Fitzgerald on Rich Boys

F. Scott FitzgeraldIn Paul Krugman’s column today, he quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella The Rich Boy—twice! That’s one of the reasons that I like Krugman: he’s not only an astute political observer, he’s also an interesting and knowledgeable guy. Anyone who quotes Fitzgerald (other than about second acts in American lives) is at least somewhat interesting.

One great thing about Fitzgerald is that he grew up around rich people without being rich. (Actually, today I would say Fitzgerald’s family was rich given that they were well in the top 20% of earners, but not part of the beau monde.) As a result, he was able to see the rich clearly. And the picture he rendered was not pretty. The Buchanans in The Great Gatsby sum up his views pretty well.

Krugman quotes what I consider some uninspiring lines from the novella, although they are some of the most harsh. I am most taken by the first paragraph of The Rich Boy:

Begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created–nothing. That is because we are all queer fish, queerer behind our faces and voices than we want any one to know or than we know ourselves. When I hear a man proclaiming himself an “average, honest, open fellow,” I feel pretty sure that he has some definite and perhaps terrible abnormality which he has agreed to conceal–and his protestation of being average and honest and open is his way of reminding himself of his misprision.

Someone famous and smart said something about how all fiction is a meditation on the writing process. That is perhaps more true of Fitzgerald with his intense first person narration. But in this paragraph, he sets the rules for his story; he is planning to walk a tightrope: an honest depiction of a young man, a symbol of a type but not himself a type. As a result, he provides better advice more beautifully packaged than all the creative writing courses in the world.

If I weren’t determined to push all my nonfiction aside and read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum this weekend, I would read The Great Gatsby. But you could. Or The Rich Boy if you only have an hour.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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