A Lover’s Love
Love As Power in the Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story Babylon Revisited was published six years after the release of his critically acclaimed novel The Great Gatsby. Known for his autobiographical sketches, Fitzgerald’s tales of post World War I fantasticism detail the journey of romantic ideals between man and woman. From failed marriages to secret mistresses, the concept and expression of love is consistently problematized. Love is consecrated in the act of marriage in these stories and yet it is rarely enough to maintain stable relationships. Both of these publications, alongside their motion picture counterparts, demonstrate that Fitzgerald’s presentation of love is not always through the romantic ideals that the emotion endorses. In an era where fantasy and extravagance were the norm, Fitzgerald’s demonstration of love transforms the emotion into a physical possession. Love becomes a purchasing power that Fitzgerald’s women use to gain autonomy and respect.
In order to properly understand the implications behind Fitzgerald’s presentation of love, we must consider a biography of his life and his personal experience with the abstract concept. Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1896 to catholic parents. In 1915, while at Princeton, Fitzgerald met the sixteen-year-old Ginevra King with whom he shared a two-year correspondence. The two manifested their love in several letters and when their relationship ended, Fitzgerald requested that his letters to her be burned, which they were. Her letters to him, however, were collected and bound, and offer a “window into the world of the wealthy elite of pre-Word War I America, a world of unlimited privilege and strange innocence.”[i] Though the two separated, Ginevra would always be Fitzgerald’s first love, and would come to represent his idealistic view of love (a possible foreshadowing of Gatsby’s future idolization of Daisy).
In June of 1918, the author fell for the southern Belle, Zelda Sayre from Alabama. Fitzgerald traveled to New York City in 1919 after two rejections from Scribners’ Publishing Company in the hopes of becoming wealthy enough to marry Ms. Sayre. While away, Zelda declared that she would not live on the minimal wages Fitzgerald received and was not willing to wait for him to make a fortune; she broke off the engagement soon after. Only a week after the successful publication of his novel This Side of Paradise in 1920, Zelda Sayre became Zelda Fitzgerald. The two had their first and only child in 1921, named Frances Scott (Scottie) Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s extra-marital affairs prompted Zelda to seek out a personal fulfillment that she could not achieve through her ill-fated marriage; she turned to the world of ballet. After years of intense training, Zelda suffered the first of many mental breakdowns and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, which commanded her to a life in and out of hospitals.
Fitzgerald thrived in the era of flapper girls and profuse parties in which women shared “an edgy ambition and a taste for immoderation” that led them from one adventure (read: party) to another. The female figure surrounded him in an epoch where she was no longer satisfied as the mother-wife figure and demanded self-respect by valiantly seeking emancipation. In the case of his beloved wife, “she proved herself provocative to the point of exhaustion,” quite literally. These courageous and outrageous women are emblems of the 1920’s that demonstrate a spirit of audacity and reinvention.[ii] This profligacy of his daily life is seen time and time again in Fitzgerald’s publications and is animated in their film productions: The Great Gatsby, reproduced in 2013 and “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” released in 1954 and was based on the short story Babylon Revisited.
A Daughter’s Undertow
Charlie Wales, a “good to look at” (Fitzgerald 212) thirty-five year old recovering alcoholic is the father of the intelligent and beautiful Honoria in Babylon Revisited. After the death of his wife, Charlie seeks betterment in several business ventures, taking him from the United States to various locations in Europe. Alone and lacking love, he returns to Paris, where his daughter resides with her aunt Marion and uncle Lincoln in search of custody. “‘Oh, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, dads, dads, dads,’” (Fitzgerald 212) cries the nine-year old as she is reunited with her father. This father/daughter relationship demonstrates the beginning of the female characters’ necessity to mold love into a bargaining power rather than an emotional state. The first instance of the female’s grasp on the male figure occurs at lunch while Honoria calculates the apropos vegetable servings for the afternoon and deliberates dessert: “Honoria looks at her father expectantly” (Fitzgerald 215). This glance over to her father shows the responsibility that the male figure has to the female. In this case, it represents the power dynamic within a father/daughter relationship. Seemingly, Charlie maintains the power in this case, as he responds with a plan for the day, although, with closer examination, we learn that this is not the case. Soon after Charlie’s suggestion, Honoria rejects Charlie’s idea of visiting the toy store, transferring the power from the male figure to the female. Additionally, on a broader scale, Charlie’s existence in the story is only possible because of Marion, his sister in law, who has been caring for his daughter since Helen, Charlie’s late wife, passed away. Charlie’s custody, and thereby his entire relationship with his daughter, is entirely under the control of Marion, another female.
We must ask where this power comes from, though. How do these women gain reign over the prominent male characters of Fitzgerald stories? One compelling answer seems to be the woman’s manipulation of love and its transference into a physical form that allows these women to dominate these stories. Charlie reflects on his need to “be both parents to her and not shut any of her out of communication” (Fitzgerald 216) and proceeds to ask her questions in an aim to know her better. He points out her doll, which she holds close to her heart, and asks her marital status as part of a game that Honoria quickly takes part in. She asserts that she is single, an instance of her autonomy that the flapper girls of Fitzgerald’s past have inspired. She then confesses that she has been married before, but her husband is dead, mimicking the scenario she faces in her personal life. In stating that she has been married before, Honoria allows for true love to consume a portion of her life. However, in asserting that her husband is dead, the hope and optimism associated with the emotional commitment of love deteriorates and it’s transformation into an object and a power intensifies. Soon after this, Charlie asks his daughter about her emotional relationship to her cousins, aunt and uncle. “Which do you like best,” (Fitzgerald 216) Charlie asks. This is a crucial moment as it demonstrates a feeling other than love that can be expressed towards relatives. “Oh, Uncle Lincoln, I guess,” responds Honoria, again a critical moment as the final two words of this sentence demonstrate indifference towards her caretakers. Honoria does not love her extended family because loving them proves to be useless, she is already ranked above her cousins in school and her aunt and uncle cannot provide for her in the same way that her father can. They are unable to provide adventure and excitement in the way that the imaginative nine-year old desires.
Finally, the reader is introduced to the word “love” and it’s true emotional meaning for the first time with the introduction of Honoria’s mother. This in itself is suggestive that the woman figure holds the power of love, as it can only be introduced as she herself is introduced. “She loved you very much,” Charlie says to Honoria about her late mother, to which she responds, “I loved her too” (Fitzgerald 216). This interaction demonstrates the cyclical nature of the female’s use of love- her mother loved her, she loved her mother, and Honoria thus inherits the use and demonstration of that love. Then, the pivotal statement: “‘Daddy, I want to come and live with you,’ she said suddenly” (Fitzgerald 218). Firstly, it is important to note that Honoria does not frame this request as a question. Rather, in a sudden and deliberate manner she expresses something that she wants. This is a characteristic inherent in the women of the jazz age; as critic Ruth Prigozy writes of the Fitzgeraldian woman, “she wants what she wants when she wants it.”[iii] Not only is she able to determine and her express her desires, but she has learned autonomy and independence: “She was already an individual with a code of her own” (Fitzgerald 218). Additionally, her father’s lack of immediate affirmation of this request prompts her to use her bargaining power: her love for him. She says “I love you better than anybody. And you love me better than anybody, don’t you, now that mummy’s dead” (Fitzgerald 218). This scene demonstrates that even in adolescence, the female figure is destined to be emotively void of love as it is transferred into this power to getting what you want. Sadly, Honoria’s request is declined in the end. This offers a pessimistic outlook on her future relationships, since this power of love- not yet strong enough in her youth- will mature and develop with age as she uses men to get her way. Honoria, therefore, symbolizes a young Daisy Buchanan in training, well on her way to manipulating the politics of love.
[i] Smith, Dinitia. "Love Notes Drenched In Moonlight; Hints of Future Novels In Letters to Fitzgerald."Archives. The New York Times, 8 Sept. 2003. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/08/books/love-notes-drenched-in-moonlight-hints-of-future-novels-in-letters-to-fitzgerald.html>.
[ii] Jenkins, Jessica K. "Women of a Certain Era."The New York Times 14 Feb. 2014. Print.
[iii] Prigozy, Ruth. The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.
- Quote paper
- Charlotte Ljustina (Author), 2014, Love as Power in F. Scott Fitzgerald's “The Great Gatsby” and “Babylon Revisited”, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/307716