Saturday, March 7, 2015

Has the Literary World Changed in 100 Years? - This Side of Paradise, A Book Review

I only mention this because it is my understanding that "This Side of Paradise" was a big hit in its day. Was that why? Naivity?

Spoiler Alert - This post contains spoilers regarding the novel, This Side of Paradise.

Having finished Tender is the Night, I decided to read another F. Scott Fitzgerald novel before I at least temporarily stepped back to more contemporary fare. I chose This Side of Paradise, first published in 1920.

The novel is a coming of age story, following a young American boy from a life of mid-west privilege, through college and his introduction to the real world with all the stuff life throws at you in the first years out.

While the the first two-thirds of the novel - about life at prep school and Princeton - were well told and enjoyable, I was disappointed as the story stretched beyond those years. Following this period, the narrator goes off to war and then barely gives the time overseas or the tragedy of WWI a paragraph's mention (it is implied that he is a platoon leader of some sort - kind of important don't you think?). After the conflict is over, he comes home to a changing world, his mentor dies and he finds himself disappointed with his future prospects for love and a creative career. Instead of noting the connection and giving it any sort of introspection, the reader is given a treatise on leftist ideology with a literal diatribe against the capitalistic system. The novel closes at that.

I guess it's understandable that this pro-communistic outlook was popular among elitist American thinkers of the early twentieth century; since the horrors of the system weren't well known yet and the dream of equality for all may have seemed economically plausible. Sadly, so many have forgotten the results that ugly social experiment had on the world stage and seem to have some of the same ignorant sentiments today.

But I digress. I only mention this because it is my understanding that "This Side of Paradise" was a big hit in its day. Was that why? Naivety? The novel came out five years' prior to "The Great Gatsby" and helped establish FSF in the literary world.

When "Tender is the Night" came out in 1934, a novel I consider to be a superior to Paradise, it met quite a bit of scorn (See my review of TITN on this blog).

A key difference is that TITN didn't preach.

For the uninformed, TITN's acceptance was a disappointment to FSF. In need of additional income to sustain the lifestyle people expected of his stature, FSF went moved on to Hollywood script writing (little gems like Gone with the Wind) and drank himself to death before reaching his fifth decade.

One tends to notice it in today's publishing and academic world, but must one have always pandered to popular ideas to get noticed in the literary world? Hmmm.