Introduction [to “The Basil and Josephine Stories” collection]
by Jackson R. Bryer and John Kuehl


Sometime in March of 1928, when he was having great difficulty writing his fourth novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald suddenly and quite surprisingly reached back into his childhood and began a series of stories about his life from 1907 at age eleven in Buffalo, New York, to 1913 at age seventeen, when he entered Princeton University. Transparently concealing himself behind the alias Basil Duke Lee, Fitzgerald wrote eight of these stories between March 1928 and February 1929. The Saturday Evening Post, which was then paying him three thousand five hundred dollars a story—and literally sustaining him during the financially lean years between novels—published all eight between April 28, 1928, and April 27, 1929.

A ninth story, whose date of composition is not clear, “That Kind of Party,” was apparently rejected by the Post because, according to Arthur Mizener, “its editors did not care to believe that children of ten and eleven played kissing games.” In an effort to sell this story apart from the series, Fitzgerald changed the protagonists name to Terrence R. Tipton; but his attempts to market it were unsuccessful. The story did not appear in print until Mizener published it in the Summer 1951 issue of the Princeton University Library Chronicle. In his brief introductory note, Mizener indicated that the story belonged chronologically second in the Basil series. A comparison of details in the story with notes in Fitzgerald's autobiographical Ledger, however, unmistakably locates it as describing events of 1907, thus putting it first, and that is where we have placed it.

Between January 1930 and June 1931, with his novel Tender Is the Night still uncompleted, Fitzgerald wrote five stories about Basil's female counterpart, Josephine Perry. With his price now at four thousand dollars a story, the Post published these, starting with “First Blood” on April 5, 1930, and concluding with “Emotional Bankruptcy” on August 15, 1931. The Josephine stories take her from “just sixteen” to “a month short of eighteen.”

Almost as soon as the Basil stories began to appear in print, Fitzgerald's Scribners editor, Maxwell Perkins, expressed admiration for them. After having seen the first three, he wrote the author on June 28, 1928, that he had “read them with great interest,” expressed the hope that “you will be doing some more,” and asked, “Won't you have a book of them sometime?” In a similar vein, Fitzgerald's agent, Harold Ober, wrote him on August 8, 1928, after reading the first four of the group: “I think you will have to write two or three more of these stories for I shall never be satisfied until I hear more about Basil, and I think everyone who reads the stories feels the same way. They will make an exceedingly interesting book, I think.” Replying to Perkins in July 1928, Fitzgerald had indicated that he did plan the series as a book, “a nice light novel, almost, to follow my novel in the season immediately after, so as not to seem in the direct line of my so-called 'work.'”

Fitzgerald toyed with this idea for the next six years, intermittently considering publishing the Basil and Josephine stories as a book in order to lower the amount of advance money he owed to Scribners, but ultimately rejecting this idea because he felt that to do so before publishing his novel would both cheat the public and also lower his reputation as a serious writer. But, in May of 1934, with Tender Is the Night now in print, Fitzgerald offered four plans for a fall book. Plan Two was as follows:

The Basil Lee stories, about 60,000 words, and the Josephine stories, 37,500—with one or two stories added, the last of which will bring Basil and Josephine together—making a book of about 120,000 words under some simple title such as “Basil and Josephine.” This would in some ways look like the best commercial bet because it might be taken like Tarkington's “Gentle Julia,” “Penrod,” etc. almost as a novel, and the most dangerous artistically for the same reason—for the people who buy my books might think that I was stringing them by selling them watered goods under a false name.

Perkins replied immediately:

We are all strongly in favor of Plan #2, Basil and Josephine. The only point against it might be that of the time you would need to get it right. If you feel confident about that not being too great,—not more than six weeks say—we are very strongly for it. I see the danger of misleading the public into thinking of it as a novel in the same sense that “Tender Is the Night” is, and we ought to be sure that there is no mistake made. I think we could surely do it with safety and I believe the book would be very much liked and admired.

But Fitzgerald's enthusiasm for the idea waned and, abandoning it in favor of a selection of the short stories he had published since 1926, he outlined his reasons to Perkins on May 21: the Basil and Josephine stories were “not as good as I thought” (he had marked his tear sheets of several of them “never to be republished”); they were “full of Tarkington” and might invite disadvantageous comparisons; they “would require a tremendous amount of work and a good deal of new invention to make them presentable”; their “best phrases and ideas” had been used in Tender Is the Night. His principal misgiving, hinted at as early as his July 1928 letter to Perkins and reiterated in his outline of Plan Two by the words “almost a novel, and the most dangerous artistically for the same reason,” was now explained more fully:

…I have not quite enough faith in the Business Department to believe that they would not exploit it to some extent as a novel… and any such misconception would just ruin what position I have reconstituted with the critics. The ones who like “Tender” would be disgusted; the ones who were baffled by it or dislike my work would take full advantage to goose-pile on me. It's too damn risky and I am too old for such a chance and the penalty might be too high. What it amounts to is that if it is presented as a novel it wrecks me and if it were presented as short stories then what is the advantage of it over a better collection of short stories?

Fitzgerald's dread lest “Basil and Josephine” seem a novel is understandable. He had not produced a full-length piece of fiction since The Great Gatsby (1925) and he hoped Tender Is the Night (published on April 12, 1934) would revive his reputation for serious long fiction. By 1934, most readers knew of him only as a popular writer who contributed stories like the Basil and Josephine series to the Post and other mass circulation magazines. These readers might very well regard a book of Basil and Josephine as “watered goods.” Fitzgerald, who regarded the story—with its hack-work connotations and its literal potboiling function in his life—as less “artistic” and “serious” than the novel, was thus understandably uneasy. When Taps at Reveille appeared in March 1935, it included only five Basil stories (“The Scandal Detectives,” “The Freshest Boy,” “He Thinks He's Wonderful,” “The Captured Shadow,” and “The Perfect Life”) and three from the Josephine sequence (“First Blood,” “A Nice Quiet Place,” and “A Woman with a Past”). Three additional Basil stories (“A Night at the Fair,” “Forging Ahead,” and “Basil and Cleopatra”) were later reprinted by Arthur Mizener in Afternoon of an Author (1957).

But now that Fitzgerald's reputation as a serious novelist is more than secure, his misgivings and objections are irrelevant; and the two series deserve to appear in a single volume. They deserve this partly because Fitzgerald's assessment of “Basil and Josephine” as a novel is not so far-fetched since both sequences reflect novelistic form in the same way Winesburg, Ohio does. Each portrays a central character among recurrent characters undergoing a process of development dependent on time and place; and each emphasizes the role of society and sex. Each should be read sequentially. And, if we heed Fitzgeralds remark that he planned “one or two” additional stories, “the last of which will bring Basil and Josephine together,” we will also wish to read them in juxtaposition.

That Fitzgerald saw at least the Basil series as a cohesive and carefully plotted unit is indicated by the presence in his papers, now at Princeton University, of a long sheet of paper on which he hand-wrote a plan for these stories. He has the characters arranged under headings such as “St. Paul,” “school,” “male,” and “female.” The sheet also contains his outline for the eight Post stories:

I Scandal Detectives (Age 14) Gentleman Burglar
II A Night at the Fair (Age 14) Long Pants
III The Freshest Boy (Age 15) Fresh—New York
IV He Thinks He's Wonderful (Age 15) Conceit—Talking
V The Captured Shadow (Age 15) 1st Success
VI The Perfect Life (Age 16) Priggishness
VII “Forging Ahead” (Age 16) Work
VIII Basil and Cleopatra (Age 17) Love
At the top of this list could be added:
0 That Kind of Party (Age 11) Kissing

This plan shows that Fitzgerald designed these stories to present Basil encountering different experiences and hardships so that, in the words of critic Matthew J. Bruccoli, “he gradually comes to achieve self-control through an understanding of his own assets and liabilities of personality.” A measure of his success in attaining this goal is how interdependent thematically and structurally the Basil stories are. Bruccoli has shown convincingly that each of them, except “The Captured Shadow,” employs “a duplicate action structure in which Basil is involved twice in substantially the same situation.” His second response to the situation often is different from his first and the reader thus gets a keener understanding of whether or not he has matured.

In “Basil and Cleopatra,” for example, there are two country club scenes. In the first, Basil is completely dazzled by Minnie Bibble and crushed by her attentions to Littleboy Le Moyne. He yearns “to be older, less impressionable, less impressed.” By the second country club scene, after the football game in which Basil has starred in defeating Le Moyne's Princeton freshman squad, Basil is able to handle his awareness that she has lost all feeling for him. He realizes now that there is “nothing left except to escape with his pride.” The similar settings of these two scenes and the presence in both of the same three major characters (Le Moyne's drunken and love-stricken burst into the post-game dance is a gesture worthy of the Basil of earlier stories) serve to heighten the contrast between Basil's different responses. In a similar way, two parties in “That Kind of Party,” two actions with Hubert in “The Scandal Detectives,” two visits to the fair in “A Night at the Fair,” two train rides in “The Freshest Boy,” two unsuccessful encounters with girls in “He Thinks He's Wonderful,” two conversations with Jobena Dorsey in “The Perfect Life,” and two statements by his mother in “Forging Ahead” all serve either to re-emphasize a personality trait in Basil or a development within that personality.

The Basil stories are also linked inextricably in other ways, ways which make a reading of them in sequence obligatory. At least three major motifs or symbols run through the entire sequence. One, the gentleman burglar, which is introduced in “The Scandal Detectives” with Basil's plot against Hubert Blair, reappears in “The Freshest Boy” in Basil's dream on the train, and culminates with Basil's successful production of “The Captured Shadow.” There is obviously an internal progression within the motif itself here in that, in its first two appearances, Basil either cannot bring off his scheme or merely dreams about it, whereas in its third appearance he not only brings it off—albeit as part of a play—but does so with a great deal of flair.

Similarly, the motif of athletic prowess runs through several of the stories. In the early ones, Basil admires Hubert Blair's “virtuosic athletic ability,” has a second dream on the train of being sent into a close game in the last seconds, follows Yale football star Ted Fay and his girl friend to an intimate rendezvous in a New York restaurant, and is impressed by the presence in Evelyn Beebe's living room of Andy Lockheart, golf champion and captain of the Yale freshman baseball team. Then, in two of the last three stories, Basil achieves the same sort of fulfillment of his athletic dream as he achieves with his gentleman burglar fantasy. In “The Perfect Life,” he stars in a losing cause for St. Regis; and, in “Basil and Cleopatra,” he realizes his fondest hopes. Sent in to quarterback the Yale freshmen against Princeton when the starting quarterback is injured, he engineers a winning drive which defeats not only Princeton but also his rival in love, Littleboy Le Moyne.

Another recurrent motif or symbol is that of the automobile and the kind of romantic promise and social prestige its possession conveys. This is introduced in “A Night at the Fair,” when Basil and Riply Buckner watch enviously as Speed Paxton drives away in his Blatz Wildcat with a beautiful blonde. It reappears in “He Thinks He's Wonderful” as Margaret Torrence tells Basil that her family is going to get a car, when Basil realizes that “the great thing… was to own an automobile,” and when, at the end of the story, he triumphantly takes Imogene Bissel for a ride in his grandfather's electric. In “The Perfect Life,” Basil first encounters Jobena Dorsey in what he notes is the first “long, low, English town car” he has ever seen. And, finally, in “Forging Ahead,” the symbol surfaces again when Minnie Bibble asks Basil to visit her in the evenings and he replies, “I haven't got a car.”

Fitzgerald also uses recurrent characters to link many of the stories. Unless one reads them in sequence as a unit, the casual mention or brief appearance of a character is often meaningless. The presence of Lewis Crum in the front seat of Joe Gorman's car in “He Thinks He's Wonderful” subtly links Basil's humiliations in St. Paul to the similar experiences he has had at St. Regis in “The Freshest Boy,” a story in which Crum plays a major role. Similarly, in “Basil and Cleopatra,” Fitzgerald notes in passing that Basil is rooming at Yale with Brick Wales and George Dorsey. This detail is an indication of how far Basil has come in attaining his goal of social acceptance; for it was Brick Wales who took away Basil's roommate in “The Freshest Boy” and now he is rooming with him himself. And George Dorsey, of course, is a principal witness to Basil's eccentric behavior in “The Perfect Life.” In “A Night at the Fair,” when Elwood Learning suggests that Basil and Riply join him for the evening, it recalls the fact that the same Elwood Learning was the subject of one of Basil and Riply's entries in their Book of Scandal in “The Scandal Detectives.” Clearly, Basil and Riply have come a long way in a year.

The recurrent appearances of two more prominent characters have even greater importance. The first of these is Hubert Blair. In both “The Scandal Detectives” and “A Night at the Fair” Basil seemingly triumphs over Hubert only to have Hubert reappear a second time and turn defeat into victory. Significantly, though, while Hubert is central to the first story, he is introduced very close to the end of “A Night at the Fair.” Apparently, Fitzgerald intends that we remember Hubert from the earlier story; and he depends upon that memory for the impression that his reappearance in the second story will make. Hubert's other major appearance is in “The Captured Shadow,” and the situation there parallels that in “The Scandal Detectives”: both involve a drama conceived by Basil in which Riply and Bill Kampf are given parts and in which Hubert is also assigned a role which he ultimately refuses to play. But, again, the difference between the two situations is the key to Basil's development. Hubert's second refusal to play his part does not defeat Basil as the first one does; in the second instance, Huberts defection hardly bothers Basil and the play succeeds without him.

The second major character whose successive appearances have major thematic implications is Ermine Gilberte Labouisse Bibble. Minnie Bibble first charms Basil in “He Thinks He's Wonderful.” Then, in “Forging Ahead,” Rhoda Sinclair casually mentions to Basil that she's heard that he thinks he's wonderful. This is the first reference to Basil's unfortunate reputation since “He Thinks He's Wonderful,” and, since there have been two intervening stories, we wonder why this phrase reappears. When, about two pages later, Minnie is reintroduced, we realize that Rhoda's remark was a foreshadowing device. Minnie's return is thematically necessary because, as with Hubert, we must observe Basil's second response to a similar situation in order to see how or whether he has changed. And, almost immediately, there is a difference: as Minnie tries to get him to kiss her, he jumps to his feet “in a curious panic,” thinking, he “couldn't possibly kiss her like this—right at once. It was all so different and older than a year ago.” Here Basil's new dream of success, as it has been developed in “The Captured Shadow” and “Forging Ahead,” has come into conflict with his old romantic dreams, which the Minnie of “He Thinks He's Wonderful” represents. By the end of “Forging Ahead,” Basil is still unable to choose and his “moments of foresight alternated with those when the future was measured by a day.” The opening passages of “Basil and Cleopatra” clearly express his continued fascination with Minnie. But, at the end of that story, Basil's maturation has reached a significant point. This is made clear in the very last paragraph:

There was a flurry of premature snow in the air and the stars looked cold. Staring up at them he saw that they were his stars as always— symbols of ambition, struggle and glory. The wind blew through them, trumpeting that high white note for which he always listened and the thin-blown clouds, stripped for battle, passed in review. The scene was of an unparalleled brightness and magnificence, and only the practiced eye of the commander saw that one star was no longer there.

A “commander” now, Basil possesses a “practiced eye” to tell him Minnie and what she stands for was just “one” of several “stars.” Because the others, which signify male “ambition, struggle and glory,” are still “his,” unlike many Fitzgerald protagonists, Basil has transcended destructive femininity.

If this symbolic triumph is unusual in Fitzgerald's fiction, many other aspects of both series are not. One such aspect is his view of and emphasis on social class. When he reviewed Penrod and Sam for a 1917 issue of the Nassau Literary Magazine, Fitzgerald observed:

Mr. Tarkington has done what so many authors of juvenile books fail to do: he has admitted the unequalled snobbishness of boyhood and has traced the neighborhood social system which, with Penrod and Sam at the top, makes possible more than half the stories.

These words apply just as accurately to Fitzgerald's own juvenile stories; for his Basil series captures “the neighborhood social system” and the Josephine sequence “unequalled snobbishness.” But Tarkington focuses on such matters, while Fitzgerald places them in a larger context. “Only comfortable,” Basil embodies the insecure American middle class; “almost very rich,” Josephine embodies the insulated American upper class. Two stories—one about each—show that their author thought class even more a psychological than an economic condition.

After Basil's mother loses several thousand dollars in “Forging Ahead,” her son must earn money or attend the drab state university instead of glamorous Yale. He consults Horatio Alger's Bound to Rise, then seeks a job. At newspaper offices, door-keepers, office boys, and telephone girls insult him; at the Great Northern car shops, his efforts are criticized, his overalls stolen, his services terminated. As “a last resort,” Basil visits great-uncle Benjamin Reilly, who insinuates, “Your mother can't afford to send you, eh?” and “Spent all her money?” Working for the Reilly Wholesale Drug Company means becoming an unappealing cousin's constant companion and seeing little of the desirable Minnie Bibble. Though “Forging Ahead” ends on a happy note with his mother “solvent” and Basil “engaged” to Minnie, he has been spiritually damaged by his precarious social position.

“A Snobbish Story” bears a double-edged ironic title, since soon after its poor artist expresses contempt for the wealthy, their representative, Josephine, flees the sordidness he represents. Having unceremoniously approached her during the Lake Forest tennis tournament, handsome, shabby reporter-turned-playwright John Boynton Bailey takes her to the little theater which is considering his play, Race Riot. She finds out he is married, but accepts a part. Bailey meets Mr. Perry and the latter offers financial support for the play, only to have the local constable interrupt with the news that Bailey's wife has tried to kill herself. Josephine quickly abandons him, deciding “That any value she might have was in the immediate, shimmering present—and thus… she threw in her lot with the rich and powerful of this world forever.”

Like a good deal of Fitzgerald's fiction, the Basil and Josephine stories are about dominating life through sexual magnetism. If, like Tarkington, Fitzgerald portrayed “snobbishness” and “the neighborhood social system” in his juvenile stories, he also added an important element which Tarkington had left out, the adolescent's growing awareness of sex and its power. Usually in Fitzgerald's fiction, the theme of sexual magnetism involves a victorious upper-class female (femme fatale) and a vanquished middle-class male {homme manque), who define each other as if they were alter egos. With Basil and Josephine, however, the rejecter fails and the rejected succeeds because unambitious Josephine functions exclusively among men— “the only thing she cared about in the world was being in love and being with the person she currently loved”—while ambitious Basil intermittently manages to transcend the feminine universe. This is seen most clearly in the final passage from “Basil and Cleopatra” quoted above. Since Josephine's conquests produce ultimate defeat and Basil's seeming defeats lead to potential triumph, the juxtaposition of the two sequences is ironic.

If the development within the Basil series is toward an increasing maturity, with Josephine it is more a matter of awareness. And, if the Basil stories are linked by similar scenes which show Basil often responding differently, the Josephine sequence features the central character going through the same basic situation five times, with the same results on all but one occasion. The only difference which occurs is in her deepening understanding of what has happened. In each story, Josephine ignores men who desire her and instead pursues a handsome glamorous outsider whom she ultimately wins, only to discover that she doesn't want him after all. It is in her comprehension of why she doesn't want him that the development within the series occurs. The only exception to this pattern is “A Woman with a Past,” where “for the first time in her life” she tries for a man, Dudley Knowleton, and fails. In this story and in the last one in the sequence, “Emotional Bankruptcy,” Josephine evidences considerable understanding of her dilemma. From Dudley Knowleton, she learns, “There were two kinds of men, those you played with and those you might marry.” This leads to her “first mature thought”: “One mustn't run through people, and, for the sake of a romantic half-hour, trade a possibility that might develop.”

But the final recognition doesn't take place until “Emotional Bankruptcy.” After she has experienced nothing when she repeats the same old pattern and runs through several men on a Princeton weekend, Josephine meets the perfect man, Edward Dicer, only to discover that even his kisses are meaningless. “What have I done? What have I done?” she wails, realizing that “One cannot both spend and have,” and that “The love of her life had come by, and looking in her empty basket, she had found not a flower left for him—not one.”

The title of this last story, defined in Josephine's cry of dismay, could well describe the Josephine series as a whole; but because only the first three of the sequence were published in Taps at Reveille, readers of that volume are unable to view the important culmination of Josephine's gradual disintegration. In a similar way, the Basil series is certainly thematically incomplete without “Forging Ahead” and “Basil and Cleopatra,” both omitted from Taps at Reveille. And emotional bankruptcy, which is introduced explicitly in the Josephine series for the first time in Fitzgerald's work, becomes, as Arthur Mizener notes, “the most pervasive idea he ever had.” It is essential to an understanding of Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night and Monroe Stahr in The Last Tycoon; and “The Crack-up” essays are generally conceded to be an autobiographical expression of the same concept.

Juxtaposing the two sequences also shows that, while superficially romantic Josephine lives in “the immediate, shimmering present,” authentically romantic Basil lives in “the future, always glowing like a comfortable beacon.” This future, which holds “achievement and power,” includes much besides women for “fiercely competitive” Basil, whose “fantastic ambition” embraces being “a great athlete, popular, brilliant and always happy.” To attain such goals, he must enter “the fabled world”:

Yale was the faraway East, that he had loved with a vast nostalgia since he had first read books about great cities. Beyond the dreary railroad stations of Chicago and the night fires of Pittsburgh, back in the old states, something went on that made his heart beat fast with excitement. He was attuned to the vast, breathless bustle of New York, to the metropolitan days and nights that were tense as singing wires. Nothing needed to be imagined there, for it was all the very stuff of romance—life was as vivid and satisfactory as in books and dreams.

As with Nick and 'Gatsby, Basil is Fitzgerald's “Young Man from the Provinces” come East, in his case to begin his conquest of “the successive worlds of school, college and New York.”

Without any future, without any destiny, Josephine is also without moral sense. “A Nice Quiet Place” concludes when she compromises her sister's groom just before the wedding as an excuse to return to Island Farms and Sonny Dorrance. Basil behaves badly too, but he invariably suffers private remorse. In “That Kind of Party,” where he commits “insolence and forgery” and assaults “both the crippled and the blind,” he chants several “Now I lay mes” and “Our Fathers”; in “The Scandal Detectives,” after waylaying Hubert Blair, he feels “morally alone”; and in “The Captured Shadow,” when he exposes little Ham Beebe to the mumps for selfish private reasons, he cannot savor his public success.

Although Josephine has some theatrical experience (mid-summer vaudeville) and seeks more {Race Riot), she is even less the prospective artist than the confirmed moralist. Basil embodies both. His imagination, like his conscience, derives from his special middle-class background. Apparently fatherless after “That Kind of Party,” and spoiled by a mother who enjoys a prominent role throughout, he grows egotistical, as such titles as “The Freshest Boy” and “He Thinks He's Wonderful” and such epithets as “conceited,” “Bossy,” “ultraconfident,” and “stuck-up” indicate. Basil, the egotist, manipulates things with considerable skill, organizing a party, terrorizing a friend, eluding a date, directing a play, avoiding a dance, preventing a marriage, etc. However, since egotism and its concomitant manipulation have often made him unpopular and penitent, he finally realizes “others had wills as strong as his, and more power.” What he does not realize, but what the stories imply, is that egotism become a sense of self and manipulation become a sense of design are creative tools. Indeed, Basil has already employed them when composing The Book of Scandal, which records “deviations from rectitude on the part of… fellow citizens,” and “The Captured Shadow” or “A Melodramatic Farce in Three Acts.” While Josephine will probably remain a mere narcissistic schemer, Basil could well metamorphose into a professional playwright. His series, then, could represent Fitzgerald's “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”

Josephine, whose name suggests “empress,” is the prototypical femme fatale, and, except for the homme manque, this vampiric destroyer was the most important figure Fitzgerald ever drew. She germinated in prep-school and college stories to appear over and over again in the later work. Though always rendered believable by a creator who once observed, “I am half feminine—at least my mind is. ... Even my feminine characters are feminine Scott Fitzgeralds,” her psychological make-up exhibits less complexity than that of the homme manque. She has an independent existence, yet she functions primarily as a foil, the persistent and powerful barrier to his success. Thus, Josephine, like other fatal women, seems superficial when compared with Basil, whose middle name “Duke” also conveys nobility. He emerges triumphant, escaping the fate of Amory Blaine, Anthony Patch, Jay Gatsby, Dick Diver, and Monroe Stahr, all victimized by females. Why? Because Basil possesses the “vitality” this passage from “He Thinks He's Wonderful” claims for him:

He lay on his bed, baffled, mistaken, miserable but not beaten. Time after time, the same vitality that had led his spirit to a scourging made him able to shake off the blood like water not to forget, but to carry his wounds with him to new disasters and new atonements—toward his unknown destiny.

Would even “vitality” have been enough, however, had Basil, an aristocrat of the world of spirit, and Josephine, an aristocrat of the world of matter, come “together” as Plan Two described? Perhaps the answer lies in the relationship between their real-life models, Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King.

Fitzgerald's Ledger outlines his college romance with her through a series of short statements whose very matter-of-factness lends them poignancy: January 1915: “Met Ginevra”; June: “Ritz, Nobody Home and Midnight Folie with Ginevra… Deering: I'm going to take Ginevra home in my electric”; August: “No news from Ginevra”; October: “Dinner with Ginevra in Waterbury”; November: “Letters to G.K.”; February 1916: “Long letters to Ginevra”; March: “Ginevra fired from school”; April: “Ginevra & Living on the train. A fascinating story”; August: “Lake Forrest. Peg Carry. Petting Party. Ginevra. Party”; November: “Ginevra and Margaret Cary to Yale game”; January 1917: “Final break with Ginevra”; June: Ginevra engaged?”; September: “Oh Ginevra”; July 1918: “Zelda… Ginevra married.”

When Fitzgerald met her, Miss King was sixteen, a junior at West-over, and already popular with the Ivy League boys. Mizener has summed up their relationship:

For Ginevra, he became for a time the most important of her many conquests. As she said herself many years later, “…at this time I was definitely out for quantity not quality in beaux, and, although Scotty was top man, I still wasn't serious enough not to want plenty of other attention!” ... To the end of his life he kept every letter she ever wrote him (he had them typed up and bound; they run to 227 pages). Born and brought up in the best circumstances in Chicago and Lake Forest, Ginevra moved for him in a golden haze.

The duration and depth of Fitzgerald's feelings toward the girl are shown in a remark from a letter of November 9, 1938, to Frances Turnbull: “In This Side of Paradise I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.” That he returned to this romance in the Josephine series is confirmed by Ginevra King Pirie's observation, in a letter to Mizener: “I was too thoughtless in those days & too much in love with love to think of consequences. These things he has emphasized—and overemphasized in the Josephine stories, but it is only fair to say I asked for some of them.”

Had Basil met Josephine it is probable she would have undermined his “vitality,” but not simply because Ginevra undermined Fitzgerald's. For Basil, resembling the prototypical homme manque, combines a particular flaw of middle-class American society with general superiority to that society. This flaw involves sex, the disastrous attraction toward fickle rich girls like Gladys Van Schellinger, another of the important recurrent characters in the Basil series, whose “vague unexciting quality... was more than compensated for by her exquisite delicacy, the fine luxury of her life.” Yet, though he contains the seeds of failure, Basil emerges triumphant from the nine tales Fitzgerald actually told. And, again, this pattern for the sequence as a whole is reflected in many of the individual stories. Beginning in “That Kind of Party” and continuing through such others as “The Scandal Detectives,” “He Thinks He's Wonderful,” and “The Perfect Life,” Basil does superficially awful things or loses a girl but in the end is wiser or with an even better girl or both.

If Josephine is based on Ginevra King, Basil and the Basil series have an even firmer basis in Fitzgerald's own boyhood experiences. One has only to glance at the notes in the Ledger to see how very closely he followed his self-model. If we look at the page headed “Ten Years Old,” we find three details which he transferred intact into “That Kind of Party”: September 1906—”He told Miss McGraw at Narden's that Mexico City was not the capital of Central America”; January 1907—”He went to the charity ball and to the Mack's party at the country club where he wore his juvenile tuxedo and was chased by a cripple named Sears McGraw whom he loathes to this day”; June 1907—”collected cigar bands.” The central incident of “The Scandal Detectives” is suggested by two entries about his fourteenth year: March 1911—”The founding of The Scandal Detectives”; and April 1911—”The Scandal detectives go after Reuben.” The events of “A Night at the Fair” originated in an incident recorded for September 1911: “Attended state fair and took chicken on roller coaster.” Other entries which certainly formed the basis for fictional material include an October 1911 entry, “Bill Agar says I'm Fresh,” two July 1912 notations, “Began to feel lack of automobile” and “growing unpopular,” and an August 1912 reference, “Wrote and gave The Captured Shadow.” But such extensive autobiographical connections as these and the others which previous commentators have noted—e.g., the fictional Riply Buckner, Hubert Blair, and Bill Kampf are modeled after the real Cecil Read, Reuben Warner, and Paul Ballion—while interesting for what the stories reveal about their author's adolescent years, are nonetheless less significant than the control Fitzgerald exercises over them.

Many American critics have agreed that Fitzgerald's ability to participate in a story and to analyze that participation simultaneously gives his work maturity and power. This “double vision,” best illustrated by The Great Gatsby, where he acts as Gatsby and observes as Nick, characterizes the Basil and Josephine stories. The fact that, as we have seen, these stories are so closely based on his own adolescent experiences, however, makes the use of the “double vision” here of even more note than in Gatsby. Thus, we find Fitzgerald softening a basically condemnatory attitude toward Josephine when in “First Blood,” we learn, “There would have been no use saying the simple truth—that she could not help what she had done, that great beauty has a need, almost an obligation of trying itself, that her ample cup of emotion had spilled over on its own accord, and it was an accident that it had destroyed [Anthony Harker] and not her.” In the Basil series, Fitzgerald often uses irony to undercut his hero's more idealistically romantic moments. In “A Night at the Fair,” when it appears that Basil's new long trousers will not arrive in time for him to go to the fair, he feels that “all his life… he would look back with infinite regret upon that irretrievable hour”; but Fitzgerald adds quickly,

“Like most of us, he was unable to perceive that he would have any desires in the future equivalent to those that possessed him now.”

Another kind of authorial intrusion in the Basil series not only shows Fitzgerald subtly controlling his material but also shows him evoking a time and place, what it was like to grow up in America in the decade before World War I. Sometimes he does this with direct statements, as in this marvellously witty passage on the dance crazes of the day:

Only in certain Paris restaurants where the Argentines step untiringly through their native coils does anything survive of the dance craze as it existed just before the war. At that time it was not an accompaniment to drinking or love-making or hailing in the dawn—it was an end in itself. Sedentary stockbrokers, grandmothers of sixty, Confederate veterans, venerable statesmen and scientists, sufferers from loco-motor ataxia, wanted not only to dance but to dance beautifully. Fantastic ambitions bloomed in hitherto sober breasts, violent exhibitionism cropped out in families modest for generations. Nonentities with long legs became famous overnight, and there were rendezvous where they could renew the dance, if they wished, next morning. Because of a neat glide or an awkward stumble careers were determined and engagements were made or broken, while the tall Englishman and the girl in the Dutch cap called the tune.

And sometimes he does it within the framework of the story itself, by the manner in which he describes the actions of a character, as in this account of Basil's second shave:

For the second time in his life he shaved, completing the operation by cutting a short straight line under his nose. It bled profusely, but on the advice of Hilda, the maid, he finally stanched the flow with little pieces of toilet paper. Quite a number of pieces were necessary; so, in order to facilitate breathing, he trimmed it down with a scissors, and with this somewhat awkward mustache of paper and gore clinging to his upper lip, wandered impatiently around the house.

At six he began working on it again, soaking off the tissue paper and dabbing at the persistently freshening crimson line. It dried at length, but when he rashly hailed his mother it opened once more and the tissue paper was called back into play.

These are not simply evocations of a time and place; they also contain in their carefully chosen wording Fitzgerald's mixture of nostalgia and ironic humor, a mixture which could well be used to describe the tone of the Basil and Josephine stories. Older and wiser now in middle age than he had been when he wrote about his college years in This Side of Paradise (1920), Fitzgerald could recapture his youth and view it with ironic detachment as well. The stories contain all the remembered details of the era. Basil's “favorite clothes” are “white duck knickerbockers, pepper-and-salt Norfolk jacket, a Bel-mont collar and a gray knitted tie.” He owns “eight color reproductions of Harrison Fisher girls” and knows about Horatio Alger, Weber and Fields, and James J. Hill. Josephine reads Alan Seeger, Smart Set, and Snappy Stories. Popular songs of the day—”By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” “Oh, My Darling Clementine,” “Peg of My Heart,” “On Moonlight Bay,” “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” and “Chinatown”—and dances like the tango, the Castle Walk, and the maxixe, permeate their lives. But the author is not so immersed in reminiscence as not to be able to step back and observe that Basil is “sitting with disarming quiet upon the still unhatched eggs of the mid-twentieth century” and that Josephine is “an unconscious pioneer of the generation that was destined to 'get out of hand.' “

These are not uniformly excellent short stories, especially those in the Josephine series, but they benefit enormously from being read as two series and as ironically juxtaposed sequences. Presented together and fully for the first time, “The Basil and Josephine Stories” convey what it was like growing up way back then and there; and they do so with all the skill that a mature and fully developed literary artist could bring to bear on his material.


November 20, 1972

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