restricted access Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life (review)
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Reviewed by
A. Robert Lee, ed. Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life. Critical Studies Series. New York: St. Martin's, 1989. 220 pp. $35.00.

With four of its nine essays very much worth having, A. Robert Lee's collection is a solid achievement in quality, given the industry norm. The troubling weakness of the volume is that it is arranged backwards, with the best materials set so far to the rear that readers might grow discouraged before finding them. The standout essay has the dreariest title. Elizabeth Kaspar Aldrich's " 'The most poetical topic in the world': Women in the Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald," takes a genuinely exciting step in reconciling feminist perspectives, mainstream scholarship, and the wealth of biographical evidence about Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre, and their lethal chemistry. Aldrich contends that the adage about Fitzgerald's women being "all Zelda" must be clarified: steeped in American classics and imaginative conventions, Fitzgerald's mind was capable of coercing the women in his life—real and imagined alike—into aesthetic and psychological prefigurations. In American fiction [End Page 236] by male authors, she says, one such pattern reveals troublesome women as psychologically overwhelmed or ingested by the male protagonist or narrator, and she finds this assimilation throughout Fitzgerald's canon. "To see Fitzgerald critically within such a sequence," says Aldrich, can be of tremendous help in our efforts to escape his own biography . . . while still recognizing that this writer's use of his life, especially the woman in his life, was not simply the condition of his art but its very substance." Aldrich's fine essay should figure centrally in discussions of women, characterization, and form in Scott Fitzgerald's work.

In the last essay in the book, Owen Dudley Edwards makes a case for reading Fitzgerald as "an American and Irish and Catholic writer . . . because he expressed these last two qualities negatively for the most part" and was "conscious of his loss of formal allegiance." Reviewing Fitzgerald's relationship with Sigourney Fay and Shane Leslie, Edwards reinvigorates the hazy idea about lapsed-Catholic presences in Fitzgerald's art. Another strong, modest article is Robert Giddings' "The Last Tycoon: Fitzgerald as Projectionist," an overview which could introduce an edition of the unfinished novel. With many details about Irving Thalberg and the Hollywood scene, Giddings demonstrates how Monroe Stahr "stands emblematically for the figure of the storyteller in his relationship with the means of production and distribution on which the survival of literature depends."

Additional good articles seem to struggle against their rendezvous with conventional opinion. John Whitley's " 'A Touch of Disaster': Fitzgerald, Spengler, and the Decline of the West," offers new connections with Spengler, but Whitley's intellectual honesty also leads him to note parallels between Fitzgerald's thinking, determinism, and Late Romanticism—and he finds a familiar thicket of malaise rather than lurking Spenglerian tigers. Reviewing the "radicalism" of Fitzgerald's love stories for the Post, Brian Harding writes vigorously about material now out of the critical spotlight, but he ultimately reveals that these tales show stock discontent with middle-class life. The lesser articles perform rituals of paraphrase-and-praise, suggesting work which was solicited, finished, and mailed off before a thesis really coalesced in the mind. Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life is an important resource—especially if one stays with it to the last. [End Page 237]

Bruce Michelson
University of Illinois
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