‘Flappers and Philosophers’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald: My entry into the 1920 Club

Learn of the 1920 Club early this week and am instantly sold. I’m to pick a book published in the year 1920, read it and share my thoughts in this one week April 13-19. This past month and likely some more to come will probably be indelible in our collective memory. Joining The 1920 Club is an excellent diversion as I follow the Stay Home and Stay Safe directive during this Covid-19 Pandemic.

1920, exactly one hundred years ago, saw F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) rise in America’s literary horizon. In March, 1920, he published his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, and later that year, a short story collection Flappers and Philosophers. Upon the end of his short life of 44 years, Fitzgerald had left a prolific oeuvre of four novels and 164 short stories published in magazines, some included in his four short story collections.

F and P.

I found Flappers and Philosophers online from Project Gutenberg. Due to time constraints, I thought a short story collection would be a good choice. Glad I picked this up as it’s a pleasant surprise. Reading Fitzgerald’s stories has altered my previous impression of the Jazz Age author.

I must admit, I was attracted to the title first. What’s a flapper? I’d to look it up for a precise definition. Several online dictionaries offer similar, succinct ones. But I like the Wikipedia’s more detailed descriptions:

“Flappers were a generation of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts (just at the knee was short for that time period), bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behaviour.”

But when I delve into the eight stories in this collection, I’m pleasantly surprised and have much enjoyed Fitzgerald’s versatility, humour, descriptive prowess, and his observations of the American life which is so different from the impression I got from The Great Gatsby. Long story short, here’s my synopsis of the tales.

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The Offshore Pirate

Imaginative and fanciful, a story that takes place out the shore of Florida. A 19 year-old heiress who wants to break out of the mold of the upper echelon cautiously falls prey to Stockholm Syndrome when a pirate storms her yacht, taking her captive in both mind and soul. The opening lines draw me in instantly:

This unlikely story begins on a sea that was a blue dream, as colourful as blue-silk stockings, and beneath a sky as blue as the irises of children’s eyes. From the western half of the sky the sun was shying little golden disks at the sea––if you gazed intently enough you could see them skip from wave tip to wave tip until they joined a broad collar of golden coin that was collecting half a mile out and would eventually be a dazzling sunset.

A word of caution though, Fitzgerald’s language reflects that of his time. When it comes to race references, modern day readers might find it uneasy to come across such descriptions.

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The Ice Palace

19 year-old (apparently the author’s favourite age for his female protagonists) Sally Carrol, a Southern girl in Georgia, swept by ennui, plans to venture to the great Northeast by marrying his boyfriend Harry from there. She soon finds the North may not be as ideal as she has dreamed of. Fitzgerald’s own life and marriage could have a little influence on the creation of the story. The author’s fictional take on the North South divide.
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Head and Shoulders

So far we’ve seen two ‘flappers’. But who’s the ‘philosopher’? Here’s an interesting story, again, with Fitzgerald’s humor and irony, tells how a brainy academic prodigy falls for a chorus girl, and how the two manage to invent a new life together. Horace gets into Princeton at 13 and into the Masters program at 17, but life takes a 180 degree turn when he falls in love with show girl Marcia. Under Fitzgerald’s pen, life can be altered into the most ironic and unimaginable.

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The Cut-Glass Bowl

A cut-glass bowl, a popular wedding gift in the Middle West, is Evylyn Piper’s treasure in her home. It is also, sadly, a metaphor for fate, the misfortunes that will befall her. Fitzgerald’s more serious story here but equally vivid in the description of marriage life, and the journey Evylyn has to travel alone. Here’s what her friend Carleton, the beau who’s lost her to Evylyn’s future husband Harold, says to her: “Evylyn I’m going to give a present that’s as hard as you are and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through.” That of course is the cut-glass bowl. I love the suspense Fitzgerald embeds in even a metaphor.

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Bernice Bobs Her Hair (Book cover above)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s version of Jane Austen’s Emma. Marjorie’s cousin Bernice comes to stay in her home for a few weeks. At first disinterested with the homely-looking and socially inept girl, Marjorie suddenly sparks excitement as the miserable Bernice looks to her for advice. Marjorie teaches her lines to memorize when speaking to boys at parties, and getting her hair bobbed seems to be the key to attract them all. Well, what follows is an episode that even our dear Jane herself would LOL.

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Benediction

The most serious story in the collection as Fitzgerald depicts the struggle between the flesh and the spiritual. Lois is at the crossroads, trying to decide if she should continue to see a man who takes her only for sexual pleasures, albeit the desire is mutual. Lois’s internal struggles face a haunting experience as she visits her brother who’s in a Jesuits monastery getting ready for priesthood. Fitzgerald possibly had built the story upon his actual visit to a seminary in Woodstock, Maryland, when he accompanied his cousin to visit her brother there.

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Dalyrimple Goes Wrong

Could be Fitzgerald’s brief version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, with a twist. Coming back from the War, ex-star-soldier Bryan Dalyrimple has no luck in the work world for which he’s ill equipped. He’s stuck in a job with no future and low pay, albeit he thinks highly of himself knowing he deserves better. He then schemes to commit a series of petty crimes. Unlike the doomed Raskolnikov, Bryan is spared Siberia and on track to reaching the American Dream.

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The Four Fists

Throughout his life, Samuel Meredith has had four punches laid on his face, each time results in an epiphany of some sort, changing him a bit, and even leading him to a totally different life course. A most ingenious story told with much humour. Once again, looks like Fitzgerald is saying, life is full of surprises; what comes as a blow could well elevate one to a path of success. But most importantly, do what is right.

 

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1920-club

The 1920 Club is hosted by Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon at Stuck in a Book, April 13-19, 2020.

 

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

16 thoughts on “‘Flappers and Philosophers’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald: My entry into the 1920 Club”

  1. A hundred years ago — wow, the 1920s, here I go!

    Short skirts, bobbed hair, no bras or corsets binding a woman’s body, lots of hot sex and ice-cold martinis.The roaring twenties were a brash and bold time for women, similar in a way to my 1960s’ adolescence. We were taking our feminine power out of pointed brassieres’ and tight girdles of the 50s, and letting our flesh blow in the wind.

    When I was young, I had a crush on all things Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. I read “The Great Gatsby” many times drooling over his metaphors, and I loved his insight into the young male mind. I was curious to learn more. I read and reread “Zelda” and wanted to be wild like her, but without the mental institution.

    Hemingway was good, but Fitzgerald was better, I thought. As all crushes do, mine faded away when I learned that the many martinis and wild living ended Fitzgerald’s life at 44, a huge tragedy. (Read “Beloved Infidel”)

    And now you have piqued my interest again. Thank you.

    ps I cannot help but be drawn to watch Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” and resume frolicking with the Parisian expats such as Josephine Baker, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

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    1. One more thing about 1920s writers — I adore Edith Wharton’s books… for one, “Age of Innocence.” She is probably one of my all time favorite authors.

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    2. Yes, it’s exciting to find out which classics were published in 1920, the year FSF had his debut. The Great Gatsby (1925) is one of my all time faves, not so much about the zeitgeist it depicts, but the internal, the thoughts and motivations in the character Jay Gatsby. He makes me think of Rick in Casablanca. Anyway, I love to read these early 20th C. classics. You’re right, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was also published in 1920. I like the movie adaptation as well as her other works. Then there was Virginia Woolf. Do check out my links to Kaggsy’s blog for the 1920 Club. She already has several posts up, all in the past few days.

      And same here, as I was reading this book, the image of FSF from Midnight in Paris appeared in my mind constantly, as well as scenes from the 10 Episode Amazon original series Z: The Beginning of Everything which unfortunately hangs in midair without finishing the story of the couple after the first Season. A few years back I read Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald which I enjoyed very much.

      This short story collection however gives me a different appreciation for FSF’s writing. He doesn’t just write about the rich or the frivolous, but touches on a variety of characters, Southerners as well as those in the NE; but one thing that’s constant, he has a good grasp of the young, capturing their psyche and a bit of the ‘lostness’ of that age.

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  2. This book sounds wonderful. I always liked Fitzgerald (far better than Hemingway) and I’m surprised I never had to read it when I took a Fitzgerald course in college. (Although it was actually Fitz and Hem so there was enough reading as it was. It sounds very good and something I’d enjoy. This sounds like a fun book challenge!

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    1. You’ll love this one. It’s a breeze and a kind of literary comfort food in this stressful yet inactive time. Also, appreciate Julian Fellowes too while reading, for images of Mary Crawley came up several times, her bobbed hairstyle and the slightly below knee-length dresses in the later episodes. But FSF is a talent not just in capturing the style and zeitgeist but the inner worlds of his characters. I read from iBook, and have discovered Highlights (in different colors) and Notes that I can jot down on the margin of the page alongside the passage. Wonderful tools!

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  3. Arti,

    I sense your excitement for this great find. Will have to check it out. Thanks for another great post.

    Take care and stay safe!
    Yinling

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    1. I knew about his four novels, have read The Great Gatsby several times, and enjoyed the movie adaptations. Have read about Zelda too, and movies relating to their marriage. But I didn’t know FSF had written so many short stories and that they are so entertaining. I might not be able to finish anything more in this week, but will surely explore more titles published in 1920. Thanks for hosting!

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  4. I enjoyed your review. I have this book on the shelves in Georgia, it was my husband’s. I’ll bring it back next time I can drive there.

    As you may remember last February I had a post on the 1920s, but on music. I also like the books from that era. There are so many good ones. I brought one back that I have not read yet. It came out in 1929 “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque. Thinking about that decade I saw another book on our shelves that I read years ago “A Passage to India” by E M Foster, pub. In 1924. How about Katherine Mansfield’s 1922 “The Garden Party and other stories” or “Manhattan Transfer” by John Dos Passos, 1925 ? “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner, pub. 1929, is on my bookshelf here in Nashville. I read “Look homeward, Angel” by Thomas Wolfe (pub. 1929) years ago and because of that book made my husband come with me to Asheville to visit Wolfe’s house. I could go on and on, such a great decade rich in books and music. I have to add, I particularly like the books Agatha Christie wrote in the 1920s.

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    1. VB,

      Yes, I remember your extensive post on the 1920’s. That was definitely a prolific decade for literature and jazz. Myriads of authors like Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Tom Wolfe, Hemingway, Foster… You’ve got some good recommendations for books during this era. Do check out Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings (Link provided below the photo at the end of my post), she’s the co-host and interesting that it’s one particular year that these ‘clubs’ focus on. So, this time it’s exactly the year 1920. Do check out her reads for 1920 and what others are reading.

      Notable books published in 1920 include Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street… and as you’ve mentioned, Agatha Christie. 1920 was the year her very first Hercule Poirot mystery was published. The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

      Again, thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects. As always, much appreciate your sharing!

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