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Flappers and Philosophers by Francis Scott Fitzgerald | Book Review

Francis Scott Fitzgerald is widely known as the author of ‘The Great Gatsby’ (movie reviewed here), but his body of work consists of many other gems, especially his short stories. “Flappers and Philosophers” is the first collection of eight short stories written by him around 1920 and published in reputed periodicals of the time including “The Saturday Evening Post”. Fitzgerald’s short stories are quite interesting as these generally come with an ironic twist at the end. Echoing his own personal life, his literature also always highlights the victory and mastery of worldly notions and affairs over romantic love as the young perceive it.

Book Title : Flappers and Philosophers
Author :
Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 21, 2013)
# of Pages : 128 (Paperback), 196 (Kindle)
Purchase Links : Purchase @ Amazon.In
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Buy Flappers and Philosophers – The Original 1920 Edition from Amazon.com
Buy Flappers and Philosophers(illustrated) from Amazon India

Let us go through the stories one by one:

The Offshore Pirate

Young, pretty, rich, spirited and spoilt, Ardita Farnam is on her way to meet her lover that none of her family approves. She has rather romantic notions and gets tired of young men quite easily. But, she has now made up her mind to marry this one. On this journey her ship is captured by pirates. Slowly she becomes friends with the captain of the pirates and falls in love with him. But the real world comes knocking on the door soon enough in form of the coast guards. What will she do?

The story was first published on May 29, 1920. It has so much dramatic appeal that it was converted into a motion picture by 1921.

The Ice Palace

The Ice Palace is considered a very good example of modernist writing in early 20th century and was also included in “Babylon Revisited and other stories” published in 1960.

It is the story of Sally Carrol Harper, from the hot and blistering city of Tarleton, Georgia. In quest of experiences and big things happening in her life, she gets engaged to Harry Bellamy from North America. She comes to visit Harry’s town before marriage. She finds it hard to relate to the people she meets and the northern winter unrelenting and oppressive. The climax comes when she gets lost into labyrinths of the winter ice palace. It is the eternal battle between the roots and the wings, between familiarity and adventure….which one does she choose in the end?

Head and Shoulders

In our opinion, this story is the “Flapper and Philosopher” story of the collection.

Horace Tarbox is a highly intellectual young prodigy studying philosophy at Yale. He is one of those nerds whose world is his books and academia. Thanks to some friend, a young dancer Marcia shows up on his doorstep and he is suddenly exposed to the whole new world. He falls for her and marries her against all odds. Marcia describes their union as “Head and Shoulders” as he has a thinking brain and she earns her money by shaking shoulders as a chorus girl. Soon Marcia is pregnant and cannot continue working as a dancer. Horace leaves his studies and takes up work finally to become a popular gymnastics performer at a circus. In her desperate attempts to express her feelings, Marcia writes a novel. This is welcomed as the people’s literature and Marcia is a celebrated author. This is the irony of the story, the newspapers now describe Marcia as the thinking literary head and Horace as the shoulders of the union. The roles are reversed.

This story features all the typical Fitzgerald qualities and themes: unusually matched couples, necessity of earning money to keep going winning over romantic love and intellectual pursuits, a bitter and ironic end. We see all this recurring themes which he later elaborated and honed in various works including “The Great Gatsby“, “Tender is the Night”, etc.

The Cut Glass Bowl

Have you ever noticed how an evil wish seems to be fulfilled at once and a benign one takes for ever? How we are always taught to be careful not only in our actions but also in our thoughts and our speech.

When we meet Evylyn, she is young and pretty, happily married to Harold Piper for some time. When she turned other men down for Harold, one of them gifted her a cut-glass bowl with a wish that her life will be as empty, as cold and as hard as the gift. As we track her life, this wedding gift appears to be the catalyst of one tragedy after another. She loses her husband’s love, their prosperous business, her daughter’s health and her son’s life and ultimately her own. This inanimate object seems to channel the evil spirit and wishes of a bitter soul.

Bernice Bobs Her Hair

Once upon a time, there was the Berenice, who gave away her golden hair so her husband would win the war. The Gods were so pleased with her that they placed her locks in the heavens, in form of the constellation Coma Berenices.

The heroin of this story, Bernice is a pretty but inanimate girl, whom the young men find boring. When she comes to visit her cousin Marjorie, a very popular girl, the realization hits her. Marjorie gives her tips on how to strike an interesting conversation and flirt with even unattractive young men. The new Bernice is a hit among the crowd, a recurring theme of some of her conversations being “bobbing her hair”. Marjorie is happy with the turn of events until her long time admirer Warren appears to have taken to Bernice. Then in a vindictive mood, she tricks Bernice into actually getting her hair cut. But, a classical style of feminine beauty like Bernice’s vanishes when she looses the charm of long, curly hair. She is left worse than when she arrived, now she is not even pretty, her confidence is gone and so are the admirers. She runs away in the night, but not before she gets her revenge.

The story once again highlights how fleeting the admiration of young lovers are and so vulnerable to the effects of societal notions and peer pressure. The story was converted into a TV film in 1976, by a non-profit organization called Learning in Focus.

Benediction

This story strikes the deep chord of religion within each person and how God has his own ways to bring people to him.

Lois is a young girl, who wants to leave an uncomfortable home for her lover Howard. But, on the way to meet him, she pays a visit to his brother Keith. Keith is much older than Lois and joined a seminary long ago. The visit is a delightful surprise to Lois as she finds out how much her brother cares for her and loves her. First time in her life, she is exposed to serious religious forces.

And how can one describe benediction better than that powerful feeling of being loved and cherished by someone so pure and worth worshiping. Can she go back to the worldly love after this moving experience?

Dalyrimple Goes Wrong

Bryan Dalyrimple comes back to his hometown after being part of a successful coup in the armed forces. But, the town that makes a hero of him, soon bails out when it comes to finding a paid job. He realizes how hard it is to earn a living. He accepts a meager job which does not show any prospects of progress or pay rises. In frustration, he turns into the wrong alley and becomes a burglar. He still retains his conscience in some ways, but the police is hot on his scent. Will the hero of the town end in a jail like a petty criminal?

Fitzgerald once again reminds us of how illusive are the romantic notions of bravery and patriotism when they are faced with the commonplace realities of daily lives? Once again his recurring theme of how everything good can be so easily crushed…

The Four Fists

The Four Fists is a story of Samuel Meredith, an intelligent man but not irreproachable. There are times when he makes mistakes: being unpopular and perceived as a bully in the hostel dorm, trying to teach chivalry to a factory worker, dating a married woman, and finally trying to capture some oil wells. All occasions ended up in him receiving a good, solid punch on his face and all four punches taught him something. He never made the same mistakes again and each fist made a better man of him. An easy, entertaining and educative read.

This is Fitzgerald at his most simple and most optimistic…..

In addition to an insight into Fitzgerald’s thought process and the way he perceived life, these stories also provide an insight into the American society o 1920. The way people talked, behaved, what was in and what was not has as much to interest the current readers as the ironic and appealing beauty of each story..

The book is available for free download at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4368

Enjoy…..

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