Paradise Lost: A Life of F Scott Fitzgerald

61bRIxhVnDLJay Parini at Literary Review:

The problem with Fitzgerald has never been the work; it’s been the writing about him. The standard biography for some time has been Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, a 1981 study by Matthew J Bruccoli. It’s a reliable and boring compilation of facts, not as well written as the first major assessment of the life and work, The Far Side of Paradiseby Arthur Mizener (1951). Any number of lives of Fitzgerald have appeared over the decades, but I’ve not found them satisfying, in large part because they tend to portray the author as a spokesman for the so-called Jazz Age, a drunken playboy with unresolved aspirations who embodies the empty morality of the Lost Generation. One got more by reading memoirs of the period, such as Malcolm Cowley’s haunting Exile’s Return (1934), which recalls well-known American authors in Paris in the 1920s, a kind of golden age that continues to inspire young American writers to travel abroad to seek their imaginative fortunes. Fitzgerald was hardly celebrating the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Instead, he offered a rueful and remorseless critique of that world, however much he adored it.

Fitzgerald was a good Catholic boy by training, a young man who read the Gospels and understood (though he resisted the notion, almost successfully) that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter heaven. His wealth-bedazzled characters, including Jay Gatsby, Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise and Gordon Sterrett in ‘May Day’, that incomparable early masterpiece of short fiction, find little pleasure in their lives. They have swallowed a notion of the American Dream that has turned into a kaleidoscopic fantasy which tantalises but never quite resolves into a steady image. There is no fun in their yearning for something they can’t possess and that nobody can ever have.

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