Romancing Your Money: Breaking The Code That Keeps You and Money Apart
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Besides having a spurious and imitative side, the novel proved that Fitzgerald bad started with gifts of his own, which included an easy narrative style rich with images, a sense of comedy, and a natural ear for dialogue. Its memorable feature, however, was that it announced a change in standards. They recognized the voice as their own, and his elders listened. Income taxes were low in the s. By the end of the decade Fitzgerald would be spending as much—but not for the same things—as the presidents of small corporations.
Early success and princely spending had been added to everything else that made him stand out as a representative of his generation; and Fitzgerald was beginning to believe in his representative quality.
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He was learning that when he wrote truly about his dreams and misadventures and discoveries, other people recognized themselves in the picture. He lived harder than most people have ever lived and acted out his dreams with an extraordinary intensity of emotion. The dreams themselves were not at all unusual: in the beginning they were dreams of becoming a football star and a big man in college, of being a hero on the battlefield, of winning through to financial success, and of getting the top girl.
They were the commonplace visions shared by almost all the young men of his age and background, especially by those who were forging ahead in the business world; in many ways Fitzgerald was closer to them than he was to the other serious writers of his generation. It was the emotion he put into his dreams, and the honesty with which he expressed the emotion, that made them seem distinguished.
By feeling intensely he made his readers believe in the unique value of the world in which they lived.
They set up housekeeping at the Biltmore. The gaudiest spree in history was also a moral revolt, and beneath the revolt were social transformations. The s were the age when puritanism was under attack, with the Protestant churches losing their dominant position. They were the age when the country ceased to be English and Scottish and when the children of later immigrations moved forward to take their places in the national life.
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Theodore Dreiser, whom Fitzgerald regarded as the greatest living American writer, was South German Catholic by descent. The s were the age when American culture became urban instead of rural and when New York set the social and intellectual standards of the country, while its own standards were being set by transplanted Southerners and Midwesterners like Zelda and Scott.
More essentially the s were the age when a production ethic—of saving and self-denial in order to accumulate capital for new enterprises—gave way to a consumption ethic that was needed to provide markets for the new commodities that streamed from the production lines.
Instead of being exhorted to save money, more and more of it, people were being exhorted in a thousand ways to buy, enjoy, use once and throw away, in order to buy a later and more expensive model. They followed the instructions, with the result that more goods were produced and consumed or wasted and money was easier to earn or borrow than ever in the past.
Foresight went out of fashion. Young men and women in the s had a sense of reckless confidence not only about money but about life in general. It was part of their background: they had grown up in the years when middle-class Americans read Herbert Spencer and believed in the doctrine of automatic social evolution. The early twentieth century seemed to confirm the doctrine. After the notion of automatic progress lost most of its support in events, out retained its place in the public mind. They were truly rebellious, however, and were determined to make an absolute break with the standards of the prewar generation.
The distinction between highbrow and lowbrow or liberal and conservative was not yet sharp enough to divide American society; the gulf was between the young and the old. So let the discredited elders keep to themselves; the youngsters would then have a free field in which to test their standards of the good life. Those standards were elementary and close to being savage.
Rejecting almost everything else, the spokesmen for the new generation celebrated the value of simple experiences such as love, foreign travel, good food, and drunkenness. The novel is in the third person, but here, in celebrating what he regarded as a generational experience, Wolfe shifts to the first person plural. They all recognized the value of being truthful, even if it hurt their families or their friends and most of all if it hurt themselves; almost any action seemed excusable and even admirable in those days if one simply told the truth about it, without boasting, without shame.
They liked to say yes to every proposal that suggested excitement. Will you take a new job, throw up the job, go to Paris and starve, travel round the world in a freighter? Will you get married, leave your husband, spend a weekend for two in Biarritz?
Will you ride through Manhattan on the roof of a taxi and then go bathing in the Plaza fountain? Morgan, Topham Beauclerk and St. Francis of Assisi. They obeyed the oracle and drank, in those days of the Volstead Act when drinking was a rite of comradeship and an act of rebellion. But the s were not so much a drinking as a dancing age—the Jazz Age, in the phrase that Fitzgerald made his own. I met her in Chicago and she was married.
Dance all day, leave your man, Sweet Mamma, and come away; manicured smiles and kisses, to dance all day, all day. How it was sad.
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Please, Mr. Orchestra, play us another tune. My daddy went and left me and left the cupboard bare. Shuffle your feet. Wherever the banjos play is Tennessee. Jazz carried with it a constant message of change, excitement, violent escape, with an undertone of sadness, but with a promise of enjoyment somewhere around the corner of next week, perhaps at midnight in a distant country.
The young men heard the message and followed it anywhere, through any door, even the one that led into what was then, for Americans, the new world of difficult art. They danced too much, they drank too much, but they also worked, with something of the same desperation; they worked to rise, to earn social rank, to sell, to advertise, to organize, to invent gadgets, and to create enduring works of literature.
In ten years, before losing their first vitality, they gave a new tempo to American life. Fitzgerald not only represented the age but came to suspect that he had helped to create it, by setting forth a pattern of conduct that would be followed by persons a little younger than himself. That it was a dangerous pattern was something he recognized almost from the beginning. In a notebook he observed that one of his relatives was still a flapper in the s. I feel I owe you more than I can say. I feel that you formed my life. That was in the spring of , a few weeks after the banks had closed all over the country.
It seemed then that the whole generation of the s had been defeated by life, and yet, in their own defeat, Scott and Zelda were still its representative figures. Fitzgerald never lost a quality that very few writers are able to acquire: a sense of living in history. Manners and morals were changing all through his life and he set himself the task of recording the changes. These were revealed to him, not by statistics or news reports, but in terms of living characters and the characters were revealed by gestures, each appropriate to a certain year.
With each new shipment of Americans spewed up by the boom the quality fell off, until towards the end there was something sinister about the crazy boatloads. He tried to find the visible act that revealed the moral quality inherent in a certain moment of time. He was haunted by time, as if he wrote in a room full of clocks and calendars.
He made lists by the hundred, including lists of the popular songs, the football players, the top debutantes with the types of beauty they cultivated , the hobbies, and the slang expressions of a given year; he felt that all those names and phrases belonged to the year and helped to reveal its momentary color.
The young prince in velvet gathered in lovely domesticity around the queen amid the hush of rich draperies may presently grow up to be Pedro the Cruel or Charles the Mad. Fitzgerald lived in his great moments, and lived in them again when he reproduced their drama, but he also stood apart from them and coldly reckoned their causes and consequences. That is his doubleness or irony, and it is one of his distinguishing marks as a writer.