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Babylon Revisited

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Plot Overview

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His given name, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, was a tribute to his relative Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.” Fitzgerald grew up in Buffalo, New York, and Minnesota. His family, Roman Catholics of Irish descent, didn’t have much money, but Fitzgerald still managed to attend prep school in New Jersey thanks to financial help from an aunt. He then went to Princeton University for three years but dropped out and enlisted in the army in 1917 when the United States entered World War I. He wrote his first novel while training to be an officer and submitted it to an editor at Scribner’s, who turned it down. While still in training, Fitzgerald also met Zelda Sayre, a high-society girl from Alabama whom he would eventually marry in 1920. Fortunately, the war ended before he could be deployed to Europe.

While living at his parents’ house in St. Paul, Fitzgerald revised the novel he had written in training camp and changed its title from The Romantic Egoist to This Side of Paradise. Finally published in 1920, his first novel was a great success and made Fitzgerald famous. To capitalize on the popularity of This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald’s publishers rushed to publish Flappers and Philosophers (1920), his first collection of short stories. In 1922, Fitzgerald came out with a second collection, Tales of the Jazz Age, followed by The Beautiful and Damned (1922) and The Great Gatsby (1925), which is widely considered Fitzgerald’s finest work. Nine years passed before the publication of Fitzgerald’s next novel, Tender Is the Night (1934), the story of a psychiatrist and his mentally ill wife.

Many of the recurring themes in Fitzgerald’s work—money, class, ambition, alcoholism, mental illness—have their roots in his personal life. He had a tumultuous and passionate relationship with Zelda, with whom he had one daughter, Frances Scott. Despite the success of his novels, Fitzgerald was often short of the money necessary to pay for his glamorous, fast-paced lifestyle in New York. His agent and editor loaned him funds, and he supplemented his income by writing for such magazines as Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post. He also earned money by selling the film rights to his work. Poor health plagued him and his family: Fitzgerald was an alcoholic, and Zelda was hospitalized for schizophrenia in 1932, a disaster that likely inspired Tender Is the Night, which Fitzgerald wrote while living in a rented house near Zelda’s hospital.

In the 1930s, Fitzgerald left Zelda and moved to Hollywood. Even though the couple never filed for divorce, they never lived together again. In Hollywood, Fitzgerald moved in with a movie columnist named Sheilah Graham and worked on scripts, short stories, and a fifth novel. Fitzgerald hated his work in Hollywood and believed he was wasting his talent, but he didn’t quit because he needed the money. In 1940, Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks and died later that year at age forty-four, leaving his last novel unfinished. Edmund Wilson, a well-known writer and critic and a friend of Fitzgerald’s since their days together at Princeton, edited the manuscript and notes that Fitzgerald left behind. The result was published in 1940 as The Last Tycoon.

Fitzgerald is considered the voice of the Lost Generation, the generation that came of age during World War I. He’s also considered the ultimate explicator of the Jazz Age of the 1920s, a period characterized by individualism and decadence. Although he is best known for his novels, he wrote about 160 short stories. The number is difficult to pin down precisely because many of his pieces blur the lines between story, essay, and article. “Babylon Revisited” was written in 1930 and published in 1931 in the Saturday Evening Post. Fitzgerald’s editor, Malcolm Cowley, wrote that in comparison with other stories of Fitzgerald’s, “Babylon Revisited” evidences “less regret for the past and more dignity in the face of real sorrow.”

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