F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoön
by Robert Sklar

Chapter five

Of all the new writers who came into prominence in America after the First World War, none emerged so swiftly nor so easily as Fitzgerald. He was good and he was lucky; that combination explains sudden good fortune in any literary generation. But Fitzgerald was as much a representative as an isolated figure of success in the early 1920's. His early success was followed, and surpassed, by similar good fortune among a dozen other writers, some of whom had been publishing novels obscurely for four or eight or ten years. As changes occurred in the dominant modes of literary expression after the First World War, they also took place—if not the same changes precisely—in the tastes of the American reading public. On the most simple level this change in tastes may be charted through the months of 1920 on the list of “Fiction in Demand at Public Libraries” published by The Bookman. In June 1920 a novel by Zane Grey led the list, and works by Joseph C. Lincoln, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Eleanor H. Porter, Grace S. Richmond, and Alexander Black followed. By October This Side of Paradise was most in demand at public libraries throughout the United States; and in succeeding months novels by Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton, Floyd Dell, Willa Cather, and John Dos Passos were at or near the top. These names represent so many diverse literary and intellectual attitudes that no one new taste in literature obviously unites them, except that each in its ownway was critical of contemporary American life. In any case by the early twenties the battle for new styles and new subjects in American literature, waged on so many fronts over the previous decade, had been decisively won.

“It would be difficult to imagine a more radical change in a few years,” H. L. Mencken wrote in The Smart Set in 1922. “There thus remains no impediment whatever to the free functioning of the adolescent American literatus… Let a new Fitzgerald escape from Princeton, and he is received with a cordiality (both spiritual and spirituous) that the president of his university might envy.” Fitzgerald may have been the first new success among the reading public simply because it was his fortune to publish a season ahead of the others. And yet Fitzgerald, in his fiction and in his literary personality, possessed qualities he shared with none of the others. Mencken's tribute, with its tone of mingled hospitality and condescension, both expresses and represents the way Fitzgerald became a literary figure of importance: partly through what he stood for and partly by the way he acted; though neither would have made a difference had he not also been a writer of exceptional skill. Yet under the circumstances only a writer of extraordinary self-control and inflexible purpose could have prevented his talent from becoming an object to be manipulated by others who wished to use his values or his personality for their own ends. On the contrary, Fitzgerald, with his instinct for advertising and entertainment, let himself become a prisoner, delighting in it. To a disheartening extent the history of F. Scott Fitzgerald's mind and art, in the first moments of his career as in the last, is the history of his reputation.

Fitzgerald emerged on the literary scene in late 1919 and early 1920 with one foot planted in the past and one foot stepping toward the future. That might explain why his early stories were welcomed both by The Smart Set and The Saturday Evening Post; but it explains even better why in the course of fifteen spring weeks the Post should have run six of his stories about beautiful, young, and willful girls. Fitzgerald's stories were about the antics and the slang and the styles of postwar youth; but whereas in his two Smart Set stories youthful values judged prewar standards and condemned them, in the Post stories the young, for all their daring new ways, played their games by prewar sentiments and standard rules. Thismust have been deeply reassuring to conservative readers of any age, for it implied that inevitable change would come without any great disruption in the eternal continuities. It must have been of enormous significance to advertisers in The Saturday Evening Post to see that the Post could maintain trusted standards, while presenting a picture of the young that would attract younger readers with money to spend; the difficulties of The Saturday Evening Post since World War II have demonstrated how important to its earlier success was its appeal to affluent young adult readers, an appeal which Fitzgerald's Post stories over a dozen years helped form. And it fitted, in an extraordinary way, with a sentimental desire of the older generation, fostered in part by the world war, to see the younger generation find particularly intense pleasure and happiness.

An undated, unattributed newspaper clipping in Fitzgerald's personal scrapbook suggests how deeply the older generation wanted the young to be compensated for having to fight their idealistic war. It is a society page article about the marriage of Fitzgerald's first love, Ginevra King, to an aviator during the war; society page articles hardly reflect reality, then or now, but they do reflect the attitudes of persons who must also have been attracted to sentimental fiction. This is how the article began:

What a realization of the supreme power of youth is forced on us by these so-called “war weddings.” The old and wise look on with awe at the valorous determination of the young to snatch happiness from the tremendous conflagration which is burning up our outworn failure of a civilization. The flames light up the radiant faces of our boys and girls as, two by two, they join hands and smilingly undertake to cope with the great catastrophe.

In the shadows of the outer circle their elders look on, stretching out detaining but ineffectual hands, in helpless anguish. They are part of a closing chapter. To their sons and daughters belong both the present and the future. Each of these war marriages is a further manifestation of the triumph of youth.

It was this triumph of youth, that young and old alike could glory in, of which Fitzgerald was to become known as the chronicler.

The reviewers of This Side of Paradise, which was published in the midst of Fitzgerald's first long run in the Post, made this clear. This Side of Paradise hardly fit the category of a sentimental storyfor The Saturday Evening Post. It was treated by some as an innovating and original work of art, and liberal weeklies like The Nation and The New Republic gave it more prominent attention than the usual reviewing media. But in periodicals closer to the book trade and to buyers of best-sellers, which This Side of Paradise was to become, the novel was important because it was exemplary, because it carried the news on youth, and the news was good. “The glorious spirit of abounding youth glows throughout this fascinating tale,” The New York Times said. “We know that [Amory Blaine] is doing just what hundreds of thousands of other young men are doing in colleges all over the country.” And to reassure its readers that hundreds of thousands of young college men were not out savoring the pleasures of immorality, the reviewer made clear that there was a “spirit of innocence in so far as actual wrongdoing is implied.” The Booklist of the American Library Association accepted Amory Blaine's representative nature but would not permit him to stand for all young men: “Amory Blaine, the hero, is a composite photograph of many young Americans who love the unhampered life allowed by plenty of money, fertile imagination, and freedom from parental discipline.” The upper-class atmosphere of the novel of course did not hinder its acceptance by sentimental readers. “It is probably one of the few really American novels extant,” Harry Hansen, literary editor of the Chicago Daily News, was quoted in a double-page advertisement for the book in Publishers' Weekly. “Most writers feel that if they want to portray American life they have got to go down to the steel mills or into a mining town. Can you imagine any college man passing up this book?” The Publishers' Weekly book reviewer linked This Side of Paradise with two safe old favorites—who were also two old Princeton men: “If you enjoy the thrill of discovering a new literary star and like the sort of thing Ernest Poole and Booth Tarkington at their best stand for in our American fiction, don't miss it.” It was “a convincing chronicle of youth by youth,” said The Bookman. “Those who read these pages,” Publishers' Weekly concluded, “… will be apt to thank God that we have young men to write books as they finally lay the volume down.”

Fitzgerald spoke for the young, but he spoke as well to the old. As the reviewers read it, This Side of Paradise possessed an uncanny capacity to satisfy curiosity and fulfill expectations without unpleasant shocks or surprises. Fitzgerald was at his most clever when he coined the advertising slogan, “a novel about flappers for philosophers.” As the New York Evening Sun said, This Side of Paradise was a novel “in the very contemporary accent of youth, seen in the light of a wisdom he has somehow managed to steal from an overtaken middle age.” The style, the poems, the dialogues, the original aspects of the novel's form, could safely be accommodated—according to the New York Evening Post—because of the author's youth, the “Byronism that is normal in a man of the author's type.” But the tone was far more mature, exceptionally sensitive to the values and desires of older readers. It was realistic, but neither too much nor too little. It was partly representative of youth and partly not. It was not too immoral, nor was it too moral. It was serious, it was also funny. It was honest and true; it was safe. This Side of Paradise was almost unanimously praised. It was the old genteel story told, as befitted the desire of the postwar “Reconstruction” period for rebirth, in a new way. “It is the old 'literary material' of self-absorption in the early 'twenties; the old growing pains, old intellectual and emotional adventures mistaken for discoveries, the romantics and heroics, moods, fancies, the favorite stories even, albeit done in new terms and from a more or less new attitude …,” the New York Sun wrote. “It is the first self-conscious and self-critical offering of the exceptionally 'brilliant' contingent among the American youth whom 1917 overtook in college. You could think of it as the New Youth, more differentiated by the war than even the new Middle Age has realized, talking about itself in public exuberantly and yet with a certain sobriety and conviction youth never had before.”

But This Side of Paradise had not ended in genteel platitudes; Amory Blaine's final convictions had broken with sentimental values in favor of a new type of constructive individualism. Thus even the reviewers who praised the maturity of Fitzgerald's wisdom had also to call into question his intelligence. “In the last third,” said The Independent, “he dives so deep that he gets well over his head.… [Amory Blaine] exclaims, 'I know myself,' but the reader doubts him.” The Bookman called it an “unconvincing protestation.” “Poor Amory is all dressed up, intellectually and aesthetically, with no place to go,” H. W. Boynton wrote in The Review. “Perhaps we do not quite share his author's vision of him as a new-made 'personage'—as one who without at all knowing where he is going is at last discernibly on his way.” Of course, none of the genteel reviewers was quite so critical of Amory's views as was H. L. Mencken, whose statement that Fitzgerald “simply drops Amory Blaine” suggests that Mencken did not disbelieve in Amory's ideas, but rather found them nonexistent.

From a modern perspective the highly favorable review in The Nation was most perceptive. “Mr. Fitzgerald's mind is still hovering uncertainly on the shores of new seas of thought,” The Nation wrote. “It is—to risk a bull—rather afraid of wetting its feet. … He has not yet reached any thought or perception that is absolutely his own.” But The Nation recognized that the end of the novel represented not so much a conclusion as a beginning for Amory Blaine's new individualism. “He has not yet come into any self to know. Neither has Mr. Fitzgerald. But he is on the path of those who strive. His gifts have an unmistakable amplitude and much in his book is brave and beautiful.” The New Republic, in another mostly favorable review, praised the novel's “intellectual honesty” and “sometimes disconcertingly realistic investigation of a sensitive mind growing up in our own present-day civilization.” What The New Republic meant by honesty and realism was not necessarily what the newspaper reviewers meant by the same words. It was the genteel reassurances expressed by some New York papers that led Heywood Broun to his dissent in the New York Tribune. “It seems to us inconceivable,” Broun wrote, “that the attitude toward life of a Princeton undergraduate, even a freshman, should be so curiously similar to that of a sophomore at Miss Spence's.” But that was just the kind of news, where and when it could be found in This Side of Paradise, that would have been most pleasing to sentimental minds.

There is no record of Fitzgerald's precise response to the reviews of This Side of Paradise as they came in during April and May and June of 1920; perhaps he could have made no precise response, for those also were the months of his marriage and honeymoon and first half-hearted efforts to end the round of celebration parties and get back down to work. In any case his intellectual stance and his views on literature had shifted so radically in the preceding half year that any discussion of the novel's attitudes must have seemed like ancient history.

What mattered to Fitzgerald was not what the reviews said about his point of view, but that they were so overwhelmingly favorable. In fact he was delighted to be regarded as the spokesman for youth to middle age; his advertising slogan, “a novel about flappers for philosophers,” perfectly expressed the role he wanted his novel to play. His instinct for advertising—and self-advertising—took over from and dominated whatever literary or intellectual ends he had once wanted the novel to serve. To publicize This Side of Paradise a flyer was tipped into copies of the novel distributed at the May convention of the American Booksellers Association, bearing Fitzgerald's picture and the following statement, entitled “The Author's Apology”: “I don't want to talk about myself because I'll admit I did that somewhat in this book. In fact to write it, it took three months; to conceive it—three minutes, to collect the data in it—all my life. The idea of writing it came on the first of last July; it was a substitute form of dissipation. My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence. An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward. So, gentlemen, consider all the cocktails mentioned in this book drunk by me as a toast to the Book-Sellers Convention.” As another way of gaining publicity Fitzgerald wrote an imaginary interview with himself, but Scribner's advertising department declined to use it. Partly it repeated “The Author's Apology”; most of it eventually found its way into the literary dialogues of The Beautiful and Damned. He expounded the same views in newspaper interviews where he could. Meanwhile his own drunken antics in New York were becoming as notorious as the antics of his fictional flappers. “They rode down Fifth Avenue on the tops of taxis because it was hot,” according to one of Fitzgerald's biographers, “or dove into the fountain at Union Square or tried to undress at the Scandals, or, in sheer delight at the splendor of New York, jumped, dead sober, into the Pulitzer fountain in front of the Plaza. Fitzgerald got in fights with waiters and Zelda danced on people's dinner tables.” Yet not everyone could be expected to look upon the pleasures of the young generation with benign middle-aged envy and indulgence, and as Fitzgerald took it upon himself to be the spokesman for youth, to be in his own person the symbol of youth, it was natural that the opponents of youthful manners should have singled out himand his book as their target. He was called cocky and impudent, complacent and pretentious; and these were no doubt as true of his attitude as it was of the wealthy and genteel youth he had chosen to represent. But whatever blows Fitzgerald's ego had to take, this kind of publicity, as Maxwell Perkins told him, was “advantageous” for the sales of This Side of Paradise.

By August 1920 sales of This Side of Paradise, as Fitzgerald wrote to Shane Leslie, had passed thirty thousand copies. In the September Smart Set Mencken called Fitzgerald's book “the best American novel that I have seen of late.” For the month of October This Side of Paradise was number one on The Bookman's list of “Fiction in Demand at Public Libraries.” A year after he finished the novel, half a year after its publication, Fitzgerald had attained a kind of prominence, both as an artist and as a literary public figure, which no young American has equaled since. He had managed both to express a mood and to embody it; the most striking parallel in recent years may be the youthful success of the Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtuschenko. For both young men maintained a continuity with the past while providing in their person and their art an exhilarating sense of change, of liberation, of thaw.

But to meet both the standards of literary art and the standards of commercial success—and in novel and short-story forms at the same time—was a trick which required more care, patience, and guile than Fitzgerald in 1920 could command. No doubt Fitzgerald's extraordinary success with The Saturday Evening Post contributed to the aura of publicity and precocious power which surrounded This Side of Paradise when it was published; but journals like The Nation and The New Republic acclaimed the novel, quite possibly unaware that it followed rather than preceded Fitzgerald's commercial success in the short story form. It was Scribner's policy, however, to capitalize on the success of a novel by issuing in the following season a volume of the author's short stories. Fitzgerald took his title from the advertising slogan he had coined for the novel, and the collection was called Flappers and Philosophers. There were eight stories in it from the thirteen he had up to then published; and the first three in the collection, “The Offshore Pirate,” “The Ice Palace,” and “Head and Shoulders,” were from the Post. The literary reviewers who had notknown of Fitzgerald's commercial career knew it then, and their reaction was one of displeased surprise.

“What has happened to Mr. Fitzgerald?” The Nation asked. “The Offshore Pirate is on the level of a musical comedy 'book'; The Ice Palace and Benediction are falsely effective bits of sentimentality; Head and Shoulders is sheer trickery—a prestidigitator's 'stunt' in writing. The Cut Glass Bowl and Bernice Bobs Her Hair touch human nature and the course of life more closely. But both share the ugly hardness of the book's title. … In 'This Side of Paradise' there was both gold and dross. Instead of wringing his art, in Mr. Hergesheimer's fine expression, free of all dross, Mr. Fitzgerald proceeded to cultivate it and sell it to The Saturday Evening Post. Why write good books? You have to sell something like five thousand copies to earn the price of one story. Sic transit gloria artis.The Literary Review of the New York Evening Post said the stories were “without the native originality and unfailing inspiration that made 'This Side of Paradise' the most promising American first novel in recent years.” Mencken in The Smart Set was even more blunt. “Here is thin and obvious stuff, cheap stuff—in brief, atrociously bad stuff,” he wrote. “Let us marvel at the sagacity of a publisher who lets a young author print 'Flappers and Philosophers' after 'This Side of Paradise.' If it were not two years too late I'd almost suspect a German plot.”

If it were anyone's plot, it was a genteel American plot. For there was an audience which, as it delighted in the stories when they appeared in magazines, delighted in the book. “The best are stories of youth,” said The Booklist of the American Library Association, “clever, witty, with interesting plots and amazing young characters.” For if it was the triumph of youth that Fitzgerald heralded, the stories proclaimed it in so much more pleasant and mellow a tone than the novel. Even The Catholic World, as if to contradict Fitzgerald's claim to Shane Leslie that ”'Benediction'… has come in for the most terrible lashing from the American Catholic intelligentsia,” praised the book of stories: “The eight tales which form this collection mark an advance upon the author's novel…. here are to be found originality and variety, with imaginativeness of the exceptional order that needs not to seek remote, untrodden paths, but plays upon scenes and people within the radius of ordinary life… The book offers to busy readers entertainment that can be enjoyed with no aftermath of self-reproach for having wasted time.” By the winter of 1920-21, as Fitzgerald was binding himself to the literary and intellectual values of The Smart Set group around Mencken and George Jean Nathan, as he was writing a novel that he hoped would make the bourgeoisie stare, it was to the busy readers who took pleasure in amazing young characters that he had committed his reputation.

The success of a best-selling novel is cumulative. Although it is not possible to know the precise chronology of sales, Fitzgerald did earn almost as much in royalties from This Side of Paradise in 1921 as in 1920, and nearly five times more from the book of stories. He published only three new magazine stories in 1921, all of them early in the year, but the new novel began a seven-month serial run in The Metropolitan in September. And meanwhile literary periodicals were keeping his name before the reading public. In the April Bookman Sidney Howard's “Flowers That Bloom in the Spring (A Bouquet of Younger Writers),” featured a line-cut of Fitzgerald and placed him “athwart the cult of youth.” To Howard, Fitzgerald was “unqualifiedly the most promising young writer in English.” An unsigned note in “The Gossip Shop” in the same number of The Bookman reported, “The most vivid personality to cross the doors of the Shop during the month is the astounding F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose next novel will strike an extremely different note from 'This Side of Paradise,' but a note that will be as daring and as impudent as his laugh.” Then, the gossip went on, “we watched him wave his cigarette at an audience one night not long ago, and capture them by nervous young ramblings, until he had the room (mostly 'flappers') swaying with delight. Then, the autograph hunters! This admiration embarrassed him much—but after we had escaped into the outer darkness he acknowledged, with a grin, that he rather liked it.” The Bookman's August “gossip shop” carried a humorous letter reporting on the Fitzgeralds' spring trip to Montgomery, Alabama. And in the same number appeared the first parody of Fitzgerald, Chapter Three of Donald Ogden Stewart's “An Outline of American History,” entitled “The Courtship of Miles Standish, In the Manner of F. Scott Fitzgerald.” As the third in his series Stewart's parody of Fitzgerald followed similar parodies of James Branch Cabell and Sinclair Lewis, an indication that Fitzgerald had attained a position, where literature connects with popular social attitudes, second only to the authors of Main Street and Jurgen. Stewart had known Fitzgerald in St. Paul; his parody is very funny and exceptionally perceptive, and he appears to have singled out the tones of Fitzgerald's fiction that had made his work notorious. Enter PRISCILLA,” reads a stage direction, ”infinitely radiant, infinitely beautiful, with a bottle of vermouth in one hand and a jug of gin in the other.” In a footnote at the end of his parody Stewart wrote, “For the further adventures of Priscilla, see F. Scott Fitzgerald's stories in the 'Girl with the Yellow Hair' series.” He named the two novels—from the parody it is clear that he had read the first draft of The Beautiful and Damned—and several stories from Flappers and Philosophers. But none of the heroines in those stories or in the novels, not even Gloria Gilbert, possesses together the two qualities that make this parody Priscilla so memorable—excessive drinking and implied sexual looseness.

Fitzgerald's ideas about his own literary and personal reputation, so far as they were clear to him, were dominated even before the publication of This Side of Paradise by H. L. Mencken's views of the American reading public. His curious Mencken-style letter to his aunt and uncle in St. Paul, late in 1920, was no doubt motivated more by a desire to impress his relatives by parroting his hero than by any interest to convey information; there his contempt for popular taste was most complete. He doubted that The Beautiful and Damned would have the popular success of This Side of Paradise and vowed that “if it's necessary to bootlick the pet delusions of the inhabitants of Main Street… to make money I'd rather live on less and preserve the one duty of a sincere writer—to set down life as he sees it as gracefully as he knows how.” If The Metropolitan Magazine tried to serialize the new novel, he was sure its circulation would drop, and he predicted “within several years you'll probably hear that I've been hung by an earnest delegation of 100% Americans.” However much this echoed Mencken's disdain for the American middle class, Mencken himself, as a practicing journalist, knew the importance of communicating with an audience, of writing to be read and understood. With his sense as an entertainer and his desire to be a spokesman, Fitzgerald knew it, too. But the early twentieswas a time of sudden and surprising changes in reading tastes and habits. Fitzgerald perceptively pointed this out in Mencken's case when he reviewed Prejudices: Second Series in The Bookman. “Granted … that he has done more for the national letters than any man alive,” Fitzgerald wrote, “one is yet inclined to regret a success so complete. What will he do now? … Will he find new gods to dethrone, some eternal 'yokelry' still callous enough to pose as intelligentsia before the Menckenian pen fingers? Or will he strut among the ruins, a man beaten by his own success, as futile, in the end, as one of those Conrad characters that so tremendously enthrall him?”

This remarkable speculation prefigures Mencken's career throughout the Twenties, a career of extraordinary popularity and influence, accompanied by intellectual frustrations. Mencken wanted to be the iconoclast, the Nietzschean nay-sayer; but this self-image could hardly maintain itself when every thunderous No! was eagerly devoured by his intended victims. His intellectual development in the twenties was marked by a desire to run away from the popular taste that was avidly following him; by the early thirties he had been forced to run so far that his sense of social reality had deserted him; and when popular taste shifted he was left in the mid and late thirties only with his eternal No, having lost both his acute critical sense, and his audience. The man who expects to make his living as a writer must keep a self-conception of his own intellectual and literary purposes in balance with his reputation—one now says “image”—the public conception of his work that impels readers to think they want to read his books, and editors to think their readers will want to read his articles and stories. This balance was difficult for many writers to maintain in the twenties, as difficult for Fitzgerald as for Mencken; and by adopting Mencken's views of the American reading public Fitzgerald made it even more difficult for himself.

During the twenties more good writers were financially successful than in any other period of American history. Dreiser made the bestseller list with An American Tragedy, Sinclair Lewis with all of his books after Main Street, and Hemingway at the end of the decade with A Farewell to Arms. Good novels were purchased and read almost as avidly, and sometimes more avidly, than bad ones. Undersuch circumstances of unexpected popularity the most sure and steady values a writer could command were his own; and for the man who had not yet settled his intellectual values, a firm self-definition of his professional attitude was all the more necessary. Even Emerson and Whitman, with all the opportunities for multiple interpretations they introduced into their writing, managed their reputations with steadfast and single-minded care. In the first two years of his career, however, Fitzgerald had neither felt nor been made aware of the need to keep control of his own public image in the same way. His success had been swift and comprehensive, he had charmed the reading public and the reviewers and the magazine editors and a critical group of major literary figures all at once and with the same gestures, so it should have been no surprise that he took his popularity for granted; but if he lacked a wary sense of what the public thought of him, he lacked, even more significantly, a coherent idea of what was his own public. Simultaneously he had adopted Saturday Evening Post standards of popularity and Mencken's much different standards of a writer's audience, without assimilating them together. Thus late in 1921, when The Beautiful and Damned was running serially in The Metropolitan Magazine prior to its book publication the following March, he could write Maxwell Perkins, “I do not expect in any event that I am to have the same person-for-person public this time that Paradise had. My one hope is to be endorsed by the intellectually elite and thus forced onto people as Conrad has,” and ten days later in a completely different mood tell Perkins, “I prophesy that [The Beautiful and Damned] will go about 60,000 copies the first year.” If Fitzgerald could let his sentimental readers have it both ways, there was no reason why he shouldn't have it both ways, too.

But there was a certain disquiet in Fitzgerald's mood of late 1921. It came out in bursts of despair or of pique in his letters that winter, and it was bound to find a reflection in Fitzgerald's thoughts about his reputation. For one thing his old college friend John Peale Bishop had reviewed The Beautiful and Damned, prematurely, in Vanity Fair for October 1921. In a review called “Three Brilliant Young Novelists” Bishop considered Fitzgerald's book along with The Beginning of Wisdom by Stephen Vincent Benêt and Three Soldiers by John Dos Passos. Bishop faintly praised and faintly damnedFitzgerald's novel and then turned to the subject of Fitzgerald himself. “The most interesting thing about Mr. Fitzgerald's book is Mr. Fitzgerald. He has already created about himself a legend. In New York, I have heard hints, and from Paris, stories which it would be discourteous and useless for me to repeat. The true stories about Fitzgerald are always published under his own name. He has the rare faculty of being able to experience romantic and ingenuous emotions and a half hour later regard them with satiric detachment. He has an amazing grasp of the superficialities of the men and women about him, but he has not yet a profound understanding of their motives, either intellectual or passionate. Even with his famous flapper, he has as yet failed to show that hard intelligence, that intricate emotional equipment upon which her charm depends, so that Gloria, the beautiful and damned lady of his imaginings, remains a little inexplicable, a pretty, vulgar shadow of her prototype.” Stephen Vincent Benêt received equally condescending treatment at Bishop's hands, for Bishop was reserving his enthusiasm for Three Soldiers. “It is so good,” he wrote, “that I am tempted to topple from my critical perch and go up and down the street with banners and drums.” The review concluded with the words, “John Dos Passos is a genius.”

Fitzgerald had been the first of the young men to make a big critical and popular success, and he had withstood the challenge thereafter of Floyd Dell, Robert Nathan, and Benêt. But John Dos Passos had evoked from John Peale Bishop the kind of praise Fitzgerald never had. Fitzgerald had been surpassed; moreover Bishop had displayed an attitude toward him that his friends and critics were increasingly to take, the attitude that nothing in Fitzgerald's life was too private for public discussion in a lighthearted and slightly contemptuous manner. To his own literary friends he seemed to appear more as a celebrity than as a writer; and not a celebrity to whom particular deference need be paid. Thus when Fitzgerald learned that he was to be the subject of an essay in The Bookman's “Literary Spotlight” series, timed to coincide with publication of the novel and written by his other close literary associate from the Nassau Lit days, Edmund Wilson, he wrote immediately to see a copy before it went into print. When Wilson sent him a copy of the forthcoming article Fitzgerald responded to its extremely intelligent and in many ways devastating criticism with honest and gracious praise. “Like everything you write,” he told Wilson, “it seems to me pretty generally true. I am guilty of its every stricture and I take an extraordinary delight in its considered approbation.” But there were aspects of Wilson's article that Fitzgerald knew at once would be damaging to his reputation. “Now as to the liquor thing—it's true, but nevertheless I'm going to ask you to take it out. It leaves a loophole through which I can be attacked and discredited by every moralist who reads the article. Wasn't it Bernard Shaw who said that you've either got to be conventional in your work or in your private life or get into trouble? Anyway, the legend about my liquoring is terribly widespread and this thing would hurt me more than you could imagine—both in my contact with people with whom I'm thrown—relatives and respectable friends—and, what is much more important, financially.” Wilson obliged him; in the printed article the only reference to drinking in which Fitzgerald himself is implicated comes in a quotation about Irish character that Fitzgerald had approved. But Fitzgerald's objections caused a brief strain in the relations between the two men, as one can see from the injured and slightly more acerbic tone of Fitzgerald's following letter. “But I feel quite sure,” he finished up the next letter, “that if Mencken in doing a 'Literary Spotlight' on Dreiser… had remarked that Dreiser was really the hero of all the seductions mentioned in The Titan I think Dreiser would have torn his hair.” If Fitzgerald had known the truth about Dreiser and Mencken he might have tried to find a relationship more hopefully apt. For Mencken had by then ceased to champion Dreiser and was much more likely to be found privately denigrating the novelist; and soon their friendship was to break off completely.

Wilson was trying only to be honest. His temperament was far different from Fitzgerald's, but their moral and intellectual values were remarkably close; under the circumstances there were aspects of Fitzgerald's work he could simultaneously deprecate and admire. The theme of Wilson's article was that Fitzgerald, for all his talent, lacked ideas and intellectual control; nevertheless, Wilson recognized in Fitzgerald an “intellectual nimbleness” and an “intellectual importance.” Wilson was too involved with the personal and emotional world that lay behind This Side of Paradise to see clearly thenovel's particular significance; the depths of Fitzgerald's novels, such as they were, did not interest him so much as the surfaces, and the criticism of American life he found there seemed to him most important of all. In trying to be honest Wilson was in fact generous; and Fitzgerald had good reason to be as grateful as he was for such a penetrating and sympathetic study.

Fitzgerald also had reason to be grateful for the press The Beautiful and Damned received. It was a novel that almost no one among the reviewers liked. But he was handled gently, as a person who deserved respect, as a figure of greater symbolic or social importance even than his novels were worth. Only The New York Times, which by its non-literary moral standards had found This Side of Paradise wholesome and representative, rejected the second novel completely, and on the same grounds. “It would not be easy to find a more thoroughly depressing book,” The Times reviewer said, a book whose characters lived “lives utterly worthless and utterly futile.” Elsewhere, criticism of the novel was tempered by praise for the novelist himself. “I think Mr. Fitzgerald has the gift, if he has the patience to sort it out from minor gifts and give it a chance,” H. W. Boynton wrote in The Independent. What Boynton most liked in the novel was its “modern morality,” in which Anthony and Gloria were punished for their excesses; what he least liked was its wit. In The Atlantic Monthly Henry Beston found the novel, after the promise of This Side of Paradise, a disappointment; “But the picture of the time is there; a really amazing picture. It represents no mean achievement… the picture and the good talk carry the reader brilliantly through to the end.” The Literary Digest, on the other hand, took pains to insist that “it is not important as a picture of to-day… Our young people are not like Anthony and Gloria… As a strain in the national make up nothing could be more negligible.” The Literary Digest gave extensive praise to Fitzgerald's qualities as a writer, but insisted that he had to prove himself by writing something “more important than these clever studies of a shallow group.” So too The Catholic World, which had given favorable notices to Fitzgerald's first two books, criticized the new novel for sordidness and emptiness, but conceded to Fitzgerald “the writer's gift;… Nevertheless, because of affectation, his work is artificial rather than artistic.” Edwin F. Edgett, the perceptive reviewer for The Boston Evening Transcript, who had given a favorable welcoming review to This Side of Paradise, saw in the second novel no advance. “No one can justly claim that Mr. Fitzgerald is a man of no ideas. On the contrary, it may be fairly asserted that he is a man of too many ideas or of a confusion and profusion of them. It is probably for this reason that he has so many admirers, that he is the apostle of a literary cult that seeks to exalt him at once, without giving him a due trial, to the ranks of the great.” He may have had in mind Mencken and The Smart Set group; yet the “literary cult” that had exalted Fitzgerald most assiduously was not Mencken's circle, but rather that group of genteel periodicals and conventional reviewers who had found in Fitzgerald's fiction a safely traditional attitude toward postwar youth, who had made of him their youthful chronicler of youth. This was the group who had had to evaluate The Beautiful and Damned with circumspection, as if to protect its favored author from his unsavory themes.

At the most lighthearted extreme the New York Tribune, whose columnists Heywood Broun and Franklin P. Adams had attacked This Side of Paradise, figuratively threw up its hands at the second novel and assigned the review to Zelda S. Fitzgerald. At the other, more somber, extreme, Henry Seidel Canby, editor of The Literary Review of the New York Evening Post, put in words what lay behind the equivocations of magazines like The Literary Digest. This time Fitzgerald had given the news on youth, and the news was bad. “He seems to say to the older generation: 'Here we are, we youngsters, and this is how we can drink and suffer and wonder and pretend to have no hope. What do you make of us?' The reply of the older generation, as Henry Seidel Canby formulates it in the New York Evening Post, is: 'we are a little disgusted, a little touched, and profoundly interested.' When Mr. Fitzgerald grows up, in art as well as in philosophy, Dr. Canby goes on to comment, 'he may tell us more, and more wisely. He will write better novels, but he will probably never give us better documents of distraught and abandoned but intensely living youth.'” Speaking for the older generation, Canby was wise and patient enough to know how to handle the revolt of the genteel romantic hero. The aspiring young man who begins by adhering to old standards may show his power unconventionally—“this is how we can drink and suffer and wonderand pretend to have no hope”—but in the end he will return to the tried and true conventions. The older generation would not abandon Fitzgerald prematurely.

The younger generation, however, was growing impatient with its elders' choice of Fitzgerald as a spokesman for youth. “I have a suspicion,” Robert Littell began his review in The New Republic, “… that a lot of people in the kindly but cool October of life are pointing to Mr. Scott Fitzgerald as the interpreter of 'the younger generation,' and are reading him as someone who understands what they do not quite understand nor altogether like, but which fascinates them as May will, I suppose, always fascinate October.” Littell correctly saw that the novel, with its heavy-handed stress on universal themes, and the lack of depth of its ironic social criticism, was not about the postwar generation as This Side of Paradise had been. But the strength of his opposition—“I insist that Mr. Fitzgerald is not a witness, and not an interpreter”—suggests an intellectual and emotional basis deeper than a simple desire properly to emphasize the novel's themes.

In The Dial Gilbert Seldes made the point even more explicitly. “To his contemporaries, 'interested only in ourselves and Art,' his revelations are of quite secondary importance and he has neither the critical intelligence nor the profound vision which might make him an imposing figure. His elders, naturally, do not require these things of him, since they have other sources of supply, and they are the best judges of his immediate significance. To them he presents a picture of the world which is no longer theirs, and even when they doubt his supreme truthfulness they can safely go behind the book to the author and say that this is what the young generation would like us to think.” As perceptive a reader of the novel as Littell, Seldes properly recognized that the new aspects of Fitzgerald's tone in The Beautiful and Damned were “his overburden of sentiment and his really alarming seriousness.” But what most concerned Seldes were the novel's “pretensions as a work of art,” and what he was most at pains to demonstrate were Fitzgerald's failures as an artist, his “carelessness about structure and effect.” For Seldes and his associates on The Dial were interested in defining and propagating a particular set of modern aesthetic values. Fitzgerald was an obstacle in their way; as long as he held the center they would beregarded as peripheral. The Dial's attack on Fitzgerald was in part strategic, a move to assert its leadership and capture the center of youthful movements in the arts.

To the tacticians of the literary world Fitzgerald had a fixed place in their political spectrum, whether he knew it or not. He was known as a member of The Smart Set group, and knowledgeable persons who read Carl Van Doren's remarks in The Nation, “He has trusted, one suspects, his doctrines rather more than his gusto,” were aware than Van Doren had in mind the doctrines of H. L. Mencken. It was the nature of this identification that, the more widely it became recognized, the more it precluded multiple allegiances. In April 1922, Van Doren had published his Contemporary American Novelists, 1900-1920, which had given high praise to This Side of Paradise; his concluding remarks in his review of The Beautiful and Damned a month later—“Why did he have to mix good poetry with indifferent moralism? Moralists are plenty but poets few.”—suggest that he was resignedly giving up Fitzgerald to the Mencken camp.

How much was the Mencken camp willing to claim him? Fitzgerald's friend Burton Rascoe, a fellow-traveler of the Mencken group, in his review for The Bookman called The Beautiful and Damned “blubberingly sentimental,” and blamed it on the fact that Fitzgerald took himself far too seriously as a thinker. “No one of late years has appeared on the horizon with a happier verve than Mr. Fitzgerald or with a more promising narrative talent,” Rascoe wrote, “and no one ever collapsed so easily into the banal and commonplace as he has in this novel… He is too richly endowed with ability not to turn that ability to permanent account.” Mencken himself, who was unsentimental and hardheaded about his literary friends, gave Fitzgerald rather backhanded praise.

It must be said for Fitzgerald that he discharges his unaccustomed and difficult business with ingenuity and dignity. Opportunity beckoned him toward very facile jobs; he might have gone on rewriting the charming romance of This Side of Paradise for ten or fifteen years, and made a lot of money out of it, and got a great deal of uncritical praise for it. Instead, he tried something much more difficult, and if the result is not a complete success, it is nevertheless near enough to success to be worthy of respect. There is fine observation in it, and much penetrating detail, and the writing is solid and sound. AfterThis Side of Paradise the future of Fitzgerald seemed extremely uncertain. There was an air about that book which suggested a fortunate accident. The shabby stuff collected in Flappers and Philosophers converted uncertainty into something worse. But The Beautiful and Damned delivers the author from all those doubts. There are a hundred signs in it of serious purpose and unquestionable skill. Even in its defects there is proof of hard striving. Fitzgerald ceases to be a Wunderkind, and begins to come into his maturity.

Could Mencken's praise have meant that with The Beautiful and Damned Fitzgerald had committed himself wholly to Mencken?

If Fitzgerald was truly coming into his maturity during the winter of 1921-22, maturity was a condition which hampered the writing of novels. So far as his own literary endeavors were concerned, he had been in a sour mood throughout the fall. It would be fruitless to guess at the motives behind his moods, but a number of causes had contributed to it: frustration at the inadequacies of the novel, admitted and suspected; the recognition that in Three Soldiers Dos Passos had truly surpassed him as an artist; continued financial pressure, despite an income from his writing in 1921 of nineteen thousand dollars. Once again he began writing short stories. “Have written two good short stories,” he wrote Edmund Wilson in November 1921, “and three cheap ones.” The cheap ones—which were probably “Two for a Cent” and the two parts of “The Popular Girl”—were quickly sold to The Metropolitan and The Saturday Evening Post. The good ones—“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”—were returned, as Fitzgerald reported to Wilson in January, with “letters of praise from six editors with the addenda that 'our readers, however, would be offended.'” Eventually the stories were taken, respectively, by The Smart Set and Collier's; Fitzgerald was to include both, and exclude the ones he considered cheap, in his second collection of stories.

But he was even further discouraged; by January of 1922 he had reached, so it seemed, the limits of his talent and his acceptance as a writer of prose fiction. That month he began to write a play, a project which was to occupy him for almost two full years. “I am writing a comedy—or a burlesque or something,” he announced to Wilson. The first draft must have gone quickly, for he was candidly informing George Jean Nathan before March, “the play is,like most of my stuff, a very bad performance full of exceedingly good things. It varies between comedy and burlesque and is composed of three intermediate fanciful scenes strung together not too securely between a very solid first and last act.” By May Edmund Wilson had read the first draft and had sent Fitzgerald what must have been, particularly after Wilson's Bookman article, astonishing encouragement: “I think that the play as a whole is marvelous—no doubt, the best American comedy ever written … I think you have a great gift for comic dialogue—even though you never can resist a stupid gag—and should go on writing plays.” Whatever literary motives had inspired Fitzgerald to write a play—escape from his problems with prose and a desire to renew his fame and popularity no doubt were among them—the financial possibilities of playwriting were never far from his mind; and the familiar example of Booth Tarkington was there to guide him. Later, in August 1922, asking Maxwell Perkins for yet another advance from Scribner's, he palliated his request by adding, “After my play is produced I'll be rich forever and never have to bother you again.” At that moment Tarkington was combining a successful career as a novelist with an even more lucrative career as a playwright. “If he has a great talent,” Fitzgerald said then of Tarkington, he “has the mind of a school boy.” But it was, after all, the mind of a school boy that had first formed in Fitzgerald the dramatic impulse and the desire to entertain, that had led him to write plays in St. Paul and Triangle shows at Princeton; and it was not naïveté that had made Tarkington a wealthy man. Back in September 1920, a Princeton friend, Alexander McKaig, wrote in his diary, “Fitz bemoaning fact [that he] never can make more than hundred thousand a year—to do that have to become a Tarkington.” Eighteen months later, taking a new tack toward the goal of a hundred thousand a year, Fitzgerald was trying to turn himself into a Tarkington. It was ironic that Edmund Wilson, who had been a stern critic of Fitzgerald's weaknesses in his Bookman article, and who himself was soon to join The Dial group of aesthetes, by his praise of the play should have given Fitzgerald a further push into the Tarkington mold.

Through the spring and summer of 1922 Fitzgerald was occupied revising his play and submitting it to Broadway producers. In the May Bookman, only a few pages after Burton Rascoe's review of The Beautiful and Damned, “The Gossip Shop” was chatting about Fitzgerald's new career: “A pale young man with pale blue eyes, and pale blond hair parted in the middle; a collegiate youth in New York trying to sell a play about a flapper… three guesses as to the new dramatist!” The Bookman's “gossip” almost made it appear as if he were an undergraduate fresh from the Princeton campus, rather than a professional writer with two novels and two dozen stories to his credit; but elsewhere the career and the themes of the latest novel had made their mark. Fitzgerald had been successful in his request to have damaging personal references deleted from Edmund Wilson's article in The Bookman; but H. L. Mencken and Burton Rascoe were less pervious to the wishes of their protégé, and they used his private behavior—or invented it—for their own purposes. In the same month that Wilson's article appeared, without mentioning Fitzgerald's drinking, Mencken referred to the “spirituous” cordiality with which Fitzgerald had been received in New York. Meanwhile Rascoe was “revealing” in his New York Tribune column that Fitzgerald, in an interview with Robert Bridges, the editor of Scribner's Magazine, had leaned over and plucked out six grey hairs from the old man's beard. Apologizing to Bridges, Fitzgerald wrote, “I can only tell you what I have long suspected—that any strange happening in the new literary generation is at once attributed to me.” This was only part of a celebrity he had abetted and sought; but he was learning that the literary public would not endlessly condone it. In June “The Topics of The Times” used The Beautiful and Damned as sociological evidence to demonstrate how the word “party” had come to mean drunken affair. Elinor Glyn, interviewed in The Bookman's “Gossip Shop,” said that “Mr. Fitzgerald is a superb artist” but that he had written a novel with a deplorable theme; the interviewer said that Fitzgerald was a representative figure of youth, and when Mrs. Glyn objected to that, he “hastened to say that F. Scott Fitzgerald is very young, that he may change his philosophy.”

While he revised the play during 1922, Fitzgerald was also preparing his second book of stories for the press. His first impulse was to borrow the language of the movies and call the book In One Reel. Later he settled on the title Tales of the Jazz Age, and in defending it to Perkins he embraced his role as spokesman and leader moreexplicitly than he ever had before. “It will be bought by my own personal public—that is, by the countless flappers and college kids who think I am a sort of oracle,” he wrote. “The splash of the flapper movement was too big to have quite died down—the outer rings are still moving.” Tales of the Jazz Age did sell better than Flappers and Philosophers; but the reviewers were even less kind. The New Republic and The Dial took the book as an occasion to call Fitzgerald more of a salesman than an artist; when Mencken got around to the collection almost a year later he found it unsatisfying, marked by “heavy artificiality” and “dangerous versatility.” Of course Fitzgerald had invited adverse criticism by the disparaging tone of his annotated table of contents, a feature he had somehow imagined would increase the appeal of the book. The quality of his self-criticism may be judged from this remark about “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”: “One well-known critic has been pleased to like this extravaganza better than anything I have written. Personally I prefer 'The Off-Shore Pirate.'”

In his table of contents Fitzgerald proffered his tales of the jazz age “into the hands of those who read as they run and run as they read.” If this was his way of characterizing his own personal public, it was not so imprecise an observation; but its accuracy had unpleasant implications for Fitzgerald's securely optimistic sense of his hold on his audience. Fitzgerald's “personal public” thus was interested neither in his art nor in his intellect, but was part of that public, as The Dial claimed, that “takes its fiction as relaxation.” In 1922 and 1923 Fitzgerald was in the process of losing much of his interest for that public; for he was no longer moral enough for those who wanted reassuring fiction, and he was no longer unmoral enough for those who wanted their fiction risqué. It was inevitable that the taste for fiction about the antics of youth would be satisfied by writers who lacked Fitzgerald's intellectual and moral purposes; and the older generation, whose limits at last were overstepped, would morally protest. And it was only one of the ironies of the situation that the book which brought forth the moral reaction was written pseudonymously by one of the great muckraking journalists of the progressive era, Samuel Hopkins Adams. His novel, Flaming Youth by “Warner Fabian,” published in 1923, presented a picture of sexual freedom which Fitzgerald had permitted his heroines intheory, but had denied to them in fact. The conventional periodicals were aware of the difference. “Indubitably 'Flaming Youth,' though honest, is shocking,” The Bookman's “Gossip Shop” wrote. “We do not like it. It shocks us. Mr. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, has always seemed to us straightforward, honest, and gifted with an unusual sense of seeing things as they are, and not with a somewhat unpleasant smirk.” But the loosening of sexual morals in fiction was bound to continue. In 1923 a college novel by Percy Marks, The Plastic Age, made the best-seller lists; and its young men and women were much more sexually experienced than Amory Blaine or Rosalind Connage. As the fiction of the younger generation grew in disrepute, Fitzgerald, as the self-proclaimed spokesman of the flapper set, fully shared in it.

One indication of Fitzgerald's vulnerable position was given when he was parodied a second time, in 1923, by Christopher Ward. The difference between Ward's parody—” 'Paradise Be Damned!' by F. Scott Fitzjazzer”—and the earlier one by Donald Ogden Stewart may be simply a difference in the quality of the parodist. Yet Stewart's parody had made Fitzgerald's point of view seem absurd and funny by taking it as a given and applying it in a ludicrously incongruous historical situation. Ward's inferior parody directly challenged Fitzgerald's point of view by treating it as absurd and foolish in its own situation; in several instances simply by quoting Fitzgerald and adding, “whatever that means.”

More telling indications of Fitzgerald's vulnerability were to be found closer to home. From the summer of 1922 to the fall of 1923 Fitzgerald had put most of his working time into the play. He had written only three stories during that period, and salvaged another from a short section of a novel which he began in June and July 1923 but broke off in the fall to revise the play during rehearsals. Under the title of The Vegetable, or from President to Postman, the play had been published by Scribner's in April. It received favorable reviews as a funny satire, but so much of the humor and the plot line was based in drinking and drunkenness that some reviewers, like John Farrar in The Bookman, thought it more a poignant commentary on the author than it was a funny satire on American society. The Vegetable, Farrar predicted, “is of doubtful theatrical value,” and he was right. At opening night in Atlantic City many in the audience walked out during the second act, and a week later the production was abandoned. It was a serious blow to Fitzgerald's ego, but an even more serious one to his pocketbook. His dreams of wealth and financial security through successful playwriting were exploded. In order to meet his back obligations and continuing expenses he turned to the one secure fortress of his reputation and value, the magazines. From November 1923 to April 1924 he turned out eleven stories and six magazine articles. The least Fitzgerald earned for any one story was one thousand dollars; and his price at The Saturday Evening Post had risen to $1,750; even an article entitled, “Does a Moment of Revolt Come Sometime to Every Married Man?” was worth one thousand dollars to McCall's. As soon as the financial crisis was passed, the Fitzgeralds sailed, in April 1924, to make their future home in Europe.

It was symptomatic of the chaotic and indeterminate nature of Fitzgerald's self-evaluation and reputation that he considered only four of those eleven stories worth preserving, but Edward J. O'Brien in his annual list of best short stories singled out for distinction six; and they agreed on only one, “The Baby Party.” It was equally perplexing that at the moment when Fitzgerald apparently had turned himself into a writer of slick magazine fiction—and after two years during which he had given no indication that he would or could write another serious novel—three important literary journalists honored him with more serious attention than they ever had before. Their aim, however, was not primarily critical; and their desire to concentrate on the man rather than on his works may explain why they were able to treat him with such surprising respect. Even Edmund Wilson's satiric imaginary conversation between Fitzgerald and Van Wyck Brooks, in its tone of merely listening rather than evaluating, presents a more honest picture of Fitzgerald's values than The Bookman sketch. Fitzgerald appears in Wilson's satire both banal in his ideas and pathetically unsure of his values. But this very lack of systematic ideas and certainty of values, Wilson implies, gives Fitzgerald, rather than intellectuals like Brooks, the better opportunity truly to observe and understand American life. In their essays on Fitzgerald, Ernest Boyd and Paul Rosenfeld brought out these same untapped qualities of perception and unfocussed moral seriousness, strength unused behind a mask of wild behaviorand social insecurity. “Upon the theme of marital fidelity his eloquence has moved me to tears,” Boyd wrote, “and his stern condemnation of the mores of bohemia would almost persuade a radical to become monogamous… Where so many others are conscious only of sex, he is conscious of the soul.” Five years had passed since the younger generation had come upon the scene, and for all its criticism of American life no one among the younger novelists had yet demonstrated the values or the penetration or the literary skill required to break beneath the surface and produce a truly lasting work of art. It was as if, casting their eyes among the books and writers on the scene, Wilson, Boyd, and Rosenfeld had separately but alike found in Fitzgerald the same exceptional potential, greater in him than perhaps in any other, and the same diversion, dispersion, unfulfillment. Fitzgerald was exemplary for the failure of the whole; he was also exemplary for its yet unspoiled possibilities.

But as the younger generation of writers was undergoing scrutiny from the literary journalists, the younger generation of Americans was subjected to an equally stern evaluation by its elders. “My slogan,” the imaginary Fitzgerald said in Edmund Wilson's conversation, “is that I am the man who made America Younger-Generation-conscious.” It had been a good campaign and it sold well, but now the public was tiring of it. And as he had chosen for himself the role of spokesman and leader for the younger generation on the rise and in its days of power, so Fitzgerald was the exemplar for the younger generation in its decline. “The younger generation,” proclaimed “The Gossip Shop” in The Bookman for August 1924, “as such has passed into oblivion. There has been a young, a younger, and a youngest since flappers first drank their way through the brilliant pages of 'This Side of Paradise.' We do not know whether flappers still exist or not, or whether, if they do, they still drink cocktails. F. Scott Fitzgerald still exists, is in Europe and is writing another novel, a thing which he has been doing for some time now. We should think Fitzgerald could write a magnificent play about young people. His 'The Vegetable' was far too fantastic for the ordinary man and we cannot see how he ever expected the general public to be interested in delirium tremens, even though he made them vastly entertaining. No, this was not the sort of play for F. Scott Fitzgerald to have written. He should have attempted one inwhich gay young people are as flippant as gay young people are; but under which gaiety is a purpose and a seriousness which F. Scott Fitzgerald knows only too well. This young author always seems to us like a surprised baby who has been brought into the world against his will and doesn't like it very well, yet doesn't know how to remain successfully aloof from it. Fitzgerald regards life ironically but he cannot escape from living it. His latest article, following that fascinating one 'How to Live on $36,000 a Year,' is on the bringing up of children. The time when these wild young things really become serious is, it seems, when they are forced to keep the bottle warm. One of our own friends has a new baby. He no longer comes to us, when his eyes are bleared and blinking, explaining about 'that party last night'; but his explanation is quite as satisfactory and as simple. 'The baby cried last night,' he says.” The younger generation was growing out of its wild antics; the older generation was growing tired of them; and in August 1924 F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose reputation was in eclipse because he had strayed from the path of conventional values on which he had so optimistically begun, who only the month before had been deeply wounded by his wife's infidelity, was finishing up the first draft of The Great Gatsby.

Next: Chapter 6.

Published in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoon by Robert Sklar (New York: Oxford Up, 1967).