In a passage that appeared in the initial version of "Babylon Revisited" but was cut during the revision for , 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).
While writing Muriel’s bio, I delved more deeply into the background and events of the era that gave birth to that crazy, frenetic decade that Scott Fitzgerald coined “The Jazz Age.” As a result of Muriel’s stories and hundreds of hours of research in libraries (oh, what I would have given for computer back then), I began to understand how the amazing Roaring 20’s blazed upon the cultural scene with all of the dignity and finesse of a lightning strike on a munitions dump—everything went up in flames, and it took ten years for the ashes to sift back down to earth!
Among these expatriates were the cream of America’s writers, musicians and artists: F. Scott Fitzgerald, who coined the words “Jazz Age,” Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and her Shakespeare Co., Ezra Pound, Henry James, Sherwood Anderson, Charles McArthur, Langston Hughes, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Aaron Copeland, Rogers and Hart, Man Ray and so many others. They became an integral part of the burgeoning American expatriate community who had moved to Paris for the artistic freedom it nourished.
Fitzgerald's own authoritative voice speaks of the era in "Echoes of the Jazz Age," an article that appeared in in November 1931 and was reprinted in . 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’s almost impossible to look back on the Jazz age and see it for what it was. One had to experience it, be a part of cultural, political and emotional upheaval of the times. Even for the participants of that era, it would be years before even they understood the events and ramifications of what F. Scott Fitzgerald described as “…the most expensive orgy in history.”
"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 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" ( 110). Le Vot reports that two years later, in an interview with the New York , 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:
"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).
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).
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 hold such a fate, he 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).
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 essays serve as important companions to his fiction. Ifall back on the trick of photocopying one or more of the following essays:"Echoes of the Jazz Age"; "My Lost City"; "TheCrack Up"; "Sleeping and Waking"; or "Pasting It Together."On the relationship between Fitzgerald and Wales, I focus on the overlayof observation and allusion that gives the story a perspective much deeperthan Charlie Wales's rather superficial, self-pitying point of view.
The Jazz Age bubble burst and plummeted to earth with a resounding crash when Wall Street collapsed in 1929. Scott Fitzgerald recalled events in his famous 1931 essay, “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” He said the era was an age of miracles, art, excess and satire. The Jazz age had had a wild youth and a heady middle age, but it was only borrowed time. Eventually, “Somebody blundered, and the most expensive orgy in history was over.”