Bryer on Fitzgerald, Conversation 10.23.95

Sipiora says: You've made several references to Fitzgerald's abilities as a
     prose stylist.  Which dimension or technique of his prose style do you
     take to be particularly crucial to his art?
Bryer says: I'm especially interested in small stylistic units like linked
     opposites or unusual uses of verbs - esp in Gatsby.  In an article
     I wrote called "Style as Meaning in The Great Gatsby" in Critical
     Essays on The Great Gatsby I talk about how some of those 
     small units echo the themes of the novel.  The whole notion of linked
     opposites in that novel is an echo of the linked opposition of Gatsby
     and Daisy, e.g, because they come from different social classses.  The 
     linked opposition of Jordan and Nick which is also part of the basic 
     plot of the novel.  It seems to me the whole notion of incongruity, of 
     things not going together, is echoed in the use of very small 
     linguistic units in the novel.  Here are some examples. 
     A good example of the use of an unusual verb is on p. 40 where 
     Fitzgerald says the earth "lurches" away from the sun.  Jordan Baker is 
     quoted as looking with "contemptous interest" into the garden.  That 
     seems to me a very incongruous linking of words.  "Confused and 
     intriguing sounds." "Ferocious Delicacy" - there are too many of them 
     in the novel for it to be a coincidence and they work well with the theme 
     of the novel.  Also in the guest list there is linking of opposites
     (Stonewall Jackson Abrams - you don't expect the last name).  S. P 
     Whitebait (S.P is very aristocratic and Whitebait sounds incongruous 
     with S.P.).
Taylor says: You commented that you thought "Babylon Revisited" is
     Fitzgerald's best story.  For me, what makes this story so compelling
     is the powerful sense I get of all the action and intensity that the
     reader doesn't witness first hand: the days of Babylon.  In this way,
     the story seems similar to Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River"; that
     is, we're witnessing an attempt at therapy at the tail-end of a frenzy.
     Is the "iceberg principle" in effect in "Babylon"?  And, if so, can we
     say--to be provocative--that Fitzgerald might have been imitating
Bryer says: I think any good short story to some extent has the 
     characteristic of keeping some of the action below the surface or 
     off the page.  So I think that that is something Fitzgerald shares 
     with Hemingway and a lot of other writers.  I think you're right that 
     in many ways "Babylon Revisted" deals with something that happened 
     a long time ago and its effect on what is happening now but that is 
     one of Fitz's themes - for example, the notion of Gatsby thinking you can 
     repeat the past.  What Charlie is trying to do is redo the past and 
     he can't do that.  In Fitz the whole sense of the oppressiveness of 
     the past tends to give the stories a naturalistic element in that 
     there is something the characters can't do anything about.  In 
     "Babylon" it seems so unfair to Charlie.  All that happened in the
     past cannot be overcome and he is trying to be reformed in the present
     and he can't do it.  I think there is a similar use of offstage action 
     but not that he is imitiating Hemingway but instead echoing one of 
     the more common techniques of short fiction.
Ahern says: In Fitzgerald's short story, "Absolution," some Aristotelian
     language _leaped out_ at me.  Dr. Sipiora has remarked that Fitzgerald
     was not well-versed in the Classics, but I can't help but feel that the
     allusion is so perfect that it must be intentional.  I refer to the
     line which states that Rudolf was "truly as well as formally sorry" in
     his "official soul."  This implies something about the way(s) in which
     Rudolf may view himself as part of society (publicly) or as an
     individual (privately).  However, might it not suggest a familiarity on
     Fitzgerald's part with Aristotle's belief that habit leads to right
     behavior?  Might it not also suggest that, in the story, Rudolf has
     reached the point at which right behavior has become entrenched?    
     [Much of the memorable action in Fitzgerald's story relates to
     tradition and dogma in the Church, therefore the link that I see to
Bryer says: I think that's an interesting idea.  The extent of Fitz's 
     reading is not altogether clear.  We know that he had a Catholic   
     school education which implies to me he had some familiarity with 
     the classics and there is certainly a lot of scholarship that deals 
     with that.  I've never seen this particular point about "absolution."  
     Your point that it implies something about the ways Rudoloph
     views himself in terms of society did not immediately
     come to me.  I think it may also refer to the idea of the
     entrenched dogma of the church at war with Rudolph's own personal
     feelings and that is after all one of the major movements in the story 
     between what he is curious about and what he has been programmed to 
     feel as a good Catholic boy.  I'm sure that Dr. Sipiora has told you that
     originally "Absolution" was the first chapter of Gatsby but Fitz 
     removed it and published it as a short story.  It's always 
     interesting to look at it as what Fitz might have intended Gatsby's 
     background to be and how that effects Gatsby's mature action.  Write 
     a term paper about it.
Zangla says: In the long story or novelette (whichever) "The Rich Boy" there
     seems to be a division of sections as units in the structure of the
     story. It seems clear that Section I is a prologue. Is Section VIII a
     kind of epilogue, a summation of what has already been established in
     the story?
Bryer says: I think it is more than a summary.  The end of the story is an
     example of how Fitz was ambivalent.  Anson has lost something
     permanent.  He will never be the same.  The narrator says "I was glad.. 
     he was himself... or at least the self I knew."  You see how in 
     situations where previously he might have responded some way Anson can 
     never look at life the same way after losing Paula.  Dexter can never 
     look at life the same way after losing Judy Jones. In here you find out 
     that Paula has died and in a sense you find out just what effect the news 
     of Judy Jones has had on Dexter Green.  A little bit like the end of 
     "Winter Dreams" where you think it continues the action and tells you 
     what the effect is on Anson. It is in a sense an epilogue but 
     summary is not the word I would use.
Munns says: The Basil Duke Lee stories seem not only to be autobiographical
     but are a Jungian template for individuation. One wonders if Fitz had
     really read Carl Jung's works and saw some character development
     possibilities that we see in Divers and Gatsby. It appears some
     self-revelation has been projected into Divers.("crises of awareness)
     (Mancini in Bryer) Your comment please.
Bryer says: You know more about Jung and Fitz than I do ( from that article).
     I think that it's unlikely Fitz knew Jung as well as Mancini does or you.
     On the other hand Jung was in the air in the 20's and 30s and it was 
     pretty hard not to know about him (or Freud).  But I doubt there was a
     sort of slavish attempt to write Jungian stories in the Basil stories.  
     I think Mancini's article is useful for the light it casts on the Basil 
     stories. After all, Jung's theories were based on observing people's 
     lives and so were F's stories.  In the Basil stories parallels in his 
     life and Fitz's life - evidence they were based on feelings and experience
     Fitz had as a young  man.  Jung doing the same sort of thing and reaching
     the same sort of conclusions.  But I dont think Fitz was a careful 
     reader of Jung.  Any writer writes partially to learn about 
     themselves and the life they are living.  And if certainly Fitz 
     wrote to Perkins that Gatsby started out as myself or became myself 
     that is in some way true of all fictional writers.  So there is some 
     projection in all of F's chars.
Weisser says: What is important to note about slave/master and
     dominant/submissive relationships in "Diamond as big as the Ritz?"  Are
     there any racial remarks or statements that are noteworthy in
Bryer says: The race question in Diamond is an interesting one that is part
     of the story although I dont think it is central to the story.  But 
     there is some interesting work that is being done on F 's whole 
     notion of race.  And in Gatsby and Tender not only with overtly   
     black characters but with the notion of the "other."
Tidwell says: What significance do you attach to the inclusion of so many
     poems in *This Side of Paradise*?  Might these (sophomoric as they may
     be) reveal a frustration on Fitzgerald's part at not having the skills
     or inclination to succeed as a poet, or are these possibly meant to
     demonstrate the derivative and "immature" emotional development of the
Bryer says:Two answers to this question.  Literally the reason he included
     them he was anxious to publish and marry Zelda and writing about himself 
     and these were poems he wrote at the age Amory is and so he included 
     them with other work.  He basically in writing This Side of
     Paradise used whatever he had available in order to get the book 
     done as fast as possible.  That is the literal reason he used the 
     poems so much.  On the other hand, I think it also is a kind
     of expression of a young writers' inability to decide what form
     to use as his form of choice. When young we write a little of everything.
     Fitz in that sense could not decide which genre was his just as Amory
     can't decide who he is.  That's what I meant in my answer to the fax, the 
     protagonist reflects the writer who is writing it.  Fitz's is 
     Amory's inmaturity, etc.  reflected in the ideas and the
     method of the novel which is a kind of indecisive first novel.  Those
     are two reasons I think the poems are there - a practical and 
     biographical reason.
Hefner says: In _This Side_, Amory turns to Marxism after he has become
     disillusioned with the society that spawned him. Is it significant that
     his Marxist interest comes from personal disillusionment rather than
     from a larger social consciousness? In other words, does it come from
     personal anger rather than any kind of real sympathy for the working
Bryer says: Absolutely in anwer to Ron's question.  Not sure how conscious 
     Fitzgerald was of what you are saying.  Amory has not any notion of 
     implications of Marxism.  It is an entirely app to Marzism to his 
     own situation.  At the end of the novel he says he knows himself.  
     And he is focused on himself that any theories he has would be 
     personal rather than more global in implications.  Amory does not 
     have sympathy for the working class, does not know Marxism is 
     designed for the working class, he spouts Marxism for his own 
     purposes as you say.  I would like to think that Fitz
     in those sections at the end of the novel  knew how foolish he was
     sounding, how immature and self-absorbed.  I would like to think F knew
     that.  I hope he did.  On the other hand, some of it is so good you almost
     think he does not know how good it sounds.  Not an expansive view of
     Marxism - you are right.
Falco says: Nick Caraway's ambivalent attitude toward Jay Gatsby is
     confusing. Could you shed some light on this, especially taking into
     account Nick's statements that Gatsby turned out all right in the end
      and "You're worth the whole damned bunch?"
Bryer says: I'm not sure Nick is ambivalent about Gatsby but is ambivalent at
     the beginning about what Gatsby stands for, as he says at the beginning 
     of the novel,  "Gatsby stood for everything that I have unaffected 
     scorn for."  By that I think he means Gats' ostentatiousness. And Nick 
     from a good midwest family has resentment of Gatsby's new rich 
     tends, and ostentatiousness and lack of social graces.  Those are 
     things that at the beginning rub him the wrong way (rub Nick).  And 
     in that sense the novel is an education of Nick because
     what he learns is that beneath the surface of Gatsby is a finer person 
     while beneath the surface of the Buchanans who have the grace and
     refinement and are not gaudy or pretentious and are more aware of the
     social scene but beneath them and of Jordan is a morally banckrupt
     series of people. That's one of the interesting ironies in the novel. On
     the surface Gatsby is everything that seems inept and out of step and 
     incapable of coping and morally corrupt but beneath pure, but Tom 
     and Daisy on surface seem pure and beneath corrupt.  That is what 
     Nick learns in the novel, why he rejects Jordan at the end and why 
     he tells Gatsby he is worth the whole damn bunch.  Fitz used Nick 
     for us to see what Nick sees, that Gatsby appears to have a dubious 
     past and reputation and where does his money come from, etc, which 
     on the surface seem suspicious, are more than compensated for by the 
     purity and innocence of his vision and even that is mentioned in the 
     earliest part of the novel.  After "unaffected scorn" he talks about 
     Gatsby's "extraordinary gift for hope"
Stratton says: Do you find any development in Gatsby's character over the
     course of GG?  If so, in what way(s)?  If not, does the lack of
     character development have any noticeable effect on the success of
     Great Gatsby as novel?
Bryer says:That depends on if you think Gatsby believes Daisy is going to
     call him at the end.  If yes, he does believe it, that's why he sits by
     the phone at the end, then he has not learned anything.  If he knows
     that she is not going to call him then he has learned.  Because he is
     then disillusioned and there is the passage on 162 where Nick says "I 
     have an idea that G himself it would come (the message)" Now, that does 
     not mean we are supposed to believe that Gatsby believed that it 
     would not come.  Nick poses it as his belief and I suppose the 
     ultimate answer to this problem tells the reader more about himself, 
     the reader, than the novel.  No overt answer to your question in the 
     novel but G is a more romantic character if he does not change and 
     goes to his death believing Daisy cares and she will call him.  If 
     he has "wised up" he is less romantic and something of a realist and 
     cynic.  I tend to believe on the basis of my reading of the rest of 
     Fitz that he never intended for G to realize.  But by having
     Nick say that, it enables him to have it both ways - plants the idea
     but makes it Nick's belief.  That empowers the reader to have it either
     way, believe Nick or not.  Certainly ways in which you have to be
     skeptical of Nick and others when you can accept him.  This one of those
     times.  Your choice and it tells you more about yourself than Nick or
     Fitz.  I personally don't think G changes and if he had it would be a
     poorer novel.
Walker says: Women in The Great Gatsby are no longer the standard bearers 
     of morality, as they were in novels such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness. 
     Instead they are the standard bearers of "class"--Daisy can't marry
     beneath herself; Myrtle sides with Tom against the "lower classes." 
     What of the women's failure to live up to the roles imposed on them by
     society as the receptacles of virtue?  Do you think this is a theme in
     the novel?
Bryer says: Very interesting quote that I use on an exam in my Fitz/Hem 
     course, from contemporary critic Tuttleton, he says that most of the 
     modern novelists, Fitz and Hem generation, portrayed the new woman 
     and that new woman lacked all the domestic and traditional virtues 
     of the womanly woman and he cites Brett Ashley and Daisy and even the 
     heroine Catherine as women who are different from the traditional 
     stereotypical heroine of older American fiction.  I think Daisy fits
     into that and so does Jordan very nicely.  Don't think feminists have a
     good time with H and F because they feel the women they depict as
     womanly such as Frances in The Sun Also Rises are ridiculed.  The 
     women who are central are immoral or amoral and not very attractive 
     in the sense of what we normally consider moral behavior.  Baker 
     cheats, Daisy's attitude toward children is not caring, children in 
     Tender Is the Night are not tended to, Nicole is having an 
     affair, Rosemary having affair with Dick. Not many women who
     live upstanding lives morally in Fitz.  These are "new" women, central
     characters who are not traditional female figures of most of 19th and 
     early 20th century lit.  One of the changes in early 20th c fiction. 
     Edith Wharton one of the first to depict heroines like that, Lily Bart.
Brannen says: Fitzgerald's characters become deeper and more problematic in
     his more mature works.  Please comment on which character in his novels
     you would consider to be the most complex, and what criteria you would
     use to make this determination.
Bryer says: He felt Buchanan was the best he wrote... does not mean he
     thought most complex but best depiction ... Tom not very complex
     character... I think if Fitz had finished Last Tycoon, I think the 
     char of Monroe Stahr might have been a more complex character than any 
     before. One reason is that Stahr has a job which most F don't have, 
     a real job.  Dick is a psychiatrist but never see him practice.  
     Stahr is a producer, and spend a lot of time seeing him at work.  He 
     is a romantic and realistic about his profession and romantic in 
     personal life and that makes him more complex to start with--I think 
     he would have been a complicated char if novel finished. Of the ones 
     completed, I think Dick is complex because we don't understand 
     entirely what brings his downfall.. combination of circumstances. 
     Gatsby is complicated; he would be more so if we subscribe to the
     notion that he realizes at the end where he's made mistakes.  That is
     one thing that makes Dick more complicated - he does realize where he has
     gone wrong.  That's what makes the later novels more mature in that his
     characters tend to see their mistakes (makes them less romantic).  In a 
     way "Babylon" is similar to Tender and Last in that Charlie
     does see what he did wrong.  Not sure G does, Amory does not and many of
     the heroes of the early short stories don't.  Makes them diff  Complexity
     comes from self-awareness, in drama and also in fiction.
Karon says: You mentioned an interest in "small stylistic units."  I'm
     intrigued by those that appear in several texts, particularly the use
     of elipsis.  Is Fitzgerald consciously lifting this technique from
     other Modernist writers, or should we view its employment as having
     other origins?  Does Fitzgerald employ elipsis to good effect?  Or does
     it cover problems in transitions?
Bryer says: Never thought of this... referring not to ellipses - give me an
     example.  Highly likely he got it from other writers but I've never 
     noticed it.
Drake says: Various critics have noted Eliot's profound influence upon
     Fitzgerald, particularly the substantial number of wastelandic images
     which appear throughout The Great Gatsby.  Do you see any Eliot-
     inspired imagery in Tender is the Night? What about the ferris 
     wheel which is the site of Nicole's mental breakdown?    Could this be
     yet another nod to Eliot's The Waste Land, with its pervasive, 
     meaningless circularity (e.g., zombies traversing the same dull round;
     the typist's grammaphone, etc.)?
Bryer says: Sure.  Never thought of the Eliot in Tender.  More overt in
     Gatsby with the literal wasteland.  On the other hand, all the circular
     imagery and the wheel idea in both Wasteland and Tender both could
     be traced to more anthropological origins in traditional symbolic meaning.
     Eliot from someplace and Fitz from someplace but not necessarily 
     Eliot.  The whole meaningless circularity of life symbolized... not 
     sure Fitz had to go to Eliot to get it.  Pervasive symbol in 
Smith says: How does the variability of the narrative voice in Tender Is
     the Night work to shape our reception of the work as a whole?  Is it
     just me, or is there some clear influence from James Joyce's shifting
     narrative perspective?  It just seems to me that the narrative voice is
     a big issue in a careful reading of Tender Is the Night.
Bryer says: Conrad was certainly an influence and Joyce an influence.   
     Don't know how many voices you're referring to in Tender... many voices 
     and Dick's point of view... not sure in Dick's voice.  Joyce was a big 
     influence  on Fitz, no doubt about  it, but I dont think of Tender as a
     kind of Ulysses novel with many consciousness... more in common with
     Gatsby and Conrad where you get to see in Tender the actions of 
     some people from diff points of view, at least two. I prefer the original 
     Diver's point of view from Rosemary's point of view first before 
     you find out info about them.  Fitz at end of life expressed doubts at 
     starting with Rosemary and would have started with story of Dick's life 
     (what is part II of the novel)... artisticallly I think this not a good
     decision.  By starting with Rosemary you get a very interesting way of 
     looking at those characters before you meet them headon.. Very good 
     technique. You want to find out about them because your getting her 
     uninformed view of them.. Draws you into the story.  Don't know what 
     you mean by a large number of shifting narrative perspectives. Seems 
     to me after we get away from Rosemary either from a fixed point of 
     view or from an omniscient narrator.  At other times when Fitzgerald
     telling you what someone is thinking... not same as Joyce who was dealing
     with multiple streams of consciousness and F not doing that.
Lance says: In Tender is the Night, I noticed that the narrator aligns his
     sympathies with different main characters in each of the three books. 
     Initially the narrator focuses on Rosemary, then Dick Diver, and
     finally on Nicole.  Did Fitzgerald intentionally integrate this
     shifting into the novel, and if so, what did he intend by it?
Bryer says: Yes.  When the questioner focuses on Rosemary
     the narrator is her in the first section and the narrator
     focuses on Dick then as well because she is focused on 
     him.  In the second it deals with Dick's history and how we got there.
     If anything the question is more apt in terms of the 3rd section
     as Dick receeds more into the background.  He starts as a
     great hero (advantage from seeing through Rosemary's eyes).  
     The movement is from him as idealized to more realistic in 2 (when 
     you find out the "facts" of his career) and in 3 he becomes eclipsed 
     by Tommy and literally goes off center as well as figuratively.
     The aquaplaning scene is a good metaphor for Dick's decreasing
     centrality in the novel, he can't perform - figuratively and literally.
     Then that parade when you see the lone figure and that
     figure is Dick. Look at it sometime; it is a metaphor with Dick as
     the lone figure receeding into upstate NY.  Shifting nature of the
     novel is a symbol of Dick's loss of vitality and youth. He fades from 
     view literally and in terms of the novel's focus.  Not shifting 
     sympathies and in losing Dick's centralness to the novel.
Doyle says: LAST QUESTION:  What do you make of the authorial
     intrusions in Book I (chapter vi) and Book III (chapter iv) of Tender Is
     The Night, which read:  "To resume Rosemary's point of view, it
     should be noted..." and "Regard them, for example..."?
Bryer says: Those are vexing things.. in Last Tycoon too.  I always have
     thought that those were unfortunate in a way.  Signposts we don't need. 
     A problem with Tender stylistically is that he does seem to be jumping
     around a lot in terms of what he sees and from whose point of view he 
     sees it and he may have been conscious of that and that is why he 
     made those phrases.  Tender rewritten many times between '25 and '32 
     and kept certain sections and changed them and then published it.  
     Till the end of life he felt like making changes. Might not have 
     ironed out all the inconsistencies and shifts of point of view, 
     etc.  If he had had more time.. in debt to Scribners... may have
     rushed into print.  Not a literary answer but may have 
     something to do with it.

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