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[450] Flappers and Philosophers – F. Scott Fitzgerald

In this classic collection of short stories, Fitzgerald gives us a display of humanity at its frothiest, gaudiest, and most poignant. Although his critical reputation primarily rests upon his novels—especially The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, those novels were always interwoven with the short stories he was writing simultaneously. “Winter Dreams” is most noticeably parallel to Gatsby. Like so many Fitzgerald heroes, Dexter Green in the story makes the mistake of linking his expectations and aspirations to be rich, beautiful and fickle woman who “simply made men conscious to the highest degree of her physicial loveliness” and who was “entertained only by the gratification of her desires.” In the end her betrayal kills his capacity for hope and more sadly “the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion.”

Following a similar arc but more scathing is “Cut-glass Bowl”, in which the heroine heroine, Evylyn Piper, is gifted (by an old flame) the titled present that is “as hard as (she is) and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through.” Although married with two children, she still toys with one of her male playthings. Her marriage is empty; she’s morally bankrupt. Her infidelity ruins her husband. Her prized glass bowl cuts her daughter’s finger, which later is amputated. Her son perishes in the war. The story attends the decay and fall of a former beauty’s happiness and life.

Although Fitzgerald’s stories often share the root in ambition, hope, (youthful) illusion and romance, but almost unfailingly these ideals and aspirations are curbed by a sharp sense of irony. “The Ice Palace” us such symbolic tale of a Southern belle, Sally carol, chilled by life in the frozen North. The coldness is not merely climactical as it is social, for the women whom she encounters in the North are just despicable. It ends with the breaking of her engagement, and hightailing back to Georgia, where she belongs.

The one story I resonate with the most is “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”, a dark tragicomedy about the bankruptcy of the American dream, its destructiveness and delusions. The allegorically named Washington family are the richest and most powerful in the world; their children invite poorer friends from school to visit who are then murdered to protect the secret of the Washington’s wealth. How amazingly relevant this story is if you look at the fraudulent discretion and greed behind Wall Street and corporate America in the present.

So wickedly funny, and thus warrants many re-reads, is “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”: Bernice has a reputation of not being cut in on. Consider her enviable position in society, she has no clue why she doesn’t get any attention. Some pointers on etiquette from her cousin, who “had very few of the qualities which Bernice considered appropriately feminine” make her a huge star at the balls. That the young man who had had a hot for her cousin shifted his attention to her instead has provoked a malicious jealousy in Marjorie, who traps her into bobbing her hair (which is quote unquote ugly as sin). The outrageous trap by which Marjorie had made her a fool leads to this incredible revenge that is both funny and judicial.

As the stories have shown in this collection, they form the backbone of Fitzgerald’s longer works, amplifying the novels and playing out variations of characteristic motifs. Permeated in these tales is a sense of loss and regret. The stories read like a series of elegiac farewells to lost youth and lost opportunities.

352 pp. Penguin UK. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


5 Responses

  1. I’ve read Bernice Bobs Her Hair in a separate collection. I liked the almost cruel humor SF indulges in… the rest of these stories sound fascinating too.

  2. This book is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve heard good things about “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” but don’t know if I’ve ever read it. I definitely need to pick this up.

  3. […] [450] Flappers and Philosophers – F. Scott Fitzgerald […]

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