This Side Of Paradise

this side of paradise

Published in 1920 This Side of Paradise charts the coming of age of Amory Blaine, born on a spring day in 1896.

I was going to start by saying that it begins with his being a snot of a little boy but I realised that wouldn’t be very fair because he just is what he is. And that’s an only child bought up by his mother, Beatrice, ‘whose youth passed in Renaissance glory’ and is now ‘versed in the latest gossip of the Older Roman Families’ her husband Stephen is sometimes in the background but it’s Amory who is her companion. He is absurdly handsome and his mother parades him before her friends ‘she fed him sections of the Fêtes galantes before he was ten; at eleven he could talk glibly, if rather reminiscently, of Brahms and Mozart and Beethoven.’  Beatrice is charming and beautiful and delicate with a body that’s a mass of frailties and a soul to match, ‘next to doctors, priests were her favourite sport.’ She wafts around until she just wafts away when Amory decides he wants to go to school.

‘Amory wondered how people could fail to notice that he was a boy marked for glory, and when faces of the throng turned towards him and ambiguous eyes stared into his, he assumed the most romantic of expressions and walked on the air cushions that lie on the asphalts of fortune.’

He’s conceited and arrogant and desperately lonely and unhappy, but he reads voraciously and I really enjoyed the way his life is chronicled by his reading; Dickens when ‘he thought he really should read better stuff’ or especially in times of depression when he delves into ‘the misty side streets of literature’! Anyway all these years are dealt with in the first chapter and in the second he arrives at Princeton. All alone with no reputation to hinder him he makes a group of friends through a shared love of literature. They read, write, proclaim poetry and discuss: Shaw, Wilde, Swinburne, Chesterton, Yeats – his ideas are in tune with life, he’s in love and he’s happy.

But change is coming for them all. In his final year college days are punctuated with drill practice that slowly rubs away the basketball lines, as they prepare to be sent to France. Discussions about Germany and the Bolshevik revolution are heightened by their reading and understanding of Tolstoy and Whitman while their passionate following of Rupert Brooke leads to talk of heroic death as well as pacifism. Amongst their shaggy haired, left wing heroes is the poet and activist Edward Carpenter, who is one of my own so I was both amazed and delighted!

Part 2 opens after the war with a (I thought very funny) Noel Cowardesque drama ‘The Debutante’. Rosalind, the sister of one of Amory’s friends is preparing for her coming out ball. It’s old school and old money. For Amory now an aspiring writer, a desperate sense of disillusion sets in, his money has gone, the love of his life has left him for the security of old school money (just as Daisy Miller left Jay Gatsby for Tom Buchanan) and friends have died in the war or disappeared into another life, even his admiration for Rupert Brooke, ‘just a dead Englishman’ has gone. It’s June 1919 he feels restless and uneasy and sees this restlessness reflected in his generation, where were they to find their heroes? ‘he rather longed for death to roll over his generation’. So he goes on a complete bender only stopped by the ‘thirsty-first’ of prohibition.

Monsignor Darcy, a friend of his mother, has been his mentor throughout, and he turns to him for help, but instead meets Eleanor who after a too wild winter of excess F Scott Fitzgeraldin Baltimore has been sent to her Grandfather in Maryland. She is a mirror image of Amory, full of poetry and discontent . Unlike Rosalind she questions the stupidity and waste of her life when she isn’t allowed to do anything ‘here am I with the brains to do everything, yet tied to the sinking ship of future matrimony’. Well we don’t find out what happens to Eleanor but I hope she goes off and does something majestic. For Amory it’s the beginning of his salvation as he works through his disillusion. He realises that the most important thing he has been given by Monsignor Darcy and his friends is security and this is what he wants to be able to provide for others. But first we need to question the status quo, as long as we accept without question, nothing will change.

His ideas are still in a riot but ‘I know myself’ he cries ‘but that is all’, he doesn’t know where he’s going with his life but it’s full of hope.

 

25 thoughts on “This Side Of Paradise

  1. Sounds good, and maybe a bit autobiographical? One I clearly missed in my brief love affair with Fitzgerald back in the Dark Ages! I must read it some time, but I have Tender is the Night coming up soon, so it’ll have to join the queue… 🙂

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  2. You know, I have a slightly odd relationship with Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby is such a perfect book that I’ve never quite been able to bring myself to read anything else by him, just in case it does live up to expectations! (It’s crazy, I know.) That said, you’re making a very good case for this, especially given all the literary references.

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    1. I wanted to read this because I thought it would lay the foundations for his other writing and give a reason for the restlessness he saw in his generation, and I think it did. I kept thinking of the characters in TGG and how they were a part of this world too – does it help to explain Gatsby? In a way it did. I’m keen to read more now!

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    1. I mentioned that part 2 opens with a play, but what I didn’t say (wanted to but didn’t quite know how to without an essay) is that it’s written in such an imaginative way, letters, poems, third person, first person, he really mixes it up which I wan’t expecting and really enjoyed!

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  3. Well, I never got past Gatsby either, but for the opposite reasons – it almost put me off Fitzgerald for life! I say almost because myself, FictionFan and a few others intend reading Tender is the Night and posting our reviews on the same day (in October). Are you part of that group, Jane? Forgive me if so – my memory is very addled today! If not, it would be great to have you join in!

    But now to the key point I want to make here. Being of addled brain, I read your review without noticing that this was a book written by Fitzgerald. (I thought the title had a familiar ring to it! 😂) And you had me totally hooked! This sounds a great book! I know Rose and I share similar views of Gatsby: perhaps this is the book to win us round!

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    1. I’m not part of that group Sandra, but I could be! I wanted to read this because it’s at the very beginning of the jazz age and Tender is the Night is at the end isn’t it, so that would be a neat book-end.
      If I had to choose one thing about Amory Blaine that kept me with him it would be that he’s so literary and that was fun, that books are so important to him and mirror how he’s feeling was such a welcome surprise!

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      1. Yes, TitN was published in 1934 – 14 years after TSoP so a perfect bookend! I do hope you will join us, Jane. The suggested date for posting our thoughts is October 26th. We did this with The Go-Between not so long ago and it proved a stimulating way to compare our experiences. The more you reveal, the keener I am to read this one first. The literary references and the amalgam of approaches sounds exciting! Can I squeeze it in somewhere…. Or shuffle something else back….? The dilemmas of an over-scheduled reader! 😂

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    1. It’s his first novel so I think a good place to start, I notice that one of Amory’s friends at college is the character that provides the opening poem in The Great Gatsby so maybe they’re all linked which I think would be really fun.

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  4. Jane, there’s no way you would be a gatecrasher! It’s an open and informal arrangement and I can speak for FictionFan I’m sure in saying that we would be happy to have you join in. No need to commit, just read the book and write your thoughts on it ready to post on Oct 26th or thereabouts. If you don’t feel like posting nearer the time, that’s fine but I always enjoy your perceptive reviews so I’m confident you will have something to add 😊 You can always read our posts first! 😄 I’ll leave it with you 😊

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    1. I think so because I think it might set the scene for the next ones – The Great Gatsby opens with a poem by one of Amory’s friends from college, so I’m hoping for some more links!

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