Who doesn't have a bit of a crush on F. Scott Fitzgerald?
So go deep with all that F. Scott-love and your nostalgia for the 1920s (c'mon, flapper hair is awesome) with This Side of Paradise. It's a thinly-veiled autobiography of F. Scott's early years and it's a searing portrayal of the Lost Generation.
This Side of Paradise's protagonist, Amory Blaine, is a dead ringer for Fitzgerald himself. Amory is born in Minnesota (like Fitz), goes to Princeton (like Fitz), and then becomes a huge alcoholic when the girl he loves dumps him because he's not successful enough (like Fitz).
But while Amory never ends up getting his lover back, F. Scott Fitzgerald actually did. You see, Fitzgerald was convinced that if he published This Side of Paradise, his old girlfriend Zelda would take him back and marry him. And guess what? That's exactly what happened.
At its heart, This Side of Paradise is the story of a young, egotistical man who goes off to school and tries to find a sense of purpose in his life. He looks for comfort through several relationships with women, but always ends up being disappointed. He eventually turns to alcohol, and the only thing that saves him from killing himself with booze is the fact that alcohol becomes illegal in the 1920s (Prohibition, y'all).
By the end of the book, Amory is no closer to figuring out a reason to go on living. The only thing he knows in life is himself, and the book doesn't give us any real hint about how things will work out for him. Depressing? Heck yeah. But also very indicative of the mindset that was getting everyone down after the Great War—it was so gory and bleak that people lost faith in reason, humanity, and the modern age.
It was Fitzgerald's articulation of this generational sadness and bewilderment that helped turn him into a bright shining literary star. It was also his awesome way with words, naturally. When Fitzgerald published This Side of Paradise in 1920, he was just trying to win the heart of a beautiful girl from Alabama named Zelda. He didn't know he'd launch a literary career that would change the face of American letters… unless, of course, he was as cocky as Amory Blaine. In that case he would have totally known his name would be in lights.
We've all been there. It's late at night, and you drank too much coffee after dinner. Maybe there's a thunderstorm, or snow is falling gently. You lie awake, watching the ceiling, and wonder: What is the point of all of this? What am I supposed to be when I grow up? Uh oh—am I already grown up? What does life mean?
And chances are you won't come up with a satisfying answer to any of these bone-chillingly scary questions right away. Nope, it takes a whole lot of living and, sadly, a good bit of crying before most people figure out how they want to spend their lives. Like many young people, Amory Blaine, the protagonist of This Side of Paradise, wants his life to be significant. Or to put it in his own words, he wants to be "necessary" to the world.
But how does he go about becoming necessary? And as Amory's midnight chorus might put it, what does necessary even mean? Is any of this necessary?
Sure, this line of questioning gets slotted firmly into the "First World Problems" file, halfway between "My Greek yogurt has expired" and "Why isn't the original Star Wars trilogy on Netflix Instant?" But dang if existential crises aren't terrifying.
Amory is rich kid who went to Princeton, and he knows exactly how spoiled he is. He knows his problems are trivial… and that's part of the problem. The guy feels like he has nothing to say when it comes to art, and his political opinions are so idealistic that it's hard to imagine them ever becoming a reality. So what does that leave him? There's always love, isn't there? But unfortunately, Amory's love life is just a series of disappointments and heartbreaks.
This Side of Paradise knows all about being hard on yourself when you're young. Yes, it'd be nice to approach your life with a clear sense of direction, but it's almost impossible to have all of your priorities straight before you go out and experience the world. Figuring out your values means trying all kinds of things, some of which will be good and many of which will be lousy.
But hey! This novel is a treatise on how much it sucks to be young and questioning… but it's also a case in point about how awesome it is to be young and questioning. A twenty-three-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald fictionalized all of his angsty-times (because he was trying to impress a girl, btw), and ended up with a finished manuscript of This Side of Paradise.Victory!
The F. Scott Fitzgerald Society
Hear that, folks? The dude's got himself his own society.
F. Scott Fitzgerald at Cornell University Online
Yeah, the guy never went to Cornell. But sometimes you're so good that everyone wants a piece of you.
The F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival
Try to catch it next year if it's near your neighborhood. It's been running for eighteen years and will probably keep going for a while.
"With College Men"
The New York Times gives you a quick and dirty rundown of what This Side of Paradise is all about and why you should care.
Mastering the Muse
This awesome article explains how F. Scott Fitzgerald published This Side of Paradise to impress Zelda Sayre, an ex-girlfriend who'd dumped him shortly before. Sure enough, she decided to marry him after he got famous.
The Other Side of Paradise
This old interview with Fitzgerald shows just how brutal his life could be in spite of the fame and fortune that This Side of Paradise won for him.
YouTube review of This Side of Paradise
If you don't watch it, you'll never know whether you agree with it.
Another Book Review
Here's another review in case that first one didn't sit right.
This Side of Paradise Summary
It'd be sweet if all English classes did projects like this one.
This Side of Paradise Audiobook
For when your peepers are feeling a little tired.
Full Version of Audiobook
In all its nine-hour-and-forty-five-minute glory!
Fitzy would have only been a little older than this when he wrote This Side of Paradise.
Apparently, Fitzgerald went through a Dracula phase in his later life.
And here's the young woman Fitzgerald was trying to impress when he published This Side of Paradise. It must have worked, because she married him immediately after he became famous.