Dust jacket cover of first edition
|Author||F. Scott Fitzgerald|
|Cover artist||William E. Hill|
|March 26, 1920|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
|Pages||305 (first edition hardcover)|
|Followed by||The Beautiful and Damned (1922)|
This Side of Paradise is the debut novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1920. The book examines the lives and morality of post-World War I youth. Its protagonist Amory Blaine is an attractive student at Princeton University who dabbles in literature. The novel explores the theme of love warped by greed and status seeking, and takes its title from a line of Rupert Brooke's poem Tiare Tahiti. The novel famously helped F. Scott Fitzgerald gain Zelda Sayre's hand in marriage; its publication was her condition of acceptance.
In the summer of 1919, after less than a year of courtship, Zelda Sayre broke up with the 22-year-old Fitzgerald. After a summer of heavy drinking, he returned to St. Paul, Minnesota, where his family lived, to complete the novel, hoping that if he became a successful novelist he could win Zelda back. While at Princeton (notably in University Cottage Club's library), Fitzgerald had written the unpublished novel The Romantic Egotist, and ultimately 81 pages of the typescript of this earlier work was included in This Side of Paradise.
On September 4, 1919, Fitzgerald gave the manuscript to his friend Shane Leslie to deliver to Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Charles Scribner's Sons in New York. The book was nearly rejected by the editors at Scribners, but Perkins insisted, and on September 16, it officially was accepted. Fitzgerald begged for early publication--convinced that he would become a celebrity and impress Zelda--but was told that the novel would have to wait until the spring. Nevertheless, upon the acceptance of his novel for publication he went and visited Zelda, and she agreed to marry him.
This Side of Paradise was published on March 26, 1920, with a first printing of 3,000 copies. The initial printing sold out in three days. On March 30, four days after publication and one day after selling out the first printing, Fitzgerald wired Zelda to come to New York and get married that weekend. Barely a week after publication, Zelda and Scott married in New York on April 3, 1920.
The book went through 12 printings in 1920 and 1921 for a total of 49,075 copies. The novel did not provide a huge income for Fitzgerald. Copies sold for $1.75, for which he earned 10% on the first 5,000 copies and 15% beyond that. In total, in 1920 he earned $6,200 ($82,095.27 in 2015 dollars) from the book. His new fame enabled him to earn much higher rates for his short stories.
The book is written in three parts.
"Book One: The Romantic Egotist"--The novel centers on Amory Blaine, a young Midwesterner who, convinced that he has an exceptionally promising future, attends boarding school and later Princeton University. He leaves behind his eccentric mother Beatrice and befriends Monsignor Darcy, a close friend of his mother. While at Princeton he goes back to Minneapolis, where he re-encounters Isabelle Borgé, a young lady whom he had met as a little boy, and starts a romantic relationship with her. At Princeton, he repeatedly writes ever more flowery poems, but Amory and Isabelle become disenchanted with each other after meeting again at his prom.
"Interlude"--Following their break-up, Amory is shipped overseas to serve in the army in World War I. (Fitzgerald had been in the army himself, but the war ended while he was stationed on Long Island.) Amory's experiences in the war are not described, other than to say later in the book that he was a bayonet instructor.
"Book Two: The Education of a Personage"--After the war, Amory falls in love with a New York debutante named Rosalind Connage. Because he is poor, however, this relationship collapses as well; Rosalind decides to marry a wealthy man instead. A devastated Amory is further crushed to learn that his mentor Monsignor Darcy has died. The book ends with Amory's iconic lament "I know myself, but that is all-".
This Side of Paradise blends different styles of writing: It is, at times, a fictional narrative, at times free verse, and at times a narrative drama, interspersed with letters and poems from Amory. In fact, the novel's blend of styles was the result of Fitzgerald's cobbling The Romantic Egotist, his earlier attempt at a novel, together with assorted short stories and poems that he had composed but never published. The occasional switch from third person to second person gives the hint that the story is semi-autobiographical.
Many reviewers were enthusiastic. Burton Rascoe of the Chicago Tribune wrote "it bears the impress, it seems to me, of genius. It is the only adequate study that we have had of the contemporary American in adolescence and young manhood."H.L. Mencken wrote This Side of Paradise was the "best American novel that I have seen of late."
One reader who was not entirely pleased, however, was John Grier Hibben, the president of Princeton University: "I cannot bear to think that our young men are merely living four years in a country club and spending their lives wholly in a spirit of calculation and snobbishness".
Saori Tanaka's essay on narcissism argues that "Amory comes to know himself through Beatrice and his four lovers, which are like five sheets of glass. They are his reflectors (...) reflecting his narcissism and the inner side. The first three women in the book allow Amory to dream in a narcissistic way:
The last two women he meets, after participating in the war and losing his financial foundation "make him not dream but awake in postwar act II":
Tanaka states that: "With Beatrice and Isabelle, Amory activates the grandiose self, with Clara and Rosalind, he restricts narcissism, and with Eleanor, he gains a realistic conception of the self."
Alternative band Glass Animals subtly referenced the novel on their 2016 album How to Be a Human Being, with a track titled "The Other Side Of Paradise." The lyrics detail a one-sided, chaotic relationship.
The central plot of John Grisham's Camino Island centers around F. Scott Fitzgerald's manuscripts, including This Side of Paradise, which, in the novel, were stolen from the Firestone Library at Princeton University.
In "The Tale of the Bookish Babysitter" (Season 3 Episode 6 of the series "Are You Afraid of the Dark" ), an excerpt from "This Side of Paradise" is briefly visible. Near the end of the episode, one of the characters grabs a book from the storytellers hands and reads a paragraph aloud. The paragraph being read is not present in Fitzgerald's work. However, the surrounding text is from "This Side of Paradise" and was likely used as filler for the shot.