ENGLISH READING CIRCLE – SHORT STORY OF THE MONTH ANALYSIS: “BABYLON REVISITED” BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
This month’s story is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited,” published in 1931. The story is celebrated as one of Fitzgerald’s best, as well as one of his most autobiographical. Many of the events and characters of the story mirror elements of Fitzgerald’s life: the years of drunken indulgence in Paris, the lost wife (though Zelda was lost to the sanitarium, not the grave), a dissapproving sister-in-law, a daughter he was deemed unfit to raise, the recognition of his wasted years and the desire (futile, ultimately, in both fiction and fact) to set things right. Fitzgerald lived (and named) the Jazz Age, lived it bigger and faster than almost anyone, with Zelda at his side. When the crash of 1929 came, their fortunes crashed with it.
Like Charlie Wales, the story’s protagonist, Fitzegerald came to realize that the past is never truly past. The habits and behaviors that come to define a person over an extended period of time are difficult to shake, and often develop a life of their own. Charlie’s behavior truly has changed for the better, it seems, but the ghosts of past indiscretions keep collecting interest on the present, preventing him from ever truly returning “home.” The hope of rediscovering such a place has not entirely dissipated (a word to remember for our discussion) by the story’s end, but it has come a step closer. We know Charlie will continue to fight to make something out of the nothing of his own creation. But a fight with one’s own past is a difficult, if not impossible, fight to win.