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F. Scott Fitzgerald's
"Babylon Revisited":
A Long Expostulation and Explanation

Thomas A. Larson, M.A.

Contents and Introduction


F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited" first entered my life when I read the story as part of an undergraduate class at Loras College in the mid-1980s. The story's setting intrigued me from the very beginning. I had previously developed a strong interest in Paris, France, and in 1981, a friend and I spent over two months on the Continent, the highlight being a week in Paris, the eighth week of our odyssey. When the train rolled into the Gare du Nord, I wrote "Je suis ici," and, twelve years later, I captured the moment in this poem:

Soul Set Free
Across the sea of Atlantis,
From the lighted land of Napoléon,
From the enlightened pages of the Panthéon,
From pages not yet explored,
Standing anxious, flying victorious,
Reflecting an image, of a time ago,
Peering to a star, after its lead,
I, entering the City,
the Past embraced, the Future uncovered.

"Babylon Revisited" recalled those memories of Paris for me, and the story of Charlie Wales and his struggle with alcohol interested me further. A native of the predominantly German and Irish Dubuque, Iowa (where it was once said that a person having a drink at every tavern on Central Avenue could not make it from one end of the thoroughfare to the other), I found myself intrigued that here is finally a person able to confront and control his alcohol problem, but in the end, for what? I had no trouble imagining that this could happen in Dubuque, in the Midwest, in America, everywhere. The questions the story raises are universal questions: How long does one have to pay for past failures? And who is to decide when payment is complete? These are questions we often face, both on a personal and a societal level, in the world in which we live.

Another sidelight to my interest in all this was a connection to Dubuque's little corner of the world: Fitzgerald's grandparents had once lived in Galena, Illinois, less than fifteen miles east of my hometown Dubuque (Fitzgerald, I'm sure, knew of his connection with Galena, which solidified an identification with one-time Galena resident Ulysses S. Grant, a figure not to be overlooked in Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night). Furthermore, twenty-five miles west of Dubuque, Ernest Hemingway's great-grandfather had brought his family to the community of Dyersville, Iowa, where my own forebears had also settled in the mid-nineteenth century, and in my imaginings I see them meeting on the town's boardwalks.

It is a wonder that Fitzgerald and Hemingway, whose ancestry had lived a scant forty miles apart in the then very much unsettled Midwest, met up an ocean and a continent away in the City of Light, and that they both became mainstays in American literature.

My interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald and "Babylon Revisited" further developed during a graduate class on literary biography, and I later produced a selected annotated bibliography on Fitzgerald and "Babylon Revisited" for a methods and materials of literary research class.

In the year and a half leading up to and during the writing of this thesis, I worked at acquiring a primary and secondary works library on F. Scott Fitzgerald. I travelled to Madison, Wisconsin; the Twin Cities; and Iowa City, Iowa; where I spent much time searching through used book stores, and where I spent much money. Among my treasures are all published volumes of Fitzgerald's letters, his Ledger and Notebooks, his novels, various Fitzgerald anthologies, The Romantic Egoists, Bruccoli's primary bibliography, several biographies, and dozens of works of criticism and related topics.

In addition to the Loras College library, my research took me to the University of Iowa, Iowa City; the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls; the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

While in the Twin Cities, I located Fitzgerald's birthplace in St. Paul. The residence is private; I could only take a few pictures and then go my way. It was enough, a moment to remember.

After acquisition of volumes of material, after many days spent in libraries, after many nickels and dimes spent in copying machines, after many hours of driving, I was ready to delve into what became this thesis. At times exhausting, but always pleasurable, my research and writing has provided a truly rewarding experience.

Like all scholars, I am indebted to those who have gone this way before. One cannot encounter Fitzgerald without encountering the bibliographical work of Matthew J. Bruccoli and Jackson R. Bryer. Bruccoli's work, too, at making Fitzgerald accessible through the publishing of Fitzgerald's letters, Notebooks, Ledger, and new printings and editions of his stories and novels is particularly noteworthy. To these and all the Fitzgerald biographers and scholars whose published works reveal Fitzgerald and his body of work, I am grateful.

At Loras College, the place of my undergraduate and graduate studies, I particularly thank Dr. Donna Bauerly, whose support and suggestions guided not only this thesis, but much of my previous studies.

On a personal level I thank my parents for providing me a place to stay during the summers in Dubuque that I worked on my graduate studies. My mother and my father sacrificed much in order that their children could have that much more.

And lastly, though always in the forefront, my wife Debra's encouragement during my graduate studies and her patience during weeks spent away have given me an incalculable and invaluable base of support.

birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald       gravesite of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in this three-story brick apartment building, located on Laurel Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896.
photo by Tom Larson, 1995.
      Tom Larson, the writer of this thesis, at the gravesite of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, at St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland.
photo by Deb Larson, 1998.


© 1995, 1998-2000
Tom Larson

F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited":
A Long Expostulation and Explanation:

Contents and Introduction