Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How Did Fitzgerald's First Novel Get Published?

The answer is that Max Perkins liked it and supported it.  No one else did at first.

This Side of Paradise didn’t go over so well with Book Group, even though it was F. Scott (named after his second cousin thrice removed Francis Scott Key) Fitzgerald. My job as facilitator was to help them see the merit of the work even though it is not the finest piece of writing Fitzgerald managed to produce. The theme of love being warped by status seeking and the absurdity of it all is shown through the shallow lives of the characters, including protagonist Amory Blaine, but the book is not just a statement on live but on society. That is why the book was well received by the critics. We cannot overlook that it was a book that told the story of the “lost generation” and the Jazz Age, a time whose name was coined by Fitzgerald himself.

Fitzgerald’s first novel has published in 1920, when he was just 23, soon after Zelda Sayre broke up with him because he didn’t have any money or promise. It was a typical coming-of-age book about a young man who started out with privilege, much coddling from his mother, an unusual education, and ended up at Princeton where they stamped him as the Princeton type. Parts of another book are imbedded in this one (the unpublished book The Romantic Egotist), and at times the author used a style that was more of a play, and poetry appears throughout the book, either written by one of the characters or by Rupert Brooke, whose line “Well this side of Paradise! . . . There’s little comfort in the wise” developed into the title of Fitzgerald’s book. The mixing of styles and brokenness between the parts of the whole were disconcerting to readers who are used to smooth transitions and editing that pulls it all together. The first part of the book, the story of the egotist, was painful to read because the main character was so full of himself.

There were other parts of the book that were strange, for lack of a better world: The main character left to serve in WWI, but we read nothing about that war, and when Amory’s mother dies, we again lose part of the story. The girls in the book—Isabelle, Clara, Rosalind (based on Zelda), and Eleanor—were well defined and we had a good sense of their characters and relationship with Amory, but they were immature girls and not ready for love relationships at all. We see the character trying to work through what love is and what it isn’t. Much of the latter half of the book was flawless, and the characters of Monsignor and Burne were particularly well drawn, as was Amory’s experience of death which he avoided on the surface and came back to haunt him. The character grows from a personality into a personage, becoming a thinking, feeling person who thinks about the fate of his soul. Earlier in the book “it was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being.” The message for all of us may be to live in the moment and enjoy life as it is now. I’m not sure that I like the message on love—strive to be your best and you’ll be loved, but if you don’t, you won’t be—is what I would want to think love is.

Those of us who have read about Fitzgerald’s relationship with Zelda (I read the book Zelda: A Biography Nancy Milford years ago), know the relationship between the Fitzgeralds was devastating to both Scott and Zelda. The book was Scott’s attempt to win Zelda back, and it did. The book was wildly popular. The initial printing of 3000 copies sold out in three days and the book went through twelve printings in two years and sold 49,075 copies. It was not financially successful, but did encourage Fitzgerald to go on to publish The Beautiful and the Damned, Tender is the Night, and The Great Gatsby. The Love of the Last Tycoon was published posthumously. Fitzgerald is regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century.

No comments: