Fitzgerald’s Princeton Novel Goes Online

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), Class of 1917,  entered Princeton a century ago. His first day of classes was on his birthday, September 24, 1913. Marking this centennial, the Princeton University Library has digitized Fitzgerald’s manuscripts and typescripts of his autobiographical first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), from the F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers, in the Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library:

The papers were the gift of the author’s daughter Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan in 1950 and remain among the greatest treasures in the Princeton University Library. This Side of Paradise still stands are the most famous literary work about Princeton University. While Fitzgerald was not a good student and never graduated, dropping out in 1917 to join the U.S. Army during World War I, he began learning the craft of writing as an undergraduate and befriended other students who were aspiring authors, Edmund Wilson, Class of 1916, and John Peale Bishop, Class of 1917. Fitzgerald came to form a deep affection for Princeton that lasted until his untimely death in Hollywood.

Fitzgerald began writing This Side of Paradise at Princeton, continued in November 1917 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, with the working title “The Romantic Egoist,” and completed a first draft at Cottage Club in March 1918. After this draft had been twice rejected by the distinguished New York publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons, Fitzgerald returned to his parents’ home at 599 Summit Avenue in his native St. Paul, Minnesota, and added five new chapters to the four he had written the previous year. He changed the second title of the novel from “The Education of a Personage” to “This Side of Paradise” and sent the novel to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s. The publisher accepted the novel on September 16, 1919, and published it on March 26, 1920.  Publication of the novel launched the young author on a successful writing career, with nearly 50,000 copies in print by 1921, and helped him win Zelda Sayre’s hand in marriage.

With the manuscripts and typescripts now online, one can see the author at work writing and revising the two halves of his novel, “The Romantic Egotist” and “The Education of a Personage.” Two versions survive and have been digitized: (1) “The Romantic Egotist,” the earlier corrected typescript in five chapters that Fitzgerald sent to Charles W. Donahoe in October 1918, and the latter donated to Princeton in 1948. (2) “This Side of Paradise,” which includes about 80 typescript pages that Fitzgerald reused from “The Romantic Egotist.” Fitzgerald wrote by hand and did not type, so errors were likely introduced by the anonymous typist, who drew diagonal lines through pages as they were typed. In addition to the author’s own corrections, a St. Paul school friend named Katherine Tighe (formerly described as an anonymous reader, called “the Grammarian”) went through the manuscript to correct spelling, grammar, and expression, especially toward the end of the novel. Fitzgerald’s galleys and page proofs do not survive, but we know that innumerable errors escaped his attention, and his celebrated editor as well. The novel became a commercial success despite the many errors, some of which were corrected in subsequent printings.

Fitzgerald’s hastily written, somewhat disjointed coming-of-age novel about contemporary American youth, restless and disillusioned, was thinly based on his own life, with Amory Blaine as his alter-ego and other characters based on college friends and early romantic interests. Despite imperfections, the novel made him a voice of the post-World War I generation, a theme we can see when Fitzgerald writes in the novel, “Long after midnight the towers and spires of Princeton were visible, with here and there a late-burning light—and suddenly out of the clear darkness the sound of bells. As an endless dream it went on; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation, the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world, still fed romantically on the mistakes and half-forgotten dreams of dead statesmen and poets. Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.”

Today, This Side of Paradise is probably of most interest as evidence of Fitzgerald’s early writing efforts at Princeton and in the years after he dropped out. Yet the book still provides encouragement and inspiration for new generations of Princeton students a century later. But Fitzgerald drew heavily on his experiences at Princeton and was able to incorporate portions of his undergraduate contributions to the Nassau Literary Magazine [Nassau Lit for short], most notably “The Spire and the Gargoyle” (February 1917) for book 1, chapter 2, of the novel. As Prof. James L. W. West III demonstrated in The Making of This Side of Paradise (1983), p. 43, the novel has echoes of Fitzgerald’s other Nassau Lit stories of 1917, published before he left Princeton, including “The Debutante,” “Babes in the Woods,” “Princeton—The Last Day,” and “On a Play Twice Seen.”

The novel is filled with scores of local references to Princeton University, including the Nassau Lit, Daily Princetonian, Triangle Club, and Cottage Club. Princeton football, the Nassau Inn, and other subjects also come up.  Fitzgerald’s protagonist, Amory Blaine, reveals the author’s love of the university, its campus and Collegiate Gothic architecture. “Princeton drew him most,” wrote Fitzgerald, “with its atmosphere of bright colors and its alluring reputation as the pleasantest country club in America…. From the first he loved Princeton — its lazy beauty, its half-grasped significance, the wild moonlight revel of the rushes, the handsome, prosperous big-game crowds, and under it all the air of struggle that pervaded his class.” His love for Princeton never left him. A decade later, in an article in College Humor (1927), Fitzgerald wrote about Princeton, “one sees the ideal of a university become a myth, a vision, a meadow lark among the smoke stacks. Yet perhaps it is there at Princeton, only more elusive than under the skies of the Prussian Rhineland or Oxfordshire; or perhaps some men come upon it suddenly and possess it, while others wander forever outside. Even these seek in vain through middle age for any corner of the republic that preserves so much of what is fair, gracious, charming and honorable in American life.”

This Side of Paradise joins the previously digitized autograph manuscript and corrected galleys of The Great Gatsby in the Princeton University Digital Library. For information about the digital edition, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts,  Concerning the Fitzgerald Papers and photoduplication, contact Gabriel Swift, Reference Librarian,;  For information about the manuscripts and typescripts, see This Side of Paradise: The Manuscripts and Typescripts, edited with an introduction by Matthew J. Bruccoli (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990), 2 vols. Concerning the evolution of the text, see James L. W. West III, The Making of This Side of Paradise (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983); and This Side of Paradise, edited by James L.W. West III, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Cambridge, England; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise quotation 001

F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (autograph manuscript), F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton Universaity Library. “Long after midnight the towers and spires of Princeton were visible, with here and there a late-burning light—and suddenly out of the clear darkness the sound of bells. As an endless dream it went on; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation, the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world…”