“Infinite passion, and the pain
of finite hearts that yearn”
– Robert Browning
There’s more to Fitzgerald than Gatsby. Besides being one of his century’s finest novelists, F. Scott Fitzgerald was also an extraordinarily talented short story writer, and Cambridge University Press’s new edition of All the Sad Young Men is a fitting introduction to Fitzgerald’s short work. Fitzgerald’s prose has an exact yet translucent quality that combines acuteness of observation with pure lyricism of words. Language, in his hands, becomes something aching and direct, a kind of jazz, by turns elegiac and shimmering. Sadness haunts these stories like a benign ghost, a nostalgia of despair, regret as a medium.
Yet what is it that makes these young men (and Fitzgerald’s protagonists are invariably young men, even when they are old) sad? They are not, by any conventional standards, failures. They attend Ivy Leagues schools, are prosperous, successful. Why then are they consumed by a sense of inadequacy? Fitzgerald’s stories are about the ruin of promise, about the fading of youth’s great dream. Growing beyond convention, the soul has nothing to measure against but an overblown idea of the self; and the heart, taking all it possesses for granted, mourns only what is left unachieved. Failure, in Fitzgerald, is not a social fact but a state of mind, and it is in exploring that state – through stories like ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, ‘The Rich Boy’, ‘The Bowl’ – that Fitzgerald reveals to us what he himself knew only too well: the addictiveness of sadness, our capacity for being unhappy.