The creation of a ‘personage’:  individuality and university life in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise

The creation of a ‘personage’: individuality and university life in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise

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By Paula Maher Martin, Gale Ambassador at NUI Galway
Paula Maher Martín is a third-year student of English and Classics at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Interested in language as a means of simultaneously reflecting and transcending human experience, she plans to do postgraduate research in English, with a focus on the metaphysical construction of reality in Modernist literature. She enjoys reading Nancy Mitford, Leo Tolstoy, Evelyn Waugh or Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, the wind, the music of the world, wandering immersed in philosophical abstractions, writing poetry in lectures and falling in love with characters in paintings. Paula is blogging for Gale in both English and Spanish.

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A member of the ‘Lost Generation’ or a personification of youth or beauty (doomed to fade), thus is Francis Scott Fitzgerald portrayed in The Times Literary Supplement in 1958. Consolidated as a figure of myth over the 20th century, his writing overlaps with his persona and reverberates with foaming champagne and jazz caresses, the sweet indolence of the 1920s. His first novel, This Side of Paradise, published in 1920, became an instant best-seller; according to The Times, Fitzgerald had already sold 75,000 copies of his opera prima by 1921.

Advertisement for This Side of Paradise. “Collins.” The Times Literary Supplement, 26 May 1921, p. 340. Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5QZZ80. Accessed 22 Oct. 2017.

In this work, suffused with a delicate nostalgia that intensifies its universal appeal, Fitzgerald erects a monument to that ‘youth or beauty (doomed to fade)’ in his protagonist, Amory Blaine. The narrative traces his journey from merely ‘existing’ to ‘being’: his constitution as a refined individual. Fitzgerald builds upon the boy’s receptivity to beauty, love and truth, sculpting him towards fulfilment, largely defined by his access to third-level education. In Amory, Fitzgerald crystallises his anthropological construction of the adolescent, a creature of exuberant sensibility and individuality, a being of kaleidoscopic refraction, unfolding in a million ideals and abstractions and ‘capable of infinite expansion for good or evil’.[1] The young egotist believes himself destined to ‘get to a vague top of the world’ [2] by means of his innate and superior will, towering above his peers and instrumental to the flow of the universe.

Exterior of Strathcona Hall, Aberdeen University. The generalised use of Gothic style in the architecture of universities can be read as a declaration of intentions: it translates into a claim to scholastic tradition. “Celebrating the Quatercentenary of Aberdeen University.” Illustrated London News, 29 Sept. 1906, p. 436. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5Qi4W5. Accessed 31 Oct. 2017.

Amory’s arrival at Princeton is marked by his ‘deep and reverent devotion’ [3] for the institution, by a sense of community, of shared human experience, of partaking in the wisdom transpired by its Gothic architecture. Amory, much like a 1903 gentleman depicted in The Illustrated London News, imagined himself the heir of all the academic traditions.

“An Unacademic Interlude.” Illustrated London News, 22 Aug. 1903, p. 282. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5RQbP4. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017

Moreover, Princeton is characterised as a home of lost causes and impossible loyalties. Contemporary sketches of academic life in the press express a reliance in the new generation to heal a world fractured by the Great War. The American university, in consonance with this 1958 portrait of Oxford, incarnates a spirit of idealism, also associated in other vignettes of college life with a regenerative potential, a breadth of response to the needs of England, sparked by its students’ generous questioning of social conventions.

Amory’s debut in academic society populates his mind with new ambitions, the hope of becoming ‘one of the gods of the class’ [4]. He starts lavishly performing a range of poses that he believes will originate his social rise, haunting clubs and football pitches; absorbed, like many of his fellow freshmen, in beginning to learn…the mysteries of college etiquette. An amused university correspondent reports that the delicate harmony between the socks and the necktie is no longer demanded in Cambridge in 1913, a subtle satire of the young undergraduate’s preoccupation with his design of an appealing façade in order to consolidate his sense of belonging.

In performing a diffused individuality, Amory profoundly shatters his sense of self. Wandering down this undergraduate path, he begins to be tormented by a fear of mediocrity and by doubt: ‘I can’t drift – I want to be interested. I want to pull strings… I want to be admired’[5]. His society with men of all shades and varieties of opinion; stressed as a major benefit of attending university by members of the Oxford academic community, interviewed for The Times in 1928, and their conscious effort to better themselves and develop as individuals awakens him to his narcissistic passivity ‘where now he realised only his own inconsequence, effort would make him aware of his own impotency and insufficiency’[6]. He recognises the need for a ‘personal struggle’ in the place of his arrogant laziness, towards his conquest of glory, immortality and happiness.

Beautiful and damned… Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald’s hectic life epitomises in popular imagination the dissipation of the Jazz Age. Bruccoli, Matthew J. “Concluding Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, 5:.” Times, 14 Aug. 1981, p. 7. The Times Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5ooHQ9. Accessed 22 Oct. 2017

Princeton leads Amory to overcome his personality, a fragile mirage of himself in order to live and express his true individuality in a consistent manner, finding integrity in self-knowledge, true freedom in wisdom and becoming a personage, who asserts his being through his deeds, in community ‘it is by somehow transcending rather than by avoiding that selfishness that I can bring poise and balance into my life’[7]. Princeton is thus painted in the novel as an imperial training ground for character and intellect and Fitzgerald seems to highlight the part that is still capable of being played by the older universities in the life of the nation, words used by the Oxford Chancellor in 1910 to justify the aim of the recent reforms, as reported by a university correspondent for The Times. For Amory, university represents, furthermore, the rebirth of ‘responsibility and a love of life, the faint stirring of old ambitions and unrealised dreams’[8]. After years of egotistic roaming he rekindles in Princeton the hope of reaching the pinnacle of his selfhood: he becomes a personage, ready to live in and for society.

Marischal Hall, Aberdeen University. “Celebrating the Quatercentenary of Aberdeen University.” Illustrated London News, 29 Sept. 1906, p. 436. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5Qi4W5. Accessed 31 Oct. The Times Literary Supplement2017.

Blog post cover image citation: Rowing team, Cambridge 1911. “The Coronation Year University Crews: The Cambridge Eight.” Illustrated London News, 1 Apr. 1911, p. 471. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5Qi4X3. Accessed 31 Oct. 2017.

[1] Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. This Side of Paradise & The Beautiful and the Damned. 1920-1922.      Ed. Lionel Kelly. Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 2011, p.55
[2] Ibid., p.55
[3] Ibid., p.83
[4] Ibid., p.75
[5] Ibid., p.78
[6] Ibid., p.84
[7] Ibid., p.260
[8] Ibid., p.261

BIBLIOGRAPHY
“An Unacademic Interlude.” Illustrated London News, 22 Aug. 1903, p. 282. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5RQbP4. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
“Et Tu Brute.” Times, 20 Oct. 1954, p. 9. The Times Digital Archive, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5QZiv3. Accessed 30 Oct. 2017.
Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. This Side of Paradise & The Beautiful and the Damned. 1920-1922. Ed. Lionel Kelly. Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 2011.
Heppenstall, J. Rayner, and R. Heppenstall. “The Beautiful Rich.” The Times Literary Supplement, 17 Oct. 1958, p. 592. Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5QZj97. Accessed 30 Oct. 2017.
University Correspondent. “Cambridge At The Beginning Of The May Term.” Times, 14 Apr. 1913, p. 3. The Times Digital Archive, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5QaLK1. Accessed 30 Oct. 2017.
University Correspondent. “Oxford University.” Times, 29 Aug. 1910, p. 8. The Times Digital Archive, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5QZx36. Accessed 30 Oct. 2017.
University Correspondent. “Summer Term At Oxford.” Times, 30 Apr. 1928, p. 21. The Times Digital Archive, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5QaJb1. Accessed 30 Oct. 2017.
University Correspondent. “University News.” Times, 22 Mar. 1928, p. 21. The Times Digital Archive, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5Qa8Z7. Accessed 30 Oct. 2017.