Thursday, March 26, 2020

This Side Of Paradise 100 -- March 26, 2020

Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, 27-March-1920
F  Scott Fitzgerald's  first published novel, This Side Of Paradise, made its debut 100 years ago today on 26-March-2020.  I haven't read it for many years.

New York Tribune, 11-April-1920
Heywood Broun was, among other things, a literary critic.  He did not like the book.  I remember his son Heywood Hale Broun announcing sporting events on CBS.  Daisy Ashford published her first novel at the age of nine. Miss Spence's School is a private high school for girls in New York City. 

Mr Fitzgerald a Cynical and Searching Philosopher at 23
Paradise and Princeton
An ex-College Man Questions the Authenticity of Youthful Author's Atmosphere
By Heywood Broun

WE HAVE just read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side Of Paradise" (Scribner's) and it makes us feel very old. According to the announcement of his publishers Mr. Fitzgerald is only twenty-three, but there were times daring our progress through the book when we suspected that this was an overstatement. Daisy Ashford is hardly more naive. There is a certain confusion arising from the fact that in spite of the generally callow quality of the author's point of view he is intent on putting himself over as a cynical and searching philosopher. The resulting strain is sometimes terrific.

Of course, Mr. Fitzgerald is nearer to college memories than we are and, moreover, we have no intimate knowledge of Princeton, and yet we remain unconvinced as to the authenticity of the atmosphere which he creates. It seems to us inconceivable 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.

"Ever read any Oscar Wilde?" inquires d'Invilliers, the young poet, of Blaine Amory, our hero, who has been presented as a youngster of a somewhat literary turn. "No. Who wrote it?" answers Amory, and we refuse to believe that young Mr. Fitzgerald is not pulling our leg. Then, too, in spite of the bleak and jaded way in which the author sums up the content of college life, it is evident that he is by no means unimpressed with the sprightliness of conduct and conversation which he assigns to his undergraduate characters, though it is silly conversation and sillier conduct.

It is probably true that in some respects Fitzgerald has painted a faithful portrayal of the type of young man who nay be described as the male flapper, but our objection lies in the fact that to our mind the type is not interesting. After all, the reviewer who has been through several seasons of tales about sub-debs cannot view with anything but horror the prospect of being treated to exhaustive studies of her brother and first cousins.

In making himself responsible for the descriptions of college pranks and larks the author has undertaken a task of enormous difficulty. Things, done in a spirit of alcoholic exuberation (sic - JT) must of necessity sound flat and unprofitable to the mature and cold, sober reader. When Fitzgerald writes, "The donor of the party having remained sober, Kerry and Amory accidentally dropped him down two flights of stairs, and called, shamefaced and penitent, at the infirmary all the following week," he does scant justice to Kerry and Amory. After all, in the mood and at the moment it can hardly have seemed such a silly trick as it must appear to the reader in Fitzgerald's laconic statement.

The thing that puzzled us most was the author's description of the violent effect of the sex urge upon some of his young folk. On page 122, for instance, a chorus girl named Axia laid her blond head on Amory's shoulder and the youth immediately rushed away in a frenzy of terror and suffered from hallucinations for forty-eight hours. The explanation was hidden from us. It did not sound altogether characteristic of Princeton.

There are occasional thrusts of shrewd observation and a few well turned sentences and phrases in "This Side of Paradise." It Is only fair to add that the book has received enthusiastic praise from most American reviewers. Fitzgerald has been hailed as among the most promising of our own authors. And it may be so, but we dissent. We think he will go no great distance until he has grown much simpler in expression. It seems to us that his is a style larded with fine writing. When we read, "It was like weakness in a good woman, or blood on satin; one of those terrible incongruities that shake little things in the back of the brain," we cannot but feel that we are not yet grown out of the self-conscious stage which makes writing nothing more than a stunt.

New York Tribune, 22-April-1920
A fan of the book replied to Heywood Broun.  

"Writing of 'This Side of Paradise,'" says Mr. B., "you say that the man 'of that age' (i. e., between eighteen and twenty-five) 'usually understands himself so imperfectly that he is seldom qualified to describe himself.'

"It seems to me that men of that age are far more qualified to describe themselves than men of your own age, or older. After twenty-five one usually settles down into a groove, enters some kind of a rutted profession, gets married, has a Heywood 3d (perhaps), etc. In this state it is impossible to understand the feelings of those about you, even if you want to. You've become so settled or unsettled that the emotions and struggles of those about you seem vague and just a trifle unreal. As for understanding yourself, 'the older you get the less you know.'

"You say that the writing of 'This Side of Paradise' is self-conscious. There you defeat yourself, for self-conscious people come nearest to understanding themselves. The moment a man becomes unself-conscious he begins to stagnate. He is out of the picture of life. He is doomed.

"Too many American novelists are old fogies, that's why 'This Side of Paradise' is such an absorbing story. No wonder the fits of Fitzgerald make the Howells howl!"

As a matter of fact, we are not offering the theory that man becomes wiser and more important as he grows older. On the contrary, nothing which happens to anybody after the age of eight or nine matters very much. The rest is ornamentation and shingles. And yet we have no great desire to read the novels of eight and nine-year-olders, and we are even doubtful of the prowess of eighteen and twenty-three. A man knows a lot about himself at that age, to be sure. The only trouble is that most of it isn't so. We are enough, of a Freudian to believe that the important things in a man are the things of which he is unconscious. The self-conscious person makes it difficult to reach these unexplored depths. He is anxious to justify himself. He gives all sorts of explanations of his moods and his motives. Practically all of these are self-protective. They are designed to throw himself and everybody else off the trail. It is only when a man, or a character in a book, becomes easy and lets down his guard that he gives you the information which enables you to know him. None of Fitzgerald's characters even puts his hands down for a second There is too much footwork and too much feinting for anything solid and substantial being accomplished. You can't expect to have blood drawn in any such exhibition as that.

Somebody gave H.B. 3d a large doll the other day, much to our consternation. We were afraid it might develop maternal instinct and make him effeminate, but yesterday we discovered him joyfully pounding the head of the doll against the floor, so we feel that up to date his instinct toward the young is healthy and properly paternal.

New York Tribune, 25-April-1920
Publisher Charles Scribner's Sons noted Broun's disapproval in this ad.  

No comments: