Tag Archives: creative writing

“The Rich Boy,” a Short Story by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Out of his collections of short stories, The Rich Boy (1926) is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s best pieces. Today the tale might be called a short novella; it has also been deemed a psychological study of the advantaged. It is the story of a young man born into wealth and how he responds to love, relationships and issues of money and status within his upper-class, Fifth Avenue inner-circle.

Fitzgerald begins by depicting rich people almost as if they are a separate race – “they are different,” the narrator explains:

“They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are… Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are.”

Fitzgerald made the art of characterization seem easy. He molds his characters quickly as if with a painter’s brush, so that I feel I know them perfectly. Their gestures, body-language and thought-processes flow smoothly from the palette, yet his people are not boring stereotypes. Indeed, Fitzgerald himself had this to say about characterization:

“Begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created – nothing. That is because we are all queer fish, queerer behind our faces and voices than we want anyone to know or than we know ourselves.

 

Fitzgerald was among the writers and artists of the "Jazz Age," a term he invented himself.

Fitzgerald was among the writers and artists of the “Jazz Age,” a term he invented himself.

 
Fitzgerald was devoted to Zelda, though they had a distressing relationship.

Fitzgerald was devoted to Zelda, though they had a distressing relationship.

 

The main character in The Rich Boy, Anson Hunter, grows up having an English governess so that he and his siblings learn a certain way of speaking that resembles an English accent and is preeminent to middle and even upper-class American children. Thus, the people around him know he is superior – they know he is rich by just looking at him.

The tension of the story begins right away – with his fitful love for Paula, and an iffy engagement, tinged with the kind of alcoholism that deviously thwarts everything in sight. Anson is a man who lives in separate worlds during the glittering, glamorous, roaring 20’s, when everything seems impossibly affordable – big houses, flashy cars, Ritzy nights on the town. Yet, his stories take a turn, just as the Stock Market did at the dawn of the 1930s. Fitzgerald’s settings are bewitching. Today some of the vernacular might sound old fashioned, yet, the efficient punch of its delivery stands as a first-rate testament to the writer’s craft!

Everything about Anson creates tension. Even his wealth and his absolute capability cause apprehension. Then there is the awful hold that alcohol has on him and the maddening indecision it creates between Anson and a real commitment to Paula – or any woman. Finally, the way Anson goes about counseling all of the couples in his “circle” yet cannot maintain a lasting relationship of his own. This compulsive-will to verify himself as a moral, respectable, mature man of New York society by patching up difficulties in other marriages proves to be an irreparable flaw in Anson’s character. The conflict builds up to a sad denouement when Anson begins dutifully setting about putting an end to the illicit affair of his uncle’s wife, Edna. And when his machinations turn out badly, Anson takes no responsibility for the tragedy.

 
Ernest Hemingway wrote about his friendship with "Scott" in A Movable Feast, set in Paris.

Ernest Hemingway wrote about his friendship with “Scott” in, A Moveable Feast, set in Paris.

 

I want to like Anson even as I realize that underneath all of his glamour and devotion to high society and tradition of family posterity, he is really suffering inside with alcoholism. This handicap, or tragic flaw, gains my sympathy. However, Anson’s ultimate indecision in regards to commitment and real love, his hyper-vigilant need to interfere in the affairs of others, begins to strike me as infuriating – and of course, this very lapse in character adds to the tension of the story.

Fitzgerald’s propensity for describing a bar-scene at the Yale Club or the Plaza Hotel became thematic to his tales and, upon further reading, takes on a recurring vignette from one tale to the next. Yet, I find myself lapping up these settings that involve stylish bars and hotels, because they are so well articulated, from the clever dialogue at the bar with a bartender or drinking-companion, to the colorful yet moody renderings, to the inevitable infatuation with glamorous women and the way these motifs affect Fitzgerald’s heroes.

I think of Hemingway’s, A Moveable Feast, throughout Fitzgerald’s short story; because, in Hemingway’s novel he describes Fitzgerald’s terrible weakness for alcohol. I also think of, The Razor’s Edge, by Somerset Maugham, perhaps because of its detached yet familial narrative style.

Fitzgerald, in a style all his own, offers shocks of unexpected sensitivity and wisdom, which seem somehow surprising. I almost worship the writer’s vocabulary and his way of forming a phrase, such as – “rapt holy intensity” when describing the lovers. Or Anson and Paula’s “emasculated humor:” I found this such an apt way of describing the initial repartee that occurs between two people who are falling in love inside their own profound, yet rather childish, bubble.

“Nevertheless, they fell in love – and on her terms. He no longer joined the twilight gathering at the De Soto bar, and whenever they were seen together they were engaged in a long, serious dialogue, which must have gone on several weeks. Long afterward he told me that it was not about anything in particular but was composed on both sides of immature and even meaningless statements…”

 

The writer pictured in Hollywood not long before his death at the age of forty-four.

The writer pictured in Hollywood not long before his death at the age of forty-four.

Fitzgerald was contracted to write screenplays for Hollywood at two separate stages of his career, though he contemptuously viewed it as “whoring.” The author inserts himself briefly, however lightly-concealed, into Anson’s life:

 

“…one (friend) was in Hollywood writing continuities for pictures that Anson went faithfully to see.”

Thus the interweaving of fiction and autobiography! The glamour and infamous history of the writer himself affects the impact of his tales; yet, whether a reader knows about the writer’s life or not, Fitzgerald’s works are treasures!

 

 

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A Japanese Literary Masterpiece

The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu, a woman who served among the royal court in the tenth century Heian period in present day Kyoto. This fascinating tale, the length of Wuthering Heights and Dickens’ David Copperfield combined, is revered as the finest work of Japanese literature and indeed one of the world’s greatest novels. Written in the lyrical style exclusive to Japanese poetics and prose, The Tale Of Genji flows in its original form as uninterrupted poetry. English translation does alter the original with paragraph-breaks and punctuation, yet the tale was so well crafted that the integral feeling of beauty holds forth, delighting and inspiring us.

Murasaki Shikibu, who was brought into the royal court as a girl, wrote her story probably with a brush and ink in the exquisitely painted characters of the syllabary, or alphabet, which had been developed over time as intrinsically Japanese and therefore distinguishable from its derivative Chinese. The Tale of Genji was written at the height of Japanese literary excellence, when artistic brilliance was cherished throughout the country, and women in particular were known to be the greatest writers of poetry and prose. Moreover, to be gifted in poetics was revered as a supreme talent in the royal court and among society at large and remains so today.

Of Japanese poetry, the Japanese poet, Kino Tsurayuki, has said,

The poetry of Japan has its roots in the human heart.

The Tale Of Genji, a masterpiece of poetics, reads as something of a Siddhartha tale; although, Genji, unlike the young Buddha, experiences a number of pivotal romantic relationships on his journey rather than spiritual encounters: Siddhartha, the son of an emperor, chose to leave the sanctuary of the court and follow his own yearning to know the world and all of human suffering first hand. In Genji’s case, his father, the emperor, forces Genji out into the world to save his beloved son from the jealousies and intrigues of the court, where highly contentious political backbiting could, his father believed, kill a spirit of such divine charisma as Genji’s.

In the genre of courtly romance, the extraordinary infuses Genji’s environment even as a commoner living amidst a realm far from the royal court. Beauty and refinement are written into the flowers, trees and things of nature. Coming from a tradition of, not only Buddhism but, firstly, the Shinto religion, in which reverence for feminine nature-deities, as the sun, mountains and rivers, Murasaki draws from these nature-tropes to imbue her tale with a subtle, supernatural ambiance. Here, the various relationships of our chivalrous Genji include the poetry, symbolism and quiet eroticism of flowers. Cantillation, or the reading out loud of poems as declarations of love, describes Genji’s character while also exhibiting Murasaki’s rarified art of poetic verse. Genji learns through his adventures the poignancy and anguish of romantic love as well as that of death’s shadow.

The evening sky was serenely beautiful. The flowers below the veranda were withered, the songs of the insects were dying too, and autumn tints were coming over the maples. Looking out upon the scene, which might have been a painting, Ukon thought what a lovely asylum she had found herself. She wanted to avert her eyes at the thought of the house of the ‘evening faces.’ A pigeon called, somewhat discordantly, from a bamboo thicket. Remembering how the same call had frightened the girl in that deserted villa, Genji could see the little figure as if an apparition were there before him.

‘How old was she? She seemed so delicate, because she was not long for this world, I suppose.’

The above excerpt is taken from the chapter entitled Evening Faces. Other chapter titles include: Lavender, The Sacred Tree, Wisteria Leaves, Evening Mist, The Wizard, Beneath the Oak, and The Drake Fly. Within these wilderness motifs, Genji embarks on his romantic adventures. As an Orpheus hero, the prodigy evinces the nobility of his ancestry, knows something of its effects, but disavows any show of rightful hubris.

Murasaki Shikibu was the daughter of a low ranking nobleman and was recognized as a gifted writer with superior potential and was thereby invited to serve in the salon of a royal consort. Shikibu’s father preferred the education of boys, but he too saw his daughter’s genius and so allowed her to live outside of her home, inside the opulence of courtly-life. It was here, in these most ideal surroundings, for classical education and writing, that a tenth-century Japanese woman wrote the world’s first novel.

It has been observed that any English translation of The Tale of Genji loses much of the natural grace of the original, and this may be a metaphor for the Japanese culture at large: we as Westerners are captivated by its charm, find mystery and adoration in it’s artistry; yet, we can perhaps never fully appreciate the essential beauty of its enigmatic language.

Castaways

Shakespeare the Tempest adjst

Shakespeare’s The Tempest may be the definitive castaways-tale. There is the duke, Prospero, who becomes usurped from the throne by his own brother and put to sea, along with a baby girl, in a meagerly provisioned, shoddy boat. Ovid, Shakespeare’s unofficial muse, used this suspenseful theme in the mythical tale of Perseus. Similarly, there is an island on which the two exiled royals find refuge and where they ultimately long for a return home. In both Shakespeare and Ovid, the castaways survive with the unusual advantage of magic.

The Tempest’s Prospero has spent his life studying books of the supernatural within the sequestered comforts of his beloved Milan. Now, many leagues from his homeland, surviving for approximately twelve years on a faraway island in the Mediterranean, Prospero has been plotting with his art to conjure a storm, a tempest, which will bring his enemies to the island. It takes a tremendous amount of control to accomplish such a feat, and Prospero certainly is something of a control freak at best and a cruel brute at his worst.

Though he adores his daughter, Miranda, Prospero is manipulative with her in the way he controls her thoughts and her memory and even what she sees:

The fringed curtains of thine eye advance,
And say what thou seest yond. 1.2.411,412

With cunning conversation, he allows for certain memories to filter in. But when Miranda begins to recall too much, Prospero utilizes his absolute power to knock her out with sleep. So, Miranda is continually awakening from naps with a quizzical look on her face. Still, she has very early memories that appear to be surreptitiously pressed on her by Prospero:

’Tis far off,
And rather like a dream than an assurance
That my remembrance warrants. Had I not
Four or five women once that tended me? 1.2.46-49

Mirada, (whose very name is phonetically similar to the words memory and remember), speaks with eloquence about what she does or does not recall of her early childhood in Milan. She is the angelic, innately wise ingenue that Shakespeare often employed for his female characters.

Since landing on the isle, Miranda has been under Prospero’s tutelage and influence. Yet, her temperament hardly resembles her father’s. For instance, while Prospero has enough angry aggression to create a violent tempest that would bring a ship crashing in flames to the shore, Miranda has not inherited any of his meanness; in fact, she sympathizes with the crew:

O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer! 1.2.5,6

As they made the island their home, Prospero had quickly acquired slaves: Caliban, (an anagram of cannibal,) a native of the island who is referred to as a grotesque creature – and Ariel, a male or kind of asexual sprite, who had been imprisoned in a tree trunk by Caliban’s mother, a witch. The witch has since died, so Prospero frees Ariel from the tree, but imprisons the airy spirit all the same with threats of returning him to the tree if he does not obey:

Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot
the foul witch Sycorax… 1.2.259,260

In keeping with this colonialist trope, Shakespeare has Prospero commanding these two slaves for the magician’s own purposes in raising the storm and using his minion, Ariel, to perform spritely tricks on the royals, who wash ashore. Indeed, Ariel is eternally on-call to carry out fantastic, magical activities all across the island. Hence, Prospero, who was exiled, has exiled his captors to the imprisonment of slavery and bondage.

The dialogue is highly poetic even between the oppressed Caliban and his master, for Prospero and Miranda taught Caliban to speak, thus he speaks their elevated language, yet he resists their complete control by saying:

You taught me language; and my prophit on’t
is, I know how to curse… 1.2.365-366

On the other hand, Ariel addresses Prospero as he would want to be addressed:

All hail, great master! Grave sir, hail!… 1.2.189

However, Ariel’s salutations to Prospero are so slavishly sycophantic, one might mistake it for mockery. But Ariel has been promised the carrot of eventual freedom; and so, the invisible sprite dashes from one side of the island to the other and then out into the middle of the sea before you can blink, in order to fulfill Prospero’s deeds.

With Ariel, there are many references to the Greek gods and goddesses, unicorns, mysterious incantations and mythical masques and pageants. In Act IV, a magnificent engagement-ceremony is performed for Miranda and Ferdinand, who fall in love at first sight. With a fantastic tableau and supernatural arias, Ariel conjures the spirits of Queen Juno and the goddess Ceres. Invoking the Proserpine myth, Ceres must first be assured that Venus was not a part of this union, for Ceres has forsworn the Goddess of Love because of the way Venus sealed the fate of Ceres’ daughter, Proserpine, who was abducted by the King of Hell to become the Queen of the Underworld. After Ceres has the assurance that Venus had no part in this coupling, the engagement-ceremony for Miranda and Ferdinand is then blessed by Juno, Ceres and the singing and dancing of ethereal spirit-nymphs.

Unlike Ovid himself, who was exiled by Augustus Ceasar to the island of Tomis in the Black Sea, Prospero attains his desired outcome: the royals and their lords land – setting the stage for the magician’s machinations. In perfect, Shakesperean writerly-timing, the newly arrived men notice the enchantments in the sultry island:

These are not natural events; they strengthen
From strange to stranger. 5.1.227,228

Still, the royals and their men soon speak of plans to establish an ideal government in a sort of utopian society. Politically, however, their ideals only lead them to contradiction, debate and trechery. And as with most Shakespearean plots, the jesters stumble on stage to mock everything that is taking place in the play.

Meanwhile, Prospero and Miranda are prized with the most philosophical and poetic lines, as when Prospero addresses his new, prospective son-in-law, Ferdinand; Prospero councils:

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep… 4.1.156,- 158

Another poetic tool, personification, is generously used throughout the play, as when Prospero personifies time:

Now does my project gather to a head:
My charms crack not; my spirits obey, and time
Goes upright with his carraiage… 5.1.1

Finally, Prospero’s solemn speech in Act V has been attributed to Shakespeare’s farewell to the theater. Spectacular as it is, the soliloquy is too long to quote here, (5.1.34-57), as is Prospero’s epilogue, a prayer, really, of farewell and forgiveness. (Epilogue)

Yet, Miranda utters the most famous and widely used lines in The Tempest when she says:

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t! 5.1.182-185

These are the words she speaks as all of the survivors of the tempest gather around Prospero. They are highly optimistic words that can be broadly interpreted coming from innocent Miranda, who could not recall seeing another man, other than her father, Prospero, and a slave, Caliban, her entire life.

{photo taken with my BlackBerry}

Autumn Contentment

Calendar pages into the wind ~

small kites limning cursive loops

on the whims of the air.

Freedom breathes up

through the colors of a pastel fallout ~

the smells of dawn mixing into a new, unknown day.

Like the first, fresh whiffs of Autumn,

when the earth turns away

from a long, sweltering summer ~

spinning up leaves of our new contentment.

 

~ tracy