If there are no such persons as “born writers,” F. Scott Fitzgerald was the next best thing. He was a “born observer.” To this quality he brought a youthful self-confidence and an unwavering conviction that he could produce out of his own head stories as entertaining as any he had read. He preserved this egotism, almost intact, up to (he time when he published This Side of Paradise. Between 1909, the date of his first published work, and 1920, the date of Paradise, he was not consciously preparing himself for a career as a novelist; but the surprisingly large amount of writing be did during the years leading up to his first popular success nonetheless contributed toward that end. The individual pieces which he composed during his early years—stories, plays, poetry, satire, and even song lyrics—run close to one hundred in number. It is evident, therefore, that the sudden success of his first novel was only to a small degree ascribable to chance. Fitzgerald had actually had an extensive apprenticeship.
Why did the young boy from St. Paul write? In the beginning it was to please himself. Later, he wrote to please others with the inventions of his imagination. At Princeton. for a while, writing for publication was. as he saw it, the thing to do. Finally, in his last fifteen months at school, following a severe set-back to his youthful ambitions, and as a result of the influence of several “literary” classmates, he found in writing not only something to believe in, but something eminently worth living for. The author’s pre-1920 writings tell this story.
Fitzgerald’s first published work, “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage,” appeared in the September 1909 issue of the Now and Then. This was the school publication of the St. Paul Academy, a local country day school which he was then attending. He had written other things before—a play at the age of seven and a story of knighthood at the age of ten. among other pieces—but these are lost now. However, we have no reason to suppose that they were unlike “The Raymond Mortgage” with respect to its marked degree of imitation of other models. The style of Conan Doyle and touches of LeBlane pervade this story about a double murder and the theft of a “valuable mortgage.” There is the bumbling chief of police and the bright newspaperman who solves the case. There is a butler (who is killed) and clues (footprints and spent bullets) and complications too elaborate for the story to support. There are implausibilities: a dead woman is left at the scene of the crime for four days while the investigation proceeds. (At this early stage, the young writer found it necessary to evoke a new day for each new development.) Yet. despite its extravagant weaknesses and flaws, the story has undeniable color and a good sense of movement. Since it is the most complex of Fitzgerald’s early stories, perhaps more than anything else it reveals the young writer’s serious concern over plot. This is an interesting point; for if Fitzgerald’s subsequent Post stories suffer from one consistent fault, this fault is overplotting.
Between 1910 and 1911, Fitzgerald wrote three more stories for the Now and Then. One was a simple football anecdote entitled “Reade, Substitute Right Half.” in which a “light haired stripling” strongly resembling the would-be football hero, Fitzgerald, saves the day with a brilliant run. The other two stories, “A Debt of Honor” and “The Room with the Green Blinds,” are Civil War talcs which turn on rather dramatic surprise endings.
Most of these reflect the imitative side of the young writer. They suggest to us the type of books he was reading and the sort of stories that he was hearing from his father, who was fond of recounting tales of the Civil War. These were adventures fashioned by the same Scott who invented games for the neighborhood children to play. Characteristically, these pieces had little to do with life as he was observing it. At the same time, however, he was keeping a personal record of his observations—prose jottings which came closer than any of these fictions to expressing his intimate feelings. This record, which Fitzgerald called his “Thoughtbook,” foreshadows some of his best pages.
The “Thoughtbook,” kept between 1910 and 1911, was a sort of adolescent’s diary, in which were recorded the random and baffling shiftings of favor which describe the eternal drama churned up between youthful members of the opposing sexes. Fitzgerald was a very shrewd observer of these trends. Because popularity meant so much to him, and possibly because he was fascinated by its fickle nature, he proved to be a considerably gifted teen-aged sociologist in these matters. The “Thoughtbook,” which he divided into chapters, contains lists of favorite boys and girls. (At one point, he enters the proviso: “This list changes continually. Only authentic at date of chapter.”) It also contains descriptions of specific incidents involving his young friends. A good illustration of Fitzgerald’s natural style and dramatic insight is given in Chapter IX, dated August, 1910.
Kitty Williams is much plainer to my memory. I met her first at dancing school and as Mr. Van Arnum (our dancing teacher) chose me to lead the march I asked her to be my pardner. The next day she told Marie Louty and Marie repeated it to Dorothy Knox who in turn passed it on to Earl that I was third in her affections. I don’t remember who was first but I know that Earl was second and as I was already quite overcome by her charms I then and there resolved that I would gain first place. As in the case of Nancy there was one day which was preeminent in my memory. I went in Honey Childenton’s yard one morning where the kids usually congregated and beheld Kitty. We talked and talked and finally she asked me if I was going to Robin’s party and it was there that my eventful day was. We played postoffice, pillow, clappin and clapp out and other foolish but interesting games. It was impossible to count the number of times I kissed Kitty that afternoon. At any rate when we went home I had secured the coveted 1st place. I held this until dancing school stopped in the spring and then relinquished it to Johnny Gowns a rival. On valentines day that year Kitty received no less than eighty four valentines. She sent me one which I have now as [and] also one which Nancy gave me. Along in a box with them is the lock of hair—but wait I’ll come to that. That Christmas I bought a five pound box of candy and took it around to her house. What was my surprise when Kitty opened the door. I nearly fell down with embarrassment but I finally stammered “Give this to Kitty,” and ran home.
This excerpt from the “Thoughtbook” represents what Fitzgerald, even at an early age, could do well: observe people and their interrelationships, project himself into their midst, and capture the essence of his experiences in objective and dramatic terms. His obsession with popularity and his attention to the relative ranking of his friends, to be sure, is a facet of the personality of the young egotist. But it is also true that this preoccupation with the standards and procedures of society carries through to the best of his novels and stories written in the two decades that lay ahead of him.
If the passage dedicated to Kitty Williams seems laced with ambition and self-assurance, it should readily be accepted as characteristic of the boy. It appears that Fitzgerald was a kind of neighborhood Belasco, an irrepressible entertainer. He was always dreaming up things for others to do. In view of this, it seems apparent that his early writings were not produced out of a desire for publication and fame. It is likely that what he wrote during this period was strictly for his own pleasure—be it the pleasure of accomplishment or that pleasure he received indirectly from observing that his fictions were amusing his young friends and, in some cases, grownups as well.
One of the adults who were most dazzled by the young Fitzgerald was Miss Elizabeth Magoffin of St. Paul, under whose patronage he wrote, in August of 1911, a short play entitled The Girl from the Lazy J. (This play and those written for production in the summers of 1913 and 1914 have been believed lost. But copies of The Girl from the Lazy J, Coward, and Assorted Spirits,—copied out in Miss Magoffin’s hand—are now located among the Fitzgerald papers at the Firestone Library in Princeton.) This was the first in a series of four plays that Fitzgerald wrote for production by the Elizabethan Dramatic Club, which was headed by Miss Magoffin.
The Girl from the Lazy J is a western. It has a cast of five characters, a number of rather awkward soliloquies, and a minimum of motivated plot action. The plot centers on the drama inherent in concealed identities (a theme Fitzgerald was to exploit in subsequent plays). The manuscript carries Miss Magoffin’s superficial corrections: but it is apparent that she was but lightly critical with her “young genius.”
That fall, the boy’s parents, with the financial help of an aunt, sent him to the Newman School at Hackensack, New Jersey. He had not proved himself either a popular fellow (he was considered too “fresh”) or a diligent student at the Academy, and his enrollment at Newman was intended to to be a means to get him straightened out and studying. But at Newman, too, his brightness and freshness soon made him a marked man among his classmates. Nor did he turn over a new leaf academically. He continued to write secretly and sought his chief stimulation outside the classroom, in the New York theaters where he saw and was greatly impressed by his first Broadway shows. The only record that remains of the writing he did during his first year at Newman is the thirty-six line poem entitled “Football,” which was published in the Newman News. (Fitzgerald’s football “obsession.” which makes itself evident early in his life, often found expression in what he wrote. His dream of football glory was a persistent illusion, one which he cherished for another twenty-five years. For an examination of this facet of the author’s personality, see the present writer’s “Fitzgerald and Football,” Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Reviewv, Fall, 1957.)
The shows he attended on Broadway ultimately had their effect. In the spring of 1912, on his way back home to St. Paul on the train, Fitzgerald wrote a new play which he entitled The Captured Shadow.
The Captured Shadow was presented by the Elizabethan Dramatic Club in August of 1912. To judge from a reading of the manuscript as we nave it in young Fitzgerald’s own hand, it must indeed have been a successful play. It is undoubtedly the best piece of dramatic writing that he had done up to this time. The play flows along very well; there is a particularly good opening and development in the first act: there are smooth entrances and exits; and there is a considerable amount of movement and action. The humor of the opening scene (arising from the extraction of juicy bits of information from an eavesdropping domestic by the “indignant” mistress who had surprised the servant in the act) must have amused the audience. The scene obviously amused Fitzgerald. Moreover, it suggests that he had learned something important about dramatic technique: that the audience takes delight in being given a conversation from which, through insights lent by the author, it can extract more meaning than is apparent on the surface.
The story is essentially an imitation of the type of melodrama that had so impressed the young author in the plays he saw in New York. The hero might have sprung full-blown straight out of Alias Jimmy Valentine. The sense of the gallant roguery of Arsene Lupin (one of Fitzgerald’s early heroes) is manifest throughout the play. However, together with the influences of his models the young playwright mixed in some of his own favored brand of entertainment. There is interpolated a whole series of timeless childhood jokes and vaudeville gags which “keeps the show loose,” so to speak. Some examples: a character stammers, “But-but-but-” and is cut off with the ill-conceived quip. ’’You talk like a goat!“(which probably drew a laugh anyway); someone comments that a certain loud suit looks cheap and the wearer promptly replies, “Why it’s all covered over with checks!”
The mystery play is not fair in the placing and follow-up of clues, but it would seem that no one took note of the fact. There is a pleasant little romance woven into the drama which is resolved with a good final line (a Fitzgerald trademark) when the “Captured Shadow,” revealed as a celebrated society figure in disguise, admits that he has succumbed to the heroine’s charms and now is indeed a truly “captured” Shadow. (A fairly close account of the 1912 production of this play is given in Fitzgerald’s story “The Captured Shadow,” which appeared in the December 29, 1928 Post. The story is included in Taps at Reveille and in Malcolm Cowley’s selection of Fitzgerald’s stories (The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Scribners, 1951).
Fitzgerald returned to Newman that fall with an apparent dedication to try to get the things he wrote into print. Now on the editorial staff of the Newman News, he made a total of five contributions to the magazine during 1912-1913, which was his last year at the school. Two of these pieces. “Election Night” and “School Dance,” are merely brief observations which serve only to indicate Fitzgerald’s interest in the social functions of the school. The remaining three items are short stories. Of these, “Pain and the Scientist” is a simple anecdote with a meager amount of trimming. It deals with a man who has become angered at the attitude of his Christian Scientist neighbor who tries to convince him that there is no such thing as pain. The story ends with the neighbor’s “comeuppance”: after lecturing the protagonist on his childish attitude toward pain, he has an accident and is obliged to beg his “pupil” to release him from his discomfort. It is a slight little tale.
The two other stories represent an important step forward both in the writer’s development and in his search for the “right” material. “A Luckless Santa Claus” deals with a wealthy young man who takes up his fiancee’s bet that he cannot give away twenty-five dollars on Christmas Eve. To his dismay, he finds he cannot do it. “On the Trail of the Duke” is also a “plotted” story which concerns a young beau who is sent by his girl friend to search for a missing duke who has wandered away from her house. The fellow has heard that a French duke had been visiting and assumed that this was whom he was to look for. He returns many hours later empty-handed, only to find that the “Duke” was his girl’s missing poodle, which has since returned. These two stories, executed in similar style, are remarkably well carried off. They offer proof that Fitzgerald was learning some things about the art of writing prose.
But perhaps more significant than the lively descriptions, the charming and convincing dialogue, the increasing sensitivity towards his characters—all of which are evident here—is the fact that Fitzgerald had discovered material for which he had a definite feeling: he had chosen to deal with comfortably wealthy young people of his own time. He was, as we know, exceptionally well equipped to explore in this area of society. Seven years later he would publish a first novel that is peopled with young men and women of similar social and economic status.
In these Newman News stories published during the year preceding his arrival at Princeton we already glimpse clear flashes of the future moralistic writer of fables about the young and the rich. Consider, from “A Luckless Santa Claus,” the following:
In the parlor of a house situated on a dimly lighted residential street somewhere east of Broadway, sat the lady who … started the whole business. She was holding a conversation half frivolous, half sentimental, with a faultlessly dressed young man who sat with her on the sofa. All this was quite right and proper, however, for they were engaged to be married in June.
And this paragraph from “On the Trail of the Duke”:
In his house on upper Fifth Avenue, young Dodson Garland lay on a divan in the billiard room and consumed oceans of mint juleps, as he grumbled at the polo that had kept him in town, the cigarettes, the butler, and occasionally breaking the Second Commandment. The butler ran back and forth with large consignments of juleps and soda and finally, on one of his dramatic entrances. Garland turned towards him and for the first time that evening perceived that the butler was a human being, not a living bottle-tray.
The importance of Fitzgerald’s discovery of the charms of writing about his own time and about his own “generation” is demonstrated by the fact that henceforth, until the publication of This Side of Paradise, he wrote only two stories that did not have contemporary backgrounds. And after Paradise his fame as a short-story writer was based on the portraits of his own “creations”—the flapper and her beaux.
In St. Paul, in the late summer of 1913, just a month before he appeared on the Princeton campus, his third play written for the Elizabethan Dramatic Club was presented. The title was Coward, and Fitzgerald returned to the Civil War period for his scene. It is the most ambitious of his juvenile plays. The cast contains seventeen characters who are deployed over two acts (with an interim time lapse of three years) with an undeniable dramatic sense. Once again the opening is effective. and once more the exits and entrances are smoothly managed. The plot is developed around the occupation of a Virginia home by Yankee soldiers. (The author’s bias favors the South.) A Southerner who in the first act demonstrates himself a coward is redeemed by curtaindrop in the second. The resolution of a long-pending romance provides the curtain line, as it did in The Captured Shadow. Playing on the title of the drama. Fitzgerald has the hero Holworthy confess to having been—three years before—a “coward” in romance as well as in battle.
For all of its implausibilities and youthful excesses, the play appears to have been a success. A subsequent “command” performance was given on September 12 at the nearby White Bear Yacht Club at Delhvood, Minnesota; and for the second time in five days the young Fitzgerald received the enthusiastic approval of his audience and of the local press. This glory must have seemed sufficient to last for a while, for there is no record of Fitzgerald’s having written anything for publication or performance during the next year—until the presentation in September of 1914 of his last play for the Elizabethan Dramatic Club. While at Newman, he had learned about a theatrical group at Princeton called the Triangle Club which staged original operettas. We have his own words to the effect that he chose Princeton primarily in order to play on the Tiger football team and. secondly, in order to be able to write for Triangle. He failed on his first day out to make the Princeton freshman football team, and therefore likely poured all his energies into work on the 1914-1915 Triangle show. To this single-minded dedication we must attribute the silence from September of 1913 to September of the following year.
Fitzgerald’s attendance at Princeton between fall of 1913 and November of 1917 is properly divided into two distinct periods. He attended steadily from September of 1913 through November of 1915 when he left school owing to a combination of health and academic problems. He returned in September of 1916 as a junior and as a member of the Class of ’18. He had fallen a year behind his original class. This setback had a lasting effect on him. What he wrote before and after this reversal should properly be considered as belonging to two distinct phases of his development as a writer.
During his first year at Princeton Fitzgerald worked a great deal on the book and lyrics for the Triangle show Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! At the same lime he was beginning to associate with several literarily inclined young men from whom he felt he could learn many things about this exciting thing called the English language. He now spent time with young poets and dedicated intellectuals such as John Peale Bishop and Edmund Wilson. His classes were of less importance to him than his new friends; they and the Triangle lyrics kept him away from many of his lectures. Consequently, his freshman year was not an unqualified academic success, and he was obliged to report to Princeton early in the fall of 1914 to make up several class deficiencies. He still found time, however, to write and polish up his fourth and final drama for the Elizabethan Dramatic Club—a two-act farce entitled Assorted Spirits. It appears in the reading to be the least successful of the St. Paul plays. As before, he had found himself a common enough plot (a house is made to seem haunted in order to reduce its sale price) and he once again inserted a simple little romance: but the play seems to lack the exuberant spirit of the earlier pieces. Perhaps he had temporarily lost interest in the dramatic form, perhaps he turned out the play merely because it was expected of him. Whatever the reason, we cannot doubt that his imagination was racing ahead to the fall in anticipation of the work remaining to be completed on the Triangle show.
In September he passed off his conditions and was accepted as a sophomore, although he was not allowed to take part officially in Triangle activities. His ultimate contribution to Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! consisted of seventeen song lyrics. Taken as a group, they strike one as being competently executed: but one sees little of Fitzgerald in them and much of W. S. Gilbert. Now barred from full participation in the Triangle presentation, he decided to go home for the holidays while the show went on tour. In St. Paul, ask happened, he had a more significant experience than he likely could ever have had traveling with the Triangle group. Near the end of the vacation he met and fell desperately in love with a girl from Westover by the name of Ginevra King. She would serve as the model for the emancipated, desirable but elusive young heroine in much that Fitzgerald wrote up until the time of the publication of This Side of Paradise. She gave substance to the vague, faceless “society girl” that he had already begun to describe.
By the following spring Fitzgerald had adjusted himself well enough to the Princeton environment to be able to get down to some serious writing. In the April 1915 issue of the Nassau Lit. the school literary magazine, he published a story written in dramatic form called “Shadow Laurels.” It showed that he had absorbed quite a bit from his friends, if not from his teachers, concerning the business of writing. The scene of the story is a wine shop in Paris. A trio of neighborhood habitues are approached by a stranger who is inquiring into the facts surrounding the death of his father who, many years before, had died in that part of Paris. The young man had always believed that his father had been a failure and that his death must have occurred under sordid circumstances. The three local customers immediately recall the father and assure the son that his parent had not been a worthless fellow, that, on the contrary, he had been an educated man. a poet and a musician who had brought beauty and wonder into their lives. He had been fond of drinking, yes, but he had died as an artist. In the end, the three men drink a toast with the grateful son to the memory of the father.
The play has two important features. It is written with a poetic sensitivity that Fitzgerald had probably acquired from reading Francois Villon and others of the decadent romantics. The discovery that a poetic tone can be used to refine and heighten the effect of prose was the single most important step in the development of Fitzgerald’s narrative art during the first stage of his career at Princeton. Also significant is the likelihood that the source for the story came from deep within the author himself. Fitzgerald had always considered his father a failure, which, by objective standards, he was. But he had taught his son to read and write and had told him many fantastic and wonderful stories which had stimulated the boy’s imagination.
In “Shadow Laurels” Fitzgerald seems to be reaching down into his private feelings for the first time to grasp a subject for his prose. Since we know he was being exposed to the traditionally enlightening college experience of having old ideas and faiths brought into doubt, it seems probable that he used the story as a means of reevaluating the degree of his indebtedness to his father.
The June 1915 issue of the Nassau Lit carried his next story, “The Ordeal.” This is an account of the mystical occurrence experienced by a young man at the moment he lakes his vows for priesthood. The story is strangely vague and inconclusive. It would seem to reflect Fitzgerald’s unsettled feeling regarding his Catholicism. Since Newman days, he had been greatly influenced by his friend and advisor, Sigourney Fay. In fact, Father Fay and Shane Leslie together “had induced Fitzgerald to believe he was the future Catholic novelist for the United Stales.” (Shane Leslie, “Scott Fitzgerald’s First Novel”: The Times Literary Supplement, November 6. 1959, p. 643.) While this ambition was not realized, Fitzgerald nonetheless was able to deal more meaningfully with the theme of religious experience in subsequent stories—of which “Absolution” is perhaps the best example.
“The Ordeal” is the last significant prose piece published by Fitzgerald for nearly a year and a half. His grades during his sophomore year were not good, and he found himself obliged once again to submit to reexamination in the fall. The deficiencies were not satisfactorily made up. So it was that in November of 1915. now in poor health, he withdrew from school. That year’s Triangle show. The Evil Eye, with book written by Edmund Wilson, again carried seventeen lyrics by Fitzgerald. But the bitterly disappointed student had been forcibly removed from what he always felt was his rightful place in the spotlight. The experience of marking time while his class moved ahead was one which affected him deeply. When he returned to Princeton in September, of 1916 he was, in many ways, a different person.
The 1916-1917 Triangle show was called Safety First, and for it Fitzgerald produced twenty-one lyrics. This was the third operetta for which he had provided the songs, and one observes that he had now developed and perfected his natural facility for versifying to a point where some of his best lyrics possessed genuine wit and polish. Included in the Safety First score is the following bright verse about Charlotte Corday:
Back where Robespiere [sic] ruled
In frivolous fickle France
That’s when someone was fooled
And fooled in a bold way
Fooled in the old way.
Young Miss Charlotte Corday
Of the “Follies of Ninety Three”
Asked old Marat to buy her a hat
Oh mercy on me!
So Marat he had it sent
And to her flat he went. Oh:
Charlotte Corday. Charlotte Corday,
You had them all on the string.
Gee they were mean to guillotine
A sweet little innocent thing!
Got the hat when you wanted it.
Tried it on but it didn’t fit.
Then you joined the wrath club,
Stabbed him in the bathtub.
Served him just right, he was a fright.
You were impetuous through life.
Many a dame does just the same.
But stabs with her eyes, not a knife.
Still, we’ve thought upon it
And we wear your bonnet,
Charlotte Corday, Charlotte Corday,
You were some girl in your day!
It was a more sober young man, however, who wrote these songs. After January of 1917, the amount of humorous material that Fitzgerald published gradually declined. (He had been in earlier years a frequent contributor to the Princeton humor magazine, The Tiger; but his Tiger pieces had always been slight and—he must have realized this—inconsequential.) It appears that it was during his period of readjustment at Princeton that Fitzgerald’s humor was transformed into the irony that pervades so much of his subsequent work.
With the frivolity and gaiety of the Triangle show behind him, it was the Nassau Lit that then assumed greatest importance as a means for making his creative talents known. Between January and October of 1917. the magazine published six of his short stories and five poems. Included in this production are the best prose pieces that he wrote prior to the publication of This Side of Paradise. This is explained in part by the fact that by late fall his romance with Ginevra King had come to a moment of crisis. When the new year began, Fitzgerald had to face the painful truth that their relationship was for all purposes ended. In the manner of “Shadow Laurels,” he now used his stories as means of coming to grips with and attempting to understand his past experience. “The Debutante,” published in the January 1917 issue, is an episode in play form which depicts a bored, fickle, pseudo-sophisticated young society girl in the process of driving one of her ardent beaux to despair. It is a brief little sketch, but Fitzgerald fully understood the impression he wanted to convey and he conveyed it effectively. In the February issue appeared his story “The Spire and the Gargoyle.” He had written it originally in the midst of his depression, while he was waiting to return to school. It concerns a boy who has collected fifty cuts in his spring term and finds himself obliged to take an exam that will determine whether he will be able to return in the fall as a sophomore. The “spire” is the romantic symbol of university existence (which ideally has no imposed disciplines): the “gargoyle” represents the instructor who grades the boy’s paper and mercilessly fails him. The second half of the story expresses Fitzgerald’s sense of despair over the injustice of a dull, plodding pedagogue (who subsequently takes a job teaching in a high school) having in his hands the power to destroy the plans of a bright, ambitious, gifted young man. It remains a moving and eloquent expression of Fitzgerald’s disillusionment at that time.
The April issue carried his “plotted” story “Tarquin of Cheapside,” which is structurally similar to his St. Paul Academy piece, “The Room with the Green Blinds.” Both stories build to a melodramatic surprise ending. “Tarquin,” however, is a far superior narrative in that Fitzgerald’s cultivation of poetry had enabled him to produce a carefully controlled poetic prose that is actually the story’s outstanding feature. In May, having reconsidered his experience with Ginevra King, he published “Babes in the Woods,” a story about two young people feeling each other out in the early stages of their romance. It is a more effective story than “The Debutante,” partly because it probes deeper into the author’s feelings for its emotional tension. Fitzgerald now understood his two young people (Isabelle and Kenneth) quite well. These two stories, in revised form, figure in This Side of Paradise. Isabelle, incidentally, remains as the name of the book’s early heroine, and Kenneth becomes Amory. Both stories were sold in 1919 to the Smart Set before Paradise was accepted for publication.
In June the Lit published Fitzgerald’s “Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge,” a war-time story set in England, full of literary allusions and “big” questions. It is the least successful story of this late period for it clearly reveals Fitzgerald to be, in philosophical matters, a decidely immature thinker. (However, readers of his first two novels will perceive that he was not one to give up without a fight.) The last story Fitzgerald published in the Lit was “The Pierian Spring and the Last Straw,” which appeared in the October issue. In it the narrator’s uncle tells of a sad love affair which we recognize as a new version of the Ginevra King experience. Time has now separated the author from his days of apprehension and ultimate sorrow, and we observe “Fitzgerald the writer” reviewing an incident from the life of “Fitzgerald the boy from St. Paul” and molding the fundamental emotions into a well-fashioned literary creation.
The twenty-one-year-old Princeton student had now acquired all of the individual writer’s tools that he would use in his first novel. His material had been determined, his style had been set, his artistic sensitivities had been awakened and sharpened. Most significantly, he had begun to live actively, conscious of his time. He would borrow other ideas and he would adapt other styles; but henceforth all of these would be measured against his acquired sense of what was esthetically correct and desirable.
In November of 1917, the month after the publication of “The Pierian Spring,” the young writer left Princeton to accept a commission in the U. S. Army as a second lieutenant. Fitzgerald’s life as a student had come to an end. However, before he left Prince-ton, he brought to Dean Christian Gauss, his friend, the manuscript of a novel on which he had been working—in the hope that Gauss would recommend it to a publisher. He had titled it The Romantic Egoist and had filled its pages with his personal experiences and his youthful philosophy. This was the first draft of the novel that would eventually form part of This Side of Paradise. Dean Gauss found it to be unmarketable and advised Fitzgerald to do more work on it. The writer believed in the book and took it with him when he left Princeton to report for duty. What happened to him and his manuscript in the next two years properly belongs to the study of his first novel. In reality, of course, the break between these two early stages of Fitzgerald’s life was not distinct or abrupt. In a sense, the “school” and the “young novelist” periods merge into and reflect one another. Fitzgerald came to be in the “outside world” the image of what he had been during his school years, but magnified because of society’s larger perspective. In his writing, too, the close interrelationship is implicit. It is true, as many have pointed out, that This Side of Paradise, being so unmistakably autobiographical, clearly depicts the life of the young writer. But it is also true that, when considered in detail, Fitzgerald’s early writings explain and illuminate the novel called This Side of Paradise.
Published in Modern Fiction Studies magazine VII (Spring 1961), pp. 19-31. Text scanned from F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of Criticism, ed. by Kenneth Eble (New York: Mcgraw-Hill, 1973).