This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part LXXXI
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.
Tom laughed, and Amory continued triumphantly.
"We want to believe. Young students try to believe in older authors, constituents try to believe in their Congressmen, countries try to believe in their statesmen, but they can't. Too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism. It's worse in the case of newspapers. Any rich, unprogressive old party with that particularly grasping, acquisitive form of mentality known as financial genius can own a paper that is the intellectual meat and drink of thousands of tired, hurried men, men too involved in the business of modern living to swallow anything but predigested food. For two cents the voter buys his politics, prejudices, and philosophy. A year later there is a new political ring or a change in the paper's ownership, consequence: more confusion, more contradiction, a sudden inrush of new ideas, their tempering, their distillation, the reaction against them--"
He paused only to get his breath.
"And that is why I have sworn not to put pen to paper until my ideas either clarify or depart entirely; I have quite enough sins on my soul without putting dangerous, shallow epigrams into people's heads; I might cause a poor, inoffensive capitalist to have a vulgar liaison with a bomb, or get some innocent little Bolshevik tangled up with a machine-gun bullet--"
Tom was growing restless under this lampooning of his connection with The New Democracy.
"What's all this got to do with your being bored?"
Amory considered that it had much to do with it.
"How'll I fit in?" he demanded. "What am I for? To propagate the race? According to the American novels we are led to believe that the 'healthy American boy' from nineteen to twenty-five is an entirely sexless animal. As a matter of fact, the healthier he is the less that's true. The only alternative to letting it get you is some violent interest. Well, the war is over; I believe too much in the responsibilities of authorship to write just now; and business, well, business speaks for itself. It has no connection with anything in the world that I've ever been interested in, except a slim, utilitarian connection with economics. What I'd see of it, lost in a clerkship, for the next and best ten years of my life would have the intellectual content of an industrial movie."
"Try fiction," suggested Tom.
"Trouble is I get distracted when I start to write stories--get afraid I'm doing it instead of living--get thinking maybe life is waiting for me in the Japanese gardens at the Ritz or at Atlantic City or on the lower East Side.
"Anyway," he continued, "I haven't the vital urge. I wanted to be a regular human being but the girl couldn't see it that way."
"You'll find another."
"God! Banish the thought. Why don't you tell me that 'if the girl had been worth having she'd have waited for you'? No, sir, the girl really worth having won't wait for anybody. If I thought there'd be another I'd lose my remaining faith in human nature. Maybe I'll play--but Rosalind was the only girl in the wide world that could have held me."
"Well," yawned Tom, "I've played confidant a good hour by the clock. Still, I'm glad to see you're beginning to have violent views again on something."
"I am," agreed Amory reluctantly. "Yet when I see a happy family it makes me sick at my stomach--"
"Happy families try to make people feel that way," said Tom cynically.
TOM THE CENSOR
There were days when Amory listened. These were when Tom, wreathed in smoke, indulged in the slaughter of American literature. Words failed him.
"Fifty thousand dollars a year," he would cry. "My God! Look at them, look at them--Edna Ferber, Gouverneur Morris, Fanny Hurst, Mary Roberts Rinehart--not producing among 'em one story or novel that will last ten years. This man Cobb--I don't tink he's either clever or amusing--and what's more, I don't think very many people do, except the editors. He's just groggy with advertising. And--oh Harold Bell Wright oh Zane Grey--"
"No, they don't even try. Some of them can write, but they won't sit down and do one honest novel. Most of them can't write, I'll admit. I believe Rupert Hughes tries to give a real, comprehensive picture of American life, but his style and perspective are barbarous. Ernest Poole and Dorothy Canfield try but they're hindered by their absolute lack of any sense of humor; but at least they crowd their work instead of spreading it thin. Every author ought to write every book as if he were going to be beheaded the day he finished it."
Image courtesy of Peter Alfred Hess.