Wednesday, August 1, 2012

F. Scott Fitzsgerald on Dunsany

While I'm doing a bit of Dunsany spotting, seems like a good time to revisit the mention of Ld D. in F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, THIS SIDE OF PARADISE [1920], written just when Dunsany's reputation was at its height. I drew attention to this in passing in my dissertation, but in context with Wilson's passing reference it might take on a little added significance. In any case, I think it bears repeating.

The passage comes in Book I: The Romantic Egotist, [Chapter] II: Spires and Gargoyles, which deals with the main character's college days. In one of several reading lists* dealing with what Amory Blaine is devouring at different times in his life. Amory's college reading includes, most significantly, his discovery of Oscar Wilde, whom he'd only known previously as the person said to have inspired a character in the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera PATIENCE [1881]. So taken is he with THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY that he practices epigrams in the mirror and one of his friends takes to calling him "Dorian". Here's the list:

"So he found 'Dorian Gray' and the 'Mystic and Somber Dolores' and the 'Belle Dame sans Merci'; for a month was keen on naught else. The world became pale and interesting, and he tried hard to look at Princeton through the satiated eyes of Oscar Wilde and Swinburne -- or 'Fingal O'Flaherty' and 'Algernon Charles', as he called them in precieuse jest. He read enormously every night -- Shaw, Chesterton, Barrie, Pinero, Yeats, Synge, Ernest Dowson, Arthur Symons, Keats, Sudermann, Robert Hugh Benson, the Savoy Operas -- just a heterogeneous mixture, for he suddenly discovered that he had read nothing for years."

[Penguin Classics edition (1996), p.

Then, after a bit more about Wilde, comes the exchange that most interests me:

One day Tom and Amory tried reciting their own and Lord Dunsany's poems to the music of Kerry's graphophone.

'Chant!' cried Tom. 'Don't recite! Chant!'

Amory, who was performing, looked annoyed, and claimed that he needed a record with less piano in it. Kerry thereupon rolled on the floor in stifled laughter.

'Put on "Hearts and Flowers"!' he howled. 'Oh, my Lord, I'm going to cast a kitten.'

'Shut off the damn graphophone', Amory cried, rather red in the face. 'I'm not giving an exhibition'.

[ibid, p. 48]

--It's interesting, to me at least, that Fitzgerald singles out Dunsany's poems (of which no collection was issued until 1929) rather than his short stories (which work very well indeed read aloud) or his plays (which tend to be short and 'poetic' but not metrical). The idea of reciting to phonograph accompaniment made me wonder if this was a carryover from the silent movies of the day, which were always accompanied by music (anything from a house orchestra to a piano player, depending on how grand or otherwise the theatre).

Also interesting, but not in a good way, is the editor's decision about which of these authors to identify in the notes he provides in the back of the book. Thus Patrick O'Donnell, the editor, glosses Wilde, Keats, Chesterton, Yeats, Synge, Dowson, and Symons [p. 263], having already glossed Shaw from an earlier mention; Barrie gets glossed on a later appearance over a hundred pages later. The rest-- Pinero, Sudermann, Benson, Gilbert & Sullivan ("Wasn't the comic opera, 'Patience', written about him?")--go unidentified, as does Dunsany. O'Donnell may have felt that Pinero and Gilbert & Sullivan were well-known enough to need no identification, but that seems unlikely, since he identifies the far more well known Keats, Yeats, and Shaw. Or he may have felt these five were unimportant, though in that case his selection criterion seems off to me. Personally, I'd say it's the less well known figures, like Sudermann (once a well-known playwright whose reputation has since faded) who need the gloss more than a Nobel Prize winner like Yeats. To fail to identify Dunsany means that whatever point Fitzgerald was making by making his hero an enthusiast for Ld D. at one time in his life is lost.


--John R.

*Fitzgerald was fond of these, apparently; cf. the lists of books he drew up for Sheilah Graham to education herself by reading, since published in COLLEGE OF ONE [1967]


Magister said...

Hi John!

Today I found a copy of Fifty-One Tales with a greeting from you and Douglas Anderson in the library at Dunsany Castle. :)

David Bratman said...

The character who believes that Patience was written about Oscar Wilde is mistaken: Patience predates Wilde's fame, and indeed he built his reputation in part on being a character like Bunthorne.

Whether Fitzgerald shared his character's error might not be clear. But it's sloppy that Fitzgerald could be writing of Dunsany's poems in 1920, at which time Dunsany had only published half a dozen poems, only two of these adult signed work. It suggests to me that Fitzgerald had vaguely heard of Dunsany, but had no idea what he'd written, and picked "poems" just because poems are the type of literature most often read aloud, not out of any consideration of the metrical qualities of Dunsany's actual work.

With that, and in the absence (I presume) of a correction by the narrator or any other character, I doubt Fitzgerald knew anything about G&S either.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Magister
Wow. I'd forgotten all about that. I think that came about when Doug pointed out to me that the U. S. edition differed slightly from the UK original, in that one story was dropped and replaced by a different one.

It's kind of like when I was at the Wade a few years ago looking at some of the books from Owen Barfield's library and saw one listed as "gift from unknown donor", picked it up, and looked inside, to see my note to him of when I gave him that book.

--By the way, if you have contact with the Dunsany Estate, I'd like help in getting in touch with them; I have a project I'd like to pitch and see if they're interested.

Thanks for the little time-slip.

--John R.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi David
I don't think it was as arbitrary as all that. Dunsany had written two poems ("Songs from an Evil Wood", "A Dirge to Victory") that got picked up and anthologized; one got reprinted in SMART SET. Plus, Dunsany read his poems aloud during his performances on the lecture circuit; this was in 1919-1920, and I don't know enough about the textual history of Fitzgerald's novel (although I do know it was re-written many times) to know if that's too late or not.
I skimmed A COLLEGE OF ONE, the reading lists Fitzgerald drew up shortly before his dead as a self-education course for his mistress; Sudemann shows up there along with most but not all the names from this list; Dunsany, so far as I can tell, is among the missing.

--John R.

Magister said...

Yes, I was very happy to find the bok because I have never seen the British text before.

No problem, John: Try

o f f i c e AT d u n s a n y DOT c o m

or (maybe better)
l i t e r a r y AT d u n s a n y DOT c o m

and tell Lady Dunsany that Martin Andersson follows your blog. I'll tell her you said hi when I nip over for tea today.

David Bratman said...


TWO poems. That's it.