F. S. Fitzgerald’s Fighting the Past and Self-Loathing in “Babylon Revisited”
Franklin Scott Fitzgerald’s life as a writer in the 1920’s shaped the stories that he created. Much of the content of many of his tales correlates with his private life with his wife Zelda, his trouble with alcohol, and their lives in Europe. Fitzgerald wrote the story “Babylon Revisited” – perhaps his most widely read story – in December of 1930, and then it was published in February of 1931 in The Saturday Evening Post. Mathew J. Bruccoli writes in “A Brief Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald” that “The dominant influences on F. Scott Fitzgerald were aspiration…Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, and alcohol,” and each of these influences are painfully visible in “Babylon Revisited.” Charlie Wales, the main character in “Babylon Revisited,” is obviously an image of Fitzgerald and the life that he lived in the roaring twenties, but the sympathy that Fitzgerald’s writing seems to presume is as shallow as Charlie’s giving up alcohol. The bond between Fitzgerald and Charlie Wales, however, is not as shallow as the contempt that Fitzgerald holds for the life that both he and Charlie experienced: both Charlie and Fitzgerald experience financial success, suffering marriages, and alcoholism.
Through the narration of Charlie’s past and his conversations with various characters in “Babylon Revisited,” it is explained that Charlie became somewhat wealthy in the boom of the 1920’s and spent it frivolously. Charlie and Helen Wales enjoyed a carefree life full of parties, plays, and other functions of high society in which they paid exorbitant amounts of money to every person that they dealt with, where Charlie remembers “thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing…
…rough her affair with a French naval aviator contributed almost the entire storyline from which Fitzgerald created Charlie and the whole of “Babylon Revisited.”
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Babylon Revisited.” From The International Story. Spack, Robert, ed. St. Martin’s Press: New York. 1994, pp86-102.
William J. Brondell, “Structural Metaphors in Fitzgerald’s Short Fiction,” in Kansas Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 2, Spring, 1982, pp. 107-11.
James M. Harrison, “Fitzgerald’s ‘Babylon Revisited’,” in The Explicator, Vol. 16, No. 4, January, 1958, pp. 1, 3. Reprinted in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 31.
Matthew J. Bruccoli’s “A Brief Life of Fitzgerald” originally appeared in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, ed. Bruccoli with the assistance of Judith S. Baughman (New York: Scribners, 1994.); essay reprinted courtesy of Simon & Schuster.