Studying "Babylon Revisited"
A story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"Babylon Revisited" is a story about Americans in Paris after the onset of
the Great Depression. The story made its initial appearance in The Saturday
Evening Post on February 21, 1931. Fitzgerald revised the story for Taps
at Reveille, a volume of his short stories published in 1935.
Any work of literature should be entertaining to read. What gives a
piece of literature permanent value is its ability not only to entertain
but also to say something that gives us pause--perhaps it makes us wonder
about our own lives, our society, or the human condition. Studying a work
of literature should not detract you from enjoying the work but should
further your understanding and thus enhance that enjoyment. To understand
any work takes more than one reading. You only makes an acquaintance with
a work during a first reading, but hopefully the work does grab your
interest and make you want to read on. A second reading allows you to look
at a work in a new way, simply because you already know the outcome, and
you are now able to see the author's craft in molding the work to its
A reader needs to make connections to a work. Can I relate, in any way,
to the characters or the situations in which they find themselves? Can I
put myself in a character's situation? What would I do? Can I understand a
character's qualities, emotions, or actions? Can I make connections to the
setting, to conflicts, to plot, to theme? Because great works of
literature stand the test of time, they tend to say something universal
about humanity to which everyone may relate. These are the connections a
reader makes to a piece of writing. You further your understanding of a
work by studying the author's craft at creating the story through its
point of view, foreshadowing, symbolism, allusions, imagery, and language.
You also may question, among other things, the author's intents, character
motivation, verisimilitude, and others' interpretations. At this point you
are truly developing your own ideas about the work of literature.
Concerning F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited" then, read the
story and become acquainted with the characters and their situations. Use the glossary of terms and the study questions to promote a careful second reading of the text. Use ideas to consider for developing your own connections to the story. Use ideas for essays to generate an argument for a paper. Finally, if you're ready for more involved study, research previous scholarship of
"Babylon Revisited" and discover what other issues have concerned
biographers of Fitzgerald and critics of the story. Develop your own
judgments in relationship to that scholarship and perhaps supplement your
own arguments concerning the story.
- Charlie Wales (Charles J. Wales), 35, has returned to Paris
from Prague for four or five days to see his daughter Honoria and to
attempt to regain custody of her from his sister-in-law Marion. Charlie
lost custody of his daughter after the death of his wife, Helen. Charlie
had consented to Marion's legal guardianship while he was in a
sanitarium because of his problems with alcohol. Charlie is seemingly
recovered and stable now and eager to reclaim his daughter.
- Honoria Wales, Charlie's daughter, is living with the Lincoln
Peters family in Paris. She is a "lovely little girl of nine."
- Marion Peters is Charlie's sister-in-law, the sister of his
deceased wife Helen. She has custody of Honoria, Charlie's daughter.
Marion has an "unalterable distrust" of Charlie and is not so willing to
yield custody of Honoria to him.
- Lincoln Peters is Marion's husband.
- The Peters live in the Rue Palatine in Paris. They have two
children who are Honoria's age--Richard and Elsie.
- Lorraine Quarrles, 30, and Duncan Schaeffer, a friend
of Charlie's from college, in the past had shared raucous times with
Charlie in Paris, and they encounter him anew during his return there.
- Alix, a barman/waiter, and Paul, head barman, are
employed at the Ritz bar.
Glossary of Terms for
- French terms:
- bistro: a small restaurant or pub, bar
- bonne à tout faire: a general servant, maid of all
- brasserie: a restaurant
- chasseur: a porter, bellhop
- chou-fleur: cauliflower
- cocotte: a loose woman
- épinards: spinach
- haricots: beans
- La plus que lente: a slow waltz composed by Debussy.
It was a fad for taxicabs to carry horns playing scraps of familiar
- quai: a quay, wharf; a landing place for ships
beside navigable water
- Qu'elle est mignonne la petite! Elle parle exactement comme
une Française.: She is charming, the little one! She speaks
just like a French girl.
- maître d'hôtel: a steward or head-waiter
- pneumatique: an express letter (Paris); a message
originally delivered by pneumatic tube
- rue: street
- strapontin: a low-priced jump seat that opens down
into the aisle
- Other notes:
- Babylon: the capital of Babylonia, a city noted for
materialism and luxury and the pursuit of sensual pleasure, wickedness
- Josephine Baker: a talented black American entertainer who
became a spectacular feature of Parisian nightlife in the late
- Montmartre: during the 1920s Montmartre, a quarter
(section) of Paris, had become the international center of
Bohemianism. Bohemians are people, typically with artistic or
intellectual aspirations, who live an unconventional life.
- Poet's Cave: in Paris cave was widely used to designate a
cabaret below the sidewalk level. A cabaret is a restaurant providing
liquor and musical entertainment.
- Prague: city of Czechoslavokia in Eastern Europe
- Seine: river of north France that flows through Paris
Study Questions for "Babylon
These questions may be used to promote a careful reading of the
story as well as generating discussion in the classroom.
- What does Charlie Wales give Alix, the barman, at the beginning of
- How does Charlie Wales find the Ritz bar?
- How long does Charlie tell Alix that he has been "going slow"?
- What does Alix say when Charlie tells him that he is in Paris to see
his daughter "for four or five days"?
- What was Charlie thinking as the taxi "rolled on to the Left Bank"?
- What is Charlie's sister-in-law's reaction upon seeing him again?
- What does Charlie tell Lincoln Peters about his income these days?
- How did Charlie stumble in his conversation with Marion?
- What does Charlie tell Marion about his drinking?
- Why did Charlie Wales not go home after dinner?
- What did Charlie realize about Montmartre? ... the word "dissipate"?
- What had all of his wasted money been given for?
- Why did Charlie choose Le Grand Vatel to have luncheon with Honoria?
- What does Honoria ask suddenly?
- What are Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarrles described as when
they come upon Charlie and Honoria?
- What does Lorraine say "judicially"?
- How does Charlie respond when Duncan asks for his address?
- What is Charlie "more and more absorbed by"?
- What does Honoria say suddenly to her father on their ride back to
- What did Marion do when Charlie Wales opens the question of why he
"really came to Paris"?
- How does Marion look at Charlie when he admits to "acting badly"
about three years ago?
- What can Marion never forget?
- What does Charlie say slowly when Lincoln points out that for Marion
the main point of giving up legal guardianship is whether she has
confidence in him or not?
- What is Marion’s answer when Charlie says "I'm behaving damn well,
so far as--"?
- What does Marion cry out suddenly?
- What did Charlie say dully?
- What does Marion cry as she springs up from her chair?
- Back in his room, Charlie could not sleep because the image of Helen
haunted him. What does he remember about that February night?
- How does Lincoln try to explain Marion's feelings to Charlie as the
two men lunched together?
- Back in his hotel, Charlie finds a pneumatique from Lorraine; where
does she plan to see him about five?
- What does Charlie ask himself after reflecting upon Lorraine's
- Why was Charlie astounded for a moment when Duncan and Lorraine show
up the Peters'?
- What did Lorraine remember that happened once?
- What is Marion's reaction to the visit by Duncan and Lorraine?
- What does Charlie reply after Paul, the head barman at the Ritz,
says "I heard that you lost a lot in the crash"?
- What does the memory of the past sweep over Charlie like?
- What does Lincoln tell Charlie on the phone?
- What is Charlie’s response when Alix looked at Charlie's empty
- What does Charlie say to another waiter?
- What is Charlie’s determination at the end of the story?
Ideas to Consider for Making
Connections to "Babylon Revisited"
An individual may use the following ideas for making personal
connections to the story. In addition, these ideas may be used to generate
discussion in the classroom to help students develop connections to the
story. In turn, one or two connections to the story may be explored more
fully by the student in essay form.
- What specific connections can you make to Charlie, Marion, Lincoln,
Honoria, Lorraine, Duncan?
- Respond to specific quotations from the story.
- Relate to the story through its setting at the onset of the Great
Depression on the heels of the Roaring Twenties and the ensuing great
change in times and lives.
- Relate to the story through its setting of Paris, Americans there,
the Ritz Hotel, its bar.
- Have you ever returned to a place to see how it has changed--for
better or for worse?
- Examine your own past. Would you do things differently? (Hindsight
vision is 20/20.)
- Relate to issues of child custody and the desires of child vs. those
of parents, guardians.
- Have you ever seen old friends? How have they changed or not
changed? Do you have friends who seem to live in the past or have not
- Have friends ever intruded when you would have preferred not to have
- Examine family quarrels or feuds and how they affect people's
actions, perhaps even irrationally.
- Can you relate to how a person’s actions (worthy actions or
embarrassing actions) of the past affect people’s views of that person?
- Have you ever tried to keep information from others who may later
feel betrayed? Or vice versa?
- Relate to the relationship between father and daughter.
- Is life one big party? If so, are there consequences?
- Relate to someone blocking another's good desires or intentions.
- Examine how an innocent action can seemingly lead to a big problem.
- Have you ever stayed with someone when you would really rather have
stayed with someone else?
- Examine how one has to be careful with words or actions in order to
attain something one wants.
- Relate to the alcoholism and how one deals with drinking problems.
- Examine the importance of having an ability to forgive or one's need
to earn forgiveness.
- How does one gain confidence in someone who has disappointed one in
- Relate to having to pay for past failures, having something from
one’s past being held against one who is trying to regain honor and
- Relate to married life and what may or may not be appropriate
behavior for married people.
- Have you ever found it difficult to break a bad habit, overcome a
vice, keep to a desired behavior?
- Relate to being prejudiced or judgmental while not being objective;
holding a grudge; or misplaced anger.
- Have you ever gone back on a decision? Or been affected by someone
else who changed his or her mind?
- Relate to having one’s hopes raised and then being disappointed and
reactions to that.
Ideas for Essays about
The following are some ideas one might consider for a paper about
"Babylon Revisited." These ideas may also be used to generate discussion
in the classroom. A student may then choose to explore more fully one
- The immediate connections and responses you have to the story may
provide the basis for a more involved analysis of the story, its theme,
conflict, or characters.
- What is the importance of the story's historical setting? How does
the setting parallel the lives of the characters? What is the
significance of the title as it relates to the setting?
- Examine Charlie's view of his own actions, his return to Paris, and
- Examine Marion's role as foil to Charlie.
- What significance do you see in the names of the characters?
- What is the story's theme?
- How does the story's point of view and tone have an impact on the
- Examine the story's imagery, allusions, symbols, foreshadowing and
their importance to the story.
- What conclusions can you draw as regards life today about the
story's conflict or conflicts?
- Explain why you believe Charlie has or has not conquered his
- With whom would Honoria be better off living? What might Helen
believe? What are the custody questions that should be dealt with?
- How does hindsight vision affect Charlie's thinking?
- Why does Charlie leave the Peters' address at the Ritz in the first
place? What is the importance of this as the story progresses?
- What do you imagine happens in six months for Charlie? Why?
- How long must one pay for past mistakes? Who decides?
- Examine Lorraine and Duncan's roles in the story and how they affect
the outcome; compare/contrast their characters with Charlie.
- View the movie The Last Time I Saw Paris and compare it to
- Discover what biographers/critics have already written about
Fitzgerald and "Babylon Revisited" and respond to the information you