"Babylon Revisited": Contents and Introduction

During the last year of his life, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his editor Maxwell Perkins about his own role as litterateur, concerned with his apparent descent from the public eye: "But to die, so completely and unjustly after having given so much. Even now there is little published in American fiction that doesn't slightly bare [sic] my stamp--in a small way I was an original" (Dear Scott/Dear Max 261). But he adds, "I have not lost faith" (261). Fitzgerald was an original, and in no small way. His faith was ultimately rewarded; Fitzgerald has risen from the dearth of popular and critical attention in his last years to posthumous interest and critical acclaim. And so we beat on.

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

Thomas A. Larson, M.A.

In July 1995 this thesis was presented to the faculty of the Graduate Division of Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English. The thesis has undergone some editing and minor revision for its appearance here.
Committee in
Charge of Thesis:
Thesis Director and First Reader
Dr. Donna M. Bauerly, Professor of English
Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa
Second Reader
Dr. Raymond Wilson III, Professor of English
Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa



"Babylon Revisited" is F. Scott Fitzgerald's most renowned and most considered work of short fiction. A work that intimates the times as well as revealing a personal tragedy, the short story is his most often anthologized. Fitzgerald wrote the story amidst the turmoil of his own life, and that life is in many ways drawn out in "Babylon Revisited." Fitzgerald's consideration of the story as intensely personal cannot be doubted; that he evolved it into something universal makes it a masterful work.

We learn from Fitzgerald's Ledger that he wrote "Babylon Revisited" in December 1930 (10). The story first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on February 21, 1931. The story made an immediate impression, which is evidenced by its collection in The Best Short Stories of 1931 (Ed. Edward J. Obrien. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1931. 122-142).

Curiously, in May 1934, when Fitzgerald first considered which stories would be collected from his magazine work for his next volume of short stories, the inclusion of "Babylon Revisited" was not assured. The published correspondence between Fitzgerald and Maxwell Perkins (editor at Charles Scribner's Sons, Fitzgerald's publisher) in Dear Scott/Dear Max reveals the circumstances surrounding the selection of texts. Fitzgerald initially had four possible plans for his next book of short works: The first plan was for a "big omnibus including both new stories and the pick of the other three collections" (196). The second was for a collection of the Basil Lee and Josephine stories (196). The third was for a collection of new stories that would be respectively representative of the years between 1918 and 1932 (196-197). The last plan was for a collection of essays and articles. "Babylon Revisited" or "More than Just a House" was to be included in the third plan as representative of 1931 (197).

Perkins responded to Fitzgerald's ideas by writing, "We are all strongly in favor of Plan #2, Basil and Josephine" (198). The third plan was their second choice, and ultimately the volume was a combination of both plans two and three. A June 4, 1934, letter from Perkins to Fitzgerald, which listed Perkins's own arrangement for the volume, did not include "Babylon Revisited" at all (200). Fitzgerald, however, writing that he has "pretty well lined up the book," sent his own list back to Perkins, which included "Babylon Revisited" (200, 275-276 n64) and the story was now permanently included. In a letter dated June 19, 1934, Perkins even suggested that the volume of short stories be titled Babylon Revisited: Stories by Scott Fitzgerald (276 n67).

The volume eventually was titled Taps at Reveille, and "Babylon Revisited" was revised for inclusion in it, leaving us two distinct versions of the short story, although the Taps at Reveille version is to be considered Fitzgerald's preferred text. Book publication gave a short story the permanence that magazine publication did not offer, Fitzgerald believed, so he revised and polished stories extensively for that elevated status.

Taps at Reveille was published in 1935, and although the book itself received mixed reviews, the consensus concerning "Babylon Revisited" was favorable. Elizabeth Hart called "Babylon Revisited" "a superb story, firm, sure, vibrant," where the past "is seen in the light of the present and seen astringently, it functions as the crazy, distorted roots of today's sober bloom" (qtd. in Bryer 343). Edith Walton recognized "Babylon Revisited" as "probably the most mature and substantial story in the book."

In February 1935, shortly before Taps at Reveille was released, Fitzgerald tried to interest a British firm in publishing a volume of his short stories which would collect what he considered his best work, including "Babylon Revisited" (Correspondence 401-402). And in 1938 Fitzgerald wrote to Perkins with a plan to publish a "Big collection of stories" of which the fifth section would be "a dozen others including Babylon" (251). Fitzgerald shows recognition of the import of "Babylon Revisited" in his career by specifically mentioning it for inclusion in these two potential volumes, neither one of which would materialize. In a 1939 letter Fitzgerald reaffirmed the import of the story on his career when he wrote, "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).

Fitzgerald, however, was not yet through with the story. In 1940 he was hired to write a screenplay version of "Babylon Revisited." Earlier that year, Fitzgerald informed his daughter that he had sold the screen rights to the "magnificent story" (Letters 64).

And a magnificent story it is.

This study delves into "Babylon Revisited," its biographical origins, its wealth of textual matters, its critical scholarship, and Fitzgerald's screenplay version of the story. "Babylon Revisited" is uniquely suited for extensive study as far as Fitzgerald's (or anybody else's) short stories go because of the wide variety of approaches one may take to the story.

The plot recalls the 1920s, the Jazz Age as Fitzgerald had christened it, and the Depression that followed, eras which Fitzgerald's own life paralleled. The story has extensive biographical origins which are not only revealed in documents of Fitzgerald's life before the composition and revision of the story, but also after, prompted by a continuance of the circumstances that originally suggested the story for Fitzgerald and his later work on the screenplay version. The textual matters of "Babylon Revisited" indicate Fitzgerald's craftmanship as an author, but also betray how external circumstances sometimes affected that craftmanship. These textual concerns have caused, it seems at times, an inordinate amount of textual criticism of the story, with much of it occasioned by those external circumstances. Overall criticism of "Babylon Revisited" has often been responsive to and argumentative with studies that have come before, and that tradition continues here. And Fitzgerald's unique circumstance of being hired to write a screenplay of his own short story opened up an entire new area in the study of "Babylon Revisited."

In this study of "Babylon Revisited," then, I first present a comprehensive essay of the biographical origins. I next examine all textual concerns by presenting a full study of the textual connections between the story and Fitzgerald's novel Tender Is the Night, an involved study of the revisions Fitzgerald made in the story for its inclusion in Taps at Reveille, a look at the typescript, an evaluation of the text found in the latest volume of Fitzgerald's stories, and a study of textual problems. All of the above mentioned areas greatly expand and supersede all previous studies. Extensive annotated bibliographies are presented here as well: the bibliography found in Chapter 1 notes the biographical origins; the bibliography in Chapter 2 concerns textual matters; Chapter 3 is a bibliography of critical studies; and the bibliography in Chapter 4, which also presents an overview of Fitzgerald's screenplay, centers on Hollywood and "Babylon Revisited." The appendix contains listings and a discussion of variations and errata found in the published texts of "Babylon Revisited" in Fitzgerald collections.

Works Cited in the Introduction

Bryer, Jackson R, ed. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Critical Reception. N.p.: Burt Franklin & Co., 1978.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence. Eds. John Kuehl and Jackson R. Bryer.

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

----------. F. Scott Fizgerald's Ledger: A Facsimile. Washington, D.C.: NCR/Microcard Editions, 1972.

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

Walton, Edith H. "Scott Fitzgerald's Tales." New York Times Book Review 31 March 1935: 7.

Notes on quoted materials throughout this thesis:
As far as the quoted materials are concerned, misspellings receive the customary sic, but punctuation errors, where they appear, have been left as such without the sic where such errors seem to minimally distract the reader; and, as the standard holds that titles of short stories are placed in quotation marks and that titles of novels and screenplays are italicized, I have silently emended these where they appear otherwise.   T.L.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited": A Long Expostulation and Explanation: Contents and Introduction
© 1995, 1998-2000
Tom Larson