Through Amory Blaine, Fitzgerald tried to understand his own past. In certain superficial ways Amory and Fitzgerald differ: Amory is taller; Fitzgerald did not spend six years traveling around the country—though his family did move frequently; Fitzgerald’s family never lost all their money; and Fitzgerald’s military service in World War I did not take him to France. Nevertheless, Amory’s experiences in preparatory school and college are Fitzgerald’s, and his quest to find himself and his calling are the novelist’s. When Fitzgerald was finishing This Side of Paradise in St. Paul, he, like Amory, had failed to take his degree at Princeton, had failed in the advertising business, and had apparently failed to win the hand of Zelda Sayre, the great love of his life. Still he could say of Amory, and so of himself, that “he was where Goethe was when he began Faust’; he was where Conrad was when he wrote Almayer’s Folly.’” As Fitzgerald’s subsequent career demonstrated, he was right to have Amory face the future optimistically, proclaiming in the last line, “I know myself.”
Just as Amory Blaine is a thinly veiled Fitzgerald, so, too, most of the other characters derive from the novelist’s acquaintances. Thayer Darcy, who as a wild youth was once in love with Beatrice O’Hara, is modeled on Sigourney Fay, the monsignor to whom Fitzgerald dedicated the novel. Just as Monsignor Darcy served as Amory’s spiritual and intellectual guide, so Sigourney Fay was Fitzgerald’s; it was Fay who told him of the girl who became Eleanor Savage in the novel, one of the few characters not based on Fitzgerald’s own experience.
Isabelle Borge is a thinly disguised Ginevra King, whom Fitzgerald, like Amory, met during the Christmas holiday in January, 1915. Their romance, carried on largely through lengthy letters, ended in 1917. The kind Clara is a romanticized portrait of Cecelia Taylor, a first cousin whom Fitzgerald admired. Unlike Clara, though, who is the same age as Amory, Cecelia was sixteen years older than the author; in 1917, when they met, she was a widow with four children rather than two. Rosalind is Ginevra King again, combined with Zelda Sayre, whom Fitzgerald met while stationed at Camp Sheridan, Alabama.
Amory’s Princeton friends are Fitzgerald’s, too. Thomas D’Invilliers is John Peale Bishop, an editor of the Nassau Lit. Like D’Invilliers, Bishop was a faithful and astute literary guide. Burne Holiday is Henry Slater, who, like Holiday, led the movement to abolish the elitist Princeton clubs. Holiday later becomes a pacifist, a stance that Amory initially rejects. Later, however, he tends toward the radical politics that Holiday had espoused.
Amory Blaine, a boy born in the Midwest to a prominent family in the process of losing its fortune. He is a pampered, privileged young boy who embarks on a quest for self-discovery that covers his years at preparatory school, at Princeton University, in the Army, and beginning a life as an adult as he pursues a career in New York. He arrives in the East full of a kind of idealistic innocence, with untested assumptions about courage, honor, duty, and a man’s place in the world, but his natural charm, earnestness, amiability, and obvious intelligence enable him to progress toward a firmer understanding of his essential nature. He is almost six feet tall as he enters Princeton, with light hair and penetrating green eyes. He is strikingly but not conventionally handsome, with a kind of slender athleticism to his carriage. Often intoxicated with the splendor of his youth and intensely conscious of his reactions to everything, he is fond of outrageous gestures and desperately concerned about his appearance and status in the eyes of those whom he admires and hopes to equal or emulate. He correctly sees himself as a “romantic egotist,” and his attitude toward the world—particularly toward women—has been shaped heavily by his reading, which has...
(The entire section is 3,636 words.)