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This Side of Paradise is the debut novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Published in 1920, and taking its title from a line of the Rupert Brooke poem Tiare Tahiti, the book examines the lives and morality of post-World War I youth. Its protagonist, Amory Blaine, is an attractive Princeton Universitymarker student who dabbles in literature and has the book's theme of love warped by greed and status-seeking.

Background

In the summer of 1919, 22-year-old Fitzgerald broke up with the girl he had been courting, Zelda Sayre. After being drunk for much of the summer he returned to St. Paul, Minnesota, where his family lived, to complete the novel, hoping that if he became a successful novelist he could win Zelda back. While at Princeton, Fitzgerald had written an unpublished novel called The Romantic Egotist and ultimately 80 pages of the typescript of this earlier work ended up in This Side of Paradise.

On September 4, 1919, Fitzgerald gave the manuscript to a friend to deliver to Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Charles Scribner's Sons in New York. The book was nearly rejected by the editors at Scribners, but Perkins insisted, and on September 16 it was officially accepted. Fitzgerald begged for early publication—convinced that he would become a celebrity and impress Zelda—but was told that the novel would have to wait until the spring. Nevertheless, upon the acceptance of his novel for publication he went and visited Zelda and they resumed their courtship. His success imminent, she agreed to marry him.

Publication

This Side of Paradise was published on March 26, 1920 with a first printing of 3,000 copies. The initial printing sold out in three days, confirming his prediction of overnight fame. On March 30, four days after publication and one day after selling out the first printing, Scott wired for Zelda to come to New York and get married that weekend. Barely a week after publication, Zelda and Scott married in New York on April 3, 1920.

The book went through 12 printings in 1920 and 1921, for a total of 49,075 copies. The novel itself did not provide a huge income for Fitzgerald. Copies sold for $1.75 for which he earned 10 percent on the first 5,000 copies and 15 percent beyond that. In total, in 1920 he earned $6,200 from the book. Its success, however, helped the now-famous Fitzgerald earn much higher rates for his short stories.

Plot summary

This book is written in three parts.

"Book One: The Romantic Egotist"—the novel centers on Amory Blaine, a young Midwesterner who, convinced that he has an exceptionally promising future, attends boarding school and later Princeton Universitymarker. He leaves behind in the Midwest his eccentric mother Beatrice and a priest who was a close family friend, Monsignor Darcy. At Princeton he falls in love with Isabelle Borgé, and despite his efforts to court her, he is rejected.

"Interlude"—Following their break-up, Amory is shipped overseas, to serve in the army in World War I. Fitzgerald had been in the army himself, but the war ended while he was still stationed on Long Island. Amory's experiences in the war are not described, other than to say later in the book that he was a bayonet instructor.

"Book Two: The Education of a Personage"—After the war, Amory Blaine falls in love with a New York debutante named Rosalind Connage. Because he is poor, however, this relationship collapses as well; Rosalind decides to marry a wealthy man instead. A devastated Amory, is further crushed to learn that his mentor Monsignor Darcy has died. The book ends with Amory's iconic lament "I know myself, but that is all-"

Characters

Most of the characters are drawn directly from Fitzgerald's own life:
  • Amory Blaine—the protagonist of the book, is clearly based on Fitzgerald. Both are from the Midwest, attended Princeton, had a failed romance with a debutante, served in the army, then had a failed romance with a second debutante (though after This Side of Paradise's success, Scott won back Zelda).
  • Beatrice Blaine—Blaine's mother was actually based on the mother of one of Fitzgeralds' friends, rather than his own.
  • Isabelle Borgé—Amory Blaine's first love is based on Scott's first love, the Chicago debutante Ginevra King.
  • Monsignor Darcy—Blaine's spiritual mentor is based on a Monsignor Fay whom Fitzgerald was close to from Minneapolismarker.
  • Rosalind Connage—Amory Blaine's second love is based on Scott's second love, Zelda Sayre. Unlike Zelda, Rosalind was from New York. Rosalind is also partially based on the character Beatrice Normandy in H.G. Wells' novel Tono-Bungay.
  • Thomas Parke D'Invilliers—one of Blaine's close friends (also the fictitious author of the poem at the start of The Great Gatsby) was based on Fitzgerald's friend and classmate, the poet John Peale Bishop.


Style

This Side of Paradise blends different styles of writing: at times a fictional narrative, at times free verse, sometimes narrative drama, interspersed with letters and poems from Amory. In fact the novel's odd blend of styles was the result of Fitzgerald cobbling his earlier attempt at a novel The Romantic Egotist together with assorted short stories and poems that he composed, but never published.

Critical reception

The book's critical success was driven in part by the enthusiasm of reviewers. Burton Rascoe of the Chicago Tribune wrote that "it bears the impress, it seems to me, of genius. It is the only adequate study that we have had of the contemporary American in adolescence and young manhood." H. L. Mencken wrote that This Side of Paradise was the "best American novel that I have seen of late."

One reader who was not entirely pleased, however, was John Grier Hibben, the President of Princeton University: "I cannot bear to think that our young men are merely living four years in a country club and spending their lives wholly in a spirit of calculation and snobbishness."

Notes

References



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