Literary Shelf

The Fitzgerald Magic

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a remarkably gifted novelist, a writer par excellence with his very own indelible stamp of dainty luminosity.

Fitzgerald’s literary magic was not just rooted in his delectable prose, or his amazing range and versatility, but it also dwelled in his poetic imagination, dazzling vision and seemingly effortless —and, also transcendental — craftsmanship.

Fitzgerald's novels, and short stories, possess a sparkling depth, and an amplified insight into the human condition — a sense of pure timelessness and luster that transcends the bounds of fiction. Reason: they transform external boundaries as dramatically and thoroughly as the realm within them.

Fitzgerald reflected the Jazz Age, with shrewd observation and humor, through his stories. Take for instance, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s classic American novel, which purposefully and seriously X-rays the very basis of aspiration in a typically American setting. It not only describes the US leitmotif of innate charm, excessive attention, and a seat of festivities, but also the grotesque fusion of incongruities: an indispensable part of the American illusion.

Both cock-a-hoop and tragic, The Great Gatsby is replete with the sensibility, or whimsical imagery, and simple poignancy of Fitzgerald’s psychological observation: a meanness of spirit, aloofness, and absence of loyalties. The relevance of the novel is timeless: of the conflict between spirituality and mindful awareness caught in the whirlpool of business and commercial life. It’s a theme that seems to have "inspired" Hollywood just as much as India’s Bollywood movies, for ages, not to speak of old and new TV soap operas and/or our never-ending, clichéd serials.

The Great Gatsby is more of a long short story. It tells the saga of Jay Gatsby, who finds Long Island a fascinating but dangerous playground. Gatsby’s tale, in reality, is told by Nick Carraway, beyond the realms of vague and complex generalizations: of Gatsby who knows how to get things done, thanks to his link with the underworld. Gatsby has no friends, only business associates. And, he is uncompromising in his love for Daisy too, who is married to Tom Buchanan but was engaged to Gatsby earlier. The inevitable that follows is incidental. Violence takes its toll, all right, but what is remarkable is Fitzgerald’s perfect handling of his narrative’s potent overtones, juxtaposed with its primary element — the decay of souls.

This ain’t all. If patient hopefulness, in the midst of known, existing conditions, animates The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s crafty finesse is realized with both economy and restraint vis-à-vis his characters’ insensate selfishness, mordant irony, pathos, and loveliness, without flappers: to hurt romantics who are desperately trying to seek that other side of paradise.

Born on September 24, 1896, in St Paul, Minnesota, Fitzgerald was a brave romantic. After having been outplayed at football in school, he kept trying — mentally. Soon, he began to look at writing as a pathway to making one’s journey from the periphery into the centre of things. He wrote one of his early stories about a boy like himself, who won a game for his team almost single-handedly. In the course of time, he began to write plays, even directing them, and taking the lead roles.

At 19, Fitzgerald went to Princeton. He met a beauty, Ginevra King, and fell madly in love with her. He never quite forgot her. She lives in his novels: as Judy Jones in Winter Dreams, Isabelle in This Side of Paradise, and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.

Princeton was no bed of roses, and thanks to his poor grades, Fitzgerald dropped out. He enlisted in the US Army (1917), and reported for training under Dwight D. Eisenhower. In three months, he wrote the novel, The Romantic Egotist, with “armed” intent. The novel was rejected. He rewrote the novel, as he fell again in love, this time with Zelda, who spurned him. Yet, he would not give up. He soldiered on and sent his new manuscript, yet again, and after two weeks, This Side… was accepted for publication. 

Destiny was Manifest

Fitzgerald wrote: “I paid off my terrible small debts, bought a suit, and woke up every morning with a world of ineffable top-loftiness and promise…” It came out all right. But, it came out all right for a different person. Here he was: a man with the jingle of money in his pocket who married the girl, Zelda, he loved a year later, and always cherished an abiding distrust, or animosity towards the leisure class — not with the conviction of a revolutionary, but with the smoldering hatred of a peasant. It wasn’t long before Fitzgerald embarked on his famous whirlwind life — spending the money he didn’t have, hosting all-night parties, and luxuriating in alcohol.

Alcohol was, in a way, his undoing. Yet, his elegance found its own dainty novelty of expression, breathing new life into his work. Reason enough why Fitzgerald’s work keeps finding new audiences, thanks to its enduring, elusive enchantment, and power of romantic imagination that transfigures its characters and settings. Yet, at the time of his death — December 21, 1940 — Fitzgerald’s books were all in stock, sans orders. Today, more and more — in fact, millions —copies of his books have been cumulatively sold than at any other time.

Fitzgerald once said, “My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence: ‘An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward’.” He was prophetic in the sense that he fulfilled his ideal.

So, what makes Fitzgerald so special you may well ask. Himself. He never wrote stories that were formulaic. They were honest stories. As he himself wrote: “As soon as I feel I am writing to a cheap specification, my pen freezes and my talent vanishes over the hill.”

As a novelist, Fitzgerald supplemented his not-so-good income with magazine work. He became identified with the Saturday Evening Post, where he published 65 stories, almost 40 per cent of his output. His endings were not always happy. His fiction was also time-haunted, a structure which was ironically appropriate to his psyche no less. You could see Fitzgerald living in his stories, notwithstanding the fact that two of his masterpieces, May Day and The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, are too realistic, even temporal, in their overall chemistry. The best part, however, is: Fitzgerald was his own material. He never tried to be experimental, or avant-garde. This was his unbeatable genius, an infinite capacity to convey with amazing finesse.

Fitzgerald’s themes — success and failure, idealism and disillusionment, time and mutability — also overlap in his stories. They reveal his delicate flair for history. No small wonder why, as a brilliant social historian, Fitzgerald evokes the rhythms of the Jazz Age and the Depression, with a sense of time, and of being just there… everywhere. He wrote about the Jazz Age as “an age of miracles... art… excess… satire.

Action is character, said Fitzgerald. Yet, he believed he was a failure. He was wrong. Literature is what lasts.

His lively repertoire of work compels complete recognition for his sublime genius — a writer who was in a genre of his own for yesterday, today, and tomorrow   


More by :  Rajgopal Nidamboor

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