This Side of Paradise was published on this day in 1920, immediately launching 23-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald to fame and fortune. It is a work of a young author, and possesses some fundamental flaws, both structural and thematic. But it is a truly important work, both in the life of its author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and for the course of twentieth-century American history and fiction. The novel contains a number of autobiographical elements and made an enormous impact on the later life of its author–who may never have written anything else if not for its success. The book was successful not only because of Fitzgerald’s lyrical and graceful writing, but more importantly as a telling portrait of a new era in American history.
A great deal of the material Fitzgerald employed to write This Side of Paradise came from his own experiences up to that time. The main character, Amory Blaine, is, in many ways, a thinly veiled Fitzgerald. This semi-autobiographical literary technique is one that Fitzgerald employed often throughout his career, and for which he often met strong criticism. However, in the particular case of This Side of Paradise, the most commercially successful of the author’s novels, the technique met with popular acclaim.
Fitzgerald managed to capture a period of American history and a portrait of the new youth culture (which involved drinking and casual kissing) in a way that few, if any, authors at the time were able. Though in many ways a product and an embodiment of his times, Fitzgerald was able to see through the glamour of the lifestyle to make incisive commentaries on its moral vacuity.
“I suppose all great happiness is a little sad. Beauty means the scent of roses and then the death of roses—”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise