Monday, May 16, 2022

“Flappers and Philosophers” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Published in 1920, Flappers and Philosophers was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first collection of short stories. First appearing separately in such magazines at The Saturday Evening Post and Esquire, these eight stories were collected and published the same year has his first novel, This Side of Paradise. It was the novel that turned Fitzgerald into an overnight literary sensation – and at age 24. But it was the short stories that he continued to write for the rest of his life that supported him financially.  

The stories are generally about people in the upper middle and upper classes. They’re set in the first two decades of the 20th century and are something of period pieces – the slang, the music references, and social manners mark them with their time. Two of the stories, “The Offshore Pirate” and “The Ice Palace,” also contain references that today, 100 years after their publication, could only be called racist.


“The Offshore Pirate” is about a young woman who is bored with life and chooses only the worst men, whose uncle and guardian is at his wits end to marry her off (and make someone else responsible for her). She’s agreeably kidnapped on her uncle’s yacht by a young irate who, with his band of musicians, is making off with a stolen fortune. “The Ice Palace” is about a young woman from the South who’s determined to escape her town (and the young men it contains) and marry a Northerner. She almost gets her wish.


The young F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Head and Shoulders” concerns what seem to be a highly mismatched couple, a brainy man who exists only for the study of his books and a stage actress. They’ll end up changing positions. “The Cut-Glass Bowl” is the story of a woman of fading beauty mirrors the decline in the family wealth.


“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is set right at the beginning of the flapper age. A young woman visiting her cousin undergoes something of a “Pygmalion” change at the hands of the cousin, whose verbal cruelty will eventually get its comeuppance. “Benediction” is something of an abrupt change of subject – a young woman visits the brother she hasn’t seen for 17 years – the brother who is studying to become a Jesuit priest. During the visit, she has an unexpected experience.


“Dalyrimple Goes Wrong” is about a war hero from the Great War who comes home to adulation which quickly fades. He takes something of a menial job, until he realizes that burglary might be more lucrative. And “The Four Fists” is the story of a young men who’s punched in the jaw on four separate occasions of his life – and each punch teaches him something important.


The collection is eight very different stories, showing Fitzgerald at the very beginning of his literary career. Each has something of a surprising twist. And each has characters who are recognizable, even at a distance of a century.


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