from
The St. Paul Stories of
F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

This page:
Introduction by Patricia Hampl
Babes in the Woods
The Camel’s Back
Bernice Bobs Her Hair
The Ice Palace
Winter Dreams
A Short Trip Home
The Scandal Detectives
A Night at the Fair
He Thinks He’s Wonderful
Forging Ahead
At Your Age
A Freeze-Out

Category:

Minnesota

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This collection was assembled and published by the Minnesota Historical Society. It is not complete; at least one story (“The Popular Girl”) was omitted solely because of length.

Introduction

by Patricia Hampl

Copyright © 2004 by Patricia Hampl

From the start, his audience conflated him with his work — probably the most lethal cocktail fame can offer its darlings.

Reading a voice as vivid and immediate, by turns hip and lyrically intimate, as Fitzgerald’s, how could a reader entirely distinguish him from his characters and from that third beast that hounded him — his legend? More to the point, how was the ambitious young man who woke up one day and found himself famous supposed to make the distinction?

Topic:

Authors

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Babes in the Woods

(1919)

I

She paused at the top of the staircase. The emotions of divers on springboards, leading ladies on opening nights, and lumpy, be-striped young men on the day of the Big Game, crowded through her. She felt as if she should have descended to a burst of drums or to a discordant blend of gems from Thaïs and Carmen. She had never been so worried about her appearance, she had never been so satisfied with it. She had been sixteen years old for six months.

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The Camel’s Back

(1920)

I Classical phrases played in his mind — that side of his life was closed, closed. Now when a man says “closed, closed” like that, you can be pretty sure that some woman has double-closed him, so to speak. Perry was also thinking that other classical thought, about how cowardly suicide is. A noble thought that one — warm and inspiring. Think of all the fine men we should lose if suicide were not so cowardly!

Topic:

Suicide

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Bernice Bobs Her Hair

I

The main function of the balcony was critical. It occasionally showed grudging admiration, but never approval, for it is well known among ladies over thirty-five that when the younger set dance in the summer-time it is with the very worst intentions in the world, and if they are not bombarded with stony eyes stray couples will dance weird barbaric interludes in the corners, and the more popular, more dangerous, girls will sometimes be kissed in the parked limousines of unsuspecting dowagers.

But, after all, this critical circle is not close enough to set the stage to see the actors’ faces and catch the subtler byplay. It can only frown and lean, ask questions and make satisfactory deductions from its set of posulates, such as the one which states that every young man with a large income leads the life of a hunted partridge. It never really appreciates the drama of the shifting, semi-cruel world of adolescence.

Topic:

Dancing

II People over forty can seldom be permanently convinced of anything. At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.

Topic:

Age

III “When a girl feels that she’s perfectly groomed and dressed she can forget that part of her. That’s charm. The more parts of yourself you can afford to forget the more charm you have.”

“But I thought,” interrupted Bernice in bewilderment, “that you despised little dainty feminine things like that.”

“I hate dainty minds,” answered Marjorie. “But a girl has to be dainty in person. If she looks like a million dollars she can talk about Russia, ping-pong, or the League of Nations and get away with it.”

“You look as if you’d been insulted whenever you’re thrown with any except the most popular boys. Why, Bernice, I’m cut in on every few feet — and who does most of it? Why, those very sad birds. No girl can afford to neglect them. They’re the big part of any crowd. Young boys too shy to talk are the very best conversational practice. Clumsy boys are the best dancing practice. If you can follow them and yet look graceful you can follow a baby tank across a barb-wire sky-scraper.”

Bernice sighed profoundly, but Marjorie was not through.

“If you go to a dance and really amuse, say, three sad birds that dance with you; if you talk so well to them that they forget they’re stuck with you, you’ve done something. They’ll come back next time, and gradually so many sad birds will dance with you that the attractive boys will see there’s no danger of being stuck — then they’ll dance with you.”

IV

She added that she wanted to ask his advice, because she had heard he was so critical about girls.

Charley, who knew as much about the psychology of women as he did of the mental states of Buddhist contemplatives, felt vaguely flattered.

Topic:

Advice

She had that look that no woman, however histrionically proficient, can successfully counterfeit — she looked as if she were having a good time.
V

With the feeling that people really enjoyed looking at her and listening to her came the foundation of self-confidence. Of course there were numerous mistakes at first. She did not know, for instance, that Draycott Deyo was studying for the ministry; she was unaware that he had cut in on her because he thought she was a quiet, reserved girl. Had she known these things she would not have treated him to the line which began “Hello, Shell Shock!” and continued with the bathtub story — “It takes a frightful lot of energy to fix my hair in the summer — there’s so much of it — so I always fix it first and powder my face and put on my hat; then I get into the bathtub, and dress afterward. Don’t you think that’s the best plan?”

Though Draycott Deyo was in the throes of difficulties concerning baptism by immersion and might possibly have seen a connection, it must be admitted that he did not.

Topic:

Clergy

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The Ice Palace

(1920)

I “You’ve a place in my heart no one else ever could have, but tied down here I’d get restless. I’d feel I was — wastin’ myself. There’s two sides to me, you see. There’s the sleepy old side you love; an’ there’s a sort of energy — the feelin’ that makes me do wild things. That’s the part of me that may be useful somewhere, that’ll last when I’m not beautiful any more.”
III

“I used to have a theory about these people. I think they’re freezing up.”

“What?”

“I think they’re growing like Swedes — Ibsenesque, you know. Very gradually getting gloomy and melancholy. It’s these long winters.”

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Winter Dreams

(1922)

IV She was not a girl who could be “won” in the kinetic sense — she was proof against cleverness, she was proof against charm; if any of these assailed her too strongly she would immediately resolve the affair to a physical basis, and under the magic of her physical splendor the strong as well as the brilliant played her game and not their own. She was entertained only by the gratification of her desires and by the direct exercise of her own charm. Perhaps from so much youthful love, so many youthful lovers, she had come, in self-defense, to nourish herself wholly from within.

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A Short Trip Home

Copyright © 1927 by Curtis Publishing Co.

I His eyes were a sort of taunt to the whole human family — they were the eyes of an animal, sleepy and quiescent in the presence of another species. They were helpless yet brutal, unhopeful yet confident. It was as if they felt themselves powerless to originate activity, but infinitely capable of profiting by a single gesture of weakness in another.
I felt queer myself — like I feel when I wake up after sleeping through an afternoon, strange and portentous, as if something had gone on in the interval that changed the values of everything and that I didn’t see.

Topic:

Sleep

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The Scandal Detectives

Copyright © 1928 by Curtis Publishing Co.

I

Some generations are close to those that succeed them; between others the gap is infinite and unbridgeable. Mrs. Buckner — a woman of character, a member of Society in a large Middle-Western city — carrying a pitcher of fruit lemonade through her own spacious back yard, was progressing across a hundred years. Her own thoughts would have been comprehensible to her great-grandmother; what was happening in a room above the stable would have been entirely unintelligible to them both. In what had once served as the coachman’s sleeping apartment, her son and a friend were not behaving in a normal manner, but were, so to speak, experimenting in a void. They were making the first tentative combinations of the ideas and materials they found ready at their hand — ideas destined to become, in future years, first articulate, then startling, and finally commonplace. At the moment when she called up to them they were sitting with disarming quiet upon the still unhatched eggs of the mid-twentieth century.

Topic:

Experiment

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A Night at the Fair

Copyright © 1928 by Curtis Publishing Co.

II

It is an ancient tradition that all boys are obsessed with the idea of being grown. This is because they occasionally give voice to their impatience with the restraints of youth, while those great stretches of time when they are more than content to be boys find expression in action and not in words.

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He Thinks He’s Wonderful

Copyright © 1928 by Curtis Publishing Co.

I Within he was by turns a disembodied spirit, almost unconscious of his person and moving in a mist of impressions and emotions, and a fiercely competitive individual trying desperately to control the rush of events that were the steps in his own evolution from chirld to man. He believed that everything was a matter of effort — the current principle of American education — and his fantastic ambition was continually leading him to expect too much. He wanted to be a great athlete, popular, brilliant, and always happy. During this year at school, where he had been punished for his “freshness,” for fifteen years of thorough spoiling at home, he had grown uselessly introspective, and this interfered with that observation of others which is the beginning of wisdom. It was apparent that before he obtained much success in dealing with the world he would know that he’d been in a fight.
II

Fifteen is of all ages the most difficult to locate — to put one’s fingers on and say, “That’s the way I was.” The melancholy Jacques does not select it for mention, and all one can know is that somewhere between thirteen, boyhood’s majority, and seventeen, when one is a sort of counterfeit young man, there is a time when youth fluctuates hourly between one world and another — pushed ceaselessly forward into unprecedented experiences and vainly trying to struggle back to the days when nothing had to be paid for.

Having practised believing things all year at school, and having nothing much to believe at that moment, her friends accepted the fact.

Topic:

Education

III

An element of vast importance had made its appearance with the summer; suddenly the great thing in Basil’s crowd was to own an automobile. Fun no longer seemed available save at great distances, at suburban lakes or remote country clubs. Walking downtown ceased to be a legitimate pastime. On the contrary, a single block from one youth’s house to another’s must be navigated in a car. Dependent groups formed around owners and they began to wield what was, to Basil at least, a disconcerting power.

Topic:

Automobiles

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Forging Ahead

Copyright © 1929 by Curtis Publishing Co.

I Beyond the dreary railroad stations of Chicago and the night fires of Pittsburgh, back in the old states, something went on that made his heart beat fast with excitement. He was attuned to the vast, breathless bustle of New York, to the metropolitan days and nights that were tense as singing wires. Nothing needed to be imagined there, for it was the very stuff of romance — life was as vivid and satisfactory as in books and dreams.

Topic:

Romance

V

“Haven’t you kissed anybody since you’ve been in St. Paul?”

“No.”

He saw she was lying, but it was a brave lie. They talked from their hearts — with the half truths and evasions peculiar to that organ, which has never been famed as an instrument of precision. They pieced together all the shreds of romance they knew and made garments for each other no less warm than their childish passion, no less wonderful than their sense of wonder.

Topic:

Lies

“Say I love you,” he whispered.

“I’m in love with you.”

“Oh, no; that’s not the same.”

She hesitated. “I’ve never said the other to anybody.”

Topic:

Love

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At Your Age

Copyright © 1929 by Curtis Publishing Co.

I

He waited a fortnight while the city sank into the endless northern midwinter, where gray skies were friendlier than metallic blue skies, and dusk, whose lights were a reassuring glimpse into the continuity of human cheer, was warmer than the afternoons of bloodless sunshine. The coat of snow lost its press and became soiled and shabby, and ruts froze in the street; some of the big houses on Crest Avenue began to close as their occupants went South.

Note (Hal’s):
Fitzgerald’s fictional “Crest Avenue” is based on Summit Avenue, which I frequently drive.

— end note

Topic:

Winter

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A Freeze-Out

Copyright © 1931 by Curtis Publishing Co.

I

She was a stalk of ripe corn, but bound not as cereals are but as a rare first edition, with all the binder’s art. She was lovely and expensive, and about nineteen, and he had never seen her before. She looked at him for just an unnecessary moment too long, with so much self-confidence that he felt his own rush out and away to join hers — “. . . from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

Matthew 25:29

“The thing is I do a lot of business with Walter Hannan, and it happened yesterday I was obliged to ask him rather a difficult favor.”

“So you traded with him.” To both father and son, the word “traded” sounded like traitor.

“Not exactly. The matter wasn’t mentioned.”

“I understand,” Forrest said. But he did not understand, and some old childhood faith in his father died at that moment.

II

To snub anyone effectively one must have him within range.

III

“I’m willing to make an allowance for an honest conviction, but I’m not going to be booed by somebody that hasn’t got any principles and simply pretends to have.”

His mother sat helplessly, knowing that what he said was true. She and her husband and all their friends had no principles. They were good or bad according to their natures; often they struck attitudes remembered from the past, but they were never sure as her father or her grandfather had been sure. Confusedly she supposed it was something about religion. But how could you get principles just by wishing for them?

Topic:

Principles

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