November 21, 1919
114 West Twelfth Street, N.Y.
I have just read your novel [This Side of Paradise] with more delight than I can well tell you. It ought to be a classic in a class with The Young Visiters. Amory Blaine should rank with Mr. Salteena. It sounds like an exquisite burlesque of Compton Mackenzie with a pastiche of Wells thrown in at the end. I wish you hadn’t chosen such bad masters as Mackenzie and the later Wells: your hero is an unreal imitation of Michael Fane, who was himself unreal and who was last seen in the role of the veriest cardboard best-seller hero being nursed back to life in the Balkans. Almost the only things of value to be learned from the Michael Fane books are pretty writing and clever dialogue and with both of these you have done very well. The descriptions in places are very nicely done and so is some of the college dialogue, which really catches the Princeton tone, though your hero as an intellectual is a fake of the first water and I read his views on art, politics, religion, and society with more riotous mirth than I should care to have you know.
You handicap your story, for one thing, by making your hero go to the war and then completely leaving the war out. If you thought you couldn’t deal with his military experiences, you shouldn’t have had him go abroad at all. You make him do a lot of other things that the real Amory never did, such as getting on The Prince and playing on the football team, and thereby you produce an incredible monster, half romantic hero and half F. Scott Fitzgerald. This, of course, may be more evident to me than it would be to some reader who didn’t know you, but I really think you should cultivate detachment and not allow yourself to drift into a state of mind where, as in the latter part of the book, you make Amory the hero of a series of dramatic encounters with all the naïve and romantic gusto of a small boy imagining himself as a brave hunter of Indians.
The love affairs seem to me the soundest part of the book as fiction; the ones with Isabelle and Rosalind are the realest. I was, of course, infinitely entertained by the Princeton part: but you put in some very dubious things—the party at Asbury Park, for example, where they beat their way through the restaurants. If you tell me that you have seen this happen, I point to the incident in which the Burne brothers, who are presumably not supposed to be cads, are made to play an outrageous and impossible practical joke on the girl who comes down for the game. I was also very much shocked when poor old John Bishop’s hair stands up on end at beholding the Devil.
I don’t want …
Copyright © 1977 by Elena Wilson, Executrix of the Estate of Edmund Wilson.