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Posts Tagged ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’

flappers and philosophers( I don’t own the lovely edition pictured *sigh* – I read this book on kindle)

Short stories are difficult to review – but I am attempting to give a small and tantalising taste of this lovely collection of early Fitzgerald. His prose is just lovely, and although I personally thought the final two stories a little weaker than the rest – the entire collection is certainly worth reading. My favourite stories were: The Offshore Pirate – in which we can see an early Gatsbyesque character – although the racial epithets do jar by today’s standards – The Cut Glass Bowl and Bernice bobs her hair. This collection of stories – superbly named – are wonderfully evocotive of the times and the America in which they are set. My kindle version – came with some adorable illustrations which I loved and really helped set the scene.

“This unlikely story begins on a sea that was a blue dream, as colorful as blue-silk stockings, and beneath a sky as blue as the irises of children’s eyes. From the western half of the sky the sun was shying little golden disks at the sea–if you gazed intently enough you could see them skip from wave tip to wave tip until they joined a broad collar of golden coin that was collecting half a mile out and would eventually be a dazzling sunset.”

The Offshore Pirate – In this memorable opening story with its beautifully evocative opening, idle young Ardita rebels against her uncle. He only wants her to behave as a respectable young lady and marry wisely. Leaving her alone aboard ship his rebuke ringing in her ears, Ardita is captured by ragtime musician Carlyle and his group of pirates. There is a sweet little twist however as things aren’t all they seem, in this frothy little romantic tale.
The Ice Palace – Southern belle Sally Carrol thinks that she wants a different life to the one she leads in the South, her dream is to be married to man unlike the small town Southern boys she grew up with. Sally Carrol loves the sun, rather fears the cold, but is soon engaged to a man from the North, and her subsequent trip to visit her fiancé and his family and friends – shows her what her life could be like.
Head and Shoulders – Horace Tarbox is a young prodigy. One day a knock at his door changes all the plans he thought he had when actress and singer Marcia Meadow breezes into his room leaving her scent all over his chair.
The Cut Glass Bowl – When the beautiful Evelyn Piper marries her husband Harold she is presented with a cut glass bowl by a former beau – something he says is as beautiful, hard and empty as she is. Over the years this bowl is peculiarly at the heart of many life changing events in the Piper household.
Bernice bobs her hair – Bernice is an attractive girl, yet strangely unpopular among the bright young people that form her cousin Marjorie’s social circle.

“I hate dainty minds,’ answered Marjorie. ‘But a girl has to be dainty in person. If she looks like a million dollars she can talk about Russia, ping-pong, or the League of Nations and get away with it.”

Marjorie’s attempts to improve Bernice’s social skills has unexpected consequences, Marjorie is left feeling jealous and soon shows her claws forcing Bernice to make good on an idle and frivolous boast.
Benediction – Lois is in the process of making a decision about whether she will marry the man who loves her. On the way to a meeting with her lover, Lois stops off at the monastery where her much older brother is training to be a Jesuit priest.
The Four Fists Moving from his school days to his time as a successful business man Samuel Meredith recalls some pivotal moments in his life where he was brought to some startling realisations by being hit by somebody else.

This was my first reading of F Scott Fitzgerald short stories, last year I read This Side of Paradise for the first time, which disappointed slightly after my delighted re-read of The Great Gatsby. I am planning to re-read more of Fitzgerald’s novels but I’m now really looking forward to more of his short stories as well.

F Scott Fitzgerald

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thissideofparadise

This was the only F. Scott Fitzgerald novel I had never read, and having re-read The Great Gatsby recently which I loved and then a brilliant non-fiction book, about the writing of it; Careless People I decided it was high time that I did. The opportunity presented itself sooner than I expected when I came across a copy of it at the library (while looking for something else).

At the time of its publication, This Side of Paradise was a big hit, a best seller it catapulted F Scott Fitzgerald to instant fame. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda were seen as the epitome of the jazz age, and this largely autobiographical novel is partly the story of that jazz age.

“He was going to live in New York, and be known at every restaurant and café, wearing a dress suit from early evening to early morning, sleeping away the dull hours of the forenoon.”

Amory Blaine is the son of a wealthy mid-west family, the selfish egotistical child of a selfish mother, who following on from his education at a private school goes to Princeton. Here he makes a number of good friends, frequenting high society, and embarking on a number of romantic liaisons. At Princeton Amory Blaine’s arrogance means he is not keen on study at all, yet fully expects to get good marks. An aspiring writer, Amory later works for a while as an advertising copy writer – he’s ambitious but weak, easily tempted by the hedonism around him, Amory soon finds himself disillusioned, heartbroken and conjuring up visions of the devil. Amory is a romantic, and although he is egotistical and selfish, he is not an unsympathetic character, quite beautifully drawn, Blaine, who is a thinly disguised F. Scott Fitzgerald, has something of the innocent about him. I found I liked Amory – we see the world through his dreaming eyes and in the glorious early prose of F. Scott Fitzgerald – it is a dazzling place.

“Many nights he lay there dreaming awake of secret cafés in Mont Marte, where ivory women delved in romantic mysteries with diplomats and soldiers of fortune, while orchestras played Hungarian waltzes and the air was thick and exotic with intrigue and moonlight and adventure.”

The most beautifully poignant part of this novel (and it certainly has its flaws – more of that later) is the story of Amory’s doomed relationship with Rosamond (a kind of Zelda figure). This story of a broken love affair is beautifully rendered by Fitzgerald – Amory’s sadness and disillusion in its failure seems to mirror the disillusionment of American society. At the end of the novel, a saddened, cynical Amory Blaine, walks back to Princeton, and reflects upon what the world has to offer the next generation.

“Long after midnight the towers and spires of Princeton were visible, with here and there a late-burning light – and suddenly out of the clear darkness the sound of bells. As an endless dream it went on; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation, the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world, still fed romantically on the mistakes and half-forgotten dreams of dead statesmen and poets. Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a reverie of long days and nights, destined finally to go out into the dirty grey turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all God’s dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken…”

This novel was quite hard work – ultimately worth it I think, but I find the idea of it as a huge best seller quite surprising. That ‘The Great Gatsby’ wasn’t any kind of commercial success during F Scott Fitzgerald’s lifetime is extraordinary. The novel is quite episodic, the narrative driven by the thoughts and ruminations of Amory, there are places where it seems as if “not much happens.” There are sections of the novel that are – to be frank quite dull. I found that about every 50 pages or so my experience of this novel changed. There were parts I loved, the writing is beautiful, and there are some wonderful characters, but then I would hit a section where I threatened to get bogged down again, and then suddenly it would be great again. However I do think that if you like Fitzgerald then you need to read this, his first novel, it certainly shows the early genius of the man who went on to write ‘The Great Gatsby’

F Scott Fitzgerald

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great gatsby

Since finishing my re-read of The Great Gatsby I have been conscious of two nagging questions 1) How could I have forgotten how brilliant a novel it is? and 2) how on earth do I even begin to review what many people consider one of the greatest American novels of all time?

The Great Gatsby is a great American novel about the great American dream, with all its disillusions and disappointments. It is also a novel about the 1920’s society, that jazz age of bright young things and their endless parties, which was a world that Fitzgerald himself had experienced.

The narrator of the novel is Nick Carraway – a poor young bondsman a Yale graduate and war veteran – he has rented a small house on Long island right next to a huge mansion. The owner of the mansion is the mysterious Jay Gatsby, an enigma, a party giver who stands at a distance from the heady amoral society that he has collected around him. Gatsby appears to be a self-made man, the epitome of the American dream. Those who come to party at his house wonder about their host – who is Jay Gatsby? – is it true he once killed a man?

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan a beautiful, fragile flapper is shallow and self-absorbed, married to the bullish Tom. Tom Buchanan is a violent white supremacist with a mistress who he proudly introduces to Nick. At the Buchanan’s house Nick meets Jordan Baker, a friend of Daisy’s and an amateur golfer with whom Nick begins a relationship. It’s Jordan who first tells Nick about Gatsby, and later that summer Nick receives an invitation to one of the glittering parties that lights up the bay.
Unknown to Tom Buchanan, Daisy once had a brief romance with Gatsby. Gatsby has been drawn to Long Island in his obsessive pursuit of Daisy who he loves terribly and hopelessly. Gatsby gazes at the green light at the end of the Buchanan’s dock across the bay from his own mansion – desperately longing to re-kindle their romance.

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”

Meanwhile In the valley of ashes lives George and Muriel Wilson – George is a mechanic and garage owner, he works on Tom Buchanan’s car, Muriel is Tom’s mistress, she despises her husband, but is treated horribly by Tom. Nick is drawn into the story of Daisy and Gatsby orchestrating a reunion between the pair, feelings are reignited after the initial strained meeting. For anyone who has not read the book I’ll say no more, but of course the stage is set for tragedy and disillusion.

“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

The Great Gatsby is quite simply a glorious piece of writing, generally considered to be Fitzgerald’s best work. It seems as if some of Fitzgerald’s earlier work suffers by comparison to Gatsby.
Just consider the last line of the novel:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

How absolutely perfect.

Re-reading Gatsby has really whetted my appetite for more Fitzgerald, and I am reminded that I have never read his first novel – which I think generally, suffers in reviews from being unfairly compared to Gatsby – or his short stories, which I do have on my kindle. I was upset to discover I no longer own a copy of Tender is the Night – which I remember being mesmerised by and originally preferring to Gatsby – what happens to the books we think we own, but have disappeared?

Reading this wonderful novel has almost inevitably led me to the purchase of another book – which was absolutely crying out to me having finished Gatsby –  but then I haven’t been buying that many books just lately – ok so that’s a lie.

F Scott Fitzgerald

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