This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part XLI
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.
"How clear you can make things!"
So they talked, often about themselves, sometimes of philosophy and religion, and life as respectively a game or a mystery. The priest seemed to guess Amory's thoughts before they were clear in his own head, so closely related were their minds in form and groove.
"Why do I make lists?" Amory asked him one night. "Lists of all sorts of things?"
"Because you're a mediaevalist," Monsignor answered. "We both are. It's the passion for classifying and finding a type."
"It's a desire to get something definite."
"It's the nucleus of scholastic philosophy."
"I was beginning to think I was growing eccentric till I came up here. It was a pose, I guess."
"Don't worry about that; for you not posing may be the biggest pose of all. Pose--"
"But do the next thing."
After Amory returned to college he received several letters from Monsignor which gave him more egotistic food for consumption.
I am afraid that I gave you too much assurance of your inevitable
safety, and you must remember that I did that through faith in
your springs of effort; not in the silly conviction that you will
arrive without struggle. Some nuances of character you will have
to take for granted in yourself, though you must be careful in
confessing them to others. You are unsentimental, almost incapable
of affection, astute without being cunning and vain without being
Don't let yourself feel worthless; often through life you will
really be at your worst when you seem to think best of yourself;
and don't worry about losing your "personality," as you persist
in calling it; at fifteen you had the radiance of early morning,
at twenty you will begin to have the melancholy brilliance of
the moon, and when you are my age you will give out, as I do,
the genial golden warmth of 4 P.M.
If you write me letters, please let them be natural ones. Your
last, that dissertation on architecture, was perfectly awful--
so "highbrow" that I picture you living in an intellectual and
emotional vacuum; and beware of trying to classify people too
definitely into types; you will find that all through their youth
they will persist annoyingly in jumping from class to class, and
by pasting a supercilious label on every one you meet you are
merely packing a Jack-in-the-box that will spring up and leer at
you when you begin to come into really antagonistic contact with
the world. An idealization of some such a man as Leonardo da
Vinci would be a more valuable beacon to you at present.
You are bound to go up and down, just as I did in my youth, but
do keep your clarity of mind, and if fools or sages dare to
criticise don't blame yourself too much.
You say that convention is all that really keeps you straight in
this "woman proposition"; but it's more than that, Amory; it's
the fear that what you begin you can't stop; you would run amuck,
and I know whereof I speak; it's that half-miraculous sixth sense
by which you detect evil, it's the half-realized fear of God in
Whatever your metier proves to be--religion, architecture,
literature--I'm sure you would be much safer anchored to the
Church, but I won't risk my influence by arguing with you even
though I am secretly sure that the "black chasm of Romanism"
yawns beneath you. Do write me soon.
With affectionate regards, THAYER DARCY.
Even Amory's reading paled during this period; he delved further into the misty side streets of literature: Huysmans, Walter Pater, Theophile Gautier, and the racier sections of Rabelais, Boccaccio, Petronius, and Suetonius. One week, through general curiosity, he inspected the private libraries of his classmates and found Sloane's as typical as any: sets of Kipling, O. Henry, John Fox, Jr., and Richard Harding Davis; "What Every Middle-Aged Woman Ought to Know," "The Spell of the Yukon"; a "gift" copy of James Whitcomb Riley, an assortment of battered, annotated schoolbooks, and, finally, to his surprise, one of his own late discoveries, the collected poems of Rupert Brooke.
Together with Tom D'Invilliers, he sought among the lights of Princeton for some one who might found the Great American Poetic Tradition.
The undergraduate body itself was rather more interesting that year than had been the entirely Philistine Princeton of two years before. Things had livened surprisingly, though at the sacrifice of much of the spontaneous charm of freshman year. In the old Princeton they would never have discovered Tanaduke Wylie. Tanaduke was a sophomore, with tremendous ears and a way of saying, "The earth swirls down through the ominous moons of preconsidered generations!" that made them vaguely wonder why it did not sound quite clear, but never question that it was the utterance of a supersoul. At least so Tom and Amory took him. They told him in all earnestness that he had a mind like Shelley's, and featured his ultrafree free verse and prose poetry in the Nassau Literary Magazine. But Tanaduke's genius absorbed the many colors of the age, and he took to the Bohemian life, to their great disappointment. He talked of Greenwich Village now instead of "noon-swirled moons," and met winter muses, unacademic, and cloistered by Forty-second Street and Broadway, instead of the Shelleyan dream-children with whom he had regaled their expectant appreciation. So they surrendered Tanaduke to the futurists, deciding that he and his flaming ties would do better there. Tom gave him the final advice that he should stop writing for two years and read the complete works of Alexander Pope four times, but on Amory's suggestion that Pope for Tanaduke was like foot-ease for stomach trouble, they withdrew in laughter, and called it a coin's toss whether this genius was too big or too petty for them.
Image courtesy of Peter Alfred Hess.