Fitzgerald, Flappers and Fame
by Frederick James Smith

F. Scott Fitzgerald is the recognized spokesman of the younger generation— the dancing, flirting, frivoling, lightly philosophizing young America—since the publication of his now famous flapper tale, This Side of Paradise. Perhaps our elders were surprised to discover, as Mr. Fitzgerald relates, that the young folk, particularly the so-called gentler sex, were observing religion and morals slightly flippantly, that they had their own views on ethics, that they said damn and gotta and whatta and ’sall, that older viewpoints bored them and that they both smoked cigarets and admitted they were “just full of the devil.”

All of which is the younger generation as Fitzgerald sees it. Indeed, the blond and youthful Fitzgerald, still in his twenties, is of, and a part of, it. He left Princeton in the class of ’17 and, like certain young America, slipped into the world war via the training camp and an officership. We suspect he did it, much as the questioning hero off This Side of Paradise, because “it was the thing to do.” He was a lieutenant in the 45th Infantry and later an aide to Brigadier General Ryan. It was in training camp that he first drafted This Side of Paradise.

“We all knew, of course, we were going to be killed,” relates Fitzgerald with a smile, “and I, like everybody else, wanted to leave something for posterity.” But the war ended arid Fitzgerald tried writing advertising with a New York commercial firm. All the time he was endeavoring to write short stories and sell them, but every effort came back with a rejection slip. Finally, Fitzgerald resolved upon a desperate step. He would go back to his home in St. Paul and, live a year with his parents, aiming consistently to “get over.”

Then he sold his first story to Smart Set in June 1918, receiving thirty dollars therefrom[8]. He worked for three months rewriting This Side of Paradise—and sold it to Scribner’s. Success came with a bang and now Fitzgerald is contributing to most of the leading magazines. At the present moment he is completing his second novel, to be ready shortly.

“I realize that This Side of Paradise was immature and callow, just as such critics as H. L. Mencken and others have said, altho they were kind enough to say I had possibilities. My new novel will, I hope, be more mature. It will be the story of two young married folk and it will show their gradual disintegration—broadly speaking, how they go to the devil. I have one ideal—to write honestly, as I see it.

“Of course, I know the sort of young folks I depict are as I paint them. I’m sick of the sexless animals writers have been giving us. I am tired, too, of hearing that the world war broke down the moral barriers of the younger generation. Indeed, except for leaving its touch of destruction here and there, I do not think the war left any real lasting effect. Why, it is almost forgotten right now.

“The younger generation has been changing all thru the last twenty years. The war had little or nothing to do with it. I put the change up to literature. Our skepticism or cynicism, if you wish to call it that, or, if you are older, our callow flippancy, is due to the way H. G. Wells and other intellectual leaders have been thinking and reflecting life. Our generation has grown up upon their work. So college-bred young people, here and in England, have made radical departures from the Victorian era.

“Girls, for instance, have found the accent shifted from chemical purity to breadth of Viewpoint, intellectual charm, and piquant cleverness. It is natural that they want to be interesting. And there is one fact that the younger generation could not overlook. All, or nearly all, the famous men and women of history—the kind who left a lasting mark—were, let us say, of broad moral views. Our generation has absorbed all this. Thus it is that we find the young woman of 1920 flirting, kissing, Viewing life lightly, saying damn without a blush, playing along the danger line in an immature way—a sort of mental baby vamp. It is quite the same with the boys. They want to be like the interesting chaps they read about. Yes, I put it all up to the intellectuals like Wells.

“Personally, I prefer this sort of girl. Indeed, I married the heroine of my stories. I would not be interested in any other sort of woman.”

We asked Fitzgerald about motion pictures. “I used to try scenarios in the old days,” he laughed. “Invariably they came back. Now, however, I am being adapted to the screen. I suspect it must be difficult to mold my stuff into the conventional movie form with its creaky mid-Victorian sugar. Personally, when I go to the pictures, I like to see a pleasant flapper like Constance Talmadge, or I want to see comedies like those of Chaplin’s or Lloyd’s. I’m not strong for the uplift stuff. It simply isn’t life to me.”


[8] “Babes in the Woods,” which was published in the September 1919 Smart Set, was revised from a 1917 Nassau Literary Magazine story.

Published in Shadowland magazine (Vol. 3, January 1921, pp. 39, 75).

Not illustrated.