Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
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c. 1936 / New York City

F. Scott Fitzgerald Blows Into Town

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There was already the tall white city of today, already the feverish activity of the boom, but there was a general inarticulateness. As much as anyone, the columnist F. P. A. guessed the pulse of the individual and of the crowd, but shyly, as one watching from a window. Society and the native arts had not mingled—Ellin Mackay was not yet married to Irving Berlin. Many of Peter Arno’s people would have been meaningless to the citizen of 1920, and save for F. P. A.’s column there was no forum for metropolitan urbanity.

Then, for just a moment, the “younger generation” idea became a fusion of many elements in New York life. People of fifty might pretend there was still a four hundred, or Maxwell Bodenheim might pretend there was a Bohemia worth its paint and pencils—but the blending of the bright, gay, vigorous elements began then, and for the first time there appeared a society a little livelier than the solid mahogany dinner parties of Emily Price Post. If this society produced the cocktail party, it also evolved Park Avenue wit, and for the first time an educated European could envisage a trip to New York as something more amusing than a gold trek into a formalized Australian bush.

For just a moment, before it was demonstrated that I was unable to play the role, I, who knew less of New York than any reporter of six months’ standing and less of its society than any hall-room boy in a Ritz stage line, was pushed into the position not only of spokesman for the time but of the typical product of that same moment. I, or rather it was “we” now, did not know exactly what New York expected of us and found it rather confusing. Within a few months after our embarkation on the metropolitan venture, we scarcely knew anymore who we were, and we hadn’t a notion what we were. A dive into a civic fountain, a casual brush with the law, was enough to get us into the gossip columns, and we were quoted on a variety of subjects we knew nothing about. Actually our “contacts” included half a dozen unmarried college friends and a few new literary acquaintances—I remember a lonesome Christmas when we had not one friend in the city, nor one house we could go to. Finding no nucleus to which we could cling, we became a small nucleus ourselves, and gradually we fitted our disruptive personalities into the contemporary scene of New York. Or rather New York forgot us and let us stay.

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About the Text

From “My Lost City.” Called by Ring Lardner the prince and princess of their generation, Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda moved in 1924 to the Riviera, joining an expatriate scene he later described in Tender Is the Night. After Zelda suffered two mental collapses and his drinking increased, he observed in 1936, “Of course all life is a process of breaking down.” He died in Hollywood at the age of forty-four.

Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.
John Berger, 1987
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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