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Afternoon of an Author by F. Scott…
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Afternoon of an Author

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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You’ve got to feel a bit cynical about posthumously published works. Invariably it’s publishers and descendants aiming to make money out of material discarded by the writer. In this case, though, it was more a matter of Scribners bringing together work published in magazines and newspapers, a mixture of short stories and essays by Fitzgerald with Fitzgerald’s editor, Arthur Mizener providing detailed introductions.

Initially I didn’t find this a satisfying read. The three Basil stories which begin the anthology I had already read and what struck me about them and some of the essays was how peculiar they were to their time and place. While Fitzgerald’s best work is obviously rooted in its setting, it also transcends it as any writing must if it is to remain attractive to succeeding generations. In this book, though, some of the writing aspires to be more than it is but remains a curiously dated depiction of social conventions of the time and place. Fitzgerald’s comparison of Yale and Princeton, for example, might be of interest to people at those universities today but of no wider appeal.

Other pieces have that jaunty superficiality about them, the result of the market that Fitzgerald aimed them at – magazines and newspapers – the sort of reading a person might take up on the train but nothing meant to be enduring.

Still, as I got into the collection, I found myself changing my mind. Yes, there was still more than a smattering of clever jabs at various aspects of society such as an obsequious narrator telling his boss that his drab one liner advertising a laundry firm was great causing him ‘to beam’, but, as Mizener astutely points out in his introductions, there is usually much more than this. We see Fitzgerald’s understanding and appreciation of the early Hemingway stories and in this ‘Ten years in the advertising business’, through the way Fitzgerald makes a continuous sequence of a conversation which would in fact be split in two with a ten year gap, we see not just some cynicism about the advertising industry but also the way money and success affect people’s expectations.

The longest piece in the book would be ‘One trip abroad’, a story that anticipates ‘Tender is the Night’ – and I guess that’s where its interest lies, focusing on the decay of wealthy Americans living in France and unable to make anything of their lives. Its style, though, seems at times melodramatic and the couple’s alter ego just such an obvious device that spelling it out at the end really overcooks the story.

Looking back on these pieces I guess the main feeling I hold is what a struggle life was for Fitzgerald despite the way so many of the stories have artificially high points in them. Mizener’s introductions were usefully revealing ( )
  evening | Jan 16, 2015 |
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