Monday, May 4, 2009

Book Review: Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Step Right In and Come of Age in the Early Twentieth Century:
A Book Review of The Genius of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Flappers and Philosophers ( 8 Short Stories) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This little book of eight short stories took me about a week to read, and now I’m very sorry that it’s over. All of the stories were very entertaining and vivid. In between reading it, I would feel I was a nineteen-year-old girl in the first or second decade of the twentieth century. Many of the stories in this book are focused on girls of that age, and I thought it was quite strange that Fitzgerald could write so well about them. Almost all of the stories can be classified as "coming of age" stories in the early twentieth century.

The book starts off with a strong and rebellious nineteen-year-old girl in “The Offshore Pirate.” That first story was probably my favorite. My second favorite was probably “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” which was also about a nineteen-year-old who was figuring herself out a lot more than the heroine from the first story, who knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. I also liked “The Ice Palace” in which a very vivacious teenager named Sally Carroll visits a Northeastern city in the hopes of marrying, and finds out that she misses the colorful southern town where she grew up.

The last story in the collection, “The Four Fists,” features a manly man who gets knocked down by four punches in his lifetime, each of which teaches him an important lesson, and the story takes him from New York to the oil fields of Texas and the ranches of New Mexico. It’s rather refreshing to read a burly story after all the quite feminine ones, but I truly liked them all. The second-to-last story, “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong,” also features a male character and his descent into shadiness. What I noticed is how differently Fitzgerald writes about male characters than female characters – there’s less internal monologue and descriptions of thoughts and conversations, and more action at a swiftly moving pace. One story, “Head and Shoulders” does a beautiful job of explaining a role reversal of sorts, in which the female character shines and the male character withers.

To read this book was to be transported back to a totally different time – anywhere from the 1890’s to the 19-teens, and to totally different places – usually New England towns, Ivy League educational institutions, and country clubs. I enjoyed the scenes about fox trots and flappers and jazz music and I wished, sometimes, that I could have lived back then. But Fitzgerald had great sympathy for his female characters – “The Cut-Glass Bowl” featured a downfall of one of them, and the strong character of Marjorie in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” explains how they can become withered and unloved housewives, many of whom are disapprovingly interspersed into that story.

In fact, if I carry one thing away from Flappers and Philosophers other than hours of entertaining reading, it is a remark on the position of young women in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The stories feature girls at the cusp of womanhood who wear rose-tinted glasses and think that life is about dances and social events. Yet the men are the ones getting an education, seeing the world and taking part in all of the action (again with the exception of the uniquely witty “Heads and Shoulders” plot). In this sense I am very happy to be living in the 21st century and just reading about these female characters in the early 20th century.

Quotes from Flappers and Philosophers:

“I distrust people who can be intense at this hour in the morning! Morning’s the time to sleep, swim and be careless!” (From “The Offshore Pirate”)

“All life is just a procession towards – and then a recession from – one phrase: ‘I love you.’” (From “The Offshore Pirate”)

“I want to go places and see people. I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale.” (From “The Ice Palace”)

“There’s two sides to me, you see. There’s the sleepy old side you love; and there’s the sort of energy – the feeling that makes me do wild things. That’s the part of me that may be useful somewhere, that’ll last when I’m not beautiful anymore.” (From “The Ice Palace”)

“Every person I’ve met on the streets since I met you has made me jealous because they knew what love was before I did.” (From “Head and Shoulders”)

“When you open your door at the rap of life, you let in many things.” (From “Head and Shoulders”)

“At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.” (From “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”)

“Snobbishness is merely good breeding grown dictatorial.” (From “The Four Fists”)

Categories of Stories in Flappers and Philosophers:

Coming of Age Stories: (*Note: Really almost every story in this collection touches on this to some
extent, but these are the ones that entirely focus on coming of age):

The Offshore Pirate
The Ice Palace

Bernice Bobs Her Hair

Dalyrimple Goes Wrong

Stories About War:

The Cut-Glass Bowl
Dalyrimple Goes Wrong

Stories About Love:

The Offshore Pirate

Head and Shoulders

Stories About Affairs:

The Cut-Glass Bowl

The Four Fists

Stories About Displacement:

The Ice Palace

Stories About Family:
Sister and brother – Benediction

Cousins – Bernice Bobs Her Hair

Stories About Religion:


Stories About Home:

The Ice Palace

Cities/ Regions:

Florida – The Offshore Pirate

New York City – Head and Shoulders, The Four Fists

New Mexico – The Four Fists

Baltimore – Benediction

Georgia/ the South – The Ice Palace

[Read from April 26 - May 3, 2009]