Fitzgerald: The Horror and the Vision of Paradise,
Amory saw girls doing things that even in his memory would have been impossible: wrote the young Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise, eating three oclock after-dance suppers in impossible cafes, talking of every side of life with an air half of earnestness, half of mockery, yet with a furtive excitement that Amory considered stood for a real moral let-down. But he never realized how widespread it was until he saw the cities between New York and Chicago as one vast juvenile intrigue. [From This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published and copyright, 1920. Charles Scribners Sons, New York. Fitzgerald wrote, that even in his memory would have been impossible: eating three-oclock, after-dance suppers [A.M.]]
It was an oddly innocent intrigue that Amory-Fitzgerald reported. The girls almost always lost their curiosity after the first kiss. Ive kissed dozens of men, said one typically. I suppose Ill kiss dozens more. The young men, even with the advantages of sunk-down sofas and innumerable cocktails, were usually content with shy claspings and sentimental poetry. It was an intrigue of manners merely, conducted by glittering children who could hardly bear to be touched; and it was the creation of a young mans innocence at a time when all things seemed larger than life and purer than a childhood dream.
This was the surface of Fitzgeralds world. Beneath it, almost undetectable even to Fitzgerald himself, was something else, something that the dawn light of eternal morning failed to penetrate and that stood between Amory Blaine, the enchanted voyager in Paradise, and the full possession of his enchantment. At Myra St. Claires bobbing party he and Myra had slipped away from the others and gone to the little den upstairs at the country club. There they had kissed, their lips brush [ing] like young wild flowers in the wind. But sudden revulsion seized Amory, disgust, loathing for the whole incident, and he desired frantically to be away. Later at college he had gone with a classmate and two girls on a Broadway holiday. Toward the end of the evening when they arrived at the girls apartment, he was repelled by the laughter, the liquor, and his partners side-long suggestive smile, and for a terrifying moment he saw a deathlike figure sitting opposite him on the divan. Still later, when he, a friend, and a girl were caught in a hotel room by house detectives, Amory saw above the figure of the girl sobbing on the bed an aura, gossamer as a moonbeam, tainted as stale, weak wine, yet a horror, diffusely brooding and over by the window among the stirring curtains stood something else, featureless and indistinguishable, yet strangely familiar
Fitzgerald tells us that for Amory the problem of evil had solidified into the problem of sex. [Mr. Aldridge has misplaced the ellipsis in this quotation; it should read, the Problem of evil had solidified into the problem of sex. [A.M.]] There are, to be sure, obvious sexual overtones to these visions, overtones that indicate a disturbing preoccupation with sexual guilt in Fitzgerald. But they indicate as well even deeper disturbances in Paradise itself; in fact, they are the same horrors which came to the older Fitzgerald in the night as he lay awake with insomnia, and they bring with them the same conviction of failure which prefigured his tragic crack-up and death. Indeed, they are horrors that touch at the core of Fitzgeralds work and are implicit in his vision, his tragic sense, of the life of his time. For the beautiful there is always damnation; for every tenderness there is always the black horror of night; for all the bright young men there is sadness; and even Paradise has another side.
It is both an innocent and a haunted Paradise that Fitzgerald reveals in his first book; but it is not a perfect revelation of either. Amorys enormous terrified revulsion is an as-yet-uncentralized emotion. Amory is made to feel his horror, but at no time is it projected into the terms of the narrative. Perhaps it was a thing which Fitzgerald found inexpressible, which he could not understand in himself and could not, therefore, portray. But it is clear that in the very middle of his enchantment he was performing an act of exorcism, as if to free himself of ghosts that were even then speaking to him of the tragedy that was to be his and his times.
The distance between Amory Blaine and Anthony Patch of The Beautiful and Damned is marked by Fitzgeralds growing comprehension of his theme and an increase in his power to detach from the personal and make dramatic the issues which were only imperfectly realized in the earlier novel. But more than anything else the novel is a record of Fitzgeralds emerging disenchantment with the Paradise ideal, a disenchantment which is paced so precisely by Anthonys drift toward ruin that it is almost as if Fitzgerald had been able to assert it finally only after Anthony had discovered it for him.
Through the entire first third of the book Anthony is merely a slightly older version of Amory. There are even signs that he might have come to nothing more than Amorys rather pompous realization of himself, the suffering, betrayed, but somehow purer young man who, at the end of This Side of Paradise, went forth to meet the world crying, I know myself, but that is all. There is the difference, however, that where wealth for Amory was the gateway to the Paradise of his fancy, wealth for Anthony is a means of escaping the horror of life and of cheating the business system out of his soul. All of Anthonys sensibilities rebel at the thought that he might someday have to give up his notion of the utter futility of all endeavor and go to work. As long as he has wealth he can divert himself with pleasure, settle himself in that comfortable routine in which one goes once a week to ones broker and twice to ones tailor, and hold himself aloof from that air of struggle, of greedy ambition, of hope more sordid than despair, of incessant passage up and down, which is most in evidence through the unstable middle class. [From The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published and copyright, 1924, Charles Scribners Sons, New York.] There is the further and very important difference that where Amory lost the girl he loved Anthony marries her.
Significantly, the disaster which overtakes this marriage is never actually centered in the marriage itself. Fitzgeralds acute environmental sense has by now become attuned to the destructive impulses of his time, with the result that the internal currents that sweep Anthony and Gloria along to greater and greater dissension are persistently less important than the disruptive circumstances which surround them. The spiritual breakdown, for example, which is represented in the wild parties, the furious drinking and spending of their class, counterpoints their failure to find in each other more enduring resources; but it is doubtful if without the attraction of the parties, the drinking, and the spending, they would have been quite so demoralized or so quickly damned. The horror is now on the exterior. It is a sense, vague and diffusive, of prevalent disaster; but the forms it takes, while indirectly the result of the increasing tensions within the marriage, stem from those other circumstances of which the marriage is merely an accident.
The summer house which Anthony and Gloria lease shortly after they are married becomes intolerable because of the poisonous associations that accumulate inside it. Ah, my beautiful young lady, it seems to say to Gloria, yours is not the first daintiness and delicacy that has faded here under the summer suns Youth has come into this room in palest blue and left it in the grey cerements of despair But despair is still only a somber pall, pervasive through the lower rooms, gradually climbing up the narrow stairs The nightmare episode during the party when Gloria runs insanely through the darkness to escape a fear that is only partially identified with Joe Hull is another manifestation of that nameless dread which has come to reside at the Patches. But Maury Noble, who discourses that same night on the meaninglessness of life and the nonexistence of God, is as much to blame. And what can be said of the songs
I left my blushing bride
She went and shook herself insane
So let her shiver back again
The panic has come over us
So ha-a-s the moral decline
[Mr. Aldridge has slightly misquoted these songs; see The Beautiful and Damned, pp. 435 and 238. [A.M.]]
which rise above these phantasms like the chorus of death itself? The crumbling structure is not only a marriage. It is Fitzgeralds vision of Paradise as well, going down in the dissolution of an age.
With the destruction of this ideal Fitzgeralds Jazz Age romance comes to an end. He might well say now with Anthony who, having won his inheritance at the price of his sanity and youth, boards a ship for Italy
I showed them. It was a hard fight, but I didnt give up and 1 came through! There is deep significance tor Fitzgerald in this embarkation, this new pursuit of his vision into another world. It is part of the recurrent cycle of his generation; and it is the direction of his own final development. But to Fitzgerald in his passage from golden illusion to the bitterness of loss to ultimate exile and return there is one more step to takeand he takes it in his story of Jay Gatsby and the failure of the American Dream.
The Great Gatsby is by all odds Fitzgeralds most perfect novel. The gain in dramatic power which began to be evident in The Beautiful and Damned is climaxed now in a moment of insight in which self-understanding strikes and discovers its revelation in art. All the channels of Fitzgeralds sensibility seem to have anticipated their end in Gatsby; and all the dissident shapes that obstructed the progress of his search seem to find their apotheosis in Gatsbys romantic dream.
This dream of a past recapturable, of a youth and a love ceaselessly renewed, contrasts oddly with the milieu in which it is placed; yet it is obviously Fitzgeralds intended irony that a man like Gatsby should carry the burden of his own earlier enchantment at the same time that Gatsbys fate should emphasize its futility. It is because his dream is unworthy of him that Gatsby is a pathetic figure; and it is because Fitzgerald himself dreamed that same dream that he cannot make Gatsby tragic. Gatsby has all Fitzgeralds sympathy and all Fitzgeralds mistrust. He is thus Fitzgeralds most potent assertion of Paradise at the same time that he is his most emphatic farewell to it.
The events leading up to the opening of the novel resemble Fitzgeralds typical Jazz Age story. Gatsby, the simple, Midwestern youth, falls in love with Daisy, the beautiful rich girl. There is the brief, wholly idyllic affair which is abruptly terminated by the war. There is Daisys quiet and conventional marriage to Tom Buchanan and Gatsbys return to the memory of a love which, as it has fed on itself, has reached obsessive proportions and become more real than any obstacle time or circumstance can put in its way. There are the years of struggle during which Gatsby painfully constructs the personality and the fortune which will make him deserving of Daisy; and there is the final achievementthe magnificent house in West Egg looking across the bay to the green light at the end of the Buchanans dock. It is at this point that Gatsby is introduced; and it is immediately afterward that the flaws in his calculations become clear.
Gatsbys plan depends for its success upon Daisys discontent with her marriage and her willingness to exchange it for a life of love. But Daisys discontent, like her sophistication, is a pose, something picked up from the most advanced people, part of the sham and deception of her world. The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said, Nick Carraway tells us. I waited, and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged. [From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published and copyright, 1925, Charles Scribners Sons, New York. Mr. Aldridge has omitted a sentence from the middle of this quotation. [A.M.]] Daisy was born into that society, and she has been corrupted by it. That fact, so early revealed to us but unknown to Gatsby, sets the key for the principal irony of the novel. Gatsbys story is, in a sense, Fitzgeralds parody of the Great American Success Dream. Gatsby, surrounded by the tinsel splendor of his parties, dressed in his absurd pink suits, protected from social ostracism by the fabulous legend he has constructed around himself, is still the naively ambitious boy who wrote in that schedule of childhood the formula of successRise from bed Study electricity Work Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it. Study needed inventions. The purchase of love and happiness is part of that formula; and if Gatsby had not been destroyed by a corruption greater than his own, it is probable that he would have arranged that too. But it was his misfortune to have believed too strenuously and loved too blindly. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but thats no mattertomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther And one fine morning So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Scott Fitzgerald also believed in the green light. He believed in the Buchanans, and he believed in Gatsby; and it was inevitable that he should end by disavowing both. If The Beautiful and Damned saw the emergence of his disenchantment with Paradise, The Great Gatsby was the final projection in art of that disenchantment and the beginning of a new phase in his career. The man who wrote Tender Is the Night almost nine years later had left even disenchantment behind. There was no dream now. There was only horror and sickness. The destructive element had at last completely broken through the privacy of the haunted mind and become part of the larger spectacle of an entire age short-circuiting itself to ruin.
It occurred to me, remarked Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. In the years between that novel and Tender Is the Night Fitzgerald had ample opportunity to test the truth of this observation; for they were years of ebbing vitality and doubt for him as well as for his time. The interval was marked by Fitzgeralds growing identification of himself with the life around him, by a greater and greater immersion in its sickness, and a progressive failure of self-control. The age of excess had told on him from the start; a process of over-extension of the flank, of burning the candle at both ends, [ an over-extension of the flank, a burning of the candle at both ends, The Crack-Up, p. 77. [A.M.]] had begun as far back as Princeton, when he had been invalided out in his junior year, and had continued through the writing of his early books. There was always a hint of fever glow, of deep and excessive withdrawals at the bank of talent, about Fitzgeralds work. Gatsby may be said to have been a temporary recovery. But Gatsby was written during that fragile moment when the drive of youth meets with the intuitive wisdom of first maturity and before either the diseases of youth or the waverings of age begin to show through. Besides, Gatsby was the kind of book that had to be written; and perhaps the energy that went into the writing of it came to some extent from the book itself. But something in Fitzgerald died with Gatsby; when Gatsbys world fell to pieces and its glitter slowly dissolved, Fitzgerald was left with the pieces and the afterglow. He lived on in the afterglow; but it was by now a glow of sickness; and the pieces, when he fitted them back together, proved to be good only for a world as sick and bankrupt as he.
Tender Is the Night, then, is what Fitzgerald himself called the novel of deterioration. It is written with a neurotic subtlety, crammed with tortured images and involuted patterns. It is like something out of a mental patients diary and, by turns, like the clinical report of a patient who is doubling as his own psychoanalyst. The patterns of the earlier novels have now been broken down, rearranged, and absorbed into a new narrative form. Again the effect is a psychiatric formula the mind unconsciously concealing the true object of its horror through a projection upon other objects which may or may not have originally pertained to that horror. But Fitzgerald fails to complete the process. Gloria Gilbert and Daisy Buchanan have become Rosemary Hoyt with her virginal emotions and her peculiarly American immaturity; but they have also become Nicole Diver, the enchanting and half-demented Jazz Daughter of Fitzgeralds new dissolute Paradise. Amory Blaine, Anthony Patch, and Tom Buchanan are all to be found in Dick Diver, but so too is Jay Gatsby. On all sides of these principals Fitzgerald hascattered the evidence of the general decay which he set out to depict. There is Nicoles incestuous relationship with her father; the corruption of the English Campions and Lady Carolines; the anarchism of Tommy Barban, who must be perpetually at war; the exhibitionism of Yale Man Collis Clay; the literary degeneracy of Albert McKisco; the self-indulgence of Abe North, whose moral suicide anticipates Dick Divers own. But these forces, while satisfactorily realized in themselves, are not drawn together in the main situation of the novel, which is the story of the Divers.
Rosemary Hoyt takes over the infatuation element from the long line of deluded Fitzgerald males. She is delighted and fascinated by the Divers; their special gentleness and far-reaching delicacy, the effortless command of the richness of life, seem to Rosemary to contain a purpose different from any she had known. [What Fitzgerald actually wrote was, different from the rough and ready good fellowship of directors, who represented the intellectuals in her life. Actors and directorsthose were the only men she had ever known Tender Is the Night, p. 24. [A.M.]] They exert over her the kind of magic Thomas Wolfe glorified in the people who have the quality of richness and joy in them and communicate it to everything they touch. But Rosemary cannot penetrate the secret horror that revolting scene which Violet McKisco came upon in the bathroom that night at the partywhich is at the core of the Divers relationship, nor can she know the price Dick has had to pay for hisamusing world and his power of arousing a fascinated and uncritical love. Rosemary is perhaps too hypnotized to care; her principal emotion is one of relief at having escaped through the Divers the derisive and salacious improvisations of the frontier.
Yet Rosemary has come to Fitzgeralds last frontier, to the Divers who are the last of their line and whose ancestral curse it is to drift steadily, but unaware toward ruin. Fitzgeralds familiar contrast between outward splendor and inner disintegration is particularly apt now to point up the Divers underlying ambivalence: the glamour which is the thinnest sugar-coating of evil, the surface glitter which is the reflection of an incurable sickness of heart. Dick, the generous giver of his strength, first to the neurotic Nicole, then to all who demand it, is the shell of an illusion, the exact furthermost evolution of Fitzgeralds dream of the rich and the caricature of the emptiness he found at the center of that dream. At one time in his life Dick was faced with a choice between the necessary human values, which he had learned from his father, and Nicole, whom he could not have without accepting her world of charm, notoriety, and good manners. In the beginning, and in Dicks position as a doctor, Nicole was, as Arthur Mizener observed, a professional situation; it was his need to express his best impulses that made it a human situation; wanting above all to be brave and kind, he wanted, even more, to be loved. [From Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published and copyright, 1931, Charles Scribners Sons, New York. The end of this quotation should read, wanted, even more than that, to be loved. Tender Is the Night, p. 391. [A.M.]] So, as a doctor, he accepted the responsibility of Nicoles care, and, as a man, he accepted the responsibility of her love. And to her world and its increasing demands, to all the people who came to depend on him for all that they lacked in themselves, he gave his humanity. He was gay, charming, and polite. He gave until there was nothing left in him to give, until the impulses of his humanity were turned destructively upon himself and Nicole. Then, in a final act of will, realizing that Nicoles love for him was inseparable from her psychological dependence upon him, he broke that dependence and watched Nicole drift away from him forever. What he had failed to treat as a professional situation had been just that all along. The human situation had never existed outside himself.
This irony is deepened by the irony of the novels setting. Europe, particularly the European Riviera, had been the last refuge of Fitzgeralds heroes. It was Amory Blaines promise of the good life. It was Anthony Patchs escape from the vulgarity of the economic order. It was the hope of Paradise for Fitzgerald himself. But it was characteristic of Fitzgerald that he should find even this last oasis corrupt; and it was fitting that he should have Dick Diver renounce the scene of his corruption and return to America. Doctor Diver, uprooted and lost, seeking his sources through a succession of small, and progressively more obscure townsBuffalo, Batavia, and Geneva, New York; and Scott Fitzgerald, turning his back on the East for the last time, facing west to Hollywood, the place of all our lost illusions.
The Last Tycoon is a brilliant fragment of the book Fitzgerald was Writing when he died. Even with Edmund Wilsons scholarly interpretation of the notes that were left with the manuscript, we are given no more than an intimation of Fitzgeralds purpose; and even after we have read his synopsis and the opening chapters, we have always to bear in mind that both the plan and the writing would have been altered considerably in the final version. Yet it is possible to visualize from the material at hand the scope and promise of Fitzgeralds intention and to weave The Last Tycoon at least partially into the context of the earlier novels.
There is, first of all, the figure of the tycoon himself, Monroe Stahr. Stahr, the last frontiersman, the embodiment of Fitzgeralds search for values beyond all frontiers, has come to rest at last in Hollywood, where the frontier has become a thing of cardboard and tinsel and the American Dream a corporation dedicated to the purveyance of dreams. In Hollywood, Stahrs empire is as magnificent and powerful as the one Gatsby envisioned; it is also as corrupt. But corruption has now become an acceptable part of the social order. In fact, it is inevitable in a nation that for a decade had wanted only to be entertained. Yet, because Stahr is wholly committed to his dream of power, he is, like Gatsby, basically incorruptible.
To be incorruptible in Fitzgeralds world, however, is to be destroyed by a larger corruptive force. Men like Gatsby and Stahr who subordinate everything to their ambition have only one fearthe collapse of the system on which their ambition is based; and as the novel develops, it becomes clear that some such collapse is occurring around Stahr. As in Tender Is the Night, the prophecy of doom is carried in the minor figures who remain, for the most part, on the periphery of the action. There is the ruined producer Manny Schwartz, whose suicide introduces the tragic theme in the opening section; Mr. Marcus, the industrial magnate who has lost his powers; the has-been actors and actresses, all haunting the scene of their last triumphs; even Cecilia, who, in all her innocence and youth, is somehow tainted. Then, too, there are the debilitating effects on Stahr himself of the struggle which made him a kinghis fanatical disregard of his failing health, his morbid preoccupation with his dead wife, his almost deliberate perversion of the life force, as if he were consciously intent on death. Stahr, like the Divers, is the last of his line, and, like them, he embodies all the strengths and weaknesses of a dynasty.
Is this all? asks Brimmer, the Communist organizer, as Stahr loses his control. This frail half-sick person holding up the whole thing? [From The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald (edited by Edmund Wilson), published and copyright, 1941, Charles Scribners Sons New York. The second question mark is Mr. Aldridges. [A.M.]] And Fitzgerald himself might well have asked the same question; for Stahr comes as a pathetic climax to his lifelong search for Paradise. Looking back over the novels, however, we can see how the pattern of this search resolves itself in Stahr; indeed, how there can be no other possible resolution. Amory Blaines infatuation with wealth set the key for Anthony Patchs corruption by wealth. In Gatsby, Fitzgerald sounded the futility of his dream only to reembrace the rich in Dick Diver and discover the real futility of the spiritually bankrupt; and as Anthony, Gatsby, and Dick were destroyed, so Stahr prepares us for the final destruction, that ultimate collapse of self which comes after all dreams have died.
We can see too by what an inescapable process of disenchantment Fitzgerald arrived at Hollywood and his own crack-up. There have been his wanderings east from the barbarian St. Paul to the Princeton of This Side of Paradise; the New York parties of The Beautiful and Damned; the East Egg society of The Great Gatsby; and still east to the Paris and Riviera of Tender Is the Night; until Dick Divers repatriation brings him abruptly back to the West once more. And as each place is left behind and the possibilities of place are diminished, the horrors accumulate until finally there is only enough will left for one last act of self-immolationthe return to the supreme lie of Monroe Stahrs world.
In completing the cycle of his life and art, Fitzgerald reproduced the design of an entire literary movement. But Fitzgerald was more than merely typical of that movement: he was its most sensitive and tormented talent and the prophet of its doom. With a sense of the destructive impulses of his time that can only be compared with Hemingways, he yet lacked Hemingways stabilizing giftthe ability to get rid of the bad times by writing of them. Fitzgerald never got rid of anything; the ghosts of his adolescence, the failures of his youth, the doubts of his maturity plagued him to the end. He was supremely a part of the world he described, so much a part that he made himself its king and then, when he saw it begin to crumble, he crumbled with it and led it to death.
But the thing that destroyed him also gave him his special distinction. His vision of Paradise served him as a medium of artistic understanding. Through it he penetrated to the heart of some of the great illusions of his time, discovering their falsity as if he were discovering his own. If that visionlike Hemingways correlative of loss which it so much resembleswas limited, it was at least adequate to Fitzgeralds purpose; and it was a means of contact between his art and the experience of his time.
There is a certain quaintness about Fitzgeralds work today as there is about Hemingways. But in Fitzgerald one has the sense of such a literal contemporaneity that it is almost impossible to read him without giving more attention to his time than to what he had to say about it. Mahjongg, crossword puzzles, Freud, bathtub gin, Warren G. Harding, and Fitzgerald are inextricably one; the time amounts to a consistent betrayal of the man. Yet the distance that separates his time from ours enables us to rediscover him in a fresh focus and to see in the important things he wrote that other dimension, always there, but obscured until now by the glitter of his surfaces. The emphasis now is on Fitzgeralds acutely penetrative side, his ability to manipulate the surfaces as if they were mirrors that reflect not only the contents of a room, the splendor of its occupants, but the concealed horrors of its essencethe ghosts hidden just behind the swaying arras, the disenchantment behind the bright masks of faces, the death to which everyone in the room has been spiritually mortgaged. The sense of impending catastrophe is never more deeply or terribly felt than when we are immersed, and seem almost destined to be drowned, in the welter of life with which Fitzgerald presents us: the end of the big party is always implicit in its beginning, the ugliness of age is always visible in the tender beauty of youth.
With this awareness, this assurance that Fitzgerald penetrated to the truth beneath his vision, it ceases to matter that his vision was, in many ways, frivolous and unbecoming or that, with all his insight, he often failed to perceive the implications of what he saw. What matters and will continue to matter is that we have before us the work of a man who gave us better than any one else the true substance of an age, the dazzle and fever and the ruin.
Fitzgerald: The Horror and Vision of Paradise. From After the Lost Generation (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1951) by John W. Aldridge. Copyright (c) 1951 by John W. Aldridge. Reprinted by permission of the author and McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc.
JOHN ALDRIDCE, the novelist and critic, is the author of The Party at Cranston and After the Lost Generation, of which his essay on Fitzgerald constitutes a chapter.