Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fitzgerald's Paradise

Is it me or is is Fitzgerald one of those authors about whom a great deal continues to be said, but for whose oeuvre few have committed the time that might reasonably be expected? 

I may be wrong here, but my sense is that Hemingway's work, by contrast, has been picked over more thoroughly than Fitzgerald's. Sure, there's Gatsby - but what comes next? Tender is the Night is the most likely candidate, but I have the sense that more people have read The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, or For Whom the Bell Tolls than have completed Fitzgerald's second-tier novels. (Not that "second-tier" does them justice...)

But I digress. 

What I wanted to express most in this post are, first, the similarities between This Side of Paradise (a novel which I've recently finished) and Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. I mean, wow: whether it's Oxford or Princeton, it doesn't really matter. Both novels chart the academy as it existed in perhaps its most elite modern form - and then go on to chronicle the demise of the novel's central (or seemingly central) character. In the case of Fitzgerald, this is Amory Blaine. 

There's no question that Fitzgerald nailed the first half of this book, but then lost his way a bit toward the end. This owes some, I think, to the fact that the young Fitzgerald hadn't yet experienced that which he attempted to capture. Plus, the very idea of decline was anethma to Fitzgerald's belief in America's promise, particularly in those years before the war. 

All of this is to say that Fitzgerald's best when he's knee-deep in the social and academic muck represented by Princeton, but he's not as good - or not nearly as good as Waugh, I don't think - when it comes to capturing a sense of demise, of withering away like Sebastian Flyte. (Fitzgerald will do far better on this topic in Gatsby, of course.)

Despite this criticism, I enjoyed This Side of Paradise and found it surprisingly readable and entertaining. As this is Fitzgerald, the last line is reserved for the master:

"He felt he was leaving behind him his chance of being a certain type of artist. It seemed so much more important to be a certain sort of man." (Penguin ed., 258)


  1. FWIW Fitzgerald is 18th on this list and Hemingway 6th:

    "MLA Rankings of American Writers":


  2. That's an interesting list, Dave. Thanks!

  3. D.G. Myers clarifies the nature of this list in his followup posting "My MLA List":