The Basil and Josephine Stories

I’m not usually a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I’ve admitted I have a love/hate relationship with him, which meant I loved to hate him. I felt this way because I did not believe Fitzgerald deserved the acclaim he received, and still receives, for repeatedly producing the same work.

You may read my opinion of the author and his writings here: Under the Influence; Dear Scott, Sincerely, HL; and F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories.

Recently, I read The Basil and Josephine Stories, a compilation of Fitzgerald’s two previously published series from The Saturday Evening Post, and I honestly enjoyed them. I think they are some of his best writings.

Fitzgerald grabbed my interest by digging deep into the compost pile of this own youth. He transferred specific details and events to fashion Basil’s stories. While I formerly complained that he put too much of himself into his writing, the Basil stories were fresh in that they read like an attempt at self-analyzation, which I found intriguing.

I believe a mature perspective enabled the author to write about the humiliating details while at the same time stepping back and processing them. In doing so, the reader was treated to Basil’s growth and maturity, whereas in Fitzgerald’s own life, one does not see such amazing growth as experienced by his character.

One detail in Basil’s life that shocked me was the absence of his father, who had died in an unspecified manner. I recall reading that Fitzgerald was ashamed of his own father’s lack of success, and I wondered if removing Basil’s father from the stories was a subconscious method of dealing with this shame.

Now, factor in Josephine, a girl who repeatedly brought to mind “Charm is deceitful and beauty fades . . .” She is so shallow and self-absorbed that she never learns or grows throughout her stories until “Emotional Bankruptcy” wherein she is just becoming self-aware. There is more of Fitzgerald written into the character of Josephine than was initially apparent, maybe more than he intended, and she represents a warning of what not to become. Again, look at the author’s own life for evidence.

And she is most definitely a picture of the great lost love of his life, Ginevra King.

My conclusion is that Fitzgerald was crafting his version of the perfect ending to his relationship with Ginevra, a what-could-have-been scenario. I believe this because the author intended for Basil and Josephine to meet when he combined the series at some point.

I know that a book of Basil’s tales was proposed (and discarded for the flimsy reason of not wanting the story to detract from Fitzgerald’s more serious writing, i.e., his novels, in any way) but I’m not sure if the intended meeting between Basil and Josephine was supposed to happen in said book.

Whether as a novel or continuation of the series, I wonder if Fitzgerald began to fear the transparency of the story and/or accept that he could never make it right. The author depended on money earned from the stories to support his and Zelda’s lavish lifestyle between novels. Could the beautiful, troubled Zelda have seen what her wayward husband was attempting to accomplish thus forcing Fitzgerald to abandon the project?

Further, would Fitzgerald have had Basil snub Josephine, a literary comeuppance for Ginevra King, or would he have written a happily-ever-after ending bringing the pair together in a way that would show Ginevra, her father, the rich, and the world in general that a middleclass boy could marry a rich girl and make all her dreams come true? Would love have conquered riches?

We’ll never know, and while I would have liked to read that ending, all I’m left with is speculation. Still, I’m leaning more toward a comeuppance for Ginevra/Josephine because Basil/F. Scott was in the process of outgrowing her. Then again, Fitzgerald’s own lifelong pursuit of wealth and fame may have spelled doom for Basil and Josephine if they, as a couple, failed to overcome their worldly desires as Fitzgerald and Zelda did. Then there is the possibility that Basil would have led Josephine to a higher understanding of true happiness beyond money and reputation.

The whole ball of questions sound like something that would be a fabulous project for a writer of fan fiction, don’t you think?

I’m still itching to vent my usual complaints against Fitzgerald, but I’ll finish by saying that I felt more hope for him after reading The Basil and Josephine Stories. It’s obvious that he was better when writing short stories that built upon certain themes with the intention of having the characters intersect at some point. Perhaps I would like his novels better if he had written them as a collection of short stories. It certainly would have assisted with his inability to focus on longer works because of all he had going on in life.

Unfortunately, my hope for F. Scott Fitzgerald comes too late for an author who showed great potential and squandered much of it.

Dear Scott, Sincerely HL

Dear Scott,

I was looking at my calendar and realized I haven’t read anything written by you or about you since December of last year. Admittedly, I probably wouldn’t have if my reading group facilitator hadn’t chosen The Great Gatsby as the July selection.

So yes, I finally read The Great Gatsby, and I must say a better title would have been Gatsby’s Folly. My critique is probably going to sound quite harsh when I say I didn’t find anything particularly great about the character of Jay Gatsby or the story in general. Certainly nothing new or exciting. While Gatsby is heralded as your most successful novel, it was more of the same themes you wrote about repeatedly in many of your other works.

For this reason, my opinion of your writing hasn’t changed. If you’re interested to know what those opinions are, because we’ve never discussed them in our correspondence, you may read them.  (Under the Influence & F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories) If your agent and editor were alive today, they should be fired for letting you get away with this. Then again, kudos for convincing them and the public that they were reading new material. Well played, I suppose, but really Scott, you had such potential and could have done better.

Some minor issues I have with the novel include your pet word problem (in this book it was violent), the ridiculous names you assign your characters, the clichéd racist comments and characters, and your overuse of –ly adverbs. Perhaps the prohibition on –ly adverbs being taught to writers today would surprise you, and we might actually find ourselves on the same side in regard to the issue.

Another way Gatsby is no different from your other works is that right on cue you presented characters that attended Princeton, Yale, or Harvard, played football, were “old money” or “new money,” and pursued the “top girl.” All things you wanted for yourself. Quit writing so much of yourself into your novels and short stories. It comes across like a pathetic, autobiographical cry for help.

To write novels that are supposedly commentaries on the 1920s yet accept no responsibility for the debauchery that took place is imprudent. You weren’t an innocent bystander, Scott. Rather you were a major contributor to the post-war era of exploring new freedoms and sexuality. We both know if you could have obtained the wealth and power that would have made you equal in the minds of those considered “old money,” you would have jumped at the chance headfirst. If we’re to believe you meant your novels as warnings, then I must ask what kind of person doesn’t heed his own advice? A fool, I’d say.

On the upside, you may be pleasantly pleased to know that your unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, is being made into a series for television. Too little, too late, wouldn’t you say? Still, your name is being kept alive on people’s lips, so at least the fame you always craved is there.

As for the collection of your unpublished short stories, I’d Die for You, I admit that my opinion toward you softened somewhat when I discovered the stories didn’t sell because per Scribner, “Rather than permit changes and sanitizing by his contemporary editors, Fitzgerald preferred to let his work remain unpublished, even at a time when he was in great need of money and review attention.” Finally, you’re standing up for your work and not just trying to turn a quick buck.

But let’s not end on a bitter note, shall we, Scott? I keep reading your work in the hopes that one piece will redeem you in some fashion if for no other reason than to thumb your nose at Ernest who deserves it. Besides, I don’t want to keep feeling sorry for you. I’d like to find a way to extend you some forgiveness for ruining your own career. With that being said, I’m probably going to buy I’d Die for You. I fear you shan’t see a penny from the sale.

All my best to Zelda and Scotty.

Sincerely,

HL Gibson

Under the Influence

under-the-influenceAs a follow up to reading F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories, I read his biography, Under the Influence, by E. Ray Canterbery and Thomas D. Birch. I assigned myself the goal of learning about the man as an author and a person for research toward a novel I’m working on.

As I suspected, my opinion of him hasn’t changed, and I’m seriously reconsidering the other Fitzgerald commentaries, biographies, and novels I had planned to read to gain a better understanding of him. The role to which he will be assigned in my new novel doesn’t warrant more than what I’ve already completed.

Under the Influence was well-written, highly informative, and laid a large portion of the blame for Fitzgerald’s failure at Zelda’s feet. It is well known now that Zelda suffered from schizophrenia and that her mental illness wreaked havoc upon their marriage. However, one must step back and analyze why Fitzgerald married Zelda in the first place.

Fitzgerald had lost the love of his life, Ginevra King, who represented two of his lifelong ambitions: wealth and power. Zelda, also beautiful and rich, seemed a means to an end where his desires were concerned. Then there was the fact that she was the rebound girl, and everybody knows you don’t fall in love with, let alone marry, the rebound girl. His actions make me question whether he truly loved either woman or was simply satisfying his need for a “top girl.”

I don’t blame Fitzgerald for not being able to predict Zelda’s illness, but he could have handled it better once she started displaying signs. Even before she was diagnosed, when she was unable to curb her outlandish conduct, instead of exercising maturity and control, more often than not Fitzgerald would join her in bizarre behavior. The biography presents him as a caring family man, but responsible family men don’t indulge bad actions.

While Zelda was a victim of a condition not of her own choosing, Fitzgerald was a prisoner of a condition of his own making. He alone was responsible for his excessive drinking and all the negative effects it had on his life, his family, and his writing. Throughout his life, Fitzgerald relied on alcohol to bolster his insecure nature, and it cost him both personal and professional relationships as well as reputation among fellow authors.

The biography reinforced my belief that Fitzgerald wrote himself into much, possibly all, of his work. His fictional characters reflect his ambitions, goals, beliefs, failures, and successes. One really doesn’t need to read the autobiographical Crack Up essays to obtain a clear picture of the man. Although I don’t care for his writing, I still find it sad that he squandered his talent chasing the idea of the American Dream, specifically the portion where he was steeped in wealth.

%d bloggers like this: