Although it took two years of revision before Fitzgerald finally obtained a publishing contract for his first novel, This Side of Paradise was an immediate critical and popular success. As the anonymous article, “With College Men” in the New York Times Book Review of May 9, 1920, read, “The glorious spirit of abounding youth glows throughout this fascinating tale,” and most reviews were similarly enthusiastic. Heywood Broun’s April 11, 1920, review in the New York Tribune found the novel little more than a “self-conscious . . . stunt,” but almost all other critics acknowledged Fitzgerald’s great promise as a writer.
The novel briefly topped bestseller lists, and it was particularly popular among the young generation and in colleges. But Fitzgerald’s success as a short story writer and the intrigue about his personal life were equally responsible for the subsequent success that earned him a reputation as an icon of the “lost generation.” Critical opinion of Fitzgerald fluctuated when his next novel, The Beautiful and the Damned, was largely received as a disappointment and when The Great Gatsby was more successful in 1925. However, the author, and his first novel, generally remained in vogue with the public and the literary community until Fitzgerald’s rapid decline in reputation and subsequent bout of alcoholism that began with the tepid reception of Tender Is the Night in 1934. From this point until Fitzgerald’s death, This Side of Paradise sold few copies and was largely ignored by critics.
The revival of interest in Fitzgerald began to blossom after 1951, when Arthur Mizener’s analytical biography of the writer attracted attention to him and his wife Zelda. From this point onward, Fitzgerald’s works were incorporated into the canon of American literature to the point that he was as of the early 2000s viewed as one of the most important novelists of the twentieth century. This Side of Paradise was perhaps less highly esteemed than The Great Gatsby or Tender Is the Night, and critics tended to find it slightly naive and less a novel than a collection of short stories. It was nevertheless viewed as a landmark achievement of the Jazz Age by the ambitious young modernist writer, however, and critics continued to write about the novel from nearly all analytical perspectives.