Books

So, You Liked The Great Gatsby – What’s Next?

The Great GatsbyBy Jack Callahan

Was The Great Gatsby  your introduction to the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald? Did you like it so much that you want to read more by the author, and learn more about his infamous life and legendary friends? A prolific writer born in 1896, writing much of his work during the 1920s, Fitzgerald has gained considerably in popularity since his untimely death in 1940. A severe alcoholic, loving father, terrible party guest, brilliant writer, world traveler, Fitzgerald’s was a complicated life that comes into clearer focus the more you read of his work and the impressions he left on his peers. Below is a list of where to look next to cure your Gatsby hangover.

Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald 1934

The last novel Fitzgerald completed in his lifetime, Tender is the Night is the story of Dick and Nicole Diver, wealthy American expatriates who live in the South of France and cultivate an eclectic circle of friends including movie stars and war heroes. But mental instability abounds in the Diver home, and when the group makes the trip from the Riviera to Paris their façade of control falters, and Fitzgerald perfectly communicates the pain of people who have lost everything. Completed in 1934, Fitzgerald is at the height of his power in Tender is the Night, taking the skills he’d honed in The Great Gatsby and applying them to a much more expansive novel.

Everybody Was So Young, Amanda Vaill, 1999

The nonfiction supplement to Tender is the Night is Amanda Vaill’s brilliant biography, Everybody Was So Young. Vaill follows the American couple Gerald and Sara Murphy from their childhood summers in the Hamptons to their marriage and eventual expatriation to the South of France. Their home, Villa America, on the Cap d’Antibes, was the inspiration for Tender is the Night, where, along with the Fitzgeralds, the guests included Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Archibald and Ada MacLeish, Pablo Picasso, Dorothy Parker, and Sergei Diaghilev. Using an amalgamation of characteristics from the Murphys, as well as from his own marriage, to create Dick and Nicole Diver, Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night captures the incubated, creative environment fostered by the Murphy’s wherever they went. In her own way, Vaill captures that same motif just as vividly. As the center of a group of friends who produced some of the greatest art of the 20th century, the Murphys’ story is one of breadth and depth, and one that Vaill handles with immense skill.

Flappers and Philosophers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920

After the success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920, Fitzgerald published his first collection of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers, the same year. Many of the themes of Fitzgerald’s later work can be seen in these early stories, such as the carelessness of the wealthy, the adventurous but conniving young protagonist, and excess of every kind. Notable stories in the collection include “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” and “The Ice Palace.”

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway, 1964

A close friend of Fitzgerald throughout their time living in France, Hemingway recounts the beginning of their friendship in this memoir of his early years in Paris. While the book has a bit of revisionist history in it, the anecdotes about Fitzgerald are highly entertaining. One such recollection details an ill-fated trip Hemingway, at that point an unknown, took with the famous Fitzgerald to retrieve his car from Dijon. Between the rain and the drinking, Fitzgerald ends the trip in a hotel room, overdramatically fearing for his life due to a cold. Another story, of a more sensitive nature, chronicles Fitzgerald’s reservations about his adequacy in the bedroom, which Hemingway remedies with a trip to the Louvre’s classical sculpture exhibit, where he shows the self-critical Fitzgerald that it wasn’t his equipment that was failing him.

Notable Fitzgerald Short Stories:

“The Offshore Pirate,” 1921

The first story in the Flappers and Philosophers collection, “The Offshore Pirate” involves a runaway musician and jewel thief who kidnaps New York’s most promising socialite aboard her yacht anchored off Florida. And, of course, they fall in love.

“Babylon Revisited,” 1931

Written at the end of the Jazz Age, “Babylon Revisited” is about the repercussions of the excess of the 1920’s. Charlie Wales is sober now and living on a substantially tighter budget after the stock market crash of 1929. When he returns to Paris, it has lost its old charm and excitement.

“May Day,” 1920

Fitzgerald’s story “May Day” crosses into novella territory, and is one of his most underappreciated works. It’s the first real crystallization of the Jazz Age in the author’s work, where the socialites are both beautiful and shallow, and the men are distinguished and dissolute. In “May Day,” Fitzgerald’s genius first shows itself in the writer’s ability to hold two contrasting ideas in the same character, in the same mind.

“Winter Dreams,” 1922

Described to his longtime editor Maxwell Perkins, “Winter Dreams” is “a sort of first draft of the Gatsby idea.” A middle class boy in Minnesota, Dexter Green works as a caddy at the local country club, where he aspires to get the attention of the wealthy young women of the club. The son of the second most profitable grocer in the town, he hasn’t a chance. But things appear to be different when Dexter returns home years later after striking it rich in New York City.

One to skip:

The Beautiful and the Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1922

Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and the Damned, is a dense book. All of the aspiration and intellectualism of This Side of Paradise is there, but with an older protagonist, it doesn’t ring as true. Fitzgerald relies a bit to heavily on his early penchant for switching back and forth between straight prose and a theatrical structure, and the characters are very wrapped up in what they are going to do, rather than what they are doing in the moment. Whatever shift in Fitzgerald’s material led to the entrepreneurial work ethic of Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, Dick Diver, and even Charlie Wales in later books, readers should be thankful for it. The leisurely lifestyle of his first two books is hard to get through, especially in The Beautiful and the Damned, since Anthony Patch is no Amory Blaine.   

Comments

  1. Magarita says:

    I disagree that readers should skip The Beautiful and Damned. I would definitely save it for last on any Fitzgerald list (except perhaps his short stories or the unfinished Last Tycoon); however, it has its merits, which should not simply be passed over due to its difficult nature. While certainly not everyone, Ftzgerald die-hards included, will be able to see it, there is a unique honesty and rawness of feeling in this novel, somewhat lacking in his other work, and not unlike Zelda’s own novel. Personally, I found it very beautiful and haunting. Yes, it is unsatisfying and flawed, but isn’t that kind of the point (as the title would suggest)? Find beauty in the imperfections.