A Panoramic Look at the Prolific F. Scott Fitzgerald
THE SHORT STORIES OF F. SCOTT FITZGERALD Edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli,
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 656 pp., $29.95
`I HAVE asked a lot of my emotions - one hundred and twenty stories. The price was high ... because there was one little drop of something not blood, not a tear, not my seed, but me more intimately than these, in every story ...,'' wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in the mid-1930s, as he struggled with the effects of dissipation in the aftermath of his early, shining success. By the time of his death in 1940 at the age of 43, there were some 160 stories, in addition to the novels that established his reputation: ``This Side of Paradise'' (1920), ``The Great Gatsby'' (1925), ``Tender Is the Night'' (1934), ``The Last Tycoon'' (1941).
Highly esteemed and tremendously popular in the 1920s, his stories were published in mass-circulation magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, and in more exclusive journals like Scribner's and H.L. Mencken's American Mercury. The sheer quantity of the stories, combined with the fact that Fitzgerald needed to churn them out to make a living, has lent credence to the charge that many are hack work. And indeed, Fitzgerald's detractors, notably Ernest Hemingway, were not the only ones to make this accusation: Fitzgerald admitted as much himself. Yet, the writer's own admission of self-disgust, made in moments of self-doubt, lacks conviction, and weighs less in the balance than his sense of having spent himself emotionally, drop by drop, in creating this uneven, yet impressive body of work.
Four collections of Fitzgerald's stories - ``Flappers and Philosophers'' (1920), ``Tales of the Jazz Age'' (1922), ``All the Sad Young Men'' (1926), ``Taps at Reveille'' (1935) - containing 45 stories in all were published in his lifetime. Malcolm Cowley's influential 1951 edition, ``The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald,'' was a judicious attempt to gather 28 of the best in a collection that would enhance Fitzgerald's reputation. Subsequently, between 1957 and 1979, five volumes of previously uncollected stories appeared, indicating that Fitzgerald's standing - and appeal - were strong enough to generate an appetite for less-known works.
Given this, it's surprising that there is as yet no complete edition of Fitzgerald's stories. Admittedly, the sheer number would entail issuing a multivolume set.
In selecting just 43 for this new collection, Fitzgerald scholar Matthew Bruccoli strains the limits of a single volume with a total of 656 pages. But apart from the inconvenience of multiple volumes - or an unliftable single one - there is also the danger that too many minor pieces can obscure the luster of the greater works.
Although Fitzgerald has become part, not only of college but even high-school curricula, the charges of frivolity, commercialism, slickness, and literary lightweightedness continue to render his position in the canon of American literature vulnerable. How vulnerable? Enough for his editor, Professor Bruccoli, and his publisher - still Scribner's, as in his lifetime - to choose stories with an eye to fortifying Fitzgerald's position.
Incorporating over half the stories in the Cowley edition, plus others from slighter collections, Bruccoli's selection presents Fitzgerald's craftsmanship, versatility, originality, and his gift for conveying the emotional tenor of characters and situations. The decision to arrange them chronologically (Cowley's arrangement was thematic) highlights Fitzgerald's increasing ability to probe the depths of seemingly superficial people, whether it's the dawning self-awareness of the young couple in One Trip Abroad, or the unexpected resourcefulness of the charming, nouveau riche Fifi Schwartz in The Hotel Child.
One of the editor's aims has been to include more of Fitzgerald's ``fantasy-supernatural'' stories. While most readers are familiar with The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, Bruccoli's other choices, One Trip Abroad, A Short Trip Home, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, are not so well known.
Fantastic or realistic, idyllic or bittersweet, Fitzgerald's best fiction shows his gift for portraying the subtle, incalculable effect one person can have on another - whether it's the girl who goads her country cousin into becoming more fashionable in Bernice Bobs her Hair, or the handsome wastrel who captivates a beautiful and intelligent woman against her better judgment in A New Leaf.
While Fitzgerald's characters make an initial impression as ``types'' - flappers, preppy college boys, feckless aristocrats, dissipated socialites, young men (and women) on the make, Southern belles, European sophisticates, American innocents abroad - the reader will come away with the impression that Fitzgerald followed his own good advice: ``Begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created - nothing.''