This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part LXXXVIX
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.
"The end of summer," said Eleanor softly. "Listen to the beat of our horses' hoofs--'tump-tump-tump-a-tump.' Have you ever been feverish and had all noises divide into 'tump-tump-tump' until you could swear eternity was divisible into so many tumps? That's the way I feel--old horses go tump-tump.... I guess that's the only thing that separates horses and clocks from us. Human beings can't go 'tump-tump-tump' without going crazy."
The breeze freshened and Eleanor pulled her cape around her and shivered.
"Are you very cold?" asked Amory.
"No, I'm thinking about myself--my black old inside self, the real one, with the fundamental honesty that keeps me from being absolutely wicked by making me realize my own sins."
They were riding up close by the cliff and Amory gazed over. Where the fall met the ground a hundred feet below, a black stream made a sharp line, broken by tiny glints in the swift water.
"Rotten, rotten old world," broke out Eleanor suddenly, "and the wretchedest thing of all is me--oh, why am I a girl? Why am I not a stupid--? Look at you; you're stupider than I am, not much, but some, and you can lope about and get bored and then lope somewhere else, and you can play around with girls without being involved in meshes of sentiment, and you can do anything and be justified--and here am I with the brains to do everything, yet tied to the sinking ship of future matrimony. If I were born a hundred years from now, well and good, but now what's in store for me--I have to marry, that goes without saying. Who? I'm too bright for most men, and yet I have to descend to their level and let them patronize my intellect in order to get their attention. Every year that I don't marry I've got less chance for a first-class man. At the best I can have my choice from one or two cities and, of course, I have to marry into a dinner-coat.
"Listen," she leaned close again, "I like clever men and good-looking men, and, of course, no one cares more for personality than I do. Oh, just one person in fifty has any glimmer of what sex is. I'm hipped on Freud and all that, but it's rotten that every bit of real love in the world is ninety-nine per cent passion and one little soupcon of jealousy." She finished as suddenly as she began.
"Of course, you're right," Amory agreed. "It's a rather unpleasant overpowering force that's part of the machinery under everything. It's like an actor that lets you see his mechanics! Wait a minute till I think this out...."
He paused and tried to get a metaphor. They had turned the cliff and were riding along the road about fifty feet to the left.
"You see every one's got to have some cloak to throw around it. The mediocre intellects, Plato's second class, use the remnants of romantic chivalry diluted with Victorian sentiment--and we who consider ourselves the intellectuals cover it up by pretending that it's another side of us, has nothing to do with our shining brains; we pretend that the fact that we realize it is really absolving us from being a prey to it. But the truth is that sex is right in the middle of our purest abstractions, so close that it obscures vision.... I can kiss you now and will. ..." He leaned toward her in his saddle, but she drew away.
"I can't--I can't kiss you now--I'm more sensitive."
"You're more stupid then," he declared rather impatiently. "Intellect is no protection from sex any more than convention is..."
"What is?" she fired up. "The Catholic Church or the maxims of Confucius?"
Amory looked up, rather taken aback.
"That's your panacea, isn't it?" she cried. "Oh, you're just an old hypocrite, too. Thousands of scowling priests keeping the degenerate Italians and illiterate Irish repentant with gabble-gabble about the sixth and ninth commandments. It's just all cloaks, sentiment and spiritual rouge and panaceas. I'll tell you there is no God, not even a definite abstract goodness; so it's all got to be worked out for the individual by the individual here in high white foreheads like mine, and you're too much the prig to admit it." She let go her reins and shook her little fists at the stars.
Image courtesy of Peter Alfred Hess.