Read Di qua dal Paradiso by F. Scott Fitzgerald Free Online
Book Title: Di qua dal Paradiso|
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Reader ratings: 4.8
The author of the book: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Date of issue: April 30th 2013
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Format files: PDF
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I’ve always thought that English teachers need to take a lesson from drug dealers: hook kids while they’re young with good product. In this analogy, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is pure, high-grade cocaine, given away at the nearest street corner. It is an acknowledged classic, always in the running for “the Great American Novel.” It is accessible, with prose that is simple yet beautiful. The story is straightforward and relatable and as reductive as a boy trying to impress – and win over – a girl. And it runs deep with themes and symbols, so that any reader paying the least bit of attention will do fine on that school essay.
Also, it’s worth noting, it is fun to read.
As a child, I had a great love for reading. My favorite place was the library. Then a succession of English teachers – mainly in high school – took that love of reading and drowned it in the tub. It’s not really their fault, I suppose. They probably weren’t the ones making the decision to cram Great Expectations down the throat of a fourteen or fifteen year-old who is too busy thinking about cheerleaders and a driver’s license to give a sprawling Victorian novel the time of day.
It doesn’t matter.
When you have to read something with a figurative gun to your head, when you have to read on deadline, when you have to read artificially, coming to conclusions that others have foreordained, the thing you love quickly becomes the thing you dread.
But The Great Gatsby I liked.
Only after law school, with no more reading assignments cluttering my life, have I returned to the classics. I reread what I bluffed my way through, or skimmed, or ignored completely.
Despite my earlier affinity for Fitzgerald, however, it has taken me years to get around to reading another one of his books.
But finally, I got around to This Side of Paradise, a weird, frustrating, funny minor masterpiece, and Fitzgerald’s first novel.
This Side of Paradise tells the story of Amory Blaine, a young boy who comes from a family with money and a good name. The story begins with him in preparatory school, follows him to Princeton, and eventually ends with Amory adrift: he still has the family name, but the money is mostly gone. In the meantime, Amory falls in and out of love, stays out of World War I combat, and carries on a series of dialogues – both internal and external – that probably encapsulates the generation, at least for a narrow cohort of white, privileged, upper class ivy-leaguers.
Fitzgerald’s novel is semiautobiographical, weaving events and locations – St. Paul, Minnesota; Princeton; a lousy, heart-breaking breakup – into his fictionalized world. If Amory is meant to be a stand-in for Fitzgerald, it is a relatively scathing self-portrait. Amory is a mostly-unlikeable protagonist: self-absorbed, overly-confident, thin-skinned, aimless and lazy.
The novel is divided into three parts.
The first book, titled (with aching self-consciousness) “The Romantic Egotist” covers Amory’s matriculation. It is written in the third-person limited, from Amory’s point of view. Most of the time is spent at Princeton, where Amory is convinced that he has a bright future (and equally convinced that he shouldn’t have to work for it).
The first book was hard to get through. Amory is a striking exhibit of undeserved privilege. He is fickle and prickly and generally unpleasant to spend time with. The peripheral characters, including Monsignor Darcy, with whom he exchanges letters, and Thomas Park D’Invilliers, a student and would-be poet, are thinly drawn at best. (The fictional D’Invilliers gave The Great Gatsby its famous epigraph: “Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her…”). Certainly, none of Fitzgerald’s creations leave the impression of Tom Buchanan’s “cruel body,” clad in “effeminate” riding clothes.
Between Book I and II there is a section titled “Interlude.” This portion of the novel briskly covers Amory’s service in World War I, where Amory serves as an instructor. No further information is given regarding his military stint (and it’s worth noting that Fitzgerald himself never went overseas).
The second book, titled “The Education of a Personage,” begins with a chapter written as a play, with stage directions and dialogue. No reason is given for this temporary shift in narrative style, but it works. The chapter covers Amory’s courtship and love affair with a debutante named Rosalind (standing in for Zelda Sayre). The ebb and flow of this relationship, delineated by conversation, comes close to making Amory into a relatable, half-sympathetic human being.
For much of this book, the reader is held captive to Amory’s pompous proclamations. His long monologues can get a bit frustrating. Every once in awhile, though, Fitzgerald will slip in a little grace note. Near the end of the novel, for example, Amory is shuffling down the road when a man in a limo offers him a ride. Amory then subjects the man to a tiresome disquisition on his economic theories. As the ride ends, it turns out that Amory went to Princeton with the man’s son, who is now dead:
"I sent my son to Princeton…Perhaps you knew him. His name was Jesse Ferrenby. He was killed last year in France.”
“I knew him very well. In fact, he was one of my particular friends.”
“He was – a – quite a fine boy. We were very close.”
Amory began to perceive a resemblance between the father and the dead son and he told himself that there had been all along a sense of familiarity. Jesse Ferrenby, the man who in college had borne off the crown that he had aspired to. It was all so far away. What little boys they had been, working for blue ribbons…The big man held out his hand. Amory saw that the fact that he had known Jesse more than outweighed any disfavor he had created by his opinions. What ghosts were people with which to work!
Mostly, though, Amory is detestable. For instance:
"I detest poor people,” thought Amory suddenly. “I hate them for being poor. Poverty may have been beautiful once, but it’s rotten now. It’s the ugliest thing in the world. It’s essentially cleaner to be corrupt and rich than it is to be innocent and poor.”
It is clear that This Side of Paradise is a first book by an extremely talented author. At times, Fitzgerald seems to be toying with the form of a novel, evidenced by the transition from third-person narrative to a play, and his inclusion of letters, poetry and verse. (Of course, Fitzgerald might simply have been stitching things together, since This Side of Paradise began life as a different, unpublished work).
Despite being less than three-hundred pages long, it feels meandering and baggy and choppily episodic. There were portions where my eyes just glazed over. But just as often, I was transported by Fitzgerald’s lyrical, beautiful prose. I am in awe at how well he can describe a place:
At first Amory noticed only the wealth of sunshine creeping across the long, green swards, dancing on the leaded windowpanes, and swimming around the topes of the spires and towers and battlemented walls…
This Side of Paradise has been deemed a classic and will remain a classic. Overall, I had a positive reaction, though due to its anecdotal nature, I enjoyed the parts more than the whole. Ultimately, my sense is that this is a minor work by a man who later authored major works.
The Roaring Twenties live on in American imagination, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books fuel that flame. In retrospect, This Side of Paradise has been credited with establishing “the image of seemingly carefree, party-mad young men and women out to create a new morality for a new, postwar America.”
That’s a lot of baggage to heap on a novel with such thin shoulders.
This Side of Paradise really tells the story of only a thin tranche of America’s population. Those who were moneyed. Those who were white. Those who were living fast and high during Coolidge’s laissez-faire administration, rushing towards their economic doom. Lost – or rather, ignored, completely – is any hint of a world beyond the elite. There are no minorities. There are no wage-earners. There is no indication that anyone from this time period got through life without an emotionally-jarring relationship with a flapper.
This is all a way of saying that I know exactly what this book has come to mean. And I do not doubt the effect it had at the time of its publication. Because of the confluence of author, setting, and historical moment, This Side of Paradise will live forever. But I’ll be honest: I’m going to start forgetting this book real soon.
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Read information about the authorFrancis Scott Key Fitzgerald was an American writer of novels and short stories, whose works have been seen as evocative of the Jazz Age, a term he himself allegedly coined. He is regarded as one of the greatest twentieth century writers. Fitzgerald was of the self-styled "Lost Generation," Americans born in the 1890s who came of age during World War I. He finished four novels, left a fifth unfinished, and wrote dozens of short stories that treat themes of youth, despair, and age. He was married to Zelda Fitzgerald.
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