In his introduction to This Side of Paradise (1920), Craig Raine praises the writing style that appeared in this debut novel: “Fitzgerald’s prose is capable of soaring like a violin, and of moving his readers with understated husky notes as well as with notes of piercing purity.” Here are some of my favorite examples:
Often they swam and as Amory floated lazily in the water he shut his mind to all thoughts except those of hazy soap-bubble lands where the sun splattered through wind-drunk trees. How could any one possibly think or worry, or do anything except splash and dive and loll there on the edge of time while the flower months failed. Let the days move over—sadness and memory and pain recurred outside, and here, once more, before he went on to meet them he wanted to drift and be young.
There were days when Amory resented that life had changed from an even progress along a road stretching ever in sight, with the scenery merging and blending, into a succession of quick, unrelated scenes—two years of sweat and blood, that sudden absurd instinct for paternity that Rosalind had stirred; the half-sensual, half-neurotic quality of this autumn with Eleanor. He felt that it would take all time, more than he could ever spare, to glue these strange cumbersome pictures into the scrap-book of his life. It was all like a banquet where he sat for this half-hour of his youth and tried to enjoy brilliant epicurean courses.
Dimly he promised himself a time where all should be welded together. For months it seemed that he had alternated between being borne along a stream of love or fascination, or left in an eddy, and in the eddies he had not desired to think, rather to be picked up on a wave’s top and swept along again (215-216).
He was in an eddy again, a deep, lethargic gulf, without desire to work or write, love or dissipate. For the first time in his life he rather longed for death to roll over his generation, obliterating their petty fevers and struggles and exultations. His youth seemed never so vanished as now in the contrast between the utter loneliness of this visit and that riotous, joyful party of four years before. Things that had been the merest commonplaces of his life then, deep sleep, the sense of beauty around him, all desire, had flown away and the gaps they left were filled only with the great listlessness of his disillusion.
“To hold a man a woman has to appeal to the worst in him.” This sentence was the thesis of most of his bad nights, of which he felt this was to be one. His mind had already started to play variations on the subject. Tireless passion, fierce jealousy, longing to possess and crush—these alone were left of all his love for Rosalind; these remained to him as payment for the loss of his youth—bitter calomel under the thin sugar of love’s exaltation (227).
He walked over to Fifth Avenue, dodging the blind, black menace of umbrellas, and standing in front of Delmonico’s hailed an auto-bus. Buttoning his coat closely around him he climbed to the roof, where he rode in solitary state through the thin, persistent rain, stung into alertness by the cool moisture perpetually reborn on his cheek. Somewhere in his mind a conversation began, rather resumed its place in his attention. It was composed not of two voices, but of one, which acted alike as questioner and answerer:
Q. — Well—what’s the situation?
A. — That I have about twenty-four dollars to my name.
Q. — You have the Lake Geneva estate.
A. — But I intend to keep it.
Q. — Can you live?
A. — I can’t imagine not being able to. People make money in books and I’ve found that I can always do the things that people do in books. Really they are the only things I can do.
Q. — Be definite.
A. — I don’t know what I’ll do—nor have I much curiosity. Tomorrow I’m going to leave New York for good. It’s a bad town unless you’re on top of it.
Q. — Do you want a lot of money?
A. — No. I am merely afraid of being poor.
Q. — Very afraid?
A. — Just passively afraid.
Q. — Where are you drifting?
A. — Don’t ask me!
Q. — Don’t you care?
A. — Rather. I don’t want to commit moral suicide.
Q. — Have you no interests left?
A. — None. I’ve no more virtue to lose. Just as a cooling pot gives off heat, so all through youth and adolescence we give off calories of virtue. That’s what’s called ingenuousness.
Q. — An interesting idea.
A. — That’s why a “good man going wrong” attracts people. They stand around and literally warm themselves at the calories of virtue he gives off. Sarah makes an unsophisticated remark and the faces simper in delight—“How innocent the poor child is!” They’re warming themselves at her virtue. But Sarah sees the simper and never makes that remark again. Only she feels a little colder after that.
Q. — All your calories gone?
A. — All of them. I’m beginning to warm myself at other people’s virtue.
Q. — Are you corrupt?
A. — I think so. I’m not sure. I’m not sure about good and evil at all any more.
Q. — Is that a bad sign in itself?
A. — Not necessarily.
Q. — What would be the test of corruption?
A. — Becoming really insincere—calling myself “not such a bad fellow,” thinking I regretted my lost youth when I only envy the delights of losing it. Youth is like having a big plate of candy. Sentimentalists think they want to be in the pure, simple state they were in before they ate the candy. They don’t. They just want the fun of eating it all over again. The matron doesn’t want to repeat her girlhood—she wants to repeat her honeymoon. I don’t want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.
Q. — Where are you drifting?
This dialogue merged grotesquely into his mind’s most familiar state—a grotesque blending of desires, worries, exterior impressions and physical reactions. (239-240).
“I am selfish,” he thought.
“This is not a quality that will change when I ‘see human suffering’ or ‘lose my parents’ or ‘help others.’
“This selfishness is not only part of me. It is the most living part.
“It is by somehow transcending rather than by avoiding that selfishness that I can bring poise and balance into my life.
“There is no virtue of unselfishness that I cannot use. I can make sacrifices, be charitable, give to a friend, endure for a friend, lay down my life for a friend—all because these things may be the best possible expression of myself; yet I have not one drop of the milk of human kindness.”
The problem of evil had solidified for Amory into the problem of sex. He was beginning to identify evil with the strong phallic worship in Brooke and the early Wells. Inseparably linked with evil was beauty—beauty, still a constant rising tumult; soft in Eleanor’s voice, in an old song at night, rioting deliriously through life like superimposed waterfalls, half rhythm, half darkness. Amory knew that every time he had reached toward it longingly it had leered out at him with the grotesque face of evil. Beauty of great art, beauty of all joy, most of all the beauty of women.
After all, it had too many associations with license and indulgence. Weak things were often beautiful, weak things were never good. And in this new loneness of his that had been selected for what greatness he might achieve, beauty must be relative or, itself a harmony, it would make only a discord.
In a sense this gradual renunciation of beauty was the second step after his disillusion had been made complete. He felt that he was leaving behind him his chance of being a certain type of artist. It seemed so much more important to be a certain sort of man (261-262).
Long after midnight the towers and spires of Princeton were visible, with here and there a late-burning light—and suddenly out of the clear darkness the sound of bells. As an endless dream it went on; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation, the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world, still fed romantically on the mistakes and half-forgotten dreams of dead statesmen and poets. Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken. . . .
Amory, sorry for them, was still not sorry for himself—art, politics, religion, whatever his medium should be, he knew he was safe now, free from all hysteria—he could accept what was acceptable, roam, grow, rebel, sleep deep through many nights. . . .
There was no God in his heart, he knew; his ideas were still in riot; there was ever the pain of memory; the regret for his lost youth—yet the waters of disillusion had left a deposit on his soul, responsibility and a love of life, the faint stirring of old ambitions and unrealized dreams. But—oh, Rosalind! Rosalind! . . .
“It’s all a poor substitute at best,” he said sadly.
And he could not tell why the struggle was worth while, why he had determined to use to the utmost himself and his heritage from the personalities he had passed….
He stretched out his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky.
“I know myself,” he cried, “but that is all.” (263-264).