Friday, December 12, 2014
In the parlor of a house situated on a dimly lighted residence street somewhere east of Broadway, sat the lady who, as I have said before, started the whole business. She was holding a conversation half frivolous, half sentimental, with a faultlessly dressed young man who sat with her on the sofa. All of this was quite right and proper, however, for they were engaged to be married in June.
“Harry Talbot,” said Dorothy Harmon, as she rose and stood laughing at the merry young gentleman beside her, “if you aren’t the most ridiculous boy I ever met, I’ll eat that terrible box of candy you brought me last week!”
“Dorothy,” reproved the young man, “you should receive gifts in the spirit in which they are given. That box of candy cost me much of my hard earned money.” “Your hard earned money, indeed!” scoffed Dorothy. “You know very well that you never earned a cent in your life. Golf and dancing—that is the sum total of your occupations. Why, you can’t even spend money, much less earn it!”
“My dear Dorothy, I succeeded in running up some very choice bills last month, as you will find if you consult my father.” “That’s not spending your money. That’s wasting it. Why, I don’t think you could give away twenty-five dollars in the right way to save your life.”
“But why on earth,” remonstrated Harry, “should I want to give away twenty-five dollars?” “Because,” explained Dorothy, “that would be real charity. It’s nothing to charge a desk to your father and have it sent to me, but to give money to people you don’t know is something.” “Why, any old fellow can give away money,” protested Harry.
“Then,” exclaimed Dorothy, “we’ll see if you can. I don’t believe that you could give twenty-five dollars in the course of an evening if you tried.” “Indeed, I could.” “Then try it!” And Dorothy, dashing into the hall, took down his coat and hat and placed them in his reluctant hands. “It is now half-past eight. You be here by ten o’clock.” “But, but,” gasped Harry.
Dorothy was edging him towards the door. “How much money have you?” she demanded. Harry gloomily put his hand in his pocket and counted out a handful of bills. “Exactly twenty-five dollars and five cents.”
“Very well! Now listen! These are the conditions. You go out and give this money to anybody you care to whom you have never seen before. Don’t give more than two dollars to any one person. And be back here by ten o’clock with no more than five cents in your pocket.”
“But,” declared Harry, still backing towards the door, “I want my twenty-five dollars.” “Harry,” said Dorothy sweetly, “I am surprised!” and with that, she slammed the door in his face. “I insist,” muttered Harry, “that this is a most unusual proceeding.”
He walked down the steps and hesitated. “Now,” he thought, “Where shall I go?” He considered a moment and finally started off towards Broadway. He had gone about half a block when he saw a gentleman in a top hat approaching. Harry hesitated. Then he made up his mind, and, stepping towards the man, emitted what he intended for a pleasant laugh but what sounded more like a gurgle, and loudly vociferated, “Merry Christmas, friend!”
“The same to you,” answered he of the top hat, and would have passed on, but Harry was not to be denied. “My good fellow”—He cleared his throat. “Would you like me to give you a little money?” “What?” yelled the man. “You might need some money, don’t you know, to—er—buy the children—a—a rag doll,” he finished brilliantly.
The next moment his hat went sailing into the gutter, and when he picked it up the man was far away. “There’s five minutes wasted,” muttered Harry, as, full of wrath towards Dorothy, he strode along his way. He decided to try a different method with the next people he met. He would express himself more politely. A couple approached him,—a young lady and her escort. Harry halted directly in their path and, taking off his hat, addressed them.
“As it is Christmas, you know, and everybody gives away—er—articles, why”— “Give him a dollar, Billy, and let’s go on,” said the young lady. Billy obediently thrust a dollar into Harry’s hand, and at that moment the girl gave a cry of surprise. “Why, it’s Harry Talbot,” she exclaimed, “begging!”
But Harry heard no more. When he realized that he knew the girl he turned and sped like an arrow up the street, cursing has foolhardiness in taking up the affair at all. He reached Broadway and started slowly down the gaily lighted thoroughfare, intending to give money to the street Arabs he met. All around him was the bustle of preparation. Everywhere swarmed people happy in the pleasant concert of their own generosity. Harry felt strangely out of place as he wandered aimlessly along. He was used to being catered to and bowed before, but here no one spoke to him, and one or two even had the audacity to smile at him and wish him a “Merry Christmas.” He nervously accosted a passing boy.
“I say, little boy, I’m going to give you some money.” “No you ain’t,” said the boy sturdily. “I don’t want none of your money.” Rather abashed, Harry continued down the street. He tried to present fifty cents to an inebriated man, but a policeman tapped him on the shoulder and told him to move on. He drew up beside a ragged individual and quietly whispered, “Do you wish some money?”
“I’m on,” said the tramp, “what’s the job?” “Oh! there’s no job!” Harry reassured him. “Tryin’ to kid me, hey?” growled the tramp resentfully. “Well, get somebody else.” And he slunk off into the crowd.
Next Harry tried to squeeze ten cents into the hand of a passing bellboy, but the youth pulled open his coat and displayed a sign “No Tipping.” With the air of a thief, Harry approached an Italian bootblack, and cautiously deposited ten cents in his hand. At a safe distance he saw the boy wonderingly pocket the dime, and congratulated himself. He had but twenty-four dollars and ninety cents yet to give away! His last success gave him a plan. He stopped at a newsstand where, in full sight of the vender, he dropped a two-dollar bill and sped away in the crowd. After several minutes’ hard running he came to a walk amidst the curious glances of the bundle-laden passers-by, and was mentally patting himself on the back when he heard quick breathing behind him, and the very newsie he had just left thrust into his hand the two-dollar bill and was off like a flash.
The perspiration streamed from Harry’s forehead and he trudged along despondently. He got rid of twenty-five cents, however, by dropping it into a children’s aid slot. He tried to get fifty cents in, but it was a small slot. His first large sum was two dollars to a Salvation Army Santa Claus, and, after this, he kept a sharp lookout for them, but it was past their closing time, and he saw no more of them on his journey.
He was now crossing Union Square, and, after another half hour’s patient work, he found himself with only fifteen dollars left to give away. A wet snow was falling which turned to slush as it touched the pavements, and the light dancing pumps he wore were drenched, the water oozing out of his shoe with every step he took. He reached Cooper Square and turned into the Bowery. The number of people on the streets was fast thinning and all around him shops were closing up and their occupants going home. Some boys jeered at him, but, turning up his collar, he plodded on. In his ears rang the saying, mockingly yet kindly, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
He turned up Third Avenue and counted his remaining money. It amounted to three dollars and seventy cents. Ahead of him he perceived, through the thickening snow, two men standing under a lamp post. Here was his chance. He could divide his three dollars and seventy cents between them. He came up to them and tapped one on the shoulder. The man, a thin, ugly looking fellow, turned suspiciously.
“Won’t you have some money, you fellow?” he said imperiously, for he was angry at humanity in general and Dorothy in particular. The fellow turned savagely. “Oh!” he sneered, “you’re one of these stiffs tryin’ the charity gag, and then gettin’ us pulled for beggin’. Come on, Jim, let’s show him what we are.”
And they showed him. They hit him, they mashed him, they got him down and jumped on him, they broke his hat, they tore his coat. And Harry, gasping, striking, panting, went down in the slush. He thought of the people who had that very night wished him a Merry Christmas. He was certainly having it. Miss Dorothy Harmon closed her book with a snap. It was past eleven and no Harry. What was keeping him? He had probably given up and gone home long ago. With this in mind, she reached up to turn out the light, when suddenly she heard a noise outside as if someone had fallen.
Dorothy rushed to the window and pulled up the blind. There, coming up the steps on his hands and knees was a wretched caricature of a man. He was hatless, coatless, collarless, tieless, and covered with snow. It was Harry. He opened the door and walked into the parlor, leaving a trail of wet snow behind him. “Well?” he said defiantly. “Harry,” she gasped, “can it be you?” “Dorothy,” he said solemnly, “it is me.” “What—what has happened?” “Oh, nothing. I’ve just been giving away that twenty-five dollars.” And Harry sat down on the sofa. “But Harry,” she faltered, “your eye is all swollen.”
“Oh, my eye? Let me see. Oh, that was on the twenty-second dollar. I had some difficulty with two gentlemen. However, we afterward struck up quite an acquaintance. I had some luck after that. I dropped two dollars in a blind beggar’s hat.” “You have been all evening giving away that money?”
“My dear Dorothy, I have decidedly been all evening giving away that money.” He rose and brushed a lump of snow from his shoulder. “I really must be going now. I have two—er—friends outside waiting for me.” He walked towards the door. “Two friends?” “Why—a—they are the two gentlemen I had the difficulty with. They are coming home with me to spend Christmas. They are really nice fellows, though they might seem a trifle rough at first.”
Dorothy drew a quick breath. For a minute no one spoke. Then he took her in his arms. “Dearest,” she whispered, “you did this all for me.” A minute later he sprang down the steps, and arm in arm with his friends, walked off in the darkness. “Good night, Dorothy,” he called back, “and a Merry Christmas!”
"A Luckless Santa Claus" (This story appeared in the Newman News on Christmas 1912).
Thursday, December 11, 2014
In a few months, we’ll be celebrating the 90th Anniversary of The Great Gatsby, published for the first time in April 1925, although technically F. Scott Fitzgerald had completed his masterpiece in the winter of 1924. In June 1923, he had penned a genesis (referred by scholars as ‘Ur-Gatsby’) of what would become the Great American Novel, featuring the protagonist’s duality towards the figure of Father Schwartz —inspired by Father Fay, Fitzgerald’s headmaster at Newman college. The ‘Ur-Gatsby’ would be assimilated into his short story Absolution (June 1924).
Encouraged by his editor Maxwell Perkins to make new revisions, Fitzgerald had to “adumbrate” his Gatsby’s character, seen somewhat as “vague” by Scribner’s Publishing. On December 20, 1924, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Perkins from Hôtel des Princes in Rome, commenting about the novel’s chapter VII: “the trouble with Daisy — it may hurt the book’s popularity that it’s a man’s book.” While perfecting Gatsby, the Fitzgeralds had put a glittering tree with silver bells in their hotel room and attended a Christmas Eve party in honor of Fred Niblo’s Ben-Hur (the most expensive silent movie ever).
Armed with “sustained imagination of a sincere and yet radiant world,” Fitzgerald felt “an enormous power, more than I’ve ever had.” The masculine ideal of the 1920s for Fitzgerald was “the old dream of being an entire man in the Goethe-Byron-Shaw tradition, with an opulent American touch.” Despite innumerable analysis, there is still an indefinite quality that confers The Great Gatsby value as a mystifying and illimitable work of art. Due to a serious matrimonial crisis (Zelda’s liaison with Edouard Jozan), Fitzgerald declared he’d “dragged” his most renowned book “out of the pit of my stomach in a time of misery.” His conflicting sentiments during the Gatsby period emerged in a letter to Zelda: “no one believing in me except you… and then I was really alone with no one I liked.”
Much has been pondered about the enigmatic Daisy Fay Buchanan (whose conflated portrait was based on Fitzgerald’s old flame Ginevra King and his wife Zelda), although she is at moments almost a nondescript character, only defined by a minimal characterization. “Her voice is full of money,” Gatsby says of Daisy’s catchy vocal tone, prompting Nick to embrace his second cousin’s “inexhaustible charm”. Daisy is “the king’s daughter, the golden girl,” wrapped in white clothes and luxury, sometimes only “a disembodied face [that] floated along the dark cornices.” Actually, Fitzgerald advanced that in Gatsby there was “no important woman character”. The story revolved mainly around the intriguing kinship between James Gatz (Gatsby) and Nick Carraway (the Narrator), both clashing against the East Egg faction represented by Tom Buchanan (Daisy’s unfaithful husband).
One of the alternative titles for Gatsby was Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires, as if Fitzgerald –Malcolm Cowley writes in Fitzgerald: The Romance of Money (1973)– “were setting the two against each other while suggesting a vague affinity between them. Tom Buchanan, the brutalized millionaire, finds a mistress in the Valley of Ashes.”
“My characters are all Scott Fitzgerald. Even the feminine characters,” the complex author reckoned. In the recent critical essay Understanding Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (2014), Robert A. Albano clarifies: “Fitzgerald was able to incorporate the many sides of his own personality into the creation of The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald himself was a romantic who ignored the reality in order to achieve a goal which many would have thought to be impossible.” However, Fitzgerald had confessed to John Peale Bishop: “I never at any one time saw him [Gatsby] clear myself — for he started as one man I knew and then changed into myself — the amalgam was never complete in my mind.”
The first kiss between Jay and Daisy (“the incarnation was complete”) is seen by Albano as a Biblical reference to God taking human form as Jesus Christ. Gatsby worships Daisy as his sacred duty: “the sacredness of the vigil.” Zelda remembered when she first danced with Scott (in 1918) in her dazzling novel Save Me the Waltz (1932): “There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretly enjoyed the ability to fly but was walking as a compromise to convention.”
In An Almost Theatrical Innocence (2014), John T. Irwin asserts that Gatsby exemplifies (“Gatsby had broken up like glass against Tom’s hard malice…”) how “the Pausanian and the Ovidian myth of Narcissus lie at the heart of the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.” Irwin continues: “Fitzgerald would also have been attracted to the Pygmalion-Galatea myth because of its subtext, its parabolic evocation of the male artist’s relationship to his work of art considered as a female double.” Fitzgerald was, as his Princeton friend Alec McKaig observed, “absorbed in Zelda’s personality.” Zelda’s influence was key in the shaping of Gatsby‘s sensibilities.
Jay Gatsby’s description is more an abstract illustration than a realistically detailed portrayal: “an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.” Daisy opines Gatsby resembles “the advertisement of the man,” alluding possibly to the models for J. C. Leyendecker’s drawings.
Inspecting the Chapter V, some parallels we find are chilling, like the apparition of Owl-Eyes (a character who attends Gatsby’s funeral following the departure of Nick and Gatsby’s father), “with enormous owl-eyed spectacles” at the Merton College Library. Owl-Eyes inevitably reminds us of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg (the phantasmagorical billboard “over the solemn dumping ground” — an Eliotesque Wasteland): “above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles.”
“I am too much a moralist at heart and want to preach at people in some acceptable form, rather than to entertain them,” Fitzgerald explained. That’s the reason real events are inserted in Gatsby under a caustic light, such as the Black Sox Scandal (“one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people”), using Meyer Wolfscheim’s character as a variation of mobster Arnold Rothstein who conspired in the fixing of the 1919 World Series.
“Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply,” ironizes Nick when he learns of Jordan Baker’s vapid and invidious personality. According to Rena Sanderson’s analysis Women in Fitzgerald’s fiction (2006): “Fitzgerald expressed his uneasiness at the feminization of American culture… a symptom of a larger disorder – the decline of the West. Like Carl Jung, D. H. Lawrence, and Oswald Spengler, whose theories he admired, Fitzgerald believed that men and women had complementary natures and feared that a loosening of binary gender distinctions simply encouraged each side to adopt the worst characteristics of the opposite sex.”
Zelda’s early letters echoed her concepts about bisexuality (“two souls incarnated together”) —based on her mother Minnie Sayre’s theosophical doctrines— and greatly aroused Fitzgerald’s imagination. Zelda’s casual rapport with the bisexual novelist Nancy Hoyt or female artists (Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney) could be misinterpreted as lesbian tendencies, especially when she obsessed with her ballet trainer Lubov Egorova. Fitzgerald’s attitude was of intense discomfort toward homosexuals (or ‘fairies’), observing in his Notebooks: “The great homosexual theses — that all great pansies were pansies.”
Zelda’s literary style showed her irrational, genially bended vision like a negative photograph of Fitzgerald’s elegiac pathos, most evidenced in Save Me the Waltz: “Asthmatic Christmas bells tolled over Naples. Alabama went to see the wax Nativities at Benediction. The gleam of gold damask on the altar was as warm and rich as what it represented. She said to herself that human beings have no right to fail. She did not feel what failure was.”
Blending Ginevra King’s flighty elitism and Zelda’s esoteric sensuality, Daisy is also a symbol of sexual illusion, since she’s not fitted anymore for the romantic soldier who had wooed her virginal version in 1917. In my book (pun intended), one of the scariest passages that damages Daisy’s aura irreparably: “in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, she laughed with thrilling scorn. The instant her voice broke off, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick… as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society.” Likewise, Gatsby’s dark side is exposed through his interminable self-delusion: he’s not the lovesick soldier with an ‘incorruptible dream,’ but a duplicitous shady businessman.
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness,” Nick claims, convinced that Gatsby’s ideals have been replaced by inertia. Gatsby’s innocent flaw was turning his magic into a social acclivity, while searching for his identity in Daisy (a woman he doesn’t know anymore). In Sex & Character (1906), Otto Weininger philosophized: “A man’s attempt to find himself in a woman, rather than simply seeing her, presupposes a neglect [of her]. This is where the parallel between the cruelty of eroticism and the cruelty of sexuality becomes complete… Love is Murder. Those who ‘couldn’t care less’ are incapable of love. Love is the most modest of all requests, because it begs for the highest.”
Fitzgerald places the green light shining from Daisy’s dock and the green land as symbols of a mythical Shangri-La. In the United States, Fitzgerald believed, the greatest Americans have “almost invariably come from the very poor class – Lincoln, Edison, Whitman, Ford, Twain.”
According to Maureen Corrigan in So We Read On (2014): “The great theme running throughout all Fitzgerald’s writing and his life is the nobility of the effort to keep one’s head above water, despite the almost inevitable certainty of drowning.”
When Fitzgerald courted Zelda in Montgomery (Alabama), she had taken him to Oakwood cemetery. Among the Confederate graves and the glorious vestiges of the past, the prodigy writer proposed to the Southern Belle. In another legendary letter, Zelda had enskied their shared reverie: “All the broken columns and clasped hands and doves and angels mean romances. Old death is so beautiful… We will die together —I know—Sweetheart.”
“He found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail. He knew that Daisy was extraordinary but he didn’t realize just how extraordinary a ‘nice’ girl could be. He felt married to her, that was all.” —The Great Gatsby
Article first published as The 90th Anniversary of ‘The Great Gatsby’ on Blogcritics.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Friday, December 05, 2014
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
Monday, December 01, 2014