This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part XLII

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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.

Amory rather scornfully avoided the popular professors who dispensed easy epigrams and thimblefuls of Chartreuse to groups of admirers every night.  He was disappointed, too, at the air of general uncertainty on every subject that seemed linked with the pedantic temperament; his opinions took shape in a miniature satire called "In a Lecture-Room," which he persuaded Tom to print in the Nassau Lit.

"Good-morning, Fool...
  Three times a week
You hold us helpless while you speak,
Teasing our thirsty souls with the
Sleek 'yeas' of your philosophy...
Well, here we are, your hundred sheep,
Tune up, play on, pour forth... we sleep...
You are a student, so they say;
You hammered out the other day
A syllabus, from what we know
Of some forgotten folio;
You'd sniffled through an era's must,
Filling your nostrils up with dust,
And then, arising from your knees,
Published, in one gigantic sneeze...
But here's a neighbor on my right,
An Eager Ass, considered bright;
Asker of questions....  How he'll stand,
With earnest air and fidgy hand,
After this hour, telling you
He sat all night and burrowed through
Your book....  Oh, you'll be coy and he
Will simulate precosity,
And pedants both, you'll smile and smirk,
And leer, and hasten back to work....

'Twas this day week, sir, you returned
A theme of mine, from which I learned
(Through various comment on the side
Which you had scrawled) that I defied
The highest rules of criticism
For cheap and careless witticism....
'Are you quite sure that this could be?'
And
'Shaw is no authority!'
But Eager Ass, with what he's sent,
Plays havoc with your best per cent.

Still--still I meet you here and there...
When Shakespeare's played you hold a chair,
And some defunct, moth-eaten star
Enchants the mental prig you are...
A radical comes down and shocks
The atheistic orthodox?
You're representing Common Sense,
Mouth open, in the audience.
And, sometimes, even chapel lures
That conscious tolerance of yours,
That broad and beaming view of truth
(Including Kant and General Booth...)
And so from shock to shock you live,
A hollow, pale affirmative...

The hour's up... and roused from rest
One hundred children of the blest
Cheat you a word or two with feet
That down the noisy aisle-ways beat...
Forget on narrow-minded earth
The Mighty Yawn that gave you birth."

In April, Kerry Holiday left college and sailed for France to enroll in the Lafayette Esquadrille.  Amory's envy and admiration of this step was drowned in an experience of his own to which he never succeeded in giving an appropriate value, but which, nevertheless, haunted him for three years afterward.

*****

THE DEVIL

Healy's they left at twelve and taxied to Bistolary's.  There were Axia Marlowe and Phoebe Column, from the Summer Garden show, Fred Sloane and Amory.  The evening was so very young that they felt ridiculous with surplus energy, and burst into the cafe like Dionysian revellers.

"Table for four in the middle of the floor," yelled Phoebe.  "Hurry, old dear, tell 'em we're here!"

"Tell 'em to play 'Admiration'!" shouted Sloane.  "You two order; Phoebe and I are going to shake a wicked calf," and they sailed off in the muddled crowd.  Axia and Amory, acquaintances of an hour, jostled behind a waiter to a table at a point of vantage; there they took seats and watched.

"There's Findle Margotson, from New Haven!" she cried above the uproar.  "'Lo, Findle!  Whoo-ee!"

"Oh, Axia!" he shouted in salutation.  "C'mon over to our table."  "No!"  Amory whispered.

"Can't do it, Findle; I'm with somebody else!  Call me up to-morrow about one o'clock!"

Findle, a nondescript man-about-Bisty's, answered incoherently and turned back to the brilliant blonde whom he was endeavoring to steer around the room.

"There's a natural damn fool," commented Amory.

"Oh, he's all right.  Here's the old jitney waiter.  If you ask me, I want a double Daiquiri."

"Make it four."

The crowd whirled and changed and shifted.  They were mostly from the colleges, with a scattering of the male refuse of Broadway, and women of two types, the higher of which was the chorus girl.  On the whole it was a typical crowd, and their party as typical as any.  About three-fourths of the whole business was for effect and therefore harmless, ended at the door of the cafe, soon enough for the five-o'clock train back to Yale or Princeton; about one-fourth continued on into the dimmer hours and gathered strange dust from strange places.  Their party was scheduled to be one of the harmless kind.  Fred Sloane and Phoebe Column were old friends; Axia and Amory new ones.  But strange things are prepared even in the dead of night, and the unusual, which lurks least in the cafe, home of the prosaic and inevitable, was preparing to spoil for him the waning romance of Broadway.  The way it took was so inexpressibly terrible, so unbelievable, that afterward he never thought of it as experience; but it was a scene from a misty tragedy, played far behind the veil, and that it meant something definite he knew.

Image courtesy of Peter Alfred Hess.


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