, is based more in an ideal of virtue than in anything else. This comes from Henry's “old stock”—his Virginian roots where we learn of his own potential for virtue and strength of character.

In response to Marston's confrontation and demand for custody of the children, Charles Wiese already had a bit of a plan in the works in order to win the children for Choupette, and to make sure that Marston will never have custody. Wiese had obtained a falsified document declaring that Marston had remained mentally unhinged since his nervous breakdown and is therefore unfit to have custody of the children. With this document in his pocket, Wiese escorts Choupette and Marston out into the bay in a motorboat, which Wiese notes to be “the quietest place” to discuss the matters at hand. After they motor out a bit from the shore, Wiese turns down the engine, and he tells Marston about the document that he has obtained.

Wiese then goes on to remind Marston a number of times that “money is power,” noting that he, Wiese, is one of the richest men in Virginia. Until this juncture, Marston had known the ability of money to provide freedom of a kind. But here, in a vehemently contemptuous manner, Wiese makes clear to Marston the concrete items for which money is responsible, not the least of which may be the surreptitious “purchase” of Marston's children. Wiese says, “Money made this country, built its great and glorious cities, created its industries, covered it with an iron network of railroads. It's money that harnesses the forces of Nature, creates the machine and makes it go when money says go, and stop when money says stop” (508). Wiese's point is that money provides the grounding from which one builds great things. It is this crass understanding of the virtues of money that initially drove Marston from the United States—this mistaking of money for virtue, strength or courage leads to moral confusion, and this is what Marston had originally internalized and wanted to leave behind. Through the character of Charles Wiese, Fitzgerald indicates that this moral confusion still remains in the U.S. But Marston does not hold quite the same opinion of the U.S. anymore, and he certainly doesn't share Wiese's ideas about money—since for Henry “money was a form of fin” (506). Instead of tying him more tightly to his wife, or a landmass, or even a country, money has freed Henry of encumbrances, even if it does not provide clear moral guidance.

More so than money, it is the water that sets Marston free and gives him what he wants and needs. For all of his talk about money being power, Wiese is at the mercy of a machine—his motorboat—that, in the end, defies him. As Wiese was revealing the falsified documents to Marston, the boat's engine died and would not restart, and neither Wiese nor Choupette knew how to swim. The tide was pushing the boat out toward the sea and they were far enough from the shore that no one could hear any yells for help. So Marston strikes a deal—in exchange for custody of the children, written out and signed by Wiese and Choupette, and Wiese's admission that the medical document was a hoax—Henry “stripped to his underwear, and with the papers in an oiled-silk tobacco pouch suspended from his neck” (511), swam to shore to get help for the stranded boat and its passengers. Marston, not Wiese, had learned to work with the elements of Nature, even to make an art of that work. In so doing, Henry learned to take from life what he wants, his freedom and his children. Through his “liquid” freedom, Marston has found new ballast for his life and his soul. He will be the proper father and parent of his sons, and they will carry on the Marston name and heritage. He “felt the fate of his sons in the oiled-silk pouch about his neck, and with a convulsive effort he turned over and again concentrated all his energies on his goal” (511).

There is a difficulty in saying much more than Fitzgerald does at the end of “The Swimmers.” The story, in its various parts, is less than cheerful, and Henry Marston is not an extensive character as drawn by Fitzgerald. His sketch becomes more complex and more full as the protagonist in Tender Is the Night. But while some of Fitzgerald's other protagonists are finally unsatisfied and potentially unsatisfiable in their respective fates, particularly in the cases of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, Henry Marston is triumphant and well satisfied. “He had come home as to a generous mother and had been profusely given more than he had asked—money, release from an intolerable situation, and the fresh strength to fight for his own” (511-512).

Marston had come to America to set his life on its proper course; after his encounter with “the girl” on the beach in Europe, he sensed that there might be the opportunity to accomplish such a thing. And so he found money, freedom, courage, and opportunity. It is the land itself, and the people with whom it is populated that provide this home for Marston—

He had a sense of overwhelming gratitude and of gladness that America was there, that under the ugly debris of industry the rich land still pushed up, incorrigibly lavish and fertile, and that in the heart of the leaderless people the old generosities and devotions fought on, breaking out sometimes in fanaticism and excess, but indomitable and undefeated.


With rather more poetry, Fitzgerald puts James Madison's argument from the Federalist Papers for factions and the extensive republic into the thoughts of Henry Marston, transforming the story of European infidelities into a homage to the American republic and the American soul. Not only does the great extent of the land prevent certain dangers usually associated with “fanaticism and excess” from getting out of hand, but the “variety of parties,” Madison says, is also a means to check such dangers. The “old generosities and devotions” inherent in the “leaderless people” prevent such factions from coming together for malicious ends. As Madison observes,

Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other.8

Fitzgerald suggests that Americans, while possessing a generosity of soul, are still more interested in “fighting for their own,” and tend to find it difficult to realize a “common interest” other than those explained in the Declaration of Independence, namely equality, independence and liberty. Such common interests breed souls that may, in the end, pursue similar ends, but hardly along the same avenues. This is what Henry Marston comes to understand about his country and himself.

Once Marston realizes what America has to offer him, spiritually more than physically, the “moral confusion” that he had earlier equated with the United States is no longer a problem. As he begins to understand the opportunities provided for him, opportunities that come without clear guidelines, his soul moves on a path towards a wholeness that it must also create for itself. The foundations for this wholeness are provided by the promises in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the Constitution, and by the work that Marston has done to better arrange the pieces of his own self. Thus, confusion is transformed into opportunity. The difference is that while Europe originally provided Henry with guidelines and demarcations, America only provides opportunity and foundations, making it more difficult to create one's own destiny since each individual must be self-reliant. But the final creation may be much more satisfying, as Alexis de Tocqueville explains in Democracy in America. Tocqueville sees this same opportunity in a slightly different light, as an openness to human perfectibility. He writes, “Aristocratic nations are by their nature too much inclined to restrict the scope of human perfectibility; democratic nations sometimes stretch it beyond reason.”9 Henry Marston realizes that this disposition towards self-reliance and this desire to continue until he has achieved some degree of perfection are characteristics of his very American soul. There is no clear definition of this perfection, for it is the individual who defines it for him or herself. Marston no longer denies the existence of these American characteristics within himself; instead he has realized the strength they give him. Marston's final thoughts in the story reflect upon his return to Europe and his evaluation of America. Although he does not compare them in detail, he comes to regard the United States as not only better than Europe, but, at its finest, the best anywhere. “There was a lost generation in the saddle at the moment, but it seemed to him [Marston] that the men coming on, the men of the war, were better; and all his old feelings that America was a bizarre accident, a sort of historical sport, had gone forever. The best of America was the best of the world” (512). America, which Marston had once seen as characterized by moral confusion, turns out to have a purpose and even a structure that he had not previously noticed. From Fitzgerald's explanation, it becomes apparent that Marston had previously seen his “homeland” as an amorphous entity with little to offer the world. But now, as her soldiers are returning from the First World War, disgusted and dispirited with what had there transpired, the great myth of Europe was finally being dispelled. This is why Marston sees the men of the war as better: they have seen Europe, but they, like Marston, now know for certain that “the best of America [is] the best of the world.”

Fitzgerald goes so far as to make a concession to the fact that even America, this new and still “uncharted” country, has some history of her own. But unlike the long and complicated history that seems to weigh Europe down, America's history is this freedom, this innocence, even the difficult parts:

France was a land, England was a people, but America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter—it was the graves at Shiloh and the tired, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered. It was a willingness of the heart.


Fitzgerald here mentions the worst wars that the world had ever seen, both of which the United States had participated in, one on her own soil that threatened to destroy the Union. But even with such unpleasant events within her limited history, America still pushes on, not “borne back ceaselessly into the past,”10 but through a “willingness of the heart,” into the future. This is what the swimming analogy comes to symbolize; the willingness of the heart is freedom, but more than personal freedom, it is the principle of freedom. The principle is a cause for which soldiers are willing to die at Shiloh and in the Argonne; an idea to which a citizenry is committed, and for which people are willing to offer that greatest of sacrifices, their lives, to protect and extend to subsequent generations. This freedom allows Henry Marston to select his own path of success and happiness; it also helps him to reestablish his personal strength and emotional stability. In this process, he is also able to reclaim his masculine self from Choupette and to feel himself whole, a whole person—having his sense of self, his sense of his manhood and his sense of country all composing this whole self. And once Marston put these pieces back together, he realized that he could succeed, in whatever fashion or area he determined he wanted to succeed. This parallels Fitzgerald's description of America in this story, where freedom allows for anything to transpire; it is not quite tangible or concrete, yet it is somehow identifiable.


  1. Matthew J. Bruccoli, with the assistance of Jennifer McCabe Atkinson, As Ever, Scott Fitz—: Letters between F. Scott Fitzgerald and His Literary Agent, Harold Ober—1919-1940 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1972).

  2. But even then, the various scholars—Robert Roulston, Jackson R. Bryer, Alice Hall Petry, Robert Sklar, Matthew Bruccoli, and Melvin J. Friedman—who have investigated this short story marvel that it is not better known or analyzed. It provided much of the groundwork for the character of Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night, and also stretched Fitzgerald's abilities in the realm of U.S.-European comparisons and his sketches for romantic protagonists.

  3. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953), 2.

  4. Matthew J. Bruccoli, ed., The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989), 496. All subsequent references to “The Swimmers” will be parenthetical, with page number referring to this edition.

  5. For more on the unique role of Virginia in contrast to France in American literature, with a particular emphasis on this short story, see the wonderful essay by Melvin J. Friedman, “‘The Swimmers’: Paris and Virginia Reconciled” in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, ed. Jackson R. Bryer (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1982).

  6. Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 9-10.

  7. I thank my friend and colleague Charles Fish for this insightful comparison.

  8. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers, with an introduction by Clinton Rossiter (New York: New American Library, 1961), p. 83.

  9. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence and ed. J. P. Mayer (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1969), 454.

  10. Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 182.

The author would like to thank Dennis Hale, Charles Fish, and Christine Dunn Henderson for the insightful comments and advice on this chapter. And the author would like to dedicate the work to Matthew L. Free—who always possesses that willingness of the heart.

Mary McAleer Balkun (essay date 2003)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7337

SOURCE: Balkun, Mary McAleer. “‘One Cannot Both Spend and Have’: The Economics of Gender in Fitzgerald's Josephine Stories.” In F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, Ruth Prigozy, and Milton R. Stern, pp. 121-38. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2003.

[In the following essay, Balkun views the theme of emotional bankruptcy as central to Fitzgerald's Josephine stories.]

It has long been a given that the idea of emotional bankruptcy is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's central themes. However, critics have tended to focus upon the “emotional” aspect of the equation, the protagonist's eventual inability to feel and experience fully, rather than to consider the economic implications of the expression.1 A “bankrupt” is one who no longer has the means for exchange, one who has overextended him- or herself. The language of the marketplace—trade, value, profit, and loss—is also the language of Fitzgerald's sequence known as the Josephine stories. Considered from the perspective of the sexual economy—what Emma Goldman called “the traffic in women”—emotional bankruptcy is the inevitable result of a social system that situates women as sexual objects to be possessed and as consumers without independent means or power. It occurs when a woman attempts to exert her sexuality and/or beauty, the forms of currency she does possess, to satisfy her own desire instead of reserving them for the pursuit of a suitable marriage partner. Recent work in material culture theory and constructions of gender in the early twentieth century provide a unique framework in which to consider the theme of emotional bankruptcy, which is central to the Josephine stories.

Published between 1928 and 1931, the Josephine stories represent Fitzgerald's first complete development of the concept of emotional bankruptcy and his earliest actual use of the term (Fitzgerald, Basil and Josephine xix).2 The five stories in the sequence compose a single narrative unit with a distinct trajectory and denouement: the scapegoating of Josephine, the “baby vamp” and prototypical New Woman. In them Fitzgerald delineates the process and economics of emotional bankruptcy in elaborate detail. Considering Josephine in terms of material culture, both as an object to be possessed and as a consumer in her own right, reveals the complex work of social criticism in which Fitzgerald was also engaged. Josephine is a paradigm for the sexual-economic relationship embedded as text or subtext in much twentieth-century fiction. Her emotional bankruptcy is merely one result of her condition, which is typical of the luxury-class women about whom Fitzgerald wrote; she is a consumer rather than a producer, economically dependent, and, ultimately, a commodity.

Both the Josephine sequence and its companion series, the Basil stories (published during the same years), trace the coming-of-age of their protagonists, although with far different results. In the Basil series, which was published first, Fitzgerald traces the development of someone who will eventually grow up to become a Nick Carraway—or an F. Scott Fitzgerald—while the Josephine stories explore the roots and emergence of what Jackson R. Bryer and John Kuehl have called “the most important figure Fitzgerald ever drew,” the “femme fatale” or “vampiric destroyer” (Fitzgerald, Basil and Josephine xx). Set between 1914 and 1916, the sequence also records Fitzgerald's response to the changes in American society in the early part of the century and can be read as his attempt to understand and explain the effects of those changes. One of the main transformations occurred in the role and position of women. The growth of industrialism had resulted in an increased number of women who worked outside the home (between one-third and one-quarter of all married women), although at first they worked “primarily in factories or as domestic servants” (Green 57). By 1930, however, the number of women in clerical jobs had also escalated (Green 58). In a time of increasing instability—social, financial, and cultural—women were held “responsible for cushioning the uncertainties of war and economic dislocation” (Green 120). In The Uncertainty of Everyday Life, 1915-1945, Harvey Green observes that advertisements of the period “placed women in a position full of responsibility but with little real authority” (24). They were at the mercy of those who advocated scientific and managerial approaches to home care and childrearing, as well as of advertisers who realized that they were the primary consumers in the family.3 At the same time, they were stereotyped as spendthrifts who could be taken in by any new fad, saved only by the sound judgment of men. As Jackson Lears explains in Fables of Abundance, “Mrs. Consumer” had a “ravenous appetite for goods” and was “a stock gag in comic strips and vaudeville humor” (120). The changing roles for women were most apparent in advertisements of the period, in which, for example, “formidable mother figures” were replaced by “giggling teenagers” (Lears 118). “By the 1910s, most commonly, women in advertisements were merely beneficiaries of the largesse generated by the male genius of mass production—new emblematic expressions of old male anxieties. … [The] iconic representation of the modern woman was girlish rather than authoritative, and reassuringly dependent on corporate expertise” (120). He also observes that in advertisements, “The positioning of men's bodies vs. women's … reaffirmed masculine authority” (184). Men in these ads loom above women and are physically more imposing.

Finally, this period saw the emergence of the so-called New Woman, a term used to describe “successive generations of educated and self-supporting middle-class women who … demanded careers and public roles” (Smith-Rosenberg 430). The New Woman was the result of several trends: the changes in sexual relations that occurred between 1880 and 1920 and the “early women's movement [that] had made it possible for women to hold jobs and act autonomously. The developing consumer society promoted sexual pleasure and leisure to sell products and created a culture that separated sex from reproduction and valued the pursuit of sexual interests. … In this context women's emotional/sexual lives were transformed” (Kennedy 328-29). In the Josephine stories, Fitzgerald brings together many of these elements—gender, money, power, and class—and explores them within the context of the rapidly changing social and sexual climate in America.

The events of the Josephine sequence exemplify, in a striking way, the theories of sexual economics developed by such writers as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Emma Goldman, and Gayle Rubin (Reiter). From this perspective, the stories are an examination of a particular female role within capitalist society as well as a critique of what was perceived as a collapsing social and moral order. Josephine's experience is cast in economic terms first and foremost, so that she emerges as a remarkable example of the “sexuo-economic relation” described by Gilman (121), one in which a woman's success and “personal profit” are intrinsically tied to her ability “to win and hold the other sex” (63), and the effects of that relation. According to Gilman, women are forced into the role of consumers, “always to take and never to think of giving anything in return except their womanhood” (118-19). For women, the sex relation counts for everything, even something as simple as having a good time (308), and the outcome is the same as it would be in any creature: “Where one function is carried to unnatural excess, others are weakened, and the organism perishes” (72).

Josephine also typifies the young women of the 1920s described by Paula S. Fass in her landmark study The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920's. She is the embodiment of “youthful sexuality,” the force that represented “demoralization” and “a continuing threat to the social order” for the older generation (Fass 21). Yet, according to Fass, despite the seeming freedom and rejection of social mores, the youth of the 1920s “had not separated themselves from the roles and responsibilities they would soon assume. They had no reason to doubt that the future held anything but opportunities” (366). That sense of abundant opportunity was also an element of contemporary advertising, which depicted an ideal world of status, wealth, and security. However, ads also reflected the anxiety of the period. On the one hand, they suggested that “failure to achieve the middle-class goals of material success was the individual's alone,” while at the same time they alluded to uncontrollable forces that could destroy the ideal at any moment (Green 25). In effect, Josephine's condition at the end of the sequence anticipates that of her female contemporaries who hope to move beyond the confines of gender and discover that woman's role remains circumscribed. Exploiting her newfound sexual power throughout the series, she is eventually brought to the realization that her choices are limited, that she is essentially powerless, and that she no longer wants the ideal mate who is supposed to be her raison d'être.

Josephine Perry is first presented to the reader by way of an episode from her childhood that incorporates the most important elements determining her fate as a woman of her particular time, place, and social class: the connection between gender and the marketplace and the powerlessness of women who are primarily objects of exchange. The title of the initial story, “First Blood,” also introduces the vampiric theme that pervades the sequence and symbolizes Josephine's rebellion against the economic imperatives that impinge on her even as a young child. The story opens in the Perry living room, where Mrs. Perry is entertaining Mrs. Bray. At the sight of Josephine, who sits nearby, Mrs. Bray is moved to recall an incident from the past: “I remember your coming to me in despair when Josephine was about three! … George was furious because he couldn't decide what work to go to work at, so he used to spank little Josephine” (186). She then glances at the young woman sitting nearby and says, “And so this is Josephine” (186). This early episode, in which Josephine functions as the object and scapegoat of male economic concerns, is our introduction to the sixteen-year-old. She is now “an unconscious pioneer of the generation that was destined to ‘get out of hand,’” according to the narrator (188), a harbinger of things to come, like the war just over the horizon. But she is also a product of the past as signified by her mother and Mrs. Bray, a past in which women existed for the prestige and service of the men they married. Josephine is clearly caught between these conflicting ideals.

The Perry family is part of Chicago society, “almost very rich” (188) and firmly entrenched in the pecuniary culture (to use an expression made popular by Thorstein Veblen) of the early twentieth century. The fact that they are not a “new” family is emphasized from the outset, as is their relative position in the social hierarchy. All of this underscores the fact that the family's name and reputation have market value, as Josephine is reminded whenever her exploits threaten either. The irony of her position, and her responsibility, is underscored by her name, which means “she will add; increase.” Two generations removed from the source of the family's wealth (her grandfather produced the family fortune), she is of the new generation that accepts money and social position as a given. Josephine has been raised to appreciate the concept of “value,” especially her own, but it is not an understanding born of experience or supported by anything substantive. It is a value decreed by her family and social circle, not one substantiated by an awareness of self or any actual accomplishment. In fact, it is based on something inherent rather than earned, namely her appearance and her family connections. She has no intrinsic value of her own, and even her beauty is somehow separate and impersonal, something over which she has no control. It is an asset, one that grows “richer” as she matures (271), but also one she does not actually “possess.” Its worth is based on her ability to utilize it for the greater esteem of her family through marriage. By doing so she will replicate her parents' existence, thereby validating its value as well. If she is successful, the ritual of exchange for profit through marriage will continue for yet another generation.

In actuality, Josephine represents her father's ability to pay, not her own, although she frequently mistakes his power for hers. He is also able to make Josephine pay without her realizing it: taking her out of school when she might have stayed, forcing her to forego an education and experiences she is just beginning to appreciate, as well as compelling her to face the rest of the family's social circle in disgrace. Although he is supportive in some ways, Josephine realizes that her father also feels “a certain annoyance with her misfortune” (240; emphasis added). As a result of such regulation (after all, she is a commodity that must be protected at all costs), she is denied those things that might have helped her replenish her personal stores or enlarged the scope of her interests.4 She has no education to speak of, no training or skills, nothing except her beauty with which to bargain, and she instinctively uses it to exert some measure of control over men and her own life.

Both Josephine and the narrator use language associated with the economic sphere—the production and exchange of goods—to describe her condition at crucial moments in the stories. She is established as something “new”—“the newest thing of all”—in the opening pages of the first story, much like an innovative product on the market (188). She also has “the oppressive sense of being wasted” when exiled to Island Farms one summer (214). When she rather melodramatically considers the possibility of her own death after an unsuccessful love affair, she is moved to whisper to herself, “Oh, what a shame” (200), mourning the potential loss of valuable merchandise, not the actuality of death. The narrator also compares Josephine's eventual return to Lake Forest for her sister's wedding “to the moment when the robber bandit evolved through sheer power into the feudal seignior” (219), while later she is likened to “a [s]peculator retired on his profits” (227). Josephine instinctively uses the language of exchange and value, whether with regard to herself or other women: she decides that someone must “pay” for her ruined summer on Island Farms, and it is inevitably another woman.5 Similarly, a chance remark leads her to wonder about Adele Craw, a schoolmate, whether “only those who had known [her] all her life knew her at her true worth” (228). The value of things—of time, of people, of associations, but especially of the female sex—is an essential subtext in these stories, as it is in much of Fitzgerald's fiction.

Yet one of Josephine's “strengths” is her ability to recognize value in others and, conversely, to appreciate their valuation of her. In “A Snobbish Story,” she can appreciate that John Bailey, despite his lower social position, has “some particular and special passion for life,” just as “she knew that she herself was superior in something to the girls who criticized her—though she often confused her superiority with the homage it inspired—and she was apathetic to the judgments of the crowd” (253). But what might be strengths in a man are fatal flaws in a woman, affecting her pliability and, by extension, her value. Even Bailey recognizes that Josephine's worth is a measure of her father's: when she tells him at their first meeting that her last name is Perry, he immediately asks, “Herbert T. Perry?” (250). While she is able and willing to see the potential in Bailey, to him Josephine is primarily a means for obtaining financial backing for his play. The rest of the story highlights the connections between the marketplace, social class, and marriage in the two subplots: the attempted suicide of Bailey's estranged wife, and Mr. Perry's suspected affair.

Josephine's response to the latter “discovery” indicates that she is beginning to understand the rules of the game into which she is being initiated; she tries to use the information to “blackmail” her father, however innocently, into backing the play. This ploy fails when the truth emerges, and his position as “ideal” is inevitably restored. Gradually she comes to realize that public opinion and the marketplace can be safely ignored only when one has a wealthy male figure to serve as a buffer. Her father may consistently “rescue” her, even when she does not wish to be rescued, but his message is clear when he tells her “Nothing sordid touches you. If it does, then it's your own fault,” and in the next breath says to John Bailey, the aspiring playwright Josephine is trying to help, “I understand you need money” (264-65). Anyone in need of money is not a suitable match, and Mr. Perry's job is to safeguard his daughter until he can realize a return on his investment; this will take the form of another man who is financially able to take on that responsibility and produce the next generation of Perrys. Josephine has learned the lesson well by the conclusion of the tale, deciding to “[throw] in her lot with the rich and powerful of this world forever” (269). Her brief interlude among the bohemians in Bailey's circle is enough to convince her that such speculation is not worth the risks. The ideal marriage that she sees in her future is best represented by her parents, regardless of whatever other aspects of their lives she may appear to reject, and not the Bailey marriage with its melodrama, sordidness, and poverty.

Her father remains the yardstick by which Josephine measures all males, and a marriage like her parents' is the final “prize”; but the marriage is clearly one in which Mr. Perry has ultimate control, despite Josephine's romanticizing. His reemergence as loyal husband and supportive father also reaffirms the strength and inherent “rightness” of the economic and social systems he represents. In effect, her father's intrinsic soundness is contrasted with Josephine's apparently increasing corruption. It is beside the point to observe that to get what she wants Josephine has resorted to tactics that are widely used in the business world. However, it is worth noting that had she not been with a man like Bailey in the La Grange Hotel restaurant in the first place, she would never have been exposed to the sight of her father with another woman. Her assumption of an affair is evidence that she already has been overexposed, that she is increasingly in danger of becoming damaged goods.

One effect of these and similar experiences is to reinforce the ultimate power of men in the marketplace and the tenuous position of women. Josephine's very first romantic relationship, with her sister's friend Anthony Harker, underscores this point. Harker may be captivated by Josephine at the outset, but it is he who rejects and then returns to her, the tone of his letter making it very clear, starting with the salutation “Darling Little Josephine” (200; emphasis added), that he is asserting his power while seeming to succumb to hers. It is this show of power that frightens Josephine away, as well as the intensity of the emotions he displays, a far cry from the vague and shadowy romance depicted in the novels she reads. For all her maneuvering and manipulating, Josephine continually finds herself at the mercy of men, whether her father, John Bailey, or Dudley Knowleton. Even the man of her dreams, Captain Edward Dicer, must contact her in order for their relationship to continue. It is only when a male “sees” her that the chase can actually begin, so first she must do what she can to attract his attention. Similarly, Josephine realizes at a young age that the dance floor may be “the field of feminine glory,” but it is one from which a woman “slip[s] away … with a man” (191). Her earliest conscious understanding of the position of women in relation to men comes at her first prom at Yale, described by the narrator in “A Woman with a Past”:

One might have ten men to Adele's two, but Josephine was abruptly aware that here a girl took on the importance of the man who had brought her.

She was discomforted by the unfairness of it. A girl earned her popularity by being beautiful and charming. The more beautiful and charming she was, the more she could afford to disregard public opinion.

(230; emphasis added)

The social whirl, with its dances, proms, and parties, is a marketplace in women where a man like Dudley Knowleton is able to endow a woman with “value” despite the fact that he may not “know anything about girls at all, or be able to judge their attractions” (230). In this case, Josephine understands that Adele has acquired value solely by virtue of Dudley's “possession” of her. It is men who determine value and accord it, both by what they choose and by their association with it, not women.

Josephine's experience with Dudley also leads to what the narrator describes as her “first mature thought” (244): “One mustn't run through people, and, for the sake of a romantic half-hour, trade a possibility that might develop—quite seriously—later, at the proper time” (244).6 This is also her first, if unconscious, recognition of the economics of social transactions, as signaled by her use of the word “trade.” In other words, she is beginning to understand that one must exercise good “business” sense and that one's relationships with others are an investment in the future, with the potential for high returns if handled properly. Thus, what Josephine is engaged in is a form of speculation, a type of economic transaction for which she has neither the means nor the skill for long-term success. More than anything, it is her wanton wastefulness that condemns Josephine; she takes her beauty and social position for granted, and she is even willing to risk public censure (and her future potential for a “good” marriage) by associating with men who are beneath her. And while, as Thorstein Veblen demonstrated “conspicuous waste” is an element of leisure class life, Josephine is wasting something that does not actually belong to her, namely herself.

Josephine has yet to learn that the laws of supply and demand apply to her as well as to other products in the marketplace, that a woman is valued in direct proportion to the degree to which she withholds herself. Safely reabsorbed into the family circle after her increasingly precarious ventures, she is able to ignore the progressively higher stakes as well. Josephine's failure with Dudley Knowleton is her first realization that payment is coming due. It is even more devastating in view of what he represents: “the little city [New Haven] where men of three centuries had brought their energies and aspirations for winnowing” (233). But by his own admission, Dudley, the man every girl is supposed to want, “[hasn't] any ideas” (233). His value is dictated by his connections and his social position, making him the quintessential eligible bachelor. After Dudley rejects her overtures, Josephine captures the essence of her own dilemma when she tells him “I'm just paying for things” (244). But the statement is about more than kissing a few boys. In addition to paying for her sexual desire and her beauty, Josephine is paying for the inability of her society to deal with the “monster” it has created by consigning women to the position of objects for trade while also restricting their power in the marketplace.

One ramification of Josephine's blatant sexuality is the way she is demonized, even vampirized, by others, including the narrator: the expression on her face when she looks at Anthony Harker is “the very demon of tender melancholy” (194); she is referred to as “that little devil” (198); and she is even compared to Mephistopheles in Faust (222). And as noted above, the title of the first story in the sequence, “First Blood,” establishes her clearly as the “vampiric destroyer” Bryer and Kuehl find so common in Fitzgerald's fiction (Fitzgerald, Basil and Josephine xx).7 The description of Anthony Harker in “First Blood” (whose name brings to mind Jonathan Harker, a victim of the vampire in the original Dracula) is a classic account of an encounter with a vampire: he is mesmerized by her gaze, patently unable to resist her. He recognizes that a relationship with her could become “a rather dangerous little mess” (198), but he is only able finally to break it off in a dark anteroom where he is unable to see her face clearly. This repeated demonization suggests that Josephine's desire, and her willingness to act on it, is monstrous and unnatural. By the concluding story in the series, “Emotional Bankruptcy,” she has acquired all of the traits necessary for the “vamp” or vampire to which she has been compared throughout: she is without conscience or scruples, she has learned how to manipulate men without getting personally involved, and she recognizes, however unconsciously, the economic basis of gender relations.8

It is hard to ignore the connection between Josephine's exertion of “power,” limited and short-lived as it is, and her eventual comeuppance. As Gayle Rubin points out in “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” “the preferred female sexuality would be one which responded to the desire of others, rather than one which actively desired and sought a response” (Reiter 182). Josephine must be brought to the realization that it is only through men that she has any power or authority, and she must agree to lose herself in a man. Even her lack of passion for Edward Dicer, the war hero and supposed Ideal, is not something her mother would have understood; he is the perfect man, one she should marry despite her lack of desire. In fact, by the conclusion of the series Josephine has been brought to the ideal condition for woman-as-product: she has no desire left to distract her.

Ideal types of one sort or another guide Josephine's existence from an early age, including those of the “Ideal Benbower Girl” and the “Ideal Breerly Girl” (191). But the emphasis on the word “girl” suggests the foremost problem with these models: they give no clue as to what form a mature woman might take. Josephine is torn between her desires, which are very real, and the various ideals held up for her to emulate. Her emergence as a “vamp,” albeit a “baby vamp,” is partly a result of this struggle. The stories trace her movement back and forth between a dream vision of marital bliss and her desire for a more exciting and self-defining existence, her urge to “spend” herself when and how she likes. The alternative is to become like her sister, Constance, whose name aptly describes her most salient feature.

The existence for which Josephine is intended is clearly outlined in the wedding scene that occurs early in the sequence. The bride is described as “unsullied, beloved and holy with a sweet glow,” and the plot of her life's story is equally uncomplicated: “an adolescence of uprightness, a host of friends, then the appearance of the perfect lover, the Ideal” (201). Despite her mother's admonition that “Love isn’t like it is in books,” Josephine continues to idealize marriage, an attitude that seems to have been increasingly common in the early part of the twentieth century. According to Fass, marriage was perceived by young women of Josephine's type as “the entrance into a fuller and richer life; an opportunity for sharing joys and sorrows, with a mate who [would] not be merely a protector or provider, but an all-around companion. … [Marriage was regarded as] the one arena for expression, and the only sphere for personal satisfaction. Within a severely circumscribed sense of life-fulfilling possibilities, marriage was expected to serve every channel, implicitly more for women than for men. In that sense, the very expansion of possibilities now offered to women in marriage implied ultimate frustrations” (80, 82-83). In other words, marriage was perceived as the safest and surest route to self-fulfillment, a way to enlarge upon the freedoms experienced as a daughter of privilege.

The traditional reading of Josephine's dilemma in the last story in the sequence, “Emotional Bankruptcy,” is that she has spent herself too freely and wasted her emotional stores through countless meaningless affairs. But what Josephine consumes is men, and she poses a threat to the social order because she attempts to move from the position of product to that of conspicuous consumer in the marriage market. Her string of beaus has much in common with advertisers' emphasis on “multiple consumption” in the 1920s, the pressure to own “two or more radios and even automobiles” (Green 9), which was also a way to publicize one's wealth and power. However, her “romantic conquests,” to use James Nagel's expression (Bryer, The Short Stories 285), also resonate with another consumer activity: collecting. If, as Nagel observes, Josephine's various men are like “troph[ies] for temporary display” (285), then they can be seen as constituting a collection. Yet, as a woman, Josephine is herself a collectible object, a trophy to be won and displayed. She has therefore upended the traditional system by creating a collection of her own, one for which she has bargained with her sexuality and beauty.9

A woman of ever-growing desires and needs, Josephine is more than a match for the men with whom she comes in contact, and their frustration at their inability to possess her is matched by her increasing dissatisfaction with them. Yet it is one of these men whom she is expected one day to marry and spend the rest of her life with. Her only alternative is someone like Dudley, a man without ideas or imagination, and the lesson she learns from him is to be more selective in her consumption. Josephine must eventually pay for what she has done, for the sense of powerlessness that she has left in her wake, and for the danger she has posed to the status quo. As John Bailey so presciently tells her, “We all get what's coming to us” (258). Put in the terms of the marketplace, “ultimately, consumption is about power” (Douglas and Isherwood 89), and Josephine has attempted to claim the power of consumption for herself, with devastating results.

For example, one of Josephine's observations concerning the Yale prom is that it is “a function run by men upon men's standards—an outward projection of the New Haven world from which women were excluded and which went on mysteriously behind the scenes” (230). She attempts to exert her power in this world, but Dudley's reaction to her is telling, especially because he is its chief representative: she frightens him off by her experience with men, her blatant desire for him, and her beauty (just as she is herself frightened off earlier by the intensity of Anthony Harker). She is not afraid to go after what she wants or to acknowledge that she is in turn desirable. But the prom is run on male terms. By the time she attends a prom at Princeton one year later she has learned how to manipulate this world, although it is a shallow “victory” because the men over whom she now exerts her influence no longer appear as “heroes or men of the world or anything. … They [are] just easy” (277). The irony of the word “easy” in this context is lost on Josephine, of course, but not on the reader. It is because such conquests are easy for her that Josephine is herself thought to be “easy.”

What makes Josephine especially “dangerous” in the early stories is her failure to make conscious decisions. Many of her actions are attributed to instinct rather than to any actual thought process.10 She represents chaos, a threat to the “natural” order of things where wealth, class, and power give one ascendance over all others. She seems at times to realize the potential risks in her course of action, but whatever inclination she has to be “good” is overwhelmed by her desire to live her life on her own terms. She also does not know what she wants, and so the description of her as an “unconscious pioneer” is not accidental (188). As Josephine dances with Anthony Harker for the first time, the narrator explains that she “did not plan; she merely let herself go, and the overwhelming life in her did the rest” (196). By the last story of the sequence, however, she is planning every detail, right down to the way she is arranged in Dicer's arms just before he kisses her. She is now vividly aware of the passage of time, of “the seconds passing, each one carrying a load of loveliness toward the future” (285). Instead of living in and for the present, Josephine is anticipating movement into the future.

As Bram Dijkstra points out in Evil Sisters: The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Manhood, woman is often figured as “the enemy of time” (35). He observes that in Darwin's The Descent of Man women are perceived as having an “instinctive compulsion to re-create, to reproduce, to repeat themselves, until the end of time” (35). And, in fact, at a key moment in the sequence Josephine decides to forego the future for “the immediate, shimmering present” (269). But the decision is moot; she must live in and for the moment because she is unprepared for and not entitled to anything else. Yet, paradoxically, Josephine's entire existence, as understood by her family and society, is predicated on the future: she is supposed to be “saving” herself for her future husband and hoarding what there is of her “self” to spend on him and her children. Thus, she is the product and prisoner of a social class whose members celebrate living for the moment, who spend freely without thought of future consequences, but who expect delayed gratification from their offspring, in particular their female offspring. The women upon whom Josephine is expected to model herself have no choice but to live in the present, since the future is not theirs to control, either sexually or economically. In an interesting “slip,” Josephine asks one prospective beau, “Don't you want to marry and have children and make some woman a fine wife—I mean, a fine husband?” (213). Of course, that is the very question she must answer; but while men have the option to reply in the negative, Josephine does not. Once she gives herself up to Dicer there will be no future; the search will be over, and the one arena in which she has had some measure of power will be closed to her. She will be in thrall to one man, and that man an actuality rather than an ideal.

It is this that makes the final scene with Dicer so ironic and yet so tragic as well. She has created a scenario that no longer has the power to captivate or hold her; she has had passion, love, and romance. Now she will need more, but there is no indication that anything else awaits her. She turns to Dicer to help her, as she has turned to men all her life, but he is indifferent. She believes he is everything she has always wanted, and she anticipates his arrival at her door with the old thrill, but the present moment is no longer enough. Had he agreed to help her when she pleaded with him to do so this might well have opened a future for them both, one with a plan and a goal. She finds her basket empty because it was filled with only one thing, and she believed there was more.

Josephine has fallen into the sort of trap described so well by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex: “It is woman's misfortune to be surrounded by almost irresistible temptations; everything incites her to follow the easy slopes; instead of being invited to fight her own way up, she is told that she is only to let herself slide and she will attain paradises of enchantment. When she perceives that she has been duped by a mirage, it is too late; her strength has been exhausted in a losing venture” (716). Josephine has, in de Beauvoir's words, given “herself completely to her idol in the hopes that he will give her at once possession of herself and of the universe he represents” (717). But what Josephine receives from Dicer is emptiness and apathy. Instead of saving herself, she has dived feetfirst into the shallow world provided for her, growing increasingly dissatisfied with the role she is expected to play. She has had the one “experience” granted to women, the wielding of power in the snaring of a man, and she has squandered it. But the fault is not in Josephine; it is in the society, depicted so precisely by Fitzgerald, that has given her no other options. Without education or experience of the world outside her social circle, she poses little threat to the social order. Straining to understand the limitations that have been established for women, Josephine finds only lack and confusion.

“One cannot both spend and have,” Josephine finally realizes (287). Yet a character like Basil Duke Lee, the protagonist of the allied story sequence, is given the means to recoup his “losses,” while Josephine is not. Although women have limited emotional capital to spend, Basil's similar romantic experiences lead to maturity and wisdom. Josephine, meanwhile, loses the very “vitality” that Bryer and Kuehl suggest is Basil's greatest strength (Fitzgerald, Basil and Josephine xxi). The Josephine stories even cover a much shorter time period; only two years in her life are recounted, while the reader follows Basil from boyhood to young manhood. One effect of such a narrow focus is the suggestion that this is the only part of Josephine's existence of any interest or importance, not how she got to this point or even where she will go afterward. In the final story of the sequence, she is left in a state of limbo. Basil, on the other hand, is described by Bryer and Kuehl as living in “the future, always glowing like a comfortable beacon.” But there is good reason for this. Basil has a future, one “which holds achievement and power” (Fitzgerald, Basil and Josephine xix). Josephine is expected to spend the last of her self in the snaring of a husband, and the rest of her life living off whatever emotional and intellectual reserves he allots to her.

In a letter to his daughter Scottie, Fitzgerald wrote: “Our danger is imagining that we have resources—material and moral—which we haven't got. … Do you know what bankruptcy exactly means? It means drawing on resources which one does not possess” (Letters 55). Josephine learns early on that she must, as Emma Goldman puts it, “pay for her right to exist … with sex favors” (185). Her error is in thinking that her stores are hers to use as she pleases, that they can be replenished, and that she will not be punished for indulging her sexual nature. The blame is not hers alone. She is a product—in both senses of the word—of social, class, and economic forces that turn everything into a transaction, one in which women are unable to participate equitably. It is too late when Josephine finally begins to understand the intractability of the sexual marketplace: how high a price she has unwittingly paid, and must continue to pay, for so small and uncertain a return.


  1. Arthur Mizener (The Far Side of Paradise) was the first to recognize the importance of the theme of emotional bankruptcy in Fitzgerald's work. Since then a number of critics have addressed themselves to this idea in the Josephine stories. However, the emphasis has continued to be on Josephine's emotional depletion. Drake, in “Josephine and Emotional Bankruptcy,” focuses on Josephine's emotional wastefulness, her having experienced too much too soon. Both Mangum in A Fortune Yet and Potts in The Price of Paradise refer to Josephine's “reckless emotional spending” (Mangum 114), but they do not pursue this line of analysis, emphasizing instead her eventual “emotional depletion” (Mangum 115). Finally, in “Initiation and Intertextuality in The Basil and Josephine Stories,” James Nagel discusses the Josephine stories as “an abbreviated feminine bildungsroman,” but he also sees the stories primarily as a record of “Josephine's progressive debasement of emotions” (Bryer, New Essays 289). Nagel is also among the most recent critics to argue for the narrative unity of the sequences, and he provides an excellent overview of the criticism.

  2. The years 1928 to 1931 were marked for Fitzgerald by the collapse of the economy and the collapse of Zelda. In his ledger for 1929, Fitzgerald wrote, “The Crash! Zelda + America” (Ledger 184). The two are inextricably intertwined in his imagination, and this combination is crucial for an understanding of the Josephine stories. For a complete review of the publishing history of the sequences, see Jackson R. Bryer and John Kuehl's introduction to The Basil and Josephine Stories.

  3. For more about the impact of science and management theories on the domestic life of women, see Green and Lears.

  4. As Gilman notes, “It is among the wealthy classes that the economic dependence of women is carried to its extreme. The daughters and wives of the rich fail to perform even the domestic service expected of women of poorer families. They are from birth to death absolutely non-productive in goods or labor of economic value” (170). It was, of course, this very class that provided Fitzgerald with the material for his fiction. In addition, while education was strongly encouraged for elite young men, women of the same class were not encouraged to attend college. According to Green, “Ninety percent of all junior and senior high school girls in the United States in the 1930s were directed into home economics classes. … Nearly all of those women who went to college did not do so to pursue a career outside the home” (127).

  5. Whenever she believes she has been ill-treated or spoken badly of, Josephine's reaction is to blame “ugly and jealous girls” (206). This response is representative of the attitudes and behaviors described by Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy as contributing to the position of women in relation to men, especially with regard to social class: “The system of patriarchy can function only with the cooperation of women. This cooperation is secured by a variety of means: gender indoctrination; educational deprivation; the denial to women of knowledge of their history; the dividing of women, one from the other, by defining ‘respectability’ and ‘deviance’ according to women's sexual activities; by restraints and outright coercion; by discrimination in access to economic resources and political power; and by awarding class privileges to conforming women” (217).

  6. Fass uses very similar language when describing the mating game among young people in the 1920s: “Since mating was one of the chief aims of both rituals [dating and petting], immediate sexual satisfaction had to be carefully weighed in view of long-term goals” (268).

  7. In Evil Sisters, Dijkstra explains that in the first two or three decades of this century, the biological sciences in particular were used to confirm the dangers of female sexuality (5). His study focuses on the image of woman as vampire, and his descriptions are strikingly similar to the descriptions of Josephine. I am also indebted to Dijkstra for the expression “baby vamp” (used by Fitzgerald in The Beautiful and Damned [29]), which I have used in connection with Josephine.

  8. Fass points out that “it was emotional commitment above all that legitimated eroticism, for the young were true romantics who believed strongly in love” (273), so much so that even premarital sex was not condemned in a love relationship, such as that between engaged couples. However, love is the ingredient missing from most of Josephine's affairs. Instead, she is driven by more mundane emotions: curiosity, pride in her physical attractiveness and sexuality, and the joy of acquisition.

  9. Jean Baudrillard's observation on the completed collection—“madness begins once a collection is deemed complete and thus ceases to centre around its absent term” (93)—has interesting connotations when considered in the light of Josephine's state at the end of the story.

  10. Dijkstra writes of “a growing conviction among physicians, biologists, and other such theologians of the scientific age, that all women were, in fact, ‘real’ vampires, driven by nature to depredate the male” (46-47).

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Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Literary Masters)