"Babylon Revisited": Chapter 1, Biographical Origins

F. Scott Fitzgerald's
"Babylon Revisited":
A Long Expostulation and Explanation

Thomas A. Larson, M.A.

Contents and Introduction

Chapter 1

Biographical and Historical Origins
for "Babylon Revisited"

In a letter to his agent Harold Ober, F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "all my stories are concieved [sic] like novels, require a special emotion, a special experience--so that my readers, if such there be, know that each time it'll be something new, not in form but in substance ..." (As Ever, Scott Fitz-- 221). The events of 1930 instilled in Fitzgerald the special emotion and experience he required on a personal level to create "Babylon Revisited."

"Babylon Revisited," however, did not result solely from the events of 1930, but from a synthesizing of an entire era, the era that Fitzgerald himself coined the Jazz Age. As Fitzgerald related in a retrospective essay entitled "Echoes of the Jazz Age," the era "began about the time of the May Day riots in 1919" and "leaped to a spectacular death in October, 1929" (13).

Snapshots of the '20s: Post-World War I; Harding, Coolidge, Hoover; the stock market; Prohibition; women's right to vote; the automobile; smoking, swearing, sex; short skirts and bobbed hair; Ku Klux Klan; Sacco and Vanzetti; the Scopes trial; mahjongg, crosswords, miniature golf, the Charleston, jazz; KDKA, the Bijou, Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Valentino; Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Gertrude Ederle; Charles Lindbergh; Al Capone; Gertrude Stein's Lost Generation; expatriates; Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O'Neill.

And F. Scott Fitzgerald. Born September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Fitzgerald was in his twenties as the Twenties began. The decade became his decade: Frederick J. Hoffman, in The 20's, states that "Fitzgerald is representative of the decade. ... He was able ... to see his experience as both symbolic and symptomatic" (122) and "the decade offered Fitzgerald one of the greatest literary chances a good writer has ever had. In his best work he judged and defined with utmost clarity the decade's worst errors of taste as well as its most sincere moral gestures" (123). In Exile's Return, Malcolm Cowley states that Fitzgerald's "novels and stories are in some ways the best record of the whole period" (243).

Then Black Thursday, October 24, and Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929: the Great Crash and the onset of the Great Depression. And as the nation's fortunes turned, so did Fitzgerald's. Although some of his best fiction was yet ahead of him (notably those works that were retrospective of the '20s: "Babylon Revisited" and Tender Is the Night), personal and financial struggles would literally take the life out of him just a little over a decade later on December 21, 1940, at the relatively youthful age of forty-four. Andrew Sinclair in Era of Excess wrote that Fitzgerald, "who had forged somewhat unconsciously the image of an era, was broken by that image, even as the image itself was broken by the Great Crash and the depression" (330).

Fitzgerald himself had this to say about his own body of work: "You see, I not only announced the birth of my young illusions in This Side of Paradise but pretty much the death of them in some of my last Post stories like "Babylon Revisited" (Letters 588). Jeffrey Meyers, the most recent biographer of Fitzgerald, observes further that Fitzgerald's "literary career spanned the Twenties and Thirties, so his personal life--which began to collapse at the same time as Zelda's breakdown, soon after the Wall Street Crash of October 1929--ran precisely parallel to the boom and bust phases between the wars" (192).

F. Scott Fitzgerald put himself into his writings, both literally and figuratively, and this is certainly true for "Babylon Revisited"; very few studies of his life find it possible to ignore the story as being something representative of Fitzgerald or his times. Any biographical study, then, serves in itself as background material for an understanding of "Babylon Revisited." The intention here is to recognize those elements from Fitzgerald's life that had the most direct bearing in the composition of "Babylon Revisited," without overburdening the study with those more general biographical aspects that have been treated in depth elsewhere.

Paris, the setting of "Babylon Revisited," was intermittently visited by and a place of residence for Fitzgerald between the years of 1921 and 1931. André Le Vot, a French scholar and biographer of Fitzgerald, calculated a total of approximately twenty-two months spent in the French capital, which was equal to the amount of time Fitzgerald had spent in the States between 1924 and 1931 (49).

"Babylon Revisited," although set in Paris, is not a story of Parisians, but of Americans in Paris, of which there were many, in the years leading up to the Crash of 1929 and into the following year as well. In his Ledger Fitzgerald notes "a million Americans" in Paris (May 1925, 179). His view of the Americans in Paris varied with time: In a letter to friend and critic Edmund Wilson in May 1925, Fitzgerald wrote, "I'm filled with disgust for Americans in general after two weeks sight of the ones in Paris" (Life in Letters 110). Le Vot reports that two years later, in an interview with the New York World, Fitzgerald said, "The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American" (57). Finally, in the retrospective "Echoes of the Jazz Age," Fitzgerald writes, "And by 1928 Paris had grown suffocating. With each new shipment of Americans spewed up by the boom the quality fell off, until toward the end there was something sinister about the crazy boatloads. They were no longer the simple pa and ma and son and daughter, infinitely superior in their qualities of kindness and curiosity to the corresponding class in Europe, but fantastic neanderthals who believed something, something vague, that you remembered from a very cheap novel" (20). The Paris of "Babylon Revisited" was empty of Americans. The Ritz bar itself, a popular gathering place for Americans, "was not an American bar any more ... It had gone back into France" (616); and the following conversation between Charlie Wales and his sister-in-law Marion is even more telling:

"How do you like being back in Paris?"

"It seems very funny to see so few Americans around."

"I'm delighted," Marion said vehemently. "Now at least you can go into a store without their assuming you're a millionaire. We've suffered like everybody, but on the whole it's a good deal pleasanter.'

"But it was nice while it lasted," Charlie said. "We were a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us. In the bar this afternoon"--he stumbled, seeing his mistake--"there wasn't a man I knew." (619)

In addition, the intended audience for the story were not Parisians nor the Americans in Paris but readers of the widely read Saturday Evening Post back in the States. Though Fitzgerald was living abroad, he made his money from America. Unlike T. S. Eliot, who remained abroad and is claimed as part of British literature as well as American literature, Fitzgerald never was anything but American. Le Vot tells us that Fitzgerald's life abroad, and specifically in Paris, had little impact on his own conceptions of life and art and that "his relationships with the French were those of a rich tourist who spoke the language badly and dealt mostly with paid employees" (49, 50). This is important because "Babylon Revisited" was from the beginning, then, an American story, with all that that entails as far as background: by an American, about Americans, for Americans.

The locales of Paris cited in "Babylon Revisited" were places with which Fitzgerald was most assuredly familiar, and many are briefly noted in his Ledger. The most noteworthy, of course, is the bar at the Ritz, which frames "Babylon Revisited." The Ritz bar also appears as a setting in Fitzgerald's short story "The Bridal Party" and his novel Tender Is the Night, both of which have textual ties to "Babylon Revisited." In the Ledger the Ritz is noted frequently, including entries in June 1925: "Famous Ritz party" (179) and in June 1928: "Carried home from Ritz" (182). Zelda, in a 1930 letter to Fitzgerald, after her admittance into Prangins, a sanitarium in Switzerland, writes of "the night we all played puss-in-the-corner at the Ritz" (Correspondence 247). Andrew Turnbull, youthful friend and later biographer of Fitzgerald, noted that Fitzgerald "liked a constant flow of people through his life, and a favorite place for attaching them was the Ritz bar with its predominantly American clientele" (185).

Zelda also mentioned the Ritz bar in a letter to Scott: "It is not possible that you should really want to be in the hurry and disorder of the Ritz Bar and Mont Matre [sic] and the high excitability of scenes like the party we went to with McGowan where you passed so much of your time recently--" (Correspondence 257). In addition to the Ritz bar, Fitzgerald also wrote of Montmartre in "Babylon Revisited," which was explored by Charlie Wales as he was reconciling the present with the folly of the past:

So much for the effort and ingenuity of Montmartre. All the catering to vice and waste was on an utterly childish scale, and he suddenly realized the meaning of the word "dissipate"--to dissipate into thin air; to make nothing out of something. (624)

In another letter Zelda asks Scott about a trip he had taken back to Paris:

Was it fun in Paris? Who did you see there and was the Madeleine pink at five o'clock and did the fountains fall with hollow delicacy into the framing of space in the Place de la Concorde, and did the blue creep out from behind the Colonades of the rue de Rivoli through the grill of the Tuileries and was the Louvre gray and metallic in the sun and did the trees hang brooding over the cafés and were there lights at night and the click of saucers and the auto horns that play de Bussey [sic] --

I love Paris. How was it? (Correspondence 238-239)

Two details from this poetic passage appeared in "Babylon Revisited": first, the "blue" imagery, which emerges when Charlie Wales "wanted to see the blue hour spread over the magnificent façade" (618), and second, the auto horns playing Debussy, when Charlie wanted to "imagine that the cab horns, playing endlessly the first few bars of La [p]lus que [l]ent[e], were the trumpets of the Second Empire" (618). The unique sound of the auto horns in Paris had made an impression on the Fitzgeralds in their earliest visits there. In a 1924 essay titled "How to Live on Practically Nothing a Year," which was reprinted in Afternoon of an Author, Fitzgerald wrote, "Outside we could hear the high, clear honk of strange auto horns and we remembered that we were in Paris" (102). In addition to "Babylon Revisited," Fitzgerald also referred to the auto horns in his short story "The Intimate Strangers" (617), and in a story not published until after his death, "News of Paris--Fifteen Years Ago" (221). La plus que lente, the title of the Debussy composition, has been a textual concern for "Babylon Revisited"; see Chapter 2 of this study for a full discussion.

Honoria, the daughter Charlie Wales was trying to reclaim, was named after the daughter of Gerald and Sara Murphy. The Fitzgeralds first met the Murphys at Paris in May 1924. The Murphys were wealthy Americans living abroad, and they became the Fitzgeralds' closest friends (Meyers 110-111). Tender Is the Night was dedicated to the Murphys, and the Murphys themselves served as Fitzgerald's models for Dick and Nicole Diver in the novel. Years later, when Fitzgerald was working on the screenplay of "Babylon Revisited," he exclaimed to the Murphys about his present work on an "an old and not bad Post story of which the child heroine was named Honoria! I'm keeping the name" (Letters 429); he didn't, however, eventually changing the name of Honoria to Victoria, after the daughter of Budd Schulberg, a fellow Hollywood screenwriter, whose escapades with Fitzgerald eventually lead to Schulberg's novel The Disenchanted (Schulberg, Introduction to Screenplay 8, 11).

Although the Murphys' daughter was the source for the name Honoria, the Fitzgeralds' own daughter Scottie was the inspiration for the character in "Babylon." Fitzgerald openly admitted it in a letter to Scottie in his later Hollywood years: "You have earned some money for me this week because I sold 'Babylon Revisited,' in which you are a character, to the pictures" (Letters 64).

If there be any doubt, many similarities do abound. Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, was born October 26, 1921 (like her father, at St. Paul, Minnesota). Scottie was nine years old when Fitzgerald wrote the story in December 1930; Honoria was "a lovely little girl of nine" (618).

Scottie was separated from her father at this time (like Honoria from her father), although not in the hands of a sister-in-law. With Zelda in a sanitarium in Switzerland and Fitzgerald wanting to be near her, Scottie was left with a governess in Paris. Fitzgerald's correspondence to his mother and to his in-laws explain the arrangements. In a June 1930 letter to his mother, Mollie McQuillan Fitzgerald, he wrote,

Dear Mother:
My delay in writing is due to the fact that Zelda has been desperately ill with a complete nervous breakdown and is in a sanitarium near here [Ouchy-Lausanne]. She is better now but recovery will take a long time I did not tell her parents the seriousness of it so say nothing--the danger was to her sanity rather than her life.

Scotty is in the appartment [sic] in Paris with her governess. (Life in Letters 184)

Later in the year he wrote again to his mother:

Dear Mother
No news. I'm still here waiting. Zelda is better but very slowly. ... Adress [sic] me Paris, care of Guaranty. Actually I'm in Lausanne + migrate to Paris once a fortnight to see Scotty who has a small apartment. So we're all split up. (Correspondence 255)

Fitzgerald updated his in-laws, Judge and Mrs. A. D. Sayre, on Zelda's condition in a letter dated December 1, 1930, which concluded with:

My plans are as follows. I'm staying here on Lake Geneva indefinately [sic] because even if I can only see Zelda once a fortnight, I think the fact of my being near to her is important to her. Scotty I see once a month for four or five days,--it's all unsatisfactory but she is a real person with a life of her own which for the moment consists of leading a school of twenty two French children which is a problem she set herself and was not arbitarily [sic]. (Life in Letters 204)

Staying in Switzerland while having his daughter back in Paris gave Fitzgerald the perspective that is at the heart of "Babylon Revisited," the separation of Charlie Wales from his daughter Honoria, and the details of Fitzgerald's visits to Paris to see Scottie materialize as details in the story. To begin, as Fitzgerald explains in the December letter (the month in which he wrote "Babylon"), he visited Scottie for four or five days on these bimonthly visits; in "Babylon Revisited" Charlie Wales tells Alix, the waiter at the Ritz bar, "I'm here for four or five days to see my little girl" (617).

The times that Fitzgerald and Scottie had together are evoked in "Babylon Revisited." Le Vot quotes a 1972 unpublished letter of Scottie's in which she recalls "It was always very great fun when he came, especially because of the trip to the Nain Bleu [a toy store]. He always bought me a new Becassine doll" ("Fitzgerald in Paris" 63-64), and a November 1930 entry in Fitzgerald's Ledger notes "Scotty to Empire" (185). These occasions are played out almost exactly in "Babylon": During lunch with Honoria at Le Grand Vatel, Charlie Wales tells her his plans for the day, "First, we're going to that toy store in the Rue Saint-Honoré [the Nain Bleu is located there] and buy you anything you like. And then we're going to the vaudeville at the Empire" (621). Earlier Honoria had been "holding in her arms the doll he had brought" (618), and she had it along now during their lunch (621). A day shared between Fitzgerald and his daughter became a day shared between Charlie Wales and his daughter in "Babylon Revisited."

Fitzgerald's December letter to his in-laws notes Scottie's excellent performance in leading her class; Le Vot adds she "was a brilliant little scholar at the cours Dieterlen, rue Marguerite, near the Ternes, where she was a day pupil. In June 1930 she won a first prize in spite of the competition with French children of her age" (63); Honoria is also near the top of her class (but not quite first; Fitzgerald must have felt a need to fictionalize something!): Honoria was "third this month" (621).

Scottie was staying with a governess in Paris, as the June 1930 letter to Fitzgerald's mother indicates. Fitzgerald always felt a desire to have her under the care of a French governess, even after the return to the States. In a 1934 letter from Scott to Zelda's sister Rosalind, on the subject of retaining another French governess for Scottie while she was in New York, he wrote, "Having gone this far with the French I want to keep it up," adding this parenthetical note: "By the way she will have to be an actual native born Frenchwoman" (Life in Letters 268). Fitzgerald has Charlie Wales follow this same reasoning in "Babylon" when Charlie informs Marion, "I'm going to take a French governess to Prague with me" (626); the idea of keeping a French governess for this purpose emerges more fully in the typescript of "Babylon" (see Chapter 2).

Scottie was never in the guardianship of Fitzgerald's sister-in-law; but Rosalind Sayre Smith, Zelda's sister, had certainly raised the possibility, and that was the spark for the writing of "Babylon Revisited."

An exchange of letters between Rosalind and Fitzgerald discloses the nature of the antipathy they felt for one another. Scott Donaldson, biographer of Fitzgerald, quotes the following line from a June 8, 1930, letter from Rosalind to Fitzgerald, written shortly after Zelda entered Prangins Clinic:

I would almost rather she die now rather than escape only to go back to the mad world you and she have created for yourselves. (90)

Fitzgerald's response:

I feel that your letter which arrived today was scarcely nessessary [sic]. The matter is terrible enough without your writing me that you wish she would die now rather than go back to the mad world you and she have created for yourselves." [sic] I know you dislike me, I know your ineradicable impression of the life that Zelda and I led, and evident your dismissal of any of the effort, and struggle success or happiness in it and I understand also your real feeling for her--but I have got Zelda + Scotty to take care of now as ever and I simply cannot be upset and harrowed still further. (Correspondence 236)

Furthermore, in an unsent letter Fitzgerald wrote to Rosalind, as quoted by Jeffrey Meyers, he states "Do me a single favor. Never communicate with me again in any form and I will try to resist the temptation to pass you down to posterity for what you are" (210). Fitzgerald could not hold back, however, and the character of Marion in "Babylon Revisited" was the result.

And, indeed, a postscript to a letter written to Harold Ober, Fitzgerald's agent, a letter that accompanied the text of "Babylon Revisited," which Ober received on January 2, 1931, stated, "Very important  Please immediately send me back carbon copy of this story. Its terribly important, because this is founded on a real quarrel with my sister-in-law + I have to square her" (As Ever, Scott Fitz-- 175).

In a 1971 memoir of the Fitzgeralds, Sara Mayfield, a childhood friend of Zelda's in Montgomery, Alabama, and who maintained contact with her in later years, fills in some details:

Scott came home when his father died in January 1931. After the funeral, he went to Montgomery to explain to Zelda's family what had happened. He said that at first he had not written them how serious her illness was because he did not want to worry them. They were frankly indignant with him, both for taking Zelda to Prangins and leaving Scottie alone with her nurse in Paris. Zelda had improved greatly in the sanitarium, he protested, and he had not wanted to take Scottie out of school. He went to Paris frequently to see her. At Christmas he had taken her to Geneva for a visit with Zelda, but it had been very trying for all of them. Judge Sayre listened with cold courtesy. He always had thought that Scott was too irresponsible to take care of Zelda. Now he was sure of it. Zelda's family did not think that Scottie should be left in Scott's charge and told him so. Rosalind had already suggested that he let the child live with her, but he declined to do so. Haunted by the fear of a custody suit, he tried to exculpate himself in "Babylon Revisited," a story published in the Post. Before it appeared on February 21, 1931, he sent a typescript of it to Rosalind, telling her that it had been inspired by her feeling that Scottie "should be in better hands" and by her suggestion that he let the child live with her. (160-161)¹

A July 19, 1934, letter from Scott to Rosalind recalls those days of 1930:

When I called on you and Newman in Switzerland in 1930 it was only to have one member of your family know what I was doing and why I was doing it. (I did not fail to appreciate his interest and yours on that occasion, but after all he has other commitments and could only give me what help he could spare.) The final reservations in this case must remain with me. To disparage all the sweat that has gone off me and out of me since it began since it began is simply absurd, and every time it is done it causes more harm than good because it upsets me and makes things hard for Zelda. Whenever I handle the case by myself it goes well; whenever I have an impulse that I haven't been keeping you posted and tell you about it I run into that same old Puritanism that makes drinking unmoral, that makes all thinking done with the help of drink invalidated and I am put down to a level of a person whose opinion can't be trusted and that reaches the doctors in the case and they get confused and it all has to start over again.

To summarize: somebody in your family, preferably Newman, must get it straight in his mind that Mrs. Sayre is an old woman, that you are irreparably prejudiced against me, that Newman himself naturally hasn't the time to go into this thing very deeply and that it must all be left to me. (Correspondence 373)

The Romantic Egoists, a scrapbook type "autobiography" of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, adds:

At one time while Zelda was hospitalized, Scottie visited her Aunt Rosalind in Brussels, where her husband Newman Smith was with the Guaranty Trust Company. (179)

The parallels between Rosalind Sayre Smith and, to a lesser extent, her husband Newman Smith, and Marion and Lincoln Peters in "Babylon Revisited" are then easily drawn out.

Of the relationship between Charlie Wales and Marion, Fitzgerald in "Babylon Revisited" wrote, "From the first there had been an instinctive antipathy between them" (619); the situation between Fitzgerald and Rosalind did not begin overnight either: James R. Mellow, another Fitzgerald biographer, states that at the time of Scott and Zelda's wedding on April 3, 1920, a full decade before, "There is no luncheon -- no party of any kind for the members of the wedding. Rosalind Sayre Smith considers this an insult to the family, one that she does not forget" (7).

The none too cordial relationship between Scott and Rosalind intensified as a result of a weekend the Smiths spent with the Fitzgeralds in February 1928. Nancy Milford, in her biography of Zelda, tells what happened:

The visit was, Scott noted in his Ledger [182], a catastrophe. He had been invited to speak at Cottage Club. There was an enormous amount of drinking and when he returned home late that night he was on a weeping jag. During the course of an argument Scott threw a favorite blue vase of Zelda's into the fireplace. When Zelda cuttingly referred to his father as an Irish policeman, Fitzgerald retaliated by slapping Zelda hard across the face. As a result her nose bled and her sister, outraged by what she had seen, left the house the following morning. She was convinced that Scott was behaving basely toward her sister and felt that Zelda should leave him. Zelda, however, ignored her sister's pleas and told her that she and Scott chose to live the way they did and she would tolerate no interferences from her family. (153)

In "Babylon Revisited," Fitzgerald has Charlie remember that one terrible night when he had locked Helen out, "and Marion, who had seen with her own eyes and who imagined it to be one of many scenes from her sister's martyrdom, never forgot" (628); the line from "Babylon" certainly recalls Rosalind's own witnessing of such an incident between Scott and Zelda. She "never forgot" and as Fitzgerald once wrote Rosalind, "I know your ineradicable impression of the life that Zelda and I led, and evident your dismissal of any of the effort, and struggle or happiness in it" (Correspondence 236; see above). This happiness that Rosalind dismissed is also found in "Babylon": "she [Marion] had lived for a long time with a prejudice--a prejudice founded on a curious disbelief in her sister's happiness, and which, in the shock of one terrible night, had turned to hatred for him" (627), which once again evokes Rosalind and that incident she had witnessed in 1928.

In "Babylon Revisited," Marion's frowning upon of alcohol is clearly demonstrated in the following passages:

She looked at him keenly. "I should think you'd have had enough of bars."

"I only stayed a minute. I take one drink every afternoon, and no more."

"Don't you want a cocktail before dinner?" Lincoln asked.

"I take only one drink every afternoon, and I've had that."

"I hope you keep to it," said Marion. (619)


Marion interrupted suddenly. How long are you going to stay sober, Charlie?" she asked.

"Permanently, I hope."

"How can anybody count on that?" (625)

And after the untimely and drunken appearance of Duncan and Lorraine at the Peters' apartment, Lincoln says, "That kind of people make her really physically sick" (632/154). Rosalind's feelings about alcohol are clearly stated in the letter Fitzgerald wrote to her in 1934: "I run into that same old Puritanism that makes drinking unmoral, that makes all thinking done with the help of drink invalidated and I am put down to a level of a person whose opinion can't be trusted" (see above).

Rosalind's incredibly harsh suggestion that she would rather see Zelda dead (see above) is played out in "Babylon Revisited" when Marion states, "I think if it were my child I'd rather see her--" (627). Though she managed to check herself, the implication is that she would rather see Honoria dead than living with Charlie. One must wonder more about the wisdom of leaving Honoria in Marion's hands at all; Seymour L. Gross observes that "In focusing on Charlie's need it is easy to miss Honoria's" (132).

In his Notebooks Fitzgerald states, "Scotty thinks of her [Rosalind] as a sweet old bore" (88 n606); in "Babylon" Honoria states that, of her aunt and uncle, she prefers "Uncle Lincoln" (622); Gross, noting "it is clear that Honoria [does not like] Marion," sees Honoria's preference for Lincoln as Honoria not wanting "to engage in spiteful recriminations that could only deepen her father's unhappiness" (132).

Rosalind, then, as Fitzgerald sees her, is scathingly portrayed as Marion in "Babylon Revisited."²

The role of Newman Smith as Lincoln Peters in "Babylon Revisited" also has parallels. Lincoln Peters worked at a bank in "Babylon Revisited"; Newman Smith worked for the Guaranty Trust bank in Brussels. Lincoln Peters in "Babylon" is less judgmental of Charlie and is much more inclined to let Charlie Wales take Honoria home with him. In contrast to Marion's "tepid" response to Charlie in their first meeting in the story, "The two men clasped hands in a friendly way and Lincoln Peters rested his for a moment on Charlie's shoulder" (618), and despite Marion's views on alcohol and of Charlie's past drinking, Lincoln twice offers Charlie a drink (619, 630). Before Marion would finally concede, Charlie "was sure now that Lincoln Peters wanted him to have his child" (626). Ultimately, however, Lincoln would have to disallow Charlie's regaining custody of his child: he couldn't have Marion "go to pieces about it" (633). Fitzgerald perceived this same sort of relationship between the Smiths in the same unsent letter cited above, as quoted by Meyers:

Your sanctimonious advice was well received. I think without doubt Newman's instincts were to do the decent thing, but knowing the very minor quantity of humanity that you pack under that suave exterior of yours I do not doubt that you dissuaded him. (210)³

Newman, like Lincoln, wanted to do the decent thing, but also like Lincoln, was dissuaded by his wife.

Finally, Fitzgerald also placed the disagreeable sister-in-law with her husband in an apartment on the Rue Palatine, the street in Paris where the Fitzgeralds had had their greatest falling out (see letter cited above).

The parallels between Charlie Wales and Fitzgerald himself are the ones most marked and commented upon in biographies and criticisms of his life and works; in addition, Fitzgerald's abuse of alcohol has been well documented, not only as part of his biographies but also in chapters or sections of books that deal strictly with his alcoholism. Fitzgerald put his own past into Charlie Wales (alcohol is the number one connection between Fitzgerald and Charlie Wales, but Fitzgerald's preoccupation with money and his love of football emerge as well), and what he no doubt hoped might be his own future; there can be little doubt that by this time Fitzgerald was well aware what alcohol was doing to him, but he could do little about it except attempt to justify his drinking to others and to minimize its effect on him in others' eyes.

Fitzgerald, in the summer of 1930, reminisced in a letter to Zelda:

[Y]ou were a phantom washing clothes, talking French bromides with Lucien or Del Plangue*--I remember desolate trips to Versaille [sic] to Rhiems [sic], to La Baule undertaken in sheer weariness of home. I remember wondering why I kept working to pay the bills of this desolate menage. I had evolved. In despair I went from the extreme of isolation, which is to say isolation with Mlle Delplangue [sic], or the Ritz Bar where I got back my self esteem for half an hour, often with someone I had hardly ever seen before. ...

... You were going crazy and calling it genius--I was going to ruin and calling it anything that came to hand. And I think everyone far enough away to see us outside of our glib presentation of ourselves guessed at your almost meglomaniacal [sic] selfishness and my insane indulgence in drink. Toward the end nothing much mattered. The nearest I ever came to leaving you was when you told me you thot [sic] I was a fairy in the Rue Palatine but now whatever you said aroused a sort of detached pity for you.

... We ruined ourselves--I have never honestly thought that we ruined each other.

* Scottie's governess
(Correspondence 240, 241, n241)

Zelda responded with her own reminiscing letter, which included the following passage:

You were constantly drunk. You didn't work and were dragged home at night by taxi-drivers when you came home at all. You said it was my fault for dancing all day. What was I to do? You got up for lunch. You made no advances toward me and complained that I was un-responsive. You were literally eternally drunk the whole summer. I got so I couldn't sleep and I had asthma again. You were angry when I wouldn't go with you to Mont Matre [sic]. (Correspondence 248)

The self-described Fitzgerald and Zelda's description of him resembles Charlie Wales closely, excepting Charlie Wales did not need to work during the period of his dissipation. The last line of Fitzgerald's letter is telling as well; Fitzgerald could not be held to blame for Zelda's breakdown. Likewise, Charlie Wales was not to be held to blame for Helen's death; the prejudice Marion had was "founded on a curious disbelief in her sister's happiness" (627); the inference is that Helen made her own choices during that time in their lives, and that it was a time she enjoyed. Likewise, just as Fitzgerald admitted in that last line of his letter, Charlie admits to ruining himself in "Babylon": "It would be silly for me to deny that about three years ago I was acting badly--" (624), "I knew I'd acted badly" (626), and "In retrospect it was a nightmare. ... How many weeks or months of dissipation to arrive at that condition of utter irresponsibility?" (629).

The ultimate admission for Charlie would come near the end of "Babylon Revisited" when he says grimly, "but I lost everything I wanted in the boom" (633); Fitzgerald later echoes this in "Echoes of the Jazz Age" when he writes of the dismal fates of his contemporaries, "moreover these things happened not during the depression but during the boom" (20).

Although Fitzgerald never was able to control his drinking the way that Charlie Wales had done, Mellow respects the way Fitzgerald was a "man who was committed to paying the bills for his mistakes in life" (xx); the problem for Wales was How long were they going to make him pay? (633).

Charlie Wales, however, is not totally without nostalgia for the past; about the earlier times he says to Marion, "But it was nice while it lasted. We were a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us" (619). Charlie projects a sense of wonderment that something that had brought so many good times could have such devastating consequences. One feels that if Charlie could do it all over again and somehow could only know that the future would not hold such a fate, he would do it all over again. Only the 20/20 hindsight, with the aftermath of those times combined with the present circumstances, allows him now to rue the past. Fitzgerald's views are much the same: he can admit his own ruin, yet in "Echoes of the Jazz Age" he can also state, "Yet the present writer already looks back to it [the Jazz Age] with nostalgia" (13), and Fitzgerald, more specifically to Charlie Wales's words of being "a sort of royalty," states in "Echoes" of "the whole upper tenth of a nation living with the insouciance of grand ducs" (21).

Other similarities between Charlie Wales and Fitzgerald exist as well: In the opening scene Charlie asks Alix at the Ritz, "Remember the night of George Hardt's bachelor dinner here?" (617); Fitzgerald's Ledger notes a "Bachelor dinner" in May 1930 (184), and Mellow relates that Fitzgerald was at this time "drinking too heavily -- for more than a week when Ludlow Fowler's brother, Powell, was married in Paris. There was a round of parties from which he never sobered up" (363); Ludlow Fowler was a longtime friend dating back to Fitzgerald's Princeton days, and Fitzgerald's short story "The Bridal Party," which appeared in the Post in August 1930, was based on the events surrounding Powell Fowler's wedding.

Fitzgerald's disdain for homosexuals is shown in a 1930 letter to Edmund Wilson: "Paris swarms with fairies and I've grown to loathe it and prefer the hospital-like air of Switzerland where nuts are nuts and coughs are coughs" (Letters 344); this emerges in "Babylon" as:

Charlie watched a group of strident queens installing themselves in a corner.

"Nothing affects them," he thought. "Stocks rise and fall, people loaf or work, but they go on forever." The place oppressed him. (617)

In a 1930 letter to Dr. Oscar Forel, Zelda's physician at Prangins, Fitzgerald writes: "During my young manhood for seven years I worked extremely hard ..." (Correspondence 242); in "Babylon" Charlie Wales says to Lincoln of Marion, "She's forgotten how hard I worked for seven years there" (629).

During one of his escapades in 1929, Fitzgerald had "swiped a baker boy's tricycle and pedaled past the cafés along the Champs-Elysées, thumping the Russian doormen with a long loaf of bread" (Mellow 333); in "Babylon" Fitzgerald had Lorraine Quarrles recalling "that crazy spring, like the night you and I stole the butcher's tricycle" (629).

In "Babylon" Charlie's late wife Helen is recalled as "escaping pneumonia by a miracle" (628) after "that terrible February night" (627); in her reminiscent letter to Scott, Zelda writes, "In February, when I was so sick with bronchitis that i had ventouses [French term for cupping] every day and fever for two weeks ..." (Correspondence 249).

In a passage that appeared in the initial Post version of "Babylon Revisited" but was cut during the revision for Taps at Reveille, Charlie Wales recalls "the human mosaic of pearls who sat behind them at the Russian ballet and, when the curtain rose on a scene, remarked to her companion: 'Luffly; just luffly. Zomebody ought to baint a bicture of it' " (84); in "Echoes of the Jazz Age," Fitzgerald remembers "a fat Jewess, inlaid with diamonds, who sat behind us at the Russian ballet and said as the current rose, 'Thad's luffly, dey ought to baint a bicture of it' " (21-22).

And Fitzgerald critic Robert Sklar, who produced his own volume on Fitzgerald, notes how the revision of "Babylon Revisited" and other stories for Taps at Reveille was déjà vu all over again: "Forced back into the past to revise the stories he had written four or six years before, he found himself, like Charlie Wales in 'Babylon Revisited,' a prisoner of a past he was powerless to rectify" (302).

Years later, Fitzgerald openly identified himself with Charlie Wales in a playful moment with Sheilah Graham, his consort in Hollywood. Prelimimary plans for the film version of Fitzgerald's screenplay treatment of "Babylon Revisited" had Cary Grant in the role of Charles Wales, and "Scott strutted, mimicking the star's British accent" and said, "Baby, can't you see me as the gorgeous Cary Grant?" (Graham 154-155).

"Babylon Revisited" sprang from F. Scott Fitzgerald's own emotions and experiences. Clearly Fitzgerald himself, Zelda, their daughter Scottie, and in-laws Rosalind and Newman Smith all emerge in Charlie, Helen, Honoria, Marion and Lincoln, respectively. The turmoil that Fitzgerald went through in 1930--with Zelda breaking down, his separation from not only Zelda but also Scottie, and Rosalind's suggestion that Scottie reside with the Smiths, along with his own alcoholic tendencies--suggested for Fitzgerald the story he would tell.

That it is a personal story is evident; that it becomes woven with the historical era of a country shows the power of Fitzgerald's writing.

For "Babylon Revisited" is more than just a page out of Fitzgerald's diary: its ending projects the story into a definition of the age. That Fitzgerald allowed Marion (Rosalind) to retain custody of Honoria (Scottie) demonstrates Fitzgerald's understanding of the times; he would fictionally allow his sister-in-law to retain control of his daughter, and subsequently his life, which, in actuality, runs contrary to anything Fitzgerald would ever have allowed to occur. When Fitzgerald wrote the story in December 1930, the Great Depression had begun a scant fourteen months earlier. His astute recognition that the Jazz Age would not be returning any time soon and that the Depression was only in its infancy would dictate the surrender of his daughter, putting both Charlie Wales and Fitzgerald himself into limbo, awaiting, along with a nation, the return of a better day.

Fitzgerald's own authoritative voice speaks of the era in "Echoes of the Jazz Age," an article that appeared in Scribner's Magazine in November 1931 and was reprinted in The Crack-Up. Fitzgerald opened his treatise by stating, "It is too soon to write about the Jazz Age with perspective" (13); he not only did just that, but the piece remains today an accurate, a most formidable, and an indelible portrait of the age. It concludes:

It ended two years ago, because the utter confidence which was its essential prop received an enormous jolt, and it didn't take long for the flimsy structure to settle earthward. And after two years the Jazz Age seems as far away as the days before the War. It was borrowed time anyhow--the whole upper tenth of a nation living with the insouciance of grand ducs and the casualness of chorus girls. But moralizing is easy now and it was pleasant to be in one's twenties in such a certain and unworried time. Even when you were broke you didn't worry about money, because it was in such profusion around you. Toward the end one had a struggle to pay one's share; it was almost a favor to accept a hospitality that required any travelling. Charm, notoriety, mere good manners, weighed more than money as a social asset. This was rather splendid, but things were getting thinner and thinner as the eternal necessary human values tried to spread over all that expansion. Writers were geniuses on the strength of one respectable book or play; just as during the War officers of four months' experience commanded hundreds of men, so there were now many little fish lording it over great bowls. In the theatrical world extravagant productions were carried by a few second-rate stars, and so on up the scale into politics, where it was difficult to interest good men in positions of the highest importance and responsibility, importance and responsibility far exceeding that of business executives but which paid only five or six thousand a year.

Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth. Sometimes, though, there is a ghostly rumble among the drums, an asthmatic whisper in the trombones that swings me back into the early twenties when we drank wood alcohol and every day in every way grew better and better, and there was a first abortive shortening of the skirts, and girls all looked alike in sweater dresses, and people you didn't want to know said "Yes, we have no bananas," and it seemed only a question of a few years before the older people would step aside and let the world be run by those who saw things as they were--and it seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more. (21-22)

A truly perceptive view of a time.

The voices of two Fitzgerald scholars stand in to conclude this discussion on the origins of "Babylon Revisited":

Brian Way
"Charlie's personal experience is a distillation of the social history of the age: during the period of economic chaos which followed the stock market collapse, President Hoover became notorious for his facile promise that recovery was `just around the corner'; but Fitzgerald understood, with his usual fine instinct for the spirit of the age, that the Depression was going to last a long time."
     from F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Art of Social Fiction, p. 92.

Richard D. Lehan
"What seemed true in terms of his [Fitzgerald's] own experience now seemed true in terms of history. 'Babylon Revisited'--a story where the horror of the past prevails--suggests that the depression was an ultimate consequence of misspent vitality, and reveals the way Fitzgerald connected the personal and the public tragedy."
     from F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Craft of Fiction, p. 60.

End Notes
¹ Mayfield does not give direct notes for her sources in her book, but writes that "a heavily documented and bibliographed manuscript has been deposited in the Mayfield Collection in the University of Alabama Library for the use of scholars" (297); in addition, on p. 151 she states having heard Rosalind's version of Zelda's hospitalization, and an impressive acknowledgment list includes an appreciation on p. 299 of the kindess of Mrs. Newman Smith and others for turning over their notes on the Fitzgeralds.

² Fitzgerald's opinion of Rosalind never did change. A decade later, in a letter to his daughter Scottie, Fitzgerald refers to his sister-in-law and her husband: "[Newman Smith] isn't smug or even stuffy--he's a nice adolescent who married a smooth-faced b---- person" (Letters 61). The text of the letter as published leaves blank what I have underlined, but Scott Donaldson, in his biography of Fitzgerald, helps fill in the blanks (90, 233n).

³ Meyers dates this undated letter in his notes, p. 376, n. 17, as being circa June 1930, which would place it in the time frame before "Babylon Revisited" was written; however, Scott Donaldson also uses the quotation in his biography of Fitzgerald, p. 91, and he notes it as a 1938 letter, and questions whether it was unsent, p. 233. I'm inclined to agree with Meyers since the other passage from the letter that I cited on p. 8 indicates "Babylon Revisited" had not yet been written, and in this story Rosalind is certainly portrayed in an unflattering light by Fitzgerald.

Works Cited

Cowley, Malcolm. Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920's. Compass Book Edition. New York: The Viking Press, 1961. First published by Viking in 1951. First published in 1934.

Donaldson, Scott. Fool for Love: A Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Dell Publishing, 1989. First published in 1983.

Fitzgerald, Scott. As Ever, Scott Fitz--: Letters Between F. Scott Fitzgerald and His Literary Agent Harold Ober, 1919-1940. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1972.

----------. "Babylon Revisited." Saturday Evening Post 203 (21 February 1931): 3-5, 82-84.

----------. "Babylon Revisited." The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection. Edited with a Preface by Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989. 616-633.

----------. Babylon Revisited: The Screenplay. Introduction by Budd Schulberg. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1993.

----------. "The Bridal Party." The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection. New York: Charles Scribner's, 1989. 561-576. First appeared in The Saturday Evening Post 203 (9 August 1930): 10-11, 109-110, 112, 114.

----------. Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Margaret M. Duggan. New York: Random House, 1980.

----------. The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions Paperbook, 1956. First published in 1945.

----------. "Echoes of the Jazz Age." The Crack-Up. Ed. Edmund Wilson. New York: New Directions Paperbook, 1956. 13-22. "Echoes of the Jazz Age" originally appeared in Scribner's Magazine 90 (November 1931): 459-465. The Crack-Up was first published in 1945.

----------. F. Scott Fitzgerald's Ledger: A Facsimile. Introduction by Matthew J. Bruccoli. Washington, D.C.: NCR/Microcard Editions, 1972.

----------. The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Andrew Turnbull. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963.

----------. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.

----------. "How to Live on Practically Nothing a Year." Afternoon of an Author: A Selection of Uncollected Stories and Essays. Introduction and Notes by Arthur Mizener. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1957. 100-116. First appeared in The Saturday Evening Post 197 (20 September 1924): 17, 165-166, 169-170.

----------. "The Intimate Strangers." The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. 606-627. First appeared in McCall's 62 (June 1935): 12-14, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44.

----------. "News of Paris--Fifteen Years Ago." Afternoon of an Author: A Selection of Uncollected Stories and Essays. Introduction and Notes by Arthur Mizener. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1957. 221-226.

----------. The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich/Bruccoli Clark, 1978.

----------. The Romantic Egoists: A Pictorial Autobiography from the Scrapbooks and Albums of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli, Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, and Joan P. Kerr. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974.

----------. Tender Is the Night: A Romance. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934.

Graham, Sheilah. The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald: Thirty-Five Years Later. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976.

Gross, Seymour L. "Fitzgerald's `Babylon Revisited.' " College English 25 (November 1963): 128-135.

Hoffman, Frederick J. The Twenties: American Writing in the Postwar Decade. Rev. ed. New York: The Free Press, 1965.

Le Vot, André. "Fitzgerald in Paris." Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 5 (1973): 49-68.

Lehan, Robert D. F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Craft of Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1966.

Mayfield, Sara. Exiles from Paradise: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1974. First published by Delacorte Press, New York, 1971.

Mellow, James R. Invented Lives: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994.

Milford, Nancy. Zelda: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

The Romantic Egoists: A Pictorial Autobiography from the Scrapbooks and Albums of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli, Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, and Joan P. Kerr. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974.

Schulberg, Budd. Introduction. Babylon Revisited: The Screenplay. F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1993.

Sinclair, Andrew. Era of Excess: A Social History of the Prohibition Movement. New York: Harper & Row, 1964. First published by Little, Brown, & Company in 1962 under the title Prohibition: The Era of Excess.

Sklar, Robert. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoön. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Turnbull, Andrew. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962.

Way, Brian. F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Art of Social Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.

Annotated Bibliography on the Biographical Origins of "Babylon Revisited"

Chapter 1: Biographical and Historical Origins for "Babylon Revisited"

© 1995, 1998-2000
Tom Larson

F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited":
A Long Expostulation and Explanation:

Contents and Introduction