This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part XL
Every day on Daily Readers' Book Club we offer an article length section of a book until that book is done. We are currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. This book will have 106 parts.
FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE TERM "PERSONAGE"
Monsignor Darcy invited Amory up to the Stuart palace on the Hudson for a week at Christmas, and they had enormous conversations around the open fire. Monsignor was growing a trifle stouter and his personality had expanded even with that, and Amory felt both rest and security in sinking into a squat, cushioned chair and joining him in the middle-aged sanity of a cigar.
"I've felt like leaving college, Monsignor."
"All my career's gone up in smoke; you think it's petty and all that, but--"
"Not at all petty. I think it's most important. I want to hear the whole thing. Everything you've been doing since I saw you last."
Amory talked; he went thoroughly into the destruction of his egotistic highways, and in a half-hour the listless quality had left his voice.
"What would you do if you left college?" asked Monsignor.
"Don't know. I'd like to travel, but of course this tiresome war prevents that. Anyways, mother would hate not having me graduate. I'm just at sea. Kerry Holiday wants me to go over with him and join the Lafayette Esquadrille."
"You know you wouldn't like to go."
"Sometimes I would--to-night I'd go in a second."
"Well, you'd have to be very much more tired of life than I think you are. I know you."
"I'm afraid you do," agreed Amory reluctantly. "It just seemed an easy way out of everything--when I think of another useless, draggy year."
"Yes, I know; but to tell you the truth, I'm not worried about you; you seem to me to be progressing perfectly naturally."
"No," Amory objected. "I've lost half my personality in a year."
"Not a bit of it!" scoffed Monsignor. "You've lost a great amount of vanity and that's all."
"Lordy! I feel, anyway, as if I'd gone through another fifth form at St. Regis's."
"No." Monsignor shook his head. "That was a misfortune; this has been a good thing. Whatever worth while comes to you, won't be through the channels you were searching last year."
"What could be more unprofitable than my present lack of pep?"
"Perhaps in itself... but you're developing. This has given you time to think and you're casting off a lot of your old luggage about success and the superman and all. People like us can't adopt whole theories, as you did. If we can do the next thing, and have an hour a day to think in, we can accomplish marvels, but as far as any high-handed scheme of blind dominance is concerned--we'd just make asses of ourselves."
"But, Monsignor, I can't do the next thing."
"Amory, between you and me, I have only just learned to do it myself. I can do the one hundred things beyond the next thing, but I stub my toe on that, just as you stubbed your toe on mathematics this fall."
"Why do we have to do the next thing? It never seems the sort of thing I should do."
"We have to do it because we're not personalities, but personages."
"That's a good line--what do you mean?"
"A personality is what you thought you were, what this Kerry and Sloane you tell me of evidently are. Personality is a physical matter almost entirely; it lowers the people it acts on--I've seen it vanish in a long sickness. But while a personality is active, it overrides 'the next thing.' Now a personage, on the other hand, gathers. He is never thought of apart from what he's done. He's a bar on which a thousand things have been hung--glittering things sometimes, as ours are; but he uses those things with a cold mentality back of them."
"And several of my most glittering possessions had fallen off when I needed them." Amory continued the simile eagerly.
"Yes, that's it; when you feel that your garnered prestige and talents and all that are hung out, you need never bother about anybody; you can cope with them without difficulty."
"But, on the other hand, if I haven't my possessions, I'm helpless!"
"That's certainly an idea."
"Now you've a clean start--a start Kerry or Sloane can constitutionally never have. You brushed three or four ornaments down, and, in a fit of pique, knocked off the rest of them. The thing now is to collect some new ones, and the farther you look ahead in the collecting the better. But remember, do the next thing!"
Image courtesy of Peter Alfred Hess.