This Side of Paradise | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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This Side of Paradise | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Published in 1920 to rave reviews and phenomenal sales, This Side of Paradise immediately catapulted the 23-year-old American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald to literary stardom. The novel describes the early life of Amory Blaine, a wealthy and handsome Princeton student, and his quest to find a sense of purpose in life.

Fitzgerald's debut novel is largely autobiographical, drawing on the author's own experiences at Princeton and his early romantic endeavors. In This Side of Paradise, as in many of his later works, Fitzgerald chronicles the lifestyle and culture of affluent young Americans in the post–World War I era of the 1920s.

1. Fitzgerald wrote This Side of Paradise to win back his ex-girlfriend.

When Fitzgerald was in the military, he was stationed in Montgomery, Alabama. It was there that he met the beautiful and privileged Zelda Sayre, the 18-year-old daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. They began a romance and eventually became engaged.

After Fitzgerald left the military, he moved to New York City to pursue an ultimately unsuccessful career in advertising. Unwilling to live on his meager salary, Sayre broke off their engagement, insisting that he find success on his own before they could marry.

Fitzgerald was determined to win her back and hoped that becoming a successful novelist would do it. He resumed work on a novel he had started in college, and it was published in 1920. One week after the publication of This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald married Sayre in New York.

2. Eighty pages of This Side of Paradise were borrowed from an earlier unpublished novel by Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald began writing an earlier novel, titled The Romantic Egoist, when he was a student at Princeton—and he used part of it in This Side of Paradise. The publisher Charles Scribner's Sons rejected The Romantic Egoist twice, but Fitzgerald was determined to make it work after socialite and writer Zelda Sayre broke off their engagement. Fitzgerald returned to his parents' home in Minnesota and set to work.

He explained that rather than being simply a revision of The Romantic Egoist, his new work "contains some of the former material improved and worked over and bears a strong family resemblance besides."

He went on to describe his new work as a definite "attempt at a big novel" and explained how loosening his writing process made it better: "Immediately I stopped disciplining the muse she trotted obediently around."

3. Amory Blaine, the protagonist in This Side of Paradise, is based on Fitzgerald.

The similarities between protagonist Amory Blaine and Fitzgerald are impossible to miss. Both men attend Princeton, have failed relationships with debutantes, serve in the army, and eventually work in advertising in New York City. One critic wrote that Amory Blaine is a "highly autobiographical character, sharing Fitzgerald's sense of the possibilities of life and his aspiration toward the fulfillment of his unique destiny."

4. Two characters in This Side of Paradise were inspired by Fitzgerald's lovers.

Amory Blaine's first love, Isabelle Borge, was inspired by Fitzgerald's first love, Ginevra King. King was a Chicago debutante whom Fitzgerald met when he was 18 and she was 16. The two had a brief but intense long-distance romance. Fitzgerald was incredibly smitten with her and would later use her as a model for several characters. Most significantly, she inspired Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.

Amory Blaine's second love, Rosalind Connage, was partially inspired by Fitzgerald's second love, Zelda Sayre. In the novel, Amory and Rosalind discuss marriage, but she breaks up with him to marry a wealthier man. The real Fitzgerald narrowly escaped this fate.

5. This Side of Paradise was nearly rejected by its eventual publisher.

Earlier iterations of the novel were rejected by the publisher Charles Scribner's Sons before the firm finally agreed to publish it. When Maxwell Perkins, a noted editor at Scribner's, rejected the novel (then called The Romantic Egoist), he gave Fitzgerald hope that it could be fixed and encouraged him to revise it. After Fitzgerald completed months of intensive rewriting, the firm finally accepted the manuscript at Perkins's insistence.

6. The initial printing of This Side of Paradise sold out in three days.

This Side of Paradise was published on March 26, 1920, with an initial print run of 3,000 copies. These copies sold out in the first three days. The novel went through a series of subsequent printings over the next several months. Nearly 50,000 copies had been sold by the end of 1921, making it a huge best seller at the time.

7. The then-president of Princeton University criticized This Side of Paradise.

John Grier Hibben, the president of Princeton from 1912 to 1932, objected to the characterization of Princeton University in Fitzgerald's novel, saying, "I cannot bear to think that our young men are merely living for four years in a country club and spending their lives wholly in a spirit of calculation and snobbishness."

8. One of Fitzgerald's classmates called This Side of Paradise "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."

Edmund Wilson, a literary critic who had been a student with Fitzgerald, had little love for This Side of Paradise. Upon reading a typo-filled version of the novel, Wilson declared it "full of English words misused with the most reckless abandon." These errors may have occurred because Fitzgerald was a poor student throughout grade school and college, and he was notoriously bad at spelling. It has been speculated that he may have had dyslexia.

9. This Side of Paradise turned Fitzgerald into an instant celebrity.

The novel was published in 1920 to glowing reviews and breathtaking sales, turning Fitzgerald into "one of the country's most promising young writers" almost overnight. Fitzgerald married Zelda Sayre just after the novel's publication, and the two took advantage of their celebrity status, eagerly embarking on an extravagant lifestyle. The pair were constantly globe trotting, living for periods in Italy, France, Switzerland, and the United States. The extravagant living took a toll on them eventually: by the mid-1930s they were buried in debt. F. Scott was suffering from alcoholism, while Zelda was battling mental illness.

10. This Side of Paradise was referenced in an episode of the television comedy series 30 Rock.

In the episode "When It Rains, It Pours," the character Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin) says that he had won the "Amory Blaine Handsomeness Scholarship" to Princeton. This is a reference to the character Amory Blaine—a handsome Princeton student—in This Side of Paradise.

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