Romance in connection with materialism is a recurrent theme in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels and the vast majority of his short stories. The heroes and heroines of his works strive for love and money with tenacity and desperation. Fitzgerald repeatedly tells the story of a poor young man falling in love with a rich and beautiful girl who rejects him for his poverty and lack of status. The author’s biography provides him with enough experience in the matter to make these accounts credible and entertaining. In the run of his career, however, Fitzgerald expands and changes his view on materialism and love.
This paper works out the ambiguity with which Fitzgerald treats both subjects and the way he gradually changes his attitude towards them. Love and money, glamour and disillusionment are interwoven and make a great part of the author’s life story. I will point out that the young worshipper of the glitter and glamour of high society turned into a sharp critic of that same world and finally, towards the end of his life, loses his obsession with the topic.
For the protagonist of This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine, the leisure class leads a desirable life of gay parties and good manners. He adores well brought up girls of social standing who will eventually get married to wealthier men. Although it crushes him to be dismissed, he remains infatuated with them and their life style. Five years later when writing The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald takes on a much more critical view of the marriages and courtships of the rich. Despite or because of their wealth, they are lazy, conceited and careless people with a distorted set of values. Towards the end of his career and life money and love are no longer inseparable, in fact they exclude one another in many of Fitzgerald’s short stories. In “Babylon Revisited”, the protagonist Charlie Wales lost everything that mattered to him when he was making the most money. In his unfinished last novel The Last Tycoon, the love between Monroe Stahr and Kathleen is unrelated to his money and Kathleen is by no means another representative of the golden girl.
In this paper I will discuss three of Fitzgerald’s novels and one short story with a focus on his changing attitude towards materialism and spiritual values, especially love. Few writers have let so much of their own experiences slip into their fiction which makes it necessary to take into account his biography at almost all times. His relationships with Ginevra King, his wife Zelda Sayre and Sheila Graham appear only thinly disguised in his works. I will argue that Fitzgerald, due to his own experiences, gradually becomes more appreciative of moral behaviour, regular work and lasting affection. As he abandons his own habits of drinking, partying and wasting money, he condemns these acts in his writing as well. In the last years of his life and while working on “The Last Tycoon” he successfully explores themes other than the world of glamour and courtship.
Particularly helpful for my research have been Scott Donaldson’s book Fool for Love and Fitzgerald’s Craft of Short Fiction by Alice Hall Petry.
2 This Side of Paradise - Introducing the Golden Girl
Fitzgerald’s first novel, begun when he was still an undergraduate at Princeton and published when he was only twenty-three years old, tells the story of young Amory Blaine’s youth in the dawn of the Jazz Age. Like the author himself, the protagonist is a scholar at Princeton University and has been regarded as the representative of a new generation who abandons the Victorian ideals of their parents to live a life of parties, drinking and necking. A great part of the novel is dedicated to Amory’s many love affairs. Among them are Isabelle Borge, Clara Page, Rosalind Connage and Eleanor Savage. Especially Amory’s romances with Isabelle and Rosalind mirror Fitzgerald’s own experiences with two women who have been of major importance to him. They serve as great examples of the beautiful and glamorous girl of social status who will only marry into money, the “golden girl” that keeps reappearing in Fitzgerald’s fiction. Milton R. Stern recognizes that “in This Side of Paradise, what we have is preparation for Fitzgerald’s later and more fully realized statements about the golden girl (…) we can see what will be father and mother to the later and more complex characters” (72 Stern). But the story of the penniless youth who will not let go of his dream will stay the same for a long time. “We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives” and “we tell our two or three stories – each time in a new disguise – maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen”. (99 Donaldson). As Scott Donaldson points out, “One of the two or three stories Fitzgerald told was about the struggle of the poor young man to win the hand of the rich girl. That had always been his situation” (100). Although Fitzgerald was by no means poor compared to the average American citizen of his time, the circles in which he moved as a prep school boy and Princeton student were indeed much wealthier than he would ever become.
Fitzgerald first made the humiliating experience of losing the beloved girl to a richer competitor with Ginevra King. Beautiful and notorious Ginevra was a Westover student from Lake Forest, Illinois and immensely popular with men. They met in January 1915 and remained involved for almost two years during which they sent long letters back and forth. Remarkably, Fitzgerald kept her contribution to the correspondence and had them “typed into a 227 page portfolio” (49) whereas she didn’t preserve a single one of his letters. According to Andrew Hook and various others biographers “Ginevra finally dropped him for other, much wealthier, suitors. Thus [she] is clearly the model for [the] early Fitzgerald portraits of beautiful but emotionally manipulative young women” (14 Hook). However, the descriptions of Isabelle and Rosalind in “This Side of Paradise” make it clear, that in his youth Fitzgerald worshipped these women. Even if they dismissed him and broke his heart, he couldn’t help but adore their beauty, wit and self-confidence. Whereas with Isabelle he simply admires her beauty and popularity, the protagonist moves beyond admiration for Rosalind and falls unhappily in love with her.
Isabelle Borge is introduced as a former childhood friend of Amory’s. Since their last meeting, she has grown into an attractive young woman who “had developed a past” (66 Paradise). From the beginning Amory is interested in the fact that she is being sought after by many men and her reputation to have kissed almost all of them. She is known as a heartbreaker and therefore a challenge to him. “Her […] sophistication had been absorbed from the boys who dangled on her favor; her tact was instinctive, and her capacity for love-affairs was limited only by the number of the susceptible within telephone distance” (72). On their first encounter since childhood Amory and Isabelle exchange compliments and remarks both charming and meaningless. “I’ve got an adjective that just fits you”, he says. “Did anyone ever tell you, you have keen eyes?”, she asks him. Their relationship is based on the excitement of the game, not on any deeper feelings. Isabelle is the prototypical flapper, this new type of woman who cuts her hair short and does as she pleases. The letters they exchange when Amory is back at school in Princeton are full of passionate declarations of love – at least on his side, as she is “discreetly and aggravatingly unsentimental in letters” (90). And yet, when Amory and his college friend Alec discuss leaving college for marriage, he states: “I wouldn’t think of leaving college. […] I wished my girl lived here. But marry – not a chance. Especially as father says the money isn’t forthcoming as it used to be.” Although he revels in the illusion that there is true love between him and “his girl”, the rational part of him knows better. There is no chance for him to marry Isabelle without money and his infatuation with her is not profound enough to make him try and win her nevertheless. Amory is fascinated by Isabelle’s glamor and glitter; he admires her “from the top of her shining hair to her little golden slippers” (100). She is like Ginevra King who “in short, was the golden girl that Fitzgerald, like his male protagonists, could not have” (51 Donaldson). The episode of Isabelle, however, only prepares the reader for a more intense and serious love affair, which is to climax in a catastrophe for young Amory. His thoughts about Isabelle are summed up quickly: “I was in love with a people once […] nothing at all to her except what I read into her”, (200 Paradise) Amory confesses to a debutante from New York: Rosalind Connage.
Rosalind enters the novel at the beginning of the second book in a chapter called “The Debutante” which is in fact a one-act play describing her “coming out”. Rosalind is the sister of Amory’s college friend Alec Connage. Her character and appearance are described in great detail in addition to what the reader gets to know about her through the dialogue. Although she seems to possess the typical characteristics of a spoiled rich girl who “wants what she wants when she wants it and [who] is prone to make every one around her pretty miserable when she doesn’t get it” (187), her personality is far more complex than for instance Isabelle’s. Rosalind is “one of those girls who need never make the slightest effort to have men fall in love with them” (186) but her stunning beauty is not her only appeal. Spoiled as she is in many ways, she has qualities that distinguish her in a positive way: “her fresh enthusiasm, her will to grow and learn, her endless faith in the exhaustibility of romance, her courage and fundamental honesty – these things are not spoiled” (187). The elaborate descriptions of her indicate her importance for Amory – and the author.
Even before Rosalind’s and Amory’s first encounter she enquires about him. ”Does he play the piano?” she asks her brother. “Drink?”, “Money?” (185). It can be taken as a bad omen that she is interested in his money before she has even made up her mind if Amory himself is interesting to her. Her witty little sister Cecelia has figured her out very well when she remarks: “You’re glad [you’re coming out] so you can get married and live on Long Island with the fast younger married set. You want life to be a chain of flirtation with a man for every link”. Rosalind answers: “Want it to be one! You mean I’ve found it one” (188). The material attitude Rosalind displays is instilled into her by her mother who reminds her that the family has less money than they used to and that it is advisable for Rosalind to meet “some bachelor friends of [her] father’s” (195). One of them is her future husband Dawson Ryder “who is floating in money” as her mother reassures her. Mrs. Connage is impatient with her daughter’s flirtations with college boys like Amory. About him she says: “He doesn’t sound like a money-maker.” And although Rosalind claims never to think about money, she sighs and admits to her mother that “Yes, I suppose some day I’ll marry a ton of it – out of sheer boredom” (195). It can be argued that from the very beginning, Rosalind knew that her relationship with Amory was doomed. Twice when he tells her that he loves her she answers “I love you - now” (201 f., emphasis mine). The break up is already inevitable when Mrs. Connage reminds her daughter of Amory’s shortcoming. “You’ve already wasted two months on a theoretical genius who hasn’t a penny to his name, but go ahead, waste your life on him.” (207). Rosalind explains to Amory that marrying him would be “a failure”, that she couldn’t be happy ”shut away from the trees and flowers, cooped up in a little flat”. She insists to be doing “the wise thing, the only thing”. Fitzgerald uses a similar phrase as title to one of his short stories, “The Sensible Thing” (1924). In the story George O’Kelly is rejected by his lover Jonquil Cary for his poverty. After he makes a fortune in South America he finally wins her, but their love will never be the same again. When Amory realizes that Rosalind is serious about breaking off their relationship he despairs and goes on a three week drinking spree to ease the pain. He is shattered by her decision but never holds it against her. “Her selfishness may seem appalling, but Fitzgerald does not condemn her” (103 Donaldson). Amory will gradually get over Rosalind but a certain bitterness in him remains. He loses his faith in the opposite sex.
 References to Fitzgerald’s novels include the page number and the abbreviated title of the novel in italics. The author’s name is omitted.
- Quote paper
- Laura Deneke (Author), 2004, The Clash of Ideals in the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/65344