Sunday, June 17, 2007

Books essential to appreciating 1920s American lit

Jeffrey Hart, an emeritus professor of English at Dartmouth College, selected five books "essential to appreciating American literature of the 1920s" for Opinion Journal.

One title to make the grade:

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, 1920)

Though everyone reads "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" is largely forgotten. Lionel Trilling once told me that when he read it he thought: "That's the way to go to college." He compared the novel with Goethe's "Sorrows of Young Werther." Both evoke the special intensity and pain of first love, and each was written when the author was very young. When Werther loses Lotte to a clod, he kills himself. But when Amory, Fitzgerald's hero, loses his golden girl, Rosalind Connage, he merely drowns himself in a bottle. In this first Fitzgerald novel, we see the emergence of his elegiac, lyrical style, with its dying-fall rhythm: Amory's mother, Beatrice, "absorbed the sort of education that will be quite impossible ever again."

Read about the Hemingway novel on Hart's list.

--Marshal Zeringue