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Category Archives: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thoughts: The Love of The Last Tycoon

The Love of the Last TycoonThe Love of the Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have now read all of Fitzgerald’s major published works. After finishing The Love of The Last Tycoon, the incomplete manuscript on his desk when he died, I ask immediately wonder how this novel differs from his other works. Did he know he had this one last chance to voice his ideas? Did he compile the breadth of his lifelong learning into his final literary hero? Unfortunately, we can only speculate on these questions. But I find comfort in the idea that we would not have these questions had not Fitzgerald left The Love of The Last Tycoon as his final stamp on American literary art.

Fitzgerald’s protagonist, Monroe Stahr, stands apart from the other heroes of his novels. Amory Blaine endures a sort of intellectual maturation which coincides with his struggle with humility. Anthony Patch, born to privilege, would rather spend his time thinking about his future instead of pursuing it. Jay Gatsby put a human face on the iconic rich and influential socialite image of the 1920s. And the autobiographical sketch of Dick Diver portrays a man burdened with a sick love. Only with Monroe Stahr do we meet a hero who seems to have it all, a self-sustaining character who does not need a feminine Virgil to guide him, a successful businessman who nobly soars above a town of flared egos and disingenuous fakes. We might think of Gatsby, but Stahr differs by bearing his full persona to everyone, even by mixing an arrogant sense of savior ethics into his professional career as a producer. He also seems to embrace any self-inflicted personal detriment and defends his methods like a Hollywood mystic who confidently awaits others to naturally arrive at his conclusions.

I wanted to appreciate Cecelia’s first-person narrative more than I did. Nick Carraway remains the heavy-weight champion in this arena. But I did appreciate her overall tone. For a young woman, writing about something which happened in her childhood, I liked the contrast of her tired and seemingly cynical tone with her proximity to the glamorous bustle of Hollywood life. Fitzgerald positions her as a Hollywood insider but with no personal credits in movies – the privileged fly on a wall in a town which hasn’t wrapped her in its spider silk. Fitzgerald presents her with a keen sense of simile which cleverly meets the demands of the situation while cultivating her consistently disenchanted tone. At least half of the novel, however, happens away from her presence. So how much do we believe about a story which takes place in Hollywood about the most successful and revered contemporary Hollywood producer from someone who was absent from much of the story? I don’t believe Fitzgerald made a mistake. I think he wants us to ask this question – a scripted silver screen drama based on real life. And he developed her tone to draw us in just enough to consider how these people relate to us.

Unfortunately, Fitzgerald did not have the chance to finish this book, and though I commend Matthew Bruccoli for producing a publication enhanced with editing notes and outlines from Fitzgerald himself, readers can only contemplate open-ended themes doomed to resolution purgatory. Nonetheless, I think Fitzgerald did reach an important stage of the story as Stahr vulnerably enters the center of the hero’s labyrinth and faces himself. And, again, as opposed to Fitzgerald’s other heroes, I don’t think Stahr felt familiar with himself when coupled with some of the people who enter his life. His brief love affair with Kathleen tests his conviction for his Hollywood work by presenting an escape into a more traditional American life. The last episodes with the visiting communist force him to acknowledge his personal ethics particularly regarding relations with writers. Stahr strikes me with his honesty as he faces himself. While many heroes wage bloody battle against the beast representing their other half, I imagine Stahr finding the beast, introducing himself with one hand in his pocket, his head tipped to one side, slightly squinting as he assesses his adversary. The beast says nothing to disarm him. Stahr listens. Understands. Responds inquisitively. Perhaps he defends his choices and his noble intentions. Perhaps he even describes what he sacrifices for a growing town which transforms the imagination into a reality of sensory overload.

But we don’t see Stahr come out of the labyrinth. And we don’t know who “survives” the interaction in the center. But we do meet a very different Fitzgerald vision – a confident man, a brilliant and intuitive Hollywood producer, a loveable persona and the last of the traditional Americana icons.

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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

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Thoughts: This Side of Paradise

This Side of ParadiseThis Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no idea Fitzgerald was capable of this. And I think that is the curse of many readers who have avoided him. Fitzgerald’s curse is growing up as a detestable cliche.

I have pursued Fitzgerald largely from a conscious effort to demolish my own bigotry toward the rich and privileged. The shroud of Princeton, preparatory school, disposable income and lavish expatriation, a resume indicative of snobbery without the privilege of personal familiarity, not only blinds people to Fitzgerald’s unique brilliance but opens eyes to the similarity between the snubber and the snubbed. Selfishness is apparent in every social class and conceit rampant in all relationships. Do we dare confront the question of futility in pursuits of proper social course and conventionality?

This Side of Paradise is a somewhat autobiographical coming of age story. Each step brings Amory closer to realizing and understanding how to live with his fundamental self; arrogant prep school junky turned Princeton socialite turned disillusioned intellectual. His fear of the dark symbolizes his disgust and inability to displace his own perspective through those of other classes. His female relationships mirrors different aspects of his personality and he is blessed by a mentor who has faith in his inevitable victory; a victory over his personality and peace with who he is. He’s not a likable guy. But he goes through what all people go through.

I’ve railed against Fitzgerald for his style and still hold to those distastes but find them a little less potent in Paradise. Sure, he uses uncommon words when there is little need. But I very much enjoyed the loose formatting of the book. It made me think that Fitzgerald’s premise was far more important than the medium through which he was writing it. As he argued at one point in the book, if his love was for what was being written rather than what was being written about, no one would read it after twenty years. It also served to break some stereotypical judgments that I had about the author.

Again, I was not prepared to essentially read the coming of age of Harry Heller. This is heavy in philosophical and intellectual banter and it served greatly in breaking some of my own prejudices against rich types.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

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Thoughts: Tender Is The Night

Tender Is the NightTender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was an arduous read for me. Frankly, I think Fitzgerald should take a dive from the top of the Show-Don’t-Tell tree and try and hit every branch on the way down. I will credit him with keen character insights but I always appreciate forming those ideas and thoughts on my own. I like meeting characters, not being told about them. And poetic prose isn’t oftentimes dictated with a Thesaurus at one’s side.

Having said that, the people in this book are intriguing, but I don’t find them to be people we haven’t heard about before. Of course, the scene is different; the generation of those damn kids living lavish lifestyles and who will inevitably talk about the damn kids of the next generation. I won’t criticize Fitzgerald, as he has been, of melodramatically sympathizing with frivolous Jazz-Agers. But we have seen these people before.

Admittedly, I was struck by the gender issues present in Tender. In brief summation, the theme is best articulated through the idea of acting. Rosemary, I primary character insofar as her effect on the main couple, is an actress and several others are mentioned. Dick and Nicole both act, or perhaps more accurately put, don masks for different reasons. Nicole wants to be well, which of course begs the question of if she was ill to begin with, and Dick wants to help. What happens is the doctor plays husband and the patient plays a woman of society. I will say that I found the transition in Book 3 odd and somewhat disconcerting. I had read through the book feeling sympathy for Nicole but as it progressed, and she was being described, stylistically of course, as being a lovesick woman acting as a patient, I began resisting her. And Dick, originally the doctor playing husband, which we know is a horrible, ill-fated role, becomes a cramped, broken man playing husband. In any case, it resolves with both of them getting what they want. Or maybe what they thought they wanted.

Perhaps a more careful reading and analysis will illuminate the quality of the change in these characters but, nevertheless, Fitzgerald’s style has turned me off from caring too much one way or the other. He should stick to short stories.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

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Thoughts: The Beautiful and Damned

The Beautiful and DamnedThe Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always imagined Fitzgerald as a writer who dresses his palatable ideas with academic pomp and philosophical swagger. However, with The Beautiful and Damned, I met a writer who simply said what he thought, employed an enviable talent for writing and admirably fused a dimension of himself, as author, into the story.

The novel begins with Fitzgerald describing, in no uncertain terms, the character of Anthony Patch. Yet at the end, it almost sounded as if the Anthony Patch at the beginning had written the final episode for the Anthony Patch at the end. A man glorified in his understanding of irony and pessimism ended the story with nauseating irony and pessimism. The same author issuing heated condemnation of romance and sentimentalism in This Side of Paradise interjected himself vaingloriously in this literary destiny; this time to the reader rather than to the main character. He adamantly refuses to give any prospect of romantic redemption. Yet to avoid an air arrogance on my part by trying to dismantle the shoddy mask used simply to add intrigue to an otherwise plain idea, I commend Fitzgerald on his perfect mastery of personification, balance of character insight and action, and fervor in showing rather than telling.

I imagine Fitzgerald speaking at great length with Tolstoy after the completion of Anna Karenina; the youthful gleam of a bright intellect correlating the culture of his time with that of the Russian master’s – finding a common denominator in people’s insatiable pursuit of happiness. Anthony, the prodigal grandson of an American icon cast as the protagonist in the interminable story of the American Dream, begins as the young intellectual safe in the inevitability of his inheritance. He imagines his life and future as undeniably happy, an offshoot of the privilege enjoyed by English aristocrats. He lives lavishly, never works but idly revels in the possibility of working without necessity. He lives with the perspective, not in any reality, of a world without consequence pertaining to his comfort. He might endure an intellectual challenge, struggle with ideas about honor, courage and dignity but he will always go home and rest blissfully in the thought of his future security.

He partners with a woman, Gloria, who, in my estimable opinion, holds an integrity far firmer than his own. Though she proves vain, selfish and indulges the same sense of future invincibility by dealing in the currency of beauty, she never settles for anything less than what she wants. She indulges only in selfish ambition because she lives his friend Maury’s discipline of nihilism without the tiresome droll of discussing it. Fortunately for Anthony, this selfish ambition includes him! Their marital discord, however, often stems from her giving herself without changing herself and Anthony’s lack of knowing himself. Anthony seemed a man without an identity and, furthermore, needless of one, in his estimation, because of his prospects. Gloria lived her happiness, though vain and nihilistic, while Anthony bet that his would arrive shortly.

Yet both of their lives lack meaning, even together. They stress about their financial ability to support…what?

Fitzgerald narrates the moral, psychological, physical and loving demise of his Sid and Nancy. And where most people might yearn for redemption in Fitzgerald’s story, the author scoffs and smirks to himself about his acute understanding of irony and pessimism. Yet regarding the story, even with the comforts of a luxurious home, extravagant outings and gaudy transportation, one must still go home with oneself, must go out with oneself and ride with oneself. So a kind of arrogant articulation of tragedy brings this story to an end. When men presume, not that money can buy happiness, but that money will free them of the stresses and pursuits which distract them from pursuing happiness, they abandon any sense of virtue they may have had. Virtue and happiness do not abide shyly in a cage waiting for fiscal circumstances to unlatch the door. Yet I do think that systemic necessities can overburden a weaker person and stifle a virtuous perspective…Lord knows. Therefore I don’t hate or chastise Anthony Patch but, like his grandfather, I think, hope he finds redemption which will assuredly lead to a true happiness. Then all his desires, which he thought would lead to happiness – while instead they crumbled in his grasp – would fade and he would find peace.

I found no moral in this story, only a finely observed American deconstruction, a sort of American rendition of the Prodigal Son, in which capitalistic excesses inevitably leads to the misappropriation of virtuous living. This does not mean that the American Dream can only corrupt, just look at Adam Patch. But American success will not seamlessly transfer down through descending generations. Perhaps, like all other things American in nature, it begins and ends with the individual. Alas, so rings Fitzgerald’s contemptuous laughter at Anthony Patch.

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

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