illustrated profiles of Amory and Beatrice Blaine

This Side of Paradise

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Historical Context

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World War I
With tensions running very high between the major European powers, the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife in Belgrade sparked the beginning of World War I. Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire formed the Central Alliance against Great Britain, France, Russia, and later many other countries, waging a devastating war on a number of fronts. The United States remained neutral for much of the war, but anti-German sentiment increased when passenger and commercial ships with American interests began to be attacked and sunk, and when Great Britain produced a decoded telegram from the German foreign minister promising Mexico control of areas of the United States if it entered the war on the side of the Central Powers.

President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany in April of 1917, and the American assistance on the Western front helped to overwhelm the Central Powers despite the Russian withdrawal from the war in the spring of 1918. By November of the same year, the Central Powers had been defeated, and in January Wilson delivered his idealistic “Fourteen Points” statement about international conflict resolution. Instead of adhering to Wilson’s ideas, however, the embittered Allied Powers signed punitive treaties with Germany, Austro- Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire by 1919 that left these countries divided and in severe debt. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles also set up the League of Nations, a body intended to resolve international disputes, but opposition in the United States Senate blocked American entry into the organization.

The Dawn of the Jazz Age
In the years following World War I, the United States was beginning to enjoy the optimism and economic boom characteristic of the 1920s. Massproduced goods and household technology were becoming available, and people were investing in the prosperous stock market. In the final period before the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting alcohol took effect in early 1920, jazz music was popular and the social scene was notoriously flamboyant, particularly in large cities like New York. The beginning of the Jazz Age was also an important period for women’s rights: women were increasingly involved in the social scene; they had a much larger presence in the workforce; and the Nineteenth Amendment, enacted in August of 1920, gave women the right to vote.

American Modernism
The literary movement of modernism is generally considered to have coincided with World War I, an event that caused many assumptions about the world to change drastically. Writers and artists across the western world, feeling that they could no longer express themselves in old forms, responded with experimental techniques that borrowed from a variety of other movements, most notably post-impressionism, which dealt with a simplification of form in the visual arts, and naturalism, which tended to present a deterministic universe that involved a brutal struggle for survival.

Modernism is most commonly associated with Europe, and the nucleus of modernist writers lived in Paris, where Fitzgerald later moved, and with the Bloomsbury group living in London. Perhaps the most influential modernist writer was James Joyce, an Irish author who became known for his efforts to deal with a multiplicity of viewpoints that lead to an “epiphany,” or sudden moment of truth and understanding, as well as his later use of the streamof- consciousness style. There was also, however, a group of American modernist writers, including Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos, from the “lost generation” of an age to fight in World War I. Although many of them lived in Paris at some point, these writers often approached the literary movement by dealing with American social and political themes...

(This entire section contains 727 words.)

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and did not necessarily identify with European modernism.

A specifically American modernist identity is noticeable in This Side of Paradise, for example, when Amory mentions that he did not take to Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In fact, Amory tends to group all European authors into one and deny them all, from the patriotic English poet of World War I, Rupert Brooke, to the traditionalist English writer H. G. Wells, to the visionary Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, who was known for being profoundly at odds with his age. Although it is not at all clear that Fitzgerald is actually interested in disavowing all of European tradition, his first novel does reveal a desire to be uniquely new and to develop a distinctly American literary identity.

Ideas for Group Discussions

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Many readers have found in this youthful performance by Fitzgerald a sense of the author's testing his talent, trying to determine which narrative strategies "work" and which fail. Discussion could focus on the ways in which the author seems to be attempting various approaches to the task of creating a worthy text: for example, a quote from "Casey Jones," the use of subheads (as with "The Philosophy of the Slicker"), and the inclusion of "poetic" passages at the close of chapters (in italics).

Since the book is clearly "experimental," some thought could be given to the question of its length. Given the tightness of a The Gatsby (1925), readers, when considering This Side of Paradise, might consider whether the novel is too long (more than twice the length of Gatsby) and, if so, what parts could be excised, without damage to the thematic effects.

When thinking of characterization, readers often try to judge whether a given personage in a novel is truly "round" or simply "flat," in E. M. Forster's terms. For instance, are the female characters truly "developed" or simply convenient devices in the creation of Amory's personality and experience?

1. Is Amory's attempt to achieve "personage" comparable to the efforts, sometimes seen today, of many people to attain "self-actualization," or a similar advanced state of personality development?

2. Is the book a genuine bildungsroman? Is the "quest" theme adequately developed?

3. Are the digressive "asides" of verse and drama too distracting to allow a clear grasp of the text? Is the plot excessively episodic?

4. Is the picture of college life in the 1920s too idealized? Is the notion of a true "liberal education" so outmoded that Fitzgerald's vision seems like ancient history — or, is it still relevant today?

5. How might Amory's relationships with Rosalind and with Eleanor be contrasted? Do the surnames Connage and Savage suggest any symbolic intent by the author, such as "to connote, or mean" and "untamed"?

6. Does the element of Catholicism in the novel seem fully sincere (especially in view of Fitzgerald's own lapse of commitment to his faith)? Does the element provide an added dimension of moral significance to the book?

Literary Style

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Dramatic, Poetic, and Epistolary FormsThis Side of Paradise is largely told by an omniscient or all-knowing, third person narrator, but many sections employ a variety of different and unique forms, from poems and songs, to lists, to letters and short notes, to the dramatic form or play that is used to portray the beginning and the end of Amory’s relationship with Rosalind. These unconventional methods use a distinct style of text and layout, and they vary according to the situation that Fitzgerald is attempting to express. They are important for two reasons. First, they highlight the unsuitability of a more typical, straightforward narrative in a novel for the new generation of modernist authors; the dramatic form in particular is an innovative approach. And, second, they provide a reading experience that is slightly jarring and that inspires the reader to imagine the events and characters in a fuller, more evocative way.

Self-Conscious Narration
A predominant feature of Fitzgerald’s style is the narrative voice’s own insistent self-consciousness. One of the clearest examples of Fitzgerald’s tendency to call attention to his own methods takes place in the “Young Irony” chapter of Book Two, after the narrator begins his story of Amory and Eleanor by describing how they remembered the affair afterwards. When he breaks off this description and states, “I see I am starting wrong. Let me begin again,” the narrator surprises the readers greatly and makes them wonder why this false start has been included, if it really is “wrong.”

Fitzgerald’s showy style, including many of his romantic, elaborate descriptions and numerous epigrams, or brief witty sayings, is another method of drawing attention to himself as an author. Like Amory, the narrative voice often appears vain and superficially charming, and it is in this way that Fitzgerald presents himself as a daring, debut writer. In fact, this technique is part of the reason that such a large critical emphasis on This Side of Paradise has historically been placed on Fitzgerald’s personal life. Most of the characters have some equivalent or near equivalent in real life: Amory is strikingly similar to Fitzgerald; most of Amory’s Princeton friends are based on some of Fitzgerald’s Princeton friends; Isabelle and Rosalind are both based, in part, on Fitzgerald’s college obsession Ginevra King (although Rosalind also has much in common with Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda); and Monsignor Darcy is based on Fitzgerald’s friend, Father Sigourney Fay, to whom the novel is dedicated. All of these likenesses add to the intrigue of the novel, and the technique of selfconsciousness is an important aspect of the period’s aesthetic innovations.

Compare and Contrast

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1920: Many young soldiers have come home to the United States from a devastating war abroad to a mood of increasing isolationism and a desire to enjoy a prosperous economy.

Today: American soldiers remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the United States military remains engaged in international initiatives, although they are nowhere near the scale of World War I.

1920: The younger generation in the United States shocks parents with kissing and flirting that was very liberal for the time, as displayed in Fitzgerald’s novel.

Today: Although the United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the western industrialized world and teenagers in the early 2000s might not find the romance in This Side of Paradise very shocking, younger generations are probably not any more sexually liberal than their parents were at their age.

1920: Private Ivy League universities such as Princeton are elitist institutions dominated by and populated with the upper class.

Today: Financial aid and diversity initiatives have made Ivy League colleges somewhat more accessible to high-achieving lower and middle class students.

1920: Women make up one-fourth of the workforce (a dramatic increase from before World War I) and begin to vote for the first time.

Today: Women make up nearly half of the workforce and show an increasing presence in managerial and professional positions.

Media Adaptations

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A book-on-tape of This Side of Paradise is available unabridged from Bookcassette Sales, 1997.

Bibliography

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Bloom, Harold, ed. F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. A short but important collection of critical essays, this book provides an introductory overview of Fitzgerald scholarship, plus readings from a variety of perspectives on his fiction.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. New Essays on “The Great Gatsby.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. This short but important collection includes an introductory overview of scholarship, plus interpretive essays on Fitzgerald’s best-known novel.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981. In this outstanding biography, a major Fitzgerald scholar argues that Fitzgerald’s divided spirit, not his lifestyle, distracted him from writing. Claims that Fitzgerald both loved and hated the privileged class that was the subject of his fiction.

Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Twayne, 1963. A clearly written critical biography, this book traces Fitzgerald’s development from youth through a “Final Assessment,” which surveys scholarship on his texts.

Hook, Andrew. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002. Part of the Literary Lives series. Concise rather than thorough, but with some interesting details.

Kuehl, John. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Part 1 discusses Fitzgerald’s major stories and story collections; part 2 studies his critical opinions; part 3 includes selections from Fitzgerald critics. Includes chronology and bibliography.

Lee, A. Robert, ed. Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Includes essays on Fitzgerald’s major novels, his Saturday Evening Post stories, his treatment of women characters, and his understanding of ethics and history.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Broun, Heywood, “Paradise and Princeton,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Critical Reception, edited by Jackson R.

Bryer, Burt Franklin & Co., 1978, p. 9, originally published in the New York Tribune, April 11, 1920, Sec. 7, pp. 9–11.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, This Side of Paradise, edited by James L. W. West III, Cambridge University Press, 1995, originally published by Scribner’s, 1920.

Wilson, Edmund, “F. Scott Fitzgerald,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Arthur Mizener, Prentice-Hall, 1963, pp. 80–85.

“With College Men,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Critical Reception, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, Burt Franklin & Co., 1978, p. 21, originally published in the New York Times Book Review, May 9, 1920, p. 240.

Further Reading
Bryer, Jackson, Ruth Prigozy, and Milton R. Stern, eds., F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Twenty-First Century, University of Alabama Press, 2003. This collection of critical essays, presented at the F. Scott Fitzgerald conference at Princeton University in 1996, offers a variety of new approaches to Fitzgerald’s work.

Eble, Kenneth E., ed., F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of Criticism, McGraw-Hill, 1973. Eble presents a useful collection of criticism on Fitzgerald, including the key essays from the 1960s and early 1970s.

Miller, James E., Jr., The Fictional Technique of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nijhoff, 1957. Miller provides a sophisticated analysis of Fitzgerald’s style and overall career.

Mizener, Arthur, The Far Side of Paradise, rev. ed., Houghton Mifflin, 1965. Winner of the National Book Award, this biographical and critical study of Fitzgerald is widely influential and highly respected.

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