In my days stories in the Lit1 were about starving artists, dying poilus, the plague in Florence and the soul of the Great Khan. They took place, chiefly, behind the moon and a thousand years ago. Now they all take place on Nassau Street,2 no longer back than yesterday. Playing safe they are more “real,” but by reason of their narrow boundaries they are desperately similar to each other.
There is the sensitive undergraduate who, perhaps because he is the author, is never given a recognizable skin; there is mention of Nassau Street and Gothic towers; without once seeing or feeling the visual world, without being fresh or tired, without being desperate or ecstatic, neither eating nor loving, and drinking only as a mannerism of the day, this petulant ghost moves through a vague semi-adventure with a girl, a parent, the faculty or another shadow labelled his roommate. Acted upon but never acting, limp and suspicious, he lacks even the normal phosphorescence of decay.
He drifts through the two best stories in this month’s Lit—in one he barely attains a stalemate with his father, due to the latter’s advantage of being flesh and blood, since he is observed, however superficially, from the outside. “Stranger” by Charles Yost is really a pretty good story, though like all tales of futility and boredom it unavoidably shares the quality of its subject—but it is intelligent, restrained and with some but not enough excellent writing.
A. Z. F. Wood’s “St. George and the Dragon” is even a little better. Offended by the manner of his home town, the ghost grows angry and knocks down not a yokel but another ghost by mistake. We are left to imagine his humiliation. If the author had been a little less facile about Jim’s real motives the story would have carried a great deal of conviction, for it is credible, well-written and interesting throughout.
H. M. Alexander’s “Peckham’s Saturday Night” is a good story. “Waking Up” by A. S. Alexander is below the author’s standard. “The Old Meeting House” by H. A. Rue is Gray’s “Elegy”3 copiously watered—it might have come out of the Lit of forty years ago.
The poetry is better. Griswold’s two sonnets show imagination and power and, I dare say, a great deal of honest toil. They are incomparably the best thing in the issue—cheering, even exciting. Erik Barnouw’s lighter piece is excellent. So is Price Day’s poem—it has feeling, not a few real felicities and, again, welcome signs of patience and care. Wilfred Owen’s “Brass Moon” has quality—his shorter pieces are trite; we have such feeble lines as “walk solemnly single file,” “piquant turned-up nose,” “creep in upon the window sill” etc. “Harlem and the Ritz” by H. T. B. is trivial but I like the form of his long poem. “Defiance” by Grier Hart is fair. The remaining verse is of no interest.
To conclude: This is a dignified but on the whole unadventurous number of the oldest college magazine in America. The present reviewer’s strongest reaction is his curiosity as to the fate of Mr. Yost’s and Mr. Wood’s phantoms. One is sure, of course, they they will in a few years refuse to go into their fathers’ businesses, one hardly blames them—but what then? The American father, under the influence of his wife, will immediately yield and the ghost will carry his pale negatives out into the world. Those to whom life has been a more passionate and stirring affair than one must suppose it now is at Princeton will not envy him his hollow victory.
Review of March 1928 issue of “The Nassau Literary Magazine”.
1. The Nassau Literary Magazine, the Princeton University undergraduate journal for which Fitzgerald had written during his student years.
2. The main thoroughfare in the town of Princeton.
3. A meditative poem, “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” (1750), by English writer Thomas Gray (1716-1771).
Published in The Daily Princetonian newspaper (16 March 1928).