Our “Younger Marrieds” Outflap the “Flappers,” a Young Author’s Thought
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Writer of “The Beautiful and the Damned,” Also Thinks “New York Is Going Crazy” Since Advent of Prohibition—Young Married Women Largely to Blame for the “Damnation” of Their Own Lives.
“New York is going crazy! When I was here a year ago I thought we'd seen the end of night life. But now it's going on as it never was before Prohibition. I'm confident that you can find anything here that you find in Paris. Everybody is drinking harder—that's sure. Possessing liquor Is a proof of respectability, of social position You can't go anywhere without having your host bring out his bottle and offer you a drink. He displays his liquor as he used to display his new car or his wife's jewels. Prohibition, it seems to me. Is having simply a ruinous effect on young men.”
It is a young man himself who is speaking—no clergyman, no social reformer, but a “regular” young man. Most of you know his name—F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote “This Side of Paradise,” a book that managed to be both brilliant and popular, when he was just out of Princeton, two years ago; whose second novel, “The Beautiful and Damned,” is newly published. (A reader of both suggests that, in view of the first tale, the second could have been called, consistently, “Next Stop Is Hell!”)
The frank Mr. Fitzgerald undoubtedly set the fashion of holding the mirror up to the flapper. Some of us, in two years, have grown a bit weary of studying her reflection. So we welcome the fact that, in his second novel, Mr Fitzgerald turns his attention to other representatives of his generation—to the “younger marrieds,” in the locution of the s0ciety columns. They out flap the flapper! With youth, health, beauty, love, friends, money, pleasure, his Anthony and Gloria, typifying the prosperous, newly married couple In New York, are hopelessly, irretrievably “damned,” broken in body and spirit; one an accomplished, the other an incipient dipsomaniac, before the end of the story.
“But why?” I asked the young novelist, when I met him at the Plaza Hotel, where he and his wife are staying for a few days, Their home is in St. Paul, Minn. “In some ways your pair were a special case. But we all know scores of young men and women here in New York who marry under the happiest auspices, and who, in a few years, manage to throw away all their chances of lifelong happiness and security together. What is the matter with our young married couples?”
“First of all, I think it's the way everybody is drinking,” replied the blue-eyed, frank-faced, fastidiously dressed author. Ills stories are world weary, but he himself is as clean and fresh and boyish as if he'd never had an idea or a disillusion. Then he gave the candid, impartial impression of New York life of the present quoted at the beginning of this interview.
“There's the philosophy of ever so many young people today,” he went on, thoughtfully. “They don't believe in the old standards and authorities, and they're not intelligent enough, many of them, to put a code of morals and conduct in place of the sanctions that have been destroyed for them. They drift. Their attitude toward life might be summed up: 'This is ALL. Then what does it matter? We don't care: let's GO!'”
A little nervous movement of Mr. Fitzgerald's cigarette finished the sentence.
The young wife in his book remarks, even before entering the state of matrimony, that she does not want to have responsibility and a lot of children to take care of. “Evidently,” observes her creator, with a nuance of sarcasm, “she did not doubt that on her lips all things were good.” So I asked him how far he considered the young married woman to blame for the “damnation” of her own life and that of her husband.
“She's very largely to blame,” he responded promptly. “Our American women are leeches. They're on utterly useless fourth generation trading on the accomplishment of their pioneer great- grandmothers. They simply dominate the American man. You should see dowagers trailing around this hotel with their dependent males! No Englishman would endure one-eighth of what an American takes from his wife.
“I've often asked myself the question. ‘To what is a woman entitled from life?” The answer, obviously, is 'All she can get.” And when she marries she gets the whole things. She makes a man love her, then proceeds to hog all his emotions, to get all the money out of him she can, to keep him at her back and call. She makes a monkey of him, in many cases, and he has to stand it unless he wants a continuous verbal battles.”
Mr Fitzgerald took another whiff of his cigarette.
“What chance have they, these men and women of my generation who come from families with some money!” he exclaimed. “I'm not blaming them. What chance has the young man, unless he has to work for his living? If he were born in England, there would at least be a tradition behind him and a background. Here he is born in a Middle Western town. His grandfather, perhaps, was a farmer ----------------- He—the ---------------- in ------------ ----------------- through he knows everything every boy ever knew and every chorus girl in town. His idea of happiness is to have one of them on the back seat of a limousine. Then his family resolves that he must go to Yale. Ho goes there to raise hell. When he's through—if he gets through—he’s absolutely ruined.
“He ought to do something. But what can he do? Suppose ho thinks that hr might try to help govern his country.” But what ho would think next Is so perfectly summed up in “The Beautiful and Damned” that I shall quote It word for word:
“He tried to imagine himself in Congress, rooting around in the litter of that Incredible pigsty, with the narrow and porcine brows he saw pictured sometimes, those glorified proletarians babbling blandly to the Nation the ideas of high school seniors! Little men with copy-book ambitions who by mediocrity had thought to emerge from mediocrity into the lusterless and unromantic heaven of a government by the people—and the best, the dozen shrewd men at the top, egotistic and cynical, were content to lead this choir of white ties and wire collar-buttons in a discordant and amazing hymn, compounded of a vague confusion between wealth as a reward of virtue and wealth as a proof of vice, and continued cheers for God, the Constitution and the Rocky Mountains!”
“Nevertheless,” I said, “all our younger married set cannot be 'damned.’ Surely you can suggest some way in which they may be 'saved'?”
“Work!” at once exclaimed Mr. Fitzgerald, his blue eyes earnest. “Work is the one salvation for all of us—even if we must work to forget there’s nothing worth while to work for, even if the work we turn out—books, for example—doesn’t satisfy us. The young man must work. His wife must work”——
“How?” I interrupted. “At bringing up an old-fashioned family?”
Scott Fitzgerald is a boy, and married happily, and not too long.
“I think,” he confided, ingenuously, “that just being in love, really in love, doing it well, you know—is work enough for a woman. If she keeps her house the way it should he kept and makes herself look pretty when her husband comes home in the evening and loves him and helps him with his work and encourages him—oh, I think that's the sort of work that will save her. It’s not so easy, you know, being in love and making it go.”
Evidently, the younger generation, whatever the vagaries of its head, still believes in keeping its heart in the same old place!
Published in New York Evening World newspaper (1 April 1922).