THE FIRST CHAPTER of This Side of Paradise provides a background for Amory Blaine before he enters Princeton. Though some events and emotions at Newman (called St. Regis in the novel) get into the book, Fitzgerald's life at Princeton and a good deal of the writing he did there furnish most of the substance. At the time Fitzgerald began to write seriously, Princeton was the one great event of his life; his romance with Ginevra King, which both brightened and darkened his last year at Princeton, was the other.
“Amory, Son of Beatrice,” the first chapter, is interesting not only because it was Fitzgerald's first ambitious attempt to make literary use of his past, but because it furnished the suggestions for further elaborations of this material. The Basil stories just discussed were written, it should be remembered, in 1927 and 1928. This Side of Paradise was put into final form in 1919; the later stories appear in brief form in the novel, just as they appear in even briefer form in Fitzgerald's “Ledger.” “The Freshest Boy,” “He Thinks He's Wonderful,” “The Perfect life”—all are suggested in this first chapter.
Amory resembles Basil in numerous ways. His reputation at school for idling, unreliability, and superficial cleverness; his ability to ingratiate himself with adults; his easy drift into fabrication; his posturing; his triumphs and despairs; his conscience; his code; his freshness; and his dreams of becoming rather than being—all these are traits shared by the two characters. His weaknesses as Fitzgerald sees them—extreme sensitivity, vanity, self-suspicion, and lack of courage and perseverance—are also shared traits.
The most striking difference, and even this is not so different beneath the surface, is in the fictional background he gives to his two heroes' families. At twenty-two, the sense of shameFitzgerald seems to have felt for his family was a great deal more important to him than it was to be at thirty. Basil's father is dead before the stories are told; what we see of Basil's mother is the rather conventional maternal woman who murmurs over him at the end of The Captured Shadow.” Amory's father is left shadowy, but he is explicitly “an ineffectual, inarticulate man with a taste for Byron and a habit of drowsing over the Encyclopaedia Britannica,” who inherits sufficient wealth to devote himself to “taking care of” Beatrice. Beatrice, Amory's mother, makes up for the pallor of the father. She may be, in part, a figure created out of Fitzgerald's annoyance with his mother's eccentricities. More than that, she creates the romantic background that Fitzgerald's own youth so lacked. Though she is, like the father in “Absolution,” created to fit or explain the protagonist, she is also created out of the feelings and aspirations, unsifted as yet and only partially experienced, that went into Fitzgerald's beautiful young girls. She is any one of a number of Fitzgerald girls bringing up a boy who will in turn be swept away by someone like her. Only the irony that Fitzgerald was able to maintain in the early chapters and which was lost in many of the later ones keeps Beatrice from being unbearable.
Though Beatrice provides Amory with the kind of romantic background which life had not provided Fitzgerald, the details mix Fitzgerald's desires with the actualities of his family's past. Beatrice's fabulous wealth, her education at a convent in Rome, her absorption of an international culture, are all exaggerations, but exaggerations out of his mother's life as Mary McQuillan. Amory's transient education results from his mother's restlessness which from his fourth to his tenth year took the form of doing the country in his father's private car. Fitzgerald's early education was similarly transient, but his mother's restlessness took the form of moving from Buffalo to Syracuse and back to Buffalo and from house to house in between times. Beatrice's talk of Eton and Christ Church for Amory must have been akin to Mrs. Fitzgerald's ambitious desires for her son; St. Regis, the preparatory school Amory does attend, is as much Fitzgerald's school, Newman, as Amory's Princeton is Fitzgerald's Princeton.
The point of those comparisons is that Fitzgerald, in this first chapter of This Side of Paradise, is not so much exploring the past to find out honestly what was there as he is using thepast and changing it to fit the self-image of Amory Blaine as a personage at Princeton. Fitzgerald's irony is at its best in these early chapters. The self-revelations are not embarrassingly immature as they often are in a first novel, but are vivified by style and by the flashes of perception with which Fitzgerald sees the characters. Amory's being “on to” Beatrice in the first chapter is also Fitzgerald's being “on to” Amory through at least the early parts of the book.
With “Spires and Gargoyles,” Chapter Two of This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald turns to his Princeton experiences. Fitzgerald enrolled in Princeton in the fall of 1913. His credentials were not sufficient to get him admitted outright (his Newman grades included an “E” in Caesar, “D” in Vergil, “C” in Cicero, and “D” and “B” in Latin grammar and composition), but he was accepted after a personal interview with the admissions officers. According to Arthur Mizener, he “was a small boy (five feet seven), slight and slope-shouldered in build, almost girlishly handsome, with yellow hair and long-lashed green eyes which seemed, because of the clearness of their whites, to stare at people with a disconcerting sharpness and curiosity.”
The differences and similarities between Fitzgerald and Amory are revealing. Amory is just under six feet, exceptionally but not conventionally handsome. He has a young face, penetrating eyes, and lacks the intense animal magnetism that so often accompanies beauty in men or women. “I didn't have the two top things: great animal magnetism or money,” Fitzgerald later wrote in his notebooks. “I had the two second things, though: good looks and intelligence. So I always got the top girl.” Christian Gauss, writing about these years when he was a member of the Princeton faculty, described Fitzgerald's classic profile, and he added: “Inwardly he was anything but Greek and often reminded me of Dostoyevski's The Brothers Karamazov for there were in him oddly uncoordinated elements of all three of the brothers, including the gentle and saintly Aliosha.”
Princeton, during the years Fitzgerald attended, was going through what Dean Gauss called “the Indian Summer of the 'College Customs' era.” Compulsory chapel ended in 1915; the Triangle Club's traveling shows played as far west as St. Louis, St. Paul, and Chicago; the Nassau Lit, at the bottom in prestigein 1906 to 1911, passed through “five of its most fruitful and successful years” from 1912 to 1917. Fitzgerald's life at Princeton reflects precisely the split between the “college customs” spirit and the serious interest in literature and learning. The two sides can be seen in the contrast between Amory Blaine's first two years at Princeton and his last two, but they are also apparent in Fitzgerald's actual experience and evident later in the essay about Princeton which he wrote for College Humor in 1927.
The romantic undergraduate Princeton is the one which materializes out of a view from afar. “Two tall spires and then suddenly all around you spreads out the loveliest riot of Gothic architecture in America, battlement linked on to battlement, hall to hall, arch-broken, vine-covered—luxuriant and lovely,” is the way Fitzgerald described it in the essay. The same romantic view appears early in the novel, in Amory's characterization of Princeton as “lazy and good-looking and aristocratic,” and in the entire “Spires and Gargoyles” chapter. This vision of Princeton was made up of football and the upper-class clubs; of romantic alumni like Aaron Burr, Philip Freneau and, more recently, Booth Tarkington; of classmates whose fathers controlled vast wealth and power.
There is no intellectual tradition for Fitzgerald to admire in this view of Princeton, no moral tradition. Princeton is, like Harvard and Yale, a setting for stories like Owen Johnson's Stover at Yale, from which Fitzgerald and countless others learned of the glories of college life. “Sam White decides me for Princeton,” Fitzgerald wrote in his Scrapbook under a ticket stub for a game November 4, 1911, in which White had starred. Seeing the Princeton Glee Club in 1908 and reading Owen Johnson's essay on the clubs at Princeton about the same time were among the other experiences which inclined him toward Princeton.
The Princeton of Fitzgerald's literary interests did not appear to him until he returned in the fall of 1916. The Princeton he now saw all around him reflects his changed attitude as well as changes which were taking place on the campus. That change is described in Chapter Four, Book One, of This Side of Paradise, which begins: “During Amory's last two years there, while he saw it change and broaden and live up to its Gothic beauty by better means than night parades, certain individuals arrived who stirred it to its plethoric depths.” Fitzgerald was being precise when he wrote of Amory Blaine at the beginning ofhis two years at St. Regis: “for the next four years the best of Amory's intellect was concentrated on matters of popularity, the intricacies of a university social system and American Society as represented by Biltmore Teas and Hot Springs golf-links.” Those four years took him through the first two years at Princeton; his last two years turned to more serious concerns. The last year-and-a-half Fitzgerald spent at Princeton led directly to the remark he made to Edmund Wilson shortly after college: “I want to be one of the greatest writers who have ever lived, don't you?” During these years, he gained a wide acquaintance with late nineteenth-century poetry; read extensively such modern British authors as Shaw, Wells, and Compton Mackenzie; and developed aspirations well beyond the confines of Princeton. He also gained, in the process and after, a healthy disrespect for much that was identified with his alma mater—not a trivial gain from a college education.
Fitzgerald's academic accomplishments at Princeton were about those of Amory. He was, from the beginning, a poor student in the classroom, for he was busy at almost everything else but his studies. Though he resented all his life the imputation that he had flunked put, his record at Princeton offers little in the way of a defense. Early in his first term, he was called in because of low grades; at mid-year he had failed three subjects, had the lowest pass mark in three others, and had managed to get by in English. His average was 5.17 on a grading system in which 5 was the lowest passing mark; by June he had raised it to 4.97. From that time on he was never out of academic difficulties though he managed average grades in English and just below average in philosophy. When he returned to Princeton after dropping out in 1915-16, he did somewhat better work, getting 2's in English and French and a 3 in another course in English. It hardly needs stating that Fitzgerald's low grades were not the result of inability, though his comparatively good grades in English and philosophy support Andrew Turnbull's judgment that 'Fitzgerald's gift was narrowly, concentratedly verbal.' When he took his army tests in 1917, he scored 92.25 in English and American literature, 85 in general history, and 77.5 in French.
His record of cuts offers a partial explanation of his grades: eighteen the first term, thirty-one the next, fifty (the maximum permitted) the next. Under the circumstances, his protest against the requirements at Princeton show more sensitivity than sense. But beneath the protests is recognition that the American college, then and now, is made rigid by course hours and credits at the same time that it encourages the students to disregard them—indeed, to disregard all intellectual life. Fitzgerald shirked his responsibilities in the usual way. His work during the first year on the Tiger and on the Triangle show was not preciselyuneducational, but it was not academic. The pleasures of club life and of not attending class were equally unacademic. “Disgraceful,” he wrote under his third term report, “but happy.”
Of his many diversions, one at least was both imaginative and intellectual. This was his acquaintance with Sigourney Fay, a converted Catholic father whom Fitzgerald had met at Newman. Father Fay appears as Father Darcy in This Side of Paradise (the book is dedicated to Father Fay), and the nature of their discourse and of his influence upon Fitzgerald is fully suggested in the novel. Indeed, the Eleanor episode of the novel was not Fitzgerald's but a story told to him by Father Fay. Their talks were many; probably the majority of them were, like those in the novel, concerned with literature or with the exploration of the young man's developing personality. But for Father Fay, Fitzgerald's first years might have been a good deal further removed from intellectual life than glorious undergraduate Princeton already made it. Father Fay remained a close friend of Fitzgerald's until his early death at forty-three in January, 1919. Before Fitzgerald enlisted, Father Fay had proposed to take him abroad as part of a complicated mission from American Catholics to the Pope.
At the end of his freshman year, Fitzgerald returned to St. Paul for the summer and wrote, produced, and directed another play. He spent much time at the White Bear Yacht Club, but evidently did enough extra academic work to remove the conditions with which he had finished the year. He was readmitted as a sophomore in 1914, but was not permitted to take an official part in the Triangle Club. Unofficially, he went to work on the Triangle show, his show since he was chiefly responsible for the book and lyrics of “Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi!” which was produced during the Christmas vacation of 1914. Fitzgerald was ineligible to tour with the show, and the end of his sophomore year found him in St. Paul again, one of the more impressive Eastern college boys home for the summer. His meeting with Ginevra King six months later was both a sporting spectacle and love at first sight. She became the “lost girl,” almost as ubiquitous a character in his fiction as the “lost boy” in Thomas Wolfe's. Between January, 1915, and January, 1917, when the affair broke off, Fitzgerald received sufficient letters from Ginevra to make 227 typed pages in the volume in which he later had them bound.
At the end of his sophomore year, he was invited into Cottage Club, recognized—along with Ivy, Tiger Inn, and Cap andGown—as one of the “big” clubs at Princeton. By now, he was one of the “big” men, secretary of the Triangle, on the editorial board of the Tiger, and surrounded by young men of proper breeding, poise, and charm. The soft sweet college life which such honors made possible was even more disastrous to his academic work than the distractions of freshman year had been. His cuts were more frequent—he describes a long excursion on the Jersey Coast in This Side of Paradise—his failures more serious, and his tendency to play the big man, “running it out” as it was called then, too often evident.
He left Princeton at the end of his sophomore year much as he had left his freshman year. The promise was more glowing; the chance of failure more threatening. That summer's activity (1915) gave him the material for “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”; the visit to his friend Charles “Sap” Donohue's ranch was his first extended visit away from St. Paul during the summer. The trip west may indicate a lessening of genuine concern or an increasing sense of being able to “luck out” of his academic difficulties. At any rate, he did not remove previous conditions that summer and though he was readmitted, he was barred from all extracurricular activities in his junior year, 1915-16. “A year of terrible disappointments & the end of all college dreams,” he later wrote in his Ledger. “Everything bad in it was my own fault.” Among his other disappointments was his being ineligible to play in the Triangle show after his forthcoming appearance in it had been given extensive publicity in the St. Paul newspaper. In response, perhaps, he attended a fraternity dance in St. Paul during the Christmas holiday dressed as a stunning blonde. But before that in November, an attack of what was probably malaria put him in the infirmary and led to his withdrawal from Princeton because of illness and low grades.
The Princeton failure was one of a number of experiences which helped create the pattern to be found in Fitzgerald's fiction: success coming out of abysmal failure, or failure following hard upon success. We have already mentioned similar events in Fitzgerald's family past and the dramatization of them and others in the Basil Duke Lee stories. His leaving Princeton was the great shock, but it was also, in a way, mere confirmation of what life had already been hinting at and which was to be reconfirmed in the years following the great success of his first novel. If ever a man felt he was on Fortune's wheel, it was Fitzgerald.
When he re-enrolled at Princeton in September, 1916, he had only faint hopes that the wheel was ascending. However it moved, the war was waiting to claim him, and his last year was marked by the feeling that college did not really matter. On the Princeton campus, feelings aroused by the war may have pushed many undergraduates to a more serious consideration of the lives they were leading. The memorable event of this academic year was the reform movement to abolish the Princeton clubs. Henry Strater (Burne Holiday in This Side of Paradise) led the movement. Fitzgerald's reaction to him, as it comes to us through the novel, was that of discovering new directions:
But that night Amory was struck by Burne's intense earnestness, a quality he was accustomed to associate only with the dread stupidity, and by the great enthusiasm that struck dead chords in his heart. Burne stood vaguely for a land Amory hoped he was drifting toward—and it was almost time that land was in sight.
Strater helped Fitzgerald examine his literary enthusiasms; instead of Fitzgerald's own orthodox and dilettantish affection for Chesterton and Wells, there was a deep spiritual and material strength somehow connected with the reading of Tolstoi, Edward Carpenter, and Walt Whitman. Visiting Edmund Wilson in the apartment he now occupied in New York or going to New York with Monsignor Fay, Fitzgerald could say that “the New York of undergraduate dissipation had become a horror and though I returned to it, alas, through many an alcoholic mist, I felt each time a betrayal of a persistent idealism.”
These various influences toward an idealistic seriousness had their greatest consequence in intensifying his reading and in his beginning to take his writing seriously. The Victorian poets were the first of his early interests to be swept aside. His enthusiasm for Booth Tarkington, Compton Mackenzie, Shaw, Wells, and Butler overcame judgment for a time; but before long only Shaw and Wells continued to claim his attention. Fitzgerald's early reading tastes are not far from those of the Princeton class of 1916. The favorite fiction writers were Tarkington, Churchill, Scott, Kipling, and Dickens; favorite poets were Tennyson, Service, Kipling, and Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Ivanhoe was the favorite novel; “Crossing the Bar” was the favorite poem. Somewhat later, if we accept Amory's testimony, he was “puzzled and depressed” by A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; and he discovered, through Mencken, Vandover and the Brute, The Damnation of Theron Ware, and Jennie Gerhardt. His writing—poems, reviews, short stories—began to appear in quantity in the Nassau Lit; his favorite subject was Ginevra King and their burnt-out romance. Among his best friends were John Peale Bishop (Tom D'Invilliers of This Side of Paradise) and John Biggs, both editors of the Lit. A visit to Bishop's home in the summer of 1917 resulted in his first sale, a poem which Poet Lore bought but did not publish. “I sent twelve poems to magazines yesterday,” he wrote to Edmund Wilson in September, 1917. “If I get them all back I'm going to give up poetry and turn to prose.”
When Fitzgerald left Princeton in the spring of 1917, he was conscious that it was the end of his college career. He remained a loyal alumnus of Princeton, after a falling-out occasioned by the publication of This Side of Paradise, until his death. (He was reading a copy of the alumni magazine when he suffered his fatal heart attack.) His return to Princeton for the senior year 1917-18 was only a waiting period until his commission into the army came through. He had taken the examinations that summer; his orders to report to Fort Leavenworth arrived in November, 1917. When he departed, he took with him the rough manuscript of the novel which was to become This Side of Paradise.
Five chapters of that novel, The Romantic Egotist, are in the Fitzgerald collection at Princeton. These unpublished chapters of the first novel make less of an attempt to create a convincing fictional character than to write a first-person account of Fitzgerald's life at Newman and Princeton. The immediate fictional influence may have been James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in addition to those authors Fitzgerald had so admired as an undergraduate. The narrator is Stephen Palms, “a loiterer on the border-land of genius,” who is writing his history from his present position as a cadet in Aviation School during World War I. The first two chapters are about Newman; Chapters Three and Four are missing; and Chapter Five is a less successful version of the “Spires and Gargoyles” chapter in This Side of Paradise. The other extant chapters are Twelve, a version of the Eleanor episode, and Fourteen, “The Devil,” a more elaborate and spookier account of the same material under the same subhead in the novel.
Judging from the partial evidence of these chapters, many of the faults, much of the material, and a large measure of the vitality remained from the earliest version to the published novel. When Fitzgerald looked back on the first version, havingrevised the novel thoroughly in the summer of 1919, he called it a “disconnected casserole.” Though most of the young egotist's experiences were retained in the published novel, Fitzgerald compressed the experiences at Newman, elaborated those at Princeton, and tried to emphasize the continuity in the development of Amory Blaine. The style is improved in the successive versions, though the manuscripts offer little evidence of the meticulous revisions to be found in Fitzgerald's later works. Charles Donohue, Fitzgerald's close friend since his Newman days, read three installments of The Romantic Egotist in the fall of 1918 and was disappointed in the way the material was handled. There were too many incidents left undeveloped, too many characters sketchily portrayed; too often the humorous incidents weren't humorous nor the serious ones convincingly serious.
These faults are still evident in This Side of Paradise. It is a good bad book, not so much a novel as, to use Fitzgerald's own description, “a somewhat edited history of me and my imagination.” Or, as he referred to it later, “A Romance and a Reading List” (he paired it with ”The Sun Also Rises: A Romance and a Guide Book”). Still later (1938) he wrote to Maxwell Perkins, “… looking it over, I think it is now one of the funniest books since 'Dorian Gray' in its utter spuriousness— and then, here and there, I find a page that is real and living.”
A half-century after its first printing, its fakeries forgiven, its obvious connections with popular novelists of the time acknowledged—“traces of Tarkington, Chesterton, Chambers, Wells, Benson (Robert Hugh), Rupert Brooke”—and its misspellings corrected, This Side of Paradise offends less. Though it is still not a novel that can stand solely on its merits, it offers a good deal to the understanding of Fitzgerald as a writer.
What should not be forgotten about This Side of Paradise is that it is the first published version of Fitzgerald's favorite story and theme. Amory Blaine called this “definite type of biographical novel” a “quest” book. He went on:
In the “quest” book the hero set off in life armed with the best weapons and avowedly intending to use them as such weapons are usually used, to push their possessors ahead as selfishly and blindly as possible, but the heroes of the “quest” books discovered that there might be a more magnificent usefor them. “None Other Gods,” “Sinister Street,” and “The Research Magnificent” [novels by Robert Hugh Benson, Compton Mackenzie, and H. C. Wells] were examples of such books; it was the latter of these three that gripped Burne Holiday and made him wonder in the beginning of senior year how much it was worth-while being a diplomatic autocrat around his club on Prospect Avenue and basking in the high lights of class office (125-26).
Fitzgerald's innocent is one more version of a common American type. Unlike Hemingway's Nick Adams, his awareness is not directed toward recognizing an abstract evil but toward understanding the distinctions which mark one man, one portion of society, off from another. His knowing of self is not an appreciation of his or mankind's metaphysical nature but of his social nature. When Amory goes off into reform and theoretical socialism, a reader should not be surprised or disappointed. The development is consistent with the character of Amory as it is created in the book. Thus considered, the philosophizing and the loose references to past history, literature, and contemporary thought may be passages we slap through, but they are proper to the book. Amory receives an education—a good one in spite of college, he argues at the end—and it is precisely that education, in “manners” in its large sense, that helps make Fitzgerald an important novelist.
The story, despite its quest motif, does not really go anyplace; Amory is not so much going someplace as going through experience. The quality of these experiences is not very high, nor are they always effectively presented; they are not particularly fresh; neither are they profoundly moving. They are, given the material, engaging and diverse enough to catch interest, and they are described with a certain freshness and frankness of detail. But what should we expect from a boy such as Amory, whose reading at the beginning of his eighteenth year was, to quote This Side of Paradise, “'The Gentleman from Indiana,' The New Arabian Nights,' 'The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne,' The Man Who Was Thursday,' which he liked without understanding; 'Stover at Yale,' that became somewhat of a textbook; 'Dombey and Son,' because he thought he really should read better stuff; Robert Chambers, David Graham Phillips, and E. Phillips Oppenheim complete, and a scattering of Tennyson and Kipling” (36).
How primarily This Side of Paradise is Amory's book can be argued from the large proportion of the book devoted to his miscellaneous experiences. The love stories occupy less than a third of the narrative, and despite the intensity with which each is urged, they too are only passing experiences, like the others, which make their impress upon Amory's developing self. The Isabelle-Amory episode, the first love story, is the story of Ginevra and Scott's meeting transferred from its first telling in the Nassau Lit to the early part of the novel. The Clara episode was created out of Fitzgerald's fondness for a favorite relative, Cecelia Taylor, a first cousin on his father's side, sixteen years older than Fitzgerald and a widow with four children in 1917. The Rosalind story is once again Ginevra with a large mixture of his just-experienced love for Zelda Sayre. The Eleanor episode is a close retelling of a story told him by Father Fay.
None of these stories diverts the author's attention away from Amory. They are vignettes designed to display Amory, just as the episodes of Dick Humbird's death, the girl in the New Jersey hotel, and the appearance of the devil in the New York apartment are designed to reflect Amory. Amory the romantic egotist moves, as he should, through a hall of mirrors which display the facets of his developing personality. “In fact,” Fitzgerald wrote about The Romantic Egotist, “woman and mirrors were preponderant [sic] on all the important pages.” At the end of the novel, we are impressed not so much with what we can say of his personality but with the way we have felt the experiences he has gone through.
A good many of the experiences, of course, we can neither see nor feel. As Arthur Mizener has pointed out, Fitzgerald's “habit was to vamp passages of generalization here and there in a story and round it off with a piece of popular philosophizing…” In This Side of Paradise, he tends to display, often sharply, a scene and then vamp to the next one. A roughly chronological order holds the scenes together, but there is little close attention to juxtaposing scenes for effectiveness or of building from scene to scene toward a climax. He was writing the discursive novel, the loosely constructed narrative that H. G. Wells defended in 1911 as the dominant form of the modern novel.
For the most part, the first half of the book where Fitzgerald was drawing directly upon experiences, yet experiences which have had a little time to cool, is better than the last half wherehe is more concerned with describing states of mind which have not yet clarified in his own We. Amory's arrival at Princeton, the young men he meets, the romance with Isabelle, the outing at Asbury Park, and even the death of Dick Humbird may be regarded as mere sharp notations of the college scene; but they are sharp and both convincing and interesting. Perhaps the book begins to stagger where Amory himself did: his failing the make-up examination which ended his chances for a conventional success at Princeton.
For the next twenty pages or so, until Chapter Four of Book One begins, the narrative drags. Amory's self-analysis is too much a typical undergraduate preoccupation with finding the “real” self. It carries little conviction even though it is followed by a longer and somewhat better examination of Amory's character by Monsignor Darcy. The rest of the section is padding—Tanaduke Wylie, the futurist poet; the Devil scene; the appearance of Dick Humbird's face—and is neither very relevant to the novel nor of great interest in itself.
Though the novel is divided into two books, the real division comes at Chapter Four of Book One, almost fifty pages before Book Two begins. The change in the junior class, dramatized through Burne Holiday's change from autocrat to reformer, establishes at once the more serious direction Amory's development is to take. The conversations become heavy with ideas, less convincing, and a good deal less amusing. Of the Clara episode, the main interruption in Amory's Princeton dialogues, it can be said that her superior goodness is consistent with the new idealism now infecting Amory. Though the conversation is again artificial, Clara has her moments of perception, as when she says, “You're a slave, a bound helpless slave to one thing in the world, your imagination.” After the Clara episode, the first part of the novel drifts off into a number of romantic effusions. “The voices of freshman year” surge around Tom and Amory, and as “the last light fades and drifts across the land,” Amory's Princeton years come to an end.
The “Interlude” which separates the Princeton years from Amory's experiences after the war was Fitzgerald's way of excluding everything but bare mention of Amory's war experiences. The devices he used—along letter from Monsignor Darcy; a poem “Embarking at Night,” and a letter from Amory in Brest to Tom D'Invilliers at Camp Gordon, Georgia—are adequate to the need. Considering what Fitzgerald was later to make of hisfame but emotionally stirring period in the army, it is curious that the exclusion here is so complete. Perhaps it was because the army experience did not or could not be made to put Amory so squarely at the center. It may also be because Fitzgerald, like most romantics, tended to endow experience with maximum emotion long after the event and after the romantic imagination had had time to color and intensify the experience. Book Two of the novel is really the story of Rosalind and Amory; the material which comes after is something of an appendix to the whole book. (The Eleanor episode provides a bit of unintentionally comic relief from the tedium of socio-economic discussion.) Rosalind is the first of the Fitzgerald girls who are to be found in numerous stories of these early years. She is, in many ways, Amory Blaine's alter ego:
She wants what she wants when she wants it and she is prone to make every one around her pretty miserable when she doesn't get it—but in the true sense she is not spoiled. Her fresh enthusiasm, her will to grow and learn, her endless faith in the inexhaustibility of romance, her courage and fundamental honesty—these things are not spoiled (174).
She refuses to marry Amory for much the same reason that Amory himself could not be content without fame, fortune, and the girl. Fitzgerald must have drawn heavily on Zelda Sayre's refusals when he wrote the last part of the dialogue:
Amory: Are you going to marry Dawson Ryder?
Rosalind: Oh, don't ask me. You know I'm old in some ways— in others—well, I'm just a little girl. I like sunshine and pretty things and cheerfulness—and I dread responsibility. I don't want to think about pots and kitchens and brooms. I want to worry whether my legs will get slick and brown when I swim in the summer (199).
The Rosalind episode ends in the romantic sigh: “'Oh, Amory, what have I done to you?' (And deep under the aching sadness that will pass in time, Rosalind feels that she has lost something, she knows not what, she knows not why.)”
It is instructive to compare this section of This Side of Paradise with the original story in the Nassau Lit. The heightened emotion which is often irritating in its misty excesses was added in Fitzgerald's rewriting of the original. The diction is much improved; the feeling is greatly but not always successfully intensified.
The scattered events of Chapter Two, Book Two, come directly out of Fitzgerald's experiences in the spring of 1919. After a long drunk, Amory quits the advertising agency, sells a story about his father's funeral, reads enormously, and begins to lose his former literary enthusiasms.. The rest of the book concentrates on Amory's losses—heroes, women, the idea of progress, and religion—and, on his attempts to find something to believe in. “Amory was alone,” the author reflects. “He had escaped from a small enclosure into a great labyrinth. He was where Goethe was when he began 'Faust'; he was where Conrad was when he wrote 'Almayer's Folly.'” The passage is not so important for Amory's grandiose comparisons as it is for the evidence it gives of Fitzgerald's high literary aspirations and of his early admiration for Conrad.
Amory's appearance as a social thinker at the end of the book is probably due to the influence Shaw and Wells still were exerting upon Fitzgerald. What it lacks is the sense of irony which Fitzgerald was able to maintain in the earlier sections of this novel and in all of his best work later on. The debate over socialism with the father of Jesse Ferrenby, a Princeton classmate who was killed in the war, is synthetic in the argument as in the contrivance which brings Amory and the elder Ferrenby together. Despite the weakness of that scene, the very last reflections of Amory as he stands along the New Jersey roadside are perceptive in substance and extremely well phrased. They are the kind of paragraphs Fitzgerald was always able to do well and with great economy in bis later work. The last fully developed paragraph turns properly to the towers and spires of Princeton and to the images of the “past brooding over a new generation.” The lines, “a new generation grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken,” have been more widely quoted than any single passage from Fitzgerald's works. As further illustration of how Fitzgerald's miscellaneous writing flows into stories and novels, consider the parallel between the passage cited and one he wrote in 1917 for a review of Shane Leslie's The Celt and the World. Fitzgerald quotes from memory from Leslie's book: “the end of one era and the beginning of another to which no Gods have as yet been rash enough to give their names.”
The whole last section, “Out of the Fire, Out of the Little Room,” is important for what it suggests, through Amory's final analysis of himself, about Fitzgerald's temperamental affinities. Nature, he observes, can be “a rather coarse phenomenon”; “nature represented by skies and waters and far horizons was more likable.” Selfishness is accepted as “the most living part” of Amory, and yet he sees that it is through “somehow transcending rather than by avoiding that selfishness that I can bring poise and balance into my life.” “The problem of evil had solidified for Amory into the problem of sex.” With it, “inseparably linked,” was beauty. We will look more closely at this attitude in considering Fitzgerald's dramatization of evil lurking in beauty in The Great Gatsby. With these perceptions,
Amory concludes that “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.” Finally, the many passages about Catholicism in This Side of Paradise—the only Fitzgerald novel in which they are to be found—are concluded with Amory's recognition that, “for the present,” acceptance of the Church of Rome was impossible. This, too, seems to represent Fitzgerald's definite and permanent separation from the Church. In The Ledger (p. 172) he marked 1917 as “Last year as a Catholic.”
The defects in This Side of Paradise should not blind the reader to its importance in Fitzgerald's career. It marked his movement, clumsy and pasted together as the novel often is, from a clever short-story writer and would-be poet to an ambitious novelist. All his life he was to think of himself as primarily a novelist, to save his best work for his novels, to plunder his published short stories for usable material for them. If he achieved nothing else in this first novel, he had at least taken his scattered literary effusions and his undescribed experiences, sifted them, shaped and reshaped them, often looked at them ironically, and fashioned them into a sustained narrative. Compared with the material he took directly from his Nassau Lit stories, the writing had improved greatly. In many rewritten passages, This Side of Paradise shows Fitzgerald moving to that freshness of language which became his identifying mark.
The novel took the bold step that Fitzgerald needed: it confirmed his ideas about the importance of his feelings and about his ability to put them down. It helped Fitzgerald thrash out those “ideas still in riot” that he attributes to Amory at the close of the book: his ideas about love and women, about the Church, about his past, about the importance of being as contrasted with doing. Though it borrowed heavily from the many writers to whom he was attracted, the book still has Fitzgerald's own stamp: the naivete and honesty that is part of “the stamp that goes into my books so that people can read it blind like Braille.” If Amory is not as honest with himself as Fitzgerald's later characters can be, it is chiefly from a lack of perception rather than from a deliberate desire to deceive.
Finally, though Fitzgerald placed his twin hopes of money and the girl in the book's great success, the book is not merely contrived to achieve these aims. The badness in it is not thatof the professional who shrewdly calculates his effects; it is that of the ambitious amateur writer who produces what seems to him to be witty, fresh, and powerful prose. It is a much better book than The Romantic Egotist, the version he finished before he left Princeton. For Fitzgerald at twenty-three, it was the book he wanted to write, the book he could write, and the book that did get written. Before it even reached its audience, Fitzgerald had found his craft.
Twayne’s United States Authors Series #36 (revised edition 1977, first edition 1963).