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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction

“An Almost Theatrical Innocence”

John T. Irwin

Publication Year: 2014

“Fitzgerald’s work has always deeply moved me,” writes John T. Irwin. “And this is as true now as it was fifty years ago when I first picked up The Great Gatsby. I can still remember the occasions when I first read each of his novels; remember the time, place, and mood of those early readings, as well as the way each work seemed to speak to something going on in my life at that moment. Because the things that interested Fitzgerald were the things that interested me and because there seemed to be so many similarities in our backgrounds, his work always possessed for me a special, personal authority; it became a form of wisdom, a way of knowing the world, its types, its classes, its individuals.” In his personal tribute to Fitzgerald's novels and short stories, Irwin offers an intricate vision of one of the most important writers in the American canon. The third in Irwin's trilogy of works on American writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction resonates back through all of his previous writings, both scholarly and poetic, returning to Fitzgerald's ongoing theme of the twentieth-century American protagonist's conflict between his work and his personal life. This conflict is played out against the typically American imaginative activity of self-creation, an activity that involves a degree of theatrical ability on the protagonist's part as he must first enact the role imagined for himself, which is to say, the self he means to invent. Irwin claims that Fitzgerald, because he was on the side of good breeding and lost causes, should be considered a Southern writer. It also includes a reading of The Great Gatsby that centers on the notion of desire, one that suggests, paradoxically, that the true object of desire is its lack of fulfillment. The work is suffused with elements of both Fitzgerald's and Irwin's biographies, and Irwin's immense erudition is on display throughout. Irwin seamlessly ties together details from Fitzgerald's life with elements from his entire body of work and considers central themes connected to wealth, class, work, love, jazz, acceptance, family, disillusionment, and life as theatrical performance.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The present book completes a trilogy examining the work of four writers, each of whom, I contend, had been influenced in a special way by Platonic idealism. The first two volumes—The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story and Hart Crane’s Poetry: “Appollinaire lived in Paris...

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pp. xi-xiv

I want to thank my friend and colleague Professor Howard Egeth of the Psychology Department at the Johns Hopkins University for originally suggesting to me during lunch one day at the Hopkins Club that, given my interest in the social theatricality of interpersonal relationships in Fitzgerald’s fiction...

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Chapter One: Compensating Visions in The Great Gatsby

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pp. 1-9

Like many readers of my generation, I first became a fan of Fitzgerald’s fiction when I read The Great Gatsby in college. At the time I thought it was the best book I had ever read, and indeed at the time it probably was. Some fifty years later, it is still one of my favorite American...

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Chapter Two: Fitzgerald as a Southern Writer

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pp. 10-32

At one point in my working life I moved from a city in the northeast to a town in the deep South and from teaching American literature to editing a magazine. I hadn’t been in my office at the Georgia Review for more than a week when I received a phone call from the university’s...

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Chapter Three: The Importance of “Repose”

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pp. 33-85

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved American popular songs, particularly those of the “golden age” of American music: the songs of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s—that favored period when jazz and popular music ran for a time in the same channel before separating in the late 1940s...

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Chapter Four: “An Almost Theatrical Innocence”

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pp. 86-157

Jay Gatsby, as James Gatz’s Platonic “ideal self,” must, I have suggested, be objectified for others, must, in effect, be performed in order for it to become actual. And having invoked Sartre’s Being and Nothingness to examine the existential aspect of the self as a being-for-others created by the...

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Chapter Five: Fitzgerald and the Mythical Method

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pp. 158-193

One aspect of The Great Gatsby that entered my consciousness with my first reading of the novel and intrigued me ever after—though I could not have stated it clearly at the time and only became aware of its importance retrospectively—was the trope of self-invention embodied by...

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Chapter Six: On the Son’s Own Terms

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pp. 194-218

This concludes the third book of a trilogy devoted to the works of four writers—Poe and Borges in the first volume, Hart Crane in the second, and Fitzgerald here. The rationale for this grouping is my contention that these writers’ works share, to a greater or lesser degree, an...

Works Cited

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pp. 219-222


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pp. 223-233

E-ISBN-13: 9781421412313
E-ISBN-10: 1421412314
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421412306
Print-ISBN-10: 1421412306

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 870994488
MUSE Marc Record: Download for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction

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Subject Headings

  • Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott), 1896-1940 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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