The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1909-1917
The Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait
Although nearly all critics, including those reviewed here, recognize today the quality and stature of Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction, from time to time one still hears a violent dissenting opinion. The case against Fitzgerald was stated as succinctly as possible in a 1951 essay by Leslie Fiedler: “And so a fictionist with a ‘second-rate sensitive mind’…and a weak gift for construction is pushed into the very first rank of American novelists, where it becomes hard to tell his failures from his successes. Who cares as long as the confetti flies and the bands keep playing!” It is a little difficult in this context to know exactly what is meant by a second-rate mind. But a novelist who discovers and is obsessed by an important subject, one which is centrally significant in the experience of his country and time, and who gives that subject vivid expression, hardly deserves such an epithet, however interpreted. Mr. Fiedler knows perfectly well that Fitzgerald has a subject, but he doesn’t like it. As he tells us in his book on the American novel, published in 1960: “There is only one story that Fitzgerald knows how to tell…. The penniless knight…goes out to seek his fortune and unhappily finds it…. He finds in his bed not the white bride but the Dark Destroyer.” But this interpretation is likely to seem biased and partial to anyone who disagrees with Mr. Fiedler’s bright but falsifying description of Fitzgerald as the “laureate” of “the American institution of coitus interruptus.”
Fitzgerald’s discovery of his subject was a progressive one, and he moves into a fuller consciousness and control of it until the very end. Although Mr. Fiedler’s intention is not complimentary, he comes close to an exact formulation when he describes Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s most representative hero, as “the naif out of the West destined…to die of a love for which there is no worthy object.” In writers who are, in a sense, born with an inherent subject to write about, their early work can be peculiarly revealing, both as to subject matter and tone, and this is true of Fitzgerald.
In The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald Mr. John Kuehl has collected the early stories written between 1909 and 1917—the earliest written while he was at St. Paul Academy, three while he was at Newman School in Hackensack, New Jersey, and the remainder while he was an undergraduate at Princeton. While these stories are clearly “apprentice fiction,” several of them are remarkably good, and collectively they indicate that Fitzgerald had already found his subject, although there are few intimations that he was yet aware of the moral dimensions of it which he would exploit so wonderfully in The Great Gatsby and the later fiction.
Mr. Kuehl has provided a series of excellent critical commentaries on the stories, which relate them to Fitzgerald’s later development. Recognizing that nearly all of them deal with frustration or moral defeat, however disguised, he …