sábado, 30 de maio de 2009
Scott Fitzgerald-Odds and Ends
By JOHN O'HARA
The New York Times, July 8, 1945 - www.nytimes.com
One day about a year before he died Scott Fitzgerald invited my wife and me to lunch at the place where he was staying, the guest-house on a movie actor's ranch in the San Fernando Valley. He wanted that lunch to be something a little special because a few weeks before he had disappointed us at the very last minute by telling us at 8 P.M. that he simply could not appear at a dinner party which we had built around him and some New York friends of his. He simply could not face that many-thirteen-people. That left thirteen at table and an extra girl, and I was pretty sore. But as always happened, with me and with everyone else who had the same admiration and affection for Scott, I got over it. After the initial invitation to lunch he called us several times again; he said he was thinking of asking L., a beautiful movie actress. Did we know her? Like her? Well, we knew her, and didn't like her, but we didn't say so. Next day he called and said he had decided not to ask L. and was asking N., also a beautiful movie actress. Actually he never invited either charmer, but he was glamorizing our lunch in advance. He wanted it to be something special, and it was.
When we rang the doorbell the door suddenly swung open and there was a little man in a rather startling Halloween mask, muttering Gullah or double-talk. We took it big and Scott enjoyed that. We sat down to lunch very late because we did a lot of talking, or at least Scott did. At that precise second in history both he and I were on the wagon, but I guess both of us were showing off before my wife and we were talking about writing. After lunch he went upstairs and got some books (a life of Caesar and something of Thackeray's) for me, and a Glen plaid tie for my wife, which exactly matched her suit. Then we were back at writing-talk, and as I say, this day was something special because Scott brought out his notebooks containing the kind of random, fugitive memoranda that many writers keep, and then he made me comfortable with cushions, cigarettes, cokes, and asked me to read what he had written on "The Last Tycoon." I had no way of knowing that the stuff Scott was showing me that afternoon was to provide at least a part-time career for one of our most distinguished critics, but of course I have no way of looking into the future, and you never can tell about critics.
The critic in this case is Edmund Wilson, who already has shall we say sponsored the unfinished "The Last Tycoon," and who now appears with a book which bears the title "The Crack-Up," by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edited by Edmund Wilson." It also has on the title page these words: "With Other Uncollected Pieces, Note-Books and Unpublished Letters-Together with Letters to Fitzgerald from Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Wolfe and John Dos Passos-And Essays and Poems by Paul Rosenfeld, Glenway Wescott, John Dos Passos, John Peale Bishop and Edmund Wilson."
Fitzgerald at least once called Mr. Wilson his "intellectual conscience" and because of that I find myself wondering where was Wilson's own intellectual conscience when he "did" this book, for I regard its publication as an unfriendly act. Let us examine the contents of the book in the order of their appearance:
Item: a piece called "Echoes of the Jazz Age." This came out in, I believe, the old Scribner's in 1931. It was a fast and accurate report and restatement of the period to which America gave Fitzgerald's name. Item: "My Lost City," a kind of sequel to the other, which Fitzgerald handed to his agent in July, 1932. Item: "Ring," which was Fitzgerald's contribution to the stockpile of Lardner obituaries, and the best of that lot. It contains the sentence: "He had agreed with himself to speak only a small portion of his mind." This one appeared in 1933, and in the twelve succeeding years and in all the years preceding Lardner's death no one has spoken wiser literary words about Ring. Item: a piece called "Show Mr. And Mrs. F. to Number--." Hotels he had stopped at. Item: "Auction-Model 1934." Junk he had bought. Item: "Sleeping and Waking." Sleeping and waking. Item: "The Crack-Up." The orgy of self-pity which, characteristically, the magazine Esquire and the critic Edmund Wilson thought was good, but which should have been suppressed at the mail-box. "...And if you throw me a bone with enough meat on it I may even lick your hand." Item: "Early Success." What every young writer should-and does-know.
Those items, even when they are bad, are the only legitimate excuses for the trouble. If any, Scott Fitzgerald's Intellectual Conscience went to... At least they are Scott Fitzgerald, signed by him and therefore by him approved for publication. That's the chance you take when you put a piece in the mail; you take the chance of its being published, forever somewhere in print to be exhumed by a candidate for a Master's Degree at Hardin-Simmons College or by a critic who was your friend and is your literary executor.
Then on, relentlessly, to the notebooks and to the letters from Fitzgerald to (naturally) Edmund Wilson and others, including Fitzgerald's daughter, and to Fitzgerald, mostly from established writers to whom Scott had sent what must have been extravagantly inscribed copies of his books. The To-Fitzgerald letters we can pass up without further comment, but the notebooks and the From-Fitzgerald letters, or their publication, demand our beligerent if brief attention.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was the author of "This Side of Paradise," "The Beautiful and Damned," "The Great Gatsby" and "Tender Is the Night," among other books. Each, of course, was good, and they were all different, but any man (or woman) with the slightest feeling for fine, truly fine writing must see that all of Scott's writings had this one thing in common: they were the work of a most conscientious craftsman. That isn't good enough, really. He was a tortured, experimenting, honest artist. The stuff read so easily that perhaps you had to have some feeling for writing and perhaps the tiniest curiosity about it to be aware of the conscientiousness of it, the sweat and tears and, literally, in Scott's case, the blood. I once said to Dorothy Parker, "Scott can't write a bad piece."
"You're wrong," she said. "He can write a bad piece, but he can't writing badly.:
And ,of course, as usual she was right. But we were speaking of "Tender Is the Night," which we had just read in page-proof. We were speaking of a work that had been completed and approved, which had taken five years and more in the doing. We were not speaking of notebooks and letter which never had bee intended for publication.
Great writers' letters (and, I suppose, their notebooks) often are interesting. They have an attraction for the busy body in all of us, and to my way of thinking a small case can be made out for their private publication. It is possible that this book may easily achieve the status of private publication, but I doubt that that was Wilson's intention, and unless it was his intention he has done Fitzgerald a disservice in throwing together this collection of odds and ends. You don't do that to a painstaking artist. Or maybe you do, if you are a critic.
There is a good deal of cop's blood in an individual who makes a career of being a critic, and while the policeman's lit is said not to be a happy one, my sympathies are understandably and always with the poor slob who gets it with a nightstick.
On Aug. 15, 1920, in a letter to Wilson Scott Fitzgerald said: "For God's sake Bunny write a novel and don't waste your time editing collections. It'll get to be a habit."
That's all, brother.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 10:17
Scott Fitzgerald, Author, Dies at 44
By THE NEW YORK TIMES - December 23, 1940
HOLLYWOOD, Calif., Dec. 22 (AP)-F. Scott Fitzgerald, novelist, short story writer and scenarist, died at his Hollywood home yesterday. His age was 44. He suffered a heart attack three weeks ago.
Epitomized "Sad Young Men"
Mr. Fitzgerald in his life and writings epitomized "all the sad young men" of the post-war generation. With the skill of a reporter and ability of an artist he captured the essence of a period when flappers and gin and "the beautiful and the damned" were the symbols of the carefree madness of an age.
Roughly, his own career began and ended with the Nineteen Twenties. "This Side of Paradise," his first book, was published in the first year of that decade of skyscrapers and short skirts. Only six others came between it and his last, which, not without irony, he called "Taps at Reveille." That was published in 1935. Since then a few short stories, the script of a moving picture or two, were all that came from his typewriter. The promise of his brilliant career was never fulfilled.
The best of his books, the critics said, was "The Great Gatsby." When it was published in 1925 this ironic tale of life on Long Island at a time when gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession (according to the exponents of Mr. Fitzgerald's school of writers), t received critical acclaim. In it Mr. Fitzgerald was at his best, which was, according to John Chamberlain, his "ability to catch... the flavor of a night, a snatch of old song, in a phrase."
Symbol of "Jazz Era"
This same ability was shown in his first book and its hero, Amory Blaine, became as much a symbol of Mr. Fitzgerald's own generation as, two years later, Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt was to become a symbol of another facet of American culture. All his other books and many of his short stories (notably "The Beautiful and the Damned") had this same quality.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (he was named after the author of the National Anthem, a distant relative of his mother's) was a stocky, good-looking young man with blond hair and blue eyes who might have stepped from the gay pages of one of his own novels. He was born Sept. 24, 1896, at St. Paul, Minn., the son of Edward and Mary McQuillan Fitzgerald.
At the Newman School, in Lakewood, N.J., where he was sent, young Fitzgerald paid more attention to extra-curricular activities than to his studies. When he entered Princeton in 1913 he had already decided upon a career as writer of musical comedies. He spent most of his first year writing an operetta for the Triangle Club and consequently "flunked" in several subjects. He had to spend the Summer studying. In his sophomore year he was a "chorus girl" in his own show.
War came along in 1917 and Fitzgerald quit Princeton to join the Army. He served as a second lieutenant and then as a first lieutenant in the Forty-fifth and Sixty-seventh Infantry Regiments and then as aid de camp to Brig. Gen. J. A. Ryan.
Wrote Novel in Club
Every Saturday he would hurry over to the Officers' Club and there "in a room full of smoke, conversation and rattling newspapers" he wrote a 120,000-word novel on the consecutive week-ends of three months. He called it "The Romantic Egotist." The publisher to whom he submitted it said it was the most original manuscript he had seen for years-but he wouldn't publish it.
After the war he begged the seven city editors of the seven newspapers in New York to give him a job. Each turned him down. He went to work for the Barron Collier advertising agency, where he penned the slogan for a Muscatine, Iowa, laundry:
"We keep you clean in Muscatine."
This got him a raise, but his heart was not in writing cards for street cars. He spent all his spare time writing satires, only one of which he sold-for $30. He then abandoned New York in disgust and went back to St. Paul, where he wrote "This Side of Paradise." Its flash and tempo and its characters, who, in the estimation of Gertrude Stein, created for the general public "the new generation," made it an immediate success.
At the same time he married Miss Zelda Sayre of Montgomery, Ala., who had been called more than once "the brilliant counterpart of the heroines of his novels." Their only child, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, was born in 1921.
His next two books were collections of short stories: "Flappers and Philosophers" (1920) and "Tales of the Jazz Age" (1922). In 1923 he published a satirical play, "The Vegetable: or, From President to Postman," and then for the next two years he worked on "The Great Gatsby." He had gathered material for it while living on Long Island after the war, and all its characters were taken compositely from life. He wrote most of it in Rome or on the Riviera, where he also wrote his most successful short stories. These, in 1926, were gathered under the title "All the Sad Young Men."
Only two other books were to follow: "Tender Is the Night (1934) and "Taps at Reveille" (1935). After that, for several years, he lived near Baltimore, Md., where he suffered a depression of spirit which kept him from writing. He made several efforts to write but failed, and in an autobiographical article in Esquire likened himself to a "cracked plate."
"Sometimes, though," he wrote, "the cracked plate has to be retained in the pantry, has to be kept in service as a household necessity. It can never be warmed on the stove nor shuffled with the other plates in the dishpan; it will not be brought out for company but it will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the ice-box with the left overs."
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 10:13
THE APPRENTICE FICTION OF F. SCOTT FITZGERALD: 1909-1917. - Edited with an introduction by John Kuehl
Young Man With a Style
By ANDREW TURNBULL
The New York Times, - May 2, 1965 - www.nytimes.com
After the homme manque, the femme fatale, Fitzgerald's vampiric destroyer, is the most vital character he ever created. She pervades the later fiction in this volume....His femme fatale, however, is no mere foil. From the heroine of "A Luckless Santa Claus' (1912) to the heroine of " The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw" (1917) she acts as the most persistent and powerful barrier to the protagonist's success. Her development into an independently significant figure represents one of the major achievements of these early writings, whose author told his secretary, "I am half feminine - at least, my mind is....Even my feminine characters are feminine." - "The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald."
This round-up of Fitzgerald's "apprentice fiction" consists of 13 stories and two one-act plays which he wrote between the ages of 13 and 21 for school and college publications. The editor has supplemented his general introduction with individual prefaces to most of the pieces. The book is attractively illustrated, although the photograph said to be Fitzgerald's father is actually of his maternal uncle.
Fitzgerald was precocious - his talent, as he once said, being in large part the poetic type that matures early - yet he was no demon of precocity like Rimbaud or Raymond Radiguet or Stephen Crane. He did not become a professional till the summer of 1919, following his unhappy but maturing romance with Zelda Sayre. After she had turned him down on the grounds that he couldn't support her, he rewrote his manuscript of a novel with the desperation that often succeeds, got it accepted and was in turn accepted by Zelda, who now become the archetype of the flapper heroines in the Jazz Age stories that poured from his pen. This dramatic transformation was still two years away when he completed the work in the present volume, aimed primarily at the Fitzgerald specialist or buff interested in tracing his themes and narrative devices.
As might be expected, the best pieces are experiments with the materials of 'This Side of paradise." "The Spire and the Gargoyle," a clumsy story inspired by Fitzgerald's academic failure, nevertheless breathes the almost mystical love of Princeton that would lend beauty and vitality to his college novel "The Debutantes," reprinted in Smart Set as it stands here, was incorporated into "This Side of Paradise" in a version so much rewritten and improved as to be hardly recognizable. "Babes in the Woods," on the other hand, was spliced into the novel with comparatively few changes, the verbal shimmer and ironic grace of the first version already approximating the standard which made Fitzgerald famous. Written at about the time that his college flame, Ginevra King, was throwing him over, this story based on their first meeting is remarkably objective, and here, if anywhere, we have the kernel of "This Side of Paradise."
"How do you mean he's heard about me? What sort of things? Asks the heroine, Isabelle. "He knows you're good-looking and all that," her friend replies, adding after a pause, "I guess her knows you've been kissed." Isabelle's resentment is downed by her awareness that in a strange city her reputation as a "speed" will help to launch her. Tossing around such firecrackers in 1917, Fitzgerald was setting up shop as the spokesman and enfant terrible of a generation which in retrospect seems refreshing innocent.
Unrelated to "This Side of Paradise" but biographically important is "Tarquin of Cheepside," another Smart Set reprint which Fitzgerald considered his undergraduate masterpiece. This fantasy of Elizabethan London describes Shakespeare being chased into hiding by the relatives of a woman he has just assaulted, and as soon as the danger passes, he sits down to compose "The Rape of Lucrece." In the energy of the writing not to mention Fitzgerald's self-identification with the hectic poet, there is the premonitory thrill of a big career but also a dangerous one, for Fitzgerald began with the Romantic premise that a writer should be a man of action experiencing his material at first hand, and in escapades of a different sort he would not always get off so lightly as the Shakespeare of his yarn.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 10:08
THE LETTERS OF F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
Edited by Andrew Turnbull
The Fitzgerald Years in Letters
By HERBERT MITGANG
The New York Times, October 18, 1963
Here is the first full selection of Scott Fitzgerald's letters, assembled by Andrew Turnbull, his best biographer, and what makes the book worthwhile is that it does not speculate about Scott Fitzgerald - it is about him. Sometimes we are offered the original but settle for carbon copies. During the Hollywood and television blacklisting years a producer once asked for a "John Garfield-type." The story goes that the producer replied: "Sorry, I want a John Garfield-type." Nobody can find fault with this book as "a Fitzgerald- type."
The letters are so arranged that this thick volume forms a personal and literary history of the writer, his family, and his writing contemporaries. Because Fitzgerald wrote at length to his daughter and wife, we see clearer than ever, before what drove his engine of self-destruction so gallantly. He was pressed financially, ought to live high and was given a fearful choice - one always nagging extremely talented writers.
That choice was: Should he knock off little magazine stories and movie scripts for Shirley Temple or should he write new Gatsbys? The obviously poor choice he made is mitigated here somewhat in his own words, but not excused; Fitzgerald was too honest a literary person to rationalize about the junk on Grub Street or Vine Street. (It is not the doing of shabby jobs but their rationalization that show hypocrisy.) In the end, when he was writing "The Last Tycoon," he had decided to make a supreme effort to conserve his great talent, but illness cut him down. The letters reach a climax of life any novelist would envy.
One value of the letters is that they reveal brutally the combination of drudgery and creativity operating at once in a n artist's life. So many aspects of both appear in letters to his friend and to his editor, Edmund Wilson and Maxwell Perkins. Curiously, his letters to Ernest Hemingway are the only ones that seem to strike a false, Fitzgerald-type note; too gay and full of imitative bravado. Mr. Turnbull says of these newly discovered letters: "They show Fitzgerald's fascination with the Hemingway legend, his amused deference to the other's more commanding personality, and finally his dignity and magnanimity after Hemingway turned him down." In the Hemingway letters Fitzgerald always seems to be on the giving and seldom on the receiving end.
Nearly all the letters have a phrase or more worth repeating:
To Ernest Hemingway - "Riches have never fascinated me, unless combined with the greatest charm or distinction." To Edmund Wilson - "It was sun when we all believed the same things. It was more fun to think that we were all going to die together or live together, and none of us anticipated this great loneliness, where one has dedicated his remnants to imaginative fiction and another his slowly dissolving trunk to the Human Idea."
To his daughter - "Advertising is a racket, like the movies and the brokerage business. You cannot be honest without admitting that its constructive contribution to humanity is exactly minus zero. It is simply a means of making dubious promises to a credulous public."
Again to Scottie - "All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath."
To Joseph Mankiewicz - "I'm a good writer - honest."
This pathetic comment was addressed to Mr Mankiewicz because he had rewritten a screenplay that Fitzgerald had fashioned for M-G-M. "To say I'm disillusioned is putting it mildly," Fitzgerald continued. "For 19 years, with two years out for sickness, I've written best-selling entertainment, and my dialogue is supposedly right up at top. But I learn from the script that you've suddenly decided that it isn't good dialogue and you can take a few cuts off and do much better."
So Fitzgerald wrote Mr. Mankiewicz in 1938. It is interesting to ponder the relative values of American letters to this day: As writer-director of the current "Cleopatra" Mr. Mankiewicz was paid more money than Scott Fitzgerald received for every novel and word he wrote in his entire life.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 10:03
THE PAT HOBBY STORIES , By F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Last Buffoon
By ANDREW TURNBULL
The New York Times, July 22, 1962
Forty-nine, with red-rimmed eyes and a soft purr of whisky on his breath, Pat Hobby seemed less like a film writer than like an extra down on his luck, or like a bit player who specialized in the sort of father who should never come home. His jalopy was the property of the North Hollywood Finance and Loan Company; his Chesterfield came from the costume department of the studio where he sporadically worked; he was so impecunious that his two former wives has given up asking for alimony. He hadn't read a book in a decade and his daily newspaper was the racing sheet-- yet he was a film writer of sorts, a left-over from the good old silent days when he had miraculously earned up to $2,500 a week.
The talkies, with their increased demands on writers, had inaugurated his long decline; by 1940 he was lucky when he could wangle $250 a week for the "polish jobs" that were thrown his way in pity or contempt. Imaginatively sterile, he was skilled at making small changes in a collaborator's script ("crimson" to "red," "Get out of my sight!" to "Scram!"), so he could claim part credit for the final product. The rest of his ingenuity was reserved for blackmail, borrowing money and palming off other people's inspirations as his own. From our first glimpse of him we know he is doomed, that none of his machinations can possibly succeed. Yet there is fascination in watching him wriggle, and we come to admire his resilience, his infinite hope.
Fitzgerald created this anti-hero out of his own long and painful experience as a scriptwriter. On three occasions (between 1927 and 1937) he had been lured to Hollywood not simply by the large salary but by the artistic possibilities of the cinematic form. It seemed to him that the movies, with their "more glittering, grosser power," were stealing the fire of the novelist, and he longed to conquer the insurgent medium. All his scripts, however, had been rejected, or else rewritten to the point where he no longer recognized them as his own. His intricate, personal, evocative style was perhaps unsuited to the movies, and it wasn't his nature to "write down."
During the last two years of his life, when he was pinioned to Hollywood by financial necessity, he saw his dilemma for what it was-- that of the artist caught in a tough, materialistic enterprise-- and he turned it to fictional use. His tragic side went into Monroe Stahr, hero of "The Last Tycoon," while his comic spirit found release in Pat Hobby. Stahr became the embodiment of Fitzgerald's aspirations, Hobby of his degradations and humiliations.
The seventeen stories in this volume are short-- their author was short-winded and hoarding his strength for his novel-- but they are the work of a master hand. The prose is lean, swift and deadly accurate. The tone is typical of Fitzgerald after his crack-up: utterly detached, stripped of all illusion, yet compassionate enough to win sympathy for a protagonist who is essentially a rat-- and reveals it in such stories as "Pay Hobby's Christmas Wish" (a foredoomed scheme to frame a producer) and "Pat Hobby's College Days" (a disastrous attempt to capture a campus prank in a scenario). Other stories, like "Pat Hobby's Secret" and "The Homes of the Stars" are agonizingly funny, and throughout the book the irony, the little curls of humor keep one smiling. If these aren't the greatest stories Fitzgerald ever wrote, they are important to an understanding of his career, and they belong to the small company of works that genuinely evoke Hollywood.
Arnold Gingrich's authoritative introduction gives a running account of how the series was written for publication in Esquire and anxiously presided over by Fitzgerald.
Mr. Turnbull is the author of a current biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
"To those grouped together under the name 'talent,' the atmosphere of a studio is not unfailingly bright-- one fluctuates too quickly between high hope and grave apprehension. Those few who decide things are happy in their work and sure that they are worthy of their hire-- the rest live in a mist of doubt as to when their vast inadequacy will be disclosed."
-- from "The Pat Hobby Stories"
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:58
AFTERNOON OF AN AUTHOR - A Selection of Uncollected Stories and Essays. By F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Magic Is Authentic
By BURKE WILKINSON - April 27, 1958
The New York Times - www.nytimes.com
The story of F. Scott Fitzgerald is in one sense the story of the moon that never rose. His death in 1940 at the age of 44 cut off what could have been many rich creative years. But it is also the story of the moon that shone very brightly-- though many people thought it was a quick comet only. Even in the Roaring Twenties-- which Fitzgerald helped to quicken into life, epitomizing the Jazz Age in his stories and novels-- people recognized that he wrote attractive, sensitive fiction but wondered whether it was the real thing.
Now we know. After two decades of limbo, in 1951 the greatest revival took place: he is in the anthologies, and in Valhalla. Fitzgerald, by his own admission a most indifferent caretaker of his talent, has now an eager and zealous custodian in the person of Arthur Mizener, who sits at the gates and makes very sure you have a guided tour of the grounds.
Let Mr. Mizener, who wrote the biography "The Far Side of Paradise," tell you his goal in assembling the present fine collection: "I have tried to include in this book only pieces which will serve its main purpose, to show the character of Fitzgerald's fundamental perception. Some are obviously more personal than others, but all derive their energy from some actual experience in which Fitzgerald was deeply involved. This is not so when their superficial details are not literally autobiographical... All were written because these experiences seemed, to Fitzgerald, fabulous."
The fourteen stories and six essays, never before between book covers, fulfill this purpose indeed. These range in time from the autobiographical essay, "Who's Who-- and Why" (1920) to a story, "News of Paris-- Fifteen Years Ago" (1940). Among the essays are "How to Live on Practically Nothing a Year," "How to Live on $36,000 a Year" and a literary piece, partially in praise of Hemingway, "How to Waste Material: A Note on My Generation." There are stories about Fitzgerald's memorable teen-age character, Basil Duke Lee, and about Pat Hobby, the Hollywood writer. And there are part-story, part-essay pieces, such as "Afternoon of an Author" and "Author's House."
The stories are, perhaps, not quite up to the best he ever wrote. The essays are unequal in contemporary interest. But the standard is remarkably high, the authentic magic is here. And the juxtaposition of fiction and fact in the same book brings into sharp focus an essential truth about Fitzgerald: the line in his work between reality and make-believe scarcely exists. Or it is crossed so often it tends to blur, like the frontiers of friendly countries.
As Mr. Mizener has pointed out, both his fact and his fiction stem from direct experience, deeply felt. Wit and imagination play over fact. Acutely observed fact informs and lends reality to fiction. From the three stories about Basil Duke Lee to the wry sketches telling of the miseries of Pat Hobby, the origin of the central character is never in doubt. Both are facets of Fitzgerald. As for the other side of the coin, there is more of the fanciful and fictional in some of the essays than there is in most short stories.
For all his taste and insight, Mr. Mizener, in his short introductory notes to each piece, tends to give Fitzgerald's every word the respectful attention one would give to the remarks of a queen mother. For example, the slightest piece in the book is a lovely bit of nonsensical dialogue called "Ten Years in the Advertising Business." Mr. Mizener's comment is that "a good many of the important criticisms of America's business society are implicit here."
Yet one can be grateful to Mr. Mizener for his part in the rediscovery, and the skill he has shown in making the present selection. And Fitzgerald did have a remarkable consistency. Everything he touched, fiction or fact, nonsense or deeply felt experience, he put his own mark on. The celebrated style, with its grace and high tensile strength, has not since been approximated. Fitzgerald has occasional literary descendents in subject-matter, but none in style. So today, at a time when obscurity, non-grammar and prolixity are becoming a kind of substitute for style, this encore of his own especial music is doubly welcome.
A quote or two suffices: "I went to my regiment happy. I had written a novel. The war could now go on." Here is the authentic blend of irony and involvement.
"Switzerland is a country where few things begin, but many things end." Here is the very quiet, almost Gallic, precision of phrase.
Finally here is a bravura bit, near the end of a Basil Lee story, that has a fresh beauty in it:
"There was a flurry of premature snow in the are and the stars looked cold. Staring up at them he saw that they were his stars as always-- symbols of ambition, struggle and glory. The wind blew through them, trumpeting that high white note for which he always listened."
As a musician does, Fitzgerald himself reached for that high white note. Uncommonly gifted as he was, he found it very often.
Burke Wilkinson, critic and novelist, wrote "Proceed at Will" and "Last Clear Chance."
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:55
THE STORIES OF F. SCOTT FITZGERALD - A Selection of Twenty-Eight Stories with an Introduction by Malcolm Cowley. By F. Scott Fitzgerald.
By ALICE B. TOKLAS - March 4, 1951
It must have been in 1921 that we first read "This Side of Paradise" and very shortly after reread it and every few years read it anew. The book was impressive not only because it was the accomplished first effort of a very young man but because he had given us the complete picture of his generation, a surprisingly new and different generation and to many of us it remains the definitive portrait and continues to surprise us. Is not this surprise one of the proofs of its being a work of art? Then for us there was a considerable silence from the young author. We saw none of the short stories in the magazines until one day "The Great Gatsby" flashed upon us. The promise of the first novel of the so greatly gifted young writer was fulfilled.
Now there is the volume of collected short stories with an appreciative, therefore sympathetic and perceptive introduction by Malcolm Cowley. To read these stories now is indeed a melancholy pleasure, for Fitzgerald has become a legend and the epoch he created is history. The young writer, still unknown today, who will succeed him will follow as Fitzgerald did in the tradition of American literature, however surprising the direction and means taken to express the vision of the new troubled generation.
Wars do speed up time and tempo, and these short stories would seem to be convincing evidence of this, both in the writing and in the subject matter. If the young people, and Fitzgerald liked them young, were troubled, and he liked them to be so, they were not made unhappy by too many different reasons. It is a slight reproach one can make against these stories, but one must gratefully acknowledge the variety of examples chosen from the limited range offered by normal middle-class youth.
Fitzgerald himself could not easily accept the passing of his own youth. He has asked if he could come to see us on a certain afternoon in 1926. He was my favorite among the young American writers whom we knew. His intelligence, sensibility, distinction, wit and charm made his contemporaries appear commonplace and lifeless. He sat with his medallic head in profile talking quietly. Suddenly he said with passionate energy, "Today is my birthday, I am 30 years old today. Thirty years old. Youth is over. What am I to do? What can I do? What does one do when one is 30 years old and when one's youth is over?" he asked Gertrude Stein.
"One goes on working," she said. "Go home and write a novel, the novel that is in you to write. That is what you will do now that you are 30 years old." Later when "Tender Is the night" was written and published and Fitzgerald sent her a copy she was touched to find that he had written on the flyleaf "Is this the novel you asked for?" And she said it was abundantly.
The last time we saw him was in Baltimore in 1934. We spent a long afternoon with him in his home where he and his young daughter were living then. It was the afternoon of Dec. 24 and Fitzgerald told us that they were expecting Mrs. Fitzgerald later in the afternoon. She was to come from the nursing home to spend Christmas with them. The doctors hoped that this visit might aid the cure.
Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein talked about his work and we told him about our visit to the United States. He was restless, ordered tea early and had Scottie, his young daughter, sent for. "Have a canape," he said, "they were especially made for you, like those we used to have in Paris, made especially for you both, and 'Tender Is the Night' for Zelda." Always now I remember him as he was at that moment, poignant, disturbing and ineffably beautiful.
We stayed on to see Mrs. Fitzgerald. It was late when she came suddenly, noiselessly and rapidly into the room. She was no longer the vigorous, smart young woman we had known in Paris. Now she was thin, eerie and fey. Fitzgerald unfolded the drawings and paintings she had been encouraged to make, now that she was no longer allowed or able to dance. They were both pleased when Gertrude Stein said that she thought her work interesting and quite well worth while continuing.
This encouragement brought forth from Zelda a hesitant but not shy, "Would you choose the one you prefer? I would like you to have it. Then you will not forget us." That was the last time we were to meet either of them.
Miss Toklas met Fitzgerald and other writers of his generation in her capacity as companion-secretary to Gertrude Stein in Paris. Her association with Miss Stein is commemorated in "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas."
"In One Jump or Three"
He [Fitzgerald] devoted less care to his stories than to his novels, since he regarded himself as a novelist primarily. "Stories are best written in either one jump or three, according to the length," he told his daughter. "The three-jump story should be written on three successive days, than a day or so for revise and off she goes."...Writing stories pain him better than any other literary work. In 1929, for example, he earned $27,000 by his stories... They are like the sketches of a gifted artist, sharp and immediate in their perceptions, so that they bring us face to face with the artist's world.
-- From Malcolm Cowley's Introduction to "The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald."
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:51
THE CRACK UP
By F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Books of The Times
By WILLIAM DU BOIS - July 23, 1945
Scott Fitzgerald has been dead less than five years. Written out for the last decade of his life (save for that wistful failure, "Tender Is the Night"), squandering the last scraps of his ability in Grade B movies and magazines, he was pretty well shelved, so far as the general reading public was concerned, when the obituary notices appeared. If this seems a cruel simplification of a complex literary debacle, the reader is advised to turn to "The Crack Up," a collection of Fitzgerald's unpublished sketches, notebooks, letters and doggerel, which Edmund Wilson has now gathered in book for to "make an autobiographical sequence which vividly puts on record his state of mind and his point of view during the later years of his life." One may well question the vividness of the samples offered; and if a "state of mind" is exhibited here, it seems the sort of mind that is always hovering in the brink of a scream. To the layman most of these fragments will seem only the whitened bones of genius-and, as such, more pathetic than moving. But even the bones of genius are worthy of close study if the genius was real. For all their inanities and juvenile posturings, for all their borrowed melancholy and half-formed wisdom, these notes are a blurred but fascinating blueprint of the development-and the breakdown-of a major literary talent.
The Title Fitzgerald's Own
The Wilson collection takes its title from a bit of self-abasement that Fitzgerald published in Esquire in 1936. But Fitzgerald's crack-up, if one is to judge by this record, was underway long before. Psychiatrists may ponder his failure to win football honors at college, the frustration of his Army career in World War I, the heady virus of a too-quick success in his twenties, the gray struggle to repeat the formula in his thirties, the "resignation" of his forties. The basic fact, of course, is simple-and these pages offer chapter and verse by the score: Fitzgerald was one of those artists who simply lacked the mental equipment to adjust to the demands of maturity. Celebrity or nonentity, it seems obvious that he was doomed to an endless retreat from life as he settled into the "twilight of his thirties"-a limbo to which one callous reviewer had already consigned him in the first flush of his fame.
"The room in the Algonquin was high up amidst the gilded domes of New York," writes Fitzgerald of a visit in 1933. On his attic stair he considers a pair of faded bathing trunks "full of the bright heat of the Mediterranean, bought in the sailors' quarters in Cannes." No writer can be blamed for indulging in such sentimental wallows in his private notebooks-even though a parking lot is now at the Algonquin's doorstep instead of the Hippodrome, even though the Riviera beaches are pock-marked by war. But the whole book is crammed with such yearnings. "Livid, demean, jejune-all misused," says Fitzgerald under the sub-head "Literary" in his notes. All of "The Crack Up" is an endlessly repeated definition of "jejune"-the dry and hungry gasping of a mind empty of new ideas, or even of new attitudes to meet a fast-changing world.
Talent Superb While It Lasted
It is good to turn away from these unhappy pages and remind ourselves that Scott Fitzgerald, at the top of his form, was a major writer-and, within the range of his talent, one of our most rewarding novelists. It is quite true that his cosmos was bounded by a yokel-cum-Princeton snobbery, that his fascination for the green bay tree all but equaled his fear of its poisonous shade, that his homme fatal was always part Byron, part college-esthete, or part ham-whether his name was Amory Blaine or Jay Gatsby or Dr. Diver-or even Monroe Stahr, the movie mogul of that final attempt at a novel, "The Last Tycoon." Most of these were glove-tight self-portraits of the artist, depending on the artist's prevailing mood. They were also shockingly vivid portraits of that frightening romanticism that has kept so many sad young men from growing up since civilization began.
Fitzgerald's early promise was certainly not even remotely fulfilled. But his talent was superb while it lasted. So long as he saw his segment of America clearly, and felt it with all his senses (in "This Side of Paradise," in "The Beautiful and Damned," in "The Great Gatsby"), he could produce a reality more satisfying than life itself-which is the reason why novels are read instead of history books when the reader of tomorrow seeks to recreate an era. This observer will place a reasonable bet in any time capsule that at least one of the three novels just mentioned (along with "The Sun Also Rises" and "Appointment in Samarra") will be devoured by the youth of a better century than our own-when the gaudy milieux that made these books possible seem as remote as the reign of Caligula.
DU BOIS , WILLIAM. Books of The Times. The New York Times - July 23, 1945
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:48
THE LAST TYCOON , An Unfinished Novel. By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scott Fitzgerald's Last Novel
By J. DONALD ADAM - November 9, 1941
It is a heavy loss to American literature that Scott Fitzgerald died in his forties. Of that fact this volume which Edmund Wilson has edited is convincing proof. When "Tender Is the Night" was published a few years ago there was reason to doubt whether the fine talent which had first fully realized itself in "The Great Gatsby" eight years before would develop sufficiently to arrive at the greater achievements of which it was capable. "Tender Is the Night" was an ambitious book, but it was also a brilliant failure. Coming after so long a lapse in Fitzgerald's serious writing, the disappointment it brought to those who had felt in "The Great Gatsby" the hand of a major novelist was keen.
So, too, is "The Last Tycoon" an ambitious book, but, uncompleted though it is, one would be blind indeed not to see that it would have been Fitzgerald's best novel and a very fine one. Even in this truncated form it not only makes absorbing reading; it is the best piece of creative writing that we have about one phase of American life-Hollywood and the movies. Both in the unfinished draft and in the sheaf of Fitzgerald's notes which Mr. Wilson has appended to the story it is plainly to be seen how firm was his grasp of his material, how much he had deepened and grown as an observer of life. His sudden death, we see now, was as tragic as that of Thomas Wolfe.
Of all our novelists, Fitzgerald was by reason of his temperament and his gifts the best fitted to explore and reveal the inner world of the movies and of the men who make them. The subject needs a romantic realist, which Fitzgerald was; it requires a lively sense of the fantastic, which he had; it demands the kind of intuitive perceptions which were his in abundance. He had lived and worked in Hollywood long enough before he died to write from the inside out; the material was clay in his hands to be shaped at will. One comes to the end of what he had written-something less than half the projected work-with profound regret that he did not live to complete the job.
As Mr. Wilson observes in his all too brief forward, Monroe Stahr, the movie big shot about whom the story is centered, is Fitzgerald's most fully conceived character. "Amory Blaine and Antony Patch ['This Side of Paradise' and 'The Beautiful and Damned'] were romantic projections of the author; Gatsby and Dick Diver were conceived more or less objectively, but not very profoundly explored. Monroe Stahr is really crafted from within at the same time that he is criticized by an intelligence that has now become sure of itself and knows how to assign him to his proper place in a large scheme of things."
We have about 60,000 words of the novel in this uncompleted draft; it was originally planned to be of approximately that length, but, as the appended outline shows, the chapter on which he was working the day before his death brings the story little more than halfway to its conclusion. Yet within these half dozen chapters, running to 128 pages, Fitzgerald has created a memorable figure in Stahr, Hollywood's "last tycoon"; he had marvelously conveyed the atmosphere in which a mammoth American industry is conducted; he would have ended, we can see, by bringing it clearly into focus as a world of its own within the larger pattern of American life as a whole.
As Mr. Wilsion reminds us, the main activities of the people in Fitzgerald's early books "are big parties at which they go off like fireworks and which are likely to leave them in pieces." It is indicative of the broader scope of "The Last Tycoon" and of Fitzgerald's wider and deeper intentions that the parties in this book are "incidental and unimportant." Excellent as "The Great Gatsby" was, capturing as it did in greater degree than any other book of the period the feel of the fantastic Twenties, one closes it with the thought that Fitzgerald had not himself quite gotten outside the period. There is a detachment about his handling of "The Last Tycoon" that he could not fully achieve in "The Great Gatsby." This is the more emphasized by the skillful technique employed in the telling of his story. The narrator is the daughter of a big producer, an intelligent girl, of the world of the movies, yet not in it as an active participant, who looks back on the events she describes after a lapse of several years.
The book as Mr. Wilson has edited it has a dual interest. There is the intrinsic interest of the story as we have it, written with all the brilliance of which Fitzgerald was capable; and there is besides, for those who give thought to literary craftsmanship, the pleasure of watching his mind at work on the difficult task he had set himself. In this respect the notes which follow the draft are fascinating reading.
Besides "The Last Tycoon," the volume includes "The Great Gatsby and several of Fitzgerald's best short stories. There is "May Day," a kaleidoscopic picture of New York when the boys were coming back from the last war; that strange fantasy which out-Hollywoods Hollywood, "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz"; "The Rich Boy," an early story, but good enough to stand with his mature work; "Absolution" and "Crazy Sunday."
In the chapter on "The James Branch Cabell Period" which he contributed to "After the Genteel Tradition," Peter Monro Jack observed that Fitzgerald's titles were the best in fiction. No one, certainly, has more good ones to his credit: "This Side of Paradise," "The Beautiful and Damned," "All the Sad Young Men" in particular. Mr. Jack also remarked in that excellent essay that Fitzgerald was badly served by his contemporaries, maintaining that "Had his extraordinary gifts met with an early astringent criticism and a decisive set of values, he might very well have been the Proust of his generation instead of the desperate sort of Punch that he is." The lack of these no doubt delayed his development, but it is clear now that his feet were set on a forward path.
From the beginning Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the things and the people that he knew. His early material was trivial, and like the youngsters of whom he wrote, he was himself rudderless, borne swiftly along on a stream that empties into nothingness. But from the outset his perceptions were keen, his feeling for words innate, his imagination quick and strong. There was vitality in every line he wrote. But he had to get his own values straight before he could properly do the work for which he was fitted, and the process took heavy toll of his vitality.
Fitzgerald's career is a tragic story, but the end is better than it might have been. And I think he will be remembered in his generation.
ADAM , J. DONALD. Scott Fitzgerald's Last Novel. The New York Times. November 9, 1941
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:44
TAPS AT REVEILLE
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scott Fitzgerald's Tales
By EDITH H. WALTON - March 31, 1935
According to his publishers, Mr. Fitzgerald has chosen for inclusion in this volume the best short stories that he has written during the past decade. It is a curious and rather disturbing admission, coming as it does from a writer of Scott Fitzgerald's stature. The characteristic seal of his brilliance stamps the entire book, but it is a brilliance which splutters off too frequently into mere razzle-dazzle. One wishes for more evidence that he has changed and matured since the days of "Flappers and Philosophers" and "Tales of the Jazz Age."
Most in key with those earlier books are the three stories grouped under the heading, "Josephine." With a kind of deadly accuracy, Mr. Fitzgerald describes a specimen of the predatory young who makes Mr. Tarkington's Lola Platt seem like a milk-and-water baby. Josephine is sixteen-beautiful, ruthless and fickle. Whether or not he is earmarked as somebody else's property she goes out and gets her man with an appalling directness. Proms and tea-dances are her natural habitat, and she takes a certain pride in being considered fast. She dates-more, perhaps than Mr. Fitzgerald realizes-but her wiles and adventures are undeniably comic.
Better, and poignant as well as amusing, is the longer sequence of stories which deals with a pre-war boy in his middle teens. Though his method is different from Booth Tarkingtion's, Mr. Fitzgerald approaches at times the same startling veracity. Basil Duke Lee is a bright, sensitive, likeable boy, constantly betrayed by a fatal tendency to brag and boss. He knows his failing, especially after the minor hell of his first year at boarding school, but again and again he is impelled to ruin an initial good impression. Two of the Basil stories-"He Thinks He's Wonderful" and "The Perfect Life"-are small masterpieces of humor and perception, and Mr. Fitzgerald is always miraculously adept at describing adolescent love affairs and adolescent swagger.
A full half of "Taps at Reveille" is given over to these tales of youth. The remaining stories vary greatly in mood and merit. "Crazy Sunday," which has Hollywood for a setting, is clever but contrived; "Majesty," for all its irony, has a strangely hollow ring; "One Interne" is entertaining, but get nowhere and has no real characterization. Even "The Last of the Belles," with its undertone of regret for youth and bright gayety, fails to make a point which one can regard as valid. Far better is "A Short Trip Home," a ghost story which yet can be considered as definitely realistic.
Three of the stories point toward directions which Mr. Fitzgerald might profitably take. "A Trip to Chancellorsville," in which a trainload of light ladies is catapulted unawares into the realities of the Civil War, is restrained irony at its best. "Family in the Wind," the story of a Southern town ravaged by tornadoes and of a drink-ridden doctor who stumbles on salvation, strikes a new and healthy note. "Babylon Revisited," which seems oddly linked in spirit to Mr. Fitzgerald's latest novel, "Tender is the Night," is probably the most mature and substantial story in the book. A rueful, though incompleted, farewell to the Jazz Age, its setting is Paris and its tone one of anguish for past follies.
It has become a dreadful commonplace to say that Mr. Fitzgerald's material is rarely worthy of his talents. Unfortunately, however, the platitude represents truth. Scott Fitzgerald's mastery of style-swift, sure, polished, firm-is so complete that even his most trivial efforts are dignified by his technical competence. All his writing has a glamourous gloss upon it; it is always entertaining; it is always beautifully executed.
Only when one seeks to discover what he has really said, what his stories really amount to, is one conscious of a certain emptiness. "Taps at Reveille" will bore no one, and offend no trained intelligence, but when one remembers how fine a writer Mr. Fitzgerald could still be, it simply is not good enough.
WALTON, EDITH H. - The New Yor Times.March 31, 1935 - www.ntyimes.com
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:38
TENDER IS THE NIGHT
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Books of The Times
By JOHN CHAMBERLAIN, April 16, 1934
The critical reception of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night" might serve as the basis for one of those cartoons on "Why Men Go Mad." No two reviews were alike; no two had the same tone. Some seemed to think that Mr. Fitzgerald was writing about his usual jazz age boys and girls; others that he had a "timeless" problem on his hands. And some seemed to think that Doctor Diver's collapse was insufficiently documented.
With this we can't agree. It seemed to us that Mr. Fitzgerald proceeded accurately, step by step, with just enough documentation to keep the drama from being misty, but without destroying the suggestiveness that added to the horror lurking behind the surface. Consider Dr. Diver's predicament in being married to a woman with a "split personality" deriving from a brutal misadventure in adolescence. He had married Nicole against his better judgment, partially because she brought him memories of home after years spent abroad. He was drawn into accepting her money, for reasons that living up to a certain income and "cushioning" existence were bound up with the cure. His husband-physician relationship to Nicole, involving constant companionship, cut him off from his practice, and he thought wistfully at times of how the German psychiatrists were getting ahead of him.
With all these factors preparing the ground, it would merely take the sight of an uncomplicated girl (Rosemary) to jar him into active unrest. And when Nicole, subconsciously jealous of Rosemary, comes to a new phase of her disease, and attempts to throw the car off the road when Dick is driving with her and the two children, it is enough to give any one the jitters. Weakness indeed! The wonder to us is that Dick didn't collapse long before Mr. Fitzgerald causes him to break down. And when he does collapse, his youth is gone, it is too late to catch up with the Germans who have been studying new cases for years. This seems to us to be a sufficient exercise in cause-and-effect. Compared to the motivation in Faulkner, it is logic personified.
CHAMBERLAIN, JOHN. Books of The Times TENDER IS THE NIGHT. By F. Scott Fitzgerald. Thhe New York Times. April 16, 1934
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:17
ALL THE SAD YOUNG MEN
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scott Fitzgerald Turns a Corner
By THE NEW YORK TIMES, March 7, 1926
The publication of this volume of short stories might easily have been an anti-climax after the perfection and success of "The Great Gatsby" of last Spring. A novel so widely praised-by people whose recognition counts-is stiff competition. It is even something of a problem for a reviewer to find new and different words to properly grace the occasion. It must be said that the collection as a whole is not sustained to the high excellence of "The Great Gatsby," but it has stories of fine insight and finished craft.
That Scott Fitzgerald has realized the promise of his brilliant juvenilia in a short writing period of six years must be a bitter shock to those who saw in him a skyrocketing flash in the pan. To begin with he had the gift of words-of writing colorfully, movingly, of projecting emotions and humors through his language, shocked the purist. Also his early short stories see-sawed between the extremes of having matter and little form and slight form and something to say. He wrote the popular magazine story; he wrote delightfully amusing yarns, such as "The Camel's Back," and he wrote driveling hokum with a dash of cleverness. Then, as though to make up for pot boiling, he wrote strange and fantastic stories in unconventional magazines-most in the late-departed gayety of the old Smart Set. During this time he was slowly bringing the extremes of manner and matter into a more balanced saturation of craft and feeling.
Dr. Henry Canby has recently argued that men are "getting a poor deal" in modern fiction. He complains that "to get real men in books one must go back to Dickens." This is hardly applicable to Mr. Fitzgerald. He, at least, has been occupied with the affairs of young men for some time. Of late his point of view has taken a satiric slant toward the grown-up children of the Jazz Age. In fact, the philosopher of the flappers has never neglected his sad young men, from the groping adolescence of Amory in "This Side of Paradise" to Gatsby; he has been an interested chronicler of the efforts of his sad young men to wrestle beauty and love from the world and the ladies. This pursuit continues, as is fairly obvious, in the present collection of tales. Thus it is that Mr. Fitzgerald has come to irony and pity, and the peace and wisdom that is inherent in partial success, as well as the disillusionment of dream.
Something of the poet has always lingered near Mr. Fitzgerald. Like so many young men, he has a great respect for Dreiser. He tried realism as the medium for what he had to say. It wasn't quite the right approach. His temperament had too much of fantasy in its make-up. So more and more he has found in this indirect method of expression the way to express his feeling for what is lovely and his criticism of life. Here the poet, satirist and realist mingle in a world of make-believe that impinges sharply on reality.
It is in this manner he calls out his overgrown flappers. His stories of "Gretchen's Forty Winks," "The Adjuster," and "Rags Martin-Jones" are topsy-turvy fantasy shot through with realistic detail that produces a poignancy of more than wistfulness. These gracious and selfish young dames discover that this world isn't their special toy. In these brief histories of vanity, restlessness, boredom, the sad young men struggle to hold their tinctured beauties until they discover that escape isn't across the horizon but within themselves.
To "The Adjuster," Fitzgerald brings this observation, that "it is one of the many flaws in the scheme of human relationships that selfishness in women has an irresistible appeal to many men. Luella's selfishness existed side by side with a childish beauty, and, in consequence, Charles Hemple had begun to take the blame upon himself for situations which she had obviously brought about. It was an unhealthy attitude..." But before Luella can escape across the horizon to disenchantment beyond, she is caught in the movement of life, which we call experience. Instead of being bored and annoyed by persistent trifles, she suffers, feeling takes the place of precious sensibility and self pity, and she becomes aware of that:
"We make an agreement with children that they can sit in the audience without helping to make the play... but if they still sit in the audience after they're grown, somebody's got to work double time for them, so that they can enjoy the light and glitter of the world. You've got to give security to young people and peace to your husband, and a sort of charity to the old."
In spite of the fact that "Gretchen's Forty Winks" appeared in The Saturday Evening Post-still, after three readings-this simple story of misunderstanding between a young married couple remains our choice of this group of stories. It is written with insight and a lightness that deftly realizes the situation. It is rounded out with a craft that is about perfection. It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do-and no more than that could be asked for.
Yet it must be said, immediately, that "Absolution" is a penetrating and profound effort to articulate life in primal and dark conflict. It is simple and stripped of artifice. The poet and humanist in Fitzgerald is in this counting of the search of a boy and an elderly priest for absolute truth, in the conflicting presence of the demands of daily life with its common everydayness of people and trivial affairs.
This book is a big advance over his previous stories. It distinctly marks a transition. The nine tales have a much greater variety. It is also time that Fitzgerald be given credit for creating other than youthful characters; his elderly people are excellent portrayals. He has written a book of mellow, mature, ironic, entertaining stories, and one of them, at least, challenges the best of our contemporary output.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:13
THE GREAT GATSBY
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scott Fitzgerald Looks Into Middle Age
By EDWIN CLARK, April 19, 1925
Of the many new writers that sprang into notice with the advent of the post-war period, Scott Fitzgerald has remained the steadiest performer and the most entertaining. Short stories, novels and a play have followed with consistent regularity since he became the philosopher of the flapper with "This Side of Paradise." With shrewd observation and humor he reflected the Jazz Age. Now he has said farewell to his flappers-perhaps because they have grown up-and is writing of the older sisters that have married. But marriage has not changed their world, only the locale of their parties. To use a phrase of Burton Rascoe's-his hurt romantics are still seeking that other side of paradise. And it might almost be said that "The Great Gatsby" is the last stage of illusion in this absurd chase. For middle age is certainly creeping up on Mr. Fitzgerald's flappers.
In all great arid spots nature provides an oasis. So when the Atlantic seaboard was hermetically sealed by law, nature provided an outlet, or inlet rather, in Long Island. A place of innate natural charm, it became lush and luxurious under the stress of this excessive attention, a seat of festive activities. It expresses one phase of the great grotesque spectacle of our American scene. It is humor, irony, ribaldry, pathos and loveliness. Out of this grotesque fusion of incongruities has slowly become conscious a new humor-a strictly American product. It is not sensibility, as witness the writings of Don Marquis, Robert Benchley and Ring Lardner. It is the spirit of "Processional" and Donald Douglas's "The Grand Inquisitor": a conflict of spirituality set against the web of our commercial life. Both boisterous and tragic, it animates this new novel by Mr. Fitzgerald with whimsical magic and simple pathos that is realized with economy and restraint.
The story of Jay Gatsby of West Egg is told by Nick Caraway, who is one of the legion from the Middle West who have moved on to New York to win from its restless indifference-well, the aspiration that arises in the Middle West-and finds in Long Island a fascinating but dangerous playground. In the method of telling, "The Great Gatsby" is reminiscent of Henry James's "Turn of the Screw." You will recall that the evil of that mysterious tale which so endangered the two children was never exactly stated beyond suggested generalization. Gatsby's fortune, business, even his connection with underworld figures, remain vague generalizations. He is wealthy, powerful, a man who knows how to get things done. He has no friends, only business associates, and the throngs who come to his Saturday night parties. Of his uncompromising love-his love for Daisy Buchanan-his effort to recapture the past romance-we are explicitly informed. This patient romantic hopefulness against existing conditions symbolizes Gatsby. And like the "Turn of the Screw," "The Great Gatsby" is more a long short story than a novel.
Nick Carraway had known Tom Buchanan at New Haven. Daisy, his wife, was a distant cousin. When he came East Nick was asked to call at their place at East Egg. The post-war reactions were at their height-every one was restless-every one was looking for a substitute for the excitement of the war years. Buchanan had acquired another woman. Daisy was bored, broken in spirit and neglected. Gatsby, his parties and his mysterious wealth were the gossip of the hour. At the Buchanans Nick met Jordan Baker; through them both Daisy again meets Gatsby, to whom she had been engaged before she married Buchanan. The inevitable consequence that follows, in which violence takes its toll, is almost incidental, for in the overtones-and this is a book of potent overtones-the decay of souls is more tragic. With sensitive insight and keen psychological observation, Fitzgerald discloses in these people a meanness of spirit, carelessness and absence of loyalties. He cannot hate them, for they are dumb in their insensate selfishness, and only to be pitied. The philosopher of the flapper has escaped the mordant, but he has turned grave. A curious book, a mystical, glamourous story of today. It takes a deeper cut at life than hitherto has been enjoyed by Mr. Fitzgerald. He writes well-he always has-for he writes naturally, and his sense of form is becoming perfected.
CLARK, EDWIN. Scott Fitzgerald Looks Into Middle Age. The New York Times. April 19, 1925 - www.nytimes.com
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:08
TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Latest Works of Fiction
By HILDEGARDE HAWTHORNE, October 29, 1922
We all know delightful hosts who, introducing you to a group at a country house party, will give you, in a sentence or two, some bit of illuminating information with each name. A preface to a book is supposed to perform something of the same office; but Scott Fitzgerald has gone the preface one better, and has added to each title in the table of contents to his new book, "Tales of the Jazz Age," a telling bit of explanation or exposition, as the case may be, a snatch of anecdote or history, a word that makes you feel at home with the story and predisposed in its favor.
It is an excellent idea and it is done as well as Fitzgerald does anything that has to do with writing, which is very well indeed. Indeed, if ever a writer was born with a gold pen in his mouth, surely Fitzgerald is that man. The more you read him, the more he convinces you that here is the destined artist. Here is the kind of writing that all the short or long story schools and books will never teach to a single student. You may not like what he writes about, you may deplore the fact that most of his characters are rotters or weaklings, base or mean, That has nothing to do with the fact that he is a writer whom it is a joy to read; and if he chooses to write, for the moment anyhow, of the life and the persons with which and whom he is most intimate, if he prefers to paint wit startling vividness and virility the jazz aspect of the American scene, why not? It exists. It is quite as real as Main Street, and a deal more amusing in some of its manifestations. More than that, it is astonishingly sincere and unselfconscious. Fitzgerald is interested in it at present, he knows it, and he is portraying it with talent. Some day he may-but let us wait and see.
There is plenty of variety in this new collection, more than in the "Flappers and Philosophers," which preceded it. Some of the stories are tragic, like "May Day," which is tragic in a bitter and sordid way, and "The Lees of Happiness," which is tragic after the Greek fashion, because the fates were unkind and the human beings helpless in their grasp.
One, which Fitzgerald likes the least of all, is tremendously amusing, arrant fooling that it is. It is called "The Camel's Back," and the author hastens to tell us that it is no symbolic camel whose story is to be told, but a real one-or resembling reality, at least. There are other bits of fooling, too, such as "Jemima, the Mountain Girl," a skit on the red-blooded story which begins: "It was night in the mountains of Kentucky. Wild hills rose on all sides. Swift mountain streams flowed rapidly up and down the mountains," and so on. Funny enough, but it is hardly worth while to put such trifles into a book. They give too much the effect of samples, as though the author were saying, "See, here is my lightest side. I do this well and if you want it you can have it; but, on the other hand, here is a piece of my imagination, here one of fantasy, here straight comedy...," a story in each mood and manner, and every one of them god, in fact, but producing on the reader an impression of odds and ends that is unfortunate. The book is more like a magazine than a collection of stories by one man, arranged by an editor to suit all tastes and meant to be thrown away after reading.
But Fitzgerald when he is good, when he is writing a good story, is much too good for throwing away. His "O Russett Witch" is a beautiful piece of work, where fancy runs hand in hand with perception, and understanding, giving the tale a hint of magic that does not remove it from reality. It is in the group under the heading "Fantasies" with that other story, "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz," which is, as Fitzgerald calls it, an extravaganza, but which is also true stuff, life and people living it.
These stories are announced as beginning in the writer's second manner. They certainly show a development in his art, a new turn. His flapper stories, he says, are finished with. They were the best of their kind, but they could have used only a small part of Fitzgerald's talent. A great deal of him remains untouched as yet, and this "second manner" is surely the outcropping of a rich vein that may hold much wealth.
The book as it stands is amusing, interesting and well done, but it is filled besides with all sorts of hints, promise and portents that make it exciting beyond its actual content. There are flashes of wings and sounds of trumpets mingled with the tramp of feet and casual laughter, and though it is, as to its performance, a finished thing, each piece polished and fit for showing, yet there is also the effect of a glimpse into a workshop where tools are about and many matters afoot. Assuredly this makes for additional interest. On laying the book down the dominant thought is: "What will this man do next? He's at something, something we want very much to see."
HAWTHORNE, HILDEGARDE. Latest Works of Fiction. The New York Times. October 29, 1922
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 09:00
THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
By F. Scott FitzgeraldLatest Works of Fiction
By LOUISE MAUNSELL FIELD - March 5, 1922
It would not be easy to find a more thoroughly depressing book than this new novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Beautiful and Damned." Not because there is something of tragedy in it-tragedy may be and often is fine and inspiring-but because its slow-moving narrative is the record of lives utterly worthless utterly futile. Not one of the book's many characters, important of unimportant, ever rises to the level of ordinary decent humanity. Not one of them shows a spark of loyalty, of honor, of devotion, of generosity, of real friendship or of real affection. Anthony Patch, most important of them all, lacks even physical courage. His one admirable quality is that of "understanding too well to blame," and the reader more than suspects that this refraining from blame is due more to his general laziness, his general inertia, than to anything else. The book traces, at very great length, with much repetition of a not particularly profound subtle psychological analysis and numerous dissertations, the course of his mental, moral and physical disintegration. In the beginning he is merely an idle, extravagant young man, a mental prig and snob, vain of what he regards as his "sophistication," seeing himself as one who "was aware that there could be no honor and yet had honor, who knew the sophistry of courage and yet was brave," realizing clearly and completely "that there was nothing to waste, because all efforts and attainments were equally valueless." His grandfather was a multimillionaire, and he was waiting for his grandfather to die. Such was Anthony Patch at 25, his age when the book begins, when it ends, some six years later, he has become a whining, whisky-soaked semi-imbecile.
Gloria, the heroine, is beauty-physical beauty-incarnate. Her creed is enjoyment. Completely selfish, she declares: "If I wanted anything, I'd take it... I can't be bothered resisting things I want." Toward the close of the book she wants innumerable cocktails. And she does not resist her desire. She believes implicitly in her beauty and its power; she could endure her husband's degradation; but when she realized that her loveliness had begun to wane, she really suffered. From the time she was 16 she had been admired and embraced by men. Retaining her "technical purity," she offered her lips, not to one or two, but to scores. This she regarded as being brave and independent. Yet she had grace to recognize something at least of her cheapness, the appeal to her of "bright colors and gaudy vulgarity." Without fineness, fastidiousness or good taste, she yet possessed some small amount of endurance, and of courage. She did not, like Anthony, whine as soon as things began to go against them.
About these two-and naturally enough, since people, like water, seek their own level-move a number of other small-souled individuals. The women most closely associated with Gloria are even cheaper than she is, and though the men who are Anthony's "friends" never quite fall into the abyss of physical degradation which engulfs him, it would be difficult to find anything to say in their favor. The book covers the war years, and Anthony is sent to Camp Hooker, where he occupies himself by getting drunk and picking up a mistress. Patriotism being in Mr. Fitzgerald's view, mere foolishness and hysteria, it is not surprising that he should depict the men Anthony meets in camp as another worthless lot. He is not ill-treated; officers and men are not cruel, but merely stupid and contemptible.
Most of the scenes are laid either in New York or in the gray house, not far from the Post Road. Anthony and Gloria rented a few months after their marriage. There they entertained acquaintances at week-end parties, with the help of their Japanese servant, Tana; "then the room seemed full of men and smoke. There was Tana in his white coat reeling about supported by Maury... It appeared that everything in the room was staggering in grotesque fourth-dimensional gyrations through intersecting planes of hazy blue." Gloria did have one brief but violent reaction of disgust, but it was quickly over and "parties" of this kind were numerous, both in the country and in the New York apartment, where "there was the odor of tobacco always-both of them smoked incessantly... Added to this was the wretched aura of stale wine, with its inevitable suggestion of beauty gone foul and revelry remembered in disgust... There had been many parties-people broke things; people became sick in Gloria's bathroom; people spilled wine; people made unbelievable messes of the kitchenette." There is a great deal of this sort of thing, though neither Anthony nor Gloria confined their drinking bouts to their own apartment, or to those of their friends.
So far as its style is concerned, much of the novel is well written, and Anthony's gradual loss of his mental curiosity, his gradual degeneration into "a bleak and sordid wreck" is convincingly depicted, though to the reader he never seems one-third as intelligent as the author apparently thinks him. The long conversations between Anthony and his two friends, Maury Noble and Dick Caramel, are often merely tedious and pretentious, in spite of the fact that now and then one of them does make a remark which is fairly clever. The general atmosphere of the book is an atmosphere of futility, waste and the avoidance of effort, into which the fumes of whisky penetrate more and more, until at last it fairly reeks with them. The novel is full of that kind of pseudo-realism which results from shutting one's eyes to all that is good in human nature, and looking only upon that which is small and mean-a view quite as false as its extreme opposite, which, reversing the process, results in what we have learned to classify as "glad" books. It is to be hoped that Mr. Fitzgerald, who possesses a genuine, undeniable talent, will some day acquire a less one-sided understanding.
FIELD, LOUISE MAUNSELL. Latest Works of Fiction. The New York Times, March 5, 1922
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 08:54
Flappers and Philosophers By F. Scott Fitzgerald
By THE NEW YORK TIMES - September 26, 1920
On the whole, "Flappers and Philosophers" represents the triumph of form over matter, just as, on the whole, Mr. Fitzgerald's novel, "This Side of Paradise," represented the triumph of matter over form. As in his previous book, Mr. Fitzgerald deals with the adolescents of America. But his eight short stories range the gamut of style and mood with a brilliance, a jeu perle, so to speak, which is not to be found in the novel. Therefore, with his first book running to the ranks of best sellers with a seventh edition, there is no telling what good fortune awaits this volume of excellent short stories-a form more to the liking of the American people than the novel.
It is fortunate that Mr. Fitzgerald begins his "set of eight" with his most romantic story, "The Offshore Pirate," for if the reader safely pulls out of the pirate's reach he can weather the remainder of the book with plain sailing and huge enjoyment. Mr. Fitzgerald realizes the nature of his story, however. He knows what he is about, and his first three words, "This unlikely story," show this plainly.
Probably the best stories of the octet are "Head and Shoulders," The Cut Glass Bowl," "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" and "Benediction." That Mr. Fitzgerald realized this when he flanked them with two others at each end seems more than likely. If a choice may be made between stories so different in character it is to "Benediction," then, that the choice falls. Here, it seems, Mr. Fitzgerald has most finely fused the best of the Russian school which he irradiates, with the O. Henry tinge which may be observed in almost all his stories. "The Cut Glass Bowl" perhaps shows more unity and skill in construction, but at the same time more artifice and less art. "Benediction," for power to move, for real feeling, is easily the first. "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" has the O. Henry whip snap on the end and "Head and Shoulders" displays a reverse twist of which that master can boast no better.
Not the most superficial reader can fail to recognize Mr. Fitzgerald's talent and genius. So far as seriousness is concerned, no one appreciates the value of the Russian school better than he himself. The ingenuity which marks his works he may consider a necessity in American fiction today. It is the blatant tone of levity which runs through his work that almost drowns out the perception of this literary substance. But its overtones are unmistakable. Mr. Fitzgerald is working out an idiom, and it is an idiom at once universal, American and individual.
THE NEW YORK TIMES - September 26, 1920 - www.nytimes.com
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 08:47
THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
With College Men
By THE NEW YORK TIMES - May 9, 1920
The glorious spirit of abounding youth glows throughout this fascinating tale. Amory, the romantic egotist, is essentially American, and as we follow him through his career at Princeton, with its riotous gayety, its superficial vices, and its punctilious sense of honor which will tolerate nothing less than the standard set up by itself, we know that he is doing just what hundreds of thousands of young men are doing in colleges all over the country. As a picture of the daily existence of what we call loosely "college men," this book is as nearly perfect as such a work could be. The philosophy of Amory, which finds expression in ponderous observations, lightened occasionally by verse that one thinks could have been evolved only in the cloistered atmosphere of his age-old alma mater, is that of any other youth in his teens in whom intellectual ambition is ever seeking an outlet. Amory's love affairs, too, are racy of the soil, while the girls, whose ideas of the modern development of their sex seem to embrace a rather frequent use of the word "Damn," and of being kissed by young men whom they have no thought of marrying, quite obviously belong to Amory's world. Through it all there is the spirit of innocence in so far as actual wrongdoing is implied, and one cannot but feel that the sexes are well matched according to the author's presentment. Amory Blaine has a well-to-do father and a mother who lives the somewhat idle, luxurious life of a matron who has never known the pinch of even economy, much less of poverty, and the boy is the creature of his environment. One knows always that he will be safe at the end. So he is, for he does his bit in the war, finds afterwards that his money has all gone and goes to work writing advertisements for an agency. Also, he has his supreme love affair, with Rosalind Connage, which is broken off because the nervous temperaments of both would not permit happiness. At least, so the girl thinks. So Amory goes on the biggest spree noted in the book-a spree which is colorfully described as taking in everything in the alcoholic line from the Knickerbocker "Old King Cole" bar to an out-of-the-way drinking den where Amory is "beaten up" artistically and thoroughly. The whole story is disconnected, more or less, but loses none of its charm on that account. It could have been written only by an artist who knows how to balance his values, plus a delightful literary style.
THE NEW YORK TIMES - May 9, 1920 - www.nytimes.com
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 08:39
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
As long ago as 1860 it was the proper thing to be born at home. At present, so I am told, the high gods of medicine have decreed that the first cries of the young shall be uttered upon the anaesthetic air of a hospital, preferably a fashionable one. So young Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were fifty years ahead of style when they decided, one day in the summer of 1860, that their first baby should be born in a hospital. Whether this anachronism had any bearing upon the astonishing history I am about to set down will never be known.
I shall tell you what occurred, and let you judge for yourself.
The Roger Buttons held an enviable position, both social and financial, in Antebellum Baltimore. They were related to the This Family and the That Family, which, as every Southerner knew, entitled them to membership in that enormous peerage which largely populated the Confederacy. This was their first experience with the charming old custom of having babies--Mr. Button was naturally nervous. He hoped it would be a boy so that he could be sent to Yale College in Connecticut, at which institution Mr. Button himself had been known for four years by the somewhat obvious nickname of "Cuff."
On the September morning consecrated to the enormous event he arose nervously at six o'clock dressed himself, adjusted an impeccable stock, and hurried forth through the streets of Baltimore to the hospital, to determine whether the darkness of the night had borne in new life upon its bosom.
When he was approximately a hundred yards from the Maryland Private Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen he saw Doctor Keene, the family physician, descending the front steps, rubbing his hands together with a washing movement--as all doctors are required to do by the unwritten ethics of their profession.
Mr. Roger Button, the president of Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware, began to run toward Doctor Keene with much less dignity than was expected from a Southern gentleman of that picturesque period. "Doctor Keene!" he called. "Oh, Doctor Keene!"
The doctor heard him, faced around, and stood waiting, a curious expression settling on his harsh, medicinal face as Mr. Button drew near.
"What happened?" demanded Mr. Button, as he came up in a gasping rush. "What was it? How is she" A boy? Who is it? What---"
"Talk sense!" said Doctor Keene sharply, He appeared somewhat irritated.
"Is the child born?" begged Mr. Button.
Doctor Keene frowned. "Why, yes, I suppose so--after a fashion." Again he threw a curious glance at Mr. Button.
"Is my wife all right?"
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"Here now!" cried Doctor Keene in a perfect passion of irritation,"
I'll ask you to go and see for yourself. Outrageous!" He snapped the last word out in almost one syllable, then he turned away muttering: "Do you imagine a case like this will help my professional reputation? One more would ruin me--ruin anybody."
"What's the matter?" demanded Mr. Button appalled. "Triplets?"
"No, not triplets!" answered the doctor cuttingly. "What's more, you can go and see for yourself. And get another doctor. I brought you into the world, young man, and I've been physician to your family for forty years, but I'm through with you! I don't want to see you or any of your relatives ever again! Good-bye!"
Then he turned sharply, and without another word climbed into his phaeton, which was waiting at the curbstone, and drove severely away.
Mr. Button stood there upon the sidewalk, stupefied and trembling from head to foot. What horrible mishap had occurred? He had suddenly lost all desire to go into the Maryland Private Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen--it was with the greatest difficulty that, a moment later, he forced himself to mount the steps and enter the front door.
A nurse was sitting behind a desk in the opaque gloom of the hall. Swallowing his shame, Mr. Button approached her.
"Good-morning," she remarked, looking up at him pleasantly.
"Good-morning. I--I am Mr. Button."
At this a look of utter terror spread itself over girl's face. She rose to her feet and seemed about to fly from the hall, restraining herself only with the most apparent difficulty.
"I want to see my child," said Mr. Button.
The nurse gave a little scream. "Oh--of course!" she cried hysterically. "Upstairs. Right upstairs. Go--up!"
She pointed the direction, and Mr. Button, bathed in cool perspiration, turned falteringly, and began to mount to the second floor. In the upper hall he addressed another nurse who approached him, basin in hand. "I'm Mr. Button," he managed to articulate. "I want to see my----"
Clank! The basin clattered to the floor and rolled in the direction of the stairs. Clank! Clank! I began a methodical decent as if sharing in the general terror which this gentleman provoked.
"I want to see my child!" Mr. Button almost shrieked. He was on the verge of collapse.
Clank! The basin reached the first floor. The nurse regained control of herself, and threw Mr. Button a look of hearty contempt.
"All right, Mr. Button," she agreed in a hushed voice. "Very well! But if you knew what a state it's put us all in this morning! It's perfectly outrageous! The hospital will never have a ghost of a reputation after----"
"Hurry!" he cried hoarsely. "I can't stand this!"
"Come this way, then, Mr. Button."
He dragged himself after her. At the end of a long hall they reached a room from which proceeded a variety of howls--indeed, a room which, in later parlance, would have been known as the "crying-room." They entered.
"Well," gasped Mr. Button, "which is mine?"
"There!" said the nurse.
Mr. Button's eyes followed her pointing finger, and this is what he saw. Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and partly crammed into one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently about seventy years of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a long smoke-colored beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window. He looked up at Mr. Button with dim, faded eyes in which lurked a puzzled question.
"Am I mad?" thundered Mr. Button, his terror resolving into rage. "Is this some ghastly hospital joke?
"It doesn't seem like a joke to us," replied the nurse severely. "And I don't know whether you're mad or not--but that is most certainly your child."
The cool perspiration redoubled on Mr. Button's forehead. He closed his eyes, and then, opening them, looked again. There was no mistake--he was gazing at a man of threescore and ten--a baby of threescore and ten, a baby whose feet hung over the sides of the crib in which it was reposing.
The old man looked placidly from one to the other for a moment, and then suddenly spoke in a cracked and ancient voice. "Are you my father?" he demanded.
Mr. Button and the nurse started violently.
"Because if you are," went on the old man querulously, "I wish you'd get me out of this place--or, at least, get them to put a comfortable rocker in here,"
"Where in God's name did you come from? Who are you?" burst out Mr. Button frantically.
"I can't tell you exactly who I am," replied the querulous whine, "because I've only been born a few hours--but my last name is certainly Button."
"You lie! You're an impostor!"
The old man turned wearily to the nurse. "Nice way to welcome a new-born child," he complained in a weak voice. "Tell him he's wrong, why don't you?"
"You're wrong. Mr. Button," said the nurse severely. "This is your child, and you'll have to make the best of it. We're going to ask you to take him home with you as soon as possible-some time to-day."
"Home?" repeated Mr. Button incredulously.
"Yes, we can't have him here. We really can't, you know?"
"I'm right glad of it," whined the old man. "This is a fine place to keep a youngster of quiet tastes. With all this yelling and howling, I haven't been able to get a wink of sleep. I asked for something to
eat"--here his voice rose to a shrill note of protest--"and they brought me a bottle of milk!"
Mr. Button, sank down upon a chair near his son and concealed his face in his hands. "My heavens!" he murmured, in an ecstasy of horror. "What will people say? What must I do?"
"You'll have to take him home," insisted the nurse--"immediately!"
A grotesque picture formed itself with dreadful clarity before the eyes of the tortured man--a picture of himself walking through the crowded streets of the city with this appalling apparition stalking by his side.
"I can't. I can't," he moaned.
People would stop to speak to him, and what was he going to say? He would have to introduce this--this septuagenarian: "This is my son, born early this morning." And then the old man would gather his blanket around him and they would plod on, past the bustling stores, the slave market--for a dark instant Mr. Button wished passionately that his son was black--past the luxurious houses of the residential district, past the home for the aged....
"Come! Pull yourself together," commanded the nurse.
"See here," the old man announced suddenly, "if you think I'm going to walk home in this blanket, you're entirely mistaken."
"Babies always have blankets."
With a malicious crackle the old man held up a small white swaddling garment. "Look!" he quavered. "This is what they had ready for me."
"Babies always wear those," said the nurse primly.
"Well," said the old man, "this baby's not going to wear anything in about two minutes. This blanket itches. They might at least have given me a sheet."
"Keep it on! Keep it on!" said Mr. Button hurriedly. He turned to the nurse. "What'll I do?"
"Go down town and buy your son some clothes."
Mr. Button's son's voice followed him down into the: hall: "And a cane, father. I want to have a cane."
Mr. Button banged the outer door savagely....
"Good-morning," Mr. Button said nervously, to the clerk in the Chesapeake Dry Goods Company. "I want to buy some clothes for my child."
"How old is your child, sir?"
"About six hours," answered Mr. Button, without due consideration.
"Babies' supply department in the rear."
"Why, I don't think--I'm not sure that's what I want. It's--he's an unusually large-size child. Exceptionally—ah large."
"They have the largest child's sizes."
"Where is the boys' department?" inquired Mr. Button, shifting his ground desperately. He felt that the clerk must surely scent his shameful secret.
"Well----" He hesitated. The notion of dressing his son in men's clothes was repugnant to him. If, say, he could only find a very large boy's suit, he might cut off that long and awful beard, dye the white hair brown, and thus manage to conceal the worst, and to retain something of his own self-respect--not to mention his position in Baltimore society.
But a frantic inspection of the boys' department revealed no suits to fit the new-born Button. He blamed the store, of course---in such cases it is the thing to blame the store.
"How old did you say that boy of yours was?" demanded the clerk curiously.
"Oh, I beg your pardon. I thought you said six hours. You'll find the youths' department in the next aisle."
Mr. Button turned miserably away. Then he stopped, brightened, and pointed his finger toward a dressed dummy in the window display. "There!" he exclaimed. "I'll take that suit, out there on the dummy."
The clerk stared. "Why," he protested, "that's not a child's suit. At least it is, but it's for fancy dress. You could wear it yourself!"
"Wrap it up," insisted his customer nervously. "That's what I want."
The astonished clerk obeyed.
Back at the hospital Mr. Button entered the nursery and almost threw the package at his son. "Here's your clothes," he snapped out. The old man untied the package and viewed the contents with a quizzical eye.
"They look sort of funny to me," he complained, "I don't want to be made a monkey of--"
"You've made a monkey of me!" retorted Mr. Button fiercely. "Never you mind how funny you look. Put them on--or I'll--or I'll spank you." He swallowed uneasily at the penultimate word, feeling nevertheless that it was the proper thing to say.
"All right, father"--this with a grotesque simulation of filial respect--"you've lived longer; you know best. Just as you say."
As before, the sound of the word "father" caused Mr. Button to start violently.
"I'm hurrying, father."
When his son was dressed Mr. Button regarded him with depression. The costume consisted of dotted socks, pink pants, and a belted blouse with a wide white collar. Over the latter waved the long whitish beard, drooping almost to the waist. The effect was not good.
Mr. Button seized a hospital shears and with three quick snaps amputated a large section of the beard. But even with this improvement the ensemble fell far short of perfection. The remaining brush of scraggly hair, the watery eyes, the ancient teeth, seemed oddly out of tone with the gaiety of the costume. Mr. Button, however, was obdurate--he held out his hand. "Come along!" he said sternly.
His son took the hand trustingly. "What are you going to call me, dad?" he quavered as they walked from the nursery--"just 'baby' for a while? till you think of a better name?"
Mr. Button grunted. "I don't know," he answered harshly. "I think we'll call you Methuselah."
Even after the new addition to the Button family had had his hair cut short and then dyed to a sparse unnatural black, had had his face shaved so dose that it glistened, and had been attired in small-boy clothes made to order by a flabbergasted tailor, it was impossible for Button to ignore the fact that his son was a excuse for a first family baby. Despite his aged stoop, Benjamin Button--for it was by this name they called him instead of by the appropriate but invidious Methuselah--was five feet eight inches tall. His clothes did not conceal this, nor did the clipping and dyeing of his eyebrows disguise
the fact that the eyes under--were faded and watery and tired. In fact, the baby-nurse who had been engaged in advance left the house after one look, in a state of considerable indignation.
But Mr. Button persisted in his unwavering purpose. Benjamin was a baby, and a baby he should remain. At first he declared that if Benjamin didn't like warm milk he could go without food altogether, but he was finally prevailed upon to allow his son bread and butter, and even oatmeal by way of a compromise. One day he brought home a rattle and, giving it to Benjamin, insisted in no uncertain terms that he should "play with it," whereupon the old man took it with--a weary expression and could be heard jingling it obediently at intervals throughout the day.
There can be no doubt, though, that the rattle bored him, and that he found other and more soothing amusements when he was left alone. For instance, Mr. Button discovered one day that during the preceding week be had smoked more cigars than ever before--a phenomenon, which was explained a few days later when, entering the nursery unexpectedly, he found the room full of faint blue haze and Benjamin, with a guilty expression on his face, trying to conceal the butt of a dark Havana. This, of course, called for a severe spanking, but Mr. Button found that he could not bring himself to administer it. He merely warned his son that he would "stunt his growth."
Nevertheless he persisted in his attitude. He brought home lead soldiers, he brought toy trains, he brought large pleasant animals made of cotton, and, to perfect the illusion which he was creating--for himself at least--he passionately demanded of the clerk in the toy-store whether "the paint would come oft the pink duck if the baby put it in his mouth." But, despite all his father's efforts, Benjamin refused to be interested. He would steal down the back stairs and return to the nursery with a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, over which he would pore through an afternoon, while his cotton cows and his Noah's ark were left neglected on the floor. Against such a stubbornness Mr. Button's efforts were of little avail.
The sensation created in Baltimore was, at first, prodigious. What the mishap would have cost the Buttons and their kinsfolk socially cannot be determined, for the outbreak of the Civil War drew the city's attention to other things. A few people who were unfailingly polite racked their brains for compliments to give to the parents—and finally hit upon the ingenious device of declaring that the baby resembled his grandfather, a fact which, due to the standard state of decay common to all men of seventy, could not be denied. Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were not pleased, and Benjamin's grandfather was furiously insulted.
Benjamin, once he left the hospital, took life as he found it. Several small boys were brought to see him, and he spent a stiff-jointed afternoon trying to work up an interest in tops and marbles--he even
managed, quite accidentally, to break a kitchen window with a stone from a sling shot, a feat which secretly delighted his father.
Thereafter Benjamin contrived to break something every day, but he did these things only because they were expected of him, and because he was by nature obliging.
When his grandfather's initial antagonism wore off, Benjamin and that gentleman took enormous pleasure in one another's company. They would sit for hours, these two, so far apart in age and experience, and, like old cronies, discuss with tireless monotony the slow events of the day. Benjamin felt more at ease in his grandfather's presence than in his parents'--they seemed always somewhat in awe of him and, despite the dictatorial authority they exercised over him, frequently addressed him as "Mr."
He was as puzzled as any one else at the apparently advanced age of his mind and body at birth. He read up on it in the medical journal, but found that no such case had been previously recorded. At his
father's urging he made an honest attempt to play with other boys, and frequently he joined in the milder games--football shook him up too much, and he feared that in case of a fracture his ancient bones would refuse to knit.
When he was five he was sent to kindergarten, where he initiated into the art of pasting green paper on orange paper, of weaving colored maps and manufacturing eternal cardboard necklaces. He was inclined to drowse off to sleep in the middle of these tasks, a habit which both irritated and frightened his young teacher. To his relief she complained to his parents, and he was removed from the school. The Roger Buttons told their friends that they felt he was too young.
By the time he was twelve years old his parents had grown used to him. Indeed, so strong is the force of custom that they no longer felt that he was different from any other child--except when some curious anomaly reminded them of the fact. But one day a few weeks after his twelfth birthday, while looking in the mirror, Benjamin made, or thought he made, an astonishing discovery. Did his eyes deceive him, or had his hair turned in the dozen years of his life from white to iron-gray under its concealing dye? Was the network of wrinkles on his face becoming less pronounced? Was his skin healthier and firmer, with even a touch of ruddy winter color? He could not tell. He knew that
he no longer stooped, and that his physical condition had improved since the early days of his life.
"Can it be----?" he thought to himself, or, rather, scarcely dared to think.
He went to his father. "I am grown," he announced determinedly. "I want to put on long trousers."
His father hesitated. "Well," he said finally, "I don't know. Fourteen is the age for putting on long trousers--and you are only twelve."
"But you'll have to admit," protested Benjamin, "that I'm big for my age."
His father looked at him with illusory speculation. "Oh, I'm not so sure of that," he said. "I was as big as you when I was twelve."
This was not true-it was all part of Roger Button's silent agreement with himself to believe in his son's normality.
Finally a compromise was reached. Benjamin was to continue to dye his hair. He was to make a better attempt to play with boys of his own age. He was not to wear his spectacles or carry a cane in the street. In return for these concessions he was allowed his first suit of long trousers....
Of the life of Benjamin Button between his twelfth and twenty-first year I intend to say little. Suffice to record that they were years of normal ungrowth. When Benjamin was eighteen he was erect as a man of fifty; he had more hair and it was of a dark gray; his step was firm, his voice had lost its cracked quaver and descended to a healthy baritone. So his father sent him up to Connecticut to take examinations for entrance to Yale College. Benjamin passed his examination and became a member of the freshman class.
On the third day following his matriculation he received a notification from Mr. Hart, the college registrar, to call at his office and arrange his schedule. Benjamin, glancing in the mirror, decided that his hair needed a new application of its brown dye, but an anxious inspection of his bureau drawer disclosed that the dye bottle was not there. Then he remembered--he had emptied it the day before and thrown it away.
He was in a dilemma. He was due at the registrar's in five minutes. There seemed to be no help for it--he must go as he was. He did.
"Good-morning," said the registrar politely. "You've come to inquire about your son."
"Why, as a matter of fact, my name's Button----" began Benjamin, but Mr. Hart cut him off.
"I'm very glad to meet you, Mr. Button. I'm expecting your son here any minute."
"That's me!" burst out Benjamin. "I'm a freshman."
"I'm a freshman."
"Surely you're joking."
"Not at all."
The registrar frowned and glanced at a card before him. "Why, I have Mr. Benjamin Button's age down here as eighteen."
"That's my age," asserted Benjamin, flushing slightly.
The registrar eyed him wearily. "Now surely, Mr. Button, you don't expect me to believe that."
Benjamin smiled wearily. "I am eighteen," he repeated.
The registrar pointed sternly to the door. "Get out," he said. "Get out of college and get out of town. You are a dangerous lunatic."
"I am eighteen."
Mr. Hart opened the door. "The idea!" he shouted. "A man of your age trying to enter here as a freshman. Eighteen years old, are you? Well, I'll give you eighteen minutes to get out of town."
Benjamin Button walked with dignity from the room, and half a dozen undergraduates, who were waiting in the hall, followed him curiously with their eyes. When he had gone a little way he turned around, faced the infuriated registrar, who was still standing in the door-way, and repeated in a firm voice: "I am eighteen years old."
To a chorus of titters which went up from the group of undergraduates, Benjamin walked away.
But he was not fated to escape so easily. On his melancholy walk to the railroad station he found that he was being followed by a group, then by a swarm, and finally by a dense mass of undergraduates. The word had gone around that a lunatic had passed the entrance examinations for Yale and attempted to palm himself off as a youth of eighteen. A fever of excitement permeated the college. Men ran hatless out of classes, the football team abandoned its practice and joined the mob, professors' wives with bonnets awry and bustles out of position, ran shouting after the procession, from which proceeded a continual succession of remarks aimed at the tender sensibilities of Benjamin Button.
"He must be the wandering Jew!"
"He ought to go to prep school at his age!"
"Look at the infant prodigy!" "He thought this was the old men's home."
"Go up to Harvard!"
Benjamin increased his gait, and soon he was running. He would show them! He would go to Harvard, and then they would regret these ill-considered taunts!
Safely on board the train for Baltimore, he put his head from the window. "You'll regret this!" he shouted.
"Ha-ha!" the undergraduates laughed. "Ha-ha-ha!" It was the biggest mistake that Yale College had ever made....
In 1880 Benjamin Button was twenty years old, and he signalized his birthday by going to work for his father in Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware. It was in that same year that he began "going out socially"--that is, his father insisted on taking him to several fashionable dances. Roger Button was now fifty, and he and his son were more and more companionable--in fact, since Benjamin had ceased to dye his hair (which was still grayish) they appeared about the same age, and could have passed for brothers.
One night in August they got into the phaeton attired in their full-dress suits and drove out to a dance at the Shevlins' country house, situated just outside of Baltimore. It was a gorgeous evening. A full moon drenched the road to the lusterless color of platinum, and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter. The open country, carpeted for rods around with bright wheat, was translucent as in the day. It was almost impossible not to be affected by the sheer beauty of the sky--almost.
"There's a great future in the dry-goods business," Roger Button was saying. He was not a spiritual man--his aesthetic sense was rudimentary.
"Old fellows like me can't learn new tricks," he observed profoundly. "It's you youngsters with energy and vitality that have the great future before you."
Far up the road the lights of the Shevlins' country house drifted into view, and presently there was a sighing sound that crept persistently toward them--it might have been the fine plaint of violins or the rustle of the silver wheat under the moon.
They pulled up behind a handsome brougham whose passengers were disembarking at the door. A lady got out, then an elderly gentleman, then another young lady, beautiful as sin. Benjamin started; an almost chemical change seemed to dissolve and recompose the very elements of his body. A rigor passed over him, blood rose into his cheeks, his forehead, and there was a steady thumping in his ears. It was first love.
The girl was slender and frail, with hair that was ashen under the moon and honey-colored under the sputtering gas-lamps of the porch. Over her shoulders was thrown a Spanish mantilla of softest yellow, butterflied in black; her feet were glittering buttons at the hem of her bustled dress. Roger Button leaned over to his son. "That," he said, "is young Hildegarde Moncrief, the daughter of General Moncrief."
Benjamin nodded coldly. "Pretty little thing," he said indifferently. But when the Negro boy had led the buggy away, he added: "Dad, you might introduce me to her."
They approached a group, of which Miss Moncrief was the center. Reared in the old tradition, she curtsied low before Benjamin. Yes, he might have a dance. He thanked her and walked away--staggered away.
The interval until the time for his turn should arrive dragged itself out interminably. He stood close to the wall, silent, inscrutable, watching with murderous eyes the young bloods of Baltimore as they eddied around Hildegarde Moncrief, passionate admiration in their faces. How obnoxious they seemed to Benjamin; how intolerably rosy! Their curling brown whiskers aroused in him a feeling equivalent to indigestion.
But when his own time came, and he drifted with her out upon the changing floor to the music of the latest waltz from Paris, his jealousies and anxieties melted from him like a mantle of snow. Blind with enchantment, he felt that life was just beginning.
"You and your brother got here just as we did, didn't you?" asked Hildegarde, looking up at him with eyes that were like bright blue enamel.
Benjamin hesitated. If she took him for his father's brother, would it be best to enlighten her? He remembered his experience at Yale, so he decided against it. It would be rude to contradict a lady; it would be criminal to mar this exquisite occasion with the grotesque story of his origin. Later, perhaps. So he nodded, smiled, listened, was happy.
"I like men of your age," Hildegarde told him. "Young boys are so idiotic. They tell me how much champagne they drink at college, and how much money they lose playing cards. Men of your age know how to appreciate women."
Benjamin felt himself on the verge of a proposal--with an effort he choked back the impulse. "You're just the romantic age," she continued--"fifty. Twenty-five is too wordly-wise; thirty is apt to be pale from overwork; forty is the age of long stories that take a whole cigar to tell; sixty is--oh, sixty is too near seventy; but fifty is the mellow age. I love fifty."
Fifty seemed to Benjamin a glorious age. He longed passionately to be fifty.
"I've always said," went on Hildegarde, "that I'd rather marry a man of fifty and be taken care of than many a man of thirty and take care of him."
For Benjamin the rest of the evening was bathed in a honey-colored mist. Hildegarde gave him two more dances, and they discovered that they were marvelously in accord on all the questions of the day. She was to go driving with him on the following Sunday, and then they would discuss all these questions further.
Going home in the phaeton just before the crack of dawn, when the first bees were humming and the fading moon glimmered in the cool dew, Benjamin knew vaguely that his father was discussing wholesale hardware.
".... And what do you think should merit our biggest attention after hammers and nails?" the elder Button was saying.
"Love," replied Benjamin absent-mindedly.
"Lugs?" exclaimed Roger Button, "Why, I've just covered the question of lugs."
Benjamin regarded him with dazed eyes just as the eastern sky was suddenly cracked with light, and an oriole yawned piercingly in the quickening trees...
When, six months later, the engagement of Miss Hildegarde Moncrief to Mr. Benjamin Button was made known (I say "made known," for General Moncrief declared he would rather fall upon his sword than announce it), the excitement in Baltimore society reached a feverish pitch. The almost forgotten story of Benjamin's birth was remembered and sent out upon the winds of scandal in picaresque and incredible forms. It was said that Benjamin was really the father of Roger Button, that he was his brother who had been in prison for forty years, that he was John Wilkes Booth in disguise--and, finally, that he had two small conical horns sprouting from his head.
The Sunday supplements of the New York papers played up the case with fascinating sketches which showed the head of Benjamin Button attached to a fish, to a snake, and, finally, to a body of solid brass. He became known, journalistically, as the Mystery Man of Maryland. But the true story, as is usually the case, had a very small circulation.
However, every one agreed with General Moncrief that it was "criminal" for a lovely girl who could have married any beau in Baltimore to throw herself into the arms of a man who was assuredly fifty. In vain Mr. Roger Button published Us son's birth certificate in large type in the Baltimore Blaze. No one believed it. You had only to look at Benjamin and see. On the part of the two people most concerned there was no wavering. So many of the stories about her fiance were false that Hildegarde refused stubbornly to believe even the true one. In vain General Moncrief pointed out to her the high mortality among men of fifty--or, at least, among men who looked fifty; in vain he told her of the instability of the wholesale hardware business. Hildegarde had chosen to marry for mellowness, and marry she did....
In one particular, at least, the friends of Hildegarde Moncrief were mistaken. The wholesale hardware business prospered amazingly. In the fifteen years between Benjamin Button's marriage in 1880 and his father's retirement in 1895, the family fortune was doubled--and this was due largely to the younger member of the firm.
Needless to say, Baltimore eventually received the couple to its bosom. Even old General Moncrief became reconciled to his son-in-law when Benjamin gave him the money to bring out his History of the Civil War in twenty volumes, which had been refused by nine prominent publishers.
In Benjamin himself fifteen years had wrought many changes. It seemed to him that the blood flowed with new vigor through his veins. It began to be a pleasure to rise in the morning, to walk with an active step along the busy, sunny street, to work untiringly with his shipments of hammers and his cargoes of nails. It was in 1890 that he executed his famous business coup: he brought up the suggestion that all nails used in nailing up the boxes in which nails are shipped are the property of the shippee, a proposal which became a statute, was approved by Chief Justice Fossile, and saved Roger Button and Company, Wholesale Hardware, more than six hundred nails every year.
In addition, Benjamin discovered that he was becoming more and more attracted by the gay side of life. It was typical of his growingenthusiasm for pleasure that he was the first man in the city of
Baltimore to own and run an automobile. Meeting him on the street, his contemporaries would stare enviously at the picture he made of health and vitality.
"He seems to grow younger every year," they would remark. And if old Roger Button, now sixty-five years old, had failed at first to give a proper welcome to his son he atoned at last by bestowing on him what amounted to adulation.
And here we come to an unpleasant subject which it will be well to pass over as quickly as possible. There was only one thing that worried Benjamin Button; his wife had ceased to attract him.
At that time Hildegarde was a woman of thirty-five, with a son, Roscoe, fourteen years old. In the early days of their marriage Benjamin had worshipped her. But, as the years passed, her honey-colored hair became an unexciting brown, the blue enamel of her eyes assumed the aspect of cheap crockery--moreover, and, most of all, she had become too settled in her ways, too placid, too content, too anaemic in her excitements, and too sober in her taste. As a bride it been she who had "dragged" Benjamin to dances and dinners--nowconditions were reversed. She went out socially with him, but without enthusiasm, devoured already by that eternal inertia which comes to live with each of us one day and stays with us to the end.
Benjamin's discontent waxed stronger. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898 his home had for him so little charm that he decided to join the army. With his business influence he obtained a commission as captain, and proved so adaptable to the work that he was made a major, and finally a lieutenant-colonel just in time to participate in the celebrated charge up San Juan Hill. He was slightly wounded, and received a medal.
Benjamin had become so attached to the activity and excitement of array life that he regretted to give it up, but his business required attention, so he resigned his commission and came home. He was met at the station by a brass band and escorted to his house.
Hildegarde, waving a large silk flag, greeted him on the porch, and even as he kissed her he felt with a sinking of the heart that these three years had taken their toll. She was a woman of forty now, with a faint skirmish line of gray hairs in her head. The sight depressed him.
Up in his room he saw his reflection in the familiar mirror--he went closer and examined his own face with anxiety, comparing it after a moment with a photograph of himself in uniform taken just before the war.
"Good Lord!" he said aloud. The process was continuing. There was no doubt of it--he looked now like a man of thirty. Instead of being delighted, he was uneasy--he was growing younger. He had hitherto hoped that once he reached a bodily age equivalent to his age in years, the grotesque phenomenon which had marked his birth would cease to function. He shuddered. His destiny seemed to him awful, incredible.
When he came downstairs Hildegarde was waiting for him. She appeared annoyed, and he wondered if she had at last discovered that there was something amiss. It was with an effort to relieve the tension between them that he broached the matter at dinner in what he considered a delicate way.
"Well," he remarked lightly, "everybody says I look younger than ever."
Hildegarde regarded him with scorn. She sniffed. "Do you think it's anything to boast about?"
"I'm not boasting," he asserted uncomfortably. She sniffed again. "The idea," she said, and after a moment: "I should think you'd have enough pride to stop it."
"How can I?" he demanded.
"I'm not going to argue with you," she retorted. "But there's a right way of doing things and a wrong way. If you've made up your mind to be different from everybody else, I don't suppose I can stop you, but I really don't think it's very considerate."
"But, Hildegarde, I can't help it."
"You can too. You're simply stubborn. You think you don't want to be like any one else. You always have been that way, and you always will be. But just think how it would be if every one else looked at things as you do--what would the world be like?"
As this was an inane and unanswerable argument Benjamin made no reply, and from that time on a chasm began to widen between them. He wondered what possible fascination she had ever exercised over him.
To add to the breach, he found, as the new century gathered headway, that his thirst for gaiety grew stronger. Never a party of any kind in the city of Baltimore but he was there, dancing with the prettiest of the young married women, chatting with the most popular of the debutantes, and finding their company charming, while his wife, a dowager of evil omen, sat among the chaperons, now in haughty disapproval, and now following him with solemn, puzzled, and reproachful eyes.
"Look!" people would remark. "What a pity! A young fellow that age tied to a woman of forty-five. He must be twenty years younger than his wife." They had forgotten--as people inevitably forget--that back in 1880 their mammas and papas had also remarked about this same ill-matched pair. Benjamin's growing unhappiness at home was compensated for by his many new interests. He took up golf and made a great success of it. He went in for dancing: in 1906 he was an expert at "The Boston," and in 1908 he was considered proficient at the "Maxine," while in 1909 his "Castle Walk" was the envy of every young man in town.
His social activities, of course, interfered to some extent with his business, but then he had worked hard at wholesale hardware for twenty-five years and felt that he could soon hand it on to his son, Roscoe, who had recently graduated from Harvard.
He and his son were, in fact, often mistaken for each other. This pleased Benjamin--he soon forgot the insidious fear which had come over him on his return from the Spanish-American War, and grew to take a naive pleasure in his appearance. There was only one fly in the delicious ointment--he hated to appear in public with his wife. Hildegarde was almost fifty, and the sight of her made him feel absurd....
One September day in 1910--a few years after Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware, had been handed over to young Roscoe Button—a man, apparently about twenty years old, entered himself as a freshman at Harvard University in Cambridge. He did not make the mistake of announcing that he would never see fifty again, nor did he mention the fact that his son had been graduated from the same institution ten years before.
He was admitted, and almost immediately attained a prominent position in the class, partly because he seemed a little older than the other freshmen, whose average age was about eighteen.
But his success was largely due to the fact that in the football game with Yale he played so brilliantly, with so much dash and with such a cold, remorseless anger that he scored seven touchdowns and fourteen field goals for Harvard, and caused one entire eleven of Yale men to be carried singly from the field, unconscious. He was the most celebrated man in college.
Strange to say, in his third or junior year he was scarcely able to "make" the team. The coaches said that he had lost weight, and it seemed to the more observant among them that he was not quite as tall as before. He made no touchdowns--indeed, he was retained on the team chiefly in hope that his enormous reputation would bring terror and disorganization to the Yale team.
In his senior year he did not make the team at all. He had grown so slight and frail that one day he was taken by some sophomores for a freshman, an incident which humiliated him terribly. He became known as something of a prodigy--a senior who was surely no more than sixteen--and he was often shocked at the worldliness of some of his classmates. His studies seemed harder to him--he felt that they were too advanced. He had heard his classmates speak of St. Midas's, the famous preparatory school, at which so many of them had prepared for college, and he determined after his graduation to enter himself at St. Midas's, where the sheltered life among boys his own size would be more congenial to him.
Upon his graduation in 1914 he went home to Baltimore with his Harvard diploma in his pocket. Hildegarde was now residing in Italy, so Benjamin went to live with his son, Roscoe. But though he was welcomed in a general way there was obviously no heartiness in Roscoe's feeling toward him--there was even perceptible a tendency on his son's part to think that Benjamin, as he moped about the house in adolescent mooniness, was somewhat in the way. Roscoe was married now and
prominent in Baltimore life, and he wanted no scandal to creep out in connection with his family.
Benjamin, no longer persona grata with the debutantes and younger college set, found himself left much done, except for the companionship of three or four fifteen-year-old boys in the neighborhood. His idea of going to St. Midas's school recurred to him.
"Say," he said to Roscoe one day, "I've told you over and over that I want to go to prep, school."
"Well, go, then," replied Roscoe shortly. The matter was distasteful to him, and he wished to avoid a discussion.
"I can't go alone," said Benjamin helplessly. "You'll have to enter me and take me up there."
"I haven't got time," declared Roscoe abruptly. His eyes narrowed and he looked uneasily at his father. "As a matter of fact," he added, "you'd better not go on with this business much longer. You better pull up short. You better--you better"--he paused and his face crimsoned as he sought for words--"you better turn right around and start back the other way. This has gone too far to be a joke. It isn't funny any longer. You--you behave yourself!"
Benjamin looked at him, on the verge of tears.
"And another thing," continued Roscoe, "when visitors are in the house I want you to call me 'Uncle'--not 'Roscoe,' but 'Uncle,' do you understand? It looks absurd for a boy of fifteen to call me by my
first name. Perhaps you'd better call me 'Uncle' all the time, so you'll get used to it."
With a harsh look at his father, Roscoe turned away....
At the termination of this interview, Benjamin wandered dismally upstairs and stared at himself in the mirror. He had not shaved for three months, but he could find nothing on his face but a faint white
down with which it seemed unnecessary to meddle. When he had first come home from Harvard, Roscoe had approached him with the proposition that he should wear eye-glasses and imitation whiskers glued to his cheeks, and it had seemed for a moment that the farce of his early years was to be repeated. But whiskers had itched and made him ashamed. He wept and Roscoe had reluctantly relented.
Benjamin opened a book of boys' stories, The Boy Scouts in Bimini Bay, and began to read. But he found himself thinking persistently about the war. America had joined the Allied cause during the
preceding month, and Benjamin wanted to enlist, but, alas, sixteen was the minimum age, and he did not look that old. His true age, which was fifty-seven, would have disqualified him, anyway.
There was a knock at his door, and the butler appeared with a letter bearing a large official legend in the corner and addressed to Mr. Benjamin Button. Benjamin tore it open eagerly, and read the enclosure with delight. It informed him that many reserve officers who had served in the Spanish-American War were being called back into service with a higher rank, and it enclosed his commission as brigadier-general in the United States army with orders to report immediately.
Benjamin jumped to his feet fairly quivering with enthusiasm. This was what he had wanted. He seized his cap, and ten minutes later he had entered a large tailoring establishment on Charles Street, and asked in his uncertain treble to be measured for a uniform.
"Want to play soldier, sonny?" demanded a clerk casually.
Benjamin flushed. "Say! Never mind what I want!" he retorted angrily. "My name's Button and I live on Mt. Vernon Place, so you know I'm good for it."
"Well," admitted the clerk hesitantly, "if you're not, I guess your daddy is, all right."
Benjamin was measured, and a week later his uniform was completed. He had difficulty in obtaining the proper general's insignia because the dealer kept insisting to Benjamin that a nice V.W.C.A. badge would look just as well and be much more fun to play with.
Saying nothing to Roscoe, he left the house one night and proceeded by train to Camp Mosby, in South Carolina, where he was to command an infantry brigade. On a sultry April day he approached the entrance to the camp, paid off the taxicab which had brought him from the station, and turned to the sentry on guard.
"Get some one to handle my luggage!" he said briskly.
The sentry eyed him reproachfully. "Say," he remarked, "where you goin' with the general's duds, sonny?"
Benjamin, veteran of the Spanish-American War, whirled upon him with
fire in his eye, but with, alas, a changing treble voice.
"Come to attention!" he tried to thunder; he paused for breath—then suddenly he saw the sentry snap his heels together and bring his rifle to the present. Benjamin concealed a smile of gratification, but when he glanced around his smile faded. It was not he who had inspired obedience, but an imposing artillery colonel who was approaching on horseback.
"Colonel!" called Benjamin shrilly.
The colonel came up, drew rein, and looked coolly down at him with a twinkle in his eyes. "Whose little boy are you?" he demanded kindly.
"I'll soon darn well show you whose little boy I am!" retorted Benjamin in a ferocious voice. "Get down off that horse!"
The colonel roared with laughter.
"You want him, eh, general?"
"Here!" cried Benjamin desperately. "Read this." And he thrust hiscommission toward the colonel. The colonel read it, his eyes popping from their sockets. "Where'd you get this?" he demanded, slipping the document into his own pocket. "I got it from the Government, as you'll soon find out!" "You come along with me," said the colonel with a peculiar look. "We'll go up to headquarters and talk this over. Come along." The colonel turned and began walking his horse in the direction of headquarters. There was nothing for Benjamin to do but follow with as much dignity as possible--meanwhile promising himself a stern revenge. But this revenge did not materialize. Two days later,
however, his son Roscoe materialized from Baltimore, hot and cross from a hasty trip, and escorted the weeping general, sans uniform, back to his home.
In 1920 Roscoe Button's first child was born. During the attendant festivities, however, no one thought it "the thing" to mention, that the little grubby boy, apparently about ten years of age who played around the house with lead soldiers and a miniature circus, was the new baby's own grandfather.
No one disliked the little boy whose fresh, cheerful face was crossed with just a hint of sadness, but to Roscoe Button his presence was a source of torment. In the idiom of his generation Roscoe did not
consider the matter "efficient." It seemed to him that his father, in refusing to look sixty, had not behaved like a "red-blooded he-man"--this was Roscoe's favorite expression--but in a curious and
perverse manner. Indeed, to think about the matter for as much as a half an hour drove him to the edge of insanity. Roscoe believed that "live wires" should keep young, but carrying it out on such a scale was--was--was inefficient. And there Roscoe rested.
Five years later Roscoe's little boy had grown old enough to play childish games with little Benjamin under the supervision of the same nurse. Roscoe took them both to kindergarten on the same day, and
Benjamin found that playing with little strips of colored paper, making mats and chains and curious and beautiful designs, was the most fascinating game in the world. Once he was bad and had to stand in the corner--then he cried--but for the most part there were gay hours in the cheerful room, with the sunlight coming in the windows and Miss Bailey's kind hand resting for a moment now and then in his tousled hair.
Roscoe's son moved up into the first grade after a year, but Benjamin stayed on in the kindergarten. He was very happy. Sometimes when other tots talked about what they would do when they grew up a shadow would cross his little face as if in a dim, childish way he realized that those were things in which he was never to share.
The days flowed on in monotonous content. He went back a third year to the kindergarten, but he was too little now to understand what the bright shining strips of paper were for. He cried because the other boys were bigger than he, and he was afraid of them. The teacher talked to him, but though he tried to understand he could not understand at all.
He was taken from the kindergarten. His nurse, Nana, in her starched gingham dress, became the center of his tiny world. On bright days they walked in the park; Nana would point at a great gray monster and say "elephant," and Benjamin would say it after her, and when he was being undressed for bed that night he would say it over and over aloud to her: "Elyphant, elyphant, elyphant." Sometimes Nana let him jump on the bed, which was fun, because if you sat down exactly right it would bounce you up on your feet again, and if you said "Ah" for a long time while you jumped you got a very pleasing broken vocal effect.
He loved to take a big cane from the hat-rack and go around hitting chairs and tables with it and saying: "Fight, fight, fight." When there were people there the old ladies would cluck at him, which
interested him, and the young ladies would try to kiss him, which he submitted to with mild boredom. And when the long day was done at five o'clock he would go upstairs with Nana and be fed on oatmeal and nice soft mushy foods with a spoon.
There were no troublesome memories in his childish sleep; no token came to him of his brave days at college, of the glittering years when he flustered the hearts of many girls. There were only the white, safe walls of his crib and Nana and a man who came to see him sometimes, and a great big orange ball that Nana pointed at just before his twilight bed hour and called "sun." When the sun went his eyes were sleepy--there were no dreams, no dreams to haunt him.
The past--the wild charge at the head of his men up San Juan Hill; the first years of his marriage when he worked late into the summer dusk down in the busy city for young Hildegarde whom he loved; the days before that when he sat smoking far into the night in the gloomy old Button house on Monroe Street with his grandfather-all these had faded like unsubstantial dreams from his mind as though they had never been. He did not remember.
He did not remember clearly whether the milk was warm or cool at his last feeding or how the days passed--there was only his crib and Nana's familiar presence. And then he remembered nothing. When he was hungry he cried--that was all. Through the noons and nights he breathed and over him there were soft mumblings and murmurings that he scarcely heard, and faintly differentiated smells, and light and darkness.
Then it was all dark, and his white crib and the dim faces that moved above him, and the warm sweet aroma of the milk, faded out altogether from his mind.
Fitzgerald's short story: Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 08:31