Babylon Revisited: And Other Stories | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Babylon Revisited: And Other Stories | Babylon Revisited | Summary



At the bar of the Ritz in Paris, Charlie Wales chats with Alix, a barman who is well positioned to know of the regulars' comings and goings. Wales himself has been a central figure in the crowd of wealthy American expatriates who congregated in the city during the "Roaring Twenties." After the Jazz Age collapsed in the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression, the city seems like a different place. Paris seems empty. Charlie himself is displaced, for he is now in business in Prague. He has returned to Paris to have a reunion with his young daughter, Honoria, who is being cared for by her aunt and uncle, Marion and Lincoln Peters, after the death of her mother, Helen, from heart trouble. A reformed alcoholic who has now recouped his financial fortunes, Charlie hopes to persuade the Peterses, Honoria's legal guardians, to allow him to regain custody of her.

Charlie finds, however, that his goal is difficult to achieve. He enjoys an outing with Honoria, during which the girl tells him she would be perfectly happy to live with him again. Marion Peters remains suspicious and resentful, still regarding Charlie as dissolute and unfit as a parent. Complicating matters is Charlie's suspicion that Marion's resentment stems at least partly from the disparity in their financial circumstances: the Peterses have not been as lucky as Charlie has in the economic recovery from the crash.

More seriously, just as Charlie has been making an earnest case for his sobriety, an unannounced visit from two former cronies—Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarries—undercuts Charlie's case. The two are flamingly drunk. Slurring their words, they invite Charlie out to dinner, reminding him of the time when he was drunk and banged on Lorraine's door at four in the morning. Charlie protests he has no idea how they learned the location of the Peterses' apartment or tracked him down there, but Marion is not to be mollified. Lincoln informs Charlie that the issue of Honoria's custody will have to be postponed for another six months.


The title of "Babylon Revisited" is doubly significant since it also functions as the title for the collection as a whole. "Babylon" clearly stands for Paris, regarded as a center of pleasure, glamour, and excess—both in ancient biblical times and in the early 1900s after World War I. The "revisiting" refers to Charlie Wales's subdued return to the city after the stock market crash to regain custody of his daughter.

The characterization of Charlie is largely sympathetic, and the reader is tempted to identify with him in his efforts for reform and respectable living. His antagonist, Marion Peters, seems priggish and judgmental while her husband, Lincoln, is little more than a yes-man. Still Fitzgerald builds just enough ambiguity into the story to make us wonder if Charlie is really authentic in his quest to reassume responsible parenthood.

First, at the beginning of the story Charlie slips his Paris contact information into the hands of the barman Alix, saying it is specifically intended for his old friend Duncan Schaeffer. Then toward the end of the story, he professes to the Peterses he has no idea how Duncan and Lorraine have tracked him down. The net effect is certainly that Charlie seems disingenuous.

Second, when Charlie takes his daughter out for the day, he does not seem to grasp that all Honoria is eager for is his company. She does not want any presents. She just wants to live with him.

Finally, Charlie's almost obsessive presence at the Ritz bar and his gossip with the barman Alix suggest an intense nostalgia for the glory days in which he and his cronies had money and flaunted it: "hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab." Although Charlie solemnly assures the Peterses he now limits himself to one alcoholic drink per day, his frequent presence at a high-society bar might often tempt him to break his resolution. In short the details offered by the story do not consistently shore up Charlie's change of heart. He seems thoroughly nostalgic for the world that existed before the crash.

Perhaps this ambiguity underlies the tale's somber conclusion. As he sits at his table at the Ritz, he declines further drinks, thinking "they couldn't make him pay forever." The last line is one of self-pity: "Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone."

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